The White Stripes – Icky Thump

I can’t describe how disappointed I was when in 2011, I learned that The White Stripes had called it quits. It was four years after the release of their final album, “Icky Thump”. At least they went out releasing what is quite possibly their best album.

Jack and Meg White made an almost immediate impact on the local Detroit music scene when they formed The White Stripes in 1997. They finally gained international fame in 2001 when they released their third album “White Blood Cells”. With the three albums that followed, The White Stripes became significant in the revival of garage rock around the world.

“Icky Thump” holds nothing back with its continuation of what the White Stripes started with their early records. If anything, it steps things up a notch. Loud and aggressive, rootsy and stripped down, it shares a lot in common with “White Blood Cells” and the records before it. But then there are Jack White’s guitar solos. Always an amalgam of chaos, aggression, virtuosity, and originality, they are immediately recognizable and impossible for any other guitarist to duplicate. For the most part Jack avoided solos on the early White Stripes albums. I have no idea why; he’s incredible.

Jack White has achieved great success in the music business, during and after The White Stripes. He has used that success to make a difference in his home city of Detroit. He helped revitalize a section of the Cass Corridor, opening up Third Man Records there. It’s not only a record store but has a performance area for live shows and record mastering and pressing facility (yeah, Jack’s a vinyl kind of guy). He also donated $170 thousand to renovate Clark Park where he used to play baseball as a kid. Plus, he rescued the Detroit Masonic Temple, a city landmark, from falling into tax foreclosure. Saving the beautiful and iconic building from an uncertain fate, an anonymous donor, later discovered to be Jack White, paid the $142 thousand bill. As a Mason who has frequently attended meetings there, I will be eternally grateful to Jack White for that. As a gesture of gratitude, the 1500 seat Cathedral Theater inside the building was rededicated the Jack White Theater.

Foreigner – Head Games

Foreigner released Head Games right at the beginning of my senior year of High School. By the time graduation rolled around the album had scored four hit singles and sold over a million copies. It would sell four million more in the years that followed.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but my senior year in high school was a seriously crazy time for me. Looking back, I’m surprised I lived through it (I almost didn’t, but that’s another story) let alone graduated. It was so crazy that I honestly don’t remember a lot of the details from back then (which is really the main reason I won’t go into them). One of the finer things I do remember from that time is Foreigner’s third album, “Head Games”. It was the soundtrack of making it through that seemingly insane year.

I got my life together after my senior year in high school ended. I had to. But whenever I listen to “Head Games” I can’t help but think of where my life was and where it might have gone had I not had music to help reel me in.

Even though the term head games alludes to playing with someone’s mind, Foreigner’s third album helped ground mine. Like Foreigner’s earlier albums, “Head Games” was a perfectly calculated combination of British progressive rock structures with American hard rock blues riffs. It was music that could have reeled me in or pulled me over the edge. Fortunately, it did the former. I guess ultimately that choice was mine. Still, I am forever grateful “Head Games” was part of the soundtrack to it.

Sam Phillips – Martinis And Bikinis

I discovered Sam Phillips’ music right at the end of my stint in radio. I was taking classes at Wayne State University and volunteering at Detroit public radio station WDET. The radio station was doing some housekeeping and gave me a whole box of music they were clearing out. It was mostly music by artists I had never hard of. Among all of them, the one that stood out the most to me was “Cruel Inventions” by Sam Phillips. I immediately went out looking for more stuff by her at the record store and discovered she had just released her follow-up, “Martinis and Bikinis”. No hesitation. I bought it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Sam Phillips has a good voice; at least not in the traditional sense. Just like Stevie Nicks doesn’t have what would traditionally be called a good voice. In similar fashion, Sam Phillips’ voice is as distinct as it is memorable; perfectly suited to the songs she writes and sings.

I first owned “Martinis and Bikinis” on CD. In my renewed love of vinyl, I have been trying to dig up some of my favorite recordings in that format. Well, I recently ran across “Martinis and Bikinis” on white vinyl online. No hesitation. I bought it.

“Martinis and Bikinis” is an album perfectly suited for vinyl, due in part to T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production. I would lay odds that he’s an analog guy. He has also produced albums by Los Lobos, Counting Crowes, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and the soundtracks to “Walk the Line” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The other thing that makes “Martinis and Bikinis” better to have on vinyl is the bonus tracks that are not on the CD. Side four of the album is a collection of four previously unavailable alternate versions of songs from the original release. The best of those is the recording of “I Need Love”, performed with a string quartet. It gives a totally new feel to an already great song. I honestly don’t know which version I prefer.

Glass Harp – Synergy

Jam bands have reputations for playing live sets filled with long improvisational solos. It’s not so much a specific genre as it is a philosophical approach to musical performance. Along with their late 1960s contemporaries the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, Glass Harp helped define what it meant to be a jam band in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

On record, Glass Harp had more of a progressive rock sound than the southern rock influences of the Allmans or the west coast trippy psychedelics that the Dead were known for. But like most early jam bands, Glass Harp’s albums often incorporated the musical leanings of their peers while holding on to a style that was all their own. In that realm, Glass Harp’s second album, “Synergy”, is best described as a Progressive rock album with flairs of psychedelic and southern rock. A deep cut rock album from 1971 that shouldn’t be passed up by any music lover or record collector.

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.