Joe Walsh – So What

Blues chords, great guitar riffs, and solid guitar solos. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. And it’s nothing Joe Walsh hasn’t put on an album before or after. But so what, his third solo album is essential to any rock lover’s collection.

Joe Walsh was pretty basic and straightforward with his albums. He never really did anything fancy… Except his solos. His solos kicked ass. Every time. He was a master on slide guitar that few could equal. He also played more than just guitar. He was very accomplished on keyboards and quite often would put a song that featured him playing synthesizer on his albums. “So What” was no exception.

Joe Walsh’s formula for making an album was simple – write good songs, play them well, and have excellent musicians back him up. On “So What”, those backup musicians were quite often members of The Eagles. A little over a year and a half later Joe Walsh would actually join the Eagles, bringing a little more edginess to their sound and helping them have their most successful studio album ever, Hotel California. But so what. His solo material was just as good.

Rush – All The World’s A Stage

Oh won’t you please welcome all, RUSH! And so begins one of my all-time favorite live albums.

I’m not going to say it’s the best live album ever, because that’s subjective. And, quite honestly this is a live album that’s not for the faint of heart. Geddy Lee’s vocals, especially in Rush’s early music, could be an acquired taste. His voice was perhaps my only reservation when I first heard “All the World’s a Stage”, which was my introduction to Rush. But after a while I began to really like it.

It was in the locker room after gym class in 8th or 9th grade when one of my classmates noticed that I had an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tape with me. He asked if I like Carl Palmer’s drumming. Well, of course I did. He said he had something he wanted me to listen to. At the next gym class, he brought me in a copy of “All the World’s a Stage”. Without a doubt, Neil Peart’s drum solo on “Working Man / Finding My Way” is, and forever will be, the biggest highlight on this album for me. And for good reason – there are few who will argue against it being the best rock drum solo ever recorded. … EVER!

But a drum solo does not a record make. Nay, it was the rest of the musicianship and the arrangements on that make this recording iconic. Peart’s drum solo was just the icing on the cake.

Rush was one of the few bands that can claim to have introduced a whole new genre of music – at least until you get into the 90s in the new millennia. Progressive metal did not exist before Rush. Maybe it would have been introduced by some other band, had Rush not taken the bull by the horns. But no other band did. At least not in this universe. I am forever grateful to my friend in junior high school who introduced me to Rush; a band that has become one of my favorite bands of all time. A band that opened my ears to realms of new musical possibilities.

The Cult – Electric Peace

The Cult had just had their first major breakthrough with the album, “Love”, and the single from it, “She Sells Sanctuary”, when they went into the studio to record the follow-up to it. For that album, which they had already decided to title “Peace”, they again chose Steve Brown to produce it. Although they were happy with the work he did on “Love”, they were not at all pleased with Brown’s treatment on the new album.

They sought out a new producer for the record and found Rick Rubin. After hearing what they had done so far, Rubin had them go back into the studio and re-record every song and also record a couple different ones. Because the record produced by Rubin sounded so strikingly different from “Peace”, The Cult decided to rename the new record “Electric”. It may have been a pain for them to go back and redo everything, but it was definitely a good call. “Electric” became The Cult’s most successful album ever.

Although “Peace” is a good record, and would have probably done alright for them, it really didn’t capture what The Cult were truly capable of. On “Electric”, Rick Rubin was able to capture one of the best bands from the ’80s at their very best.

The songs on “Peace” were never released in their entirety until 2010 when all of songs from it were included with a 2010 limited edition CD. It was finally released in its entirety on vinyl with the originally intended artwork in 2013, included with the album “Electric”. The two album package was called “Electric Peace”.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Contrary to some accusations that have been made, Black Sabbath is not a devil worship band (I wouldn’t listen to them if they were). They originally called themselves “Earth”, but had to change their name after they discovered there was another band already using it. They chose to name themselves after the marquis on nearby movie theater, which was playing a Boris Karloff horror movie titled “Black Sabbath”.

Because they didn’t want to be associated with the occult and devil worship, when it came time to re-release the album “Paranoid”, on vinyl in 2012, the band chose to press it on light blue vinyl instead of black vinyl to avoid any negatively dark connotations.

Actually, I’m making that last part up. I have no idea why it was pressed on light blue vinyl. But it does look pretty cool.

I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Aerosmith – Toys In The Attic

Aerosmith’s third album, “Toys in the Attic” was a huge success for them. It was also the album where the band had to really prove its songwriting ability – and they did.

Aerosmith’s two previous albums, “Get Your Wings” and their eponymous debut, both consisted almost exclusively of songs the band had written and performed live before going into the studio. For “Toys in the Attic” they had nothing except a few bits and pieces of songs that they had come up with during sound checks while touring. They basically had had to do everything from scratch on this album and were under pressure from the record company to release a new record.

Almost all the songs on “Toys In The Attic” were either written by, or fleshed out by Aerosmith while in the studio. The two exceptions being “You See Me Crying” which was co-written by Steven Tyler and Don Solomon and “Big Ten Inch Record” which was a cover version of a song originally performed by blues and R&B saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson.

Big ten inch record is a song about an old blues record that a girl is very enthralled a girl, but the phrasing of the lyrics also gave the innuendo of it being about the singers private parts. This led lot of people to think that in the song, Steven Tyler sings  “sucked on my big ten inch”, but according to Tyler, he’s actually singing “‘cept on my big ten inch”. Which is it really? I have my opinion, but you’ll have to listen to the song and decide for yourself.

Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

In many ways, Grand Funk was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll – they got no respect.

Starting out as a power Trio from Flint, Michigan in 1969, Grand Funk Railroad, as they were known before they shortened their name on their seventh album, topped the charts album after album into the mid ’70s. Yet still they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1971, Grand Funk equaled the Beatles’ record setting concert venue attendance at Shea Stadium – but Grand Funk sold it out in 3 days whereas the Beatles took 3 weeks. Yet they were still panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1972, Grand Funk became a quartet, filling out their music by adding organ and keyboards. They became the sound of the working class in the United States – loud and proud and ready to take on the world. They defined arena rock and changed the music scene in ways they are rarely given credit for. They were the sound of Grit, Noise, and Revolution in the face of adversity. And still, they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

But their fans knew them, and they respected Grand Funk for what they were. 

They were an American Band.

Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” was released on yellow colored vinyl for its first pressings only. I admit, I was too young to know what Grand Funk was all about when this album was originally released. However, when I ran across this copy a few years back, I knew exactly what it was – a necessary addition to my record collection.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

After some long negotiations, I finally convinced my wife to let me not only have a turntable in the man cave, but also upstairs in the living room. As I was getting out of bed, eager to start hooking up the new system, she added one more point to the deal: no playing any Jethro Tull upstairs (for whatever reason, she hates Jethro Tull). I told her that “Aqualung” was the first thing I wanted to play on the new setup. This earned me a bit of an expected scowl in return. 

“I’m joking” I replied, adding “You know what the first thing I always play on any new sound system is.” 

She just said “You’re such a nerd”, rolled over and went back to sleep.

King Crimson – Larks Tongues In Aspic

I think “Larks Tongues In Aspic” is one of my favorite King Crimson albums because this, the fifth incarnation of the band, featured violin as one of the main instruments. It truly gave this album a distinctly unique character. Not that King Crimson’s music ever needed any help with being distinct or unique.

This was an album you had to be sure to take proper care of. It has many quiet passages, and if not treated properly the scratches could easily overwhelm the music. The album opens with one of those quiet passages, some soft percussion work by Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir, which leads into the an elegant violin intro played by David Cross, which is then torn out of existence by Robert Fripp’s frantic guitar work. This kind of slow then fast, quiet then loud roller coaster ride is a kind of theme throughout the entirety of “Larks Tongues In Aspic”. The glue holding all these diverse parts together is the solid bass playing by John wetton, who also does all the singing.

I suppose Larks tongue could be a difficult album for some to listen to, but it’s one well worth putting the effort into. Like a good brandy or a fine wine, “Larks Tongue In Aspic” is an acquired taste. It’s an album that intrigues your ears and mind. This is music that is intended to be interpreted, not merely listen to. Then again, that could be said of all King Crimson’s work.

Benny Goodman – Plays World Favorites In High-Fidelity

The Swing band era was the original jam band era, and Benny Goodman was the original jam band leader, as is proven on this record.

Benny Goodman was all about the beat. And with Goodman’s music, the beat provided the pavement for the avenue to the solos. And it’s not just Benny and his clarinet that get the spotlight here – everyone gets the chance to break out and cut loose, free-forming on top of the beat.

Recorded live at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, this album captures Benny Goodman and his band in top form. And in contrast to many of his early recordings, which suffered from the limitations of the recording technology of their time, this album captures them in top sound quality too – or as the album title puts it – “in high fidelity”.

One of the highlights of this album is the closing track, a 16 minute version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”, featuring solos from nearly all the band members on top of some of the best drumming you’ll hear anywhere; and it’s all wrapped up by a beat basking drum solo by Roy Burns. A jamming end to an incredible live performance; one that proved that with Benny Goodman, it truly was all about the solos – and all about the beat.

Cheap Trick – Live At Budokan

Sometimes you’ve got to alter the plan.

In 1978, Cheap Trick was a struggling band. With their first three albums finding massive success in Japan, the Rockford Illinois band found themselves virtually unknown to the rest of the world. However, they had an ace hidden up their sleeve. They had been working on their latest studio album, “Dream Police“. That album had all indications of being their breakout album. The band felt it, and possibly more importantly, the record label felt it.

Before releasing Dream Police however, the band wanted to release a live album strictly for their Japanese fans, who had been very devoted to them when success seemed to evade them everywhere else. So they released “Live At Budokan” only in Japan, not expecting it to sell anywhere else in the world. After all, who would want to buy a live album by a band they had never heard of? Well apparently, and not so obvious at the time, the whole rest of the world would.

In the US, a couple of radio stations had started playing tracks from “Live At Budokan” and requests for it started pouring in. When people went to buy it at the record stores it was only available as a Japanese import, so the record stores started ordering imports from Japan and the Japanese market sold out with the record still in high demand there. Record companies have tendency to notice things like this.

Although “Dream Police” was about to be released, and it was still strongly felt that it would be a break out album for Cheap Trick, Epic Records and the band decided to ride the wave and release “Live At Budokan” to the rest of the world instead. So, “Dream Police” got put on the shelf for a year. “Live At Budokan” went on to become Cheap Trick’s biggest selling record ever.

When “Dream Police” was released in 1979 it became their biggest selling studio album. Even so it never surpassed the sales of “Live at Budokan”, Cheap Trick’s unexpected breakout album.