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.

The Who – By Numbers

Quadrophenia” was not an easy album for The Who to follow-up in 1973. There was a lot of pressure for a new album and writer’s block was setting in. Some time was bought by releasing the “Odds and Sods” compilation in ’74 and working on the collaborative “Tommy” film and soundtrack in early 1975. But a record of new songs is what Who fans really wanted and it’s what we got when “The Who By Numbers” came out near the end of ’75.

With the strength of the songs on “By Numbers”, it’s surprising The Who was having a hard time coming up with new material for their seventh album. This is easily one of their most solidly consistent albums from start to finish.

Outside of the music, my favorite thing about “By Numbers” is the album cover, designed and drawn by bassist John Entwistle. The sketched caricatures of the band members perfectly captures the essence of each. But to truly appreciate it, you have to complete the dot-to-dot drawing. I always was able to withhold temptation and not draw on mine. But I just got a great idea. After I finish writing this, I’m gonna scan a picture of the album cover, print it out, and complete it “By Numbers”.

Sometimes I love technology.

Michael Stanley Band – MSB

The National spotlight was something that was forever elusive to the Michael Stanley Band, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t find success or dedicated fans. Easily the most popular band in Cleveland, Ohio and well-known throughout America’s heartland, MSB’s perfect blend of straight forward rock, pop hooks, and ballads had them filling arenas as headliners and opening up for huge national acts throughout the mid ’70s into the ’80s. Outside of the US Midwest however, they could have a hard time filling bars.

“MSB”, should have been an album that broke the Micheal Stanley Band out to the rest of the country – and the world for that matter. Then again, you could have said that about any of their records.

If I had to pick a favorite song off of “MSB”, I suppose it would be “In Between the Lines”, the album’s opening track. But thinking about it now, I really think that’s only because it primes me for what I know is coming: More great songs, more great hooks, more great ’80s rock.

Personally, I think “MSB” is one of the 100 greatest rock albums of the ’80s, even if it didn’t make that Rolling Stone list. They didn’t know what they missed out on back then. Neither did the rest of the world. Except for Cleveland and the rest of America’s heartland. We knew.

Ringo Starr – Ringo

When Ringo Starr released his third solo album in 1973, it was the closest any album would ever come to a Beatles reunion. All three of Ringo’s former bandmates share writing credits and perform on the record. True, they never all appear together on one song and there were no Lennon & McCartney penned songs, but hey, Beatles fans would take what they could get.

The album also included a slew of other guest musicians throughout and became Ringo’s inspiration for touring through decades following with his “All Star Band” of constantly rotating members.

“Ringo” remains among the most successful among the solo records from any former Beatle. It sold over three million copies, hit number 7 on the UK, number 2 in the US, and topped the charts in Canada. The album also score three hit singles fo Ringo: “Photograph”, You’re Sixteen”, and “Oh My My”.

Genesis – Abacab

“Abacab” is the perfect album to use as an introduction to Genesis. It is a perfect blend of their earlier progressive rock beginnings along with their later pop oriented songs.

Even though Genesis had made a conscious effort to move towards a more pop oriented sound with “Abacab”, they also strove to not abandon their progressive rock beinnings. Having heard their records before and after, I don’t think there could have been a more perfect first album for me to get by them back in 1981. “Abacab” left me eagerly waiting for the next Genesis album and inspired me to check out their back catalog while I waited. It’s not necessarily their best (althoug I’m sure some feel it is) but it is the best represrntation of what Genesis’ music was all about throughout their 28 year career.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

If Barry Gordy Jr. had his way back in 1971, Marvin Gaye would have never recorded the album “What’s Going On”.

When the founder of Motown Records in Detroit first heard the title song Marvin Gaye had recorded for his next album, he was confident it would be a failure and refused to release it. Barry Gordy believed in the upbeat tempo and feel of the songs that had been the formula to Motown’s success. That was the record he wanted from Marvin Gaye. What Gaye delivered instead was a mid-tempo, multilayered song that made a sociopolitical statement against war, poverty, and brutality.

Barry Gordy felt “What’s Going On” would never sell and that it would be the ruin of Marvin Gaye’s career if it was ever released. Equal in his passion for the song, Marvin Gaye took a stand, refusing to write or record even one more note for Motown if the song wasn’t released. Barry still refused. It was his record company after all, and he had the final say.

But the song was released anyway.

Circumventing Barry Gordy, the VP of sales at Motown records decided to go behind his back and have the record pressed and released, sending some advance copies out to radio stations. It’s the kind of thing that will get you fired – unless you know you’re right. The song got heavy airplay across the country and when it came out “What’s Going On” became the fastest selling single in Motown’s history. Marvin Gaye was given the green light to make his album and make it his way.

