Arena Rock Is Not a Bad Thing

I know that most critics around the world are not too pleased with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees over the past several years. Yes, there has not been enough women and artists of color being inducted (Really?!?! No Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Rick James, the Spinners, Zapp, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Pat Benatar, The Runaways, to list just a few???). But, personally, I have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite bands of my youth, most of whom were NOT critical darlings during their initial runs as artists, like KISS, Rush, Deep Purple, Cheap Trick, Chicago, Yes, Steve Miller and now Journey. Finally, that music of seemingly faceless bands (go ahead and name ALL of the musicians who have played in each of these bands. Impossible, I know!). Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, these types of bands were lumped together under the banner of “arena rock”, “corporate rock” or “dad rock”.

Sure, these bands all shared a sound that originated with art rock and hard rock, but they all shared a love of melody. So, instead of using a jangling guitar, these bands used near-metal guitar solos that had been sweetened to fit within the constraints of a pop song. If that formula sounds vaguely familiar, it should since hair or glam metal used the same repertoire. So when did arena rock begin to infatuate the American youth?

The first inklings of a newer type of hard rock was bubbling up in the early Seventies in the form of Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, Chicago and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. But, the sound did not kick into gear until the release of Boston’s eponymous titled debut album on August 25, 1976. After that, the labels were in search of bands with a similar sound to Boston. After Boston’s success, we started hearing great music by journeymen artists such as Peter Frampton, Kansas, REO Speedwagon and Head East. Like new bands were popping up like Foreigner, and other experienced bands, like Styx, REO and Journey, went through line-up changes that lead to bigger success. And, the sound was off to the races.

The quality of this type of music peaked in the late-70s, but the commercial success peaked in 1981, as the following artists had number one albums and big hit songs: REO Speedwagon, Styx, Foreigner, Journey and Pat Benatar. Other bands began to narrow their sounds to fit this genre which resulted in successful albums for Rush, the Moody Blues, Stevie Nicks and Billy Squier.

As the years pass on, more and more of these artists are being better appreciated now that they were back in those heady days of big album and single sales and concert receipts. These artists are in constant rotation on classic rock radio all over the world. I think we will continue to see more and more of these artists being recognized by the RRHOF and younger critics as the years pass. Here’s to Journey getting in the RRHOF! Next up Styx, Pat Benatar and/or Foreigner?

Thank you Fitz & the Tantrums

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Back in the Spring of 2011, when I was contemplating retirement from teaching due to disability, I was really struggling physically, mentally and spiritually. It was one of the lower times I have ever felt in my life, and I have been fighting that dark monster of melancholia for years. As a former distance runner, I had always lived by a quote from the great American distance runner of the early-1970s Steve Prefontaine (and those of you whom I coached, you will know this quote): “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” That quote always seemed to push me beyond what my talent would have normally limited my body from doing. If you wanted to sprint next to me, I’m going to find another gear to shift to to beat you. Or, if you are going to turn this race into a duel of who can handle the most pain we can inflict upon ourselves, I was going to win that way too. But, now, on an hourly basis, I am battling myself to see who is weaker: my self or my body. I’d say I’m batting about .500, which would make me a multi-millionaire in baseball but only makes me a decent distance runner.

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Anyway, I have always turned to music for comfort in times of need, whether it was during my parents’ divorce or my current chronic pain, music is what I now turn to for mental and physical help. So, back in the Spring of 2011, I was hearing a song that was in fairly heavy rotation on the local “alternative” music station by a new band called Fitz & the Tantrums, which I thought was a humorous name by playing upon the synonymous terms of “fits” and “tantrums”. The song was the great “Money Grabber”, which reminded me so much of Daryl Hall & John Oates that the song not only convinced me to purchase the FATT CD, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, but also resume my Hall & Oates fixation. I could not believe that a young band was digging back into the Motown/Stax/Philly Soul/Hall & Oates organic rock & soul amalgamation of the 70s and 80s, but, man, did my wife and I welcomed it!

