The Best Albums of 2018, So Far

6.25 1.Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer

Today, everything changed. In the blink of an eye, I have transitioned to the newest stage of my life, for today I transitioned from husband and dad and have gained a new title “Grandpa.” And, this beautiful, tiny little creature has immediately wrapped her self around my heart. For those of you whom have experienced this, you know that the transition of love from a child to a parent, then to a spouse, then to your children and, now, my first grandchild. So, I would like to welcome Grandchild #1 to the world today. And, like I said to my boys today, “My hope for you guys is that your children are all healthy…and smart asses.” Not that I ever deserved my smart-ass boys, but they have worked hard to deserve the great lives that they have given me.

6.25 10.Hawk - Bomb Pop

Well, we are now half way through 2018, and nary a big named artist have released an album, at least until Kanye West dropped his ego-stroking stink bomb on us a couple of weeks ago. Then, a week later, Kanye and Kid Cudi, released a fantastic collaboration under the guise of Kids See Ghosts. And, then, ever so deftly, the first couple of the pop music world, Mr. & Mrs. Carter, aka Jay-Z and Beyoncé, released their long-awaited collaboration. And, it has been slightly compelling to listen to their marital issues being played out on record through her very pissed off Lemonade, his contrite 4:44 and now their reconciliation on Everything Is Love. Usually, the rock statements are one-sided, such as Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Echo. Oh sure, we heard the demise of a couple on Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. But, to have such a prominent couple willing to play out this rough patch in their relationship has been remarkable.

6.25 12.Thunderpussy - Thunderpussy

As much as I admire The Carters’ willingness to bare their souls to the world, and this trilogy has been an admirable run of albums, I still prefer a couple other albums so far this year. After gushing about the latest Janelle Monaé joint, as well as the brilliant new power pop album by newcomer Kai Danzberg, we have been blessed with a few more good albums released so far in 2018. So, may I present you with my twenty favorite albums of the first six months. Remember, this list will remain fluid throughout the calendar year.

6.25 2.The Carters - Everything Is Love

  1. Janelle Monaé – Dirty Computer
    The heir apparent to the sound of Prince.
  2. The Carters – Everything Is Love
    See above.
  3. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
    So, far, this is the best power pop album…
  4. Whyte Horses – Empty Words
    …expect, lately, this album has been in CD player.
  5. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
    Could Father John Misty be mining Elton John’s goldmine?
  6. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
    I love this whole retro soul thing. The music takes me back to my youth.
  7. Kai Danzberg – Pop Up Radio
    My favorite German power popper shows off his love of Jellyfish, Queen and ELO.
  8. The Aces – When My Heart Felt Volcanic
    I am such a sucker for great pop/rock bands like The Aces, who have a sound similar to HAIM, and that’s a good thing.
  9. Kacey Musgrave – Golden Hour
    Musgrave is country music’s greatest female singer/songwriter, and continues her high quality streak.
  10. Hawk – Bomb Pop
    If you are like me and can’t get enough great power pop in your life, this new band is able to follow the path blazed by Raspberries.
  11. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
    Hip hop’s best collaboration (Kanye West & Kid Cudi) since Kanye joined forces with Jay-z on Watch the Throne. I actually like this album better.
  12. Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy
    Arguably, the best rock album this year.
  13. Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
    One of my favorite underrated guitarists continues his late-career resurgence with this modern day Americana classic.
  14. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
    The best current jazz master going continues his creative streak that began with his inspired work on Kendrick Lamar’s recent work.
  15. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine
    If you are like me and enjoy some avant garde hip hop, this album is for you.
  16. Neko Case – Hell-On
    Everyone’s favorite solo act from the New Pornographers may have just released her own masterpiece.
  17. Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album
    Kendrick Lamar curated arguably the most important soundtrack to the year’s most important movie, regardless that the movie is part of Marvel Universe.
  18. Death by Unga Bunga – So Far, So Good, So Cool
    If you love Cheap Trick, this new band’s album is just what the doctor order.
  19. The Go! Team – Semicircle
    The Go! Team is something of a cross between The B-52’s, Devo and Deee-Lite, which means this album is pure fun.
  20. Pusha T – Daytona
    Pusha T has made his finest album this year.

6.25 19.The Go! Team - Semicircle

This list is very fluid, as I continue to discover new music that piques my interest. Plus, we still have not seen the first Prince album to be released posthumously.

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Don’t Laugh! Green Day Are Rock Gods!

6.19 Green Day today

Sociologists never seem to agree as to how to group the people who were born between 1960 and 1964. Traditionally, these “soft” scientists, as those of us who earned degrees in the “hard” sciences of physics, chemistry and biology like to lump the psychology and sociology majors under a title, like originally put us with the Baby Boomers, since many of our parents supposedly were World War II vets, though that was mostly a false assumption. Lately, I have seen us grouped as Gen Xers, since we were all too young to remember all of the major Boomer milestones, such as Woodstock, Fifties television and The Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show. However, the problem with that grouping is we are all children of the Seventies who came of age in the late-Seventies and early-Eighties and were college age when MTV came to our cable companies. So, in reality, we are truly our own group as yet without a name.

