2017 was a sad year for rock and roll. So many legends and so much talent was lost this year. Perhaps more so than any other year.
Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Gregg Allman, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave), J. Geils, Malcom Young (AC/DC), and most recently, Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.
The Smithereens were formed by four friends from New Jersey who in 1980, decided to form a rock and roll band. They finally found success in 1986, with their debut album, “Especially For You”. The band had a hit single with the opening track to the album, “Strangers When We Meet”, and another with the opening song to side two, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”. But their biggest hit off the album…their biggest hit ever…was the unforgettable “Blood and Roses”. A song driven by an unforgettable bass line and lyrics about losing out on love because of not being able to express it. The song was an immediate hit on both ’80s alternative and mainstream rock radio stations.
Sadly, 2017 took its latest, and hopefully its last, rock and roll icon, Pat DiNizio, lead singer and guitarist for The Smithereens, on December 12, 2017. He will forever be remembered by so many for the multitude of emotions he brought to our ears.
In memory of Pat, and all the other legends and remarkable talent we lost in 2017, I will let the rhythmic thump/click of this album’s inner track resonate in the room for at least the next 17 minutes in honor of the rhythmic heartbeats of the those whom rock and roll lost in 2017.
‘Twas a sad year, 2017.
The second album by Dinosaur Jr, “You’re Living All Over Me” is not an album that’s for the faint of heart. Guitarist J. Mascis had a habit of cranking the distortion up on his guitar to levels that would make even Neil Young shudder in amazement. Yet he could somehow make it come out feeling melodic…bordering on controlled chaos.
I’ll admit, this is an album I have to be in the mood for (which tonight I am). It’s raw. It’s raucous. It’s as unforgiving as a sucker punch to your face. And it’s as exhilarating as sitting in the front seat of a roller-coaster that’s about to jump the tracks, but somehow it holds on.
Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that is hard to fit into a specific genre because they just did what they did, with no reservations and without ever asking forgiveness.
Dinosaur Jr. was all of the above.
This has got to be my favorite album title ever. Apparently Ian Hunter loved it too. Legend has it that the phrase was first seen on a bathroom stall wall and Mick Ronson, who is best known for his collaborations with David Bowie, was going to use it as the title to a solo album of his own. But once Ian Hunter heard it, he wanted to use the title so badly he offered Ronson writing credits on the first track and single from the album, even though Ronson had nothing at all to do with the song. Released in 1979, “You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic” was Ian Hunter’s fourth solo album after leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974. In addition to “Just Another Night”, the aforementioned first single off the record, the album also garnered hits for other artists as well. In the ’80s, Barry Manilow would have a hit with the song “Ships” and in the ’90s, The Presidents of the United States would strike gold with “Cleveland Rocks”. That song was also used as the theme song for one of my favorite TV shows “The Drew Carey Show”.
Although they did not go by the name they were collectively known as, Ian Hunter’s backing band on this album were the members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Empires can be built in many different ways. Dedication and drive. Crime and Corruption. Narcissism. Greed.
They can also have many different consequences for the builder. Satisfaction. Loneliness and abandonment. A desire for more.
Those topics and more pretty much sum up the theme of Queensrÿche’s fourth album, aptly titled “Empire”.
Queensrÿche had paid their dues as a band throughout the eighties. After years of rejection from every record label they courted, the band finally signed a deal with EMI, and released their first album in 1984. “The Warning” earned them a moderate but solid fan base which stayed with them for their subsequent albums. Their third album, “Operation Mind Crime” should have been the album that broke them, but EMI did little in promotion and it never did as well as it had potential. When Queensrÿche released “Empire” as the follow-up, it absolutely exploded. There was no holding it back. It hit near the top of the charts in almost every country it was released in, including number 7 in the U.S. It sold over 3 million copies worldwide.
