The Who – Who Are You

It is the true mark of a great drummer when they become such an integral part of the band they are in, that if they die, the band can’t continue – or maybe shouldn’t have.

With Keith Moon’s untimely death in 1978, only a few months after the release of The Who’s eighth studio album, “Who Are You”, most people thought it marked the end of The Who. When The Who did eventually continue, many felt they should have thrown in the towel; that The Who would never be the same band without Moon on the skins. I have nothing against Kenny Jones, former drummer for The Faces who picked up where Moon left off. Kenny is great, but he’s no Keith Moon.

Keith Moon was a madman on the drums. He played with a fervor that mirrored his personality – a barely controlled craziness that seemed like it was going to break through the walls of sustainability at any moment. Unfortunately, that craziness brought about his all too early demise when he died from an overdose of Heminevrin, a drug used for the treatment for effects of alcoholism withdrawal.

When Keith Moon died, it was the end of an era for The Who. They lost an integral part of not only their sound but also their personality. They would never be the same band without him because no one could replace the dynamics, power, intricacy, and borderline insanity of Keith Moon’s drumming – not even Kenny Jones.

Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

I remember when ELO released “A New World Record”. I listened to it until I was sick of it.

The album was a breakthrough for the Electric Light Orchestra. Sure, their previous album “Face the Music” had their first worldwide hit with “Evil Woman”, but “A New World Record” hit across the globe with “Telephone Line”, “Rockaria”, “Livin’ Thing”, and “Do Ya”. Plus, it also included a slew of other great prog rock leaning pop songs like “Tightrope”, “Mission (A World Record)”, “So Fine”, “Above the Clouds”, and “Shangri-la”. Any of these songs could have easily been hit singles for ELO at the time. I guess four was enough for the record company.

ELO’s sixth album definitely marked a shift towards a more pop oriented sound. That combination of progressive rock and pop hooks is really what makes this album so great. It was a perfect blend. Although I did grow sick of it at one point, that’s only because it was on my turntable nearly everyday – and it wasn’t even my record, I borrowed it from a friend. Hearing it again years later, I remembered how good it was and added it to my collection. It never left.

The Pretty Reckless – Who You Selling For

Although I like the music I grew up with, I sometimes get tired of what’s familiar to my ears.

The Pretty Reckless are a band that impressed me from the first time I heard them. I discovered them because the daughter of my best friend is really into them. Even though I had only heard one song from their third album, “Who You Selling For”, which I thought was one of their best songs, I was familiar with both of their previous albums. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t picked one of them up at some point by now. But rather than buying one of their earlier records, I decided to take a chance on “Who You Selling For”.

Even more so than the two previous albums by The Pretty Reckless, “Who You Selling For” is a modern take on old school blues-based hard rock riffs. One unexpected surprise I found when reading the cover and liner notes is that the closing track on side two, “Back to the River”, features Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers, Govt. Mule) who is one of my favorite blues/rock guitarists.

Part of what makes The Pretty Reckless such a good band is frontwoman Taylor Momsen. Depending on the song, her always powerful voice ranges everywhere between sultry and seductive to snarling, growling aggression. Not only a talented singer, she has also had successful careers as a model and actress (one of her first roles was playing Cindy Lou Who in the 2000 movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”). Momsen also cowrote all the songs on the album along with the band’s guitarist, Ben Phillips.

The Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord

The Moody Blues may very well be the most ambitious rock band ever. Their albums were never simple undertakings. The Moody’s third album “In Search of the Lost Chord” in particular, may very well be their all-time most ambitious album.

On their prior concept album, “Days of Future Past” The Moody Blues had incorporated an orchestra to augment their songs. Like its predecessor, “In Search of the Lost Chord” was also a concept album. The songs revolved around exploration; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and musically. Listening to it, you would swear there was also an orchrstra playing with them on certain parts, but you’d be wrong.

The members of the Moody Blues play every instrument on the “In Search of the Lost Chord”. Something in the vicinity of 35 different instruments were used in all. What the band members didn’t know how to play, they learned to play during the recording sessions.

“In Search of the Lost Chord” was initially released to mixed reviews, but that didn’t stop it from being considered one of The Moody Blues’ finest moments. Maybe the critics thought it was it was too ambitious at the time. Music loving fans of the band knew better.

Sweet – Strung Up

I don’t know if Sweet was really the first to release a live album and best of album packaged together, but in the liner notes of “Strung Up” they more or less stake claim to that honor.

The live album was recorded on December 23, 1973 at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The set is about as hard rocking as you will hear by any band. It includes a thundering drum solo that set to rest any doubts that Mick Tucker was one of the top drummers of his time.

The studio album includes Sweet’s hits “Ballroom Blitz”, “Fox on the Run”, and “Action” (which has a shorter, non echoing ending than the original), along with other songs that had success in Europe but were relatively unknown in the United States. It also included three previously unreleased songs.

Because Sweet was much more popular in Europe than in the US, this album was never released here until it was reissued on CD a couple decades later. My vinyl copy is imported from Germany.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

I always liked Bob Dylan’s music and his poetic lyrics, but – and I know some will be aghast when I say this – I didn’t care for his voice. In “Song for Bob Dylan”, David Bowie best described the voice of Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s real name which Bowie refers to in the same song) as “sand and glue”. I can’t think of a more accurate metaphor. In recent years, I have come to appreciate that sand and glue.

