Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

“Deadwing” is essentially the soundtrack to a film that has yet to be made. Whether it ever is, remains to be seen. Steven Wilson wrote most of the songs on it as music meant to accompany a screenplay he had written with director David Bennion. Although they were unable to get funding for the film, Wilson decided to record and release the songs in 2005 as part of Porcupine Tree’s eighth album, “Deadwing”. Because he still hopes to have the film made, Wilson has never released all the details of the storyline or the concept behind the songs.

From the songs on “Deadwing”, it’s easy to deduce that the story has a somewhat dark theme to it. The album artwork was also created around the story and has that kind of feel to it and Steven Wilson has confirmed that the songs on “Deadwing” tell a ghost story of sorts. Both Wilson and Bennion have remained fairly tight-lipped about the “Deadwing” storyline, although they did make the first fifteen pages of the screenplay available on the Internet:

Reading experience part one: DEADWING script by Steven Wilson & Mike Bennion (first 15 pages)

I don’t know a lot about the movie making process, but I have to guess that as more time passes, the likelihood of the film “Deadwing” ever being made becomes slimmer and slimmer. Even if the movie never happens, I’m glad Steven Wilson decided to release “Deadwing” as an album. It would have been a tragedy to leave music this good unheard.

Supertramp – Breakfast In America

Oh, those crazy conspiracy theorists.  Sometimes it seems the stuff they can conjure up and  try to piece together is amazing. For example,  did you know that the cover art to Supertramp’s 1979 album “Breakfast in America” was an attempt by the Masons to subliminally prepare us for the future 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center? Its true, at least according to a 2016 video posted by one such theorist.

According to the video, Stanley August Miesegaes was a 33rd degree Mason who hid clues about the future imminent attack in  his cover artwork for “Breakfast in America”. The cover, which is one of the most well-known from popular music, shows a waitress posing as the Statue of Liberty with the New York city skyline, depicted by various breakfast items, behind her.

According to the video, one of the clues is the “Masonic” pendant the artist is wearing in a picture taken of the artist. Also, there’s the glass of orange juice that marks the Twin Towers as the target of the event to come, and its color is emblematic of the fireball that would later engulf the buildings. Another clue is that the bottom of the “U” and “P” in the band’s name are cut off and consequently, when viewed in a mirror, resemble 911, the planned date of the attack. Also, planes were used in the attacks and the cover art is clearly shown from the perspective of sitting in a plane.

If that’s not “proof” enough for you, well, just watch the video for yourself.

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 Sabath, 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!

Journey – Captured

It’s funny how you never forget your firsts. Journey was my very first concert and I remember it like it was yesterday. My two best friends and me, the legendary Cobo arena, my favorite band at the time at the height of their popularity, and a foot-long “torpedo” of contraband that was fired up when Journey took the stage (thank you EZ Wider Unrolling Papers).

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of surprised I remember any of it at all; but I do. Vividly. It was musical experience I will never forget and still ranks as one of the best concerts I have ever been to. Some of songs on this album were “Captured” at Cobo Hall, so I just might be on this record.

Yeah, I think that’s me right there! 😅

I guess I’m on a live music kick, I just realized this is the third album in a row I’ve chosen to listen to that is a concert recording. Oh well, I always felt rock and roll is best when it’s performed live.

Fillmore: The Last Days

Today, the Fillmore is a pretty popular concert venue in Detroit. Maybe that name is used in other cities now days as well. I don’t know. What I do know – and what a lot of the younger music lovers around today may not know – is that the name “Fillmore” was taken from a couple of legendary concert venues from the ’60s and early ’70s that were run by a man who was perhaps the greatest concert promoter who ever lived: Bill Graham.

Bill Graham was a German holocaust survivor who fled to France and later immigrated to the United States. He was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who more than anything, respected artistic expression; and believed in the power of music. To help promote the emerging music scenes in the ’60s he opened The Fillmore concert hall in San Francisco. It became the premier venue for bands to play in the United States. Without the Fillmore, the world would probably have never heard the music of Santana, Janis Joplin, Bos Scaggs, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and many more performers who are hugely influential in pop and rock music today.

Bill Graham is also responsible for the one other thing I collect besides records and CDs – concert tour posters. He would commission local artists to create unique artwork for promotional posters advertising specific shows at his venues. Along with a 32 page historical book, This three record box set also includes a replica of the poster that was used to promte the final shows at the Fillmore.

Bill Graham was a man who believed there could be a balance between financial success and artistic expression. Unfortunately, following the Woodstock festival in 1969, the record companies realized that rock and roll was big business and the intimacy of moderately sized concert halls like the Fillmore gave way to the larger arena rock shows. Knowing the smaller venues couldn’t compete, Bill Grahasm threw in the towel and made the business decision to close the Fillmore in 1971. He continued to promote bands and concerts into the ’80s. In 1985, he and Bob Geldoff organized Live Aid, a series of concerts that were perrformed and broadcast around the world to raise millions of dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia.

