The Clash – London Calling

When The Clash released their third album, “London Calling”, Did they abandon their punk rock roots or open the genre up to greater possibilities?

Punk rock started as a response to the more experimental and extravagant styles that had become commonplace with rock music in the late ’70s. When The Clash and other punk bands arose on the scene, they rebelled with rock music that was raw and stripped down to its very basic core.

Unlike The Clash’s first two albums, “London Calling” was anything but stripped down and basic. The Clash took influences from ska, reggae, R&B, rockabilly, lounge jazz and Celtic music, to create what many consider to be their best album. It surely is one that few will dispute was as groundbreaking as it was influential.

But the question remains: With “London Calling”, did The Clash abandon or expand the definition of punk rock?

It’s been at least a couple decades since I have listened to “London Calling” in its entirety. I had the album a long time ago but got rid of it, along with a lot of other albums I now regret parting with. My intent was to replace my vinyl copy with one on compact disc. The problem was, that never happened. So, this year I asked Santa for it for Christmas, and guess what? Santa came through!

I don’t know what my answer would have been when I first listened to “London Calling” all those years ago. But listening to in its entirety now, for the first time in decades, the answer is perfectly clear and obvious to me.

With “London Calling” did The Clash abandon their punk rock roots or did they expand on the genre?

The answer is “yes.”

Rick Springfield – Living In Oz

Rick Springfield had been in the music business a long time by the time he had his third hit album, 1983’s “Living in Oz”.

It didn’t take long for “Living in Oz” to sell over a million copies once it was released. Springfield’s two previous albums, 1981’s “Working Class Dog”, and 1982’s “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”, were hugely successful albums for the Australian guitarist and singer and “Living in Oz” rode in their wake.

Not that it needed any help. This is in my opinion, Rick Springfield’s strongest album. The songs on it rocked harder and the lyrics had an edgier and more personal feeling to them than on his two previous records, which broke away from, but still somewhat bordered on the more bubblegum pop he recorded early in his career.

I had first heard of Rick Springfield in 1973, when I was still in elementary school. He was the main animated charachter of a Saturday morning cartoon called “Mission Magic!” In the cartoon, Miss Tickle, a teacher that had magical abilities would travel with her students to another dimension, always to resolve some type of problem there. There was usually some type of life lesson involved in the story line. Rick Springfield played himself and lived in the other dimension. As a child, I was drawn to the cartoon primarily because of the music in it and remember being disappointed when it did not make it to a second season.

“Working Class Dog” featured the hit single “Jesse’s Girl” which spurred a renewal in Springfield’s musical career. That single was followed up by “Don’t Talk To Strangers” from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”. His string of hits continued with “Affair of the Heart” and “Human Touch” from “Living in Oz”.

This newfound musical success prompted Springfield to break from his acting career (He was playing Doctor Noah Drake on the soap opera “General Hospital” at the time) and focus on his musical career. Unfortunately, he would never again experience the success he did on his trilogy of albums from the early ’80s.

Today, Rick Springfield still maintains a successful acting career and continues to release new music. His new album “The Snake King” is due out in 2018.

Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

“Sports”, the third album from Huey Lewis and the News is one of the best albums to come out of the ’80s.

I honestly can not understand how anyone can not like this album. It is chock full of infectious songs with great hooks that combined blues, soul, and a little doo-wop with ’80s pop and rock. Then, as a bonus, they even do a cover of an old Hank Williams song, “Honky Tonk Blues”. It’s no wonder this record became their most successful album ever. I mean, what wasn’t there to like?

Yet…

I remember being being on a first date with a girl in the late ’80s and at one point in the evening she said that she didn’t like Huey Lewis because she thought he was too commercial. I didn’t argue my point (not a good thing to do on a first date) but at the end of the evening, I took her home, and like a good gent, gave her a kiss and said goodnight. I never saw her again after that night.

I wonder what ever happened to her.

…No I don’t.

Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans

Middle ground isn’t always easy to find. Ask any fan of Yes where they think “Tales from Topographic Oceans” ranks in the band’s album catalog and you will almost always find it listed near the top or bottom of the list. Rarely, if ever, in the middle.

