WHFR-FM Motor City Gems

Q. What do you get when you combine some of the best local Detroit bands and the best college radio station on the planet?

A. A killer album of that perfectly captures the energy and originality of the Detroit music scene today.

I ran across “Motor City Gems” the other day at a non-profit Detroit improv theater, Planet Ant. Even though I had no intent of buying another album when the group of us set out that night, when I saw WHFR set up in the bar of the theater, selling the album, picking up a copy was a no brainer. It couldn’t have been a better decision.

WHFR is a non-profit volunteer run college radio station on the campus of Henry Ford College. There is not a cooler radio station in existence. Granted, I’m probably a bit biased in that opinion, as my wife and I are both alumni from many years ago, back when it was still Henry Ford Community College.

“Motor City Gems” is an incredible collection of some of the best music coming out of Detroit today. My personal favorites are the blues infused rocker “Lightning Strikes” by The Muggs (which kicks off the album), Carolyn Striho’s ethereal and moody “Oceans”, and “Jam Sandwich”, a jazz fusion inspired instrumental by The Kenny Hill group. But in all honesty this whole album is great – and I assure you, that is an unbiased opinion.

Back when I attended the college, WHFR was a very local, low powered radio station that was on the air only 12 hours a day. Today, they broadcast 24/7 and can be listened to nearly anywhere in the world through the Internet (just tell Alexa or Google “play radio station WHFR”). In addition to local music, WHFR’s radio programs play what is probably the most diverse range of music you will hear anywhere on the planet.

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.

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.

Leon Russell – Carney

Unlike CDs, albums have two sides and must be flipped halfway through to listen to an entire album “Carney”, Leon Russell’s 1972 masterpiece takes full advantage of this. “Carney” really could be considered two half albums; one roots rock, the other psychedelic rock. Both of them showcasing Leon Russell at his best.

That’s not to say side two doesn’t still touch on the strong songwriting Russell was known for – Russell’s songs have been recorded by more than 200 other artists. The flip side even contains what is possibly his most recorded songs. “This Masquerade” has found its way on over 75 records by others, the best known version being George Benson’s breakout hit single in 1976.

Amazingly, Leon Russell never released “This Masquerade” as a single, at least not as the A-side of one. It wound up being the B-side to “Tightrope” which also kicks off side one of “Carney” and became Leon Russell’s first hit single.