Procol Harum was a band that could combine classical and rock music better than most any other band. “Grand Hotel” was Procol Harum’s first studio album without guitar virtuoso Robin Trower who left to pursue a solo career in 1972. Fortunately, Trower’s departure didn’t affect the band’s sound very much. Like their previous albums, “Grand Hotel” was an avant-garde blending of baroque era classical music with blues and rock.
Because of its unique combination of styles “Grand Hotel” is an album I can listen to almost any time, although I prefer it to be at times I can really focus on the interplay of all the musical elements and shifting rhythms and time signatures. Although not a concept album by definition, “Grand Hotel” is an album that should be listed to as a whole. As with most Procol Harum records, it is obvious that the goal when recording it was not so much to have a hit single as it was to album that is an intriguing listening experience.
Emerson Lake and Palmer’s masterpiece, “Pictures at an Exhibition” was proof that almost anything could go with rock and roll in the early seventies. Performed live in 1971, the concert album combined arrangements from Russian composer Modest Muskorky’s 1874 classical score with other related songs written by the band. Keith Emerson had seen a traditional performance of Muskorky’s piece many years earlier and became stoked to have Emerson Lake and Palmer record an adaptation of it. The album hit number 10 on the US charts and went up to number 3 in the UK.
Like many in the US, the first song I ever heard off of “Pictures at an Exhibition” was the encore ELP played that night: “Nutrocker”, a song combining an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with progressive rock virtuosity. It was released as a single in the United States only. I remember my elementary school music teacher playing “Nutrocker” for us in class one day. I was familiar with The Nutcracker Suite and was absolutely enthralled by this variation of its music.
It was on a cold night on November 21, 1964, in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, when B. B. King recorded one of the most highly regarded blues albums of all time.
There’s a reason B. B. King is a blues legend. To know that reason, all you need to do is listen to “Live at The Regal”. The blues is meant to be more than just listened to; it’s music that needs to be felt. That cold November night at The Regal Theatre, B. B. King felt it and just as importantly, the audience felt it. Then again when I listen to B. B. King’s distinct voice and guitar, the real question I have to ask with “Live at the Regal” on the turntable is “how could you not?”
Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t create Southern rock. They didn’t reinvent it. But in the seventies, Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the select few who defined the genre. When it was released in 1976, “One More
for from the Road” became the quintessential live southern rock album.
Prior to the recording of this masterpiece, Skynyrd had added Oakie guitarist Steve Gaines into their fold, solidifying the band’s signature three lead sound. His influence is most noted on the 13 plus minute closing track “Free Bird” where the band’s three guitarists trade off solos in what has become one of the most legendary live performances ever captured on any recording.
“What song is it you wanna hear?”
One of the greatest things about rebuilding my vinyl record collection is searching for old records I got rid of because I regrettably replaced them on CD. Sometime the hunt can be almost as much fun as the prize. Another great thing is having friends recommend old albums that I forgot to check out back in the day and discovering a great new record; even if it is over 3 decades old.
I remembered hearing of the band Point Blank when a friend reminded me of them a few months back. I couldn’t remember anything about them except that they were from Texas. I couldn’t remember anything by them except…I really couldn’t remember anything by them.
Well, the other day I ran across Point Blank’s 1980 album “The Hard Way” so I felt obliged to pick it up. After all these years, I wanted to check them out.
Yeah, this is a band I missed out on back in the day. Hard rock blended with a helping of soulful R&B flavored southern rock and Texas blues, Point Blank was one of those bands that slipped under my radar. Then again, at least I had heard of them; a lot of people missed out on them because they only got mediocre airplay on radio. But they were a far cry above mediocre. I guess that’s just rock and roll. I’m just glad my friend Dave reminded me of them and that I had the good fortune of running across this album a short while later; definitely a keeper in my collection.
I know that when a lot of my friends hear the nickname “Satch” they think of guitar legend Joe Satriani. I do too, but I also think of Jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
His full name was Louis Satchmo Pops Armstrong and he played the trumpet. Man, could he play the trumpet! With his deep gravelly voice – one of the most distinct to ever grace popular music – he was as charismatic on stage as he was skillful on trumpet.
The title song from this album earned Louis Armstrong the only Grammy he received while alive. He was also awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 1972.
One of my favorite items in my listening room is a statue of Louis Armstrong. Holding his trumpet in one hand and a handkerchief in the other (he would work up a sweat when he played) and donning his distinct smile, it truly conveys the love he had for playing music. But I don’t need that statue to know that, all I need to do is listen to him play.
