Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

One of the greatest things about buying an album is that sometimes you discover the songs you hear on the radio are actually part of a bigger musical composition. Unless you actually listened to Thin Lizzy’s album Jailbreak in it entirety, or read the back cover, you would have no idea that the two songs from the album that you heard all over the radio in 1976 (and are still classic rock radio staples today) we’re actually part of a larger conceptual piece of music. 

The two biggest hits off the album – the title track and “The Boys Are Back in Town” are two small parts of a story about a world ruled by the Overmaster, who controls all media and religious belief, and who has imprisons everyone who doesn’t comply to his will. A riot is organized in one of the jails that leads to a planned mass escape. All the escapees are captured – except for four. On the lamb, they start broadcasting banned music and become the inspiration for the people to rise up and take their freedom back. It’s not a complicated story, but then again, neither is the concept of freedom. 

The best thing about Jailbreak however, isn’t how the songs all fit together to tell a bigger story, it’s how they tell the bigger story and also stand alone as a just a collection of great songs. 

Tool – Lateralus

Q: What do you get when you mix Pink Floyd, Metallica, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and a heavy dose of originality?

A: I can’t say for sure, but I bet it would be something along the lines of Tool.

Lateralus is one of their best albums. 

…No…

I think it IS their best album.

‘Nuff said.

Oh yeah, picture disks are freaking cool too.

Now, ’nuff said.

Benny Goodman – Plays World Favorites In High-Fidelity

The Swing band era was the original jam band era, and Benny Goodman was the original jam band leader, as is proven on this record.

Benny Goodman was all about the beat. And with Goodman’s music, the beat provided the pavement for the avenue to the solos. And it’s not just Benny and his clarinet that get the spotlight here – everyone gets the chance to break out and cut loose, free-forming on top of the beat.

Recorded live at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, this album captures Benny Goodman and his band in top form. And in contrast to many of his early recordings, which suffered from the limitations of the recording technology of their time, this album captures them in top sound quality too – or as the album title puts it – “in high fidelity”.

One of the highlights of this album is the closing track, a 16 minute version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”, featuring solos from nearly all the band members on top of some of the best drumming you’ll hear anywhere; and it’s all wrapped up by a beat basking drum solo by Roy Burns. A jamming end to an incredible live performance; one that proved that with Benny Goodman, it truly was all about the solos – and all about the beat.

Nazareth – Hair Of The Dog

Oh, those pesky record companies – not letting Scottish rockers Nazareth give their 1975 album and the eponymous song from it, “Hair Of The Dog” its originally intended name. Not to worry. They had a plan “B.”

“Hair of the dog” is a phrase that refers to an old-time medicinal remedy for animal bites. It was once belief that if you applied a salve with some part of the animal mixed in it – the “hair of the dog that bit you,” for example – it would help heal the wound. This later made its way to metaphorically refer to a shot of booze in the morning as a cure for a hangover. The title to this album has nothing to do with either.

Nazareth originally wanted to name their sixth album “Son Of A Bitch” but A&M records was having none of that. The band decided to do a play on words to give the album a title alluding to what they wanted it to be. The phrase “Heir Of The Dog”, is a homonym for the actual album title (well, at least if you prononce it the way a Scotsman would). What Nazareth is referring to with “Hair Of The Dog” is atually “Heir Of The Dog.” Quite literally, a (male) heir of a (female) dog is a son of a bitch. 

So…yeah…take that, record company.

“Hair Of The Dog” is Nazareth’s most successful album. It has sold over two million copies. It spawned numerous hits for the band, including the title track. 

Only the U.S. version of the album contains one of the biggest hits from the album, a cover version of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts.” On all copies sold outside the U.S., that song was replaced by a cover version of “Guilty” by Randy Newman. I think the U.S. got the better deal on that one.

Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair

“Songs From The Big Chair” is, in my opinion, one of the best albums to come out of the ’80s. It is pop music at its best. Then again, like any exceptional album, the songs don’t fit neatly into just one genre. With layers of electronic and traditional percussion underneath the hooks and melodies of the guitars, synthesizers, piano, and electronics, (and the occasional saxophone) “Songs From The Big Chair” experiments with a variety of styles bordering it and sometimes even crossing it over into progressive rock territory, much in the same way Peter Gabriel did on his later albums.

“Songs From The Big Chair” was Tears For Fears’ most successful album, topping the charts in the U.S. and Canada and taking the second from top spot in the U.K.

Rush – Moving Pictures

I remember anticipating the release of Rush’s eighth album, “Moving Pictures”, probably more than any other album I had up to that point. Yet it would be almost three months after it came out before I would actually get a chance to listen to it. By then, almost everyone I knew had already heard it.

