Alice Cooper – Zipper Catches Skin

The early 80s were kind of a rough time for Alice Cooper. Even though flashy hair metal had become a popular sound, so had new wave music. The former would have been the path of least resistance for the theatrical shock rocker, but Cooper chose the more drastic transition. “Zipper Catches Skin” was the third album of four in Alice Cooper’s new wave era. Unfortunately, long time fans weren’t buying into his new sound and image and he didn’t gain many new ones from the new wave crowd. Consequently, Alice Cooper’s popularity took a big hit during the early and mid ’80s.

Alice Cooper was also battling a very personal issue during the early 1980s – addiction. Cooper had spent time in a sanitarium in the mid ’70s for treatment of alcoholism. The experience became the inspiration for his 1978 album, “From the Inside“. Tragically, he fell off the wagon a few years after recording that album. In the new decade, his addiction took over with a vengeance as he dove into heavy cocaine use combined with alcohol. He went into treatment a second time after the disease nearly killed him. Today, the long-time sober Alice refers to “Zipper Catches Skin” and his other records from the early ’80s as his “blackout” albums because he has little to no memory of writing or recording them.

Like many, I totally wrote off Alice Cooper’s new wave era; at least at first. I actually didn’t realize how good his music was from this era until I happened to hear a couple of songs from it a decade or so later. Today, these albums are some of my favorites by Alice, partly because they are so different from anything he did before or since, yet they are still, unquestionably Alice.

“Zipper Catches Skin” is the sound of Alice Cooper trying to find a creative outlet in a rapidly changing musical landscape. It may have been a commercial misstep, but it was also an adventurous musical expression of a true artist. I just wish he could remember doing it.

10cc – The Original Soundtrack

Music is the soundtrack to our lives. I always interpreted that as the meaning behind the title of British pop and art rock band 10cc’s third album “The Original Soundtrack”.

Perhaps the biggest strength 10cc had, at least with their early albums is that they had a combination of two pop rock sensible songwriters and two art rock composers. The differences in styles came together perfectly on this album making it one of 10cc’s most popular records. But it was the pop rock writing team that really put 10cc on the musical map with the single “I’m Not in Love”, the band’s biggest hit. The strength of that song alone prompted Mercury records to sign them to a 5 album, one million dollar deal. The single hit the number 2 spot on the US charts and took top honors in the UK and Canada.

What makes “The Original Soundtrack” a joy to cue up however, are the songs that fill the rest of the album. With a sense of theatrics mixed with catchy pop hooks and some truly rocking solos, this album comes across sounding like it could very well be the soundtrack to some European rock and roll play or film. But it’s not. It’s just a great collection of uniquely intriguing songs. Songs that I am glad are a part of the soundtrack to my life.

Roxy Music – Stranded

The third Roxy Music album; their first without Brian Eno. Yet Eno would cite it as Roxy’s best. I just might have to agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Brian Eno and the influence he had on the first two Roxy music albums. His replacement, Eddie Jobson, may not have had Eno’s flamboyance but he’s every bit the musician; maybe more so. Along with synthesizers and keyboards, Jobson added the dynamics of a violin to Roxy Music’s sound.

The biggest factor that gives “Stranded” the potential to take the top spot among Roxy Music’s eight albums is, of course, the songs. They were a tad bit more toward the mainstream. That’s not to say the music on “Stranded” is commercial pop in any way – I don’t think that can be said of any Roxy Music record. There was plenty of experimentation and eclecticism to go around on “Stranded” but at the same time, the music was more accessible, with some great hooks that get stuck in your head. It was a style that would influence the sound of future bands like the Talking Heads, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox, and Japan, among others.

When I started rediscovering vinyl, I was very disappointed to realize that I had gotten rid of all my Roxy Music albums, replacing some of them on CD. But it turns out, that wasn’t really a bad th thing. A couple of years ago, I ran across a box set collection of all of Roxy Musics records. All of the albums are half speed masters that sound absolutely exquisite. Every time I listen to one

Muse – Simulation Theory (super deluxe edition)

When Muse comes out with a new album, I never fully know what to expect, except I expect it to be totally awesome. With that, “Simulation Theory”, the eighth album from Muse, is exactly what I expected.

