Janis Joplin – Pearl

Not every artist achieves their true masterpiece. In 1971, Janis Joplin released her true masterpiece. Sadly, she died three months before it came out. She was only 27.

Janis had one of the most soulful and passionate voices in rock and roll. I wouldn’t say it was a good voice, at least not by traditional standards, but Janis knew how to use it to wring every ounce of emotion out of any song.

Two of the most memorable songs on “Pearl” are “Me and Bobby McGee”, a song penned by Kris Kristofferson, and the a capella “Mercedes Benz”. The latter is the last song Janis recorded; she died three days later from a drug overdose.

Fripp & Eno – No Pussyfooting

Two eclecticly creative talents. One creatively eclectic album.

I knew I was in for something different when I picked up this 1973 album by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, but sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

Filled with often atmospheric soundscapes, “No Pussyfooting” is an album intended to subdue and entrance. Two extended songs performed solely on guitar and synthesizer. No drums or bass, no vocals, no outside musicians. This is an album that is intended to take your mind on a journey, painting pictures with sound. It could easily be the soundtrack to an avant-garde movie that was never made or a backdrop for deep meditation.

“No Pussyfooting” is a true original classic that sits far outside the mainstream. Then again, what else would you expect from the minds of the main creative forces in King Crimson and early Roxy Music?

Styx – Crystal Ball

The first Styx album with Tommy Shaw in the lineup.

Although superstar success appeared to be on the horizon for Styx, it was the addition of Tommy Shaw’s voice, Mississippi influenced blues and slide guitar style and songcraft that propelled them to become one of the most popular bands in the 1970’s.

That success wouldn’t happen yet with “Crystal Ball”, although the album and its title track (penned by Shaw) would become Styx’s most successful album and single to that point in time. Styx’s follow-up “The Grand Illusion” would become the band’s true breakthrough album. Even so, “Crystal Ball” is every bit its successor’s equal; at least in my opinion.

Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires is a the band started by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp. It’s also the name of a club of celebrities (mainly rock stars) that existed in the 1970s. At the meetings, the members would try to drink each other under the table. Their meetings were held periodically at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in West Hollywood (hence the club’s name).

The rock band Hollywood Vampires formed in 2015 and named themselves in tribute to the past members of the club who are no longer here with us. Many of the surviving club members have since gone on to, like Cooper, follow a path of sobriety in order to survive.

The band Hollywood Vampires instead indulges itself in the excesses of rock and roll. Their 2015 eponymous double album opens with a couple of original songs that pay homage to club members past followed by a series of covers of hits by former, now deceased members. The band is joined throughout by guest musicians, most being surviving members of the former club. The album closes appropriately with the song “My Dead Drunk Friends”.

A great tribute album to the vampires of rock and roll’s past.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out

Listening to The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 album “Time Out”, it’s hard to believe that their style of jazz was once considered to be inaccessibly out of the mainstream because of Brubeck’s consistent use of unusual time signatures. The quartet had a hard time getting booked to play even small clubs that seated less than fifty people because a lot of owners felt Brubeck’s style was just too complex for people to get. Music critics felt the same and totally dissed “Time Out” when it was released.

As it turned out, it was the critics and club owners that didn’t get it.

“Time Out” sold over 50 thousand copies shortly after its initial release and eventually sold over a million, making it one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It also nearly topped Billboard’s pop album charts stopping just short at #2.

After the success of “Time Out” the Dave Brubeck Quartet no longer had to worry about filling clubs that seated fifty people. The quartet started playing venues that seated a thousand or more.

In short, “Time Out” firmly founded Dave Brubeck’s reputation as a jazz pioneer and innovator who forever changed how jazz music is played and interpreted.

The Kingsmen – Greatest Hits

The Kingsmen are best known for their first and biggest hit “Louie, Louie”, an iconic rock song that is one of the worst recordings ever. So bad in fact that it sparked an FBI investigation.

Seriously, it did.

The song “Louie, Louie” was released as a b-side in 1957 by session musician Richard Berry. His original version was a mid-tempo Island sailor’s lament about longing to see his girlfriend. Not a dirty song at all. In the early ’60s, the song was revived in a more raucous garage rock style by a few groups trying to make a hit out of it. It looked like Paul Revere and the Raiders were going to have the best luck with it. That is, until a Boston DJ featured “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen in his “Worst Record of the Week” segment … and the kids loved it!

The Kingsmen recorded “Louie, Louie” in one take with one microphone hung high in the middle of the room. It made all the instruments sound muddied together and left Jack Ely’s vocals muffled and indecipherable. You literally can’t understand half the words he is singing. That’s what prompted the FBI investigation.

