Jefferson Starship – Spitfire

Replace a couple of key members from Jefferson Airplane and get a new lead singer with a smooth, almost crooning voice, and what do you get?

Jefferson Starship.

The third album by Jefferson Starship, “Spitfire” continued in the style of the two previous records by the band. Almost abandoned were the heavy psychedelic sounds and influences of Bohemianism from the Airplane days. They were replaced by a more rock, pop, and jazz oriented sound augmented with synthesizers and often fronted by the sultry vocal stylings of Marty Balin.

But “Spitfire” still had elements the were reminiscent of the earlier Jefferson Airplane. The most prominent being Grace Slick’s powerful voice and the wandering guitar solos of Craig Chaquico who manged to keep just a touch of psychedelia in his playing. It was a sound that proved successful for Jefferson Starship. Like “Red Octopus” the album before it, “Spitfire” sold over a million copies, giving the band yet another platinum record.

Hooters – One Way Home

When I think of underrated bands from the eighties, I think of first and foremost, the Hooters. Hailing from Philadelphia, the first two albums by the Hooters were pop/rock gems with a slick production that dripped of the ’80s. But anyone who had the good fortune to see them in concert knew this was not the true sound the Hooters represented. On “One Way Home” the Hooters captured a more rootsy, organic sound reminiscent of how they sounded live.

“One Way Home” still made use of synthesizers to create great pop hooks in a style that made their sophomore effort “Nervous Night” so successful, but they were mixed in with a wider array of other instruments. The guitar playing was grittier, especially with the solos, and there was more of a folk-rock/Americana feel to the songs. The lyrics are mostly meaningful and thought-provoking.

For reasons that elude me, “One way Home” did not fare as well in America as “Nervous Night” although it did still earn the Hooters another gold record. The album had better success in Europe, where The Hooters remain more popular today.

Muse – Drones

Muse has never been a band that has been afraid of trying something new. On “Drones” they showed they’re not worried about returning to familiar territory either. For their seventh studio album, Muse teamed up with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lang, best known for his work with Def Leppard, to make a more straightforward, hard rocking record.

The one thing that has always been consistent with all of Muse’s albums is its combination of hard rock, pop, and progressive rock. As they gained popularity, the band experimented heavily with orchestration on “The Resistance” and electronic music on its follow-up, “The 2nd Law”.  For “Drones”, Muse chose to keep things simple…well, simple in the terms of Muse. Although the music on “Drones” is noticeably stripped back compared to the two albums that came before it, it’s still as complex, innovative, and powerful as anything Muse has done before.

“Drones” has probably the most binding underlying concept of any Muse album, even venturing into rock opera territory. The songs on the album revolve around a story that in many ways parallels Queensrÿche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” – the attempt of a government or organization to brainwash or program someone into becoming a killing machine for them.  The one big difference is “Drones” definitely has a happier ending, with the protagonist defecting.

Wings Greatest

No matter what Paul McCartney record you cue up, you will always get a couple big hits that you hear regularly on the radio combined with some great deep cuts that you never hear except when you listen to that particular album. But sometimes you want to put on an album that just cuts right to the chase. That’s where Greatest Hits albums are…well, the greatest. And it’s hard to find a greater greatest hits album than “Wings Greatest”.

It’s funny how someone’s record collection can have one or two albums that seem to not fit in at all with the rest of them. I acquired “Wings Greatest” with a collection of about 100 albums that had been set out street side with a bunch of other stuff to be either picked by someone or picked up with the trash. I figured there would probably be no good albums in there, but it never hurts to look, so I grabbed the stack. As I flipped past all the Lawrence Welk, Sing Along with Mitch (Miller), and other undesired albums, there was “Wings Greatest”; the only rock album in the lot. I couldn’t help but wonder how it got in there with the others; it seemed so out of place. Then again, sifting through my collection, someone might wonder the same thing when they come across The Singing Nun, Liberace, or Ernst Tubb.

The J. Geils Band – Hotline

The J. Geils Band was always, first and foremost, a live band. That very well might have been their biggest reason for not achieving the success they deserved until their later albums.

I will never understand how some record labels can sign a band, yet do nothing to promote them. The J. Geils Band were in their early years, one of the most popular bands around in their hometown of Boston, MA and in Detroit, MI, and were known nationally for their high energy live performances. With a little push from Atlantic Records, their label during their early career, they could have easily broke out nationally. But because of their strength on the road, Atlantic Records seemed bent on having word of mouth from The J. Geils Band’s live reputation to do all the work; doing little to promote a band destined for success not only on the road but on their records.

Like the five albums before it, “Hotline” was a record that combined the strengths of the five exceptional musicians that were The J. Geils Band.  Seth Justman, who’s wizard-like keyboard talent was a dominant force on the earlier live Geils album “Full House”, and on “Blow Your Face Out” – the live record that followed “Hotline” – was also one of the primary songwriters, along with frontman Peter Wolf, who was a former high-energy Boston area Disk Jockey that left radio to join The J. Geils Band just before their first record. The Geils rhythm section was an incomparable combination of Daniel Klein (DK) on bass and Stephen Jo Bladd on drums, who both always seemed to know just when to throw in those little extra flourishes that gave a song that extra kick it needed at just the right time. Then there was J. Geils himself; a master blues guitarist with a tone so full and a style so fluid, he could swing between power rhythms and tight leads effortlessly; listening to him play, one couldn’t help but be in awe. And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: Magic Dick on harmonica, perhaps the best blues-harp player ever.

