The 50 Most Important Albums Of My Life, Part 1

Back when I was younger, the most important things in my life included God, my family, my morals, teaching, running and playing basketball, reading and music. Now that life has taken a funny turn, the sports-related activities are gone. I used to think, and often said to potential distance runners for my track teams, that the third activity nearly everyone learns to do is to run. And, to be honest, I did take that running talent of mine for granted. The reality is, (1) if running were easy, then everyone would be doing it; and, (2) not everyone is blessed to have run as fast as I once did. Unfortunately, I never took the talent that God had given me seriously, which is unfortunate since it is gone from my life due to a stupid Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS). Now, I really try to focus on the other five things for life fulfillment, and it works most of the time. That’s why I cling to my music collection ever so tightly. I am attempting to reprogram my brain to use music to be the stress reliever that sports once were, and this blog is where I am attempting to replace teaching chemistry. Actually, some of my former students might prefer this blog with some accompanying music to my classes/labs of “Chlorophyll?!?! More like “Bore-o-phyll!”

Recently, I read another writer’s blog where he discussed the 50 most important albums to his life. From the gist of the blog, this writer most have been in his late-thirties to early-forties. Regardless, most of his picks really did not get me excite. So, I, being of inflated ego, have decided that I too need to share my choices of the 50 albums that have impacted my life the most. I am sure that those of you who know me, you will understand my choices, while others of you will scratch your heads. Oh well! It’s my story, and I’ll be sticking with it! (My apologies to the great Colin Quinn, formerly of ‘MTV’s Remote Control’ and ‘Saturday Night Live’ Weekend Update.) Let’s begin the alphabetical listing for part 1 of a five part series. I have to draw this thing out as long as I can.

  1. AC/DC – Highway to Hell (1979). Not the first AC/DC album I owned (that honor goes to If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It), but it was the album that made me a fan for life, and set the stage for more hard rock and metal in my life throughout the 1980s.
  2. The Band – The Last Waltz (1978). I’ve stated it before, but this is the greatest going-away concert document ever!
  3. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1965). Sure, I had heard most of the songs as a kid. But, when I heard the album for the first time in all of its glory, I knew I had just listened to one of the greatest and most mature statements ever made in pop music.
  4. The Beatles – Revolver (1966). Oh sure! Sgt. Pepper’s on EVERYONE’S list. Not mine! I like this one because it showed the diversity of each Beatles’ talent. There’s power pop (“Taxman”), there’s baroque pop (“Eleanor Rigby”), there’s freaky rock “Tomorrow Never Knows”), and there’s the song that was in our elementary songbook (“Yellow Submarine”). This album was the music of the future being heard right now.
  5. Big Star – #1 Record (1972). Sure, like everyone else from my generation, I did not hear this album until I was in a record store back in 1986. And, much like the others who hear it for the first time, realize they are listening to power pop greatness that was overlooked back with the album was released.
  6. Blondie – Parallel Lines (1978). I don’t think I have ever recovered that first listening session in my bedroom during the Spring of 1979. I was able to look backward to Blondie’s influences (Sixties girls groups, the Nuggets album from 1972) and forward (new wave, post-punk).
  7. Boston – Boston (1976). Sure, they opened the way for Styx, Foreigner, REO, Journey, et al, but they also inspired future alternative darlings such as Smashing Pumpkins.
  8. The Cars – The Cars (1978) – Power pop and new wave musics dressed up with an album oriented sound. Think about this, would we have ever heard Billy Squier, Saga, Planet P Project, Asia or Rick Springfield if it weren’t for the Cars.
  9. Cheap Trick – In Color (1977). See my previous blog entry about this album. It means the world to me!
  10. The Clash – London Calling (1979). This album was the sound of punk music growing up and getting ready to take over the world. I thought they were going to be the messiahs of rock music, but they really ended up playing John the Baptist to U2’s Messiah. Sorry about the religious metaphor! It’s only rock & sarcasm, and I like it, like it, like it! Yes, I do!

That’s it! The first ten albums are on the blog. Only four more blog entries for your entertainment! Peace!

