Led Zeppelin IV

There are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection…

There is a reason Led Zeppelin’s fourth record is so iconic. It is an icredible collection of songs that few bands have been able to equal. The album practically defines rock and roll from the ’70s – the golden age of viny. It has become an influential and inspirational focal point for generations of rock band. It became the goal of almost every rock guitarist to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven”.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was the first record from the band that was well received by most critics, their previous album “Led  Zeppelin III” beingg the most severely panned. Record buyers obviously agreed with the positive reviews, as it has become one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Referring to to the album as “Led Zeppelin IV” is actually inaccurate. But then,  how do you refer to an album that has no name?  Zeppelin decided to officially not give it one. They even deferred from putting the bands name anywhere on the album cover.

Fans often refer to it as “Led Zeppelin IV” for a couple reasons. First off, It’s Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and it came out following “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III”. Secondly, the inner sleve shows four symbols that were created by each of the four band members. The album is also commonly referred to as is “Zoso” because the first of the four symbols was created by guitarist Jimmy Page which dolts that word.

Although it has sold millions of copies, it can be hard to run across an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album that is in excellent condition.  Partly because many people in the ’70s did not know how to properly care for vinyl records (vinyl takes a little more TLC than CDs) and also because when CDs came out, unless someone decided to get rid of their entire collection, this was one of the few the had to hold on to. After all, there are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather

There was a huge pawn shop just outside gate 4 of Fort Campbell. When I was stationed there back in the ’80s, I want to that pawn shop all the time to see if there were any goodies that I could pick up for a steal. When I visited it one particular day in 1984, my favorite radio station in Clarksville, Tennessee was doing a remote broadcast in the parking lot. When I approached the tent, they told me I could win a free record if I could correctly answer a music trivia question. I don’t remember the question I was asked, or answer, but I do remember the album I chose from their selection: “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I didn’t choose a Stevie Ray Vaughan album because I was a fan. I had never had of him. But the album had a add sticker on it that said he had been voted guitarist of the year by a guitar magazine. I figured “well, then the guy should be pretty good”.

I had no idea.

There will neverf be another guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He had it all – the tone, the feel, the emotion, the skill. He was the kind of player that could make you stop dead in your tracks, forget what you were doing and just listen. He was, in my opinion, the best blues guitarist that ever lived.

Sadly,  the world lost Stevie Ray on August 27, 1990 when the helicopter he was flying in while on tour crashed shortly after takeoff.

This 2011 reissue version of “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” includes a second album of songs that were never released while SRV was still alive; many of them appearing on his posthumous  album “The Sky is Crying”. Included on the second album is Arvo incredible version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Little Wing”. Stevie Ray never had a chance to record the vocals for the song, but with the way he could make his guitar sing, none were necessary. I still get goosebumps listening to it.

Humble Pie – Smokin’

Humble Pie’s fifth album, “Smokin'”, can be summed up in two words: heavy groove. You can put those words together or keep them apart, either way, it’s accurate.

Peter Frampton had just left the Humble Pie in 1972, and the band had to prove they could make it on their own without him. With Steve Marriott at the helm, the Pie set out to make an album that was heavier and funkier than anything they had done before … or after. The result was magical.

Blues riffs and power chords dominate on “Smokin'”, making it an album that is best appreciated when played LOUD. The Pie have never sounded better than they do here. They play down and dirty electric blues-rock with a heavy dose of soul that makes it’s truly addicting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter Frampton … but in all honesty … he’s not missed here.

“Smokin'” was also an example of why CDs could really suck. When I purchased this album on CD, I could not believe how terrible it sounded. There was no care at all taken with transferring this album over to the digital realm. I’m not a vinyl snob. I have some old recordings that absolutely shine on CD. But when it comes to bringing a classic analog album over to digital, “Smokin'” is an example of how to do it wrong.

I had a friend ask me recently how vinyl albums could possibly sound better than CDs. This album is a prime example of how. There are cases where the opposite is true – where the CD is superior to the original album. Humble Pie’s “Smokin'” is not one of those instances. If you want to really appreciate this album, and know what it was all about, you need listen to it on vinyl.

And listen to it LOUD!

Joe Walsh – So What

Blues chords, great guitar riffs, and solid guitar solos. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. And it’s nothing Joe Walsh hasn’t put on an album before or after. But so what, his third solo album is essential to any rock lover’s colection.

Joe Walsh was pretty basic and straightforward with his albums. He never really did anything fancy… Except his solos. His solos kicked ass. Every time. He was a master on slide guitar that few could equal. He also played more than just guitar. He was very accomplished on keyboards and quite often would put a song that featured him playing synthesizer on his albums. “So What” was no exception.

Joe Walsh’s formula for making an album was simple – write good songs, play them well, and have excellent musicians back him up. On “So What”, those backup musicians were quite often members of The Eagles. A little over a year and a half later Joe Walsh would actually join the Eagles, bringing a little more edginess to their sound and helping them have their most successful studio album ever, Hotel California. But so what. His solo material was just as good.

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, comprised 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”.

Wishbone Ash – New England

Wishbone Ash is a British rock band that formed in the early ’70s and used dual lead guitars that many would bands would try to emulate, but few could equal. Wishbone Ash’s seventh album, “New England” saw them move somewhat away from the strong progressive rock sound they had in their beginning towards a more blues and contemporary sound. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any impressive musicisnship on “New England”. By this time Wishbone Ash had become more concise with their songwriting. They were able to fuse a wider array of styles together in the span of one album than they ever did before while still including some impressive dual lead jamming. This helped make “New England” one of Wishbone Ash’s most diversified albums ever and my favorite by them.

Wishbone Ash chose the name “New England” for their seventh album because they had recently moved to that area of the United States to avoid the high tax rates in Great Britain. The tax rate could go as high as 95 percent if you grossed enough income in a year. Many bands simply could not afford to pay their taxes and relocated themselves and their assets to other countries they had lower tax rates.  most didn’t advertise that they were tax exiles. Apparently, Wishbone Ashwasn’the one of them.

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, toped 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.

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 druns 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.

Foghat – LIVE

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, FOGHAT!” And so begins one of my all time favorite live albums. My only gripe is – and I ask this every time I listen to this album – “why didn’t they make this a double album?” I guess they wanted to leave you wanting more. And I’m sure Foghat’s performances on the nights the songs on this album were recorded left the audience doing just that.

An offshoot of Savoy Brown, Foghat formed in 1970 and specialized in straightforward blues-based rock and roll.  They were experts at it,  and by 1977 had honed and perfected their live performances. Although their preceding studio albums were good, on this album Foghat proved that they were a band that was meant to be heard live. This, their first live album, was their biggest selling record ever.

Foghat “LIVE” featured a die-cut cover with the word “LIVE” displaying the record sleeve behind it which had pictures of the band performing live. Unfortunately, if you didn’t keep this record in a protective sleeve, the “E” would eventually get mangled or torn off when other albums caught on it as they were slid in next to it in your collection. My original copy of Foghat live suffered this fate. It took me forever to find one that wasn’t ripped or torn off. Lesson learned.

The Rockets – Live Rockets

The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets. 

A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.

In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.

Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.