Carpenters – A Song For You

Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices ever in popular music and together with her brother Richard, the Carpenters recorded some of the most beautiful songs ever in pop music.

Even though six singles were released from the Carpenters’ fourth album, “A Song for You”, Richard Carpenter said he arranged the album to be a concept album, intended to be listened to as one continuous piece of music. With a variation of the title song opening and closing the album and a flawless ebb and flow of love themed songs in between, it certainly fits the bill.

But more than anything, “A Song for You” is a beautiful collection of songs.

Karen Carpenter not only had a beautiful voice; she was also a very accomplished drummer and plays on many of the tracks on “A Song for You”. In fact, she was so good on the skins that in 1975 she was voted best rock drummer in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll, even beating out John Bonham from Led Zeppelin (I hear Bonzo was not impressed).

Sadly, for much of her life Karen Carpenter struggled with anorexia. She died in 1983, less than a month from her 33rd birthday, from complications caused by the disorder.

Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

There’s one reason an album becomes one of the greatest selling albums of all time.

Greatness.

The greatness of Todd Rundgren’s production.

The greatness of Jim Steinman’s songwriting.

The greatness of Meat Loaf’s performance.

It all comes together on “Bat out of Hell” with near perfect greatness, in a style that teams the angst and energy of Bruce Springsteen with the dramatics of a rock and roll broadway musical. The album has sold over 43 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling recordings of all time, and has spent over 500 weeks on the official UK record charts.

Pretty great no matter how you look at or listen ro it.

Pink Floyd – Live in NYC 1977

On July 7, 1977, Pink Floyd performed live at Madison Square Garden and somehow, someone in the audience was able to sneak in a good quality tape recorder to capture part of the show as it happened.

Maybe they had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. Maybe they gave a copy of the recording to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. The exact details will never be known.

The bottom line is that an unofficial (bootleg) recording of the concert was unofficially released on Pass to Dust, an Italian record label (unofficial releases are almost always released on Italian record labels). The recording is an amazing document of what an unbelievable live act Pink Floyd was at the time. “Live in NYC 1977″ captures Floyd performing their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here” live, in its entirety as the second half of their show that evening. Typical for Floyd, the first half of the night would have been their most recent album, “Animals” in its entirety, and the evening would have closed focusing on songs from Floyd’s masterpiece “The Dark Side Of the Moon”.

Is this a live recording to the standard of what an official Pink Floyd release would be? Hell no! This is from some dude who snuck a tape recorder into a Pink Floyd concert. But what it lacks in sound quality, it more than makes up for in content. Pink Floyd’s performance here is relentless and near flawless.

I wish I had an official recording of this performance but I honestly don’t know if one will ever exist, so I’ll take what I can get.

The Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

Okay, if you really want to win me over with your debut album, just take the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe and interpret them as songs. Yeah, I’m gonna have to buy that album.

Sure there are only seven songs on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”; only seven of Poe’s tales…

…but it’s an entire album of Edgar Allan Poe interpreted by The Alan Parsons Project. My only gripe here is that it wasn’t a double album. Still, it’s the only album I know of that is entirely musical renditions of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. And it’s brilliant.

Thank you Alan Parson’s Project.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

Rick Wakeman – The Six Wives Of Henry VIII

Self indulgent and virtuosic, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” is Rick Wakeman’s first solo record. As the title implies, the album is a collection of six songs, each representing the lives and characteristics of the 16th century’s King of England’s wives.

Wakeman wrote and arranged most of the music for this album while reading a book about Henry VIII while on tour with the bad Yes. Members of Yes are some of the backing musicians performing with Wakeman on this album. Members from Wakeman’s first band, The Strawbs, also make appearances.

Henry VIII is most remembered for the six wives he had during his reign and the annulment of his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon. The Pope, refusing to recognize the annulment prompted the start of the English Reformation when Henry VIII created the Church of England, breaking away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Even without the meaning behind each of the songs, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” is a joy to listen to just for Wakeman’s keyboard wizardry and the strength of his compositions that combine classical European with rock and roll. The underlying historic theme of the album just adds another layer to an already incredible solo record by Rick Wakeman.

The Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord

The Moody Blues may very well be the most ambitious rock band ever. Their albums were never simple undertakings. The Moody’s third album “In Search of the Lost Chord” in particular, may very well be their all-time most ambitious album.

On their prior concept album, “Days of Future Past” The Moody Blues had incorporated an orchestra to augment their songs. Like its predecessor, “In Search of the Lost Chord” was also a concept album. The songs revolved around exploration; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and musically. Listening to it, you would swear there was also an orchrstra playing with them on certain parts, but you’d be wrong.

The members of the Moody Blues play every instrument on the “In Search of the Lost Chord”. Something in the vicinity of 35 different instruments were used in all. What the band members didn’t know how to play, they learned to play during the recording sessions.

“In Search of the Lost Chord” was initially released to mixed reviews, but that didn’t stop it from being considered one of The Moody Blues’ finest moments. Maybe the critics thought it was it was too ambitious at the time. Music loving fans of the band knew better.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds

Based on the H.G. Wells classic 1897 Sci-Fi novel, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a classic in and of itself.

I have to admit, despite my love of music, and my being fond of British and progressive rock in particular, I had no idea that this record even existed until 2012 when a modernized revision of it was released on CD. Having first heard both versions in relatively the same time period, I know it is without any sentimentality that I feel the original version is superior. Both are good, but to me, the newer version overuses its reliance on electronic instruments a bit. The original version finds the perfect balance of guitars, electronic keys, and orchestration to dramatically tell the story of an attack on earth by an alien force that we have no ability to defend against and the most unexpected cause of the invaders eventual defeat.

As the title suggests, this is not a rock opera, it is a musical. Much of the record is narrated by The Journalist, played by legendary British actor Richard Burton; his voice accompanied by a dramatic underscore of music. Significant scenes are told instrumentally and lyrically in stand-alone songs performed by Jeff Wayne with the help from members of The Moody Blues, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Thin Lizzy, and David Essex, as well as a few well-reputed session musicians.

When originally released, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds had two versions, this one and a single album version that was distributed exclusively to radio stations. That promotional version eliminated the narration, containing only the stand-alone songs. It also did not include the 16 page booklet that came with the two record commercial release.

The songs from WOTW did not receive the significant radio play in the US that they got in the UK. Consequently, it peaked at number 5 in the UK but never touched the charts here. I guess that partially explains my ignorance to its existence until decades after its release. Still, it became one of the most successful records in th UK, selling over two and a half million copies in its original release. Given my love of British music, and progressive rock in particular, I can’t believe it took me decades to hear of this rock and roll masterpiece. I’m just glad I eventually did.

Rick Wakeman – The Myths And Legend Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

“Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil, is the true born king of all Britain.”

And so begins Rick Wakeman’s third solo record; a brilliant combination of progressive rock keyboard wizardry and symphonic and choral music. “The Myths and Legend of King Arthur…” was praised as a masterpiece by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by some critics as an example of progressive rock pretentiousness. Rick Wakeman was a workaholic professional composer and performer who had few if any combined technical and creative equals in modern music. I say, if you got it, flaunt it. To call Wakeman’s compositions pretentious is calling Mozart’s extravagant or Bach’s baroque compositions excessive.

Rick Wakeman lived for music and music lived through him. His music is not for everyone, but then, never is the work of any visionary artist. This is not party music. This is not play it in the background music. This is sit down and appreciate the artistry and virtuosity music. Appreciate it because there are few ever born who can compose music this grandiose and expressive. Artists like Wakeman don’t try to compose music. The compositions live within them and they need to let them out. Even if they are trapped in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack, they would have someone bring them a tape recorder so they could hum the music into it so it wouldn’t be lost and could be recorded later; wich is how much of this album was initially composed.

My sincerest thanks go out to the former Detroit television meteorologist and music lover who, through a good friend I met today after finding out he was parting with his valued record collection. I picked up many gems today. Records that will be cherished every time I listen to them. It was a pleasure meeting and talking about music with you.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.