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 Pineapple Thief – Dissolution (clear vinyl)

The Pineapple Thief is a band I had heard and read a lot about before finally buying an album by them. I bought their 11th record mainly because Gavin Harrison, one of my favorite drummers, had been brought into their fold. I never realized why I liked Gavin Harrison’s drumming so much until I listened to The Pineapple Thief’s 12th album, “Dissolution”. I can not stop listening to this record. A good part of that reason I discovered, is Harrison’s influence.

It is rare for a drummer to be as intricately involved in the songs he plays on as Gavin Harrison is. There was such a shift from the “The Wilderness” to “Dissolution”, that I had to read through the liner notes to see what had changed. It was immediately obvious. Gavin Harrison co-wrote all but two songs with The Pineapple Thief’s founder, Bruce Soord. The shift was as noticeable as when Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson brought Harrison into their fold in 2002. Coincidence? I think not.

Although I am not yet familiar with The Pineapple Thief’s earlier work, I am willing to bet that adding Gavin Harrison to the line-up, is one of the best decisions Bruce Swoord has ever made.

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush

Neil Young is a deeply philosophical guy. You can tell this from the lyrics in his songs. “After the Gold Rush” is a deeply philosophical album based on the script for a deeply philosophical film of the same name. A film that was never made.

The story was one of self-discovery – an end of the world tale that revolved around psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory that deep inside, many of us are on a quest for wholeness. Weaved into the story was the Kabbalah principle of searching for the relationship between the realm of God and one’s own mortal existence.

Deep stuff.

On a perhaps shallower, but no less gratifying level, it’s just some great music.

Styx – Paradise Theatre

Despite concept albums becoming less en vogue going into the ’80s, “Paradise Theatre” did pretty well for Styx. Actually, it became their only #1 album, spawned four singles, and sold over 3 million copies. Yeah, it did very well.

Released at the beginning of 1981, the album revolves around the declining moral, social, and political state of affairs in America coming out of the ’70s going into a new decade. They used the deteriorated state of Chicago’s once majestic Paradise Theatre as a metaphor for the concept that the songs revolve around.

Not only was the music on “Paradise Theatre” some of the best Styx has ever done, the album itself was a work of art. Somehow, without affecting the sound quality, side 2 of the record was etched with a prismatic image of sculptures from the theater’s marquee along with the band’s name. Every time I listen to “Paradise Theatre” I have to admire it. It truly is a work of art – as is the music that accompanies it.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (red vinyl re-issue)

I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show probably more than any other movie; no other movie even comes close. If there wasn’t anything else happening on a late Friday night when I was in high school, you’d find me in the balcony at the Punch and Judy Theater in Grosse Pointe armed with a squirt gun, newspaper, flashlight, rice, and probably a few other items, ready for action.

But my appreciation for The Rocky Horror Picture Show was also about the music. The songs were written by Richard O’Brien, who also plays Riff Raff, made it my favorite movie soundtrack at the time. It still is today, and not because of the nostalgia either. The music is great rock and roll which, like the movie, is filled with sexual tension and kitschy theatrics. The perfect movie and soundtrack for any high school teen.

Elton John – Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” is an autobiographical record of the early personal and professional struggles of what eventually became one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history.

Bernie Taupin scribed the words, Elton John wrote and performed the music. As a musical team, they have sold over 300 million records. There is nary a person alive today who hasn’t been moved by at least one of their songs. But as is often the case, their success didn’t come overnight. Eventually, their perseverance paid off.

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” tells the story of how they both struggled for years to find success. Perhaps the most well-known struggle was Elton John’s struggle with his sexuality. Originally keeping his homosexuality a secret, he had originally planned to give up a career in music to marry a female lover. The conflict led him to the brink of suicide which fortunately he was talked out of by a good friend. That’s what the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, is about. After achieving the success he and Taupin rightly deserved, he eventually came out about being gay and has since become a huge advocate for gay rights.

