Rick Wakeman – The Myths And Legend Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

“Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil, is the true born king of all Britain.”

And so begins Rick Wakeman’s third solo record; a brilliant combination of progressive rock keyboard wizardry and symphonic and choral music. “The Myths and Legend of King Arthur…” was praised as a masterpiece by prog rock enthusiasts but panned by some critics as an example of progressive rock pretentiousness. Rick Wakeman was a workaholic professional composer and performer who had few if any combined technical and creative equals in modern music. I say, if you got it, flaunt it. To call Wakeman’s compositions pretentious is calling Mozart’s extravagant or Bach’s baroque compositions excessive.

Rick Wakeman lived for music and music lived through him. His music is not for everyone, but then, never is the work of any visionary artist. This is not party music. This is not play it in the background music. This is sit down and appreciate the artistry and virtuosity music. Appreciate it because there are few ever born who can compose music this grandiose and expressive. Artists like Wakeman don’t try to compose music. The compositions live within them and they need to let them out. Even if they are trapped in a hospital bed after suffering a heart attack, they would have someone bring them a tape recorder so they could hum the music into it so it wouldn’t be lost and could be recorded later; wich is how much of this album was initially composed.

My sincerest thanks go out to the former Detroit television meteorologist and music lover who, through a good friend I met today after finding out he was parting with his valued record collection. I picked up many gems today. Records that will be cherished every time I listen to them. It was a pleasure meeting and talking about music with you.

T. Rex – Electric Warrior

In 1971, Marc Bolan decided to abandon the folk rock beginnings of his band, T. Rex, and try something different. “Electric Warrior” ended up becoming one of the most influential albums of that decade, ushering in the era of glam rock.

Glam rock was about unabashed shamelessness. Whimsical lyrics, pop hooks with a rock edge, and flamboyance were its key ingredients. On “Electric Warrior”, Bolan mixed those ingredients together with seemingly reckless abandon and came up with a recipe that would influence the likes of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Roxy Music and countless others. It was the foundation of what became called “new wave”, and later “alternative” music. Although “Electric Warrior” only had one big hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”, it’s influence on modern music is indisputable and still resonates through popular music today.

David Essex – Rock On

David Essex is another one of those artists who was a one-hit-wonder in the United States but had much larger success in the UK. That’s probably due in part because David Essex hails from Great Britain but some might argue that it’s because the Brits have broader, better tastes in music.

Although the single “Rock On” was Essex’s only big hit in the US, in the UK the popularity of his albums and singles continued on through the ’90s. “Rock On” wasn’t even his biggest hit across the ocean. It only hit #3 on the UK charts in 1973 (#5 in the US). He had two UK chart-toppers in the years that followed.

Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Act I

Like a dry Merlot wine, a hoppy IPA, or a the smokey-sweet burn of a good bourbon, “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa can be an acquired taste. A three-part rock opera of sorts, it is more than anything, a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, government control, and the resulting rise of a dystopian society.

The lyrics can get crude at times, but then, Zappa is trying to push the limits on this album. Of course, musically as he always does, but also lyrically, especially in the songs “Catholic Girls”, “Crew Slut”, “Wet T-Shirt Nite”, and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”. Along with the theme of the album, as narrated by the Central Scrutinizer, Zappa seems to openly challenge government censors to just try it.

Like any Zappa album though, the true greatness here is in the playing and in the combination of styles and the structures of the songs. Sometimes the edginess and crude humor of the lyrics distract from really noticing the brilliance in what’s being played and how it’s arranged, but that just means you have to listen to it again to hear what you missed. Like I said, it’s an acquired taste.

Act I of “Joe’s Garage” came out in September of 1979. Acts II and III came out about a month later. Even though all three acts were released in a complete set in 1987, in honor of having to wait for the conclusion of the story back then, I feel like listening to the final two acts at some later date; in a month or so.

The J. Geils Band – Monkey Island

So what do you do when you signed a contract with a new record label but still owe your current label one more album? If you’re The J. Geils Band, you make a record that departs from what you’ve done before and try something new. What have you got to lose?

Even though it still sounded like The J. Geils Band, “Monkey Island” deviated heavily from the influences the band drew from on their six previous records. Perhaps to mark the departure in style, the band chose to shorten their name to simply “Geils” for “Monkey Island”. It is the only record of theirs to use this abbreviated name. It’s also the only album that they used a horn section, a group of background singers, and a string section.

