The Doors – Greatest Hits

I’ll always remember “Light My Fire” by The Doors as the number 2 song on the Rock and Roll 500 in the ’70s. Year after year, after year.

Growing up in a an East side Detroit suburb, Memorial Day weekend meant three things to me: The St. Clair Shores parade, the Indianapolis 500 race on TV, and the Rock and Roll 500 on the radio.

The Rock and Roll 500 was a pretty simple concept. Weeks prior, listeners would submit their favorite rock songs to the local radio station and sometime over Memorial Day Weekend the station would countdown the 500 most popular songs. Although there were always surprises to the list each year, the top three songs always seemed to be constant. “Freebird” by Skynyrd would always take the third position, Zeppelin would take top honors with “Stairway to Heaven”, and sandwiched between the two would be “Light My Fire” by The Doors.

Sure, it took away from the suspense. I mean, after the first couple years, I kind of knew what was coming once they got to the top of the 500, but they were all great songs, so why should I care? I still listened to them. Year after year, after year.

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.

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.

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.

Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band – Against The Wind

I think “Against the Wind” is my favorite album by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band partly because I am such a huge Pink Floyd fan.

Not only do love Floyd’s music, but I think “The Wall” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever conceived. I’m a realist though, and as such knew some album at some point would have to unseat it from the number one spot on the US album charts. I couldn’t have been prouder back then to, after six weeks, see hometown heroes Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band do the unseating.

Expectations were high for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band when they released their follow-up to “Night Moves”, their breakthrough album in the late seventies. Fuckin-A did they deliver! I don’t think I ever heard, before or after, a better collection of straight ahead good-times rockers and heartfelt ballads than Seger and his crew put out on “Against the Wind”. Then again, that is what they were always best at.

There was never any better, before or since, in my humble opinion.

Kiss – Destroyer

“You gotta lose your mind in Detroit, Rock City”

“Destroyer” is hands down my favorite studio album by Kiss. Then again, growing up in metro Detroit, I guess my opinion is a bit biased.

One of the things I really dig “Destroyer” is the album version of “Detroit Rock City”. It includes an intro and ending which you almost never hear when the song is played on the radio. Together, they makes the song travel full circle in a kind of time warped story.

The intro starts out with the sounds of someone muddling about, getting ready to head out the door; a radio station can be heard in the background. It’s playing a news story about a fatal car and truck accident that happened on Grand Boulevard. Hopping into the car, revving the engine, and diving off, “Rock and Roll All Night” from Kiss’ earlier album is playing on the car’s stereo. You can faintly hear the driver singing along. He feels so alive. Then the actual song “Detroit Rock City” kicks in. The song tells the story of a rock star speeding off on the road to do a show. He never makes it, dying after losing control and driving head on into an oncoming truck. On the album, the song ends with the sound crashing metal and glass and it becomes obvious that earlier, this guy had been listening to a news story about the crash he was going to die in a few minutes later. All that is lost if you don’t listen to the album version of “Detroit Rock City”.

The rest of “Destroyer” typical Kiss: Hard rock and metal. Two exceptions are “Great Expectations” which includes some orchestration and choral arrangements and the power ballad “Beth”, the only Kiss song to feature strings and no guitars whatsoever; it sounds unlike anything Kiss did before or after. Ironically, that song became Kiss’ highest charting song ever and one of their best-selling singles.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

If Barry Gordy Jr. had his way back in 1971, Marvin Gaye would have never recorded the album “What’s Going On”.

When the founder of Motown Records in Detroit first heard the title song Marvin Gaye had recorded for his next album, he was confident it would be a failure and refused to release it. Barry Gordy believed in the upbeat tempo and feel of the songs that had been the formula to Motown’s success. That was the record he wanted from Marvin Gaye. What Gaye delivered instead was a mid-tempo, multilayered song that made a sociopolitical statement against war, poverty, and brutality.

Barry Gordy felt “What’s Going On” would never sell and that it would be the ruin of Marvin Gaye’s career if it was ever released. Equal in his passion for the song, Marvin Gaye took a stand, refusing to write or record even one more note for Motown if the song wasn’t released. Barry still refused. It was his record company after all, and he had the final say.

But the song was released anyway.

Circumventing Barry Gordy, the VP of sales at Motown records decided to go behind his back and have the record pressed and released, sending some advance copies out to radio stations. It’s the kind of thing that will get you fired – unless you know you’re right. The song got heavy airplay across the country and when it came out “What’s Going On” became the fastest selling single in Motown’s history. Marvin Gaye was given the green light to make his album and make it his way.

“What’s Going On” didn’t ruin Marvin Gaye’s career, it defined it. It was his masterpiece. Like its title track, the album makes a strong statement. The soulful and beautifully layered songs lament against war, poverty, drug abuse, injustice, hate, and destruction of the environment. In contrast to the music, the lyrics to the songs don’t always paint a pretty picture, but they always make you think. This is an album that begs you to step back and take a look at the world around you; to take a good close look at “What’s Going On”.

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

The Patti Smith Group – Easter

The Patti Smith Group may sound to some like an odd opening act for Bob Seger, but in early 1977 it kind of made sense, with her trying to without compromise, broaden her sound to a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Patti Smith broke her neck and nearly died during the second show of that tour. She fortunately recovered, but would have to wait until her next album, “Easter”, and for a little help from Bruce Springsteen to find that no-compromise crossover success.

It was January 26 when Patti Smith tripped over a stage monitor, plunging 15 feet onto a concrete floor in the orchestra pit at the front of the Tampa Florida stage. She cracked two vertebrae and had to get over 20 stitches to her head and face after the fall. The incident took her out of action for almost a year. I’m surprised it wasn’t longer.

After therapy following her neck surgery after the accident, Patti Smith and her group returned to the studio to record her third album “Easter”. Although the songs were a diverse mix between punk and mainstream rock, there was no potential that Smith’s record label felt were a breakthrough single. That is, until the album’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, turned Smith on to a song Bruce Springsteen had written but thrown away; a song that both Smith and her label found common ground on.

“Because the Night” became the no-compromise crossover that both Patti Smith and her record label were looking for. The song became the group’s biggest hit. “Easter” became The Patti Smith Group’s best-selling album.

Bob Seger – Beautiful Loser

By 1975, Bob Seger had put together a group of top-notch Detroit area musicians to back him up. The album “Beautiful Loser” was the first appearance of the Silver Bullet Band on a Bob Seger record, though they played on only one song.

The other songs were performed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, session musicians affiliated with the Alabama recording studio where Seger recorded all the songs on “Beautiful Loser”.

Even though The Silver Bullet Band appear only on “Nutbush City Limits”, a cover of an Ike and Tina Turner song, they became Seger’s touring band and backing band on his most successful albums, including “Live Bullet” and “Night Moves”.