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.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Gold

Despite coming from the San Francisco Bay area in California, Creedence Clearwater Revival had a sound rooted in the Delta blues of the deep south. It wasn’t until many years after I had first heard them that I learned they weren’t from Louisiana or Mississippi. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made that assumption when they first heard CCR.

Creedence was one of the most successful bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but that success came with a price. The band had a bitter split up in 1972 and numerous lawsuits resulted over the rights to the use of their music. At one point, while pursuing a solo career, lead singer and primary songwriter John Fogerty was sued over royalties for performing CCR songs on stage; songs that he himself had written. The rift between the members ran so deep that even when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than 30 years after the band’s demise, Fogerty refused to take the stage with the other members at the ceremony.

Gold is a great collection of the biggest hit songs by Credence Clearwater Revival. All of the songs on it are timeless staples of classic rock radio. The album cover is also one of the coolest released by any band. Four silhouettes, one representing each band member is die cut and cascade layered, one on top of the other. Behind each silhouette, there is a photo of the band member in the silhouette.

Great album cover. Great band. Great songs. There’s nothing not to like here.

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?

Red Rider – Neruda

Tom Cochrane never believed in following trends. He believed in individuality. That’s a theme that weaves throughout Red Rider’s third album, “Neruda”.

The album’s title was nod to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was exiled from his home country for holding on to his individualistic beliefs. The songs on “Neruda” all revolve around the importance of the individual living in a society geared towards following trends in order to fit in.

Red Rider was one of the best Canadian rock bands in the 1980’s. Their guitarist, singer and songwriter, Tom Cochrane was one of the most gifted songwriters of that decade. His songs always had a lyrical depth that was far beyond most of his peers. The accompanying music was always a perfect blend of guitar and keyboards, not too polished or rough around the edges; never over produced. Like Red Rider’s other albums, the songs on “Neruda” are easy to listen to but could be at the same time aggressive and challenging. They were always well written and intriguing. And perhaps most importantly, they are never ever trendy.

The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely

There are two types of people when it comes to The Tragically Hip. Those who love them as one of the most incredible rock bands ever, and those who have never heard of them. That latter group doesn’t know what the ‘F’ they’re missing out on. But you Canadian’s know.

If I had to pick a favorite Tragically Hip album, I suppose it would be “Fully Completely”. Only because, barring the sentimentality behind first hearing them on my honeymoon in Toronto, this was the album where I realized what incredible band The Tragically Hip were.

It was on “Fully, Completely”, that I discovered how wonderful it can be after the honeymoon; when I could strip out the newness and the sentimentality. It was a time when I first analyzed the core and heart and soul before me and realized the awesome aura of honesty, sincerity and passion surrounding me.

Wait a second…was I talking about my wife of almost 30 years or The Tragically Hip’s music.

Oh yeah…both.

I love you Helen.

The Hip are pretty F’ing awesome too.

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 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'”.

George Thorogood And The Destroyers – Maverick

No surprises here. With George Thorogood and the Destroyers, you know exactly what to expect – old school blues rock. Music to party to. Listening to 1982’s Maverick, I’m surprised that I have never seen these guys live. I have to imagine it would be a wild and crazy scene with people dancing in their seats and in the aisles, singing along to the songs.

Starting out in the ’70s, Thorogood’s band was originally called the Delaware Destroyers because, you guessed it, they came from Delaware; Boston to be exact. During that time, right into the ’80s, George Thorogood and the Destroyers were one of the hardest touring bands ever. As if to drive that point home, in 1982 they did their 50/50 tour – all 50 states in the US in 50 days.

In 1970, Thorogood gave up his career in minor league baseball and never looked back. He has recorded 20 albums and sold over 15 million. He is still recording his style of boogie party rock today, releasing “Party of One”, his first album without The Destroyers, in 2017. He last toured in 2018. I’m hoping there will be a 2019 tour as well. I still can’t believe I haven’t seen him live.

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Catch A Fire

Being stranded in England following a UK tour supporting Johnny Nash turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Bob Marley and the Wailers. In desperation, the band ended up contacting the tour promoter who got ahold of record producer Chris Blackwell. With an agreement that the band record an album for Island records once they were back in Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Wailers got their tickets home. The result was what is considered to be one of the best Reggae albums of all time, 1973’s “Catch a Fire”

I really wish I could thank an old Army buddy Kent Clark for turning me on to Reggae music, especially Bob Marley and Peter Tosh (who was part of The Wailers until pursuing a solo career in 1976). Unfortunately, I was terrible keeping in touch with anyone once I got out. Fortunately, social media has allowed me to get back in touch with a few.