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.

War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

SoCal funk. A style that fuses funk with Latin music, R&B beats and rock into an addictive upbeat soulful stew. That was War. The song “Low Rider” from their 1975 album “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” is a perfect example. Really, the whole album is.

This album is so funky and upbeat, I don’t know how anyone can listen to it and not be left in a good mood, with its songs bouncing around in their head the rest of the day.

Not surprisingly “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Hit the top spot on Billboard’s R&B charts. It was also nominates for two Grammy awards.

Paul McCartney and Wings – Band On The Run

It took a few tries for Paul McCartney to record a suitable follow-up album for his tenure with The Beatles but with “Band on the Run”, he nailed it. It’s not that McCartney’s first two solo albums or his next two as part of Wings were bad records. They just weren’t in step with what critics or Beatles fans wanted from him.

Expectations were high for McCartney following the Beatles’ split and personally, I think with his first four records, he tried too hard to live up to what was expected rather than make albums that he wanted to make. By the time it came around to write and record “Band on the Run” Paul McCartney had nothing to lose, so he stopped trying to please outside of himself and just did what felt right. Now, this is nothing more than my personal opinion based on nothing more than having listened to all these albums numerous times. In other words, I’m probably totally wrong. But until someone proves I am, I’m claiming that’s the way it was.

The one thing I know to be true though, is that after the break-up of the Beatles, “Band on the Run” was the album where Paul McCartney finally nailed it.

The Rascals – Time Peace: The Rascals’ Greatest Hits

The Rascals had a strong run of infectious songs in the mid and late ’60s. They are best known for their hits “Good Lovin'”, “Groovin'”, and “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long”. Rhythm and blues infused rock and roll with strong vocal harmonies and addictive hooks that stick in your head gave The Rascals a timeless sound; one that carried over into the 1980s when Pat Benatar made “You Better Run” one of her early hits.

“Time Peace” is a greatest hits collection that is mostly original songs along with some notable covers like “Mustang Sally” and Wilson Picket’s “In the Midnight Hour”.

For their early records, the band released their albums under the name The Young Rascals because of contention with a group from the ’30s and ’40s called the Harmonica Rascals. However, they were still quite often referred to as The Rascals by their fans and eventually decided to drop the “Young” from their name, releasing their later records, including “Time Peace” under their original moniker.

Eagles – Live

The Eagles’ first live album was an obligatory record to both their record label and their fans. Unbeknownst to most of their fans but all too well-known to their record company, personal differences within the group had reached a boiling point by the time they finished “The Long Run”, the Eagles’ final studio album. Although no official announcement had been made yet. The Eagles had broken up.

The Eagles still contractually owed their record label another album, but there was no way the members were going to be able to work together again anytime soon. As Don Henley put it in an interview after the band’s breakup was made official, the only way that would happen would be when “hell freezes over”. Eagles fans were hungry for a live album, so the solution was easy.

Fourteen years later hell did freeze over. The Eagles put their differences aside for some time together on the road and in the studio and the result was a second live album by them that also included four new studio tracks. Appropriately, that fifteen song album was titled “Hell Freezes Over”.

Propaganda – A Secret Wish

If you want to really grab my attention and make me listen to your debut album, open it up with my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem, “A Dream Within a Dream” put to elegantly dark music.

I remember exactly why I bought Propaganda’s debut, “A Secret Wish” in the late summer of 1985. I had never heard of Propaganda. I knew none of the members in the band. I had never heard any of their songs. No one I knew had heard of them. I was going through a difficult breakup and needed some comfort music. I bought a sh!t load of records that day, all by artists I had never or only barely heard of, just so I could hopefully jump into something new that was close and personal to me…anything but a new relationship. Music was the only thing I could think of to turn to.

I don’t remember any of the other records I bought that day. Only this one, because it immediately touched me personally with Poe’s poetry of a false awakening. With its innovative use synth pop combined with progressive rock, the rest of the record continued to pull my attention away from memories and thoughts I needed to abandon at the time.

“A Secret Wish” will forever be a special album to me because of the timing of when I first discovered it and because it is some of the most kick-ass and innovative music I have ever heard. But mostly, it’s special to me because it opened with lines from my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem put perfectly to music.

“All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream”.

Joe Jackson – Look Sharp

The story of Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut album is one to file under “If at first you don’t succeed”.

When record producer David Kershenbaum first heard the songs Joe Jackson was working on for what Jackson hoped would eventually be his first album, he liked what he heard so much, he immediately had Jackson signed to A&M records. To gain traction for “Look Sharp”, the first single from it, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, was released ahead of the album. It went nowhere, in the US or Britain. A second single, “Sunday Papers”, was released. Same thing. The third single, “One More Time” followed suit. Things weren’t looking too sharp for Joe Jackson. But finally, the album “Look Sharp” was released…and it went nowhere.

It made no sense. It was a great album with great songs bouncing between new wave and punk. What went wrong?

I’m not sure who made the final decision, but they did what was really the only thing that made sense at that point. They re-released the single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”. It was a hit! “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” soon took off as well. Radio stations even started playing songs from the album that weren’t released as singles. A short while later Joe Jackson had his first gold record in the US and Britain, just like they had planned all along.

And the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of “try, try again”.

The Mamas And The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

The 1960s. Flower-power. The counterculture. The Mamas and he Papas 1966 debut “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” captured it all better than any pop album at the time. Bohemian folk rock, Beatlesque R&B, and a touch of soul that could replace the worst case of the Monday Monday doldrums with harmonious California Dreamin’.

This is the second album cover for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”. Like this one, the original cover showed the band members all sitting in a bathtub, but instead of a box listing the singles from the album in the lower right corner, it showed the bathroom’s toilet. That cover was banned shortly after the album was released because some people felt showing a toilet on the cover was obscene. Some record stores even refused to carry it. The original cover is such a rarity that today it can often sell for well over $100. I hope to one day run across it at a more reasonable price. Until then, at least I have the music.

The Fixx – Phantoms

The Fixx is one of the bands that helped defined alternative rock, or new wave as it was called in its beginning, in the 1980s. They had an impressive run of numerous hit singles and five successful studio albums. “Phantoms” was their third. “Are We Ourselves” was the biggest hit off of it and it became the new wave band’s first number one hit on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. Two more number ones would follow before the end of the decade.

Overall, The Fixx racked up ten hit singles on the mainstream rock charts seven of which broke the top 10. They probably would have had even better success on the alternative charts, except Billboard didn’t create the alternative rock charts (originally termed “modern rock”) until 1988. It was bands like The Fixx, bands that didn’t really fit the bill of mainstream rock, that prompted Billboard to start the new record charts.

As the ’90s rolled in, The Fixx’s style of music grew out of favor as grunge gained popularity in the U.S. The Fixx remained together however and the original line-up continues to record and tour today. Their 10th album, “Beautiful Friction” was released in 2012.