Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n Roll

I knew I had heard Joan Jett somewhere before when “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” became her breakthrough single and album. The Internet wasn’t around back in 1981, so it took me a while to realize that along with metal rocker, Lita Ford, she was previously in the all female punk band The Runaways, best known for their minor hit “Cherry Bomb”.

Joan Jett took the punk rock edge from The Runaways and gave it just enough polish to make one of greatest albums from the ’80s. With its perfect blend of of amped up covers and power chord originals, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was an album that really couldn’t miss. It also has one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Perfectly capturing Joan Jett’s slicked back bad and reputation sides, photographer Mick Rock said he had set out to capture something memorable, in the vein of a female Elvis. Well done Mick.

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.

Boston – Third Stage

I remember waiting such a long time for Boston’s third album to come out. In between when “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” were released, I had graduated from high school, moved to Tennessee, served in the US Army as an air traffic controller, moved back home, met and lost who I thought was the girl of my dreams, enrolled in college, worked as a Zamboni driver, janitor, and courier, got hired by General Motors as a factory rat, and moved into an upper flat on Detroit’s east side.

Okay, that’s a lot to have going on in six years. Even so, six years is a long time between albums – especially for a band as popular as Boston. Apparently a flood and several power failures in Tom Scholz’s home studio had something to do with the delay. I’m sure his perfectionist attitude toward Boston’s sound had something to do with it as well.

Tom Scholz’s attention to the finest of details is what made “Third Stage” totally worth the wait though. That, and it being a collection of great songs. In Scholz’s own words, each individual song “relates a human experience” and collectively they “tell the story of a journey into life’s Third Stage”.

Of those songs, Amanda is perhaps the most beautiful arrangement Boston ever did. “Cool the Engines” is possibly the most rocking. But best of all, all the songs on “Third Stage” are unmistakably Boston.

Yeah, a lot had happened and a lot of time had passed in between Boston’s second and third album. But all things considered, it was well worth the wait.

Bad Company – Desolation Angels

I picked up “Desolation Angels” when it first came out in 1979. It was the spring of my senior year in high school.

I was always drawn to Bad Company’s hard rock, blues based, soulful style of rock, yet for some reason I had always bought an album by some other artist when I went to Peaches or Harmony House, the two biggest record stores in Detroit at that time. When I first heard the song “Rock and Roll Fantasy” on the radio after school, I knew this was the next record I was going to buy.

I have many fond memories from high school and many that back then I thought I couldn’t forget too soon. As time went on I realized that the bad wasn’t nearly as extreme as I had perceived it to be. It was the good times with my closest friends that mattered. I don’t know why, but I will always associate those good times with “Desolation Angels”.

If I’m feeling down or anxious or even angry, this is one of those albums that can reel me in and make me remember what was important and made a difference in my life back then. The friends I had. The friends I am blessed to still have in my life today. There are more miles in between than there were back then, but we are still always there for each other. Until the end of my memories, they will always be the Desolation Angels that rescued me.

Maybe I’m taking the risk of being too sentimental here, but who cares? Right now, I want to Take the Time to tell them (and they know who they are) that they were, and will always be, part of my Rock and Roll Fantasy.

YOU GUYS ROCK!

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.

Heart – Beautiful Broken

Heart has a knack for taking things other bands have done and doing them better. One case of this was their Greatest Hits/Live album which offered much more than any other greatest hits or live album ever did. But perhaps the most prime example is Heart’s 2016 album “Beautiful Broken”, a combination of three new songs along with revisited, reimagined versions of songs from earlier in the group’s musical history.

Classic rock bands releasing new versions of their older songs is certainly nothing new. Kiss, Styx, The Police, Journey and many others have succumb to the temptation. All too often, the new versions pale in comparison to the originals, at least to long time fans of the originals. There are memories that go with those familiar versions. There are solos that have been memorized note for note on air guitar and beats that can be tapped out effortlessly on dashboard drumkits. Why would you want to mess with those songs?

With “Beautiful Broken” Heart knew better than to touch the familiar tracks that their long-time fans loved. Instead, they reinvent obscure deep cuts from their back catalog; album tracks that were almost never played on the radio. Unless you owned the earlier Heart albums where these songs first appeared, you might not have ever heard the original renditions. The Wilson sisters even dig so deep here as to grab a bonus track that was only available on a Best Buy exclusive version of one of their later CDs, re-recording the song with guest vocals from Metallica frontman James Hetfield. As if to drive the point home of what they were trying to accomplish with this project, Heart chose to use that updated version of a former obscurity to be the title track for this album.

