Joe Jackson – Look Sharp

The story of Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut album is one to file under “If at first you don’t succeed”.

When record producer David Kershenbaum first heard the songs Joe Jackson was working on for what Jackson hoped would eventually be his first album, he liked what he heard so much, he immediately had Jackson signed to A&M records. To gain traction for “Look Sharp”, the first single from it, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, was released ahead of the album. It went nowhere, in the US or Britain. A second single, “Sunday Papers”, was released. Same thing. The third single, “One More Time” followed suit. Things weren’t looking too sharp for Joe Jackson. But finally, the album “Look Sharp” was released…and it went nowhere.

It made no sense. It was a great album with great songs bouncing between new wave and punk. What went wrong?

I’m not sure who made the final decision, but they did what was really the only thing that made sense at that point. They re-released the single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”. It was a hit! “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” soon took off as well. Radio stations even started playing songs from the album that weren’t released as singles. A short while later Joe Jackson had his first gold record in the US and Britain, just like they had planned all along.

And the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of “try, try again”.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

My first introduction…real introduction…to David Bowie was on the Midnight Special, a late-night television show that in 1973, broadcast a David Bowie concert featuring songs from his upcoming album “Diamond Dogs”.

It’s funny, because I would’ve sworn the music that aired that night was from Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour. But I like to check my facts. So before queuing this album up, I found out that show actually aired in 1973, before the “Diamond Dogs” album was released. To my surprise, the broadcast actually contained more music from Bowie’s earlier recordings – only a couple of songs are from the “Diamond Dogs” album. Still, it was the songs performed from this album that really made an impression on me.

When I finally bought a copy of “Diamond Dogs” (I think it was my older sister who actually bought it first, but I was more than content stealing her copy to listen to for a few years), I was enthralled. It was a dark concept album with songs of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world from George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Actually, I’m not sure I got all that back then – I was only 11 or 12 years old (I’m not even sure if I had even read 1984 yet back then). But I know I dug the sh!t out out of the music and the other-worldly lyrics.

What blew me away with “Diamond Dogs” wasn’t just the lyrics and music; it was the remembrances of that Midnight Special concert I had seen a year or so before. It was Bowie’s music, following in the footsteps of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, taking rock music to a whole new conceptual level, and the visuals that accompanied it.

“Diamond Dogs” was so much more than music as strictly entertainment. The album was a sociopolitical statement galvinized in the fear of things to come. But more than anything, “Diamond Dogs” was rock and roll presented in its best form: music as art.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon

I imagine that if you have as easily distinguishable a voice as Roger Daltry, fronting a band as successful as The Who, you have to put extra effort into making solo records that sound distinctly different from the songs you sing with your regular bandmates. With the exception of the album’s title track, Roger Daltrey’s sixth solo album, “Under a Raging Moon” sounds nothing like a Who album.

One thing that makes that so surprising is that the opening track, the only single from the album, “After the Fire” was written by The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend. One thing that makes it not so surprising is that the song “Under a Raging Moon” is a tribute song to Keith Moon, The Who’s original drummer who died a few years earlier.

As a tribute to his former mate, Daltry made the ultimate nod of respect to Moon in the title song, calling in a who’s who of drummers. The song includes short drum solos from Martin Chambers (Pretenders), Roger Taylor (Queen), Cozy Powell, (The Jeff Beck Group, Black Sabbath, Rainbow), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Zak Starkey (son of Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr), Carl Palmer (ELP), as well as the drummer for Daltrey’s band on this album, Mark Brzezicki.

While listening and reading the liner notes to “Under a Raging Moon” another thing that impressed me was that Roger Daltrey chose to donate all the royalties from “After the Fire”, the one and only single off this album, to Band Aid, a charity dedicated to famine relief in Ethiopia and other African countries. If you know the song “We Are The World”, then you probably know of Band Aid”.

As a side note, I want to take the time to thank author Steven R. Pawley, for suggesting I add “Under a Raging Moon” to my record collection. It’s definitely a keeper. Now I suggest you check out his books in The McCatty Chronicles: “Alley Girl”, “The Coffee Cabin”, “Searching for Frownie Mae”, “Sinful Bodies” and the soon to be published “Sandcastles in the City”. They are also keepers.

Jim Croce – Photographs and Memories

Jim Croce was one of the most prolific singer songwriters ever. “Photographs and Memories” is a greatest hits package that proves that point. Throughout his career his songs have evoked emotions and painted musical scenes like no other.

He sang mostly his own songs, but was known on occasion to interpret one by other songwriters. When he did, he alway made it his own. Along with the ones he did pen – songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, “Operator”, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, and “Time in a Bottle” – I personally can’t imagine “I Got a Name” being performed by anyone except Croce.

Unfortunately, Jim Croce’s life and songs were cut short when he died in a plane crash while on tour in 1973. He was only 30 years old.

Japan – Oil On Canvas

I remember the first time I heard the band Japan. They were like so many classic rock artists I admired yet they were like nothing I had ever heard before. The Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry and The Talking Heads, were all in there at some measure, as were a few other bands that are best described as trend setters, not followers. But it was the combination of those influences that made Japan so unique. Japan was musical artistry in every sense of the word.

