Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

Styx – Cornerstone

Although Cornerstone, the ninth studio album by Styx, still held on somewhat to the band’s progressive rock beginnings, the shift to more pop oriented songs was obvious.  The musical landscape was in the US was changing as the 1970s merged into a new decade and Styx’s music was changing with it.  Styx seemed to almost declare the change with Borrowed Time,  which kicks off side two with Dennis DeYoung declaring “Don’t look  now, but here come the ’80s”.

Cornerstone gave Styx their first and only number one hit with Babe.  Shortly after the power-pop ballad came out, it seemed you couldn’t turn the radio for an hour without hearing it.  I have to say, I started to grow sick of the song after a while.  Listening to it now, I can again appreciate the beauty and tenderness of the song, which Dennis DeYoung wrote for his wife.

“Boat on the River” has always been one of my favorite tracks on Cornerstone.  Although it was an overlooked song in the United States, it remains Styx’s biggest hit in Europe.

The Best Of The Guess Who

Most Americans will admit without hesitation that our neighbors to the north (or to the south if you live in Detroit) know how to rock. Granted, you recently gave us Justin Bieber, but you also gave us bands like The Guess Who, so we’ll let you slide on your more recent export.

The Guess who were popular in Canada long before America eventually discovered them. Once they broke onto the American music scene in the late 1960s, they seemed to be an unstoppable musical force, due in part to Randy Bachman’s guitar and Burton Cummings unmistakable vocals. Within a few short years, they had amassed enough popularity to easily fill a compilation album of hit songs along with a couple early fan favorites which they released in 1971.

Randy Bachman would eventually leave The Guess Who at the height of their popularity due to creative differences. He would go on to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, another Canadian band who gained huge success in Canada and the United States.

U.S. Military P.S.A. Radio Programs

Memorial Day is a day the United States recognizes the members of its military who gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms many of us take for granted. I hear a lot of grumbling about the injustices many feel there are in the U.S. I do a fair bit of that grumbling myself from time to time. But consider this: What if you lived in a country where that grumbling against your country could get you thrown in jail or even executed for treason? Despite the injustices that still exist in this country, we are allowed the right to protest against those injustices and set in motion the wheels of change. This is one of the greatest freedoms Americans have; one that many civilians in the United States take for granted. It is a freedom that many have died to defend and preserve.

In honor of those brave men and women, some whom I have had the honor to serve with back in the 1980s, I am today listening to some old US Army and Marines public service radio programs that were meant to help recruiting efforts in the 1970s, after the military stopped the involuntary draft. Basically, these were musical radio programs that ran for a half hour block, during which the disc jockey on the record would interject military recruiting public service announcements in between the songs. Most of the time, programs like these were disposed of by the radio station shortly after being broadcast … but not always.

I recently picked up this small collection of programs from former Detroit broadcaster who was retiring and moving down south. The songs are a collection of rock and pop songs, mostly from the 60s and 70s that bring me back to the days of my youth and teens. and the DJ’s announcements in between the songs couldn’t be more relevant than they are today, Memorial Day.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds

Based on the H.G. Wells classic 1897 Sci-Fi novel, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a classic in and of itself.

I have to admit, despite my love of music, and my being fond of British and progressive rock in particular, I had no idea that this record even existed until 2012 when a modernized revision of it was released on CD. Having first heard both versions in relatively the same time period, I know it is without any sentimentality that I feel the original version is superior. Both are good, but to me, the newer version overuses its reliance on electronic instruments a bit. The original version finds the perfect balance of guitars, electronic keys, and orchestration to dramatically tell the story of an attack on earth by an alien force that we have no ability to defend against and the most unexpected cause of the invaders eventual defeat.

As the title suggests, this is not a rock opera, it is a musical. Much of the record is narrated by The Journalist, played by legendary British actor Richard Burton; his voice accompanied by a dramatic underscore of music. Significant scenes are told instrumentally and lyrically in stand-alone songs performed by Jeff Wayne with the help from members of The Moody Blues, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Thin Lizzy, and David Essex, as well as a few well-reputed session musicians.

When originally released, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds had two versions, this one and a single album version that was distributed exclusively to radio stations. That promotional version eliminated the narration, containing only the stand-alone songs. It also did not include the 16 page booklet that came with the two record commercial release.

The songs from WOTW did not receive the significant radio play in the US that they got in the UK. Consequently, it peaked at number 5 in the UK but never touched the charts here. I guess that partially explains my ignorance to its existence until decades after its release. Still, it became one of the most successful records in th UK, selling over two and a half million copies in its original release. Given my love of British music, and progressive rock in particular, I can’t believe it took me decades to hear of this rock and roll masterpiece. I’m just glad I eventually did.

The Faces – A Nod Is As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse

Rock and roll that’s raw, rowdy and played with plenty of swagger, that pretty much sums up the Faces third album; their first with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on guitar. No discredit meant to the other band members, but it was the addition of Ron Wood’s guitar that really gave “A Nod is as Good as a Wink…” that distinct raw and rowdy sound and Rod Stewart who brought the swagger. There was no way this album could have missed in the early ’70s.

