Hollywood Vampires

Hollywood Vampires is a the band started by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp. It’s also the name of a club of celebrities (mainly rock stars) that existed in the 1970s. At the meetings, the members would try to drink each other under the table. Their meetings were held periodically at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in West Hollywood (hence the club’s name).

The rock band Hollywood Vampires formed in 2015 and named themselves in tribute to the past members of the club who are no longer here with us. Many of the surviving club members have since gone on to, like Cooper, follow a path of sobriety in order to survive.

The band Hollywood Vampires instead indulges itself in the excesses of rock and roll. Their 2015 eponymous double album opens with a couple of original songs that pay homage to club members past followed by a series of covers of hits by former, now deceased members. The band is joined throughout by guest musicians, most being surviving members of the former club. The album closes appropriately with the song “My Dead Drunk Friends”.

A great tribute album to the vampires of rock and roll’s past.

The Rockets – Rocket Roll

The Rockets threw everything they had into “Rocket Roll” in a final attempt to become something beyond just local Detroit favorites. The band led by three local legends, Jim McCarty (guitar), John “Bee” Badanjek (drums) and Dave Gilbert (lead vocals) had experienced just a taste of that fame with their eponymous major label debut. But when its follow-up, “No Ballads” failed to do as well nationally followed by their record label, RSO Records going defunct, they never regained the national traction they had in the beginning, even after signing a major label deal with Electra Records.

Although “Rocket Roll” failed to gain the national success of The Rockets’ debut, it became one of the band’s most popular records around the Motor City. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I think it is their best of their six studio albums.

Even though they were trying to break onto the national scene, The Rockets alway believed in holding on to their Detroit roots. Had they hit it big nationally, like Bob Seger, they would not have abandoned their hometown, but would have tried to bring attention to it. The Rockets were putting everything they had into Rocket Roll in one last effort to become, like Seger, a headlining national act. At the same time they chose to open up side two of their make or break album with “Born in Detroit” an homage to their hometown and their fans.

“Born in the city
The city where they make the cars
Born in Detroit
You know I’m gonna be a star
Hey Motor City
Love me for what you are”

Pat Benatar – In The Heat Of The Night

Pat Benatar struck gold on her debut album in November 1979. Actually, she struck platinum.

In the heat of the night was an immediate success for Benatar, selling over a million copies worldwide and giving her two hit singles in the U.S. and two others around the globe.

Although the two U.S. singles were original songs, more than half the tracks on “In The Heat of the Night” are cover songs. The covers were all lesser known tracks by the original artists and are perfect matches for Benatar’s incredibly versatile voice. The songs are all short power pop rockers that Guitarist (and Benatar’s future husband) Neil Giraldo, plays with so much zeal, it’s no wonder “In The Heat of the Night” was one of the best-selling albums of 1980.

I honestly don’t know why this album doesn’t end up on my turntable more often. Its one of my all-time favorites.

The Frost – Rock And Roll Music

Of all the Detroit bands that were ever poised to hit the national spotlight but remained hidden in the shadows from fame, The Frost were grandest.

Back in the ’60s through the ’90s, before the age of streaming, making it in the music industry meant signing a deal with a record label. More importantly, it meant signing a record deal with the right record label. Unfortunately, for The Frost, Vanguard was not the right label. Vanguard abandoned them with virtually no promotion for their albums. While their Detroit contemporaries at the time like Bob Seger, The MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, gained national fame, The Frost achieved a legendary status in Detroit and throughout Michigan, but remained relatively unknown anywhere else.

Except for Dick Wagner.

Dick Wagner was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and one of the chief songwriters for The Frost. He went on to work with Kiss, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and many others in rock and roll in the 1970s and ’80s. Dick Wagner’s influence has become legendary far beyond Detroit.

“Rock and Roll Music” encapsulates what The Frost’s music was all about. Hard rock, psychedelia, and blues. Half of the album was recorded in Vanguard’s studios in New York, and half was recorded live at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The studio material is good, but it’s the live performances here that really make this album stand out. The Frost were first and foremost, a live band.