Rumors began to circulate that the lyrics to The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” were recorded muddied and muffled to hide their profane, dirty lyrics. Parents complained to the authorities about the radio stations constantly playing this dirty song. The complaints eventually made it all the way up to J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI who launched a 30 month investigation into the song’s lyrics. In the end, they determined that Jack Ely was probably singing the correct lyrics to “Louie, Louie” and that the reason the words were unintelligible was because it was one of the worst recordings ever.

The really funny thing about this is that after spending 30 months trying to figure out if The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” was obscene, the FBI never noticed there is actually an F-bomb on the recording. Just before going into the second verse, drummer Lynn Easton apparently dropped one of his drumsticks and blurted out the expletive and the one microphone hung high in the middle of the room captured it. It’s one of those things that isn’t immediately noticeable, but once you hear it the first time, you can’t not hear it every time. You would think that after a 30 month investigation someone at the FBI would’ve heard it.

Steve Martin – A Wild And Crazy Guy

My kids know it. Ask me any time, what’s my favorite number. I’m almost sure to answer “a million six”. Listen to this record and you’ll get it.

(Yeah, I might sometimes also say “42”, but that’s another story.)

Sometimes I take things too seriously. Sometimes when I start reading and listening to too much political truth and BS (sometimes hard to decipher which is which), I drag myself down. It’s times like these that I need to force myself to step back and lighten up. At those moments, comedy albums are the perfect remedy.

Steve Martin’s “A Wild And Crazy Guy” is quite possibly the perfect comedy album for any occasion, but most especially non-political ones. Probably¬† because the album is so non-political. It’s just plain hilarious.

I still remember going to the clubs looking for girls with dog poop on their shoes. (Maybe that’s why I never got a date.)

And then of course, there’s “King Tut”…

‘Nuff said.

Was (Not Was) – Born To Laugh At Tornadoes

What would you say if I told you that in the ’80s, metal legend Ozzy Osbourne did the rap vocals to a synth-pop dance song?

Well, if you demanded proof, I’d just throw “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes” on the turntable. Then I’d have you listen to “Shake Your Head (Let’s Go To Bed)”.

Strange bedfellows for sure, but it works.

Was (Not Was) never really had an official singer on their first two albums, so their second album, “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes”, like their debut, is loaded with guest vocalists. Others who appear on this album include Detroit natives Doug Fieger (The Knack) and Mitch Ryder as well as Marshall Crenshaw and jazz legend Mel Torm√©.

Even though “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes” received high accolades from Rolling Stone magazine, it failed to sell well outside of the Detroit area. Their follow-up album, “What’s Up Dog” would end up being their national breakthrough with the help of “Walk the Dinosaur” and a few other hit singles. By that time, founding members David Was (David Jay Weiss) and Don Was (Don Fagenson) had added a couple of official singers to the group’s lineup, so Ozzy was off the hook.

Carpenters – A Song For You

Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices ever in popular music and together with her brother Richard, the Carpenters recorded some of the most beautiful songs ever in pop music.

Even though six singles were released from the Carpenters’ fourth album, “A Song for You”, Richard Carpenter said he arranged the album to be a concept album, intended to be listened to as one continuous piece of music. With a variation of the title song opening and closing the album and a flawless ebb and flow of love themed songs in between, it certainly fits the bill.

But more than anything, “A Song for You” is a beautiful collection of songs.

Karen Carpenter not only had a beautiful voice; she was also a very accomplished drummer and plays on many of the tracks on “A Song for You”. In fact, she was so good on the skins that in 1975 she was voted best rock drummer in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll, even beating out John Bonham from Led Zeppelin (I hear Bonzo was not impressed).

Sadly, for much of her life Karen Carpenter struggled with anorexia. She died in 1983, less than a month from her 33rd birthday, from complications caused by the disorder.

Stray Cats – Built For Speed

In the US, the Stray Cats pretty much single-handedly revitalized the popularity of rockabilly music in the 1980s. As much as anything, the success of that revival was due to the guitar talents of Brian Setzer.

Rockabilly is rock and roll in one of its earliest forms. Combining old-school country music along with rhythm and blues and a lot of attitude, rockabilly first became popular in the early 1950s. Somewhat limited in the core of its scope, other influences quickly merged with rockabilly, morphing away from the earliest style of rock and roll. This left rockabilly regarded as nothing more than an oldies piece of musical nostalgia.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s some bands tried to revitalize rockabilly by infusing a little punk rock attitude into it. None were more successful than Stray Cats. Brian Setzer was the lead guitarist for the Stray Cats and not only did he have the persona to bring attention to the band, his guitar playing demanded you to listen. Setzer could keep pace with, and even outplay any of the hard rock and metal shredders around then…and now. It just wasn’t as noticable because his solos were played on a hollow bodied Gretsch guitar with a semi-twangy tone instead of an overdriven solid body electric. It was that guitar virtuosity helped the Stray Cats stand out and turn rockabilly into something new in the 1980s, making it more than just nostalgic oldies. It also helped their US debut sell over a million copies.