The Beatles (original master recording and white vinyl edition)

Unofficially known as the “White Album” because of its plain white cover, The Beatles was the beginning of the end for The Fab Four. The recording sessions were marred with many arguments over creative differences. John Lennon started bringing Yoko Ono to the studio with him, which the band had always had a policy of never bringing wives or girlfriends to the recording sessions. At one point, Ringo Starr walked out the studio and for a short period, it was rumored he may have left the band (of course, he later returned).

It’s strange how so many bands, during some of their most turbulent times in the studio, produce some of their most brilliant albums. The Beatles’ “White Album” was no exception. Even if one doesn’t consider this album one of the Beatles’ best, it can’t be denied that it is their most varied in musical styles. 

The first pressings of The Beatles, had a pure white cover, with the band’s name embossed on the cover. Later pressings, like this original master and the one pressed on white vinyl, had the band’s name printed in gray letters. The original master did not include any of the extras that came with both the original release and the white vinyl Edition.

When I sit down to seriously listen to the “White Album”, I will always put on the original master version. When I’m doing other things and it’s more or less playing in the background, I usually put on the white vinyl edition, just because I think it’s cooler.

Rory Gallagher – Aginst The Grain

Back in the days of vinyl’s first coming, Rolling Stone magazine printed a cover that said “Clapton is God”. Nothing personal against Clapton or Rolling Stone, but in my opinion, it should have said “Gallagher is God”. 

Maybe it was Rory’s Irish heritage that gave him a more emotional style, that you knew he, and more importantly you could feel. Maybe Clapton just tried too hard to make that “one note” feel just right. Whatever it was, whether Rory Gallagher was making his Strat cry in pain, sing in joy, or scream in agony, his playing always came across like a loose and free Irishman, which in comparison, left Clapton sounding somewhat like a stiff and reserved Brit. 

Don’t get me wrong, Clapton was great. It’s just that Rory was better.

‘Nuff said.

Heart – Dreamboat Annie (half speed master)

One of the finer debut albums by any band, “Dreamboat Annie” spawned three hit singles for Heart: “Magic Man”, “Crazy On You”, and the title track. In addition to those songs, the album contained a wonderful combination of acoustic delicacies, hard rock riffs, and vocal intricacies. The song writing and arrangements on “Dreamboat Annie” are so impressive here that its hard to believe this was a first outing for Heart and not an album by a seasoned rock band.

Heart originally formed in Seattle, Washington but later relocated to Vancouver British Columbia in Canada. “Dreamboat Annie” was originally released in Canada in 1975 on Mushroom Records which had no distribution in the United States. The album sold extremely well in Canada and Mushroom decided to expand into the U.S, releasing “Dreamboat Annie” initially in Heart’s former hometown in 1976. The album did equally impressive there. That success subsequently spread across the U.S. and the success of “Dreamboat Annie” formed a strong foundation for the group’s future popularity.

The success of the “Dreamboat Annie” led to an eventual legal dispute over royalties and a subsequent split between Heart and Mushroom Records. Following the split Heart signed with Epic Records and went on to even greater success, and Mushroom Records went bankrupt. It’s kind of easy to see who got the best end of that deal.

Icicle Works

Icicle Works came out with their debut album in 1984. I picked it up at a record store, on the recommendation of one of the store employees. It was absolutely what I was looking for at the time. 

I just couldn’t get in most of the metal hair bands or synthesized pop and dance music that was being played on the radio in the ’80s. It’s not that I felt all of it was bad, I just felt too much of it offered very little in originality. So I started getting into a lot of alternative music at the time. 

What first struck me about Icicle Works was the drum work. The opening song, “Whisper To A Scream”, had such awesome pedal work on the drums that I had to imagine the drummer being totally exhausted by the time the song was over. The rest of the musicianship was also extremely good and the songs themselves unique and memorable; the kind that would stick in your head well after the needle in left the groove. 

But it’s the arrangement of the songs that really what pulls this album together. The keyboards set a great underlying atmosphere, accented perfectly by the bass. The guitars dip and sore along with little flourishes of percussion that accent them perfectly.

