Pink Floyd – Meddle

One of the important things I learned from Pink Floyd is if you want to discover a great album by a band, listen to the one they released just before their big breakthrough.

I had never heard anything off of “Meddle” when I first bought it. Well, at least I thought I hadn’t. I was actually hoping to find the album that had a Pink Floyd instrumental I had heard only a couple of times but absolutely dug. The problem is if you never catch the radio jock announcing the name of an instrumental, how do you know the song’s name? (Note to young people, these were primitive times; before cell phones, the Internet, and even home computers. Hell, we thought digital were cool.) What I never caught until I bought “Meddle” though, was the spoken words somewhat buried in the instrumental – 13 words to be exact. Four of them are “One of These Days”.

By the time I bought ‘Meddle”, I already owned and loved “The Wall”, “Animals”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Dark Side of the Moon”. Trying to find that elusive instrumental, I delved to Pink Floyd’s earlier catalog. They had already released my four favorite albums to that point, so I didn’t feel much risk in buying one by them that I had never heard. The one just prior to DSotM seemed the natural choice to make. Not only did I find the ever elusive instrumental I was searching for, I also found my fifth favorite album at the time.

“Fearless”, with its addictive riff that rises up and then drops off, the laid back coastal feel of “San Tropez” and the genius of letting your dog howl the melody over blues chords in “Seamus” (that’s the dog) were some of the other ear candy I would discover on side one of “Meddle”. Side two is all one song: “Echoes”, a near 24 minute masterpiece of sonic ambience, experimentalism, and musicianship. With its distinct single opening grand piano note amped through a Leslie speaker, it near instantly became one of my all-time favorite Pink Floyd songs. It still is today, just as “Meddle” is still one of my favorite albums ever. Just as it always will be.

Ten Years After – Ssssh

Released just before guitarist Alvin Lee’s blistering performance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969, “Ssssh” is blues rock at its absolute best. The band set out to capture something close to their live sound in the studio. While less elaborate than their previous album “Stonehenge” (which Alvin Lee admits was Ten Years After showing off what they could do in the studio) it is no less ambitious.

Most of the songs here are blues rock scorchers. That’s what Ten Years After did best, which they proved at Woodstock. On “Ssssh” Alvin Lee proved what an amazing talent he was on six strings and Ten Years After proved what an incredible band they were, be it live or in the studio.

Heavy Metal – Soundtrack

Before graphic novels, there was Heavy Metal magazine…and the movie…and yes, the movie’s soundtrack…

I subscribed to Heavy Metal magazine in the early ’80s. It was awesome. Mature oriented, thought-provoking comics. A precursor to the ’90s graphic novel era. That’s what probably best describes it. The movie was a culmination of the most popular storylines from the magazine into continuous cinematic theme. Because of my being a regular reader of the magazine, I followed the storyline fairly seamlessly. For those occasional readers…well, I guess they had to figure it out for themselves. Oh well, their loss.

To me, the syncopation of the storylines was one of the glories of the “Heavy Metal” movie. Who cares if it wasn’t a perfect melding. It was far better than I could have ever imagined; especially given the diversity of the already established sub plots.

But this isn’t about the movie. This is about the music from it. “Heavy Metal” stands as one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Need proof? How about Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Stevie Nicks, Journey, Grand Funk, Nazareth, Cheap Trick…need I go on? Who cares if you saw the movie or not? Just make sure you listen to the music from it.

Jimi Hendrix – Nine To The Universe

The name Jimi Hendrix needs no introduction; quite possibly the greatest rock guitarist that ever lived, his reputation is legendary.

To those who grew up around Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, the name Jim McCarty is also a name of legend, albeit local legend. Starting out in Mitch Ryder’s rocking R&B band, The Detroit Wheels in the ’60s; signing on as guitarist in The Buddy Miles Express, joining forces with drummer Carmine Apice and bassist Tim Bogert as part of the supergroup Cactus, and later forming The Rockets with Amboy Dukes vocalist Dave Gilbert and legendary Detroit drummer Johnny “the bee” Badanjek in the ’70s; and finally founding the no compromise blues/rock band Mystery Train in the ’80s, it’s no wonder McCarty’s name is so recognized around the Motor City.

The thing is, up until three years ago, I had no idea Detroit guitar legend Jim McCarty had ever played with Jimi Hendrix. Local legend joins forces with world-renowned legend Jimi Hendrix. How could I have missed this? I have to admit that at first, I was embarrassed that I had no idea this collaboration ever took place. Then again “Nine to the Universe” didn’t come out until 1980, a decade after Hendrix’s death. Plus, the collaboration is only on one of five songs on this album, appropriately called “Jimi/Jimmy Jam”. There’s  are so many great moments in rock and roll, I guess a one-off like this can easy to slip between the cracks. The bottom line is, I’m just glad to have a copy of this album, so I can listen to these two legends playing together, today.

