Billy Joel – The Bridge

Billy Joel was such a versatile artist, he never needed to change his style to keep having hit records. They were always universally appealing.

Like Billy Joel’s previous records, “The Bridge” was filled with a huge array of musical styles and influences. A few of those musical influences appear with Joel on this, his tenth studio album. Ray Charles adds his unmistakable bluesy piano and voice to the song “Baby Grand” and Steve Winwood’s Hammond B3 helps Joel cut loose on “Getting Closer”, the rocking closer on the album.

Surprisingly, neither of those two songs were hits off of “The Bridge”, although “Baby Grand” was released as the fourth single from it. I don’t think Billy Joel was too concerned about that song’s lackluster sales. “The Bridge” still gave the entertainer three top 20 hits with “Modern Woman”, “This Is the Time” and my personal favorite from the album, “A Matter of Trust”. That song will always have special meaning to me as I was getting over some trust issues I had at that time in my life. It was the reason I had to buy “The Bridge” when I first heard it.

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

The Tragically Hip – Trouble At The Henhouse

Being the most popular doesn’t necessarily make you the best. Being real and true to yourself does. The Tragically Hip were the best Canadian band ever.

The Tragically Hip never compromised their music for commercial success, yet found great success in the great white north. Making music that is real and true is what The Hip were always all about. From 1989 to 2016, The Tragically Hip were Canada’s rock and roll ambassadors to the world. Even though they gave their last performance in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario in 2016 – a televised performance viewed live by a third of all Canadians – they are still considered by many to be the band that best defines Canada today. Gord Downie, who was taken from us way too soon by brain cancer, was a lyricist who was quite possibly the most prolific Canadian poet ever.

“Trouble at the Henhouse” is one of my favorite albums by The Tragically Hip; my all-time favorite Canadian band. It is their 6th of 14 albums, all of which are in my vinyl collection.

The guitar hanging in the background was signed by all the members of The Hip. I asked Gord Downie to put some words of wisdom on it. He wrote:

“Play to live. Das Hips”.

‘Nuff said.

Carly Simon – Anticipation

The title track to Carly Simon’s second album, “Anticipation”, was written about her longing for the arrival of Cat Stevens, whom Simon was dating in 1971. It’s a beautiful love song…but it also reminds me of ketchup.

About two years after the release of the single and album of the same name, Heinz chose to use “Anticipation” as the theme for a series of television commercials where it alluded to a longing for the arrival of their thick, slow-moving ketchup. Yeah, not quite as romantic as I’m sure Simon originally intended (at least I hope not) but the ads were so successful and aired so often throughout the 1970s that I bet most who grew up in that era still think more of ketchup than love when they hear Carly Simon sing “Anticipation”. But when you disconnect that memory and listen to the song as if Heinz ketchup never existed, it really is a beautiful testament to love and longing. The rest of the songs on the album were equally introspective musings about love and life. Beautiful songs that almost everyone can relate to; something common to all of Carly Simon’s songs. Fortunately, “Anticipation” is the only one that may be forever remembered as an ode to ketchup.

Paul McCartney and Wings – Band On The Run

It took a few tries for Paul McCartney to record a suitable follow-up album for his tenure with The Beatles but with “Band on the Run”, he nailed it. It’s not that McCartney’s first two solo albums or his next two as part of Wings were bad records. They just weren’t in step with what critics or Beatles fans wanted from him.

Expectations were high for McCartney following the Beatles’ split and personally, I think with his first four records, he tried too hard to live up to what was expected rather than make albums that he wanted to make. By the time it came around to write and record “Band on the Run” Paul McCartney had nothing to lose, so he stopped trying to please outside of himself and just did what felt right. Now, this is nothing more than my personal opinion based on nothing more than having listened to all these albums numerous times. In other words, I’m probably totally wrong. But until someone proves I am, I’m claiming that’s the way it was.

The one thing I know to be true though, is that after the break-up of the Beatles, “Band on the Run” was the album where Paul McCartney finally nailed it.

Uriah Heep – Live January 1973

I never understood why Uriah Heep didn’t earn a reputation more on par with Deep Purple. The two bands had so much in common. The Heep rocked just as hard as Deep Purple. Their songs were just as solid, as was their musicianship. Both bands had amazing lead vocalists, especially early on – when David Byron and Ian Gillan had probably the two most amazing voices in rock and roll. And then there’s the Hammond B3 organ, which both bands used extensively to augment their sound.

One of the area where my ear felt Uriah Heep had a slight edge over Deep Purple was with their use of the synthesizer. In the song “Gypsy”, one of the two songs that grace side three of this double album, Ken Hensley plays an absolutely amazing Moog Synth solo. That’s followed by a powerhouse drum solo from Lee Kerslake. That song, along with the live version of “Easy Livin'” are reason enough to make Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” worth owning. When you tally in the other songs on it, this is easily one of the best live albums ever recorded.

Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” is a live album requirement for any rock record collection. Come to think of it, so is Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan”. So there’s another thing the two bands have in common.

