Styx – Equinox (audiophile series)

One of the downside to audiophile pressings is you pay more for them and you don’t get any of the extras, like liner notes and such, that might have come with the original album. But there’s compensation for that: sound quality.

The masters for audiophile albums are cut at half speed to improve accuracy and virgin, non-static vinyl is used for the final pressing. The result is loud passages being more defined, quieter passages coming through at their cleanest and clearest, and a recording that shines through sounding the absolute best it can. Audiophile pressings are vinyl at its absolute best. Sure, you don’t get the liner notes and other extras, but if you buy an audiophile pressing, you probably already own the original copy of the album. What you do get is the best sound quality possible.

I don’t know why I ever hesitated buying an audiophile pressing of Styx’s fourth album, “Equinox”. It is one of the most overlooked albums from the ’70s. It’s also one of my all-time favorites. I already had a original release of “Equinox”, so I asked myself why I needed another one? The answer was simple: sound quality. I wanted to hear it at its absolute best. To hear “Equinox” like this is pure bliss.

The Doors – Greatest Hits

I’ll always remember “Light My Fire” by The Doors as the number 2 song on the Rock and Roll 500 in the ’70s. Year after year, after year.

Growing up in a an East side Detroit suburb, Memorial Day weekend meant three things to me: The St. Clair Shores parade, the Indianapolis 500 race on TV, and the Rock and Roll 500 on the radio.

The Rock and Roll 500 was a pretty simple concept. Weeks prior, listeners would submit their favorite rock songs to the local radio station and sometime over Memorial Day Weekend the station would countdown the 500 most popular songs. Although there were always surprises to the list each year, the top three songs always seemed to be constant. “Freebird” by Skynyrd would always take the third position, Zeppelin would take top honors with “Stairway to Heaven”, and sandwiched between the two would be “Light My Fire” by The Doors.

Sure, it took away from the suspense. I mean, after the first couple years, I kind of knew what was coming once they got to the top of the 500, but they were all great songs, so why should I care? I still listened to them. Year after year, after year.

Emerson Lake & Palmer Works Volume One

Emerson Lake & Palmer were known for being self-indulgent and often accused of being pretentious. Self indulgent? Sure. Pretentious? No way. That would imply that they presented themselves as being more talented than they actually were. ELP individually and collectively always tried to push themselves to their musical limits. They never failed to cut the muster, especially on “Works Volume One”.

For their fifth studio album, ELP decided to double it up; two records, four sides. The first three sides focused on the individual writing and arrangement talents of Keith Emerson (keyboards), Greg Lake (guitar and bass) and Carl Palmer (percussion). Side four focused on the collective creativity of all three members.

The album starts off with what is my favorite track (and side) on the double album: Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”. This is most often where the accusations of pretentiousness come in for “Works Volume One”. I mean, how dare a rock and roller write and classical music! What could they possibly know about treal music? And then to perform it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra! That’s blasphemy! Well, at least it was to most traditionalists. But true to any composer of any era, Emerson incorporated influences past and present. He pushed the boundaries of classical music, incorporating jazz chords and structures into the fold. I’m convinced it’s nothing Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, or any other classical master wouldn’t have attempted had they been exposed to Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and other jazz greats.

Greg Lake’s side is fairly straight forward acoustic singer/songwriter material. Although there are a few moments that ventures outside that territory. “C’est La Vie”, with its french bistro middle section is one of the more notable.

As one would expect, Carl Palmer’s side consists mainly of compositions with rhythmic complexities. Not surprising for a percussionist. His selections lean heavily on polyrhythms, leaning more into modern jazz territory than that of rock.

Side four highlights all these elements coming together cohesively in two
extended progressive rock performances. “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a piece written by the 20th century “Dean of American Composers”, Aaron Copeland. Arranged by ELP, the epic takes on an urgency that transposes classical and rock music. Pirates is an equally esoteric piece that closes out the album. A record that not only highlights the musical passions of each member of ELP, but equally showcases the collective synergy they exhume together.

Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

In a 2009 interview, Florence Welch cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as one of her musical heroes, specifically noting the song “White Rabbit” as having changed her life. I knew there was a good reason I love Florence + The Machine’s music so much.

Although decades separate the music both women created, I hear a lot of Grace Slick in Florence Welch. Sure, there are differences. Florence Welch isn’t one to copy; she is too much of a true artist. Still, the vocal stylings of Grace Slick are impossible to not notice in Florence’s voice. The same goes for the independent “f*ck you, we do what we want” attitude of both in regards to their music.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (and Jefferson Starship) has forever been one of my favorite female vocalists. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine forever will be.

Cream – Best of Cream

The original power trio.
The original supergroup.

