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.

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

I’m not one to try to rank in detail, my all-time favorite rock albums. The list I would give today would probably be very different from one I would give you next week, so why bother. I will say this however, no matter what day I ranked them, Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” would consistently place in the top 20.

The album contains such a myriad of styles it would be hard for anyone to not find something they like on this, Joe Walsh’s second album. The songwriting and playing are the strongest of any of his solo work; possibly even better than his albums with The James Gang and The Eagles. At least one of the albums by each of those bands, while Joe Walsh was a member, would always be in my top 20 list. That speaks volumes to his talent, versatility, and creativity. He is definitely one of my all time favorite rock artists. By the way, don’t ask me to rank them in detail either. I’d run into the same problem I’d have with albums.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome

Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” was a highly anticipated album in the United States but not nearly as much as it was in the UK, where it had over a million copies in pre-sale orders, making it the number one selling album there immediately upon its release.

In addition to the original songs, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”
includes a few uniquely arranged covers, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Edwin Star’s “War”, and Dionne Warwick’s “San Jose”.

The double album, which included four singles that had already topped the British charts and one that took the number three spot prior to its release, is about as brilliant a combination of synth pop, dance, and rock that you will hear anywhere. Many of the songs, including “Relax” and the title track, were considered controversial when they came out. The BBC banned “Relax” from being played on British radio and television for reasons of what it felt were sexually obscene lyrics. MTV banned the video for the song “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” for similar reasons.
The funny thing is, the bans actually helped the sales of the singles and subsequently, the album.

Was (Not Was) – Born To Laugh At Tornadoes

What would you say if I told you that in the ’80s, metal legend Ozzy Osbourne did the rap vocals to a synth-pop dance song?

Well, if you demanded proof, I’d just throw “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes” on the turntable. Then I’d have you listen to “Shake Your Head (Let’s Go To Bed)”.

Strange bedfellows for sure, but it works.

Was (Not Was) never really had an official singer on their first two albums, so their second album, “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes”, like their debut, is loaded with guest vocalists. Others who appear on this album include Detroit natives Doug Fieger (The Knack) and Mitch Ryder as well as Marshall Crenshaw and jazz legend Mel Tormé.

Even though “Born to Laugh at Tornadoes” received high accolades from Rolling Stone magazine, it failed to sell well outside of the Detroit area. Their follow-up album, “What’s Up Dog” would end up being their national breakthrough with the help of “Walk the Dinosaur” and a few other hit singles. By that time, founding members David Was (David Jay Weiss) and Don Was (Don Fagenson) had added a couple of official singers to the group’s lineup, so Ozzy was off the hook.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

I had a couple of friends recommend that I listen to Jack White’s latest album, “Boarding House Reach”, before deciding whether or not to buy it.

I did…

I bought it.

Some years back, Jack White relocated to Nashville, but he still holds a strong affinity to his roots in Detroit. With its deep R&B hooks, heavy production, and adventurous compositions, “Boarding House Reach” effortlessly makes a way stronger connection with Detroit than anything the Nashville music scene is known for. Overall, “Boarding House Reach” is Jack White’s most fractured album to date, having much less consistency than his previous solo records or any of his work with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, or Raconteurs. That’s why I loved it when I first heard it. The music went places White hadn’t gone before – many different places.

Like David Bowie, Brian Eno, David Byrne, and a handful of select others before him, Jack White is a true artist. True artists take risks. They make statements with their craft. They don’t give a sh!t about holding to convention or what is expected. They don’t try to do something that no one expects or might be ready for; it just happens. That is what best describes “Boarding House Reach”. It just happens.

And it just happens to be Jack White’s best album to date.

The J. Geils Band – Hotline

The J. Geils Band was always, first and foremost, a live band. That very well might have been their biggest reason for not achieving the success they deserved until their later albums.

I will never understand how some record labels can sign a band, yet do nothing to promote them. The J. Geils Band were in their early years, one of the most popular bands around in their hometown of Boston, MA and in Detroit, MI, and were known nationally for their high energy live performances. With a little push from Atlantic Records, their label during their early career, they could have easily broke out nationally. But because of their strength on the road, Atlantic Records seemed bent on having word of mouth from The J. Geils Band’s live reputation to do all the work; doing little to promote a band destined for success not only on the road but on their records.

