Styx – Equinox (audiophile series)

One of the downside to audiophile pressings is you pay more for them and you don’t get any of the extras, like liner notes and such, that might have come with the original album. But there’s compensation for that: sound quality.

The masters for audiophile albums are cut at half speed to improve accuracy and virgin, non-static vinyl is used for the final pressing. The result is loud passages being more defined, quieter passages coming through at their cleanest and clearest, and a recording that shines through sounding the absolute best it can. Audiophile pressings are vinyl at its absolute best. Sure, you don’t get the liner notes and other extras, but if you buy an audiophile pressing, you probably already own the original copy of the album. What you do get is the best sound quality possible.

I don’t know why I ever hesitated buying an audiophile pressing of Styx’s fourth album, “Equinox”. It is one of the most overlooked albums from the ’70s. It’s also one of my all-time favorites. I already had a original release of “Equinox”, so I asked myself why I needed another one? The answer was simple: sound quality. I wanted to hear it at its absolute best. To hear “Equinox” like this is pure bliss.

Dire Straits

Every time I listen to Dire Straits’ debut album, I wonder why there weren’t more singles released from it. “Sultans of Swing”, that’s it. Great song. But there are so many other great songs on this album. The album’s opener “Down to the Waterline” with its signature Knopfler guitar licks, would have been a perfect choice. Another one could’ve been “Setting Me Up”, a country tinted song that was later covered in a more rocking style by alternative band Lone Justice. The catchy “Water of Love” would have been another natural choice, or even “Wild West End”.

Maybe it was that the sound of “Dire Straits” debut album totally cut across the grain of what was popular in music when it came out. Maybe the record label was concerned that “Sultan’s of Swing” took a full 5 months after it was released to even be noticed. But when it did, it shot up to the number 4 spot in the US and stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 132 weeks (that’s over two an a half years). The album itself, went on to sell over 4 million copies in Europe and 8 million in the United States. One single was all that was needed for “Dire Straits” to become the tenth best-selling album of 1978. Yeah, I guess that was good enough for the record company.

But still…

Gentle Giant – Three Friends

The story of three childhood friends and the very different paths their lives take after going their separate ways; falling out of touch with each other in adulthood. That’s the concept behind Gentle Giants eclectic 1972 progressive rock showcase.

One becomes part of the blue-collar working class. He feels trapped in a dead-end job living paycheck to paycheck. Another becomes a starving artist. Answering to no one but himself and expressing the good and hidden evil he sees in the world through his paintbrush. The third becomes a successful businessman. With his trophy wife and materialistic lifestyle he looks uses people to his own ends and looks down on the on the lazy working class and unambitious artists.

It’s not a deep concept, but it’s one that can be easily combined with different musical themes that make for a diverse combination of intricately complex arrangements which is what Gentle Giant’s music is all about.

Boston – Third Stage

I remember waiting such a long time for Boston’s third album to come out. In between when “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” were released, I had graduated from high school, moved to Tennessee, served in the US Army as an air traffic controller, moved back home, met and lost who I thought was the girl of my dreams, enrolled in college, worked as a Zamboni driver, janitor, and courier, got hired by General Motors as a factory rat, and moved into an upper flat on Detroit’s east side.

Okay, that’s a lot to have going on in six years. Even so, six years is a long time between albums – especially for a band as popular as Boston. Apparently a flood and several power failures in Tom Scholz’s home studio had something to do with the delay. I’m sure his perfectionist attitude toward Boston’s sound had something to do with it as well.

Tom Scholz’s attention to the finest of details is what made “Third Stage” totally worth the wait though. That, and it being a collection of great songs. In Scholz’s own words, each individual song “relates a human experience” and collectively they “tell the story of a journey into life’s Third Stage”.

Of those songs, Amanda is perhaps the most beautiful arrangement Boston ever did. “Cool the Engines” is possibly the most rocking. But best of all, all the songs on “Third Stage” are unmistakably Boston.

Yeah, a lot had happened and a lot of time had passed in between Boston’s second and third album. But all things considered, it was well worth the wait.

The Doobie Brothers – Best of the Doobies

When Michael McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers in 1975, after the departure of Tom Johnston, it significantly changed their sound. Their more straight forward R&B infused rock style was replaced by a more soul based rock sound. This was in part because of the difference in Johnston’s and McDonald’s vocal and songwriting styles and in part because McDonald played keyboards. The Doobies hardly ever used keyboards on their first five albums.

The Doobie Brothers never intended to use that name permanently. Based on one of their activities in addition to making music, they adopted it after a friend jokingly suggested it. The band thought it was a stupid name, but could never agree on anything else. When you consider that before recording their first album, they once performed under the name Pud, it’s probably a good thing they stuck with The Doobie Brothers.

Bad Company – Desolation Angels

I picked up “Desolation Angels” when it first came out in 1979. It was the spring of my senior year in high school.

I was always drawn to Bad Company’s hard rock, blues based, soulful style of rock, yet for some reason I had always bought an album by some other artist when I went to Peaches or Harmony House, the two biggest record stores in Detroit at that time. When I first heard the song “Rock and Roll Fantasy” on the radio after school, I knew this was the next record I was going to buy.

I have many fond memories from high school and many that back then I thought I couldn’t forget too soon. As time went on I realized that the bad wasn’t nearly as extreme as I had perceived it to be. It was the good times with my closest friends that mattered. I don’t know why, but I will always associate those good times with “Desolation Angels”.

