Merle Haggard – That’s the Way Love Goes

Back in the late 1980s I worked on-air at two radio stations in Michigan at the same time. One was a rock station near Bay City and Saginaw, the other was a country station in Bad Axe, a small town in the center of the thumb. It was there that I really came to appreciate the music of Merle Haggard and other country artists of that era.

Merle Haggard has become a legend in country music. During his musical career, he released an amazing 63 studio albums, writing or co-writing most of the songs on them. “That’s the way Love Goes” was his 38th album and one of my favorites by him. The Strangers are his backing band throughout this album, as the were for many of Haggard’s records. Their sound was a perfect fit for his distinct voice and style that was a bit rougher around the edges than some of the slick country sounds coming out of Nashville in the 1980s.

Merle Haggard was an artist who wrote and played music on his own terms. He forever changed the sound of country music and helped define an era of authenticity in it that many feel may never be equaled.

That’s the stuff a musical legend is made of.

Propaganda – A Secret Wish

If you want to really grab my attention and make me listen to your debut album, open it up with my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem, “A Dream Within a Dream” put to elegantly dark music.

I remember exactly why I bought Propaganda’s debut, “A Secret Wish” in the late summer of 1985. I had never heard of Propaganda. I knew none of the members in the band. I had never heard any of their songs. No one I knew had heard of them. I was going through a difficult breakup and needed some comfort music. I bought a sh!t load of records that day, all by artists I had never or only barely heard of, just so I could hopefully jump into something new that was close and personal to me…anything but a new relationship. Music was the only thing I could think of to turn to.

I don’t remember any of the other records I bought that day. Only this one, because it immediately touched me personally with Poe’s poetry of a false awakening. With its innovative use synth pop combined with progressive rock, the rest of the record continued to pull my attention away from memories and thoughts I needed to abandon at the time.

“A Secret Wish” will forever be a special album to me because of the timing of when I first discovered it and because it is some of the most kick-ass and innovative music I have ever heard. But mostly, it’s special to me because it opened with lines from my favorite Edgar Allan Poe poem put perfectly to music.

“All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream”.

Joe Jackson – Look Sharp

The story of Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut album is one to file under “If at first you don’t succeed”.

When record producer David Kershenbaum first heard the songs Joe Jackson was working on for what Jackson hoped would eventually be his first album, he liked what he heard so much, he immediately had Jackson signed to A&M records. To gain traction for “Look Sharp”, the first single from it, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, was released ahead of the album. It went nowhere, in the US or Britain. A second single, “Sunday Papers”, was released. Same thing. The third single, “One More Time” followed suit. Things weren’t looking too sharp for Joe Jackson. But finally, the album “Look Sharp” was released…and it went nowhere.

It made no sense. It was a great album with great songs bouncing between new wave and punk. What went wrong?

I’m not sure who made the final decision, but they did what was really the only thing that made sense at that point. They re-released the single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”. It was a hit! “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” soon took off as well. Radio stations even started playing songs from the album that weren’t released as singles. A short while later Joe Jackson had his first gold record in the US and Britain, just like they had planned all along.

And the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of “try, try again”.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon

I imagine that if you have as easily distinguishable a voice as Roger Daltry, fronting a band as successful as The Who, you have to put extra effort into making solo records that sound distinctly different from the songs you sing with your regular bandmates. With the exception of the album’s title track, Roger Daltrey’s sixth solo album, “Under a Raging Moon” sounds nothing like a Who album.

One thing that makes that so surprising is that the opening track, the only single from the album, “After the Fire” was written by The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend. One thing that makes it not so surprising is that the song “Under a Raging Moon” is a tribute song to Keith Moon, The Who’s original drummer who died a few years earlier.

As a tribute to his former mate, Daltry made the ultimate nod of respect to Moon in the title song, calling in a who’s who of drummers. The song includes short drum solos from Martin Chambers (Pretenders), Roger Taylor (Queen), Cozy Powell, (The Jeff Beck Group, Black Sabbath, Rainbow), Stewart Copeland (The Police), Zak Starkey (son of Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr), Carl Palmer (ELP), as well as the drummer for Daltrey’s band on this album, Mark Brzezicki.

While listening and reading the liner notes to “Under a Raging Moon” another thing that impressed me was that Roger Daltrey chose to donate all the royalties from “After the Fire”, the one and only single off this album, to Band Aid, a charity dedicated to famine relief in Ethiopia and other African countries. If you know the song “We Are The World”, then you probably know of Band Aid”.

As a side note, I want to take the time to thank author Steven R. Pawley, for suggesting I add “Under a Raging Moon” to my record collection. It’s definitely a keeper. Now I suggest you check out his books in The McCatty Chronicles: “Alley Girl”, “The Coffee Cabin”, “Searching for Frownie Mae”, “Sinful Bodies” and the soon to be published “Sandcastles in the City”. They are also keepers.

