Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell

There’s one reason an album becomes one of the greatest selling albums of all time.

Greatness.

The greatness of Todd Rundgren’s production.

The greatness of Jim Steinman’s songwriting.

The greatness of Meat Loaf’s performance.

It all comes together on “Bat out of Hell” with near perfect greatness, in a style that teams the angst and energy of Bruce Springsteen with the dramatics of a rock and roll broadway musical. The album has sold over 43 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling recordings of all time, and has spent over 500 weeks on the official UK record charts.

Pretty great no matter how you look at or listen ro it.

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

The second Roxy Music album.

I remember the first time I heard Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure”. Even more so, I remember hearing Brian Ferry’s ode to an inflatable doll, “In Every Home a Heartache”. I was not even a teenager at the time, so I’m not even sure if I entirely knew what the song was about, but its eerie feel and wicked psychedelic Phil Manzanera guitar solo at the end was all I needed to know the topic was rather offbeat – and I loved it, along with the rest of the record.

Actually, “For Your Pleasure” was the first time I had heard Roxy Music at all. I remember the radio station playing the album in its entirety because it had just been released and it was unlike anything I had ever heard at the time. It blew my mind every bit as much as what Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” had just a few weeks earlier, but in a totally different way. “For Your Pleasure” was more of an in-your-face experimental adventure, due mainly to Brian Eno’s creative genius on keyboards and his use of tape loops added to Chris Thomas’s edgy production. (as I would read the credits in the liner notes to numerous albums in the years following, I found Chris Thomas to be one of my all-time favorite producers).

Along with Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” dramatically shifted my musical listening habits from the pop songs being played on the local AM stations to the album oriented rock (AOR) on the FM dial; music that defined the most influential years of my life.

Japan – Exorcising Ghosts

Japan was a band from London, England that disintegrated at the height of their popularity and on the cusp of greater fame.

Starting out as a glam rock group in the late 1970s, with a sound influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music, they eventually became part of the New Romantic movement in Britain, which in the ’80s included the bands Duran Duran, A Flock of Seagulls, Spandau Ballet, and Ultravox, among others. Gaining a solid following in Europe and Japan as well as on their native turf, where they earned nine gold records, their popularity was just starting to take hold in Canada and the US, when personal conflicts drove the band apart.

“Exorcising Ghosts” was released two years after Japan broke up. It’s an excellent compilation that combines Japan’s British hits along with b-sides and some deeper cuts from their earlier albums. The 1984 album showcases how Japan’s music stood out from many of their contemporaries because of the rolling baritone voice of David Sylvan melding perfectly with the fretless bass of Mick Karn, the experimental keyboard extravagance of Richard Barbieri and precise yet intricate drumming by Steve Jansen. Those who bought the double album on vinyl were treated to five songs omitted from the single CD release.

I would later rediscover Richard Barbieri when he added his talents to Porcupine Tree in the ’90s right up until Steven Wilson went solo in 2008. Barbieri remains one of my all time favorite keyboardists today; just as “Exorcising Ghosts” remains one of my all time favorite albums.

Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

Kate Bush’s debut album came out in 1978, and I am dumbfounded that I never heard of her until three years later.

Flashback to Fort Campbell, 1981. There was a group of us soldiers that would take turns jamming in the barracks to songs we dug, in part, trying to wow each other with music the others hadn’t heard before. When one of the guys cued up “The Kick Inside”, I was beyond WOWed! I was mesmerised by the totally unique qualities and vocal range of Kate Bush’s voice. On top of that, her songs were intoxicating and amazing.

Now, no matter how much you listen to music, there will always be great out of the mainstream music that will slip past you. So that I missed noticing Kate Bush until 1981 didn’t surprise me. What did, was that she was discovered and highly supported at this early point of her career by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour who was, and still is today, my all-time favorite guitarists in my all-time favorite band. Not only that but “The Kick inside” was produced and arranged by Andrew Powell, from the Alan Parsons Project, another of my favorite bands. I’m usually good at following side projects and other doings of artists I really like, but I really felt I had dropped the ball here.

Three years. How had I not heard of Kate Bush? How had I never heard her amazing voice? How had I been totally oblivious to her incredible music?

But then I realized, the important thing was, now I had.

Pink Floyd – Live in NYC 1977

On July 7, 1977, Pink Floyd performed live at Madison Square Garden and somehow, someone in the audience was able to sneak in a good quality tape recorder to capture part of the show as it happened.

Maybe they had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. Maybe they gave a copy of the recording to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. The exact details will never be known.

