Procol Harum – Grand Hotel

Procol Harum was a band that could combine classical and rock music better than most any other band. “Grand Hotel” was Procol Harum’s first studio album without guitar virtuoso Robin Trower who left to pursue a solo career in 1972. Fortunately, Trower’s departure didn’t affect the band’s sound very much. Like their previous albums, “Grand Hotel” was an avant-garde blending of baroque era classical music with blues and rock.

Because of its unique combination of styles “Grand Hotel” is an album I can listen to almost any time, although I prefer it to be at times I can really focus on the interplay of all the musical elements and shifting rhythms and time signatures. Although not a concept album by definition, “Grand Hotel” is an album that should be listed to as a whole. As with most Procol Harum records, it is obvious that the goal when recording it was not so much to have a hit single as it was to album that is an intriguing listening experience.

B. B. King – Live At The Regal

It was on a cold night on November 21, 1964, in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, when B. B. King recorded one of the most highly regarded blues albums of all time.

There’s a reason B. B. King is a blues legend. To know that reason, all you need to do is listen to “Live at The Regal”. The blues is meant to be more than just listened to; it’s music that needs to be felt. That cold November night at The Regal Theatre, B. B. King felt it and just as importantly, the audience felt it. Then again when I listen to B. B. King’s distinct voice and guitar, the real question I have to ask with “Live at the Regal” on the turntable is “how could you not?”

Louis Armstrong – Hello Dolly

I know that when a lot of my friends hear the nickname “Satch” they think of guitar legend Joe Satriani. I do too, but I also think of Jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

His full name was Louis Satchmo Pops Armstrong and he played the trumpet. Man, could he play the trumpet! With his deep gravelly voice – one of the most distinct to ever grace popular music – he was as charismatic on stage as he was skillful on trumpet.

The title song from this album earned Louis Armstrong the only Grammy he received while alive. He was also awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 1972.

One of my favorite items in my listening room is a statue of Louis Armstrong. Holding his trumpet in one hand and a handkerchief in the other (he would work up a sweat when he played) and donning his distinct smile, it truly conveys the love he had for playing music. But I don’t need that statue to know that, all I need to do is listen to him play.

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'”.

Santana

The band Santana, named after latin rock legend Carlos Santana released their debut album in 1969, a couple of weeks after they played an unforgettable set at the original Woodstock music festival. That incredible performance showcased the band’s freeform jam band style that helped this record shoot up to the number four position on the Billboard charts shortly after its release. That despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music critics. Rolling Stone, perhaps the most influential music publication back then, said the album showcased “hollow technique” and had “no real content”. Meh, what do they know? Decades later, in 2003, they would give Santana’s eponymous debut accolades, describing it as “thrilling” and ranking it as the 150th greatest album of all time.

In their early days, Santana was first and foremost, a jam band. Much like freeform jazz musicians are masters of improvisation, Santana focused on playing by feel, never performing a song the same way twice. That’s why even though they were relatively unknown when they took the stage at Woodstock, everyone remembered them long after they triumphantly walked off it. It is that jam band mastery of musical improvisation that shines through on this record; something hard to pull off in the studio…unless you’re really good. And from the very beginning, Carlos Santana and his namesake band proved they were among the best.

The World Of Johnny Horton

Driving out to see my dad for Veterans’ Day yesterday got me thinking about Johnny Horton. I used to hear a lot of his songs when I was growing up. When I ran across this album a while back I had to pick it up for the memories, if for nothig else.

Johnny Horton’s songs weren’t just old school country ballads and rockabilly that gets stuck in your head. Some of his biggest hits, like “The Battle of New Orleans”, “North To Alaska”, and “Sink The Bismark”, were also short history lessons; truly a taste of Americana.

Although his songs are far from being forgotten, and their influence on American music can’t be denied, Johnny Horton’s music isn’t a name often thought of when people think of along with the greats like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Gene Autry, that’s only because his life was cut short in 1960 when he was killed in a tragic car accident at the age of 28; just as his career was starting to take off. But his songs and their influences live on. Songs of a legend in the making.

The Beach Boys – Endless Summer

It is truly amazing how much music the Beach Boys made in their first few years together. After their debut, they went on to release three albums a year for the next three years. “Endless Summer” is a compilation of The Beach Boys’ greatest hits from those first 10 albums from 1962 to 1965.

When “Endless Summer” came out in 1974 nobody expected it to do as well as it did. It was really just a case of the groups record label, Capitol, trying to cash in on some of the Beach Boys earlier songs following a drop in their popularity and Brian Wilson’s mental health issues. Even though the songs on “Endless Summer” were near or beyond a decade old, the album shot up to the number one spot on the Billboard charts and sparked a renewed interest in the Beach Boys’ music.

Overall, The Beach Boys have sold over 100 million records, making them one of the most commercially successful bands ever.

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.