Balance of Power on Vinyl – A Story

BOP Kickstarter coverWe are just over a week away from the close of a Kickstarter campaign to reissue Balance of Power on vinyl and other formats, and LOTS of bonus material. Whether we make the goal or not, I wanted to make this brief history of the bonus material available. Thanks for reading and your support!

The songs and recordings that are being offered as bonus material on the re-issue of Undercover’s Balance of Power album (if we make the goal) have shown up in various ways, in different formats and arrangements and even by different bands. What follows is a brief history of those recordings and how and where they ended up where they did, as best I can remember. I’m pretty sure we have never written or publicly talked about parts of this history, so here goes.

Branded was released in 1986 and we were performing and touring an awful lot at that time. The version of Branded that ended up being released on Blue Collar Records was actually the second attempt at recording the album. The first was in our rehearsal room in Jim’s garage on Tim Pinch’s mobile truck, which we also used on our very first album as well. That first try didn’t get very far before we scrapped it altogether amid turbulent circumstances, and we instead prepared for our first European tour in the summer of 1985, recording the record again when we returned. We called Tim Pinch again and used his mobile studio to record the live album, 3-28-87 at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Pinch Truck

Tim Pinch’s Mobile Studio used for 3-28-87 and Undercover’s first record. 

Between Branded and 3-28-87 our schedule had begun to take its toll on our personal lives and we were starting to fray at the edges a bit as a band. Blue Collar, the label that released not only Branded, but Adam Again’s debut, In a New World of Time and 441’s debut, Mourning Into Dancing had gone belly up after having been stiffed by Light Lexicon, the label’s distribution company. The three bands were left essentially all on their own although we did allow Blue Collar’s owner to shop for a new distribution outlet, which never satisfactorily materialized.

Undercover, in the meantime, had begun management talks with a small team of talented and qualified guys who believed we had the potential for success on a mainstream non-religious label. The first order of business was to record a demo that they could use to shop the band. We had new material, but the decision was made to also include the song I’m Just a Man, the leadoff song on Branded on the demo as well. It had been road-tested and had become an anthem of sorts. Since we were shopping to secular labels, our managers asked us to change the lyrics, removing any religious and theological references.

At this point we were long past caring about the criticisms of selling out or compromising we ultimately received for doing this. Not everything we believe has to be proclaimed in song, especially when it had already been overt in prior songs and albums, and while this now is the blinding flash of the obvious, in 1987 it was not that way. The other songs we were writing already had moved on from flag-waving and chest-thumping to representation of life from our own Christian perspective. Fortunately, there were only a couple of lines that had to be changed, and so it was.

The demo was recorded at 3-D Studios in Costa Mesa, owned by Doug Doyle who had a rich history recording with D.A. and a number of other high-profile bands. It was a small and unusual home studio, before home studios had become what they are now but more than adequate. Digital recording was a new technology not yet widely available in many studios, much less to consumers in general the way it is now on almost any computer, tablet or phone. When CDs first came out, it was common to see labels on them with a series of three letters using an A for analog or a D for digital, like AAD, for example. This meant the record had been recorded using analog tape (the first “A”), mixed to analog (the second “A”) tape, and released in a digital format (the “D”). Doug recorded on analog tape but had a very affordable but not very common and long-since obsolete digital format for mixing on Beta tape, so the letters on compact disks from his room were ADD.

You and I DemoSince we were not planning to commercially release the five-song Undercover demo that was produced after Branded and because the technology to burn CDs didn’t yet exist, the only final format we made of the demo from the digital beta master were cassette tapes (ADA). More on why this matters later.

The songs in order included:

  • You and I – This was the first time the song had been recorded in the studio or anywhere else. It also appeared on the 3-28-87 album and in the Boys Club demos, both of which we hope to offer in this campaign to re-issue Balance of Power.
  • Blood and Tears – This is the only time this has song has been recorded at all. We played it a few times live, but that’s as far as it went.
  • I’m Just A Man – This was a new recording of the song with the changed lyrics I mentioned above. The recording on the Branded album of course is a better recording but then again, this was intended to be a demo, not a commercial-quality release.
  • One to One – This is the first (and only one of two) studio recordings of the song. It has since appeared on 3-28-87 and other live recordings, including the one made at Cornerstone 2000, but a studio production of the tune has never appeared on an Undercover record. The other studio version (and my favorite arrangement of the tune) appeared on a compilation record produced by Reality Rock in Redlands, CA called Third Wave with Rob Gallas on lead vocal. This became the arrangement of the song we’ve played live ever since Third Wave was released.
  • How Far – This song was co-written by Jim and me, a writing collaboration which had only happened a very few times prior in Undercover, although we’re always deeply involved and embedded in the way each other’s songs turn out. It’s the only recorded version of the song, live or studio. After Undercover went on hiatus, Jim took parts of the song and used them in a new tune called Satisfied, which appeared on the first Boys Club demo. I took some of my parts of the song and used them in the song Animals and Trees on my album Relative. How Far is recognizable in both.

