The Honeydrippers – Volume One

It’s a shame there wasn’t ever a Volume Two.

Robert Plant had always had a desire to perform in a uccessful rhythm and blues band. So he dug up his old friends Jimmy Page, whom he had played with in Led Zeppelin, and Jeff Beck, who had played with Page in The Yardbirds. And thus in 1981, with the help of some session musicians, The Honeydrippers were formed.

Featuring Plant singing in his best crooning voice on “Sea of Love”, which hit number three on the Billboard charts, and the more upbeat “Good Rockin at Midnight”, another top 40 hit, the EP was a huge success for The Honeydrippers.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders why there never was the “Volume Two”. Maybe they just felt it was better to leave everybody wanting more.

Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic

Aerosmith’s third album, “Toys in the Attic” was a huge success for them. It was also the album where the band had to really prove its songwriting ability – and they did. 

Aerosmith’s two previous albums, “Get Your Wings” and their eponymous debut, both consisted almost exclusively of songs the band had written and performed live before going into the studio. For “Toys in the Attic” they had nothing except a few bits and pieces of songs that they had come up with during sound checks while touring. They basically had had to do everything from scratch on this album and were under pressure from the record company to release a new record. 

Almost all the songs on “Toys In The Attic” were either written by, or fleshed out by Aerosmith while in the studio. The two exceptions being “You See Me Crying” which was co-written by Steven Tyler and Don Solomon and “Big Ten Inch Record” which was a cover version of a song originally performed by blues and R&B saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson. 

Big ten inch record is a song about an old blues record that a girl is very enthralled a girl, but the phrasing of the lyrics also gave the innuendo of it being about the singers private parts. This led lot of people to think that in the song, Steven Tyler sings  “sucked on my big ten inch”, but according to Tyler, he’s actually singing “‘cept on my big ten inch”. Which is it really? I have my opinion, but you’ll have to listen to the song and decide for yourself.

Jeff Beck – Wired

Jeff Beck will always be one of my favorite guitarists. Mainly, because of his versatility. The man can play anything. Like on his previous second solo outing, “Blow by Blow”, Jeff Beck chose to make his third album, “Wired”, a jazz fusion recording.

If I could own only one Jeff Beck album, it would definitely be “Wired”. Mainly because with jazz fusion being a melding of rock, funk, R&B, and pretty much any other style, with jazz stylings and improvisation, it is perfect for a guitarist who is as diversified as Beck.

Instrumental albums typically do not do very well on the record charts or in sales. “Wired” is one of the rare exceptions. But then again, Beck didn’t need vocals to put expression and meaning into the songs on “Wired”. All he needed was his fingers and six strings; Jan Hammer’s distinctly expressive synthesizer work didn’t hurt either.

Jeff Beck was known to almost always play without a pick, abandoning it early in his career. He claimed that once he discovered how to play with his fingers, he found a pick to be limiting. Listening to wired, and the rest of Jeff Beck’s musical canon, one finds it nearly impossible to dispute that statement.

The Rockets

The Rockets were the best band to break out of Detroit following Bob Seger gaining a national audience. Although, after six solid albums, including a great live one, they would never really reach the success and recognition they deserved. 

If you had asked me in the late ’70’s to define Detroit rock and roll, I would have told you the Rockets. They had the grit and noise synonymous with the factories that churned out the cars which also defined the Motor City. But the Rockets threw in a soulfulness rememinicsent of Detroit’s Motown roots and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, whom drummer John Badanjek and guitarist Jim McCarty had both played together in early in their carrers. 

While Bob Seger started to move toward more softer ballads going into the ’80s, The Rockets refused to soften their sound. Don’t get me wrong I love Seger’s stuff, I just felt Rockets never strayed from a sound that defined the determination of a struggling midwest industrial city. A coty that welcomed, and even celebrated that struggle. But that attitude was what probably prevented them from maintaining the national popularity they achieved with their self-titled debut. I always respected their music for that.

The Rockets’ debut scored three hit singles for the band: “Turn Up The Radio” and “Can’t Sleep”, both written by their Drummer, John Badanjek, and a cover of a Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac song, “Oh Well”. Although a cover, The Rockets refused to do a carbon copy rendition of the song, rearranging it to conform to their mix of grit and soul. One song I alway thought they should have released as a single is “Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming”, which closes Side one.

Side two kicks off with “Long Long Gone”, a song written for them by Bob Seger, and another one that could have easily been a hit single. Another stand out on the flip side of the album is a rocking cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.

The Rockets will probably always be my favorite band from my hometown. Although all of their albums are great and grace my record collection, their debut will always remain my favorite of theirs.

Chicago – Greatest Hits

For whatever reason, I don’t have a lot of greatest hits packages in my record collection. I can’t really say why, other than if a band that I like comes out with a greatest hits album, I usually have most of the albums that have those songs on them, so why bother. The band Chicago is the exception to the rule for me. In the mid-seventies, they were one of my favorite bands, but for whatever reason, I never owned any of their albums. So picking this one up was a given.

As should be the claim for any greatest hits album, there is not a bad song on this record. But Chicago IX, as it is often also referred to, goes beyond just a greatest hits album. It is one of the greatest Greatest Hits albums ever. That’s incredible testament to the band, considering they still had a long enough string of hits afterwards, to come out with two more greatest hits albums – one at the beginning of the 80’s and one at the end.

Chicago’s best work, to me at least, was always their material from the late sixties and early seventies. Going into the 80’s they started to use less and less of their horn section that gave them such a unique sound on their earlier albums, with influences of jazz and rhythm and blues. Theor earlier songs also played around with unique vocal arrangements and at times, odd time signatures and shifting rhythms. In the 80s, their sound was much mellower and relied more heavily on the keyboards and Peter Cetera vocals. Although that formula garnered them consistently better chart positions than the hits on this album, it also gave them a more generic sound with their later songs.

To me, this collection is the best of their best.

Stevie Wonder –  Songs In The Key Of Life

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.

Prince – Purple Rain

I like all types of music.

But when you get right down to it, when I sit down to listen, I like the sound of guitars best. Acoustic or electric, it doesn’t matter.

Okay when you get right down to it I prefer electric.

Although I always thought Prince was one of the best funk, R&B, and pop performers ever, I never put him in the ranks of great guitarists… Until I heard Purple Rain.

I was absolutely blown away by this album the first time I heard it. It had the beat and groove that I expected from Prince, but it was his guitar playing that really grabbed me. He could wring the emotion out of his axe as good as any of the Guitar Gods I grew up listening to.

Released in 1985, Purple Rain won two Grammys and went on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide. It spent an amazing 24 weeks at number one on the billboard charts.

More importantly, at least to me, in my book it moved Prince into the ranking of guitar God.