Sweet – Strung Up

I don’t know if Sweet was really the first to release a live album and best of album packaged together, but in the liner notes of “Strung Up” they more or less stake claim to that honor.

The live album was recorded on December 23, 1973 at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The set is about as hard rocking as you will hear by any band. It includes a thundering drum solo that set to rest any doubts that Mick Tucker was one of the top drummers of his time.

The studio album includes Sweet’s hits “Ballroom Blitz”, “Fox on the Run”, and “Action” (which has a shorter, non echoing ending than the original), along with other songs that had success in Europe but were relatively unknown in the United States. It also included three previously unreleased songs.

Because Sweet was much more popular in Europe than in the US, this album was never released here until it was reissued on CD a couple decades later. My vinyl copy is imported from Germany.

Jefferson Airplane – Thirty Seconds Over Winterland

This is a tale of technology, the law, and flying toasters….

What are the odds of two groups of people, totally unrelated, in totally different decades, thinking of exactly the same concept as obscure as flying toasters? Well, it happened; Not only to one of my favorite bands, but to one of my favorite comic strips as well.

I think the Jefferson Airplane are one of the greatest psychedelic rock groups ever. I also think Bloom County, is one of the most brilliant comic strip series ever. Little did I know they would both cross paths in 1993.

The Jefferson Airplane released “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland” in 1973. Recorded at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco and the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago the album is a truly underrated recording of live psychedelic rock. The album cover – one of my all-time favorites – shows a group of winged toasters flying high above the clouds. What this had to do with the music on the record is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it’s a very cool album cover.

Jump forward two decades to 1993. Berkeley Breathed, the creator of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus, decided to create a software company, Berkley Systems, that eventually made the After Dark computer screen saver that featured … wait for it … winged flying toasters. It became one of the most popular screen savers ever. Riding on its popularity, Berkley Systems decided to come out with another computer screen saver that featured Opus, a penguin who was the primary character in Bloom County and its two spin-off comic strips, shooting down the flying toasters.

The members of Jefferson Airplane felt they had dibs on the winged flying toaster concept and sued Berkley Systems for plagiarism. Jefferson Airplane eventually lost the financial part of the lawsuit because Berkley Systems claimed to have no prior knowledge of the flying toasters on the cover of “Thirty Seconds Over Winterland”. Still, according to the terms in the settlement, the Opus screen saver had to be modified so that the toasters had helicopter blades instead of wings. Still flying toasters, but I don’t know, somehow not as cool.

Wings Over America

Okay, I’m breaking an unwritten rule. But it’s my rule, so I can take liberties. I have to admit, it’s not the first time either. I do try to keep it to a minimum though. But sometimes, every now and then, I have to make an exception. This is one of those times.

It’s not like anyone gets hurt if I break the rule. Not even close. Sometimes my friends even enjoy it when I break the rule. Most often, that’s when I choose to break it – when I know a friend wants me to. That is, they would want me to if they knew the rule even existed.

The thing is, I’ve never told anyone of the rule, so no one knows about it. But it’s been in place for years. … no, decades. It’s a rule that every now and then, needs to be broken. Usually, it’s for someone else, but tonight, it’s all about me. Tonight, I make no apologies. I will break the rule and I have no regrets.

I am going to listen to another entire album by the last band I just listened to an entire album by. This morning, it was Wings “At The Speed of Sound”. Tonight, it’s “Wings Over America”. But how can I resist?

A lot of bands can release a successful single live album. Fewer could be successful with a double live album. It’s unheard of to make it a triple. Unless you’re a band as talented as the Wings.

This is the only triple album to take the #1 a spot on the U.S. charts. An incredible accomplishment that may never be broken.

But then again, accomplishments are often hard to break. Breaking rules is easy; especially when the rules are your own.

The J. Geils Band – Live! Blow Your Face Out!

“Hey Reputah! Reputah the Beautah!

You know you’re really good when you can totally screw up and still make it better than if you had gotten it right.

Case in point: the introduction to the live version of “Musta Got Lost”.

Peter Wolf, the singer to the J. Geils Band, totally forgot the name of the well-known storybook character he wanted to use in his introduction to “Musta Got Lost” when recording their live album “Blow Your Face Out”. But instead of being throw off kilter by the screw up, Wolf molded it into one of the most iconic spoken introductions to any song on any record…ever.

Take your big curls and squeeze them down Ratumba –
What’s the name of the chick with the long hair?
(Rapunzel!) Hey Rapunzel!

Hey Reputa! Reputa the Beautah!
Hey Reputa the Beautah, flip me down your hair
And let me climb up to the ladder of your love!!

Although unintended, the screw-up was incredibly appropriate to the song it introduced. “Musta Got Lost” was a song about screwing up. It was a song about letting somebody go and realizing afterwards that it was a mistake. Peter Wolf played on his mistake perfectly, just as anyone needs to do in such a circumstance.

Although he didn’t mean to be so philosophical, in that spoken intro, and the accompanying song afterwards, Wolf embodies the struggle of relationships from the perspective of both heart and mind. He embodies the anger and the pain of it ending, as well as the desire and desperation to want to make it work. The introduction and song embody the realization of how a relationship can be over in one moment…with one screw-up.

If I had any complaint about “Blow Your Face Out”, it’s that it was too short – it ended too soon. But then again, the same can be said about any meaningful relationship.

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 unmistakably unique. 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.

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 of 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.