Guilty pleasures, an occasional series. Intergalactic Touring Band.

Intergalactic Touring Band was the name of a pop/rock concept album released in 1977 by Passport Records in the US and on the Charisma Label in the UK; the ‘concept’ of the album is of the colonisation of space via multi-generational space travel and the eponymous ‘Touring Band’ was not an actual band but an ensemble of performers from pop, rock and even progressive rock featuring amongst others; Rod Argent, Meatloaf, Annie Haslam, Ben E. King, Anthony Phillips, Rick Parfitt, and (members of) The London Symphony Orchestra.

I’ve had this album for many years and I bought it on the strength of one song heard on the wireless back in the late 1970s, a jolly little upbeat number which I hoped would be representative of the other songs on the album. How many of us have bought an album on the strength of one song and then been disappointed by the rest of the album?

Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ comes to mind, ‘Comfortably Numb’ is quite good, the rest of it, well, let’s just say that since I bought The Wall back in 1979 I’ve probably played the ‘Intergalactic Touring Band’ album all the way through more times than I have ‘The Wall’. Oh yeah, that one good song that reeled us in, hook, line, sinker and copy of NME (NME back in the day, Melody Maker just didn’t seem as good and Sounds was never in the same league) but I didn’t come here to moan about Pink Floyd so back to the Intergalactic Touring Band.

The album comes with a booklet and a neatly made-up story explaining the background to the songs; it is the year 3077, humanity has known peace and prosperity since the year 2000, Man has reached out for the stars by means of the aforementioned multi-generational spacecraft and even colonised a planet in another galaxy. Life in general is controlled by a giant corporation, sound familiar? But unlike today’s giant corporations, this giant corporation, the ‘Vibra Corporation’ – Energised 2016 – is a benign entity only concerned with the well-being of the people. Against this tableau the Intergalactic Touring Band (IGTB) gig their way around the myriad human outposts playing songs about the “courageous space pioneers involved in the colonisation of the stars”.

It’s not a brilliant album, I have to admit that it’s not the best album I’ve ever heard, but it’s certainly not the worst. It starts with an overture, well of course it does, albeit in parenthesis.

Side A, Track 1, Approach (Overture).
Track 1 starts quietly and builds, once or twice, almost but not quite to a rousing fanfare before fading away again. It’s not unpleasant but somehow unfulfilling, in retrospect a foretaste of things to come. There’s maybe a nod towards Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, for (possibly) obvious reasons but that might just be me reading things into it.

Side A, Track 2, Silver Lady.
Track 2 is the wake-up call for the band as their spaceship, Silver Lady, approaches the Orbital Entertainment Dome where the next concert will take place. There’s some not unenjoyable guitar playing at the beginning and then it romps along innocuously with some cheesy lyrics:

Silver Lady, riding high
Over the Clouds of an alien sky
Silver Lady, cosmic rain
Singing away through the alien reign

And do you know what, I kinda like it for all that.

Power’s Pulsing! Speakers On!
Five, four, three, two, wooo-oo-oon
I’ve been waiting all night long,
Waiting to hear their favourite hit song!

Okay, it’s not high art but it’s enjoyable and I’m not ashamed to admit that I do indeed enjoy it.
Curiously enough, vocals on this track are by Rod Argent who by 1977 had carved a niche for himself as a keyboard player of no mean ability with The Zombies and the band Argent. Keyboards on this track are by Brian Cuomo. Exactly; who?

Side A, Track 3: Universal Zoo/Why?
This is, as we are informed via the copious sleeve notes, an IGTB favourite.

Welcome to the show!
Best in the Universe, we got some acts to space your mind,
Man! We got some acts to space your mind…Yeah!
Come inside our dome, this way to paradise,
This way to realize your fantasy!

Lyrically it’s almost shades of ELP’s Karn Evil 9 methinks, almost; but musically it’s nowhere near ELP, still quite engaging though, there’s some possibly underrated, definitely understated guitar playing leading into another chirpy, catchy song.

Side A, Track 4: Starship Jingle.
This, we are informed is an advertisement from the ‘old days’ when the utopian Earth was in danger of becoming overpopulated and people were being encouraged to join the colonisation program and go out into space to discover and colonise other planets.

They’re building a Starship! A Starship! A Starship!
To take us away, take us away

It’s a jolly little number as its ‘jingle’ appellation might suggest and jogs along with a nice mix of tune and lyric.

Side A, Track 5: Heartbreaker
The story of the very first ship to be sent out which was never heard from again.
“Legend has it that in some far galaxy, around a distant sun, 5000 silver shrouded bodies slowly turn in infinite sleep.”

