Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.

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.

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.

Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

Sometimes great records just appear out of nowhere. A friend at work told me she had some old records that were from a family member and she wanted to know if I wanted them. I really didn’t expect much. Back in the day, a lot of people just didn’t know how to take care of records. If they get scratched up, they’re just not worth listening to; to me anyway. As expected, most of the records in the collection were scratched up, or they were old Mills Brothers albums that I just wasn’t interested in, but there were a few exceptions. Bella Donna, the exceptional debut album by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks was one of them. I can now cross that one off of the list I carry with me, just in case I happen to wander into a used record store.

Bella Donna ranks right up there in the short list of the best debut albums of all time, it’s also one of the best albums ever. I’m surprised I let this record slip out of my record collection back in the late ’80s. Then again, the songs on it were all over the radio back then; many still are today.

Stevie Nicks has one of the most immediately recognizable voices on modern music. It’s that voice combined with Stevie Nicks’ exceptional songwriting (she wrote all but one song) that made Bella Donna an immediate success. It immediately grabbed the top chart position when it came out, selling over a million copies within three months of being released and stayed on the charts for an amazing three years. It went on to sell over six million copies. Bella Donna also yielded four hit singles, including a duet with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, and another with Don Henley (from the Eagles), “Leather and Lace”.

John Cougar – Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

“Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” is one of my favorite albums by John Cougar, who had previously recorded two albums as Johnny Cougar, and who would later release albums as John Cougar Mellencamp and finally as his real name John Mellencamp. I can’t think of any other artist who went through that many name changes.

In the beginning of his career, John Mellencamp let his management and record label dictate. As his songs began to prove themselves, Mellencamp pushed back; after two albums, Johnny became John. The first album as John did okay for him. But when Pat Benetar snatched up his song “I Need a Lover” and had a hit with it, that really helped. The royalties from her recording not only sparked an interest in his original version, but also seemed to help him gain confidence in his songwriting. Consequently, “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” became the album where John Cougar (Mellencamp) found his voice and let it be heard.

One of my favorite moments from this album is the song “Cheap Shot” which slams the whole recording industry from the artist’s point-of-view. At one point, the song proclaims “Well the record company made me change my name now”, just to see if they were paying attention. That line was conveniently left out of the album sleeve’s liner notes just in case they actually were.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

Sometimes the very first presses of albums get packaged with little extras. Maybe this was to reward those who “got it” and were waiting for the artist’s next album, buying it virtually unheard because they knew they would like it; I don’t know. But it’s cool when they do it.

Elvis Costello’s first three albums helped define what became known as “new wave” music. It was a welcome change in direction of rock and roll that removed many of the corporate influences of the music in the late ’70s. New wave had a DIY attitude – similar to punk – that intentionally cut against the grain of convention while still incorporating more pop hooks. It would itself eventually be commercialized in the ’80s and re-branded as “alternative” rock.

“Armed Forces” followed in the wake of Elvis Costello’s debut “My Aim is True” and his sophomore record, “This Year’s Model”, which helped bring Costello, and New Wave, into the mainstream. Record buyers who rushed out to get “Armed Forces” were rewarded by an unexpected bonus – a promotional three song record slipped inside the cover with album. The songs on the bonus record were recorded live in 1978 at Hollywood High School in California.

All three of Elvis Costello’s first albums are considered ground-breaking classics today. All appear in Rolling Stones list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The magazine also ranked Elvis Costello one of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Every now and then, an album comes along that is so different from anything before it, you can’t decide if you really like it, or really don’t.
Forty years later, it still sits in my record collection, so I guess there’s no need to say where I eventually opined.

Since Devo’s debut album was produced by Brian Eno and David Bowie, with both of them saying, in essence, that this was the band of the future, I would have been a fool to not expect something different from the mainstream. I just had no idea how different.

Although their popularity lasted for only a few albums, Devo’s music, and most especially this album, changed popular music forever, ushering in “New Wave” music which, because of how distinctly different it was from mainstream rock, became a musical genre in and of itself – “Alternative”.

Like it or loath it, the influence “Are We Not Men” had on music can’t be denied.

Hooters – One Way Home

When I think of underrated bands from the eighties, I think of first and foremost, the Hooters. Hailing from Philadelphia, the first two albums by the Hooters were pop/rock gems with a slick production that dripped of the ’80s. But anyone who had the good fortune to see them in concert knew this was not the true sound the Hooters represented. On “One Way Home” the Hooters captured a more rootsy, organic sound reminiscent of how they sounded live.

“One Way Home” still made use of synthesizers to create great pop hooks in a style that made their sophomore effort “Nervous Night” so successful, but they were mixed in with a wider array of other instruments. The guitar playing was grittier, especially with the solos, and there was more of a folk-rock/Americana feel to the songs. The lyrics are mostly meaningful and thought-provoking.

For reasons that elude me, “One way Home” did not fare as well in America as “Nervous Night” although it did still earn the Hooters another gold record. The album had better success in Europe, where The Hooters remain more popular today.

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.