Ray Charles – Genius Live In Concert

I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Ray Charles perform live in 1986. Even though this album was recorded 22 years prior, it perfectly captures the magic I will always remember experiencing that night.

I remember watching Ray dancing in his seat, swaying and stomping his feet as the music he was playing and singing took him over, and as he took over the entire audience. I remember Ray being so taken over at one point, he jumped out of his seat, dancing on the stage to his band’s music. Nobody worried that he was blind; this was too sublime a moment for God to allow anything to go wrong. I remember Ray’s quick wit shutting down a close to the front row heckler with just a few words. No more was to be said; that evening belonged to Ray Charles.

I remember that night, experiencing a “Genius Live in Concert”. There is no other way to describe Ray Charles perform. A “Genius Live in Concert” is exactly what this album captures.

Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Peaches Records and Tapes – Atlantic Records Sampler

I remember the first time I went inside a Peaches record store in the mid ’70s. If memory serves me, it was at Grosebeck and Masonic in Fraser, MI. I used to think the local Harmony House was big, until my first time walking into that Peaches store. It was HUGE. I thought I was in heaven. If you were looking for an album, they probably had it. If they didn’t, they could get it.

Peaches, which started out in Georgia, was so huge that record labels actually made sampler records for them to play in the store. They were labeled “Not For Sale” but that didn’t mean employees couldn’t take them home after the songs had served their purpose. Inevitably, some of them would, in time, show up in used record stores or today at record collector shows. That’s where I picked this one up recently.

I had to add at least one Peaches in-store sampler to my collection, if for nothing else, the nostalgia. The joy of perusing the aisles of records, listening the latest music playing in the store is something all the dowloaders and streamers today will never understand. They have no idea of the joy they missed out on.

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!

Florence And The Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch has one of the most immediately identifiable voices in popular music today. She is also an incredible songwriter. With its somewhat stripped down production, Florence and the Machine’s latest album, “High as Hope” focuses on both to create what is one of the best new albums released in 2018.

The songs on “High as Hope” revolve thematically around the end of love. That thought is so ingrained throughout the lyrics of the songs here that “The End of Love” was originally considered for the title of the record. That subject may sound like the making of a somber, even downtrodden record, but it’s really not. As the album’s chosen title implies, the overall focus is the hope that comes after the hunger for love is washed away. Even though there is an aire of sadness here and there, the songs on “High as Hope” purvey an upbeat feeling of acceptance, comfort, and self reliance. This is all beautifully delivered with the perfect pairing of the music to the lyrics…and of course, the confidence exhumed by Florence Welch’s wonderfully powerful voice.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

If Barry Gordy Jr. had his way back in 1971, Marvin Gaye would have never recorded the album “What’s Going On”.

When the founder of Motown Records in Detroit first heard the title song Marvin Gaye had recorded for his next album, he was confident it would be a failure and refused to release it. Barry Gordy believed in the upbeat tempo and feel of the songs that had been the formula to Motown’s success. That was the record he wanted from Marvin Gaye. What Gaye delivered instead was a mid-tempo, multilayered song that made a sociopolitical statement against war, poverty, and brutality.

Barry Gordy felt “What’s Going On” would never sell and that it would be the ruin of Marvin Gaye’s career if it was ever released. Equal in his passion for the song, Marvin Gaye took a stand, refusing to write or record even one more note for Motown if the song wasn’t released. Barry still refused. It was his record company after all, and he had the final say.

But the song was released anyway.

Circumventing Barry Gordy, the VP of sales at Motown records decided to go behind his back and have the record pressed and released, sending some advance copies out to radio stations. It’s the kind of thing that will get you fired – unless you know you’re right. The song got heavy airplay across the country and when it came out “What’s Going On” became the fastest selling single in Motown’s history. Marvin Gaye was given the green light to make his album and make it his way.

“What’s Going On” didn’t ruin Marvin Gaye’s career, it defined it. It was his masterpiece. Like its title track, the album makes a strong statement. The soulful and beautifully layered songs lament against war, poverty, drug abuse, injustice, hate, and destruction of the environment. In contrast to the music, the lyrics to the songs don’t always paint a pretty picture, but they always make you think. This is an album that begs you to step back and take a look at the world around you; to take a good close look at “What’s Going On”.

The Rivingtons – Doin’ the Bird

Although The Rivingtons only released one full length album, but with its combination of doo Wop and rhythm & blues it was enough to make a permanent mark on popular music.

Released in 1962, the Rivingtons’ best known song is “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” which kicks off the first side of “Doin’ the Bird”. The song is best remembered for starting off with its nonsensical title being sung by bass vocalist Turner “Rocky” Wilson Jr. which continues as the underlying foundation throughout the song. The album also includes other catchy original songs along with covers of Ray Charles’ “Unchain My Heart” and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally” and “Slippin’ and Slidin'”.

Bob Marley And The Wailers – Catch A Fire

Being stranded in England following a UK tour supporting Johnny Nash turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Bob Marley and the Wailers. In desperation, the band ended up contacting the tour promoter who got ahold of record producer Chris Blackwell. With an agreement that the band record an album for Island records once they were back in Jamaica, Bob Marley and the Wailers got their tickets home. The result was what is considered to be one of the best Reggae albums of all time, 1973’s “Catch a Fire”

I really wish I could thank an old Army buddy Kent Clark for turning me on to Reggae music, especially Bob Marley and Peter Tosh (who was part of The Wailers until pursuing a solo career in 1976). Unfortunately, I was terrible keeping in touch with anyone once I got out. Fortunately, social media has allowed me to get back in touch with a few.

War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

SoCal funk. A style that fuses funk with Latin music, R&B beats and rock into an addictive upbeat soulful stew. That was War. The song “Low Rider” from their 1975 album “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” is a perfect example. Really, the whole album is.

This album is so funky and upbeat, I don’t know how anyone can listen to it and not be left in a good mood, with its songs bouncing around in their head the rest of the day.

Not surprisingly “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Hit the top spot on Billboard’s R&B charts. It was also nominates for two Grammy awards.