The Honeydrippers – Volume One

It’s a shame there wasn’t ever a Volume Two.

Robert Plant had always had a desire to perform in a successful rhythm and blues band. So he dug up his old friends Jimmy Page, whom he had played with in Led Zeppelin, and Jeff Beck, who had played with Page in The Yardbirds. And thus in 1981, with the help of some session musicians, The Honeydrippers were formed.

Featuring Plant singing in his best crooning voice on “Sea of Love”, which hit number three on the Billboard charts, and the more upbeat “Good Rockin’ at Midnight”, another top 40 hit, the EP was a huge success for The Honeydrippers.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders why there never was the “Volume Two”. Maybe they just felt it was better to leave everybody wanting more.

Heart

“What About Love” was one of the biggest hits by the band Heart. Along with the other songs on their self-titled album, it marked a significant shift in their sound that was only hinted at on their previous record. This album saw Ann and Nancy Wilson moving from hard rock bordering on progressive rock, to a more mainstream pop sound. A shift they needed to make in order to keep up with the changing music scene.

Music from the ’80s had a very distinct sound. Typically there was heavier use of reverb on the overall sound, most notably on the guitar and drums. In general, there was a heavier use of keyboards and most songs had more of a constant rhythm throughout. Also, every album needed to contain at least one or two slow ballads or love songs. Heart hit that formula perfectly on this album. It became their only album to hit number one on the billboard charts.

Normally, if a band releases a self-titled album it’s their debut. But Heart waited until their eighth. Although it was kind of a debut for them. It was their first album for Columbia Records who signed them after their contract ran out with Epic. Maybe that’s why they chose to make it eponymous.

Roger Hodgson – In the Eye of The Storm

When Rodger Hodgson had a fall out with Rick Davis and decided to leave Supertramp and release a solo album, he didn’t fool around. Almost as if he was out to prove who was the main creative Force in Supertramp, he wrote, arranged and produced every song on his debut solo album, “In the Eye of the Storm”. But he didn’t stop there. With only a handful of exceptions Rodger Hodgson please and since every vocal part on this album.

“In the Eye of the Storm” has a sound very reminiscent of Supertramp; progressive rock that is as powerful as it is insightful. It’s primarily keyboard oriented, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some fine guitar work too. But really, the overall strength of this album lies in the composition and arrangement of the songs on it.

Although Roger Hodgson’s first solo record did have better success than Supertramp’s first album without him, neither he or his former band ever achieved the level of success apart, compared to what they accomplished together. Regardless, I still rank it up there with the best of anything he did with Supertramp.

The Ventures’ Christmas Album

The Ventures’ Christmas Album was my favorite Christmas album when I was growing up. It’s still one of my favorites today. It’s also a classic example of an album being totally screwed up when released on CD.

When the Ventures’ Christmas Album was finally released on CD, I immediately ran out and bought a copy, even though the vinyl copy I owned was one I would never part with. I mean, the CD had to sound better, right?

Wrong.

Somebody at some point must have thought it would be a good idea to remaster the Ventures Christmas Album before releasing it on a digital medium. Gone was the exceptional stereo mix that gave a wonderful soundstage, making it sound like the band was right in front of you – one guitar on the left, one on the right, the bass slightly to the left, and the drums near center behind all of the others. The remastered CD sounded like all the instruments were in same place, on playing on top of each other.

And then there’s the case of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer”. It was like somebody tried to intentionally ruin the song. The Ventures played Rudolph with the lead guitar up front and a second guitar adding harmony underneath the lead. On the CD the guitar on harmony was brought up even to the lead guitar, making it sound like the Ventures were trying to play the song with some kind of non-traditional jazz styling. It was terrible.

The Ventures were a popular instrumental group in the 1960s. They released their Christmas album in 1965. What made this album so unique was that it took traditional Christmas songs and mixed them with riffs from popular rock and roll songs from the ’60s. It’s kind of like a mashup between the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Tequila” by the Champs and “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Sleigh Bells” with Walk Don’t Run” by…well, the Ventures. And this is decades before anyone ever coined the phrase mashup.

The Ventures Christmas Album is truly one of the coolest Christmas albums ever, and was ranked number 12 by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest Christmas albums ever recorded. But the only way you should ever listen to it is on the original vinyl. It may be hard to find, but its well worth the effort.

Rush – All The World’s A Stage

Oh won’t you please welcome all, RUSH! And so begins one of my all-time favorite live albums.

I’m not going to say it’s the best live album ever, because that’s subjective. And, quite honestly this is a live album that’s not for the faint of heart. Geddy Lee’s vocals, especially in Rush’s early music, could be an acquired taste. His voice was perhaps my only reservation when I first heard “All the World’s a Stage”, which was my introduction to Rush. But after a while I began to really like it.

It was in the locker room after gym class in 8th or 9th grade when one of my classmates noticed that I had an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tape with me. He asked if I like Carl Palmer’s drumming. Well, of course I did. He said he had something he wanted me to listen to. At the next gym class, he brought me in a copy of “All the World’s a Stage”. Without a doubt, Neil Peart’s drum solo on “Working Man / Finding My Way” is, and forever will be, the biggest highlight on this album for me. And for good reason – there are few who will argue against it being the best rock drum solo ever recorded. … EVER!

But a drum solo does not a record make. Nay, it was the rest of the musicianship and the arrangements on that make this recording iconic. Peart’s drum solo was just the icing on the cake.

Rush was one of the few bands that can claim to have introduced a whole new genre of music – at least until you get into the 90s in the new millennia. Progressive metal did not exist before Rush. Maybe it would have been introduced by some other band, had Rush not taken the bull by the horns. But no other band did. At least not in this universe. I am forever grateful to my friend in junior high school who introduced me to Rush; a band that has become one of my favorite bands of all time. A band that opened my ears to realms of new musical possibilities.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitious album, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.