Joe Walsh – So What

Blues chords, great guitar riffs, and solid guitar solos. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. And it’s nothing Joe Walsh hasn’t put on an album before or after. But so what, his third solo album is essential to any rock lover’s colection.

Joe Walsh was pretty basic and straightforward with his albums. He never really did anything fancy… Except his solos. His solos kicked ass. Every time. He was a master on slide guitar that few could equal. He also played more than just guitar. He was very accomplished on keyboards and quite often would put a song that featured him playing synthesizer on his albums. “So What” was no exception.

Joe Walsh’s formula for making an album was simple – write good songs, play them well, and have excellent musicians back him up. On “So What”, those backup musicians were quite often members of The Eagles. A little over a year and a half later Joe Walsh would actually join the Eagles, bringing a little more edginess to their sound and helping them have their most successful studio album ever, Hotel California. But so what. His solo material was just as good.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

Although Def Leppard’s first two albums developed a solid fanbase for them, it was their third album that really broke them into the mainstream. Pyromania sold over 10 million copies and hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs on it still receive significant airplay on rock radio stations today.

Following the release of Pyromania, drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in an automobile accident. I give the friendship the band members held for him extreme kudos for what happened afterwards. They could have sought out another drummer. Instead, they decided to have a special drum kit designed for him that made greater use of foot pedals so he could still play drums with the band. The incident is documented in the 2001 film “Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story” which was named after their fourth album. I saw Def Leppard on tour, supporting that album. Rick Allen did a drum solo that was nothing short of amazing and was one of the highlights of the concert.

When I met my wife over 25 years ago, she didn’t have nearly as many records as I did. As a matter of fact, she only had a handful. Pyromania was one of them. I would have added it to my collection but I already owned a copy of it.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitios alblum, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

The Foo Fighters are perhaps the most important American rock and roll band to gain notoriety in this millennium.

Dave Grohl formed Foo Fighters following the breakup of Nirvana, which was caused by the tragic suicide of that bands lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain. Grohl decided to step out from behind the drum kit, which he played in Nirvana, and instead, pick up the guitar and sing.

“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” finds Grohl and company stretching out further musically than they had on any of their five previous albums. By the time of its release in 2007, the members of Foo Fighters had grown as musicians and Grohl had matured as a songwriter.

It’s hard to picture on the Foo Fighters earlier albums, some of the acoustic songs that appear on “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”. From their earlier albums, it’s equally hard to imagine them performing songs with a piano, or a string quartet, or doing a song with a fiddle or accordion. But here, it’s an easy fit.

For those who love the Foo Fighters earlier stuff, there’s still the same appeal the Foo Fighters have always had – they still rock their asses off. But the bonus here is there’s more depth. There’s more emotion. There’s more melody. Quite simply, there’s more music.

“Echoes, silence, Patience & Grace” is the sound of the Foo Fighters finding their footing. But it’s more than that. It’s the sound of a band standing tall and proud, not afraid to take chances.

Foghat – Stone Blue

Ahhhh, blues rock. Easily one of my favorite genres. And in that genre, Foghat is easily one of my favorite bands. And by Foghat, easily one of my favorite albums is “Stone Blue”.

Stone blue was released as a follow-up to their hugely successful live album. It is their seventh studio album, comprised of a 50/50 mix of self-written songs and blues standards.

When Stone blue was released, for those who knew Foghat’s music, there really where no surprises here. Foghat was a band known for rocking hard and playing the blues, They did both with a vengeance on “Stone Blue”. The late Dave Peverett’s vocals we’re in top form and he captured the emotion of every song perfectly. Rod Price was relentless in his solos, especially with his slide guitar work. Between the opening title track and the mid-tempo Rocker on side two, “It Hurts Me Too”, it seemed as if he was challenging every slide player out there.

Two of the best covers on the album are the hard rocking versions of the blues standard “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Chevrolet”.

The Cult – Electric Peace

The Cult had just had their first major breakthrough with the album, “Love”, and the single from it, “She Sells Sanctuary”, when they went into the studio to record the follow-up to it. For that album, which they had already decided to title “Peace”, they again chose Steve Brown to produce it. Although they were happy with the work he did on “Love”, they were not at all pleased with Brown’s treatment on the new album.

