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.

The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

Rock and roll was going through some significant changes going into the 1980s. Many bands that had cut their teeth in the ’70s either couldn’t adapt to the newer sound and fell by the wayside or overcompensated and were labeled as sell-outs by their long time fans. For The J. Geils Band the transition was easy. Their style of r&b party rock didn’t need to change much at all to propel them to the top of their popularity and the top of the record charts without alienating any of their fans.

The conversation within the band may very well have gone something like this:

Peter Wolf: “Seth, we need you to start playing more synthesizers instead of just piano and organ.”

Seth Justman: “Okay.”

I don’t know if that’s the way it all went down, but it could’ve been. That’s really all Geils did for “Love Stinks” to become their second most successful album shortly after it was released. Their next album, “Freeze Frame”, would do even better.

Elton John – Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” is an autobiographical record of the early personal and professional struggles of what eventually became one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history.

Bernie Taupin scribed the words, Elton John wrote and performed the music. As a musical team, they have sold over 300 million records. There is nary a person alive today who hasn’t been moved by at least one of their songs. But as is often the case, their success didn’t come overnight. Eventually, their perseverance paid off.

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” tells the story of how they both struggled for years to find success. Perhaps the most well-known struggle was Elton John’s struggle with his sexuality. Originally keeping his homosexuality a secret, he had originally planned to give up a career in music to marry a female lover. The conflict led him to the brink of suicide which fortunately he was talked out of by a good friend. That’s what the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, is about. After achieving the success he and Taupin rightly deserved, he eventually came out about being gay and has since become a huge advocate for gay rights.

I remember taking some sh!t in middle school when I wore an Elton John t-shirt one day. I had no idea that he had just openly revealed he was gay. When I learned that, I personally didn’t care. I loved his music; what he did beyond that was not my concern. I took some sh!t again for having that viewpoint. I just ignored the comments and inaccurate accusations. Still, I never wore that shirt to school again after that. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of a stand.

The Best Of Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke was a pioneer of soul music, bringing it to the forefront of popular music. Once dubbed the King of Soul, without his groundbreaking songs, popular music may never have come to see the rise of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin (later dubbed the Queen of Soul); all followed in Cooke’s soulful footsteps.

I guess it should be expected that every song on a greatest hits album is great. So I’ll avoid that particular and predictable redundancy to describe Sam Cooke’s 1965 Greatest Hits album. The description I will use instead is timeless.

Unfortunately, the music world lost Sam Cooke much too soon when in 1964, he was shot and killed by the manager of a motel he was staying at. His death was ruled justifiable homicide in self-defense but that ruling was immediately brought into question. The actual circumstances surrounding Sam Cooke’s death has forever been shrouded in controversy. He was only 33 years old.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome

Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” was a highly anticipated album in the United States but not nearly as much as it was in the UK, where it had over a million copies in pre-sale orders, making it the number one selling album there immediately upon its release.

In addition to the original songs, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”
includes a few uniquely arranged covers, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, Edwin Star’s “War”, and Dionne Warwick’s “San Jose”.

The double album, which included four singles that had already topped the British charts and one that took the number three spot prior to its release, is about as brilliant a combination of synth pop, dance, and rock that you will hear anywhere. Many of the songs, including “Relax” and the title track, were considered controversial when they came out. The BBC banned “Relax” from being played on British radio and television for reasons of what it felt were sexually obscene lyrics. MTV banned the video for the song “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” for similar reasons.
The funny thing is, the bans actually helped the sales of the singles and subsequently, the album.

The Hollies – Hear! Here!

The Hollies are a British band that were far more influential than they often get credit for.

