Eagles – The Long Run

I don’t care what kind of music you prefer, it’s nearly impossible to not like the Eagles. All through the ’70s, their albums just seemed to get better and better, culminating in their 6th and final album for nearly 20 years, “The Long Run”.

The Eagles recorded “The Long Run” after being on the road for an excruciatingly long tour supporting the success of their previous album, “Hotel California”. The exhaustion from touring combined with the pressure of trying to come up with a worthy successor to their most successful album to date, resulted in writers block setting in for all the band members. It took a year and a half to come up with the songs for “The Long Run”, but it was well worth the wait.

The critics weren’t very receptive to “The Long Run” when it came out, giving it mostly lukewarm reviews. But what do they know? This is easily one of the best and most varied albums by the Eagles. There is something here for everyone, and it’s all something good.

But don’t take my word for it. “The Long Run” topped the album charts in multiple countries including the United States, where it sold over 8 million copies alone. It also scored three hit singles for the Eagles. “Heartache Tonight”, “I Can’t Tell You Why”, and the title track. And “Heartache Tonight” would end up earning the Eagles a Grammy for best rock performance in 1980.

My personal favorite song from this album is the side two opener, “Heartache Tonight”. Partly because of its addicting drum beat that you can’t help but stomp your foot to, partly because of Joe Walsh’s exceptional slide guitar solo, and partly because of the perfect vocal harmonies the Eagles were known for. But mostly, I think I like it because of the writers block that had set in. It prompted the Eagles to seek some outside writing assistance from one of my favorite artists and songwriters – fellow Detroiter, Bob Seger.

The Beatles – Hey Jude

“Hey Jude” was an album that kind of made up for the exclusion of certain songs from the U.S. versions of earlier albums by the fab four. The album was never released in the U.K., and contained singles and other songs that had never been available on any Beatles album released in the United States. Most had only been released in the States as 45 RPM singles. “Hey Jude” also contained a couple tracks that were only released as 45s in Britain, most notably the album’s title track.

Capitol/Apple records originally planned to title this album “The Beatles Again”. It was a last minute decision to change the title to the same name as the Beatles’ latest single at the time, which opens up side 2. It was so last minute in fact, that a few copies were released with the originally planned title printed on the record’s labels. These rare versions are highly sought by collectors. I am fortunate enough to have one of these in my collection.

The Clash – London Calling

When The Clash released their third album, “London Calling”, Did they abandon their punk rock roots or open the genre up to greater possibilities?

Punk rock started as a response to the more experimental and extravagant styles that had become commonplace with rock music in the late ’70s. When The Clash and other punk bands arose on the scene, they rebelled with rock music that was raw and stripped down to its very basic core.

Unlike The Clash’s first two albums, “London Calling” was anything but stripped down and basic. The Clash took influences from ska, reggae, R&B, rockabilly, lounge jazz and Celtic music, to create what many consider to be their best album. It surely is one that few will dispute was as groundbreaking as it was influential.

But the question remains: With “London Calling”, did The Clash abandon or expand the definition of punk rock?

It’s been at least a couple decades since I have listened to “London Calling” in its entirety. I had the album a long time ago but got rid of it, along with a lot of other albums I now regret parting with. My intent was to replace my vinyl copy with one on compact disc. The problem was, that never happened. So, this year I asked Santa for it for Christmas, and guess what? Santa came through!

I don’t know what my answer would have been when I first listened to “London Calling” all those years ago. But listening to in its entirety now, for the first time in decades, the answer is perfectly clear and obvious to me.

With “London Calling” did The Clash abandon their punk rock roots or did they expand on the genre?

The answer is “yes.”

Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

“Sports”, the third album from Huey Lewis and the News is one of the best albums to come out of the ’80s.

I honestly can not understand how anyone can not like this album. It is chock full of infectious songs with great hooks that combined blues, soul, and a little doo-wop with ’80s pop and rock. Then, as a bonus, they even do a cover of an old Hank Williams song, “Honky Tonk Blues”. It’s no wonder this record became their most successful album ever. I mean, what wasn’t there to like?

Yet…

I remember being being on a first date with a girl in the late ’80s and at one point in the evening she said that she didn’t like Huey Lewis because she thought he was too commercial. I didn’t argue my point (not a good thing to do on a first date) but at the end of the evening, I took her home, and like a good gent, gave her a kiss and said goodnight. I never saw her again after that night.

