From late-1977 through 1985, Billy Joel was all over radio. Sure, some of his songs were getting play on FM radio before 1977’s The Stranger album with the mega-hit “Just the Way You Are” were released. I mean, everyone in the free world knows “Piano Man,” Joel’s first actual hit song. But, The Stranger was an important album for Joel. It was make or break time for the “Piano Man.” Joel even skipped his high school reunion in early 1978 to play two cuts from The Stranger on Saturday Night Live, the very night Chevy Chase made his first return to host the show after leaving at the beginning of the previous season. After Joel’s memorable performance, he became the first rock artist to experience a huge boost in record sales after performing on SNL. After that night, established artists were no longer reticent to be seen on the late-night weekend show.
Once Joel’s career got that bump to overcome his career’s inertia, he became a consistent multi-platinum rock star. And, the hits got bigger and bigger, with albums such as 52nd Street, Glass Houses and An Innocent Man either hitting number one or spawning songs that became hits unto themselves. Joel was winning Grammys and finally getting some critical acclaim. As his hot streak began to slow down in 1985, the songwriting became more and more difficult for Joel. From 1977 through 1986, Joel released an album a year, though on 1986’s The Bridge, one could hear the cracks in Joel’s armor forming. He released Storm Front in 1989 and River of Dreams in 1993, but the magic seemed to be leaving him. Subsequently, the pop album releases dried up, as he has yet to release a formal followup to that 1993 hit River of Dreams.
Still, Joel’s reputation remains intact as America’s own piano man, something of this country’s version of Elton John. He now resides in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and is currently giving monthly performances at Madison Square Garden for the next couple of years. So, I would like to present a little refresher course in Billy Joel’s songs with My 30 Favorite Billy Joel Songs.
30. “The Entertainer” (1974)
29. “Honesty” (1978)
28. “My Life” (1978)
27. “All About Soul” (1993)
26. “Big Shot” (1978)
25. “Goodnight Saigon” (1982)
24. “She’s Always a Woman” (1977)
23. “A Matter of Trust” (1986)
22. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood (live)” (1981)
21. “Modern Woman” (1986)
20. “Allentown” (1982)
19. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (1989)
18. “Pressure” (1982)
17. “She’s Got a Way (live)” (1981)
16. “Uptown Girl” (1983)
15. “New York State of Mind” (1976)
14. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” (1977)
13. “Tell Her About It” (1983)
12. “I Go to Extremes” (1989)
11. “Just the Way You Are” (1977)
10. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (1977)
9. “You May Be Right” (1980)
8. “Piano Man” (1973)
7. “Only the Good Die Young” (1977)
6. “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Went Out on Broadway)” (1976)
5. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (1980)
4. “Captain Jack” (1973)
3. “Leave a Tender Moment Alone” (1983)
2. “The Stranger” (1977)
1. “Sometimes a Fantasy” (1980)
It’s Labor Day Weekend here in the States! So, I hope everyone has a safe three-day break from the doldrums of the working week. It’s also a weekend in which to many of us we have forgotten the meaning behind the holiday. It was established as a way to honor the union workers in manufacturing jobs back in the industrial era. These workers found that they actually outnumbered the ruling class, banded together and subsequently led the United States through its glory era, much of which has been adapted by countries throughout the world, many of whom have passed by us in important economic measures such as salary discrepancy, worker satisfaction, healthcare cost and coverage, and overall mental health. Simply remember what we actually learned in our high school economic, government and history classes in high school and hold on dearly to the real truth and don’t believe the hype. Peace!
Oh no! It’s happening! My music collection is bursting at the seams. I don’t want to bring it up with my beautiful and long-suffering wife, but I think I need to add third album AND CD cabinets, respectively, to my cramped music room. I mean, it should not come as a surprise since I was barely fitting my collection in the cabinets when I first bought them. But, now, when she wants to buy all kinds of stuff for our first granddaughter, who just turned two months old this past weekend. Shoot, I don’t think the little one can even begin to appreciate all that her grandparents want to get her.
So, in a futile attempt to stuff my albums into the two cabinets I presently have, I attempted to rearranged the albums in the bins. Unfortunately, some albums had to be taken out to increase space. Couple those albums laying around the room with the couple hundred CDs stacked in the room, and you can see I have a bit of a storage issue. Oh well, I think our marriage will outlast this impending discussion.
But, what happened while going through the album is that I found several albums from the Eighties, which I thought were awesome, that I decided to give a re-listen. You know what I discovered? I really do have good taste in music. Much of this stuff has aged very well, even though some of them may have an over-reliance on 80s production techniques and technology. Sometimes, synthesizers and drum machines get a little over-used. But, generally speaking, these twenty albums have stood the test of time.
