Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

“The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” is the album I choose when I can’t decide if I need just kick back and chill out or if I want to totally jam out, because it offers the best of both. The songs on it are combinations of bohemian folk, jazz, blues, avant-garde experimentalism, and of course rock. As such, the album offers itself up to a hugely diverse sound that is as ambitious as it is creative.

The title track is probably the most well-known song off the album and which, to a degree, encapsulates what traffic’s music was all about. The name of the song and album are an obscure reference to rebellion against the establishment and adherence to personal originality. Or, in laymen’s terms, not running with the pack and just being yourself. 

A creed I have always, and will forever live by.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

It’s a wonderful thing when one of the bands you admired in your youth can still put out one of their best studio albums decades after their heyday and over a decade and a half since their last release. It’s not reminiscing when it’s new music. It’s a refreshment of youth revisited.

“The Prelude Implicit” is the first studio album by Kansas in over 16 years, and it was well worth the wait. It has all the elements associated with Kansas’s sound: lyrics  that are deep and introspective and music that is a combination of gritty Midwestern rock combined with complexity and virtuosity associated with progressive rock. The production is exactly what you would dedemand from a band of Kansas’s stature: dynamic and clean without sounding overproduced.

Although Kansas’s previous album, 2000’s “Somewhere to Elsewere”, was a solid recording, it was unfortunately evident that lead singer and keyboadist Steve Walsh’s voice was straining and he could no longer hit the high notes most notable in Kansas’s sound. Walsh retired from the band in 2014 and was replaced by Ronnie Platt, who is also an exceptional keyboardist. Shortly thereafter, a rejuvenated Kansas started working on “The Prelude Implicit”. An album that literally and figuratively hits all the right notes.

Golden Earring – Cut

Golden Earring was almost a one hit wonder in the United States. In 1973 they released their album “Moon Tan”, which spawned their hit “Radar Love”, which hit number one on the Billboard rock charts in the U.S.. Although the Dutch band remained extremely successful in the Netherlands, they failed to have any further hit records in the United States. That is, until nine years later.

In 1982, Golden Earring released their 16th album. With the help of a spy themed video that got heavy airplay on the newly launched MTV, the song “Twilight Zone” became Golden Earring’s second number one hit in the United States. Following the success  The “Twilight Zone”, he band released a follow-up single, “The Devil Made Me Do It”. Unfortunately, that song failed to do well in the U.S. because it contained the word “bullshit”, and was not released with an edited version – consequently, many U.S. radio stations refused to play it.

Although they had continued success in the Netherlands, Europe, in the U.K., Golden Earring failed to see any significant success in the United States following “Cut”. They continue to perform over 200 concerts a year to capacity crowds in those areas of the world. They released their 25th album “Tits ‘N Ass”, in 2012 under the same band lineup they have had since 1970. That album hit number one on the Dutch record charts.

King Crimson – Larks Tongues In Aspic

I think “Larks Tongues In Aspic” is one of my favorite King Crimson albums because this, the fifth incarnation of the band, featured violin as one of the main instruments. It truly gave this album a distinctly unique character. Not that King Crimson’s music ever needed any help with being distinct or unique.

This was an album you had to be sure to take proper care of. It has many quiet passages, and if not treated properly the scratches could easily overwhelm the music. The album opens with one of those quiet passages, some soft percussion work by Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir, which leads into the an elegant violin intro played by David Cross, which is then torn out of existence by Robert Fripp’s frantic guitar work. This kind of slow then fast, quiet then loud roller coaster ride is a kind of theme throughout the entirety of “Larks Tongues In Aspic”. The glue holding all these diverse parts together is the solid bass playing by John wetton, who also does all the singing.

I suppose Larks tongue could be a difficult album for some to listen to, but it’s one well worth putting the effort into. Like a good brandy or a fine wine, “Larks Tongue In Aspic” is an acquired taste. It’s an album that intrigues your ears and mind. This is music that is intended to be interpreted, not merely listen to. Then again, that could be said of all King Crimson’s work.

The Beatles (original master recording and white vinyl edition)

Unofficially known as the “White Album” because of its plain white cover, The Beatles was the beginning of the end for The Fab Four. The recording sessions were marred with many arguments over creative differences. John Lennon started bringing Yoko Ono to the studio with him, which the band had always had a policy of never bringing wives or girlfriends to the recording sessions. At one point, Ringo Starr walked out the studio and for a short period, it was rumored he may have left the band (of course, he later returned).

It’s strange how so many bands, during some of their most turbulent times in the studio, produce some of their most brilliant albums. The Beatles’ “White Album” was no exception. Even if one doesn’t consider this album one of the Beatles’ best, it can’t be denied that it is their most varied in musical styles. 

