Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes

If I could own only one Tom Petty album, this would be it. As a matter of fact, “Damn the Torpedoes” is one of my 10 picks for if I were stranded on a desert island. And that’s saying something because in his forty-year career Petty released twenty albums; thirteen of them with his band The Heartbreakers; not one dud in the lot.

A staunch believer of keeping artistic control of his music, Tom Petty was a true artist who always stood out in rock and roll because he didn’t believe in following trends. Petty formed The Heartbreakers while living in his hometown of Gainesville Florida, also the home town of southern rock superstars Lynyrd Skynyrd. After Lynyrd Skynyrd hit it big, the area around Gainesville became inundated with southern rock bands trying to follow in the wake if their success. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the riskier path of intentionally sounding different from the pack. With an often jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound influenced by the 1960’s band the Byrds, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers didn’t get as many gigs in the local clubs but they did score a record deal; a pretty good consolation. lt took a few albums for them to find an audience, but with “Damn the Torpedoes” they finally hit paydirt. The album became their world-wide breakout, taking the number 2 position on the US album charts (it was denied top honors by Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”) and going on to sell more than 3 million copies.

For Tom Petty, from that point forward, it was “Damn the Torpedoes”, full speed ahead.

Supertramp – Even At The Quietest Moments

“Even at the Quietest Moments” first grabbed my attention by the picture on the album cover. It’s not everyday you see a snow-covered piano in the mountains. That picture was in part, what inspired me to move away from 8-track tapes and start buying vinyl records.

I had never heard of Supertramp when I first saw “Even at the Quietest Moments” in the record store. I had actually gone there to buy a different album, but their name and the cover art stuck in my head. Before I could listen to what I had bought just a short while before, a song came on the radio that made me regret spending all the money I had on the other 8-track I was about to listen to. The opening chords played on a 12-string guitar stopped me in my tracks. As I listened to the rest of the song, I wished I left the record store with whatever album that song was on. The radio DJ later told me the song was “Give a Little Bit” and the album was “Even at the Quietest Moments” by Supertramp; the album with the snow-covered piano in the mountains. I knew it would be the next album I bought – on 8-track tape.

8-tracks tapes were convenient for music because you could play them in your car, but as far as for the cover artwork, well, 8-tracks had a sticker with a low quality tiny version of the album cover slapped on them; it just didn’t have the same impact as the full-size vinyl record. I decided that I needed to save up and buy a new stereo, with a good turntable. Sure, I had to put off buying some albums for a while, but it was so-o-o-o worth it, especially when I listened to my first record on it. It would be so poetic to say the first album I bought was “Even at the Quietest Moments” but it wasn’t (it was “Infinity” by Journey) but it was one of the firsts.

I have never gone without a turntable since i bought my first. Until I cued up the needle gor the first time, I didn’t realize how much I was missing with 8-tracks’ or any other format. It was a night and day difference, because vinyl records aren’t limited to just the audible. Just like seeing a concert, or opera, or ballet expands a live performance of music, so does the artwork of a recorded album expand the musical experience beyond just listening.

“Even at the Quietest Moments” will always be one of my all time favorite albums…and album covers.

Yes – The Yes Album

I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was. I mean, I always knew he was good – and all the members of Yes are great in their own right – but for some reason, when I cranked up “The Yes Album” just now, my ears started focusing in on his playing and…

…I am really digging what an awesome bassist Chris Squire was.

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

There are some albums that, though they are a collection of songs, should only be listened to in their entirety, as one continuous piece of music, to be truly appreciated.

The Electric Light Orchestra were not the creators of symphonic rock but they certainly were heavy contributors and innovators in it. In 1974, ELO took symphonic rock to the next level with their fourth album “Eldorado”. The album was as much a collection of movements within a classical symphony as it was a selection of songs on a rock and roll album.

“Eldorado” was the first concept album by ELO and the first album by the band to use a full orchestra (conducted by Louis Clark). The songs on “Eldorado” revolve around a dreamer who escapes from his “burned out dreams” into a fantasy world of his creation – his Eldorado.

The overture that opens “Eldorado” is a grandiose theme that interweaves itself throughout the songs that follow it (as any overture should). The music that follows is a perfect blend between two musical worlds – the structured rules of European classical music and the looser, groove driven elements of jazz and blues based rock and roll. It’s that balance that makes “Eldorado” one of the most signficant albums of the 20th century; an album every music-lover needs to listen to.

Just be sure to listen to it in its entirety.

John Cougar – Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

“Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” is one of my favorite albums by John Cougar, who had previously recorded two albums as Johnny Cougar, and who would later release albums as John Cougar Mellencamp and finally as his real name John Mellencamp. I can’t think of any other artist who went through that many name changes.

In the beginning of his career, John Mellencamp let his management and record label dictate. As his songs began to prove themselves, Mellencamp pushed back; after two albums, Johnny became John. The first album as John did okay for him. But when Pat Benetar snatched up his song “I Need a Lover” and had a hit with it, that really helped. The royalties from her recording not only sparked an interest in his original version, but also seemed to help him gain confidence in his songwriting. Consequently, “Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did” became the album where John Cougar (Mellencamp) found his voice and let it be heard.

One of my favorite moments from this album is the song “Cheap Shot” which slams the whole recording industry from the artist’s point-of-view. At one point, the song proclaims “Well the record company made me change my name now”, just to see if they were paying attention. That line was conveniently left out of the album sleeve’s liner notes just in case they actually were.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

Sometimes the very first presses of albums get packaged with little extras. Maybe this was to reward those who “got it” and were waiting for the artist’s next album, buying it virtually unheard because they knew they would like it; I don’t know. But it’s cool when they do it.

