Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! – Live! (Quadrophonic)

An amazing live performance by two legends. Recorded at what was probably the most incredible location to ever see a rock festival: inside the crater of the Diamondhead volcano in Honolulu Hawaii.

The Sunshine Festivals used to happen every year on New Year’s eve and day, and on the Fourth of July. The first festival was organized in 1970 and had about 12 thousand people in attendance. By 1979, it was attracting over 75 thousand people and had to be shut down due to concerns over the environmental concerns being caused by the huge crowds.

This blistering performance by Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles was recorded on New Year’s day in 1972.

Listening to this performance in quadrophonic (a 1970’s analog version of surround sound that preceded home theater systems) really adds to the listening experience of this record. Well, I guess technically, I’m not listening to it in quad, but I find Dolby Pro Logic surround sound (an analog surround sound from the 1990’s that predates Dolby Digital surround sound) brings out the same effect as quad. If it’s not the same, it’s darn close. (I’m thinking they didn’t try to totally reinvent the wheel for analog home theater surround sound). The ambience of the venue is capture perfectly here, with the rear speakers making me feel like I’m sitting right in the middle of the crowd.

I really need to look into picking up some more quad albums.

Electric Light Orchestra II

In 1973, Electric Light Orchestra had a very different sound from Jeff Lynn’s highly polished production of their late ’70s and ’80s albums. Perhaps the most significant difference was that they hadn’t yet started to use an actual backing orchestra (probably because they couldn’t afford to hire one). Instead, the band used overdubs of the band members playing cellos and violins to create a bigger sound. On some songs, even the overdubbing was skipped, creating a more rock band / string quartet styled sound.

ELO’s early songwriting also took a different approach than their later albums. Even though Roy Wood left ELO before this album was released, his influence is still significantly felt here. Electric Light Orchestra II has a more experimental, progressive rock sound and the production is noticeably less slick than the direction Jeff Lynn took the group in their later years.

I love ELO’s later stuff but once I discovered their early works, I remember wishing they had done more albums like this. A standout track on this record is ELO’s take of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. With the integration of violins and cellos, the version on this album will always be the definitive one to me. Sorry Chuck.

The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

Rock and roll was going through some significant changes going into the 1980s. Many bands that had cut their teeth in the ’70s either couldn’t adapt to the newer sound and fell by the wayside or overcompensated and were labeled as sell-outs by their long time fans. For The J. Geils Band the transition was easy. Their style of r&b party rock didn’t need to change much at all to propel them to the top of their popularity and the top of the record charts without alienating any of their fans.

The conversation within the band may very well have gone something like this:

Peter Wolf: “Seth, we need you to start playing more synthesizers instead of just piano and organ.”

Seth Justman: “Okay.”

I don’t know if that’s the way it all went down, but it could’ve been. That’s really all Geils did for “Love Stinks” to become their second most successful album shortly after it was released. Their next album, “Freeze Frame”, would do even better.

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remais The Same (soundtrack)

In the short time between when I first saw the film “The Song Remains the Same” and bought the double album soundtrack, I didn’t remember the music from the movie well enough to realize all of the differences between the two. Then again, when I first saw the movie, I was probably in a great state of mind for listening to music; not so good for remembering all of it.

I’m not going to go into all the specifics between the music in the film and on the album – you can Google that easily enough – but in a nutshell, there are songs in the movie that didn’t make it to the record and one that’s the other way around. Also some of the same songs on both are not from the same performances. Sure, both the film and soundtrack were recorded in 1976, during three nights of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, but Zeppelin liked to make each of their concerts a unique experience for the audience. They always played their songs differently from one night to the next. When I listen to “The Song Remains the Same” today, I cant help but remember all the differences between the songs here and the music in the film. It’s so significant, I don’t know if I even consider this to be the soundtrack to the film; just a great live album.

The Best Of Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke was a pioneer of soul music, bringing it to the forefront of popular music. Once dubbed the King of Soul, without his groundbreaking songs, popular music may never have come to see the rise of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin (later dubbed the Queen of Soul); all followed in Cooke’s soulful footsteps.

I guess it should be expected that every song on a greatest hits album is great. So I’ll avoid that particular and predictable redundancy to describe Sam Cooke’s 1965 Greatest Hits album. The description I will use instead is timeless.

Unfortunately, the music world lost Sam Cooke much too soon when in 1964, he was shot and killed by the manager of a motel he was staying at. His death was ruled justifiable homicide in self-defense but that ruling was immediately brought into question. The actual circumstances surrounding Sam Cooke’s death has forever been shrouded in controversy. He was only 33 years old.

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

I’m not one to try to rank in detail, my all-time favorite rock albums. The list I would give today would probably be very different from one I would give you next week, so why bother. I will say this however, no matter what day I ranked them, Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” would consistently place in the top 20.