In the summer of 2011, my older song, his now-wife, my wife and I all went to see the band play a small club in Indy. And, I discovered that this LA band was even hotter live than on disc. FATT had the packed crowd in this club dancing and partying hard. I had to admit that FATT put on one of the better shows that I had ever seen. And, they created their sound without a guitar yet did not rely on samples and synthetic sounds. No, the sextet had two vocalists (Fitz and he counter-point, the ever-dynamic Noelle Scaggs), a saxophonist/flutist/keyboardist James King, keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna, drummer John Wicks, and bass god Joseph Karnes (who has many a time conjured the ghost of Hall & Oates longtime bassist/collaborator, the late Tom “T-Bone” Wolk). During that concert, the band played a soulful version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, which clued me in to how they would going sound on their next album.

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Finally, in 2013, FATT finally released their sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream. On this album, the band slowly turned into an early-80s version of Hall & Oates, when their music had small new wave textures and a slight reliance of the pop sounds of that era. And, although FATT slightly left that organic soul sound off their new album, they were still flexing their soulful muscles underneath the 80s new wave sounds they incorporated into this set of songs. While, “Money Grabber” will always be my favorite song, the band finally created their first 21st Century-sounding song, “She’s Out of My League”. On the tour behind this album, FATT graduated to the next biggest venue in Indy, the standing-only “Egyptian Room” of the former Murat Temple. And the Egyptian Room is about three times larger than the venue the band previously, The Vogue. In between albums, the band had gained a pop foothold in Indianapolis after playing a packed yet well-received free Super Bowl concert in the blocked streets of downtown Indy.

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Which leads us to their current album, Fitz and the Tantrums. On this album, they have become a wonderful 21st Century pop band. And, the hits have been coming. How do I know without really looking at Billboard charts? Just listen to the songs that are used on commercials. Their songs are everywhere. And, this success could not have happened to a seemingly better set of people that the six musicians of FATT. They have all bounced around the LA session scene for a long time, that when these musicians all got together, others were hoping for them to have success. So, the band is not an overnight sensation. They have worked for this success and, hopefully, more that will follow.

That is why Fitz and the Tantrums are probably may favorite artist of the new century. FATT, thanks for creating music that continues to keep me out of the dark clouds that frequently try to move in on me. Your music really does bring me some So-Cal sunshine.

Styx’ ‘Cornerstone’ Was the Turning Point for the Band and Marked a Milestone for Me

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On the second Friday of October 1979, my high school cross country team ran in the opening round, called the Sectional, of the Indiana state tournament. Back in those days, the high school was only ten years old, and our cross country program had earlier won a Sectional championship, as well as qualifying for the second round, or the Regional, a couple of more times by finishing in the Top Five teams according to points. In cross country, a runner earns points for his team by the place in which he finishes. Then, you add up your top five runners’ places, and the team with the lowest score wins. A team can slam teams, though its rare in such a big meet like the Sectional, since there will be 10 to 15 teams at the meet, by its top five runners finishing in the Top 5 for the meet. A team earns a “perfect” score when all seven of their runners take the Top 7 places at the meet.

I was fortunate, in that my class had always had a very strong group of runners. So, the Class of 1981 made up the core of the team, with a smattering of runners from the other classes. That year, my class had four of the top five runners, with one being a senior and the other two from the sophomore class. As a group, we were very fast, ultra-competitive, extremely athletic (six of the top seven were three-sport athletes). The strength of our team was the fact that our number one runner was only 20 seconds faster than our number seven runner. And, we were so equally strong runners that it was often impossible to predict how each of us would place.

