John Lennon – Imagine

John Lennon was a dreamer. But he had a good dream.

“Imagine” has got to be one of the most beautiful and powerful songs ever written. It’s a song about being a dreamer. It’s about having a dream where there is no war, no hatred, no killing. It’s a dream of universal peace. It begs us all, if only for a moment, to imagine a. world like that.

It can be impossible to believe the world as we know it today could ever be without personal possessions, religion, or nations, as Lennon asks us to imagine in the title track of his second solo album. I think he knows as well as any intelligent person (and John Lennon was very intelligent) it’s an impossible dream for mankind to ever achieve. But it’s easy to imagine it. But as he reminds us here, although the world around us can seem uncaring and cruel at times; though there always seems to be some war going on somewhere; though the news seems to present us daily with a barrage of mankind’s cruelty toward his fellow kind, sometimes it’s good to imagine a different world; a world where no contention exists. Though that world may not ever exist for us, for 3 minutes, John Lennon asks us all to just dream it will one day, then imagine if we at least tried to live that dream.

Adele – 25

I heard Adele refer to her second album, “21” as her break-up album and her third, “25” as her make-up album. As poetic as that may sound, I think of “25” more like her come-to-terms album.

While “21” has a definite theme of relationships falling apart and “25” focuses on the aftermath, not all the songs on Adele’s third album reflect on reconciliation; some center on the necessity of moving on without – even though there is still a yearning. The songs here are also about the acceptance of what is and what will never be. In modern music, there is no one who can tap into and convey this emotion better than Adele.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Paul McCartney may have released the most post-Beatles albums following the breakup of the fab four, but he didn’t record the best. George Harrison holds that esteemed honor with “All Things Must Pass”.

Released in 1970, “All Things Must Pass” is an incredible three record set that let Harrison spread his wings as an artist. The last three Beatles albums were a tumultuous time for the band. Through the ’60s, the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo were synonymous with The Beatles, By 1970 it would have been more accurate to refer to them as Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Ringo. Three individuals who felt strongly about what should be on the latter Beatles albums and one who just rolled with it. They all contributed songs, but not all made the cut. On the last three Beatles albums, some songs that Harrison felt strongly about were nixed for ones by Lennon and McCartney, getting the ax without much protest (he was after all, “the quiet one”). So when The Beatles dissolved in 1970 Harrison had solo material he was confident about and was ready to record. Writing a few more, he soon had enough for a second album.

Those two records were enough to establish “All Things Must Pass” as the best post-Beatles album, but Harrison added a third record.

Although it is labeled as side 5 and 6, the aptly titled “Apple Jam” stands apart, yet in cohesion with the other two disks. “Apple Jam” is a collection of long improvisational in-studio jams from the “All Things Must Pass” recording sessions. It feels more like a celebratory encore to the rest of the record than a continuation of the rest of the songs. On the first four sides of “All Things Must Pass” George Harrison was finally able to let his voice be heard; he was no longer “the quiet one”. Sides five and six sound like a celebration of that revelation and freedom.

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”.

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness

Even though I had never heard anything by The Pineapple Thief, I had been wanting to pick up something by them for a while. I had read some good things about them and they were referenced a lot by other bands I liked. But the clincher that got me to pick up “Your Wilderness”, was Gavin Harrison jumping on board as their drummer.

Gavin Harrison is one of those rare drummers who plays the drums not to merely rhythmically hold songs together, but like my other favorite drummers, Harrison approaches the drums as another instrument that adds to the composition – not just underlying, but overlaying the architecture of the music. Although he is not as well-known, I hold Gavin Harrison in the same league as Bill Bruford of Yes and Neal Peart of Rush.

This album takes influences from numerous bands that are notoriously unique. If I had to pick three that most prominently shined through, it would be The Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree, and early Radiohead. There are elements of many others, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with those bands since rec of them are masters at combining a diverse combination of musical influences into something totally original.

I love albums that focus around a central theme. Maybe that’s why I liked this album so much on the first listen. All of the songs seem to revolve around losing that one special love in your life and not realizing that it was your own shortcomings that tore things apart until it was too late. It’s a theme encapsulated in the lyrics in the opening track, “In Exile”: “Don’t be afraid to miss me / Don’t be afraid to hate me”. It’s also a sentiment that is sadly and romantically reminisced in “Where We Stood” the song that brings the whole emotional tug-of-war of this album to its inevitable open closure: “I don’t remember if we stood up there / I don’t remember if we stood”. This is a somber album and for the most part the music fits that mood. In all honesty, the playing is much more laid back than I expected, only breaking out a with some serious jamming on a couple rare occasions. But then, this is an album that is all about composition and song structure and making the listener feel this is a personal story. Their own personal story.

