ZZ Top – Tres Hombres

Here’s a big reason you should own ZZ Top’s third album, “Tres Hombres” on vinyl and not on CD: they are not the same recording. Sure, the songs are the same, but when Warne Brothers originally decided to release Tres Hombres digitally, someone felt it would be a good idea to remix all the songs, giving it a more ’80s feel.

It was a very bad decision.

The Vinyl version is the way ZZ Top intended “Tres Hombres” to sound. There’s a reason it became ZZ Top’s breakthrough album in 1973 – it was mixed to capture their sound and style perfectly. This was not an ’80s album. It’s mix of Southern roots, Texas blues, hard rock, with a touch of funky Chicago blues had the ’70s written all over it.

Fortunately, someone at the record company must have seen the err in their ways. When “Tres Hombres” was made available on iTunes, they went back to the original 1973 mix.

Even though the album and digital download are the same version again, I still prefer listening to this (and really any album) on vinyl. I love the touch and feel taking the record out of the jacket and sleeve and there’s something magical about dropping the needle in the groove.

Uriah Heep – Sweet Freedom

“Sweet Freedom” was a slight change of pace for Uriah Heep. Their first five albums were hard rocking adventures that along with bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabath, marked the early days of heavy metal. This album is a more adventurous than its predecessors, with the band experimenting more with progressive rock elements but still keeping their hard-hitting, aggressive playing.

Two things that really made Uriah Heep stand out from other hard rocking acts in this era were their vocal arrangements, led by David Byron’s powerful voice, and Ken Kensley’s ever present Hammond B3 organ.

The song “Stealin'” is Uriah Heep’s biggest hit. It was my introduction to their music. I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

Led Zeppelin – Live at the Olympia

One of the greatest things about the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl is bonus content.

Just like when albums started to be reissued on CDs, sometimes the record companies feel the need to include incentives to get music lovers to buy – or rather re-buy – recordings that may already be in their collection.

So how do you get someone who already owned an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s debut album to buy it on vinyl again? You include a previously unofficially released live recording with it as a bonus second album. And if you didn’t still have the original vinyl copy of “Led Zeppelin” because you had a cheap turntable that wore it out way back in the day?

Well…bonus bonus!

The bonus records here is from a French radio broadcast in late 1969 of a Led Zeppelin concert performed in Paris about a month before. Zeppelin’s second album had just been released and the show included songs from both albums, including the John Bonham drum solo extravaganza “Moby Dick”. Bonham’s solo here differs significantly from what appeared on Zep’s first official live album, “The Song remains the Same”.

The thing I find funny, and what is unique with the bonus content included with This vinyl re-release of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut, is that there is more bonus content than original material – four sides compared to two. This live recording could have easily been released as a stand-alone new release, and I would have still bought it. But hey…bonus, bonus!

Kiss – Alive!

Kiss is known as much for their looks as they are for their music, maybe more. Although their music was pretty much straight forward hard rock, their concerts took pyrotechnics and stage theatrics to a whole new level in the ’70s.

Even though Kiss had one of the most devoted followings in rock and roll, there were still many who wrote their music off as simple three-chord rock and roll. And when you get right down to it it is. But Kiss was all about presentation. And on “Alive!”, they proved that their concerts weren’t only about the presentation of visuals and theatrics. They were about the presentation of the music. Fairly basic songs? Yes. But it’s all in how they’re performed that makes “Alive!” one of the greatest live albums ever.

Being from Detroit, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the picture on the back cover of “Alive!” was taken at Detroit’s legendary Cobo Hall. Many of the songs on “Alive!” were recorded at Cobo Hall the night that picture was taken.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

In the eighties metal was king in rock and roll. I have to admit, I really wasn’t into metal for the most part. However “Pyromania” by Def Leppard was an exception. But then, “Pyromania” wasn’t as true to metal as the band’s two previous albums. At the recommendation of producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, for their third album Def Leppard chose to adopt a more glam rock/hard rock sound.

It was a good choice, and obviously I was not the only one who thought so. “Pyromania” peaked one step away from topping the Billboard charts and sold over 10 million copies. Although they had a strong following before “Pyromania”, the album is considered to be Def Leppard’s breakthrough into mainstream success.

Because of the success they had in 1983 with “Pyromania”, Def Leppard chose to work again with Mutt for their follow-up album, 1987’s “Hysteria”.

Four years is a big gap to put between your breakthrough album and its follow up, but there was a good reason for the delay. Following the release of “Pyromania”, Def Leppard’s drummer, Rick Allen, lost his arm in an auto accident. Rather than looking for another drummer, the band members put their next record on hold in order for their friend to learn to play a special drum set adapted with multiple foot pedals and could continue wwith them on the skins.