So, the artists whom are closest to our ages, or our peers, formed bands that were in one of two distinct genres of music, with very little in between. Either our musicians were influenced by Van Halen, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and went the metal route, and depending on those musicians’ goals, either went the route of the popsters into hair metal or the serious route of the thrashers like Metallica and Slayer. On the other hand, if the musicians decided to either go to college or join the local artists’ community follow the alternative, or punk, music route. And, if any of these musicians ended up in Seattle and were cross-pollinating each others’ loves of music, created something new, that was called Grunge, which was an American version of punk rock.

Personally, I never really got much of the whole metal thing. To be, the metal of the Eighties was all about the party, with little room left for the use of a brain. And, in my mind, metal sounded like the most limiting sound there was, which was perfect for Reagan’s conservative America. The culture of metal was totally based in the “now,” with the fan’s focus on the immediate party at the moment. For me, this stuff hurt my head since I was leaving a major portion of my brain unused when listening to, for example, Bon Jovi’s album. However, I felt totally filled when listening to the punk sounds of Hüsker Dü, the rap/funk/metal fusion of Faith No More or the grinding pop sounds of Pixies. So, when the Eighties turned into the Nineties, metal had eaten itself, although the great Metallica had just positioned itself alongside Guns N’ Roses to become the two biggest bands in the world.

On the other hand, those musicians who had listened to the first Ramones album were finally starting their own bands, and since many had made a detour through college, were now ready to begin pursuing a music career. These people either were influenced by R.E.M.’s elliptical, non-sequitur lyrics or The Smiths more literary lyrical content and set their music to a variation of the punk sound. In the mid- to late-Eighties, I was totally hooked on all forms of alternative rock music, from the updated Power Pop sounds of Material Issue or The Pursuit of Happiness to the punk version of Zeppelin in Jane’s Addiction to the early strains of industrial music (Nine Inch Nails), grunge (Soundgarden, Nirvana and Screaming Trees) or a new thing that will eventually be called punk-pop (Green Day). Most of the alternative nation went on to become rock’s anti-heroes, those stars who, although they made millions of dollars in the early Nineties, refused to become rock and roll cliches. Yet, there were a small niche of these alternative rockers who music was a natural for both rock god status in sales and critical praise. These artists comprised the last remaining rock stars in the traditional Seventies sense. Bands like Green Day and Foo Fighters were the last of these true rock stars.

Today, I would like to take some time to honor one of my favorite rock bands of the Nineties, Green Day. These guys took their punk music cues from the very same original punk bands that I listened to back in high school: Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Ramones, The Clash, and, my personal favorites, The Jam. I was immediately attracted to Green Day’s sound as I heard The Jam jumping right out of their apparent influences the very first time I heard their brilliant major label debut song “Longview.” The thing that captured me was not the lyrical content and its apparent humor, though it did make me laugh the first time I heard it. No, it was the bass and how it jumped out at me and made the band seem heavier, which is exactly how The Jam attacked their music. And, I was hooked, which was unusual for a 31-year-old, since Green Day was built for younger people.

At this point in their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career, Green Day has released twelve (12!) studio albums. This band came into my life in 1994, just as I was beginning my teaching career. I did get to see them in 2000, when they were on tour with Blink-182, another punk-pop band who followed Green Day into mainstream success by making great punk music but not forgetting the pop, much like Cheap Trick, another huge Green Day influence, did when I was a high schooler. So, I am going to rank all 12 of Green Day’s albums, none of which is a clunker. Heck, even Cheap Trick has had a couple of stinkers in their career, but not Green Day! So, let’s get this party started!

6.19 12.1039-Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

12. 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (1991). The debut is not that bad, but the band went into the studio still more of a true punk band, and totally forgetting their power pop side. But the foundation had been laid.

6.19 11.Tre

11. ¡Tré! (2012). The third album in Green Day’s 2012 trilogy of albums that were unrelated, expect they were recorded at the same time as those on the other two albums. Although the band tried to evenly distribute the songs over these three albums, the public was just plain tired of mediocre Green Day music.

6.19 10.Revolution Radio

10. Revolution Radio (2016). After Billie Joe’s very public meltdown after the 2012 trilogy, he sobered up, and the public was ready for the big comeback. The problem is that this tentative set never really caught on with the public. At least, the band did not burn out the audience like they had in 2012.

6.19 9.Uno

9. ¡Uno! (2012). After Green Day’s triumphant commercial and critical comeback with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, as well as the band’s highly successful Broadway adaptation of those two albums, Green Day bit off more than humanly possible as they tried some one-upmanship by releasing three albums over a six-month period of time. Unfortunately, the band sounded tired and uninspired. Maybe, if they had just released one new album from all of that material, Green Day may have recorded a true classic. Instead, we got three decent albums and a huge Billie Joe meltdown, unfortunately in the short run. Maybe, in the long run, this 2012 drive may have saved Billie Joe’s life, as well as Green Day.

6.19 8.Nimrod

8. Nimrod (1997). Honestly, this album was a little too precious for my liking. This was their teenybopper album, which is totally fine that they made this more of a pop album. At least they got this boy band album out of their system. I think this album, along with Weezer’s great first two albums, influenced all those early-Aught emo bands, such as Sum-41, Dashboard Confessional, Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy.