Even though The Frost never saw the national fame of their contemporaries, that didn’t stop them from becoming highly influential to many national acts that came after them. Today, “Rock and Roll Music” is highly sought by record collectors across the U.S. and even overseas.

The Amboy Dukes – Journeys And Migrations

Before Ted Nugent, there was The Amboy Dukes.

Ted Nugent is probably known as much for his right-wing political activism and outspoken nature, especially when it comes to his support of the 2nd amendment to the U.S constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) as he is for his guitar playing. Whether or not you agree with Ted Nugent’s political views or like his in your face, sometimes brash nature, you can’t deny he is one of the best rock guitarists ever. It’s that incredible guitar playing that really makes “Journeys and Migrations” the great compilation that it is.

The album gets it title from The Amboy Dukes’ early albums “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Migration”. The Amboy Dukes only had one big hit in their existence from 1968 to 1965. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” from the album of the same name, pretty much represents the psychedelic sound of most of the songs featured here, although the band does occasionally wander into jazz, doo-wop, and hard rock territory.

In order to release their records in Great Britain, The Amboy Dukes had to change their name, since there was already a band performing there under the same name. Appropriately, they chose to call themselves The American Amboy Dukes.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

The Pretty Reckless – Who You Selling For

Although I like the music I grew up with, I sometimes get tired of what’s familiar to my ears.

The Pretty Reckless are a band that impressed me from the first time I heard them. I discovered them because the daughter of my best friend is really into them. Even though I had only heard one song from their third album, “Who You Selling For”, which I thought was one of their best songs, I was familiar with both of their previous albums. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t picked one of them up at some point by now. But rather than buying one of their earlier records, I decided to take a chance on “Who You Selling For”.

Even more so than the two previous albums by The Pretty Reckless, “Who You Selling For” is a modern take on old school blues-based hard rock riffs. One unexpected surprise I found when reading the cover and liner notes is that the closing track on side two, “Back to the River”, features Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers, Govt. Mule) who is one of my favorite blues/rock guitarists.

Part of what makes The Pretty Reckless such a good band is frontwoman Taylor Momsen. Depending on the song, her always powerful voice ranges everywhere between sultry and seductive to snarling, growling aggression. Not only a talented singer, she has also had successful careers as a model and actress (one of her first roles was playing Cindy Lou Who in the 2000 movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”). Momsen also cowrote all the songs on the album along with the band’s guitarist, Ben Phillips.

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.

Golden Earring Live

It took Dutch rockers Golden Earring 12 years together and 12 studio albums before they released their first live album, but it was worth the wait.

I have to admit that when I first heard “Golden Earring Live”, I knew only one song on it; Golden Earring’s biggest hit, the driving “Radar Love”. But a live album doesn’t necessarily need to have a slew of hits in order to be great. It needs great playing. It needs great energy that captures the connection between band and audience. It needs great songs, but not necessarily hits. “Golden Earring Live” has all of the above. It doesn’t need anything more.

Buuut…

It’s also got a great 12 minute live version of their biggest hit, “Radar Love”.

Yeah, it’s a great live album.

Blue Öyster Cult – Tyranny And Mutation

One of the cool things about some early albums by bands that later hit it big is listening to them trying to find their sound. While there are elements of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, “Godzilla”, and “Burning For You”, Blue Oyster Cult’s second album “Tyranny and Mutation” goes in directions that at times barely sound like the same band as their later big hits.

Blue Öyster Cult eventually became best known for their hard rock, pop tinged, progressive rock sound. But on their first couple albums, the songs were edgier and more aggressive. “Tyranny and Mutation” opens with the speed metal shredding on “The Red and the Black” and it never lets up from there.
This is BÖC sounding rougher around the edges, even occassionally infringing on punk and garage rock territory. Combined this with progressive rock and psychedelia and you end up with one of Blue Öyster Cult’s best records, yet one that is often overlooked in their catalog.