In Honor of the 100th Indy 500: My Top 33 Car Songs

Infield at Indy 500

Let’s get this straight right now! I’m from Indiana, and although I am not a fan of the state’s brand of politics right now, I am a Hoosier when it comes to sports. In my youth, I played some high school basketball, and as an adult, I coached basketball from the sixth grade level up to being a varsity assistant coach. Unfortunately, my health kept me from becoming a head coach, which left a huge hole in my soul. I did not leave teaching and coaching on my terms, which is what hurts the most, besides the constant back spasms, sciatic nerve pain and the pain of arthritis in the L4/L5 region of my spine.

Now, we are heading into Memorial Day Weekend, which in Indiana means the Indianapolis 500. You cannot escape it here. For the whole month of May, the practice sessions are covered, as well as every engine hiccup a car may make. But, you will get a sense of which cars will be the best come race day after all this coverage. The whole city and surrounding suburbs are abuzz with this race’s traditions.

Therefore, in honor of “the greatest spectacle in racing”, I am going to give you my Favorite 33 Songs About Cars. I chose the number 33 because the race will have a full field of 33 cars. And since the cars are placed in 11 rows of three cars, based on their speed, I will do the same, only in the order that I like them.

  • Row 11: 33. Sammy Hagar – “I Can’t Drive 55” (I’ve always hated this song, but its such a standard around Race Day that I couldn’t leave it off the list.
  • 32. Depeche Mode – “Behind the Wheel”
  • 31. Charlie Daniels Band – “Uneasy Rider”
  • Row 10: 30. Cake – “The Distance”
  • 29. The Go-Go’s – “Speeding”
  • 28. Bachman Turner Overdrive – “Roll on Down the Highway”
  • Row 9: 27. Devo – “Speed Racer”
  • 26. Tracy Chapman – “Fast Car”
  • paul-revere-raiders-corvair baby
  • 25. Paul Revere & the Raiders – “Corvair Baby”
  • Row 8: 24. Golden Earring – “Radar Love”
  • 23. Bruce Springsteen – “Pink Cadillac” (so what that The Boss really isn’t singing about a car!)
  • 22. Commander Cody – “Hot Rod Lincoln”
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  • Row 7: 21. Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song”
  • 20. Deep Purple – “Highway Star”
  • 19. The Clash – “Brand New Cadillac
  • Row 6: 18. Quiet Riot – “Slick Black Cadillac”
  • 17. Foghat – “Slow Ride”
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  • 16. John Travolta – “Greased Lightning”
  • Row 5: 15. Janis Joplin – “Mercedes Benz”
  • 14. Rose Royce – “Car Wash” (your ride’s gotta look nice!)
  • 13. Tom Cochrane – “Life Is a Highway”
  • Row 4: 12. War – “Low Rider”
  • 11. Edgar Winter Group – “Free Ride”
  • NumanCars
  • 10. Gary Numan – “Cars”
  • Row 3: 9. Queen – “I’m in Love with My Car”
  • 8. Velvet Crush – “Speedway Baby”
  • rush red barchetta
  • 7. Rush – “Red Barchetta”
  • Row 2: 6. Rob Zombie – “Dragula” (a hit song about the Munsters’ coffin car has to be included!)
  • 5. Bruce Springsteen – “Racing in the Streets”
  • Sniff+n+The+Tears+Drivers+Seat
  • 4. Sniff ‘N’ the Tears – “Driver’s Seat”
  • Row 1: 3. Metallica – “Fuel”
  • 2. The Clash – “Car Jamming”
  • prince little red corvette picture disc
  • 1. And, on the pole position, a song that was almost chosen for the pace car, is Prince – “Little Red Corvette”

And, the pace car for this year’s Indy 500 of music is The Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe.

Now, my friends, you have a list of 34 car songs that you could use for a playlist for the race itself. I believe most people do not mind listening to the first twenty or so laps. Then, we forget about the race, usually picking back up with the race when there is 20 laps to go. In both cases, the track is congested and the drivers are more daring with their passes.

Regardless, have a great Memorial Day! Have fun with however you celebrate the race! And try to stay cool this weekend! Here’s Keller signing off until next Tuesday. Stay Frosty!

Who Is This Husker Du You Speak Of?

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Back in the mid-Eighties, I came across several independent rock artists who were slowly gaining some cult status across the U.S. of A. You would never hear them on commercial radio, but you could hear their albums being played at independent record stores and radio stations. These artists were the direct descendants of the U.K. punk scene of the late-Seventies, but being Americans, these artists tended to crank the volume up to “11” or higher and tried to play as fast as they could. They were all about raising a racket with their instruments, and they all succeeded on various levels. These bands would tour the States in a beat up van, playing any night clubs, pizza parlors, gay club or teen dances that would book them in a city. This was the era of DIY – Do It Yourself!