Once The J.Geils Band signed with EMI Records, they finally found themselves with a record label that was willing to throw just a little promotion behind them. Just a little was all it took.  The result was a string of The J. Geils Band’s most successful albums in their career. They finally got the success the had so long before deserved.

The J. Geils Band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018.  They have yet to earn the induction recognition they deserve, but I know one day they will.

The Best Of The Lovin’ Spoonful

Question: What does the 1960’s folk/blues rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful and the 1970’s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter” have in common?

Answer: John Sebastian.

Anyone who grew up in the ’70s probably remembers the sweathogs from TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter. If you remember the show, you undoubtedly remember the show’s theme song, “Welcome Back”, performed by John Sebastian, founder and former guitarist and singer for The Lovin’ Spoonful.

The Spoonful formed in the mid ’50s but didn’t release their first album until 1965. They had a solid string of hits that combined elements of folk, blues, and pop, from then until their breakup in 1969. In their early days, especially on their first album, The Lovin’ Spoonful had a heavy jug band influence. (Jug bands played their music on homemade instruments, the name derived from a jug that was sometimes blown into to keep the rhythm of the songs). That influence was less prominent on their later records but one or two jug band songs always made it to their albums.

The spoonful released their greatest hits album after three successful albums and a string of popular singles. Their best remembered song is probably 1967’s “Summer in the City”, which closes out their collection.

After their breakup, guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Sebastian had a somewhat successful career which included penning and performing the theme song to “Welcome Back Kotter”.

The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

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.

Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Herb Alpbert is the first artist to be signed to A&M records. Well, he wasn’t actually signed – he started A&M records, along with Jerry Moss as an independent label so he could release his music.

Originally there was no Tijuana Brass band. For his early records Herb Albert merely recorded his trumpet in the studio with numerous overdubs. Because of the unexpected popularity his music received, he eventually had to put together a band in order to tour. Although his music is not heard as frequently today as other artists from the 60’s, Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass had a perhaps the broadest popularity of any artist in music, crossing over to all generations of record buyers, making Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass one of the most successful bands in music history. They had five number one hits, sold over 72 million records, and won 9 Grammys. 1965’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” was one of their most successful albums selling over 6 million copies alone. A&M records also went on to become one of the most successful record labels ever.

The album cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” has become somewhat iconic, and has been copied by several recording artists through the years, sometimes in jest. It is immediately recognizable to record collectors.

Journey

When most people think of the band Journey, they think of the songs “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms”. When I think of Journey, I think of a band that had three distinct phases. Although those two songs are solid pop and classic rock songs, they sound almost nothing like Journey’s original phase.

The three phases of Journey were their progressive rock beginning, their middle Steve Perry years, and their later Jonathan Cain era. Although they are from Journey’s least successful era, I find myself listening to the band’s first three albums the most. Today, it’s Journey’s self-titled debut from 1975.

The members of Journey were exceptional musicians and that is what this and the two albums that followed it were all about. A combination of progressive rock with a touch of jazz fusion, the songs had longer instrumentals, fewer lyrics, and almost none of the vocal harmonies that became a staple of Journey’s sound once Steve Perry was in as vocalist. Also missing are the pop hooks of songs like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms” that dominated the band’s sound once keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rollie was replaced by his friend Jonathan Cain (from The Babys).

In their early years, Journey was all about hard rocking complex musical arrangements and intricate playing. Intense music that was meant to be intensely listened to.

Missing Persons – Spring Session M

I picked up “Spring Session M” by Missing Persons when it came out in 1981 because they had a really cool New Wave sound that I had started to get into. I had no idea they were also an offshoot from Frank Zappa’s band.

The name of their drummer, Terry Bozzio, rang a bell, but I couldn’t place where I had heard it before. The same went for guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and bassist Patrick O’Hearn. It wasn’t until I was listening to it with some Army buddies in the barracks at Fort Campbell when one of them said “this is so different from their stuff with Zappa, but I love it.”

I have to admit, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to who played with Frank Zappa through the years. I just paid attention to Zappa – but I guess not entirely. I recognized the names, so obviously something in my cranial gray matter had held onto them from a magazine article or album liner notes I had read at some point. After some digging, I found out that Missing Persons’ lead singer, the enigmatic Dale Bozzio (Terry’s wife at the time) had also sang vocals on Zappa’s album “Joe’s Garage”.

So, yeah, all but one of the members of Missing Persons (keyboardist Chuck Wild being the exception) had been a part of Frank Zappa’s band in the late ’70s. It’s no wonder I liked this album so much when I first heard it.

And I thought it was just because of the singles “Walking in L.A.”, “Destination Unknown”, and “Words”.