Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis?

This is another one of those albums I bought mainly because of the album cover. Sure, I had heard other songs by Supertramp; I already owned “Breakfast in America” and “Crime of the Century”. Although they were a couple of my favorite albums, I really wasn’t looking for another Supertramp album. My record collection wasn’t that big, and when it comes to music, I like to have some variety. But then I saw the cover of “Crisis? What Crisis?”.

Rows of houses bordering on a gray and decrepit landscape of industrial factories spewing pollution into the air. Yet here is this guy absolutely determined to make the best of his situation. Among the crushed concrete and other debris that makes up his back yard, there he sits in his beach chair wearing swim trunks and sunglasses, under a bright yellow umbrella. Nearby is a table with a glass of his favorite mixed drink and a portable radio playing his favorite station. Ahhhh, this is the life.

The artwork spoke to me not only of always making the best of a bad situation, but also of never giving up; always striving for that place in the sun. Personally, I rank it as one of the best album covers of all time.

Oh, and the music is pretty darn good too.

The Hollies – Hear! Here!

The Hollies are a British band that were far more influential than they often get credit for.

If you’ve heard of the 1960’s British Invasion then you undoubtedly know of The Beatles. When you listen to the harmonies on those early Beatles songs, thank The Hollies. They were pioneers for that style at the time. Are you a fan of Crosby Stills, Nash (and Young)? Thank The Hollies. They were Graham Nash’s first band. How about the music of Elton John and his long musical legacy? Thank The Hollies. He was the session keyboardist for them in the ’60s. Were you into Led Zeppelin in the ’70s? Well thank The Hollies for the early session careers of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.

“Hear! Here!” was the Hollies’ second album in the United States. It’s basically, with a couple of track changes, a U.S. version of their third album in Britain, simply titled “Hollies”. Even though the Hollies were very popular in Britain and “Hollies” broke into the top 10 on the U.K. album charts (peaking at number 8), Their U.S. record label was wary of its success here so they didn’t release “Hear! Here!” until two moths after its British counterpart, and only then, only after replacing two of the songs with the Hollies’ currently released U.S. singles. Despite the changes, the album only made it to the 145 position in the U.S. charts, its sales dwarfed by the popularity of albums by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

REO Speedwagon – Nine Lives

The ninth album by REO Speedwagon was one of their hardest rocking records and one my favorites by them.

Following the respectable success of “Nine Lives” – it went gold, selling over half a million copies and hit #33 on the Billboard charts – the band achieved mega-star status with their later ’80s power-pop rock albums. In comparison, “Hi Infidelity”, the follow-up to “Nine Lives” went mult-platinum selling over 10 million copies and topped the Billboard charts. I can’t really blame any band for going softer and sticking with a formula for success like that.

Still, although I liked their later stuff, and was glad to see one of my favorite bands finally achieve the success they deserved, as the years moved forward I found myself missing the hard rock of early REO. To me, “Nine Lives” was REO Speedwagon at their hard rocking best.

Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports

A Pink Floyd album this is not. Neither is it truly a Nick Mason solo album. It’s more of a collaboration between Jazz artist Carla Bley and Nick Mason. Both were looking for something different to do in their respective careers. Since the success of “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Animals”, Mason wanted to do something outside of what was becoming the increasingly Roger Waters influenced Pink Floyd music. When Carla Bley contacted Mason about some new, less free-form jazz material she had written, it was just what he was looking for. So he lent his input and they co-produced this album.

Although Nick Mason’s name adorns the album, the drummer for Pink Floyd admits this is not really his first “proper” solo album, he labels it more of a musical experiment. Still, it is an exciting album, filled with a sound that is less non-conformist than Bley’s other material and a definite step outside the comfort zone of Pink Floyd’s success for Mason.

Carla Bley wrote all the songs for this album and co-produced it with Nick Mason, so some consider this to be more her album than his. I disagree. It is a collaboration between two artists wanting to do something outside what both felt had become considered the norm for them. My guess is that Bley didn’t want to alienate her free-form jazz fans, so Mason’s name was chosen for the marquee on the record. Plus, Mason’s association with Pink Floyd ensured a bit more commercial success for the record.

Alice Cooper – School’s Out

Alice Cooper wanted to do something special with the cover of their fifth album, “School’s Out”, so to fit the theme of its title, it folded out into and opened like an old school desk…with a pair of schoolgirl’s panties wrapped around the album.

