Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

In many ways, Grand Funk was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll – they got no respect.

Starting out as a power Trio from Flint, Michigan in 1969, Grand Funk Railroad, as they were known before they shortened their name on their seventh album, toped the charts album after album into the mid ’70s. Yet still they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1971, Grand Funk equaled the Beatles’ record setting concert venue attendance at Shea Stadium – but Grand Funk sold it out in 3 days whereas the Beatles took 3 weeks. Yet they were still panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1972, Grand Funk became a quartet, filling out their music by adding organ and keyboards. They became the sound of the working class in the United States – loud and proud and ready to take on the world. They defined arena rock and changed the music scene in ways they are rarely given credit for. They were the sound of Grit, Noise, and Revolution in the face of adversity. And still, they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

But their fans knew them, and they respected Grand Funk for what they were. 

They were an American Band.

Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” was released on yellow colored vinyl for its first pressings only. I admit, I was too young to know what Grand Funk was all about when this album was originally released. However, when I ran across this copy a few years back, I knew exactly what it was – a necessary addition to my record collection.

Foghat – LIVE

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, FOGHAT!” And so begins one of my all time favorite live albums. My only gripe is – and I ask this every time I listen to this album – “why didn’t they make this a double album?” I guess they wanted to leave you wanting more. And I’m sure Foghat’s performances on the nights the songs on this album were recorded left the audience doing just that.

An offshoot of Savoy Brown, Foghat formed in 1970 and specialized in straightforward blues-based rock and roll.  And they were experts at it and by 1977 had honed and perfected their live performances. Although their preceding studio albums were good, on this album Foghat proved that they were a band that was meant to be heard live. This, their first live album, was their biggest selling record ever.

Foghat “LIVE” featured a die-cut cover with the word “LIVE” displaying the record sleeve behind it which had pictures of the band performing live. Unfortunately, if you didn’t keep this record in a protective sleeve, the “E” would eventually get mangled or torn off when other albums caught on it as they were slid in next to it in your collection. My original copy of Foghat live suffered this fate. It took me forever to find one that wasn’t ripped or torn off. Lesson learned.

The Charlie Daniels Band – Greatest Hits

I worked in radio from the mid-eighties to the early 90s. My first radio station was a small market country station in the thumb of Michigan, WLEW. The nice thing about being a DJ at a small-market radio station is, for the most part, you get to play what you want. I played a lot of Charlie Daniels while I was there.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a rocker. To me, the Charlie Daniels Band was always the perfect combination of rock and country music. Best known for his fiddle-playing, Charlie Daniels was also an accomplished guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass player. 

As should be expected from any Greatest Hits compilation, every song on this album is exceptional. But there are definitely some standouts.

“The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is probably the least traditional country song Charlie Daniels ever did. If it werent for his North Carolina accent, it might not even be associated with country music. It tells the story of a swampland that’s haunted by the ghost of an greedy old man who was murdered for his money.

On the other end of the spectrum is “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”. Opening and closing with Charlie’s signature fiddle playing, it pays homage to the other country and southern rock performers that were becoming popular at that time. 

“Still in Saigon” paints a poignant picture of a solder who has returned from the Vietnam war. After surviving a brutal war, he returns home only to be tormented by his memories and finding himself hated and chastised by many of the people around him. Sadly this is an accurate depiction for many who fought in Vietnam.

“In America” is a song written following the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and the recession the American economy was dealing with at the same time. It is a patriotic and prideful song with a strong “united we stand” message.

“Long Haired Country Boy was the first song I had ever heard by The Charlie Daniels Band. A simple song about living a simple life. Simply, one of my favorites.

“Uneasy Rider” was Charlie Daniels’ first hit single. It’s a humorous song in which Charlie’s car has a tire blowout down in a redneck town where they don’t take kindly to “long-haired hippies.” When his hair falls out from under his hat, he has to fast-talk his way out of trouble…and drive away even faster. Luckily, the tire was fixed in the nick of time.

And then there’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which needs no introduction. It’s the CDB’s most famous song and proves that among fiddle players, he is the best of the best. 