“Your Wilderness” is everything I had hoped for based on what I had heard about The Pineapple Thief. It is definitely a progressive rock album. But it is not one founded only on early prog. In a true progressive tradition, “Your Wilderness” is a musical collection built upon the influences of post-progressive rock bands that were influenced by the original prog rockers – an end result that is as inspiring and impressionable as the music that inpired and made an impression on it.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (white vinyl)

Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album, “Rumors”, is one of the best-selling albums of all time.  It has sold over 40 million copies and is one of the only albums to give Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” a run for its money as the all time best-selling album ever.

The album was recorded in a tumultuous period Fleetwood Mac’s history. There were members of the band having relationships with other members – sometimes multiple members. This caused a lot of tension in the studio.   But it was that tension between the band members that caused huge spark of creativity and resulted in an incredible work of art that stands the test of time. “Rumours” sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1977.

Not surprisingly, given the personal conflicts going on within the band, most of the lyrics “Rumors” are introspective poetry that speaks of love, relationships, and emotions.

This edition of “Rumors” is a limited edition, pressed on white vinyl. There is no reason albums need to be pressed on black vinyl other than that’s the way it was always done. The color of the vinyl doesn’t affect the sound quality so every now and then, limited runs of albums are pressed on colored vinyl. They usually cost a little more, but every now and then I have to splurge. After all, colored vinyl is cool.

Phil Collins – Face Value

I remember when I first heard Phil Collins’s “Face Value” album. I remember thinking what a great album it was, which was disappointing to me. I remember being concerned that it was the end of Genesis, whom I had only recently started to get into, discovering their diverse back-catalog of progressive rock. I remember not wanting to like “Face Value” because it could mean the end of Genesis. But I remember it was impossible for me to not like it.

Genesis had already suffered the loss of Steve Hackett, their incredibly talented guitarist who had left years earlier to pursue a solo career. But Genesis continued on as a quartet. Then, a few years after that, Peter Gabriel, the front man and primary songwriter for Genesis, also left for a solo career. But Genesis continued on as a trio, with Collins taking on lead vocal and drums in the studio and leaving the comfort of sitting behind a drum kit to front the band when playing live (Bill Bruford, and later, Chester Thompson played drums during concerts).

But the first album by Phil Collins wasn’t the end of Genesis. Nor was his second or third. Phil Collins continued on in both his solo career and with Genesis – and that was a great thing.

The versatility Genesis had shown on all their albums was taken to the next level on “Face Value”. On it, Phil Collins incorporated influences of R&B and soul into many of the songs. He even used the horn section from funk masters Earth Wind and Fire on some of the tracks.

And then of course, there’s the moody song about the anguish and anger felt with the betrayal of love. “In The Air Tonight” was a song Collins wrote after his wife left him. Oh lord, what a great song.

Oh lord, what a great album.

Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

“Sports”, the third album from Huey Lewis and the News is one of the best albums to come out of the ’80s.

I honestly can not understand how anyone can not like this album. It is chock full of infectious songs with great hooks that combined blues, soul, and a little doo-wop with ’80s pop and rock. Then, as a bonus, they even do a cover of an old Hank Williams song, “Honky Tonk Blues”. It’s no wonder this record became their most successful album ever. I mean, what wasn’t there to like?

Yet…

I remember being being on a first date with a girl in the late ’80s and at one point in the evening she said that she didn’t like Huey Lewis because she thought he was too commercial. I didn’t argue my point (not a good thing to do on a first date) but at the end of the evening, I took her home, and like a good gent, gave her a kiss and said goodnight. I never saw her again after that night.

I wonder what ever happened to her.

…No I don’t.

The Smithereens – Especially For You

2017 was a sad year for rock and roll. So many legends and so much talent was lost this year. Perhaps more so than any other year.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), J. Geils, Malcom Young (AC/DC), and most recently, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.

The Smithereens were formed by four friends from New Jersey who in 1980, decided to form a rock and roll band. They finally found success in 1986, with their debut album, “Especially For You”. The band had a hit single with the opening track to the album, “Strangers When We Meet”, and another with the opening song to side two, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. But their biggest hit off the album…their biggest hit ever…was the unforgettable “Blood and Roses”. A song driven by an unforgettable bass line and lyrics about losing out on love because of not being able to express it. The song was an immediate hit on both ’80s alternative and mainstream rock radio stations.

Sadly, 2017 took its latest, and hopefully its last, rock and roll icon, Pat DiNizio, lead singer and guitarist for The Smithereens, on December 12, 2017. He will forever be remembered by so many for the multitude of emotions he brought to our ears.

In memory of Pat, and all the other legends and remarkable talent we lost in 2017, I will let the rhythmic thump/click of this album’s inner track resonate in the room for at least the next 17 minutes in honor of the rhythmic heartbeats of the those whom rock and roll lost in 2017.

‘Twas a sad year, 2017.