Listening to this album now, I can’t help but hear elements of U2, Echo And The Bunnymen, and The Cure as well as a few of my other favorite alternative bands – but not to the point of imitation. I’m really surprised I never picked up any other albums by Icicle Works. The next time I’m in the used record store, I’ll have to be sure to look for something else by them.

Bob Seger – Back in ’72

Don’t look for Bob Seger’s “Back In ’72” on CD. You won’t find it. Along with most of Seger’s really works, “Back in ’72” was never officially released on anything other than album, cassette, and 8 track tape. 

Considered by many to be one of his best early albums, “Back in ’72” is the first album by Bob Seger that features his longtime saxophone player Alto Reed. But don’t look for all to read listed in the credits. On this album he appeared under his real name, Tom Cartmell.

By this point in his musical career, Bob Seger had become known as Detroit’s best kept secret. This was his sixth album oh, and he had not really gained any notoriety outside of Southeastern Michigan. That would change a few years later when he would release the album “Beautiful Loser”, and one of the best live albums ever, “Live Bullet”. The latter of which contained Seger’s breakout hit, the live version of “Turn the Page”. If you ever want to hear the studio version, you’ll have to queue up “Back In ’72” on your turntable.

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

If you want to discover a great album by an artist you really like…I’m talking about an album that you hardly ever hear any of the songs from it on the radio, except maybe one, but it will forever be one of your favorites by that artist….then I have a formula for you: Find their breakthrough album, and buy the album that came out just before it. I’ve used this formula many times, and have almost never been disappointed. “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie is one of the best examples of this that I can think of.

Yes, David Bowie had some hits before this album. Space Oddity, off his debut, was probably his biggest to this point. But none of is albums ever attained the success and musical respect of Ziggy Stardust and his albums that  immediately followed it. That was the first album by Bowie where I really went “WOW!” His preceding fourth album, “Hunky Dory”, was the second one.

The thing that made “Hunky Dory” so great was it found David Bowie in the first of many of his musically transitional phases. Bowie’s early albums were straightforward rock with a little folk rock thrown in at times. Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs almost defined glam rock. Sandwiched right in between is “Hunky Dory”. It was the best of both worlds.

I often wonder if David Bowie was hinting at the fact that this was a transitional album for him – a sort of bridge between two defining styles. He did after all, open up the album with the song “Changes”. And there were many changes to come in David Bowie’s illustrious career. His timing with the changes he would make with his music to follow, made him seem like a musical chameleon. Though not one that adapted to things as they were, but to things that were to come, right around the corner. Hunky dory was the album that defined David Bowie as an artist who was always just one step ahead of the times.

Yes – Fragile

Yes was a band that went through many iterations of of membership during the band’s long history. As a matter of fact Chris Squire, the bassist, is the only member to have existed consistently throughout the entire history of the band up until his death in 2015. The band lineup on “Fragile” is considered by many, myself included, as being the best lineup Yes has ever had, potentially to the point of actually defining the band.

This was proven most evident after the release of 90125 in the 1980’s, Jon Anderson left Yes and joined his former bandmates in a group named after the four members in it. Along with Anderson on lead vocals, “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe” included former Yes members Bill Bruford (drums and percussion), Rick Wakeman (keyboards) and Steve Howe (guitar). While Yes released a new album under their current band roster at the same time its former members released their Collective debut. Many considered “Anderson, Wakeman, Blrford, And Howe” to be more Yes than Yes at the time.

In the long history of Yes, former band members from the band’s distant and more recent past would continue to weave in and out of its rosters. Although I appreciate, and even enthusiastically enjoy all the incarnations of Yes, the musical chemistry betwen the members of Yes on “Fragile” is by far my all-time favorite and this album will forever remain my favorite album by Yes.

U.K. 

It must be a chore keeping a super group together. They always seem to have a short life, but as the old adage goes, “the candle that burns the shortest also burns the brightest”. When you combine multiple people who are as equally creative as they are talented, you can’t help but have strong opinions of the direction songs and performances should go. Everyone wants to do it their way, and everyone thinks they have the right answer to make the songs great. And the thing is, each one of them is right in their own way.

U.K. was a British band that formed in 1976. They were a lesser-known supergroup but no less impressive than many others. They were definitely one of the most talented. They only released three albums in their short history, one of those being a live album, and had a personal change between the first and second album. But all of their albums are amazing. My personal favorite is their eponymous debut.

