Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper was a band, and later a solo artist (but that’s another story I already talked about earlier) that was known not only for their music, but also for their stage theatrics. To record collectors, they are also known for some pretty cool album packaging – an art form that totally lost its impact with the smaller CD format.Billion Dollar Babies was a prime example.

Alice Cooper’s sixth album was styled to look like an oversized alligator skin wallet. Stored inside it was an oversized billion dollar bill that featured the band’s picture in the center. Also, the inside left side of the gatefold cover was perforated so you could punch out trading card sized cards of the band. The album credits were hidden behind the punch-outs.

The album theme was focused around the band’s amazement that in only a couple years, they had gone from being a totally broke and struggling band to one of the most successful acts in rock and roll at that time. The album packaging was one of the most unique and memorable by Alice Cooper, or any other band, yet it was not their most iconic (but that’s another story I will talk about sometime later).

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.

The Alan Parsons Project – Pyramid

The Alan Parsons Project was actually a duo. Obviously one of the members was Alan Parsons, who was known for his engineering work on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. The other significant member was Eric Woolfson, a Scottish born musician and songwriter. Although Woolfson was more widely known in the music industry, Alan Parsons had a name more recognizable to record buyers because of his work with the Beatles and Pink Floyd, so the latter’s name was chosen as the moniker for the band.

Like its two predecessors, Pyramid was a concept album that was heavy in its use of orchestration in choral arrangements. The Alan Parsons Project’s first album was based on the literary works Edgar Allan Poe. Their second, “I Robot”, focused on the rise of technology and its potential to overtake man. Like its name implies, “Pyramid” focused on the mysteries and fascination that America and much of Europe had with pyramids at the time of its release.

I remember buying this album as an alternate choice to what I actually wanted. I had gone to the record store that day to buy “I Robot”, but it was sold out. “Pyramid” had just come out so I figured I’d pick it up instead. 

I also remember at first being somewhat disappointed with the album. Although it still sounded like the same band, it had a distinctly different feel to it than its predecessor. I don’t know why that surprised me, the same could be said of the first and second Alan Parsons Project albums. As time passed however, the music on it grew on me and I now find I like Pyramid” as much as, possibly more than the album I actually wanted to buy that day.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

One of the greatest things about buying an album is that sometimes you discover the songs you hear on the radio are actually part of a bigger musical composition. Unless you actually listened to Thin Lizzy’s album Jailbreak in it entirety, or read the back cover, you would have no idea that the two songs from the album that you heard all over the radio in 1976 (and are still classic rock radio staples today) we’re actually part of a larger conceptual piece of music. 

The two biggest hits off the album – the title track and “The Boys Are Back in Town” are two small parts of a story about a world ruled by the Overmaster, who controls all media and religious belief, and who has imprisons everyone who doesn’t comply to his will. A riot is organized in one of the jails that leads to a planned mass escape. All the escapees are captured – except for four. On the lamb, they start broadcasting banned music and become the inspiration for the people to rise up and take their freedom back. It’s not a complicated story, but then again, neither is the concept of freedom. 

The best thing about Jailbreak however, isn’t how the songs all fit together to tell a bigger story, it’s how they tell the bigger story and also stand alone as a just a collection of great songs. 

Pink Floyd – Animals

Pink Floyd’s tenth album, Animals, is perhaps the band’s most scathing, socio-politically charged album. Loosely based on a book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, it categorizes society into three classes of animals: pigs, dogs, and sheep. The pigs represent the government and bureaucracy. The dogs are symbols of the ruthless corporate world. And the sheep are the complacent followers and often victims of the other two. Fitting perfectly with the subject matter, the music has an edgier, more raw sound when compared to any of Floyd’s previous albums. More than just a collection of songs, this is an album that needs to be listened to in one sitting to be truly appreciated.

The front cover shows a power station with a pig floating in between smoke stacks. Right after the picture was taken, the cables holding it in place snapped and the helium filled pig went floating over the skies of London. All flights from nearby Heathrow Airport had to be temporarily grounded as the giant flying pig floated through its airspace. The pig eventually crash landed in a nearby farmer’s field. Pink Floyd has been associated with flying pigs ever since and all of their concerts have featured a pig flying over the audience at some point during all their future live shows.

Rush 2112

Rush is a band that always exemplified virtuosity and detail. They were also band that believed in change and and doing things their way.

Rush’s first two albums were straightforward hard rock records that were fairly successful for the Canadian power trio, earning them a modest but dedicated following. However, their third album, Caress Of Steel, with its extended songs that went into progressive rock territory, was a flop for the band after it came out. But the band still had one more album to release in fulfillment of the record deal it signed with Mercury records. So disillusioned, they went back into the studio figuring their fourth record would probably be their last. It ended up becoming one of their most successful.

The record label wanted them to go back to their previous hard rock style with shorter songs, but the band members figured if they were going to do only one more album it was going to be done the way they want to do it. Against the recommendation of the record execs, they decided to make the first side of the album a mini rock opera based on a lyrical storyline their drummer Neil Peart had written. 

The premise is a futuristic science fiction story that took place in a dystopian society in the year 2112. The world is run by the priests who use powerful computers to determine how best to run a structured and efficient society where people are not necessarily happy, but for the most part, satisfied with their lives. The priests and their computers make all the decision for the people including what is considered art and what music people listen to. 

Venturing outside the city limits, a wanderer discovers an ancient guitar hidden in a cave behind a waterfall. Discovering the music he can make on it, unlike anything he had heard before, he takes his wonderful discovery to the priests so they can share it with the people. Instead, they get angry, smashing the guitar and telling him “it doesn’t fit the plan.” He leaves the city for good to live in isolation inside the cave. One night he has a dream of the elder race, who left the planet to “learn and grow,” before the priests took over. He has a premonition of them returning to reclaim their home. But as time passes, he begins to doubt his vision. Despondent and disillusioned, he eventually commits suicide. A bittersweet ending, as he never lives to see that his vision was real. The elder race return and give back to the people the freedom to make their own choices. 

There is an interesting detail that Rush put at the very end of the song 2112. After the elder race reclaim the world, they announce: three times “Attention all Planets of the Solar Federation” and then three times “We have assumed control.” The first part, seven words said three times, is collectively, 21 words, the second phrase is four words said three times, totalling 12 words. 2112

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

What’s in a name? Well, in the case of David Bowie’s fifth studio album, shortness. The actual, full title of the album is “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” but that can be quite a mouthful.

Considered to be one of the greatest concept albums ever, Ziggy Stardust is the story of the final five days of an omnisexual alien (yes, there are more than just two sexes in the universe in this story) who tries to save the Earth because of a dream he has about the Infinites, alien beings made up of antimatter. He is able to convey his message to the youth of the planet by becoming a Rock And Roll Star. In the end, Ziggy is willingly torn to pieces by the Infinites while on stage, in a Rock And Roll Suicide, so the Infinites can assume a material presence in order to tell us the fate of our existence. 

And here’s another little name-game fact for you. “David Bowie” is not his actual birth name. He was born with the last name “Jones.” But because of another singer with a similar name who was in a popular band called The Monkeys when he was just starting out, Bowie decided to rebrand himself after a popular knife company.