Billy Joel – 52nd Street

Although Billy Joel’s fifth album, “The Stranger” was his commercial breakthrough, it was “52nd Street”, his 1978 follow-up to it, that made him a star. The album topped the Billboard charts shortly after its release, had three top 40 singles, and brought home two Grammys, including Record of the Year in 1979.

In addition to being recorded at a studio on New York’s 52nd street, the album’s title also alludes to New York City’s jazz district, which the street runs through the heart of. The album has notable jazz leanings in many of its songs and is considered by most critics to be one of Billy Joel’s finest records.

Box Of Frogs

What would the Yardbirds have been without either Clapton, Beck, or Page on lead guitar? Well, in 1984, they were known as “Box of Frogs”.

In the 1960’s, the Yardbirds were at their core, Jim McCarty on drums, Chris Dreja on rhythm guitar, and Paul Samwell-Smith on bass – and they had a knack for picking awesome lead guitarists. Unforfortunately those lead guitarists had a knack for pursuing solo careers. First Eric Clapton, then Jeff Beck. By the time Jimmy Page joined for their third go-round, the founding members decided to call it quits. In the wake, Jimi Page went on to form Led Zeppelin, which he nearly called “The New Yardbirds” (but that’s another story).

Perhaps realizing that great music is not created by lead guitarists alone, McCarty, Dreja, and Samwell-Smith regrouped in the ’80s along with guitarist and vocallist John Fiddler, rebranding themselves on their self titled album as “Box of Frogs”.

Perhaps realizing that this was magic in the re-making, they were joined on some songs by Beck and Page. Sure, Clapton didn’t participate in the reunion, but Rory Gallagher jumped in on a couple; even better, in my humble opinion.

Pink Floyd – Live in NYC 1977

On July 7, 1977, Pink Floyd performed live at Madison Square Garden and somehow, someone in the audience was able to sneak in a good quality tape recorder to capture part of the show as it happened.

Maybe they had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. Maybe they gave a copy of the recording to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. The exact details will never be known.

The bottom line is that an unofficial (bootleg) recording of the concert was unofficially released on Pass to Dust, an Italian record label (unofficial releases are almost always released on Italian record labels). The recording is an amazing document of what an unbelievable live act Pink Floyd was at the time. “Live in NYC 1977″ captures Floyd performing their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here” live, in its entirety as the second half of their show that evening. Typical for Floyd, the first half of the night would have been their most recent album, “Animals” in its entirety, and the evening would have closed focusing on songs from Floyd’s masterpiece “The Dark Side Of the Moon”.

Is this a live recording to the standard of what an official Pink Floyd release would be? Hell no! This is from some dude who snuck a tape recorder into a Pink Floyd concert. But what it lacks in sound quality, it more than makes up for in content. Pink Floyd’s performance here is relentless and near flawless.

I wish I had an official recording of this performance but I honestly don’t know if one will ever exist, so I’ll take what I can get.

The McCoys – Hang On Sloopy

Rick Derringer is one of the most respected blues rock guitarists from the 1970s. In addition to his solo work, including the hit “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”, he also lent his six string talents to the bands of brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter and on tour and in the studio with numerous acts. But his first gig was along with his brother Randy (on drums) in The McCoys.

When Derringer became successful in the ’70s, most people probably never made the connection back to The McCoys. Most of their songs, like the title track from their debut album “Hang On Sloopy” were 1960s pop. But their deeper tracks show quick glimpses of what Rick Derringer would unleash years later. I especially love the cover of T-Bone Walker’s blues classic “Call it Stormy Monday” which closes this album out.

But it’s not only the pop style that would have most people miss the connection between blues rock guitarist Rick Derringer and The McCoys. The biggest reason is that when he and brother Randy played in The McCoys, they used their real surname, Zehringer. Going into the ’70s, Rick changed his performing name to something with more of a rock and roll feel to it.

Tomato, tomahto.
Derringer, Zehringer.
Still great, no matter how you say it.

Dick Clark – 20 Years Of Rock N’ Roll

1953 to 1972. If it’s 20 years into the history of rock and roll and you want to chronicle the music year by year on a double album, you better have a recognized rock and roll authority on the cover. Maybe someone like Dick Clark.

From the fifties into the eighties, Dick Clark, a former rock and roll DJ from WFIL in Philadelphia was the host of American Bandstand. In its 37 years on the air, Bandstand helped launch or excel the careers of more rock and roll bands than probably any other single show – over 8 thousand different acts.

