Pink Floyd – Meddle

One of the important things I learned from Pink Floyd is if you want to discover a great album by a band, listen to the one they released just before their big breakthrough.

I had never heard anything off of “Meddle” when I first bought it. Well, at least I thought I hadn’t. I was actually hoping to find the album that had a Pink Floyd instrumental I had heard only a couple of times but absolutely dug. The problem is if you never catch the radio jock announcing the name of an instrumental, how do you know the song’s name? (Note to young people, these were primitive times; before cell phones, the Internet, and even home computers. Hell, we thought digital were cool.) What I never caught until I bought “Meddle” though, was the spoken words somewhat buried in the instrumental – 13 words to be exact. Four of them are “One of These Days”.

By the time I bought ‘Meddle”, I already owned and loved “The Wall”, “Animals”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Dark Side of the Moon”. Trying to find that elusive instrumental, I delved to Pink Floyd’s earlier catalog. They had already released my four favorite albums to that point, so I didn’t feel much risk in buying one by them that I had never heard. The one just prior to DSotM seemed the natural choice to make. Not only did I find the ever elusive instrumental I was searching for, I also found my fifth favorite album at the time.

“Fearless”, with its addictive riff that rises up and then drops off, the laid back coastal feel of “San Tropez” and the genius of letting your dog howl the melody over blues chords in “Seamus” (that’s the dog) were some of the other ear candy I would discover on side one of “Meddle”. Side two is all one song: “Echoes”, a near 24 minute masterpiece of sonic ambience, experimentalism, and musicianship. With its distinct single opening grand piano note amped through a Leslie speaker, it near instantly became one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs. It still is today, just as “Meddle” is still one of my favorite albums ever. Just as it always will be.

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.

Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians – Globe Of Frogs

When I think of 1980’s alternative rock, one of the first bands to pop in my head is Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians.

Between his early work with the Soft Boys and his solo work, both with and without the Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock was one of the most influential and legendary artists to shape the sound of college radio stations and the emerging commercial alternative rock stations.

“Globe of Frogs” was the album that really should have broken Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians out. It was their first on a major record label and it was incredible from start to finish. The thing was that while most college stations seemed to put Hitchcock’s stuff in a heavy rotation, the emerging commercial alt-rock stations never jumped on board. They played scads of bands that were heavily influenced by, and even imitated Hitchcock, but not the innovator himself. That, plus the fact that by 1988 the emerging alternative rock stations in the US started gravitating towards the heavier sounding bands that resulted in the grunge rock movement in the ’90s.

Yeah, Robyn Hitchcock deserved more success, but anyone who listened to his albums in the ’80s remember songs by a groundbreaking, highly influential artist that went beyond commercial success. They remember a musical legend.

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.

More Of The Monkees

Say what you will about the Monkees. Yes, they were a band made for a television show. Yes, they didn’t play on all of their early stuff (because of the TV show’s filming schedule preventing it). But they were a talented band. They did push for, and eventually did play, not just sing, their own songs. And even though they had an incredible group of talent writing their songs (Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka among them) they started penning their own.

Sure, they made their name as TV stars, but the Monkees considered themselves first and foremost, to be musical artists. Change that…they were musical artists. They were also a significant part of my childhood.

Peter Torke, the Monkees’ bassist and one of its vocalists, died today from a rare form of cancer. Somehow, that hit me just as hard as the loss of Bowie or Tom Petty. Maybe the Monkees weren’t as trend setting or as influential as those two, but it still hurt just as much.

As any artist does, the Monkees became a part of me; they shaped me. Yeah, their 1960’s television show, styled after the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” movie, and their debut eponymous album are what really grabbed me initially, but it was their songs that came after that grabbed and held on to my interest.

“Mary, Mary”, “I’m a Believer”, and “Steppin’ Stone” are just a glimpse of what the Monkees had to offer after their initial impact. Sure, the Monkees were a commercial creation for television’s sake, but their sustained success was because of their collective musical talent. Peter Torke was perhaps more significant in that than any of the other band’s members. I will miss him.

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.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

…or should I say “In the Garden of Eden”.

That is what the title song was originally supposed to be called. But when you’re too inebriated, sometimes the words don’t come out right when you try to tell your bandmates the title of the killer new song you wrote. Eastern philosophy and mysticism was hugely popular in 1968, and the drunkenly slurred title sure had that mystic vibe to it, so Iron Butterfly decided to call the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” instead.

The song is a 17 minute psychedelic epic based around a heavy blues riff that fills the entire second side of the album. An edited down version, eliminating among other pats, a two and a half minute drum solo in the middle, was release to radio stations in 1968. It became Iron Butterfly’s biggest hit single. The album followed suit, eventually selling over 30 million copies. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is considered by many to be the very fist heavy metal song.

J. D. Blackfoot – The Song of Crazy Horse

The title track to J. D. Blackfoot’s 1973 album “The Song of Crazy Horse”, is an epic 14 minute American history lesson about the life and times of the Lakota (Sioux) American Indian leader, Crazy Horse. It’s a powerful song that speaks of the savage injustice done to the native Americans in the 19th century; how Crazy Horse led his people to fight back, ultimately wiping out the U. S. Army’s 7th Cavalry at Custer’s Last Stand, and wrapping up with Crazy Horse’s arrest and controversial death while in custody of U.S. officials the following year. With a combination of country and psychedelic rock, the song makes a powerful statement to the mistreatment of native Americans in the 19th century; a time in American history that is seldom spoken of.

The remainder of “The Song of Crazy Horse” is not nearly as lyrically intense or musically dispersed as its namesake song. “Ride Away” closes out side one as a folksy epilogue to the epic that preceded it. Side two is filled with blues rooted rockers and ballads with one oddity thrown in. The contrast in the offbeat humor of “Flushed You from the Toilets of My Heart” can’t help but stand out from the rest of this album. It serves as a reminder from J. D. Blackfoot that amongst all this seriousness, he can still have some fun. After that diversion, the album closes out with the somberly beautiful “Comin’ Down”.

“The Song of Crazy Horse” was J. D. Blackfoot’s second album. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, he moved to New Zealand before recording this album. Although it was very successful in his adoptive country, it failed to dent the charts in the his country of origin.