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.

Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.

Def Leppard – Pyromania

In the eighties metal was king in rock and roll. I have to admit, I really wasn’t into metal for the most part. However “Pyromania” by Def Leppard was an exception. But then, “Pyromania” wasn’t as true to metal as the band’s two previous albums. At the recommendation of producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, for their third album Def Leppard chose to adopt a more glam rock/hard rock sound.

It was a good choice, and obviously I was not the only one who thought so. “Pyromania” peaked one step away from topping the Billboard charts and sold over 10 million copies. Although they had a strong following before “Pyromania”, the album is considered to be Def Leppard’s breakthrough into mainstream success.

Because of the success they had in 1983 with “Pyromania”, Def Leppard chose to work again with Mutt for their follow-up album, 1987’s “Hysteria”.

Four years is a big gap to put between your breakthrough album and its follow-up, but there was a good reason for the delay. Following the release of “Pyromania”, Def Leppard’s drummer, Rick Allen, lost his arm in an auto accident. Rather than looking for another drummer, the band members put their next record on hold in order for their friend to learn to play a special drum set adapted with multiple foot pedals and could continue with them on the skins.

I saw Def Leppard in concert for their “Hysteria” tour and I have to say Rick Allan played one of the best drum solos I have ever seen and heard.

David Bowie – Aladdin Sane

“Aladdin Sane” was David Bowie’ s sixth album, following in the footsteps, yet still breaking away from it predecessor, “Ziggy Stardust”.

Bowie was far from being an unknown artist when “Ziggy Stardust” came out, but it definitely raised him to the next level of success – and raised the bar of what record buyers expected of him.  David Bowie, much like the Ziggy persona he created, had become a superstar.

Rather than trying to duplicate his  prior album, Bowie set out to make something fresh.  A new persona, Aladdin Sane was created.  And there was a significant musical shift toward avant-garde jazz on many of the songs.

When it came out, “Aladdin Sane” received praise from both critics and fans. Today, it is considered to be one of David Bowie’s best records.

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

If you want to discover a great album by an artist you really like…I’m talking about an album that you hardly ever hear any of the songs from it on the radio, except maybe one, but it will forever be one of your favorites by that artist….then I have a formula for you: Find their breakthrough album, and buy the album that came out just before it. I’ve used this formula many times, and have almost never been disappointed. “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie is one of the best examples of this that I can think of.

Yes, David Bowie had some hits before this album. Space Oddity, off his debut, was probably his biggest to this point. But none of is albums ever attained the success and musical respect of Ziggy Stardust and his albums that  immediately followed it. That was the first album by Bowie where I really went “WOW!” His preceding fourth album, “Hunky Dory”, was the second one.

The thing that made “Hunky Dory” so great was it found David Bowie in the first of many of his musically transitional phases. Bowie’s early albums were straightforward rock with a little folk rock thrown in at times. Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs almost defined glam rock. Sandwiched right in between is “Hunky Dory”. It was the best of both worlds.

I often wonder if David Bowie was hinting at the fact that this was a transitional album for him – a sort of bridge between two defining styles. He did after all, open up the album with the song “Changes”. And there were many changes to come in David Bowie’s illustrious career. His timing with the changes he would make with his music to follow, made him seem like a musical chameleon. Though not one that adapted to things as they were, but to things that were to come, right around the corner. Hunky dory was the album that defined David Bowie as an artist who was always just one step ahead of the times.

T. Rex – The Slider

T. Rex combined folk rock, psychedelic rock, and glam rock to produce a totally unique sound.  The Slider was released in 1972 to and received both critical and popular praise.  

The front and back cover photographs were taken by Ringo Starr while he was filming a documentary about the band.