Planet P

I’m terrible with remembering names; except when it comes the names of rock bands and their members. I’m not saying I’m the best, but I do seem to be the go-to when my friends have rock and roll who’s who questions. So when I saw Tony Carey was the primary member of Planet P, I knew exactly who he was, and I knew I had to buy this album.

Tony Carey was the keyboardist for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow when he decided to go solo. Actually, he was already recording solo material before he joined rainbow. Carey had written a lot of sci-fi oriented progressive rock music that really didn’t fit the style of Rainbow or Tony’s solo stuff; so “Planet P” was born.

Planet P is considered to be primarily a one-hit-wonder band because of the song “Why Me”, the video to which was played significantly on MTV in the early ’80s.

I don’t know where Tony Carey came up with the name “Planet P”. Really, it seems like an obscure name. Yet amazingly, after the debut Planet P album came out Carey was approached by another band that had rights to that name, and they didn’t want to give it up. So, the album for this record and the band name were promptly changed. Future albums were released under the new band name “Planet P Project”.

Tony Carey released a few more albums under the “Planet P Project” moniker, but none of them fared as well as this space rock classic. I wonder if record buyers just couldn’t remember the right name. I empathize with them.

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.

Genesis – Selling England By The Pound

I’ll admit it, I really didn’t get into Genesis until their eleventh album, 1981’s “Abacab”. After being blown away by that record and knowing they had many albums out before it that I had ignored, I had to check out their back catalog. Genesis has since become one of my favorite bands and “Selling England by the Pound” has become one of my favorite albums by them.

“Selling England by the Pound” is about as British of an album as you will hear by any band. When Genesis recorded it in 1974 they were concerned that British culture was being taken over by Americanism. They felt their country was selling out. Hence the name of the album and its title song. That said, it’s probably no surprise that it had much better commercial success in the UK then it did in the US – although, it did fare well in both.

You won’t hear any blues chords in this album, or really any other early Genesis album. They were never about embracing American blues. They were about incorporating traditional British and European music into rock and roll, and they were better at it than probably any other band at the time. This is probably why they didn’t have as significant commercial success in the United States with their early albums and why I pretty much ignored their music until their music crossed over in the ’80s, incorporating just a little R&B into it – and made me want to check out their back catalog.

Well played Genesis.

Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Rick Wakeman is an amazing musician and composer. Jules Verne was an amazing author. Combine the two and you get an amazing album.

Never one to shy away from the grandiose, the former keyboardist for Yes wrote “Journey to the Centre of The Earth” following the release of his first solo album, “The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth”. Rather than going into the studio, Wakeman chose to record his second solo record live. For the huge undertaking, he employed the talents of conductor David Measham who lead The London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir for the performance. The story is supplemented through prose read in between the main musical passages by British stage and film actor David Hemmings.

Part classical, part rock, part spoken word, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” topped the British charts and made it to the third position in the U.S. It is an amazing piece of music, composed by an amazing musician, based on a story by an amazing author. If you have never listened to it, you owe it to yourself to do so. I think you’ll be amazed.

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness

Even though I had never heard anything by The Pineapple Thief, I had been wanting to pick up something by them for a while. I had read some good things about them and they were referenced a lot by other bands I liked. But the clincher that got me to pick up “Your Wilderness”, was Gavin Harrison jumping on board as their drummer.

Gavin Harrison is one of those rare drummers who plays the drums not to merely rhythmically hold songs together, but like my other favorite drummers, Harrison approaches the drums as another instrument that adds to the composition – not just underlying, but overlaying the architecture of the music. Although he is not as well-known, I hold Gavin Harrison in the same league as Bill Bruford of Yes and Neal Peart of Rush.

This album takes influences from numerous bands that are notoriously unique. If I had to pick three that most prominently shined through, it would be The Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree, and early Radiohead. There are elements of many others, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with those bands since rec of them are masters at combining a diverse combination of musical influences into something totally original.

I love albums that focus around a central theme. Maybe that’s why I liked this album so much on the first listen. All of the songs seem to revolve around losing that one special love in your life and not realizing that it was your own shortcomings that tore things apart until it was too late. It’s a theme encapsulated in the lyrics in the opening track, “In Exile”: “Don’t be afraid to miss me / Don’t be afraid to hate me”. It’s also a sentiment that is sadly and romantically reminisced in “Where We Stood” the song that brings the whole emotional tug-of-war of this album to its inevitable open closure: “I don’t remember if we stood up there / I don’t remember if we stood”. This is a somber album and for the most part the music fits that mood. In all honesty, the playing is much more laid back than I expected, only breaking out a with some serious jamming on a couple rare occasions. But then, this is an album that is all about composition and song structure and making the listener feel this is a personal story. Their own personal story.

“Your Wilderness” is everything I had hoped for based on what I had heard about The Pineapple Thief. It is definitely a progressive rock album. But it is not one founded only on early prog. In a true progressive tradition, “Your Wilderness” is a musical collection built upon the influences of post-progressive rock bands that were influenced by the original prog rockers – an end result that is as inspiring and impressionable as the music that inpired and made an impression on it.

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 saxophones 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 passionately as they are sung by Janis. There is a little psychedelic sound that also creeps in from time to time (this was 1968 after all) 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 it onto their 1977 live album “You Get What You Play For”, which marked the beginning of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s phenomenal 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 “Little 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 of 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 their seven previous albums had exhibited Roxy Music as one of the most versatile 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 their 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.