Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

Sometimes the very first presses of albums get packaged with little extras. Maybe this was to reward those who “got it” and were waiting for the artist’s next album, buying it virtually unheard because they knew they would like it; I don’t know. But it’s cool when they do it.

Elvis Costello’s first three albums helped define what became known as “new wave” music. It was a welcome change in direction of rock and roll that removed many of the corporate influences of the music in the late ’70s. New wave had a DIY attitude – similar to punk – that intentionally cut against the grain of convention while still incorporating more pop hooks. It would itself eventually be commercialized in the ’80s and re-branded as “alternative” rock.

“Armed Forces” followed in the wake of Elvis Costello’s debut “My Aim is True” and his sophomore record, “This Year’s Model”, which helped bring Costello, and New Wave, into the mainstream. Record buyers who rushed out to get “Armed Forces” were rewarded by an unexpected bonus – a promotional three song record slipped inside the cover with album. The songs on the bonus record were recorded live in 1978 at Hollywood High School in California.

All three of Elvis Costello’s first albums are considered ground-breaking classics today. All appear in Rolling Stones list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The magazine also ranked Elvis Costello one of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

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.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Every now and then, an album comes along that is so different from anything before it, you can’t decide if you really like it, or really don’t.
Forty years later, it still sits in my record collection, so I guess there’s no need to say where I eventually opined.

Since Devo’s debut album was produced by Brian Eno and David Bowie, with both of them saying, in essence, that this was the band of the future, I would have been a fool to not expect something different from the mainstream. I just had no idea how different.

Although their popularity lasted for only a few albums, Devo’s music, and most especially this album, changed popular music forever, ushering in “New Wave” music which, because of how distinctly different it was from mainstream rock, became a musical genre in and of itself – “Alternative”.

Like it or loath it, the influence “Are We Not Men” had on music can’t be denied.

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.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Paul McCartney may have released the most post-Beatles albums following the breakup of the fab four, but he didn’t record the best. George Harrison holds that esteemed honor with “All Things Must Pass”.

Released in 1970, “All Things Must Pass” is an incredible three record set that let Harrison spread his wings as an artist. The last three Beatles albums were a tumultuous time for the band. Through the ’60s, the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo were synonymous with The Beatles, By 1970 it would have been more accurate to refer to them as Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Ringo. Three individuals who felt strongly about what should be on the latter Beatles albums and one who just rolled with it. They all contributed songs, but not all made the cut. On the last three Beatles albums, some songs that Harrison felt strongly about were nixed for ones by Lennon and McCartney, getting the ax without much protest (he was after all, “the quiet one”). So when The Beatles dissolved in 1970 Harrison had solo material he was confident about and was ready to record. Writing a few more, he soon had enough for a second album.

Those two records were enough to establish “All Things Must Pass” as the best post-Beatles album, but Harrison added a third record.

Although it is labeled as side 5 and 6, the aptly titled “Apple Jam” stands apart, yet in cohesion with the other two disks. “Apple Jam” is a collection of long improvisational in-studio jams from the “All Things Must Pass” recording sessions. It feels more like a celebratory encore to the rest of the record than a continuation of the rest of the songs. On the first four sides of “All Things Must Pass” George Harrison was finally able to let his voice be heard; he was no longer “the quiet one”. Sides five and six sound like a celebration of that revelation and freedom.

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.

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.