Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic

This has got to be my favorite album title ever. Apparently Ian Hunter loved it too. Legend has it that the phrase was first seen on a bathroom stall wall and Mick Ronson, who is best known for his collaborations with David Bowie, was going to use it as the title to a solo album of his own. But once Ian Hunter heard it, he wanted to use the title so badly he offered Ronson writing credits on the first track and single from the album, even though Ronson had nothing at all to do with the song. Released in 1979, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” was Ian Hunter’s fourth solo album after leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974. In addition to “Just Another Night”, the aforementioned first single off the record, the album also garnered hits for other artists as well. In the ’80s, Barry Manilow would have a hit with the song “Ships” and in the ’90s, The Presidents of the United States would strike gold with “Cleveland Rocks”. That song was also used as the theme song for one of my favorite TV shows “The Drew Carey Show”.

Although they did not go by the name they were collectively known as, Ian Hunter’s backing band on this album were the members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity

Sellout.

That was a word a lot of people used to describe “Hi Infidelity”, the 9th studio album by REO Speedwagon. And in many ways it was. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Towards the end of the 70s, REO Speedwagon’s albums began to take on more of a pop sound then their earlier, harder rocking albums. A trend that was brought to fruition on “Hi Infidelity”. The thing is though, when you really listen to it, this record rocks just as hard and any of its predecessors. Sometimes more so. It just did it with a bit more polish.

In their early incarnation, REO Speedwagon was anything but a pop band. They were a hard rocking Midwestern American band with highly talented musicians. Gary Richrath was a phenomenal guitarist and Neil Doughty was absolutely one of the most underrated keyboardists ever, as was Alan Gratzer on drums. Despite their talent and some great songs, true success seemed to elude REO Speedwagon, album after album, in their early days.

So they spruced up their sound a bit, to make it more accessible, and started throwing a slow ballad or two on each new album. And voila! Hit records. The great thing was, they still wrote songs that allowed Gary Richrath and Neil Doughty to really cut loose. Hidden under the hood of the pop gloss on “Hi Infidelity” are some of the best riffs and solos in the REO Speedwagon canon.

The formula on “Hi Infidelity” absolutely worked worked for REO. Even though it was absolutely a pop album, especially when compared to their early material, “Hi Infidelity” never alienated REO’s early fan base because it’s still rocked hard. Yet the album gained them a new pop fan base. The album ended up becoming their most successful album ever, selling over 10 million copies and topping the Billboard charts in 1981. It also earned them their first number one single, the obligatory slow ballad “Keep on Loving You”.

“Hi Infidelity” was the record that finally, after eight previous albums, earned REO Speedwagon the success they had so long deserved but had constantly been denied, while still letting them keep their musical integrity. Call it a sellout if you want. I call it REO Speedwagon at their finest.

Joe Walsh – So What

Blues chords, great guitar riffs, and solid guitar solos. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. And it’s nothing Joe Walsh hasn’t put on an album before or after. But so what, his third solo album is essential to any rock lover’s colection.

Joe Walsh was pretty basic and straightforward with his albums. He never really did anything fancy… Except his solos. His solos kicked ass. Every time. He was a master on slide guitar that few could equal. He also played more than just guitar. He was very accomplished on keyboards and quite often would put a song that featured him playing synthesizer on his albums. “So What” was no exception.

Joe Walsh’s formula for making an album was simple – write good songs, play them well, and have excellent musicians back him up. On “So What”, those backup musicians were quite often members of The Eagles. A little over a year and a half later Joe Walsh would actually join the Eagles, bringing a little more edginess to their sound and helping them have their most successful studio album ever, Hotel California. But so what. His solo material was just as good.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

Although Def Leppard’s first two albums developed a solid fanbase for them, it was their third album that really broke them into the mainstream. Pyromania sold over 10 million copies and hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs on it still receive significant airplay on rock radio stations today.

Following the release of Pyromania, drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in an automobile accident. I give the friendship the band members held for him extreme kudos for what happened afterwards. They could have sought out another drummer. Instead, they decided to have a special drum kit designed for him that made greater use of foot pedals so he could still play drums with the band. The incident is documented in the 2001 film “Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story” which was named after their fourth album. I saw Def Leppard on tour, supporting that album. Rick Allen did a drum solo that was nothing short of amazing and was one of the highlights of the concert.

When I met my wife over 25 years ago, she didn’t have nearly as many records as I did. As a matter of fact, she only had a handful. Pyromania was one of them. I would have added it to my collection but I already owned a copy of it.

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.

