J. Geils Band – Full House

One of the best concerts I have ever been to was by the J. Geils Band. Back in the day before sound curfews. Back in the day when a band could play as long as they wanted. Well, almost.

The J. Geils Band was one of those bands that was destined to play live. They made some good records, but where they really shined was on stage. So it’s no surprise that their first really successful album, Full House, was recorded live. This album caught them in all their glory and proved they were one of the most energetic and dynamic bands to see on stage in the ’70s.

Healing from Boston, the Geils always considered Detroit to be a home away from home – and Detroit audiences loved them. So it came as no surprise to me the first time I saw them live, that they were called back on stage for more than one encore. The thing was, even after the encores, the crowd wasn’t leaving the venue. So Geils just kept coming back on stage. I might have lost count, but I know they did at least seven encores that night. The band and the audience finally took the hint that the employees at Pine Knob, a concert venue in Clarkston Michigan, wanted to go home for the evening, when they came on stage and the power was suddenly cut to their instruments after they finished a song. I don’t know if it is true, but I heard rumor that after leaving the concert venue that night they showed up at a local bar in Pontiac Michigan and played untill it closed. I don’t know if that part really happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I’ve met a lot of people who thought the lead singer was the namesake of the J. Geils Band. In reality they were fronted buy an ex-disc jockey from Boston named Peter Wolf. Before recording their very first album, they originally called themselves the J. Geils Blues Band after their lead guitarist, and they only performed instrumentally. They dropped the “Blues” from their name after adding Peter Wolf, their very dynamic lead singer. They signed a record deal shortly thereafter and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeff Beck – Wired

Jeff Beck will always be one of my favorite guitarists. Mainly, because of his versatility. The man can play anything. Like on his previous second solo outing, “Blow by Blow”, Jeff Beck chose to make his third album, “Wired”, a jazz fusion recording.

If I could own only one Jeff Beck album, it would definitely be “Wired”. Mainly because with jazz fusion being a melding of rock, funk, R&B, and pretty much any other style, with jazz stylings and improvisation, it is perfect for a guitarist who is as diversified as Beck.

Instrumental albums typically do not do very well on the record charts or in sales. “Wired” is one of the rare exceptions. But then again, Beck didn’t need vocals to put expression and meaning into the songs on “Wired”. All he needed was his fingers and six strings; Jan Hammer’s distinctly expressive synthesizer work didn’t hurt either.

Jeff Beck was known to almost always play without a pick, abandoning it early in his career. He claimed that once he discovered how to play with his fingers, he found a pick to be limiting. Listening to wired, and the rest of Jeff Beck’s musical canon, one finds it nearly impossible to dispute that statement.

Alice Cooper – Killer

Killer is arguably Alice Cooper’s best album,  but then again he, or maybe I should say they, have released so many great records, that’s a difficult claim to make. 

So is which is it? Is Alice Cooper the name of a band or a person? The answer is: both. When the band Alice Cooper started out they did a mix of theatrics along with hard rock and created an image for themselves that brought them great success. Part of that image was to create an eclectic persona for the front man of the band. They named that character Alice Cooper, which was also the name they gave the band. But there really was no person named Alice Cooper.

The lead singers real name was Vincent Furnier, and it was mainly his idea to incorporate the theatrics into their live performances. As the band became more popular, the other band members wanted to move away from the stage extravagance and just focus on the music on stage. This eventually drove a creative wedge between the lead singer and contributing songwriter, and the rest of the band.

Vincent decided he would carry on combining stage theatrics with the music using the name Alice Cooper. The rest of the band members weren’t too keen on that idea and threatened to sue him for the use of the name. But Vincent Furnier had an easy solution – he legally changed his name to Alice Cooper – the rest of the band members  could not stop him from using his legal name. So, for the first seven albums Alice Cooper was the name of the band. For everything that came after, starting with “Welcome To My Nightmare”, Alice Cooper was a person.

I have quite a few records  in my collection  and  I’m  pretty particular with keeping them organized so I can find  what I want to listen to. Alice Cooper is one of the rare cases where there are two places in my musical library where their / his albums reside. The only other case I can think of, off the top of my head, is John Cougar when he changed his name to John Cougar Mellencamp and then John Mellencamp. But that’s another story for another day.

The Rockets

The Rockets were the best band to break out of Detroit following Bob Seger gaining a national audience. Although, after six solid albums, including a great live one, they would never really reach the success and recognition they deserved. 

