Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

Transitioning into the ’80s, the sound of popular music was changing. Many poular acts from the ’70s found themselves either adapting to more dance oriented music or risk falling off the musical radar of most people. Never one to follow trends, Linda Ronstadt chose a different road. In 1983, she released an album of pop and vocal jazz standards from the musical era that preceded rock and roll – the music her father listened to when she was growing up. The result was an ulikely album to hit the number 3 position on record charts being dominated by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.

I always loved Linda Ronstadt’s voice. She could sing anything and make it her own. Her voice never sounded more beautiful than on her trilogy of albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. “What’s New” was the first in that great musical trilogy.

Beautiful music sung by a beautiful lady with a beautiful voice.

Electric Light Orchestra II

In 1973, Electric Light Orchestra had a very different sound from Jeff Lynn’s highly polished production of their late ’70s and ’80s albums. Perhaps the most significant difference was that they hadn’t yet started to use an actual backing orchestra (probably because they couldn’t afford to hire one). Instead, the band used overdubs of the band members playing cellos and violins to create a bigger sound. On some songs, even the overdubbing was skipped, creating a more rock band / string quartet styled sound.

ELO’s early songwriting also took a different approach than their later albums. Even though Roy Wood left ELO before this album was released, his influence is still significantly felt here. Electric Light Orchestra II has a more experimental, progressive rock sound and the production is noticeably less slick than the direction Jeff Lynn took the group in their later years.

I love ELO’s later stuff but once I discovered their early works, I remember wishing they had done more albums like this. A standout track on this record is ELO’s take of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven”. With the integration of violins and cellos, the version on this album will always be the definitive one to me. Sorry Chuck.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (red vinyl re-issue)

I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show probably more than any other movie; no other movie even comes close. If there wasn’t anything else happening on a late Friday night when I was in high school, you’d find me in the balcony at the Punch and Judy Theater in Grosse Pointe armed with a squirt gun, newspaper, flashlight, rice, and probably a few other items, ready for action.

But my appreciation for The Rocky Horror Picture Show was also about the music. The songs were written by Richard O’Brien, who also plays Riff Raff, made it my favorite movie soundtrack at the time. It still is today, and not because of the nostalgia either. The music is great rock and roll which, like the movie, is filled with sexual tension and kitschy theatrics. The perfect movie and soundtrack for any high school teen.

The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

Rock and roll was going through some significant changes going into the 1980s. Many bands that had cut their teeth in the ’70s either couldn’t adapt to the newer sound and fell by the wayside or overcompensated and were labeled as sell-outs by their long time fans. For The J. Geils Band the transition was easy. Their style of r&b party rock didn’t need to change much at all to propel them to the top of their popularity and the top of the record charts without alienating any of their fans.

The conversation within the band may very well have gone something like this:

Peter Wolf: “Seth, we need you to start playing more synthesizers instead of just piano and organ.”

Seth Justman: “Okay.”

I don’t know if that’s the way it all went down, but it could’ve been. That’s really all Geils did for “Love Stinks” to become their second most successful album shortly after it was released. Their next album, “Freeze Frame”, would do even better.

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remais The Same (soundtrack)

In the short time between when I first saw the film “The Song Remains the Same” and bought the double album soundtrack, I didn’t remember the music from the movie well enough to realize all of the differences between the two. Then again, when I first saw the movie, I was probably in a great state of mind for listening to music; not so good for remembering all of it.

I’m not going to go into all the specifics between the music in the film and on the album – you can Google that easily enough – but in a nutshell, there are songs in the movie that didn’t make it to the record and one that’s the other way around. Also some of the same songs on both are not from the same performances. Sure, both the film and soundtrack were recorded in 1976, during three nights of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, but Zeppelin liked to make each of their concerts a unique experience for the audience. They always played their songs differently from one night to the next. When I listen to “The Song Remains the Same” today, I cant help but remember all the differences between the songs here and the music in the film. It’s so significant, I don’t know if I even consider this to be the soundtrack to the film; just a great live album.

Frank Marino – Juggernaut

First there was the band Mahogany Rush. Then there was Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. Finally it was just Frank Marino.

I suppose the writing is on the wall when your lead guitarist and vocalist start tagging their name in front of the band’s.

