Foreigner – Head Games

Foreigner released Head Games right at the beginning of my senior year of High School. By the time graduation rolled around the album had scored four hit singles and sold over a million copies. It would sell four million more in the years that followed.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but my senior year in high school was a seriously crazy time for me. Looking back, I’m surprised I lived through it (I almost didn’t, but that’s another story) let alone graduated. It was so crazy that I honestly don’t remember a lot of the details from back then (which is really the main reason I won’t go into them). One of the finer things I do remember from that time is Foreigner’s third album, “Head Games”. It was the soundtrack of making it through that seemingly insane year.

I got my life together after my senior year in high school ended. I had to. But whenever I listen to “Head Games” I can’t help but think of where my life was and where it might have gone had I not had music to help reel me in.

Even though the term head games alludes to playing with someone’s mind, Foreigner’s third album helped ground mine. Like Foreigner’s earlier albums, “Head Games” was a perfectly calculated combination of British progressive rock structures with American hard rock blues riffs. It was music that could have reeled me in or pulled me over the edge. Fortunately, it did the former. I guess ultimately that choice was mine. Still, I am forever grateful “Head Games” was part of the soundtrack to it.

Sam Phillips – Martinis And Bikinis

I discovered Sam Phillips’ music right at the end of my stint in radio. I was taking classes at Wayne State University and volunteering at Detroit public radio station WDET. The radio station was doing some housekeeping and gave me a whole box of music they were clearing out. It was mostly music by artists I had never hard of. Among all of them, the one that stood out the most to me was “Cruel Inventions” by Sam Phillips. I immediately went out looking for more stuff by her at the record store and discovered she had just released her follow-up, “Martinis and Bikinis”. No hesitation. I bought it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Sam Phillips has a good voice; at least not in the traditional sense. Just like Stevie Nicks doesn’t have what would traditionally be called a good voice. In similar fashion, Sam Phillips’ voice is as distinct as it is memorable; perfectly suited to the songs she writes and sings.

I first owned “Martinis and Bikinis” on CD. In my renewed love of vinyl, I have been trying to dig up some of my favorite recordings in that format. Well, I recently ran across “Martinis and Bikinis” on white vinyl online. No hesitation. I bought it.

“Martinis and Bikinis” is an album perfectly suited for vinyl, due in part to T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production. I would lay odds that he’s an analog guy. He has also produced albums by Los Lobos, Counting Crowes, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and the soundtracks to “Walk the Line” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The other thing that makes “Martinis and Bikinis” better to have on vinyl is the bonus tracks that are not on the CD. Side four of the album is a collection of four previously unavailable alternate versions of songs from the original release. The best of those is the recording of “I Need Love”, performed with a string quartet. It gives a totally new feel to an already great song. I honestly don’t know which version I prefer.

Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Berlin – Pleasure Victim

Berlin was an alternative synth-pop band that played heavily on sexual innuendos. Okay, with songs like “Sex (I’m a…)” and Terry Nunn’s role in the band being listed as vocals and BJs, I suppose it went a little beyond innuendo…. Anyway, because of this, Berlin was quite often dogged by some critics as being lackluster in talent, focusing more on sexuality than substance to sell their music. I never thought so.

Berlin made some of the most exciting synth-pop music in the 1980s. Sure, some of that had to do with the suggestive lyrics and Terry Nunn’s sexual overtness, but it had a lot more to do with great hooks that made their songs as easy to dance to as they were enticing to listen to. It also had a lot to do with Bassist John Crawford, who penned most of Berlin’s stuff. He had a mastery of writing catchy tracks with seductive lyrics; just as Terry Nunn had the exceptional vocal talents to exhume the seductive qualities from those words and melodies.

As for Terry Nunn’s other talents noted in the album’s credits…well, one can only wonder.

Blue Öyster Cult – Agents Of Fortune

I can’t help it. Whenever I listen to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult, I can’t help but think of “More Cowbell!” (Thank you SNL).

With its combination of hard rock, prog, and pop, “Agents of Fortune” is an album often overshadowed by what became BÖC’s best known song. But true to nearly all of their albums, “Agents of Fortune” is rock solid from start to finish.

Also, like many albums by BÖC, the band collaborates with New York punk rock poet Patti Smith. Some time earlier, she and the band members had become good friends. Smith cowrote two songs on the record and sings on one them.

One of the things that gave BÖC such a varied sound, especially in their early days, was that all of the original members could sing lead vocals. On “Agents of Fortune” each one does on at least one song. It’s the only BÖC album where that is the case. Maybe that’s why it’s one of my favorite albums by them.