On my list are established artists like Warren Zevon and Rickie Lee Jones or musicians from famous groups doing solo albums, such as Keith Richards from the Stones and Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads. Then, there are the artists who seem to be one-hit wonders with Aldo Nova and Jesse Johnson’s Revue. Some of these musicians you will recognize, like Kiss, while others you may not have even heard of before, like Game Theory. In any event, these twenty albums are what I consider to be Underrated Classic Albums of the Eighties. I have the listed in alphabetical order by artist name.
1. ABC – How to Be a Zillionaire (1985). This new wave/soul band broke in 1982 with two hit songs, “The Look of Love” and “Poison Arrow.” When this album came out three years later, everyone had forgotten about them. Then, we heard “Be Near Me” on Top 40 radio and discovered this album is stuffed full of mid-80s sophisticated dance/pop hits.
2. Aldo Nova – Aldo Nova (1982). In the early Eighties, Canada was sending us some great AOR artists like Loverboy, Triumph and Red Rider. Guitarist/singer Aldo Nova was another winning combination in the AOR sweepstakes with his hit “Fantasy.” The rest of the album would sound great on Classic Rock radio as well.
3. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session (1989). In 1989, critics everywhere were taken with the haunting sound of the Cowboy Junkies on this album. With each song recorded with one microphone in one take in a church, the album has a country noir sound to it. Highlight is their cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”
4. David + David – Boomtown (1986). When this album dropped, critics drooled over the great sound of a smartly written classic rock album. The problem was that the lyrics were clearly Gen X in nature, meaning they were studying the dark underbelly of Reaganomics which did not sit well with the Boomers. So, this album became something of a cult album. Holds up much better than the Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe or Poison albums that outsold this one.
5. Game Theory – The Big Shot Chronicles (1986). For some reason, bands that play smart, power pop music rarely make a dent on America’s music charts. This two-females, three-males band came from the same scene that produced The Bangles. Unfortunately, their take on an updated Beatles/Beach Boys sophisticated sound fell on deaf ears. Game Theory should be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Costello, Squeeze and Marshall Crenshaw when it comes to that Beatlesque sound.
6. Jerry Harrison – Casual Gods (1988). Just as David Byrne was becoming bored playing with Talking Heads, keyboardist/guitarist/singer Jerry Harrison quietly created a great album that mined some of the same musical soundscapes as the early Heads did in their CBGBs days. This album was huge on college rock radio back in the day.
7. Jesse Johnson’s Revue – Jesse Johnson’s Revue (1985). The former guitarist of The Time, Johnson formed his own band during the height of Prince-mania. This album allowed Johnson to continue mining the same soundscapes as The Time, but being a solo artist allowed Johnson to show off his guitar pyrotechnics. This, along with his sophomore record Shockadelica, is a lost classic of the Minneapolis sound of the Eighties.
8. Keith Richards – Talk Is Cheap (1988). One half of The Rolling Stones famous Glimmer Twins, Richards, who was fighting with his twin Mick Jagger, decided he could show off his songwriting by making his first solo album. This album would have made a terrific Stones album, but, instead of thinking about what could have been, let’s focus on what it is. And what it is one helluva rock album, the down and dirty kind Stones fans have always loved. At least we found out that a moderately sober Richards could still sing.
9. King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989). Just as hair metal was running out of steam, along comes a trio with obvious Rush/Triumph fans as member who coupled art metal with soaring vocal harmonies, not unlike those found on power pop albums, to create a distinctive sound that blew the critics’ collective minds. Everyone from metal-guru Eddie Trunk to the metal-hating Rolling Stone magazine at the time were singing the praises of this album. And, it does not disappoint.
10. Kiss – Creatures of the Night (1982). Okay, back in 1982, Kiss was at its lowest ebb. Drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley had done the unthinkable and left the band. In comes replacements with weird make-up. Kiss had just release some rock opera, which was totally outside their wheelhouse called Music from “The Elder.” The public rejected that album. So, with their backs against the wall, they rediscovered their songwriting skills from the Destroyer/Rock and Roll Over/Love Gun heyday and created the rocking Creatures of the Night. Unfortunately, only members of the Kiss Army bought it since everyone was going crazy for Duran Duran and Adam Ant at the time. We sure missed out on a Kiss Klassic. This is everything a Kiss fan would want in a Kiss album. Unfortunately, the album did not sell, and Kiss subsequently got rid of the make-up, ruining everything during the hair metal run.
11. Little Steven – Voice of America (1984). Where his former boss, Bruce Springsteen, had just created the subtly politicized Born in the USA, Little Steven came out and made an album that left no doubts about his disdain for Reagan and his brand of economics. No one could misinterpret Van Zandt’s meanings in these heated liberal rantings. This gives the true side of the American working class that few seem to understand, yet many exploit.
12. Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon (1987). This lost classic got buried in the avalanche of great albums released in 1987. While many thought this would be the album to break these proud Mexican-Americans, that break waited a year until they covered “La Bamba” for the movie of the same name about their Latino rock hero Richie Valens. But, this album is a mix of early rock and roll, traditional Mexican music and country in this true melting pot of an album.
13. Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates (1981). This female version of Tom Waits’ late-night jazz club personae won all kinds of critical praise on her sophomore album. But, for some reason, people have forgotten all about her work while her mentor, Waits himself, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This album, along with her debut, gives the listener a similar trip through the late-night Bohemia made famous in the musical RENT. Too bad there was not a hit song to push this album further into our conscientiousness.
14. Robbie Nevil – Robbie Nevil (1986). This guy had it all for an artist in the Eighties: great songwriting ability, great looks and great hair. Oh, man, his hair was way better than Bon Jovi’s. He even had a big hit song that people have forgotten, “C’est La Vie.” This album was so full of great songs that my wife played it to death. Yet, for some reason, the album and all of the other songs never caught on. I will never understand this cruel game of pop music. Nevil should have been as big as George Michael.
15. Robert Cray – Strong Persuader (1986). Everyone rightfully remembers Stevie Ray Vaughan, but, for reasons I will NEVER understand, few remember that Cray was equally talented as a blues and R&B guitar virtuoso, especially on his hit “Smokin’ Gun.” But, the man had it all, the guitar licks, the voice and the looks. Still, he’s a forgotten blues guitarist who deserves much more recognition.
16. Terence Trent D’Arby – The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby (1987). D’Arby was arrogant, telling the press that his debut album was the greatest album since Sgt. Pepper. Well, this man with a voice not unlike Otis Redding, the writing chops in the vein of Prince and a confidence bigger than Michael Jordan’s created one awesome album that had two hit songs, “Sign Your Name” and the immortal “Wishing Well.” But, when he tried to move away from the 60s/70s soul sound of this album for a more eclectic Brian Wilson-influenced sound on his next two albums, he lost his audience. Yet, the high quality of this album endures, even if it never was as good as most of The Beatles’ LPs, let along Sgt. Pepper.
17. The Outfield – Play Deep (1986). This was American power pop at its finest. The only problem, much like The Records before them, The Outfield was English. So, they were ignored in the UK, even while finding success in the States. Unfortunately, they forgot how to be exuberant on subsequent albums as they were on their debut. They should have taken a closer look at Cheap Trick at how to incorporate cynicism with such a happy sound. This is a power pop classic for the ages.
18. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988). This Scottish band was marketed as the second coming of U2 because of their soaring anthems on their first couple of albums. But, much like Dexys Midnight Runners before them, the lead Waterboy, Mike Scott, loved to incorporate other sounds into his mix. When he involved Scottish Folk sounds, he came up with a great album in 1988 Fisherman’s Blues. Once again, because the band was not all AquaNet and bombast, their videos did not get much run on MTV, although the band was huge on college rock radio. This is a great UK version of folk rock.
19. Toni Childs – Union (1988). When I heard Childs’ HUGE voice on her minor hit “Walk Away,” I thought there was NO WAY this woman was not going to be a big rock star. Boy, was I wrong. Blessed with a voice that falls between Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, she must have been the wrong voice at the wrong time, whatever that means. I don’t care, Toni Childs is one of the lost rock stars that we sure missed out on. Her music was too sophisticated and smart for pop radio, too organic for Urban Radio and to pop for rock radio. But, she should have transcended all of those formats. Instead, few remember her, and that’s our loss.
20. Warren Zevon – Sentimental Hygiene (1987). Man, Zevon could NOT catch a break! His best-known song, “Werewolves of London,” was never a Top 20 hit on its own. His versions of songs were never hits, then someone else would make hits out of them (thanks Linda Ronstadt and Randy Newman!). So, when Zevon asked a hot young alternative band called R.E.M. to back him on this album, everyone thought this would be his moment. And as great as songs like the tile song and “Boom Boom Mancini” were, I thought Warren Zevon would finally get the respect he deserved. Unfortunately, the gods of music played another cruel trick on Zevon, and this album went nowhere. As far as I am concerned, this was his finest moment.
Sure, these are just a small sampling of the eclectic music in my collection, but they do give you an idea from where I am coming when I write my reviews. These are the types of music that I enjoy the most, although many of them you probably never heard of. Just give them a try. If I am not correct, quit listening to them. But, if I’m right, just go buy them. And, I prefer them on vinyl myself.
Back in the mid-Seventies, when I was purchasing and reading rock magazines such as Creem, Circus and Hit Parade, I would quickly read the articles about Kiss or some other band that I loved at the time. But, being the voracious reader I was, I quickly moved on to the other articles about the bands I had never heard, many of whom I would not hear until I was in college. Which brings me to the great English prog band, Genesis, and their eccentric lead singer about to go solo Peter Gabriel. For some reason, in 1976 or 1977, had I never heard that band’s music, that is until after Gabriel split. But, I was always very intrigued by the photos of the band, both with and without Gabriel. Though, I have to admit, that the photos of Genesis with Gabriel always seemed way more interesting than without, but that’s not the point. But, I had store information about all involved in my brain.