Elvis Costello’s first three albums helped define what became known as “new wave” music. It was a welcome change in direction of rock and roll that removed many of the corporate influences of the music in the late ’70s. New wave had a DIY attitude – similar to punk – that intentionally cut against the grain of convention while still incorporating more pop hooks. It would itself eventually be commercialized in the ’80s and re-branded as “alternative” rock.

“Armed Forces” followed in the wake of Elvis Costello’s debut “My Aim is True” and his sophomore record, “This Year’s Model”, which helped bring Costello, and New Wave, into the mainstream. Record buyers who rushed out to get “Armed Forces” were rewarded by an unexpected bonus – a promotional three song record slipped inside the cover with album. The songs on the bonus record were recorded live in 1978 at Hollywood High School in California.

All three of Elvis Costello’s first albums are considered ground-breaking classics today. All appear in Rolling Stones list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The magazine also ranked Elvis Costello one of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

I don’t know if I would call Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” my favorite album of all time but it definitely ranks up there.

In my music collection, I definitely have more copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” than any other recording. In addition to the at least six digital versions, including a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 24 karat gold master CD recording, a 5.1 surround sound DVD mix, a remastered anniversary edition and copies included in compilation box sets, I also have three different versions of DSotM on vinyl records. The vinyl version that is probably most desired by collectors is the MFSL Original Master Recording. I also have a recently released 180 gram remastered vinyl copy. But of all the copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” I have. this is my favorite and most highly valued. This is the very first copy of DSotM I ever owned. The cover may have a little wear, (I later learned to use plastic outer sleeves to prevent this) but the record itself is pristine; complete with all the extras it originally came with.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” single-handedly changed my perception of what music is. Emotion. Expression. Innovation. Technical ability. Creativity. Originality. Dark Side of the Moon has it all. When I first heard it at the tender age of ten years old, it forever changed my perception of what music could be. It made me listen more intensely and analyze more deeply, the meaning in lyrics and the production behind the songs. It may sound cliché, but this album changed my life. It made music important to me.

I babied this album from the day I bought it because I knew from day one, this was a recording I would always own, although I didn’t know then that one day I would have several different version of it. Maybe its just because of nostalgia, but I think I get the most pleasure cuing up this copy.

Now that I listening to it and think about it, Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” is my favorite album of all time…and this is my favorite copy of it.

Jefferson Starship – Spitfire

Replace a couple of key members from Jefferson Airplane and get a new lead singer with a smooth, almost crooning voice, and what do you get?

Jefferson Starship.

The third album by Jefferson Starship, “Spitfire” continued in the style of the two previous records by the band. Almost abandoned were the heavy psychedelic sounds and influences of Bohemianism from the Airplane days. They were replaced by a more rock, pop, and jazz oriented sound augmented with synthesizers and often fronted by the sultry vocal stylings of Marty Balin.

But “Spitfire” still had elements the were reminiscent of the earlier Jefferson Airplane. The most prominent being Grace Slick’s powerful voice and the wandering guitar solos of Craig Chaquico who manged to keep just a touch of psychedelia in his playing. It was a sound that proved successful for Jefferson Starship. Like “Red Octopus” the album before it, “Spitfire” sold over a million copies, giving the band yet another platinum record.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Every now and then, an album comes along that is so different from anything before it, you can’t decide if you really like it, or really don’t.
Forty years later, it still sits in my record collection, so I guess there’s no need to say where I eventually opined.

Since Devo’s debut album was produced by Brian Eno and David Bowie, with both of them saying, in essence, that this was the band of the future, I would have been a fool to not expect something different from the mainstream. I just had no idea how different.

Although their popularity lasted for only a few albums, Devo’s music, and most especially this album, changed popular music forever, ushering in “New Wave” music which, because of how distinctly different it was from mainstream rock, became a musical genre in and of itself – “Alternative”.

Like it or loath it, the influence “Are We Not Men” had on music can’t be denied.

George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Paul McCartney may have released the most post-Beatles albums following the breakup of the fab four, but he didn’t record the best. George Harrison holds that esteemed honor with “All Things Must Pass”.

Released in 1970, “All Things Must Pass” is an incredible three record set that let Harrison spread his wings as an artist. The last three Beatles albums were a tumultuous time for the band. Through the ’60s, the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo were synonymous with The Beatles, By 1970 it would have been more accurate to refer to them as Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Ringo. Three individuals who felt strongly about what should be on the latter Beatles albums and one who just rolled with it. They all contributed songs, but not all made the cut. On the last three Beatles albums, some songs that Harrison felt strongly about were nixed for ones by Lennon and McCartney, getting the ax without much protest (he was after all, “the quiet one”). So when The Beatles dissolved in 1970 Harrison had solo material he was confident about and was ready to record. Writing a few more, he soon had enough for a second album.

Those two records were enough to establish “All Things Must Pass” as the best post-Beatles album, but Harrison added a third record.

Although it is labeled as side 5 and 6, the aptly titled “Apple Jam” stands apart, yet in cohesion with the other two disks. “Apple Jam” is a collection of long improvisational in-studio jams from the “All Things Must Pass” recording sessions. It feels more like a celebratory encore to the rest of the record than a continuation of the rest of the songs. On the first four sides of “All Things Must Pass” George Harrison was finally able to let his voice be heard; he was no longer “the quiet one”. Sides five and six sound like a celebration of that revelation and freedom.