Gentle Giant – Three Friends

The story of three childhood friends and the very different paths their lives take after going their separate ways; falling out of touch with each other in adulthood. That’s the concept behind Gentle Giants eclectic 1972 progressive rock showcase.

One becomes part of the blue-collar working class. He feels trapped in a dead-end job living paycheck to paycheck. Another becomes a starving artist. Answering to no one but himself and expressing the good and hidden evil he sees in the world through his paintbrush. The third becomes a successful businessman. With his trophy wife and materialistic lifestyle he looks uses people to his own ends and looks down on the on the lazy working class and unambitious artists.

It’s not a deep concept, but it’s one that can be easily combined with different musical themes that make for a diverse combination of intricately complex arrangements which is what Gentle Giant’s music is all about.

Boston – Third Stage

I remember waiting such a long time for Boston’s third album to come out. In between when “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” were released, I had graduated from high school, moved to Tennessee, served in the US Army as an air traffic controller, moved back home, met and lost who I thought was the girl of my dreams, enrolled in college, worked as a Zamboni driver, janitor, and courier, got hired by General Motors as a factory rat, and moved into an upper flat on Detroit’s east side.

Okay, that’s a lot to have going on in six years. Even so, six years is a long time between albums – especially for a band as popular as Boston. Apparently a flood and several power failures in Tom Scholz’s home studio had something to do with the delay. I’m sure his perfectionist attitude toward Boston’s sound had something to do with it as well.

Tom Scholz’s attention to the finest of details is what made “Third Stage” totally worth the wait though. That, and it being a collection of great songs. In Scholz’s own words, each individual song “relates a human experience” and collectively they “tell the story of a journey into life’s Third Stage”.

Of those songs, Amanda is perhaps the most beautiful arrangement Boston ever did. “Cool the Engines” is possibly the most rocking. But best of all, all the songs on “Third Stage” are unmistakably Boston.

Yeah, a lot had happened and a lot of time had passed in between Boston’s second and third album. But all things considered, it was well worth the wait.

Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band – Against The Wind

I think “Against the Wind” is my favorite album by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band partly because I am such a huge Pink Floyd fan.

Not only do love Floyd’s music, but I think “The Wall” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever conceived. I’m a realist though, and as such knew some album at some point would have to unseat it from the number one spot on the US album charts. I couldn’t have been prouder back then to, after six weeks, see hometown heroes Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band do the unseating.

Expectations were high for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band when they released their follow-up to “Night Moves”, their breakthrough album in the late seventies. Fuckin-A did they deliver! I don’t think I ever heard, before or after, a better collection of straight ahead good-times rockers and heartfelt ballads than Seger and his crew put out on “Against the Wind”. Then again, that is what they were always best at.

There was never any better, before or since, in my humble opinion.

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.

Yes – Close To The Edge

Yes is a band that went through many lineup iterations. Although they found success in all variants, few Yes fans will dispute Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and Squire as being the group’s most creative, most talented, most progressive lineup. 1971’s “Fragile“, the third album from Yes, was the debut from that combination of talent. It’s follow-up, “Close to the Edge”, was released in ’72 and carried on with the embodiment of rhythmic complexity and instrumental virtuosity.

I’ve read that unlike with its predecessor, there were a lot of creative conflicts going on during the recording sessions for “Close to the Edge”, which explains drummer Bill Bruford’s departure after its completion. This is an album that exasperates a multitude of conflicting ideas being brought together. At times, it feels as if it is going to fall apart in a heap of chaotic discords. But the multitude of ideas are somehow tied together with a cohesive beauty that make it one of the most significant records from the classic age of vinyl and one of the staples of progressive rock.

“Close to the Edge” is a landmark album in every sense of the word.

Heart – Beautiful Broken

Heart has a knack for taking things other bands have done and doing them better. One case of this was their Greatest Hits/Live album which offered much more than any other greatest hits or live album ever did. But perhaps the most prime example is Heart’s 2016 album “Beautiful Broken”, a combination of three new songs along with revisited, reimagined versions of songs from earlier in the group’s musical history.

Classic rock bands releasing new versions of their older songs is certainly nothing new. Kiss, Styx, The Police, Journey and many others have succumb to the temptation. All too often, the new versions pale in comparison to the originals, at least to long time fans of the originals. There are memories that go with those familiar versions. There are solos that have been memorized note for note on air guitar and beats that can be tapped out effortlessly on dashboard drumkits. Why would you want to mess with those songs?

With “Beautiful Broken” Heart knew better than to touch the familiar tracks that their long-time fans loved. Instead, they reinvent obscure deep cuts from their back catalog; album tracks that were almost never played on the radio. Unless you owned the earlier Heart albums where these songs first appeared, you might not have ever heard the original renditions. The Wilson sisters even dig so deep here as to grab a bonus track that was only available on a Best Buy exclusive version of one of their later CDs, re-recording the song with guest vocals from Metallica frontman James Hetfield. As if to drive the point home of what they were trying to accomplish with this project, Heart chose to use that updated version of a former obscurity to be the title track for this album.

