Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

Blue Öyster Cult – Tyranny And Mutation

One of the cool things about some early albums by bands that later hit it big is listening to them trying to find their sound. While there are elements of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, “Godzilla”, and “Burning For You”, Blue Oyster Cult’s second album “Tyranny and Mutation” goes in directions that at times barely sound like the same band as their later big hits.

Blue Öyster Cult eventually became best known for their hard rock, pop tinged, progressive rock sound. But on their first couple albums, the songs were edgier and more aggressive. “Tyranny and Mutation” opens with the speed metal shredding on “The Red and the Black” and it never lets up from there.
This is BÖC sounding rougher around the edges, even occassionally infringing on punk and garage rock territory. Combined this with progressive rock and psychedelia and you end up with one of Blue Öyster Cult’s best records, yet one that is often overlooked in their catalog.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

I have a bit of extra time this morning before work, so I figured I’d put on a double album. Not just any double album, but one of the heavy hitters of rock and roll; a double album that anyone who loves rock and roll needs to listen to before they die.

With its combination of rock, blues, jazz, funk, and psychedelia, “Electric Ladyland” had numerous hit songs for The Jimi Hendricks Experience including their most successful song, “All Along the Watchtower”, a cover version of a Bob Dylan song. Bob Dylan also had a hit earlier with his folk oriented version of the song.

Jimi Hendrix was very much known for being a perfectionist in the studio. With the recording of “Electric Ladyland” Chaz Chandler became so frustrated with the multiple takes Hendrix was demanding (drummer Mitch Mitchell reportedly recorded at least 50 takes for one of the songs) the producer of The Experience’s previous records quit near the beginning of the “Electric Ladyland” sessions, prompting Hendrix produce the album himself. Hendrix’s perfectionism obviously paid off, as this third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was their most successful record.

Because of the cost and hassle of booking studio time for all the takes Hendrix demanded during the recording of Electric Ladyland, Hendrix decided to build his own recording studio of the same name afterwards. Unfortunately, Hendrix would record only one song at the Electric Ladyland studio – the short but sweet instrumental “Slow Blues” – before his untimely death in 1970. The song remained unreleased until its inclusion in a retrospective Jimi Hendrix Experience box set that was released in 2000.

Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.

Montrose

Montrose was an album that refused to flop.

Throughout the early ’70s, Ronnie Montrose had distinguished himself as one of the most in-demand session guitarists in America. During that time, he played on more highly successful rock albums than I can count on both hands…and feet. He eventually joined The Edgar Winter Group but left them after their first record to form his own band, Montrose, whose debut album came out in 1973. The album was…well, it kind of flopped.

At first.

Although “Montrose” didn’t have a huge initial impact when it was released, its reputation became notorious among heavy metal fans and the record’s sustained polarity led to it eventually selling over a million copies. It remains today considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

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!