Humble Pie – Smokin’

Humble Pie’s fifth album, “Smokin'”, can be summed up in two words: heavy groove. You can put those words together or keep them apart, either way, it’s accurate.

Peter Frampton had just left the Humble Pie in 1972, and the band had to prove they could make it on their own without him. With Steve Marriott at the helm, the Pie set out to make an album that was heavier and funkier than anything they had done before … or after. The result was magical.

Blues riffs and power chords dominate on “Smokin'”, making it an album that is best appreciated when played LOUD. The Pie have never sounded better than they do here. They play down and dirty electric blues-rock with a heavy dose of soul that makes it’s truly addicting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter Frampton … but in all honesty … he’s not missed here.

“Smokin'” was also an example of why CDs could really suck. When I purchased this album on CD, I could not believe how terrible it sounded. There was no care at all taken with transferring this album over to the digital realm. I’m not a vinyl snob. I have some old recordings that absolutely shine on CD. But when it comes to bringing a classic analog album over to digital, “Smokin'” is an example of how to do it wrong.

I had a friend ask me recently how vinyl albums could possibly sound better than CDs. This album is a prime example of how. There are cases where the opposite is true – where the CD is superior to the original album. Humble Pie’s “Smokin'” is not one of those instances. If you want to really appreciate this album, and know what it was all about, you need listen to it on vinyl.

And listen to it LOUD!

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Sometimes strange is good. “Sound & Color”, the second album from Alabama Shakes, certainly is a strange. It is also excetionally good. Soulful psychedelic blues garage rock is the best way I can find to describe this album. It is one of those I have to be in the right mood to listen to. But when I’m feeling that way, almost nothing else will suffice.

Alabama Shakes formed in 2009 released sound and color in 2015. The album immediately topped the Billboard charts. It was nominated for 6 Grammys, winning four of them, including best alternative album.

Toto IV (half speed master)

For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of 80s pop music. I was more into alternative music back then. However, in the case of Toto’s fourth album I make a huge exception. This is an album that is great from start to finish. But then again, considering the musicians on it that’s not too surprising. If you read liner notes and credits on albums the way I do, even before Toto released their first album, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather would have been more than familiar names. Playing as session musicians, they performed on more albums, with more artists, than I have time to mention here. Even after Toto formed, its members continued to make individual appearances on albums by other bands.

It’s not surprising that so many artist would want them to lend their talents. The key members of Toto are perhaps some of the most versatile musicians to ever perform in rock and popular music. That versatility is what really shines on Toto IV. There is nearly something for everyone on this album. Rock, Soul, Funk, progressive rock, Hard Rock, jazz R&B, they’re all present in one manner or the other. It’s that combination that places Toto IV so far beyond nearly any other pop album from the eighties.

Most people probably think that Toto derived the name of the band from the dog in The Wizard of Oz. But according to an early interview with the band members, they actually got their name from the Latin phrase and “in toto”, which means “all encompassing”. The band felt that phrase accurately described the diversity and Incorporation of so many different musical styles in their music.

The Rockets

The Rockets were the best band to break out of Detroit following Bob Seger gaining a national audience. Although, after six solid albums, including a great live one, they would never really reach the success and recognition they deserved. 

If you had asked me in the late ’70’s to define Detroit rock and roll, I would have told you the Rockets. They had the grit and noise synonymous with the factories that churned out the cars which also defined the Motor City. But the Rockets threw in a soulfulness rememinicsent of Detroit’s Motown roots and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, whom drummer John Badanjek and guitarist Jim McCarty had both played together in early in their carrers. 

While Bob Seger started to move toward more softer ballads going into the ’80s, The Rockets refused to soften their sound. Don’t get me wrong I love Seger’s stuff, I just felt Rockets never strayed from a sound that defined the determination of a struggling midwest industrial city. A coty that welcomed, and even celebrated that struggle. But that attitude was what probably prevented them from maintaining the national popularity they achieved with their self-titled debut. I always respected their music for that.

The Rockets’ debut scored three hit singles for the band: “Turn Up The Radio” and “Can’t Sleep”, both written by their Drummer, John Badanjek, and a cover of a Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac song, “Oh Well”. Although a cover, The Rockets refused to do a carbon copy rendition of the song, rearranging it to conform to their mix of grit and soul. One song I alway thought they should have released as a single is “Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming”, which closes Side one.

Side two kicks off with “Long Long Gone”, a song written for them by Bob Seger, and another one that could have easily been a hit single. Another stand out on the flip side of the album is a rocking cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.

The Rockets will probably always be my favorite band from my hometown. Although all of their albums are great and grace my record collection, their debut will always remain my favorite of theirs.

Stevie Wonder Р Songs In The Key Of Life

Comedian Eddie Murphy said it best back in the 1980s (and he wasn’t joking): Stevie Wonder is a musical genius. 

Breaking onto the pop and R&B music scene at the age of eleven, and continuing with a span of incredible music for decades to follow, Stevie Wonder was an incredible songwriter, performer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. An undeniable talent that few in music can ever come close to. 

If I had to name just one album to prove that point, it would without a doubt be Songs In The Key Of Life. Throughout the four sides of this double album are songs that are just as deep in their musical quality as they are in their lyrical content. This is one of those rare albums, that really cannot be classified in just one genre. On it Stevie mixes pop, R&B, jazz, and soul along with sprinklings of other styles like reggae and Samba like no other artist could. Lyrically, it speaks in equal parts of the wonderous joy and beauty in the world, of faith and spirituality, and of the political and social misgivings of society. 

If I had to pick just one favorite song from this album, I’d have to pick two: Sir Duke, the wonderful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington and Isn’t She Lovely, a joyously beautiful song written about Stevie’s newborn daughter. 

Songs In The Key of Life has sold over 10 million copies and remains Stevie Wonder’s most successful album ever.

A Motown Anniversary Collection

Growing up near Detroit, in an age when vinyl ruled the airwaves, I can’t help but to have a great appreciation for Motown. Barry Gordy Jr. established Motown Records in 1959.  In the ’60s and ’70s Motown not only defined a specific style of music, the record label and the artists signed to it, also helped define a city.

The only bad part about this five album set is deciding which side to listen to when you only have time for one. I usually decide by randomly grabbing one and playing whatever side is facing up when it comes out of the sleeve. 

Today’winner:  record four, side one.

  • Diana Ross &The Supremes – Come See About Me
  • Stevie Wonder – Fingertips
  • Diana Ross – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  • Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On
  • Commodores – Brick House