6.19 Dos

7. ¡Dos! (2012). Of the trilogy albums, this is my favorite. Unfortunately, since it is the “middle child” of the albums, it did get a little lost in the shuffle. This album’s release was also lost in the wake of Billie Joe’s huge I Heart Radio concert meltdown.

6.19 6.Kerplunk

6. Kerplunk (1992). This was Green Day’s last independent album, but it was the one that grabbed the major labels’ attentions. This one set the stage for the major success they were about to have.

6.19 5.21st Century Breakdown

5. 21st Century Breakdown (2009). The hype behind this album was unbelievable. Nothing could have lived up to it. First, the band was coming off the huge comeback of American Idiot, a concept album that touch American’s doubts about everything in the post-9/11 days. Then, Billie Joe announced that he was working another concept album-slash-rock opera that would personalize this whole struggle of people in the post-9/11 world. He also said that the two albums would become the basis of a Broadway show. Still, if you evaluate this album on its own merits, Green Day hit another home run. Unfortunately, many people have trouble separating it from American Idiot.

6.19 4.Insomniac

4. Insomniac (1995). This abrasive album was released in the wake of the major success that was Dookie. At the time, no one knew what to think of it, since the band was trying to win back their punk street cred. Much like Nirvana did with In Utero, Green Day attempted with Insomniac. People forget that with Green Day, deep down, they were always a power pop band. So, to me, Insomniac was a success.

6.19 3.Warning

3. Warning (2000). This album told me immediately that Green Day was growing up and becoming adult punks. And, they were taking stock of society. For my money, “Minority” might be the band’s greatest statement within the punk esthetic.

6.19 2.American Idiot

2. American Idiot (2004). Urban legend says that Green Day had wrapped up an album in 2003, but the master tapes were stolen before copies could be made. Fortuitous? Who knows? It forced the band to create a whole new album of material, this time forcing them to look at the world around them and what they saw pissed them off. And, thus, we got the biggest change in perception of a band in rock history. Before this album, Green Day was considered a good band. After this album, they were Rock Gods and future Rock & Roll Hall of Famers.

6.19 1.Dookie

1. Dookie (1994). America finally got its own version of The Jam, as Green Day personified what it was like to be a male Gen X-er. The problem with this album was it was so good was how could they ever have a career and grow? Ten years later, we finally got that answer.

6.19 Green Day Woodstock 94

See? Green Day deserves their place in the RRHOF. They are one of the last true rock stars, a band of throwbacks who still believe that rock music can be life-changing and life-affirming at the same time. And, they proved that punk rock can grow up and be adults, while maintaining the same jaundiced view of society they had as disaffected youth. As a matter of fact, this only proved their humanity.

The Whole ‘Nuggets’ Series Is Worth Your Time and Money

6.18 Nuggets - Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era

I wish every man could have as great of a Father’s Day as I had yesterday. Simply put, it’s always great when three generations of my family are able to gather. Unfortunately, Son #2 and his new bride were unable to attend, but Son #1 and his very pregnant wife were there in addition to my father and stepmother. And, every year, I try to tell the kids not to spend their money on a present, yet they always do. I knew we were going to eat at a newer restaurant in a nearby town AND visit a record store in the area, so I was pretty pumped, although my pain level was nearly high enough for me to stay home. Yet, I persisted nonetheless.

6.18 Nuggets - Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1976 reissue

Right before we were served our excellent meals, we all gave presents to my dad. After his fun, I got to open my present from my older couple, which of course looked like a record. However, when I opened it, I discovered TWO albums! The first one was one of my all-time favorites, finally released on vinyl toward the end of 2017, Automatic for the People, the 1992 album from one of my favorite bands, R.E.M. Yet, I felt another album underneath R.E.M. So, I slide Automatic out of the way, to find a used album that was something of an Excalibur-type of album for me, you know, something for which I had been searching for years, and, finally, it was in my hands. No, it is not a big collectible album to most music listeners; however, there are those of us that love this one. The album was one of the first non-K-tel compilation albums with songs by different artists. This album was Nuggets: Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.

6.18 Nuggets - Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era box set6.18 Nuggets II box set

6.18 Children of Nuggets box set6.18 Love Is the Song We Sing6.18 Where the Action Is Los Angeles Nuggets

For reasons unknown, former rock critic and about to become guitarist for the Patti Smith Group, Lenny Kaye had compiled his favorite songs by what was known in the Sixties as Garage Rock, many of which ended up being one hit wonders. So, Kaye had compiled 20 of his favorite types of these songs and convinced Elektra Records to release this album in the Fall of 1972. Honestly, this album did not sell that many copies. However, using a well-worn rock music cliche, it was said that although the record did not sell many copies, but the people who did buy it all started their own bands who played many of these songs or created their own music in a similar style and sound. As a matter of fact, the liner notes for this album, written by Kaye, of course, were the first to associate the word “punk” with these artists’ sounds. So, when new bands began to pop up around New York City, playing some of these very songs in their sets, punk rock was born.

After some time, the album went out of print, so Sire Records picked up the rights to the music on the album, cleaned up the looks of the album with new album artwork (though I prefer the original) and re-released the set in 1976, just as punk rock and the famous club were the genre was birthed, CBGB’s. This release influenced more would-be artists to jump into the fray, bringing forth more musical sounds, such as post-punk, new wave, power pop, and so on. In other words, this double-album compilation literally changed the course of rock history, allowing younger would-be musicians to discover this musical heritage, thus changing the course of rock music.

