Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

Novel may be a bit of an overstatement here, but there certainly is a story that is told by the songs on “White City”. It’s a blithe story of society; a society where violence has long been viewed as a sign of being a man, yet one where that will now land you in jail. It also speaks of racism and racial identity, sexual identity an sexuality. It speaks bluntly of 1985’s view of society’s past, present, and questions of its future. It’s the story of tolerance and intolerance, the tolerance of intolerance, the intolerance of tolerance, and intolerance of intolerance. It is a story of both the need for and resistance to a change in society.

Yeah, this is a lyrically complex album. It’s easier to comprehend if you watch the accompanying 60 minute film. If you don’t want to take the time for that, just filter out the deeper meaning of the lyrics and simply listen to the music. It’s awesome.

David Gilmour – About Face

The future of Pink Floyd was uncertain in 1984. The band was going through turmoil and fans like me were guessing there may not ever be another album by them. That’s why I grabbed a copy of David Gilmour’s second solo album when it came out in 1984.

I had been somewhat disappointed by Pink Floyd’s album that came out the previous year. It’s not that “The Final Cut” was a bad album, it was just that it treaded no new territory, sounding like a continuation of the mostly Roger Waters epic “The Wall”. To me, Pink Floyd was always about doing something different new; going in a direction they hadn’t before. One album always sounded distinctly unique from its predecessor, yet still sounded like Pink Floyd. Enter “About Face”.

I’m not saying that “About Face” sounds like a Pink Floyd record; at least not totally. I remember reading that some of the musical ideas on it were presented as ideas for “The Final Cut” but were rejected by Roger Waters who made that album more of a solo project than the next Floyd album. His loss.

There are strong influences of where Gilmour had come from on “About Face”. His guitar had the same distinct tone heard on Pink Floyd albums, but there was more. Reggae influences on “Cruise”, funk/R&B on “Blue Light”, full orchestration on the instrumental “Let’s Get Metaphysical”, a couple straight ahead rockers – it was nothing like an album Pink Floyd would have ever done, which is why, to me, “About Face” sounded like what the next Pink Floyd album could have been. It wasn’t though. It was a David Gilmour solo record, which in the end, was just as good.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Gold

Despite coming from the San Francisco Bay area in California, Creedence Clearwater Revival had a sound rooted in the Delta blues of the deep south. It wasn’t until many years after I had first heard them that I learned they weren’t from Louisiana or Mississippi. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made that assumption when they first heard CCR.

Creedence was one of the most successful bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that success came with a price. The band had a bitter split up in 1972 and numerous lawsuits resulted over the rights to the use of their music. At one point, while pursuing a solo career, lead singer and primary songwriter John Fogerty was sued over royalties for performing CCR songs on stage; songs that he himself had written. The rift between the members ran so deep that even when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than 30 years after the band’s demise, Fogerty refused to take the stage with the other members at the ceremony.

Gold is a great collection of the biggest hit songs by Credence Clearwater Revival. All of the songs on it are timeless staples of classic rock radio. The album cover is also one of the coolest released by any band. Four silhouettes, one representing each band member is die cut and cascade layered, one on top of the other. Behind each silhouette, there is a photo of the band member in the silhouette.

Great album cover. Great band. Great songs. There’s nothing not to like here.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra (deluxe vinyl edition)

Folk rock is a style of music that had fallen out of favor in the past decades, but the genre has been making quite a comeback in recent years. Leading the pack in the stripped down, rootsy Americana laden style of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”, and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” is the Lumineers. “Cleopatra” is their second album.

I discovered The Lumineers a bit late compared to some. A friend of mine who is also into music told me about them after “Cleopatra” and its first single, “Ophelia” had already topped the Billboard charts. I was on a kick rediscovering some older records and not paying as much attention to some of the music coming out at the time. I checked The Lumineers out online and was really impressed. I also discovered that I was familiar with their first single “Hey Ho” from their eponymous debut. I guess I was paying a little attention.

Rather than their debut, I decided to pick up “Cleopatra” as my first album by The Lumineers since I had started to hear “Ophelia” and the title track from the album on the radio. I also ran across a good deal on a deluxe edition of it, which from a collector’s view, is always a bonus. The deluxe album comes in a die cut gate fold cover and is pressed on two slate gray records which go along with the cover art, a picture of silent film star Theda Bara, who played Cleopatra in the 1917 film. The second record contains four bonus tracks not included with the regular version of the album.

Like Petty’s “Wildflowers”, Springsteen’s “The River”, and early Dylan, this is an album I will enjoy at those times I want to chill out and listen to something simple yet melodically engaging. A truly wonderful album.

Pink Floyd – Ummgumma

I would never recommend “Ummagumma” as someone’s introduction to Pink Floyd. Especially in their early days, Pink Floyd was a very experimental band and without a doubt “Ummagumma” was their most experimental album. Decades later, drummer Nick Mason described it as a failed experiment. I disagree.

Although I will admit, while I can listen to other Floyd albums pretty much any time, I have to be in the right mood for “Ummagumma”. Consisting of two records – one live and one studio – Pink Floyd’s fourth album starts off with four songs that had become standards in Floyd’s early live performances; songs that earned them their reputation in the late ’60s as one of the live bands you had to experience live in London’s underground music scene.

The second album is where things can get a bit weird, but in a good way depending on your perspective. Each band member was tasked with composing their own material to fill half of each album side. It kicks off with Rick Wright’s “Sysyphus”, a four movement combination of baroque classical, avant-garde jazz and rock, followed by Roger Waters’ acoustic guitar and nature sound combination “Grantchester Meadows” and closing with the bizarre electric sound effect, Celtic rambling “Several Species of small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” (the longest name of any Pink Floyd song).