We were truly brothers, as we got along like brothers and fought like brothers. Yet, we loved each other like brothers and have a deep connection with each other to this very day. The one thing that we shared was a love of the band Styx, would had recently released a studio album called Cornerstone that contained the mega-slowing/make-out hit song “Babe”. When decided a month in advance that we would caravan down to the Styx concert after we qualified for the Regional. We KNEW we would qualify, as we were ranked in the Top 20 in the State at the time. But, there were five more teams in our Sectional who were also ranked in the Top 20 (go figure there! In Indiana, we don’t rank the teams, we group them according to graphic location. Well, long story short, “The Pack”, as we named ourselves finished within ten seconds of each other to finish fourth as a team, which meant our school was sending a times from our school to the Regional for the first time in five years. So, we had little time to get ready for the show, and hope some of our buddies who were not on the team could save us some seats close to the stage since we were still two months away from The Who concert tragedy in Cincinnati, where several concert goers were trampled to death.

I got to drive my mom’s old 1972 Buick Skylark that was green in color, that my friends and I christened as the “Green Ghost”. So, five of us hopped in the Green Ghost and another five hopped in my twin buddies’ Chevy Nova the two of them owned to make the caravan trip to this concert. In the cars we had seven cross country runners, two female volleyball players and a hurdler from the girls team. Needless to say we celebrated all the way to Market Square Arena in Indy for the concert, while jamming to 8-tapes of Styx’ music, such as The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight and Cornerstone, of course. We were primed for the concert.

Now, Styx was coming off two of their finest albums in their career, the aforementioned The Grand Illusion in 1977 and Pieces of Eight in 1978. Although I gave it a grand review in the school newspaper, Cornerstone, which happened to be the band’s first number one album, was not the tour-de-forces that the previous two were. Plus, it had the whimpy ballad, “Babe”. Still, the band was at the top of their live game and gave us a great reason to celebrate our third place finish in the Sectional, although our seedings by time had us finishing in fifth place. The moral is that you should NEVER underestimate the hearts of competitors, so much so that we would always defend one of the others in times of trouble.

After seeing Styx live that Fall, as is often my want, Styx became my favorite band. Cornerstone is a fine album, but I got the feeling that Dennis DeYoung was attempting to make the band into something of a Broadway band with all of these stretched concepts running through his songwriting, was the songs of Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young were sticking with meat-and-potatoes” rocker anthems that did not fit seamlessly into DeYoung’s narrative. You could actually feel the tension throughout the album. One minute you were totally rocking out, and the next you were moping around the room to some sappy ballad. You could hear the cracks within the ranks of the band. They still performed a kick-ass live show, but in the 1970s, you made cash through record sales. Sure, the little girls will pick up tons of “Babe” 45s, but fewer and fewer rocker guys were going to buy their albums if they kept this up.

Tommy Shaw’s tunes were still maintaining their rocker status, like the first song on Side 2, “Borrowed Time”. It is a collaboration between Shaw and DeYoung. The song rocks, but you can tell the verse that DeYoung wrote since he sang it as well. The biggest thing that was missing were songs by guitarist James “JY” Young. He is the other rocker in the band, but only contributed one song, which allowed me space for DeYoung’s ballads. Styx was NEVER a Yacht Rock band, though their occasional ballads can often be found on those types of compilations. Unfortunately, DeYoung had forgotten that he had written songs like “Light Up” and “Loreili”, while turning into a neo-Barry Manilow.

Needless to say, Cornerstone was a transition album. On the next two albums, Paradise Theater and Kilroy Was Here, DeYoung will hijack the musical vision of Styx, turning them into a pop-rock and ballad-producing band and totally neglecting their rocker roots. As a result, the band’s popularity will shrink, Tommy Shaw will quit and the band will implode. In the Nineties, Styx will get back together without DeYoung, constantly touring and never playing “Babe”, a love song to DeYoung’s wife.

Although Styx is rocking while touring, the days of huge record sales are long gone. I will go back on occasion to listen to Cornerstone in order to relive my competitive running days. But, the album is ultimately sad to me since Styx is beginning to leave the rock world behind and are beginning to become some sort of Broadway show. Maybe, in light of Green Day’s run on Broadway with American Idiot, DeYoung was ahead of his time. Unfortunately, his decision split the band, which slowly ended a great band’s unbelievable run of true rock classic, starting with 1976’s Crystal Ball and running through the two aforementioned classics.

