I remember picking up Asia’s debut, self titled album without ever hearing a song on it. The only thing I knew about the band was who was in it – and that was enough for me. Carl Palmer, the drummer from Emerson Lake and Palmer; Geoffrey Downes and Steve Howe, keyboardist and guitarist respectively from Yes, and John Wetton bassist and vocalist from King Crimson. For members from three of my favorite bands.
I also remember that when I first heard Asia, I was initially, somewhat disappointed. To me, this was the supergroup to end all supergroups. And in a way it was – just not in the way I expected. This was the ’80s. This was the time of pop and polish – and reverb. Progressive rock was waning in popularity. Gone were the epics that took up an entire side of an album. Gone were the extended solos. The songs on Asia were short and concise compositions – songs designed to be hits. And there were many hits on this album.
After repeated listenings, I learned to appreciate this album for what it was. The members of Asia, having been in some of the most successful bands in the ’70s, wanted to have a successful album. They also wanted to keep their integrity as musicians and songwriters. Mission accomplished. Asia was the marriage of ’70s prog and ’80s pop music.
Listening to Asia’s first album now, I realize what a significant record it is. Although it has a somewhat overproduced, distinctly 1980s production style to it, which I am typically not a huge fan of, the musicianship on this album is exceptional. Typical to prog-rock, many of the songs mix loud and soft passages, tempo shifts, and interesting chord changes. Those elements were just more subtle than before, and mixed in with a bit of pop and polish – and reverb. Asia is a great album for what it was: a record that marked a turning point in rock and roll, for better or for worse.
For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of 80s pop music. I was more into alternative music back then. However, in the case of Toto’s fourth album I make a huge exception. This is an album that is great from start to finish. But then again, considering the musicians on it that’s not too surprising. If you read liner notes and credits on albums the way I do, even before Toto released their first album, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather would have been more than familiar names. Playing as session musicians, they performed on more albums, with more artists, than I have time to mention here. Even after Toto formed, its members continued to make individual appearances on albums by other bands.
It’s not surprising that so many artist would want them to lend their talents. The key members of Toto are perhaps some of the most versatile musicians to ever perform in rock and popular music. That versatility is what really shines on Toto IV. There is nearly something for everyone on this album. Rock, Soul, Funk, progressive rock, Hard Rock, jazz R&B, they’re all present in one manner or the other. It’s that combination that places Toto IV so far beyond nearly any other pop album from the eighties.
Most people probably think that Toto derived the name of the band from the dog in The Wizard of Oz. But according to an early interview with the band members, they actually got their name from the Latin phrase and “in toto”, which means “all-encompassing”. The band felt that phrase accurately described the diversity and Incorporation of so many different musical styles in their music.
Moods was an album that defined Neil Diamond. It contained a wide variety of material that made it universally enjoyable to listeners both old and young. It’s one of those albums that’s perfect to listen to on a warm summer afternoon or a brisk autumn morning. A great album for setting the tone to start off your day with a hot cup of coffee or to mellow out after a rough one sipping on a bourbon or a glass of wine.
Diamond once said he had a love-hate relationship with songwriting. He said he found it “extremely satisfying when it worked,” but hated that it “forces you to dig inside yourself.”
But it’s that digging that makes his music so good.
Comedian Eddie Murphy said it best back in the 1980s (and he wasn’t joking): Stevie Wonder is a musical genius.
Breaking onto the pop and R&B music scene at the age of eleven, and continuing with a span of incredible music for decades to follow, Stevie Wonder was an incredible songwriter, performer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. An undeniable talent that few in music can ever come close to.
If I had to name just one album to prove that point, it would without a doubt be Songs In The Key Of Life. Throughout the four sides of this double album are songs that are just as deep in their musical quality as they are in their lyrical content. This is one of those rare albums that really cannot be classified in just one genre. On it Stevie mixes pop, R&B, jazz, and soul along with sprinklings of other styles like reggae and Samba like no other artist could. Lyrically, it speaks in equal parts of the wonderous joy and beauty in the world, of faith and spirituality, and of the political and social misgivings of society.
If I had to pick just one favorite song from this album, I’d have to pick two: Sir Duke, the wonderful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington and Isn’t She Lovely, a joyously beautiful song written about Stevie’s newborn daughter.
Songs In The Key of Life has sold over 10 million copies and remains Stevie Wonder’s most successful album ever.