Rush – Moving Pictures

I remember anticipating the release of Rush’s eighth album, “Moving Pictures”, probably more than any other album I had up to that point. Yet it would be almost three months after it came out before I would actually get a chance to listen to it. By then, almost everyone I knew had already heard it.

Before “Moving Pictures” came out, I had always considered Rush to be one of the best kept secrets in rock. It wasn’t that they didn’t get any radio airplay, or that people didn’t know about them. It was just that with as great of musicians that they were, I never felt they got the recognition they deserved. They were a great band, but hardly anyone realized it. It was like a secret only a select few knew – and I was fine with that.

A friend of mine turned me on to Rush when I was in high school. He lent me their live album, “All The World’s A Stage”, because I had told him how much I liked the drummers Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake and Palmer) and Bill Burford  (Yes) and he wanted me to hear Neil Peart’s drum solo. I was an immediate fan, not just of Peart, but of Geddy Lee and Alex Leifson as well. I checked out a couple of their albums after that, and picked up their seventh album, “Permanent Waves”, the day it came out. when I heard their newest album was coming out in February of 1981, I couldn’t wait to get it – but I would have to.

I started Army basic training the third week of January 1981. We didn’t get to hear any music from the outside. Until basic training was over, we never got off base. To the new recruits, the outside world did not exist. By the time it did exist for me again, it seemed everyone knew who Rush was and their songs were all over the radio. You couldn’t help but hear songs from “Moving Pictures” everywhere. Nearly everyone thought they were a great band. The secret was out – and I was fine with that.

Neil Diamond – Moods

Moods was an album that defined Neil Diamond. It contained a wide variety of material that made it universally enjoyable to listeners both old and young. It’s one of those albums that’s perfect to listen to on a warm summer afternoon or a brisk autumn morning. A great album for setting the tone to start off your day with a hot cup of coffee or to mellow out after a rough one sipping on a bourbon or a glass of wine.

Diamond once said he had a love-hate relationship with songwriting. He said he found it “extremely satisfying when it worked,” but hated that it “forces you to dig inside yourself.” 

But it’s that digging that makes his music so good.

Ultravox – Vienna

New Wave Music started in the late 70s. It took the DIY attitude of punk and made it more accessible. Instead of using over driven guitars and rants, New Wave bands broke the rules with wild guitar effects, synthesizers, and unconventional vocal stylings in ways that cut against the grain of traditional rock and pop music just like punk rock did. But it added to it, a musical diversity and commercial accessibility punk rock, by its very nature, lacked. 

Ultravox was a perfect example of what New Wave music embodied. With its heavy use of synthesizers and layers of effects on the guitars, accompanied by Bill Currie’s violin and viola and Midge Ure’s versatile voice, Ultravox intentionally tried to defy classification. 

On their fourth album, Vienna, Ultravox built lush audio soundscapes that soared around inside your head and then crashed, or sometimes floated you away to a place of beauty and serenity, but not for too long, before taking off again. 

Sometimes the songs take you down a dark alley with a mysterious stranger you admire and fear at the same time. Other times, they try to entice you into indulgence and excess. Vienna is that rare album that can paint pictures with sound. Just close your eyes and listen. You’ll be amazed at what your ears can see.

Steven Wilson – To The Bone

I was reading the other day that for the first time in decades, the sale of vinyl records  exceeded the sale of CDs last year. And it’s not just older stuff that comes out on vinyl today.

One of the greatest new artists you’ve probably never heard of is Steven Wilson. I wanted to buy his new album, which came out on August 18th of this year, and like a fool, I didn’t pre-order it on vinyl. When I went to buy it a few days late, everyone was sold out, including amazon.com. Yeah, I could have gotten it on CD, but I wanted it on vinyl. Fortunately, the last call I made to a record store a little further out-of-town had one copy left, and the owner knew me. So he held it until I could get there after work.

When I first heard Steven Wilson say that his fifth solo album was going to be a more pop album than any of his previous ones, I have to admit, I was worried. But then I thought, to this guy, pop music is Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, XTC, Tears for Fears, and Simple Minds. What I think he really meant was that, unlike his previous albums, there would be no concept. There would be no common tie between the songs. It would be just a collection of good songs. And what a great selection of songs it is. Yes, the songs are not as complex as some of his previous albums. That doesn’t mean they’re not just as good. These are songs that are crafted and structured with such integrity that they grab you from the inside and make sure you listen. Sure, they can be played as just background music, but their strength lies in their composition. This is an album that demands to be paid attention to – that demands to be listened to.

So listen.

Prince – Purple Rain

I like all types of music.

But when you get right down to it, when I sit down to listen, I like the sound of guitars best. Acoustic or electric, it doesn’t matter.

Okay when you get right down to it I prefer electric.

Although I always thought Prince was one of the best funk, R&B, and pop performers ever, I never put him in the ranks of great guitarists… Until I heard Purple Rain.

I was absolutely blown away by this album the first time I heard it. It had the beat and groove that I expected from Prince, but it was his guitar playing that really grabbed me. He could wring the emotion out of his axe as good as any of the Guitar Gods I grew up listening to.

Released in 1985, Purple Rain won two Grammys and went on to sell over 13 million copies worldwide. It spent an amazing 24 weeks at number one on the billboard charts.

More importantly, at least to me, in my book it moved Prince into the ranking of guitar God.

Foreigner

Shortly after its release, Foreigner’s eponymous first album became one of the most successful debut albums ever; Spawning multiple hits, including “Cold As Ice,” and “Feels Like The First Time.” It would eventually go quadruple platinum selling over 4 million copies.

Although the band seemed to come out of nowhere, it was hardly the overnight success it seemed to be.  Foreigner was composed of seasoned musicians who had struggled many years trying to make it. A couple of its members were also former players in other bands that had made a name for themselves among rock critics and fans. Founding members Mick Jones (guitar and vocals) and Ian McDonald (guitar, keys, horns, and vocals) respectively played with Spooky Tooth and King Crimson early in their careers.

The band chose the name Foreigner because of their mixture of American and British members.

The Joe Perry Project – Let The Music Do The Talking

Joe Perry left Aerosmith in 1979 because of band conflicts. He released The Joe Perry Project’s debut album shortly thereafter. A couple of albums later Brad Whitford, the other guitarist in Aerosmith would also join the Joe Perry project. 

Perry and Whitford returned to Aerosmith in 1985, returning them to their original band lineup.  Although Perry has released solo material since rejoining Aerosmith, and toured again with The Joe Perry Project, he has also remained a member of Aerosmith, who have remained in their original lineup for more than 30 years.

Florence And The Machine – Lungs

The distinct and powerful voice of Florence Welch helped propel Florence And The Machine’s 2009 debut, Lungs, to number 2 on the UK album charts.  But it’s that voice combined with complex musical arrangements that make this album really grab your ear.  Not to mention, it is one of the best stereo mixes I have heard in recent years.

Some of the songs have sharp contrasts between the music and lyrics, drawing the listener in with upbeat chords and melodies and then slamming them in the face with lyrics about darker topics, like domestic violence.  

Absolutely brilliant!