Billy Squier – Don’t Say No

I remember the first time I heard Billy Squire’s breakthrough album “Don’t Say No”. The song “The Stroke” totally grab me. When I heard it on the radio, I almost immediately went to the PX (that’s post exchange for anyone who hasn’t been in the military – kind of like a department store on a military base) and bought the album. 

I remember thinking when I first listened to it “what band did this guy used to play in?” I was amazed after doing some digging, that he hadn’t really played in any band that had ever made it. I had heard of the band Piper, but never heard anything by them. And seriously, does anyone remember Piper? Maybe I’ll have to try to dig something up by them at a used record store one day, just for the historical record. I like doing stupid stuff like that. 

But I digress.

Billy Squier was an incredibly talented guitarist. And he had some very talented friends who helped springboard his career. When it came time for William Haislip Squier to record his second album, he asked his friend Brian May, from the band Queen, to produce it for him. Unfortunately, Brian was tied up with Queen stuff. 

But… 

Brian May recommended the services of Mack, whom Queen had started working with on their album “The Game”. It was a natural fit. If you listen closely to “Don’t Say No”, it’s easy to hear the influence of Mack and Queen in Billy Squire’s sound. Billy remained friends with the members of Queen throughout his career, and even teamed up with Queen members Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor on his follow-up albums.

I have to say, I never thought after being a DJ many, many years ago that I would ever be asked to play requests again. But I had a good friend tell me she really wanted me to put Billy Squire’s “Don’t Say No” album on my blog. 

Thank you Jeannette for having me scour the used record stores trying to find this album and to rediscover what a gem of an album it is.

Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

In many ways, Grand Funk was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll – they got no respect.

Starting out as a power Trio from Flint, Michigan in 1969, Grand Funk Railroad, as they were known before they shortened their name on their seventh album, topped the charts album after album into the mid ’70s. Yet still they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1971, Grand Funk equaled the Beatles’ record setting concert venue attendance at Shea Stadium – but Grand Funk sold it out in 3 days whereas the Beatles took 3 weeks. Yet they were still panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1972, Grand Funk became a quartet, filling out their music by adding organ and keyboards. They became the sound of the working class in the United States – loud and proud and ready to take on the world. They defined arena rock and changed the music scene in ways they are rarely given credit for. They were the sound of Grit, Noise, and Revolution in the face of adversity. And still, they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

But their fans knew them, and they respected Grand Funk for what they were. 

They were an American Band.

Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” was released on yellow colored vinyl for its first pressings only. I admit, I was too young to know what Grand Funk was all about when this album was originally released. However, when I ran across this copy a few years back, I knew exactly what it was – a necessary addition to my record collection.

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

Contrary to what some may think, Steely Dan is not a person. Steely Dan is a band formed in 1972 by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They named the band after a steam-powered strap-on dildo mentioned in the William S. Burroughs novel “Naked Lunch”.

Steely Dan is a very deceptive band. Their music is most often classified as soft rock, but when you really listen to it, there is some seriously hard Jam going on. This was due largely to the strong jazz influence Donald Fagen and Walter Becker put into their music. It also didn’t hurt that they would bring in top-notch session musicians to play with them and that they were absolute perfectionists in the recording studio.

“Can’t Buy a Thrill” is Steely Dan’s debut album. It was released in 1972 and sold over a million copies within the first year of its release.

Queen – A Night At The Opera

If you have only one Queen album in your record collection, it should be “A Night at the Opera”, and not just because it has “Bohemian Rhapsody” on it. The album as a whole is probably the most diversified and eclectic collection of songs Queen ever recorded on one piece of vinyl.

And that’s saying something.

The songs on “A Night at the Opera” range from whimsical ditties like “Seaside Rendezvous” and “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”, and all-out rockers like “I’m In Love with My Car” and “Sweet Lady” to folksy strummers like “’39”, and the classically infused “Love of My Life”. All these songs are complemented by a unique array of instruments including toy koto, Aloha ukulele, and classical harp – all played by Brian May. 

And then of course there’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

One of my favorite things about “A Night at the Opera” is how Queen takes full advantage of stereo sound. I can’t think of another band before or since who so effectively use the two channels of stereo to add another dimension to their music. Although evident on all of the songs on the album, it is most predominant on “The Prophet’s Song”, which features Freddie Mercury using only his voice and a perfectly timed double echo to create a mosaic of vocals that bounces from the left to the right and forms a three-part harmony with itself. I am mesmerized every time I listen to it.

Cream – Disraeli Gears

Considered to be the first supergroup, Cream consisted of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Eric Clapton was well-known as one of the best blues guitarists in the ’60s, having formerly played in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Jack Bruce had already made a name for himself playing with Manford Mann and also with Clapton in the Bluesbreakers. Ginger Baker was considered at the time to be the best drummer in rock and roll. He played with an intricate jazz style combined with intense hard rock pounding and was known for extensive drum solos when playing live. He is also noted for being the first drummer in rock and roll to use two bass drums instead of only one.