The album contains such a myriad of styles it would be hard for anyone to not find something they like on this, Joe Walsh’s second album. The songwriting and playing are the strongest of any of his solo work; possibly even better than his albums with The James Gang and The Eagles. At least one of the albums by each of those bands, while Joe Walsh was a member, would always be in my top 20 list. That speaks volumes to his talent, versatility, and creativity. He is definitely one of my all time favorite rock artists. By the way, don’t ask me to rank them in detail either. I’d run into the same problem I’d have with albums.

The Who – Quadrophenia (Soundtrack)

Although the soundtrack to The Who’s 1979 film Quadrophenia tells the same story as their original 1973 rock opera, it is definitely an album that stands apart from its predecessor. The difference doesn’t make either a better or worse record, they’re just distinctly different.

First off, because it has a film telling Jimmy’s story, the soundtrack doesn’t need to tell all the details, so there are fewer Who songs on it. Side four of the album is actually filled with other bands that had songs featured in the movie. James Brown, Booker T and the MG’s, The Ronettes, and others fill side 4.

Another difference is in the songs that appear on both albums. All of them were re-recorded and for the film and this album. The mixes are noticeably different, most of the time bringing the guitars more up front. Again, this doesn’t really make one version better than the other; just different. I really wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite between them.

There are also some several Who songs on the soundtrack that are not on the original double album. On side 3 for example, only the final track, “The Punk and the Godfather”, appears on both albums. Speaking of side 3, I probably should mention that there are a couple other bands playing on it as well, but not really. “Zoot Suit” is credited to The High Numbers, and “High Heel Sneakers” to the band Cross Section, but it’s still The Who performing them. Both are very early songs by The Who. So early in fact, that the members hadn’t fully settled on a final, permanent name for themselves.

I really have a hard time choosing which “Quadrophenia” I like better, the 1973 original or the 1979 soundtrack. Usually, when I listen to one, I end up putting the other on right after in an attempt to settle the debate in my head once and for all. It never is, but I always enjoy trying.

The Who – Quadrophenia

There are four members, four distinct personalities in The Who, just as there are four distinct personalities inside Jimmy, the protagonist in “Quadrophenia”, the second rock opera by The Who. In the story, each band member represents one of Jimmy’s personalities. Each of Jimmy’s personalities is represented by a song and musical theme on the album.

Had an album of this depth been undertaken by any lesser band than The Who, it could have easily been a total flop. The Who made “Quadrophenia” one of their crowning achievements; one of the most ambitious, influential, memorable, and iconic albums of the 1970s.

Although “Quadrophenia” came out in 1973 and included a 44 page booklet with photography depicting scenes from the story, it was strictly a photo-story. There was not a “Quadrophenia” movie; at least not until 1979. The “Quadrophenia” soundtrack album, is similar to, but also distinctly different from the original album.

For the record (pun intended) Jimmy’s four personalities represented by the members of The Who and their main respective songs are:

    • The tough guy looking for a a fight – Roger Daltry – “Helpless Dancer”
    • The hopeless romantic just wanting to share his affection – John Entwistle – “Is It Me?”
    • The out of control, unpredictable crazy guy – Keith Moon – “Bell Boy”
    • The desperate beggar, con-man, and hypocrite – Pete Townshend – “Love Reign O’er Me”

Janis Joplin – Pearl

Not every artist achieves their true masterpiece. In 1971, Janis Joplin released her true masterpiece. Sadly, she died three months before it came out. She was only 27.

Janis had one of the most soulful and passionate voices in rock and roll. I wouldn’t say it was a good voice, at least not by traditional standards, but Janis knew how to use it to wring every ounce of emotion out of any song.

Two of the most memorable songs on “Pearl” are “Me and Bobby McGee”, a song penned by Kris Kristofferson, and the a capella “Mercedes Benz”. The latter is the last song Janis recorded; she died three days later from a drug overdose.

Stray Cats – Built For Speed

In the US, the Stray Cats pretty much single-handedly revitalized the popularity of rockabilly music in the 1980s. As much as anything, the success of that revival was due to the guitar talents of Brian Setzer.

Rockabilly is rock and roll in one of its earliest forms. Combining old-school country music along with rhythm and blues and a lot of attitude, rockabilly first became popular in the early 1950s. Somewhat limited in the core of its scope, other influences quickly merged with rockabilly, morphing away from the earliest style of rock and roll. This left rockabilly regarded as nothing more than an oldies piece of musical nostalgia.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s some bands tried to revitalize rockabilly by infusing a little punk rock attitude into it. None were more successful than Stray Cats. Brian Setzer was the lead guitarist for the Stray Cats and not only did he have the persona to bring attention to the band, his guitar playing demanded you to listen. Setzer could keep pace with, and even outplay any of the hard rock and metal shredders around then…and now. It just wasn’t as noticable because his solos were played on a hollow bodied Gretsch guitar with a semi-twangy tone instead of an overdriven solid body electric. It was that guitar virtuosity helped the Stray Cats stand out and turn rockabilly into something new in the 1980s, making it more than just nostalgic oldies. It also helped their US debut sell over a million copies.