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.

Uriah Heep – Demons And Wizards

I might not have ever heard Uriah Heep’s fourth album “Demons and Wizards” had I not had a brain fart and my sister not gotten it all wrong.

If there is one thing that has remained true about me through the decades, it is if you want to give me a gift, you can’t go wrong with music. One year when we were in high school, my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I’m sure she was not at all surprised when I rattled off a list of albums that were on my radar. “Sweet Freedom“, by Uriah Heep was an album I wanted mainly because it had the song “Stealin'” on it (to this day that is my favorite song by the Heep). Well, I had a brain fart at that moment and although I could picture the album cover in my head, I couldn’t remember the name of the album. So I just told my sister “it’s the album with my favorite Uriah Heep song, “Stealin'”

So Christmas rolls around and we’re exchanging presents. As I’m looking at the present my sister hands me, I can tell by its size that it’s obviously an album. As I tear off the wrapping paper, I see hidden inside, an album by Uriah Heep: “Demons and Wizards”. I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face as I was looking at it, because my sister suddenly explained to me “It’s got your favorite song by them on it: “Easy Livin’.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she got the wrong album and the wrong song; at least not right away.


Up until that Christmas, “Easy Livin'” was the only song I knew off of “Demons and Wizards”. It was probably my second favorite Heep song. That changed the moment I heard the album open up with “The Wizard”, an amazing song of hope that asks us all to put our differences aside.

Why don’t we listen to the voices in our hearts?
’cause then I know we’d find that we’re not so far apart

The rest of the songs that follow are Uriah Heep at the top of their game. Yeah, “Stealin'” may still be my favorite Uriah Heep song but hands down, “Demons and Wizards” is my favorite Uriah Heep album.

A few days after Christmas that year, I told my sister that she totally bought me the wrong album…and I thanked her for getting it all wrong.

Santana

The band Santana, named after latin rock legend Carlos Santana released their debut album in 1969, a couple of weeks after they played an unforgettable set at the original Woodstock music festival. That incredible performance showcased the band’s freeform jam band style that helped this record shoot up to the number four position on the Billboard charts shortly after its release. That despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music critics. Rolling Stone, perhaps the most influential music publication back then, said the album showcased “hollow technique” and had “no real content”. Meh, what do they know? Decades later, in 2003, they would give Santana’s eponymous debut accolades, describing it as “thrilling” and ranking it as the 150th greatest album of all time.

In their early days, Santana was first and foremost, a jam band. Much like freeform jazz musicians are masters of improvisation, Santana focused on playing by feel, never performing a song the same way twice. That’s why even though they were relatively unknown when they took the stage at Woodstock, everyone remembered them long after they triumphantly walked off it. It is that jam band mastery of musical improvisation that shines through on this record; something hard to pull off in the studio…unless you’re really good. And from the very beginning, Carlos Santana and his namesake band proved they were among the best.

Joe Walsh – You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind

Joe Walsh’s 1976 live album, “You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind” was one for the fans – a live memento of Joe Walsh’s past hits with a hint of what was to come.

With five jamming renditions of Joe Walsh’s biggest hits, this album really couldn’t miss. Add to that, Joes extended solos as well as the solos from his top-notch band, which included Eagles member Don Felder on a second guitar, and you get an album that’s meant to be cranked up.

And speaking of the Eagles, for some perfect vocal harmonies on “Help Me Through the Night, Joe is joined by two other members of that band; Don Henley, Glen Frey. The crowd loved it. Apparently Joe Walsh did too. He joined the Eagles shortly after “You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind” was released.

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”.

Jefferson Starship – Freedom At Point Zero

I remember reading or listening to an interview where one of the members of Jefferson Starship was asked about accusations of “Freedom at Point Zero” trying to sound like Journey, Styx, Foreigner, and Kansas – bands accused of being “corporate rock” for the music industry.

There was no denial or apology in the answer, which was in essence, “Those are some of our favorite bands.”

I remember thinking, those are some of my favorite bands too.

‘Nuff said.