German band Tangerine Dream was founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese. He was one of the first electronic music pioneers. Over the years, the band went through many personnel changes with Froese being the only stable factor. Even drummer and composer Klaus Schulze had once been a band member shortly. He continued his musical career as a solo artist making the same kind of electronic music. Schulze and Tangerine Dream are very often described as being part of the so-called Berlin School. The most stable formation of TD was probably during the influential mid-seventies period with Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. These musicians were also responsible for the second successful period in the band's career. This was after the Pink Years - the logo of their record label Ohr was a pink ear - and is known as The Virgin Years since Virgin Records was their record label at the time.
The Virgin Years 1974-1978 is a 'brand-new' release from TD consisting of a 23-track 3CD album set comprising the five albums TD recorded for Virgin Records between 1974 and 1978. This means that the remastered versions of Phaedra (1974), Rubycon (1975), Ricochet (1975), Stratosfear (1976) and Cyclone (1978) have been included plus a selection of rare single releases, 7-inch edits as well as two rarely heard radio adverts.
The well-known British DJ John Peel, called Atem the album of the year 1973 and this attention helped TD to sign to Richard Branson's Virgin Records. Soon after they released Phaedra, an album that contains mainly Mellotron-sounds played by Edgar Froese as can be heard on CD1. Especially Phaedra and Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares are dominated by this at the time relatively new instrument. Phaedra was also one of the first albums that featured sequencers which can be heard on the track Movements Of Visionary. The creation of the album's title track happened more or less accidently; the band experimented in the studio with a recently acquired Moog-synthesizer of which the tape happened to be rolling. They kept the results and later on added flute, bass guitar and Mellotron. The Moog, like many other early synthesizers, was sensitive for changes in temperature so its oscillators would drift badly in tuning as the equipment warmed up. This effect can be heard on Sequent C, the final recording of CD1.
CD2 starts with Rubycon an album that commenced where Phaedra ended with a lot of atmospheric and mellow soundscapes performed on the Mellotron and the synthesizers. After a while the sequencers start which provide for pleasant rhythms. The frequent organ and piano parts move strongly towards the sound Pink Floyd produced on Meddle. The second part of Rubycon starts rather mysteriously and mellow, but gets into higher gear by the use of sequencers. CD2 also contains the bonus tracks of the album starting with excerpts of Rubycon part 2 followed by 7-inch versions of both part 1 and part 2. This release didn't sell as much copies as Phaedra, but Rubycon gave TD the highest position in the UK-charts to date.
Next on CD2 is Ricochet, TD's first live album. It consists of two long compositions Ricochet part 1 and 2 mixed from taped recordings of the concerts they gave in England and France during their European tour in 1975. The sound of the album is similar to the group's aforementioned releases and heavily based upon synthesizers and sequencers producing dense and ambient soundscapes. On the other hand Ricochet contains more percussion and electronic guitar than the previous Virgin-releases. Some of the music of Ricochet was used for the soundtrack that was shot for the DVD Live At Coventry Cathedral 1975 (see review). CD2 ends with two tracks from TD's next studio album Stratosfear. This album marked the beginning of the band's evolution from their early seventies synthesizer experiments towards a recognizable and more melodic sound. The title track Stratosfear has been played live many times. It was released in a remixed form on a number of other albums and it was also used for documentaries. Therefore it became recognizable for a larger audience. Stratosfear contains a stronger blend of TD's acoustic and electronic influences than before. This can be heard on The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades that ends CD2. The flute and Mellotron-parts on this piece sound beautifully. Another fine example is Invisible Limits, the last track on the original album. On this piece the deep piano and flute tune reveal the album's romantic flavour after the earlier monotonous compositions. The two single versions of Stratosfear and The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades are added as nice bonus tracks on CD3.
The next album in this CD-box could have been Encore released in 1977. This album contained live recordings assembled from various recordings from the band's successful US-tour of 1977, but curiously they didn't include this one. So they continued with Cyclone which was TD's first album that featured proper vocals and lyrics. The mystical lyrics and the rock flute of vocalist Steve Jolliffe on Bent Cold Sidewalk and Rising Runner Missed By Endless Sender created a turnaround towards progressive rock. Many TD-fans didn't like that at all. However, Madrigal Meridian is again an extended instrumental from the Berlin School in the vein of the title track from Stratosfear. On Cyclone Peter Baumann no longer participated in TD; he started his own solo career. Baumann was replaced by Steve Joliffe and by drummer Klaus Krieger who gave the music more natural rhythm patterns by playing on his Polyester custom built drums with a multi-trigger unit. Excerpts from Madrigal Meridian are used for the bonus track. CD3 ends with two radio adverts. These 30-second adverts were used to introduce the first two Virgin-releases to the British people who never heard albums like these before. According to the record sales they liked it a lot, since the albums entered the charts and made it possible for TD to give many concerts in Great Britain.
I enjoyed listening to the albums that Tangerine Dream released for Virgin back in the seventies. Especially the more progressive rock orientated releases Stratosfear and Cyclone were a real pleasure to listen to after all these years. On the other hand an album like Rubycon sometimes was a bit difficult to digest, but it is part of Tangerine Dream's history.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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