That’s what’s cool, outside of the sound itself, about vinyl. I mean, just try to do that with a CD. The tiny size just wouldn’t work.

But “School’s Out” isn’t an album that’s just about the packaging. It is considered by many, including your’s truly, to be the original Alice Cooper band’s best album.

The fold-out cover was only used on the original pressings of “School’s Out” and the panties were pulled after the very first issue of the album. It’s rumored that some of the executives at Warner Brothers records felt it was in poor taste.

The full package, with the panties included, is so rare that I had to steal this copy from the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas.

Just kidding. But it is hard to find. And the Hard Rock, Las Vegas does have a copy on display there.

Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer (Soundtrack) – Original Master Recording

Terrible movie. Amazing soundtrack.

You can tell I really like an album if I have an original master recording of it. If you have a decent turntable and turntable and sound system, the dynamics of an original master recording are so much better than standard records. They were also much pricier. I only ever bought an original master recording if it was an album that I felt should never be listened to as a backdrop. Whenever it was cued up, it deserved to be appreciated.

“The Jazz Singer” was Neil Diamond at his absolute best. Well, at least the album was. The movie on the other hand… … …Let’s not go there.

The Alarm – Strength

Hailing from Wales in the United Kingdom, The Alarm was a band that had a sound falling somewhere in between mainstream rock and alternative rock music of the 1980s. It was both a blessing and a curse for them. The blessing was they got some airplay on both the long-established rock radio stations and the newer alternative stations that were gaining an audience. The curse was they were too alternative for the mainstream and too mainstream for the alternative to really make a significant mark in either market.

Personally, it was that finding the middle ground that drew me to their music. I always felt they were one of the most underrated bands of the ’80s.

Hank Williams – The Hank Williams Treasury

Growing up in the golden age of vinyl my main music of choice was the same as most of my friends: rock and roll. But that wasn’t the only genre I grew with up with in abundance. My dad listened almost exclusively to country music. Consequently, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Ray Price were as much a part of the soundtrack of my youth as were Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and The Who.

Even though my dad didn’t get my definition of rock and roll back then (his never went beyond Bill Hailey and the Comets, Elvis, and early Beatles) I liked a lot of the country music he listened to. Of all the country artists I grew up with, Hank Williams was by far, my favorite.

I had no Hank Williams records in my collection when I ran across this 1976 four album box set at a used record store four or five years ago. When I saw it and looked at the songs on it, I had to wonder why not.

Although considered to be one of the most influential country music artist ever, Hank’s heavy use of southern blues influences in the songs he wrote and performed made just as much of an impact on the formative days of rock and roll. Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to his music all those years ago.

U.K. – Night After Night

Eddie Jobson is an amazing musician. Case in point: his role in the British progressive rock band U.K. Not only could he play keyboards to a level that would make even Mozart smile, he was even more so a virtuoso on violin.

After their debut album, the prog rock supergroup lost its original drummer, Bill Bruford and lead guitarist extraordinaire Alan Holdsworth over creative differences. For their second album, “Danger Money”, U.K. replaced Bruford with the equally talented Terry Bozzio. The band decided to replace Holdsworth with…well, nobody. They instead placed more emphasis on Eddie Jobson’s keyboards and electric violin for the solos. Jobson was more than up to the challenge with their newer songs.

But what about playing the older songs live, on tour?

“Night After Night” answered that question in true evocation of Holdsworth’s talent. It’s on Alan Holdsworth’s solos where Eddie Jobson proves how amazing he is. He not only switches from keys to violin flawlessly but also adopts Holdsworth’s complex jazz infused solos perfectly to the violin without so much as flinching. If this was the album where you first heard U.K. you would swear the solos were written for electric violin.

Come to think of it, this is the album where I first heard U.K.

Well then, there you go.

Rhythm Corps – Esprit De Corps

The first album I ever heard by what is still one of my favorite Detroit bands. This is one of those records I took a chance on, having never heard anything by Rhythm Corps. I don’t know if I had even heard of them at all before I saw “Esprit De Corps” on the record store shelf.

What drew me to this record was the cover artwork, which reminded me of an M. C. Escher drawing. With the pictures of bombs morphing into crosses, I loved the statement it made against all the wars that have been fought and lives that have been lost over religion. I had to buy it. Never regretted it; one of my all-time favorite records from the ’80s.