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.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

I don’t know if I would call Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” my favorite album of all time but it definitely ranks up there.

In my music collection, I definitely have more copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” than any other recording. In addition to the at least six digital versions, including a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 24 karat gold master CD recording, a 5.1 surround sound DVD mix, a remastered anniversary edition and copies included in compilation box sets, I also have three different versions of DSotM on vinyl records. The vinyl version that is probably most desired by collectors is the MFSL Original Master Recording. I also have a recently released 180 gram remastered vinyl copy. But of all the copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” I have. this is my favorite and most highly valued. This is the very first copy of DSotM I ever owned. The cover may have a little wear, (I later learned to use plastic outer sleeves to prevent this) but the record itself is pristine; complete with all the extras it originally came with.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” single-handedly changed my perception of what music is. Emotion. Expression. Innovation. Technical ability. Creativity. Originality. Dark Side of the Moon has it all. When I first heard it at the tender age of ten years old, it forever changed my perception of what music could be. It made me listen more intensely and analyze more deeply, the meaning in lyrics and the production behind the songs. It may sound cliché, but this album changed my life. It made music important to me.

I babied this album from the day I bought it because I knew from day one, this was a recording I would always own, although I didn’t know then that one day I would have several different version of it. Maybe its just because of nostalgia, but I think I get the most pleasure cuing up this copy.

Now that I listening to it and think about it, Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” is my favorite album of all time…and this is my favorite copy of it.

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.

Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits

Americana.

That’s perhaps the best way to refer to Willie Nelson’s music. Yes, you’ll probably have to tune into a country radio station to hear his songs, but Willie goes far beyond country. The songs he writes are so ingrained with the roots of what America truly was, is, and hopefully will be for years to come.

Willie Nelson has always written his songs from a place deep in his heart. And when he performs a song written by somebody else he always makes the song his own, like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Even though you know he’s not the first to play and sing a particular song, his becomes a definitive version of the song.

Although Willie Nelson is considered to be a country music performer. Even to tag him as one the pioneering artist who defines “outlaw country” seems a disservice. Willie Nelson’s music is beyond that. It defines itself; just as it defines the innocence and pride, the trials and tribulations, the sentimentality and hope of what can only be referred to as “Americana”.

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.

The Alarm – Declaration

The Alarm gained popularity in the ’80s around the same time as U2. Both bands had a distinctly different, yet similar sounds. The two bands also shared a common thread in their politically charged and passionately sung lyrics. Unfortunately, U2 became successful before The Alarm and the band from Wales became destined to stay in the Irish band’s shadow. Some critics even refered to The Alarm as U2 wannabes, which I felt was an unfair assessment.

Personally, I liked The Alarm’s music better than U2’s. It had a little more of a punk edge to it, similar to The Clash. I think their first full length album, “Declaration” was every bit as powerful as U2’s “War”. Sadly, they never attained the level of success they so undeniably deserved.

One of the performers that The Alarm looked up to and took inspiration from was Bob Dylan. His politically charged words have always been present in The Alarm’s songs. I had the pleasure of seeing The Alarm open for Dylan in 1988 at Meadowbrook Music Theater in Michigan. As you would expect, almost all the people there came to see Bob Dylan. The Alarm obviously knew this would be the case and made sure that everyone there would remember them that night as well. A couple of songs into their set, front man Mike Peters charged into the crowd to get them fired up. Everyone jumped to and stayed on their feet until The Alarm left the stage. Their performance that night remains in my memories as one of the most powerfully moving performances I have seen by any opening band. I wish I would have had a chance to see them headlining a show before they broke up in 1991.

Mike Peters reformed The Alarm in 2004, but without original members Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald, and Nigel Twist, it just wasn’t the same.

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.