I wonder what ever happened to her.

…No I don’t.

Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans

Middle ground isn’t always easy to find. Ask any fan of Yes where they think “Tales from Topographic Oceans” ranks in the band’s album catalog and you will almost always find it listed near the top or bottom of the list. Rarely, if ever, in the middle.

Then again, “Tales…” was not an album that offered much middle ground. And it did so very unapologetically. It is the epitome of self-indulgent rock and roll. That in itself is the pivotal point of this 1973 double album. Four sides. Four songs. No singles. No apologies.

Take it or leave it.

Most took it…at first. It’s pre-orders from record stores almost immediately placed the album into gold status (500 thousand copies sold)…but it fizzled after reaching that mark. Many copies would shortly thereafter remain burried in record collections, or like mine, end up on the shelves in used record stores.

When I ran across of “Tales…” again at a record show a few years ago, I decided to give it another chance. Maybe it was life and experience. Maybe I just didn’t really listen to it the first time. Maybe I was just stupid. The second time around, I absolutely loved this album. It is a masterpiece of musicality and interpretation!

The four sides of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” were based on the four bodies of Hindu Shastra. One side each dedicated to a philosophical teaching. I think maybe it was too deep for me decades ago. The lyrics and music both require a desire to interpret and understand. But as in life, when you take the time to analyse and truly understand, you finally realize the fruits of your labor – and it’s no longer a labor. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, that’s my take of “Tales of Topographic Oceans” with no middle ground:

It’s four sides of a beautiful thing.

Styx – The Grand Illusion

As I think it was for many back in 1977, “The Grand Illusion” was my introduction to the music of Styx. This album hooked me right away because of its extensive use of the use of synthesizers throughout it. Dennis DeYoung was an incredibly talented keyboardist and knew how to fully take advantage of the synthesizers to expand his creative ability. Because of the synths, Styx had elements of prog similar to Emerson Lake and Palmer. A big difference though, was that they had three singers, all with very distinctly different voices, allowing them to add impressive vocal arrangements to their songs. Then there was James Young and Tommy Shaw, who had distinctly different playing styles that gave Styx a versatility that few bands could equal. Gluing all this versatility together was the rhythm section of the Panozzo brothers, John on drums and Chuck on bass.

But the thing that made “The Grand Illusion” such a good good album was the songs themselves. There is not a mediocre track on this album. Perfectly arranged and neither overly polished or too raw, it was a near perfect combination of pop, prog, and hard rock. It’s no wonder this was the album that broke Styx into the mainstream. And then there were the lyrics. If it was Styx’s music that initially hooked me, it was the lyrics that reeled me in. Sometimes they were insightful. Sometimes mystical. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes scathing. Always deeply meaningful. It’s no wonder that Styx will always be one of my favorite bands and “The Grand Illusion” will always be my favorite album by them. Although there’s also “Pieces of Eight”…

The Smithereens – Especially For You

2017 was a sad year for rock and roll. So many legends and so much talent was lost this year. Perhaps more so than any other year.

Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), J. Geils, Malcom Young (AC/DC), and most recently, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.

The Smithereens were formed by four friends from New Jersey who in 1980, decided to form a rock and roll band. They finally found success in 1986, with their debut album, “Especially For You”. The band had a hit single with the opening track to the album, “Strangers When We Meet”, and another with the opening song to side two, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. But their biggest hit off the album…their biggest hit ever…was the unforgettable “Blood and Roses”. A song driven by an unfogettable bass line and lyrics about losing out on love because of not being able to express it. The song was an immediate hit on both ’80s alternative and mainstream rock radio stations.

Sadly, 2017 took its latest, and hopefully it’s last, rock and roll icon, Pat DiNizio, lead singer and guitarist for The Smithereens, on December 12, 2017. He will forever be remembered by so many for the multitude of emotions he brought to our ears.

In memory of Pat, and all the other legends and remarkable talent we lost in 2017, I will let the rhythmic thump/click of this album’s inner track resonate in the room for at least the next 17 minutes in honor of the rhythmic heartbeats of the those whom rock and roll lost in 2017.

‘Twas a sad year, 2017.

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.