“A Nod is as Good as a Wink…” is one of those albums that needs to be listened to cranked up…at least just a little…even if everyone else in the house is sleeping. It’s for albums like this that I made it a point to put my main sound system in a very well sound isolated room in my basement.

Time to rock.

The Rage of 1710 – Pachelbel: His Celebrated Canon And Other Baroque Hits

I am not ashamed to admit that I know very little about classical music. All I know is I like classical music from the baroque era the best. I love its ornate complexities and its dramatic and emotional presentation.

I know that baroque was a turning point in classical music. It was an era where emotion and expression started to take more precedence than just form and structure. It was kind of like the rock and roll era of classical music. Maybe that’s why I like it.

Bach became the biggest ‘rock star’ (for lack of a better term) in baroque music; his music took on so many different moods but was always immediately recognizable. Vivaldi, Handel, and Pachelbel also gained significant fame and recognition throughout Europe in the 18th century. My son, who knows music theory much better than I ever will, tells me that the chord structure in Pachelbel’s Canon is used in many rock songs today. I had never thought of there being any connection between baroque and rock and roll before then. I just knew I liked both

A few decades after the baroque era, Mozart and Beethoven would also become ‘stars’ throughout Europe, ringing in what is known as the romantic era of classical music. I don’t know what musically differentiates the romantic era from the baroque; until recently I always considered Mozart and Beethoven to be baroque – but I guess they’re not. Then as gain, what do I know?

John Lennon – Imagine

John Lennon was a dreamer. But he had a good dream.

“Imagine” has got to be one of the most beautiful and powerful songs ever written. It’s a song about being a dreamer. It’s about having a dream where there is no war, no hatred, no killing. It’s a dream of universal peace. It begs us all, if only for a moment, to imagine a. world like that.

It can be impossible to believe the world as we know it today could ever be without personal possessions, religion, or nations, as Lennon asks us to imagine in the title track of his second solo album. I think he knows as well as any intelligent person (and John Lennon was very intelligent) it’s an impossible dream for mankind to ever achieve. But it’s easy to imagine it. But as he reminds us here, although the world around us can seem uncaring and cruel at times; though there always seems to be some war going on somewhere; though the news seems to present us daily with a barrage of mankind’s cruelty toward his fellow kind, sometimes it’s good to imagine a different world; a world where no contention exists. Though that world may not ever exist for us, for 3 minutes, John Lennon asks us all to just dream it will one day, then imagine if we at least tried to live that dream.

The Very Best Of The Ventures

Talk about bringing back memories of my childhood. I think my parents had every Ventures album that ever came out when I was growing up. I used to listen them so much, I’m surprised I didn’t take up surfing when I got older.

The Ventures were the epitome of instrumental surf music. My favorite songs by them are all here: “Walk Don’t Run”, “Tequila”, “Wipe Out”, and of course, the theme from “Hawaii Five-O”.

Perhaps the memory that makes me smile the most is taking the toy rifle my parents had bought me as a present and instead of playing Army or cops and robbers with it, I would pretend it was a guitar and that I was playing the along. I even had a routine during “Wipe Out”, where I would jump off the couch in true rock and roll style, with my arm flailing at my toy gun/guitar for the solo in “Wipe Out”.

Ahhh, the memories…

The Rockets – No Ballads

The Rockets were a Detroit band from the late ’70s that most Detroiters at the time felt were destined for national stardom. For some reason that success eluded them.

Detroit was a hotbed for rock and roll in vinyl’s golden era. Many bands from in and around the city went on to achieve national and even international success. The ’60s brought noteriety to bands like the MC5, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder. And of course, you can’t forget all the soulful Motown groups who topped the record charts in the ’60s, going into the ’70s.

Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper were also local Detroit favorites in the late ’60s whose popularity exploded nationally in the following decade. The 1970s also saw Grand Funk, Brownsville Station, Ted Nugent (who left the Amboy Dukes), Suzi Quatro, and the Romantics break onto the national music scene.

The Rockets, featuring former members of the Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder’s band, The Detroit Wheels, had a hard-edged blues rock sound that was immediately recognizable and made them one of the most popular bands on the local scene. Their locally distributed debut, “Love Transfusion” came out in 1977. It’s local popularity immediately earned them a major label record deal with RSO records, putting them on the same label as British blues rock legend Eric Clapton. Despite little promotion, their first album on RSO scored them two minor national hits, “Oh Well” a gritty version of an old Fleetwood Mac song, and the title track off the album, “Turn Up the Radio”.
It seemed national noteriety was just over the horizon for them with their follow-up album.

When “No Ballads” came out, radio stations immediately picked up on the songs “Desire”, “Takin’ It Back” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” making the album even more successful than their previous one … well, in Detroit anyway. RSO was having financial problems and did nothing to promote the record. With the lack of airplay on radio stations outside of Michigan and a national audience only vaguely familiar with who the Rockets were, “No Ballads” pretty much fizzled nationally. RSO eventually went defunct, leaving the Rockets without a national record label. They were picked up by Electra Records, but any momentum they had was stalled. They released three more albums after “No Ballads” that also did well in and around Detroit, but failed to gain any traction nationally.

I have all six albums by the Rockets in my collection and always will. To this day, they remain one of my all-time favorite bands. I alway feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to any of their records because I am reminded of how great their music is and how much more success they deserved.