Peter Paul And Mary – 10 Years Together

If you think of Peter, Paul and Mary as a children’s group because of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”, think again. Along with Bob Dylan they brought folk music to the forefront of popular culture. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger from the two decades before, their songs were also often subtle sociopolitical commentaries of the changing times of their generation.

They could also arrange three-part vocal harmonies better than any other group before or since. On record, those vocals were mixed to take full advantage of the soundstage that can be created by a properly set up stereo system.

I picked this album at a garage sale not too long ago expecting to listen to a couple of corny songs I remembered from my early youth (mainly the afore-mentioned “Puff the Magic Dragon”) then get rid of it at a used record store, in trade for something else. Just a little childhood nostalgia, nothing more. What I got was a collection of songs written by Dylan, Seeger, and John Denver, as well as PP&M penned gems that are beautifully arranged, performed, and recorded. What I got was a greatest hits album that is a joy to listen to.

Nope. This one’s a keeper.

John Lennon – Imagine

John Lennon was a dreamer. But he had a good dream.

“Imagine” has got to be one of the most beautiful and powerful songs ever written. It’s a song about being a dreamer. It’s about having a dream where there is no war, no hatred, no killing. It’s a dream of universal peace. It begs us all, if only for a moment, to imagine a. world like that.

It can be impossible to believe the world as we know it today could ever be without personal possessions, religion, or nations, as Lennon asks us to imagine in the title track of his second solo album. I think he knows as well as any intelligent person (and John Lennon was very intelligent) it’s an impossible dream for mankind to ever achieve. But it’s easy to imagine it. But as he reminds us here, although the world around us can seem uncaring and cruel at times; though there always seems to be some war going on somewhere; though the news seems to present us daily with a barrage of mankind’s cruelty toward his fellow kind, sometimes it’s good to imagine a different world; a world where no contention exists. Though that world may not ever exist for us, for 3 minutes, John Lennon asks us all to just dream it will one day, then imagine if we at least tried to live that dream.

The Alarm – Declaration

The Alarm gained popularity in the ’80s around the same time as U2. Both bands had a distinctly different, yet similar sounds. The two bands also shared a common thread in their politically charged and passionately sung lyrics. Unfortunately, U2 became successful before The Alarm and the band from Wales became destined to stay in the Irish band’s shadow. Some critics even refered to The Alarm as U2 wannabes, which I felt was an unfair assessment.

Personally, I liked The Alarm’s music better than U2’s. It had a little more of a punk edge to it, similar to The Clash. I think their first full length album, “Declaration” was every bit as powerful as U2’s “War”. Sadly, they never attained the level of success they so undeniably deserved.

One of the performers that The Alarm looked up to and took inspiration from was Bob Dylan. His politically charged words have always been present in The Alarm’s songs. I had the pleasure of seeing The Alarm open for Dylan in 1988 at Meadowbrook Music Theater in Michigan. As you would expect, almost all the people there came to see Bob Dylan. The Alarm obviously knew this would be the case and made sure that everyone there would remember them that night as well. A couple of songs into their set, front man Mike Peters charged into the crowd to get them fired up. Everyone jumped to and stayed on their feet until The Alarm left the stage. Their performance that night remains in my memories as one of the most powerfully moving performances I have seen by any opening band. I wish I would have had a chance to see them headlining a show before they broke up in 1991.

Mike Peters reformed The Alarm in 2004, but without original members Dave Sharp, Eddie MacDonald, and Nigel Twist, it just wasn’t the same.

Neil Young – Decade

I was never a big Neil Young fan – until I listened to “Decade”, the three album set that is the epitome of what a record set encompassing an artist’s retrospective repertoire should be.

Poetry, politics, emotion, power, and above all, passion, “Decade” defines better than any other compilation, what Neil Young’s music is all about. The songs were all hand-picked by Young, and with the exception of a few of the CSNY songs that had to be excluded due to contractual reasons, the choices are flawless.

It is an incredible achievement for any artist to leave three albums of worthy material from their entire musical career. It is absolutely amazing for an artist to be accomplished enough to do it from within their first decade alone. Then again, there have been few musical artists who have had the talent to exhume the poetry, politics, emotion, power, and above all, passion, of Neil Young.

Long live rust.

The Call – Modern Romans

In their 15 years together, from 1982 to 1987 The Call released 8 albums. This is the only one I ever owned – actually, it’s the only one I ever even listen to – and I can’t say why. I loved this album when it came out in 1983. I still do today.

“Modern Romans” has a perfect blend of political reverence and musical sensibility and originality. Every song strives to make a statement. And that can be dangerous territory to tread for risk of losing the focus on the quality of the music. I always felt this album hit both marks in perfect balance.

When “Modern Romans came out, the video for “The Walls Came Down” received significant airplay on MTV (back when MTV used to play music videos almost exclusively) and the song became The Call’s biggest hit. In it Michael Been sings “I don’t think there are any Russians/And there ain’t no Yanks/Just corporate criminals/Playing with tanks”. Words that some might say are more relevant today than they were when he sang them back in 1983. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, it’s still good music.

Pink Floyd – Animals

Pink Floyd’s tenth album, Animals, is perhaps the band’s most scathing, sociopolitically charged album. Loosely based on a book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, it categorizes society into three classes of animals: pigs, dogs, and sheep. The pigs represent the government and bureaucracy. The dogs are symbols of the ruthless corporate world. And the sheep are the complacent followers and often victims of the other two. Fitting perfectly with the subject matter, the music has an edgier, more raw sound when compared to any of Floyd’s previous albums. More than just a collection of songs, this is an album that needs to be listened to in one sitting to be truly appreciated.

The front cover shows a power station with a pig floating in between smoke stacks. Right after the picture was taken, the cables holding it in place snapped and the helium filled pig went floating over the skies of London. All flights from nearby Heathrow Airport had to be temporarily grounded as the giant flying pig floated through its airspace. The pig eventually crash landed in a nearby farmer’s field. Pink Floyd has been associated with flying pigs ever since and all of their concerts have featured a pig flying over the audience at some point during all their future live shows.

Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer

A true artist, Jeff Beck has never been one to rest on his laurels or one who is afraid to try something new. On 2016’s “Loud Hailer,” he shows that he’s also not afraid to speak the Truth, even if it’s not an easy message to consume. This is by far, Jeff Beck’s angriest and most politically charged album.

Although his guitar tone and virtuosity is unmistakable throughout, it’s delivered over the top of hip-hop and edgy rhythms along with the equally edgy vocal stylings of Rosie Bones, who delivers the songs’ messages with a perfect combination of angst, urgency, and gentleness.

Throughout, Beck shows he has the experience to know when to hold back and keep it simple and when to tear things up, with songs that swing the listener between somber feelings of abandonment and raging anger at the state of the world today. All the while, the album never gives in to a feeling of helplessness; In the end, reminding the listener that we all have a beauty and strength within us to turn things around – if we really want to.