Kiss – Alive!

Kiss is known as much for their looks as they are for their music, maybe more. Although their music was pretty much straight forward hard rock, their concerts took pyrotechnics and stage theatrics to a whole new level in the ’70s.

Even though Kiss had one of the most devoted followings in rock and roll, there were still many who wrote their music off as simple three-chord rock and roll. And when you get right down to it it is. But Kiss was all about presentation. And on “Alive!”, they proved that their concerts weren’t only about the presentation of visuals and theatrics. They were about the presentation of the music. Fairly basic songs? Yes. But it’s all in how they’re performed that makes “Alive!” one of the greatest live albums ever.

Being from Detroit, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the picture on the back cover of “Alive!” was taken at Detroit’s legendary Cobo Hall. Many of the songs on “Alive!” were recorded at Cobo Hall the night that picture was taken.

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick

“Thick as a Brick” was Jethro Tull’s follow up to their breakthrough album “Aqualung” and it was a joke. But that was the point.

Progressive rock was at the height of its popularity when Jethro Tull released their fourth album, “Aqualung”. While Ian Anderson and the rest of the band members considered “Aqualung” to be merely a collection of songs, music critics tried to relate all the songs together and constantly referred to it as a grand concept album in their reviews. Feeling the critics were obsessed with concept albums, Jethro Tull decided to give them something to write about; fabricating the most grandiose of progressive rock concept albums. And thus was born Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock.

Gerald Bostock was only 8 years old when he wrote his epic poem, “Thick as a Brick”. It won a highly distinguished poetry contest in Britain. However, the poem was later disqualified because it was decided that it presented an “extremely unwholesome attitude towards life, his God and country”. On top of that, after reading his poem on the BBC, Little Milton used a four-letter expletive during the interview that follwed. The whole situation created a huge controversy in the art community, as well as with general public. Jethro Tull decided to use Bostock’s poem as the lyrics to their new album, putting it to music.

But none of that really happened. Gerald Bostock didn’t even exist, even though Jethro Tull gave him writing credits for the lyrics on the album. The lyrics were actually written by Jethro Tull’s front man and flutist Ian Anderson.

The original release of “Thick as a Brick” came in a rather elaborate package which included pages from a newspaper inside. Among other stories in the paper, there was of course, an article about the whole Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock controversy.

A lot of critics and record buyers didn’t get the joke at first. They thought the whole story “Thick as a Brick” story was real. I’m sure most people who were gullible enough to fall for the hoax never admitted it afterwards. But the critics who wrote about it…well, I guess the joke was on them.

REO Speedwagon – You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish

The British publication NME (New Musical Express) ranked REO Speedwagon’s seventh album, “You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish”, as having the worst album title ever. Seriously? I personally thought it was a pretty cool name. Maybe they felt it shouldn’t have been named that because the album is not piano centric. I don’t know. REO Speedwagon is absolutely a guitar oriented band; Gary rich wrath is one of the most underrated guitar players ever. Then again, Neal Doughty does play some jamming keys here as well, and his piano is definitely in tune

Good title or badd title aside, it can’t be denied that “You Can Tune a Piano but You Can’t Tuna Fish” is a great rock and roll record. It sold over two million copies and spawned two hit singles for REO, “Roll With the Changes” and “Time For Me to Fly”. Two of my personal favorites on the album are the the the instrumental “The Unidentified Flying Tun Trot” ( which i have to wonder if NME thought was the worst song title ever) and “Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight” which close out the album. The latter of which showcases both Richrath’s guitar and Doughtey’s keys.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

In the eighties metal was king in rock and roll. I have to admit, I really wasn’t into metal for the most part. However “Pyromania” by Def Leppard was an exception. But then, “Pyromania” wasn’t as true to metal as the band’s two previous albums. At the recommendation of producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, for their third album Def Leppard chose to adopt a more glam rock/hard rock sound.

It was a good choice, and obviously I was not the only one who thought so. “Pyromania” peaked one step away from topping the Billboard charts and sold over 10 million copies. Although they had a strong following before “Pyromania”, the album is considered to be Def Leppard’s breakthrough into mainstream success.

Because of the success they had in 1983 with “Pyromania”, Def Leppard chose to work again with Mutt for their follow-up album, 1987’s “Hysteria”.

Four years is a big gap to put between your breakthrough album and its follow up, but there was a good reason for the delay. Following the release of “Pyromania”, Def Leppard’s drummer, Rick Allen, lost his arm in an auto accident. Rather than looking for another drummer, the band members put their next record on hold in order for their friend to learn to play a special drum set adapted with multiple foot pedals and could continue wwith them on the skins.

I saw Def Leppard in concert for their “Hysteria” tour and I have to say Rick Allan played one of the best drum solos I have ever seen and heard.

Alice Cooper Goes To Hell

“Alice Cooper goes To Hell” is the continuation of the “bedtime story” that started on Alice’s previous album “Welcome to My Nightmare”. The album tells the story of Alice’s unwanted descent into the depths of the underworld and his attempt to escape through influencing the dreams of Steven, a character introduced in a song on Cooper’s previous record.