They sought out a new producer for the record and found Rick Rubin. After hearing what they had done so far, Rubin had them go back into the studio and rerecord every song and also record a couple different ones. Because the record produced by Rubin sounded so strikingly different from “Peace”, The Cult decided to rename the new record “Electric”. It may have been a pain for them to go back and redo everything, but it was definitely a good call. “Electric” became The Cult’s most successful album ever.

Although “Peace” is a good record, and would have probably done alright for them, it really didn’t capture what The Cult were truly capable of. On “Electric”, Rick Rubin was able to capture one of the best bands from the ’80s at their very best.

The songs on “Peace” were never released in in their entirety until 2010 when all of songs from it were included with a 2010 limited edition CD. It was finally released in its entirety on vinyl with the originally intended artwork in 2013, included with the album “Electric”. The two album package was called “Electric Peace”.

Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic

Aerosmith’s third album, “Toys in the Attic” was a huge success for them. It was also the album where the band had to really prove its songwriting ability – and they did. 

Aerosmith’s two previous albums, “Get Your Wings” and their eponymous debut, both consisted almost exclusively of songs the band had written and performed live before going into the studio. For “Toys in the Attic” they had nothing except a few bits and pieces of songs that they had come up with during sound checks while touring. They basically had had to do everything from scratch on this album and were under pressure from the record company to release a new record. 

Almost all the songs on “Toys In The Attic” were either written by, or fleshed out by Aerosmith while in the studio. The two exceptions being “You See Me Crying” which was co-written by Steven Tyler and Don Solomon and “Big Ten Inch Record” which was a cover version of a song originally performed by blues and R&B saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson. 

Big ten inch record is a song about an old blues record that a girl is very enthralled a girl, but the phrasing of the lyrics also gave the innuendo of it being about the singers private parts. This led lot of people to think that in the song, Steven Tyler sings  “sucked on my big ten inch”, but according to Tyler, he’s actually singing “‘cept on my big ten inch”. Which is it really? I have my opinion, but you’ll have to listen to the song and decide for yourself.

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.

King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King

This is yet another phenomenal debut album by a band. Then again, Robert Fripp changed the membership and sound of King Crimson so many times through the years, it seems like almost every album by them was their debut. “In The Court Of The Crimson King” will always be one of my favorite albums by them.

The members that came and went from the various lineups of King Crimson almost always went on to have notable musical careers. From this lineup, Ian MacDonald would eventually become a founding member of Foreigner and Greg Lake became the bassist and lead vocalist for supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer. Michael Giles became a highly sought session musician who has played with numerous bands. He had a jazzy intricate style of playing that was a perfect fit for this version of King Crimson.

“In The Court Of The Crimson King” was a hugely successful album for King Crimson. It became one of the founding and defining albums of progressive rock.

Heart – Dreamboat Annie (half speed master)

One of the finer debut albums by any band, “Dreamboat Annie” spawned three hit singles for Heart: “Magic Man”, “Crazy On You”, and the title track. In addition to those songs, the album contained a wonderful combination of acoustic delicacies, hard rock riffs, and vocal intricacies. The song writing and arrangements on “Dreamboat Annie” are so impressive here that its hard to believe this was a first outing for Heart and not an album by a seasoned rock band.

Heart originally formed in Seattle, Washington but later relocated to Vancouver British Columbia in Canada. “Dreamboat Annie” was originally released in Canada in 1975 on Mushroom Records which had no distribution in the United States. The album sold extremely well in Canada and Mushroom decided to expand into the U.S, releasing “Dreamboat Annie” initially in Heart’s former hometown in 1976. The album did equally impressive there. That success subsequently spread across the U.S. and the success of “Dreamboat Annie” formed a strong foundation for the group’s future popularity.

The success of the “Dreamboat Annie” led to an eventual legal dispute over royalties and a subsequent split between Heart and Mushroom Records. Following the split Heart signed with Epic Records and went on to even greater success, and Mushroom Records went bankrupt. It’s kind of easy to see who got the best end of that deal.