100 Essential Albums of All Time – Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime (1988)

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One of the greatest purposes of music is its ability to tell a story. Even if you go back to the times of Beethoven or Mozart, the purpose for their creations was to entertain an audience with a tale through musical composition. There is a modern-day equivalent to the masters of yore and their symphonies: the concept album.

Concept albums have been a part of the music landscape since the 1940s, believe it or not. The idea behind such creations is that the whole of the songs together on an album tell a larger story, rather than the individual songs themselves standing alone with different tales. It is thought that the first “concept album” was the 1940 release Dust Bowl Ballads from folk legend Woody Guthrie and crooner Frank Sinatra’s works through the 40s and 50s had elements of a concept album in their creation. To be honest, however, the concept album has been best done by the world of rock music.

There are several legendary rock groups that can potentially lay claim to the creative idea regarding the concept album. The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and The Who (Tommy) are some of the groups that are credited with bringing the concept album to rock music, with the term “rock opera” being bandied about, in the 1960s. As the 70s came, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall, Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway carried the torch.

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By the 1980s, however, the “rock opera” seemed to be a dying art. With the advent of Music Television (MTV), though, it became a prime opportunity for the concept album to make a return. Duran Duran did it well with an unofficial concept album in Rio (the songs weren’t necessarily telling a story, but the videos supporting the album were all filmed in Sri Lanka and Antigua, giving them an exotic feel and a common thread).

The concept album would make its biggest return in the world of hard rock/metal in the mid to late 1980s. Foremost practitioners of the concept album was the Seattle band Queensrÿche. Building a growing following with their early releases, the band was searching for a story that they could bring to their stage performances. They would come up with one of the classic albums in the history of heavy metal and a definitive entry into the concept album/rock opera Hall of Fame with the record Qperation: Mindcrime.

Operation: Mindcrime is the story of Nikki, a recovering addict who hates the corrupt, totalitarian society that he lives in. As Nikki lies in a near amnesiac state, memories slowly come flooding back to him. As a result of his dislike of the current socioeconomic state, Nikki joins a group that is thought to be “revolutionary” but, in reality, is a team of political assassins. Nikki is used by the leader of the group, the mysterious Dr. X., who looks to use certain members of the group for his own nefarious purposes. Dr. X uses Nikki’s heroin addiction to get him to submit to brainwashing techniques that, upon Dr. X uttering the word “mindcrime,” puts Nikki in a submissive state. This is what enables Dr. X to use him for whatever purpose he desires, in particular using Nikki to kill on command.

Nikki’s humanity begins to creep through, however. A corrupt priest who works for Dr. X gives the services of a prostitute-turned-nun named Sister Mary to Nikki. It is this relationship with Sister Mary that Nikki begins to question why he is doing the evil that Dr. X orders him to do. As his love for Mary grows, Nikki begins to assert himself, first killing the priest and then telling Dr. X that he no longer wants to work for him. Dr. X threatens to withhold his daily fix of heroin from Nikki to keep him in the fold, but Nikki refuses.

As Nikki returns to the church to tell Mary what has occurred, he comes upon her lifeless body. Not knowing whether he killed her or not due to his blackouts from his addiction, he slowly begins to go insane. The story ends with Nikki in a mental hospital under suspicion of killing Mary, now fully recovered from his amnesia but not knowing how he became the person he is today.

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Pretty intense stuff, huh?

When it was released in 1988, it WAS pretty intense stuff, especially for what some considered a “hair metal” band. But it was also hailed as one of the greatest concept albums ever done, put up beside The Who’s Quadrophenia and Floyd’s The Wall. The album made Queensrÿche superstars in the music world, spawning a sequel in Operation: Mindcrime II in 2006 (in which we learn that Sister Mary actually committed suicide after Dr. X threatened to kill Nikki to keep them apart) and sparking a musical career for the band that still exists today (albeit not with the same lineup; Tate left the group after Mindcrime II and Queensrÿche continues as a band without him).

What makes the album incredible is the story that is told. Sometimes you have to stretch to be able to grasp what an artist is trying to do with their work. With Operation: Mindcrime, however, there is absolutely no question of right or wrong in the story; it is entirely the case that Dr. X, with his evil organization, is attempting to use Nikki and, by extension, Mary, for his criminal ways. Another great thing is that, with Queensrÿche and Operation: Mindcrime, you can pick up at any point in the album and immediately know where you are in the story. The album also captures your attention, from Geoff Tate’s outstanding soaring vocals to the dual guitar attack from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, with the combination forming an all-out sonic assault that seems fitting for the story that is being told.