Like the five albums before it, “Hotline” was a record that combined the strengths of the five exceptional musicians that were The J. Geils Band.  Seth Justman, who’s wizard-like keyboard talent was a dominant force on the earlier live Geils album “Full House”, and on “Blow Your Face Out” – the live record that followed “Hotline” – was also one of the primary songwriters, along with frontman Peter Wolf, who was a former high-energy Boston area Disk Jockey that left radio to join The J. Geils Band just before their first record. The Geils rhythm section was an incomparable combination of Daniel Klein (DK) on bass and Stephen Jo Bladd on drums, who both always seemed to know just when to throw in those little extra flourishes that gave a song that extra kick it needed at just the right time. Then there was J. Geils himself; a master blues guitarist with a tone so full and a style so fluid, he could swing between power rhythms and tight leads effortlessly; listening to him play, one couldn’t help but be in awe. And of course, there’s the pièce de résistance: Magic Dick on harmonica, perhaps the best blues-harp player ever.

Once The J.Geils Band signed with EMI Records, they finally found themselves with a record label that was willing to throw just a little promotion behind them. Just a little was all it took.  The result was a string of The J. Geils Band’s most successful albums in their career. They finally got the success the had so long before deserved.

The J. Geils Band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2017, 2018.  They have yet to earn the induction recognition they deserve, but I know one day they will.

Santana – Welcome

There never has been, nor will there probably ever be, and artist who combined Latin rhythms along with rock and roll better than Carlos Santana.

1973’s “Welcome” was Santana’s was quite possibly the most varied and experimental album for the renowned guitarist and his namesake band. Perhaps more than any other Santana album, “Welcome” combined jazz fusion, soul, and a little funk with the band’s already distinctive latino-rock sound.

“Welcome” also marked a significant change in the band lineup. Keyboardist and lead vocalist Greg Rollie had left the group along with second guitarist Neal Schon to form the group Journey. This left the band without their primary vocalist. Instead of replacing their former singer, Santana chose to feature a variety of guest vocalists for the songs on this, their fifth album adding to the album’s varied sound. The decision to use a variety of singers would be a hallmark of future Santana records as well.

The J. Geils Band – Sanctuary

The J. Geils Band is one of the most underrated bands in the US; except in Boston and Detroit. Boston is understandable. Geils after all, comes from that city. You always love your hometown hero. But Detroit was equally, if not more enthusiastic about The J. Geils Band’s combination of blues, rock, funk, soul, and pop from day one; and Geils loved them right back. They even at one point during an interview, referred to Detroit as their home away from home.

Geils was first and foremost, a live band. If you never saw them perform live, you have no idea what they were all about. Perhaps the album that came closest to capturing their live sound and energy in the studio was their tenth record, “Sanctuary”.

I can’t even pick a favorite song on this album. Every song is my favorite off of it. “Sanctuary” is one of those albums that, when I ignorantly thinned down my record collection, converting everything to compact disc, I never considered parting with. Yes, I eventually bought it on CD, but I was never not going to own this album.

To me personally, “Sanctuary” is memories from my ignorant teenage party days, the album I took refuge in during my early adult years when I felt down and betrayed, and the record I always pulled out when I just needed to f’ing crank it up and jam out.

Musically, it has been and will always be my “Sanctuary”.

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells A Story

Rod Stewart was still singing with The Faces when he released his third solo album “Every Picture Tells A Story” in 1971. Even though Stewart had his own band for the album, all of the members of The Faces play at some part on the record. The most prominent is Ron Wood, whose guitar playing really sets an overall feeling throughout much of the album.

This album is considered by many, myself included, to be Rod Stewart’s finest hour. There are so many great songs on “Every Picture Tells a Story” that For most people, it would be hard to list a favorite. “Mandolin Wind”, (Find a) Reason to Believe”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “That’s All Right”, “Maggie May”, and of course the title song to the album all top the list of Rod Stewart’s best songs of his entire career, let alone from this album.

Although a few of the songs here are covers of previous hits by other bands, the versions Rod Stewart does on this “Every Picture Tells A Story” are far from the style of the originals. Probably the most notable was the rearrangement of The Temptations’ Motown classic “(I Know) I’m Losing You”. The version here is hard rocking with a funk groove that closes with some incredible drumming by Kenny Jones from The Faces.