Van Halen – Women And Children First

Van Halen closed out the 1970s with two albums that changed what rock and roll and more specifically what metal could be. Van Halen inspired a slew of hair bands playing a party metal that dominated Van Halen’s debut and sophomore efforts. Hair bands would continue to rock the charts through the ’80s. I really couldn’t really get into most of them. Yet I continued to buy Van Halen records.

Almost in defiance of the bands they inspired, Van Halen chose to pull in the reigns and get more serious, rocking harder and with a sharper edge on “Women and Children First”. It wasn’t a major shift, but it was definitely a noticeable one. Van Halen kept elements of that party rock on their third album, just as they did on the albums that followed. But there was more aggression; there was more seriousness. This shift in sound, which became even more significant a few albums later when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as lead singer is what kept me following Van Halen, whereas the hair bands that Van Halen’s music was so significant with inspiring…well, there’s hardly any of them in my record collection.

Love And Rockets – Earth, Sun, Moon

This is not goth rock. This is so much more.

That was my first impression of hearing 1987’s “Earth, Sun, Moon” by Love and Rockets.

Love and Rockets were essentially the gothic rock band Bauhaus minus their enigmatic frontman, Peter Murphy. Even though Love and Rockets kept the post punk dark overtones that helped Bauhaus all but define gothic rock, they also stretched outside its realms, injecting folk, blues, and pop into their songs.

“Here on Earth” “Waiting for the Flood” and “The Telephone Is Empty” had sax solos played by Daniel Ash. “No New Tale To Tell” which became Love and Rockets first hit song included a flute solo that Ian Anderson would have been proud of. “Lazy” had a bluesy yet upbeat vibe to it. Overall, “Earth, Sun, Moon” had a much more acoustic feeling throughout than Bauhaus would have ever dreamt of.

It was still gothic, but it was also epic.

Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Berlin – Pleasure Victim

Berlin was an alternative synth-pop band that played heavily on sexual innuendos. Okay, with songs like “Sex (I’m a…)” and Terry Nunn’s role in the band being listed as vocals and BJs, I suppose it went a little beyond innuendo…. Anyway, because of this, Berlin was quite often dogged by some critics as being lackluster in talent, focusing more on sexuality than substance to sell their music. I never thought so.

Berlin made some of the most exciting synth-pop music in the 1980s. Sure, some of that had to do with the suggestive lyrics and Terry Nunn’s sexual overtness, but it had a lot more to do with great hooks that made their songs as easy to dance to as they were enticing to listen to. It also had a lot to do with Bassist John Crawford, who penned most of Berlin’s stuff. He had a mastery of writing catchy tracks with seductive lyrics; just as Terry Nunn had the exceptional vocal talents to exhume the seductive qualities from those words and melodies.

As for Terry Nunn’s other talents noted in the album’s credits…well, one can only wonder.

Georgia Satellites

In an era that was dominated by synth rock and glam metal the Georgia Satellites were neither. They were a Southern blues rock band. Plain and simple.

On their debut, the Georgia Satellites played it hard and played it loud. They sounded like a raucous bar band that blew the roof off of every dive they played at, because that’s exactly what they were. Their music was about as out of style to what was popular in 1986 as it could get. No polish. No flash. Just good old foot stomping blues rooted rockers. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites released two singles from their debut album. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” shot up to number two on the Billboard charts, denied the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. That song is what made people first take notice of this album. Their second single was a cover of Terry Wood’s straight ahead rocker “Battleship Chains”. Although it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, it gave record buyers a glimpse of what to expect on the rest of the album. Music that didn’t fit in with what was popular and didn’t care; as a matter of fact, it was proud of it. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites’ debut album went on to sell over a million copies in the US. It did so without any flash or polish or any marketing blitz. It did it by being a great rock and roll record. Pure and simple.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ‘n Roll

I knew I had heard Joan Jett somewhere before when “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” became her breakthrough single and album. The Internet wasn’t around back in 1981, so it took me a while to realize that along with metal rocker, Lita Ford, she was previously in the all female punk band The Runaways, best known for their minor hit “Cherry Bomb”.

