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.

Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat

Cat Stevens was all about introspective and inspirational lyrics along with beautifully moving acoustic music. His fifth album, “Teaser and the Firecat” was a bit more. It was also a collection of songs that coincided with the a children’s storybook that Stevens also wrote. The album came out in 1971; the book about a year later.

The story was a fantasy tale about a young boy named Teaser and his pet Firecat who set out on a journey to find the moon, which had fallen out of the sky, and put it back in the sky, where it belonged. In addition to writing the story and accompanying songs, Cat Stevens also did all of the book’s illustrations and the cover art for the album.

I have my sister to thank for my discovering this album. She owned Cat Stevens’ previous album “Tea for the Tillerman”. At eight years old, I was enthralled by it. I got a copy of “Teaser and the Firecat” (on 8-track tape) the following year. It may well have been the first tapes or records I ever owned. I played it so much, it eventually wore out.

Right now “Teaser and the Firecat” is the only Cat Stevens album I have in my record collection. Listening to it now, I’m thinking I need to change. Maybe keep an eye (and ear) out for “Tea for the Tillerman”.

Johnny Cash – Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous

Although it may sound like the title of a greatest hits record, “Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous” is not. It is only the second album by Johnny Cash, released in 1958. “Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous” is a collection of the songs Johnny Cash was famous for performing live; the songs that got him signed to the infamous Sun record label. Johnny Cash went on to become a legend in country music and a huge influence in both country and rock and roll. His songs are still revered today as some of the greatest songs ever recorded.

A biopic movie of Cash’s early life “Walk the Line” was released in 2005. Although the movie portrays the song “I Walk the Line” – Cash’s biggest hit off of this album – to have been written about his future wife of 35 years (until his death in 2003) it was actually written as an ode to his first wife, Vivian.

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.

Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown

Gordon Lightfoot was more than just a Canadian singer/songwriter. He was a prolific poet and storyteller.

Although it doesn’t contain my favorite song by him, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, “Sundown” is my favorite Gordon Lightfoot album. Besides, the title track on this album ranks a close second favorite.

“Sundown” is Gordon Lightfoot at his absolute best. His baritone voice is soothing and invigorating drawing you in to lyrics that tell stories of life and love and are perfectly suited to Lightfoot’s distinct brand of mostly acoustic Canadian folk rock.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

I wonder if when Bob Dylan released his first greatest hits compilation in 1967 he ever imagined that four years later he would release a second collection, or that it would be a double LP.

Actually, if you consider actual hits, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II” could have easily been a single album, but I don’t think anyone complained. Interspersed with his well-known, often played on the radio songs, are an additional album’s worth of songs that were either deep cuts hand-picked by Dylan or previously unreleased songs. It made for a wonderful collection that combines both Dylan’s early, strictly acoustic folk music and his later more electrified rock songs, and all points between…and of course, his greatest hits.

Jim Croce – Photographs and Memories

Jim Croce was one of the most prolific singer songwriters ever. “Photographs and Memories” is a greatest hits package that proves that point. Throughout his career his songs have evoked emotions and painted musical scenes like no other.

He sang mostly his own songs, but was known on occasion to interpret one by other songwriters. When he did, he alway made it his own. Along with the ones he did pen – songs like “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, “Operator”, “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song”, and “Time in a Bottle” – I personally can’t imagine “I Got a Name” being performed by anyone except Croce.

Unfortunately, Jim Croce’s life and songs were cut short when he died in a plane crash while on tour in 1973. He was only 30 years old.

The Mamas And The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

The 1960s. Flower-power. The counterculture. The Mamas and he Papas 1966 debut “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” captured it all better than any pop album at the time. Bohemian folk rock, Beatlesque R&B, and a touch of soul that could replace the worst case of the Monday Monday doldrums with harmonious California Dreamin’.

This is the second album cover for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”. Like this one, the original cover showed the band members all sitting in a bathtub, but instead of a box listing the singles from the album in the lower right corner, it showed the bathroom’s toilet. That cover was banned shortly after the album was released because some people felt showing a toilet on the cover was obscene. Some record stores even refused to carry it. The original cover is such a rarity that today it can often sell for well over $100. I hope to one day run across it at a more reasonable price. Until then, at least I have the music.

The Byrds – Greatest Hits

When The Byrds first started out in 1965, they took the sounds of the British invasion and combined it with American folk music made popular by Bob Dylan and others. Their sound was tailored strongly by the jangly tone of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker which became a strong influence a decade later for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They were also known for their distinct vocal harmonies.

The Byrds would later add Eastern world, psychedelic, and country music influences to their sound. These changes caused creative differences within the band leading to David Crosby eventually leaving the group and forming Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young). Numerous other lineup changes would happen down the line, with Roger McGuinn remaining the only consistent member. They eventually disbanded in 1973.

Peter Paul And Mary – 10 Years Together

If you think of Peter, Paul and Mary as a children’s group because of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”, think again. Along with Bob Dylan they brought folk music to the forefront of popular culture. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger from the two decades before, their songs were also often subtle sociopolitical commentaries of the changing times of their generation.

They could also arrange three-part vocal harmonies better than any other group before or since. On record, those vocals were mixed to take full advantage of the soundstage that can be created by a properly set up stereo system.

I picked this album at a garage sale not too long ago expecting to listen to a couple of corny songs I remembered from my early youth (mainly the afore-mentioned “Puff the Magic Dragon”) then get rid of it at a used record store, in trade for something else. Just a little childhood nostalgia, nothing more. What I got was a collection of songs written by Dylan, Seeger, and John Denver, as well as PP&M penned gems that are beautifully arranged, performed, and recorded. What I got was a greatest hits album that is a joy to listen to.

Nope. This one’s a keeper.