Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

The Rockets – No Ballads

The Rockets were a Detroit band from the late ’70s that most Detroiters at the time felt were destined for national stardom. For some reason that success eluded them.

Detroit was a hotbed for rock and roll in vinyl’s golden era. Many bands from in and around the city went on to achieve national and even international success. The ’60s brought noteriety to bands like the MC5, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder. And of course, you can’t forget all the soulful Motown groups who topped the record charts in the ’60s, going into the ’70s.

Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper were also local Detroit favorites in the late ’60s whose popularity exploded nationally in the following decade. The 1970s also saw Grand Funk, Brownsville Station, Ted Nugent (who left the Amboy Dukes), Suzi Quatro, and the Romantics break onto the national music scene.

The Rockets, featuring former members of the Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder’s band, The Detroit Wheels, had a hard-edged blues rock sound that was immediately recognizable and made them one of the most popular bands on the local scene. Their locally distributed debut, “Love Transfusion” came out in 1977. It’s local popularity immediately earned them a major label record deal with RSO records, putting them on the same label as British blues rock legend Eric Clapton. Despite little promotion, their first album on RSO scored them two minor national hits, “Oh Well” a gritty version of an old Fleetwood Mac song, and the title track off the album, “Turn Up the Radio”.
It seemed national noteriety was just over the horizon for them with their follow-up album.

When “No Ballads” came out, radio stations immediately picked up on the songs “Desire”, “Takin’ It Back” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” making the album even more successful than their previous one … well, in Detroit anyway. RSO was having financial problems and did nothing to promote the record. With the lack of airplay on radio stations outside of Michigan and a national audience only vaguely familiar with who the Rockets were, “No Ballads” pretty much fizzled nationally. RSO eventually went defunct, leaving the Rockets without a national record label. They were picked up by Electra Records, but any momentum they had was stalled. They released three more albums after “No Ballads” that also did well in and around Detroit, but failed to gain any traction nationally.

I have all six albums by the Rockets in my collection and always will. To this day, they remain one of my all-time favorite bands. I alway feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to any of their records because I am reminded of how great their music is and how much more success they deserved.

Queen – Jazz

With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.

I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.

Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.

Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.

All of them women.

All of them naked.

Yeah, that was most unexpected.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.

Aerosmith – Get Your Wings

After reading “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” I will forever think of their second album, “Get Your Wings” as the album that saved Aerosmith – and so much of the music from my youth. According the book, because their first album received no promotion from the record company and did do poorly, virtually selling nowhere except in their hometown of Boston and in Detroit, the band was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed they had put everythinginto their first record, only to have it flop. They were all living together in a rundown apartment, struggling to get by. Disillusioned and frustrated, they debated even recording a second record.

Even though their first record went nowhere, Aerosmith decided they would give it one more chance; make one more record, and that would be it. As they were the recording “Get Your Wings” the band members all knew that this would be the album that would make or break them.

Unless you live under a rock, you know Aerosmith went on to become one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s. When I think of all the great albums and songs that Aerosmith recorded after “Get Your Wings” – songs that would have never had existed – well, I really can’t. Aerosmith’s music was the soundtrack of my coming-of-age youth.

So, If you were one of the many who bought this album when it came out, thank you for the memories.

Montrose

Montrose was an album that refused to flop.

Throughout the early ’70s, Ronnie Montrose had distinguished himself as one of the most in-demand session guitarists in America. During that time, he played on more highly successful rock albums than I can count on both hands…and feet. He eventually joined The Edgar Winter Group but left them after their first record to form his own band, Montrose, whose debut album came out in 1973. The album was…well, it kind of flopped.

At first.