Now, after seeing KISS, Rush, Cheap Trick, Chicago, Steve Miller and Journey get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one has to wonder how far behind Styx would be? That would be appropriate now, wouldn’t it? After The Cars, The Smiths and The Jam, of course.

There Is Nothing Better Than a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Concert

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I am a very fortunate man. During my 53 years on Earth, I have been able to see many of my musical heroes live in concert. Now, let me just say that I have been a very frugal concert goer. I know I have been to over 50 concerts, but I would rather spend my money on the physical music created by artists. Back when I was younger, concert tickets were not as nearly as expensive as they currently are today. For example, I have seen Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, one of my most very favorite artists of all-time, three times. In the Summer of 1981, I paid the then high ticket price of $12 to see Tom and the band. The venue, the old Market Square Arena, long since demolished but the sight of Elvis Presley’s last concert, in Indianapolis was only half full (I could not see him the year before because he came to Indy during basketball season). Yet, I never experienced a performance like Petty & the Heartbreakers gave us that night in August. He simply came out, took the audience by our collective throats and pummeled us with a set that consisted mainly of tunes from his first four albums, all of which I owned at the time.

The next time I saw Petty was at the end of my sophomore year in college in the Spring of 1983. The band was touring behind the sub-par, for him at least, Long After Dark album. But, this time, he and his band performed a much tamer and professional set. Gone were much of the athletic moves of sliding and running around the stage, only to be replaced by more of an emphasis on the band’s musicianship. While I LOVED that first concert, I was blown away this time by the way they sounded. In retrospect, I was witnessing Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers transitioning from the take-no-prisoners antics of young artists into a band that could control an audience strictly through their playing and musical interactions. FYI: My ticket set me back $15.

Finally, after the band played the Super Bowl half-time show in 2009, my family bought $125 tickets for me to see the Heartbreakers once again. At the time they had nearly 35 years worth of grade A material and performance experience. Now, as elder statesmen of rock music and all that is right with that genre of music, they had learned how to hold the audience in their collective palms and slay us with some terrific performances of their music.

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Today, it is widely accepted that Petty & the Heartbreakers are one of rock music’s true treasures, both with their studio integrity and the live performances. Personally, I own nearly everything that he has released as the leader of the Heartbreakers, solo, as the youngest brother in the Traveling Wilburys and as member of his reformed original group Mudcrutch. I personally cannot believe his growth as a songwriter, but the band never produced a live document of their live prowess on vinyl or CD. That is, until the Winter of 2009, when the band dropped on us a huge box set entitled Live Anthology. This set included 5 CDs of music, a Blu Ray copy of those five discs, a copy of his Official Live ‘Leg (originally released in 1978) on vinyl, a DVD of his New Year’s Eve concert back in 1979 as the new decade dawned, AND a DVD documentary about the band. Unfortunately, the huge set is the ONLY way to experience the band because Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell listened to thousands of hours of concert tapes throughout the WHOLE career of the band to determine what songs (and versions) would be included. Then, the two went out of their way to engineer the audience sounds so they would segue beautifully to make it sound like one huge concert. This is THE way to experience the band in their natural live setting.

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Now, in 1985, the band released Pack Up the Plantation – Live!, but it sounded lackluster, even as Petty and Campbell were making their first attempt at a live version of the band over the years as opposed to the band during a concert or tour. Then, to celebrate Record Store Day 2011, Petty & the Heartbreakers released a special seven-song EP of live performances of some of their songs from their new album called MOJO. The EP is called Kiss My Amps and is a very good document/souvenir of new songs performed live.