Frank Marino is a Canadian rock legend who, much in the style of Hendrix, played a combination of hard rocking blues and jazz guitar. “Juggernaut”, the second solo album by Marino, had a slightly more ’80s feel than his earlier work in the ’70s but still found him staying true to form; doing what he does best. Really, the music didn’t change that much from Mahogany Rush to Frank Marino’s solo material. It’s still some of the best guitar playing you’ll hear on any record.

Elton John – Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” is an autobiographical record of the early personal and professional struggles of what eventually became one of the most successful songwriting teams in music history.

Bernie Taupin scribed the words, Elton John wrote and performed the music. As a musical team, they have sold over 300 million records. There is nary a person alive today who hasn’t been moved by at least one of their songs. But as is often the case, their success didn’t come overnight. Eventually, their perseverance paid off.

“Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” tells the story of how they both struggled for years to find success. Perhaps the most well-known struggle was Elton John’s struggle with his sexuality. Originally keeping his homosexuality a secret, he had originally planned to give up a career in music to marry a female lover. The conflict led him to the brink of suicide which fortunately he was talked out of by a good friend. That’s what the song “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, is about. After achieving the success he and Taupin rightly deserved, he eventually came out about being gay and has since become a huge advocate for gay rights.

I remember taking some sh!t in middle school when I wore an Elton John t-shirt one day. I had no idea that he had just openly revealed he was gay. When I learned that, I personally didn’t care. I loved his music; what he did beyond that was not my concern. I took some sh!t again for having that viewpoint. I just ignored the comments and inaccurate accusations. Still, I never wore that shirt to school again after that. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of a stand.

Joe Walsh – The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get

I’m not one to try to rank in detail, my all-time favorite rock albums. The list I would give today would probably be very different from one I would give you next week, so why bother. I will say this however, no matter what day I ranked them, Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” would consistently place in the top 20.

The album contains such a myriad of styles it would be hard for anyone to not find something they like on this, Joe Walsh’s second album. The songwriting and playing are the strongest of any of his solo work; possibly even better than his albums with The James Gang and The Eagles. At least one of the albums by each of those bands, while Joe Walsh was a member, would always be in my top 20 list. That speaks volumes to his talent, versatility, and creativity. He is definitely one of my all time favorite rock artists. By the way, don’t ask me to rank them in detail either. I’d run into the same problem I’d have with albums.

Bloodrock 2

I remember the first time I heard Bloodrock 2. A friend wanted me to check out a song on side 2 called “D.O.A.” It’s a song that’s a bit morbid in that it’s written from the perspective of a person dying after a plane crash. It’s one of those songs that once you hear it, you never forget it.

A couple of years back, while perusing the aisles of a local used record store, I saw Bloodrock 2 and the memory of that song that I had heard only a few times decades earlier popped back in my head. I couldn’t remember exactly how the song went, but I remembered it, and I wanted to hear it again. I couldn’t even recall anything else about Bloodrock or their music. The only thing I remembered about them was that song that kind of creeped me out. I had to buy the album just so I could give them a listen.

Fortunately Bloodrock 2 did not creep me out. The album is filled with straight forward blues rock songs that have just a slight southern feel reminiscent of Bloodrock’s Texas origins, making “D.O.A.” kind of stand apart from the rest of the songs. That’s a good thing too, because even though D.O.A. is a great song, if the whole album were like it, Bloodrock 2 would be a really morbid and depressing album.

After listening to the song “D.O.A.” again, I wanted to find out what the inspiration for the song was. It turns out that when Bloodrock’s guitarist, Lee Pickins, was 17 he had just been a passenger in a small airplane. After he got out and was watching the plane take off again, he saw it roll over a couple hundred feet in the air and crash to the ground. I imagine that’s one of those things that once you see it, you never forget it.

Rainbow – Down To Earth

“Down to Earth” was Rainbow’s attempt at a more commercially accessible sound. On this, their fourth record, the band moved noticeably away from heavy metal to a more mainstream hard rock sound, though the album does still keep a bit of a metal edge. The change earned rainbow their first hit single, “Since You Been Gone”.

Rainbow is a band that went through a lot of personnel changes, often exchanging members with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Through its history, the only consistent member of Rainbow is guitarist Ritchie Blackmore who formed Rainbow after departing Deep Purple.

On “Down to Earth”, the only member of Rainbow who is not a past or future member of Sabbath or Deep Purple is vocalist Graham Bonnet. This was the only Rainbow album to feature Bonnet, who replaced Ronnie James Dio, who left Rainbow to join Black Sabbath. Bonnet was replaced by Joe Lynn Turner, who would later join Deep Purple.