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 Doobie Brothers – Best of the Doobies

When Michael McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers in 1975, after the departure of Tom Johnston, it significantly changed their sound. Their more straight forward R&B infused rock style was replaced by a more soul based rock sound. This was in part because of the difference in Johnston’s and McDonald’s vocal and songwriting styles and in part because McDonald played keyboards. The Doobies hardly ever used keyboards on their first five albums.

The Doobie Brothers never intended to use that name permanently. Based on one of their activities in addition to making music, they adopted it after a friend jokingly suggested it. The band thought it was a stupid name, but could never agree on anything else. When you consider that before recording their first album, they once performed under the name Pud, it’s probably a good thing they stuck with The Doobie Brothers.

Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet

I can’t believe the difference in sound between Lucifer’s Friend’s 1970 eponymous debut and their fourth album, 1974’s “Banquet”. It’s hard to realize it’s actually the same band. Gone is the metal crunch of the overdriven guitars and Hammond B3 organ that put them in league with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. Those sounds are replaced here with more rounded guitar tones and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Oh, and don’t forget the full horn section. All that, along with the free-flowing extended solos, leaves “Banquet” having much more in common with the progressive, jazz-rock fusion sounds of Traffic, early Chicago, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ELP than it does with any metal band. About the only things consistent between this and Lucifer’s Friend’s debut album is the incredible musicianship and John Lawton’s amazing voice.

Then again Lucifer’s Friend was a band that seemed to strive to sound different on every new album. I think the diversity in their sound from one album to the next is a big reason they had a hard time gaining popular traction outside of their native Germany. Their fans never knew what to expect from them from one album to the next. The thing was, that’s what I admired about them.

Bob Welch – French Kiss

Bob Welch released French Kiss, his debut solo album, in 1974. Before that, he was the person most responsible for transitioning Fleetwood Mac from an edgy blues band to more melodic rock and roll superstars. Yet he was not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the band.

Welch joined Fleetwood Mac as their rhythm guitarist in 1971, when Jeremy Spencer and lead guitarist Peter Green left the group. Almost immediately, Welch’s musical opinions clashed with Fleetwood Mac’s remaining guitarist Danny Kirwan. A year and a half later Kirwin was fired for his alcohol abuse and increasingly volatile behavior. Although Welch’s influence had already started a metamorphosis in Fleetwood Mac’s sound, the change became much more pronounced once Bob Welch had more creative input.

Bob Welch left Fleetwood Mac in 1974 to pursue other musical interests. He was replaced by Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. With the new lineup, Fleetwood Mac continued on with the musical style Bob Welch was significant in helping them forge.

Although Bob Welch was not one of the original founding members of Fleetwood Mac and left the group just before they had their greatest commercial success, I think it was unfair for the RRHoF to not have included him in the roster of Fleetwood Mac band members to be inducted. Fleetwood Mac would have probably never transitioned into the superstar band they became without Bob Welch.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

My first introduction…real introduction…to David Bowie was on the Midnight Special, a late-night television show that in 1973, broadcast a David Bowie concert featuring songs from his upcoming album “Diamond Dogs”.

It’s funny, because I would’ve sworn the music that aired that night was from Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour. But I like to check my facts. So before queuing this album up, I found out that show actually aired in 1973, before the “Diamond Dogs” album was released. To my surprise, the broadcast actually contained more music from Bowie’s earlier recordings – only a couple of songs are from the “Diamond Dogs” album. Still, it was the songs performed from this album that really made an impression on me.

When I finally bought a copy of “Diamond Dogs” (I think it was my older sister who actually bought it first, but I was more than content stealing her copy to listen to for a few years), I was enthralled. It was a dark concept album with songs of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world from George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Actually, I’m not sure I got all that back then – I was only 11 or 12 years old (I’m not even sure if I had even read 1984 yet back then). But I know I dug the sh!t out out of the music and the other-worldly lyrics.