Like Muse’s last few albums, “Simulation Theory” is more than just a collection of songs; there is a theme wrapped around all of them. This time though, the trio steps back a bit from the seriousness of “The Second Law” and “The Resistance”, instead diving into a
science fiction virtual reality world. But that’s not to say there aren’t also underlying sociopolitical statements. This is Muse I’m talking about after all.

I pre-ordered the super deluxe edition of “Simulation Theory” because from what I had already heard from the singles released on the Internet, I knew I was going to like it. It was packaged as a double album with basically, an alternate version of the album on a second record and both records on CDs. It also came with free pre-release digital downloads for some of the songs. I would have gladly paid the price for this just for the two records alone. The album artwork designed by “Stranger Things” artist Kyle Lambert fits the sci-fi theme of the album perfectly, as does the heavy use of synthesizers and electronics in the music.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it also came with pre-release access to tickets for their upcoming concerts. I have seen Muse live twice already and look forward to seeing them again. Those two shows rank among the most amazing concerts I have been to, ranking right up there with Rodger Waters performing The Wall, Pink Floyd, and TSO.

My favorite song on the original album is probably “Break It to Me” with its strange chord bends on the guitar. My favorites on the bonus record are tied between the gospel version of “Dig Down” and the live version of “Pressure” performed with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band. I thought the latter was such an odd combination when I read it in the credits, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was awesome. Exactly what I expect from Muse.

Sweet – Desolation Boulevard

Are you ready Steve? Uh-huh
Andy? Yeah
Mick? Okay
Alright fellas, let’s go-o-o-o-o-o!

I can’t imagine Sweet’s third album, “Desolation Boulevard” without the song “Ballroom Blitz” kicking things off. But if you bought the album in the UK or Europe, that’s what you got. Or should I say, what you didn’t get.

In the UK and Europe, “Desolation Boulevard” opened up with “The 6-Teens”, the second song on the version that what was released in Japan, Canada, and the US. It’s not a bad song, but it’s no “Ballroom Blitz”

In a trade-off, the UK and Europe got the song “Turn it Down” and an extended version of “Fox on the Run”. Personally, I think the US, Japan, and Canada got the better deal, even though I do like the longer version of “Fox on the Run” better. I mean, “Turn it Down” is a good song and all that, but hey – and I’m sorry for repeating myself here – it’s no “Ballroom Blitz”.

Roxy Music

Glam rock and punk rock were two opposing forces in the 1970s. On their debut album, Roxy Music took it as a challenge to meld the two into a cohesive collection of songs, the likes of no one had heard before. The result was pure brilliance.

Oil and vinegar can not be mixed together homogeneously, yet they can be combined into something incredible. Roxy Music’s first album combines the slick oil of glam and art rock with the piss and vinegar of punk to make an incredible album that satisfies and stimulates the auditory to the same effect of a good olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to the palate. Great in itself, but also an excellent foundation to be built upon with things to come.

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.

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.

Sweet – Strung Up

I don’t know if Sweet was really the first to release a live album and best of album packaged together, but in the liner notes of “Strung Up” they more or less stake claim to that honor.

The live album was recorded on December 23, 1973 at the Rainbow Theatre in London. The set is about as hard rocking as you will hear by any band. It includes a thundering drum solo that set to rest any doubts that Mick Tucker was one of the top drummers of his time.

The studio album includes Sweet’s hits “Ballroom Blitz”, “Fox on the Run”, and “Action” (which has a shorter, non echoing ending than the original), along with other songs that had success in Europe but were relatively unknown in the United States. It also included three previously unreleased songs.

Because Sweet was much more popular in Europe than in the US, this album was never released here until it was reissued on CD a couple decades later. My vinyl copy is imported from Germany.