The Charlie Daniels Band – Greatest Hits

I worked in radio from the mid-eighties to the early 90s. My first radio station was a small market country station in the thumb of Michigan, WLEW. The nice thing about being a DJ at a small-market radio station is, for the most part, you get to play what you want. I played a lot of Charlie Daniels while I was there.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m a rocker. To me, the Charlie Daniels Band was always the perfect combination of rock and country music. Best known for his fiddle-playing, Charlie Daniels was also an accomplished guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass player. 

As should be expected from any Greatest Hits compilation, every song on this album is exceptional. But there are definitely some standouts.

“The Legend of Wooley Swamp” is probably the least traditional country song Charlie Daniels ever did. If it werent for his North Carolina accent, it might not even be associated with country music. It tells the story of a swampland that’s haunted by the ghost of an greedy old man who was murdered for his money.

On the other end of the spectrum is “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”. Opening and closing with Charlie’s signature fiddle playing, it pays homage to the other country and southern rock performers that were becoming popular at that time. 

“Still in Saigon” paints a poignant picture of a solder who has returned from the Vietnam war. After surviving a brutal war, he returns home only to be tormented by his memories and finding himself hated and chastised by many of the people around him. Sadly this is an accurate depiction for many who fought in Vietnam.

“In America” is a song written following the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and the recession the American economy was dealing with at the same time. It is a patriotic and prideful song with a strong “united we stand” message.

“Long Haired Country Boy was the first song I had ever heard by The Charlie Daniels Band. A simple song about living a simple life. Simply, one of my favorites.

“Uneasy Rider” was Charlie Daniels’ first hit single. It’s a humorous song in which Charlie’s car has a tire blowout down in a redneck town where they don’t take kindly to “long-haired hippies.” When his hair falls out from under his hat, he has to fast-talk his way out of trouble…and drive away even faster. Luckily, the tire was fixed in the nick of time.

And then there’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, which needs no introduction. It’s the CDB’s most famous song and proves that among fiddle players, he is the best of the best. 

I have had the pleasure of seeing Charlie Daniels live, in concert three times. The most memorable was in Nashville, Tennessee, at Volunteer Jam 8, a benefit concert he would put on every year. I was standing near the front of the crowd when he tossed one of his bows out into the audience. I saw it flying towards me  I reached up,  jumped just a little bit, and touched it ever so briefly as it bounced off my fingertips. 

So close.

The Rockets – Live Rockets

The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets. 

A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.

In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.

Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.

Boston (Half Speed Master)

Boston’s debut album was both a blessing and a curse for the band. At the time of its release it became the most successful debut album by any band and went on the sell over 17 million copies in the United States and 25 million worldwide. So how can you follow up with success like that? Well, the short answer is you can’t. 

Although Boston’s next two albums, “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” we’re solid albums and would be considered extremely successful by any other band, they just couldn’t come near the success Boston’s eponymous debut. The fact that there was an 8-year gap in between the second and third album (caused by the master tapes being damaged in a flood) didn’t help either. Still, all three albums stand as a testament to an exceptionally talented band.

All three albums were recorded in the basement studio of Tom Scholz, chief songwriter and guitarist for the band. SChola was actually a classically trained pianist, which helped shape Boston’s sound- classical elements mixed with hard rock, interweaving with instrumental melodies and harmonies exhibited by no other bands at the time. Their sound was imitated by, and garnered success for, many other bands that followed them – a sound that was unfairly coined as “corporate rock”. In reality, it was just plain and simply a sound that offered enough complexity to appeal to people who wanted to intimately listen to their music, yet at the same time, have a simplicity in it’s hooks and song structures that appealed to the passive listener as well. 

If you listen to classic rock radio today, there is not one song on this album that is not regularly played. Quite an amazing accomplishment for a first outing. Then again, this was an amazing debut album.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – ‘Live’ Bullet

If you grew up anywhere near Detroit in the ’70s, “Live Bullet” by Bob Seger was required listening. At least it seemed that way. Sure, it didn’t sell as much nationally as Peter Frampton’s “Frampton Comes Alive”, but I’d bet my last dollar that in Detroit it trampled it. This album truly was Bob Seger at his best and proved why up to this point he was known as Detroit’s best kept secret.

Of course, as with any exceptional live album, it not just the performer who who makes the night of the concert a magical thing captured on record. The audience is just as significant. And the nights “Live Bullet” was recorded at the legendary Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, The crowd was feeding every bit as much energy back to the stage as Bob and the Silver Bullet Band were giving to them. “Live Bullet” captured that symbios better than any live album has, before or since.

Near the beginning of the double album, Bob says to the audience that Detroit audiences are the greatest rock and roll audiences in the world. In the 70s, that was definitely true. It’s also true that Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Bands “Live Bullet” is quite possibly the greatest live album in the world.

Although I was not at either of the shows that this album was recorded at, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing Bob perform a couple decades later at the very last concert in Detroit’s legendary Cobo Hall. Maybe it was only because we were actually in the audience, or maybe it was because I was at the show with the the woman who has been the love of my life for more than 25 years, but that evening felt like it was every bit as magical as the nights this album was recorded. The connection between the audience and Bob was unbelievable proving that that Bob Seger is one of the greatest performers in rock music ever, and that Detroit audiences are still the greatest rock and roll audiences in the world.

