Easterhouse – Contenders

I have to put politics aside when I listen to “Contenders”, the debut album by Easterhouse. You know you’re leaning far to the left when you dog the British Labour party for not being left enough.

Politics aside, I love the energy on this album. The lyrics are intelligent and passionate. I can appreciate that, even if I don’t agree with their sentiments. This is the sound of a band trying to make a difference. Your specific point of view is irrelevant here. The music is so good, so intoxicating, that you can’t help but listen…and you can’t help but hear their message…

…Agree with it or not.

In the end, I think that was all Easterhouse really wanted.

Jefferson Starship – Freedom At Point Zero

I remember reading or listening to an interview where one of the members of Jefferson Starship was asked about accusations of “Freedom at Point Zero” trying to sound like Journey, Styx, Foreigner, and Kansas – bands accused of being “corporate rock” for the music industry.

There was no denial or apology in the answer, which was in essence, “Those are some of our favorite bands.”

I remember thinking, those are some of my favorite bands too.

‘Nuff said.

Styx II

Styx II is a progressive rock masterpiece that was released in 1972, before Styx became one of the most successful bands of the mid 1970s and early ’80s. Like the band’s eponymous debut and the two that would follow, Styx II was released on the independent Chicago label Wooden Nickle Records.

Like all four of Styx’s Wooden Nickle albums, Styx II would have probably done a lot better had Wooden Nickle had a better distribution agreement with RCA records. That’s probably why Styx left the label, signing a major label deal with A&M Recorrds in 1974. Wooden Nickle sued Styx when they left, claiming breach of contract. The label lost the suit and folded a couple of years later.

Styx did actually have a top 20 single from this album with the song “Lady”. Styx II also earned the band a gold record, selling over 500 thousand copies. Both were the best for any Styx song or album on Wooden Nickle. The thing is, neither happened until 1975, three years after Styx II was released; after Styx had signed with A&M.

One of the highlights on Styx II is “Little Fugue in G” a Johann Sebastian Bach composition from the 1700s and the following track, “Father O.S.A.”. Both feature a powerful Dennis DeYoung performance on a pipe organ in St. James cathedral in Chicago. DeYoung would later revisit that pipe organ in 1978 for a solo in the song “I’m O.K.” on “Pieces of Eight”.

Bob Welch – French Kiss

Bob Welch released French Kiss, his debut solo album, in 1974. Before that, he was the person most responsible for transitioning Fleetwood Mac from an edgy blues band to more melodic rock and roll superstars. Yet he was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the band.

Welch joined Fleetwood Mac as their rhythm guitarist in 1971, when Jeremy Spencer and lead guitarist Peter Green left the group. Almost immediately, Welch’s musical opinions clashed with Fleetwood Mac’s remaining guitarist Danny Kirwan. A year and a half later Kirwin was fired for his alcohol abuse and increasingly volatile behavior. Although Welch’s influence had already started a metamorphosis in Fleetwood Mac’s sound, the change became much more pronounced once Bob Welch had more creative input.

Bob Welch left Fleetwood Mac in 1974 to pursue other musical interests. He was replaced by Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. With the new lineup, Fleetwood Mac continued on with the musical style Bob Welch was significant in helping them forge.

Although Bob Welch was not one of the original founding members of Fleetwood Mac and left the group just before they had their greatest commercial success, I think it was unfair for the RRHoF to not have included him in the roster of Fleetwood Mac band members to be inducted. Fleetwood Mac would have probably never transitioned into the superstar band they became without Bob Welch.

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player

Elton John had so many great albums that anyone with a decent sized record collection is going to have more than one album by him. I guess my collection is no exception.

The title to “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” came from a night of joking around Elton John had with Groucho Marx. At one point during the evening Groucho, in good fun, ripped into Elton pretty well. In retort, Elton John blurted out”hey, don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player”. As a nod to that evening there’s a poster to a Marx Brothers’ movie in the background of the album’s theater marquee designed album cover.

Typical to many Elton John’s albums from this era, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” came with a bonus. Packaged in the gatefold album cover along with the record,was a 12 page booklet with a collection of photos and the lyrics yo the songs.

When it came out, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player” hit the top of the charts in both the US and the UK.
It also gave Elton John two more hit singles, “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock”. “Midnight Creeper” is one of my personal favorites from this album. I still believe it could have easily been a third hit single.

Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army

One of the things I really liked about Greta Van Fleet when I heard their first EP was that they sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin. One of the things I didn’t like about them is they sounded almost too much like Led Zeppelin. One of the things I really like about Greta Van Fleets first full length LP is that it doesn’t sound quite so much like Led Zeppelin.

