Elton John – Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” is an autobiographical record of the early personal and professional struggles of what eventually became one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history.

Bernie Taupin scribed the words, Elton John wrote and performed the music. As a musical team, they have sold over 300 million records. There is nary a person alive today who hasn’t been moved by at least one of their songs. But as is often the case, their success didn’t come overnight. Eventually, their perseverance paid off.

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” tells the story of how they both struggled for years to find success. Perhaps the most well-known struggle was Elton John’s struggle with his sexuality. Originally keeping his homosexuality a secret, he had originally planned to give up a career in music to marry a female lover. The conflict led him to the brink of suicide which fortunately he was talked out of by a good friend. That’s what the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, is about. After achieving the success he and Taupin rightly deserved, he eventually came out about being gay and has since become a huge advocate for gay rights.

I remember taking some sh!t in middle school when I wore an Elton John t-shirt one day. I had no idea that he had just openly revealed he was gay. When I learned that, I personally didn’t care. I loved his music; what he did beyond that was not my concern. I took some sh!t again for having that viewpoint. I just ignored the comments and inaccurate accusations. Still, I never wore that shirt to school again after that. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of a stand.

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

I’m not one to try to rank in detail, my all-time favorite rock albums. The list I would give today would probably be very different from one I would give you next week, so why bother. I will say this however, no matter what day I ranked them, Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” would consistently place in the top 20.

The album contains such a myriad of styles it would be hard for anyone to not find something they like on this, Joe Walsh’s second album. The songwriting and playing are the strongest of any of his solo work; possibly even better than his albums with The James Gang and The Eagles. At least one of the albums by each of those bands, while Joe Walsh was a member, would always be in my top 20 list. That speaks volumes to his talent, versatility, and creativity. He is definitely one of my all time favorite rock artists. By the way, don’t ask me to rank them in detail either. I’d run into the same problem I’d have with albums.

Bloodrock 2

I remember the first time I heard Bloodrock 2. A friend wanted me to check out a song on side 2 called “D.O.A.” It’s a song that’s a bit morbid in that it’s written from the perspective of a person dying after a plane crash. It’s one of those songs that once you hear it, you never forget it.

A couple of years back, while perusing the aisles of a local used record store, I saw Bloodrock 2 and the memory of that song that I had heard only a few times decades earlier popped back in my head. I couldn’t remember exactly how the song went, but I remembered it, and I wanted to hear it again. I couldn’t even recall anything else about Bloodrock or their music. The only thing I remembered about them was that song that kind of creeped me out. I had to buy the album just so I could give them a listen.

Fortunately Bloodrock 2 did not creep me out. The album is filled with straight forward blues rock songs that have just a slight southern feel reminiscent of Bloodrock’s Texas origins, making “D.O.A.” kind of stand apart from the rest of the songs. That’s a good thing too, because even though D.O.A. is a great song, if the whole album were like it, Bloodrock 2 would be a really morbid and depressing album.

After listening to the song “D.O.A.” again, I wanted to find out what the inspiration for the song was. It turns out that when Bloodrock’s guitarist, Lee Pickins, was 17 he had just been a passenger in a small airplane. After he got out and was watching the plane take off again, he saw it roll over a couple hundred feet in the air and crash to the ground. I imagine that’s one of those things that once you see it, you never forget it.

Rainbow – Down To Earth

“Down to Earth” was Rainbow’s attempt at a more commercially accessible sound. On this, their fourth record, the band moved noticeably away from heavy metal to a more mainstream hard rock sound, though the album does still keep a bit of a metal edge. The change earned rainbow their first hit single, “Since You Been Gone”.

Rainbow is a band that went through a lot of personnel changes, often exchanging members with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Through its history, the only consistent member of Rainbow is guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who formed Rainbow after departing Deep Purple.

On “Down to Earth”, the only member of Rainbow who is not a past or future member of Sabbath or Deep Purple is vocalist Graham Bonnet. This was the only Rainbow album to feature Bonnet, who replaced Ronnie James Dio, who left Rainbow to join Black Sabbath. Bonnet was replaced by Joe Lynn Turner, who would later join Deep Purple.

The Who – Quadrophenia (Soundtrack)

Although the soundtrack to The Who’s 1979 film Quadrophenia tells the same story as their original 1973 rock opera, it is definitely an album that stands apart from its predecessor. The difference doesn’t make either a better or worse record, they’re just distinctly different.

First off, because it has a film telling Jimmy’s story, the soundtrack doesn’t need to tell all the details, so there are fewer Who songs on it. Side four of the album is actually filled with other bands that had songs featured in the movie. James Brown, Booker T and the MG’s, The Ronettes, and others fill side 4.

Another difference is in the songs that appear on both albums. All of them were re-recorded and for the film and this album. The mixes are noticeably different, most of the time bringing the guitars more up front. Again, this doesn’t really make one version better than the other; just different. I really wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite between them.

There are also some several Who songs on the soundtrack that are not on the original double album. On side 3 for example, only the final track, “The Punk and the Godfather”, appears on both albums. Speaking of side 3, I probably should mention that there are a couple other bands playing on it as well, but not really. “Zoot Suit” is credited to The High Numbers, and “High Heel Sneakers” to the band Cross Section, but it’s still The Who performing them. Both are very early songs by The Who. So early in fact, that the members hadn’t fully settled on a final, permanent name for themselves.