If you’ve heard of the 1960’s British Invasion then you undoubtedly know of The Beatles. When you listen to the harmonies on those early Beatles songs, thank The Hollies. They were pioneers for that style at the time. Are you a fan of Crosby Stills, Nash (and Young)? Thank The Hollies. They were Graham Nash’s first band. How about the music of Elton John and his long musical legacy? Thank The Hollies. He was the session keyboardist for them in the ’60s. Were you into Led Zeppelin in the ’70s? Well thank The Hollies for the early session careers of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

“Hear! Here!” was the Hollies’ second album in the United States. It’s basically, with a couple of track changes, a U.S. version of their third album in Britain, simply titled “Hollies”. Even though the Hollies were very popular in Britain and “Hollies” broke into the top 10 on the U.K. album charts (peaking at number 8), Their U.S. record label was wary of its success here so they didn’t release “Hear! Here!” until two moths after its British counterpart, and only then, only after replacing two of the songs with the Hollies’ currently released U.S. singles. Despite the changes, the album only made it to the 145 position in the U.S. charts, its sales dwarfed by the popularity of albums by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

REO Speedwagon – Nine Lives

The ninth album by REO Speedwagon was one of their hardest rocking records and one my favorites by them.

Following the respectable success of “Nine Lives” – it went gold, selling over half a million copies and hit #33 on the Billboard charts – the band achieved mega-star status with their later ’80s power-pop rock albums. In comparison, “Hi Infidelity”, the follow-up to “Nine Lives” went mult-platinum selling over 10 million copies and topped the Billboard charts. I can’t really blame any band for going softer and sticking with a formula for success like that.

Still, although I liked their later stuff, and was glad to see one of my favorite bands finally achieve the success they deserved, as the years moved forward I found myself missing the hard rock of early REO. To me, “Nine Lives” was REO Speedwagon at their hard rocking best.

Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer (Soundtrack) – Original Master Recording

Terrible movie. Amazing soundtrack.

You can tell I really like an album if I have an original master recording of it. If you have a decent turntable and turntable and sound system, the dynamics of an original master recording are so much better than standard records. They were also much pricier. I only ever bought an original master recording if it was an album that I felt should never be listened to as a backdrop. Whenever it was cued up, it deserved to be appreciated.

“The Jazz Singer” was Neil Diamond at his absolute best. Well, at least the album was. The movie on the other hand… … …Let’s not go there.

Sade – Diamond Life

There’s a reason “Diamond Life” by Sade (pronounced shah-DAY) was one of the best-selling debut albums in the ’80s. It’s musical combination of jazz, soul, and pop made the songs infectious and irresistible. And then there’s Sade Adu’s sultry and seductive voice. This is the perfect album to start off the day or relax to at the end of it.

Born in Nigeria, Helen Folasade Adu eventually moved to England where her creativity and beautifully exotic looks landed her careers in both modeling and fashion design. But it was while singing background vocals for a local band, Pride, that she found music to be her true calling. Changing her performing name to Sade Adu, she convinced three members of Pride to form a band with her. My guess is it didn’t take much convincing.

“Diamond Life” went on to sell over 4 million copies worldwide and topped the charts in numerous European countries. It hit number 2 in the U.K. and number 5 in the U.S. In the following years, Sade released many more successful albums earning them 9 Grammy nominations, taking home four. Their most recent album, “Soldier of Love” was released in 2010. It hit number 4 in the U.K. and topped the U.S charts.

Rick Springfield – Wait For Night

“Wait for Night” is a hidden gem in Rick Springfield’s discography. When he first started out, Springfield’s music was purely bubble-gum pop. He even did the music for a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon at one point. When he released his first two albums his music had become a bit more mature leaning toward light rock and pop.

It was Rick Springfield’s third album that first had the sound most people associate with the Australian singer, guitarist, and songwriter. This is the precursor to his multi-million selling breakthrough “Working Class Dog” and his mega-hit “Jessie’s Girl”. The songs here are very much in the power-pop rock style on that album.

“Wait for Night” could have easily been Rick Springfield’s breakthrough record instead of “Working Class Dog”. The songs are well written (all of them penned by Sprinfield) and his backing band was as solid as you coul get, featuring the former rhythm section from Elton John’s band. Unfortunately, the a was released on a small record label that couldn’t really promote the record other than to send promotional copies to radio stations hoping they would play it. Most passed. Still, the record grabbed the ear of someone at RCA Records who signed Springfield, and the rest was history.

After the success of “Working Class Dog” RCA reissued “Wait for Night” with different cover art and the album broke onto the Billboard chats.

The record in my collection is one of the promotional copies that was given to radio stations. One of the things that make it unique to the commercial copies is that the song listings on the label show the musical intro time before the singing starts. This was so the disk jockey could know how far he could talk over the beginning of each song.