“What’s Going On” didn’t ruin Marvin Gaye’s career, it defined it. It was his masterpiece. Like its title track, the album makes a strong statement. The soulful and beautifully layered songs lament against war, poverty, drug abuse, injustice, hate, and destruction of the environment. In contrast to the music, the lyrics to the songs don’t always paint a pretty picture, but they always make you think. This is an album that begs you to step back and take a look at the world around you; to take a good close look at “What’s Going On”.

The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

You really can feel the influence of producer Todd Rundgren on the Psychedelic Furs third album, “Forever Now”. Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

Adding just a little polish to their post-punk sound and expanding their music with the occasional cello or horns, Rundgren helped give The Psychedelic Furs their first big hit album in the US. They already had two in the UK, with producer Steve Lillywhite in the control room.

But Todd Rundgren wasn’t The Furs first choice to sit at the helm of “Forever Now”. David Bowie was a big proponent of the Psychedelic Furs, speaking highly of them on numerous occasions. The Furs had also considered Bowie a big influence and approached him first. Unfortunately, Bowie was tied up with work on his own album, “Let’s Dance”.

Although Steve Lillywhite was responsible for opening American audiences to The Psychedelic Furs, giving them their first taste of success across the Atlantic with their second album, “Talk Talk Talk” it was “Forever Now” that opened the band up to a broader base and gave them their first album to break into Billboard’s Hot 100. The song “Love My Way” also received significant airplay on MTV. Along with “Talk Talk Talk”, “Forever Now” is the Psychedelic Furs at their creative best.

Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

The Rivingtons – Doin’ the Bird

Although The Rivingtons only released one full length album, but with its combination of doo Wop and rhythm & blues it was enough to make a permanent mark on popular music.

Released in 1962, the Rivingtons’ best known song is “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” which kicks off the first side of “Doin’ the Bird”. The song is best remembered for starting off with its nonsensical title being sung by bass vocalist Turner “Rocky” Wilson Jr. which continues as the underlying foundation throughout the song. The album also includes other catchy original songs along with covers of Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart” and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally” and “Slippin’ and Slidin'”.

Muse – Simulation Theory (super deluxe edition)

When Muse comes out with a new album, I never fully know what to expect, except I expect it to be totally awesome. With that, “Simulation Theory”, the eighth album from Muse, is exactly what I expected.

Like Muse’s last few albums, “Simulation Theory” is more than just a collection of songs; there is a theme wrapped around all of them. This time though, the trio steps back a bit from the seriousness of “The Second Law” and “The Resistance”, instead diving into a
science fiction virtual reality world. But that’s not to say there aren’t also underlying sociopolitical statements. This is Muse I’m talking about after all.

I pre-ordered the super deluxe edition of “Simulation Theory” because from what I had already heard from the singles released on the Internet, I knew I was going to like it. It was packaged as a double album with basically, an alternate version of the album on a second record and both records on CDs. It also came with free pre-release digital downloads for some of the songs. I would have gladly paid the price for this just for the two records alone. The album artwork designed by “Stranger Things” artist Kyle Lambert fits the sci-fi theme of the album perfectly, as does the heavy use of synthesizers and electronics in the music.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it also came with pre-release access to tickets for their upcoming concerts. I have seen Muse live twice already and look forward to seeing them again. Those two shows rank among the most amazing concerts I have been to, ranking right up there with Rodger Waters performing The Wall, Pink Floyd, and TSO.

My favorite song on the original album is probably “Break It to Me” with its strange chord bends on the guitar. My favorites on the bonus record are tied between the gospel version of “Dig Down” and the live version of “Pressure” performed with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band. I thought the latter was such an odd combination when I read it in the credits, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was awesome. Exactly what I expect from Muse.

The Human League – Dare

The Human League’s third album, “Dare”,
was for the most part, my introduction to synth-pop and electronic music. Up to that time, I had listened to a lot of bands that used synthesizers and loved the versatility and expanded sound they brought to rock and roll. But I don’t think I had ever heard a band that used synths exclusively; no guitars and no real drums. If I had, The Human League was the first to make an impression on me.

“Dont You Want Me” was the first song I heard off of “Dare”; it was all over the radio in 1981. But it wasn’t the airwave saturation that grabbed me; it was the switch-hitting baritone and alto vocals of Philip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley. It was the lyrics. It was the catchy hook of the song. And of course, it was the synthesizers. Only synthesizers.