AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It

In the late 1970s, when a lot of established hard rock bands were exploring the integration of disco and pop sounds into their music, AC/DC was building a following keeping it basic, playing hard and heavy.

“If You Want Blood” is a live album recorded during the Bon Scott era of the notorious Aussie-Scott band. AC/DC hadn’t really made a name for themselves yet in the US, so the album only charted in Australia and the UK. Today, “If You Want Blood” is ranked by most rock critics as one of the best live albums of all time.

Hey, I’m no rock critic; I’m just a humble record collector. Who am I to argue?

R. E. O. Speedwagon

R.E.O. Speedwagon’s debut album is the least R.E.O. Speedwagon sounding album ever.

Kevin Cronin, the lead singer most associated with the late ’70s and early ’80s superstars, didn’t join R.E.O. until Terry Luttrell and guitarist Gary Richrath had a falling out. Prior to Kevin Cronin bringing a second guitar and a new voice to the Illinois rockers, R.E.O. Speedwagon had more of blues rock sound with progressive rock leanings than the band that became known for its arena rock anthems later on. Two of the songs on this 1971 debut made it onto R.E.O. Speedwagon’s 1977 double live epic, “You Get What You Play For”. Here, the studio versions of “157 Riverside Avenue” and “Lay Me Down” sound more like a band doing covers of those songs. This is still a great album in its own right, but were it not for the band’s name on the cover, I would never guess it was an R.E.O. Speedwagon album spinning on the turntable right now.

The Neal Morse Band – The Great Adventure

Christian music can get a bad rap. Mainly because most people think of it as preachy lyrics and blasé music. Neal Morse is anything but that. Neal Morse is one of the most talented multi-instrumentalists alive today. Like Spock’s Beard, the progressive rock band he left in 2002 to pursue Cristian music, Neal’s songs are intricate and complex. His band is composed of some of the best players you will find anywhere, including Neal’s long-time friend and former Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy. Immensely talented, they are musicians who live to play and love to challenge themselves with music that few others could dream of mastering.

Like Neal Morse’s previous albums “The Great Adventure” is a concept album with a message that in the end leaves the listener inspired and moved. It tells the story of boy who remembers his father walking away his family leaving them in City of despair. The boy grows up angry and hateful, following an often lost and darkened path. He comes close to succumbing to the Devil but in the end, through the events that unfold before him, he finds his salvation. He learns to forgive. His life is forever transformed by “A love That Never Dies”.

I went to see The Neal Morse Band in concert this past weekend. That’s where I first heard “The Great Adventure”. They played it in its entirety. It was nothing short of amazing; one of the best concerts I have been to. Neal has a rare talent to move and inspire with his music – and he and his band know how to rock! I bought this vinyl copy of “The Great Adventure” at the merch booth right after the show. Sure, I probably could have got it cheaper online, but I really didn’t mind. I directly supported a true musical genius (trust me, I do not use that phrase lightly) and as a bonus, I now have a 3 album set of one of the best new albums I have heard in years.

Elton John – Honky Château

Enough!

Everyone please quit singing it wrong!

The correct words in the chorus of “Rocket Man” are…

I honestly think I originally bought Elton John’s 5th album, “Honky Château”, just to figure out what he was singing at that spot. I didn’t know if the lyrics were included inside the album cover, but I had to find out. It was my last shot. None of my friends seemed to know. When they would sing along, all that came out of their mouths at that part was mumbled incoherent gibberish. It was driving me nuts!

Fortunately, my sanity was saved after I bought “Honky Château” and opened its gatefold cover. They were there! The lyrics to all the songs! I found “Rocket Man” and scanned through the words. There it was! I let out a long sigh of relief. I had solved the deep mystery that plagued so many to mumble incoherent gibberish. I had the power now to relieve the masses of their confusion. I could sleep soundly again at night.

The thing is, I found most people are just fine mumbling incoherent gibberish during “Rocket Man”.

Just in case you’re not one of them, this last part is for you:

“Rocket Man, Burning out his fuse up here alone.”

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes – Love Is A Sacrifice

If you ever listen to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and start thinking of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, there’s good reason: Many members of Springsteen’s long time supporting band have also been members of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes. Some before, some after, and some even at the same time. Steven Van Zandt, who is often associated with Springsteen’s guitar sound actually started out in Southside Johnny’s band.

Although Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny both competed for the same New Jersey audiences, it was always a friendly rivalry. Hence the numerous players and singers who shared the stage and studio with both. It also explains the similarity in their sounds. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two but at the same time the similarities are unmistakable. I guess that can’t be avoided when your roots are so deeply intertwined.

I don’t think there is any Bruce Springsteen fan who would be disappointed with any album by
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, especially 1980’s “Love Is A Sacrifice”. My personal favorite by them.

More Of The Monkees

Say what you will about the Monkees. Yes, they were a band made for a television show. Yes, they didn’t play on all of their early stuff (because of the TV show’s filming schedule preventing it). But they were a talented band. They did push for, and eventually did play, not just sing, their own songs. And even though they had an incredible group of talent writing their songs (Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka among them) they started penning their own.

Sure, they made their name as TV stars, but the Monkees considered themselves first and foremost, to be musical artists. Change that…they were musical artists. They were also a significant part of my childhood.

Peter Torke, the Monkees’ bassist and one of its vocalists, died today from a rare form of cancer. Somehow, that hit me just as hard as the loss of Bowie or Tom Petty. Maybe the Monkees weren’t as trend setting or as influential as those two, but it still hurt just as much.

As any artist does, the Monkees became a part of me; they shaped me. Yeah, their 1960’s television show, styled after the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” movie, and their debut eponymous album are what really grabbed me initially, but it was their songs that came after that grabbed and held on to my interest.