All of this, makes “Beautiful Broken” come across sounding like an album of totally new material. Some of the songs may have an aire of familiarity to Hearts long-time fans but it’s a familiarity that can be easily be reimagined and reinvented. Old memories are not infringed upon and there are plenty of new air guitar solos and dashboard drum beats to be learned.

Well done Heart.

Alice Cooper – Trash

I will forever relate Alice Cooper’s phenomenal 18th album with my time at WKQZ, “Thee Rock and Roll Tradition” in Midland, Saginaw, Bay City, Michigan. Being on-air talent at a radio station like this was a dream come true for me. It being at a time that Alice Cooper had one of the hugest comeback albums of all time, was just icing on the cake.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been working in radio even a year when I started at WKQZ. I mean, this was a legendary rock radio station in mid-Michigan, and here I was, barely into the game, spinning Alice Cooper’s comeback single, “Poison”. How cool was that? Granted, it was a weekend overnight slot, the least listened to, but it was on a legendary station in my home state. So who cares? I sure didn’t. If I didn’t make it beyond this point in my on-air career, I didn’t care. This is was what I wanted to be apart of; and here I was.

“Trash” is one of the greatest comeback albums ever. It’s one of the best metal albums ever recorded. It is one of the best records ever made by Alice Cooper, a true legend in rock history. It is also one of the best memories I have from my years in radio.

I will always love this album.

Grand Funk Railroad – Mark, Don & Mel

I don’t think there was a band loved more by their fans and hated more by the music press than Grand Funk Railroad. They sold millions of albums and sold out huge arenas in record time, yet their albums were almost universally dissed by music critics. Bad press was something that Grand Funk learned to get used to. Eventually, they laughed at it. After five solid albums in just three years, they began to revel in it.

“Mark, Don & Mel” is a best of compilation comprised of songs from those first five albums…and the brutal reviews of them. I think I get almost as much enjoyment reading the press reviews Grand Funk gathered up and put on the record sleeves of this double album as I do listening to the music. Puttin the scathing press reviws on the record sleeves was the Flint Michigan’s bands way of flipping the bird to the critics. It was their way of saying “What the F*** do you know? Did you sell millions of records? Did you top the music charts numerous times? Did you sell out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles?”

Yeah, the critics loved to hate Grand Funk Railroad and Grand Funk loved it and wanted their fans to know it. Because Grand Funk knew their fans didn’t care about the critics; they cared about the music. And Grand Funk Railroad’s music kicked some serious ass.

Meh, what do critics know anyway?

Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet

I can’t believe the difference in sound between Lucifer’s Friend’s 1970 eponymous debut and their fourth album, 1974’s “Banquet”. It’s hard to realize it’s actually the same band. Gone is the metal crunch of the overdriven guitars and Hammond B3 organ that put them in league with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. Those sounds are replaced here with more rounded guitar tones and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Oh, and don’t forget the full horn section. All that, along with the free-flowing extended solos, leaves “Banquet” having much more in common with the progressive, jazz-rock fusion sounds of Traffic, early Chicago, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ELP than it does with any metal band. About the only things consistent between this and Lucifer’s Friend’s debut album is the incredible musicianship and John Lawton’s amazing voice.

Then again Lucifer’s Friend was a band that seemed to strive to sound different on every new album. I think the diversity in their sound from one album to the next is a big reason they had a hard time gaining popular traction outside of their native Germany. Their fans never knew what to expect from them from one album to the next. The thing was, that’s what I admired about them.

Point Blank – The Hard Way

One of the greatest things about rebuilding my vinyl record collection is searching for old records I got rid of because I regrettably replaced them on CD.  Sometime the hunt can be almost as much fun as the prize. Another great thing is having friends recommend old albums that I forgot to check out back in the day and discovering a great new record; even if it is over 3 decades old.

I remembered hearing of the band Point Blank when a friend reminded me of them a few months back. I couldn’t remember anything about them except that they were from Texas. I couldn’t remember anything by them except…I really couldn’t remember anything by them.

Well, the other day I ran across Point Blank’s 1980 album “The Hard Way” so I felt obliged to pick it up. After all these years, I wanted to check them out.

Yeah, this is a band I missed out on back in the day. Hard rock blended with a helping of soulful R&B flavored southern rock and Texas blues, Point Blank was one of those bands that slipped under my radar. Then again, at least I had heard of them; a lot of people missed out on them because they only got mediocre airplay on radio. But they were a far cry above mediocre. I guess that’s just rock and roll. I’m just glad my friend Dave reminded me of them and that I had the good fortune of running across this album a short while later; definitely a keeper in my collection.