Pink Floyd – Meddle

One of the important things I learned from Pink Floyd is if you want to discover a great album by a band, listen to the one they released just before their big breakthrough.

I had never heard anything off of “Meddle” when I first bought it. Well, at least I thought I hadn’t. I was actually hoping to find the album that had a Pink Floyd instrumental I had heard only a couple of times but absolutely dug. The problem is if you never catch the radio jock announcing the name of an instrumental, how do you know the song’s name? (Note to young people, these were primitive times; before cell phones, the Internet, and even home computers. Hell, we thought digital were cool.) What I never caught until I bought “Meddle” though, was the spoken words somewhat buried in the instrumental – 13 words to be exact. Four of them are “One of These Days”.

By the time I bought ‘Meddle”, I already owned and loved “The Wall”, “Animals”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Dark Side of the Moon”. Trying to find that elusive instrumental, I delved to Pink Floyd’s earlier catalog. They had already released my four favorite albums to that point, so I didn’t feel much risk in buying one by them that I had never heard. The one just prior to DSotM seemed the natural choice to make. Not only did I find the ever elusive instrumental I was searching for, I also found my fifth favorite album at the time.

“Fearless”, with its addictive riff that rises up and then drops off, the laid back coastal feel of “San Tropez” and the genius of letting your dog howl the melody over blues chords in “Seamus” (that’s the dog) were some of the other ear candy I would discover on side one of “Meddle”. Side two is all one song: “Echoes”, a near 24 minute masterpiece of sonic ambience, experimentalism, and musicianship. With its distinct single opening grand piano note amped through a Leslie speaker, it near instantly became one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs. It still is today, just as “Meddle” is still one of my favorite albums ever. Just as it always will be.

Ten Years After – Ssssh

Released just before guitarist Alvin Lee’s blistering performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, “Ssssh” is blues rock at its absolute best. The band set out to capture something close to their live sound in the studio. While less elaborate than their previous album “Stonehenge” (which Alvin Lee admits was Ten Years After showing off what they could do in the studio) it is no less ambitious.

Most of the songs here are blues rock scorchers. That’s what Ten Years After did best, which they proved at Woodstock. On “Ssssh” Alvin Lee proved what an amazing talent he was on six strings and Ten Years After proved what an incredible band they were, be it live or in the studio.

BusBoys – Minimum Wage Rock & Roll

The 1980’s owe a round of thanks to Comedian Eddie Murphy; not just for the laughs, but also for going out of his way to promote the BusBoys. In 1982 Murphy was staring with Nick Nolte in the hit movie “48 Hours”. Around this time, he had heard the BusBoys and seen them play live. They instantly became one of his favorite bands. Murphy made it a point to have the new wave band’s music included in the soundtrack to his new movie and got them a cameo in the film, playing on stage during a bar scene. He also had them open for him on his “Delirious” comedy tour and appear as musical guests on “Saturday Night Live”.

The BusBoys are one of the most overlooked new wave bands from the ’80s. Being one of the only primarily African-American new wave bands (drummer Steve Felix was white) their music was not surprisingly infused with R&B and soul. Still, the BusBoys sound was anything but typical for what was expected from black musicians in the ’80s. Was this because of stereotypes? Yes. Racism? To a degree. And the BusBoys often took this head-on with a satirical spin that slapped it right in rock and roll’s mostly white face. Like any good satire there was as much humor as there was truth in their lyrics.

Maybe this was too much for some people to digest. I don’t know. All I know is the BusBoys’ debut is one of the best new wave albums from the ’80s. It deserved so much more success than it received. At times, the album made you laugh, sometimes it made you think about the unjust reality of stereotypes and racism. But mostly, it made you just want to rock and roll.

Jimi Hendrix – Nine To The Universe

The name Jimi Hendrix needs no introduction; quite possibly the greatest rock guitarist that ever lived, his reputation is legendary.

To those who grew up around Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, the name Jim McCarty is also a name of legend, albeit local legend. Starting out in Mitch Ryder’s rocking R&B band, The Detroit Wheels in the ’60s; signing on as guitarist in The Buddy Miles Express, joining forces with drummer Carmine Apice and bassist Tim Bogert as part of the supergroup Cactus, and later forming The Rockets with Amboy Dukes vocalist Dave Gilbert and legendary Detroit drummer Johnny “the bee” Badanjek in the ’70s; and finally founding the no compromise blues/rock band Mystery Train in the ’80s, it’s no wonder McCarty’s name is so recognized around the Motor City.

The thing is, up until three years ago, I had no idea Detroit guitar legend Jim McCarty had ever played with Jimi Hendrix. Local legend joins forces with world-renowned legend Jimi Hendrix. How could I have missed this? I have to admit that at first, I was embarrassed that I had no idea this collaboration ever took place. Then again “Nine to the Universe” didn’t come out until 1980, a decade after Hendrix’s death. Plus, the collaboration is only on one of five songs on this album, appropriately called “Jimi/Jimmy Jam”. There’s  are so many great moments in rock and roll, I guess a one-off like this can easy to slip between the cracks. The bottom line is, I’m just glad to have a copy of this album, so I can listen to these two legends playing together, today.

Samantha Fish – Chills and Fever

Samantha Fish is to blues, what Amy Winehouse was to jazz; a breath of freshness and youth added to old school inspiration. I had a friend recently recommend Samantha Fish to me. After checking her music out on the Internet, I knew it was time to add some more blues to my collection, a style that in the traditional sense I will admit my vinyl collection doesn’t have enough of.

Samantha Fish doesn’t look the part of the music she plays, not that there is a specific look for the blues. The blues is all about the music, and so is this multi-talented singer, guitarist, and songwriter from Kansas City, Missouri. “Chills and Fever” that is going to give Buddy Guy and B.B. King, and Bonnie Raitt have some serious competition when I’m in the mood to cue up an old school blues album.

Heart – Magazine

I know Heart had their biggest success in the ’80s, but I will alway like their stuff from the ’70s more. It rocked a little harder, but could still be just as soft and touching. Nancy Wilson’s vocals seemed more emotional and Ann Wilson’s guitar more inspired.

Heart made some great music during both eras, but on “Magazine” and their other earlier records, the songs seemed more personal. There’s more feeling, more raw emotion, more…Heart.

Well then…Enough said.

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.

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.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes – Love Is A Sacrifice

If you ever listen to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and start thinking of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, there’s good reason: Many members of Springsteen’s long time supporting band have also been members of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes. Some before, some after, and some even at the same time. Steven Van Zandt, who is often associated with Springsteen’s guitar sound actually started out in Southside Johnny’s band.

Although Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny both competed for the same New Jersey audiences, it was always a friendly rivalry. Hence the numerous players and singers who shared the stage and studio with both. It also explains the similarity in their sounds. It’s easy to tell the difference between the two but at the same time the similarities are unmistakable. I guess that can’t be avoided when your roots are so deeply intertwined.

I don’t think there is any Bruce Springsteen fan who would be disappointed with any album by
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, especially 1980’s “Love Is A Sacrifice”. My personal favorite by them.