Before “Moving Pictures” came out, I had always considered Rush to be one of the best kept secrets in rock. It wasn’t that they didn’t get any radio airplay, or that people didn’t know about them. It was just that with as great of musicians that they were, I never felt they got the recognition they deserved. They were a great band, but hardly anyone realized it. It was like a secret only a select few knew – and I was fine with that.

A friend of mine turned me on to Rush when I was in high school. He lent me their live album, “All The World’s A Stage”, because I had told him how much I liked the drummers Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer) and Bill Burford  (Yes) and he wanted me to hear Neil Peart’s drum solo. I was an immediate fan, not just of Peart, but of Geddy Lee and Alex Leifson as well. I checked out a couple of their albums after that, and picked up their seventh album, “Permanent Waves”, the day it came out. when I heard their newest album was coming out in February of 1981, I couldn’t wait to get it – but I would have to.

I started Army basic training the third week of January 1981. We didn’t get to hear any music from the outside. Until basic training was over, we never got off base. To the new recruits, the outside world did not exist. By the time it did exist for me again, it seemed everyone knew who Rush was and their songs were all over the radio. You couldn’t help but hear songs from “Moving Pictures” everywhere. Nearly everyone thought they were a great band. The secret was out – and I was fine with that.

The B52’s – Wild Planet

I’ve been told by my friends and family that sometimes I take life too seriously. Sometimes I even say that to myself. It’s times like those that the B-52’s are the perfect band for me to listen to. I don’t care what album it is by them. They’re all good. But “Wild Planet” is probably my favorite, but only because it’s the album I first heard by them. 

If ever there was a band that didn’t take itself too seriously it’s the B-52’s. They border on being a novelty band, but unlike most novelty bands, their songs are timeless and even have a decent level of musicianship. But most importantly, they are a band that reminds you to stop taking life too seriously and just have some fun.

The Call – Modern Romans

In their 15 years together, from 1982 to 1987 The Call released 8 albums. This is the only one I ever owned – actually, it’s the only one I ever even listen to – and I can’t say why. I loved this album when it came out in 1983. I still do today.

“Modern Romans” has a perfect blend of political reverence and musical sensibility and originality. Every song strives to make a statement. And that can be dangerous territory to tread for risk of losing the focus on the quality of the music. I always felt this album hit both marks in perfect balance.

When “Modern Romans came out, the video for “The Walls Came Down” received significant airplay on MTV (back when MTV used to play music videos almost exclusively) and the song became The Call’s biggest hit. In it Michael Been sings “I don’t think there are any Russians/And there ain’t no Yanks/Just corporate criminals/Playing with tanks”. Words that some might say are more relevant today than they were when he sang them back in 1983. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, it’s still good music.

Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Amy Winehouse was an incredible talent that sadly, was taken from us way too early. She sang of her experiences in life, and when you listen to her songs you learn what a tortured soul she had. It’s something we all have inside us, albeit to a much lesser degree. That’s part of what makes her songs so great, they’re relative to life. None of us leave this world without scars, and on Back To Black, Amy Winehouse sings beautifully and painfully about those scars.

And then of course, there’s her voice. Smooth and yet powerful, sultry with a touch of darkness, and at times even playful. She sang about being sent to rehab like it was a joke – something she couldn’t take seriously. Yet in her voice you could tell she knew her addictions were serious. She knew her inner demons would probably take her one day. It was just a matter of time. That’s what makes both her songs and her story so sadly beautiful.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

Sometimes it amazes me how a great band can slip through my radar. I must be slipping in my (old?) age. 

A friend told me about The National a while back – I meant to check them out, but it slipped through the cracks (file under “life gets busy”). Then I heard they had a new album that just came out this month, so I went online and sampled the songs. Intrigued is a massive understatement. 

I ordered the album that night, and now that I have given it a listen (and another, and now another, as I write this) I have to say that the snippets that provoked me to buy “Sleep well Beast” were samples of awesomeness I did not see coming – and the best thing is, this album gets better with each new listening.

That The National slipped through my musical radar isn’t in itself, what amazes me – it can happen with new bands. It’s the fact that this is The National’s seventh album; and that they’ve been around since 1999. I mean, REALLY?!?!? They are this good and have been around for 18 freaking years! They have six other albums out? AND I NEVER FREAKING HEARD OF THEM?!?!? What rock was I hiding under?

Part of what makes The National so unique on “Sleep Well Beast” is not so much in the band’s own uniqueness, but rather in how they take elements from other eclectic bands that came before them (The Beta Band, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, late era Radiohead, Depeche Mode, and Leonard Cohen are the first to come to mind) and combine those pieces into something totally different. Something totally original.

In the end, all I can say is, they are on my radar now.