But, all great ideas can NEVER be just left alone. Instead, some smart ass always believes they can improve things. In this case, the great innovative folks at Rhino Records got a hold of the rights to this Nuggets compilation and brilliantly and painstakingly expanded the set to meet the needs of the CD Age, creating the four-CD set of this proto-punk music. Of course, during this time period, Rhino was THE compilation label, so when this new box set was released, it influenced a whole new generation of alternative rockers.

6.18 Nuggets - Hallucinations

Fortunately for music lovers around the world, Rhino never let this Nugget brand name die. Au contraire, Rhino released FOUR more sets of music under the titles Nuggets II – Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond, 1964-1969, Children of Nuggets – Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1996, Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets, 1965-1970 and Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets, 1965-1968. Then, over the intervening years, one can find several compilations with the Nuggets brand name associated with more songs from the aforementioned time period, though Rhino did release two more collections as Record Store Day-only releases. In 2016, Hallucination – Psychedelic Pop Nuggets was released in 2016 as a double vinyl album set after originally released in 2004 on CD. While the following year, another 2004 CD compilation was released on vinyl for Record Store Day entitled Come to the Sunshine: Soft Pop Nuggets. Who knows how long this will continue, but I believe that we are closing in on the dreaded saturation point. Still, I find this whole sub-set collection remains quite enjoyable as we move closer to the 50th Anniversary of the original set’s release.

6.18 Nuggets - Come to the Sunshine

And, who would have ever guessed how influential this one compilation would become over the years. However, the music celebrated in these multiple collections has been loved by those musicians who were searching for some alternative to the blues-based jam music, sensitive singer-songwriters and Southern Rock Bands. And, these rebels did so by going back to a time period where playing a simple three minute song that got played in the aftermath of The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion. So, these outcasts embraced the original double vinyl album of Nuggets and subsequently changed the course of rock history. You can read books and articles where artists such as Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, Blondie, Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders, and the rest of the punks associated with the original movement in the mid-Seventies.

And, thanks to these Nuggets albums, CDs and box sets, such songs as “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes, “Lies” by The Knickerbockers, “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five, “Open My Eyes” by Nazz, “Seven and Seven Is” by Love. All of these collections are must-haves for any connoisseur of great rock music. Not to mention, what a great history lesson each disc will give the listener. I suggest that you begin with the single CD or double vinyl version of the original collection, then work your way first through the box sets, leaving the Children of Nuggets set for last, since that’s the chronology of the whole collection.

To be perfectly honest, no matter how often I listen to these collections, I continue to discover more great material I have overlooked on previous listenings. In other words, these are gifts that keep on giving. It don’t get any better than that!

It’s a Freak Out! Eno & Byrne’s ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’

6.15 eno and byrne - my life in the bush of ghosts

I have been a Talking Heads fan ever since I first heard their uptight and claustrophobic-feeling version of Al Green’s baptismal song “Take Me to the River.” In February 1979, the band performed the song on Saturday Night Live, and I was immediately taken by the band’s minimalist sounds twitchy take on funk. To my ears, I did not hear something revolutionary; I actually thought they were the most natural sounding band of the Seventies, lacking any pretense of virtuosity blues-based playing, any classical training, any notion of “jamming” or any make-up or glitter to hide behind. Instead, these art punks sounded like a group of musicians who loved R&B and pop and were not afraid to listen to artists such as Kraftwerk. It truly was manna from Heaven.

As I learned more about the band, I discovered that the three core members, guitarist/vocalist David Byrne, drummer Chris Franz and wife/bassist Tina Weymouth were all from the Rhode Island School of Design. And, when they added multi-instrumentalist and former Modern Lover Jerry Harrison from Harvard, I knew I had finally found an intellectual band. So, beginning with their 1978 album, More Songs About Food and Buildings, Talking Heads were being produced by former Roxy Music “noise manipulator” Brian Eno. The Heads represented one of Eno’s first big commercial breakthrough, as he helmed the band’s next two albums as well, Fear of Music (1979) and Remain in Light (1980). During those two albums, Byrne and Eno was creatively bonding, much to the chagrin of the rest of the band, as they all felt they were being relegated to session musicians and being kept out of the creative process.

6.15 David Byrne Brian Eno control board motion blur recording studio NEW YORK CITY, 1981

All of this also coincided with the hype Byrne was getting of being rock’s newest genius, whatever that meant. So, upon the end of Talking Heads’ most successful tour on both musical and artistic levels in 1980 when they tour with an expanded line-up which gave life to the African rhythms that permeated Remain in Light, the members decided to take a break and pursue some projects outside of the Heads. Franz and Weymouth hit gold pay dirt with their Tom Tom Club project with many of the members of the Heads’ touring band. Likewise, Harrison released a solo album, which allowed him to expand his musical palette a bit within pop structures on his solo Red and Black album. But, it was Eno and Byrne, when left alone in the studio, created one of the strangest and most innovative albums in rock history when they released My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in early 1981.