Fast-forward a bit to the summer of 1978, when I was going out to Colorado for that National Explorer Olympics. While out in Fort Collins, I was listening to a radio station that seemed fairly cool at the time when the DJ announced that the upcoming song was a new one by Genesis, without Gabriel as the lead singer. The DJ explained that the band’s drummer, Phil Collins, was taking over the lead singer role. The song was “Follow You, Follow Me,” and it was a nice song, a little dreamy, and a slice of late-Seventies pop/rock.
Now, I knew what Genesis was all about, so I was now curious about Peter Gabriel. During some off-time from the track workouts and racing, a couple of buddies and me went to a record store in town to listen to some Peter Gabriel. Well, the guys at the store enthusiastically put on Gabriel’s second eponymous titled album (his first four albums would all be entitled Peter Gabriel. What I heard was different than anything I had heard up to that point. I wasn’t sure what I thought of it. When Side One ended, one of the guys asked me what I thought. My reaction: I was more confused than before I had hear. It was enchanting and disturbing all at the same time. Unfortunately, I passed on buying it, but once again, filed the initial musings in my brain.
When I was a senior in high school, our school radio station had received Peter Gabriel’s third self-titled album and Genesis’ Duke album. Immediately, I grabbed them, went into the production room, and listened to both. And, I was blown away, especially by Gabriel’s album. The Genesis album was good, but Gabriel’s album was haunting and moving. And, when I heard Gabriel’s first single from the album, “Games Without Frontiers.” Genesis also contributed a great single in “Turn It On Again.” So, both songs became important songs during my show. Every show began with “Turn It On Again,” while my set’s nest-to-last song was always “Games Without Frontiers.”
Well, long story short, I became a Peter Gabriel fan. His albums were always built around an artist’s mentality, with intellectual flourishes thrown in for good measure. I was hooked on his music. While I enjoyed Genesis and Phil Collins for their pop leanings and songwriting, it was Gabriel’s towering persona that had captured my imagination.
So, today, I am going to rank Peter Gabriel’s studio albums, in honor of a man who was once willing to dress as a flower as part of his visual accents to Genesis’ music.
11. Up (2002). Tired, boring and behind the times. Everything Peter Gabriel once never was.
10. Us (1992). Gabriel tried to repeat the magic of his highly successful So. The whole thing just sounded forced.
9. And I’ll Scratch Yours (2013). This album is the companion album of Scratch My Back, in which the artists Gabriel covered on that album return the favor my covering Gabriel songs. Interesting to hear how other artists interpret some of Gabriel’s most important songs.
8. Scratch My Back (2010). Gabriel decides to make cover versions of the music of some of his favorite artists’ music. Makes for an interesting listen, especially after And I’ll ScratchYours was released.
7. New Blood (2011). By all means, I should HATE this album. But, I don’t. This is an album of re-imaginations of some of Gabriel’s most-loved songs. It’s a whole album of The Police re-recording “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”. Unnecessary, yet interesting for a brief moment.
6. Passion (1989). Remember the controversial book, The Last Temptation of Christ, which got author Salman Rushdie a death warrant put out on him by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini? This album was supposed to the the movie’s soundtrack. But with so much controversy surrounding the movie version, that this music was dropped in favor of a traditional soundtrack. Still, this album’s not too bad.
5. Peter Gabriel [2 or Scratch] (1978). The second of four consecutive self-titled albums. This one is remembered for the song that praised the “Do It Yourself” mentality of the whole punk movement. That song is “D.I.Y.”
4. Peter Gabriel [Security] (1982). How can any album with “Shock the Monkey” be that bad? Apparently, none.
3. Peter Gabriel [1 or Rain or Car] (1977). This is the sound of prog rock becoming minimalist in sound. A real foreshadowing of the music of the Eighties.
2. So (1986). The album that broke Peter Gabriel commercially throughout the universe, with his first Top 10 singles, “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time,” both of which had ground-breaking videos. This was the fruition of Gabriel’s total vision. This is really the sound of the world catching up with Gabriel.
1. Peter Gabriel[3 or Melting] (1980). This haunting album remains my favorite almost 40 years later, with great songs like “Games Without Frontiers,” “Intruder” and the anti-apartheid song “Biko.”
Peter Gabriel introduced me to Stephen Biko and the whole South African problem of apartheid. Additionally, I learned of Amnesty International through Peter Gabriel. His work for human rights is world renown. So, yes, his music drew me in, but his message was my life lesson. And, for that, I salute you Mr. Peter Gabriel!