These bands really did not share a sound, as some were loud and fast, while others were melodic and haunting, and all points in between. What they did share was a disdain for what was popular at the time. The bands that arose during this period were R.E.M., Sonic Youth, the Replacements, Minutemen, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Butthole Surfers, Camper Van Beethoven, Meat Puppets, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pixies, and the band I would like to introduce today, Hüsker Dü.

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Hüsker Dü was the name of popular memory game and means “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian. When the band took this name, their purpose was to play songs fast and loud, many of which would barely last two minutes in the beginning. This was do to the fact that they could not sing the French part in the Talking Heads’ classic song “Psycho Killer”. So, by playing loud and fast, while shouting the lyrics, they could skip the song’s verses that were in French, and no one was worse for the wear.

As time moved on, the band, a power trio of guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton and drummer Grant Hart began to integrate some melody into their noise that eventually would pave the way for the Pixies and another little Nineties band by the name of Nirvana. Sure, upon first listen, I really thought this was just noise, but as I listened more carefully, I discovered a sweet melody holding the noise together. This was especially true of Bob Mould’s songs, though Grant Hart’s later songs also worked around a melody. What Hüsker Dü was playing was an extreme noise version of power pop. Shoot, go listen to their song “Makes No Sense at All” from their 1985 Flip Your Wig album, and try to tell me that it is NOT a power pop song.

Unfortunately, this trio could not hold on together forever. When you have two of the three members writing songs, and one member producing the albums (Mould), there will be fights over money. Mould was making more than the other two since he was getting producer, writer and player royalties, while Hart received royalties for writing and playing, and Norton only got playing royalties. Whenever their is an unequal splitting of the cash, animosity will rear its ugly head. And, eventually, that caused the band to break up in 1987. But, during the years 1984 through 1987, Hüsker Dü had a budding career that few artists could claim.

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In 1984, Hüsker Dü created and released alternative music’s first rock opera, Zen Arcade. If you think of The Who’s Quadrophenia being played at break-neck speeds, then you have Zen Arcade. The difference was that Hüsker Dü was not yearning for its youth, but they were calling out other youths who were feeling the alienation caused by the so-called “success” of Reaganomics on youth of Eighties America.

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The band followed up that masterpiece of a double album, with two more classic albums that more or less mined that same theme of the alienation that comes with a “Trickle-Down Economics” policy that really did not trickle anywhere. Those albums were New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig. In addition to those two albums, Hüsker Dü also released a classic cover version of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”. This was all completed in 1985 while still on the independent label SST.

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Finally, in 1986, Hüsker Dü signed with a major label, Warner Brothers/Sire. Much was expected of their first major label release that year called Candy Apple Grey. Though much of the harshness of the band’s instruments were taken down a notch, the American public was not ready for what these boys from Minnesota were offering. In 1987, Hüsker Dü came back with another stellar double album called Warehouse: Songs and Stories. Once again, the band was now four years too early for the ears of America. It was then that the animosity within the band got to each other and they all went their separate ways. Let’s just say that these guys have relatively nothing nice to say about the others, which is too bad since their catalog could use some remastering for the digital age. But, as long as they continue to be sour toward each other, the world will probably never get to hear Hüsker Dü in all of their glory.

husker du live

Now, I have been talking about ho)w prolific Prince was. Remember that during his meaty years (1982 to 1987), Prince released five albums, two of which were double albums, 18 B-Side singles and 18 twelve-inch extended release singles, as well as shelved at least three albums: one a single album (Camille) one a double album (Dream Factory) and the other a triple album (Crystal Ball). During that same time frame, these fellow-Minneapolis hardcore rockers released two Extended Plays, or EPs, (Metal Circus and Sorry Somehow), six albums (Everything Falls Apart, Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, Flip Your Wig, Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse: Songs and Stories), and two singles (“Eight Miles High” and “Love Is All Around”). And two of the albums were double albums as well (Zen Arcade and Warehouse). What is it about Minnesota that allows their artists to be so prolific? Maybe, it’s the winters?

