Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

My goal when I started The Vinyl Jungle (a name derived from a J. Geils Band album) was 500 posts. I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to be that dedicated,┬ábut I wanted to try. Way back then, I decided that for my 500th post, I wanted to listen to something extra special – a classic above classics.

A classic above the classics. That is how I think of “Houses of the Holy”. I take more pleasure listening to this album than possibly any other – even albums by Pink Floyd (hands down, my all-time favorite band).

If I were prohibited to own only one Led Zeppelin album, “Houses of the Holy” would hands down, be my choice. “Physical Graffiti” would come close, but in the end, “Houses of the Holy” would take the prize, at least in my book (or my blog). Ironically, the title track didn’t make the cut here. The song “Houses of the Holy” would instead find its place on “Physical Graffiti”.

I think what I like most about “Houses of the Holy” is the branching out Zeppelin did, paying respect and honor to other musical artists and styles. They didn’t try to imitate, instead emulating Bob Marley and reggae music with “D’yer Mak’er” and the funk of James Brown with “The Crunge”; all the while keeping the whole album not only unabashedly Led Zeppelin, but Zeppelin at their best.

It was my goal when I started this blog to do 500 of my albums. Well, as they say, mission accomplished. But I’m not stopping here. Quite honestly, at this point, I don’t know where I’ll stop. I guess now, when I get tired of listening.

…It could be a while.

Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Golden Earring – Moontan

It only took Golden Earring 12 years and 9 albums to have a hit record in the United States.

Golden Earring had been together as a band since 1961. They recorded their first album in 1965. They were the biggest band in the Netherlands and had great success throughout the UK and parts of Europe. Nobody knew who they were in the United States. That last part changed for the Dutch rockers after they recorded “Radar Love” in 1973. The song became an instant classic in the US and remains a standard on rock and classic rock stations today. “Moontan” went on to become Golden Earring’s biggest album in the US and pretty much everywhere else in the world.

There were no other singles released from “Moontan” and Golden Earring’s follow-up live album and their next six studio albums failed to gain any traction in the US. For a while, it looked like Golden Earring were destined to be filed under one hit wonder. That is, until 1982, when they scored with “Twilight Zone” from their album “Cut” and again with “When the Lady Smiles” from 1984’s “N.E.W.S”.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Billie Holiday – Billie’s Blues

When you look up the word “singer” in any dictionary, if it said nothing else, it should say “Billie Holiday”.

Billie Holiday defined what every singer should aspire to achieve: to take any song they are given and make it their own. Billie Holiday knew no other way to sing. She never received any musical training, she had absolutely no singing experience the day she walked into a nightclub asking for a job, any job, just so she could eat. They asked her if she could dance. She tried, but failed miserably. They asked if she could sing. She gave that a shot. A legend was discovered.

Life was not kind to Billie Holiday. Music made it easier for her, and while it did lift some of the burden for a time, it never made her life easy. In her singing, along with the pain, Billie Holiday’s voice always carried a note of strength and fortitude. “Lady Day”, as her friend and long time collaborator Lester Young referred her, would go on to influence countless artists in the decades that followed her.

Sadly, the same night Billie Holiday sang her first song, at that same nightclub, she also had her first drink. Alcohol would prove to be Billie Holiday’s nemesis. She died in 1955 at the age of 44 from cirrhosis of the liver, ending the 20 year career of a jazz legend.

Berlin – Pleasure Victim

Berlin was an alternative synth-pop band that played heavily on sexual innuendos. Okay, with songs like “Sex (I’m a…)” and Terry Nunn’s role in the band being listed as vocals and BJs, I suppose it went a little beyond innuendo…. Anyway, because of this, Berlin was quite often dogged by some critics as being lackluster in talent, focusing more on sexuality than substance to sell their music. I never thought so.

Berlin made some of the most exciting synth-pop music in the 1980s. Sure, some of that had to do with the suggestive lyrics and Terry Nunn’s sexual overtness, but it had a lot more to do with great hooks that made their songs as easy to dance to as they were enticing to listen to. It also had a lot to do with Bassist John Crawford, who penned most of Berlin’s stuff. He had a mastery of writing catchy tracks with seductive lyrics; just as Terry Nunn had the exceptional vocal talents to exhume the seductive qualities from those words and melodies.

As for Terry Nunn’s other talents noted in the album’s credits…well, one can only wonder.

Georgia Satellites

In an era that was dominated by synth rock and glam metal the Georgia Satellites were neither. They were a Southern blues rock band. Plain and simple.

On their debut, the Georgia Satellites played it hard and played it loud. They sounded like a raucous bar band that blew the roof off of every dive they played at, because that’s exactly what they were. Their music was about as out of style to what was popular in 1986 as it could get. No polish. No flash. Just good old foot stomping blues rooted rockers. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites released two singles from their debut album. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” shot up to number two on the Billboard charts, denied the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. That song is what made people first take notice of this album. Their second single was a cover of Terry Wood’s straight ahead rocker “Battleship Chains”. Although it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, it gave record buyers a glimpse of what to expect on the rest of the album. Music that didn’t fit in with what was popular and didn’t care; as a matter of fact, it was proud of it. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites’ debut album went on to sell over a million copies in the US. It did so without any flash or polish or any marketing blitz. It did it by being a great rock and roll record. Pure and simple.

Cheap Trick – Dream Police

Cheap trick pulled out all the stops for “Dream Police”. Their fourth studio album, released in 1979, combined a hard rock edge with slick studio production. The occasional use of a string section, layered arrangements, textured vocals and of course, great rock and roll hooks – often reminiscent of the Beatles – helped it became the most successful studio album of Cheap Trick’s career. Following in the surprise success of “Live at Budokan” didn’t hurt either.

Tom Petersson’s use of an 8 and 12 string bass give many of the songs on “Dream Police” a growling underbelly that adds just the right amount of tarnish to the mostly otherwise polished production. It is the perfect compliment to Bun E. Carlos’ solid drumming and Rick Neilson’s playfully serious guitar work. The variety of songs on “Dream Police” also provide the perfect showcase for Robin Zander’s diverse snarling and crooning vocal styles.

One of the best albums ever by the boys from Rockford, Illinois.

Dire Straits

Every time I listen to Dire Straits’ debut album, I wonder why there weren’t more singles released from it. “Sultans of Swing”, that’s it. Great song. But there are so many other great songs on this album. The album’s opener “Down to the Waterline” with its signature Knopfler guitar licks, would have been a perfect choice. Another one could’ve been “Setting Me Up”, a country tinted song that was later covered in a more rocking style by alternative band Lone Justice. The catchy “Water of Love” would have been another natural choice, or even “Wild West End”.

Maybe it was that the sound of “Dire Straits” debut album totally cut across the grain of what was popular in music when it came out. Maybe the record label was concerned that “Sultan’s of Swing” took a full 5 months after it was released to even be noticed. But when it did, it shot up to the number 4 spot in the US and stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 132 weeks (that’s over two an a half years). The album itself, went on to sell over 4 million copies in Europe and 8 million in the United States. One single was all that was needed for “Dire Straits” to become the tenth best-selling album of 1978. Yeah, I guess that was good enough for the record company.

But still…

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.