Cream – Best of Cream

The original power trio.
The original supergroup.

Cream was Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. By 1966, each of them had established reputations as possibly the best rock musicians on their respected instruments. It became quite the buzz when the three decided to join forces and form Cream.

Cream only stayed together for a little less than three years. But during that time, they released four albums (one of them a studio/live double album) and left a legacy that still influences bands more than fifty years after their final album came out.

As the title implies, “Best of Cream” is a compilation of the best tracks from those four albums. One of the best things about it, at least for American record buyers, is the inclusion of “Spoonful”, a song omitted from the US release of their debut album, “Fresh Cream” in 1966.

AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It

In the late 1970s, when a lot of established hard rock bands were exploring the integration of disco and pop sounds into their music, AC/DC was building a following keeping it basic, playing hard and heavy.

“If You Want Blood” is a live album recorded during the Bon Scott era of the notorious Aussie-Scott band. AC/DC hadn’t really made a name for themselves yet in the US, so the album only charted in Australia and the UK. Today, “If You Want Blood” is ranked by most rock critics as one of the best live albums of all time.

Hey, I’m no rock critic; I’m just a humble record collector. Who am I to argue?

R. E. O. Speedwagon

R.E.O. Speedwagon’s debut album is the least R.E.O. Speedwagon sounding album ever.

Kevin Cronin, the lead singer most associated with the late ’70s and early ’80s superstars, didn’t join R.E.O. until Terry Luttrell and guitarist Gary Richrath had a falling out. Prior to Kevin Cronin bringing a second guitar and a new voice to the Illinois rockers, R.E.O. Speedwagon had more of blues rock sound with progressive rock leanings than the band that became known for its arena rock anthems later on. Two of the songs on this 1971 debut made it onto R.E.O. Speedwagon’s 1977 double live epic, “You Get What You Play For”. Here, the studio versions of “157 Riverside Avenue” and “Lay Me Down” sound more like a band doing covers of those songs. This is still a great album in its own right, but were it not for the band’s name on the cover, I would never guess it was an R.E.O. Speedwagon album spinning on the turntable right now.

Van Halen – Women And Children First

Van Halen closed out the 1970s with two albums that changed what rock and roll and more specifically what metal could be. Van Halen inspired a slew of hair bands playing a party metal that dominated Van Halen’s debut and sophomore efforts. Hair bands would continue to rock the charts through the ’80s. I really couldn’t really get into most of them. Yet I continued to buy Van Halen records.

Almost in defiance of the bands they inspired, Van Halen chose to pull in the reigns and get more serious, rocking harder and with a sharper edge on “Women and Children First”. It wasn’t a major shift, but it was definitely a noticeable one. Van Halen kept elements of that party rock on their third album, just as they did on the albums that followed. But there was more aggression; there was more seriousness. This shift in sound, which became even more significant a few albums later when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer is what kept me following Van Halen, whereas the hair bands that Van Halen’s music was so significant with inspiring…well, there’s hardly any of them in my record collection.

Foreigner – Head Games

Foreigner released Head Games right at the beginning of my senior year of High School. By the time graduation rolled around the album had scored four hit singles and sold over a million copies. It would sell four million more in the years that followed.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but my senior year in high school was a seriously crazy time for me. Looking back, I’m surprised I lived through it (I almost didn’t, but that’s another story) let alone graduated. It was so crazy that I honestly don’t remember a lot of the details from back then (which is really the main reason I won’t go into them). One of the finer things I do remember from that time is Foreigner’s third album, “Head Games”. It was the soundtrack of making it through that seemingly insane year.

I got my life together after my senior year in high school ended. I had to. But whenever I listen to “Head Games” I can’t help but think of where my life was and where it might have gone had I not had music to help reel me in.

Even though the term head games alludes to playing with someone’s mind, Foreigner’s third album helped ground mine. Like Foreigner’s earlier albums, “Head Games” was a perfectly calculated combination of British progressive rock structures with American hard rock blues riffs. It was music that could have reeled me in or pulled me over the edge. Fortunately, it did the former. I guess ultimately that choice was mine. Still, I am forever grateful “Head Games” was part of the soundtrack to it.

Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

My goal when I started The Vinyl Jungle (a name derived from a J. Geils Band album) was 500 posts. I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to be that dedicated,┬ábut I wanted to try. Way back then, I decided that for my 500th post, I wanted to listen to something extra special – a classic above classics.

A classic above the classics. That is how I think of “Houses of the Holy”. I take more pleasure listening to this album than possibly any other – even albums by Pink Floyd (hands down, my all-time favorite band).

If I were prohibited to own only one Led Zeppelin album, “Houses of the Holy” would hands down, be my choice. “Physical Graffiti” would come close, but in the end, “Houses of the Holy” would take the prize, at least in my book (or my blog). Ironically, the title track didn’t make the cut here. The song “Houses of the Holy” would instead find its place on “Physical Graffiti”.

I think what I like most about “Houses of the Holy” is the branching out Zeppelin did, paying respect and honor to other musical artists and styles. They didn’t try to imitate, instead emulating Bob Marley and reggae music with “D’yer Mak’er” and the funk of James Brown with “The Crunge”; all the while keeping the whole album not only unabashedly Led Zeppelin, but Zeppelin at their best.

It was my goal when I started this blog to do 500 of my albums. Well, as they say, mission accomplished. But I’m not stopping here. Quite honestly, at this point, I don’t know where I’ll stop. I guess now, when I get tired of listening.

…It could be a while.

Golden Earring – Moontan

It only took Golden Earring 12 years and 9 albums to have a hit record in the United States.

Golden Earring had been together as a band since 1961. They recorded their first album in 1965. They were the biggest band in the Netherlands and had great success throughout the UK and parts of Europe. Nobody knew who they were in the United States. That last part changed for the Dutch rockers after they recorded “Radar Love” in 1973. The song became an instant classic in the US and remains a standard on rock and classic rock stations today. “Moontan” went on to become Golden Earring’s biggest album in the US and pretty much everywhere else in the world.

There were no other singles released from “Moontan” and Golden Earring’s follow-up live album and their next six studio albums failed to gain any traction in the US. For a while, it looked like Golden Earring were destined to be filed under one hit wonder. That is, until 1982, when they scored with “Twilight Zone” from their album “Cut” and again with “When the Lady Smiles” from 1984’s “N.E.W.S”.

Georgia Satellites

In an era that was dominated by synth rock and glam metal the Georgia Satellites were neither. They were a Southern blues rock band. Plain and simple.

On their debut, the Georgia Satellites played it hard and played it loud. They sounded like a raucous bar band that blew the roof off of every dive they played at, because that’s exactly what they were. Their music was about as out of style to what was popular in 1986 as it could get. No polish. No flash. Just good old foot stomping blues rooted rockers. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites released two singles from their debut album. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” shot up to number two on the Billboard charts, denied the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. That song is what made people first take notice of this album. Their second single was a cover of Terry Wood’s straight ahead rocker “Battleship Chains”. Although it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, it gave record buyers a glimpse of what to expect on the rest of the album. Music that didn’t fit in with what was popular and didn’t care; as a matter of fact, it was proud of it. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites’ debut album went on to sell over a million copies in the US. It did so without any flash or polish or any marketing blitz. It did it by being a great rock and roll record. Pure and simple.

Cheap Trick – Dream Police

Cheap trick pulled out all the stops for “Dream Police”. Their fourth studio album, released in 1979, combined a hard rock edge with slick studio production. The occasional use of a string section, layered arrangements, textured vocals and of course, great rock and roll hooks – often reminiscent of the Beatles – helped it became the most successful studio album of Cheap Trick’s career. Following in the surprise success of “Live at Budokan” didn’t hurt either.

Tom Petersson’s use of an 8 and 12 string bass give many of the songs on “Dream Police” a growling underbelly that adds just the right amount of tarnish to the mostly otherwise polished production. It is the perfect compliment to Bun E. Carlos’ solid drumming and Rick Neilson’s playfully serious guitar work. The variety of songs on “Dream Police” also provide the perfect showcase for Robin Zander’s diverse snarling and crooning vocal styles.

One of the best albums ever by the boys from Rockford, Illinois.

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.