If I’m feeling down or anxious or even angry, this is one of those albums that can reel me in and make me remember what was important and made a difference in my life back then. The friends I had. The friends I am blessed to still have in my life today. There are more miles in between than there were back then, but we are still always there for each other. Until the end of my memories, they will always be the Desolation Angels that rescued me.

Maybe I’m taking the risk of being too sentimental here, but who cares? Right now, I want to Take the Time to tell them (and they know who they are) that they were, and will always be, part of my Rock and Roll Fantasy.

YOU GUYS ROCK!

Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band – Against The Wind

I think “Against the Wind” is my favorite album by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band partly because I am such a huge Pink Floyd fan.

Not only do love Floyd’s music, but I think “The Wall” is one of the greatest rock masterpieces ever conceived. I’m a realist though, and as such knew some album at some point would have to unseat it from the number one spot on the US album charts. I couldn’t have been prouder back then to, after six weeks, see hometown heroes Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band do the unseating.

Expectations were high for Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band when they released their follow-up to “Night Moves”, their breakthrough album in the late seventies. Fuckin-A did they deliver! I don’t think I ever heard, before or after, a better collection of straight ahead good-times rockers and heartfelt ballads than Seger and his crew put out on “Against the Wind”. Then again, that is what they were always best at.

There was never any better, before or since, in my humble opinion.

Kiss – Destroyer

“You gotta lose your mind in Detroit, Rock City”

“Destroyer” is hands down my favorite studio album by Kiss. Then again, growing up in metro Detroit, I guess my opinion is a bit biased.

One of the things I really dig “Destroyer” is the album version of “Detroit Rock City”. It includes an intro and ending which you almost never hear when the song is played on the radio. Together, they makes the song travel full circle in a kind of time warped story.

The intro starts out with the sounds of someone muddling about, getting ready to head out the door; a radio station can be heard in the background. It’s playing a news story about a fatal car and truck accident that happened on Grand Boulevard. Hopping into the car, revving the engine, and diving off, “Rock and Roll All Night” from Kiss’ earlier album is playing on the car’s stereo. You can faintly hear the driver singing along. He feels so alive. Then the actual song “Detroit Rock City” kicks in. The song tells the story of a rock star speeding off on the road to do a show. He never makes it, dying after losing control and driving head on into an oncoming truck. On the album, the song ends with the sound crashing metal and glass and it becomes obvious that earlier, this guy had been listening to a news story about the crash he was going to die in a few minutes later. All that is lost if you don’t listen to the album version of “Detroit Rock City”.

The rest of “Destroyer” typical Kiss: Hard rock and metal. Two exceptions are “Great Expectations” which includes some orchestration and choral arrangements and the power ballad “Beth”, the only Kiss song to feature strings and no guitars whatsoever; it sounds unlike anything Kiss did before or after. Ironically, that song became Kiss’ highest charting song ever and one of their best-selling singles.

Yes – Close To The Edge

Yes is a band that went through many lineup iterations. Although they found success in all variants, few Yes fans will dispute Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and Squire as being the group’s most creative, most talented, most progressive lineup. 1971’s “Fragile“, the third album from Yes, was the debut from that combination of talent. It’s follow-up, “Close to the Edge”, was released in ’72 and carried on with the embodiment of rhythmic complexity and instrumental virtuosity.

I’ve read that unlike with its predecessor, there were a lot of creative conflicts going on during the recording sessions for “Close to the Edge”, which explains drummer Bill Bruford’s departure after its completion. This is an album that exasperates a multitude of conflicting ideas being brought together. At times, it feels as if it is going to fall apart in a heap of chaotic discords. But the multitude of ideas are somehow tied together with a cohesive beauty that make it one of the most significant records from the classic age of vinyl and one of the staples of progressive rock.

“Close to the Edge” is a landmark album in every sense of the word.

Heart – Beautiful Broken

Heart has a knack for taking things other bands have done and doing them better. One case of this was their Greatest Hits/Live album which offered much more than any other greatest hits or live album ever did. But perhaps the most prime example is Heart’s 2016 album “Beautiful Broken”, a combination of three new songs along with revisited, reimagined versions of songs from earlier in the group’s musical history.

Classic rock bands releasing new versions of their older songs is certainly nothing new. Kiss, Styx, The Police, Journey and many others have succumb to the temptation. All too often, the new versions pale in comparison to the originals, at least to long time fans of the originals. There are memories that go with those familiar versions. There are solos that have been memorized note for note on air guitar and beats that can be tapped out effortlessly on dashboard drumkits. Why would you want to mess with those songs?

With “Beautiful Broken” Heart knew better than to touch the familiar tracks that their long-time fans loved. Instead, they reinvent obscure deep cuts from their back catalog; album tracks that were almost never played on the radio. Unless you owned the earlier Heart albums where these songs first appeared, you might not have ever heard the original renditions. The Wilson sisters even dig so deep here as to grab a bonus track that was only available on a Best Buy exclusive version of one of their later CDs, re-recording the song with guest vocals from Metallica frontman James Hetfield. As if to drive the point home of what they were trying to accomplish with this project, Heart chose to use that updated version of a former obscurity to be the title track for this album.

All of this, makes “Beautiful Broken” come across sounding like an album of totally new material. Some of the songs may have an aire of familiarity to Hearts long-time fans but it’s a familiarity that can be easily be reimagined and reinvented. Old memories are not infringed upon and there are plenty of new air guitar solos and dashboard drum beats to be learned.

Well done Heart.