So, what became of the members of Hüsker Dü? Bob Mould has had a more successful solo career than the original band did, plus he did put together one of the best Nineties power pop bands called Sugar. Drummer Grant Hart had a band in the early-Nineties called Nova Mobb, but recently has begun a quiet solo career. And, finally, bassist Greg Norton is now an in-demand chef and is completely out of the music business. If this band were to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we will probably never get to see them play together. But, like I said earlier, if it wasn’t for Hüsker Dü, what would have the Pixies or Nirvana have sounded like?

The Spring Of 1985 Meant ‘Around The World In A Day’

prince - around the world in a dayIf you were in college during the heyday of Prince’s Purple Rain, I remember hearing people say they could not wait for his next album. I am sure they were all expecting Purple Rain II. And although I had only been a fan of Prince since his 1979 eponymous album with the great “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, I told these newbie fans that Prince’s next album will explore something totally different. Purple Rain had been the culmination of his work from Dirty Mind through 1999. Something just told me that His Royal Badness would be moving in another direction. I especially got that feeling after watching he and the Revolution stretch out many of his songs on that VHS concert film covering his Purple Rain Tour.

But, I was not ready for that pastel Easter egg of an album that Prince and the Revolution dropped on us on April 21, 1985. The Sgt. Pepper-esque album cover should have been a clue that Prince was really embracing the psychedelia of the Summer of Love and integrating those sounds into his own funk-rock amalgamation that he had forged. I had read that the Purple One had become intrigued with the sounds being created in the Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene. He was so enthralled with that scene’s sounds that he would eventually give the Bangles a song he had written during that era (“Manic Monday”) and eventually signed one of the better bands of that scene to his Paisley Park label (The Three O’Clock). The Paisley Underground embraced many of the sounds of the mid- to late-Sixties, from the Beatles’ Rubber Soul sounds of the Bangles to the Sweethearts of the Rodeo-era Byrds influence of The Long Ryders right through the baroque music of Jellyfish.

Whatever it was, Prince was inspired by these bands to go back to the real sounds of the psychedelic Sixties and began the grand experiment with his music. All of a sudden, strings were being added to dance cuts to give them a psychedelic feel. Thrown in a sitar here, Hendrixian guitar blasts there, Beach Boys-styled vocals underneath, all while still using that Minneapolis Sound that he created in the first place. All of a sudden, while on his crowning tour, Prince was plotting to scale back his career to more manageable levels, all the while expanding his music in exciting new ways.

Upon first listen, Around the World in a Day was jolting. What the heck was going on? Then, within a couple of weeks, I heard Tom Petty’s new single at the time, the classic “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, as well as the Eurythmics’ new LP, Be Yourself Tonight, and all of a sudden it was clear – a change was coming to music right then in 1985. We were entering an Ecstasy-influenced psychedelic era in music.

prince - paisley park

Around the World in a Day began with the very Sixties-sounding title song. The sound that Prince and the Revolution were creating was something altogether different than anything they had done previously. The next song was Prince’s song that became something of his theme song, “Paisley Park”. This song was Prince’s version of “Penny Lane”, in which he was remembering places in his past that would become part of utopia. Remember, the song’s title became the name of his recording studio complex. But most importantly, I remember thinking that I am NOT shaking my ass to this music! No! I was listening to it!

“Condition of the Heart” is the third song on Side One. This song was a loving ballad directed at one of Prince’s girlfriends of the moment, probably Susannah Melvoin, Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister. The song reminded me a bit of “Beautiful Ones” on Purple Rain but with more melancholia.

Prince_RaspBeret

By song number four, we were ready for some funk. And, Prince delivered one of his all-time classics, “Raspberry Beret”. This song was his big hit on this album and the most successful experiment on this album. Finally, Prince found a way to integrate a little Beatles into his purple funk. But, this song was a masterpiece on every level: as a pop song, a dance hit, a rocker and as a heir to George Clinton’s Funkadelic utopia.

Side One wraps up with the not-so-subtle double entendre “Tamborine”. Who knew that the only musical instrument that I could play a little could be turned into a sexually-charged song. Unfortunately, the song was something of a dud. So, I used to skip this song and flip my album over to Side Two.