As the calendar moves closer and closer to the month of September, we will begin the unofficial start to the Fall season, which means the baseball play-offs and the beginning of football season. Between the two sports, I prefer baseball, as I dabbled a bit in it before becoming a track and field athlete in the Spring and a cross country runner in the Fall. Football has always been something I watched until basketball started. Unfortunately, both of my boys played football, with my older getting his left femur broken in Junior Football when he was in fifth grade as a ten-year-old. His injury is the worst in our town’s league history, a dubious honor. And, son #2 was the bigger, more athletic of the two. My wife and I tried to keep him out of football, but he persisted. Everything was fine when he was playing offensive and defensive tackle positions, as he loved to drill other kids. The problem began in eighth grade, when two things happened: he grew several inches and slimmed down and the quarterback did not come out for the team. So, he went from hitting people, which he loved, to being the quarterback and leading the team, which, although he was gifted to do both, he reluctantly accepted the change. Then, as a sophomore, he fractured his left ankle. After that unusual injury, he developed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which meant permanent nerve damage in that ankle. He spent a decade walking with a cane, until within the past year, miraculously (and knock on wood), his symptoms left, and he seems to be “normal” once again. Needless to say, football is not too popular in my household.
Yet, I do look forward to Labor Day every year. I don’t know why. When I ran, we did not take the day off, but we did go on bicycle rides as a fun break from the running routine. It was a great way to refresh your brain after a big invitational from the weekend. When I coached cross country, my Alexandria teams would run in the morning, meet at an athlete’s home with a pool, have pancakes and go swimming as a way to decompress.
But, the one thing I made a tradition of doing on Labor Day way back in high school was to visit a record store and purchase a “classic” album. Back in 1979, when the tradition began, that album was The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks compilation album. Over the years, I have purchased albums by Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Band, to name a few. I have no idea what I will buy this year, though I am leaning toward actually adding my first Eagles album to my collection, if I can find a copy in good enough condition.
You see, I have never really been a fan of the Eagles. I don’t know what it is? I love similar country rock bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, as well as newer bands of the genre like The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo. But, for some reason, the Eagles have always fallen flat on my hears. I really do not believe that it has to do with me reacting against their success, and whether they are overrated or not. Hell, I still love Fleetwood Mac, and you can somewhat lump these bands together in that Seventies “California Sound.” I mean, I love Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne. I especially love Linda Ronstadt, and even had a celebrity crush on her when in middle school and probably high school. And, three of the original Eagles played in Ronstadt’s band! So, what’s wrong with me?
Just last week, it was announced that the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) had surpassed Michael Jackson’s Thriller album as the biggest-selling album in rock history. That album has sold more than 38 MILLION copies! The album hit the number one position in 1976, but that year it seemed as though everyone had a number one album, from the likes of George Benson, Peter Frampton and Earth, Wind & Fire to Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. That Eagles compilation album spent four consecutive weeks at the top, dropped to number two for a week, then returned for one final week atop the chart. But, Frampton Comes Alive was the year’s best-selling album that year. And, nearly everyone is familiar with the Thriller story, as that album was in and out of the number one position for the better part of two years. Yet, the Eagles, acting as the proverbial tortoise has just past Michael Jackson’s hare as the all-time best-selling album. It’s a remarkable feat, yet I do understand. I am perplexed. Mainly, because I have NEVER owned a copy of that album! Yes, you read that correctly! As a matter of fact, I have Hotel California on CD, as well as the band’s 2003 double-CD compilation The Very Best of Eagles, which I assume is treated as a completely different album. But, then again, Garth Brooks has petitioned the accounting agency to change the rules so many times so he could actually become the biggest-selling album act in history that I no longer can remember the rules.
So, how did this happen? I suspect that after the post-Michael Jackson death run on his albums subsided, the endlessly touring Eagles continued to rack up sales of their single album compilation, with a friendly discounted price. And, since for some reason Americans are willing to pay $200 a ticket to see a TRUE ballad band, as opposed to my misconception around Chicago, then I guess I should not be surprised. Yet, I am.
So, today, I really worked hard to overcome more inertia than I usually experience before writing this blog, as I wanted to finally tackle one of the “biggies” of rock – the Eagles. So, in honor of this band reaching such a significant milestone in album sales, may I present to you My Favorite 20 Eagles Songs.
20. “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1978)
19. “Ol’ 55” (1974)
18. “Lyin’ Eyes” (1975)
17. “James Dean” (1974)
16. “Best of My Love” (1974)
15. “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (1972)
14. “Seven Bridges Road” (1980)
13. “Witchy Woman” (1972)
12. “After the Thrill Is Gone” (1975)
11. “In the City” (1979)
10. “Tequila Sunrise” (1973)
9. “Saturday Night” (1973)
8. “My Man” (1974)
7. “One of These Nights” (1975)
6. “Hotel California” (1976)
5. “Take It Easy” (1972)
4. “Desperado” (1973)
3. “Pretty Maids All in a Row” (1976)
2. “I Can’t Tell You Why” (1979)
1. “Take It to the Limit” (1975)
See? I told you I’m a little off the beaten path with my preferences when it comes to songs by the Eagles. Let’s just say that I don’t totally hold the same sentiment about the Eagles as was expressed in The Big Lebowski (Remember: “F— the Eagles!”). But, they are not my favorites either.