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Since Petty has been a consistent participant with Record Store Days through the years, he released Kiss My Amps Volume 2, an ten-song LP of music recorded during the tour supporting their most recent album, Hypnotic Eye. While these are great recordings of live versions of many new songs, they hold seem like an addendum to the Live Anthology.

Honestly, you cannot go wrong with a live album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. But, if you want the best document of their prowess as a live artist, then I advise you to save your pennies in order to purchase the deluxe version of Live Anthology. However, if you want something cheaper, there is a two-disc distillation of the deluxe Live Anthology box that contains all of their big songs and best performances. Then, I would look to find the vinyl-only versions of the Kiss My Amps special issues. Personally, I would save Pack Up the Plantation – Live! for desperation, though it is still a very good live document of the band. Still, there is very little musically better than seeing this band in its natural environment, live on stage. Unfortunately, I have been reading that this upcoming concert may be the band’s last tour ever. I pray that is not true.

I LOVE the Music of Motown

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So many things conspired in 1983 that lead me to become a Motown music nut, a type of music that I still find inspiring to this very day. Well, let’s take a look back to that year to see what turned me into a Motown-maniac. But first, let’s lay groundwork for this trans-formative year.

First, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was purchased several Motown/Tamla label artists’ singles back in my elementary days. I have 45s like Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, the Supremes’ “Floy Joy” and the Miracles’ “Love Machine”, among others. I remember absolutely LOVING the song “Jimmy Mack” by Martha & the Vandellas when I was a preschooler. Then, when I was in middle school, Stevie Wonder released his double album masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life. Throughout high school, I still did not know the common “blood” that was running through all of this music. That is, until I got to college in the fall of 1981, when, after getting a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

While reading one issue of the granddaddy of all U.S. rock music magazines, I discovered that a couple of writers for the magazine were releasing a book about rock music entitled The Book of Rock Lists. Between that book and Rolling Stone’s Rock Year Book that was released the following year, I was off and running with my research into the world of rock music. But, it was in the aforementioned book that I learned of a small independent series of labels founded by the great Berry Gordy Jr. that gave me my initial information about the label whose music was “The Sound of Young America”. Although that was a marketing phrase the family of labels during their 1960s heyday, it still works to this very day.

As I was slowly initiating myself into the musical world that originated in Detroit before moving to LA in the early 1970s, I began to hear that shared sound of the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, through the Jackson 5, Thelma Houston, the Jackson 5 and Rick James, up to the 1980s and 1990s sounds of Boyz II Men, Another Bad Creation and Rockwell.

But, it was in 1983 that everything came together to get Motown’s music into my life permanently. First, even though his solo album was released in late 1982 on Epic Records, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was all over the radio and seemingly in every dorm room at Ball State University. So, an artist nurtured by Motown was ruling the music world back in 1983. Next, in the spring time of 1983, ABC-TV ran a program called Motown-25, that celebrated all of those great, long-lasting hits from the Sixties and Seventies. We got to witness a very brief reunion of Diana Ross with the Supremes, a battle of the bands between “the Tops and the Tempts” and most significantly for the current batch of college students, the Jackson 5 were back together, performing all those great early-70s number one hits, such as “I Want You Back” and “ABC”, the return of Marvin Gaye and the usual great Stevie Wonder killed during his moment. But, it was Michael Jackson who stole the show with his now-famous rendition of “Billie Jean”, during which he unveiled the unbelievable dance move now known as “The Moonwalk”. After that show, my mother reported seeing kids throughout her school attempting to moonwalk everywhere.

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Next up in 1983 was the release of the movie The Big Chill, and specifically its soundtrack album. The movie’s soundtrack, which was released on the Motown label, included many classic songs from the Sixties, most specifically my all-time favorite Motown song “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations. Then, all of sudden, as if deemed by the rock gods, many pop songs that were becoming big hits sounded as if they all belonged to the Motown family, although most of the artists were white kids from the U.K. Allow me to remind you of some of these 80s classic songs: The Human League’s “Mirror Man”, “Time” by Culture Club, “The Look of Love” by ABC and The Jam’s swansong LP The Gift, as well as former-Jam leader Paul Weller’s new group, The Style Council and their debut EP Introducing the Style Council. Now, I was listening to so many new artists who were creating their own versions of “The Motown Sound”.