Prince kicks off Side Two with a confusing song called “America”. Where Prince’s protest lyrics were direct and on-target on songs such as “Controversy” or “Ronnie Talk to Russia”, Mr. Nelson attempts to tackle the whole “right versus left” thing that we were just being to experience here in the States. Unfortunately, Prince swung and missed on this song, which sounded as though he was just trying to hurry up to get this album out.

Prince_PopLife

But, then “Pop Life”, a duet with Sheila E., comes up to give the listener a pop delight. This was just a perfectly executed pop song, plain and simple. But, that was the last song of any worth on this album, unfortunately.

The last two songs are the kind of self-indulgent art songs that Prince and the other artists of the late-Seventies and early-Eighties were trying to wipe out. The next to last song is the five-minute, 26-second “Stairway to Heaven”-wannabe “The Ladder”. Sorry, Prince! If I really want to listen to your version of that Led Zeppelin standard, I will listen to “Purple Rain”!

Finally, to wrap up this mess of an album is a mess of an attempted epic called “Temptation”. During this horrid song, Prince spends his time pleading with God for forgiveness for him succumbing to the desires of his Flesh. Just as Prince is condemned to Hell, Jesus steps in to save Prince with His salvation. I am certain that this song would have become the showstopper that Prince had intended it to be if he had just taken some time to improve it. But, after listening to eight-minutes and twenty-one seconds of this mess, I forgot I was actually listening to my heroic Prince and had somehow put The Moody Blues on my turntable. As much as those two songs smelled liked a dropped turd, Prince proved how he could consciously drop caca on us in the late-Nineties when he was fighting with Warner Brothers over the control of his music. At least the poor songs on this album were failed experiments in an attempt for greatness.

During this era of Prince’s career, he was reportedly recording a song per day. And, what we were getting on the B-sides of his three singles from this album were three of his best songs that SHOULD have been on this album. But, that was Prince, and this was the first time that he took a home run cut and missed with this album. But, the good songs were great on this album. Unfortunately, the bad songs were crap.

The great news from Around the World in a Day was that Prince was going to be traveling in challenging directions in his music for the rest of his career. And, those of us who were committed to follow this unique musical talent were going to be given an enriched musical life.

So, I’ve come to thank Prince for this album. Not for the music that was on the album, but for the exhilirating music that was to follow in the future. Believe it or not, at this point, Prince had given us three hands-down classic albums (Dirty Mind, 1991, Purple Rain), but he was about to drop on us five more classic albums over the next eight years!

Hold on tight! It’s going to be a crazy ride!

‘Tis The Season For Some Raspberries

Raspberries_album

Although many of you are thinking this is about the fruit, sorry! I am talking about about a great power pop band from the early Seventies called the Raspberries. Many of you that are older and remember this band probably think of them as a teenybopper band or a bubblegum band. And, many they were geared toward my age group back then, but they never should have been.

At a time when Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and the rest were all challenging the parameters and definition of rock music, as well as creating some very era-defining, there were a handful of artists who were looking back to 1965 and 1966 versions of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Who and Small Faces for their inspiration. These artists tended to be Americans, but there were several British artists who were taking the melodies of the Beatles and the vocals of the Beach Boys and melding them with the musical muscularity of The Who and The Kinks to create what is now known as power pop.

Power pop artists rarely get their due from the critics. Case in point, Cheap Trick. These guys had been eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2002 but had not been nominated until this year. And they were elected on their first chance. Many people tend to look at Cheap Trick, and other power pop bands, like that kid in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who told the ticket scalper that Cheap Trick was for kids. And, that was a middle school student saying that!!!

Power pop bands are like Christian Bale’s character in American Psycho: a pleasant, nondescript exterior that covers a very aggressive interior. Now, pop power will NOT kill you in the physical sense but tends to be more insidious than a serial killer.

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In 1972, four young men from Cleveland (Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley) gathered together because of their love of the British Invasion bands of the Sixties, and created music that was based in that era. However, they added some very muscular guitar work in the form of power chords that The Who and The Kinks discovered. This sweet sounding music seemed out of step with the metal and prog rock that was dominating rock radio back then. Instead, the Raspberries’ first hit, “Go All the Way”, became a Top 10 hit, reaching number five at the end of the summer of 1972. What sounded like a great pop song with a terrific guitar solo masked some very risqué lyrics for the time, where singer Eric Carmen, he of “All by Myself” fame, is being begged by his girlfriend to “please go all the way, it just feels so nice, being with you here tonight.”

