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.

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story

Rod Stewart was still singing with The Faces when he released his third solo album “Every Picture Tells A Story” in 1971. Even though Stewart had his own band for the album, all of the members of The Faces play at some part on the record. The most prominent is Ron Wood, who’s guitar playing really sets an overall feeling throughout much of the album.

This album is considered by many, myself included, to be Rod Stewart’s finest hour. There are so many great songs on “Every Picture Tells a Story” that For most people, it would be hard to list a favorite. “Mandolin Wind”, (Find a) Reason to Believe”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “That’s All Right”, “Maggie May”, and of course the title song to the album all top the list of Rod Stewart’s best songs of his entire career, let alone from this album.

Although a few of the songs here are covers of previous hits by other bands, the versions Rod Stewart does on this “Every Picture Tells A Story” are far from the style of the originals. Probably the most notable was the rearrangement of The Temptations’ Motown classic “(I Know) I’m Losing You”. The version here is hard rocking with a funk groove that closes with some incredible drumming by Kenny Jones from The Faces.

Rick Derringer – All American Boy

One of the reasons I always enjoyed albums and was never big into buying just the single is a lot of albums had hidden gems on them. All-American boy, the debut solo album by Rick derringer is an album that is loaded with great songs that you would almost never hear on the radio, except for “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”.

Rick Derringer is an extremely versatile guitarist and producer who has played as either an official band member or guest musician on albums by Edgar Winter, Steely Dan, Todd Rudgren, Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Wierd Al Yankovic. He also toured guitarist with Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors” tour. It was her first headlining tour and Derringer really energized the shows.

I have to admit I chuckle a little bit every time I look at this album cover. I really don’t think Rick, or any other guitarist for that matter, can play the guitar wearing gloves. I mean he’s good, but not that good.

The Who – Live at Leeds

One of the things that made albums cool was their size. With twelve inches of real estate to work with, there were some albums that took advantage of the size to do cool artwork. Others used it to throw in some cool extras – or in the case of The Who’s “Live at Leeds” A LOT of extras.

Almost all of the extras included with the original 1970 release of “Live at Leeds” were artifacts from The Who’s early career. Among some of the more interesting are a rejection letter from EMI Records (They were eventually signed to Decca), a sheet where they had worked out the lyrics to “My Generation”, a notice to take them to court if they didn’t pay the rental fees for some amps after their check bounced, A couple tour schedules (one recent and one from before they were signed and were still performing under the name “The High Numbers”), a picture taken from backstage with band notes and some lyrics to their rock opera “Tommy” scribbled on the back, and the contract they signed to perform at the Woodstock festival in 1969. And there was more… But the album is about to run out so that’s all I have time to mention.

“Live at Leeds” is considered by many to be the greatest live album ever recorded. I don’t know if I’d personally place it at the top of the heap but as most Brits would have said it back then, I’d put it bloody well close.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves

Bob Seger used to be known locally as Detroit’s best kept secret. By the time Seger’s ninth studio album was released, everything had fallen into place to ensure that the long kept secret was out.

On his previous studio releases, Seger had put together a top notch group of local players to back him up. They had one of the tightest rhythm section anywhere and were the perfect match for Seger’s compositions. They were his Silver Bullet to success. The “Beautiful Loser” album grabbed the ears of music lovers across the U.S. It was followed by “Live Bullet”, which had unprecedented success for a live record by an artist who had no huge hit album to date.

Enter “Night Moves”.

“Night Moves” was the album that finally gave Bob Seger the recognition he had so long before earned. It was kind of sad, knowing the secret was finally out. But I think most of us around Detroit who grew up with Bob Seger’s music, were happy to see him finally make it.

Bob Seger was always dedicated to Detroit – and Detroit always supported him. Struggling to make it for so long, he represented to many of us the spirit in the city of Detroit – the spirit of never giving up. He was the local underdog who had finally made it. The best kept secret was out.

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.

Toto IV (half speed master)

For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of 80s pop music. I was more into alternative music back then. However, in the case of Toto’s fourth album I make a huge exception. This is an album that is great from start to finish. But then again, considering the musicians on it that’s not too surprising. If you read liner notes and credits on albums the way I do, even before Toto released their first album, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather would have been more than familiar names. Playing as session musicians, they performed on more albums, with more artists, than I have time to mention here. Even after Toto formed, its members continued to make individual appearances on albums by other bands.

It’s not surprising that so many artist would want them to lend their talents. The key members of Toto are perhaps some of the most versatile musicians to ever perform in rock and popular music. That versatility is what really shines on Toto IV. There is nearly something for everyone on this album. Rock, Soul, Funk, progressive rock, Hard Rock, jazz R&B, they’re all present in one manner or the other. It’s that combination that places Toto IV so far beyond nearly any other pop album from the eighties.

Most people probably think that Toto derived the name of the band from the dog in The Wizard of Oz. But according to an early interview with the band members, they actually got their name from the Latin phrase and “in toto”, which means “all encompassing”. The band felt that phrase accurately described the diversity and Incorporation of so many different musical styles in their music.

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.