Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti┬á

Most who grew up in the golden age of vinyl will be quick to claim that Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest bands ever. That’s a proclamation easily proven by their sixth album, “Physical Graffiti”.

Debuting at number one on both U.S. and U.K. record charts. 16 times platinum in the U.S. A double album that is ranked by Q magazine as the 28th greatest album of all time, and the 71st by Rolling Stone magazine. 

That in itself is impressive. But consider this: Almost half of the songs on Physical Graffiti were throw-aways from previous albums – 7 out of the 15 on it.

Now ponder that for a moment…

Five Led Zeppelin albums preceded Physical Graffiti. 

Five highly successful albums. 

They obviously didn’t omit the wrong songs. But the the songs Zeppelin threw away still blew away almost all the songs by any other band at that time. 

That’s a thought that blows me away every time I listen to Physical Graffiti. 

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (half speed mastered)

More than any other Pink Floyd album, “Wish You Were Here” is a showcase for Rick Wright’s keyboards. Sure, David Gilmour lays down some impressive guitar work (as usual), but it’s really the synthesizers and other keys that set the mood of the songs on this record. 

The album opens and closes with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Pink Floyd’s former gutarist and founding member Syd Barrett, who had tragically become a mental casualty of the late 1960’s drug culture. He had been kicked out of the band before the release of their  second album because he just couldn’t function anymore. He went into seclusion shortly thereafter. 

Sandwiched in between the opening and closing of “Shine On…”, were “Welcome To The Machine”, “Have A Cigar”, and the title track. The first two were somewhat scathing commentaries on the music industry. The song “Wish You Were Here” was a song about longing and isolation – it was also a tribute to Barrett. Throughout all the songs, Rick Wright’s jazz tinged keyboard style consistently sets the tone perfectly, making this one of my all-time favorite recordings – one I am elated to have a half speed master copy of.

Half-speed mastered albums were audiophile pressings that were done in very limited numbers and offered superior sound quality because of the slower speed used to cut the master disc that the copies were made from. “Wish You Were Here” is the first audiophile copy I owned of any album.

INXS – Listen Like Thieves

“Listen Like Thieves”, the fifth album from INXS, was the Australian band’s big worldwide breakout album. It found the band moving away from the purely alternative rock sound they had on previous albums to a more mainstream sound. 

I originally bought this album partly because I owned their previous one, Shabooh Shoobah, and in part because I was a big fan of the producer of this album, Chris Thomas. He had worked with George Martin on the Beatles White Album, helped mix Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and produced albums by Roxy Music, The Sex Pistols, Pete Townshend, and many other albums I enjoyed. I honestly can’t say I know of one album he produced that I didn’t enjoy. He was a producer who was always able to bring out the best in a band. “Listen Like Thieves” was no exception.

“Listen Like Thieves” threw INXS into the national spotlight and yielded three hit singles for them; “What You Need”, “This Time”, and the title track. Their next album, “Kick”, which they wisely chose to also have produced by Chris Thomas, would prove to be even more successful for them.

Heart – Greatest Hits/Live

Don’t let the name fool you. Even though, this 1980 double album by Heart, includes a great collection of their most popular songs from the 1970s along with live concert performances, it also contined three brand new tracks from the Seattle rockers as well as a somewhat obscure non-hit from their fifth album. One of the new songs, “Tell It Like It Is” became a new hit for the band, but the other new tracks were strange non-typical offerings from Ann and Nancy Wilson and crew. 

“Strange Euphoria” was a somewhat lo-fi funk/dance track that sounds like it could have been recorded live in the studio. “Hit Single” was a collage of voices and odd studio outtakes, that I’m not even sure qualifies as a song, altough it is interesting to listen to. It is definitely the most bizarre track Heart ever recorded. 

Side four closes out the album with live covers of hits from other bands including a fierce and thundering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. 

European record buyers kind of got ripped off with this record. Heart wasn’t as popular overseas as they were in the United States, so “Greatest Hits/Live” was released there as a single album with their five biggest hits on one side and five live tracks on the other. They didn’t know what they were missing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

One of the greatest things about buying an album is that sometimes you discover the songs you hear on the radio are actually part of a bigger musical composition. Unless you actually listened to Thin Lizzy’s album Jailbreak in it entirety, or read the back cover, you would have no idea that the two songs from the album that you heard all over the radio in 1976 (and are still classic rock radio staples today) we’re actually part of a larger conceptual piece of music. 

The two biggest hits off the album – the title track and “The Boys Are Back in Town” are two small parts of a story about a world ruled by the Overmaster, who controls all media and religious belief, and who has imprisons everyone who doesn’t comply to his will. A riot is organized in one of the jails that leads to a planned mass escape. All the escapees are captured – except for four. On the lamb, they start broadcasting banned music and become the inspiration for the people to rise up and take their freedom back. It’s not a complicated story, but then again, neither is the concept of freedom. 

The best thing about Jailbreak however, isn’t how the songs all fit together to tell a bigger story, it’s how they tell the bigger story and also stand alone as a just a collection of great songs. 

