The Power Station

The Power Station was the quintessential super group from the eighties.

Heavy hitting hard rock techno funk with a heavy dose of overdone ’80s polished production that somehow fits perfectly and ties it all together. My biggest issue was when they touched taboo. “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” belonged to T Rex. Always did. Always will.

Well…

At least that was my stance up until I heard Robert Palmer team up with members of Chic and Duran Duran in 1985…and they totally ROCKED it! I’ve tried to decide who’s version I like better. Never could. Never will.

Alice Cooper – Lace And Whiskey

An often overlooked gem in Alice Cooper’s dicography, “Lace and Whiskey” reaches into both familiar and new territory for the famed shock rocker. In typical Alice cooper fasion “Lace and Whiskey” focuses as much on concept and theatrics as it does rock and roll. The 1977 album tell the story of “Maurice Escargot”, a heavy drinking private eye, much in the vien of “Philip Marlowe” from the 1940s. Contrary to Cooper’s two previous solo records, and seventh as part of the Alice Cooper band, Aice doesnt don any makeup for the theatrics here. The main character is more of a straight shooter (literatively and figuratively) than on earlier concept albums by Cooper.

Although there are some rockers on “Lace and Whiskey”, most notably, the album opener “It’s Hot Tonight”, the music odten reaches further into broadway theatrical territory than Cooper’s albums ever had before. It made for one of the more intriquing albums of Alice’s career, often setting up visual scenery with the words and music similar to his previous effort, “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell“. This undoubtedly continued to alienate some of Alice’s hard rock fans and failed to get a lot of airplay on rock radio stations at the time. Many others, like me, embraced the creative originalty of Alice Cooper’s further immersion with combining theatrics and rock and roll.

The Jam – Setting Sons

In the late 1970s, punk rock met the British mod revival with The Jam. No album better encompassed their sound than 1979’s “Setting Sons”. Musically, The Jam combined the energy of the Sex Pistols, the urgency of The Clash, and the rock/R&B power and sensibilities of The Who to create a sound that gave them a sound that was all their own.

Setting Sons was originally released in 1979, but because they never reached the popularity in the US that achieved in Great Britain, I didn’t discover them until 5 years later when an Army buddy turned me on to them. “Setting Sons” was the first record I heard by them and is still my favorite from their catalogue.

I remember “Eton Rifles” sounding distantly familiar when I first heard “Setting Sons” in ’84, so I’m guessing the song received at least some airplay on Detroit radio stations in ’79, but it flew under my radar. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be the case the second time around.

The Monkees – Head

I have never seen the 1968 movie “Head” by the Monkees. I never even knew it, or its soundtrack existed until the mid or late ’90s, when a friend told me about both. I kept wanting to check them both out in the back of my mind until recently, when the passing of Monkee bassist and vocalist Peter Tork pushed that thought up front.

“Head” goes far beyond what any album by The Monkees has ever achieved. The songs are all ties together by snippets from the movie that make the album in and of itself a concept album. Exemplified by it’s mirror loke cover, “Head” both mocks and embraces accusations of the Monkees’ being a manufactured band, but also one that aspired to move beyond that and prove they were so much more. This is music that that stretches far beyond what could ever have been portrayed on their TV show. “Head” is an album that moves one to think and to search for what lies between what is real and what is just supernatural bologna.

I can’t speak for “Head”, the movie. I have yet to see it, (I will soon). Just based on the soundtrack however, I know that good or bad, it’s going to be interesting to say the least. As for the album, “Head” is a psychedelic masterpiece unlike any album The Monkees ever released, before or after.

Styx – Equinox (audiophile series)

One of the downside to audiophile pressings is you pay more for them and you don’t get any of the extras, like liner notes and such, that might have come with the original album. But there’s compensation for that: sound quality.

The masters for audiophile albums are cut at half speed to improve accuracy and virgin, non-static vinyl is used for the final pressing. The result is loud passages being more defined, quieter passages coming through at their cleanest and clearest, and a recording that shines through sounding the absolute best it can. Audiophile pressings are vinyl at its absolute best. Sure, you don’t get the liner notes and other extras, but if you buy an audiophile pressing, you probably already own the original copy of the album. What you do get is the best sound quality possible.

I don’t know why I ever hesitated buying an audiophile pressing of Styx’s fourth album, “Equinox”. It is one of the most overlooked albums from the ’70s. It’s also one of my all-time favorites. I already had a original release of “Equinox”, so I asked myself why I needed another one? The answer was simple: sound quality. I wanted to hear it at its absolute best. To hear “Equinox” like this is pure bliss.

The Doors – Greatest Hits

I’ll always remember “Light My Fire” by The Doors as the number 2 song on the Rock and Roll 500 in the ’70s. Year after year, after year.

Growing up in a an East side Detroit suburb, Memorial Day weekend meant three things to me: The St. Clair Shores parade, the Indianapolis 500 race on TV, and the Rock and Roll 500 on the radio.

The Rock and Roll 500 was a pretty simple concept. Weeks prior, listeners would submit their favorite rock songs to the local radio station and sometime over Memorial Day Weekend the station would countdown the 500 most popular songs. Although there were always surprises to the list each year, the top three songs always seemed to be constant. “Freebird” by Skynyrd would always take the third position, Zeppelin would take top honors with “Stairway to Heaven”, and sandwiched between the two would be “Light My Fire” by The Doors.

