Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Kansas – Two For The Show

“Two for the Show” by Kansas is about as perfect as a live album can get. Recorded right after their two most successful studio albums, Kansas was at the height of their popularity and were drawing huge crowds at arenas across America. Feeding off of the energy of the crowds, Kansas sound like an unstoppable progressive force that wanted nothing more than to leave the audiences in awe.

To that point, it didn’t hurt their cause that the popularity of “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return”, which came out just before this double album set, had gained Kansas a huge new fan base and provided them with plenty of well-known songs to play at their concerts and include here. Half of the songs on “Two for the Show” are from those albums. The other half are deep cuts from their first three albums that were meant to please their long time fans.

What really makes “Two for the Show” so exceptional though, is the playing. If there was ever any doubt, Kansas proves here that they were not just a studio band. They could perform their complex compositions just as well live; even better at times, extending solos out beyond what was in the original version. And then there’s Steve Walsh’s voice…definitely one of the most incredible vocalists ever in rock and roll.

“Two for the Show” is Kansas at their best; an album of live progressive rock perfection.

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl

There was a two-year gap between The Pretenders second and third album. In that time, the band fronted had noticeably changed. Losing two members to drug overdoses can do that to a band.

Actually, Pete Farndon had been fired from The Pretenders because of his drug abuse; he died from a heroin overdose almost immediately afterward. Two days after Farndon’s death, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott would overdose on cocaine.

I thought that with the loss of Farndon and Honeyman-Scott, The Pretenders were through, but the band, led by Chrissie Hynde, forged on. A little over a year after that double tragedy, The Pretenders released the double A side single “Back on the Chain Gang”/”My City was Gone” with temporary replacements. “Learning to Crawl” came out a year after that. The album included “Back on the Chain Gang” and “My City was Gone” as well as eight new songs. The new songs featured the official new line-up of The Pretenders, who appear on the album’s cover.

The influence that James Honeyman-Scott’s unique guitar style had on the first two Pretenders albums is noticeably missing here. The songs are also a little less edgier than the earlier records and the album as a whole, takes less risks. That’s not to say it’s not as good as its predecessors. It’s just different; more straightforward.

I always thought “Learning to Crawl” was an appropriate name for The Pretenders’ third album. They were coming back from two back to back tragedies that nearly destroyed them. During the two years of its making, they were trying to find their footing again. They wanted to walk forward and continue on. But before you can walk, you have to learn to crawl.

The J. Geils Band – Bloodshot (original red vinyl)

I said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: Colored vinyl is cool. It’s even cooler when it’s of one of your favorite albums by one of your favorite bands.

Only the first pressings of The J. Geils Band’s third album, “Bloodshot” were released on transparent red vinyl. The band also chose to have Atlantic use a red and black version of their older style label instead of their current one.

Released in 1973, “Bloodshot” was The J. Geils Band’s most successful album until they released “Freeze Frame” in 1981. The album became so popular among J. Geils fans that five of its nine songs were included on the band’s 1976 live double album “Blow Your Face Out”.

With the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl “Bloodshot” was reissued by Real Gone Music in 2015. Appropriately, they did the first pressings of it on red vinyl and got permission to use the same red and black Atlantic labels on all the pressings. The one thing I think they may have missed though, is the hidden message engraved on the run-out of side 2 on the original red vinyl: “Nice to see your face in the place”.

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Trilogy

When most people think of rock and roll instruments, they think of the guitar. probably because most rock bands used guitar as the main lead instrument. Most, but not all.

Even though Greg Lake from Emerson Lake and Palmer did occasionally pick up a guitar, it was not his primary instrument. Greg Lake was first and foremost a bassist. When he left King Crimson to join forces with Keith Emerson, keyboardist from The Move, and Carl Palmer, drummer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, to form the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, guitar was a secondary thought. “Trilogy”, ELP’s third album, was proof that rock bands didn’t need to be all about the guitar.

The only significant guitar work on “Trilogy” is on “From the Beginning”, the only single released from the album. While only a fool would deny that it is impressively beautiful guitar work, it’s still the synthesizer work at the end of the song that steals the show. And stealing the show is what “Trilogy” seems to focus on; not just for Keith Emerson’s keys, but equally for Greg Lake’s ripping bass lines and Carl Palmer’s powerful, yet intricate percussion.

“Trilogy” was an album that was a team effort for ELP. It is an album that focuses on the virtuosity of all three members, not just one. That is what made ELP such a fantastic band. Each of the members was such a master of their individual instrument that a band could have been formed around each of them alone; but to have them all in one band together, focusing on their trilogy of talent was amazing.

Emerson Lake and Palmer released a couple of good albums before “Trilogy”, but this is the record where everything first fell perfectly into place for them. This was the album where Emerson Lake and Palmer stopped being former members of other bands and became a collectively combined force of three great musicians – a trilogy…in which guitar was not the primary instrument.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes

If I could own only one Tom Petty album, this would be it. As a matter of fact, “Damn the Torpedoes” is one of my 10 picks for if I were stranded on a desert island. And that’s saying something because in his forty-year career Petty released twenty albums; thirteen of them with his band The Heartbreakers; not one dud in the lot.