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Finally, during one of my record shop excursions at the end of the summer of 1983, I found, and purchased, a Motown double-album compilation entitled 25 #1 Hits from 25 Years. I was now the owner of a great set of Motown songs that had four sides of great Motown music, from “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes up to Rick James’ “Give It to Me Baby” and the ubiquitous 1981 hit ballad “Endless Love” duet between Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. In retrospect, the collection is just “good”, but at that moment in time, it was perfect. I began to integrate Motown songs within my DJ playlists, much to the joy of my audiences. It seemed as though all of the current hit songs with that Motown swing made my generation of people hungry for the real thing.

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Then, in the mid-1990s, I got an offer from Columbia House Music Club (remember that?!?! “12 CDs for a penny”? Yep, I kept joining and quitting and rejoining. Anyway, I ordered both volumes of Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collections in a “2 for 1” deal. In other words, I got two four-CD box sets of Motown music for the price of $19.99, plus $4.00 for shipping. That’s right, I now have two fantastic Motown CD collections that I must play at least once a month. I have songs from 1959 through 1994. Of course, I enjoy the first volume, though the second one has some great music as well.

Now, I have a family that loves the music of Motown. No, I will not comment as to how some of this music changed my life, but there’s no better memory than watching my beautiful wife sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (the Marvin Gaye/Tammy Terrell version) with our younger son around the time of his tenth birthday. The best thing I can say about the music of the Motor City is that it always puts me in a good mood.

So, here’s to you, all of you great artists, songwriters, musicians, arrangers, engineers, producers, office workers and teachers of the company that created this collection of music! Motown has enriched my life, and subsequently my family’s lives that I want to thank you Mr. Berry Gordy Jr. for your vision and your ear that lead to all of these songs. My advice to you is to find a good collection, since there are so many different ones available, by referring to http://www.allmusic.com for a trustworthy recommendation. Don’t be afraid!

Alice Cooper Really Did Start My Album Fixation

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Back in 1972, on the sole basis of loving the song “School’s Out”, I was certain that I was an Alice Cooper fan. What I knew of Alice at the age of 9 was what I heard from older kids on the school bus and from the babysitter’s boys, who were all at least four years older than me. I heard his performances on In Concert or Midnight Special were outrageous and offensive. I heard of his pet snake Killer, and how he used a guillotine to chop off his head. You know, it sounded just like the kind of thing that a 9-year-old should own. So, on my birthday in 1973, my beloved uncle and aunt give me three 8-Track tapes: Goats Head Soup by The Rolling Stones, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John and, of course, School’s Out. I played the crap out of that tape until it finally broke three years later. I was bummed.

Now, those of you who grew up with remember might remember that in addition to my love of sports and my eidetic memory of sports stats, they probably will all attest to the fact that I had a smart mouth. Well, my parents, bless their hearts, tried in the spring of 1973 to break me of my smart mouth by setting up a behavior modification plan. With a calendar to monitor this, I could earn a star for every day that I was not a smart ass to someone in my life. Don’t laugh! This was hard! I had to get 21 non-smart ass days out of 30 days in the month of April 1973.

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Believe it or not, I actually met the goal, but I had to go TEN days in a row to capture the feat. Now, my prize was anything I wanted (I guess this moment meant that much to my folks!), and I wanted the new Alice Cooper album, Billion Dollar Babies. So, off to K-Mart we went, and I made the purchase of my first album. I was so excited, that I skipped baseball throwing after dinner that evening to listen to my new album on my old record player. The music was exciting to my 10-year-old ears. I got to listen to my newest favorite song, “No More Mister Nice Guy”. Inside the wallet-looking gatefold album cover was a large Alice Cooper dollar bill poster that I hung up in my room. On the opposite side of the gatefold were some punch-out pictures of Alice and his band in poses and in concert. It was the live images that haunted me for some reason. At the time, 10-year-old Keller felt as though he needed to “hide” those concert cards, so I punched them out and kept them hidden. Then, after five years of owning that album, I sold it in one of our after-the-divorce garage sales that Mom would hold each summer. So, from 1978 until 2016, I no longer owned Billion Dollar Babies, my first album.

