Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

“Greatest Hits” is kind of an odd title for this album. Although it’s true that all 14 songs on it were hits for the duo, the album doesn’t contain the original versions of all their hits. Four of the songs that appear on it are live, previously unreleased versions. Additionally, one of the studio songs, “America” wasn’t even a hit for them…yet. Although it appeared “Bookends”, their final album together, it was never released as a single until two years later when this greatest hits album came out. Then it became a hit.

None of that stopped Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits from being hugely successful. The album was released in 1972, two years after Simon and Garfunkel broke up. There was still high demand for new material from them at the time, so certainly having the live tracks on the record didn’t hurt. The album still holds the record in the US as the best selling album by a duo.

Jethro Tull – Aqualung (Original Master Recording)

Aqualung is the quintessential Jethro Tull album. If you own only one Jethro Tull album, this should be it.

Aqualung was one of the first albums in my collection that I “upgraded” to digital. Unfortunately, I got rid of the album before I actually listened to the CD – it sounded like s***.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a music snob. Scratch that, I am somewhat of a music snob, but that’s not why I thought the original CD release of Aqualung sucked. I thought it sucked because… well, it sucked… even the record company eventually admitted it. Because of litigation against them regarding the original CD release, Chrysalis records recalled it, offering a refund to everyone who had purchased the CD. They posted a recall of it in music magazines and it was announced on numerous radio stations, and I darn shure took advantage of it.

Care has to be taken when bringing an analog recording over to digital. When Aqualung was originally released on CD, that care was not taken. There was so much tape hiss and noise during the numerous quiet passages on the recording, at times it was overbearing of the music. The album was eventually, remastered as a 25th Anniversary Edition on CD where the time and effort were taken to do it right.

I always wanted to replace my vinyl copy of Aqualung. But again, because of the quiet passages, it was hard to find one in the condition of what I had gotten rid of. That is until recently, when I ran across an original master recording of it that was in mint condition.With as good of a job they did on the 25th anniversary CD, I can honestly say that this sounds way better. This is the best Aqualung has ever sounded, even compared to the 25th anniversary CD. This is the way it was meant to be heard.

If that makes me a music snob, so be it.

A lot of people think, because of the lyrics on Aqualung, that Ian Anderson was an atheist, or at least anti-religion. Nothing could be further from fact. What he was against was the corruption of religion, which he felt was the case with the Church of England.

He speaks of this revelation on the very last song on Aqualung. In it he tells of how, after some philosophical contemplation when he was a young school boy, he went to the school’s headmaster, and told him that the God he believed in was not the kind you “Wind Up” on Sundays. My beliefs couldn’t be more in line with his. Maybe that’s the reason I love this album so much.

Sweet – Give Us A Wink

Sweet was a band that never could really find who they wanted to be. But that’s not really a bad thing. In the wake of trying to find who they were as a band, they left a flood of great music. Hands down, “Give Us A Wink” was the hardest rocking album Sweet ever did. This was Sweet’s attempt at metal, and just like Led Zeppelin didn’t white nail reggae with their song “D’yer Mak’r” and Radiohead didn’t quite nail electronica with their album “Kid A”, sweet doesn’t quite nail metal here. But they come up with something that is so close, and at times, so much cooler.

There weren’t really any big hits off “Give Us A Wink”, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a phenomenal album. Sweet, up to this point has been restricted by their management and had a lot of their songs written for them. This was the album where they decided they were going to do what they wanted to do. And what they wanted to do was rock their asses off.

Sweet never holds back on this album. The “Action” starts with a synth leading into vocal arrangements that segues into distorted power chords, a cash register, and a great guitar solo (yes, I said a cash reister). It doesn’t let up until the last song on side one, and then only slightly. “Healer” could hardly be called a mellow song – it has more of a slow, eerie and then bluesy feeling. 

My only gripe about this album is that the beginning to side two opens with “The Lies In Her Eyes” with its synthesizer opening that is a bit too familiar with “Fox On The Run”, a previous hit by Sweet. But the moment is short, but Sweet. 

Cockroach has one of the coolest Reverb drenched drum intros of any song. It is is followed by “Keep It In” which is an unbelievably twisted Jam. This was the song where Sweet put out to prove that as musicians, they were a force to be reckoned with. This was followed by the album closer, “Fourth Of July”, which brings it down just a little (but not much).

Previous to this album, I had heard Sweet only on their two hits at that time, “Fox on the Run” and “Ballroom Blitz”. A girl that I was seeing for very brief, Had an 8-track tape of “Give Us A Wink” and gave it to me because she didn’t like it. I think I broke up with her because of her poor taste in music.

Kansas – Leftoverture

One of the things I always found most intriguing about Kansas was not their music, but their lyrics. Kerry Livgren was one of the founding members and primary songwriters for Kansas. His lyrics often explored spiritual discoveries. Lyrics to almost all the songs on “Leftoverture” are examples of this, including the biggest hit off of the album “Carry On Wayward Son”. Other songs off the album like “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”, “Cheyenne Anthem”, and “Questions Of My Childhood” also explore a variety of spiritual themes. There really isn’t any song on “Leftoverture” that doesn’t, except maybe “What’s On My Mind”.

