Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

In a 2009 interview, Florence Welch cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as one of her musical heroes, specifically noting the song “White Rabbit” as having changed her life. I knew there was a good reason I love Florence + The Machine’s music so much.

Although decades separate the music both women created, I hear a lot of Grace Slick in Florence Welch. Sure, there are differences. Florence Welch isn’t one to copy; she is too much of a true artist. Still, the vocal stylings of Grace Slick are impossible to not notice in Florence’s voice. The same goes for the independent “f*ck you, we do what we want” attitude of both in regards to their music.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (and Jefferson Starship) has forever been one of my favorite female vocalists. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine forever will be.

Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians – Globe Of Frogs

When I think of 1980’s alternative rock, one of the first bands to pop in my head is Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians.

Between his early work with the Soft Boys and his solo work, both with and without the Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock was one of the most influential and legendary artists to shape the sound of college radio stations and the emerging commercial alternative rock stations.

“Globe of Frogs” was the album that really should have broken Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians out. It was their first on a major record label and it was incredible from start to finish. The thing was that while most college stations seemed to put Hitchcock’s stuff in a heavy rotation, the emerging commercial alt-rock stations never jumped on board. They played scads of bands that were heavily influenced by, and even imitated Hitchcock, but not the innovator himself. That, plus the fact that by 1988 the emerging alternative rock stations in the US started gravitating towards the heavier sounding bands that resulted in the grunge rock movement in the ’90s.

Yeah, Robyn Hitchcock deserved more success, but anyone who listened to his albums in the ’80s remember songs by a groundbreaking, highly influential artist that went beyond commercial success. They remember a musical legend.

Cream – Best of Cream

The original power trio.
The original supergroup.

Cream was Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. By 1966, each of them had established reputations as possibly the best rock musicians on their respected instruments. It became quite the buzz when the three decided to join forces and form Cream.

Cream only stayed together for a little less than three years. But during that time, they released four albums (one of them a studio/live double album) and left a legacy that still influences bands more than fifty years after their final album came out.

As the title implies, “Best of Cream” is a compilation of the best tracks from those four albums. One of the best things about it, at least for American record buyers, is the inclusion of “Spoonful”, a song omitted from the US release of their debut album, “Fresh Cream” in 1966.

‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry

With ’80s new wave and alternative rock breaking into the mainstream, the timing couldn’t have been better for ‘Til Tuesday’s debut album “Voices Carry”. Of course, having a collection of great songs sung by Aimee Mann’s distinctive voice didn’t hurt either.

It’s no surprise that Aimee Mann would go on to great solo success in the 1990s and 2000s. She really is the shining star here. In addition to singing, she also plays bass guitar, wrote all the lyrics and helped to compose the music for every song. (She can also play guitar, though she doesn’t on this album).

It may be Aimee Mann’s voice that gives first notice to ‘Till Tuesday’s songs, but underneath, it’s her bass lines being very up front in the mix that becomes the glue holding them together. She has the restraint to keep things simple when necessary but also the ability to lay down some impressive low-end. The bass line to the album’s opening track, “Love in a Vacuum”, is a perfect example, as is her funk driven playing on “Looking Over My Shoulder”.

Big Country – The Crossing

Did you know that with the right effects and technique, you can make a guitar sound like bagpipes? Scottish band Big Country did, and they used it to great effect on numerous songs on their 1983 debut album “The Crossing”.

Big Country’s bagpipe guitar sound helped give their music a unique, slightly celtic nuance that was unmistakable. I couldn’t resist buying their debut album after hearing just one song by them. “In a Big Country” starts off with a complex drum intro that leads into the “bagpipes’ and double vocals that immediately grabbed me. Along with its Celtic undercurrents, that lead-off song on “The Crossing” set the tone for the entire album.

Absolutely one of my favorite records from the ’80s.

U2 – The Joshua Tree

“The Joshua Tree” thrust U2 from being underground heroes to international rock and roll superstars.

With the help of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the combined open ambient atmospherics and tight edgy forcefulness combined on nearly every song created a perfectly balanced sound that helped “With or Without You”, “Where the Streets Have No Name, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” become three of the biggest hits for U2. Those songs in turn, propelled the “The Joshua Tree” to the top of the album charts in more than 20 countries around the world, including the US and the UK.

