Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

I wonder if when Bob Dylan released his first greatest hits compilation in 1967 he ever imagined that four years later he would release a second collection, or that it would be a double LP.

Actually, if you consider actual hits, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II” could have easily been a single album, but I don’t think anyone complained. Interspersed with his well-known, often played on the radio songs, are an additional album’s worth of songs that were either deep cuts hand-picked by Dylan or previously unreleased songs. It made for a wonderful collection that combines both Dylan’s early, strictly acoustic folk music and his later more electrified rock songs, and all points between…and of course, his greatest hits.

The Rascals – Time Peace: The Rascals’ Greatest Hits

The Rascals had a strong run of infectious songs in the mid and late ’60s. They are best known for their hits “Good Lovin'”, “Groovin'”, and “(I’ve Been) Lonely Too Long”. Rhythm and blues infused rock and roll with strong vocal harmonies and addictive hooks that stick in your head gave The Rascals a timeless sound; one that carried over into the 1980s when Pat Benatar made “You Better Run” one of her early hits.

“Time Peace” is a greatest hits collection that is mostly original songs along with some notable covers like “Mustang Sally” and Wilson Picket’s “In the Midnight Hour”.

For their early records, the band released their albums under the name The Young Rascals because of contention with a group from the ’30s and ’40s called the Harmonica Rascals. However, they were still quite often referred to as The Rascals by their fans and eventually decided to drop the “Young” from their name, releasing their later records, including “Time Peace” under their original moniker.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

It was ignored by most rock critics when it was released in 1967. Its songs were near to never played on the radio. Its initial sales were next to dismal.

Yet…

By the 1990s it was regarded as one of the most influential rock records ever made. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #13 in its list of the greatest rock and roll records of all time. In 2006, it became one of only a handful of rock albums ever added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, recognized for being either culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Spoiler alert: It’s all three.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined to fail.

Yet…

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined for legendary success.

The Nice – Nice

“Won’t you welcome please, a most distinguished group from England: The Nice.”

And so begins side 2 of the third album by the band where Keith Emerson earned his reputation as one of the greatest keyboardists in rock and roll. At this early stage in his career, Emerson had yet to begin his pioneering work using the Moog synthesizer. That would come a couple of years later in the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer. So here, his talents are limited to just organ and piano. That is, if you could ever refer to Emerson’s playing as limited. Listening to “Nice” you can’t help but feel that it’s the instruments themselves that are limited in Emerson’s hands.

It’s easy to tell here how influential Keith Emerson was to ELP – and not just because both The Nice and ELP had keyboards as the main lead instrument. Like ELP, the songs on “Nice” integrate rock and roll with heavier doses of classical and jazz than do the psychedelic musings of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the dark, moody prog of King Crimson, Carl Palmer’s and Greg Lake’s respective bands prior to ELP.  Then there’s the many pieces of Nice songs that were incorporated into later ELP tracks.

The standout track however, at least to me, is the live track  “Rondo ’69”, which was based on the polyrhythmic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by jazz master Dave Brubeck, from his 1959 classic “Time Out“. “Rondo” became a keyboard showcase at Emerson Lake and Palmer concerts in the years to come.

I hate to admit it, but until the 1980s, when I started to expand my musical appreciations, I thought Rondo was an ELP original. Yeah, not even close. It’s pure Brubeck; the song is merely reinterpreted by Keith Emerson and the other members of The Nice. But I give them credit for the improvisational midsection. It was very…Nice.

Merle Haggard – That’s the Way Love Goes

Back in the late 1980s I worked on-air at two radio stations in Michigan at the same time. One was a rock station near Bay City and Saginaw, the other was a country station in Bad Axe, a small town in the center of the thumb. It was there that I really came to appreciate the music of Merle Haggard and other country artists of that era.

Merle Haggard has become a legend in country music. During his musical career, he released an amazing 63 studio albums, writing or co-writing most of the songs on them. “That’s the way Love Goes” was his 38th album and one of my favorites by him. The Strangers are his backing band throughout this album, as the were for many of Haggard’s records. Their sound was a perfect fit for his distinct voice and style that was a bit rougher around the edges than some of the slick country sounds coming out of Nashville in the 1980s.

Merle Haggard was an artist who wrote and played music on his own terms. He forever changed the sound of country music and helped define an era of authenticity in it that many feel may never be equaled.

That’s the stuff a musical legend is made of.

The Mamas And The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears

The 1960s. Flower-power. The counterculture. The Mamas and he Papas 1966 debut “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” captured it all better than any pop album at the time. Bohemian folk rock, Beatlesque R&B, and a touch of soul that could replace the worst case of the Monday Monday doldrums with harmonious California Dreamin’.

This is the second album cover for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”. Like this one, the original cover showed the band members all sitting in a bathtub, but instead of a box listing the singles from the album in the lower right corner, it showed the bathroom’s toilet. That cover was banned shortly after the album was released because some people felt showing a toilet on the cover was obscene. Some record stores even refused to carry it. The original cover is such a rarity that today it can often sell for well over $100. I hope to one day run across it at a more reasonable price. Until then, at least I have the music.

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.

The Byrds – Greatest Hits

When The Byrds first started out in 1965, they took the sounds of the British invasion and combined it with American folk music made popular by Bob Dylan and others. Their sound was tailored strongly by the jangly tone of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker which became a strong influence a decade later for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They were also known for their distinct vocal harmonies.

The Byrds would later add Eastern world, psychedelic, and country music influences to their sound. These changes caused creative differences within the band leading to David Crosby eventually leaving the group and forming Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young). Numerous other lineup changes would happen down the line, with Roger McGuinn remaining the only consistent member. They eventually disbanded in 1973.

Peter Paul And Mary – 10 Years Together

If you think of Peter, Paul and Mary as a children’s group because of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon”, think again. Along with Bob Dylan they brought folk music to the forefront of popular culture. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger from the two decades before, their songs were also often subtle sociopolitical commentaries of the changing times of their generation.

They could also arrange three-part vocal harmonies better than any other group before or since. On record, those vocals were mixed to take full advantage of the soundstage that can be created by a properly set up stereo system.

I picked this album at a garage sale not too long ago expecting to listen to a couple of corny songs I remembered from my early youth (mainly the afore-mentioned “Puff the Magic Dragon”) then get rid of it at a used record store, in trade for something else. Just a little childhood nostalgia, nothing more. What I got was a collection of songs written by Dylan, Seeger, and John Denver, as well as PP&M penned gems that are beautifully arranged, performed, and recorded. What I got was a greatest hits album that is a joy to listen to.

Nope. This one’s a keeper.

The Best Of Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke was a pioneer of soul music, bringing it to the forefront of popular music. Once dubbed the King of Soul, without his groundbreaking songs, popular music may never have come to see the rise of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin (later dubbed the Queen of Soul); all followed in Cooke’s soulful footsteps.

I guess it should be expected that every song on a greatest hits album is great. So I’ll avoid that particular and predictable redundancy to describe Sam Cooke’s 1965 Greatest Hits album. The description I will use instead is timeless.

Unfortunately, the music world lost Sam Cooke much too soon when in 1964, he was shot and killed by the manager of a motel he was staying at. His death was ruled justifiable homicide in self-defense but that ruling was immediately brought into question. The actual circumstances surrounding Sam Cooke’s death has forever been shrouded in controversy. He was only 33 years old.