When Ringo Starr released his third solo album in 1973, it was the closest any album would ever come to a Beatles reunion. All three of Ringo’s former bandmates share writing credits and perform on the record. True, they never all appear together on one song and there were no Lennon & McCartney penned songs, but hey, Beatles fans would take what they could get.
The album also included a slew of other guest musicians throughout and became Ringo’s inspiration for touring through decades following with his “All Star Band” of constantly rotating members.
“Ringo” remains among the most successful among the solo records from any former Beatle. It sold over three million copies, hit number 7 on the UK, number 2 in the US, and topped the charts in Canada. The album also score three hit singles fo Ringo: “Photograph”, You’re Sixteen”, and “Oh My My”.
I might not have ever heard Uriah Heep’s fourth album “Demons and Wizards” had I not had a brain fart and my sister not gotten it all wrong.
If there is one thing that has remained true about me through the decades, it is if you want to give me a gift, you can’t go wrong with music. One year when we were in high school, my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I’m sure she was not at all surprised when I rattled off a list of albums that were on my radar. “Sweet Freedom“, by Uriah Heep was an album I wanted mainly because it had the song “Stealin'” on it (to this day that is my favorite song by the Heep). Well, I had a brain fart at that moment and although I could picture the album cover in my head, I couldn’t remember the name of the album. So I just told my sister “it’s the album with my favorite Uriah Heep song, “Stealin'”
So Christmas rolls around and we’re exchanging presents. As I’m looking at the present my sister hands me, I can tell by its size that it’s obviously an album. As I tear off the wrapping paper, I see hidden inside, an album by Uriah Heep: “Demons and Wizards”. I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face as I was looking at it, because my sister suddenly explained to me “It’s got your favorite song by them on it: “Easy Livin’.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she got the wrong album and the wrong song; at least not right away.
Up until that Christmas, “Easy Livin'” was the only song I knew off of “Demons and Wizards”. It was probably my second favorite Heep song. That changed the moment I heard the album open up with “The Wizard”, an amazing song of hope that asks us all to put our differences aside.
Why don’t we listen to the voices in our hearts?
’cause then I know we’d find that we’re not so far apart
The rest of the songs that follow are Uriah Heep at the top of their game. Yeah, “Stealin'” may still be my favorite Uriah Heep song but hands down, “Demons and Wizards” is my favorite Uriah Heep album.
A few days after Christmas that year, I told my sister that she totally bought me the wrong album…and I thanked her for getting it all wrong.
“Abacab” is the perfect album to use as an introduction to Genesis. It is a perfect blend of their earlier progressive rock beginnings along with their later pop oriented songs.
Even though Genesis had made a conscious effort to move towards a more pop oriented sound with “Abacab”, they also strove to not abandon their progressive rock beinnings. Having heard their records before and after, I don’t think there could have been a more perfect first album for me to get by them back in 1981. “Abacab” left me eagerly waiting for the next Genesis album and inspired me to check out their back catalog while I waited. It’s not necessarily their best (althoug I’m sure some feel it is) but it is the best represrntation of what Genesis’ music was all about throughout their 28 year career.
If Barry Gordy Jr. had his way back in 1971, Marvin Gaye would have never recorded the album “What’s Going On”.
When the founder of Motown Records in Detroit first heard the title song Marvin Gaye had recorded for his next album, he was confident it would be a failure and refused to release it. Barry Gordy believed in the upbeat tempo and feel of the songs that had been the formula to Motown’s success. That was the record he wanted from Marvin Gaye. What Gaye delivered instead was a mid-tempo, multilayered song that made a sociopolitical statement against war, poverty, and brutality.
Barry Gordy felt “What’s Going On” would never sell and that it would be the ruin of Marvin Gaye’s career if it was ever released. Equal in his passion for the song, Marvin Gaye took a stand, refusing to write or record even one more note for Motown if the song wasn’t released. Barry still refused. It was his record company after all, and he had the final say.
But the song was released anyway.
Circumventing Barry Gordy, the VP of sales at Motown records decided to go behind his back and have the record pressed and released, sending some advance copies out to radio stations. It’s the kind of thing that will get you fired – unless you know you’re right. The song got heavy airplay across the country and when it came out “What’s Going On” became the fastest selling single in Motown’s history. Marvin Gaye was given the green light to make his album and make it his way.
“What’s Going On” didn’t ruin Marvin Gaye’s career, it defined it. It was his masterpiece. Like its title track, the album makes a strong statement. The soulful and beautifully layered songs lament against war, poverty, drug abuse, injustice, hate, and destruction of the environment. In contrast to the music, the lyrics to the songs don’t always paint a pretty picture, but they always make you think. This is an album that begs you to step back and take a look at the world around you; to take a good close look at “What’s Going On”.