Simple Minds – Once Upon A Time

It took the Scottish band Simple Minds seven albums to finally achieve the success they deserved in the United States. The rest of the world just shook their heads and asked “what took you so long?”

Sure, there was the 1985 John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club” that first made a name for Simple Minds in the US with the single “Don’t You Forget About Me”. But that song just whet the US appetite. “Once Upon A Time” fed the craving for more. Sure, the album didn’t have “Don’t You Forget About Me” on it like I think most people expected when they bought it; that didn’t matter – it had “Alive and Kicking” which was even better. Plus, the other seven songs make up what is one of the most solid albums of the 1980s. The rest of the world had long known Simple Minds. Finally, the U.S. did too.

I have two copies of “Once Upon A Time” on vinyl. I bought the second copy because there were two different versions of this album cover. The cool thing about the two covers is they can be matched up to each other on every side. You literally could wallpaper an entire room with both copies of the album cover. While I do like Simple Minds a lot, I have to say that I’m not quite that big of a fan.

There are other noticeable differences between the two copies of the album in my collection. One copy is a Canadian record which means it is on the Virgin record label, like everywhere else in the world – except the United States. It was released on A&M Records here. While the Virgin label the rest of the world got on the record is very generic, the A&M verion in the U.S. was custom designed to match the gold splash behind the band’s name on the cover. That wasn’t the only difference. The US version is on colored vinyl (at least the first issue of it anyway) although it’s not immediately noticeable. I had my copy for years before I realized that if you hold it to a bright light, the light will actually shine through revealing the album’s true golden-brown translucent color.

Vinyl can be full of surprises.

Sonny & Cher – Greatest Hits

I guess I can hold a grudge sometimes. I don’t think I ever forgave Sonny and Cher for getting divorced and never bought a single solo record by Cher, even though I did like many of her songs.

I remember when I first heard that Sonny and Cher were divorcing in 1974. It was somewhat devastating to me. I had grown up with their songs from the time I was very small and regularly watched their TV variety in the early to mid ’70s. I remember that although they made fun of each other on the show, they seemed so in love – Just like my parents did. How could they have been that much in love and just let it fall apart. What if that happened to my parents?

Yeah, I took Sonny and Cher’s breakup kind of personal (and not because Sonny was born in Detroit) and for whatever reasons, I blamed it on Cher. I didn’t want to like the music from Cher’s solo career, even though I did. I think I subconsciously boycotted her records. I always hoped Sonny would have a successful solo career, but that never happened. True, Cher had the better voice, but Sonny had more talent, writing and arranging many of the duo’s hits (even at a young age, I paid attention to those things). He even continued to write hit songs for Cher’s solo career after their divorce.

Eventually, Sony Bono went into politics, becoming a California congressman until he died in a ski accident in the ’80s. At his funeral, Cher did a very emotional eulogy for him and later, made statements that showed she still had a deep devotional love for him, despite both of them remarrying. I guess I finally forgave her after that.

Styx – Cornerstone

Although Cornerstone, the ninth studio album by Styx, still held on somewhat to the band’s progressive rock beginnings, the shift to more pop oriented songs was obvious.  The musical landscape was in the US was changing as the 1970s merged into a new decade and Styx’s music was changing with it.  Styx seemed to almost declare the change with Borrowed Time,  which kicks off side two with Dennis DeYoung declaring “Don’t look  now, but here come the ’80s”.

Cornerstone gave Styx their first and only number one hit with Babe.  Shortly after the power-pop balkad came out, it seemed you couldn’t turn the radio for an hour without hearing it.  I have to say, I started to grow sick of the song after a while.  Listening to it now, I can again appreciate the beauty and tenderness of the song, which Dennis DeYoung wrote for his wife.

“Boat on the River” has always been one of my favorite tracks on Cornerstone.  Although it was an overlooked song in the United States, it remains Styx’s biggest hit in Europe.

U.S. Military P.S.A. Radio Programs

Memorial Day is a day the United States recognizes the members of its military who gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms many of us take for granted. I hear a lot of grumbling about the injustices many feel there are in the U.S. I do a fair bit of that grumbling myself from time to time. But consider this: What if you lived in a country where that grumbling against your country could get you thrown in jail or even executed for treason? Despite the injustices that still exist in this country, we are allowed the right to protest against those injustices and set in motion the wheels of change. This is one of the greatest freedoms Americans have; one that many civilians in the United States take for granted. It is a freedom that many have died to defend and preserve.

In honor of those brave men and women, some whom I have had the honor to serve with back in the 1980s, I am today listening to some old US Army and Marines public service radio programs that were meant to help recruiting efforts in the 1970s, after the military stopped the involuntary draft. Basically, these were musical radio programs that ran for a half hour block, during which the disc jockey on the record would interject military recruiting public service announcements in between the songs. Most of the time, programs like these were disposed of by the radio station shortly after being broadcast … but not always.