Ironically, “Alice Cooper Goes To Hell” paralleled Alice Cooper’s real decent into the lowest depths of his life as it was being consumed by alcoholism. The tour for this album would end up being canceled because of his failing health and Cooper had himself committed to rehab, which at that time, meant being committed to a mental asylum. Cooper’s subsequent album, “From the Inside”, would be written about his experience there.

Cooper maintains his sobriety to this day, finding his refuge in both his music and golf. I heard him joke in an interview a while back that with golf, he traded one addiction for the other. Good trade.

Alice Cooper continues his musical career to today. He released his 27th album “Paranormal” last year and will be playing the role of King Herod in a televised stage performance of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” this Easter Sunday.

The Who – Tommy

In 1969, with the release of “Tommy”, The Who set the standard for a rock opera, and they set the bar high.

I always appreciated concept albums and more especially, rock operas. There has got go be so much more involved in making a cohesive collection of songs that revolve around a singular concept; even more so for telling a specific story compared to just a collection of songs. You have to constantly try to find that balance between keeping the story interesting and understanable while keeping the songs individually understandable and, more importantly, enjoyable.

While finding that balance could seem an undaunting, nearly impossible task, The Who made it look easy with “Tommy”. The album revolves around the main character who, while very young observes an incident so traumatic it renderes him mentally blind, deaf, and dumb (for those raised before the age of political correctness, “dumb” meant “mute”). He is eventually broken out of his isolateed shell, and his awakening is viewed by society as a miracle. Tommy begins to view himself as a new Messiah but he is quickly brought back to reality when his followers rebel against his authoritarianism.

One of the things that impressed me about the recording of “Tommy” is that when presented with the demos and concept, the record company wanted to have the band record it with full orchestration. But The Who refused to make the album with any instruments the four band members were not able to play themselves. For that reason, the album has a somewhat stripped down sound.

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

A vague story of self discovery, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” was the last album done by the original lineup of Genesis. Peter Gabriel, who authored the concept behind the double album, would leave Genesis shortly after its release. Lead guitarist Steve Hackett would leave a couple albums later.

Gabriel’s departure didn’t come as a total surprise to the band. There were tensions brewing going into the recording sessions and they escalated before the record’s completion. Peter Gabriel felt he was being held back creatively and the other band members felt they weren’t being allowed enough creative input. In short, the split was unavoidable and amicable.

Unlike many band splits, this breakup was actually a good thing for both parties. Peter Gabriel would go on to release several critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums and Genesis would achieve their greatest critical and commercial success without him. Plus, as is almost always the case when there are creative struggles within a band, the album that came from the turmoiled recording sessions was phenominal.

It would be impossiblw for me to pick my favorite Genesis album. There is a noticeable distinction between their different eras, and each of the eras offer something unique. But if I had to recommend one album from the original lineup of Genesis – well, that’s easy – it would be “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”.

Planet P

I’m terrible with remembering names; except when it comes the names of rock bands and their members. I’m not saying I’m the best, but I do seem to be the go-to when my friends have rock and roll who’s who questions. So when I saw Tony Carey was the primary member of Planet P, I knew exactly who he was, and I knew I had to buy this album.

Tony Carey was the keyboardist for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow when he decided to go solo. Actually, he was already recording solo material before he joined rainbow. Carey had written a lot of sci-fi oriented progressive rock music that really didn’t fit the style of Rainbow or Tony’s solo stuff; so “Planet P” was born.

Planet P is considered to be primarily a one-hit-wonder band because of the song “Why Me”, the video to which was played significantly on MTV in the early ’80s.

I don’t know where Tony Carey came up with the name “Planet P”. Really, it seems like an obscure name. Yet amazingly, after the debut Planet P album came out Carey was approached by another band that had rights to that name, and they didn’t want to give it up. So, the album for this record and the band name were promptly changed. Future albums were released under the new band name “Planet P Project”.

Tony Carey released a few more albums under the “Planet P Project” moniker, but none of them fared as well as this space rock classic. I wonder if record buyers just couldn’t remember the right name. I empathize with them.

Queen – Live Killers

It’s kind of strange that when I first heard “Live Killers” by Queen I was disappointed, yet today it’s one of my favorite live albums. I think my problem back then, was that I was expecting carbon copies of what Queen had done in the studio played in front of an audience. That was not Queen’s intent for their first official live album. Like any exceptional live album, the purpose of “Live Killers” was to capture the energy, excitement, and atmosphere of Queen in concert; in that respect, this album kills it.

There are a couple sing alongs with the audience, a sit down acoustic set, lots of of extended solos, and audience interaction; lots of audience interaction. Queen was a band that was all about performing. Whether it be in the studio or live on stage, they always strived to create something unique and original. And that’s what makes “Live Killers” so good. It is as original as Queen themselves.

I think that’s really why I had reservations about ” Live Killers” at first. I was expecting it to be a typical live album by a band. I should have known better. Queen is anything but a typical rock band. Why would I expect “Live Killers” to be anything like a typical live album?