Billy Joel – 52nd Street

Although Billy Joel’s fifth album, “The Stranger” was his commercial breakthrough, it was “52nd Street”, his 1978 follow-up to it, that made him a star. The album topped the Billboard charts shortly after its release, had three top 40 singles, and brought home two Grammys, including Record of the Year in 1979.

In addition to being recorded at a studio on New York’s 52nd street, the album’s title also alludes to New York City’s jazz district, which the street runs through the heart of. The album has notable jazz leanings in many of its songs and is considered by most critics to be one of Billy Joel’s finest records.

U2 – Under A Blood Red Sky

From the first time I listened to “Under a Blood Red Sky” I always felt I should thank U2 for the Special Low Price of the full-length live album they marketed as a “Mini LP”.

You don’t get paid a lot when you’re in the U.S. military, so you have to choose wisely how to spend your money. To me, back then as now, buying music was always a wise choice. But some choices are wiser than others. I had discovered U2 a year or so earlier, on their third album, “War”. It blew me away. When I saw this specially priced mini LP in the PX that fine day, something inside me knew it was a wise choice to buy it. It turned out wiser than I thought.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” is labeled as a “mini LP”. That’s a lie. Sure, it’s on the short side of some albums, but I have some full length LPs that are shorter than this record. The only reason I can think of for the album being labeled the way it was, was that U2 hoped the “special low price” would help its sales. Maybe it did initially, but the only reason “Under a Blood Red Sky” went on to sell over 2 million copies was because it captured a young and hungry Irish rock band out to prove themselves, wanting to make a difference in the world through their music. In short, it kicked ass.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” opened the doors of rock and roll stardom unto U2. From thence forward, it was up to them to decide what to do with it.

They chose wisely.

Pat Benatar – In The Heat Of The Night

Pat Benatar struck gold on her debut album in November 1979. Actually, she struck platinum.

In the heat of the night was an immediate success for Benatar, selling over a million copies worldwide and giving her two hit singles in the U.S. and two others around the globe.

Although the two U.S. singles were original songs, more than half the tracks on “In The Heat of the Night” are cover songs. The covers were all lesser known tracks by the original artists and are perfect matches for Benatar’s incredibly versatile voice. The songs are all short power pop rockers that Guitarist (and Benatar’s future husband) Neil Giraldo, plays with so much zeal, it’s no wonder “In The Heat of the Night” was one of the best-selling albums of 1980.

I honestly don’t know why this album doesn’t end up on my turntable more often. Its one of my all-time favorites.

The Kings – Are Here

“Nothing matters but the weekend
From a Tuesday point of view”

The Kings are a Canadian one-hit-wonder band from near Toronto. Well, kind of one-hit-wonder. Thry really had two hit songs. “This Beat Goes On” and “Switchin’ To Glide” flowed together so flawlessly that even though there is a well-defined break between the two songs, it is impossible to imagine them not being joined at the hip. Radio station never played one without the other.

“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” went platinum in Canada and was a mainstay on U.S. radio stations. The Kings toured in support of the album; the success of the album earning them opening slots for acts like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Beach Boys, and Bob Seger. Unfortunately, The Kings’ second album failed to spark any interest to radio stations or record buyers and the band all but faded into oblivion, although they did continue to tour heavily into the ’90s. They still play occasional live shows in the U.S. and Canada and “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” can still be heard on classic rock radio stations today.

Electric Light Orchestra – A New World Record

I remember when ELO released “A New World Record”. I listened to it until I was sick of it.

The album was a breakthrough for the Electric Light Orchestra. Sure, their previous album “Face the Music” had their first worldwide hit with “Evil Woman”, but “A New World Record” hit across the globe with “Telephone Line”, “Rockaria”, “Livin’ Thing”, and “Do Ya”. Plus, it also included a slew of other great prog rock leaning pop songs like “Tightrope”, “Mission (A World Record)”, “So Fine”, “Above the Clouds”, and “Shangri-la”. Any of these songs could have easily been hit singles for ELO at the time. I guess four was enough for the record company.