6.15 eno byrne in the studio

Now, much of the sounds the duo created are nearly standard today, especially with the music of Radiohead and Animal Collective. Rarely before had electronic sounds been coupled with recorded voices from disparate sources such as a talk radio DJ, the reading of the Qur’an (that track subsequently removed upon the request of Muslims back after the album’s initial release, making my vinyl copy increasingly rare), and an exorcism. The result is the sounds of Remain in Light on acid and Quaaludes. It’s use of loops and samples was years ahead of the curve, so much so that it is difficult to fathom that the duo recorded this album with analog equipment, meaning that their edits were painstakingly completed by slicing and splicing tape in order to create their sounds. And what the pair created was something of an aural collage rooted in the African rhythms they forced upon Talking Heads to a lesser extent on 1979’s “I Zimbra” and greater effect on 1980’s Remain in Light.

6.15 eno byrne - the jezebel spirit6.15 eno byrne - regimented.america is waiting

Eno and Byrne hit the jackpot with actually three songs which logged some time on the dance chart due to the songs’ driving rhythms. An extended mix of “Help Me Somebody,” a driving Burundi drumbeat mixed with a funk rhythm track are looped together into a great dance song, only with a radio broadcast of Reverend Paul Morton’s New Orleans-based sermon laid over the top, “Regiment,” a laidback, pulsating bass-driven workout with Dunya Yusin’s, a Lebanese mountain singer, chanting juxtaposition against a raging post-punk guitar, which segues into the spooky “The Jezebel Spirit,” a dance song whose track sounds like an outtake from Remain in Light only to have the recorded vocals from an exorcism creepily rising from the music, which gives way to the final song, “America Is Waiting,” an African dance song with the indignant rants of a talk radio host. All in all, they have taken the best songs from the album and created a danceable work of art. Those four songs, as diverse as they are, all work together to create one of history’s strangest club dance hits. It makes much of the dance work of Yoko Ono or the cut-and-paste hit song of 1985 “19” sound down right normal.

Back in the day, I found My Life in the Bush of Ghosts a great listen on a hot summer night, preferably in a car with the windows rolled down. And, if you are still cruising around the country side, you can always follow this album with either Laurie Anderson’s performance art rock masterpiece Big Science, or if you prefer to ease back into civilization, then try Peter Gabriel’s third self-titled album, the one that looks like his face is melting on the cover. Either way, the combination of the sounds, with the feel of the warm breeze and the starlit sky only enhances the whole aural experience.

6.15 eno byrne jezebel video

I know the Grateful Dead wrote the cliche, “It’s been a long, strange trip,” but this album is more of a strange trip than anything the Dead ever recorded. And, that’s not a knock on the Dead, just a fact. Yet, there is just something that is compelling about Brian Eno and David Byrne’s album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. It continues to stick with me to this day.

One of Tom Petty’s Most Underrated Classics: Southern Accents

6.14 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Southern Accents

Was it me, or, during the mid-Eighties, did many of our favorite artists do a little looking back at their lives after reaching the initial wave of success? Humor me a bit as I do a quick rundown: Bruce Springsteen – “My Hometown,” “Glory Days,” “Bobby Jean”; John Mellencamp – “Small Town,” “Cherry Bomb,” “Pink Houses”; and even Bryan Adams – “Summer of 69.” And, I know that I am from Indiana, so everyone is going to assume that I related to Mellencamp’s the most, and much of the time, you are correct. But, I’ve always been partial to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ swampy, at times darn-near power poppish sound and Gen X-friendly lyrics. Therefore, for my money, Petty’s own look back at his heritage, “Southern Accents,” was the most compelling of these songs at the time.

From what I understand, Petty was attempting to do a whole album based upon coming to grips with this heritage of being raised in the South, and all the baggage that comes along with it. Now, I have heard many outtakes from the sessions that lead to Petty’s 1985 album Southern Accents, and I feel like he was on to a major artistic statement. Unfortunately, he was much too close to the project for Tom to produce it, which is what he and guitarist Mike Campbell were attempting at the time. And, when frustrations and drugs finally boiled over, Tom punched a wall, shattering hand and jeopardizing his career at the same time.

6.14 tom petty - live aid

In order to save the sessions, along with some of the finest work he and the Heartbreakers had done, he called in a variety of producers to help out. Unfortunately, the original vision was lost, and what the public got was considered to be a hodge-podge of sounds for experimentation from one of the greatest bands of all-time.

Or, was it?

Yes, I am a Tom Petty apologist, and you are correct in assuming that I would purchase an album of burps and farts by him and his band if one were ever released. And while Southern Accents was originally intended to be something of an updated version of The Band’s eponymous classic, this album is vastly underrated.

6.14 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Don't Come Around Here No More

At the time of its release, in late March 1985, I had been married only a month, when I heard one of the strangest songs this side of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” to be played on the radio here in Central Indiana. That song began with something of a sitar sound, so I was thinking, “Who in the hell uses that instrument anymore? Sure, Prince just did on Another the World in a Day, but who is this?” Then, the vocals kicked in, and, sure enough, it was Tom Petty, having a psychedelic freakout in the mid-Eighties. And, then I saw the video. And, Tom, playing the Mad Hatter, tormenting Alice in this ecstacy-induced Wonderland video. “And, did that video REALLY end with the Mad Hatter eating a cake-version of Alice?” Oh, Boy Howdy, did I ever think I that I NEEDED help!

