Bill Haley and his Comets – Rockin’ the “Oldies”!

I wonder if Bill Haley and his Comets put the quotes around “oldies” on their fifth album because they knew that one day their own original music would be labeled the same.

Released in 1957, this album was a collection of he and his band, famous for issuing in the era of rock and roll with their hits “Rock Around the Clock” and “See You Later, Alligator,” covering popular song’s from the three decades prior to their own success.  Unfortunately, it gained them no more popular hits. 

Still a great record though.

Electric Light Orchestra – Out of the Blue

When Jeff Lynn was getting ready to write the songs for their seventh album, he decided to lock himself away, alone in a secluded Swiss chalet. He wrote the entire double album, “Out of the Blue” in just three and a half weeks. It became the biggest selling album of their career.

Although side three consists of four songs, collectively, they are also a suite entitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day.” The last song in the suite is one of their most popular songs, “Mr.Blue Sky.” 

If you listen closely, the beginning of the opening song to the suite actually says “Concerto for a rainy Day” inside the thunderclap. Also, the violin bursts that come in a short while later are musically playing Morse code for “ELO.”

I love when bands do those little things that you don’t discover until after many listens. Every time you listen to the songs after that, they are so obvious, you can’t help but wonder how you never heard them all those times before.

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Hank Williams was one of the greatest American songwriters ever. He died way too early at only 29 years old, yet he left us with so many great and influential songs. But he also left many more songs unrecorded. He always wrote the lyrics to his songs first, usually putting them to music shortly before recording them, sometimes right in the studio.  All the lyrics on this album are from notebooks that Hank kept his future songs in.  The artists on this album were asked to select a song from Hank’s notebooks, write the music for it and record it.  The results were amazing, and an incredibly heartfelt tribute.

Although all of the artists on this album are self-proclaimed Hank Williams fans, not all are country music stars. Along side Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell, are Jack White, Noah Jones, Bob Dylan, Jacob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, and Levon Helm. Plus, as a special treat, one song was done by Holly Williams, Hank’s granddaughter, with her dad, Hank Williams Jr. singing backing vocals.

A bit of Hank trivia: his real name wasn’t Hank, it was Hiram King Williams.

Led Zeppelin III

Led Zeppelin focused more on their acoustic side for their third album. More diverse than its predecessors,  it even featured a banjo on one song (Gallows Pole).  But that’s not to say that the album didn’t have its moments of bombast that Zeppelin was known for.  Many critics panned the album, probably because they were expecting something heavier. That didn’t stop it from topping the billboard charts and going double platinum in sales. 

The cover featured die cut holes with a rotating cardboard disk behind them, allowing the appearance of the cover to be changed. 

Styx – The Mission

It’s funny how easily you can have misconceptions.

An old friend of mine went to see Styx in concert yesterday. From the post on Facebook, a friend of hers and I got into a debate about Dennis DeYoung, their singer, keyboardist, and one of their songwriters in the ’70s and ’80s, and his replacement, Lawrence Gowan. In that discussion, I made a comment in which I give them kudos for knowing that their new album wasn’t going to sell because their style of music just wasn’t popular anymore, and wasn’t what sold today, yet still releasing it anyway.

She posted that at the concert, Tommy Shaw (vocals and guitar) said their newest album was currently at number 6 on the Billboard charts. I had to check this out, and yes, that is the truth.

Here are the official chart positions for “The Mission” as of today:

#6 Top Rock Albums
#11 Physical Albums
#11 Vinyl Albums
#13 Current Albums
#14 Billboard Top Albums
#16 Retail
#29 Digital Albums
#45 Billboard 200 (includes catalog and streaming)

My faith has been restored in popular music.

As for the debate over Lawrence Gowan or Dennis DeYoung … Having seen Styx in concert a few years back as well as hearing their last two studio albums, I feel Gowan is just as accomplished on keyboards as DeYoung was. Plus, as a singer, he has all the vocal range that Dennis DeYoung had but can also have much more power in his voice when he wants. Lawrence Gowan can sing every part Dennis DeYoung could, but not so the other way around; and “The Mission” proved that Gowan is also an equal or better songwriter. I think Styx is a better more versatile band with him and the success of “The Mission” proves it.

The Tragically Hip – Road Apples

April, 1991. 

My wife and I were on our Honeymoon in Toronto, staying at the Delta Cheslea Hotel downtown. The clock radio was playing a local station as we were getting ready to head out and experience Canada’s biggest city on our first morning there.  Through the tiny speaker next to the bed, a guitar riff grabbed my ear, and I stood motionless, listening to one of the best new songs I had heard in a long time. It was a straight forward R&B tinged rocker, and it kicked! The DJ said it was “Three Pistols,” off “Road Apples,” the new album by local heroes, The Tragically Hip. I made a mental note to check them out further when my new bride and I got back to the U.S.  

When the radio station went into a commercial break, I decided to go out on the balcony and take a look out onto Young Street. As I gazed across the road, glaring back at me was a huge record above an even bigger record store – “Sam The Record Man.” I told my wife of only a couple of days then (over 25 years now) that I was going there to get that album by that band before we went back home. She just shook her head, knowing full well that I would. And, on our last day in Toronto, before heading to the train station, that’s what I did.

And that’s how I discovered The Tragically Hip.

T. Rex – The Slider

T. Rex combined folk rock, psychedelic rock, and glam rock to produce a totally unique sound.  The Slider was released in 1972 to and received both critical and popular praise.  

The front and back cover photographs were taken by Ringo Starr while he was filming a documentary about the band.  

Florence And The Machine – Lungs

The distinct and powerful voice of Florence Welch helped propel Florence And The Machine’s 2009 debut, Lungs, to number 2 on the UK album charts.  But it’s that voice combined with complex musical arrangements that make this album really grab your ear.  Not to mention, it is one of the best stereo mixes I have heard in recent years.

Some of the songs have sharp contrasts between the music and lyrics, drawing the listener in with upbeat chords and melodies and then slamming them in the face with lyrics about darker topics, like domestic violence.  

Absolutely brilliant! 

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers in 1971. It was their first album on their own Rolling Stones record label.  The album cover was designed by pop artist Andy Warhol and featured a real working zipper.

The album garnered multiple hits for the band and is considered by many to be their best album.

The The – Infected

Some bands aren’t really bands at all, but really just one person with amazing talent. The The was really just Matt Johnson…until “they” became so popular that a proper touring band had to be put together in the late ’80s.

I have to admit, I did not like this record the first time I listened to it. The next time I gave it a chance, months later, I was like “WTF was I NOT hearing???”  

One of my all time favorite albums now. 

Lesson learned:  NEVER write off an album after just one listen.