Cactus

So the other day, I found myself at a local music store, perusing the aisles of used records, and there it was! A record I have been looking for for a very long time. I knew that if I bought only one record that day, it had to be that one, the self-titled debut by the 1970 supergroup Cactus. (Of course I still had to buy more than one album. I think it’s impossible for me to buy only one record at a time.)

I had to buy it not because I like it. I have no idea if I like it. I’ve never even heard it. But I have heard of it. And I’ve heard who plays on it: Drummer extraordinaire, Carmine Apice, who took the jazz stylings of Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa and applied them to hard rock and blues, Bass legend Tim Bogart who had played with Carmen Apice in Vanilla Fudge and with him again along with Jeff Beck in “Bogert, Beck, And Apice”, Rusty Day, vocalist and harmonica player from the “Amboy Dukes”, and Jim McCarty, a totally underrated Detroit Guitar legend who had played with “Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels” and Jazz fusion group “The Buddy Miles Express”. 

Since I first heard him, Jim McCarty was one of my favorite guitarists, partly because he hails from Detroit, but mostly because, well…because he is an awesome guitarist. 

As I sit here listening to this album, now for the second time, I have to say, I am so glad I finally ran across it and decided to buy it. Most of it rocks out hard – balls to the wall kind of stuff, heavy in the blues but with little flourishes of jazz weaving in and out. Not surprising, considering the players.

Personally, side two is my favorite. It starts out with a blues tinged rocker “Let Me Swim”, which opens with licks that sound like they were probably the influence for Edie Van Halen’s opening to “Eruption”. The album closes with “Feels So Good”, a song that ends with a drum solo proving that Carmine Apice can hang with the best of the a time best of drummers.

I am so glad to have finally had a chance to hear this album, which I had heard so much about. I’m even more pleased that I now have a copy of it in my personal collection. But more than anything, I am so happy I decided to peruse the aisles of used records the other day.

The Cars

The Cars released some good albums in the late ’70s into the ’80s. And they released one great album – their eponymous debut. It was such a good album that during an interview, the band jokingly referred to it as their “true greatest hits album.” 

This album was so unique at the time of its release in 1978 that, in all honesty, I really didn’t know what to do with it. But in the end, the solid hooks throughout, and quite simply the great songs on it, won me over. I guess I wasn’t alone.  It remained on the Billboard charts  438 weeks  after its release. To this day it remains one of my favorite albums.

The Cars, along with bands like the Talking Heads and Blondie, hailed from the east coast of the U.S. and helped usher in the New Wave era in rock music.

Although it has one of the most immediately recognizable album covers of all time, ironically the band did not like it or really want it. The picture on the inside sleeve, which contained a black and white photo mosaic is what the band actually wanted. In the end the record company chose the artwork for the cover. The band designed all their subsequent album covers.

Led Zeppelin РPhysical Graffiti 

Most who grew up in the golden age of vinyl will be quick to claim that Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest bands ever. That’s a proclamation easily proven by their sixth album, “Physical Graffiti”.

Debuting at number one on both U.S. and U.K. record charts. 16 times platinum in the U.S. A double album that is ranked by Q magazine as the 28th greatest album of all time, and the 71st by Rolling Stone magazine. 

That in itself is impressive. But consider this: Almost half of the songs on Physical Graffiti were throw-aways from previous albums – 7 out of the 15 on it.

Now ponder that for a moment…

Five Led Zeppelin albums preceded Physical Graffiti. 

Five highly successful albums. 

They obviously didn’t omit the wrong songs. But the the songs Zeppelin threw away still blew away almost all the songs by any other band at that time. 

That’s a thought that blows me away every time I listen to Physical Graffiti. 

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (half speed mastered)

More than any other Pink Floyd album, “Wish You Were Here” is a showcase for Rick Wright’s keyboards. Sure, David Gilmour lays down some impressive guitar work (as usual), but it’s really the synthesizers and other keys that set the mood of the songs on this record. 

The album opens and closes with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Pink Floyd’s former guitarist and founding member Syd Barrett, who had tragically become a mental casualty of the late 1960’s drug culture. He had been kicked out of the band before the release of their  second album because he just couldn’t function anymore. He went into seclusion shortly thereafter. 

Sandwiched in between the opening and closing of “Shine On…”, were “Welcome To The Machine”, “Have A Cigar”, and the title track. The first two were somewhat scathing commentaries on the music industry. The song “Wish You Were Here” was a song about longing and isolation – it was also a tribute to Barrett. Throughout all the songs, Rick Wright’s jazz tinged keyboard style consistently sets the tone perfectly, making this one of my all-time favorite recordings – one I am elated to have a half speed master copy of.

Half-speed mastered albums were audiophile pressings that were done in very limited numbers and offered superior sound quality because of the slower speed used to cut the master disk that the copies were made from. “Wish You Were Here” is the first audiophile copy I owned of any album.

INXS – Listen Like Thieves

“Listen Like Thieves”, the fifth album from INXS, was the Australian band’s big worldwide breakout album. It found the band moving away from the purely alternative rock sound they had on previous albums to a more mainstream sound. 

