ZZ Top – Eliminator

MTV was in and the popularity of blues and southern rock seemed to be waning as the 1980’s moved along. I think ZZ Top took note of that when they went into the studio to record their 8th album. “Eliminator” still sounded like ZZ Top, but with its heavier use of synthesizers and electronic drum machines it definitely had a different feel than the Texas trio’s earlier records. It was a shift in style that paid off for them big time. “Eliminator” became ZZ Top’s most successful album, selling more than 10 million copies and topping the album charts in numerous countries around the world.

And then there were the videos…

In 1983, MTV was still made its bread and butter playing music videos. The popularity of “Eliminator” was helped enormously by an unforgettable video trilogy for the songs “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, and “Legs”. They were all over MTV back then and opened up ZZ Top up to a whole new audience, helping to the little band from Texas become one of the hugest acts of the early ’80s.

Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band – Against The Wind

I think “Against the Wind” is my favorite album by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band partly because I am such a huge Pink Floyd fan.

Not only do love Floyd’s music, but I think “The Wall” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever conceived. I’m a realist though, and as such knew some album at some point would have to unseat it from the number one spot on the US album charts. I couldn’t have been prouder back then to, after six weeks, see hometown heroes Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band do the unseating.

Expectations were high for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band when they released their follow-up to “Night Moves”, their breakthrough album in the late seventies. Fuckin-A did they deliver! I don’t think I ever heard, before or after, a better collection of straight ahead good-times rockers and heartfelt ballads than Seger and his crew put out on “Against the Wind”. Then again, that is what they were always best at.

There was never any better, before or since, in my humble opinion.

Kiss – Destroyer

“You gotta lose your mind in Detroit, Rock City”

“Destroyer” is hands down my favorite studio album by Kiss. Then again, growing up in metro Detroit, I guess my opinion is a bit biased.

One of the things I really dig “Destroyer” is the album version of “Detroit Rock City”. It includes an intro and ending which you almost never hear when the song is played on the radio. Together, they makes the song travel full circle in a kind of time warped story.

The intro starts out with the sounds of someone muddling about, getting ready to head out the door; a radio station can be heard in the background. It’s playing a news story about a fatal car and truck accident that happened on Grand Boulevard. Hopping into the car, revving the engine, and diving off, “Rock and Roll All Night” from Kiss’ earlier album is playing on the car’s stereo. You can faintly hear the driver singing along. He feels so alive. Then the actual song “Detroit Rock City” kicks in. The song tells the story of a rock star speeding off on the road to do a show. He never makes it, dying after losing control and driving head on into an oncoming truck. On the album, the song ends with the sound crashing metal and glass and it becomes obvious that earlier, this guy had been listening to a news story about the crash he was going to die in a few minutes later. All that is lost if you don’t listen to the album version of “Detroit Rock City”.

The rest of “Destroyer” typical Kiss: Hard rock and metal. Two exceptions are “Great Expectations” which includes some orchestration and choral arrangements and the power ballad “Beth”, the only Kiss song to feature strings and no guitars whatsoever; it sounds unlike anything Kiss did before or after. Ironically, that song became Kiss’ highest charting song ever and one of their best-selling singles.

Leon Russell – Leon Russell

Leon Russell was a multi instrumentalist who is known as much for his songwriting as his performances. “A Song For You”, the very first song on his debut album has been recorded by over 200 different artists; the most popular version being cut to vinyl by the Carpenters who named their fourth album after the song. The song was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018 as a recording of qualitative or historical significance.

Before recording his first solo album, Leon Russell’s had already been noticed by many notables in rock and roll and many of them helped him out on this record. George Harrison and Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker are just a few who help to make this one of the best debut albums in rock and roll history.

10cc – The Original Soundtrack

Music is the soundtrack to our lives. I always interpreted that as the meaning behind the title of British pop and art rock band 10cc’s third album “The Original Soundtrack”.

Perhaps the biggest strength 10cc had, at least with their early albums is that they had a combination of two pop rock sensible songwriters and two art rock composers. The differences in styles came together perfectly on this album making it one of 10cc’s most popular records. But it was the pop rock writing team that really put 10cc on the musical map with the single “I’m Not in Love”, the band’s biggest hit. The strength of that song alone prompted Mercury records to sign them to a 5 album, one million dollar deal. The single hit the number 2 spot on the US charts and took top honors in the UK and Canada.

What makes “The Original Soundtrack” a joy to cue up however, are the songs that fill the rest of the album. With a sense of theatrics mixed with catchy pop hooks and some truly rocking solos, this album comes across sounding like it could very well be the soundtrack to some European rock and roll play or film. But it’s not. It’s just a great collection of uniquely intriguing songs. Songs that I am glad are a part of the soundtrack to my life.

Florence And The Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in popular music today. She is also an incredible songwriter. With its somewhat stripped down production, Florence and the Machine’s latest album, “High as Hope” focuses on both to create what is one of the best new albums released in 2018.

