The J. Geils Band – Sanctuary

The J. Geils Band is one of the most underrated bands in the US; except in Boston and Detroit. Boston is understandable. Geils after all, comes from that city. You always love your hometown hero. But Detroit was equally, if not more enthusiastic about The J. Geils Band’s combination of blues, rock, funk, soul, and pop from day one; and Geils loved them right back. They even at one point during an interview, referred to Detroit as their home away from home.

Geils was first and foremost, a live band. If you never saw them perform live, you have no idea what they were all about. Perhaps the album that came closest to capturing their live sound and energy in the studio was their tenth record, “Sanctuary”.

I can’t even pick a favorite song on this album. Every song is my favorite off of it. “Sanctuary” is one of those albums that, when I ignorantly thinned down my record collection, converting everything to compact disc, I never considered parting with. Yes, I eventually bought it on CD, but I was never not going to own this album.

To me personally, “Sanctuary” is memories from my ignorant teenage party days, the album I took refuge in during my early adult years when I felt down and betrayed, and the record I always pulled out when I just needed to f’ing crank it up and jam out.

Musically, it has been and will always be my “Sanctuary”.

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!

Journey – Captured

It’s funny how you never forget your firsts. Journey was my very first concert and I remember it like it was yesterday. My two best friends and me, the legendary Cobo arena, my favorite band at the time at the height of their popularity, and a foot-long “torpedo” of contraband that was fired up when Journey took the stage (thank you EZ Wider Unrolling Papers).

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of surprised I remember any of it at all; but I do. Vividly. It was musical experience I will never forget and still ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Some of songs on this album were “Captured” at Cobo Hall, so I just might be on this record.

Yeah, I think that’s me right there! 😅

I guess I’m on a live music kick, I just realized this is the third album in a row I’ve chosen to listen to that is a concert recording. Oh well, I always felt rock and roll is best when it’s performed live.

Fillmore: The Last Days

Today, the Fillmore is a pretty popular concert venue in Detroit. Maybe that name is used in other cities now days as well. I don’t know. What I do know – and what a lot of the younger music lovers around today may not know – is that the name “Fillmore” was taken from a couple of legendary concert venues from the ’60s and early ’70s that were run by a man who was perhaps the greatest concert promoter who ever lived: Bill Graham.

Bill Graham was a German holocaust survivor who fled to France and later immigrated to the United States. He was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who more than anything, respected artistic expression; and believed in the power of music. To help promote the emerging music scenes in the ’60s he opened The Fillmore concert hall in San Francisco. It became the premier venue for bands to play in the United States. Without the Fillmore, the world would probably have never heard the music of Santana, Janis Joplin, Bos Scaggs, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and many more performers who are hugely influential in pop and rock music today.

Bill Graham is also responsible for the one other thing I collect besides records and CDs – concert tour posters. He would commission local artists to create unique artwork for promotional posters advertising specific shows at his venues. Along with a 32 page historical book, This three record box set also includes a replica of the poster that was used to promte the final shows at the Fillmore.

Bill Graham was a man who believed there could be a balance between financial success and artistic expression. Unfortunately, following the Woodstock festival in 1969, the record companies realized that rock and roll was big business and the intimacy of moderately sized concert halls like the Fillmore gave way to the larger arena rock shows. Knowing the smaller venues couldn’t compete, Bill Grahasm threw in the towel and made the business decision to close the Fillmore in 1971. He continued to promote bands and concerts into the ’80s. In 1985, he and Bob Geldoff organized Live Aid, a series of concerts that were perrformed and broadcast around the world to raise millions of dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia.

“Fillmore: The Final Days” captures the music of the bittersweet days that marked the end of a philisophical and musical era. It is a memoir of a unforgettable era in music.

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.

Queen – Live Killers

It’s kind of strange that when I first heard “Live Killers” by Queen I was disappointed, yet today it’s one of my favorite live albums. I think my problem back then, was that I was expecting carbon copies of what Queen had done in the studio played in front of an audience. That was not Queen’s intent for their first official live album. Like any exceptional live album, the purpose of “Live Killers” was to capture the energy, excitement, and atmosphere of Queen in concert; in that respect, this album kills it.

There are a couple sing alongs with the audience, a sit down acoustic set, lots of of extended solos, and audience interaction; lots of audience interaction. Queen was a band that was all about performing. Whether it be in the studio or live on stage, they always strived to create something unique and original. And that’s what makes “Live Killers” so good. It is as original as Queen themselves.

I think that’s really why I had reservations about ” Live Killers” at first. I was expecting it to be a typical live album by a band. I should have known better. Queen is anything but a typical rock band. Why would I expect “Live Killers” to be anything like a typical live album?

Rory Gallagher – Deuce

Although he recorded 14 albums that collectively sold over 30 million copies from 1970 into the ’90s, Rory Gallagher is not as well known of a blues rock guitarist as many of its contemporaries. Those who know of him though always rank him up there with the best of the best.

Deuce was Rory Gallagher’s second album. It had a freer feel than his debut from a year earlier. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the songs were recorded live in the studio versus being multitracked. The songs sound spontaneous and the solos in have an on-the-spot, improvised quality to them. It’s a style that fits the Irish rocker’s playing style perfectly.

I discovered Rory Gallagher rather late in his career; in the mid ’90s. I was growing tired of a lot of the pop music, grunge, and hairbands at that time. Even country music, which I enjoy from time to time, was becoming too commercialized for my taste. My listening preference started aligning more with traditional blues-rock from the ’70s, and I started looking for artists that I might have overlooked a decade or two earlier. I became a huge Rory Gallagher fan the very first time I heard him.

I’ve always felt that blues-rock is a style of music that is best performed live. This, combined with my high regard for Rory Gallagher’s playing, make me regret that I never got a chance to see him perform in concert before his too early passing in 1995.

Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Rick Wakeman is an amazing musician and composer. Jules Verne was an amazing author. Combine the two and you get an amazing album.

Never one to to shy away from the grandiose, the former keyboardist for Yes wrote “Journey to the Centre of The Earth” following the release of his first solo album, “The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth”. Rather than going into the studio, Wakeman chose to record his second solo record live. For the huge undertaking, he employed the talents of conductor David Measham who lead The London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir for the performance. The story is supplemented through prose read in between the main musical passages by British stage and film actor David Hemmings.

Part classical, part rock, part spoken word, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” topped the British charts and made it to the the third position in the U.S. It is an an amazing piece of music, composed by an amazing musician, based on a story by an amazing author. If you have never listened to it, you owe it to yourself to do so. I think you’ll be amazed.

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.