Then again, “Tales…” was not an album that offered much middle ground. And it did so very unapologetically. It is the epitome of self-indulgent rock and roll. That in itself is the pivotal point of this 1973 double album. Four sides. Four songs. No singles. No apologies.

Take it or leave it.

Most took it…at first. It’s pre-orders from record stores almost immediately placed the album into gold status (500 thousand copies sold)…but it fizzled after reaching that mark. Many copies would shortly thereafter remain burried in record collections, or like mine, end up on the shelves in used record stores.

When I ran across of “Tales…” again at a record show a few years ago, I decided to give it another chance. Maybe it was life and experience. Maybe I just didn’t really listen to it the first time. Maybe I was just stupid. The second time around, I absolutely loved this album. It is a masterpiece of musicality and interpretation!

The four sides of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” were based on the four bodies of Hindu Shastra. One side each dedicated to a philosophical teaching. I think maybe it was too deep for me decades ago. The lyrics and music both require a desire to interpret and understand. But as in life, when you take the time to analyse and truly understand, you finally realize the fruits of your labor – and it’s no longer a labor. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, that’s my take of “Tales of Topographic Oceans” with no middle ground:

It’s four sides of a beautiful thing.

Rush – A Farewell To Kings

Many bands go through changes. Sometimes it’s to avoid getting bored, wanting to try something new. Sometimes it’s an attempt to better find their footing. Sometimes it’s a search for that ever elusive radio friendly single. For Rush, “A Farewell To Kings” was an attempt at all three.

Rush’s debut, self-titled album, was a combination of hard rock and metal. Their second, “Fly By Night” was not as rough around the edges and more straightforward hard rock. Their third, “Caress of Steel” ventured more into progressive rock territory. It was a change that alienated much of their established fan base. Although a good record, it was for the most part was a flop for the Canadian trio. “2112”, their fourth album, struck gold for them with its melding together the styles of its predecessors.

But what really had eluded Rush to this point, and what their musical career needed, was significant radio airplay. “Closer to the Heart” the sole single released from their fifth studio album, “A Farewell To Kings”, would change that.

For the most part, “A Farewell to Kings” revisted the progressive rock elements that had not done so well for them earier. But by this time, Rush’s songwriting talents had become more refined and their fans had come to expect more diversity from them.

Being just shy of three minutes long. “Closer to the Heart” was one of Rush’s shortest songs, which made it a great contender to be picked up for heavy rotation on rock radio stations. The fact that it had a beautiful underlying melody, insightful lyrics, and high caliber musicianship with a great guitar solo, made it an inevitable choice. Consequently, “A Farewell to Kings” and it’s accompanying single, “Closer to the Heart”, catapulted Rush’s popularity to the next level.

Ted Nugent – Free For All

Ted Nugent is well known for his exceptional guitar playing as well as his outspoken political views. I don’t talk politics here, so let’s just talk about guitar playing. But not Ted’s. Let’s talk about the “other” guitarist in Nugent’s band, Derek St. Holmes.

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Derek St. Holmes play last night at a local Detroit concert venue, the legendary Token Lounge (which I remember seeing one or two bands at way back in the ’70s and ’80s). I left that show last night realizing that, because he played as the “other” guitarist alongside Nugent, Derek St. Holmes was a vastly overlooked guitar legend.

St. Holmes, who now lives in Nashville, was up in his original stomping grounds in the Detroit area, I believe for the Christmas season. While in the area, he scheduled a night to perform at the Token. When he saw Glocksmith, a local Detroit area band, playing at a nearby venue, he immediately asked them to be his backing band. I have a couple friends who play in Glocksmith and I have seen them play live many times. There was no way I was going to miss this show.

After the show, I couldn’t help but realize what an awesome guitarist St. Holmes is. He was definitely held back by being the rhythm guitarist with Nugent. That’s probably why he left in the late seventies and teamed up with Aerosmith’s “other” guitarist Brad Whitford to form Whitford/St. Holmes. Unfortunately, Brad Whitford returned to Aerosmith when they reformed, squelching any chance of Whitford/St. Holmes ever having a chance of making it.

