Rush – All The World’s A Stage

Oh won’t you please welcome all, RUSH! And so begins one of my all-time favorite live albums.

I’m not going to say it’s the best live album ever, because that’s subjective. And, quite honestly this is a live album that’s not for the faint of heart. Geddy Lee’s vocals, especially in Rush’s early music, could be an acquired taste. His voice was perhaps my only reservation when I first heard “All the World’s a Stage”, which was my introduction to Rush. But after a while I began to really like it.

It was in the locker room after gym class in 8th or 9th grade when one of my classmates noticed that I had an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tape with me. He asked if I like Carl Palmer’s drumming. Well, of course I did. He said he had something he wanted me to listen to. At the next gym class, he brought me in a copy of “All the World’s a Stage”. Without a doubt, Neil Peart’s drum solo on “Working Man / Finding My Way” is, and forever will be, the biggest highlight on this album for me. And for good reason – there are few who will argue against it being the best rock drum solo ever recorded. … EVER!

But a drum solo does not a record make. Nay, it was the rest of the musicianship and the arrangements on that make this recording iconic. Peart’s drum solo was just the icing on the cake.

Rush was one of the few bands that can claim to have introduced a whole new genre of music – at least until you get into the 90s in the new millennia. Progressive metal did not exist before Rush. Maybe it would have been introduced by some other band, had Rush not taken the bull by the horns. But no other band did. At least not in this universe. I am forever grateful to my friend in junior high school who introduced me to Rush; a band that has become one of my favorite bands of all time. A band that opened my ears to realms of new musical possibilities.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitious album, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Eagles – Hotel California

With the addition of Joe Walsh on guitar for, Hotel California, the Eagles took on an edgier, slightly harder sound on some of the songs when compared to their previous records. Most of the album still contained the mellower, “California country” songs that were common on their previous albums, but with “Life in the Fast Lane”, “Victim of Love”, and the song Hotel California” there was a notable shift in the style of their music.

According to the band members, Hotel California a concept album to which the opening title track sets the theme to – loss of Innocence, naivety, ideals sought, and dreams and love lost, are the topics explored within the lyrics.

With the exception of their greatest hits album, Hotel California was the Eagles’ most successful album, and is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

The Foo Fighters are perhaps the most important American rock and roll band to gain notoriety in this millennium.

Dave Grohl formed Foo Fighters following the breakup of Nirvana, which was caused by the tragic suicide of that bands lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain. Grohl decided to step out from behind the drum kit, which he played in Nirvana, and instead, pick up the guitar and sing.

“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” finds Grohl and company stretching out further musically than they had on any of their five previous albums. By the time of its release in 2007, the members of Foo Fighters had grown as musicians and Grohl had matured as a songwriter.

It’s hard to picture on the Foo Fighters earlier albums, some of the acoustic songs that appear on “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”. From their earlier albums, it’s equally hard to imagine them performing songs with a piano, or a string quartet, or doing a song with a fiddle or accordion. But here, it’s an easy fit.

For those who love the Foo Fighters earlier stuff, there’s still the same appeal the Foo Fighters have always had – they still rock their asses off. But the bonus here is there’s more depth. There’s more emotion. There’s more melody. Quite simply, there’s more music.

“Echoes, silence, Patience & Grace” is the sound of the Foo Fighters finding their footing. But it’s more than that. It’s the sound of a band standing tall and proud, not afraid to take chances.

Muse – The 2nd Law

When I think of the band Muse, I think of innovation and originality. Every album by them is very different from its predecessor, yet it always sounds unmistakably like Muse.

“The 2nd Law” is perhaps Muse’s most ambitious and innovative album today – although that’s a hard call to make – all of their albums are pretty ambitious and innovative. From the James Bond feel of the opening song “Supremacy”, to the use of a full symphony orchestra and vocal chorus on “Survival”, to the heavy funk beat in “Panic Station”, to the dubstep and over-driven guitar insanity on “The 2nd Law (Unsustainable)”, to the obvious nods to Queen injected throughout it all, Muse seems determined to go in as many different directions as they possibly can on one album. For almost any other band, this would come across as a chaotic mess, Muse is one of those rare bands that can pull it all together with a unique cohesiveness.

