With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.
I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.
Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.
Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.
All of them women.
All of them naked.
Yeah, that was most unexpected.
Q. What do you get when you combine Latin rhythms, psychedelic rock, and one the best guitarists of all time?
A. The second album by Santana, 1970’s “Abraxas”.
Like many artists, Santana’s music has changed through the years, morphing with the times. No matter what era you of Santana you listen to, one constant is the infusion Latin, blues, jazz, and rock and roll music.
Santana went into the studio to record “Abraxas” shortly after performing what was one of the most highly regarded performances at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival (considered by many to be second only to the unforgettable closing set by Jimi Hendrix). Consequently, the band’s confidence level was high (as were the band members themselves most likely) resulting in what is arguably the best of Santana’s early work.
Although the cover artwork perfectly fits the Latin and psychedelic feeling of Santana’s music on this album, it was actually painted by a German born artist, Mati Klarwein. The painting, which wraps around to fill half of the back cover as well, is considered by many to be one of the best album covers of all time. Because of its extravagant detail, it can only be truly appreciated in the larger size of the original 12 inch vinyl.
In 1971, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the folk rock beginnings of his band, T. Rex, and try something different. “Electric Warrior” ended up becoming one of the most influential albums of that decade, ushering in the era of glam rock.
Glam rock was about unabashed shamelessness. Whimsical lyrics, pop hooks with a rock edge, and flamboyance were its key ingredients. On “Electric Warrior”, Bolan mixed those ingredients together with seemingly reckless abandon and came up with a recipe that would influence the likes of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Roxy Music and countless others. It was the foundation of what became called “new wave”, and later “alternative” music. Although “Electric Warrior” only had one big hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, it’s influence on modern music is indisputable and still resonates through popular music today.
David Essex is another one of those artists who was a one-hit-wonder in the United States but had much larger success in the UK. That’s probably due in part because David Essex hails from Great Britain but some might argue that it’s because the Brits have broader, better tastes in music.
Although the single “Rock On” was Essex’s only big hit in the US, in the UK the popularity of his albums and singles continued on through the ’90s. “Rock On” wasn’t even his biggest hit across the ocean. It only hit #3 on the UK charts in 1973 (#5 in the US). He had two UK chart-toppers in the years that followed.
Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.
The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.
Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.
Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.
So what do you do when you signed a contract with a new record label but still owe your current label one more album? If you’re The J. Geils Band, you make a record that departs from what you’ve done before and try something new. What have you got to lose?
Even though it still sounded like The J. Geils Band, “Monkey Island” deviated heavily from the influences the band drew from on their six previous records. Perhaps to mark the departure in style, the band chose to shorten their name to simply “Geils” for “Monkey Island”. It is the only record of theirs to use this abbreviated name. It’s also the only album that they used a horn section, a group of background singers, and a string section.
Departing from the sound of their previous albums, “Monkey Island” plays more heavily on funk and soul than any other album Geils ever did before or after. They even try their hand (rather successfully) at a little doo-wop, with the song “I Do”. Although never released as a single, that song became a radio mainstay in the Detroit area, where Geils had their strongest following outside of their hometown of Boston. A live single of “I Do” would later be released from The J. Geils Band’s third and final live album, “Showtime”. Appropriately, that version was recorded at Pine Knob Music Theater near Detroit.
Although “Monkey Island” remains one of the least commercially successful albums by the J. Geils Band, probably because of it straying from what was expected from them at the time, it remains one of my favorite albums by them, for that very same reason.
I heard Adele refer to her second album, “21” as her break-up album and her third, “25” as her make-up album. As poetic as that may sound, I think of “25” more like her come-to-terms album.
While “21” has a definite theme of relationships falling apart and “25” focuses on the aftermath, not all the songs on Adele’s third album reflect on reconciliation; some center on the necessity of moving on without – even though there is still a yearning. The songs here are also about the acceptance of what is and what will never be. In modern music, there is no one who can tap into and convey this emotion better than Adele.
Glam metal and hair bands were at the top of their popularity in the mid 1980s. Combining arena anthems and power ballads with a heavy dose of overdriven guitar distortion and testosterone, “Slippery When Wet” was an immediate success for Bon Jovi and went on to become the biggest selling album of 1987.
Bon Jovi was more than just another glam metal hair band though, as they proved with “Wanted Dead or Alive”. They appealed to a broader audience including a mid-twenties disillusioned alt-rocker who had gravitated away from most 80’s metal (although I have grown to appreciate many of the bands I blew off back then once my son started getting into them decades later). Back then this was the album I would just crank up and lose myself in; forget about all the sh!t in my life back then (the mid ’80 were a rough point in my life).
From the time I first heard “Slippery when Wet” I knew it was an album that would never say goodbye to my music collection. I did replace it on CD at one point, but after a recent visit to a local used record store it recently rejoined itself in the ranks of my vinyl collection because sometimes I felt it needed a little more to let it rock.
After reading “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” I will forever think of their second album, “Get Your Wings” as the album that saved Aerosmith – and so much of the music from my youth. According the book, because their first album received no promotion from the record company and did do poorly, virtually selling nowhere except in their hometown of Boston and in Detroit, the band was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed they had put everythinginto their first record, only to have it flop. They were all living together in a rundown apartment, struggling to get by. Disillusioned and frustrated, they debated even recording a second record.
Even though their first record went nowhere, Aerosmith decided they would give it one more chance; make one more record, and that would be it. As they were the recording “Get Your Wings” the band members all knew that this would be the album that would make or break them.
Unless you live under a rock, you know Aerosmith went on to become one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s. When I think of all the great albums and songs that Aerosmith recorded after “Get Your Wings” – songs that would have never had existed – well, I really can’t. Aerosmith’s music was the soundtrack of my coming-of-age youth.
So, If you were one of the many who bought this album when it came out, thank you for the memories.
Back in the day, when a friend told you how good an album was, it didn’t mean you would necessarily like it. It just meant they did. Unless they could play it or the local radio stations would promote it, you still took your chances when you bought it. One man’s trash is a nother’s treasure. But today, there’s the Internet, where you can easily check out almost any new band. So when I bought “A Deeper Understanding”, the major label debut by The War on Drugs last year, I knew I was going to love it.
The songs on “A Deeper Understanding” are mostly mid-tempo with a low-key feel to them. They have an edginess to them, but never go over-the-top. Easy to listen and relax to but exciting at the same time. Thoughtful and introspective lyrics are perfectly matched to the music by The Adam Granduciel’s slightly breathy, somewhat raspy vocal style. This is an album that can be motivating or relaxing; it depends on how you want to listen to it at the time.
After listening to “A Deeper Understanding” the first couple times I couldn’t help but wonder why music like this isn’t more popular. It seems to rarely achieve main-stream recognition or success. Then, a couple of weeks after buying it, I leaned it was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2017 Grammys. It won. A well deserved award and a great achievement for te first major label album by a band.
I’m look looking forward to The War On Drugs’ second one.