I picked this album up at an estate sale not too long ago. Besides being excited about finding this great compilation of early rock and roll, I was really excited find it still had the 24 page yearbook and bonus record still with it. A lot of times, the extras like these get separated from the album. The yearbook was very insightful, talking about significant events of each year and how popular music both affected and was affected by them.

The bonus record is a picture disk that has Dick Clark’s brief recollections of the numerous bands that made their first appearance on one of his shows. It’s a great insight to just how influential Dick Clark and American Bandstand were during the first 20 Years of Rock n’ Roll.

U2 – Under A Blood Red Sky

From the first time I listened to “Under a Blood Red Sky” I always felt I should thank U2 for the Special Low Price of the full-length live album they marketed as a “Mini LP”.

You don’t get paid a lot when you’re in the U.S. military, so you have to choose wisely how to spend your money. To me, back then as now, buying music was always a wise choice. But some choices are wiser than others. I had discovered U2 a year or so earlier, on their third album, “War”. It blew me away. When I saw this specially priced mini LP in the PX that fine day, something inside me knew it was a wise choice to buy it. It turned out wiser than I thought.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” is labeled as a “mini LP”. That’s a lie. Sure, it’s on the short side of some albums, but I have some full length LPs that are shorter than this record. The only reason I can think of for the album being labeled the way it was, was that U2 hoped the “special low price” would help its sales. Maybe it did initially, but the only reason “Under a Blood Red Sky” went on to sell over 2 million copies was because it captured a young and hungry Irish rock band out to prove themselves, wanting to make a difference in the world through their music. In short, it kicked ass.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” opened the doors of rock and roll stardom unto U2. From thence forward, it was up to them to decide what to do with it.

They chose wisely.

Pat Benatar – In The Heat Of The Night

Pat Benatar struck gold on her debut album in November 1979. Actually, she struck platinum.

In the heat of the night was an immediate success for Benatar, selling over a million copies worldwide and giving her two hit singles in the U.S. and two others around the globe.

Although the two U.S. singles were original songs, more than half the tracks on “In The Heat of the Night” are cover songs. The covers were all lesser known tracks by the original artists and are perfect matches for Benatar’s incredibly versatile voice. The songs are all short power pop rockers that Guitarist (and Benatar’s future husband) Neil Giraldo, plays with so much zeal, it’s no wonder “In The Heat of the Night” was one of the best-selling albums of 1980.

I honestly don’t know why this album doesn’t end up on my turntable more often. Its one of my all-time favorites.

Joe Cocker!

There are singers, and there are interpreters.

Interpreters are a rare breed of singers. Interpreters don’t need to write their own songs, although they do on occasion; they make any song they sing their own. Interpreters can choose a song that you think could never be done by anyone except the band that first wrote, performed, and made it popular, and turn it into something totally original. They make it unforgettably their own.

Joe Cocker is an interpreter.

The Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

Okay, if you really want to win me over with your debut album, just take the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe and interpret them as songs. Yeah, I’m gonna have to buy that album.

Sure there are only seven songs on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”; only seven of Poe’s tales…

…but it’s an entire album of Edgar Allan Poe interpreted by The Alan Parsons Project. My only gripe here is that it wasn’t a double album. Still, it’s the only album I know of that is entirely musical renditions of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. And it’s brilliant.

Thank you Alan Parson’s Project.

The Frost – Rock And Roll Music

Of all the Detroit bands that were ever poised to hit the national spotlight but remained hidden in the shadows from fame, The Frost were grandest.

Back in the ’60s through the ’90s, before the age of streaming, making it in the music industry meant signing a deal with a record label. More importantly, it meant signing a record deal with the right record label. Unfortunately, for The Frost, Vanguard was not the right label. Vanguard abandoned them with virtually no promotion for their albums. While their Detroit contemporaries at the time like Bob Seger, The MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, gained national fame, The Frost achieved a legendary status in Detroit and throughout Michigan, but remained relatively unknown anywhere else.

Except for Dick Wagner.

Dick Wagner was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and one of the chief songwriters for The Frost. He went on to work with Kiss, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and many others in rock and roll in the 1970s and ’80s. Dick Wagner’s influence has become legendary far beyond Detroit.

“Rock and Roll Music” encapsulates what The Frost’s music was all about. Hard rock, psychedelia, and blues. Half of the album was recorded in Vanguard’s studios in New York, and half was recorded live at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The studio material is good, but it’s the live performances here that really make this album stand out. The Frost were first and foremost, a live band.

Even though The Frost never saw the national fame of their contemporaries, that didn’t stop them from becoming highly influential to many national acts that came after them. Today, “Rock and Roll Music” is highly sought by record collectors across the U.S. and even overseas.