Over the years, I have heard some many horror stories from a number of people about roommates they had back in college. Fortunately, I had pretty good roommates during my college days. During my freshman year, I was placed with a guy who was an architecture major (we called them “Ar-Kees”, as not to confused them with the Archies bubblegum band). Unfortunately for him, I came into college just haven given up on my college career in running, so I was in full-blown party mode. Then, you throw in the fact he was a Quaker, well, we did not mix well socially, but we did hit it off on a personal level. Needless to say, we only lasted a year, as he and I amicably split.
So, during my sophomore year, one of my best friends at the time and I roomed. Unfortunately, I liked to keep things somewhat organized, and he just couldn’t. Rooming together that year almost killed us as friends. So, after that year, we split and have remained friends to this day. But, at times during that year, we could really get on each other’s nerves. We knew how to push the other’s buttons and did it often. At the time, I was heavy into new wave and punk music, which drove him nuts. And the more he bitched, the worse I got. “Oh! You think Haircut 100 is bad, wait ’till you hear some Dead Kennedys.” You know, some real mature male stuff. The way he counter-punched was playing music I was sick of, like the Blues Brothers, Jim Croce, Christopher Cross, and his main obsession, the Alan Parsons Project.
Now that we look back on those day, we laugh at how passive-aggressive we were. Sure, it was my stereo, but we did set some ground rules at the beginning of the year. Basically, if you were in the room alone, play whatever you wanted. If the other got back, your music stayed on. It was simple, until I got sick of his dirty laundry everywhere on the floor. Screw laying down any carpeting because he just left his laundry everywhere. When that started happening, the music battle began. We became less tolerant of each other’s music. But, he pushed it too far when one weekend, he just kept playing the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky album. He stayed in the room the WHOLE damn weekend, blasting that album. I slept in other rooms during that stand-off. What precipitated it, I don’t remember? And, I don’t remember the resolution, either. But, it was pretty damn important at the time. Anyway, I swore that I would NEVER listen to another Alan Parsons Project album ever again. Well, ironically enough, “ever” must have ended this weekend, because 35 years after the “Great Alan Parsons Project Stand-Off” of 1983, I finally sat down to listen to all those old albums. You know what, when you’re not walking on top of dirty laundry, Alan Parsons Project sounds really good.
Boy, and we thought we were so mature back then!
Back in 1976, I heard the Alan Parsons Project for the very first time. It was their now-classic debut album Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe. That album blew me away, not just musically, but because it was based totally on some of Poe’s greatest works. I had just been reading his work in my middle school English class (it was accelerated), so I thought this album was one of my initial intellectual statements in this world. Just the first in a lifetime of follies!
The Alan Parsons Project originally consisted of Alan Parsons, the major producer back in the mid-Seventies, and Eric Woolfson, a session keyboardists and songwriter. At the time of their teaming, Parsons was noted for being an engineer for The Beatles’ Abbey Road album and on Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Parsons had further his name by producing successful albums by the likes of Pilot, Al Stewart, Cockney Rebel, Ambrosia and The Hollies. But, he was dissatisfied with other musicians messing up his productions with their “stupid” requests. So, he and Woolfson hooked up to form and studio “band” to make their own music. Woolfson brought in some music he had written earlier based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Immediately, the pair worked with the best session musicians in England to produce this album. That album’s success led the pair to continue to work into the early-Nineties, when the pair had a falling out.
Many critics, as was the wont back then, panned the Alan Parsons Project’s albums. I remember reading an article in which the APP was described as being Pink Floyd-lite. Well, I think it was a dig at Parsons, since he had engineered Floyd’s arguably greatest album. But, I think those critics were unfair. There is some absolutely impeccable music on these albums, and I feel like someone needs to acknowledge this. Like most artists, Woolfson’s songwriting run out of steam as the albums piled up. Although, APP had hits in the Eighties, they were unable to tone down their prog side as the Eighties moved along, as their brethren Asia, Toto and Yes did. However, they have left behind a rich catalog of impressive albums and singles for us to enjoy.
Today, I am going to rank the albums released by the Alan Parsons Project, from worst to best. Let’s get this party started! Yes, I quoted P!nk. Whaddya gonna do about it?
12. The Sicilian Defence (2014) – Recorded in 1979, this album was never finished nor intended for release. The album’s title comes from the name of a famous chess move, which is what this album was within the context of contract renegotiation move. Every song title is a chess move.
11. Freundiana (1990) – This was the album that broke up the Parsons/Woolfson partnership. This rock opera sounds like a partnership ending. Parsons went solo after this album.
10. Gaudi (1987) – This album shows just how much trouble APP had trying to fit into the late-Eighties reliance on electronic instrumentation. I don’t care how others feel, this is one boring album.
9. Stereotomy (1985) – The band’s second album of 1985 seems rushed and like an attempt to sound of its time rather than timeless. The chinks in the armor are obvious now.
