Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

I always liked Bob Dylan’s music and his poetic lyrics, but – and I know some will be aghast when I say this – I didn’t care for his voice. In “Song for Bob Dylan”, David Bowie best described the voice of Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan’s real name which Bowie refers to in the same song) as “sand and glue”. I can’t think of a more accurate metaphor. In recent years, I have come to appreciate that sand and glue.

As I sit here listening to the mono version of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits, I can’t imagine another voice accompanying the melodies of these songs and the poetry of their lyrics.

Except for “All along the Watchtower”; that will always belong to Hendrix.

T. Rex – Electric Warrior

In 1971, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the folk rock beginnings of his band, T. Rex, and try something different. “Electric Warrior” ended up becoming one of the most influential albums of that decade, ushering in the era of glam rock.

Glam rock was about unabashed shamelessness. Whimsical lyrics, pop hooks with a rock edge, and flamboyance were its key ingredients. On “Electric Warrior”, Bolan mixed those ingredients together with seemingly reckless abandon and came up with a recipe that would influence the likes of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Roxy Music and countless others. It was the foundation of what became called “new wave”, and later “alternative” music. Although “Electric Warrior” only had one big hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, it’s influence on modern music is indisputable and still resonates through popular music today.

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Back in the day, when a friend told you how good an album was, it didn’t mean you would necessarily like it. It just meant they did. Unless they could play it or the local radio stations would promote it, you still took your chances when you bought it. One man’s trash is a nother’s treasure. But today, there’s the Internet, where you can easily check out almost any new band. So when I bought “A Deeper Understanding”, the major label debut by The War on Drugs last year, I knew I was going to love it.

The songs on “A Deeper Understanding” are mostly mid-tempo with a low-key feel to them. They have an edginess to them, but never go over-the-top. Easy to listen and relax to but exciting at the same time. Thoughtful and introspective lyrics are perfectly matched to the music by The Adam Granduciel’s slightly breathy, somewhat raspy vocal style. This is an album that can be motivating or relaxing; it depends on how you want to listen to it at the time.

After listening to “A Deeper Understanding” the first couple times I couldn’t help but wonder why music like this isn’t more popular. It seems to rarely achieve main-stream recognition or success. Then, a couple of weeks after buying it, I leaned it was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2017 Grammys. It won. A well deserved award and a great achievement for te first major label album by a band.

I’m look looking forward to The War On Drugs’ second one.

Hooters – One Way Home

When I think of underrated bands from the eighties, I think of first and foremost, the Hooters. Hailing from Philadelphia, the first two albums by the Hooters were pop/rock gems with a slick production that dripped of the ’80s. But anyone who had the good fortune to see them in concert knew this was not the true sound the Hooters represented. On “One Way Home” the Hooters captured a more rootsy, organic sound reminiscent of how they sounded live.

“One Way Home” still made use of synthesizers to create great pop hooks in a style that made their sophomore effort “Nervous Night” so successful, but they were mixed in with a wider array of other instruments. The guitar playing was grittier, especially with the solos, and there was more of a folk-rock/Americana feel to the songs. The lyrics are mostly meaningful and thought-provoking.

For reasons that elude me, “One way Home” did not fare as well in America as “Nervous Night” although it did still earn the Hooters another gold record. The album had better success in Europe, where The Hooters remain more popular today.

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

If you want to discover a great album by an artist you really like…I’m talking about an album that you hardly ever hear any of the songs from it on the radio, except maybe one, but it will forever be one of your favorites by that artist….then I have a formula for you: Find their breakthrough album, and buy the album that came out just before it. I’ve used this formula many times, and have almost never been disappointed. “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie is one of the best examples of this that I can think of.

Yes, David Bowie had some hits before this album. Space Oddity, off his debut, was probably his biggest to this point. But none of is albums ever attained the success and musical respect of Ziggy Stardust and his albums that  immediately followed it. That was the first album by Bowie where I really went “WOW!” His preceding fourth album, “Hunky Dory”, was the second one.

The thing that made “Hunky Dory” so great was it found David Bowie in the first of many of his musically transitional phases. Bowie’s early albums were straightforward rock with a little folk rock thrown in at times. Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs almost defined glam rock. Sandwiched right in between is “Hunky Dory”. It was the best of both worlds.

I often wonder if David Bowie was hinting at the fact that this was a transitional album for him – a sort of bridge between two defining styles. He did after all, open up the album with the song “Changes”. And there were many changes to come in David Bowie’s illustrious career. His timing with the changes he would make with his music to follow, made him seem like a musical chameleon. Though not one that adapted to things as they were, but to things that were to come, right around the corner. Hunky dory was the album that defined David Bowie as an artist who was always just one step ahead of the times.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits

“Greatest Hits” is kind of an odd title for this album. Although it’s true that all 14 songs on it were hits for the duo, the album doesn’t contain the original versions of all their hits. Four of the songs that appear on it are live, previously unreleased versions. Additionally, one of the studio songs, “America” wasn’t even a hit for them…yet. Although it appeared “Bookends”, their final album together, it was never released as a single until two years later when this greatest hits album came out. Then it became a hit.

None of that stopped Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits from being hugely successful. The album was released in 1972, two years after Simon and Garfunkel broke up. There was still high demand for new material from them at the time, so certainly having the live tracks on the record didn’t hurt. The album still holds the record in the US as the best-selling album by a duo.

Strawbs – From The Witchwood

Sometimes, when I really like a band, I like to go back and check-out their origins. What bands and kind of music did their members make before they were in the band that made them famous. Today, the band is Yes and the musician is Rick Wakeman. 

Strawbs started out in 1964 as a bluegrass band. But no Rick Wakeman did not play in a bluegrass band. In 1967 they shortened their name to Strawbs and signed a deal with A&M records. They released their first album in 1968. By that time their sound had evolved into more of a folk rock sound. By the time Rick Wakeman joined them in 1970, they were starting to incorporate elements of progressive rock into their repertoire and Wakeman’s impressive work on keyboards was an obvious asset for their developing style. Rick Wakeman would only stay with Strawbs for two albums. “From the Witchwood” was the last record he would play on with them before leaving to join Yes.

“From the Witchwood” is a combination of many different styles. At times having a strong European classical influence, combined with folk music, some songss feel like they would be right at home being played at a Renaissance Festival. This is most evident on the album’s opener, “A Glimpse of Heaven”. Other songs have a more aggressive sound to them. 

Although Rick Wakeman has a few short keyboard flourishes on side one, “Sheep”, which starts off side two, seems to be written around his organ and Moog synthesizer work. If Wakeman had joined Genesis instead of yes, their music would have probably sounded something like this.

“From the Witchwood” is definitely a good album when you want to listen to music that mixes many different styles with an array of different instruments like clarinets, sitars, harpsichords, and recorder, along with traditional Rock instruments like the Mellotron, organ, guitar, bass, and drums. However, except for a few passages, it is not an album you would immediately associate with Rick Wakeman. It’s easy to see why he would have left to play on the more progressive rock songs by Yes.

T. Rex – The Slider

T. Rex combined folk rock, psychedelic rock, and glam rock to produce a totally unique sound.  The Slider was released in 1972 to and received both critical and popular praise.  

The front and back cover photographs were taken by Ringo Starr while he was filming a documentary about the band.