Consisting of John Wetton, formally of King Crimson and Uriah Heep, on vocals and bass, Allan Holdsworth, a virtuoso guitarist who had been a member of Tempest, Soft Machine and Gong, keyboardist and violinist Eddie jobson who came from Roxy Music and Frank Zappa’s band, and Bill Bruford, who was the former drummer for Yes and King Crimson, UK’s music was complex, with many rhythmic changes and challenging time signatures. Their songs focused mainly on the music with long instrumentals and only short vocal passages. They were a band that was all about playing music that was as enjoyable to listen to as it was difficult to play. Some called this self-indulgent. Others, like me, called it incredible. By definition, it was called progressive rock.

Before U.K. could release a second album, Allan Holdsworth would leave the band, followed soon after by Bill Bruford. The equally talented Terry Bozzio, who came from Frank Zappa’s band, took the place behind the drum kit. Interestingly, nobody  replaced Holdsworth on guitar. Rather, the band became a trio , with Eddie Jobson playing all the lead parts on either keyboards or Electric violin.

Eventually, creative differences between Eddie Jobson and John Wetton would split the band apart permanently, but not before they would release their third and final live album.

Toto IV (half speed master)

For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of 80s pop music. I was more into alternative music back then. However, in the case of Toto’s fourth album I make a huge exception. This is an album that is great from start to finish. But then again, considering the musicians on it that’s not too surprising. If you read liner notes and credits on albums the way I do, even before Toto released their first album, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather would have been more than familiar names. Playing as session musicians, they performed on more albums, with more artists, than I have time to mention here. Even after Toto formed, its members continued to make individual appearances on albums by other bands.

It’s not surprising that so many artist would want them to lend their talents. The key members of Toto are perhaps some of the most versatile musicians to ever perform in rock and popular music. That versatility is what really shines on Toto IV. There is nearly something for everyone on this album. Rock, Soul, Funk, progressive rock, Hard Rock, jazz R&B, they’re all present in one manner or the other. It’s that combination that places Toto IV so far beyond nearly any other pop album from the eighties.

Most people probably think that Toto derived the name of the band from the dog in The Wizard of Oz. But according to an early interview with the band members, they actually got their name from the Latin phrase and “in toto”, which means “all encompassing”. The band felt that phrase accurately described the diversity and Incorporation of so many different musical styles in their music.

Walter Carlos – Switched On Bach

What do you get when you take the compositions of Baroque Era composer Johann Sebastian Bach and interpret them on the Moog synthesizer? That’s the question Walter (Wendy) Carlos was inspired to answer in 1968, shortly after the birth of the Moog synthesizer.

This album is one of my all-time favorites and, when I regrettably and ignorantly thinned down my record collection decades ago and started “upgrading” to CDs, this was one of those albums I never thought I would be released on CD, so I held on to it.

I love classical music. And although I tend to be more of a fan of the the faster solo oriented material from composers like Mozart, I still really love the heavier density of Bach’s compositions. In today’s heavy metal music, Bach would have been your AC/DC or Black Sabbath, while Mozart would have been more in the realm of solo shredders like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.

Switched-on Bach is one of my all-time favorite albums because it took age-old classical compositions, songs that were familiar to so many, and explored them in ways that, up to that point, could never have been done. The performances of these songs are not a recomposition of what Bach had written. They are interpretations of his compositions as they were written, performed on a modern instrument that did not exist in his lifetime. I have no doubt that had the Moog synthesizer existed in Bach’s lifetime, he would have composed quite a bit of his music on it. It was a perfect fit. It took the genius and insight of Walter (Wendy) Carlos to first recognize this and bring the reality to fruition.

So you may be asking “why do I keep referring to the artist performing this music as Walter (Wendy)?” You see, to my surprise, this album was eventually released on CD, and I did eventually buy it. What I couldn’t help noticing, was that the album I had owned for many years was credited to Walter Carlos, while the CD was designated to the artist Wendy Carlos.

I have to admit, I didn’t really do my homework here to verify, but I’d lay odds on an operation being involved somewhere that resulted in this name discrepancy.

But that’s just a hunch.