The songs on “High as Hope” revolve thematically around the end of love. That thought is so ingrained throughout the lyrics of the songs here that “The End of Love” was originally considered for the title of the record. That subject may sound like the making of a somber, even downtrodden record, but it’s really not. As the album’s chosen title implies, the overall focus is the hope that comes after the hunger for love is washed away. Even though there is an aire of sadness here and there, the songs on “High as Hope” purvey an upbeat feeling of acceptance, comfort, and self reliance. This is all beautifully delivered with the perfect pairing of the music to the lyrics…and of course, the confidence exhumed by Florence Welch’s wonderfully powerful voice.

Yes – Close To The Edge

Yes is a band that went through many lineup iterations. Although they found success in all variants, few Yes fans will dispute Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and Squire as being the group’s most creative, most talented, most progressive lineup. 1971’s “Fragile“, the third album from Yes, was the debut from that combination of talent. It’s follow-up, “Close to the Edge”, was released in ’72 and carried on with the embodiment of rhythmic complexity and instrumental virtuosity.

I’ve read that unlike with its predecessor, there were a lot of creative conflicts going on during the recording sessions for “Close to the Edge”, which explains drummer Bill Bruford’s departure after its completion. This is an album that exasperates a multitude of conflicting ideas being brought together. At times, it feels as if it is going to fall apart in a heap of chaotic discords. But the multitude of ideas are somehow tied together with a cohesive beauty that make it one of the most significant records from the classic age of vinyl and one of the staples of progressive rock.

“Close to the Edge” is a landmark album in every sense of the word.

Heart – Beautiful Broken

Heart has a knack for taking things other bands have done and doing them better. One case of this was their Greatest Hits/Live album which offered much more than any other greatest hits or live album ever did. But perhaps the most prime example is Heart’s 2016 album “Beautiful Broken”, a combination of three new songs along with revisited, reimagined versions of songs from earlier in the group’s musical history.

Classic rock bands releasing new versions of their older songs is certainly nothing new. Kiss, Styx, The Police, Journey and many others have succumb to the temptation. All too often, the new versions pale in comparison to the originals, at least to long time fans of the originals. There are memories that go with those familiar versions. There are solos that have been memorized note for note on air guitar and beats that can be tapped out effortlessly on dashboard drumkits. Why would you want to mess with those songs?

With “Beautiful Broken” Heart knew better than to touch the familiar tracks that their long-time fans loved. Instead, they reinvent obscure deep cuts from their back catalog; album tracks that were almost never played on the radio. Unless you owned the earlier Heart albums where these songs first appeared, you might not have ever heard the original renditions. The Wilson sisters even dig so deep here as to grab a bonus track that was only available on a Best Buy exclusive version of one of their later CDs, re-recording the song with guest vocals from Metallica frontman James Hetfield. As if to drive the point home of what they were trying to accomplish with this project, Heart chose to use that updated version of a former obscurity to be the title track for this album.

All of this, makes “Beautiful Broken” come across sounding like an album of totally new material. Some of the songs may have an aire of familiarity to Hearts long-time fans but it’s a familiarity that can be easily be reimagined and reinvented. Old memories are not infringed upon and there are plenty of new air guitar solos and dashboard drum beats to be learned.

Well done Heart.

Alice Cooper – Trash

I will forever relate Alice Cooper’s phenomenal 18th album with my time at WKQZ, “Thee Rock and Roll Tradition” in Midland, Saginaw, Bay City, Michigan. Being on-air talent at a radio station like this was a dream come true for me. It being at a time that Alice Cooper had one of the hugest comeback albums of all time, was just icing on the cake.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been working in radio even a year when I started at WKQZ. I mean, this was a legendary rock radio station in mid-Michigan, and here I was, barely into the game, spinning Alice Cooper’s comeback single, “Poison”. How cool was that? Granted, it was a weekend overnight slot, the least listened to, but it was on a legendary station in my home state. So who cares? I sure didn’t. If I didn’t make it beyond this point in my on-air career, I didn’t care. This is was what I wanted to be apart of; and here I was.

“Trash” is one of the greatest comeback albums ever. It’s one of the best metal albums ever recorded. It is one of the best records ever made by Alice Cooper, a true legend in rock history. It is also one of the best memories I have from my years in radio.

I will always love this album.

The Who – By Numbers

Quadrophenia” was not an easy album for The Who to follow-up in 1973. There was a lot of pressure for a new album and writer’s block was setting in. Some time was bought by releasing the “Odds and Sods” compilation in ’74 and working on the collaborative “Tommy” film and soundtrack in early 1975. But a record of new songs is what Who fans really wanted and it’s what we got when “The Who By Numbers” came out near the end of ’75.

With the strength of the songs on “By Numbers”, it’s surprising The Who was having a hard time coming up with new material for their seventh album. This is easily one of their most solidly consistent albums from start to finish.

Outside of the music, my favorite thing about “By Numbers” is the album cover, designed and drawn by bassist John Entwistle. The sketched caricatures of the band members perfectly captures the essence of each. But to truly appreciate it, you have to complete the dot-to-dot drawing. I always was able to withhold temptation and not draw on mine. But I just got a great idea. After I finish writing this, I’m gonna scan a picture of the album cover, print it out, and complete it “By Numbers”.

Sometimes I love technology.