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Whoa!!! I NEVER heard a girl udder those words, but the Raspberries made me sure hope to hear them one day. Throughout the whole song, the girl is the aggressive one, which was a change from the whole males are always on the prowl thing. To my ears, that song is nearly perfect.

But, it’s the rest of the album’s McCartney-esque songs that make this album such a classic. It’s great on sunny days of spring, and it’s great on those cold dreary days of winter. Raspberries by Raspberries is just one of those classic records that will always put me in a good mood. There are songs that remind you of Rundgren or Harrison that give the album depth.

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The album has one bonafide classic song in “Go All the Way”. But, the rest of Raspberries is a fun, cheery ride that keeps on giving more and more on the soundscape and lyrically to you as you put it on your turntable. And, then after you fall in love with this album, you find yourself seeking more and more power pop. Now, I’m going to start out slow with you, but watch out! I’ve been going nuts on this stuff since my disability four years ago.

Growing Up With U2

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Many millennials seem to hate the rock band U2 for some reason. I am not sure why. I know Bono goes and rails against many global causes that frankly Americans do not generally understand their role in Bono’s vision. And, to many, that makes Bono and the band he has been a part of since 1978, U2, targets of ridicule, sarcasm and parody. While I enjoy the parody (South Park is the greatest at meting out parody), the ridicule and sarcasm seems often based in something that is truly difficult to eliminate: ignorance.

While I would NEVER nominate the guys of U2 for pope, or even the title of the “World’s Greatest Rock Band” (the Rolling Stones have been holding onto that claim for 46 years now, since they self-proclaimed themselves with the title and are now holding onto that tile like the pirate skeletons they seem to be now. But, when the Stones made that claim, you could have denied them the title. Since then, we have seen a bevy of artists stake claim to the title: Elton John, KISS, Bruce Springsteen, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Police, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen again, U2, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, U2 again, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eminem, U2 yet again for a third time, Arcade Fire, Jay-Z, and, currently, Kanye West. Sorry, Nickelback.

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U2 popped into my life back in 1980, when I bought their debut album Boy. Their sound was totally different from most everything else at the time. Sure, we had many lesser known artists at the time who were experimenting with melody and noise, many of which are little known today, such as Joy Division, Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd. But, for some reason, be it their family lives growing up or the simple fact they were Irish, U2 rose above the rest. At the time, few artists were displaying the courage to tackle political, societal and individual ills within their music. Many critics have said that U2 filled the void left open by the untimely demise of The Clash. But, where The Clash had a tincture of art in the prose of their lyrics, U2 went at their lyrics with sense of earnestness that only Kurt Cobain and John Lennon had approached. And, that is where I connected with U2.

Now, I am NOT a fanatic of one particular artist like many are within the KISS Army. That is cool, I wish I could do that. I do get close with Cheap Trick, Prince, R.E.M. and Tom Petty, but I love that variety of music that I grew up with on the radio with WNAP, 93.1 FM in Indianapolis. When I was a tweener and a teenager, WNAP seemed to play a variety, and that’s the way I have gone in my music collection. Still, I connected early with U2 and have grown up with them, purchasing every album they have released along the way.

The great thing about U2 is that they have never stood in the same music place for too long. After they reach the pinnacle with their initial earnest lyrics and sound in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, they took two side steps. The first was the band incorporating the sounds of American music into their sound, producing the Rattle and Hum album. And, when the Nineties hit, the band embraced somewhat of a dadaist approach to their music in order to create their second masterpiece, Achtung Baby. On that album, the band discarded their earnest sound and lyrics and embraced the emerging sound of the new decade that seemed that it was going to be based upon the sounds that David Bowie and Brian Eno created with Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, “Heroes” and Lodger). That may have been due to the fact that the band was working with Brian Eno himself.

Throughout the Nineties, U2 continued down this path with diminishing success, until, that is, the decade was about to flip over into a brand new century. Uncannily, U2 knew it was time to change their sound yet again. Were they going to totally throw away the lessons they learning during the last decade of the Twentieth Century? Absolutely not! So, what happened.

