The Alarm – Declaration

The Alarm gained popularity in the ’80s around the same time as U2. Both bands had a distinctly different, yet similar sounds. The two bands also shared a common thread in their politically charged and passionately sung lyrics. Unfortunately, U2 became successful before The Alarm and the band from Wales became destined to stay in the Irish band’s shadow. Some critics even refered to The Alarm as U2 wannabes, which I felt was an unfair assessment.

Personally, I liked The Alarm’s music better than U2’s. It had a little more of a punk edge to it, similar to The Clash. I think their first full length album, “Declaration” was every bit as powerful as U2’s “War”. Sadly, they never attained the level of success they so undeniably deserved.

One of the performers that The Alarm looked up to and took inspiration from was Bob Dylan. His politically charged words have always been present in The Alarm’s songs. I had the pleasure of seeing The Alarm open for Dylan in 1988 at Meadowbrook Music Theater in Michigan. As you would expect, almost all the people there came to see Bob Dylan. The Alarm obviously knew this would be the case and made sure that everyone there would remember them that night as well. A couple of songs into their set, front man Mike Peters charged into the crowd to get them fired up. Everyone jumped to and stayed on their feet until The Alarm left the stage. Their performance that night remains in my memories as one of the most powerfully moving performances I have seen by any opening band. I wish I would have had a chance to see them headlining a show before they broke up in 1991.

Mike Peters reformed The Alarm in 2004, but without original members Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald, and Nigel Twist, it just wasn’t the same.

The J. Geils Band – Hotline

The J. Geils Band was always, first and foremost, a live band. That very well might have been their biggest reason for not achieving the success they deserved until their later albums.

I will never understand how some record labels can sign a band, yet do nothing to promote them. The J. Geils Band were in their early years, one of the most popular bands around in their hometown of Boston, MA and in Detroit, MI, and were known nationally for their high energy live performances. With a little push from Atlantic Records, their label during their early career, they could have easily broke out nationally. But because of their strength on the road, Atlantic Records seemed bent on having word of mouth from The J. Geils Band’s live reputation to do all the work; doing little to promote a band destined for success not only on the road but on their records.

Like the five albums before it, “Hotline” was a record that combined the strengths of the five exceptional musicians that were The J. Geils Band.  Seth Justman, who’s wizard-like keyboard talent was a dominant force on the earlier live Geils album “Full House”, and on “Blow Your Face Out” – the live record that followed “Hotline” – was also one of the primary songwriters, along with frontman Peter Wolf, who was a former high-energy Boston area Disk Jockey that left radio to join The J. Geils Band just before their first record. The Geils rhythm section was an incomparable combination of Daniel Klein (DK) on bass and Stephen Jo Bladd on drums, who both always seemed to know just when to throw in those little extra flourishes that gave a song that extra kick it needed at just the right time. Then there was J. Geils himself; a master blues guitarist with a tone so full and a style so fluid, he could swing between power rhythms and tight leads effortlessly; listening to him play, one couldn’t help but be in awe. And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: Magic Dick on harmonica, perhaps the best blues-harp player ever.

Once The J.Geils Band signed with EMI Records, they finally found themselves with a record label that was willing to throw just a little promotion behind them. Just a little was all it took.  The result was a string of The J. Geils Band’s most successful albums in their career. They finally got the success the had so long before deserved.

The J. Geils Band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018.  They have yet to earn the induction recognition they deserve, but I know one day they will.

The Best Of The Lovin’ Spoonful

Question: What does the 1960’s folk/blues rock band The Lovin’ Spoonful and the 1970’s sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter” have in common?

Answer: John Sebastian.

Anyone who grew up in the ’70s probably remembers the sweathogs from TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter. If you remember the show, you undoubtedly remember the show’s theme song, “Welcome Back”, performed by John Sebastian, founder and former guitarist and singer for The Lovin’ Spoonful.

The Spoonful formed in the mid ’50s but didn’t release their first album until 1965. They had a solid string of hits that combined elements of folk, blues, and pop, from then until their breakup in 1969. In their early days, especially on their first album, The Lovin’ Spoonful had a heavy jug band influence. (Jug bands played their music on homemade instruments, the name derived from a jug that was sometimes blown into to keep the rhythm of the songs). That influence was less prominent on their later records but one or two jug band songs always made it to their albums.

