Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic

This has got to be my favorite album title ever. Apparently Ian Hunter loved it too. Legend has it that the phrase was first seen on a bathroom stall wall and Mick Ronson, who is best known for his collaborations with David Bowie, was going to use it as the title to a solo album of his own. But once Ian Hunter heard it, he wanted to use the title so badly he offered Ronson writing credits on the first track and single from the album, even though Ronson had nothing at all to do with the song. Released in 1979, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” was Ian Hunter’s fourth solo album after leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974. In addition to “Just Another Night”, the aforementioned first single off the record, the album also garnered hits for other artists as well. In the ’80s, Barry Manilow would have a hit with the song “Ships” and in the ’90s, The Presidents of the United States would strike gold with “Cleveland Rocks”. That song was also used as the theme song for one of my favorite TV shows “The Drew Carey Show”.

Although they did not go by the name they were collectively known as, Ian Hunter’s backing band on this album were the members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

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.

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.

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”.

Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic

Aerosmith’s third album, “Toys in the Attic” was a huge success for them. It was also the album where the band had to really prove its songwriting ability – and they did. 

Aerosmith’s two previous albums, “Get Your Wings” and their eponymous debut, both consisted almost exclusively of songs the band had written and performed live before going into the studio. For “Toys in the Attic” they had nothing except a few bits and pieces of songs that they had come up with during sound checks while touring. They basically had had to do everything from scratch on this album and were under pressure from the record company to release a new record. 

Almost all the songs on “Toys In The Attic” were either written by, or fleshed out by Aerosmith while in the studio. The two exceptions being “You See Me Crying” which was co-written by Steven Tyler and Don Solomon and “Big Ten Inch Record” which was a cover version of a song originally performed by blues and R&B saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson. 

Big ten inch record is a song about an old blues record that a girl is very enthralled a girl, but the phrasing of the lyrics also gave the innuendo of it being about the singers private parts. This led lot of people to think that in the song, Steven Tyler sings  “sucked on my big ten inch”, but according to Tyler, he’s actually singing “‘cept on my big ten inch”. Which is it really? I have my opinion, but you’ll have to listen to the song and decide for yourself.

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 dittys 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.

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.

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Putting out a double album of studio material can be an ambitious and somewhat risky undertaking. Unless you happen to be an artist as accomplished and talented as Elton John.  

By 1973, the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin had already established themselves as an unstoppable force. On his six previous albums, Elton had proven what an exceptional piano and keyboard player he was. His band members were top-notch musicians who matched his music perfectly. With all the pieces fitting together so perfectly while making Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, it probably didn’t seem like a gamble at all to be a little more ambitious.

Amazingly, Bernie Taupin wrote all the lyrics for the album in just two and a half weeks. Once he received the lyrics, Elton John wrote all the music in just a few days. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was originally intended to be just a single album. But when you realize you have 22 great songs and need to get rid of four just to whittle it down to a double album, I bet it becomes an easy decision to up the ante.

King Crimson – Larks Tongues In Aspic

I think “Larks Tongues In Aspic” is one of my favorite King Crimson albums because this, the fifth incarnation of the band, featured violin as one of the main instruments. It truly gave this album a distinctly unique character. Not that King Crimson’s music ever needed any help with being distinct or unique.

This was an album you had to be sure to take proper care of. It has many quiet passages, and if not treated properly the scratches could easily overwhelm the music. The album opens with one of those quiet passages, some soft percussion work by Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir, which leads into the an elegant violin intro played by David Cross, which is then torn out of existence by Robert Fripp’s frantic guitar work. This kind of slow then fast, quiet then loud roller coaster ride is kind of a theme throughout the entirety of “Larks Tongues In Aspic”. The glue holding all these diverse parts together is the solid bass playing by John wetton, who also does all the singing.

I suppose Larks tongue could be a difficult album for some to listen to, but it’s one well worth putting the effort into. Like a good brandy or a fine wine, “Larks Tongue In Aspic” is an acquired taste. It’s an album that intrigues your ears and mind. This is music that is intended to be interpreted, not merely listen to. Then again, that could be said of all King Crimson’s work.