They reached back to the Eighties for a dash of lyrical earnestness to add to the junk-culture musical landscapes their created in the Nineties for a whole new U2 for the Twenty-first Century. And, their music was ready for a world that was about to change due to the acts that occurred on 9/11/01. All of a sudden U2 was comforting us with “Beautiful Day” and “Walk On By” from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Quickly, the band capitalized on the sound with yet another album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. But, what happened next was unprecedented in U2 history: the music stopped.

They struggled personally and professionally. The bond between these longtime childhood friends seemed to be weakening and breaking, until, finally they released the highly uneven and definitely transitory No Line on the Horizon. Personally, I love it when U2 releases these kinds of albums. They have often. Let me name them: October, The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle & Hum and Pop. Each of those came out before a classic album was created. Did the band have enough juice left in them to create another masterpiece?

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If the world tour that was tied to that album, known as the U2360 Tour, was any indication, we should not have been surprised that something special was on the horizon. That tour was a spectacle, although not on the lines of what the band did on the tours of the early-Nineties, but musically, the band was at their peak. On July 17, 2011, at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, I had the privilege of seeing U2 play on one of the hottest days (the temperature was  over 100º at the time the warm-up band, Interpol, took the stage) that I had even been outside for an event before. Yet, when U2 took the stage around 9 PM, I was NOT ready for the audio-visual assault that I experienced. The only concerts that I could use as a comparison would be to cross the 1985 Bruce Springsteen concert’s energy and musicality with the theatrics of the 2011 Roger Water’s The Wall concert. I had never witnessed anything like it. When it was over, I knew I had just seen one of my five best concerts in my life, if not THE best.

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Well, on September 15, 2014, one of the greatest gestures a rock artist has ever bestowed upon a population occurred when U2 teamed up with Apple to provide EVERY user of iTunes a FREE downloadable copy of U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence. Immediately, millennials everywhere were whining that they were being given a whole album’s worth of music for-GASP!- FREE!!! Now, millennials love to download their music for free, but I guess no artist should EVER give them a copy of them new album, no matter the quality of the music on the album, better give them an album. How dare U2 do that to me! I could NOT believe my ears as millennials everywhere were complaining of this free U2 being available to them to download IF THEY WANTED IT!!! I guess they wanted Rihanna or Beyoncé for FREE instead of an artist that is still viable AND in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

In all of their bellyaching, these people missed out on one of the greatest albums about a group of friends who have grown-up together and have aged gracefully and are doing exactly what every other artist has wanted to do when they all begin their careers: stick together, grow as humans AND artists and continue to create fantastic and vital music. This album is the sound of remember one’s youthful optimism, one’s thirty-something battles, one’s forty-something move into elder statesmanship and, finally, arriving in your fifties ready to roar. Keith Richards, that indestructible alien of the Rolling Stones, said back in the Eighties that he wanted to how a rock ages gracefully much like the old depression-era bluesmen that influenced them did before them. Now, on this great 2014, you get to hear this underdog of a band that rose to the top of the rock world – not just once, but thrice!- aging gracefully as one of the most exciting rock band in all of history.

Since I am a completist, I bought the physical version of the U2 album, mainly because I got a second CD of five extra songs not available on the free download. Plus, I prefer the sound of vinyl and CDs over the sound of mp3s. Sorry, my iPod is for convenience only. Anyway, versions of the album begin with “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)”, a song in which the band of middle-aged men looks back to the heroes of their youth (in this case, Joey Ramone of the Ramones), thanking the hero for the inspiration of a life that ended up being greater than the writer could ever imagine. The album continues that theme, that growing does NOT becoming less vital but giving you the power to grow as a responsible human being. The whole album proves that an artist can improve with age. Sure, they are no longer full of piss and vinegar, trying to change the world. Now, they know their art can still be vital but you can change the world through other mediums. With age comes the realization that you will not get every change that you think needs to happen immediately, like you do in your twenties. Now, you know the changes WILL happen eventually, but change comes glacially, not immediately.

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This album will one day go down as the first great album by fifty-somethings that face that age group’s fears and wants. U2 lyrically broke new ground on this album. Finally, adults have a REAL way to rock out without resorting to an artist changing genres, like all the rock artists of the Eighties putting out country albums, right Bon Jovi? Nor do rock artists have to embrace the NPR music of the Middle Ages in order to “feel” mature, like Sting and Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore have done. Nope, follow U@’s road map by trying to create great music with lyrics that express the maturity.