6.14 Tom Petty - Don't Come Around Video

Still, I LOVED that song! And, unfortunately for my new bride, I was obsessed with that song. Once I bought Southern Accents, and played it, I thought about having my own freakout too. This album had Woodstock-era written all over the sound, yet produced with a nod to the latest technology of the day.

Today, this album is not quite the freak show it seemed to me back in the day. Yes, Southern Accents represents something of a sonic departure of the Heartbreakers’ trademark sound, yet the heart of the music is all Tom. And, maybe, thirty-three years on, the album is truly an artistic triumphant. You see, Tom and his brothers-in-arms left behind the Byrdsian-jangle of their first two albums, as well as the big drum Eighties sound of their trio of Jimmy Iovine-produced albums, to create this one-off amalgam of all things Heartbreakers, STAX soul, synth pop, drum machines, Robbie Robertson-influenced Americana and that damn song called “Spike,” which I do NOT even know where to begin in a description of that song.

Now, Southern Accents sounds like a man with something of a cocaine-induced form of ADHD, who wanted to try anything in an attempt to help led his band into a more grown up sound. So, let’s expand the band with back-up singers and a horn section, grab a couple of actual former members of The Band (Robertson and the maestro Garth Hudson), hire a string section and bring in a bunch of session ringers and make this whole thing better. It’s as if Petty had become influenced by ELO, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and Bob Dylan’s 1975 “Everybody’s Welcome” Rolling Thunder touring caravan of minstrels and hangers-on. “The bigger the better!” must have been the mantra for these sessions.

Yet, there is something endearing about this album three decades on. It’s as if all forms of the Heartbreakers are fighting each other through each song to see which one will eventually win out for the band. Surprisingly, the song that predicted the direction Petty would turn toward is the little heard song “Dogs on the Run.” This song would have actually fit nicely on Full Moon Fever. Of the nine songs on Southern Accents, this is the one stripped down, with Petty playing rhythm guitar on an acoustic guitar, as he would on his 1989 smash solo album.

6.14 tom-petty-and-the-heartbreakers-rebels-mca

The album kicks off with the Petty anthem, “Rebels.” The song comes off as something of a band Mission Statement, as if to say that they were born in the South, raised in the South, are of the South, but have shed the stereotypical baggage of the South. Plus, anytime a song’s chorus can be misheard as “I was Barney Rubble” instead of the correct “I was born a rebel” has got to be a classic song.

And, with all of the great individual songs on this album, the soul of the album resides in the closing songs on both sides of the album (the vinyl one!). Side One ends with the album’s title song, which, upon deeper listening, is Petty’s most personal statement about himself. And, Side Two wraps up with the Robbie Robertson-co-produced “The Best of Everything,” which totally brings Tom back to his earlier albums’ roots of ending with a wistful ballad about relationships. The two song balance the album with something that sounds like the Heartbreakers of old, albeit with strings and horns.

6.14 tom-petty-at-live-aid-in-philadelphia-wernher-krutein

Back in 1985, only two artists were staring down their superstardom: Tom Petty and Prince. And, should it be a big surprise that the pair would release arguably the weirdest albums in their respective catalogs? Sure, Petty’s popularity never reached the crazy levels as Prince was in the midst at the time. Yet, in both case, those 1985 albums are not as bad as critics first reviewed. Quite the contrary, these albums are near-classics in their epic struggles to find new sounds in which to perfect.

So, I am encouraging you to find that old Southern Accents album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and give it another listen. It sounds much more natural today than it did 30+ years ago. This one is quickly becoming a long-term favorite.

The Police: ‘Outlandos d’Amour’

6.13 The Police - Outlandos d'Amour

My senior year in high school was the 1980-81 school year, which coincided with Saturday Night Live going through its very first cast change, which is quite normal today. No matter the time period in modern post-World War II history, youth have the pulse of popular culture. Back then, even though the new cast of SNL was much maligned, and Fridays may have been briefly the better sketch comedy variety show, we all knew Eddie Murphy, a little used SNL cast member was destined for greatness. So, no one was surprised when this brilliant comedian stole the movie in his big screen debut in 1982’s 48 Hours. And, who can forget the iconic scene where Murphy’s character, the immortal Reggie Hammond, is introduced to us. He is in his jail cell, off screen, yet we can hear him singing “Roxanne” by The Police in a high-pitched off-key falsetto. It was a great moment in Eighties film history.

6.13 Eddie Murphy singing Roxanne

To many of us older Gen Xers, that moment was when our favorite actor was singing the music of our generation. No longer will movies continue to run Baby Boomer retreads into the ground, as our age group was beginning to wield its power over pop culture. Unfortunately, the song “Roxanne” was not much of a hit here in the States when it was first released in 1978, nor was the album from which it came Outlandos d’Amour. Of course, the band’s record company gave “Roxanne” one more chance to break in early 1979, as Blondie, The Cars and a few other new wave bands were scoring some hits. Unfortunately, “Roxanne” peaked at number 32 in Billboard‘s Top 40 Singles, while the album topped out at a respectable number 23.