I originally bought this album partly because I owned their previous one, Shabooh Shoobah, and in part because I was a big fan of the producer of this album, Chris Thomas. He had worked with George Martin on the Beatles White Album, helped mix Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and produced albums by Roxy Music, The Sex Pistols, Pete Townshend, and many other albums I enjoyed. I honestly can’t say I know of one album he produced that I didn’t enjoy. He was a producer who was always able to bring out the best in a band. “Listen Like Thieves” was no exception.

“Listen Like Thieves” threw INXS into the national spotlight and yielded three hit singles for them; “What You Need”, “This Time”, and the title track. Their next album, “Kick”, which they wisely chose to also have produced by Chris Thomas, would prove to be even more successful for them.

Heart – Greatest Hits/Live

Don’t let the name fool you. Even though, this 1980 double album by Heart, includes a great collection of their most popular songs from the 1970s along with live concert performances, it also contained three brand new tracks from the Seattle rockers as well as a somewhat obscure non-hit from their fifth album. One of the new songs, “Tell It Like It Is” became a new hit for the band, but the other new tracks were strange non-typical offerings from Ann and Nancy Wilson and crew. 

“Strange Euphoria” was a somewhat lo-fi funk/dance track that sounds like it could have been recorded live in the studio. “Hit Single” was a collage of voices and odd studio outtakes, that I’m not even sure qualifies as a song, although it is interesting to listen to. It is definitely the most bizarre track Heart ever recorded. 

Side four closes out the album with live covers of hits from other bands including a fierce and thundering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. 

European record buyers kind of got ripped off with this record. Heart wasn’t as popular overseas as they were in the United States, so “Greatest Hits/Live” was released there as a single album with their five biggest hits on one side and five live tracks on the other. They didn’t know what they were missing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

One of the greatest things about buying an album is that sometimes you discover the songs you hear on the radio are actually part of a bigger musical composition. Unless you actually listened to Thin Lizzy’s album Jailbreak in it entirety, or read the back cover, you would have no idea that the two songs from the album that you heard all over the radio in 1976 (and are still classic rock radio staples today) we’re actually part of a larger conceptual piece of music. 

The two biggest hits off the album – the title track and “The Boys Are Back in Town” are two small parts of a story about a world ruled by the Overmaster, who controls all media and religious belief, and who has imprisons everyone who doesn’t comply to his will. A riot is organized in one of the jails that leads to a planned mass escape. All the escapees are captured – except for four. On the lamb, they start broadcasting banned music and become the inspiration for the people to rise up and take their freedom back. It’s not a complicated story, but then again, neither is the concept of freedom. 

The best thing about Jailbreak however, isn’t how the songs all fit together to tell a bigger story, it’s how they tell the bigger story and also stand alone as a just a collection of great songs. 

Tool – Lateralus

Q: What do you get when you mix Pink Floyd, Metallica, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and a heavy dose of originality?

A: I can’t say for sure, but I bet it would be something along the lines of Tool.

Lateralus is one of their best albums. 

…No…

I think it IS their best album.

‘Nuff said.

Oh yeah, picture disks are freaking cool too.

Now, ’nuff said.

Benny Goodman – Plays World Favorites In High-Fidelity

The Swing band era was the original jam band era, and Benny Goodman was the original jam band leader, as is proven on this record.

Benny Goodman was all about the beat. And with Goodman’s music, the beat provided the pavement for the avenue to the solos. And it’s not just Benny and his clarinet that get the spotlight here – everyone gets the chance to break out and cut loose, free-forming on top of the beat.

Recorded live at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, this album captures Benny Goodman and his band in top form. And in contrast to many of his early recordings, which suffered from the limitations of the recording technology of their time, this album captures them in top sound quality too – or as the album title puts it – “in high fidelity”.

One of the highlights of this album is the closing track, a 16 minute version of “Sing, Sing, Sing”, featuring solos from nearly all the band members on top of some of the best drumming you’ll hear anywhere; and it’s all wrapped up by a beat basking drum solo by Roy Burns. A jamming end to an incredible live performance; one that proved that with Benny Goodman, it truly was all about the solos – and all about the beat.

Nazareth – Hair Of The Dog

Oh, those pesky record companies – not letting Scottish rockers Nazareth give their 1975 album and the eponymous song from it, “Hair Of The Dog” its originally intended name. Not to worry. They had a plan “B.”

“Hair of the dog” is a phrase that refers to an old-time medicinal remedy for animal bites. It was once belief that if you applied a salve with some part of the animal mixed in it – the “hair of the dog that bit you,” for example – it would help heal the wound. This later made its way to metaphorically refer to a shot of booze in the morning as a cure for a hangover. The title to this album has nothing to do with either.

Nazareth originally wanted to name their sixth album “Son Of A Bitch” but A&M records was having none of that. The band decided to do a play on words to give the album a title alluding to what they wanted it to be. The phrase “Heir Of The Dog”, is a homonym for the actual album title (well, at least if you prononce it the way a Scotsman would). What Nazareth is referring to with “Hair Of The Dog” is atually “Heir Of The Dog.” Quite literally, a (male) heir of a (female) dog is a son of a bitch. 

So…yeah…take that, record company.

“Hair Of The Dog” is Nazareth’s most successful album. It has sold over two million copies. It spawned numerous hits for the band, including the title track. 

Only the U.S. version of the album contains one of the biggest hits from the album, a cover version of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts.” On all copies sold outside the U.S., that song was replaced by a cover version of “Guilty” by Randy Newman. I think the U.S. got the better deal on that one.