I have had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Daniels live, in concert three times. The most memorable was in Nashville, Tennessee, at Volunteer Jam 8, a benefit concert he would put on every year. I was standing near the front of the crowd when he tossed one of his bows out into the audience. I saw it flying towards me  I reached up,  jumped just a little bit, and touched it ever so briefly as it bounced off my fingertips. 

So close.

REO Speedwagon – Live: You Get What You Play For

REO Speedwagon had their greatest success in the 80s with their more pop oriented songs. I love the album “Hi-Infidelity” and was so glad it brought much deserved success to a band that was vastly underrated for over a decade. But to me, the epitome of what REO Speedwagon was happened in the 1970s, and was encapsulated on their live album “You Get What You Play For”. This album ranks up there with the greatest of the great live albums which are in my humble opinion Bob Seeger’s “Live Bullet”, Peter Frampton’s “Come’s Alive” and REO’s live album from 1977.

What gave this, and the preceding Studio albums by REO Speedwagon, their special character, was the band’s geographical Origins. Coming from Indiana, their early music had midwestern rock roots with just a slight hint of southern rock influence. Then they combined this, ever-so-slightly, with progressive rock that was influential in the seventies, and created a sound that was unmistakaby unigue. Yes, some of this came through in their later, more pop oriented material, but to me this was the epoch of what REO Speedwagon was at their finest.

I would be remiss to not mention every song on this album, in mentioning what makes a great. It really is the combination of the whole. But if I were to list standouts, they would be the opener “Like You Do”, “Keep Pushin'”, “157 Riverside Avenue”, with its incredible improvisational interplay between lead singer Kevin Cronin and lead guitarist Gary Richrath, “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, and what has to be one of the finest live album closers of all time, “Golden Country”.

This album is also one of the reasons I started getting turned off by compact discs. Although they offered convenience, quite often the remastering of some albums left something to be desired. Either the recordings were over compressed, muddying the sound of the original recording, or they came across sounding thin, losing much of the dynamic range of the vinyl record. With “You Get What You Play For”, it was the latter. 

What made it even worse though, was the omission of critical songs off the record. To omit “Little Queenie” might have been forgivable, but “Gary’s Guitar Solo” was one of the defining moments of this album. To delete it was near blasphemy. The CD noted that this was because of time constraints. I later recorded my own CD, direct from the album (this was in the era predating MP3s). I merely edited the length of some of the audience sounds in between the songs and was able to fit the entire album onto one CD, so I call bulls***!. They just didn’t want to take the time to do it right – to give “You Get What You Play For” the respect it rightfully deserved.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – ‘Live’ Bullet

If you grew up anywhere near Detroit in the ’70s, “Live Bullet” by Bob Seger was required listening. At least it seemed that way. Sure, it didn’t sell as much nationally as Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive”, but I’d bet my last dollar that in Detroit it trampled it. This album truly was Bob Seger at his best and proved why up to this point he was known as Detroit’s best kept secret.

Of course, as with any exceptional live album, it not just the performer who who makes the night of the concert a magical thing captured on record. The audience is just as significant. And the nights “Live Bullet” was recorded at the legendary Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, The crowd was feeding every bit as much energy back to the stage as Bob and the Silver Bullet Band were giving to them. “Live Bullet” captured that symbios better than any live album has, before or since.

Near the beginning of the double album, Bob says to the audience that Detroit audiences are the greatest rock and roll audiences in the world. In the 70s, that was definitely true. It’s also true that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Bands “Live Bullet” is quite possibly the greatest live album in the world.

Although I was not at either of the shows that this album was recorded at, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Bob perform a couple decades later at the very last concert in Detroit’s legendary Cobo Hall. Maybe it was only because we were actually in the audience, or maybe it was because I was at the show with the the woman who has been the love of my life for more than 25 years, but that evening felt like it was every bit as magical as the nights this album was recorded. The connection between the audience and Bob was unbelievable proving that that Bob Seger is one of the greatest performers in rock music ever, and that Detroit audiences are still the greatest rock and roll audiences in the world.