The Ventures’ Christmas Album

The Ventures’ Christmas Album was my favorite Christmas album when I was growing up. It’s still one of my favorites today. It’s also a classic example of an album being totally screwed up when released on CD.

When the Ventures’ Christmas Album was finally released on CD, I immediately ran out and bought a copy, even though the vinyl copy I had was one I would never part with. I mean, the CD had to sound better, right?

Wrong.

Somebody at some point must have thought it would be a good idea to remaster the Ventures Christmas Album before releasing it on a digital medium. Gone was the exceptional stereo mix that gave a wonderful soundstage, making it sound like the band was right in front of you – one guitar on the left, one on the right, the bass slightly to the left, and the drums near center behind all of the others. The remastered CD sounded like all the instruments were in same place, on playing on top of each other.

And then there’s the case of “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer”. It was like somebody tried to intentionally ruin the song. The Ventures played Rudolph with the lead guitar up front and a second guitar adding harmony underneath the lead. On the CD the guitar on harmony was brought up even to the lead guitar, making it sound like the Ventures were trying to play the song with some kind of non-traditional jazz styling. It was terrible.

The Ventures were a popular instrumental group in the 1960s. They released their Christmas album in 1965. What made this album so unique was that it took traditional Christmas songs and mixd them with riffs from popular rock and roll songs from the ’60s. It’s kind of like a mashup between the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Tequila” by the Champs and “Frosty the Snowman”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Sleigh Bells” with Walk Don’t Run” by…well, the Ventures. And this is decades before anyone ever coined the phrase mashup.

The Ventures Christmas Album is truly one of the coolest Christmas albums ever, and was ranked number 12 by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 25 greatest Christmas albums ever recorded. But the only way you should ever listen to it is on the original vinyl. It may be hard to find, but its well worth the effort.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitios alblum, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Eagles – Hotel California

With the addition of Joe Walsh on guitar for, Hotel California, the Eagles took on an edgier, slightly harder sound on some of the songs when compared to their previous records. Most of the album still contained the mellower, “California country” songs that were common on their previous albums, but with “Life in the Fast Lane”, “Victim of Love”, and the song Hotel California” there was a notable shift in the style of their music.

According to the band members, Hotel California a concept album to which the opening title track sets the theme to – loss of Innocence, naivety, ideals sought, and dreams and love lost, are the topics explored within the lyrics.

With the exception of their greatest hits album, Hotel California was the Eagles’ most successful album, and is one of the best selling albums of all time.

Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace

The Foo Fighters are perhaps the most important American rock and roll band to gain notoriety in this millennium.

Dave Grohl formed Foo Fighters following the breakup of Nirvana, which was caused by the tragic suicide of that bands lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain. Grohl decided to step out from behind the drum kit, which he played in Nirvana, and instead, pick up the guitar and sing.

“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” finds Grohl and company stretching out further musically than they had on any of their five previous albums. By the time of its release in 2007, the members of Foo Fighters had grown as musicians and Grohl had matured as a songwriter.

It’s hard to picture on the Foo Fighters earlier albums, some of the acoustic songs that appear on “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace”. From their earlier albums, it’s equally hard to imagine them performing songs with a piano, or a string quartet, or doing a song with a fiddle or accordion. But here, it’s an easy fit.

For those who love the Foo Fighters earlier stuff, there’s still the same appeal the Foo Fighters have always had – they still rock their asses off. But the bonus here is there’s more depth. There’s more emotion. There’s more melody. Quite simply, there’s more music.

“Echoes, silence, Patience & Grace” is the sound of the Foo Fighters finding their footing. But it’s more than that. It’s the sound of a band standing tall and proud, not afraid to take chances.

The Steve Miller Band – Book Of Dreams

It’s funny how leftover material from one album can become an even better album.

“Book of Dreams”, The Steve Miller Band’s 10th album, consists primarily of leftover material from their previous album, “The Joker” which had been their most successful album up to that point. The popularity of “Book of Dreams” ended up surpassing “The Joker” and it became one of The Steve Miller Band’s biggest selling records ever. As a matter of fact, when the Steve Miller Band later released “Greatest Hits, 1974 – 1978”, that album contained seven songs from “Book of Dreams” – more than any other album of theirs.

Personally, I would much rather own Book of Dreams” and “than “Greatest Hits 1974 – 1978”, which uses some of the shorter 7 inch single versions of the songs. For example, on “Book of Dreams”, the song “Jet Airliner” has a long strumming guitar part at its start that really sets up the song. That part was edited out of and is not heard on the “Greatest Hits 1974 – 1978”.