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.

Howard Jones – Dream Into Action

Synth pop was at the height of its popularity in the mid ’80s. It was a music style that could easily provide addictive hooks and innovative sounds, but it could also be ruined if an artist was overly dependent on the musical technology they used and less confident in their musical ability. Howard Jones knows how to find the perfect balance between composition, musicianship, and innovation. His second album “Dream Into Action” is a perfect example.

Howard Jones had a knack of knowing when to keep the arrangement of song sweet and simple or make it densely complex. That intuition helped him create a trend-setting album tha is complexly powerful and beautifully simple in all the right places.

“Dream Into Action” was the second album by Howard Jones. Other than some background vocals and a few bass lines Jones had his brother lay down, he plays and sings every note on this album.

Often overlooked and underrated by music critics, Howard Jones’ music often didn’t receive the radio airplay his contemporaries, but that never deterred him and he continues to write, record, and perform his music today.

“Dream Into Action” remains one of my favorite albums from the ’80s. It includes the hits “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One is To Blame”. But like with many great albums, it’s the collection of songs that weren’t hits that truly define it. That’s where “Dream Into Action” is at its best.

Uriah Heep – Sweet Freedom

“Sweet Freedom” was a slight change of pace for Uriah Heep. Their first five albums were hard rocking adventures that along with bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, marked the early days of heavy metal. This album is a more adventurous than its predecessors, with the band experimenting more with progressive rock elements but still keeping their hard-hitting, aggressive playing.

Two things that really made Uriah Heep stand out from other hard rocking acts in this era were their vocal arrangements, led by David Byron’s powerful voice, and Ken Kensley’s ever-present Hammond B3 organ.

The song “Stealin'” is Uriah Heep’s biggest hit. It was my introduction to their music. I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

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!

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 (which it is when you get right down to it) hidden behind makeup and theatrics. But Kiss was all about presentation, and on “Alive!”, they proved that their concerts weren’t only about the presentation of visuals. 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 with 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.

Lucifer’s Friend

In my opinion, “Lucifer’s Friend” has got to be the worst name for a band, unless they worship the devil, which these guys did not.  Maybe they wanted to one-up Black Sabbath in that area because they thought it would sell. But Black Sabbath took their name from the title of an old Boris Karloff horror film. “Lucifer’s Friend” had no other connotation. I don’t know why they chose “Lucifer’s Friend” as the band’s name, but I think it was a bad choice that cost them much deserved success.  Especially since they were a band that could have out-heavied any band that was around in 1970, when their eponymous debut came out.

Picture Black Sabbath meets Uriah Heep mixed with a combination of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Now picture how cutting edge and heavy that was back in 1970. The only bands that maybe equaled them back then were Sabbath and Zeppelin and that’s a maybe.

So why has almost no one ever hear of Lucifer’s Friend, at least not outside of Germany, where they hailed from?  I can’t say for sure, but I really think it came down to their name. It was just too dark, too evil sounding. I think too many people didn’t want to listen past the name.

Regardless of the reason, Lucifer’s Friend Is a band I am glad to have been turned on to in the early ’80s. They were a band that was too far ahead of their time for their own good – and in my opinion, a great band that chose a terrible name.

Joe Satriani – Surfing With The Alien

Symbiosis.  Let’s talk a minute about symbiosis.

Webster’s dictionary defines symbiosis as “a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)” Steve Via and Joe Satriani had a very symbiotic musical relationsdhip.

Joseph Siro Satriani used to teach guitar. One of his most talented students was one named Steve Vai. Joe taught him technique and theory, but most of all, he taught him to combine those with emotion and passion. When Steve decided to persue a career performing music, his immense talent was almost immediately picked up by Frank Zappa. After Zappa, Vai played guitar on David Lee Roth’s solo albums after Roth left Van Halen. When Steve Vai decided to go solo, he had made such a name for himself, he was courted by numerous record labels.

But Steve Via never forgot his teacher and mentor, Joe Satriani. He told the record companies that Satriani was someone they needed to sign.  Vai had become so successful that the record companies actually listened to him, and Joe Satriani soon signed a record deal as well. He went on to achieve success that paralleled that of his former student.

So…

Steve Vai would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented guitar teacher, Joe Satriani. And Joe Satriani would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented student, Steve Vai.

Symbiosis defined.

The first song I ever heard by Joe Satriani was “”Always With Me, Always With You”. I was blown away by its beauty, it’s elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next aslbum I would add to my collection.

Joe Satriani has released many albums since this, his debut album. None have ceased to amaze me in technical ability, creativity, originaslity, and innovation. Still, “Surfing With the Alien” remains my favorite Satriani album – only because it was my introduction to him – an introduction to one of the most amazing guitarists ever.

Triumph – Allied Forces

Canadians like to Rock!

When I think of bands from the great white North, the first three bands from the golden age of viny that come to mind are Bachman Turner Overdrive, Rush, and Triumph. Maybe it’s having to put out more energy in order to deal with all that snow and the bitter cold up there. I don’t know. But those are three of the hardest rocking bands from the ’70s.

“Allied Forces” is the fifth album by Trimph. It is, in my opinion, the album that best defines the Canadian power trio – and not just because it contains their two most successful songs, “Fight the Good Fight” and “Magic Power”. The songs on this album are collectively everything a good hard rock album should be. They are gritty, powerful, melodic, and lyrically inspiring.

Rush – A Farewell To Kings

Many bands go through changes. Sometimes it’s to avoid getting bored, wanting to try something new. Sometimes it’s an attempt to better find their footing. Sometimes it’s a search for that ever elusive radio friendly single. For Rush, “A Farewell To Kings” was an attempt at all three.

Rush’s debut, self-titled album, was a combination of hard rock and metal. Their second, “Fly By Night” was not as rough around the edges and more straightforward hard rock. Their third, “Caress of Steel” ventured more into progressive rock territory. It was a change that alienated much of their established fan base. Although a good record, it was for the most part was a flop for the Canadian trio. “2112”, their fourth album, struck gold for them with its melding together the styles of its predecessors.

But what really had eluded Rush to this point, and what their musical career needed, was significant radio airplay. “Closer to the Heart” the sole single released from their fifth studio album, “A Farewell To Kings”, would change that.

For the most part, “A Farewell to Kings” revisted the progressive rock elements that had not done so well for them earier. But by this time, Rush’s songwriting talents had become more refined and their fans had come to expect more diversity from them.

Being just shy of three minutes long. “Closer to the Heart” was one of Rush’s shortest songs, which made it a great contender to be picked up for heavy rotation on rock radio stations. The fact that it had a beautiful underlying melody, insightful lyrics, and high caliber musicianship with a great guitar solo, made it an inevitable choice. Consequently, “A Farewell to Kings” and it’s accompanying single, “Closer to the Heart”, catapulted Rush’s popularity to the next level.