Roxy Music

Glam rock and punk rock were two opposing forces in the 1970s. On their debut album, Roxy Music took it as a challenge to meld the two into a cohesive collection of songs, the likes of no one had heard before. The result was pure brilliance.

Oil and vinegar can not be mixed together homogeneously, yet they can be combined into something incredible. Roxy Music’s first album combines the slick oil of glam and art rock with the piss and vinegar of punk to make an incredible album that satisfies and stimulates the auditory to the same effect of a good olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to the palate. Great in itself, but also an excellent foundation to be built upon with things to come.

Carly Simon – Anticipation

The title track to Carly Simon’s second album, “Anticipation”, was written about her longing for the arrival of Cat Stevens, whom Simon was dating in 1971. It’s a beautiful love song…but it also reminds me of ketchup.

About two years after the release of the single and album of the same name, Heinz chose to use “Anticipation” as the theme for a series of television commercials where it alluded to a longing for the arrival of their thick, slow-moving ketchup. Yeah, not quite as romantic as I’m sure Simon originally intended (at least I hope not) but the ads were so successful and aired so often throughout the 1970s that I bet most who grew up in that era still think more of ketchup than love when they hear Carly Simon sing “Anticipation”. But when you disconnect that memory and listen to the song as if Heinz ketchup never existed, it really is a beautiful testament to love and longing. The rest of the songs on the album were equally introspective musings about love and life. Beautiful songs that almost everyone can relate to; something common to all of Carly Simon’s songs. Fortunately, “Anticipation” is the only one that may be forever remembered as an ode to ketchup.

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 Patti Smith Group – Easter

The Patti Smith Group may sound to some like an odd opening act for Bob Seger, but in early 1977 it kind of made sense, with her trying to without compromise, broaden her sound to a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Patti Smith broke her neck and nearly died during the second show of that tour. She fortunately recovered, but would have to wait until her next album, “Easter”, and for a little help from Bruce Springsteen to find that no-compromise crossover success.

It was January 26 when Patti Smith tripped over a stage monitor, plunging 15 feet onto a concrete floor in the orchestra pit at the front of the Tampa Florida stage. She cracked two vertebrae and had to get over 20 stitches to her head and face after the fall. The incident took her out of action for almost a year. I’m surprised it wasn’t longer.

After therapy following her neck surgery after the accident, Patti Smith and her group returned to the studio to record her third album “Easter”. Although the songs were a diverse mix between punk and mainstream rock, there was no potential that Smith’s record label felt were a breakthrough single. That is, until the album’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, turned Smith on to a song Bruce Springsteen had written but thrown away; a song that both Smith and her label found common ground on.

“Because the Night” became the no-compromise crossover that both Patti Smith and her record label were looking for. The song became the group’s biggest hit. “Easter” became The Patti Smith Group’s best-selling album.

Bob Seger – Beautiful Loser

By 1975, Bob Seger had put together a group of top-notch Detroit area musicians to back him up. The album “Beautiful Loser” was the first appearance of the Silver Bullet Band on a Bob Seger record, though they played on only one song.

The other songs were performed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, session musicians affiliated with the Alabama recording studio where Seger recorded all the songs on “Beautiful Loser”.

Even though The Silver Bullet Band appear only on “Nutbush City Limits”, a cover of an Ike and Tina Turner song, they became Seger’s touring band and backing band on his most successful albums, including “Live Bullet” and “Night Moves”.

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.

Paul McCartney and Wings – Band On The Run

It took a few tries for Paul McCartney to record a suitable follow-up album for his tenure with The Beatles but with “Band on the Run”, he nailed it. It’s not that McCartney’s first two solo albums or his next two as part of Wings were bad records. They just weren’t in step with what critics or Beatles fans wanted from him.

Expectations were high for McCartney following the Beatles’ split and personally, I think with his first four records, he tried too hard to live up to what was expected rather than make albums that he wanted to make. By the time it came around to write and record “Band on the Run” Paul McCartney had nothing to lose, so he stopped trying to please outside of himself and just did what felt right. Now, this is nothing more than my personal opinion based on nothing more than having listened to all these albums numerous times. In other words, I’m probably totally wrong. But until someone proves I am, I’m claiming that’s the way it was.

The one thing I know to be true though, is that after the break-up of the Beatles, “Band on the Run” was the album where Paul McCartney finally nailed it.

Uriah Heep – Live January 1973

I never understood why Uriah Heep didn’t earn a reputation more on par with Deep Purple. The two bands had so much in common. The Heep rocked just as hard as Deep Purple. Their songs were just as solid, as was their musicianship. Both bands had amazing lead vocalists, especially early on – when David Byron and Ian Gillan had probably the two most amazing voices in rock and roll. And then there’s the Hammond B3 organ, which both bands used extensively to augment their sound.

One of the area where my ear felt Uriah Heep had a slight edge over Deep Purple was with their use of the synthesizer. In the song “Gypsy”, one of the two songs that grace side three of this double album, Ken Hensley plays an absolutely amazing Moog Synth solo. That’s followed by a powerhouse drum solo from Lee Kerslake. That song, along with the live version of “Easy Livin'” are reason enough to make Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” worth owning. When you tally in the other songs on it, this is easily one of the best live albums ever recorded.

Uriah Heep’s “Live January 1973” is a live album requirement for any rock record collection. Come to think of it, so is Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan”. So there’s another thing the two bands have in common.

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

One of the best albums by the Rolling Stones, 1978’s “Some Girls” was plagued with artistic infringements when it was first released. Not for the music; for the album’s cover artwork.

The cover was designed to look distinctly like an advert for the Chicago company Valmor Products, which made female beauty products. The Stones were promptly sued by Valmor for copyright infringement. The case was settled for an undidclosed amount.

But the legal issues with the cover didn’t end there.

The cover also featured a cut-outs that pictures of the band members, printed on the record sleeve, appeared through so they were wearing wigs in the ad. In addition to the band members, photos of several female celebrities also appeared under some of the wigs. And therein lay the problem. The Stones never asked for permission to use the other celebrities’ pictures. Farrah Fawcett, Lucille Ball, and Raquel Welch all threatened to sue over the band using their copyrighted pictures without permission. Marilyn Monroe’s estate and Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli also threatened.

To avoid the litigation, the artwork on the record sleeve was altered for all future pressings, replacing the female celebrity photos with solid colored spaces and the words “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction” in their place. That seemed to satisfy all parties involved and no charges were filed.

Both covers are pretty cool, but personally, I prefer the original. Partly because it is more rare but mostly because – and let’s be honest here – it’s got Farah Fawcett’s picture on it. What high school boy didn’t have a crush on her back then?

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.