All of this, makes “Beautiful Broken” come across sounding like an album of totally new material. Some of the songs may have an aire of familiarity to Hearts long-time fans but it’s a familiarity that can be easily be reimagined and reinvented. Old memories are not infringed upon and there are plenty of new air guitar solos and dashboard drum beats to be learned.

Well done Heart.

Roxy Music – Stranded

The third Roxy Music album; their first without Brian Eno. Yet Eno would cite it as Roxy’s best. I just might have to agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Brian Eno and the influence he had on the first two Roxy music albums. His replacement, Eddie Jobson, may not have had Eno’s flamboyance but he’s every bit the musician; maybe more so. Along with synthesizers and keyboards, Jobson added the dynamics of a violin to Roxy Music’s sound.

The biggest factor that gives “Stranded” the potential to take the top spot among Roxy Music’s eight albums is, of course, the songs. They were a tad bit more toward the mainstream. That’s not to say the music on “Stranded” is commercial pop in any way – I don’t think that can be said of any Roxy Music record. There was plenty of experimentation and eclecticism to go around on “Stranded” but at the same time, the music was more accessible, with some great hooks that get stuck in your head. It was a style that would influence the sound of future bands like the Talking Heads, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Ultravox, and Japan, among others.

When I started rediscovering vinyl, I was very disappointed to realize that I had gotten rid of all my Roxy Music albums, replacing some of them on CD. But it turns out, that wasn’t really a bad th thing. A couple of years ago, I ran across a box set collection of all of Roxy Musics records. All of the albums are half speed masters that sound absolutely exquisite. Every time I listen to one

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel

Novel may be a bit of an overstatement here, but there certainly is a story that is told by the songs on “White City”. It’s a blithe story of society; a society where violence has long been viewed as a sign of being a man, yet one where that will now land you in jail. It also speaks of racism and racial identity, sexual identity an sexuality. It speaks bluntly of 1985’s view of society’s past, present, and questions of its future. It’s the story of tolerance and intolerance, the tolerance of intolerance, the intolerance of tolerance, and intolerance of intolerance. It is a story of both the need for and resistance to a change in society.

Yeah, this is a lyrically complex album. It’s easier to comprehend if you watch the accompanying 60 minute film. If you don’t want to take the time for that, just filter out the deeper meaning of the lyrics and simply listen to the music. It’s awesome.

David Gilmour – About Face

The future of Pink Floyd was uncertain in 1984. The band was going through turmoil and fans like me were guessing there may not ever be another album by them. That’s why I grabbed a copy of David Gilmour’s second solo album when it came out in 1984.

I had been somewhat disappointed by Pink Floyd’s album that came out the previous year. It’s not that “The Final Cut” was a bad album, it was just that it treaded no new territory, sounding like a continuation of the mostly Roger Waters epic “The Wall”. To me, Pink Floyd was always about doing something different new; going in a direction they hadn’t before. One album always sounded distinctly unique from its predecessor, yet still sounded like Pink Floyd. Enter “About Face”.

I’m not saying that “About Face” sounds like a Pink Floyd record; at least not totally. I remember reading that some of the musical ideas on it were presented as ideas for “The Final Cut” but were rejected by Roger Waters who made that album more of a solo project than the next Floyd album. His loss.

There are strong influences of where Gilmour had come from on “About Face”. His guitar had the same distinct tone heard on Pink Floyd albums, but there was more. Reggae influences on “Cruise”, funk/R&B on “Blue Light”, full orchestration on the instrumental “Let’s Get Metaphysical”, a couple straight ahead rockers – it was nothing like an album Pink Floyd would have ever done, which is why, to me, “About Face” sounded like what the next Pink Floyd album could have been. It wasn’t though. It was a David Gilmour solo record, which in the end, was just as good.

Grand Funk Railroad – Mark, Don & Mel

I don’t think there was a band loved more by their fans and hated more by the music press than Grand Funk Railroad. They sold millions of albums and sold out huge arenas in record time, yet their albums were almost universally dissed by music critics. Bad press was something that Grand Funk learned to get used to. Eventually, they laughed at it. After five solid albums in just three years, they began to revel in it.

“Mark, Don & Mel” is a best of compilation comprised of songs from those first five albums…and the brutal reviews of them. I think I get almost as much enjoyment reading the press reviews Grand Funk gathered up and put on the record sleeves of this double album as I do listening to the music. Puttin the scathing press reviws on the record sleeves was the Flint Michigan’s bands way of flipping the bird to the critics. It was their way of saying “What the F*** do you know? Did you sell millions of records? Did you top the music charts numerous times? Did you sell out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles?”

Yeah, the critics loved to hate Grand Funk Railroad and Grand Funk loved it and wanted their fans to know it. Because Grand Funk knew their fans didn’t care about the critics; they cared about the music. And Grand Funk Railroad’s music kicked some serious ass.

Meh, what do critics know anyway?