Shortly after 3-28-87 was recorded, Undercover went on hiatus, never having secured our mainstream record deal. Jim and Sim formed the band Boys Club, and in September 1987 I started Brainstorm Artists / Broken Records with Gene Eugene and a third partner, Barry Hill. The first release on our new label was 3-28-87.  I also recorded my album, Relative, with song ideas and musical experiments I had had floating around for some time. Over the next two or three years, Boys Club recorded two demos and played incessantly at all the major night clubs and venues in Los Angeles and Hollywood. They also received a lot of airplay on the seminal and hugely important pirate radio station, KROQ. The only time Undercover did anything together in the period between 3-28-87 and Balance of Power was during the recording session for The Broken Christmas album, recording Oh Come, All Ye Faithful with Sim Wilson and Bill Walden both on harmony lead vocals.

The U - BOPSometime in late 1989 or early 1990, we started talking again about Undercover reuniting. It just seemed to feel right, and things had run their course with Boys Club. Jim & Sim had a lot of songs from the two demos they had produced, and I wrote some new songs specifically for the new upcoming album, which would become Balance of Power and was going to be released on Brainstorm. Part of the trick was choosing which of Jim’s songs to rearrange for Undercover. We settled on Land of Luxury, Time, Love Me Dangerously, Light of Day and Bridge of Life. Those last two, Light of Day and Bridge of Life were Boys Club tunes but had not yet been recorded on any demo and lent themselves to Undercover arrangements. Eyes of Love, Undercover’s only #1 single was also somewhat written when Undercover reformed so we built that one from the ground up specifically for Undercover.  Land of Luxury, Time and Love Me Dangerously were also adapted for Undercover and to maximize consistency with the other songs on the record.

Lots more could be said about the band and the circumstances surrounding the production of Balance of Power, but that’s beyond the scope of this note. My purpose here is to document the transitions or musical bridges between the studio albums Branded and Balance of Power three or four years later, bridges out of Undercover into Boys Club, and then from Boys Club back to Undercover. The set of demo recordings both by Undercover and Boys Club provide that bridge – from I’m Just A Man, which appeared on Branded, You and I and One to One, which then appeared on 3-28-87, and How Far, parts of which appeared on the first Boys Club demo and parts on Relative. And then from Land of Luxury, Time and Love Me Dangerously to the newer Bridge of Life and Light of Day, from Boys Club back to Undercover. These songs are all parts of our story, whether they ended up on studio albums or not. We’re happy to make them all available, the Undercover You and I demo and the two Boys Club demos, if we meet the goals of our campaign to re-issue Balance of Power in multiple formats.

BOP vinyl pics

Postscript:  The Undercover You and I demo made an appearance on one version of the Live at Cornerstone 2000 album. I mentioned above that the digital master of that demo from 3-D studios was an uncommon format, and the master tapes have long since disappeared. As a result, those tracks on the Cornerstone album were transferred directly from a cassette tape with dropout and glitches aplenty. At the time, that was the only way we could make the recordings available. Cassette is still the only format of the demo we have, but we searched for better-quality cassettes to transfer from, and mastering and editing technology have advanced considerably since 2000. The remastered recordings sound infinitely better. Also, the demo version of I’m Just A Man appeared as a bonus track on the 25th anniversary re-issue of Branded on vinyl (and on the streaming service of your choice).

The Boys Club demos, which include the early versions of the three songs used on Balance of Power, have never been re-released in any format, and while we only have cassette masters of those demos as well, the same technology is being used to remaster these tapes. They sound great, and listening back to the tapes after 30 years makes me wonder how it is those guys never landed a major-label deal.

A final note – There is a song on the Boys Club demo called I Love You that I always really liked. About 15 years ago or so, I asked Jim if he was cool with me re-arranging the tune. He agreed, and the two of us re-recorded it in my home studio just for the fun of it over a couple of weekends. It became one of our favorite musical experiments. I even used the bass lines and voice leading to write two pieces for my Master of Music degree in composition, one of which, a string quartet, was performed at my graduate recital. We added Ric Alba to the song on bass guitar not long after, which made the tune even more interesting and uploaded it to my Soundcloud page. We never did anything else with it until we began working on Jim’s new project, Moral DK and decided to include the song re-recorded again with the new arrangement with Jim, Gary, Ric, Rob Gallas, and me performing. It’s worth a listen. Thanks for reading.

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