“Fillmore: The Final Days” captures the music of the bittersweet days that marked the end of a philisophical and musical era. It is a memoir of a unforgettable era in music.

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick

“Thick as a Brick” was Jethro Tull’s follow up to their breakthrough album “Aqualung” and it was a joke. But that was the point.

Progressive rock was at the height of its popularity when Jethro Tull released their fourth album, “Aqualung”. While Ian Anderson and the rest of the band members considered “Aqualung” to be merely a collection of songs, music critics tried to relate all the songs together and constantly referred to it as a grand concept album in their reviews. Feeling the critics were obsessed with concept albums, Jethro Tull decided to give them something to write about; fabricating the most grandiose of progressive rock concept albums. And thus was born Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock.

Gerald Bostock was only 8 years old when he wrote his epic poem, “Thick as a Brick”. It won a highly distinguished poetry contest in Britain. However, the poem was later disqualified because it was decided that it presented an “extremely unwholesome attitude towards life, his God and country”. On top of that, after reading his poem on the BBC, Little Milton used a four-letter expletive during the interview that follwed. The whole situation created a huge controversy in the art community, as well as with general public. Jethro Tull decided to use Bostock’s poem as the lyrics to their new album, putting it to music.

But none of that really happened. Gerald Bostock didn’t even exist, even though Jethro Tull gave him writing credits for the lyrics on the album. The lyrics were actually written by Jethro Tull’s front man and flutist Ian Anderson.

The original release of “Thick as a Brick” came in a rather elaborate package which included pages from a newspaper inside. Among other stories in the paper, there was of course, an article about the whole Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock controversy.

A lot of critics and record buyers didn’t get the joke at first. They thought the whole story “Thick as a Brick” story was real. I’m sure most people who were gullible enough to fall for the hoax never admitted it afterwards. But the critics who wrote about it…well, I guess the joke was on them.

Alice Cooper Goes To Hell

“Alice Cooper goes To Hell” is the continuation of the “bedtime story” that started on Alice’s previous album “Welcome to My Nightmare”. The album tells the story of Alice’s unwanted descent into the depths of the underworld and his attempt to escape through influencing the dreams of Steven, a character introduced in a song on Cooper’s previous record.

Ironically, “Alice Cooper Goes To Hell” paralleled Alice Cooper’s real decent into the lowest depths of his life as it was being consumed by alcoholism. The tour for this album would end up being canceled because of his failing health and Cooper had himself committed to rehab, which at that time, meant being committed to a mental asylum. Cooper’s subsequent album, “From the Inside”, would be written about his experience there.

Cooper maintains his sobriety to this day, finding his refuge in both his music and golf. I heard him joke in an interview a while back that with golf, he traded one addiction for the other. Good trade.

Alice Cooper continues his musical career to today. He released his 27th album “Paranormal” last year and will be playing the role of King Herod in a televised stage performance of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” this Easter Sunday.

The Who – Tommy

In 1969, with the release of “Tommy”, The Who set the standard for a rock opera, and they set the bar high.

I always appreciated concept albums and more especially, rock operas. There has got go be so much more involved in making a cohesive collection of songs that revolve around a singular concept; even more so for telling a specific story compared to just a collection of songs. You have to constantly try to find that balance between keeping the story interesting and understanable while keeping the songs individually understandable and, more importantly, enjoyable.

While finding that balance could seem an undaunting, nearly impossible task, The Who made it look easy with “Tommy”. The album revolves around the main character who, while very young observes an incident so traumatic it renderes him mentally blind, deaf, and dumb (for those raised before the age of political correctness, “dumb” meant “mute”). He is eventually broken out of his isolateed shell, and his awakening is viewed by society as a miracle. Tommy begins to view himself as a new Messiah but he is quickly brought back to reality when his followers rebel against his authoritarianism.

One of the things that impressed me about the recording of “Tommy” is that when presented with the demos and concept, the record company wanted to have the band record it with full orchestration. But The Who refused to make the album with any instruments the four band members were not able to play themselves. For that reason, the album has a somewhat stripped down sound.

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

A vague story of self discovery, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” was the last album done by the original lineup of Genesis. Peter Gabriel, who authored the concept behind the double album, would leave Genesis shortly after its release. Lead guitarist Steve Hackett would leave a couple albums later.

Gabriel’s departure didn’t come as a total surprise to the band. There were tensions brewing going into the recording sessions and they escalated before the record’s completion. Peter Gabriel felt he was being held back creatively and the other band members felt they weren’t being allowed enough creative input. In short, the split was unavoidable and amicable.

Unlike many band splits, this breakup was actually a good thing for both parties. Peter Gabriel would go on to release several critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums and Genesis would achieve their greatest critical and commercial success without him. Plus, as is almost always the case when there are creative struggles within a band, the album that came from the turmoiled recording sessions was phenominal.

It would be impossiblw for me to pick my favorite Genesis album. There is a noticeable distinction between their different eras, and each of the eras offer something unique. But if I had to recommend one album from the original lineup of Genesis – well, that’s easy – it would be “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”.