Does “Anthem Of The Peaceful Army” remind me of a good Zeppelin album? Absolutely…at times. But it also has so many other influences, from so many classic rock bands I’m not even going to try to list them all. There is no doubt in my mind that had this album been released back in the ’70s. It would have been at the top of the AOR charts. Coming out in the 2010s, it’s like a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stench of the music factory’s pollution.

On “Anthem Of The Peaceful Army” Greta Van Fleet prove they are not a wannabe band by any stretch. I’m sure with how young they are, they grew up listening to their parents rock records – and they loved them. It’s still music they love listening to, so when they pick up their instruments, it’s the music they love to play. When they pick up a pen it’s in the songs they love to write.

As I listen to Greta Van Fleet’s “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” now, I’m listing to music influenced by bands that I love from the past, but I’m also listening to new music that I know I will still love in the future.

Scandal featuring Patty Smyth – Warrior

Did you know that Patty Smyth almost became the lead singer for Van Halen, following David Lee Roth’s ouster?

True story.

I saw Scandal open up a Hall and Oats concert in Wisconsin back in 1983 and even though their set was short – they only had a 5 song EP out at the time – they impressed the hell out of me. Except for the much shorter stage time, they totally blew Hall and Oats away that night. I bought Scandal’s debut EP a day or two later and eagerly awaited their upcoming full length LP.

When “Warrior” came out the following year I was not disappointed – it was great power-pop rock. Maybe a bit more polished than their EP, but not too much. What worried me though, was the band’s name on the album cover. It was no longer just Scandal, it had become Scandal featuring Patty Smyth. It’s never a good sign when one person becomes too much of a focal point in a band. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the first and last full album by Scandal.

It was.

Shortly after Scandal fell apart, Eddie Van Halen asked Patty Smyth to take over the vocals spot in his and his brother’s namesake band. She turned it down. I read that it was mainly because she was pregnant, but also because of Van Halen’s reputation for heavy drinking and in-fighting. I had mixed feelings when I first heard that Smyth had been asked; it seemed like an odd fit musically. Then again I remember the energy Patty Smyth exhumed when I saw Scandal live. She was a madwoman on stage. In front of an audience, it would’ve been incredible. Of course, in the end, Sammy Hagar would end up fronting Van Halen instead.

Patty Smyth released her first of two solo albums a few years later. They were both modestly successful.

Sammy Hagar and Van Halen had huge success together for a little over a decade before they parted ways. As far as I know, Patty never got a call after he left Van Halen.

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown

Gordon Lightfoot was more than just a Canadian singer/songwriter. He was a prolific poet and storyteller.

Although it doesn’t contain my favorite song by him, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, “Sundown” is my favorite Gordon Lightfoot album. Besides, the title track on this album ranks a close second favorite.

“Sundown” is Gordon Lightfoot at his absolute best. His baritone voice is soothing and invigorating drawing you in to lyrics that tell stories of life and love and are perfectly suited to Lightfoot’s distinct brand of mostly acoustic Canadian folk rock.

Jools Holland Meets Rock ‘A’ Boogie Billy

Rock-a-billy music with a boogie-woogie twist.

Hillbilly music is old school country music. I’m talking real old school; the earliest and purist form of country music. Picture the 1920s and ’30s, sitting on a front porch in the deep south with your friends; cutting loose and having fun with a fiddle, banjo, a couple other homemade instruments and a jug of homemade moonshine, and you kind of get the idea. Combine that with early 1950’s rock and roll and you have rock-a-billy music.

So what does legendary British pianist (and Brit telly host) Jools Holland know about distinctly American rock-a-billy music? Enough to know that if you add a boogie-woogie swing to it, you’ve got something that’s really unique and really cooks.

I was compelled to buy this record because I knew Jools Holland as one of the founding members of Squeeze, an alternative band from England whom I was really into and who sound…well, nothing like rock-a-billy or boogie-woogie. They are best known for their songs “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed”. From the title of the album, I knew this would be Jool Holland stepping away from Squeeze and doing something different. But it was more than thatmore than that

Michael Stanley Band – Greatest Hints

Rock and roll is filled with stories of great bands that almost, but not quite broke out from local or regional fame into the national spotlight. The Michael Stanley Band was one of the greatest.

The Michael Stanley Band, or MSB as many of their fans called them for short, had no problem selling records throughout the midwest United States. They regularly sold out 20 thousand seat arenas around their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. But outside of the heartland, the band remained forever relatively unknown.

I remember first hearing the Michael Stanley Band on Detroit radio in the late 1970s. I have to admit though, I never really took notice of MSB until the early 1980s, when a friend of mine who was from Cleveland played his hometown hero band for me when we were in the Army together. When I listened to their records, I remember wondering why they never made it nationally; they had such a great sound. Listening to “Greatest Hints” now I’m wondering it again.