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.

Santana – Abraxas

Q. What do you get when you combine Latin rhythms, psychedelic rock, and one the best guitarists of all time?

A. The second album by Santana, 1970’s “Abraxas”.

Like many artists, Santana’s music has changed through the years, morphing with the times. No matter what era you of Santana you listen to, one constant is the infusion Latin, blues, jazz, and rock and roll music.

Santana went into the studio to record “Abraxas” shortly after performing what was one of the most highly regarded performances at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival (considered by many to be second only to the unforgettable closing set by Jimi Hendrix). Consequently, the band’s confidence level was high (as were the band members themselves most likely) resulting in what is arguably the best of Santana’s early work.

Although the cover artwork perfectly fits the Latin and psychedelic feeling of Santana’s music on this album, it was actually painted by a German born artist, Mati Klarwein. The painting, which wraps around to fill half of the back cover as well, is considered by many to be one of the best album covers of all time. Because of its extravagant detail, it can only be truly appreciated in the larger size of the original 12 inch vinyl.

Rick Wakeman – The Myths And Legend Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

“Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil, is the true born king of all Britain.”

And so begins Rick Wakeman’s third solo record; a brilliant combination of progressive rock keyboard wizardry and symphonic and choral music. “The Myths and Legend of King Arthur…” was praised as a masterpiece by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by some critics as an example of progressive rock pretentiousness. Rick Wakeman was a workaholic professional composer and performer who had few if any combined technical and creative equals in modern music. I say, if you got it, flaunt it. To call Wakeman’s compositions pretentious is calling Mozart’s extravagant or Bach’s baroque compositions excessive.

Rick Wakeman lived for music and music lived through him. His music is not for everyone, but then, never is the work of any visionary artist. This is not party music. This is not play it in the background music. This is sit down and appreciate the artistry and virtuosity music. Appreciate it because there are few ever born who can compose music this grandiose and expressive. Artists like Wakeman don’t try to compose music. The compositions live within them and they need to let them out. Even if they are trapped in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack, they would have someone bring them a tape recorder so they could hum the music into it so it wouldn’t be lost and could be recorded later; wich is how much of this album was initially composed.

My sincerest thanks go out to the former Detroit television meteorologist and music lover who, through a good friend I met today after finding out he was parting with his valued record collection. I picked up many gems today. Records that will be cherished every time I listen to them. It was a pleasure meeting and talking about music with you.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out At Night

Edgar Winter was an amazingly talented composer and musician. I found myself being reminded of this when I heard the instrumental “Frankenstein” on the radio the other day. Of course, I had to cue up the album when I got home.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you hear a song all the time on the radio you stop really listening to it because you’re always hearing it. That was the case with me and The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. For some reason, when I heard it that time, for the first time in a long time, I listened to it again. It was like running into an old, long-lost friend.

“Frankenstein” is truly an amazing song and a very groundbreaking one when it came out. One of the most amazing parts of “Frankenstein” is the duet between drummer Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter on the synthesizer. At its crescendo, Edgar Winter is twisting and turning the knobs for the oscillators on the synth to keep perfect pitch and synchronization with the drums. At times they seem like one instrument, but there’s just enough deviation to remind you that you’re listening to a duet, not a solo. Plus, synthesized drums really didn’t exist in that capacity back then.

But one song does not make a great album, and “They Only Come Out at Night” with its variety of styles ranging from the melodic pop of “Autumn” to the island sounds of “Alta Mira” to blues rockers like “Undercover Man” to the party tunes “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” to “We all Had a Really Good Time” to the hard rocking other big hit off the album, “Free Ride”, this is a great album that is always ready to be played when I need something to get me moving.

Oh, and speaking of “Free Ride” I feel it necessary to point out to my fellow Detroit rockers who may not be aware, that the drummer on that song is none other than John “The Bee” Badanajek from The Rockets and Mitch Ryder fame.

Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Kansas – Two For The Show

“Two for the Show” by Kansas is about as perfect as a live album can get. Recorded right after their two most successful studio albums, Kansas was at the height of their popularity and were drawing huge crowds at arenas across America. Feeding off of the energy of the crowds, Kansas sound like an unstoppable progressive force that wanted nothing more than to leave the audiences in awe.

To that point, it didn’t hurt their cause that the popularity of “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return”, which came out just before this double album set, had gained Kansas a huge new fan base and provided them with plenty of well-known songs to play at their concerts and include here. Half of the songs on “Two for the Show” are from those albums. The other half are deep cuts from their first three albums that were meant to please their long time fans.