The spoonful released their greatest hits album after three successful albums and a string of popular singles. Their best remembered song is probably 1967’s “Summer in the City”, which closes out their collection.

After their breakup, guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Sebastian had a somewhat successful career which included penning and performing the theme song to “Welcome Back Kotter”.

The Lovin’ Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bad Company – Bad Co.

“The sum is greater than the parts” is a truism that is perfectly evidenced by the band Bad Company. How much greater that sum can be was immediately evident on their debut album.

All of the members of Bad Company were accomplished players in successful bands before forming the band. Singer Paul Rodgers and Drummer Simon Kirke had been in the band Free. Mick Ralphs was the guitarist for Mott the Hoople, and Boz Burrell played bass for King Crimson. As great as each of them was individually as parts of those bands, it was no comparison to the success they would accomplish when they came together in 1974 to form one of the most successful supergroups of all time.

Bad Company’s synonymous eponymous debut topped the Billboard album chart and remains one of the most successful debut albums in rock and roll. That success was not short-lived either, for the band or the album. “Bad Co” was the first of three albums by Bad Company to reach the top five position in the Billboard charts and the start of an 11 album run to break Billboard’s top 200. Several of the songs off the album are still played regularly on classic rock radio stations today.

Journey

When most people think of the band Journey, they think of the songs “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms”. When I think of Journey, I think of a band that had three distinct phases. Although those two songs are solid pop and classic rock songs, they sound almost nothing like Journey’s original phase.

The three phases of Journey were their progressive rock beginning, their middle Steve Perry years, and their later Jonathan Cain era. Although they are from Journey’s least successful era, I find myself listening to the band’s first three albums the most. Today, it’s Journey’s self-titled debut from 1975.

The members of Journey were exceptional musicians and that is what this and the two albums that followed it were all about. A combination of progressive rock with a touch of jazz fusion, the songs had longer instrumentals, fewer lyrics, and almost none of the vocal harmonies that became a staple of Journey’s sound once Steve Perry was in as vocalist. Also missing are the pop hooks of songs like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Open Arms” that dominated the band’s sound once keyboardist and vocalist Gregg Rollie was replaced by his friend Jonathan Cain (from The Babys).

In their early years, Journey was all about hard rocking complex musical arrangements and intricate playing. Intense music that was meant to be intensely listened to.

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

A vague story of self discovery, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” was the last album done by the original lineup of Genesis. Peter Gabriel, who authored the concept behind the double album, would leave Genesis shortly after its release. Lead guitarist Steve Hackett would leave a couple of albums later.

Gabriel’s departure didn’t come as a total surprise to the band. There were tensions brewing going into the recording sessions and they escalated before the record’s completion. Peter Gabriel felt he was being held back creatively and the other band members felt they weren’t being allowed enough creative input. In short, the split was unavoidable and amicable.

Unlike many band splits, this breakup was actually a good thing for both parties. Peter Gabriel would go on to release several critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums and Genesis would achieve their greatest critical and commercial success without him. Plus, as is almost always the case when there are creative struggles within a band, the album that came from the turmoiled recording sessions was phenomenal.

It would be impossible for me to pick my favorite Genesis album. There is a noticeable distinction between their different eras, and each of the eras offer something unique. But if I had to recommend one album from the original lineup of Genesis – well, that’s easy – it would be “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”.

Journey – Next

While most people who are familiar with the band Journey will associate their music with the incredible voice of Steve Perry, some may be surprised to learn that they released three albums before Perry joined the band.

Released in 1977, “Next” was the third and final album Journey would record before deciding to change their sound by bringing in an additional singer to front the band. This album, like the two before it, has a strong contrast to the album’s recorded with Steve Perry. In classic progressive rock style the songs on “Next” focus more on musicianship than on the vocals. If there was ever any doubt, “Next” makes it clearly obvious what great players the members of Journey were

While I have to admit that I like the later albums with Steve Perry better than Journey’s first three records, I still love listening their early stuff. It has a more aggressive style to it. Plus, I’m a sucker for extended solos an jamming. I’m glad Journey changed their sound by add-in Steve Perry. He had an amazing voice and they recorded some incredible music with him. The thing is, they recorded some greAt stuff without him too. It just didn’t become as well-known.

