Van Halen – Women And Children First

Van Halen closed out the 1970s with two albums that changed what rock and roll and more specifically what metal could be. Van Halen inspired a slew of hair bands playing a party metal that dominated Van Halen’s debut and sophomore efforts. Hair bands would continue to rock the charts through the ’80s. I really couldn’t really get into most of them. Yet I continued to buy Van Halen records.

Almost in defiance of the bands they inspired, Van Halen chose to pull in the reigns and get more serious, rocking harder and with a sharper edge on “Women and Children First”. It wasn’t a major shift, but it was definitely a noticeable one. Van Halen kept elements of that party rock on their third album, just as they did on the albums that followed. But there was more aggression; there was more seriousness. This shift in sound, which became even more significant a few albums later when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer is what kept me following Van Halen, whereas the hair bands that Van Halen’s music was so significant with inspiring…well, there’s hardly any of them in my record collection.

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.

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, but 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.

Georgia Satellites

In an era that was dominated by synth rock and glam metal the Georgia Satellites were neither. They were a Southern blues rock band. Plain and simple.

On their debut, the Georgia Satellites played it hard and played it loud. They sounded like a raucous bar band that blew the roof off of every dive they played at, because that’s exactly what they were. Their music was about as out of style to what was popular in 1986 as it could get. No polish. No flash. Just good old foot stomping blues rooted rockers. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites released two singles from their debut album. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” shot up to number two on the Billboard charts, denied the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. That song is what made people first take notice of this album. Their second single was a cover of Terry Wood’s straight ahead rocker “Battleship Chains”. Although it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, it gave record buyers a glimpse of what to expect on the rest of the album. Music that didn’t fit in with what was popular and didn’t care; as a matter of fact, it was proud of it. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites’ debut album went on to sell over a million copies in the US. It did so without any flash or polish or any marketing blitz. It did it by being a great rock and roll record. Pure and simple.

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

…or should I say “In the Garden of Eden”.

That is what the title song was originally supposed to be called. But when you’re too inebriated, sometimes the words don’t come out right when you try to tell your bandmates the title of the killer new song you wrote. Eastern philosophy and mysticism was hugely popular in 1968, and the drunkenly slurred title sure had that mystic vibe to it, so Iron Butterfly decided to call the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” instead.

The song is a 17 minute psychedelic epic based around a heavy blues riff that fills the entire second side of the album. An edited down version, eliminating among other pats, a two and a half minute drum solo in the middle, was release to radio stations in 1968. It became Iron Butterfly’s biggest hit single. The album followed suit, eventually selling over 30 million copies. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is considered by many to be the very fist heavy metal song.

Foghat

There are blues rock bands and there are blues rock bands…and then there are real blues rock bands like Foghat.

I’ve heard some modern artists today talk about being real. It’s almost become a cliché – sometimes it’s all talk. If you want to listen to a band that walked the walk…if you want to hear a band that was real, listen to any Foghat album.

Foghat was all about American blues rock. They played it hard and true. So true, that when most people first heard them, they didn’t realize they were a British band. As for me…well.. guilty as charged.

It wasn’t until I started digging back into Foghat’s early catalogue that I realized they weren’t an American blues rock band. Actually, it wasn’t until I dug beyond that. After going back to their eponymous debut, I was curious about how Foghat started; where they came from. And then I learned that Foghat was born from the ashes of Savoy Brown.

But wait…Savoy Brown was British…Holy crap! That meant that Foghat had to be…NO F’ING WAY! Foghat was a Brit band?!?! Up until then, I thought these guys were a tried and true American blues based rock band.

Then it dawned on me. That is what Foghat really is – an American blues based rock band. Sure, they came from across the Atlantic, but American blues is where their heart was. It’s what inspired them. It’s what they loved to play. It’s all they ever played. It’s what made them real.

Foghat was the most real American blues rock band ever. They just happened to be British.

J. D. Blackfoot – The Song of Crazy Horse

The title track to J. D. Blackfoot’s 1973 album “The Song of Crazy Horse”, is an epic 14 minute American history lesson about the life and times of the Lakota (Sioux) American Indian leader, Crazy Horse. It’s a powerful song that speaks of the savage injustice done to the native Americans in the 19th century; how Crazy Horse led his people to fight back, ultimately wiping out the U. S. Army’s 7th Cavalry at Custer’s Last Stand, and wrapping up with Crazy Horse’s arrest and controversial death while in custody of U.S. officials the following year. With a combination of country and psychedelic rock, the song makes a powerful statement to the mistreatment of native Americans in the 19th century; a time in American history that is seldom spoken of.

The remainder of “The Song of Crazy Horse” is not nearly as lyrically intense or musically dispersed as its namesake song. “Ride Away” closes out side one as a folksy epilogue to the epic that preceded it. Side two is filled with blues rooted rockers and ballads with one oddity thrown in. The contrast in the offbeat humor of “Flushed You from the Toilets of My Heart” can’t help but stand out from the rest of this album. It serves as a reminder from J. D. Blackfoot that amongst all this seriousness, he can still have some fun. After that diversion, the album closes out with the somberly beautiful “Comin’ Down”.

“The Song of Crazy Horse” was J. D. Blackfoot’s second album. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, he moved to New Zealand before recording this album. Although it was very successful in his adoptive country, it failed to dent the charts in the his country of origin.

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.