The Rockets – No Ballads

The Rockets were a Detroit band from the late ’70s that most Detroiters at the time felt were destined for national stardom. For some reason that success eluded them.

Detroit was a hotbed for rock and roll in vinyl’s golden era. Many bands from in and around the city went on to achieve national and even international success. The ’60s brought noteriety to bands like the MC5, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder. And of course, you can’t forget all the soulful Motown groups who topped the record charts in the ’60s, going into the ’70s.

Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper were also local Detroit favorites in the late ’60s whose popularity exploded nationally in the following decade. The 1970s also saw Grand Funk, Brownsville Station, Ted Nugent (who left the Amboy Dukes), Suzi Quatro, and the Romantics break onto the national music scene.

The Rockets, featuring former members of the Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder’s band, The Detroit Wheels, had a hard-edged blues rock sound that was immediately recognizable and made them one of the most popular bands on the local scene. Their locally distributed debut, “Love Transfusion” came out in 1977. It’s local popularity immediately earned them a major label record deal with RSO records, putting them on the same label as British blues rock legend Eric Clapton. Despite little promotion, their first album on RSO scored them two minor national hits, “Oh Well” a gritty version of an old Fleetwood Mac song, and the title track off the album, “Turn Up the Radio”.
It seemed national noteriety was just over the horizon for them with their follow-up album.

When “No Ballads” came out, radio stations immediately picked up on the songs “Desire”, “Takin’ It Back” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” making the album even more successful than their previous one … well, in Detroit anyway. RSO was having financial problems and did nothing to promote the record. With the lack of airplay on radio stations outside of Michigan and a national audience only vaguely familiar with who the Rockets were, “No Ballads” pretty much fizzled nationally. RSO eventually went defunct, leaving the Rockets without a national record label. They were picked up by Electra Records, but any momentum they had was stalled. They released three more albums after “No Ballads” that also did well in and around Detroit, but failed to gain any traction nationally.

I have all six albums by the Rockets in my collection and always will. To this day, they remain one of my all-time favorite bands. I alway feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to any of their records because I am reminded of how great their music is and how much more success they deserved.

Queen – Jazz

With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.

I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.

Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.

Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.

All of them women.

All of them naked.

Yeah, that was most unexpected.

Santana – Abraxas

Q. What do you get when you combine Latin rhythms, psychedelic rock, and one the best guitarists of all time?

A. The second album by Santana, 1970’s “Abraxas”.

Like many artists, Santana’s music has changed through the years, morphing with the times. No matter what era you of Santana you listen to, one constant is the infusion Latin, blues, jazz, and rock and roll music.

Santana went into the studio to record “Abraxas” shortly after performing what was one of the most highly regarded performances at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival (considered by many to be second only to the unforgettable closing set by Jimi Hendrix). Consequently, the band’s confidence level was high (as were the band members themselves most likely) resulting in what is arguably the best of Santana’s early work.

Although the cover artwork perfectly fits the Latin and psychedelic feeling of Santana’s music on this album, it was actually painted by a German born artist, Mati Klarwein. The painting, which wraps around to fill half of the back cover as well, is considered by many to be one of the best album covers of all time. Because of its extravagant detail, it can only be truly appreciated in the larger size of the original 12 inch vinyl.

Rick Wakeman – The Myths And Legend Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

“Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil, is the true born king of all Britain.”

And so begins Rick Wakeman’s third solo record; a brilliant combination of progressive rock keyboard wizardry and symphonic and choral music. “The Myths and Legend of King Arthur…” was praised as a masterpiece by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by some critics as an example of progressive rock pretentiousness. Rick Wakeman was a workaholic professional composer and performer who had few if any combined technical and creative equals in modern music. I say, if you got it, flaunt it. To call Wakeman’s compositions pretentious is calling Mozart’s extravagant or Bach’s baroque compositions excessive.

Rick Wakeman lived for music and music lived through him. His music is not for everyone, but then, never is the work of any visionary artist. This is not party music. This is not play it in the background music. This is sit down and appreciate the artistry and virtuosity music. Appreciate it because there are few ever born who can compose music this grandiose and expressive. Artists like Wakeman don’t try to compose music. The compositions live within them and they need to let them out. Even if they are trapped in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack, they would have someone bring them a tape recorder so they could hum the music into it so it wouldn’t be lost and could be recorded later; wich is how much of this album was initially composed.

My sincerest thanks go out to the former Detroit television meteorologist and music lover who, through a good friend I met today after finding out he was parting with his valued record collection. I picked up many gems today. Records that will be cherished every time I listen to them. It was a pleasure meeting and talking about music with you.

T. Rex – Electric Warrior

In 1971, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the folk rock beginnings of his band, T. Rex, and try something different. “Electric Warrior” ended up becoming one of the most influential albums of that decade, ushering in the era of glam rock.

Glam rock was about unabashed shamelessness. Whimsical lyrics, pop hooks with a rock edge, and flamboyance were its key ingredients. On “Electric Warrior”, Bolan mixed those ingredients together with seemingly reckless abandon and came up with a recipe that would influence the likes of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Roxy Music and countless others. It was the foundation of what became called “new wave”, and later “alternative” music. Although “Electric Warrior” only had one big hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, it’s influence on modern music is indisputable and still resonates through popular music today.

David Essex – Rock On

David Essex is another one of those artists who was a one-hit-wonder in the United States but had much larger success in the UK. That’s probably due in part because David Essex hails from Great Britain but some might argue that it’s because the Brits have broader, better tastes in music.

Although the single “Rock On” was Essex’s only big hit in the US, in the UK the popularity of his albums and singles continued on through the ’90s. “Rock On” wasn’t even his biggest hit across the ocean. It only hit #3 on the UK charts in 1973 (#5 in the US). He had two UK chart-toppers in the years that followed.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

The J. Geils Band – Monkey Island

So what do you do when you signed a contract with a new record label but still owe your current label one more album? If you’re The J. Geils Band, you make a record that departs from what you’ve done before and try something new. What have you got to lose?

Even though it still sounded like The J. Geils Band, “Monkey Island” deviated heavily from the influences the band drew from on their six previous records. Perhaps to mark the departure in style, the band chose to shorten their name to simply “Geils” for “Monkey Island”. It is the only record of theirs to use this abbreviated name. It’s also the only album that they used a horn section, a group of background singers, and a string section.

Departing from the sound of their previous albums, “Monkey Island” plays more heavily on funk and soul than any other album Geils ever did before or after. They even try their hand (rather successfully) at a little doo-wop, with the song “I Do”. Although never released as a single, that song became a radio mainstay in the Detroit area, where Geils had their strongest following outside of their hometown of Boston. A live single of “I Do” would later be released from The J. Geils Band’s third and final live album, “Showtime”. Appropriately, that version was recorded at Pine Knob Music Theater near Detroit.

Although “Monkey Island” remains one of the least commercially successful albums by the J. Geils Band, probably because of it straying from what was expected from them at the time, it remains one of my favorite albums by them, for that very same reason.

Adele – 25

I heard Adele refer to her second album, “21” as her break-up album and her third, “25” as her make-up album. As poetic as that may sound, I think of “25” more like her come-to-terms album.

While “21” has a definite theme of relationships falling apart and “25” focuses on the aftermath, not all the songs on Adele’s third album reflect on reconciliation; some center on the necessity of moving on without – even though there is still a yearning. The songs here are also about the acceptance of what is and what will never be. In modern music, there is no one who can tap into and convey this emotion better than Adele.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.