The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

This marks the 200th post to my blog. I feel a need to make it about an exceptional album.

In 1967 color TV was a big deal. So were The Beatles. What better combination could there have been then, than to make a colour movie for the telly featuring their music and, of course starring the fab four themselves?

The hour long programme had to be originally broadcast in black and white when the BBC first aired it on boxing day (the day after Christmas in the U.K.). However, it aired again in colour a couple weeks later.

Although the album soundtrack to the film was well received, the movie itself – a story of a bus trip across England and the bizarre events that occur on it – was not. Probably because the film had a psychedelic feel to it that was not appreciated by elder viewer. Opinion of the movie changed as time passed and both are now considered classics.

The album came in a gatefold cover that included a 24 page full color book with scenes from the movie. Because of the original packaging, “Magical Mystery Tour” is an album that could never be presented effectively when released decades later on the smaller CD format.

One of the things I find interesting about the Magical Mystery Tour album packaging is that the album the cover uses the American spelling of color when referring to the book inside, but the book itself uses the British spelling of colour when referencing the movie.

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

Back in the seventies, Peter Frampton was known and loved for two things. Girls loved him for his hair.  Guys loved him for his guitar playing.  Well, I guess girls loved him for his music too, but then again, who didn’t?

Frampton started out in the band The Herd, but really made a name for himself in Humble Pie. He left them to form his own band, Frampton’s Camel. After that, he went totally solo, recording and performing under just his name.

“Frampton Comes Alive”  is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. … Let me correct that.  It is one of the greatest albums ever recorded – live or in the studio, It seemed that after it came out in 1976 everyone I knew owned a copy of it.

It’s unusual for a live album to be the breakthrough for someone, but for Peter Frampton his breakout was “Frampton Comes Alive”.  As I sit here listening to it and looking at the track listing, I have to say that there is not a bad song on this album; hell, not even a mediocre one. I find myself looking forward to the next song just as much as I am enjoying listening to the current one.

The biggest hit off “Frampton Comes Alive” was “Do You Feel Like We Do?”,  a song originally recorded by Frampton’s Camel in 1973.  The nearly fifteen minute live version includes a section where Frampton uses a talkbox to make his guitar “speak”. Although it wasn’t the first time this effect was used in rock and roll it is perhaps the most memorable. Maybe that’s because it is the song that closes out the best selling live album of all time.

Joe Satriani – Surfing With The Alien

Symbiosis.  Let’s talk a minute about symbiosis.

Webster’s dictionary defines symbiosis as “a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)” Steve Via and Joe Satriani had a very symbiotic musical relationsdhip.

Joseph Siro Satriani used to teach guitar. One of his most talented students was one named Steve Vai. Joe taught him technique and theory, but most of all, he taught him to combine those with emotion and passion. When Steve decided to persue a career performing music, his immense talent was almost immediately picked up by Frank Zappa. After Zappa, Vai played guitar on David Lee Roth’s solo albums after Roth left Van Halen. When Steve Vai decided to go solo, he had made such a name for himself, he was courted by numerous record labels.

But Steve Via never forgot his teacher and mentor, Joe Satriani. He told the record companies that Satriani was someone they needed to sign.  Vai had become so successful that the record companies actually listened to him, and Joe Satriani soon signed a record deal as well. He went on to achieve success that paralleled that of his former student.

So…

Steve Vai would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented guitar teacher, Joe Satriani. And Joe Satriani would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented student, Steve Vai.

Symbiosis defined.

The first song I ever heard by Joe Satriani was “”Always With Me, Always With You”. I was blown away by its beauty, it’s elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next aslbum I would add to my collection.

Joe Satriani has released many albums since this, his debut album. None have ceased to amaze me in technical ability, creativity, originaslity, and innovation. Still, “Surfing With the Alien” remains my favorite Satriani album – only because it was my introduction to him – an introduction to one of the most amazing guitarists ever.

The Rockets – Back Talk

The Rockets share a story that is unfortunately common with many rock bands.  They were a band that was loaded with talent but just never got that one big break.

Made up primarily of former members from Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, The Rockets’ first independent album, “Love Transfusion” was noticed by the major labels and they signed a record deal shortly after its release.  Their self titled major label debut was a hard rocking record that recieved little promotion from the record company.  Still, it sold exceptionally regionally around the Detroit area and was played regularly on the local radio stations but only had moderate success nationally.  It was the same story for their second album, “No Ballads”, although it fared slightly behind their debut in sales. For their Third album, “Back Talk”, The Rockets employed Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas to sit in the control Room. The album should have been a huge success for them. However After again receiving no promotion, its sales were minimal outside of the Detroit area.  They would release one more studio album after “Back Talk” and also an incredible live album recorded at the Royal Oak Theater, near Detroit, before throwing in the towel.

All of The Rockets’ records had a gritty and aggressive yet soulful sound that made them stand out and really embodied what Detroit is all about.

I picked this album up  while I was  In the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I had no idea at the time that The Rockets had even come out with a new album. I immediately bought it.  When I played it for the first time in the barracks, I was surprised when a couple buddies who weren’t from Detriot, asked me if that was “The Rockets” and commented that they thought the were great,  One of the guys had first heard them when he was stationed in Germany. He said they were pretty popular over there. That made me feel proud for my favorite ho.etown band.

I listened to The Rockets a lot when I was in the Army. Whenever I felt homesick, they reminded me of Detroit.

John Cougar Mellancamp – Scarecrow

You would be hard pressed to find an album with more heart than “Scarecrow” by John Cougar Mellencamp.