Although “Montrose” didn’t have a huge initial impact when it was released, its reputation became notorious among heavy metal fans and the record’s sustained polarity led to it eventually selling over a million copies. It remains today considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out At Night

Edgar Winter was an amazingly talented composer and musician. I found myself being reminded of this when I heard the instrumental “Frankenstein” on the radio the other day. Of course, I had to cue up the album when I got home.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you hear a song all the time on the radio you stop really listening to it because you’re always hearing it. That was the case with me and The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. For some reason, when I heard it that time, for the first time in a long time, I listened to it again. It was like running into an old, long-lost friend.

“Frankenstein” is truly an amazing song and a very groundbreaking one when it came out. One of the most amazing parts of “Frankenstein” is the duet between drummer Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter on the synthesizer. At its crescendo, Edgar Winter is twisting and turning the knobs for the oscillators on the synth to keep perfect pitch and synchronization with the drums. At times they seem like one instrument, but there’s just enough deviation to remind you that you’re listening to a duet, not a solo. Plus, synthesized drums really didn’t exist in that capacity back then.

But one song does not make a great album, and “They Only Come Out at Night” with its variety of styles ranging from the melodic pop of “Autumn” to the island sounds of “Alta Mira” to blues rockers like “Undercover Man” to the party tunes “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” to “We all Had a Really Good Time” to the hard rocking other big hit off the album, “Free Ride”, this is a great album that is always ready to be played when I need something to get me moving.

Oh, and speaking of “Free Ride” I feel it necessary to point out to my fellow Detroit rockers who may not be aware, that the drummer on that song is none other than John “The Bee” Badanajek from The Rockets and Mitch Ryder fame.

Muse – Drones

Muse has never been a band that has been afraid of trying something new. On “Drones” they showed they’re not worried about returning to familiar territory either. For their seventh studio album, Muse teamed up with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lang, best known for his work with Def Leppard, to make a more straightforward, hard rocking record.

The one thing that has always been consistent with all of Muse’s albums is its combination of hard rock, pop, and progressive rock. As they gained popularity, the band experimented heavily with orchestration on “The Resistance” and electronic music on its follow-up, “The 2nd Law”.  For “Drones”, Muse chose to keep things simple…well, simple in the terms of Muse. Although the music on “Drones” is noticeably stripped back compared to the two albums that came before it, it’s still as complex, innovative, and powerful as anything Muse has done before.

“Drones” has probably the most binding underlying concept of any Muse album, even venturing into rock opera territory. The songs on the album revolve around a story that in many ways parallels Queensrÿche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” – the attempt of a government or organization to brainwash or program someone into becoming a killing machine for them.  The one big difference is “Drones” definitely has a happier ending, with the protagonist defecting.

Deep Purple – Made In Japan

It’s funny that Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan” is considered by many, including me, to be one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. Funny because they didn’t want to record a live album. They felt that there was no way a live record could capture the energy, excitement, and experience of being at a Deep Purple show. But since there was a huge market of live Deep Purple bootleg recordings being sold illegally, the band decided they had to nip it in the bud and shut that market down. So they recorded “Made in Japan”.

One of the things that makes “Made in Japan” so great is that it really does capture Deep Purple’s live sound as accurately as any record could. The band refused to use any studio overdubs to “enhance” the final recording. Basically, it was let the tape roll, clean up any unwanted artifacts that might have been picked up during the recording, and press the master. The result was a record that, when cranked up (the only way to listen to “Made in Japan”) you feel like you are there at the concert.

And yes, “Made in Japan” pretty much shut down the market for live Deep Purple bootlegs.

Another funny thing is, before “Live in Japan” was released, Deep Purple took the seller of what is possibly the best-selling bootleg recording of all time (it’s hard to know for sure since people who sold bootlegs rarely keep written sales records) to court to stop it being produced and sold. It’s funny because the seller of that bootleg, titled “H-Bomb”, was Richard Branson. Along with his many other accomplishments, Branson would later go on become one of the wealthiest billionaires in Britain after founding The Virgin Group of companies, which includes Virgin Records.

I’m pretty sure Deep Purple will never sign a record deal with Virgin Records.