Heartbreaker, multi-colour jewel against the night
Heartbreaker, hypnotised and held against our flight

As you might expect given the tragic subject, this is a slower song, after a little keyboard and guitar exuberance in the intro. A lament for those lost on that fateful first voyage, not funereal but lower key.

Side A, Track 6: Reaching Out
A song which had the capacity to have been fabulous given that Annie Haslam of the Progressive Rock band Renaissance was the vocalist and she was arguably at that time at the height of her powers. What-ifs and might-have-beens aside, this song is slow, wistful and soul gazing; musing on the realities of multi-generational space travel.

Born to be borne on the wings of Creation
We were the first now we´re tenth generation
Our guidance control lies aloof and dismembered
Our ship has forgotten
But we have remembered…

Like most of the songs on this album it’s not cerebral stuff but there is something likeable about the lyrics and the tune/lyric interplay which is surely the mark of good and intelligent song writing but sadly for the majority of the songs here, something just misses the mark.

Side B, Track 1: First Landing
Finally one of the ships reaches a suitable world; “One by one they stepped onto the New Earth…”

We´ve sailed the stars in comely wombs
So long and dark and dreary tombs

This is another fairly upbeat song with vocals by Steve Barth, a guy sounding suspiciously like Jon Anderson of Yes,

Side B, Track 2: Space Commando
This is possibly where it starts to fall apart, where the album starts to lose whatever mojo it had and bear in mind it had got at least some, well, in my humble opinion at least.
The song is ‘explained’ thus in the sleeve notes:
‘A scuffle has broken out on the far side of the dome. Several aliens are heckling a veteran space commando.”

Do you remember the wars on Mars?
Well I still got the scars,
I’m a Spa-aaace Commando

Remember, we are at an IGTB gig here. It’s not a terrible song by any means but doesn’t quite seem to fit into the narrative.

Side B, Track 3: Robot Salesman.
And talking about not quite fitting the narrative, this song of the woes of a travelling robot salesman is probably the worst on the album.

Travelling ’round the Universe
Hoping to sell my wares
I am a salesman, man of the year

A salesman selling robots, not a robotic salesman, thank goodness. The tempo is slow, practically lethargic picking up a little towards the end in a chorus that put me in mind of something from the Rocky Horror Picture Show,

Stand aside! I’ll demonstrate, the power at my command!
A thousand Drimes for this one, (she’s always in demand!)
For those of you more spiritual, whose needs are of the mind
These all come complete with soul, and fitted with the latest,
Yes, folks! Vibracon Globes!

But it soon fades back into its torpor and then fades out altogether.

Side B, Track 4: Love Station.
Here we join DJ Romeo Jones playing IGTB hits on the Love Station, well, that’s the idea but we’re slap, bang in soul/disco territory here, not a genre I immediately associate with the IGTB but who knows? Again, it’s not unpleasant, it trips along nicely

I’m your D.J. in the stars
Here every hour on the hour…
I’m your “Love-Man”
Love Station!
The Inter-Galactic request lines are now open!
Love Station!

It’s just, you know, um…

Side B, Track 5: A Planet Called Monday/Epilogue
Here it was that somebody in the creative team suddenly sat up and took notice. Despite the double-barrelled title this is in effect one song, the epilogue bit being merely a reprise and fade of the final part of the main song.

The band (that’s the band recording the album, not the IGTB themselves) has come back to life and launches into A Planet Called Monday with gusto, rocking along quite nicely and not surprisingly as the vocalists are Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt of Status Quo.

Monday Morning, (ooh, ooh),
Everybody’s yawning, (ooooh)
Gotta get up, get out, get into town, mustn’t be late…

The story behind the song is slightly weird, the IGTB on their travels encounter a planet called Monday which has no natural source of heat so the denizens of the planet engage in a ‘climb for life’ where they climb a spiral stairway into the sky whereupon their bodies burn giving off heat so that the others below may live.

Someone’s got to keep this planet turning
Make us warm so we may rise again
Someone’s got to keep the fires burning
No one’s cold when stairs unfold on
Monday Morning! Monday Morning! Monday Morning!

Weird story aside this is actually a pretty good song, I’m sure there’s a deeply meaningful allegory in there somewhere but I didn’t dig around for it.

Side B, Track 6: Keeper Keep Us
Another song which while it is not terrible, is not great. Employing the what-if factor we get a might-have-been quotient of quite a bit. The vocalist here is Meatloaf, the year, as we know is 1977, the same year that Meatloaf had us all singing along to:

The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling,
Way down in the valley tonight.
There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye,
And a blade shining oh so bright.