On their second album, “Disraeli Gears”, Cream held to their formally established blues roots but also ventured into psychedelic territory. The band spent only three and a half days in the studio recording it and it became their breakthrough album in the United States. 

The album title came from an inside joke within the band regarding Eric Clapton wanting to buy a road racing bicycle. Disraeli was a past Prime Minister of England, and one of the band’s roadies referred to the bike as having “Disraeli” gears, when he really meant “derailleur” gears. The band found the snafu so funny, they decided make it their new album title. …I guess you had to be there.

The Tragically Hip – Up To Here

The Tragically Hip are one of Canada’s most successful rock bands – at least in their native country. Although they never achieved the success across the border in the US, except for some bordering cities like Detroit and Buffalo, NY. In Canada, the received numerous accolades including 16 Juno Awards. They’ve also had numerous Gold Records and several number one singles in Canada. They’ve always been one of my favorite Canadian bands. 

One of the only Radio contest I have ever won was to see meet and greet The Tragically Hip at a small recording studio, where they would perform the private concert for 50 winners and a guest as well as tickets to see them at the Palace of Auburn Hills, a large concert venue outside Detroit. I really wanted to be one of the winners in that contest but new my odds of winning were slim to none. But that didn’t stop me from trying. 

One day on my way home from work, the radio DJ announced that caller ten would be one of the winners for the contest just as I was pulling in the driveway. I figured once I got inside, I’d make the call and give it a shot. So I closed my car door, casually walked in the front door, sat my stuff down on the dining room table, picked up the phone and dialed the station. The voice on the other end said “Congratulations! You’re caller 10!”

I was absolutely astonished that I had won. The DJ gave me the details of where the recording studio was and told me I could bring along any one item for them to sign. I had just bought a cheap electric guitar at a garage sale the a few weekends prior, so I knew what I would be carrying into the studio with me, along with a silver Sharpie. That guitar proudly hangs on the wall in my man cave.

I have to say, the guys in The Tragically Hip are some of the most genuinely nicest people I have ever met. There was no rock star arrogance and a real appreciation for their fans. They are one of the few bands I know of that during their 32 years as a band, always had the same members. 

Unfortunately, a few years back Gordon Downie, their lead singer and primary lyricist, was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away in 2016. A very sad day for Canadian Rock. 

Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

“The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” is the album I choose when I can’t decide if I need just kick back and chill out or if I want to totally jam out, because it offers the best of both. The songs on it are combinations of bohemian folk, jazz, blues, avant-garde experimentalism, and of course rock. As such, the album offers itself up to a hugely diverse sound that is as ambitious as it is creative.

The title track is probably the most well-known song off the album and which, to a degree, encapsulates what traffic’s music was all about. The name of the song and album are an obscure reference to rebellion against the establishment and adherence to personal originality. Or, in laymen’s terms, not running with the pack and just being yourself. 

A creed I have always, and will forever live by.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

After some long negotiations, I finally convinced my wife to let me not only have a turntable in the man cave, but also upstairs in the living room. As I was getting out of bed, eager to start hooking up the new system, she added one more point to the deal: no playing any Jethro Tull upstairs (for whatever reason, she hates Jethro Tull). I told her that “Aqualung” was the first thing I wanted to play on the new setup. This earned me a bit of an expected scowl in return. 

“I’m joking” I replied, adding “You know what the first thing I always play on any new sound system is.” 

She just said “You’re such a nerd”, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Supertramp – Crime Of The Century

Supertramp’s third album, crime of the century was their commercial breakthrough. It also was a near perfect combination of progressive rock showmanship and pop rock sensibility. Come to think of it, that’s probably why it was their commercial breakthrough.

“Crime of the Century” was the first in a string of highly successful albums by Supertramp. A streak that would be climaxed by 1979’s “Breakfast in America.” 

Queensrÿche – Operation Mindcrime

There’s an exception to every rule. I’ve never been a big fan of ’80s metal bands, and you won’t find many of them in my record collection. For the most part, I felt they offered more flash over substance. But Queensrÿche was different.

On their third album, “Operation Mindcrime”, Queensrÿche chose to do a concept album / rock opera. The story revolves around an ex-junkie who is disillusioned with the corruption he sees everywhere in our society. He’s eventually lured into an underground organization that brainwashes him into becoming an assassin of the people they perceive as being the evil perpetrators in the world.  Murders which he has no remembrance of performing afterwards. 

When they send him out to take the life of a nun and corrupt priest, he learns how her previous life, before being taken in by the priest, was in many ways parallel to his story. He falls in love with her, but in the end, still accomplishes his mission. This proves to be his mental undoing and he suffers a breakdown. He is arrested for the murders and put in a mental institution. While there, all the memories of everything he has done all come flooding back.

“Operation Mindcrime” became a very successful album for Queensrÿche. It eventually went platinum, selling over a million copies. The only single released from the album, “I Don’t Believe In Love”, was nominated for a Grammy.