I saw Def Leppard in concert for their “Hysteria” tour and I have to say Rick Allan played one of the best drum solos I have ever seen and heard.

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story

Rod Stewart was still singing with The Faces when he released his third solo album “Every Picture Tells A Story” in 1971. Even though Stewart had his own band for the album, all of the members of The Faces play at some part on the record. The most prominent is Ron Wood, who’s guitar playing really sets an overall feeling throughout much of the album.

This album is considered by many, myself included, to be Rod Stewart’s finest hour. There are so many great songs on “Every Picture Tells a Story” that For most people, it would be hard to list a favorite. “Mandolin Wind”, (Find a) Reason to Believe”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “That’s All Right”, “Maggie May”, and of course the title song to the album all top the list of Rod Stewart’s best songs of his entire career, let alone from this album.

Although a few of the songs here are covers of previous hits by other bands, the versions Rod Stewart does on this “Every Picture Tells A Story” are far from the style of the originals. Probably the most notable was the rearrangement of The Temptations’ Motown classic “(I Know) I’m Losing You”. The version here is hard rocking with a funk groove that closes with some incredible drumming by Kenny Jones from The Faces.

Rick Derringer – All American Boy

One of the reasons I always enjoyed albums and was never big into buying just the single is a lot of albums had hidden gems on them. All-American boy, the debut solo album by Rick derringer is an album that is loaded with great songs that you would almost never hear on the radio, except for “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”.

Rick Derringer is an extremely versatile guitarist and producer who has played as either an official band member or guest musician on albums by Edgar Winter, Steely Dan, Todd Rudgren, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Wierd Al Yankovic. He also toured guitarist with Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors” tour. It was her first headlining tour and Derringer really energized the shows.

I have to admit I chuckle a little bit every time I look at this album cover. I really don’t think Rick, or any other guitarist for that matter, can play the guitar wearing gloves. I mean he’s good, but not that good.

Greta Van Fleet – Black Smoke Rising (EP)

Frankenmuth Michigan, about an hour and a half drive north of Detroit, has for as long as I can remember, been known for its German cultured shops and the infamous chicken dinners served at Zehnder’s and The Bavariarian Inn restaurants. But in late 2017, Frankenmuth became known for something else – Greta Van Fleet – one of the hardest rocking quartets since … dare I say … Led Zeppelin.

The comparisons between Greta Van Fleet and Zeppelin come with no apologies from the band members who are huge Zep fans. But they are also quick to point out that they are not by any stretch, a Led Zeppelin cover or tribute band.

Still, if you like Led Zeppelin, and wish there were more bands around today that recorded that kind of music, well, you need to pick up either “Black Smoke Rising” their debut four song EP or “From The Fires”, their first full length LP.

Right now, my vinyl collection only includes the “Black Smoke Rising” EP, but trust me, that will soon be rectified.

…Stay tuned…

Journey – Next

While most people who are familiar with the band Journey will associate their music with the incredible voice of Steve Perry, some may be surprised to learn that they released three albums before Perry joined the band.

Released in 1977, “Next” was the third and final album Journey would record before deciding to change their sound by bringing in an additional singer to front the band. This album, like the two before it, has a strong contrast to the album’s recorded with Steve Perry. In classic progressive rock style the songs on “Next” focus more on musicianship than on the vocals. If there was ever any doubt, “Next” makes it clearly obvious what great players the members of Journey were

While I have to admit that I like the later albums with Steve Perry better than Journey’s first three records, I still love listening their early stuff. It has a more aggressive style to it. Plus, I’m a sucker for extended solos an jamming. I’m glad Journey changed their sound by add-in Steve Perry. He had an amazing voice and they recorded some incredible music with him. The thing is, they recorded some greAt stuff without him too. It just didn’t become as well known.

The Who – Live at Leeds

One of the things that made albums cool was their size. With twelve inches of real estate to work with, there were some albums that took advantage of the size to do cool artwork. Others used it to throw in some cool extras – or in the case of The Who’s “Live at Leeds” A LOT of extras.

Almost all of the extras included with the original 1970 release of “Live at Leeds” were artifacts from The Who’s early career. Among some of the more interesting are a rejection letter from EMI Records (They were eventually signed to Decca), a sheet where they had worked out the lyrics to “My Generation”, a notice to take them to court if they didn’t pay the rental fees for some amps after their check bounced, A couple tour schedules (one recent and one from before they were signed and were still performing under the name “The High Numbers”), a picture taken from backstage with band notes and some lyrics to their rock opera “Tommy” scribbled on the back, and the contract they signed to perform at the Woodstock festival in 1969. And there was more… But the album is about to run out so that’s all I have time to mention.

“Live at Leeds” is considered by many to be the greatest live album ever recorded. I don’t know if I’d personally place it at the top of the heap but as most Brits would have said it back then, I’d put it bloody well close.