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.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland

I have a bit of extra time this morning before work, so I figured I’d put on a double album. Not just any double album, but one of the heavy hitters of rock and roll; a double album that anyone who loves rock and roll needs to listen to before they die.

With its combination of rock, blues, jazz, funk, and psychedelia, “Electric Ladyland” had numerous hit songs for The Jimi Hendricks Experience including their most successful song, “All Along the Watchtower”, a cover version of a Bob Dylan song. Bob Dylan also had a hit earlier with his folk oriented version of the song.

Jimi Hendrix was very much known for being a perfectionist in the studio. With the recording of “Electric Ladyland” Chaz Chandler became so frustrated with the multiple takes Hendrix was demanding (drummer Mitch Mitchell reportedly recorded at least 50 takes for one of the songs) the producer of The Experience’s previous records quit near the beginning of the “Electric Ladyland” sessions, prompting Hendrix produce the album himself. Hendrix’s perfectionism obviously paid off, as this third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was their most successful record.

Because of the cost and hassle of booking studio time for all the takes Hendrix demanded during the recording of Electric Ladyland, Hendrix decided to build his own recording studio of the same name afterwards. Unfortunately, Hendrix would record only one song at the Electric Ladyland studio – the short but sweet instrumental “Slow Blues” – before his untimely death in 1970. The song remained unreleased until its inclusion in a retrospective Jimi Hendrix Experience box set that was released in 2000.

Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

The Rockets – No Ballads

The Rockets were a Detroit band from the late ’70s that most Detroiters at the time felt were destined for national stardom. For some reason that success eluded them.

Detroit was a hotbed for rock and roll in vinyl’s golden era. Many bands from in and around the city went on to achieve national and even international success. The ’60s brought noteriety to bands like the MC5, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, The Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder. And of course, you can’t forget all the soulful Motown groups who topped the record charts in the ’60s, going into the ’70s.

Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper were also local Detroit favorites in the late ’60s whose popularity exploded nationally in the following decade. The 1970s also saw Grand Funk, Brownsville Station, Ted Nugent (who left the Amboy Dukes), Suzi Quatro, and the Romantics break onto the national music scene.

The Rockets, featuring former members of the Amboy Dukes and Mitch Ryder’s band, The Detroit Wheels, had a hard-edged blues rock sound that was immediately recognizable and made them one of the most popular bands on the local scene. Their locally distributed debut, “Love Transfusion” came out in 1977. It’s local popularity immediately earned them a major label record deal with RSO records, putting them on the same label as British blues rock legend Eric Clapton. Despite little promotion, their first album on RSO scored them two minor national hits, “Oh Well” a gritty version of an old Fleetwood Mac song, and the title track off the album, “Turn Up the Radio”.
It seemed national noteriety was just over the horizon for them with their follow-up album.

When “No Ballads” came out, radio stations immediately picked up on the songs “Desire”, “Takin’ It Back” and a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” making the album even more successful than their previous one … well, in Detroit anyway. RSO was having financial problems and did nothing to promote the record. With the lack of airplay on radio stations outside of Michigan and a national audience only vaguely familiar with who the Rockets were, “No Ballads” pretty much fizzled nationally. RSO eventually went defunct, leaving the Rockets without a national record label. They were picked up by Electra Records, but any momentum they had was stalled. They released three more albums after “No Ballads” that also did well in and around Detroit, but failed to gain any traction nationally.

I have all six albums by the Rockets in my collection and always will. To this day, they remain one of my all-time favorite bands. I alway feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to any of their records because I am reminded of how great their music is and how much more success they deserved.

Queen – Jazz

With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.

I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.

Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.

Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.

All of them women.

All of them naked.

Yeah, that was most unexpected.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.

Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).

From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.

Aerosmith – Get Your Wings

After reading “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” I will forever think of their second album, “Get Your Wings” as the album that saved Aerosmith – and so much of the music from my youth. According the book, because their first album received no promotion from the record company and did do poorly, virtually selling nowhere except in their hometown of Boston and in Detroit, the band was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed they had put everythinginto their first record, only to have it flop. They were all living together in a rundown apartment, struggling to get by. Disillusioned and frustrated, they debated even recording a second record.

Even though their first record went nowhere, Aerosmith decided they would give it one more chance; make one more record, and that would be it. As they were the recording “Get Your Wings” the band members all knew that this would be the album that would make or break them.

Unless you live under a rock, you know Aerosmith went on to become one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s. When I think of all the great albums and songs that Aerosmith recorded after “Get Your Wings” – songs that would have never had existed – well, I really can’t. Aerosmith’s music was the soundtrack of my coming-of-age youth.

So, If you were one of the many who bought this album when it came out, thank you for the memories.