Now, where’s my Geritol and Ben-Gay?

May 20, 1989: My Son Seth & Tom Petty

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Twenty-seven years ago, my pregnant wife awoke me at midnight to say she was in labor. It was now Saturday morning, and we were moving around the duplex we were renting searching for her prepared hospital bag. Then I heard, “Is the camera in the bag?”

“Yes! The camera is in the bag!” I yelled back.

I called her parents because they were going to drive a half-hour from Cedar Grove, Indiana, to Oxford, Ohio. So, we waited as the contractions came faster and faster. At a little bit before 2:00 AM, Jill’s water broke. Oh, man! Why didn’t we just ask the neighbors to cover for us until her parents got here? We sure were stupid. Oh, and Graham slept through everything! Of course, he was the one we were worried about.

Just after Jill’s water broke, her parents showed up. So, we hopped into our 1987 Chevy Nova and made the two-mile trek to the hospital at which I worked. I had called ahead of time and the nurses were not busy so they got ready for us. That was the advantage of a small hospital. While in the car, I timed the contractions and they were only two minutes apart! I wanted to drive faster, but my wife kept yelling at me to slow down! I was NOT even going over the speed limit!

According to the medical chart, Jill was admitted to the Labor Room at 2:30 AM. The OB on call was not hers. He popped his head in the door.

“Do I have time to wash up and gown myself?”

A nurse yelled back, “If you hurry! This baby is coming now!”

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Now, I know what you are thinking: two-and-a-half hours of labor? Yes. I am not lying. At 2:36 AM, a nine-pound, 23-inch baby boy came rushing out of my 5’3″ petite wife. The doctor took one look at our new son and said, “Give that boy a Big Mac, cuz he’s hungry!” Sure enough, after Seth Alexander Keller had his initial testing complete, he was hungry. So, he ate pretty much right away. And, for 27 years, that baby has grown into a fine young man who just graduated with his Master’s Degree in Sociology/History. His goal is to become a college professor after getting his PhD. But, right now, that’s on the back burner. So, what does my son’s birthday have to do with Tom Petty?

Well, after staying at the hospital until around 10 AM, I left my sleeping family to celebrate my child’s birth the only way I knew how to. I went to the record store. After getting congratulations from the store’s owner, I looked in the new albums and found a promo copy of Tom Petty’s first solo album, Full Moon Fever. So, I bought it.

When I got home, Graham got out of bed (he was a late sleeper back then). I told him that he has a baby brother now. Remember, Graham was four back then. He said, “Great! But I peed the bed.” Well, there’s a reality check for me! We got him cleaned up. He was happy to see his Grandparents Brown were there for him.

While Graham and his grandparents entertained each other, I got cleaned up while listening to Tom Petty. This album seemed to be talking to me, just like all Petty albums seem to do. The whole album seemed to be about early adulthood and parenthood. It’s all over the album. I was floored that Tom was expressing my most intimate feelings and worries.

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From the feeling of not being in control in “Free Falling” to standing up for your family with “I Won’t Back Down”, Petty kept expressing everything I was feeling at the time. Shoot, there’s even a little lullaby called “Alright for Now”. All of a sudden, I felt like I had some strength to be a parent to two boys now. For that short hour of getting ready to go back to the hospital while listening to this great album, I gained the confidence to be “Dad” to two boys. And, it has been an honor to be called “Dad” by these two intelligent, bull-headed, caring boys.

At noon, Graham, Grandma and Grandpa Brown, and I all went to the hospital to see Jill and meet the newest Keller, Seth. Later, we were all joined by my parents and step-parents and my brother Stephen. FYI: Seth was the only baby in the nursery that day, and Jill was the only mommy on the maternity floor.

So, Tom Petty, thank you for releasing Full Moon Fever near my son’s date of birth, so I will always have that album associated with him. Plus, it’s a great record containing some of Petty’s best writing. Still, I prefer my Petty with a full dose of Heartbreakers.

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Oh, I forgot to mention that I forgot the camera on the kitchen table during the rush to get to the hospital. Sheepishly, I brought it to the hospital later in the day and got pictures of everyone holding Seth, including his big brother Graham. One other piece of irony, there was a full moon that morning of the day I purchased Full Moon Fever. cue the music to the Twilight Zone.