But, as fate would have it, on Black Friday Record Story Day 2016, while perusing for special releases of the day, I rediscovered THE album that jump-started my love affair with rock music and that music in the album form. I found Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies WITH the money poster AND the cards still INTACT! I could not believe it. Plus, the album was in my “under $20” price limit, and the vinyl was in Very Good Plus condition. JACKPOT!!! I had rediscovered my youth at the great Village Green Records in Muncie, Indiana. Besides being my favorite independent record store to shop these days, I have also found missing albums of my youth there, such as KISS Alive! and Alive II, Elvis Costello’s Goodbye Cruel World, King of America, Blood & Chocolate and Taking Liberties, among many other great albums of my past.

So, now, whenever I put it on my Technics turntable that I bought back in 1992, those sounds that Alice Cooper created in 1973 still inspire me to love all things rock ‘n’ roll. I am such a fortunate man to have grown up during such a fertile time in history for music that appeals to the young and the young-at-heart. So, let me hear what your first album that you bought was. Funny thing: both of my boys first CDs they purchased were Beatles’ albums, Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul. They sure took after their old man with their love of music. Once again, leave a comment with your first album! Peace!

P.S. Unfortunately, I am still a smart ass to this day. But for that one ten day period of time back in April 1973, I held it together, which only gave my parents false hope.

Protest Music Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century

Wow! What a weekend! And, I’m not simply talking about taking care of my younger son’s puppy, Otis, along with our two dogs this weekend. Yes, Otis is the closest thing we have to a grandchild, so sue me. Ironically, our younger dog, who is normally quiet and docile, wanted nothing to due with Otis. Muggsy was in constant protest against Otis. Our older dog, Griffey, tried to broker a peace agreement, but was unsuccessful, like most Presidents brokering a peace in the Middle East (Jimmy Carter was the one exception). And, yes, my family names their pets after famous people. We have had cats named Reggie (Williams, former Cincinnati Bengals star of the late-80s), Sara (after a girl in my son’s class), Jordan (for Michael, of course), Valentina (for the first female Soviet cosmonaut) and Magic (Johnson, of course). Currently, my older son and his wife have two cats named Bowie (David!) and Nigel (for the character in This Is Spinal Tap); they also had a Layla (the famous song). On the canine side, we have had Oscar (for basketball great Robertson) de Clemente (baseball great Roberto), with Griffey names after Ken Griffey Jr. (baseball) and Muggsy after Muggsy Bogues (basketball). As for Otis, he is named after Otis Redding. Boy, did I raise my boys right or what? Wait! Don’t answer that!

What does that have to do with anything? While we were experiencing some minor civil unrest within our home, the country was experiencing some as well. And, all of this unrest got me thinking: Do we have protest songs like we have in the 60s? In the 60s, there was civil unrest in the U.S. due to Civil Rights, Equal Rights and the Vietnam War, to oversimplify things. Currently, we have many anxious people concerning our new President, Donal J. Trump, and what he might do to our rights. Personally, I find it a little disconcerting when a President of this great country seems more concerned about inauguration attendance and TV ratings than actually worrying about “big picture” things.

Back in the 80s, I was always attracted to politically-tinged music. I loved music by The Clash, The Police and Public Enemy, just to name some of the more significant political commentators of my day. Over in the U.K. during the 80s, there seemed to be many such artists who were worried about the state of affairs both in their country, our country and throughout the world. The Jam and Billy Bragg are but two of the more significant of those artists. Of course, the alternative groups of the late 80s and early 90s were very politically active, with Pearl Jam, Green Day and N.W.A leading the way.