Muse named this, their sixth studio album, after the second law of thermodynamics which the band uses as an analogy to make social-political and social-environmental statements with on the album’s two closing tracks, “The 2nd Law (Unsustainable)” and “The 2nd Law (Isolated System).”

This album is part of a limited edition box set that also includes the album on CD, a behind the scenes “making of…” DVD and some other goodies related to the album.

The Steve Miller Band – Book Of Dreams

It’s funny how leftover material from one album can become an even better album.

“Book of Dreams”, The Steve Miller Band’s 10th album, consists primarily of leftover material from their previous album, “The Joker” which had been their most successful album up to that point. The popularity of “Book of Dreams” ended up surpassing “The Joker” and it became one of The Steve Miller Band’s biggest selling records ever. As a matter of fact, when the Steve Miller Band later released “Greatest Hits, 1974 – 1978”, that album contained seven songs from “Book of Dreams” – more than any other album of theirs.

Personally, I would much rather own “Book of Dreams” than “Greatest Hits 1974 – 1978”, which uses some of the shorter 7 inch single versions of the songs. For example, on “Book of Dreams”, the song “Jet Airliner” has a long strumming guitar part at its start that really sets up the song. That part was edited out of and is not heard on the “Greatest Hits 1974 – 1978”.

Foghat – Stone Blue

Ahhhh, blues rock. Easily one of my favorite genres. And in that genre, Foghat is easily one of my favorite bands. And by Foghat, easily one of my favorite albums is “Stone Blue”.

Stone blue was released as a follow-up to their hugely successful live album. It is their seventh studio album, composed of a 50/50 mix of self-written songs and blues standards.

When Stone blue was released, for those who knew Foghat’s music, there really where no surprises here. Foghat was a band known for rocking hard and playing the blues, They did both with a vengeance on “Stone Blue”. The late Dave Peverett’s vocals we’re in top form and he captured the emotion of every song perfectly. Rod Price was relentless in his solos, especially with his slide guitar work. Between the opening title track and the mid-tempo Rocker on side two, “It Hurts Me Too”, it seemed as if he was challenging every slide player out there.

Two of the best covers on the album are the hard rocking versions of the blues standard “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Chevrolet”.

The Cult – Electric Peace

The Cult had just had their first major breakthrough with the album, “Love”, and the single from it, “She Sells Sanctuary”, when they went into the studio to record the follow-up to it. For that album, which they had already decided to title “Peace”, they again chose Steve Brown to produce it. Although they were happy with the work he did on “Love”, they were not at all pleased with Brown’s treatment on the new album.

They sought out a new producer for the record and found Rick Rubin. After hearing what they had done so far, Rubin had them go back into the studio and re-record every song and also record a couple different ones. Because the record produced by Rubin sounded so strikingly different from “Peace”, The Cult decided to rename the new record “Electric”. It may have been a pain for them to go back and redo everything, but it was definitely a good call. “Electric” became The Cult’s most successful album ever.

Although “Peace” is a good record, and would have probably done alright for them, it really didn’t capture what The Cult were truly capable of. On “Electric”, Rick Rubin was able to capture one of the best bands from the ’80s at their very best.

The songs on “Peace” were never released in their entirety until 2010 when all of songs from it were included with a 2010 limited edition CD. It was finally released in its entirety on vinyl with the originally intended artwork in 2013, included with the album “Electric”. The two album package was called “Electric Peace”.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Sometimes strange is good. “Sound & Color”, the second album from Alabama Shakes, certainly is a strange. It is also exceptionally good. Soulful psychedelic blues garage rock is the best way I can find to describe this album. It is one of those I have to be in the right mood to listen to. But when I’m feeling that way, almost nothing else will suffice.

Alabama Shakes formed in 2009 released sound and color in 2015. The album immediately topped the Billboard charts. It was nominated for 6 Grammys, winning four of them, including best alternative album.