The first pressings of The Beatles, had a pure white cover, with the band’s name embossed on the cover. Later pressings, like this original master and the one pressed on white vinyl, had the band’s name printed in gray letters. The original master did not include any of the extras that came with both the original release and the white vinyl Edition.

When I sit down to seriously listen to the “White Album”, I will always put on the original master version. When I’m doing other things and it’s more or less playing in the background, I usually put on the white vinyl edition, just because I think it’s cooler.

Rory Gallagher – Aginst The Grain

Back in the days of vinyl’s first coming, Rolling Stone magazine printed a cover that said “Clapton is God”. Nothing personal against Clapton or Rolling Stone, but in my opinion, it should have said “Gallagher is God”. 

Maybe it was Rory’s Irish heritage that gave him a more emotional style, that you knew he, and more importantly you could feel. Maybe Clapton just tried too hard to make that “one note” feel just right. Whatever it was, whether Rory Gallagher was making his Strat cry in pain, sing in joy, or scream in agony, his playing always came across like a loose and free Irishman, which in comparison, left Clapton sounding somewhat like a stiff and reserved Brit. 

Don’t get me wrong, Clapton was great. It’s just that Rory was better.

‘Nuff said.

Yes – Fragile

Yes was a band that went through many iterations of membership during the band’s long history. As a matter of fact Chris Squire, the bassist, is the only member to have existed consistently throughout the entire history of the band up until his death in 2015. The band lineup on “Fragile” is considered by many, myself included, as being the best lineup Yes has ever had, potentially to the point of actually defining the band.

This was proven most evident after the release of 90125 in the 1980’s, Jon Anderson left Yes and joined his former band mates in a group named after the four members in it. Along with Anderson on lead vocals, “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe” included former Yes members Bill Bruford (drums and percussion), Rick Wakeman (keyboards) and Steve Howe (guitar). While Yes released a new album under their current band roster at the same time its former members released their Collective debut. Many considered “Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, And Howe” to be more Yes than Yes at the time.

In the long history of Yes, former band members from the band’s distant and more recent past would continue to weave in and out of its rosters. Although I appreciate, and even enthusiastically enjoy all the incarnations of Yes, the musical chemistry between the members of Yes on “Fragile” is by far my all-time favorite and this album will forever remain my favorite album by Yes.

Toto IV (half speed master)

For the most part, I’m not a huge fan of a lot of 80s pop music. I was more into alternative music back then. However, in the case of Toto’s fourth album I make a huge exception. This is an album that is great from start to finish. But then again, considering the musicians on it that’s not too surprising. If you read liner notes and credits on albums the way I do, even before Toto released their first album, Steve Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro, David Paich, and Steve Lukather would have been more than familiar names. Playing as session musicians, they performed on more albums, with more artists, than I have time to mention here. Even after Toto formed, its members continued to make individual appearances on albums by other bands.

It’s not surprising that so many artist would want them to lend their talents. The key members of Toto are perhaps some of the most versatile musicians to ever perform in rock and popular music. That versatility is what really shines on Toto IV. There is nearly something for everyone on this album. Rock, Soul, Funk, progressive rock, Hard Rock, jazz R&B, they’re all present in one manner or the other. It’s that combination that places Toto IV so far beyond nearly any other pop album from the eighties.

Most people probably think that Toto derived the name of the band from the dog in The Wizard of Oz. But according to an early interview with the band members, they actually got their name from the Latin phrase and “in toto”, which means “all-encompassing”. The band felt that phrase accurately described the diversity and Incorporation of so many different musical styles in their music.

Kansas – Leftoverture

One of the things I always found most intriguing about Kansas was not their music, but their lyrics. Kerry Livgren was one of the founding members and primary songwriters for Kansas. His lyrics often explored spiritual discoveries. Lyrics to almost all the songs on “Leftoverture” are examples of this, including the biggest hit off of the album “Carry On Wayward Son”. Other songs off the album like “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”, “Cheyenne Anthem”, and “Questions Of My Childhood” also explore a variety of spiritual themes. There really isn’t any song on “Leftoverture” that doesn’t, except maybe “What’s On My Mind”.

Going into the 80s Livgren became a born-again Christian and record a solo album of Christian rock, “Seeds Of Change”. Two of the songs on that album feature Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals. So yes metal-heads, Ronnie James Dio sang on a Christian album. As a matter of fact, Ronnie James Dio was a fairly spiritual guy himself. But that’s another story for another time.

Unfortunately, Livgren’s Christian discovery what eventually lead to the demise of Kansas, as Steve Walsh, keyboardist in lead singer, and also one of the primary songwriters, felt Kansas was becoming too much like a Christian band. Eventually he, Livgren, and violinist and vocalist Robby Steinhardt would leave the band, causing them to eventually disband all together. Although, they would reunite periodically in various forms in the years to follow.

The Rockets – Live Rockets

The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets. 

A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.

In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.

Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.