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

My first introduction…real introduction…to David Bowie was on the Midnight Special, a late-night television show that in 1973, broadcast a David Bowie concert featuring songs from his upcoming album “Diamond Dogs”.

It’s funny, because I would’ve sworn the music that aired that night was from Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour. But I like to check my facts. So before queuing this album up, I found out that show actually aired in 1973, before the “Diamond Dogs” album was released. To my surprise, the broadcast actually contained more music from Bowie’s earlier recordings – only a couple of songs are from the “Diamond Dogs” album. Still, it was the songs performed from this album that really made an impression on me.

When I finally bought a copy of “Diamond Dogs” (I think it was my older sister who actually bought it first, but I was more than content stealing her copy to listen to for a few years), I was enthralled. It was a dark concept album with songs of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world from George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Actually, I’m not sure I got all that back then – I was only 11 or 12 years old (I’m not even sure if I had even read 1984 yet back then). But I know I dug the sh!t out out of the music and the other-worldly lyrics.

What blew me away with “Diamond Dogs” wasn’t just the lyrics and music; it was the remembrances of that Midnight Special concert I had seen a year or so before. It was Bowie’s music, following in the footsteps of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, taking rock music to a whole new conceptual level, and the visuals that accompanied it.

“Diamond Dogs” was so much more than music as strictly entertainment. The album was a sociopolitical statement galvinized in the fear of things to come. But more than anything, “Diamond Dogs” was rock and roll presented in its best form: music as art.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon

I imagine that if you have as easily distinguishable a voice as Roger Daltry, fronting a band as successful as The Who, you have to put extra effort into making solo records that sound distinctly different from the songs you sing with your regular bandmates. With the exception of the album’s title track, Roger Daltrey’s sixth solo album, “Under a Raging Moon” sounds nothing like a Who album.

One thing that makes that so surprising is that the opening track, the only single from the album, “After the Fire” was written by The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend. One thing that makes it not so surprising is that the song “Under a Raging Moon” is a tribute song to Keith Moon, The Who’s original drummer who died a few years earlier.

As a tribute to his former mate, Daltry made the ultimate nod of respect to Moon in the title song, calling in a who’s who of drummers. The song includes short drum solos from Martin Chambers (Pretenders), Roger Taylor (Queen), Cozy Powell, (The Jeff Beck Group, Black Sabbath, Rainbow), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Zak Starkey (son of Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr), Carl Palmer (ELP), as well as the drummer for Daltrey’s band on this album, Mark Brzezicki.

While listening and reading the liner notes to “Under a Raging Moon” another thing that impressed me was that Roger Daltrey chose to donate all the royalties from “After the Fire”, the one and only single off this album, to Band Aid, a charity dedicated to famine relief in Ethiopia and other African countries. If you know the song “We Are The World”, then you probably know of Band Aid”.

As a side note, I want to take the time to thank author Steven R. Pawley, for suggesting I add “Under a Raging Moon” to my record collection. It’s definitely a keeper. Now I suggest you check out his books in The McCatty Chronicles: “Alley Girl”, “The Coffee Cabin”, “Searching for Frownie Mae”, “Sinful Bodies” and the soon to be published “Sandcastles in the City”. They are also keepers.

Japan – Oil On Canvas

I remember the first time I heard the band Japan. They were like so many classic rock artists I admired yet they were like nothing I had ever heard before. The Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry and The Talking Heads, were all in there at some measure, as were a few other bands that are best described as trend setters, not followers. But it was the combination of those influences that made Japan so unique. Japan was musical artistry in every sense of the word.

Still, I always wondered, was their sound all studio wizardry or could they actually pull their songs off live. I never had a chance to see Japan in concert but that question was still answered when I ran across a copy of “Oil on Canvas”, the only live album Japan released during their short recording career, from 1978 to 1981.

Fortunately, “Oil on Canvas” was a double LP, because a single record would not have been enough. As a matter of fact, Japan’s live performances here are so good. two records still leave me wanting more. The band absolutely nails the feeling of their studio recordings yet at the same time breathes new life into the songs, mixing them up and changing just enough to let you know they have no intention of performing a studio carbon copy.

The history of rock has always been filled with somebody’s favorite artist that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Its future will forever hold the same. Though the sounds and styles of these bands may differ drastically, one factor is always a constant: they are always true artists. I think Japan knew this when they released their only live record. That’s why they chose a name for it that alluded to true artistry; a name alluding to one of the most classical forms of artistic expression.

Oil on Canvas.

The Steve Miller Band – Children Of The Future

San Francisco, 1968. Psychedelic music is in full swing, and one of the groups at the forefront of it was The Steve Miller Band. It’s not the style one typically associates with The Steve Miller Band, which makes their debut album “Children of the Future” stand in sharp contrast to their later big hits.

Yet at the same time, it still sounds like The Steve Miller Band. It’s just more adventurous. It’s more jamming, It’s more bluesy. It’s more … more psychedelic.

Yeah, The Steve Miller Band was one of the best Psychedelic bands around in the late 1960s. It’s where they got their start. With the success they achieved in the ’70s and ’80s that’s sometimes forgotten about.

Not here. Not now.

Peace.