6.13 The Police - Roxanne

In all of the new wave era, no band had the individual musical experience that The Police had. Each member had played in bands which required mastery levels of instrument playing, whether the band played progressive rock, experimental rock or jazz. Plus, lyricist/bassist Sting, nee Gordon Sumner, was a former English teacher before joining The Police. What the band did was play an influential mix of this new Caribbean sound called reggae, which was making commercial inroads in the band’s native, England with some punk attitude and energy and literary, nearly poetic, lyrics. This became the sound of the early-Eighties, as the Twin Tone ska bands like Madness and The Specials scored hits in the wake of The Police, as did a watered-down version popularized by Men at Work.

6.13 The Police - Can't Stand Losing You

Of course, Boomers were NOT ready for this burgeoning sound of what was once known as world music. But, my age group WAS ready for the cross cultural pollination of sounds that came forth as the punk and new wave bands actually learned how to play their instruments but wanted to remain on the vanguard of art rock. So, our music also experienced touches of music from Africa, calypso and Latin sources that only made the world seem smaller.

6.13 The Police in concert 1978

And, in many ways, Outlandos d’Amour cleared the way for this new listening experience. The album kicks off with the heavily punk-influenced “Next to You,” which eschewed the usual lyrical punk venom and created a love anthem, complete with a guitar solo worthy of a Genesis album. The three-piece power of The Police is all in place on this song, which ends up, in retrospect, setting the tone for the new path of new wave, and subsequently, rock to follow.

6.13 The Police - So Lonely

The second song is “So Lonely,” which brings forth the band’s signature mix of reggae, punk and prog rock in a three-minute pop song. As the band became more and more popular, this song would play a poignant moment in the band’s live set as Sting would sing about being “So Lonely” in front of crowds numbering at least 20,000 attendees. How does a man still feel that pain surrounded by so many people who worship the man? Only in rock can these conflicting themes be dealt with head on.

 

Finally, with the third song, we get to hear the now iconic “Roxanne.” There is nothing I can say that has not been said before about this little love song to a prostitute. I don’t know if Roxanne exists, but regardless, this person has been immortalized . “Hole in My Life,” which in the earlier days of the band, could be used for a little crowd sing along, but was later dropped from the setlist during the band’s Synchronicity Tour. And, this leaves “Peanuts,” a punky song of little substance, to close out Side 1 of the album.

But, flip the album over, and once again, The Police have given us another timeless song, “Can’t Stand Losing You”. This song is a sentiment that any young adult experienced during a break up, more in a more poetic manner. And, if the truth be told, this is the last truly innovative song on this debut album.

6.13 The Police publicity pic 1978

Although The Police will reach greater commercial heights within five years of this album’s release, Outlandos d’Amour is a great mission statement for a band to carry around its legacy. Looking back, The Police’s growth as a band and songwriters so great that it is difficult to imagine one of today’s bands or artists getting the time to grow as artists. Today, the music artists have got to hit immediately, or else they will be dropped by their label. That is why music of today’s music is simply product, designed to make a quick impression with no artistic integrity involved. Only those artists who played the game while they were younger are the ones who get to security to seek out their artistry, but only for a song or two per album, not the whole thing.

This album is NOT The Police’s best. Fortunately for the band, Outlandos d’Amour may very well be The Police’s weakest album, but when compared with their other albums. Yet, it remains a solid debut, as well as one of the best releases of 1978. Now, just go back and give the album another listen. It remains a great album to this day.

When Prince Unleashed The Time and Vanity-6

6.12 The Time 19826.12 Vanity 6 1982

Back when I went to college in the early Eighties, Ball State University was still on the quarter system, which was great for this attention deficit guy since classes went by rather quickly. Plus, when you are taking classes such as Developmental Biology, Qualitative Analysis and any class with Organic Chemistry in the title, you want them to end as quickly as possible. If I had only discovered the joys of summer school courses earlier in my academic career, my GPA would have been 4.0. Oh well, my GPA was fine, plus I was never really motivated by that thing. Truth be told former students of mine, most things outside of the lab was so mundane to me, so I was a classic academic underachiever. Actually, I had an Immunology professor call me out on it one time after an exam. But, that’s neither here nor there, as I digress.

6.12 The 1999 Tour

Now, where was I? Oh, right! Back in college…uh…right! Okay, it was February 1983, about two weeks before Spring Break started when I got my latest issue of Rolling Stone. Unfortunately, the magazine was beginning its slow decline from its Seventies heyday to the watered down shell of a magazine it is today. Regardless, this particular issue was celebrating the winners of the Readers’ and Critics’ Polls for 1982. And, if my memory serves me correctly, the critics of this once great source of American music information had chosen Prince as their Artist of the Year, not simply for his first double album classic 1999 and all the hit singles that sprang forth from this album, but how Prince had begun a stable of great artists with The Time and Vanity 6 and their albums and singles. Prince’s Minneapolis Sound was something of a mini-Motown.

6.12 Prince - Vanity Rolling Stone

Now, Prince had written and recorded most of the tracks on these two groups he formed as an outlet for different sides of his songwriting. In Vanity 6, he had a all-female vocal trio in the mold of the Supremes who could rock the feminine side of his songwriting, giving voice to these strong women characters Prince had developed in his mind. And, with The Time, he had his funk band that would become exceptionally popular with an African-American audience. At this moment in time, it appeared that Prince was poised to dominate four markets with these two artists along with his solo material: pop and rock (himself), R&B (everyone) and dance (V6, The Time). And, artistically speaking, from what I was lead to understand, these three bands took to the road in a dominating tour de force of Prince’s visions come to life. People who saw shows on that tour claim to me that those shows were their favorites of his career.