It was bombastic, it was in-your-face, full on vocal exuberance and yes, there were slower ‘ballad’ type songs there but it was all unmistakably ‘Meatloaf’.

Keeper Keep Us however is a slow, anthemic close to the album, to the IGTB concert.
The sleeve notes tell us that;
“As the concert comes to a close, the IGTB encourages everyone to join in with them, on the anthem of the Keeper, the Being that guides them through their journeys-wherever they may be.”

Twenty billion miles away, beyond the doors of time
Watching from a lone celestial tower
There’s a man who keeps us safe, nothing goes unseen
Starry sentinel so far from home

The tune itself is quite catchy, if somewhat short, two verses and repeat chorus to fade. Yes, I suppose it is an anthem, I can see the IGTB faithful with their Vibra Corporation safety lighters in the air, gently swaying back and forth as they sing along:

Kee-ee-per!
And we’ve been waiting so long
Kee-ee-per!
And we’ve been waiting so long

Sure it’s Meatloaf singing, you can hear that much, but I can’t help but think once again, it could have been better.

And we’ve been waiting so long, so long
The man with the key to our destiny…

Arms waving – And we’ve been waiting so long – fade to darkness.

I’ve made reference to sleeve notes here, the sleeve is actually fairly devoid of information apart from a graphic of the Orbital Entertainment Dome, a track list and the Vibra Corporation logo. Inside however there is a 10 page booklet with song lyrics and background information, including the members of the IGTB, who are, or maybe I should say, will be:

Raif Reed — Lase Guitar
Hope Larson — Lase Keyboard Panel
Justice Conrad — Globe Lase Base
Ixol Phaane — Computerized Keyboard Synthesis
Krys — Holographic Percussion

The inner sleeve is printed with a selection of goodies from the 3077 Vibra catalogue which you can send away for by cutting out a coupon and mailing it (Mailing it? Really? In 3077?) to:
Dept. 7Y, Vibra Corporation
Vibra Dome, Africas, New Earth 3
These goodies include such delights as:

Vibra Pocket Translator. Price, 46 Drimes, extra codecs 8 Drimes each.
Vibra Image Projector. Watch your favourite dances and shows live in your own home unit. Price, 156 Drimes.
Automatic Chef. Don’t give your robot all the work… Price, 74 Drimes (per month).

I’m somewhat relieved to see that the Pultron Gun Stunner is not available to the public as it’s for Space Commando Units only. Small mercies and all that.

Note for Word Nerds: On the front cover of the album the band’s name is given as Inter Galactic Touring Band, four words; most other examples in the sleeve notes, on the record label, give it as Intergalactic Touring Band, three words, with one instance of InterGalactic Touring Band I don’t think they were really paying attention.

And which song was that one song that reeled me in? Which little ditty compelled me to buy an album which didn’t quite live up to expectations?

Side A, Track 4: Starship Jingle.

It’s just such a joyous, happy song. The interplay of lyrics and music is, in my humble opinion, superb. What do I mean by that? At its simplest, what I mean is, there are lots of words and they all ‘fit’ in a pleasing manner with the music; some songs are very definitely music – lyrics – music but what I really like in a song is when the lyrics and music become one, and they do so in this song.
Add to that the subject matter of the lyrics themselves which talk of something close to my dreams, interstellar travel. There’s also an optimistic kernel of hope for the future.

Don’t be afraid, the stars are only mirrors
Reflecting all the mornings yet to come!
Beyond the sky are worlds without an ending…
Could you? Would I?
Deny our children’s, children’s, children’s, children,
Such a great big, wonderful Galaxy!

And to top it off as the last of the lyrics fade:

They’re building a Starship! A Starship! A Starship!
To take us away, take us away, take us away,
Away, away…
                              …Goodbye!

There’s a short but oh so sweet paraphrasing of the ‘Thaxted’ theme from Jupiter from Gustav Holst’s The Planets Suite, (the bit that became a hymn tune, I vow to thee my country) and it just works. I can’t listen to this song without smiling.

So there it is – for me – one almost perfect song on an album of might-have-beens but an album which nevertheless I like and have liked for many years and going back to my earlier Pink Floyd comparison, if I could only have one or the other, Intergalactic Touring Band or The Wall, which would I choose?
The Intergalactic Touring Band.
Because?
They’re building a Starship! A Starship! A Starship! To take us away, take us away…

Starship Jingle
They’re building a Starship!

 

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