Sam Phillips – Martinis And Bikinis

I discovered Sam Phillips’ music right at the end of my stint in radio. I was taking classes at Wayne State University and volunteering at Detroit public radio station WDET. The radio station was doing some housekeeping and gave me a whole box of music they were clearing out. It was mostly music by artists I had never hard of. Among all of them, the one that stood out the most to me was “Cruel Inventions” by Sam Phillips. I immediately went out looking for more stuff by her at the record store and discovered she had just released her follow-up, “Martinis and Bikinis”. No hesitation. I bought it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Sam Phillips has a good voice; at least not in the traditional sense. Just like Stevie Nicks doesn’t have what would traditionally be called a good voice. In similar fashion, Sam Phillips’ voice is as distinct as it is memorable; perfectly suited to the songs she writes and sings.

I first owned “Martinis and Bikinis” on CD. In my renewed love of vinyl, I have been trying to dig up some of my favorite recordings in that format. Well, I recently ran across “Martinis and Bikinis” on white vinyl online. No hesitation. I bought it.

“Martinis and Bikinis” is an album perfectly suited for vinyl, due in part to T Bone Burnett’s brilliant production. I would lay odds that he’s an analog guy. He has also produced albums by Los Lobos, Counting Crowes, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and the soundtracks to “Walk the Line” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The other thing that makes “Martinis and Bikinis” better to have on vinyl is the bonus tracks that are not on the CD. Side four of the album is a collection of four previously unavailable alternate versions of songs from the original release. The best of those is the recording of “I Need Love”, performed with a string quartet. It gives a totally new feel to an already great song. I honestly don’t know which version I prefer.

The Tragically Hip – Day For Night

Day For Night is a film technique wherein filters or underexposure are used to make a movie scene shot in daylight or a well-lit studio a little darker, to make it look like it was shot at night. It is also title of The Tragically Hip’s fourth album; easily the darkest in their canon.

Compared to other Hip albums, the songs on “Day for Night” definitely have a darker feeling. The deep, moody bass lines are more dominant and the guitars are more sustained and droning. Gord Downie’s lyrics, as always, emphasize multiple layers of interpretation, but here convey a slightly more somber, sometimes more aggressive quality than on The Hip’s earlier records.

The Tragically Hip are not inherently a dark band and “Day for Night” is not by any means a dark album. But it is dark for The Hip, and that is what makes it one of their most intriguing albums. “Day for Night” is an album that exposes The Hip through a filtered lens; one that gives the listener a chance, if only for 80 minutes or so, to trade in their day for night.

When I started rebuilding my vinyl collection I knew Tragically Hip records would find their way into it at some point. What I didn’t know was that I would run across a great deal on a box set that included all 14 of their albums on vinyl. The box set also came with a poster and a turntable matt that has the band’s logo on it, including their gargoyle mascot.

The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely

There are two types of people when it comes to The Tragically Hip. Those who love them as one of the most incredible rock bands ever, and those who have never heard of them. That latter group doesn’t know what the ‘F’ they’re missing out on. But you Canadian’s know.

If I had to pick a favorite Tragically Hip album, I suppose it would be “Fully Completely”. Only because, barring the sentimentality behind first hearing them on my honeymoon in Toronto, this was the album where I realized what incredible band The Tragically Hip were.

It was on “Fully, Completely”, that I discovered how wonderful it can be after the honeymoon; when I could strip out the newness and the sentimentality. It was a time when I first analyzed the core and heart and soul before me and realized the awesome aura of honesty, sincerity and passion surrounding me.

Wait a second…was I talking about my wife of almost 30 years or The Tragically Hip’s music.

Oh yeah…both.

I love you Helen.

The Hip are pretty F’ing awesome too.

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

The Tragically Hip – Trouble At The Henhouse

Being the most popular doesn’t necessarily make you the best. Being real and true to yourself does. The Tragically Hip were the best Canadian band ever.

The Tragically Hip never compromised their music for commercial success, yet found great success in the great white north. Making music that is real and true is what The Hip were always all about. From 1989 to 2016, The Tragically Hip were Canada’s rock and roll ambassadors to the world. Even though they gave their last performance in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario in 2016 – a televised performance viewed live by a third of all Canadians – they are still considered by many to be the band that best defines Canada today. Gord Downie, who was taken from us way too soon by brain cancer, was a lyricist who was quite possibly the most prolific Canadian poet ever.

“Trouble at the Henhouse” is one of my favorite albums by The Tragically Hip; my all-time favorite Canadian band. It is their 6th of 14 albums, all of which are in my vinyl collection.

The guitar hanging in the background was signed by all the members of The Hip. I asked Gord Downie to put some words of wisdom on it. He wrote:

“Play to live. Das Hips”.

‘Nuff said.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

It was ignored by most rock critics when it was released in 1967. Its songs were near to never played on the radio. Its initial sales were next to dismal.

Yet…

By the 1990s it was regarded as one of the most influential rock records ever made. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #13 in its list of the greatest rock and roll records of all time. In 2006, it became one of only a handful of rock albums ever added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, recognized for being either culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Spoiler alert: It’s all three.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined to fail.

Yet…

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined for legendary success.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.