6.12 Prince - Live at the Met 1983
The Met, 1983

That school year, around campus, you heard those three artists all over the place, as they were all difficult from which to hide. Of course, of those three albums, I still regard 1999 as the masterpiece. And, since so much has been made about that album over the years, I would prefer to focus upon the other two, since each are nearly as stunning as the Purple One’s second masterpiece in his own solo career. What has been forgotten, or at least under-reported over the years, is how fantastic these other two albums from Prince’s proteges truly are. And, I am talking about What Time Is It? by The Time, their sophomore release, and Vanity 6’s self-titled debut album, both of which were “Arranged & Produced by The Starr Company,” or Jamie Starr, aka Prince. As for the backing band for Vanity 6? That’s The Time!

6.12 The Time - What Time Is It

Let’s begin with Prince’s funk alter-egos, The Time, and their second album, What Time Is It? Unfortunately, this album represents the last recording that the original lineup of the band is intact, that is until 1990’s comeback Pandemonium. Obviously, the visual focal point was always Prince’s childhood buddy, Morris Day and his pimp-about-town persona, along with his personal “valet” Jerome Benton. However, the musicians of the band are loaded with several men who were on the cusp of their own stardom, such as keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis, the masterminds behind the Janet Jackson explosion of the Eighties; second keyboardist Monte Moir, who left with the more famous Jam and Lewis to aid the duo in production; guitarist Jesse Johnson, who will have his own solo hits in the mid-Eighties, and who should be a major influence on young guitarists today but seems to be overlooked today; and drummer Jellybean Johnson, who will join The Family for its lone eponymous album, only to return to The Time when they regrouped in 1990. After this album, Jam, Lewis and Moir will exit the band, to be replaced by others when Purple Rain, the movie, is released.

6.12 The Time - 777-9311

After opening for Prince on his 1981 Controversy Tour and behind their own self-titled debut, The Time played themselves into one of the tightest funk bands of their time. Night after night, the group improved. And, that jelling of the band can be heard on What Time Is It? At a time when George Clinton took the funk into drug-induced spaced-out reaches of funk-rock with Funkadelic and horn-based funk with Parliament, which taking da funk on extended excursions, The Time represented something of a throwback to the tightly woven funk sounds of Sly & the Family Stone and James Brown himself within pop constrictions.

6.12 The Time - The Walk

Although pop hits eluded The Time from this album, the first single, “777-9311”, peaked on the R&B Singles Chart at number two, while the follow up single, the now-classic “The Walk”, stalled out at number 24. My own introduction to this album was through “The Walk,” as it got played all over campus during Fall Quarter 1982 and throughout the rest of the 1982-83 school year. As a matter of fact, the best air jam performance I have ever seen was a group of guys performing “The Walk”. All in all, What Time Is It? is an Eighties funk classic, while I will go to my grave arguing that The Time is Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-worthy on their own merits, as well as being the backing band for Vanity-slash-Apollonia-6 and for the band members’ individual influences post-Time.

6.12 Vanity 6 - Vanity 6

Now, the first album released during this torrent Minneapolis Sound attack of 1982, was the self-titled debut album of Prince’s all-female trio, Vanity-6, led by Prince’s then-girlfriend Denise Matthews, or Vanity as we knew her. Originally, Vanity was to be called “Vagina” but Matthews nixed that one. As you may or may not know, Vanity preceded Prince in death by two months during that horrible run of rock star deaths that commenced with the Christmas 2015 death of Motörhead’s Lemmy and ending with the surprising death of George Michael on Christmas a year later.

6.12 Vanity 6 - Nasty Girl

Vanity-6 was Prince’s feminine side come to life. The album sounds much like Prince’s 1981 classic Controversy, at least sonically. This album was meant to prime pop radio for Prince’s next album’s arrival later in 1982. Vanity 6 has strong material, just as The Time’s album has. Unfortunately, neither MTV nor Top 40 radio was ready for this canny mixture of pop, rock, dance, R&B and new wave, or else Controversy would have been huge. Still, this album has notable songs. First, there is “Nasty Girl,” a song that has been used in films at strip clubs and dance clubs in order to evoke a heavy Eighties dance feel. Or, as the raters on American Bandstand‘s “Rate A Record” segment would say, “It’s got a good beat, and it’s easy to dance to!”

6.12 Vanity 6 - He's So Dull

The next single is a lost new wave classic, since the song was recorded by what had been labeled as a dance group, called “He’s So Dull”. This song would have been just as comfortable on a Josie Cotton album as it was on here. The third song that sticks in my memory was the synthpop “Drive Me Wild,” thus proving Prince’s mastery over all things rock, as he was obviously in touch with all types of popular music back then.

6.12 Vanity 6 - Drive Me Wild

A mere two months later, Prince would drop his commercial breakthrough album 1999, as he prepared a two-year plan that would make him the biggest star on the planet. But, his first run of proteges have ended being his best, in addition to being his most enduring, as well as endearing. Plus, these two albums made college women want to wear lacy camisoles in the Eighties. What could be better than that?