ZZ Top – Degüello

“Degüello” was the sixth album by ZZ Top and the first from the “little band from Texas” that graced my record collection. It wouldn’t be the last.

The album was the first for them on the Warner Brothers record label and the last of their purely Texas blues and boogie albums. Even though its follow up “El Loco” still had a strong emphasis on ZZ Top’s traditional sound, it also had many songs that were geared in a hard rock and synth sound. A style that would almost totally overtake the band’s eighth album, “Eliminator”.

Although “Elimnator” remains ZZ Top’s most successful album, “Degüello” is my personal favorite. Like its predecessors, it is grounded in hard rocking blues riffs and solos it also has deeper groove to it than any other ZZ Top album. That groove is augmented in places by “The Lone Wolf Horns” which is in reality the three band members, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard, picking up baritone, tenor, and alto saxaphones instead of their usual guitar, bass, and drums.

“Degüello” is Spanish for “no quarter” which means to take no prisoners. I think they chose that name for the album because their previous records had not been the commercial successes they had hoped for or felt they deserved, and usually received, at best, lukewarm reviews from most critics. On “Degüello”, ZZ Top seemed to be refreshed by being signed to a new record label and went all in with a “take no prisoners” attitude that resulted in what is, in my opinion, their best work.

Big Brother and the Holding Company – Cheap Thrills

While most people today probably think Janis Joplin performed the song “Piece of my Heart” they’re wrong. It’s true, Janice did sing lead vocals, but the song was actually performed by a band Janis Joplin was in, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Those who know the album and the band that recorded it still might have some misconceptions about it. The album comes across as being almost entirely live tracks. The cover even says “live material recorded at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium”. However, only one song off the album, “Ball and Chain”, was actually recorded live. The rest of the songs just had audience overdubs put in to make them sound live. The album even kicks off with an introduction by Bill Graham that by today’s standards would probably be considered politically incorrect: “Four gentleman and one great, great broad, ‘Big Brother and the Holding Company.'”

Like “Piece of My Heart” the rest of “Cheap Thrills” is filled with mostly blues laden rockers that are played as passionatly as they are sung by Janis. There is a little psychedelic sound that also creeps in from time to time (this was 1968 afterall) most notably on “Oh Sweet Mary”, although the closing “Ball and Chain” is a great combination of the two.

I was turned on to the this album by my mom when I was 6 years old. She loved Janis Joplin. My dad however, could not stand her. Some of my earliest memories of music are listening to Janis Joplin with my mom. She had great taste in music.

R.E.O. Speedwagon – R.E.O. T.W.O.

As the name implies, “R.E O. T.W.O.” was R.E.O. Speedwagon’s second album. It was also the first with lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and contributing songwriter Kevin Cronin.

Although their 1972 sophomore effort didn’t have any hit singles and had lackluster sales at first, it still made a mark for the band. Five of its eight songs would make iit onto their 1977 live album “You Get What You Play For”, which marked the beginning of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s phenominal success. That live album also sparked an interest in the band’s back catalog which propelled the sales of “R.E.0. T.W.O.” to eventually go gold.

Although there are many, T.W.O. of my favorite highlights from this album are R.E.O.’s recruiting of legendary sax player Boots Randolph (best known for his song “Yakety Sax” which became the theme song to “The Benny Hill Show”) to augment their sound on the Chuck Berry cover “Litle Queenie”, and the politically charged “Golden Country”. That last song, with its extended guitar soloing by lead guitarist Gary Richrath and great keys by Neal Doughty (one of the most underappreciated keyboardists in rock and roll in my opinion) make it the perfect closer to one of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s best albums.

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper was a band, and later a solo artist (but that’s another story I already talked about earlier) that was known not only for their music, but also for their stage theatrics. To record collectors, they are also known for some pretty cool album packaging – an art form that totally lost its impact with the smaller CD format.Billion Dollar Babies was a prime example.

Alice Cooper’s sixth album was styled to look like an oversized alligator skin wallet. Stored inside it was an oversized billion dollar bill that featured the band’s picture in the center. Also, the inside left side of the gatefold cover was perforated so you could punch out trading card sized cards of the band. The album credits were hidden behind the punch-outs.

The album theme was focused around the band’s amazement that in only a couple years, they had gone from being a totally broke and struggling band to one of the most successful acts in rock and roll at that time. The album packaging was one of the most unique and memorable by Alice Cooper, or any other band, yet it was not their most iconic (but that’s another story I will talk about sometime later).

Roxy Music – Avalon

Even though thier seven previous albums had exhibited Roxy Music as one of the most versitile groups in modern music – a band that was never afraid to explore new musical ideas – “Avalon” was a departure from anything they had done before. When I first heard it, it was like nothing like I had expected. I don’t really know what I expected.  But this wasn’t it.

“Avalon” with its ebb and flow of synths, guitars, and sax, combined with Brian Ferry’s seductive vocals is a sensual rock masterpiece. Like a good brandy or bottle of wine, the songs are simple in thier initial presentation but full of complexity – and inexplicably intoxicating.

“Avalon” is an album you can crank up and jam to when you’re by yourself or hanging with friends. It’s also the perfect choice for a romantic, candle-lit evening with the one you love. It is easily, the most versatile album in Roxy Music’s catalog.

David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

“Aladdin Sane” was David Bowie’ s sixth album, following in the footsteps, yet still breaking away from it predecessor, “Ziggy Stardust”.

Bowie was far from being an unknown artist when “Ziggy Stardust” came out, but it definitely raised him to the next level of success – and raised the bar of what record buyers expected of him.  David Bowie, much like the Ziggy persona he created, had become a superstar.