Going into the 80s Livgren became a born-again Christian and record a solo album of Christian rock, “Seeds Of Change”. Two of the songs on that album feature Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals. So yes metal-heads, Ronnie James Dio sang on a Christian album. As a matter of fact, Ronnie James Dio was a fairly spiritual guy himself. But that’s another story for another time.

Unfortunately, Livgren’s Christian discovery what eventually lead to the demise of Kansas, as Steve Walsh, keyboardist in lead singer, and also one of the primary songwriters, felt Kansas was becoming too much like a Christian band. Eventually he, Livgren, and violinist and vocalist Robby Steinhardt would leave the band, causing them to eventually disband all together. Although, they would reunite periodically in various forms in the years to follow.

Cocteau Twins – The Pink Opaque

“The Pink Opaque” is a compilation album released in 1986 that was meant to introduce the music of the Cocteau Twins, a Scottish band that had released three LPs and five EPs in the UK since 1982, to American audiences. Despite having never released an album in America, the band had gained a cult following from airplay on college and alternative radio stations. The album consisted of material culled from all of their previous releases.

With swirling, effect laden guitars, a drifting, occasionally heavy bass minimalistic drums, and Elizabeth Fraser’s distinct dipping and soaring soprano voice, the band had a dreamscape quality to their music. But there was also a heavy goth influence, reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure. This is music that swirls around inside your head. Although not technically complicated, it’s music that’s intriguing and thought-provoking. It’s all about how the pieces all fit together.

I first discovered Cocteau Twins after picking up another somewhat obscure album by a band called Felt. That album, “Gold Mine Trash”, was recommended to me by the clerk of a local record store, who had come to know me fairly well. Elizabeth Fraser sang backing vocals a song called “Primitive Painters”. Her voice immediately grabbed me.

“The Pink Opaque” has special meaning to me as it was an album I purchased while going through a difficult time in my life. I could relate to the dark, somber mood of the music, yet at the same time found it oddly uplifting. It was an album that, with its layers of sound swirling in my head, helped me disconnect from what was bothering me, allowing me to reconnect with what I appreciated in life. Consequently, “The Pink Opaque” is one of my go-to albums when I’m feeling down or need to deeply ponder some subject. But sometimes, like now, I listen to it just because it’s a really good record.

The Charlie Daniels Band – Greatest Hits

I worked in radio from the mid-eighties to the early 90s. My first radio station was a small market country station in the thumb of Michigan, WLEW. The nice thing about being a DJ at a small-market radio station is, for the most part, you get to play what you want. I played a lot of Charlie Daniels while I was there.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a rocker. To me, the Charlie Daniels Band was always the perfect combination of rock and country music. Best known for his fiddle-playing, Charlie Daniels was also an accomplished guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass player. 

As should be expected from any Greatest Hits compilation, every song on this album is exceptional. But there are definitely some standouts.

“The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is probably the least traditional country song Charlie Daniels ever did. If it werent for his North Carolina accent, it might not even be associated with country music. It tells the story of a swampland that’s haunted by the ghost of an greedy old man who was murdered for his money.

On the other end of the spectrum is “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”. Opening and closing with Charlie’s signature fiddle playing, it pays homage to the other country and southern rock performers that were becoming popular at that time. 

“Still in Saigon” paints a poignant picture of a solder who has returned from the Vietnam war. After surviving a brutal war, he returns home only to be tormented by his memories and finding himself hated and chastised by many of the people around him. Sadly this is an accurate depiction for many who fought in Vietnam.

“In America” is a song written following the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and the recession the American economy was dealing with at the same time. It is a patriotic and prideful song with a strong “united we stand” message.

“Long Haired Country Boy was the first song I had ever heard by The Charlie Daniels Band. A simple song about living a simple life. Simply, one of my favorites.

“Uneasy Rider” was Charlie Daniels’ first hit single. It’s a humorous song in which Charlie’s car has a tire blowout down in a redneck town where they don’t take kindly to “long-haired hippies.” When his hair falls out from under his hat, he has to fast-talk his way out of trouble…and drive away even faster. Luckily, the tire was fixed in the nick of time.

And then there’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which needs no introduction. It’s the CDB’s most famous song and proves that among fiddle players, he is the best of the best. 

I have had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Daniels live, in concert three times. The most memorable was in Nashville, Tennessee, at Volunteer Jam 8, a benefit concert he would put on every year. I was standing near the front of the crowd when he tossed one of his bows out into the audience. I saw it flying towards me  I reached up,  jumped just a little bit, and touched it ever so briefly as it bounced off my fingertips. 

So close.

The Rockets – Live Rockets

The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets. 

A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.

In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.

Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.

Strawbs – From The Witchwood

Sometimes, when I really like a band, I like to go back and check-out their origins. What bands and kind of music did their members make before they were in the band that made them famous. Today, the band is Yes and the musician is Rick Wakeman. 