The song “Silent Lucidity” was nominated for two Grammy Awards – Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal. Unfortunately, it didn’t win either. I honestly forget what songs it was up against at the time, but I remember thinking at the time that “Silent Lucidity” was the hands down winner. It is one of the most beautifully and emotionally gripping rock songs ever performed. A masterpiece of a song on an album that is the same.
That was a word a lot of people used to describe “Hi Infidelity”, the 9th studio album by REO Speedwagon. And in many ways it was. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Towards the end of the 70s, REO Speedwagon’s albums began to take on more of a pop sound then their earlier, harder rocking albums. A trend that was brought to fruition on “Hi Infidelity”. The thing is though, when you really listen to it, this record rocks just as hard and any of its predecessors. Sometimes more so. It just did it with a bit more polish.
In their early incarnation, REO Speedwagon was anything but a pop band. They were a hard rocking Midwestern American band with highly talented musicians. Gary Richrath was a phenomenal guitarist and Neil Doughty was absolutely one of the most underrated keyboardists ever, as was Alan Gratzer on drums. Despite their talent and some great songs, true success seemed to elude REO Speedwagon, album after album, in their early days.
So they spruced up their sound a bit, to make it more accessible, and started throwing a slow ballad or two on each new album. And voila! Hit records. The great thing was, they still wrote songs that allowed Gary Richrath and Neil Doughty to really cut loose. Hidden under the hood of the pop gloss on “Hi Infidelity” are some of the best riffs and solos in the REO Speedwagon canon.
The formula on “Hi Infidelity” absolutely worked worked for REO. Even though it was absolutely a pop album, especially when compared to their early material, “Hi Infidelity” never alienated REO’s early fan base because it’s still rocked hard. Yet the album gained them a new pop fan base. The album ended up becoming their most successful album ever, selling over 10 million copies and topping the Billboard charts in 1981. It also earned them their first number one single, the obligatory slow ballad “Keep on Loving You”.
“Hi Infidelity” was the record that finally, after eight previous albums, earned REO Speedwagon the success they had so long deserved but had constantly been denied, while still letting them keep their musical integrity. Call it a sellout if you want. I call it REO Speedwagon at their finest.
Blues chords, great guitar riffs, and solid guitar solos. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. And it’s nothing Joe Walsh hasn’t put on an album before or after. But so what, his third solo album is essential to any rock lover’s collection.
Joe Walsh was pretty basic and straightforward with his albums. He never really did anything fancy… Except his solos. His solos kicked ass. Every time. He was a master on slide guitar that few could equal. He also played more than just guitar. He was very accomplished on keyboards and quite often would put a song that featured him playing synthesizer on his albums. “So What” was no exception.
Joe Walsh’s formula for making an album was simple – write good songs, play them well, and have excellent musicians back him up. On “So What”, those backup musicians were quite often members of The Eagles. A little over a year and a half later Joe Walsh would actually join the Eagles, bringing a little more edginess to their sound and helping them have their most successful studio album ever, Hotel California. But so what. His solo material was just as good.
Although Def Leppard’s first two albums developed a solid fan base for them, it was their third album that really broke them into the mainstream. Pyromania sold over 10 million copies and hit number 2 on the Billboard charts. Many of the songs on it still receive significant airplay on rock radio stations today.
Following the release of Pyromania, drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in an automobile accident. I give the friendship the band members held for him extreme kudos for what happened afterwards. They could have sought out another drummer. Instead, they decided to have a special drum kit designed for him that made greater use of foot pedals so he could still play drums with the band. The incident is documented in the 2001 film “Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story” which was named after their fourth album. I saw Def Leppard on tour, supporting that album. Rick Allen did a drum solo that was nothing short of amazing and was one of the highlights of the concert.
When I met my wife over 25 years ago, she didn’t have nearly as many records as I did. As a matter of fact, she only had a handful. Pyromania was one of them. I would have added it to my collection but I already owned a copy of it.
