R.E.O. Speedwagon – R.E.O. T.W.O.

As the name implies, “R.E O. T.W.O.” was R.E.O. Speedwagon’s second album. It was also the first with lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and contributing songwriter Kevin Cronin.

Although their 1972 sophomore effort didn’t have any hit singles and had lackluster sales at first, it still made a mark for the band. Five of its eight songs would make it onto their 1977 live album “You Get What You Play For”, which marked the beginning of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s phenomenal success. That live album also sparked an interest in the band’s back catalog which propelled the sales of “R.E.0. T.W.O.” to eventually go gold.

Although there are many, T.W.O. of my favorite highlights from this album are R.E.O.’s recruiting of legendary sax player Boots Randolph (best known for his song “Yakety Sax” which became the theme song to “The Benny Hill Show”) to augment their sound on the Chuck Berry cover “Little Queenie”, and the politically charged “Golden Country”. That last song, with its extended guitar soloing by lead guitarist Gary Richrath and great keys by Neal Doughty (one of the most underappreciated keyboardists in rock and roll in my opinion) make it the perfect closer to one of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s best albums.

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Alice Cooper was a band, and later a solo artist (but that’s another story I already talked about earlier) that was known not only for their music, but also for their stage theatrics. To record collectors, they are also known for some pretty cool album packaging – an art form that totally lost its impact with the smaller CD format.Billion Dollar Babies was a prime example.

Alice Cooper’s sixth album was styled to look like an oversized alligator skin wallet. Stored inside it was an oversized billion dollar bill that featured the band’s picture in the center. Also, the inside left side of the gatefold cover was perforated so you could punch out trading card sized cards of the band. The album credits were hidden behind the punch-outs.

The album theme was focused around the band’s amazement that in only a couple of years, they had gone from being a totally broke and struggling band to one of the most successful acts in rock and roll at that time. The album packaging was one of the most unique and memorable by Alice Cooper, or any other band, yet it was not their most iconic (but that’s another story I will talk about sometime later).

The Worst Of The Jefferson Airplane

Man, if ever there was an appropriate title to an album…

This isn’t it.

I have to admit, some of the songs on “The Worst Of The Jefferson Airplane” do sound a little dated, but I happen to enjoy the combination of rock, folk, psychedelic, and bohemian sounds that it has. As if it were actually a “Best of…” album, it includes all of The Jefferson Airplane’s hits from 1966 to 1969.

Hmm…makes me wonder…maybe the title was all in jest.

Rising to fame from the mid 1960s Jefferson Airplane continued to have hits into the next two decades…sort of.

In the seventies, the members of the Jefferson Airplane had a falling out. Some of the band members decided to continue as Jefferson Airplane. The other members sued them over the use of the use of the name, claiming it wasn’t the same band without them. So the remaining members changed the band’s name to Jefferson Starship.

HA! TAKE THAT!

The eighties saw another falling out with the band. Again, lawsuits were filed to prevent the continued use of the band’s name. And in the “we did it before, we can do it again” spirit, the remaining members of Jefferson Starship changed their name and became simply Starship.

HA! TAKE THAT!

They continue to perform under that name today.

The Look – We’re Gonna Rock

There once was a time when radio stations weren’t interested in a homogenized sound, and even promoted local bands by playing them during prime listening times. That was how I discovered The Look.

After the release of their debut album, “We’re Gonna Rock” in 1981, The Look seemed poised for national, even worldwide fame. They had a national hit single with the title track from their debut album. The video for that same song was getting regular airplay on MTV, making them the first Detroit area band to be played regularly on the fledgling cable TV station. They were getting lots of local radio air time at Detroit radio stations WRIF, WABX, and WWWW (W4). And they were opening concerts for the likes of Cheap Trick, The Kinks, John Cougar Mellencamp, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Joe Cocker, and the J. Geils Band. It looked like they were going to be the next big thing from Detroit.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Because of the shifting focus of local radio stations to have a more nationally familiar sound as they were bought up by large broadcasting conglomerates, their playlists started catering to national hits, with very little emphasis on local talent, and The Look faded away nationally after only a couple incredible albums that never achieved the recognition they were worthy of.

The Look was inducted into The Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2016. It was an honor they well deserved.

But they also deserved so much more.

Genesis – Three Sides Live

Whenever I listen to “Three Sides Live”, I cant help but wonder why Genesis chose that as the album’s name, since it was only partially relevant.

When it was released in the United States in 1982, “Three Sides Live” seemed a perfectly descriptive name. It was a double album, so there were four sides – three sides were recorded live and one was studio recorded B-sides and songs from an earlier EP.  So…”Three Sides Live”…Yeah, I get it.

The thing is, when Genesis released “Three Sides Live” at the same time in their native England (as well as in the rest of the U.K. and Europe) the five studio songs on side four were replaced by three more live songs, so all four sides on the record were from live performances. I can’t help but wonder if everyone on the other side of the pond went “‘Three Sides Live’…Yeah…I don’t get it.”

I have both versions of “Three Sides Live”, but only the U.S. version on vinyl.  My U.K. version is on CD, which makes the title even more irrelevant since there aren’t even three sides, let alone three sides live. Either way, both versions have some great music on the fourth side.