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Ever since the election season, I began to research this topic. In October, a full 30 days before the election, writer Dave Eggers started a project called “30 Songs 30 Days”, in which Eggers got artists like Franz Ferdinand, Aimee Mann, Death Cab for Cutie and My Morning Jacket’s lead singer to release Anti-Donal Trump for President songs. Like all such collections, the quality of the songs vary greatly, but I plan to list some of the better songs, as well as some significant songs that have been recently released that are protesting Donald Trump, many of which have just been released to coincide with President Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s Marches this past weekend. To be honest, as the adult version of the kid, while in elementary music class, would be the one kid who constantly requested to sing “This Land Is My Land” (Long live Woody Guthrie!).

So, here is a list of some of my favorite Anti-President Trump songs that have been released in the wake of his presidential campaign and subsequent victory. I have listed them in no particular order.

  1. Arcade Fire featuring Mavis Staples – “I Give You Power”
  2. Gorillaz featuring Benjamin Clementine – “Hallelujah Money”
  3. Fiona Apple – “Tiny Hands”
  4. CocoRosie featuring Anohni – “Smoke ‘Em Out”
  5. Entrance – “Not Gonna Say Your Name”
  6. Joey Bada$$ – “Land of the Free”
  7. case/lang/veirs – “People Have the Power [Patty Smith cover]”
  8. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”
  9. Green Day – “Troubled Times”
  10. Jim James – “Same Old Lie”
  11. YG featuring Nipsey Hussle – “FDT”
  12. Death Cab for Cutie – “Million Dollar Loan”
  13. Andrew Bird Featuring Jim James – “Sic of Elephants”
  14. The Cooties featuring Reggie Watts – “Trumpy Trump”
  15. Pusha T – “Untouchable”
  16. Swet Shop Boys – “T5”
  17. Franz Ferdinand – “Demagogue”
  18. DJ Shadow featuring Run the Jewels – “Nobody Speak”
  19. Moby & the Void Pacific Choir – “Empty and Matter”
  20. Rogue Wave – “Vote for Dummy [Guided by Voices cover]”
  21. Drunken Logic – “What a Beautiful Morning!”
  22. Modern Baseball – “Bart to the Future Part 2: The Musical”
  23. JPEGMAFIA featuring Freaky – “I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump”
  24. Ryan Miller – “The Clown”
  25. The Long Winters – “Make America Great Again”
  26. U.S. Elevators featuring Mac McCaughan & Tim Bluhm – “Old Man Trump”
  27. Bhi Bhiman – “With Love from Russia”
  28. Daubert Nobacon – “Revolution 9.01”
  29. Perfect Giddimani featuring Stephen Dajure – “Dollnald Trump”
  30. Agents of the Fantastic – “DT Blues”

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Not all of these are from the “30 Songs 30 Days” collection, which is actually 51 songs large. Recently, Eggers announced his intention to release Our First 100 Days collection, with the intention being the release of a new song each day during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. On Inauguration Day, the first song was released – “Fly on the Wall” by Angel Olson. You can pre-pay for this compilation by visiting http://www.bandcamp.com.

Now, if you are a Trump-backer, there are artists who have released songs in his support. Since I enjoy “bucking the system”, I did not research those sites, but I did see them. Now, if I were dealing with only “alternative facts”, then I would have left that information unsaid. But, I will acknowledge its existence. The only thing is that I am worried that those songs will mainly be by those tired country and rock artists that I stopped listening to a long time ago (or I never did). I am not a fan of Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar or Toby Keith, so I would not normally try to acquire new music by them anyway.

So, right now, I am raising a glass to protest music! May music always be a voice of truth in the world and continue to hold a mirror up to society for all to see. That’s what makes all forms of music so vital, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” or Metallica’s “One”. We NEED artists to give us the news.