Heart

“What About Love” was one of the biggest hits by the band Heart. Along with the other songs on their self-titled album, it marked a significant shift in their sound that was only hinted at on their previous record. This album saw Ann and Nancy Wilson moving from hard rock bordering on progressive rock, to a more mainstream pop sound. A shift they needed to make in order to keep up with the changing music scene.

Music from the ’80s had a very distinct sound. Typically there was heavier use of reverb on the overall sound, most notably on the guitar and drums. In general, there was a heavier use of keyboards and most songs had more of a constant rhytm throughout. Also, every album needed to contain at least one or two slow ballads or love songs. Heart hit that formula perfectly on this album. It became their only album to hit number one on the billboard charts.

Normally, if a band releases a self-titled album it’s their debut. But Heart waited until their eighth. Although it was kind of a debut for them them. It was their first album for Columbia Records who signed them after their contract ran out with Epic. Maybe that’s why they chose to make it eponymous.

Roger Hodgson – In the Eye of The Storm

When Rodger Hodgson had a fall out with Rick Davis and decided to leave Supertramp and release a solo album, he didn’t fool around. Almost as if he was out to prove who was the main creative Force in Supertramp, he wrote, arranged and produced every song on his debut solo album, “In the Eye of the Storm”. But he didn’t stop there. With only a handful of exceptions Rodger Hodgson please and since every vocal part on this album.

“In the Eye of the Storm” has a sound very reminiscent of Supertramp -progressive rock that is as powerful as it is insightful. It’s primarily keyboard oriented, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some fine guitar work too. But really, the overall strength of this album lies in the composition and arrangement of the songs on it.

Although Roger Hodgson’s first solo record did have better success than Supertramp’s first album without him, neither he or his former band ever achieved the level of success apart, compared to what they accomplished together. Regardless, I still rank it up there with the best of anything he did with Supertramp.

The Ventures’ Christmas Album

The Ventures’ Christmas Album was my favorite Christmas album when I was growing up. It’s still one of my favorites today. It’s also a classic example of an album being totally screwed up when released on CD.

When the Ventures’ Christmas Album was finally released on CD, I immediately ran out and bought a copy, even though the vinyl copy I had was one I would never part with. I mean, the CD had to sound better, right?

Wrong.

Somebody at some point must have thought it would be a good idea to remaster the Ventures Christmas Album before releasing it on a digital medium. Gone was the exceptional stereo mix that gave a wonderful soundstage, making it sound like the band was right in front of you – one guitar on the left, one on the right, the bass slightly to the left, and the drums near center behind all of the others. The remastered CD sounded like all the instruments were in same place, on playing on top of each other.

And then there’s the case of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer”. It was like somebody tried to intentionally ruin the song. The Ventures played Rudolph with the lead guitar up front and a second guitar adding harmony underneath the lead. On the CD the guitar on harmony was brought up even to the lead guitar, making it sound like the Ventures were trying to play the song with some kind of non-traditional jazz styling. It was terrible.

The Ventures were a popular instrumental group in the 1960s. They released their Christmas album in 1965. What made this album so unique was that it took traditional Christmas songs and mixd them with riffs from popular rock and roll songs from the ’60s. It’s kind of like a mashup between the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Tequila” by the Champs and “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Sleigh Bells” with Walk Don’t Run” by…well, the Ventures. And this is decades before anyone ever coined the phrase mashup.

The Ventures Christmas Album is truly one of the coolest Christmas albums ever, and was ranked number 12 by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest Christmas albums ever recorded. But the only way you should ever listen to it is on the original vinyl. It may be hard to find, but its well worth the effort.

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 introdued by some other band, had Rush not taken the bull by the horns. But no other band did. At least not in this univese. I am forever grateful to my friend in junior high chool 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 ambitios alblum, 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” and “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”.