A staunch believer of keeping artistic control of his music, Tom Petty was a true artist who always stood out in rock and roll because he didn’t believe in following trends. Petty formed The Heartbreakers while living in his hometown of Gainesville Florida, also the home town of southern rock superstars Lynyrd Skynyrd. After Lynyrd Skynyrd hit it big, the area around Gainesville became inundated with southern rock bands trying to follow in the wake if their success. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the riskier path of intentionally sounding different from the pack. With an often jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound influenced by the 1960’s band the Byrds, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers didn’t get as many gigs in the local clubs but they did score a record deal; a pretty good consolation. lt took a few albums for them to find an audience, but with “Damn the Torpedoes” they finally hit paydirt. The album became their world-wide breakout, taking the number 2 position on the US album charts (it was denied top honors by Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”) and going on to sell more than 3 million copies.

For Tom Petty, from that point forward, it was “Damn the Torpedoes”, full speed ahead.

Supertramp – Even At The Quietest Moments

“Even at the Quietest Moments” first grabbed my attention by the picture on the album cover. It’s not everyday you see a snow-covered piano in the mountains. That picture was in part, what inspired me to move away from 8-track tapes and start buying vinyl records.

I had never heard of Supertramp when I first saw “Even at the Quietest Moments” in the record store. I had actually gone there to buy a different album, but their name and the cover art stuck in my head. Before I could listen to what I had bought just a short while before, a song came on the radio that made me regret spending all the money I had on the other 8-track I was about to listen to. The opening chords played on a 12-string guitar stopped me in my tracks. As I listened to the rest of the song, I wished I left the record store with whatever album that song was on. The radio DJ later told me the song was “Give a Little Bit” and the album was “Even at the Quietest Moments” by Supertramp; the album with the snow-covered piano in the mountains. I knew it would be the next album I bought – on 8-track tape.

8-tracks tapes were convenient for music because you could play them in your car, but as far as for the cover artwork, well, 8-tracks had a sticker with a low quality tiny version of the album cover slapped on them; it just didn’t have the same impact as the full-size vinyl record. I decided that I needed to save up and buy a new stereo, with a good turntable. Sure, I had to put off buying some albums for a while, but it was so-o-o-o worth it, especially when I listened to my first record on it. It would be so poetic to say the first album I bought was “Even at the Quietest Moments” but it wasn’t (it was “Infinity” by Journey) but it was one of the firsts.

I have never gone without a turntable since i bought my first. Until I cued up the needle gor the first time, I didn’t realize how much I was missing with 8-tracks’ or any other format. It was a night and day difference, because vinyl records aren’t limited to just the audible. Just like seeing a concert, or opera, or ballet expands a live performance of music, so does the artwork of a recorded album expand the musical experience beyond just listening.

“Even at the Quietest Moments” will always be one of my all time favorite albums…and album covers.

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

Sometimes great records just appear out of nowhere. A friend at work told me she had some old records that were from a family member and she wanted to know if I wanted them. I really didn’t expect much. Back in the day, a lot of people just didn’t know how to take care of records. If they get scratched up, they’re just not worth listening to; to me anyway. As expected, most of the records in the collection were scratched up, or they were old Mills Brothers albums that I just wasn’t interested in, but there were a few exceptions. Bella Donna, the exceptional debut album by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks was one of them. I can now cross that one off of the list I carry with me, just in case I happen to wander into a used record store.

Bella Donna ranks right up there in the short list of the best debut albums of all time, it’s also one of the best albums ever. I’m surprised I let this record slip out of my record collection back in the late ’80s. Then again, the songs on it were all over the radio back then; many still are today.

Stevie Nicks has one of the most immediately recognizable voices on modern music. It’s that voice combined with Stevie Nicks’ exceptional songwriting (she wrote all but one song) that made Bella Donna an immediate success. It immediately grabbed the top chart position when it came out, selling over a million copies within three months of being released and stayed on the charts for an amazing three years. It went on to sell over six million copies. Bella Donna also yielded four hit singles, including a duet with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, and another with Don Henley (from the Eagles), “Leather and Lace”.

Yes – The Yes Album

I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was. I mean, I always knew he was good – and all the members of Yes are great in their own right – but for some reason, when I cranked up “The Yes Album” just now, my ears started focusing in on his playing and…

…I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was.

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

There are some albums that, though they are a collection of songs, should only be listened to in their entirety, as one continuous piece of music, to be truly appreciated.

The Electric Light Orchestra were not the creators of symphonic rock but they certainly were heavy contributors and innovators in it. In 1974, ELO took symphonic rock to the next level with their fourth album “Eldorado”. The album was as much a collection of movements within a classical symphony as it was a selection of songs on a rock and roll album.

“Eldorado” was the first concept album by ELO and the first album by the band to use a full orchestra (conducted by Louis Clark). The songs on “Eldorado” revolve around a dreamer who escapes from his “burned out dreams” into a fantasy world of his creation – his Eldorado.

The overture that opens “Eldorado” is a grandiose theme that interweaves itself throughout the songs that follow it (as any overture should). The music that follows is a perfect blend between two musical worlds – the structured rules of European classical music and the looser, groove driven elements of jazz and blues based rock and roll. It’s that balance that makes “Eldorado” one of the most signficant albums of the 20th century; an album every music-lover needs to listen to.

Just be sure to listen to it in its entirety.