Rather than trying to duplicate his  prior album, Bowie set out to make something fresh.  A new persona, Aladdin Sane was created.  And there was a significant musical shift toward avant-garde jazz on many of the songs.

When it came out, “Aladdin Sane” received praise from both critics and fans. Today, it is considered to be one of David Bowie’s best records.

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

This marks the 200th post to my blog. I feel a need to make it about an exceptional album.

In 1967 color TV was a big deal. So were The Beatles. What better combination could there have been then, than to make a colour movie for the telly featuring their music and, of course starring the fab four themselves?

The hour long programme had to be originally broadcast in black and white when the BBC first aired it on boxing day (the day after Christmas in the U.K.). However, it aired again in colour a couple weeks later.

Although the album soundtrack to the film was well received, the movie itself – a story of a bus trip across England and the bizarre events that occur on it – was not. Probably because the film had a psychedelic feel to it that was not appreciated by elder viewer. Opinion of the movie changed as time passed and both are now considered classics.

The album came in a gatefold cover that included a 24 page full color book with scenes from the movie. Because of the original packaging, “Magical Mystery Tour” is an album that could never be presented effectively when released decades later on the smaller CD format.

One of the things I find interesting about the Magical Mystery Tour album packaging is that the album the cover uses the American spelling of color when referring to the book inside, but the book itself uses the British spelling of colour when referencing the movie.

Lucifer’s Friend

In my opinion, “Lucifer’s Friend” has got to be the worst name for a band, unless they worship the devil, which these guys did not.  Maybe they wanted to one-up Black Sabath in that area because they thought it would sell. But Black Sabath took their name from the title of an old Boris Karloff horror film. “Lucifer’s Friend” had no other connotation. I don’t know why they chose “Lucifer’s Friend” as the band’s name, but I think it was a bad choice that cost them much deserved success.  Especially since they were a band that could have out-heavied any band that was around in 1970, when their eponymous debut came out.

Picture Black Sabath meets Uriah Heep mixed with a combination of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Now pictire how cuting edge and heavy that was back in 1970. The only bands that maybe equaled them back then were Sabath and Zeppelin and that’s a maybe.

So why has almost no one ever hear of Lucifer’s Friend, at least not outside of Gemany, where they hailed from?  I can’t say for sure, but I really think it came down to their name. It was just too dark, too evil sounding. I think too many people didn’t want to listen past the name.

Regardless of the reason, Lucifer’s Friend Is a band I am glad to have been turned on to in the early ’80s. They were a band that was too far ahead of their time for their own good – and in my opinion, a great band that chose a terrible name.

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive

Back in the seventies, Peter Frampton was known and loved for two things. Girls loved him for his hair.  Guys loved him for his guitar playing.  Well, I guess girls loved him for his music too, but then again, who didn’t?

Frampton started out in the band The Herd, but really made a name for himself in Humble Pie. He left them to form his own band, Frampton’s Camel. After that, he went totally solo, recording and performing under just his name.

“Frampton Comes Alive”  is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. … Let me correct that.  It is one of the greatest albums ever recorded – live or in the studio, It seemed that after it came out in 1976 everyone I knew owned a copy of it.

It’s unusual for a live album to be the breakthrough for someone, but for Peter Frampton his breakout was “Frampton Comes Alive”.  As I sit here listening to it and looking at the track listing, I have to say that there is not a bad song on this album; hell, not even a mediocre one. I find myself looking forward to the next song just as much as I am enjoying listening to the current one.

The biggest hit off “Frampton Comes Alive” was “Do You Feel Like We Do?”,  a song originally recorded by Frampton’s Camel in 1973.  The nearly fifteen minute live version includes a section where Frampton uses a talkbox to make his guitar “speak”. Although it wasn’t the first time this effect was used in rock and roll it is perhaps the most memorable. Maybe that’s because it is the song that closes out the best selling live album of all time.

Joe Satriani – Surfing With The Alien

Symbiosis.  Let’s talk a minute about symbiosis.

Webster’s dictionary defines symbiosis as “a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups)” Steve Via and Joe Satriani had a very symbiotic musical relationsdhip.

Joseph Siro Satriani used to teach guitar. One of his most talented students was one named Steve Vai. Joe taught him technique and theory, but most of all, he taught him to combine those with emotion and passion. When Steve decided to persue a career performing music, his immense talent was almost immediately picked up by Frank Zappa. After Zappa, Vai played guitar on David Lee Roth’s solo albums after Roth left Van Halen. When Steve Vai decided to go solo, he had made such a name for himself, he was courted by numerous record labels.

But Steve Via never forgot his teacher and mentor, Joe Satriani. He told the record companies that Satriani was someone they needed to sign.  Vai had become so successful that the record companies actually listened to him, and Joe Satriani soon signed a record deal as well. He went on to achieve success that paralleled that of his former student.

So…

Steve Vai would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented guitar teacher, Joe Satriani. And Joe Satriani would not have had his success had it not been for his exceptionally talented student, Steve Vai.

Symbiosis defined.

The first song I ever heard by Joe Satriani was “”Always With Me, Always With You”. I was blown away by its beauty, it’s elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next aslbum I would add to my collection.

Joe Satriani has released many albums since this, his debut album. None have ceased to amaze me in technical ability, creativity, originaslity, and innovation. Still, “Surfing With the Alien” remains my favorite Satriani album – only because it was my introduction to him – an introduction to one of the most amazing guitarists ever.