J. Geils Band – Full House

One of the best concerts I have ever been to was by the J. Geils Band. Back in the day before sound curfews. Back in the day when a band could play as long as they wanted. Well, almost.

The J. Geils Band was one of those bands that was destined to play live. They made some good records, but where they really shined was on stage. So it’s no surprise that their first really successful album, Full House, was recorded live. This album caught them in all their glory and proved they were one of the most energetic and dynamic bands to see on stage in the ’70s.

Healing from Boston, the Geils always considered Detroit to be a home away from home – and Detroit audiences loved them. So it came as no surprise to me the first time I saw them live, that they were called back on stage for more than one encore. The thing was, even after the encores, the crowd wasn’t leaving the venue. So Geils just kept coming back on stage. I might have lost count, but I know they did at least seven encores that night. The band and the audience finally took the hint that the employees at Pine Knob, a concert venue in Clarkston Michigan, wanted to go home for the evening, when they came on stage and the power was suddenly cut to there instruments after they finished a song. I don’t know if it is true, but I heard rumor that after leaving the concert venue that night they showed up at a local bar in Pontiac Michigan and played untill it closed. I don’t know if that part really happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I’ve met a lot of people who thought the lead singer was the namesake of the J. Geils Band. In reality they were fronted buy an ex-disc jockey from Boston named Peter Wolf. Before recording their very first album, they originally called themselves the J. Geils Blues Band after their lead guitarist, and they only performed instrumentally. They dropped the “Blues” from their name after adding Peter Wolf, their very dynamic lead singer. They signed a record deal shortly thereafter and the rest, as they say, is history.

Heart – Greatest Hits/Live

Don’t let the name fool you. Even though, this 1980 double album by Heart, includes a great collection of their most popular songs from the 1970s along with live concert performances, it also contined three brand new tracks from the Seattle rockers as well as a somewhat obscure non-hit from their fifth album. One of the new songs, “Tell It Like It Is” became a new hit for the band, but the other new tracks were strange non-typical offerings from Ann and Nancy Wilson and crew. 

“Strange Euphoria” was a somewhat lo-fi funk/dance track that sounds like it could have been recorded live in the studio. “Hit Single” was a collage of voices and odd studio outtakes, that I’m not even sure qualifies as a song, altough it is interesting to listen to. It is definitely the most bizarre track Heart ever recorded. 

Side four closes out the album with live covers of hits from other bands including a fierce and thundering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. 

European record buyers kind of got ripped off with this record. Heart wasn’t as popular overseas as they were in the United States, so “Greatest Hits/Live” was released there as a single album with their five biggest hits on one side and five live tracks on the other. They didn’t know what they were missing.

Cheap Trick – Live At Budokan

Sometimes you’ve got to alter the plan.

In 1978, Cheap Trick was a struggling band. With their first three albums finding massive success in Japan, the Rockford Illinois band found themselves virtually unknown to the rest of the world. However, they had an ace hidden up their sleeve. They had been working on their latest studio album, Dream Police. That album had all indications of being their breakout album. The band felt it, and possibly more importantly, the record label felt it. 

Before releasing Dream Police however, the band wanted to release a live album strictly for their Japanese fans, who had been very devoted to them when success seemed to evade them everywhere else. So they released Live At Budokan only in Japan, not expecting it to sell anywhere else in the world. After all, who would want to buy a live album by a band they had never heard of? Well, not so obvious at the time, the whole rest of the world. 

In the US, a couple radio stations had started playing tracks from Live At Budokan and requests for it started pouring in. When people went to buy it at the record stores it was only available as a Japanese import, so the record stores started ordering imports from Japan and the Japanese market sold out with the record still in high demand there. 

Record companies have tendency to notice things like this. Although Dream Police was about to be released and it was still strongly felt that it would be a break out for them, Epic Records and the band decided to ride the wave and release Live At Budokan to the rest of the world instead. So, Dream Police got put on the shelf for a year. Live At Budokan went on to become Cheap Trick’s biggest selling record ever.

When Dream Police was released in 1979 it became their biggest selling studio album. Even so it never surpassed the sales of live at Budokan,  Cheap Tricks breakout album.