I remember taking some sh!t in middle school when I wore an Elton John t-shirt one day. I had no idea that he had just openly revealed he was gay. When I learned that, I personally didn’t care. I loved his music; what he did beyond that was not my concern. I took some sh!t again for having that viewpoint. I just ignored the comments and inaccurate accusations. Still, I never wore that shirt to school again after that. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of a stand.

The Who – Quadrophenia

There are four members, four distinct personalities in The Who, just as there are four distinct personalities inside Jimmy, the protagonist in “Quadrophenia”, the second rock opera by The Who. In the story, each band member represents one of Jimmy’s personalities. Each of Jimmy’s personalities is represented by a song and musical theme on the album.

Had an album of this depth been undertaken by any lesser band than The Who, it could have easily been a total flop. The Who made “Quadrophenia” one of their crowning achievements; one of the most ambitious, influential, memorable, and iconic albums of the 1970s.

Although “Quadrophenia” came out in 1973 and included a 44 page booklet with photography depicting scenes from the story, it was strictly a photo-story. There was not a “Quadrophenia” movie; at least not until 1979. The “Quadrophenia” soundtrack album, is similar to, but also distinctly different from the original album.

For the record (pun intended) Jimmy’s four personalities represented by the members of The Who and their main respective songs are:

    • The tough guy looking for a a fight – Roger Daltry – “Helpless Dancer”
    • The hopeless romantic just wanting to share his affection – John Entwistle – “Is It Me?”
    • The out of control, unpredictable crazy guy – Keith Moon – “Bell Boy”
    • The desperate beggar, con-man, and hypocrite – Pete Townshend – “Love Reign O’er Me”

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

Alice Cooper wanted to do something special with the cover of their fifth album, “School’s Out”, so to fit the theme of its title, it folded out into and opened like an old school desk…with a pair of schoolgirl’s panties wrapped around the album.

That’s what’s cool, outside of the sound itself, about vinyl. I mean, just try to do that with a CD. The tiny size just wouldn’t work.

But “School’s Out” isn’t an album that’s just about the packaging. It is considered by many, including your’s truly, to be the original Alice Cooper band’s best album.

The fold-out cover was only used on the original pressings of “School’s Out” and the panties were pulled after the very first issue of the album. It’s rumored that some of the executives at Warner Brothers records felt it was in poor taste.

The full package, with the panties included, is so rare that I had to steal this copy from the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas.

Just kidding. But it is hard to find. And the Hard Rock, Las Vegas does have a copy on display there.

Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires is a the band started by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp. It’s also the name of a club of celebrities (mainly rock stars) that existed in the 1970s. At the meetings, the members would try to drink each other under the table. Their meetings were held periodically at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in West Hollywood (hence the club’s name).

The rock band Hollywood Vampires formed in 2015 and named themselves in tribute to the past members of the club who are no longer here with us. Many of the surviving club members have since gone on to, like Cooper, follow a path of sobriety in order to survive.

The band Hollywood Vampires instead indulges itself in the excesses of rock and roll. Their 2015 eponymous double album opens with a couple of original songs that pay homage to club members past followed by a series of covers of hits by former, now deceased members. The band is joined throughout by guest musicians, most being surviving members of the former club. The album closes appropriately with the song “My Dead Drunk Friends”.

A great tribute album to the vampires of rock and roll’s past.

Carpenters – A Song For You

Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices ever in popular music and together with her brother Richard, the Carpenters recorded some of the most beautiful songs ever in pop music.

Even though six singles were released from the Carpenters’ fourth album, “A Song for You”, Richard Carpenter said he arranged the album to be a concept album, intended to be listened to as one continuous piece of music. With a variation of the title song opening and closing the album and a flawless ebb and flow of love themed songs in between, it certainly fits the bill.

But more than anything, “A Song for You” is a beautiful collection of songs.

Karen Carpenter not only had a beautiful voice; she was also a very accomplished drummer and plays on many of the tracks on “A Song for You”. In fact, she was so good on the skins that in 1975 she was voted best rock drummer in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll, even beating out John Bonham from Led Zeppelin (I hear Bonzo was not impressed).

Sadly, for much of her life Karen Carpenter struggled with anorexia. She died in 1983, less than a month from her 33rd birthday, from complications caused by the disorder.