Cream was Ginger Baker on drums, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. By 1966, each of them had established reputations as possibly the best rock musicians on their respected instruments. It became quite the buzz when the three decided to join forces and form Cream.

Cream only stayed together for a little less than three years. But during that time, they released four albums (one of them a studio/live double album) and left a legacy that still influences bands more than fifty years after their final album came out.

As the title implies, “Best of Cream” is a compilation of the best tracks from those four albums. One of the best things about it, at least for American record buyers, is the inclusion of “Spoonful”, a song omitted from the US release of their debut album, “Fresh Cream” in 1966.

R. E. O. Speedwagon

R.E.O. Speedwagon’s debut album is the least R.E.O. Speedwagon sounding album ever.

Kevin Cronin, the lead singer most associated with the late ’70s and early ’80s superstars, didn’t join R.E.O. until Terry Luttrell and guitarist Gary Richrath had a falling out. Prior to Kevin Cronin bringing a second guitar and a new voice to the Illinois rockers, R.E.O. Speedwagon had more of blues rock sound with progressive rock leanings than the band that became known for its arena rock anthems later on. Two of the songs on this 1971 debut made it onto R.E.O. Speedwagon’s 1977 double live epic, “You Get What You Play For”. Here, the studio versions of “157 Riverside Avenue” and “Lay Me Down” sound more like a band doing covers of those songs. This is still a great album in its own right, but were it not for the band’s name on the cover, I would never guess it was an R.E.O. Speedwagon album spinning on the turntable right now.

Elton John – Honky Château

Enough!

Everyone please quit singing it wrong!

The correct words in the chorus of “Rocket Man” are…

I honestly think I originally bought Elton John’s 5th album, “Honky Château”, just to figure out what he was singing at that spot. I didn’t know if the lyrics were included inside the album cover, but I had to find out. It was my last shot. None of my friends seemed to know. When they would sing along, all that came out of their mouths at that part was mumbled incoherent gibberish. It was driving me nuts!

Fortunately, my sanity was saved after I bought “Honky Château” and opened its gatefold cover. They were there! The lyrics to all the songs! I found “Rocket Man” and scanned through the words. There it was! I let out a long sigh of relief. I had solved the deep mystery that plagued so many to mumble incoherent gibberish. I had the power now to relieve the masses of their confusion. I could sleep soundly again at night.

The thing is, I found most people are just fine mumbling incoherent gibberish during “Rocket Man”.

Just in case you’re not one of them, this last part is for you:

“Rocket Man, Burning out his fuse up here alone.”

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.

Glass Harp – Synergy

Jam bands have reputations for playing live sets filled with long improvisational solos. It’s not so much a specific genre as it is a philosophical approach to musical performance. Along with their late 1960s contemporaries the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band, Glass Harp helped define what it meant to be a jam band in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

On record, Glass Harp had more of a progressive rock sound than the southern rock influences of the Allmans or the west coast trippy psychedelics that the Dead were known for. But like most early jam bands, Glass Harp’s albums often incorporated the musical leanings of their peers while holding on to a style that was all their own. In that realm, Glass Harp’s second album, “Synergy”, is best described as a Progressive rock album with flairs of psychedelic and southern rock. A deep cut rock album from 1971 that shouldn’t be passed up by any music lover or record collector.

Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

My goal when I started The Vinyl Jungle (a name derived from a J. Geils Band album) was 500 posts. I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to be that dedicated, but I wanted to try. Way back then, I decided that for my 500th post, I wanted to listen to something extra special – a classic above classics.

A classic above the classics. That is how I think of “Houses of the Holy”. I take more pleasure listening to this album than possibly any other – even albums by Pink Floyd (hands down, my all-time favorite band).

If I were prohibited to own only one Led Zeppelin album, “Houses of the Holy” would hands down, be my choice. “Physical Graffiti” would come close, but in the end, “Houses of the Holy” would take the prize, at least in my book (or my blog). Ironically, the title track didn’t make the cut here. The song “Houses of the Holy” would instead find its place on “Physical Graffiti”.

I think what I like most about “Houses of the Holy” is the branching out Zeppelin did, paying respect and honor to other musical artists and styles. They didn’t try to imitate, instead emulating Bob Marley and reggae music with “D’yer Mak’er” and the funk of James Brown with “The Crunge”; all the while keeping the whole album not only unabashedly Led Zeppelin, but Zeppelin at their best.

It was my goal when I started this blog to do 500 of my albums. Well, as they say, mission accomplished. But I’m not stopping here. Quite honestly, at this point, I don’t know where I’ll stop. I guess now, when I get tired of listening.

…It could be a while.