Operation: Mindcrime is not going to be for everyone’s taste. Some people won’t like the raw edge of the hard rock sound of Queensrÿche. But if that’s the only reason that people have for not hearing one of the most outstanding rock operas/concept albums of all time, then it is their fault for closing their minds.

Previous entries in the 100 Essential Albums of All-Time

Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)
The BusBoys, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll (1980)
Rockpile, Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
Metallica, …And Justice for All (1988)
Rick Wakeman, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)

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One Problem Facing the U. S. – Indoctrination of the Young Rather than Free Thought

I was involved in a debate today after watching this young lady’s thoughts on the upcoming Presidential elections. On pretty much every count (and sadly), you can see that she has heard her parents say these things and, rather than try to think for herself, she looks for the approval of her parents. In breaking down her comments, you can easily see this for yourself and see one of the problematic issues facing the country.

After you’ve watched the video, let’s take the young lady’s comments one by one:

1) Gun rights

There is literally no possible way for the Democratic candidate for President, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to change the U. S. Constitution and remove the Second Amendment. To do such would require the vote of Congress to push through a Constitutional Amendment (think back to the one that rescinded the ban on alcohol), then it would require that 3/5th of the states – 37 – would have to vote it through also.

Clinton is looking for common sense gun control. She’s not looking for a ban on guns, which has been the mantra of the National Rifle Association for every Democratic nominee since the 1980s.

2) The Wall

While I would love to wax poetic on Pink Floyd’s opus, that’s not what the Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, is talking about and that’s not what the young girl is opining on. We are discussing a multi-BILLION-dollar plan that would violate the Constitutional rights of people to use their land as they see fit (You’re going to force someone to build a wall that blocks them from their own property? There are plenty of Texas landowners whose property stretches into Mexico…what do you do about that?). The mere thought of seizing someone’s land from them for governmental use smacks of Communism.

3) Illegal Aliens/Drug Trafficking

It isn’t illegal aliens crossing the border that is the issue. More illegals stay in the United States after an expired visa than illegally come over the border into the U. S. These visas are for school, work or familial purposes and, after the visa expires, the holder is supposed to leave. Many choose not to leave.

When it comes to drugs, the “war on drugs” has been a colossal failure. Building any type of wall isn’t going to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country, it will simply force it through other avenues. Furthermore, how deep is that wall going? As we’ve seen on the border in California, tunnels can go quite deep in a way to circumvent it.

4) Clinton’s Senate background

If the young lady in the video is 11-years old, that means she wasn’t even born when Clinton was elected from New York in 2000. She would have been BARELY three years old when Clinton, after her failed Presidential run in 2008, accepted the position of Secretary of State under President Barack Obama and resigned her Senate seat. Therefore, she has no basis to make a claim regarding Clinton’s success or failures in the Senate. This is plainly something that she has heard from her parents, making her commentary massively biased.

5) Hillary and guns

Back to #1, folks. Even if she wanted to, it would be an impossibility.

6) Terrorists/Illegals entering the country/voting

A person in the United States is more likely to be killed by a piece of furniture than by a terrorist attack on our soil. The odds of dying from terrorism on U. S. soil from 2007-2011 was 1 in 20 MILLION. The basic fact is that, more than likely, no one in this country is going to die from ISIS – or anyone else’s – terrorism today.

Looking at voting, it would be another impossibility. Since many GOP-led legislatures have forced through some sort of voter identification law, the likelihood of an illegal having the required documentation is unlikely, let alone their efforts of going to a governmental operation (a polling place) and exposing themselves to authorities.

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For those that believe all the fallacies that the young lady presented in her speech (and was apparently taught by her parents), you should be ashamed. You aren’t allowed to create your own reality and many of the subjects broached here are of that “alternate reality” that makes up the bookshelves of fiction sections. You also shouldn’t be allowed to warp a young mind before it’s had a chance to be able to form its own opinions, especially on something like political beliefs. I know that there are things that arise in parenting where you would like to have your children follow in your footsteps, but it is true parenting (and much more satisfying, even if they don’t agree with you) when you allow them to learn for themselves.