As a part of its legacy, “The Joshua Tree” holds the record as the fastest selling album ever in the UK.

AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It

In the late 1970s, when a lot of established hard rock bands were exploring the integration of disco and pop sounds into their music, AC/DC was building a following keeping it basic, playing hard and heavy.

“If You Want Blood” is a live album recorded during the Bon Scott era of the notorious Aussie-Scott band. AC/DC hadn’t really made a name for themselves yet in the US, so the album only charted in Australia and the UK. Today, “If You Want Blood” is ranked by most rock critics as one of the best live albums of all time.

Hey, I’m no rock critic; I’m just a humble record collector. Who am I to argue?

R. E. O. Speedwagon

R.E.O. Speedwagon’s debut album is the least R.E.O. Speedwagon sounding album ever.

Kevin Cronin, the lead singer most associated with the late ’70s and early ’80s superstars, didn’t join R.E.O. until Terry Luttrell and guitarist Gary Richrath had a falling out. Prior to Kevin Cronin bringing a second guitar and a new voice to the Illinois rockers, R.E.O. Speedwagon had more of blues rock sound with progressive rock leanings than the band that became known for its arena rock anthems later on. Two of the songs on this 1971 debut made it onto R.E.O. Speedwagon’s 1977 double live epic, “You Get What You Play For”. Here, the studio versions of “157 Riverside Avenue” and “Lay Me Down” sound more like a band doing covers of those songs. This is still a great album in its own right, but were it not for the band’s name on the cover, I would never guess it was an R.E.O. Speedwagon album spinning on the turntable right now.

The Neal Morse Band – The Great Adventure

Christian music can get a bad rap. Mainly because most people think of it as preachy lyrics and blasé music. Neal Morse is anything but that. Neal Morse is one of the most talented multi-instrumentalists alive today. Like Spock’s Beard, the progressive rock band he left in 2002 to pursue Cristian music, Neal’s songs are intricate and complex. His band is composed of some of the best players you will find anywhere, including Neal’s long-time friend and former Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy. Immensely talented, they are musicians who live to play and love to challenge themselves with music that few others could dream of mastering.

Like Neal Morse’s previous albums “The Great Adventure” is a concept album with a message that in the end leaves the listener inspired and moved. It tells the story of boy who remembers his father walking away his family leaving them in City of despair. The boy grows up angry and hateful, following an often lost and darkened path. He comes close to succumbing to the Devil but in the end, through the events that unfold before him, he finds his salvation. He learns to forgive. His life is forever transformed by “A love That Never Dies”.

I went to see The Neal Morse Band in concert this past weekend. That’s where I first heard “The Great Adventure”. They played it in its entirety. It was nothing short of amazing; one of the best concerts I have been to. Neal has a rare talent to move and inspire with his music – and he and his band know how to rock! I bought this vinyl copy of “The Great Adventure” at the merch booth right after the show. Sure, I probably could have got it cheaper online, but I really didn’t mind. I directly supported a true musical genius (trust me, I do not use that phrase lightly) and as a bonus, I now have a 3 album set of one of the best new albums I have heard in years.

Elton John – Honky Château

Enough!

Everyone please quit singing it wrong!

The correct words in the chorus of “Rocket Man” are…

I honestly think I originally bought Elton John’s 5th album, “Honky Château”, just to figure out what he was singing at that spot. I didn’t know if the lyrics were included inside the album cover, but I had to find out. It was my last shot. None of my friends seemed to know. When they would sing along, all that came out of their mouths at that part was mumbled incoherent gibberish. It was driving me nuts!

Fortunately, my sanity was saved after I bought “Honky Château” and opened its gatefold cover. They were there! The lyrics to all the songs! I found “Rocket Man” and scanned through the words. There it was! I let out a long sigh of relief. I had solved the deep mystery that plagued so many to mumble incoherent gibberish. I had the power now to relieve the masses of their confusion. I could sleep soundly again at night.

The thing is, I found most people are just fine mumbling incoherent gibberish during “Rocket Man”.

Just in case you’re not one of them, this last part is for you:

“Rocket Man, Burning out his fuse up here alone.”