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.

Queensrÿche – Empire

Empires can be built in many different ways. Dedication and drive. Crime and Corruption. Narcissism. Greed.

They can also have many different consequences for the builder. Satisfaction. Loneliness and abandonment. A desire for more.

Those topics and more pretty much sum up the theme of Queensrÿche‘s fourth album, aptly titled “Empire”.

Queensrÿche had paid their dues as a band throughout the eighties. After years of rejection from every record label they courted, the band finally signed a deal with EMI, and released their first album in 1984. “The Warning” earned them a moderate but solid fan base which stayed with them for their subsequent albums. Their third album, “Operation Mind Crime” should have been the album that broke them, but EMI did little in promotion and it never did as well as it had potential. When Queensrÿche released “Empire” as the follow up, it absolutely exploded. There was no holding it back. It hit near the top of the charts in almost every country it was released in, including number 7 in the U.S. It sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

The song “Silent Lucidity” was nominated for two Grammy Awards – Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal. Unfortunately, it didn’t win either. I honestly forget what songs it was up against at the time, but I remember thinking at the time that “Silent Lucidity” was the hands down winner. It is one of the most beautifully and emotionally gripping rock songs ever performed. A masterpiece of a song on an album that is the same.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

Although Def Leppard’s first two albums developed a solid fanbase for them, it was their third album that really broke them into the mainstream. Pyromania sold over 10 million copies and hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs on it still receive significant airplay on rock radio stations today.

Following the release of Pyromania, drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in an automobile accident. I give the friendship the band members held for him extreme kudos for what happened afterwards. They could have sought out another drummer. Instead, they decided to have a special drum kit designed for him that made greater use of foot pedals so he could still play drums with the band. The incident is documented in the 2001 film “Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story” which was named after their fourth album. I saw Def Leppard on tour, supporting that album. Rick Allen did a drum solo that was nothing short of amazing and was one of the highlights of the concert.

When I met my wife over 25 years ago, she didn’t have nearly as many records as I did. As a matter of fact, she only had a handful. Pyromania was one of them. I would have added it to my collection but I already owned a copy of it.

Deep Purple – Machine Head (picture disc)

Sometimes what seems like the worst scenario can turn out for the best. That was the case when Deep Purple went to record their sixth album, “Machine Head” at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. The arena at the casino was closed every winter for repairs and renovation. Deep Purple had booked it for right after the last event there, a December 4 concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Unfortunately an overzealous fan at that show decided to shoot a flare gun off during the concert and the building was set ablaze. No one was hurt, but Deep Purple had to find a new place to record “Machine Head”.

The empty, cold and damp conditions at the Swisse Grande Hotel had the band making a lot of compromises to what they felt was the best sound for the album. According to Ritchie Blackmore, the band’s lead guitarist, they quite often settled for “good enough” just to get the recording sessions over with.

The whole ordeal was captured and documented in the lyrics of their song “Smoke on the Water”, which became by far their biggest hit song off the album, and also in their career. “Machine Head” also became their most successful album, despite the compromises the band felt they made. 

The title to the song “Smoke on the Water” alludes to what the band saw when they woke up the morning they were supposed to start recording their new album. The hotel the members of Deep Purple were staying at in Switzerland was on the opposite side of the Lake Geneva Shoreline from where the Montreux was. When they looked out the hotel room window, all they saw was Smoke on the Water.

While it’s true that picture discs don’t have as good of sound quality as their pure vinyl counterparts, that doesn’t mean they sound bad. Unless you’re critically listening, the difference in sound quality is miniscule. To a collector, they are wonderfully rare and limited editions of their favorite albums.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Contrary to some accusations that have been made, Black Sabbath is not a devil worship band (I wouldn’t listen to them if they were). They originally called themselves “Earth”, but had to change their name after they discovered there was another band already using it. They chose to name themselves after the marquis on nearby movie theater, which was playing a Boris Karloff horror movie titled “Black Sabath”.

Because they didn’t want to be associated with the occult and devil worship, when it came time to re-release the album “Paranoid”, on vinyl in 2012, the band chose to press it on light blue vinyl instead of black vinyl to avoid any negatively dark connotations.

Actually, I’m making that last part up. I have no idea why it was pressed on light blue vinyl. But it does look pretty cool.

I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

In many ways, Grand Funk was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll – they got no respect.

Starting out as a power Trio from Flint, Michigan in 1969, Grand Funk Railroad, as they were known before they shortened their name on their seventh album, toped the charts album after album into the mid ’70s. Yet still they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1971, Grand Funk equaled the Beatles’ record setting concert venue attendance at Shea Stadium – but Grand Funk sold it out in 3 days whereas the Beatles took 3 weeks. Yet they were still panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1972, Grand Funk became a quartet, filling out their music by adding organ and keyboards. They became the sound of the working class in the United States – loud and proud and ready to take on the world. They defined arena rock and changed the music scene in ways they are rarely given credit for. They were the sound of Grit, Noise, and Revolution in the face of adversity. And still, they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

But their fans knew them, and they respected Grand Funk for what they were. 