8. Vulture Culture (1985) – This is the sound of a band being spread too thin, as many of the musician were also working on a soundtrack album that no one remembers. So, everything sounds weak, tired and half-baked.
7. Ammonia Avenue (1984) – This is the album where APP sounds as if they are finally running out of steam. And even though this album contains the great “Don’t Answer Me,” the song never caught on with the public coming down from Thriller-mania and caught up in Purple Rain and Born in the USA buying sprees.
6. Pyramid (1978) – APP’s little-heard third album was the band’s first slump. That’s all I have to say about it. It still holds together but does sound a little dated.
5. Eve (1979) – APP’s Top Five albums are all classics or at least near-classics. During their peak, APP tackled some weighty topics by setting it to impeccably played rock music. This album was way ahead of its time as they were focusing on the strengths and characteristics that made women so powerful. If it were released today, the “Me Too” movement would have latched onto it as its theme music. This is one of APP’s most powerful statements, as it continues to gain significance over the years.
4. I Robot (1977) – When APP released this album, I was reading science fiction all the time. So, imagine my excitement when I heard they had Isaac Asimov’s books influencing this album! “I Wouldn’t Want to Be like You” was a theme song for me back in the day.
3. The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980) – Probably just behind REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity and Styx’ Paradise Theater in popularity with the people in my graduating class during our Senior year in high school, this album actually had two big hits: “Time” and “Games People Play.” The album’s theme of a gambling addiction could be applied to any addiction. I forgot just how much I loved this album.
2. Eye in the Sky (1982) – What is it about an artist who finally has a huge hit, then cannot ever follow it up? APP finally had their day with this album. And, it continues to hold a place in pop culture, as “Sirius” is used to this day for basketball introductions, just as the Bulls did when Michael Jordan was the best player on Earth. Oh, and the title song went all the way to number two on the Hot 100.
1. Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1976) – If my roommate had played this album instead of the one at number two, I still would say this is my favorite! Poe and rock music? Are you kidding?!?! This was a match made in heaven in my teenage brain. And my adult brain agrees. Plus, my first radio show on our high school radio station used “(The System Of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” as its theme song. And, the program director never knew how much I loved this album either.
Yes, I am a fan of the Alan Parsons Project. I am no longer afraid to admit it. I know it was not cool to admit it back in the days of punk and new wave. But, I’m an old geezer now, so who cares!?
I can distinctly remember during my college years, reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine that the founder and owner of the magazine, Jann Wenner, was going to start a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, my thought back then, as twenty-year-old was something along the line of “Do we really need something like this?” and “Isn’t rock music a living and breathing animal that continues to rewrite its history to fit the times?” Of course, I did not yet have the perspective that Wenner and his cronies had of age, nor did I have an understanding of the trends of rock music and how genres can cannibalize itself into extinction. But, now that I am officially a senior citizen, at least to some restaurants I am, I finally have enough perspective to understand the great vision that Wenner, et. al., had when they began to plan for this monument to the dominant form of music of the second half of the twentieth century.
Much like jazz and big band music before it, rock has finally blown a tire and is a slowly vanishing genre that will continued to be created, though in a much more minor genre. We are now living in the age of hip hop. And, that music is dominating every sound that is released today, be it pop, EDM, rock, jazz, and, yes, even country. Listen to the rhythms of the latest big song in your favorite genre, and you will hear a hip hop beat. The beat is now the driving force for music, as melody, guitar power and that old “meat-and-potatoes” rock sound is being lost to the ages. And, that’s okay people. Sure, it’s not our “cup of tea,” but, honestly, who’s parents liked our music? Yes, I did catch my mom dancing in the kitchen as I was playing the Sex Pistols one day in high school, but she still preferred to listen to Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow. So, now our music is on the oldies station, much like Rihanna will be in twenty years.
So, what I am trying to say is that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was really a great idea. If only other musical genres had the foresight to start their halls of fame back when they were peaking. Regardless, the original vision of the RRHOF was to be a living and breathing organism, with five to ten inductees each year. Initially, the pool of important talent was so small that the artists to be inducted were obvious. But, as the years past, the number of eligible artists grew until we ran into the problem we have today: a backlog of deserving artists awaiting their special moments as they hope to beat Father Time’s clock on their lives.
Plus, if you want to take a great little getaway, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a great place to go. The design of the place is breathtaking, and the exhibits are mind-blowing. Although I have not been there since 2003, after which I said, jokingly I might add, that I was not coming back until Cheap Trick was inducted (finally happened in 2015!), I really want to get back to see everything again. It is a fantastic day visit, and, according to Son #2’s in-laws, they want to go back with me so I could enlighten them more on some of the exhibits. “Enlighten” indeed! More like bore them to tears. Anywho…
Lately, I have been wasting blog space (wait! I do that anyway!) a couple of times a year bitching about who was nominated for induction and who wasn’t. How many times do I have to say that the whole group Chic still needs to be inducted; inducting Nile Rodgers is NOT enough! Also, how can Bon Jovi be inducted before Def Leppard, when the Lep created the sound that Jovi ripped off? Likewise, with nearly every commercially successful Motown artist inducted, why are Mary Wells (“My Guy”) and the Marvelettes (“Mister Postman”) are left out in the cold? Yes! I can do this forever! But enough all ready! What can be done to improve all of this? Let’s search for solutions! Well, I think I have one, but it probably will not go much farther than here. Yet, here it is anyway.