Genesis – Live

I alway thought it strange that Genesis didn’t gain their largest fan base until two of their most prominent members had left the band. First Peter Gabriel and later Steve Hackett, both going on to lead successful solo careers in their own right.

Originally recorded for a 1973 King Biscuit Flower Hour radio broadcast that never happened, this is Genesis at their most creative, with one of the most legendary rhythm sections ever in progressive rock – Phil Collins on drums and Mike Rutherford on bass. And then there’s the Mellotron. If ever there was an instrument that defines classic rock from the ’70s, it was the Mellotron, and Tony Banks was a master of it; not to mention any other keyboard.

Yeah, come the ’80s, they might have had their greatest commercial success, but this was Genesis at their most creative, most experimental, most innovative; with their most talented line-up.

38 Special – Flashback

When I listen to their biggest hits, I don’t know if I’d really call 38 Special’s music purely southern rock, though it often gets thrown into that category because of the band’s relation to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Donnie Van Zant is the younger brother of Skynyrd’s former lead singer, Ronnie (who tragically died in a 1977 plane crash). 38 Special had a more pop leaning hard rock sound than the strong southern roots heard in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music. That’s even more evident in 38 Special’s later hits like “Hold On Loosely”, “Caught Up In You”, and “Fantasy Girl”.

Flashback is a greatest hits album that comprises 38 Special’s biggest hits and a new songs “Same Old Feeling”. It also has two songs that were not released on any other 38 Special album. Previously “Teacher, Teacher” was originally recorded for the soundtrack of the 1984 film “Teachers”; “Back to Paradise” appeared on the soundtrack for “Revenge of the Nerds II”.

As a bonus, included with the album, is a 7 inch, 4 song EP. All 4 songs were performed at a Houston, Texas concert on Halloween, 1986.

Eagles – One Of These Nights

1975’s “One of These Nights” is the album that brought the Eagles’ popularity up to the next level.

It’s not that they didn’t already have a strong following…But when you release your first #1 album, an album that sells millions of copies, has 3 top 10 singles, and gets nominated for four Grammy awards, winning the prize for one of them…well, that becomes a game changer. Even though “One of These Nights” was the album that made the Eagles superstars, they would prove they were truly worthy of that status, following it up with 1977’s “Hotel California” and 1979’s “The Long Run“.

One of the things that is cool about record collecting is some of the unique differences between the first pressings of a record and subsequent issues. For instance, the cover on this copy of “One of These Nights” is embossed, giving the artwork more depth and definition. Also on first pressings only, the record itself has a message written on the run out area. Split between the two sides on this copy is the phrase “Don’t worry – Nothing will be O.K.!”

Heart – Magazine

I know Heart had their biggest success in the ’80s, but I will alway like their stuff from the ’70s more. It rocked a little harder, but could still be just as soft and touching. Nancy Wilson’s vocals seemed more emotional and Ann Wilson’s guitar more inspired.

Heart made some great music during both eras, but on “Magazine” and their other earlier records, the songs seemed more personal. There’s more feeling, more raw emotion, more…Heart.

Well then…Enough said.

The Police – Synchronicity

When I first heard what would be the final album by The Police I thought it was yet another new direction added to their already distinctive sound. Little did I know it was more of a return to their origins.

Before adopting the punk and new wave style that got them signed to a record deal in the late ’70s, the Police were a band that played jazz/rock fusion. With “Synchronicity”, The Police incorporated all of that along with avant-garde experimentalism into what became one of the greatest masterpieces from the ’80s.

This is an album I will never tire of.

Alice Cooper – Lace And Whiskey

An often overlooked gem in Alice Cooper’s dicography, “Lace and Whiskey” reaches into both familiar and new territory for the famed shock rocker. In typical Alice cooper fasion “Lace and Whiskey” focuses as much on concept and theatrics as it does rock and roll. The 1977 album tell the story of “Maurice Escargot”, a heavy drinking private eye, much in the vien of “Philip Marlowe” from the 1940s. Contrary to Cooper’s two previous solo records, and seventh as part of the Alice Cooper band, Aice doesnt don any makeup for the theatrics here. The main character is more of a straight shooter (literatively and figuratively) than on earlier concept albums by Cooper.

Although there are some rockers on “Lace and Whiskey”, most notably, the album opener “It’s Hot Tonight”, the music odten reaches further into broadway theatrical territory than Cooper’s albums ever had before. It made for one of the more intriquing albums of Alice’s career, often setting up visual scenery with the words and music similar to his previous effort, “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell“. This undoubtedly continued to alienate some of Alice’s hard rock fans and failed to get a lot of airplay on rock radio stations at the time. Many others, like me, embraced the creative originalty of Alice Cooper’s further immersion with combining theatrics and rock and roll.