Sure, it took away from the suspense. I mean, after the first couple years, I kind of knew what was coming once they got to the top of the 500, but they were all great songs, so why should I care? I still listened to them. Year after year, after year.

R.E.M. – Murmur (Japanese pressing)

Although I loved “Murmur” from the first time I heard it, I always thought the overall recording sounded muddy, with the individual instruments buried among themselves…until I heard the version released in Japan.

When released in other countries, albums can sometimes come out on different record labels. Sometimes, that can mean two versions of the same album. Most of the time, there’s an extra song on one of them or the song order is changed. But sometimes, the albums sounds noticeably different. I think anyone who has heard both, will agree that the sound of the Japanese version of REM’s 1983 debut, “Murmur” is significantly better than its US counterpart.

Athens, Georgia band REM released “Murmur” in 1983. It came out on I.R.S. records in the Unites States; the album’s Japanese release was on the CBS/Sony label. Even though they came out at the same time the Japanese version was mastered with a brighter sound that more clearly defines the individual instruments. Bill Berry’s bass is significantly more noticeable. It gives a more driving sound to the songs. The brighter sound also helps bring Peter Buck’s jangly guitar stylings more up front.

I got rid of my US version of “Murmur” long ago. After hearing the Japanese version, there was no desire to keep it. The Japanese version is far superior.

Ray Charles – Genius Live In Concert

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ray Charles perform live in 1986. Even though this album was recorded 22 years prior, it perfectly captures the magic I will always remember experiencing that night.

I remember watching Ray dancing in his seat, swaying and stomping his feet as the music he was playing and singing took him over, and as he took over the entire audience. I remember Ray being so taken over at one point, he jumped out of his seat, dancing on the stage to his band’s music. Nobody worried that he was blind; this was too sublime a moment for God to allow anything to go wrong. I remember Ray’s quick wit shutting down a close to the front row heckler with just a few words. No more was to be said; that evening belonged to Ray Charles.

I remember that night, experiencing a “Genius Live in Concert”. There is no other way to describe Ray Charles perform. A “Genius Live in Concert” is exactly what this album captures.

Emerson Lake & Palmer Works Volume One

Emerson Lake & Palmer were known for being self-indulgent and often accused of being pretentious. Self indulgent? Sure. Pretentious? No way. That would imply that they presented themselves as being more talented than they actually were. ELP individually and collectively always tried to push themselves to their musical limits. They never failed to cut the muster, especially on “Works Volume One”.

For their fifth studio album, ELP decided to double it up; two records, four sides. The first three sides focused on the individual writing and arrangement talents of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (guitar and bass) and Carl Palmer (percussion). Side four focused on the collective creativity of all three members.

The album starts off with what is my favorite track (and side) on the double album: Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”. This is most often where the accusations of pretentiousness come in for “Works Volume One”. I mean, how dare a rock and roller write and classical music! What could they possibly know about treal music? And then to perform it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra! That’s blasphemy! Well, at least it was to most traditionalists. But true to any composer of any era, Emerson incorporated influences past and present. He pushed the boundaries of classical music, incorporating jazz chords and structures into the fold. I’m convinced it’s nothing Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or any other classical master wouldn’t have attempted had they been exposed to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and other jazz greats.

Greg Lake’s side is fairly straight forward acoustic singer/songwriter material. Although there are a few moments that ventures outside that territory. “C’est La Vie”, with its french bistro middle section is one of the more notable.

As one would expect, Carl Palmer’s side consists mainly of compositions with rhythmic complexities. Not surprising for a percussionist. His selections lean heavily on polyrhythms, leaning more into modern jazz territory than that of rock.

Side four highlights all these elements coming together cohesively in two
extended progressive rock performances. “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a piece written by the 20th century “Dean of American Composers”, Aaron Copeland. Arranged by ELP, the epic takes on an urgency that transposes classical and rock music. Pirates is an equally esoteric piece that closes out the album. A record that not only highlights the musical passions of each member of ELP, but equally showcases the collective synergy they exhume together.

Paul McCartney – Снова в СССР

Glasnost. A Russian term meaning transparency and openness often associated with the end of the cold war era between the USA and Russia. It happened in the late 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev headed the two most powerful countries in the world. Tensions were relaxing between the two superpowers.

In 1988, as a gesture of peace and cooperation between the nations of the Western world, Paul McCartney made arrangements to have a studio jam session that was done while prepping for his next album pressed and released only in Russia. It was didn’t take it long to become a huge success in Russia. It also didn’t take long for copies to be smuggled out of Russia and sell upwards of $100 in the US and the UK.

“Снова в СССР” is Russian for “Back in the USSR”. The album is a collection of covers performed by McCartney and his band. They are in top form, playing all the songs live in the studio which give the album a very unique feel. It’s easy to pick up on the joyous vibe between McCartney and his band just having fun playing familiar songs.

“Снова в СССР” is one of my favorite albums by Paul McCartney and not because of its scarcity. Actually, it’s not that scarce any more. In order to prevent the smuggling across the border, “The Russian Album”, as it became known, was released to the rest of the world in 1991. This copy however is not one of the reissues; it’s one of the original russian copies.