To start, the Nominating Committee needs to agree on 20 to 30 names each year. Next, continue to let the fans vote on the nominees, but let’s acknowledge these people’s collective voice and induct the Top Three Vote-Getters. After that popularity contest, let the Induction Committee select one inductee from each of the following seven categories: Legends (Pre-Rock Era Influences and those whose popularity peaked in the Fifties and Sixties), Influences (Artists from Blues/Country/Jazz), Classic Rock/Pop, R&B/Soul/Funk, Heavy Metal, Rap and Alternative Rock. I believe this will ensure a great mix of artists so the Induction Ceremony will actually become an annual “must-see” event, possibly even garnering interest from the general public. This will slow down the rate of Classic Rock artists being inducted, while possibly increasing the number of people of color’s presence in the Hall. Let’s face it! The prospect of Willie Nelson, The Rock & Roll Trio, The Spinners, Whitney Houston, Judas Priest, Eric B & Rakim and Smashing Pumpkins being inducted with Janet Jackson, Def Leppard and Styx is pretty damn exciting.
I guess, the Nominating Committee might need to be arranged around the categories, but then again with so many brilliant musical minds involved that kind of specialization need not be addressed. Additionally, I would love to see two more non-performer inductees happen each year. First, their should be a non-performer, such as a producer, engineer, manager, disc jockey, VJ, executive, etc., who’s vision and performance advanced rock music. The other should be the recognition of a rock journalist. Some of these people did brilliant work reporting on the music we love and hold so dearly. It is time that people such as Dave Marsh, Cameron Crowe, Lisa Robinson, Lester Bangs, and so on, should be immortalized for the work they did letting some scrawny Midwestern kid read about artists in England back before the internet days let just any yokel, like me, write about music.
I wish I had a much bigger platform to yell this idea from, but, alas, I do not. All I can do it hit “Publish” and send this out into the ether for others to see. This is the one entry I wish would go viral. Here’s to wishing upon a star!
Sure, she is known as the Queen of Disco, but Donna Summer’s talent transcended the genre. You don’t have the pop chart success that Summer had by just cutting club records. She had the most distinctive voice in the crowded field of disco divas. But, she was fortunate to have teamed with one of the greatest disco visionaries in producer Giorgio Moroder. The pair teamed to create an impeccable collection of hit songs in the late-Seventies that not only lit dancefloors around the world on fire but dominated Top 40 radio as few artists did back then, especially one labeled as a disco artist as Miss Summers.
From the moment the world heard her orgasmic singing on her debut single “Love to Love You Baby” to her commercial and creative peak with the smash double album Bad Girls, her first greatest hits compilation released at the end of 1979 and the highly experimental tour de force of the album The Wanderer of 1980, the discos and Top 40 radio belonged to Donna Summer. It was after the singer-producer partnership between Summer and Moroder eroded, was when Summer’s dominance began to unwind her tight grip on the two charts. Still, for that time period, there was nothing like a hot new Donna Summer single, no matter if Top 40 radio played a three-minute version or the album version lasted a whole side. Those songs were some of the hottest dance songs in the history of music.
Fortunately, Donna Summer is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. However, it is unfortunate that she was not inducted during her lifetime, thus showing the Hall’s bias against disco artists. Yet, Ms. Summer was a diva for the ages. And, today, I would like to offer my proof with my list of her 20 best songs ever.
20. “The Woman in Me” (1982) #33
19. “Cold Love” (1980) #33
18. “There Goes My Baby” (1984) #21
17. “Winter Melody” (1976) #43
16. “Could It Be Magic” (1976) #52
15. “State of Independence” (1982) #41
14. “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) [with Barbra Streisand]” (1979) #1
4. “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)” (1982) #10
3. “Love to Love You Baby” (1975) #2
2. “Last Dance” (1978) #3
1. “I Feel Love” (1977) #6
After 14 Top 10 pop hits, four of which peaked at number one, Summer’s streak came to an end after she staged a comeback of sorts in 1989 with the help of the English production team of Stock/Aitken/Waterman who were white-hot at the time. After that, Summer spent her time in the Nineties raising her daughters. Then, as nostalgia for the disco days picked up steam, Summer’s vocal prowess was back in demand. Unfortunately, cancer ended any real attempt at a comeback when she died in 2012. But, her music continues to live on, making Donna Summer one of the few disco immortals, along with Chic and Gloria Gaynor.