Peaches Records and Tapes – Atlantic Records Sampler

I remember the first time I went inside a Peaches record store in the mid ’70s. If memory serves me, it was at Grosebeck and Masonic in Fraser, MI. I used to think the local Harmony House was big, until my first time walking into that Peaches store. It was HUGE. I thought I was in heaven. If you were looking for an album, they probably had it. If they didn’t, they could get it.

Peaches, which started out in Georgia, was so huge that record labels actually made sampler records for them to play in the store. They were labeled “Not For Sale” but that didn’t mean employees couldn’t take them home after the songs had served their purpose. Inevitably, some of them would, in time, show up in used record stores or today at record collector shows. That’s where I picked this one up recently.

I had to add at least one Peaches in-store sampler to my collection, if for nothing else, the nostalgia. The joy of perusing the aisles of records, listening the latest music playing in the store is something all the dowloaders and streamers today will never understand. They have no idea of the joy they missed out on.

Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat

Cat Stevens was all about introspective and inspirational lyrics along with beautifully moving acoustic music. His fifth album, “Teaser and the Firecat” was a bit more. It was also a collection of songs that coincided with the a children’s storybook that Stevens also wrote. The album came out in 1971; the book about a year later.

The story was a fantasy tale about a young boy named Teaser and his pet Firecat who set out on a journey to find the moon, which had fallen out of the sky, and put it back in the sky, where it belonged. In addition to writing the story and accompanying songs, Cat Stevens also did all of the book’s illustrations and the cover art for the album.

I have my sister to thank for my discovering this album. She owned Cat Stevens’ previous album “Tea for the Tillerman”. At eight years old, I was enthralled by it. I got a copy of “Teaser and the Firecat” (on 8-track tape) the following year. It may well have been the first tapes or records I ever owned. I played it so much, it eventually wore out.

Right now “Teaser and the Firecat” is the only Cat Stevens album I have in my record collection. Listening to it now, I’m thinking I need to change. Maybe keep an eye (and ear) out for “Tea for the Tillerman”.

The Doobie Brothers – Best of the Doobies

When Michael McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers in 1975, after the departure of Tom Johnston, it significantly changed their sound. Their more straight forward R&B infused rock style was replaced by a more soul based rock sound. This was in part because of the difference in Johnston’s and McDonald’s vocal and songwriting styles and in part because McDonald played keyboards. The Doobies hardly ever used keyboards on their first five albums.

The Doobie Brothers never intended to use that name permanently. Based on one of their activities in addition to making music, they adopted it after a friend jokingly suggested it. The band thought it was a stupid name, but could never agree on anything else. When you consider that before recording their first album, they once performed under the name Pud, it’s probably a good thing they stuck with The Doobie Brothers.

10cc – The Original Soundtrack

Music is the soundtrack to our lives. I always interpreted that as the meaning behind the title of British pop and art rock band 10cc’s third album “The Original Soundtrack”.

Perhaps the biggest strength 10cc had, at least with their early albums is that they had a combination of two pop rock sensible songwriters and two art rock composers. The differences in styles came together perfectly on this album making it one of 10cc’s most popular records. But it was the pop rock writing team that really put 10cc on the musical map with the single “I’m Not in Love”, the band’s biggest hit. The strength of that song alone prompted Mercury records to sign them to a 5 album, one million dollar deal. The single hit the number 2 spot on the US charts and took top honors in the UK and Canada.

What makes “The Original Soundtrack” a joy to cue up however, are the songs that fill the rest of the album. With a sense of theatrics mixed with catchy pop hooks and some truly rocking solos, this album comes across sounding like it could very well be the soundtrack to some European rock and roll play or film. But it’s not. It’s just a great collection of uniquely intriguing songs. Songs that I am glad are a part of the soundtrack to my life.

Florence And The Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in popular music today. She is also an incredible songwriter. With its somewhat stripped down production, Florence and the Machine’s latest album, “High as Hope” focuses on both to create what is one of the best new albums released in 2018.

The songs on “High as Hope” revolve thematically around the end of love. That thought is so ingrained throughout the lyrics of the songs here that “The End of Love” was originally considered for the title of the record. That subject may sound like the making of a somber, even downtrodden record, but it’s really not. As the album’s chosen title implies, the overall focus is the hope that comes after the hunger for love is washed away. Even though there is an aire of sadness here and there, the songs on “High as Hope” purvey an upbeat feeling of acceptance, comfort, and self reliance. This is all beautifully delivered with the perfect pairing of the music to the lyrics…and of course, the confidence exhumed by Florence Welch’s wonderfully powerful voice.