The final side of “Ummagumma” starts off with David Gilmour’s “The Narrow Way” a psychedelic journey presented in three parts that bounce between acoustic/electric musings to dark and ominous adventures. The whole collection closes out with drummer Nick Mason’s three-part epic “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party”. “Entrance” is a short flute intro that leads into “Entertainment”, a combination of electronics and highly sped up drum samples that is overtaken by traditional drums and a full-blown drum solo. The flutes return to close it all out with the aptly titled “Exit”.

Experimental? sure. A failed experiment? No way. You just have to be in the mood for something completely different. Just don’t make it your introduction to Pink Floyd. They were experimental, but so much more.

Grand Funk Railroad – Mark, Don & Mel

I don’t think there was a band loved more by their fans and hated more by the music press than Grand Funk Railroad. They sold millions of albums and sold out huge arenas in record time, yet their albums were almost universally dissed by music critics. Bad press was something that Grand Funk learned to get used to. Eventually, they laughed at it. After five solid albums in just three years, they began to revel in it.

“Mark, Don & Mel” is a best of compilation comprised of songs from those first five albums…and the brutal reviews of them. I think I get almost as much enjoyment reading the press reviews Grand Funk gathered up and put on the record sleeves of this double album as I do listening to the music. Puttin the scathing press reviws on the record sleeves was the Flint Michigan’s bands way of flipping the bird to the critics. It was their way of saying “What the F*** do you know? Did you sell millions of records? Did you top the music charts numerous times? Did you sell out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles?”

Yeah, the critics loved to hate Grand Funk Railroad and Grand Funk loved it and wanted their fans to know it. Because Grand Funk knew their fans didn’t care about the critics; they cared about the music. And Grand Funk Railroad’s music kicked some serious ass.

Meh, what do critics know anyway?

Red Rider – Neruda

Tom Cochrane never believed in following trends. He believed in individuality. That’s a theme that weaves throughout Red Rider’s third album, “Neruda”.

The album’s title was nod to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was exiled from his home country for holding on to his individualistic beliefs. The songs on “Neruda” all revolve around the importance of the individual living in a society geared towards following trends in order to fit in.

Red Rider was one of the best Canadian rock bands in the 1980’s. Their guitarist, singer and songwriter, Tom Cochrane was one of the most gifted songwriters of that decade. His songs always had a lyrical depth that was far beyond most of his peers. The accompanying music was always a perfect blend of guitar and keyboards, not too polished or rough around the edges; never over produced. Like Red Rider’s other albums, the songs on “Neruda” are easy to listen to but could be at the same time aggressive and challenging. They were always well written and intriguing. And perhaps most importantly, they are never ever trendy.

Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet

I can’t believe the difference in sound between Lucifer’s Friend’s 1970 eponymous debut and their fourth album, 1974’s “Banquet”. It’s hard to realize it’s actually the same band. Gone is the metal crunch of the overdriven guitars and Hammond B3 organ that put them in league with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. Those sounds are replaced here with more rounded guitar tones and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Oh, and don’t forget the full horn section. All that, along with the free-flowing extended solos, leaves “Banquet” having much more in common with the progressive, jazz-rock fusion sounds of Traffic, early Chicago, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ELP than it does with any metal band. About the only things consistent between this and Lucifer’s Friend’s debut album is the incredible musicianship and John Lawton’s amazing voice.

Then again Lucifer’s Friend was a band that seemed to strive to sound different on every new album. I think the diversity in their sound from one album to the next is a big reason they had a hard time gaining popular traction outside of their native Germany. Their fans never knew what to expect from them from one album to the next. The thing was, that’s what I admired about them.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – The Roaring Silence

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band liked to have control of how their songs sounded. I don’t know of one song or album by them that wasn’t produced by the band; I don’t think they ever used outside producers.

In addition fto often incorporating excerpts from classical music into their own compositions, they were also notorious for doing their own renditions of other performers’ songs, but I would never say that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band ever plated covers. Whenever they played any music written by outsiders, the song was always rearranged and made into something totally unique; something that stood apart from the original. They always made whatever they played uniquely a Manfred Mann’s Earth Band song.

Case in point: “Blinded by the Light”, a song written and originally performed by Bruce Springsteen. The version appearing on Manfred Mann’s “The Roaring Silence” is a total prog rock reimagining of Springsteen’s gritty R&B version it isn’t played to quite the progressive rock extravagance of the rest of the album the Earth Band’s fourth album but it is still a significant departure in that direction from what Springsteen had laid down.

“Blinded by the Light” may have been one of the biggest hits for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, but it is far from their best song, at least in my opinion. On this album alone, the thematic weaving of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite into “Starbird” and Manfred Mann’s synth keyboard wizardry on the instrumental “Waiter, There’s a Yawn in My Ear” always leave me in awe. It’s the seldom heard deep cuts on “The Roaring Silence” that make it one of my all time favorites albums.

The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely

There are two types of people when it comes to The Tragically Hip. Those who love them as one of the most incredible rock bands ever, and those who have never heard of them. That latter group doesn’t know what the ‘F’ they’re missing out on. But you Canadian’s know.

If I had to pick a favorite Tragically Hip album, I suppose it would be “Fully Completely”. Only because, barring the sentimentality behind first hearing them on my honeymoon in Toronto, this was the album where I realized what incredible band The Tragically Hip were.

It was on “Fully, Completely”, that I discovered how wonderful it can be after the honeymoon; when I could strip out the newness and the sentimentality. It was a time when I first analyzed the core and heart and soul before me and realized the awesome aura of honesty, sincerity and passion surrounding me.

Wait a second…was I talking about my wife of almost 30 years or The Tragically Hip’s music.

Oh yeah…both.

I love you Helen.

The Hip are pretty F’ing awesome too.