I recently picked up this small collection of programs from former Detroit broadcaster who was retiring and moving down south. The songs are a collection of rock and pop songs, mostly from the 60s and 70s that bring me back to the days of my youth and teens. and the DJ’s announcements in between the songs couldn’t be more relevant than they are today, Memorial Day.

The Very Best Of The Ventures

Talk about bringing back memories of my childhood. I think my parents had every Ventures album that ever came out when I was growing up. I used to listen them so much, I’m surprised I didn’t take up surfing when I got older.

The Ventures were the epitome of instrumental surf music. My favorite songs by them are all here: “Walk Don’t Run”, “Tequila”, “Wipe Out”, and of course, the theme from “Hawaii Five-O”.

Perhaps the memory that makes me smile the most is taking the toy rifle my parents had bought me as a present and instead of playing Army or cops and robbers with it, I would pretend it was a guitar and that I was playing the along. I even had a routine during “Wipe Out”, where I would jump off the couch in true rock and roll style, with my arm flailing at my toy gun/guitar for the solo in “Wipe Out”.

Ahhh, the memories…

Queen – Jazz

With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.

I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.

Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.

Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.

All of them women.

All of them naked.

Yeah, that was most unexpected.

T. Rex – Electric Warrior

In 1971, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the folk rock beginnings of his band, T. Rex, and try something different. “Electric Warrior” ended up becoming one of the most influential albums of that decade, ushering in the era of glam rock.

Glam rock was about unabashed shamelessness. Whimsical lyrics, pop hooks with a rock edge, and flamboyance were its key ingredients. On “Electric Warrior”, Bolan mixed those ingredients together with seemingly reckless abandon and came up with a recipe that would influence the likes of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Roxy Music and countless others. It was the foundation of what became called “new wave”, and later “alternative” music. Although “Electric Warrior” only had one big hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, it’s influence on modern music is indisputable and still resonates through popular music today.

David Essex – Rock On

David Essex is another one of those artists who was a one-hit-wonder in the United States but had much larger success in the UK. That’s probably due in part because David Essex hails from Great Britain but some might argue that it’s because the Brits have broader, better tastes in music.

Although the single “Rock On” was Essex’s only big hit in the US, in the UK the popularity of his albums and singles continued on through the ’90s. “Rock On” wasn’t even his biggest hit across the ocean. It only hit #3 on the UK charts in 1973 (#5 in the US). He had two UK chart-toppers in the years that followed.

The J. Geils Band – Monkey Island

So what do you do when you signed a contract with a new record label but still owe your current label one more album? If you’re The J. Geils Band, you make a record that departs from what you’ve done before and try something new. What have you got to lose?

Even though it still sounded like The J. Geils Band, “Monkey Island” deviated heavily from the influences the band drew from on their six previous records. Perhaps to mark the departure in style, the band chose to shorten their name to simply “Geils” for “Monkey Island”. It is the only record of theirs to use this abbreviated name. It’s also the only album that they used a horn section, a group of background singers, and a string section.

Departing from the sound of their previous albums, “Monkey Island” plays more heavily on funk and soul than any other album Geils ever did before or after. They even try their hand (rather successfully) at a little doo-wop, with the song “I Do”. Although never released as a single, that song became a radio mainstay in the Detroit area, where Geils had their strongest following outside of their hometown of Boston. A live single of “I Do” would later be released from The J. Geils Band’s third and final live album, “Showtime”. Appropriately, that version was recorded at Pine Knob Music Theater near Detroit.

Although “Monkey Island” remains one of the least commercially successful albums by the J. Geils Band, probably because of it straying from what was expected from them at the time, it remains one of my favorite albums by them, for that very same reason.

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Back in the day, when a friend told you how good an album was, it didn’t mean you would necessarily like it. It just meant they did. Unless they could play it or the local radio stations would promote it, you still took your chances when you bought it. One man’s trash is a nother’s treasure. But today, there’s the Internet, where you can easily check out almost any new band. So when I bought “A Deeper Understanding”, the major label debut by The War on Drugs last year, I knew I was going to love it.

The songs on “A Deeper Understanding” are mostly mid-tempo with a low-key feel to them. They have an edginess to them, but never go over-the-top. Easy to listen and relax to but exciting at the same time. Thoughtful and introspective lyrics are perfectly matched to the music by The Adam Granduciel’s slightly breathy, somewhat raspy vocal style. This is an album that can be motivating or relaxing; it depends on how you want to listen to it at the time.

After listening to “A Deeper Understanding” the first couple times I couldn’t help but wonder why music like this isn’t more popular. It seems to rarely achieve main-stream recognition or success. Then, a couple of weeks after buying it, I leaned it was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2017 Grammys. It won. A well deserved award and a great achievement for te first major label album by a band.

I’m look looking forward to The War On Drugs’ second one.