Strawbs started out in 1964 as a bluegrass band. But no Rick Wakeman did not play in a bluegrass band. In 1967 they shortened their name to Strawbs and signed a deal with A&M records. They released their first album in 1968. By that time their sound had evolved into more of a folk rock sound. By the time Rick Wakeman joined them in 1970, they were starting to incorporate elements of progressive rock into their repertoire and Wakeman’s impressive work on keyboards was an obvious asset for their developing style. Rick Wakeman would only stay with Strawbs for two albums. “From the Witchwood” was the last record he would play on with them before leaving to join Yes.

From the Witchwood is a combination of many different styles. At times having a strong European classical influence, combined with folk music, some songss feel like they would be right at home being played at a Renaissance Festival. This is most evident on the album’s opener, “A Glimpse of Heaven”. Other songs have a more aggressive sound to them. 

Although Rick Wakeman has a few short keyboard flourishes on side one, “Sheep”, which starts off side two, seems to be written around his organ and Moog synthesizer work. If Wakeman had joined Genesis instead of yes, their music would have probably sounded something like this.

“From the Witchwood” is definitely a good album when you want to listen to music that mixes many different styles with an array of different instruments like clarinets, sitars, harpsichords, and recorder, along with traditional Rock instruments like the mellotron, organ, guitar, bass, and drums. However, except for a few passages, it is not an album you would immediately associate with Rick Wakeman. It’s easy to see why he would have left to play on the more progressive rock songs by Yes.

Boston (Half Speed Master)

Boston’s debut album was both a blessing and a curse for the band. At the time of its release it became the most successful debut album by any band and went on the sell over 17 million copies in the United States and 25 million worldwide. So how can you follow up with success like that? Well, the short answer is you can’t. 

Although Boston’s next two albums, “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” we’re solid albums and would be considered extremely successful by any other band, they just couldn’t come near the success Boston’s eponymous debut. The fact that there was an 8-year gap in between the second and third album (caused by the master tapes being damaged in a flood) didn’t help either. Still, all three albums stand as a testament to an exceptionally talented band.

All three albums were recorded in the basement studio of Tom Scholz, chief songwriter and guitarist for the band. SChola was actually a classically trained pianist, which helped shape Boston’s sound- classical elements mixed with hard rock, interweaving with instrumental melodies and harmonies exhibited by no other bands at the time. Their sound was imitated by, and garnered success for, many other bands that followed them – a sound that was unfairly coined as “corporate rock”. In reality, it was just plain and simply a sound that offered enough complexity to appeal to people who wanted to intimately listen to their music, yet at the same time, have a simplicity in it’s hooks and song structures that appealed to the passive listener as well. 

If you listen to classic rock radio today, there is not one song on this album that is not regularly played. Quite an amazing accomplishment for a first outing. Then again, this was an amazing debut album.

REO Speedwagon – Live: You Get What You Play For

REO Speedwagon had their greatest success in the 80s with their more pop oriented songs. I love the album “Hi-Infidelity” and was so glad it brought much deserved success to a band that was vastly underrated for over a decade. But to me, the epitome of what REO Speedwagon was happened in the 1970s, and was encapsulated on their live album “You Get What You Play For”. This album ranks up there with the greatest of the great live albums which are in my humble opinion Bob Seeger’s “Live Bullet”, Peter Frampton’s “Come’s Alive” and REO’s live album from 1977.

What gave this, and the preceding Studio albums by REO Speedwagon, their special character, was the band’s geographical Origins. Coming from Indiana, their early music had midwestern rock roots with just a slight hint of southern rock influence. Then they combined this, ever-so-slightly, with progressive rock that was influential in the seventies, and created a sound that was unmistakaby unigue. Yes, some of this came through in their later, more pop oriented material, but to me this was the epoch of what REO Speedwagon was at their finest.

I would be remiss to not mention every song on this album, in mentioning what makes a great. It really is the combination of the whole. But if I were to list standouts, they would be the opener “Like You Do”, “Keep Pushin'”, “157 Riverside Avenue”, with its incredible improvisational interplay between lead singer Kevin Cronin and lead guitarist Gary Richrath, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, and what has to be one of the finest live album closers of all time, “Golden Country”.

This album is also one of the reasons I started getting turned off by compact discs. Although they offered convenience, quite often the remastering of some albums left something to be desired. Either the recordings were over compressed, muddying the sound of the original recording, or they came across sounding thin, losing much of the dynamic range of the vinyl record. With “You Get What You Play For”, it was the latter. 

What made it even worse though, was the omission of critical songs off the record. To omit “Little Queenie” might have been forgivable, but “Gary’s Guitar Solo” was one of the defining moments of this album. To delete it was near blasphemy. The CD noted that this was because of time constraints. I later recorded my own CD, direct from the album (this was in the era predating MP3s). I merely edited the length of some of the audience sounds in between the songs and was able to fit the entire album onto one CD, so I call bulls***!. They just didn’t want to take the time to do it right – to give “You Get What You Play For” the respect it rightfully deserved.