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.

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.

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.

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.

Rick Springfield – Wait For Night

“Wait for Night” is a hidden gem in Rick Springfield’s discography. When he first started out, Springfield’s music was purely bubble-gum pop. He even did the music for a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon at one point. When he released his first two albums his music had become a bit more mature leaning toward light rock and pop.

It was Rick Springfield’s third album that first had the sound most people associate with the Australian singer, guitarist, and songwriter. This is the precursor to his multi-million selling breakthrough “Working Class Dog” and his mega-hit “Jessie’s Girl”. The songs here are very much in the power-pop rock style on that album.

“Wait for Night” could have easily been Rick Springfield’s breakthrough record instead of “Working Class Dog”. The songs are well written (all of them penned by Sprinfield) and his backing band was as solid as you coul get, featuring the former rhythm section from Elton John’s band. Unfortunately, the a was released on a small record label that couldn’t really promote the record other than to send promotional copies to radio stations hoping they would play it. Most passed. Still, the record grabbed the ear of someone at RCA Records who signed Springfield, and the rest was history.

After the success of “Working Class Dog” RCA reissued “Wait for Night” with different cover art and the album broke onto the Billboard chats.

The record in my collection is one of the promotional copies that was given to radio stations. One of the things that make it unique to the commercial copies is that the song listings on the label show the musical intro time before the singing starts. This was so the disk jockey could know how far he could talk over the beginning of each song.

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.

Styx – Crystal Ball

The first Styx album with Tommy Shaw in the lineup.

Although superstar success appeared to be on the horizon for Styx, it was the addition of Tommy Shaw’s voice, Mississippi influenced blues and slide guitar style and songcraft that propelled them to become one of the most popular bands in the 1970’s.

That success wouldn’t happen yet with “Crystal Ball”, although the album and its title track (penned by Shaw) would become Styx’s most successful album and single to that point in time. Styx’s follow-up “The Grand Illusion” would become the band’s true breakthrough album. Even so, “Crystal Ball” is every bit its successor’s equal; at least in my opinion.

Carpenters – A Song For You

Karen Carpenter had one of the most beautiful voices ever in popular music and together with her brother Richard, the Carpenters recorded some of the most beautiful songs ever in pop music.

Even though six singles were released from the Carpenters’ fourth album, “A Song for You”, Richard Carpenter said he arranged the album to be a concept album, intended to be listened to as one continuous piece of music. With a variation of the title song opening and closing the album and a flawless ebb and flow of love themed songs in between, it certainly fits the bill.

But more than anything, “A Song for You” is a beautiful collection of songs.

Karen Carpenter not only had a beautiful voice; she was also a very accomplished drummer and plays on many of the tracks on “A Song for You”. In fact, she was so good on the skins that in 1975 she was voted best rock drummer in the Playboy Magazine reader’s poll, even beating out John Bonham from Led Zeppelin (I hear Bonzo was not impressed).

Sadly, for much of her life Karen Carpenter struggled with anorexia. She died in 1983, less than a month from her 33rd birthday, from complications caused by the disorder.

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.