If you had asked me in the late ’70’s to define Detroit rock and roll, I would have told you the Rockets. They had the grit and noise synonymous with the factories that churned out the cars which also defined the Motor City. But the Rockets threw in a soulfulness reminiscent of Detroit’s Motown roots and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, whom drummer John Badanjek and guitarist Jim McCarty had both played together in early in their careers. 

While Bob Seger started to move toward softer ballads going into the ’80s, The Rockets refused to soften their sound. Don’t get me wrong I love Seger’s stuff, I just felt Rockets never strayed from a sound that defined the determination of a struggling midwest industrial city. A city that welcomed, and even celebrated that struggle. But that attitude was what probably prevented them from maintaining the national popularity they achieved with their self-titled debut. I always respected their music for that.

The Rockets’ debut scored three hit singles for the band: “Turn Up The Radio” and “Can’t Sleep”, both written by their Drummer, John Badanjek, and a cover of a Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac song, “Oh Well”. Although a cover, The Rockets refused to do a carbon copy rendition of the song, rearranging it to conform to their mix of grit and soul. One song I alway thought they should have released as a single is “Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming”, which closes Side one.

Side two kicks off with “Long Long Gone”, a song written for them by Bob Seger, and another one that could have easily been a hit single. Another stand out on the flip side of the album is a rocking cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.

The Rockets will probably always be my favorite band from my hometown. Although all of their albums are great and grace my record collection, their debut will always remain my favorite of theirs.

Cactus

So the other day, I found myself at a local music store, perusing the aisles of used records, and there it was! A record I have been looking for for a very long time. I knew that if I bought only one record that day, it had to be that one, the self-titled debut by the 1970 supergroup Cactus. (Of course I still had to buy more than one album. I think it’s impossible for me to buy only one record at a time.)

I had to buy it not because I like it. I have no idea if I like it. I’ve never even heard it. But I have heard of it. And I’ve heard who plays on it: Drummer extraordinaire, Carmine Apice, who took the jazz stylings of Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa and applied them to hard rock and blues, Bass legend Tim Bogart who had played with Carmen Apice in Vanilla Fudge and with him again along with Jeff Beck in “Bogert, Beck, And Apice”, Rusty Day, vocalist and harmonica player from the “Amboy Dukes”, and Jim McCarty, a totally underrated Detroit Guitar legend who had played with “Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels” and Jazz fusion group “The Buddy Miles Express”. 

Since I first heard him, Jim McCarty was one of my favorite guitarists, partly because he hails from Detroit, but mostly because, well…because he is an awesome guitarist. 

As I sit here listening to this album, now for the second time, I have to say, I am so glad I finally ran across it and decided to buy it. Most of it rocks out hard – balls to the wall kind of stuff, heavy in the blues but with little flourishes of jazz weaving in and out. Not surprising, considering the players.

Personally, side two is my favorite. It starts out with a blues tinged rocker “Let Me Swim”, which opens with licks that sound like they were probably the influence for Edie Van Halen’s opening to “Eruption”. The album closes with “Feels So Good”, a song that ends with a drum solo proving that Carmine Apice can hang with the best of the a time best of drummers.

I am so glad to have finally had a chance to hear this album, which I had heard so much about. I’m even more pleased that I now have a copy of it in my personal collection. But more than anything, I am so happy I decided to peruse the aisles of used records the other day.

The Cars

The Cars released some good albums in the late ’70s into the ’80s. And they released one great album – their eponymous debut. It was such a good album that during an interview, the band jokingly referred to it as their “true greatest hits album.” 

This album was so unique at the time of its release in 1978 that, in all honesty, I really didn’t know what to do with it. But in the end, the solid hooks throughout, and quite simply the great songs on it, won me over. I guess I wasn’t alone.  It remained on the Billboard charts  438 weeks  after its release. To this day it remains one of my favorite albums.

The Cars, along with bands like the Talking Heads and Blondie, hailed from the east coast of the U.S. and helped usher in the New Wave era in rock music.

Although it has one of the most immediately recognizable album covers of all time, ironically the band did not like it or really want it. The picture on the inside sleeve, which contained a black and white photo mosaic is what the band actually wanted. In the end the record company chose the artwork for the cover. The band designed all their subsequent album covers.

Led Zeppelin РPhysical Graffiti 

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 guitarist 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 disk 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 contained 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, although 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.