As I sit here listening to the mono version of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits, I can’t imagine another voice accompanying the melodies of these songs and the poetry of their lyrics.

Except for “All along the Watchtower”; that will always belong to Hendrix.

Golden Earring Live

It took Dutch rockers Golden Earring 12 years together and 12 studio albums before they released their first live album, but it was worth the wait.

I have to admit that when I first heard “Golden Earring Live”, I knew only one song on it; Golden Earring’s biggest hit, the driving “Radar Love”. But a live album doesn’t necessarily need to have a slew of hits in order to be great. It needs great playing. It needs great energy that captures the connection between band and audience. It needs great songs, but not necessarily hits. “Golden Earring Live” has all of the above. It doesn’t need anything more.

Buuut…

It’s also got a great 12 minute live version of their biggest hit, “Radar Love”.

Yeah, it’s a great live album.

Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time

It took the Scottish band Simple Minds seven albums to finally achieve the success they deserved in the United States. The rest of the world just shook their heads and asked “what took you so long?”

Sure, there was the 1985 John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club” that first made a name for Simple Minds in the US with the single “Don’t You Forget About Me”. But that song just whet the US appetite. “Once Upon A Time” fed the craving for more. Sure, the album didn’t have “Don’t You Forget About Me” on it like I think most people expected when they bought it; that didn’t matter – it had “Alive and Kicking” which was even better. Plus, the other seven songs make up what is one of the most solid albums of the 1980s. The rest of the world had long known Simple Minds. Finally, the U.S. did too.

I have two copies of “Once Upon A Time” on vinyl. I bought the second copy because there were two different versions of this album cover. The cool thing about the two covers is they can be matched up to each other on every side. You literally could wallpaper an entire room with both copies of the album cover. While I do like Simple Minds a lot, I have to say that I’m not quite that big of a fan.

There are other noticeable differences between the two copies of the album in my collection. One copy is a Canadian record which means it is on the Virgin record label, like everywhere else in the world – except the United States. It was released on A&M Records here. While the Virgin label the rest of the world got on the record is very generic, the A&M verion in the U.S. was custom designed to match the gold splash behind the band’s name on the cover. That wasn’t the only difference. The US version is on colored vinyl (at least the first issue of it anyway) although it’s not immediately noticeable. I had my copy for years before I realized that if you hold it to a bright light, the light will actually shine through revealing the album’s true golden-brown translucent color.

Vinyl can be full of surprises.

Blue Öyster Cult – Tyranny And Mutation

One of the cool things about some early albums by bands that later hit it big is listening to them trying to find their sound. While there are elements of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, “Godzilla”, and “Burning For You”, Blue Oyster Cult’s second album “Tyranny and Mutation” goes in directions that at times barely sound like the same band as their later big hits.

Blue Öyster Cult eventually became best known for their hard rock, pop tinged, progressive rock sound. But on their first couple albums, the songs were edgier and more aggressive. “Tyranny and Mutation” opens with the speed metal shredding on “The Red and the Black” and it never lets up from there.
This is BÖC sounding rougher around the edges, even occassionally infringing on punk and garage rock territory. Combined this with progressive rock and psychedelia and you end up with one of Blue Öyster Cult’s best records, yet one that is often overlooked in their catalog.

Jefferson Airplane – Thirty Seconds Over Winterland

This is a tale of technology, the law, and flying toasters….

What are the odds of two groups of people, totally unrelated, in totally different decades, thinking of exactly the same concept as obscure as flying toasters? Well, it happened; Not only to one of my favorite bands, but to one of my favorite comic strips as well.

I think the Jefferson Airplane are one of the greatest psychedelic rock groups ever. I also think Bloom County, is one of the most brilliant comic strip series ever. Little did I know they would both cross paths in 1993.

The Jefferson Airplane released “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland” in 1973. Recorded at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco and the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago the album is a truly underrated recording of live psychedelic rock. The album cover – one of my all-time favorites – shows a group of winged toasters flying high above the clouds. What this had to do with the music on the record is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it’s a very cool album cover.

Jump forward two decades to 1993. Berkeley Breathed, the creator of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, decided to create a software company, Berkley Systems, that eventually made the After Dark computer screen saver that featured … wait for it … winged flying toasters. It became one of the most popular screen savers ever. Riding on its popularity, Berkley Systems decided to come out with another computer screen saver that featured Opus, a penguin who was the primary character in Bloom County and its two spin-off comic strips, shooting down the flying toasters.

The members of Jefferson Airplane felt they had dibs on the winged flying toaster concept and sued Berkley Systems for plagiarism. Jefferson Airplane eventually lost the financial part of the lawsuit because Berkley Systems claimed to have no prior knowledge of the flying toasters on the cover of “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”. Still, according to the terms in the settlement, the Opus screen saver had to be modified so that the toasters had helicopter blades instead of wings. Still flying toasters, but I don’t know, somehow not as cool.