What blew me away with “Diamond Dogs” wasn’t just the lyrics and music; it was the remembrances of that Midnight Special concert I had seen a year or so before. It was Bowie’s music, following in the footsteps of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, taking rock music to a whole new conceptual level, and the visuals that accompanied it.

“Diamond Dogs” was so much more than music as strictly entertainment. The album was a sociopolitical statement galvinized in the fear of things to come. But more than anything, “Diamond Dogs” was rock and roll presented in its best form: music as art.

The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

Rock and roll was going through some significant changes going into the 1980s. Many bands that had cut their teeth in the ’70s either couldn’t adapt to the newer sound and fell by the wayside or overcompensated and were labeled as sell-outs by their long time fans. For The J. Geils Band the transition was easy. Their style of r&b party rock didn’t need to change much at all to propel them to the top of their popularity and the top of the record charts without alienating any of their fans.

The conversation within the band may very well have gone something like this:

Peter Wolf: “Seth, we need you to start playing more synthesizers instead of just piano and organ.”

Seth Justman: “Okay.”

I don’t know if that’s the way it all went down, but it could’ve been. That’s really all Geils did for “Love Stinks” to become their second most successful album shortly after it was released. Their next album, “Freeze Frame”, would do even better.

REO Speedwagon – Nine Lives

The ninth album by REO Speedwagon was one of their hardest rocking records and one my favorites by them.

Following the respectable success of “Nine Lives” – it went gold, selling over half a million copies and hit #33 on the Billboard charts – the band achieved mega-star status with their later ’80s power-pop rock albums. In comparison, “Hi Infidelity”, the follow-up to “Nine Lives” went mult-platinum selling over 10 million copies and topped the Billboard charts. I can’t really blame any band for going softer and sticking with a formula for success like that.

Still, although I liked their later stuff, and was glad to see one of my favorite bands finally achieve the success they deserved, as the years moved forward I found myself missing the hard rock of early REO. To me, “Nine Lives” was REO Speedwagon at their hard rocking best.

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

The second Roxy Music album.

I remember the first time I heard Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure”. Even more so, I remember hearing Brian Ferry’s ode to an inflatable doll, “In Every Home a Heartache”. I was not even a teenager at the time, so I’m not even sure if I entirely knew what the song was about, but its eerie feel and wicked psychedelic Phil Manzanera guitar solo at the end was all I needed to know the topic was rather offbeat – and I loved it, along with the rest of the record.

Actually, “For Your Pleasure” was the first time I had heard Roxy Music at all. I remember the radio station playing the album in its entirety because it had just been released and it was unlike anything I had ever heard at the time. It blew my mind every bit as much as what Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” had just a few weeks earlier, but in a totally different way. “For Your Pleasure” was more of an in-your-face experimental adventure, due mainly to Brian Eno’s creative genius on keyboards and his use of tape loops added to Chris Thomas’s edgy production. (as I would read the credits in the liner notes to numerous albums in the years following, I found Chris Thomas to be one of my all-time favorite producers).

Along with Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” dramatically shifted my musical listening habits from the pop songs being played on the local AM stations to the album oriented rock (AOR) on the FM dial; music that defined the most influential years of my life.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

Styx – Cornerstone

Although Cornerstone, the ninth studio album by Styx, still held on somewhat to the band’s progressive rock beginnings, the shift to more pop oriented songs was obvious.  The musical landscape was in the US was changing as the 1970s merged into a new decade and Styx’s music was changing with it.  Styx seemed to almost declare the change with Borrowed Time,  which kicks off side two with Dennis DeYoung declaring “Don’t look  now, but here come the ’80s”.

Cornerstone gave Styx their first and only number one hit with Babe.  Shortly after the power-pop ballad came out, it seemed you couldn’t turn the radio for an hour without hearing it.  I have to say, I started to grow sick of the song after a while.  Listening to it now, I can again appreciate the beauty and tenderness of the song, which Dennis DeYoung wrote for his wife.

“Boat on the River” has always been one of my favorite tracks on Cornerstone.  Although it was an overlooked song in the United States, it remains Styx’s biggest hit in Europe.