Montrose

Montrose was an album that refused to flop.

Throughout the early ’70s, Ronnie Montrose had distinguished himself as one of the most in-demand session guitarists in America. During that time, he played on more highly successful rock albums than I can count on both hands…and feet. He eventually joined The Edgar Winter Group but left them after their first record to form his own band, Montrose, whose debut album came out in 1973. The album was…well, it kind of flopped.

At first.

Although “Montrose” didn’t have a huge initial impact when it was released, its reputation became notorious among heavy metal fans and the record’s sustained polarity led to it eventually selling over a million copies. It remains today considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out At Night

Edgar Winter was an amazingly talented composer and musician. I found myself being reminded of this when I heard the instrumental “Frankenstein” on the radio the other day. Of course, I had to cue up the album when I got home.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you hear a song all the time on the radio you stop really listening to it because you’re always hearing it. That was the case with me and The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. For some reason, when I heard it that time, for the first time in a long time, I listened to it again. It was like running into an old, long-lost friend.

“Frankenstein” is truly an amazing song and a very groundbreaking one when it came out. One of the most amazing parts of “Frankenstein” is the duet between drummer Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter on the synthesizer. At its crescendo, Edgar Winter is twisting and turning the knobs for the oscillators on the synth to keep perfect pitch and synchronization with the drums. At times they seem like one instrument, but there’s just enough deviation to remind you that you’re listening to a duet, not a solo. Plus, synthesized drums really didn’t exist in that capacity back then.

But one song does not make a great album, and “They Only Come Out at Night” with its variety of styles ranging from the melodic pop of “Autumn” to the island sounds of “Alta Mira” to blues rockers like “Undercover Man” to the party tunes “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” to “We all Had a Really Good Time” to the hard rocking other big hit off the album, “Free Ride”, this is a great album that is always ready to be played when I need something to get me moving.

Oh, and speaking of “Free Ride” I feel it necessary to point out to my fellow Detroit rockers who may not be aware, that the drummer on that song is none other than John “The Bee” Badanajek from The Rockets and Mitch Ryder fame.

Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Plan 9 – I’ve Just Killed A Man, I Don’t Want To See Any Meat

I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of this album.

That’s okay, neither did I until I saw it at a garage sale. I thought the cover artwork was cool and the record itself was in near mint condition. So I stole it.

Just kidding. I paid for it. But with what I got for the little I paid, it feels like I ripped it off from the guy. This is 1960’s psychedelic rock revisited and mixed with indie garage punk, recorded live at a smallish venue. I wish I had been there when it came down.

I have to admit, the spoken word “Intro Poem” had me worried at first, but it was really short. When the music kicked in about a minute or so later, I was like “WHOA! Iggy Pop and the Stooges meet The Grateful Dead!”

After some quick Internet digging, I found out Plan 9 was from the east coast of the US; Rhode Island, I believe. They released a few albums in the ’80s. I think this was their only live record.

It’s some pretty killer sh!t.

The best record I ever stole.

Kansas – Two For The Show

“Two for the Show” by Kansas is about as perfect as a live album can get. Recorded right after their two most successful studio albums, Kansas was at the height of their popularity and were drawing huge crowds at arenas across America. Feeding off of the energy of the crowds, Kansas sound like an unstoppable progressive force that wanted nothing more than to leave the audiences in awe.

To that point, it didn’t hurt their cause that the popularity of “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return”, which came out just before this double album set, had gained Kansas a huge new fan base and provided them with plenty of well-known songs to play at their concerts and include here. Half of the songs on “Two for the Show” are from those albums. The other half are deep cuts from their first three albums that were meant to please their long time fans.

What really makes “Two for the Show” so exceptional though, is the playing. If there was ever any doubt, Kansas proves here that they were not just a studio band. They could perform their complex compositions just as well live; even better at times, extending solos out beyond what was in the original version. And then there’s Steve Walsh’s voice…definitely one of the most incredible vocalists ever in rock and roll.

“Two for the Show” is Kansas at their best; an album of live progressive rock perfection.

The Pretenders – Learning To Crawl

There was a two-year gap between The Pretenders second and third album. In that time, the band fronted had noticeably changed. Losing two members to drug overdoses can do that to a band.

Actually, Pete Farndon had been fired from The Pretenders because of his drug abuse; he died from a heroin overdose almost immediately afterward. Two days after Farndon’s death, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott would overdose on cocaine.

I thought that with the loss of Farndon and Honeyman-Scott, The Pretenders were through, but the band, led by Chrissie Hynde, forged on. A little over a year after that double tragedy, The Pretenders released the double A side single “Back on the Chain Gang”/”My City was Gone” with temporary replacements. “Learning to Crawl” came out a year after that. The album included “Back on the Chain Gang” and “My City was Gone” as well as eight new songs. The new songs featured the official new line-up of The Pretenders, who appear on the album’s cover.