Still, I always wondered, was their sound all studio wizardry or could they actually pull their songs off live. I never had a chance to see Japan in concert but that question was still answered when I ran across a copy of “Oil on Canvas”, the only live album Japan released during their short recording career, from 1978 to 1981.

Fortunately, “Oil on Canvas” was a double LP, because a single record would not have been enough. As a matter of fact, Japan’s live performances here are so good. two records still leave me wanting more. The band absolutely nails the feeling of their studio recordings yet at the same time breathes new life into the songs, mixing them up and changing just enough to let you know they have no intention of performing a studio carbon copy.

The history of rock has always been filled with somebody’s favorite artist that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Its future will forever hold the same. Though the sounds and styles of these bands may differ drastically, one factor is always a constant: they are always true artists. I think Japan knew this when they released their only live record. That’s why they chose a name for it that alluded to true artistry; a name alluding to one of the most classical forms of artistic expression.

Oil on Canvas.

The Mamas And The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

The 1960s. Flower-power. The counterculture. The Mamas and he Papas 1966 debut “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” captured it all better than any pop album at the time. Bohemian folk rock, Beatlesque R&B, and a touch of soul that could replace the worst case of the Monday Monday doldrums with harmonious California Dreamin’.

This is the second album cover for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”. Like this one, the original cover showed the band members all sitting in a bathtub, but instead of a box listing the singles from the album in the lower right corner, it showed the bathroom’s toilet. That cover was banned shortly after the album was released because some people felt showing a toilet on the cover was obscene. Some record stores even refused to carry it. The original cover is such a rarity that today it can often sell for well over $100. I hope to one day run across it at a more reasonable price. Until then, at least I have the music.

The Fixx – Phantoms

The Fixx is one of the bands that helped defined alternative rock, or new wave as it was called in its beginning, in the 1980s. They had an impressive run of numerous hit singles and five successful studio albums. “Phantoms” was their third. “Are We Ourselves” was the biggest hit off of it and it became the new wave band’s first number one hit on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. Two more number ones would follow before the end of the decade.

Overall, The Fixx racked up ten hit singles on the mainstream rock charts seven of which broke the top 10. They probably would have had even better success on the alternative charts, except Billboard didn’t create the alternative rock charts (originally termed “modern rock”) until 1988. It was bands like The Fixx, bands that didn’t really fit the bill of mainstream rock, that prompted Billboard to start the new record charts.

As the ’90s rolled in, The Fixx’s style of music grew out of favor as grunge gained popularity in the U.S. The Fixx remained together however and the original line-up continues to record and tour today. Their 10th album, “Beautiful Friction” was released in 2012.

The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution (clear vinyl)

The Pineapple Thief is a band I had heard and read a lot about before finally buying an album by them. I bought their 11th record mainly because Gavin Harrison, one of my favorite drummers, had been brought into their fold. I never realized why I liked Gavin Harrison’s drumming so much until I listened to The Pineapple Thief’s 12th album, “Dissolution”. I can not stop listening to this record. A good part of that reason I discovered, is Harrison’s influence.

It is rare for a drummer to be as intricately involved in the songs he plays on as Gavin Harrison is. There was such a shift from the “The Wilderness” to “Dissolution”, that I had to read through the liner notes to see what had changed. It was immediately obvious. Gavin Harrison co-wrote all but two songs with The Pineapple Thief’s founder, Bruce Soord. The shift was as noticeable as when Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson brought Harrison into their fold in 2002. Coincidence? I think not.

Although I am not yet familiar with The Pineapple Thief’s earlier work, I am willing to bet that adding Gavin Harrison to the line-up, is one of the best decisions Bruce Swoord has ever made.

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not eager to check out their other earlier albums.

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush

Neil Young is a deeply philosophical guy. You can tell this from the lyrics in his songs. “After the Gold Rush” is a deeply philosophical album based on the script for a deeply philosophical film of the same name. A film that was never made.

The story was one of self-discovery – an end of the world tale that revolved around psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory that deep inside, many of us are on a quest for wholeness. Weaved into the story was the Kabbalah principle of searching for the relationship between the realm of God and one’s own mortal existence.

Deep stuff.

On a perhaps shallower, but no less gratifying level, it’s just some great music.

Styx – Paradise Theatre

Despite concept albums becoming less en vogue going into the ’80s, “Paradise Theatre” did pretty well for Styx. Actually, it became their only #1 album, spawned four singles, and sold over 3 million copies. Yeah, it did very well.

Released at the beginning of 1981, the album revolves around the declining moral, social, and political state of affairs in America coming out of the ’70s going into a new decade. They used the deteriorated state of Chicago’s once majestic Paradise Theatre as a metaphor for the concept that the songs revolve around.

Not only was the music on “Paradise Theatre” some of the best Styx has ever done, the album itself was a work of art. Somehow, without affecting the sound quality, side 2 of the record was etched with a prismatic image of sculptures from the theater’s marquee along with the band’s name. Every time I listen to “Paradise Theatre” I have to admire it. It truly is a work of art – as is the music that accompanies it.