Many people today have heard of Liberace. Most who have, know of the flamboyance of his appearance and performances. But most have never listened to his music. If you have never listened to Liberace, you owe it to your ears to do so. He was one of the most incredible pianists you will ever hear.
Liberace came into popularity in the 1950’s, when rock and roll was just forming. Rock and roll at that time was stripped down and fairly basic, built upon the foundation of black Southern blues performers. But Liberace was not rock and roll, nor did he ever try to be. I don’t think he ever tried to be anything other than what he was best at being – a virtuoso and an entertainer.
Pop, classical, and even jazz and latin, Liberace could play it better than anyone. But that style of playing didn’t fit in with rock and roll. At least not until the emergence of progressive rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Had he been born two decades later, Liberace would have been as highly regarded in the world of rock as that genre’s most notorious keyboardists. He would have been another Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman. Instead, his virtuosity is resigned to the memories of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
Then again, I suppose the same fate will be bestowed upon the keyboard wizards of my era. Many younger people today have only heard the names Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson – legends in the original age of vinyl.
But I know there will always be a few who will dig into the past for the music from before their time. The music that influenced their musical heroes, and their heroes. I know that if they keep digging, they will eventually discover Liberace, and when they do, I know they will be compelled to listen to it undistracted. And when the music stops and silence befalls their ears, they will utter only one word: “Wow” – because it is at that moment that they will discover and know the virtuoso that was Liberace.
Written, arranged, and recorded in a 16 day blowout, John Cougar Mellencamp’s 1983 album, “Uh-huh”, was the transitional point where his music started to have a more Americana feeling to it. On “Uh-huh” Mellencamp’s lyrics were becoming more heartfelt and personal and his music was moving away from the more pop/rock/prog leanings of his earlier records to a more organic sound. It wasn’t as pronounced as it would be on the albums that followed and which defined his later career, but it was still a noticeable shift. It was this transitional combination of styles that made “Uh-huh” one of his most popular albums, and one of my personal favorites by him.
Recorded at his home studio that he called “The Shack”, “Uh-huh” was also Mellencamp’s first album to bear his actual last name. When he started out his career, the record company refused to sign him unless he changed his last name to “Cougar” because they felt the name “Mellencamp” was simply not marketable. This is the only album where he used both names. He dropped “Cougar” all together on all his subsequent records, making his name on his seventh album as much of a transitional combination as his music on it.
I wonder if that was intentional or just a lucky coincidence.
“Hey Reputah! Reputah the Beautah!
You know you’re really good when you can totally screw up and still make it better than if you had gotten it right.
Case in point: the introduction to the live version of “Musta Got Lost”.
Peter Wolf, the singer to the J. Geils Band, totally forgot the name of the well-known storybook character he wanted to use in his introduction to “Musta Got Lost” when recording their live album “Blow Your Face Out”. But instead of being throw off kilter by the screw up, Wolf molded it into one of the most iconic spoken introductions to any song on any record…ever.
Take your big curls and squeeze them down Ratumba –
What’s the name of the chick with the long hair?
(Rapunzel!) Hey Rapunzel!
Hey Reputa! Reputa the Beautah!
Hey Reputa the Beautah, flip me down your hair
And let me climb up to the ladder of your love!!
Although unintended, the screw-up was incredibly appropriate to the song it introduced. “Musta Got Lost” was a song about screwing up. It was a song about letting somebody go and realizing afterwards that it was a mistake. Peter Wolf played on his mistake perfectly, just as anyone needs to do in such a circumstance.
Although he didn’t mean to be so philosophical, in that spoken intro, and the accompanying song afterwards, Wolf embodies the struggle of relationships from the perspective of both heart and mind. He embodies the anger and the pain of it ending, as well as the desire and desperation to want to make it work. The introduction and song embody the realization of how a relationship can be over in one moment…with one screw-up.
If I had any complaint about “Blow Your Face Out”, it’s that it was too short – it ended too soon. But then again, the same can be said about any meaningful relationship.