ELO’s sixth album definitely marked a shift towards a more pop oriented sound. That combination of progressive rock and pop hooks is really what makes this album so great. It was a perfect blend. Although I did grow sick of it at one point, that’s only because it was on my turntable nearly everyday – and it wasn’t even my record, I borrowed it from a friend. Hearing it again years later, I remembered how good it was and added it to my collection. It never left.

Sonny & Cher – Greatest Hits

I guess I can hold a grudge sometimes. I don’t think I ever forgave Sonny and Cher for getting divorced and never bought a single solo record by Cher, even though I did like many of her songs.

I remember when I first heard that Sonny and Cher were divorcing in 1974. It was somewhat devastating to me. I had grown up with their songs from the time I was very small and regularly watched their TV variety in the early to mid ’70s. I remember that although they made fun of each other on the show, they seemed so in love – Just like my parents did. How could they have been that much in love and just let it fall apart. What if that happened to my parents?

Yeah, I took Sonny and Cher’s breakup kind of personal (and not because Sonny was born in Detroit) and for whatever reasons, I blamed it on Cher. I didn’t want to like the music from Cher’s solo career, even though I did. I think I subconsciously boycotted her records. I always hoped Sonny would have a successful solo career, but that never happened. True, Cher had the better voice, but Sonny had more talent, writing and arranging many of the duo’s hits (even at a young age, I paid attention to those things). He even continued to write hit songs for Cher’s solo career after their divorce.

Eventually, Sony Bono went into politics, becoming a California congressman until he died in a ski accident in the ’80s. At his funeral, Cher did a very emotional eulogy for him and later, made statements that showed she still had a deep devotional love for him, despite both of them remarrying. I guess I finally forgave her after that.

The Rage of 1710 – Pachelbel: His Celebrated Canon And Other Baroque Hits

I am not ashamed to admit that I know very little about classical music. All I know is I like classical music from the baroque era the best. I love its ornate complexities and its dramatic and emotional presentation.

I know that baroque was a turning point in classical music. It was an era where emotion and expression started to take more precedence than just form and structure. It was kind of like the rock and roll era of classical music. Maybe that’s why I like it.

Bach became the biggest ‘rock star’ (for lack of a better term) in baroque music; his music took on so many different moods but was always immediately recognizable. Vivaldi, Handel, and Pachelbel also gained significant fame and recognition throughout Europe in the 18th century. My son, who knows music theory much better than I ever will, tells me that the chord structure in Pachelbel’s Canon is used in many rock songs today. I had never thought of there being any connection between baroque and rock and roll before then. I just knew I liked both

A few decades after the baroque era, Mozart and Beethoven would also become ‘stars’ throughout Europe, ringing in what is known as the romantic era of classical music. I don’t know what musically differentiates the romantic era from the baroque; until recently I always considered Mozart and Beethoven to be baroque – but I guess they’re not. Then as gain, what do I know?

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.

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.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes

If I could own only one Tom Petty album, this would be it. As a matter of fact, “Damn the Torpedoes” is one of my 10 picks for if I were stranded on a desert island. And that’s saying something because in his forty-year career Petty released twenty albums; thirteen of them with his band The Heartbreakers; not one dud in the lot.

A staunch believer of keeping artistic control of his music, Tom Petty was a true artist who always stood out in rock and roll because he didn’t believe in following trends. Petty formed The Heartbreakers while living in his hometown of Gainesville Florida, also the home town of southern rock superstars Lynyrd Skynyrd. After Lynyrd Skynyrd hit it big, the area around Gainesville became inundated with southern rock bands trying to follow in the wake if their success. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the riskier path of intentionally sounding different from the pack. With an often jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound influenced by the 1960’s band the Byrds, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers didn’t get as many gigs in the local clubs but they did score a record deal; a pretty good consolation. lt took a few albums for them to find an audience, but with “Damn the Torpedoes” they finally hit paydirt. The album became their world-wide breakout, taking the number 2 position on the US album charts (it was denied top honors by Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”) and going on to sell more than 3 million copies.

For Tom Petty, from that point forward, it was “Damn the Torpedoes”, full speed ahead.