The Look – We’re Gonna Rock

There once was a time when radio stations weren’t interested in a homogenized sound, and even promoted local bands by playing them during prime listening times. That was how I discovered The Look.

After the release of their debut album, “We’re Gonna Rock” in 1981, The Look seemed poised for national, even worldwide fame. They had a national hit single with the title track from their debut album. The video for that same song was getting regular airplay on MTV, making them the first Detroit area band to be played regularly on the fledgling cable TV station. They were getting lots of local radio air time at Detroit radio stations WRIF, WABX, and WWWW (W4). And they were opening concerts for the likes of Cheap Trick, The Kinks, John Cougar Mellencamp, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joe Cocker, and the J. Geils Band. It looked like they were going to be the next big thing from Detroit.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Because of the shifting focus of local radio stations to have a more nationally familiar sound as they were bought up by large broadcasting conglomerates, their playlists started catering to national hits, with very little emphasis on local talent, and The Look faded away nationally after only a couple incredible albums that never achieved the recognition they were worthy of.

The Look was inducted into The Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2016. It was an honor they well deserved.

But they also deserved so much more.

Genesis – Three Sides Live

Whenever I listen to “Three Sides Live”, I cant help but wonder why Genesis chose that as the album’s name, since it was only partially relevant.

When it was released in the United States in 1982, “Three Sides Live” seemed a perfectly descriptive name. It was a double album, so there were four sides – three sides were recorded live and one was studio recorded B-sides and songs from an earlier EP.  So…”Three Sides Live”…Yeah, I get it.

The thing is, when Genesis released “Three Sides Live” at the same time in their native England (as well as in the rest of the U.K. and Europe) the five studio songs on side four were replaced by three more live songs, so all four sides on the record were from live performances. I can’t help but wonder if everyone on the other side of the pond went “‘Three Sides Live’…Yeah…I don’t get it.”

I have both versions of “Three Sides Live”, but only the U.S. version on vinyl.  My U.K. version is on CD, which makes the title even more irrelevant since there aren’t even three sides, let alone three sides live. Either way, both versions have some great music on the fourth side.

 

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.

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 of 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 Sabbath in that area because they thought it would sell. But Black Sabbath 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 Sabbath meets Uriah Heep mixed with a combination of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Now picture how cutting edge and heavy that was back in 1970. The only bands that maybe equaled them back then were Sabbath and Zeppelin and that’s a maybe.

So why has almost no one ever hear of Lucifer’s Friend, at least not outside of Germany, 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 relationship.

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 pursue 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, its elegant structure, and its shreadtastic guitar. After hearing it just one time, I knew “Surfing With the Alien” was going to be the next album 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, originality, 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.

The Rockets – Back Talk

The Rockets share a story that is unfortunately common with many rock bands.  They were a band that was loaded with talent but just never got that one big break.

Made up primarily of former members from Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, The Rockets’ first independent album, “Love Transfusion” was noticed by the major labels and they signed a record deal shortly after its release.  Their self titled major label debut was a hard rocking record that received little promotion from the record company.  Still, it sold exceptionally regionally around the Detroit area and was played regularly on the local radio stations but only had moderate success nationally.  It was the same story for their second album, “No Ballads”, although it fared slightly behind their debut in sales. For their Third album, “Back Talk”, The Rockets employed Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas to sit in the control Room. The album should have been a huge success for them. However After again receiving no promotion, its sales were minimal outside of the Detroit area.  They would release one more studio album after “Back Talk” and also an incredible live album recorded at the Royal Oak Theater, near Detroit, before throwing in the towel.

All of The Rockets’ records had a gritty and aggressive yet soulful sound that made them stand out and really embodied what Detroit is all about.

I picked this album up  while I was  In the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I had no idea at the time that The Rockets had even come out with a new album. I immediately bought it.  When I played it for the first time in the barracks, I was surprised when a couple of buddies who weren’t from Detroit, asked me if that was “The Rockets” and commented that they thought the were great,  One of the guys had first heard them when he was stationed in Germany. He said they were pretty popular over there. That made me feel proud for my favorite ho.etown band.

I listened to The Rockets a lot when I was in the Army. Whenever I felt homesick, they reminded me of Detroit.

John Cougar Mellancamp – Scarecrow

You would be hard pressed to find an album with more heart than “Scarecrow” by John Cougar Mellencamp.

Growing up in rural Indiana, Mellencamp went back to his roots for the songs on “Scarecrow”, taking inspiration from his the changes he saw happening to his hometown and its nearby farms. Sometimes it was proud, as in “Small Town”, and at others it was sentimental, like on  “Minutes to Memories”. But the album was most moving with the scathing picture it painted of the family farms that were unable to survive against the huge corporations on the opening song, “Rain on the Scarecrow”. Where Mellencamp sings of a heartland that had lost its heart.

The songs on “Scarecrow” struck a chord across America and it became one of Mellencamp’s most popular and memorable albums.

Shortly after the success of “Scarecrow”, Mellencamp would form “Farm Aid” along with country star Willie Nelson. The non-profit organization put on a series of benefit concerts to raise money that brought financial relief to many struggling American  farms. He remains an active advocate to rural America to this day.