Japan – Oil On Canvas

I remember the first time I heard the band Japan. They were like so many classic rock artists I admired yet they were like nothing I had ever heard before. The Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Ferry and The Talking Heads, were all in there at some measure, as were a few other bands that are best described as trend setters, not followers. But it was the combination of those influences that made Japan so unique. Japan was musical artistry in every sense of the word.

Still, I always wondered, was their sound all studio wizardry or could they actually pull their songs off live. I never had a chance to see Japan in concert but that question was still answered when I ran across a copy of “Oil on Canvas”, the only live album Japan released during their short recording career, from 1978 to 1981.

Fortunately, “Oil on Canvas” was a double LP, because a single record would not have been enough. As a matter of fact, Japan’s live performances here are so good. two records still leave me wanting more. The band absolutely nails the feeling of their studio recordings yet at the same time breathes new life into the songs, mixing them up and changing just enough to let you know they have no intention of performing a studio carbon copy.

The history of rock has always been filled with somebody’s favorite artist that didn’t make it for one reason or another. Its future will forever hold the same. Though the sounds and styles of these bands may differ drastically, one factor is always a constant: they are always true artists. I think Japan knew this when they released their only live record. That’s why they chose a name for it that alluded to true artistry; a name alluding to one of the most classical forms of artistic expression.

Oil on Canvas.

The Fixx – Phantoms

The Fixx is one of the bands that helped defined alternative rock, or new wave as it was called in its beginning, in the 1980s. They had an impressive run of numerous hit singles and five successful studio albums. “Phantoms” was their third. “Are We Ourselves” was the biggest hit off of it and it became the new wave band’s first number one hit on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. Two more number ones would follow before the end of the decade.

Overall, The Fixx racked up ten hit singles on the mainstream rock charts seven of which broke the top 10. They probably would have had even better success on the alternative charts, except Billboard didn’t create the alternative rock charts (originally termed “modern rock”) until 1988. It was bands like The Fixx, bands that didn’t really fit the bill of mainstream rock, that prompted Billboard to start the new record charts.

As the ’90s rolled in, The Fixx’s style of music grew out of favor as grunge gained popularity in the U.S. The Fixx remained together however and the original line-up continues to record and tour today. Their 10th album, “Beautiful Friction” was released in 2012.

Styx – Paradise Theatre

Despite concept albums becoming less en vogue going into the ’80s, “Paradise Theatre” did pretty well for Styx. Actually, it became their only #1 album, spawned four singles, and sold over 3 million copies. Yeah, it did very well.

Released at the beginning of 1981, the album revolves around the declining moral, social, and political state of affairs in America coming out of the ’70s going into a new decade. They used the deteriorated state of Chicago’s once majestic Paradise Theatre as a metaphor for the concept that the songs revolve around.

Not only was the music on “Paradise Theatre” some of the best Styx has ever done, the album itself was a work of art. Somehow, without affecting the sound quality, side 2 of the record was etched with a prismatic image of sculptures from the theater’s marquee along with the band’s name. Every time I listen to “Paradise Theatre” I have to admire it. It truly is a work of art – as is the music that accompanies it.

Missing Persons – Rhyme & Reason

It’s not unheard of for drummers to be involved in writing a song or two on a record but it is out of the norm for them to co-write nearly every song on it. On “Rhyme & Reason”, the second album from Missing Persons, drummer Terry Bozzio co-wrote all but song. Then again, Terry Bozzio is a very musically oriented percussionist. Not content in merely keeping the rhythm of a song, his playing often supplements the melody.

I remember seeing Terry Bozzio perform live in 2016. It was a one man show; just him and his drum kit – the largest touring drum kit in existence. Using a combination of electronic and acoustic drums and cymbals, plus triggered samplers and sequencers to repeat certain parts he would play, he performed entire songs, all his own compositions, with nothing more than his drum kit. It was an amazing show.

All the musicians in Missing Persons were amazingly talented. For this album, they focused more on complexity and intricacy in their songs, departing somewhat from their more commercially accessible debut “Spring Session M”. “Rhyme & Reason” is an album that offers something new to hear even after repeated listenings. Missing Persons would only release one more album after this before breaking up in 1986.

The Steve Miller Band – Children Of The Future

San Francisco, 1968. Psychedelic music is in full swing, and one of the groups at the forefront of it was The Steve Miller Band. It’s not the style one typically associates with The Steve Miller Band, which makes their debut album “Children of the Future” stand in sharp contrast to their later big hits.

Yet at the same time, it still sounds like The Steve Miller Band. It’s just more adventurous. It’s more jamming, It’s more bluesy. It’s more … more psychedelic.

Yeah, The Steve Miller Band was one of the best Psychedelic bands around in the late 1960s. It’s where they got their start. With the success they achieved in the ’70s and ’80s that’s sometimes forgotten about.

Not here. Not now.

Peace.

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.