 

Roxy Music – Avalon

Even though their seven previous albums had exhibited Roxy Music as one of the most versatile groups in modern music – a band that was never afraid to explore new musical ideas – “Avalon” was a departure from anything they had done before. When I first heard it, it was like nothing like I had expected. I don’t really know what I expected.  But this wasn’t it.

“Avalon” with its ebb and flow of synths, guitars, and sax, combined with Brian Ferry’s seductive vocals is a sensual rock masterpiece. Like a good brandy or bottle of wine, the songs are simple in their initial presentation but full of complexity – and inexplicably intoxicating.

“Avalon” is an album you can crank up and jam to when you’re by yourself or hanging with friends. It’s also the perfect choice for a romantic, candle-lit evening with the one you love. It is easily, the most versatile album in Roxy Music’s catalog.

David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

“Aladdin Sane” was David Bowie’ s sixth album, following in the footsteps, yet still breaking away from it predecessor, “Ziggy Stardust”.

Bowie was far from being an unknown artist when “Ziggy Stardust” came out, but it definitely raised him to the next level of success – and raised the bar of what record buyers expected of him.  David Bowie, much like the Ziggy persona he created, had become a superstar.

Rather than trying to duplicate his  prior album, Bowie set out to make something fresh.  A new persona, Aladdin Sane was created.  And there was a significant musical shift toward avant-garde jazz on many of the songs.

When it came out, “Aladdin Sane” received praise from both critics and fans. Today, it is considered to be one of David Bowie’s best records.

The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour

This marks the 200th post to my blog. I feel a need to make it about an exceptional album.

In 1967 color TV was a big deal. So were The Beatles. What better combination could there have been then, than to make a colour movie for the telly featuring their music and, of course starring the fab four themselves?

The hour-long programme had to be originally broadcast in black and white when the BBC first aired it on boxing day (the day after Christmas in the U.K.). However, it aired again in colour a couple of weeks later.

Although the album soundtrack to the film was well received, the movie itself – a story of a bus trip across England and the bizarre events that occur on it – was not. Probably because the film had a psychedelic feel to it that was not appreciated by elder viewer. Opinion of the movie changed as time passed and both are now considered classics.

The album came in a gatefold cover that included a 24 page full color book with scenes from the movie. Because of the original packaging, “Magical Mystery Tour” is an album that could never be presented effectively when released decades later on the smaller CD format.

One of the things I find interesting about the Magical Mystery Tour album packaging is that the album the cover uses the American spelling of color when referring to the book inside, but the book itself uses the British spelling of colour when referencing the movie.

Lucifer’s Friend

In my opinion, “Lucifer’s Friend” has got to be the worst name for a band, unless they worship the devil, which these guys did not.  Maybe they wanted to one-up Black Sabbath in that area because they thought it would sell. But Black Sabbath took their name from the title of an old Boris Karloff horror film. “Lucifer’s Friend” had no other connotation. I don’t know why they chose “Lucifer’s Friend” as the band’s name, but I think it was a bad choice that cost them much deserved success.  Especially since they were a band that could have out-heavied any band that was around in 1970, when their eponymous debut came out.

Picture Black Sabbath meets Uriah Heep mixed with a combination of Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple. Now picture how cutting edge and heavy that was back in 1970. The only bands that maybe equaled them back then were Sabbath and Zeppelin and that’s a maybe.

So why has almost no one ever hear of Lucifer’s Friend, at least not outside of Germany, where they hailed from?  I can’t say for sure, but I really think it came down to their name. It was just too dark, too evil sounding. I think too many people didn’t want to listen past the name.

Regardless of the reason, Lucifer’s Friend Is a band I am glad to have been turned on to in the early ’80s. They were a band that was too far ahead of their time for their own good – and in my opinion, a great band that chose a terrible name.

Madonna

I first heard Madonna on a radio station from Clarksville Tennessee, and was immediately intrigued. I could tell she wasn’t common to the rock and roll that I grew up with, and still listened to almost exclusively at that time, but that is what I was looking for – or should I say, listening for – at the time.

The different musical tastes that many of my friends in the Army had were making me want to branch out and experience new styles that I HA previously ignored. Reggae, country, jazz, pop, funk, electronic, and even disco (but that was pushing it for me) started to influence my musical tastes, and consequently, my record collection.  I suddenly realized how much I had been limiting my musical palette, so I decided that every now and then, I would buy an album by an artist that was outside of my comfort zone.

“Borderline” was the first song that I ever heard by Madonna. When I did, I somehow knew that she was not a one-hit-wonder. I could tell that she was someone who was going to be a big star. I had no idea at the time, just how big.

Madonna’s debut album became my record collection’s point of entrance into ’80s pop and dance music. In all honesty, I don’t think I could have picked a better entry point. Although the music on it was blatantly designed for the dance floors in the New York club scene (and consequently dance clubs across the U.S.) it offered up so much more than that of its peers. With only one album under her belt, Madonna had already changed the music industry forever. A trend she would continue with her future records.

When I first heard Madonna, I thought she was from New York. After all, that’s where she first hit it big – in its club scene, where her songs quickly became some of the most popular.  It wasn’t until a year or two after I owned this album that I learned she was actually, like me, from the suburbs right outside Detroit. She had to move away to New York in order to get the break she deserved. I always thought it was somewhat appropriate that I discovered her music while living far away from our the Motor City which we both called home.