Tool – Lateralus

Q: What do you get when you mix Pink Floyd, Metallica, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and a heavy dose of originality?

A: I can’t say for sure, but I bet it would be something along the lines of Tool.

Lateralus is one of their best albums. 

…No…

I think it IS their best album.

‘Nuff said.

Oh yeah, picture disks are freaking cool too.

Now, ’nuff said.

Benny Goodman – Plays World Favorites In High-Fidelity

The Swing band era was the original jam band era, and Benny Goodman was the original jam band leader, as is proven on this record.

Benny Goodman was all about the beat. And with Goodman’s music, the beat provided the pavement for the avenue to the solos. And it’s not just Benny and his clarinet that get the spotlight here – everyone gets the chance to break out and cut loose, free-forming on top of the beat.

Recorded live at the 1958 World Fair in Brussells, this album captures Benny Goodman and his band in top form. And in contrast to many of his early recordings, which suffered from the limitations of the recording technology of their time, this album captures them in top sound quality too – or as the album title puts it – “in high fidelity”.

One of the highlights of this album is the closing track, a 16 minute version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”, featuring solos from nearly all the band members on top of some of the best drumming you’ll hear anywhere; and it’s all wrapped up by a beat basking drum solo by Roy Burns. A jamming end to an incredible live performance; one that proved that with Benny Goodman, it truly was all about the solos – and all about the beat.

Nazareth – Hair Of The Dog

Oh, those pesky record companies – not letting Scottish rockers Nazareth give their 1975 album and the eponymous song from it, “Hair Of The Dog” its originally intended name. Not to worry. They had a plan “B.”

“Hair of the dog” is a phrase that refers to an old time medicinal remedy for animal bites. It was once belief that if you applied a salve with some part of the animal mixed in it – the “hair of the dog that bit you,” for example – it would help heal the wound. This later made it’a way to metaphorically refer to a shot of booze in the morning as a cure for a hangover. The title to this album has nothing to do with either.

Nazareth originally wanted to name their sixth album “Son Of A Bitch” but A&M records was having none of that. The band decided to do a play on words to give the album a title alluding to what they wanted it to be. The phrase “Heir Of The Dog”, is a homonym for the actual album title (well, at least if you prononce it the way a Scotsman would). What Nazareth is referring to with “Hair Of The Dog” is atually “Heir Of The Dog.” Quite literally, a (male) heir of a (female) dog is a son of a bitch. 

So…yeah…take that, record company.

“Hair Of The Dog” is Nazareth’s most successful album. It has sold over two million copies. It spawned numerous hits for the band, including the title track. 

Only the U.S. version of the album contains one of the biggest hits from the album, a cover version of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts.” On all copies sold outside the U.S., that song was replaced by a cover version of “Guilty” by Randy Newman. I think the U.S. got the better deal on that one.

Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

“Songs From The Big Chair” is, in my opinion, one of the best albums to come out of the ’80s. It is pop music at its best. Then again, like any exceptional album, the songs don’t fit neatly into just one genre. With layers of electronic and traditional percussion underneath the hooks and melodied of the guitars, synthesizers, piano, and electronics, (and the occasional saxaphone) “Songs From The Big Chair” experiments with a variety of styles borderlining it and sometimes even crossing it over into progressive rock territory, much in the same way Peter Gabriel did on his later albums.

“Songs From The Big Chair” was Tears For Fears’ most successful album, topping the charts in the U.S. and Canada and taking the second from top spot in the U.K.

Rush – Moving Pictures

I remember anticipating the release of Rush’s eighth album, “Moving Pictures”, probably more than any other album I had up to that point. Yet it would be almost three months after it came out before I would actually get a chance to listen to it. By then, almost everyone I knew had already heard it.

Before “Moving Pictures” came out, I had always considered Rush to be one of the best kept secrets in rock. It wasn’t that they didn’t get any radio airplay, or that people didn’t know about them. It was just that with as great of musicians that they were, I never felt they got the recognition they deserved. They were a great band, but hardly anyone realized it. It was like a secret only a select few knew – and I was fine with that.

A friend of mine turned me on to Rush when I was in high school. He lent me their live album, “All The World’s A Stage”, because I had told him how much I liked the drummers Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer) and Bill Burford  (Yes) and he wanted me to hear Neil Peart’s drum solo. I was an immediate fan, not just of Peart, but of Geddy Lee and Alex Leifson as well. I checked out a couple of their albums after that, and picked up their seventh album, “Permanent Waves”, the day it came out. when I heard their newest album was coming out in February of 1981, I couldn’t wait to get it – but I would have to.

I started Army basic training the third week of January 1981. We didn’t get to hear any music from the outside. Until basic training was over, we never got off base. To the new recruits, the outside world did not exist. By the time it did exist for me again, it seemed everyone knew who Rush was and their songs were all over the radio. You couldn’t help but hear songs from “Moving Pictures” everywhere. Nearly everyone thought they were a great band. The secret was out – and I was fine with that.