Departing from the sound of their previous albums, “Monkey Island” plays more heavily on funk and soul than any other album Geils ever did before or after. They even try their hand (rather successfully) at a little doo-wop, with the song “I Do”. Although never released as a single, that song became a radio mainstay in the Detroit area, where Geils had their strongest following outside of their hometown of Boston. A live single of “I Do” would later be released from The J. Geils Band’s third and final live album, “Showtime”. Appropriately, that version was recorded at Pine Knob Music Theater near Detroit.

Although “Monkey Island” remains one of the least commercially successful albums by the J. Geils Band, probably because of it straying from what was expected from them at the time, it remains one of my favorite albums by them, for that very same reason.

Aerosmith – Get Your Wings

After reading “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” I will forever think of their second album, “Get Your Wings” as the album that saved Aerosmith – and so much of the music from my youth. According the book, because their first album received no promotion from the record company and did do poorly, virtually selling nowhere except in their hometown of Boston and in Detroit, the band was ready to throw in the towel. It seemed they had put everythinginto their first record, only to have it flop. They were all living together in a rundown apartment, struggling to get by. Disillusioned and frustrated, they debated even recording a second record.

Even though their first record went nowhere, Aerosmith decided they would give it one more chance; make one more record, and that would be it. As they were the recording “Get Your Wings” the band members all knew that this would be the album that would make or break them.

Unless you live under a rock, you know Aerosmith went on to become one of the most successful rock bands of the ’70s and ’80s. When I think of all the great albums and songs that Aerosmith recorded after “Get Your Wings” – songs that would have never had existed – well, I really can’t. Aerosmith’s music was the soundtrack of my coming-of-age youth.

So, If you were one of the many who bought this album when it came out, thank you for the memories.

Montrose

Montrose was an album that refused to flop.

Throughout the early ’70s, Ronnie Montrose had distinguished himself as one of the most in-demand session guitarists in America. During that time, he played on more highly successful rock albums than I can count on both hands…and feet. He eventually joined The Edgar Winter Group but left them after their first record to form his own band, Montrose, whose debut album came out in 1973. The album was…well, it kind of flopped.

At first.

Although “Montrose” didn’t have a huge initial impact when it was released, its reputation became notorious among heavy metal fans and the record’s sustained polarity led to it eventually selling over a million copies. It remains today considered to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.

The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out At Night

Edgar Winter was an amazingly talented composer and musician. I found myself being reminded of this when I heard the instrumental “Frankenstein” on the radio the other day. Of course, I had to cue up the album when I got home.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you hear a song all the time on the radio you stop really listening to it because you’re always hearing it. That was the case with me and The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”. For some reason, when I heard it that time, for the first time in a long time, I listened to it again. It was like running into an old, long-lost friend.

“Frankenstein” is truly an amazing song and a very groundbreaking one when it came out. One of the most amazing parts of “Frankenstein” is the duet between drummer Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter on the synthesizer. At its crescendo, Edgar Winter is twisting and turning the knobs for the oscillators on the synth to keep perfect pitch and synchronization with the drums. At times they seem like one instrument, but there’s just enough deviation to remind you that you’re listening to a duet, not a solo. Plus, synthesized drums really didn’t exist in that capacity back then.

But one song does not make a great album, and “They Only Come Out at Night” with its variety of styles ranging from the melodic pop of “Autumn” to the island sounds of “Alta Mira” to blues rockers like “Undercover Man” to the party tunes “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” to “We all Had a Really Good Time” to the hard rocking other big hit off the album, “Free Ride”, this is a great album that is always ready to be played when I need something to get me moving.

Oh, and speaking of “Free Ride” I feel it necessary to point out to my fellow Detroit rockers who may not be aware, that the drummer on that song is none other than John “The Bee” Badanajek from The Rockets and Mitch Ryder fame.

Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Kansas – Two For The Show

“Two for the Show” by Kansas is about as perfect as a live album can get. Recorded right after their two most successful studio albums, Kansas was at the height of their popularity and were drawing huge crowds at arenas across America. Feeding off of the energy of the crowds, Kansas sound like an unstoppable progressive force that wanted nothing more than to leave the audiences in awe.

To that point, it didn’t hurt their cause that the popularity of “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return”, which came out just before this double album set, had gained Kansas a huge new fan base and provided them with plenty of well-known songs to play at their concerts and include here. Half of the songs on “Two for the Show” are from those albums. The other half are deep cuts from their first three albums that were meant to please their long time fans.

What really makes “Two for the Show” so exceptional though, is the playing. If there was ever any doubt, Kansas proves here that they were not just a studio band. They could perform their complex compositions just as well live; even better at times, extending solos out beyond what was in the original version. And then there’s Steve Walsh’s voice…definitely one of the most incredible vocalists ever in rock and roll.

“Two for the Show” is Kansas at their best; an album of live progressive rock perfection.