They were an American Band.

Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” was released on yellow colored vinyl for its first pressings only. I admit, I was too young to know what Grand Funk was all about when this album was originally released. However, when I ran across this copy a few years back, I knew exactly what it was – a necessary addition to my record collection.

Walter Carlos – Switched On Bach

What do you get when you take the compositions of Baroque Era composer Johann Sebastian Bach and interpret them on the Moog synthesizer? That’s the question Walter (Wendy) Carlos was inspired to answer in 1968, shortly after the birth of the Moog synthesizer.

This album is one of my all-time favorites and, when I regrettably and ignorantly thinned down my record collection decades ago and started “upgrading” to CDs, this was one of those albums I never thought I would be released on CD, so I held on to it.

I love classical music. And although I tend to be more of a fan of the the faster solo oriented material from composers like Mozart, I still really love the heavier density of Bach’s compositions. In today’s heavy metal music, Bach would have been your AC/DC or Black Sabbath, while Mozart would have been more in the realm of solo shredders like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai.

Switched-on Bach is one of my all-time favorite albums because it took age-old classical compositions, songs that were familiar to so many, and explored them in ways that, up to that point, could never have been done. The performances of these songs are not a recomposition of what Bach had written. They are interpretations of his compositions as they were written, performed on a modern instrument that did not exist in his lifetime. I have no doubt that had the Moog synthesizer existed in Bach’s lifetime, he would have composed quite a bit of his music on it. It was a perfect fit. It took the genius and insight of Walter (Wendy) Carlos to first recognize this and bring the reality to fruition.

So you may be asking “why do I keep referring to the artist performing this music as Walter (Wendy)?” You see, to my surprise, this album was eventually released on CD, and I did eventually buy it. What I couldn’t help noticing, was that the album I had owned for many years was credited to Walter Carlos, while the CD was designated to the artist Wendy Carlos.

I have to admit, I didn’t really do my homework here to verify, but I’d lay odds on an operation being involved somewhere that resulted in this name discrepancy.

But that’s just a hunch.

Sweet – Give Us A Wink

Sweet was a band that never could really find who they wanted to be. But that’s not really a bad thing. In the wake of trying to find who they were as a band, they left a flood of great music. Hands down, “Give Us A Wink” was the hardest rocking album Sweet ever did. This was Sweet’s attempt at metal, and just like Led Zeppelin didn’t white nail reggae with their song “D’yer Mak’r” and Radiohead didn’t quite nail electronica with their album “Kid A”, sweet doesn’t quite nail metal here. But they come up with something that is so close, and at times, so much cooler.

There weren’t really any big hits off “Give Us A Wink”, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a phenomenal album. Sweet, up to this point has been restricted by their management and had a lot of their songs written for them. This was the album where they decided they were going to do what they wanted to do. And what they wanted to do was rock their asses off.

Sweet never holds back on this album. The “Action” starts with a synth leading into vocal arrangements that segues into distorted power chords, a cash register, and a great guitar solo (yes, I said a cash reister). It doesn’t let up until the last song on side one, and then only slightly. “Healer” could hardly be called a mellow song – it has more of a slow, eerie and then bluesy feeling.

My only gripe about this album is that the beginning to side two opens with “The Lies In Her Eyes” with its synthesizer opening that is a bit too familiar with “Fox On The Run”, a previous hit by Sweet. But the moment is short, but Sweet.

Cockroach has one of the coolest Reverb drenched drum intros of any song. It is is followed by “Keep It In” which is an unbelievably twisted Jam. This was the song where Sweet put out to prove that as musicians, they were a force to be reckoned with. This was followed by the album closer, “Fourth Of July”, which brings it down just a little (but not much).

Previous to this album, I had heard Sweet only on their two hits at that time, “Fox on the Run” and “Ballroom Blitz”. A girl that I was seeing for very brief time, had an 8-track tape of “Give Us A Wink” and gave it to me because she didn’t like it. I loved it.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti 

Most who grew up in the golden age of vinyl will be quick to claim that Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest bands ever. That’s a proclamation easily proven by their sixth album, “Physical Graffiti”.

Debuting at number one on both U.S. and U.K. record charts. 16 times platinum in the U.S. A double album that is ranked by Q magazine as the 28th greatest album of all time, and the 71st by Rolling Stone magazine. 

That in itself is impressive. But consider this: Almost half of the songs on Physical Graffiti were throw-aways from previous albums – 7 out of the 15 on it.

Now ponder that for a moment…

Five Led Zeppelin albums preceded Physical Graffiti. 

Five highly successful albums. 

They obviously didn’t omit the wrong songs. But the the songs Zeppelin threw away still blew away almost all the songs by any other band at that time. 

That’s a thought that blows me away every time I listen to Physical Graffiti.