Derek St. Holmes put on a great show last night, Performing many of the songs he played and sang lead vocals on while in Ted Nugent’s band, as well as some from Whitford/St. Holmes. My only gripe with the show was that my friends, Randy Peavler on Bass and Dave Goldsworthy on guitar, were left somewhat in the shadows – although they were graciously given their moments to shine. That’s a personal thing though. For most people at the show last night, it was all about the often overlooked “other” guitarist from Ted Nugent’s band, Derek St. Holmes.

For me though, it was about my friends in Glocksmith getting do a show with one of their heroes, and a true guitar legend.

Derek St. Holmes and Glocksmith – Stranglehold

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!

Styx – The Grand Illusion

As I think it was for many back in 1977, “The Grand Illusion” was my introduction to the music of Styx. This album hooked me right away because of its extensive use of the use of synthesizers throughout it. Dennis DeYoung was an incredibly talented keyboardist and knew how to fully take advantage of the synthesizers to expand his creative ability. Because of the synths, Styx had elements of prog similar to Emerson Lake and Palmer. A big difference though, was that they had three singers, all with very distinctly different voices, allowing them to add impressive vocal arrangements to their songs. Then there was James Young and Tommy Shaw, who had distinctly different playing styles that gave Styx a versatility that few bands could equal. Gluing all this versatility together was the rhythm section of the Panozzo brothers, John on drums and Chuck on bass.

But the thing that made “The Grand Illusion” such a good good album was the songs themselves. There is not a mediocre track on this album. Perfectly arranged and neither overly polished or too raw, it was a near perfect combination of pop, prog, and hard rock. It’s no wonder this was the album that broke Styx into the mainstream. And then there were the lyrics. If it was Styx’s music that initially hooked me, it was the lyrics that reeled me in. Sometimes they were insightful. Sometimes mystical. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes scathing. Always deeply meaningful. It’s no wonder that Styx will always be one of my favorite bands and “The Grand Illusion” will always be my favorite album by them. Although there’s also “Pieces of Eight”…

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery

Most people who know classic rock know of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Most people who know of Emerson Lake and Palmer, know the song “Karn Evil 9”, if not by name at least by its opening line “Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends”. It is after all, their most often played song on the radio. But that song you hear on the radio is actually only a five minute excerpt from an epic song that is over thirty minutes long. It is the central piece of music on their fourth album “Brain Salad Surgery”.

ELP’ s music was always heavily influenced by Euoropean classical music. So it should come as no big surprise that the entire song “Karn Evil 9” is structured much like a classical composition, performed in 3 movements. The 1st movement is split into two sections. Part one takes up the second half of the first side of the “Brain Salad Surgery” and part two starts off side 2 of the album. The 2nd and 3rd movements of “Karn Evil 9” close out side 2. The part of the song that is most often played on the radio is actually “Karn Evil 9, 1st movement, part 2”.

The album “Brain Salad Surgery” is a masterpiece of creativity. The album starts out with a modern take of “Jerusalem”, a hymn commonly heavily ingrained in British culture and with the Church of England. It’s followed by an adaptation of “Toccata”, a rock adaptation of a piano concerto written by 20th century classical composer Alberto Ginastera, Carl Palmer adds a percussion movement to. It starts out on tympani drums and wraps up with a wild solo played on a synthesized drum set. “Benny the Bouncer” is a just for fun song featuring a Keith Emerson playing honky-tonk piano and Carl Palmer’s super-fast jazz style drumming using brushes instead of sticks – something almost unheard of by rock bands. “Still, You Turn Me On” is slow and beautiful piece and the final song before “Karn Evil 9” takes over the rest of the record.

If you think this all sound a bit self-indulgent and pretentious, well…It is. All three members of ELP were exceptional musicians and they aimed to flaunt it on their early albums. They were the epitome of self-indulgent, pretentios rock. I mean that in the best way possible.

Emerson Lake, and Palmer practically defined what becamee known as “progressive rock”. Keith Emerson was a classically trained pianist. He worked closely with Roger Moog, who creator of the Moog synthesizer. Emerson became a pioneer of the synthesizer, demonstrating its versatility and making a significant instrument in rock music. Carl Palmer, was far more than just a drummer. He is considered to be one of the best percussionist ever and could augment any style music. Greg Lake was a solid bassist who had one of the most distinct, immediately recognizable voices in modern music. Only musicians of their caliber could have pulled off album like this.