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.

Big Country – The Crossing

Did you know that with the right effects and technique, you can make a guitar sound like bagpipes? Scottish band Big Country did, and they used it to great effect on numerous songs on their 1983 debut album “The Crossing”.

Big Country’s bagpipe guitar sound helped give their music a unique, slightly celtic nuance that was unmistakable. I couldn’t resist buying their debut album after hearing just one song by them. “In a Big Country” starts off with a complex drum intro that leads into the “bagpipes’ and double vocals that immediately grabbed me. Along with its Celtic undercurrents, that lead-off song on “The Crossing” set the tone for the entire album.

Absolutely one of my favorite records from the ’80s.

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.”

Van Halen – Women And Children First

Van Halen closed out the 1970s with two albums that changed what rock and roll and more specifically what metal could be. Van Halen inspired a slew of hair bands playing a party metal that dominated Van Halen’s debut and sophomore efforts. Hair bands would continue to rock the charts through the ’80s. I really couldn’t really get into most of them. Yet I continued to buy Van Halen records.

Almost in defiance of the bands they inspired, Van Halen chose to pull in the reigns and get more serious, rocking harder and with a sharper edge on “Women and Children First”. It wasn’t a major shift, but it was definitely a noticeable one. Van Halen kept elements of that party rock on their third album, just as they did on the albums that followed. But there was more aggression; there was more seriousness. This shift in sound, which became even more significant a few albums later when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer is what kept me following Van Halen, whereas the hair bands that Van Halen’s music was so significant with inspiring…well, there’s hardly any of them in my record collection.

Sam Phillips – Martinis And Bikinis

I discovered Sam Phillips’ music right at the end of my stint in radio. I was taking classes at Wayne State University and volunteering at Detroit public radio station WDET. The radio station was doing some housekeeping and gave me a whole box of music they were clearing out. It was mostly music by artists I had never hard of. Among all of them, the one that stood out the most to me was “Cruel Inventions” by Sam Phillips. I immediately went out looking for more stuff by her at the record store and discovered she had just released her follow-up, “Martinis and Bikinis”. No hesitation. I bought it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Sam Phillips has a good voice; at least not in the traditional sense. Just like Stevie Nicks doesn’t have what would traditionally be called a good voice. In similar fashion, Sam Phillips’ voice is as distinct as it is memorable; perfectly suited to the songs she writes and sings.

I first owned “Martinis and Bikinis” on CD. In my renewed love of vinyl, I have been trying to dig up some of my favorite recordings in that format. Well, I recently ran across “Martinis and Bikinis” on white vinyl online. No hesitation. I bought it.

“Martinis and Bikinis” is an album perfectly suited for vinyl, due in part to T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production. I would lay odds that he’s an analog guy. He has also produced albums by Los Lobos, Counting Crowes, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and the soundtracks to “Walk the Line” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The other thing that makes “Martinis and Bikinis” better to have on vinyl is the bonus tracks that are not on the CD. Side four of the album is a collection of four previously unavailable alternate versions of songs from the original release. The best of those is the recording of “I Need Love”, performed with a string quartet. It gives a totally new feel to an already great song. I honestly don’t know which version I prefer.

Leon Russell – Carney

Unlike CDs, albums have two sides and must be flipped halfway through to listen to an entire album “Carney”, Leon Russell’s 1972 masterpiece takes full advantage of this. “Carney” really could be considered two half albums; one roots rock, the other psychedelic rock. Both of them showcasing Leon Russell at his best.

That’s not to say side two doesn’t still touch on the strong songwriting Russell was known for – Russell’s songs have been recorded by more than 200 other artists. The flip side even contains what is possibly his most recorded songs. “This Masquerade” has found its way on over 75 records by others, the best known version being George Benson’s breakout hit single in 1976.

Amazingly, Leon Russell never released “This Masquerade” as a single, at least not as the A-side of one. It wound up being the B-side to “Tightrope” which also kicks off side one of “Carney” and became Leon Russell’s first hit single.

The J. Geils Band – Bloodshot (original red vinyl)

I said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: Colored vinyl is cool. It’s even cooler when it’s of one of your favorite albums by one of your favorite bands.

Only the first pressings of The J. Geils Band’s third album, “Bloodshot” were released on transparent red vinyl. The band also chose to have Atlantic use a red and black version of their older style label instead of their current one.

Released in 1973, “Bloodshot” was The J. Geils Band’s most successful album until they released “Freeze Frame” in 1981. The album became so popular among J. Geils fans that five of its nine songs were included on the band’s 1976 live double album “Blow Your Face Out”.

With the resurgence in the popularity of vinyl “Bloodshot” was reissued by Real Gone Music in 2015. Appropriately, they did the first pressings of it on red vinyl and got permission to use the same red and black Atlantic labels on all the pressings. The one thing I think they may have missed though, is the hidden message engraved on the run-out of side 2 on the original red vinyl: “Nice to see your face in the place”.

Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Herb Alpbert is the first artist to be signed to A&M records. Well, he wasn’t actually signed – he started A&M records, along with Jerry Moss as an independent label so he could release his music.

Originally there was no Tijuana Brass band. For his early records Herb Albert merely recorded his trumpet in the studio with numerous overdubs. Because of the unexpected popularity his music received, he eventually had to put together a band in order to tour. Although his music is not heard as frequently today as other artists from the 60’s, Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass had a perhaps the broadest popularity of any artist in music, crossing over to all generations of record buyers, making Herb Alpbert’s Tijuana Brass one of the most successful bands in music history. They had five number one hits, sold over 72 million records, and won 9 Grammys. 1965’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” was one of their most successful albums selling over 6 million copies alone. A&M records also went on to become one of the most successful record labels ever.

The album cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” has become somewhat iconic, and has been copied by several recording artists through the years, sometimes in jest. It is immediately recognizable to record collectors.