Growing up in rural Indiana, Mellencamp went back to his roots for the songs on “Scarecrow”, taking inspiration from his the changes he saw happening to his hometown and its nearby farms. Sometimes it was proud, as in “Small Town”, and at others it was sentimental, like on  “Minutes to Memories”. But the album was most moving with the scathing picture it painted of the family farms that were unable to survive against the huge corporations on the opening song, “Rain on the Scarecrow”. Where Mellencamp sings of a heartland that had lost its heart.

The songs on “Scarecrow” struck a chord across America and it became one of Mellencamp’s most popular and memorable albums.

Shortly after the success of “Scarecrow”, Mellencamp would form “Farm Aid” along with country star Willie Nelson. The non-profit organization put on a series of benefit concerts to raise money that brought financial relief to many struggling American  farms. He remains an active advocate to rural America to this day.

The Allman Brothers Band – Eat A Peach

There will never be another band like The Allman Brothers Band. Nor will there ever be an album quite like “Eat a Peach”.  One of the original jam bands, The Allmam Brothers seamlessly blended the Southern rock and blues akin to their Georgia roots with jazz infused improvisations that showcased the talents of the band’s members.

“Eat a Peach” was The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album and second live album. It was a double album that contained two sides of almost all studio material and two sides of all live material recorded at the original Filmore Theater in San Francisco.

Two sides of live material taken up by one song, aptly titled “Mountain Jam”, which clocks in at just under forty minutes.

Most typical bands would have laid out the two parts of “Mountain Jam” back to back on subsequent sides. But the Allman Brothers Band are anything but typical. After closing out side one with the tender love song “Melissa”, side two kicks off the first half of “Mountain Jam” which fades out after an unfogettable drum and tympani solo by Butch Trucks. Instead of picking up where that leaves off, side three opens with a couple other live tracks, including the classic “One Way Out”, moves into more studio recordings and closes out with the beautiful instrumental “Little Martha”.

Side four picks up where “Mountain Jam” left off on side two, starting off where the drum solo transitions into Berry Oakley’s bass solo. Dual guitar solos by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts lead into an all member jam crescendo that closes an incredible jam on an incredible double album by an incredible jam band.

One of the original jam bands.

 

Queen – The Game

Queen is one of the most versatile and creative rock bands ever.  Freddie Mercury has an incredible vocal range and knows how to use it.  Brian May’s guitar extravagance in both tonal qualities and technical ability are unequaled. Roger Taylor has a unique drumming style that is immediately recognizable (for one, he loves to play the hi-hat just slightly behind the snare drum making it sound like one elongated beat) and John Deacon is absolutely solid on bass. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were a band that was never afraid to try anything new. Except for synthesizers.

Queen always seemed staunchly defiant to synths. Not to the point of ever talking negatively about them. But they did make a point on their first six albums to somewhere in the liner notes, point out that “no synths” were used on the albums.

Quite honestly, on those early Queen albums, synthesizers weren’t missed. It was actually quite amazing some of the sounds Brian May could wring out of a guitar, making tones and sonic  fluctuations that many bands would need to use a synthesizer to even come close to.  Then again the guy was a thesis away from a doctorate in astrophysics when Queen’s success took off, and did all his own guitar electronics, so it wasn’t that surprising that he could be pretty amazing. (He did finally write his thesis and receive his doctorate in 2007, and has since co-authored a book on the origins of the universe).

I don’t think any of my close friends would be surprised to know that I love reading liner notes on albums.  I could say “the more the merrier” but that would be untrue.  I don’t necessarily  want to have the back cover or inner sleve plastered in paragraphs of text, but it’s nice to have some interesting information about the songs or the band or the recording sessions – and lyrics are always nice. It’s all about the balance.

When I heard the opening to Queen’s seventh studio album, I knew – there was no doubt in my mind – I mean, Brian May could do some amazing things on guitar – but that was a synthesizer. And as I read the liner notes, there it was in black and white: “This album includes the first appearance of  a Synthesizer (an Oberhein OBX) on a Queen album“.

There were no apologies or explanations given . Then again, none were really needed. Queen never denounced the use of synths. They just made it clear to those who paid close attention, that they didn’t use them. On “The Game”, they made it clear to that same crowd that on this album they were going to start.

The use of synthesizers didn’t ruin “The Game” – it made it a stronger album. Synthesizers allowed Queen to expand their sound beyond where they had gone before.

“The Game” went on to be one of Queen’s most successful albums, and one of my personal favorites by them. That’s in part, because they chose to use synths on it. “The Game” wouldn’t sound the same without them. Queen just had to know how to use them but not over do it. After all, it’s all about the balance.

 

The Alan Parsons Project – I Robot

In the 1970s there were some bands that were against using synthesizers in their music, pining that they were artificial or inauthentic instruments. Then there were others who used synths extensively, feeling they opened new doors of musical possibilities. The Alan Parsons Project embraced synthesizers along with traditional rock band instruments and orchestral and choral arrangements to create incredible works of musical art.

Released in 1977, “I Robot” was the second album by the Alan Parsons Project. It was a concept album based loosely on a book of the same name, written by science fiction author Isiaac Asimov.

Conceptually, “I Robot” tells the story of man’s cretion of machines with artificial intelegence that eventually overtake him as the dominant species on earth. It closes with an instumental titled “Genesis Ch. 1, V. 32” alluding to a continuation of the biblical story of creation, only this time it is man who has created robot in his own image.

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.