I first heard Madonna on a radio station from Clarksville Tennessee, and was immediately intrigued. I could tell she wasn’t common to the rock and roll that I grew up with, and still listened to almost exclusively at that time, but that is what I was looking for – or should I say, listening for – at the time.
The different musical tastes that many of my friends in the Army had were making me want to branch out and experience new styles that I HA previously ignored. Reggae, country, jazz, pop, funk, electronic, and even disco (but that was pushing it for me) started to influence my musical tastes, and consequently, my record collection. I suddenly realized how much I had been limiting my musical palette, so I decided that every now and then, I would buy an album by an artist that was outside of my comfort zone.
“Borderline” was the first song that I ever heard by Madonna. When I did, I somehow knew that she was not a one-hit-wonder. I could tell that she was someone who was going to be a big star. I had no idea at the time, just how big.
Madonna’s debut album became my record collection’s point of entrance into ’80s pop and dance music. In all honesty, I don’t think I could have picked a better entry point. Although the music on it was blatantly designed for the dance floors in the New York club scene (and consequently dance clubs across the U.S.) it offered up so much more than that of its peers. With only one album under her belt, Madonna had already changed the music industry forever. A trend she would continue with her future records.
When I first heard Madonna, I thought she was from New York. After all, that’s where she first hit it big – in its club scene, where her songs quickly became some of the most popular. It wasn’t until a year or two after I owned this album that I learned she was actually, like me, from the suburbs right outside Detroit. She had to move away to New York in order to get the break she deserved. I always thought it was somewhat appropriate that I discovered her music while living far away from our the Motor City which we both called home.
Company Christmas party tonight.
It’s Motown themed.
Need to get myself in the mood
This should do it….
The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets.
A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.
In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.
Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.
The Rockets were the best band to break out of Detroit following Bob Seger gaining a national audience. Although, after six solid albums, including a great live one, they would never really reach the success and recognition they deserved.
If you had asked me in the late ’70’s to define Detroit rock and roll, I would have told you the Rockets. They had the grit and noise synonymous with the factories that churned out the cars which also defined the Motor City. But the Rockets threw in a soulfulness reminiscent of Detroit’s Motown roots and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, whom drummer John Badanjek and guitarist Jim McCarty had both played together in early in their careers.
While Bob Seger started to move toward softer ballads going into the ’80s, The Rockets refused to soften their sound. Don’t get me wrong I love Seger’s stuff, I just felt Rockets never strayed from a sound that defined the determination of a struggling midwest industrial city. A city that welcomed, and even celebrated that struggle. But that attitude was what probably prevented them from maintaining the national popularity they achieved with their self-titled debut. I always respected their music for that.
The Rockets’ debut scored three hit singles for the band: “Turn Up The Radio” and “Can’t Sleep”, both written by their Drummer, John Badanjek, and a cover of a Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac song, “Oh Well”. Although a cover, The Rockets refused to do a carbon copy rendition of the song, rearranging it to conform to their mix of grit and soul. One song I alway thought they should have released as a single is “Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming”, which closes Side one.
Side two kicks off with “Long Long Gone”, a song written for them by Bob Seger, and another one that could have easily been a hit single. Another stand out on the flip side of the album is a rocking cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.
The Rockets will probably always be my favorite band from my hometown. Although all of their albums are great and grace my record collection, their debut will always remain my favorite of theirs.
Comedian Eddie Murphy said it best back in the 1980s (and he wasn’t joking): Stevie Wonder is a musical genius.
Breaking onto the pop and R&B music scene at the age of eleven, and continuing with a span of incredible music for decades to follow, Stevie Wonder was an incredible songwriter, performer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. An undeniable talent that few in music can ever come close to.
If I had to name just one album to prove that point, it would without a doubt be Songs In The Key Of Life. Throughout the four sides of this double album are songs that are just as deep in their musical quality as they are in their lyrical content. This is one of those rare albums that really cannot be classified in just one genre. On it Stevie mixes pop, R&B, jazz, and soul along with sprinklings of other styles like reggae and Samba like no other artist could. Lyrically, it speaks in equal parts of the wonderous joy and beauty in the world, of faith and spirituality, and of the political and social misgivings of society.
If I had to pick just one favorite song from this album, I’d have to pick two: Sir Duke, the wonderful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington and Isn’t She Lovely, a joyously beautiful song written about Stevie’s newborn daughter.
Songs In The Key of Life has sold over 10 million copies and remains Stevie Wonder’s most successful album ever.
Growing up near Detroit, in an age when vinyl ruled the airwaves, I can’t help but to have a great appreciation for Motown. Barry Gordy Jr. established Motown Records in 1959. In the ’60s and ’70s Motown not only defined a specific style of music, the record label and the artists signed to it, also helped define a city.
The only bad part about this five album set is deciding which side to listen to when you only have time for one. I usually decide by randomly grabbing one and playing whatever side is facing up when it comes out of the sleeve.
Today’s winner: record four, side one.
- Diana Ross &The Supremes – Come See About Me
- Stevie Wonder – Fingertips
- Diana Ross – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
- Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On
- Commodores – Brick House