Madonna

I first heard Madonna on a radio station from Clarksville Tennessee, and was immediately intrigued. I could tell she wasn’t common to the rock and roll that I grew up with, and still listened to almost exclusively at that time, but that is what I was looking for – or should I say, listening for – at the time.

The different musical tastes that many of my friends in the Army had were making me want to branch out and experience new styles that I HA previously ignorr d. Reggae, country, jazz, pop, funk, electronic, and even disco (but that was pushing it for me) started to influence my musical tastes, and consqueently, my record collection.  I suddenly realized how much I had been limiting my musical palette, so I decided that every now and then, I would buy an album by an artist that was outside of my comfort zone.

“Borderline” was the first song that I ever heard by Madonna. When I did, I somehow knew that she was not a one-hit-wonder. I could tell that she was someone who was going to to be a big star. I had no idea at the time, just how big.

Madonna’s debut album became my record collection’s point of entrance into ’80s pop and dance music. In all honesty, I don’t think I could have picked a better entry point. Although the music on it was blatantly designed for the dance floors in the New York club scene (and consequently dance clubs across the U.S.) it offered up so much more than that of its peers. With only one album under her belt, Madonna had already changed the music industry forever. A trend she would continue with her future records.

When I first heard Madonna, I thought she was from New York. After all, that’s where she first hit it big – in its club scene, where her songs quickly became some of the most popular.  It wasn’t until a year or two after I owned this album that I learned she was actually, like me, from the suburbs right outside Detroit. She had to move away to New York in order to get the break she deserved. I always thought it was somewhat appropriate that I discovered her music while living far away from our the Motor City which we both called home.

Led Zeppelin IV

There are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection…

There is a reason Led Zeppelin’s fourth record is so iconic. It is an icredible collection of songs that few bands have been able to equal. The album practically defines rock and roll from the ’70s – the golden age of viny. It has become an influential and inspirational focal point for generations of rock band. It became the goal of almost every rock guitarist to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven”.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was the first record from the band that was well received by most critics, their previous album “Led  Zeppelin III” beingg the most severely panned. Record buyers obviously agreed with the positive reviews, as it has become one of the biggest selling records of all time.

Referring to to the album as “Led Zeppelin IV” is actually inaccurate. But then,  how do you refer to an album that has no name?  Zeppelin decided to officially not give it one. They even deferred from putting the bands name anywhere on the album cover.

Fans often refer to it as “Led Zeppelin IV” for a couple reasons. First off, It’s Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and it came out following “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III”. Secondly, the inner sleve shows four symbols that were created by each of the four band members. The album is also commonly referred to as is “Zoso” because the first of the four symbols was created by guitarist Jimmy Page which dolts that word.

Although it has sold millions of copies, it can be hard to run across an original copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album that is in excellent condition.  Partly because many people in the ’70s did not know how to properly care for vinyl records (vinyl takes a little more TLC than CDs) and also because when CDs came out, unless someone decided to get rid of their entire collection, this was one of the few the had to hold on to. After all, there are some albums that should be in everyone’s record collection.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (white vinyl)

Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album, “Rumors”, is one of the best selling albums of all time.  It has sold over 40 million copies and is one of the only albums to give Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” a run for its money as the all time best selling album ever.

The album was recorded in a tumultuous period Fleetwood Mac’s history. There were members of the band having relationships with other members – sometimes multiple members. This caused a lot of tension in the studio.   But it was that tension between the band members that caused huge spark of creativity and resulted in an incredible work of art that stands the test of time. “Rumours” sounds as fresh today as it did back in 1977.

Not surprisingly, given the personal conflicts going on within the band, most of the lyrics “Rumors” are introspective poetry that speaks of love, relationships, and emotions.

This edition of “Rumors” is a limited edition, pressed on white vinyl. There is no reason albums need to be pressed on black vinyl other than that’s the way it was always done. The color of the vinyl doesnt affect the sound quality so every now and then, limited runs of albums are pressed on colored vinyl. They usually cost a little more, but every now and then I have to splurge. After all, colored vinyl is cool.