The bottom line is that an unofficial (bootleg) recording of the concert was unofficially released on Pass to Dust, an Italian record label (unofficial releases are almost always released on Italian record labels). The recording is an amazing document of what an unbelievable live act Pink Floyd was at the time. “Live in NYC 1977″ captures Floyd performing their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here” live, in its entirety as the second half of their show that evening. Typical for Floyd, the first half of the night would have been their most recent album, “Animals” in its entirety, and the evening would have closed focusing on songs from Floyd’s masterpiece “The Dark Side Of the Moon”.

Is this a live recording to the standard of what an official Pink Floyd release would be? Hell no! This is from some dude who snuck a tape recorder into a Pink Floyd concert. But what it lacks in sound quality, it more than makes up for in content. Pink Floyd’s performance here is relentless and near flawless.

I wish I had an official recording of this performance but I honestly don’t know if one will ever exist, so I’ll take what I can get.

The Alan Parsons Project – Tales Of Mystery And Imagination

Okay, if you really want to win me over with your debut album, just take the stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe and interpret them as songs. Yeah, I’m gonna have to buy that album.

Sure there are only seven songs on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”; only seven of Poe’s tales…

…but it’s an entire album of Edgar Allan Poe interpreted by The Alan Parsons Project. My only gripe here is that it wasn’t a double album. Still, it’s the only album I know of that is entirely musical renditions of Edgar Allen Poe’s work. And it’s brilliant.

Thank you Alan Parson’s Project.

The Frost – Rock And Roll Music

Of all the Detroit bands that were ever poised to hit the national spotlight but remained hidden in the shadows from fame, The Frost were grandest.

Back in the ’60s through the ’90s, before the age of streaming, making it in the music industry meant signing a deal with a record label. More importantly, it meant signing a record deal with the right record label. Unfortunately, for The Frost, Vanguard was not the right label. Vanguard abandoned them with virtually no promotion for their albums. While their Detroit contemporaries at the time like Bob Seger, The MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, gained national fame, The Frost achieved a legendary status in Detroit and throughout Michigan, but remained relatively unknown anywhere else.

Except for Dick Wagner.

Dick Wagner was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and one of the chief songwriters for The Frost. He went on to work with Kiss, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and many others in rock and roll in the 1970s and ’80s. Dick Wagner’s influence has become legendary far beyond Detroit.

“Rock and Roll Music” encapsulates what The Frost’s music was all about. Hard rock, psychedelia, and blues. Half of the album was recorded in Vanguard’s studios in New York, and half was recorded live at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The studio material is good, but it’s the live performances here that really make this album stand out. The Frost were first and foremost, a live band.

Even though The Frost never saw the national fame of their contemporaries, that didn’t stop them from becoming highly influential to many national acts that came after them. Today, “Rock and Roll Music” is highly sought by record collectors across the U.S. and even overseas.

The Amboy Dukes – Journeys And Migrations

Before Ted Nugent, there was The Amboy Dukes.

Ted Nugent is probably known as much for his right-wing political activism and outspoken nature, especially when it comes to his support of the 2nd amendment to the U.S constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) as he is for his guitar playing. Whether or not you agree with Ted Nugent’s political views or like his in your face, sometimes brash nature, you can’t deny he is one of the best rock guitarists ever. It’s that incredible guitar playing that really makes “Journeys and Migrations” the great compilation that it is.

The album gets it title from The Amboy Dukes’ early albums “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Migration”. The Amboy Dukes only had one big hit in their existence from 1968 to 1965. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” from the album of the same name, pretty much represents the psychedelic sound of most of the songs featured here, although the band does occasionally wander into jazz, doo-wop, and hard rock territory.

In order to release their records in Great Britain, The Amboy Dukes had to change their name, since there was already a band performing there under the same name. Appropriately, they chose to call themselves The American Amboy Dukes.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

Rick Wakeman – The Six Wives Of Henry VIII

Self indulgent and virtuosic, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” is Rick Wakeman’s first solo record. As the title implies, the album is a collection of six songs, each representing the lives and characteristics of the 16th century’s King of England’s wives.

Wakeman wrote and arranged most of the music for this album while reading a book about Henry VIII while on tour with the bad Yes. Members of Yes are some of the backing musicians performing with Wakeman on this album. Members from Wakeman’s first band, The Strawbs, also make appearances.

Henry VIII is most remembered for the six wives he had during his reign and the annulment of his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon. The Pope, refusing to recognize the annulment prompted the start of the English Reformation when Henry VIII created the Church of England, breaking away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Even without the meaning behind each of the songs, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” is a joy to listen to just for Wakeman’s keyboard wizardry and the strength of his compositions that combine classical European with rock and roll. The underlying historic theme of the album just adds another layer to an already incredible solo record by Rick Wakeman.