“Mary, Mary”, “I’m a Believer”, and “Steppin’ Stone” are just a glimpse of what the Monkees had to offer after their initial impact. Sure, the Monkees were a commercial creation for television’s sake, but their sustained success was because of their collective musical talent. Peter Torke was perhaps more significant in that than any of the other band’s members. I will miss him.

The Allman Brothers Band – At The Fillmore East

Recorded at the Fillmore East, March 12 & 13, 1971 by special arrangement with Bill Graham.

The Allman Brothers are infamous for their live performances. The Fillmore and Fillmore East were notorious venues that staged performances by the who’s who of rock and roll’s golden age. Bill Graham was a legendary concert promoter in the late 1960s through the ’70s. This 1971 epic double live album was a culmination of all three. There is no way it couldn’t have been anything but one of the best live recordings ever pressed to vinyl.

Sadly, The Fillmore venues would close their doors a few months after this album was recorded, ending an era of rock and roll naiveté and purity that, would never be experienced again. After the 1969 Woodstock Festival, rock and roll started to become a lucrative business, and it would never be the same.

“At The Fillmore East” isn’t an album that tried to become infamous, notorious, or legendary. It just was, by its nature. There was no pretense. There was no financial mindset. All it was,
was a desire to capture an infamous band playing in a notorious venue during a legendary performance, and it captured it perfectly – with all the beautiful imperfections and pure naiveté that rock and roll could hope for.

How can anyone not love this album?

So sorry, but I am going to cue up side four now: “Tied to the Whipping Post”, in all of its 22 minute glory. I can’t write during that.

I have to listen. I’m done here.

Van Halen – Women And Children First

Van Halen closed out the 1970s with two albums that changed what rock and roll and more specifically what metal could be. Van Halen inspired a slew of hair bands playing a party metal that dominated Van Halen’s debut and sophomore efforts. Hair bands would continue to rock the charts through the ’80s. I really couldn’t really get into most of them. Yet I continued to buy Van Halen records.

Almost in defiance of the bands they inspired, Van Halen chose to pull in the reigns and get more serious, rocking harder and with a sharper edge on “Women and Children First”. It wasn’t a major shift, but it was definitely a noticeable one. Van Halen kept elements of that party rock on their third album, just as they did on the albums that followed. But there was more aggression; there was more seriousness. This shift in sound, which became even more significant a few albums later when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer is what kept me following Van Halen, whereas the hair bands that Van Halen’s music was so significant with inspiring…well, there’s hardly any of them in my record collection.

Willie Nelson – Willie and Family Live

There never has been, nor will there ever be, a better live country album than “Willie and Family Live”. Granted that is just my opinion, but I will tell you this: you will never sway me from that opinion, so don’t even try. I would even go so far as to rank “Willie and Family Live” in the top 5 of any live album of any genre. Then again, like much of Willie’s recording career, it really does it injustice to pigeonhole this record as strictly country music. Sure, that is what is at its core, but it’s so much more.

Willie Nelson is a true artist. Musically, he never tried to be something he wasn’t. Like the truest of outlaws, he rebelled against Memphis and Nashville pressures to sound this way or that. Once he had a following, Willie stuck to his guns and played what Willie wanted to play; what his fans wanted him to play. Willie Nelson was always there, first and foremost, for his fans.

“Willie and Family Live” is exactly what its name implies. Willie’s family was his band, his friends, and his fans. This is their album. This is their story told through the art of Willie Nelson. Some artists use a brush, some use chisel; Willie Nelson uses a Martin N-20 classical guitar that he named Trigger. From 1969 to 1978, when this album was recorded, Willie had used Trigger to create his art so often and so passionately that he had worn a hole right through the top of the guitar. Somehow, that made Trigger sound even sweeter. It’s funny how that can happen. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was the personal connection Willie made between himself and his fans that got stronger with time that made Trigger sound even better. Yeah, listening to “Willie and Family Live” now, I know that’s what it is.

The White Stripes – Icky Thump

I can’t describe how disappointed I was when in 2011, I learned that The White Stripes had called it quits. It was four years after the release of their final album, “Icky Thump”. At least they went out releasing what is quite possibly their best album.

Jack and Meg White made an almost immediate impact on the local Detroit music scene when they formed The White Stripes in 1997. They finally gained international fame in 2001 when they released their third album “White Blood Cells”. With the three albums that followed, The White Stripes became significant in the revival of garage rock around the world.

“Icky Thump” holds nothing back with its continuation of what the White Stripes started with their early records. If anything, it steps things up a notch. Loud and aggressive, rootsy and stripped down, it shares a lot in common with “White Blood Cells” and the records before it. But then there are Jack White’s guitar solos. Always an amalgam of chaos, aggression, virtuosity, and originality, they are immediately recognizable and impossible for any other guitarist to duplicate. For the most part Jack avoided solos on the early White Stripes albums. I have no idea why; he’s incredible.

Jack White has achieved great success in the music business, during and after The White Stripes. He has used that success to make a difference in his home city of Detroit. He helped revitalize a section of the Cass Corridor, opening up Third Man Records there. It’s not only a record store but has a performance area for live shows and record mastering and pressing facility (yeah, Jack’s a vinyl kind of guy). He also donated $170 thousand to renovate Clark Park where he used to play baseball as a kid. Plus, he rescued the Detroit Masonic Temple, a city landmark, from falling into tax foreclosure. Saving the beautiful and iconic building from an uncertain fate, an anonymous donor, later discovered to be Jack White, paid the $142 thousand bill. As a Mason who has frequently attended meetings there, I will be eternally grateful to Jack White for that. As a gesture of gratitude, the 1500 seat Cathedral Theater inside the building was rededicated the Jack White Theater.