What really makes “Two for the Show” so exceptional though, is the playing. If there was ever any doubt, Kansas proves here that they were not just a studio band. They could perform their complex compositions just as well live; even better at times, extending solos out beyond what was in the original version. And then there’s Steve Walsh’s voice…definitely one of the most incredible vocalists ever in rock and roll.

“Two for the Show” is Kansas at their best; an album of live progressive rock perfection.

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Trilogy

When most people think of rock and roll instruments, they think of the guitar. probably because most rock bands used guitar as the main lead instrument. Most, but not all.

Even though Greg Lake from Emerson Lake and Palmer did occasionally pick up a guitar, it was not his primary instrument. Greg Lake was first and foremost a bassist. When he left King Crimson to join forces with Keith Emerson, keyboardist from The Move, and Carl Palmer, drummer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, to form the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, guitar was a secondary thought. “Trilogy”, ELP’s third album, was proof that rock bands didn’t need to be all about the guitar.

The only significant guitar work on “Trilogy” is on “From the Beginning”, the only single released from the album. While only a fool would deny that it is impressively beautiful guitar work, it’s still the synthesizer work at the end of the song that steals the show. And stealing the show is what “Trilogy” seems to focus on; not just for Keith Emerson’s keys, but equally for Greg Lake’s ripping bass lines and Carl Palmer’s powerful, yet intricate percussion.

“Trilogy” was an album that was a team effort for ELP. It is an album that focuses on the virtuosity of all three members, not just one. That is what made ELP such a fantastic band. Each of the members was such a master of their individual instrument that a band could have been formed around each of them alone; but to have them all in one band together, focusing on their trilogy of talent was amazing.

Emerson Lake and Palmer released a couple of good albums before “Trilogy”, but this is the record where everything first fell perfectly into place for them. This was the album where Emerson Lake and Palmer stopped being former members of other bands and became a collectively combined force of three great musicians – a trilogy…in which guitar was not the primary instrument.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

I had a couple of friends recommend that I listen to Jack White’s latest album, “Boarding House Reach”, before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I did…

I bought it.

Some years back, Jack White relocated to Nashville, but he still holds a strong affinity to his roots in Detroit. With its deep R&B hooks, heavy production, and adventurous compositions, “Boarding House Reach” effortlessly makes a way stronger connection with Detroit than anything the Nashville music scene is known for. Overall, “Boarding House Reach” is Jack White’s most fractured album to date, having much less consistency than his previous solo records or any of his work with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, or Raconteurs. That’s why I loved it when I first heard it. The music went places White hadn’t gone before – many different places.

Like David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and a handful of select others before him, Jack White is a true artist. True artists take risks. They make statements with their craft. They don’t give a sh!t about holding to convention or what is expected. They don’t try to do something that no one expects or might be ready for; it just happens. That is what best describes “Boarding House Reach”. It just happens.

And it just happens to be Jack White’s best album to date.

Supertramp – Even At The Quietest Moments

“Even at the Quietest Moments” first grabbed my attention by the picture on the album cover. It’s not everyday you see a snow-covered piano in the mountains. That picture was in part, what inspired me to move away from 8-track tapes and start buying vinyl records.

I had never heard of Supertramp when I first saw “Even at the Quietest Moments” in the record store. I had actually gone there to buy a different album, but their name and the cover art stuck in my head. Before I could listen to what I had bought just a short while before, a song came on the radio that made me regret spending all the money I had on the other 8-track I was about to listen to. The opening chords played on a 12-string guitar stopped me in my tracks. As I listened to the rest of the song, I wished I left the record store with whatever album that song was on. The radio DJ later told me the song was “Give a Little Bit” and the album was “Even at the Quietest Moments” by Supertramp; the album with the snow-covered piano in the mountains. I knew it would be the next album I bought – on 8-track tape.

8-tracks tapes were convenient for music because you could play them in your car, but as far as for the cover artwork, well, 8-tracks had a sticker with a low quality tiny version of the album cover slapped on them; it just didn’t have the same impact as the full-size vinyl record. I decided that I needed to save up and buy a new stereo, with a good turntable. Sure, I had to put off buying some albums for a while, but it was so-o-o-o worth it, especially when I listened to my first record on it. It would be so poetic to say the first album I bought was “Even at the Quietest Moments” but it wasn’t (it was “Infinity” by Journey) but it was one of the firsts.

I have never gone without a turntable since i bought my first. Until I cued up the needle gor the first time, I didn’t realize how much I was missing with 8-tracks’ or any other format. It was a night and day difference, because vinyl records aren’t limited to just the audible. Just like seeing a concert, or opera, or ballet expands a live performance of music, so does the artwork of a recorded album expand the musical experience beyond just listening.

“Even at the Quietest Moments” will always be one of my all time favorite albums…and album covers.