Joan Jett took the punk rock edge from The Runaways and gave it just enough polish to make one of greatest albums from the ’80s. With its perfect blend of of amped up covers and power chord originals, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” was an album that really couldn’t miss. It also has one of the most iconic album covers of all time. Perfectly capturing Joan Jett’s slicked back bad and reputation sides, photographer Mick Rock said he had set out to capture something memorable, in the vein of a female Elvis. Well done Mick.

Alice Cooper – Zipper Catches Skin

The early 80s were kind of a rough time for Alice Cooper. Even though flashy hair metal had become a popular sound, so had new wave music. The former would have been the path of least resistance for the theatrical shock rocker, but Cooper chose the more drastic transition. “Zipper Catches Skin” was the third album of four in Alice Cooper’s new wave era. Unfortunately, long time fans weren’t buying into his new sound and image and he didn’t gain many new ones from the new wave crowd. Consequently, Alice Cooper’s popularity took a big hit during the early and mid ’80s.

Alice Cooper was also battling a very personal issue during the early 1980s – addiction. Cooper had spent time in a sanitarium in the mid ’70s for treatment of alcoholism. The experience became the inspiration for his 1978 album, “From the Inside“. Tragically, he fell off the wagon a few years after recording that album. In the new decade, his addiction took over with a vengeance as he dove into heavy cocaine use combined with alcohol. He went into treatment a second time after the disease nearly killed him. Today, the long-time sober Alice refers to “Zipper Catches Skin” and his other records from the early ’80s as his “blackout” albums because he has little to no memory of writing or recording them.

Like many, I totally wrote off Alice Cooper’s new wave era; at least at first. I actually didn’t realize how good his music was from this era until I happened to hear a couple of songs from it a decade or so later. Today, these albums are some of my favorites by Alice, partly because they are so different from anything he did before or since, yet they are still, unquestionably Alice.

“Zipper Catches Skin” is the sound of Alice Cooper trying to find a creative outlet in a rapidly changing musical landscape. It may have been a commercial misstep, but it was also an adventurous musical expression of a true artist. I just wish he could remember doing it.

Boston – Third Stage

I remember waiting such a long time for Boston’s third album to come out. In between when “Don’t Look Back” and “Third Stage” were released, I had graduated from high school, moved to Tennessee, served in the US Army as an air traffic controller, moved back home, met and lost who I thought was the girl of my dreams, enrolled in college, worked as a Zamboni driver, janitor, and courier, got hired by General Motors as a factory rat, and moved into an upper flat on Detroit’s east side.

Okay, that’s a lot to have going on in six years. Even so, six years is a long time between albums – especially for a band as popular as Boston. Apparently a flood and several power failures in Tom Scholz’s home studio had something to do with the delay. I’m sure his perfectionist attitude toward Boston’s sound had something to do with it as well.

Tom Scholz’s attention to the finest of details is what made “Third Stage” totally worth the wait though. That, and it being a collection of great songs. In Scholz’s own words, each individual song “relates a human experience” and collectively they “tell the story of a journey into life’s Third Stage”.

Of those songs, Amanda is perhaps the most beautiful arrangement Boston ever did. “Cool the Engines” is possibly the most rocking. But best of all, all the songs on “Third Stage” are unmistakably Boston.

Yeah, a lot had happened and a lot of time had passed in between Boston’s second and third album. But all things considered, it was well worth the wait.

John Cougar – American Fool

American Fool was the album that really sold me big time on John Cougar’s music. The thing is, I almost didn’t buy it because of the crappy two star review Rolling Stone magazine gave it in 1982. Had it not been for an Army buddy of mine who, like John Cougar, was from Indiana, I probably would have totally written this album off. Then again, it was also at number one on the album charts for more than two months, had three hit singles and was all over the radio. I guess there was no way I was going to miss it, really.

“American Fool” was the final straw for me as far as reading negative reviews of albums. If it didn’t get at least three and a half stars or a seven out of ten mark I didn’t read it anymore. Tell me what’s good about record, not what you don’t like. That’s kind of my philosophy here. I mean, why would I keep or add an album to my collection if I didn’t like it?

Is “American Fool” a perfect album? No. But it’s damn good, and cor me, that’s close enough for rock and roll.