I really have a hard time choosing which “Quadrophenia” I like better, the 1973 original or the 1979 soundtrack. Usually, when I listen to one, I end up putting the other on right after in an attempt to settle the debate in my head once and for all. It never is, but I always enjoy trying.

The Who – Quadrophenia

There are four members, four distinct personalities in The Who, just as there are four distinct personalities inside Jimmy, the protagonist in “Quadrophenia”, the second rock opera by The Who. In the story, each band member represents one of Jimmy’s personalities. Each of Jimmy’s personalities is represented by a song and musical theme on the album.

Had an album of this depth been undertaken by any lesser band than The Who, it could have easily been a total flop. The Who made “Quadrophenia” one of their crowning achievements; one of the most ambitious, influential, memorable, and iconic albums of the 1970s.

Although “Quadrophenia” came out in 1973 and included a 44 page booklet with photography depicting scenes from the story, it was strictly a photo-story. There was not a “Quadrophenia” movie; at least not until 1979. The “Quadrophenia” soundtrack album, is similar to, but also distinctly different from the original album.

For the record (pun intended) Jimmy’s four personalities represented by the members of The Who and their main respective songs are:

    • The tough guy looking for a a fight – Roger Daltry – “Helpless Dancer”
    • The hopeless romantic just wanting to share his affection – John Entwistle – “Is It Me?”
    • The out of control, unpredictable crazy guy – Keith Moon – “Bell Boy”
    • The desperate beggar, con-man, and hypocrite – Pete Townshend – “Love Reign O’er Me”

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome

Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” was a highly anticipated album in the United States but not nearly as much as it was in the UK, where it had over a million copies in pre-sale orders, making it the number one selling album there immediately upon its release.

In addition to the original songs, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”
includes a few uniquely arranged covers, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Edwin Star’s “War”, and Dionne Warwick’s “San Jose”.

The double album, which included four singles that had already topped the British charts and one that took the number three spot prior to its release, is about as brilliant a combination of synth pop, dance, and rock that you will hear anywhere. Many of the songs, including “Relax” and the title track, were considered controversial when they came out. The BBC banned “Relax” from being played on British radio and television for reasons of what it felt were sexually obscene lyrics. MTV banned the video for the song “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” for similar reasons.
The funny thing is, the bans actually helped the sales of the singles and subsequently, the album.

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis?

This is another one of those albums I bought mainly because of the album cover. Sure, I had heard other songs by Supertramp; I already owned “Breakfast in America” and “Crime of the Century”. Although they were a couple of my favorite albums, I really wasn’t looking for another Supertramp album. My record collection wasn’t that big, and when it comes to music, I like to have some variety. But then I saw the cover of “Crisis? What Crisis?”.

Rows of houses bordering on a gray and decrepit landscape of industrial factories spewing pollution into the air. Yet here is this guy absolutely determined to make the best of his situation. Among the crushed concrete and other debris that makes up his back yard, there he sits in his beach chair wearing swim trunks and sunglasses, under a bright yellow umbrella. Nearby is a table with a glass of his favorite mixed drink and a portable radio playing his favorite station. Ahhhh, this is the life.

The artwork spoke to me not only of always making the best of a bad situation, but also of never giving up; always striving for that place in the sun. Personally, I rank it as one of the best album covers of all time.

Oh, and the music is pretty darn good too.

The Hollies – Hear! Here!

The Hollies are a British band that were far more influential than they often get credit for.

If you’ve heard of the 1960’s British Invasion then you undoubtedly know of The Beatles. When you listen to the harmonies on those early Beatles songs, thank The Hollies. They were pioneers for that style at the time. Are you a fan of Crosby Stills, Nash (and Young)? Thank The Hollies. They were Graham Nash’s first band. How about the music of Elton John and his long musical legacy? Thank The Hollies. He was the session keyboardist for them in the ’60s. Were you into Led Zeppelin in the ’70s? Well thank The Hollies for the early session careers of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

“Hear! Here!” was the Hollies’ second album in the United States. It’s basically, with a couple of track changes, a U.S. version of their third album in Britain, simply titled “Hollies”. Even though the Hollies were very popular in Britain and “Hollies” broke into the top 10 on the U.K. album charts (peaking at number 8), Their U.S. record label was wary of its success here so they didn’t release “Hear! Here!” until two moths after its British counterpart, and only then, only after replacing two of the songs with the Hollies’ currently released U.S. singles. Despite the changes, the album only made it to the 145 position in the U.S. charts, its sales dwarfed by the popularity of albums by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

REO Speedwagon – Nine Lives

The ninth album by REO Speedwagon was one of their hardest rocking records and one my favorites by them.

Following the respectable success of “Nine Lives” – it went gold, selling over half a million copies and hit #33 on the Billboard charts – the band achieved mega-star status with their later ’80s power-pop rock albums. In comparison, “Hi Infidelity”, the follow-up to “Nine Lives” went mult-platinum selling over 10 million copies and topped the Billboard charts. I can’t really blame any band for going softer and sticking with a formula for success like that.

Still, although I liked their later stuff, and was glad to see one of my favorite bands finally achieve the success they deserved, as the years moved forward I found myself missing the hard rock of early REO. To me, “Nine Lives” was REO Speedwagon at their hard rocking best.