Billy Joel – The Bridge

Billy Joel was such a versatile artist, he never needed to change his style to keep having hit records. They were always universally appealing.

Like Billy Joel’s previous records, “The Bridge” was filled with a huge array of musical styles and influences. A few of those musical influences appear with Joel on this, his tenth studio album. Ray Charles adds his unmistakable bluesy piano and voice to the song “Baby Grand” and Steve Winwood’s Hammond B3 helps Joel cut loose on “Getting Closer”, the rocking closer on the album.

Surprisingly, neither of those two songs were hits off of “The Bridge”, although “Baby Grand” was released as the fourth single from it. I don’t think Billy Joel was too concerned about that song’s lackluster sales. “The Bridge” still gave the entertainer three top 20 hits with “Modern Woman”, “This Is the Time” and my personal favorite from the album, “A Matter of Trust”. That song will always have special meaning to me as I was getting over some trust issues I had at that time in my life. It was the reason I had to buy “The Bridge” when I first heard it.

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

Rory Gallagher – Photo-Finish

If there was ever such a thing as Irish blues, Rory Gallagher would be the king.

Photo-Finish is Gallagher’s ninth album. A return to his more stripped down sound of a power trio, this album showcases just what an incredible guitarist Rory Gallagher was. The song writing is solid and Gallagher’s playing is top-notch throughout, every now and then feeding a little Irish flavor into his solos. There isn’t a throw away track anywhere on this album.

Album after album, Rory Gallagher always played his brand of a no-compromise blues rock. Although he may not have sold as many albums or be as widely known as some of his contemporaries like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, he was right up there with them when it came to song writing and six-string talent. As a matter of fact, both Clapton and Page have cited Rory Gallagher as an influence to their playing.

Roxy Music

Glam rock and punk rock were two opposing forces in the 1970s. On their debut album, Roxy Music took it as a challenge to meld the two into a cohesive collection of songs, the likes of no one had heard before. The result was pure brilliance.

Oil and vinegar can not be mixed together homogeneously, yet they can be combined into something incredible. Roxy Music’s first album combines the slick oil of glam and art rock with the piss and vinegar of punk to make an incredible album that satisfies and stimulates the auditory to the same effect of a good olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to the palate. Great in itself, but also an excellent foundation to be built upon with things to come.

The Tragically Hip – Trouble At The Henhouse

Being the most popular doesn’t necessarily make you the best. Being real and true to yourself does. The Tragically Hip were the best Canadian band ever.

The Tragically Hip never compromised their music for commercial success, yet found great success in the great white north. Making music that is real and true is what The Hip were always all about. From 1989 to 2016, The Tragically Hip were Canada’s rock and roll ambassadors to the world. Even though they gave their last performance in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario in 2016 – a televised performance viewed live by a third of all Canadians – they are still considered by many to be the band that best defines Canada today. Gord Downie, who was taken from us way too soon by brain cancer, was a lyricist who was quite possibly the most prolific Canadian poet ever.

“Trouble at the Henhouse” is one of my favorite albums by The Tragically Hip; my all-time favorite Canadian band. It is their 6th of 14 albums, all of which are in my vinyl collection.

The guitar hanging in the background was signed by all the members of The Hip. I asked Gord Downie to put some words of wisdom on it. He wrote:

“Play to live. Das Hips”.

‘Nuff said.

Genesis

If a rock band ever releases a self-titled album, it’s usually their first record. For Genesis, it was their 12th.

Genesis released their debut album in 1969. Their eponymous LP came out in 1983. Like most bands with that longevity, there were many personnel changes through the years. Many were so significant, most other bands would have just dissolved. But 14 years later, Genesis forged on as a three-piece band. An ensemble that consisted of all original founding members. That’s quite the exception in rock and roll.

With its combination of progressive excess and pop sensibility “Genesis” was a huge success for the band, hitting number one in the UK and earning them a Grammy award for Best Rock Performance in the US. Of the nine songs on the album, five were released as successful singles.

The standout song on this album to me will always be the opener “Mama”. It is a perfect combination of where Genesis had started, where they had been, and where they were in 1983.

Although its hard for me to say for sure, this may very well be my favorite Genesis album.

Carly Simon – Anticipation

The title track to Carly Simon’s second album, “Anticipation”, was written about her longing for the arrival of Cat Stevens, whom Simon was dating in 1971. It’s a beautiful love song…but it also reminds me of ketchup.

About two years after the release of the single and album of the same name, Heinz chose to use “Anticipation” as the theme for a series of television commercials where it alluded to a longing for the arrival of their thick, slow-moving ketchup. Yeah, not quite as romantic as I’m sure Simon originally intended (at least I hope not) but the ads were so successful and aired so often throughout the 1970s that I bet most who grew up in that era still think more of ketchup than love when they hear Carly Simon sing “Anticipation”. But when you disconnect that memory and listen to the song as if Heinz ketchup never existed, it really is a beautiful testament to love and longing. The rest of the songs on the album were equally introspective musings about love and life. Beautiful songs that almost everyone can relate to; something common to all of Carly Simon’s songs. Fortunately, “Anticipation” is the only one that may be forever remembered as an ode to ketchup.

The Waitresses – Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?

The Waitresses were best known for their quirky 1982 new wave hit “I Know What Boys Want”. Anyone who never checked them out beyond their one hit wonder status, has no idea what they are missing.

Quirky, sure. But The Waitresses were also about intelligent, multifaceted arrangements and musicianship that had every bit as much in common with the CBGB crowd in New York as it did with the virtuosic eclecticism of Frank Zappa.

The Waitresses released a couple of albums following “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” Unfortunately neither contained the magic combination of what they accomplished on their debut. An album I rank as one of the top ten albums from the 1980’s.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

I wonder if when Bob Dylan released his first greatest hits compilation in 1967 he ever imagined that four years later he would release a second collection, or that it would be a double LP.

Actually, if you consider actual hits, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II” could have easily been a single album, but I don’t think anyone complained. Interspersed with his well-known, often played on the radio songs, are an additional album’s worth of songs that were either deep cuts hand-picked by Dylan or previously unreleased songs. It made for a wonderful collection that combines both Dylan’s early, strictly acoustic folk music and his later more electrified rock songs, and all points between…and of course, his greatest hits.

The Patti Smith Group – Easter

The Patti Smith Group may sound to some like an odd opening act for Bob Seger, but in early 1977 it kind of made sense, with her trying to without compromise, broaden her sound to a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Patti Smith broke her neck and nearly died during the second show of that tour. She fortunately recovered, but would have to wait until her next album, “Easter”, and for a little help from Bruce Springsteen to find that no-compromise crossover success.

It was January 26 when Patti Smith tripped over a stage monitor, plunging 15 feet onto a concrete floor in the orchestra pit at the front of the Tampa Florida stage. She cracked two vertebrae and had to get over 20 stitches to her head and face after the fall. The incident took her out of action for almost a year. I’m surprised it wasn’t longer.

After therapy following her neck surgery after the accident, Patti Smith and her group returned to the studio to record her third album “Easter”. Although the songs were a diverse mix between punk and mainstream rock, there was no potential that Smith’s record label felt were a breakthrough single. That is, until the album’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, turned Smith on to a song Bruce Springsteen had written but thrown away; a song that both Smith and her label found common ground on.

“Because the Night” became the no-compromise crossover that both Patti Smith and her record label were looking for. The song became the group’s biggest hit. “Easter” became The Patti Smith Group’s best-selling album.