Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

I’m not one to try to rank in detail, my all-time favorite rock albums. The list I would give today would probably be very different from one I would give you next week, so why bother. I will say this however, no matter what day I ranked them, Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” would consistently place in the top 20.

The album contains such a myriad of styles it would be hard for anyone to not find something they like on this, Joe Walsh’s second album. The songwriting and playing are the strongest of any of his solo work; possibly even better than his albums with The James Gang and The Eagles. At least one of the albums by each of those bands, while Joe Walsh was a member, would always be in my top 20 list. That speaks volumes to his talent, versatility, and creativity. He is definitely one of my all time favorite rock artists. By the way, don’t ask me to rank them in detail either. I’d run into the same problem I’d have with albums.

Bloodrock 2

I remember the first time I heard Bloodrock 2. A friend wanted me to check out a song on side 2 called “D.O.A.” It’s a song that’s a bit morbid in that it’s written from the perspective of a person dying after a plane crash. It’s one of those songs that once you hear it, you never forget it.

A couple of years back, while perusing the aisles of a local used record store, I saw Bloodrock 2 and the memory of that song that I had heard only a few times decades earlier popped back in my head. I couldn’t remember exactly how the song went, but I remembered it, and I wanted to hear it again. I couldn’t even recall anything else about Bloodrock or their music. The only thing I remembered about them was that song that kind of creeped me out. I had to buy the album just so I could give them a listen.

Fortunately Bloodrock 2 did not creep me out. The album is filled with straight forward blues rock songs that have just a slight southern feel reminiscent of Bloodrock’s Texas origins, making “D.O.A.” kind of stand apart from the rest of the songs. That’s a good thing too, because even though D.O.A. is a great song, if the whole album were like it, Bloodrock 2 would be a really morbid and depressing album.

After listening to the song “D.O.A.” again, I wanted to find out what the inspiration for the song was. It turns out that when Bloodrock’s guitarist, Lee Pickins, was 17 he had just been a passenger in a small airplane. After he got out and was watching the plane take off again, he saw it roll over a couple hundred feet in the air and crash to the ground. I imagine that’s one of those things that once you see it, you never forget it.

Rainbow – Down To Earth

“Down to Earth” was Rainbow’s attempt at a more commercially accessible sound. On this, their fourth record, the band moved noticeably away from heavy metal to a more mainstream hard rock sound, though the album does still keep a bit of a metal edge. The change earned rainbow their first hit single, “Since You Been Gone”.

Rainbow is a band that went through a lot of personnel changes, often exchanging members with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Through its history, the only consistent member of Rainbow is guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who formed Rainbow after departing Deep Purple.

On “Down to Earth”, the only member of Rainbow who is not a past or future member of Sabbath or Deep Purple is vocalist Graham Bonnet. This was the only Rainbow album to feature Bonnet, who replaced Ronnie James Dio, who left Rainbow to join Black Sabbath. Bonnet was replaced by Joe Lynn Turner, who would later join Deep Purple.

REO Speedwagon – Nine Lives

The ninth album by REO Speedwagon was one of their hardest rocking records and one my favorites by them.

Following the respectable success of “Nine Lives” – it went gold, selling over half a million copies and hit #33 on the Billboard charts – the band achieved mega-star status with their later ’80s power-pop rock albums. In comparison, “Hi Infidelity”, the follow-up to “Nine Lives” went mult-platinum selling over 10 million copies and topped the Billboard charts. I can’t really blame any band for going softer and sticking with a formula for success like that.

Still, although I liked their later stuff, and was glad to see one of my favorite bands finally achieve the success they deserved, as the years moved forward I found myself missing the hard rock of early REO. To me, “Nine Lives” was REO Speedwagon at their hard rocking best.

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

Alice Cooper wanted to do something special with the cover of their fifth album, “School’s Out”, so to fit the theme of its title, it folded out into and opened like an old school desk…with a pair of schoolgirl’s panties wrapped around the album.

That’s what’s cool, outside of the sound itself, about vinyl. I mean, just try to do that with a CD. The tiny size just wouldn’t work.

But “School’s Out” isn’t an album that’s just about the packaging. It is considered by many, including your’s truly, to be the original Alice Cooper band’s best album.

The fold-out cover was only used on the original pressings of “School’s Out” and the panties were pulled after the very first issue of the album. It’s rumored that some of the executives at Warner Brothers records felt it was in poor taste.

The full package, with the panties included, is so rare that I had to steal this copy from the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas.

Just kidding. But it is hard to find. And the Hard Rock, Las Vegas does have a copy on display there.

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.