The influence that James Honeyman-Scott’s unique guitar style had on the first two Pretenders albums is noticeably missing here. The songs are also a little less edgier than the earlier records and the album as a whole, takes less risks. That’s not to say it’s not as good as its predecessors. It’s just different; more straightforward.

I always thought “Learning to Crawl” was an appropriate name for The Pretenders’ third album. They were coming back from two back to back tragedies that nearly destroyed them. During the two years of its making, they were trying to find their footing again. They wanted to walk forward and continue on. But before you can walk, you have to learn to crawl.

Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Too-Rye-Ay

If you’re ever in the moon for rock and roll mixed with Celtic music – heavy on the Celtic – may I recommend Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ 1982 album “Too-Rye-Ay”.

If you’re from the US, you probably think of Dexy’s Midnight Runners as one hit wonders, their hit being “Come On Eileen”. Although that song hit number one on the US charts, Dexy’s failed to have any other song that did more than make a dent in them. If you’re from the UK however, when “Too-Rye-Ay” came out, you probably already knew of Kevin Rowland and his band from “Geno”, their previous number one on the UK charts. You probably also remember their two other hits from this album, “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” and “The Celtic Soul Brothers”.

I have to admit, my musical tastes seem to gel better with the more diverse sounds that become popular in Britain and Europe. The American charts tend to be less adventurous. “Too-Rye-Ay” is the only record in my collection by Kevin Rowland and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I have a feeling I’d have one or two more had I lived overseas. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for some of their other records when I visit the used record stores around here.

The J. Geils Band – Bloodshot (original red vinyl)

I said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: Colored vinyl is cool. It’s even cooler when it’s of one of your favorite albums by one of your favorite bands.

Only the first pressings of The J. Geils Band’s third album, “Bloodshot” were released on transparent red vinyl. The band also chose to have Atlantic use a red and black version of their older style label instead of their current one.

Released in 1973, “Bloodshot” was The J. Geils Band’s most successful album until they released “Freeze Frame” in 1981. The album became so popular among J. Geils fans that five of its nine songs were included on the band’s 1976 live double album “Blow Your Face Out”.

With the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl “Bloodshot” was reissued by Real Gone Music in 2015. Appropriately, they did the first pressings of it on red vinyl and got permission to use the same red and black Atlantic labels on all the pressings. The one thing I think they may have missed though, is the hidden message engraved on the run-out of side 2 on the original red vinyl: “Nice to see your face in the place”.

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Trilogy

When most people think of rock and roll instruments, they think of the guitar. probably because most rock bands used guitar as the main lead instrument. Most, but not all.

Even though Greg Lake from Emerson Lake and Palmer did occasionally pick up a guitar, it was not his primary instrument. Greg Lake was first and foremost a bassist. When he left King Crimson to join forces with Keith Emerson, keyboardist from The Move, and Carl Palmer, drummer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, to form the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, guitar was a secondary thought. “Trilogy”, ELP’s third album, was proof that rock bands didn’t need to be all about the guitar.

The only significant guitar work on “Trilogy” is on “From the Beginning”, the only single released from the album. While only a fool would deny that it is impressively beautiful guitar work, it’s still the synthesizer work at the end of the song that steals the show. And stealing the show is what “Trilogy” seems to focus on; not just for Keith Emerson’s keys, but equally for Greg Lake’s ripping bass lines and Carl Palmer’s powerful, yet intricate percussion.

“Trilogy” was an album that was a team effort for ELP. It is an album that focuses on the virtuosity of all three members, not just one. That is what made ELP such a fantastic band. Each of the members was such a master of their individual instrument that a band could have been formed around each of them alone; but to have them all in one band together, focusing on their trilogy of talent was amazing.

Emerson Lake and Palmer released a couple of good albums before “Trilogy”, but this is the record where everything first fell perfectly into place for them. This was the album where Emerson Lake and Palmer stopped being former members of other bands and became a collectively combined force of three great musicians – a trilogy…in which guitar was not the primary instrument.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

I had a couple of friends recommend that I listen to Jack White’s latest album, “Boarding House Reach”, before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I did…

I bought it.

Some years back, Jack White relocated to Nashville, but he still holds a strong affinity to his roots in Detroit. With its deep R&B hooks, heavy production, and adventurous compositions, “Boarding House Reach” effortlessly makes a way stronger connection with Detroit than anything the Nashville music scene is known for. Overall, “Boarding House Reach” is Jack White’s most fractured album to date, having much less consistency than his previous solo records or any of his work with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, or Raconteurs. That’s why I loved it when I first heard it. The music went places White hadn’t gone before – many different places.

Like David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and a handful of select others before him, Jack White is a true artist. True artists take risks. They make statements with their craft. They don’t give a sh!t about holding to convention or what is expected. They don’t try to do something that no one expects or might be ready for; it just happens. That is what best describes “Boarding House Reach”. It just happens.

And it just happens to be Jack White’s best album to date.