The Replacements – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986

I was a fan of The Replacements the first time I heard them. In the ’80s amongst the new wave, alternative, and hair bands, the Matts, as they affectionately became known to their fans, epitomized the attitude of rock and roll.  They weren’t Punk. They weren’t hard rock. They weren’t alternative or indie. They were a refreshing and desperate gasp of breath for a flailing music industry.

“For Sale:…” was recorded over 30 years ago, but just released today. It was intended to be released following the Matts’ major label debut “Tim”, and not too long after they were banned from any NBC television show because they totally trashed the dressing rooms during their appearance on Saturday Night Live and couldn’t refrain themselves from using expletives during their on-air performance. But somewhere along the way the tapes were lost; only recently discovered.

The Replacements were a band that didn’t care about pomp, polish, or any type of flamboyance. They never took the spotlight. They only went on stage on stage to rock their asses off. And if they were too drunk, and f***** it up here and there, so be it. Not giving a s*** was part of the beauty of it.

“For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986” is  live, loose, raucous rock and roll, played without any abandon. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, you will find no better. I am so glad this album was discovered in the Warner Brothers vault, and that they decided to finally release it.

It was well worth the wait.

The Replacements always took a strong stance in doing things their way. In order to sign a major label deal, they had to agree to record at least one music video for a song from it. They had always vehemently opposed recording music videos. So for “Bastards Of Young”, the first single off of “Tim”, the video showed nothing more than someone queuing up the record, sitting down and listening to the song. The only focus was on the speaker playing the music. They were never asked to do another video.

The Cars

The Cars released some good albums in the late ’70s into the ’80s. And they released one great album – their eponymous debut. It was such a good album that during an interview, the band jokingly referred to it as their “true greatest hits album.” 

This album was so unique at the time of its release in 1978 that, in all honesty, I really didn’t know what to do with it. But in the end, the solid hooks throughout, and quite simply the great songs on it, won me over. I guess I wasn’t alone.  It remained on the Billboard charts  438 weeks  after its release. To this day it remains one of my favorite albums.

The Cars, along with bands like the Talking Heads and Blondie, hailed from the east coast of the U.S. and helped usher in the New Wave era in rock music.

Although it has one of the most immediately recognizable album covers of all time, ironically the band did not like it or really want it. The picture on the inside sleeve, which contained a black and white photo mosaic is what the band actually wanted. In the end the record company chose the artwork for the cover. The band designed all their subsequent album covers.

Led Zeppelin РPhysical Graffiti 

Most who grew up in the golden age of vinyl will be quick to claim that Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest bands ever. That’s a proclamation easily proven by their sixth album, “Physical Graffiti”.

Debuting at number one on both U.S. and U.K. record charts. 16 times platinum in the U.S. A double album that is ranked by Q magazine as the 28th greatest album of all time, and the 71st by Rolling Stone magazine. 

That in itself is impressive. But consider this: Almost half of the songs on Physical Graffiti were throw-aways from previous albums – 7 out of the 15 on it.

Now ponder that for a moment…

Five Led Zeppelin albums preceded Physical Graffiti. 

Five highly successful albums. 

They obviously didn’t omit the wrong songs. But the the songs Zeppelin threw away still blew away almost all the songs by any other band at that time. 

That’s a thought that blows me away every time I listen to Physical Graffiti. 

Heart – Greatest Hits/Live

Don’t let the name fool you. Even though, this 1980 double album by Heart, includes a great collection of their most popular songs from the 1970s along with live concert performances, it also contined three brand new tracks from the Seattle rockers as well as a somewhat obscure non-hit from their fifth album. One of the new songs, “Tell It Like It Is” became a new hit for the band, but the other new tracks were strange non-typical offerings from Ann and Nancy Wilson and crew. 

“Strange Euphoria” was a somewhat lo-fi funk/dance track that sounds like it could have been recorded live in the studio. “Hit Single” was a collage of voices and odd studio outtakes, that I’m not even sure qualifies as a song, altough it is interesting to listen to. It is definitely the most bizarre track Heart ever recorded. 

Side four closes out the album with live covers of hits from other bands including a fierce and thundering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. 

European record buyers kind of got ripped off with this record. Heart wasn’t as popular overseas as they were in the United States, so “Greatest Hits/Live” was released there as a single album with their five biggest hits on one side and five live tracks on the other. They didn’t know what they were missing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

One of the greatest things about buying an album is that sometimes you discover the songs you hear on the radio are actually part of a bigger musical composition. Unless you actually listened to Thin Lizzy’s album Jailbreak in it entirety, or read the back cover, you would have no idea that the two songs from the album that you heard all over the radio in 1976 (and are still classic rock radio staples today) we’re actually part of a larger conceptual piece of music. 

The two biggest hits off the album – the title track and “The Boys Are Back in Town” are two small parts of a story about a world ruled by the Overmaster, who controls all media and religious belief, and who has imprisons everyone who doesn’t comply to his will. A riot is organized in one of the jails that leads to a planned mass escape. All the escapees are captured – except for four. On the lamb, they start broadcasting banned music and become the inspiration for the people to rise up and take their freedom back. It’s not a complicated story, but then again, neither is the concept of freedom. 

The best thing about Jailbreak however, isn’t how the songs all fit together to tell a bigger story, it’s how they tell the bigger story and also stand alone as a just a collection of great songs. 

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.