Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin

ARTIST: Led Zeppelin           Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_(1969)_front_cover

TITLE: Led Zeppelin

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: Good Times Bad Times (#80)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Dazed and Confused

LINEUP: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham, John Paul Jones

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The debut from the rock and roll behemoth is mostly blues rock, with a couple of interesting diversions and a closing cut that points their way to domination.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From the ashes of the Yardbirds Jimmy Page emerged. With studio whiz John Paul Jones and relative unknowns Robert Plant and John Bonham in tow, the new group recorded this album on their own and gave it to Atlantic Records. The company eagerly snapped it up, and the rest is history.

Most of the album is rooted in the blues, much like the Yardbirds. Two Willie Dixon tunes (“You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”) were pure blues, while “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was a standard of blues and rock bands throughout the 60’s. “Dazed and Confused” is definitely in a slow blues style.

The album’s most important cuts diverge from the blues. “Good Times Bad Times” and “How Many More Times” are riff driven, and while the latter does use some blues call-and-response, and ref3erences blues songs, the riff is pure hard rock. “Communication Breakdown”, on the other hand, has a riff that could be a speed metal or punk riff – miles ahead of its time. Most heavy songs at the time were slow and lumbering – not this one.

The band tends to ramble on some cuts (they needed an editor), and their version of “You Shook Me” isn’t as good as the Jeff Beck Groups, but this debut changed the course of rock in three cuts.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: When the Yardbirds split, Jimmy Page had the rights to the name of the band, and had to tour Scandinavia to fulfill contracts. So he recruited this band as “The New Yardbirds”, and then changed the name.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: One bonus track, the title track.

GRADE: A-:  “How Many More Times” points to the future.

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John Mellencamp – American Fool

ARTIST: John Cougar (Mellencamp)          220px-JC_American_Fool

TITLE: American Fool

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #37 UK

SINGLES: Hurts So Good (#2, #1 Mainstream), Jack & Diane (#1 US, #3 Mainstream, #25 UK), Thundering Hearts (#36 Mainstream), Hand to Hold on To (#19 US, #89 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No one knew the deep cuts

LINEUP: John Cougar (Mellencamp), Larry Crane, Mike Wanchic, Kenny Aronoff, George Perry with help by Mick Ronson (!)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The breakthrough finally happens, thanks to MTV and constant touring.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: John Cougar finally, finally struck the big time after a few years of regional success thanks to “Hurts So Good”, a catchy rock-and-roll fun-time number with a great video. The Hoosier then became a household name with “Jack and Diane” – really one of the most polarizing songs of the 80’s. You either loved it, or wish it didn’t exist. (I fall into the latter camp).

The album that follows those songs isn’t horrible – it could be said “Jack and Diane” is the worst song there (well, I say it). There are a couple of other high points, but we definitely have a mostly hit+filler situation here – with the hits coming at the beginning and the second side of the LP may have been almost totally neglected on turntables and cassette decks.

There’s some progress here on the songwriting front, and he’s not afraid to be sentimental, but songs like “China Girl” (not the Bowie / Pop track) hold him back, along with…you know.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company almost cancelled this record and released him.   

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: One bonus track, the title track. 

GRADE: B-:  It was a huge album, but it has a lot of meh filler.

Neil Diamond – All-Time Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Neil Diamond            diamond

TITLE: All Time Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #15 US, #25 UK

SINGLES: Top 10: Cherry Cherry (#6 US), Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (#10 US), Sweet Caroline (#4 US, #8 UK), Holly Holy (#6 US), Cracklin’ Rosie (#1 US, #3 UK), I Am..I Said (#4 US, #4 UK), Song Sung Blue (#1 US, #14 UK), Longellow Serenade (#5 US), Love on the Rocks (#2 US, #17 UK), Hello Again (#6 US, #51 UK), America (#8 US), Heartlight (#5 US, #47 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Almost every major hit by him is here

LINEUP: Neil Diamond, session musicians

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Almost (ALMOST!) the ultimate collection for every casual Neil Diamond fan.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Singer, songwriter, very serious man Neil Diamond is seemingly timeless. Almost everyone has heard at least one song (especially those attending sporting events), and he’s an artist whose work spans generations. Grandmothers who swooned to him in 1972 are bringing their granddaughters to his concerts now.

This is a collection of all of his big hits until 1983, well, all but one. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” is represented, but as a solo song, not his hit duet with Barbra Streisand. The collection is also weirdly sequenced – like they went to a random number generator or something to put the tracks together.

Though he released a lot of albums in the 70’s (with a lot of pretentious album titles), this distills Diamond into one nice-sized chunk for almost everyone who has an inkling that they may like Diamond.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He didn’t have a #1 album until 2008’s Home Before Dark. 

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+-:  The sequencing would be better chronologically. And it missed the Streisand duet.

Frank Black & The Catholics – Pistolero

ARTIST: Frank Black & the Catholics              220px-Fb-pistolero

TITLE: Pistolero

YEAR RELEASED: 1999

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: I Gotta Move

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bad Harmony, I Love Your Brain.

LINEUP: Frank Black, Scott Boutier, David McCaffery, Rich Gilbert

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from Frank Black’s group continues his foray into straight rock and roll. The songs are a bit more off-kilter in a Frank Black way.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “More Rock!” is what Frank Black decreed, and thus, the second record from his association with the Catholics rocks in much the same way as the first. Yet here, the songs are more Frank Black-ian, with twists and turns, manic vocals, and off-kilter subjects.

It’s still pretty straight forward, production wise, as it was recorded live to two track. Yet the songs themselves are varied enough to avoid the same-same sound. Black and Rich Gilbert’s guitars mesh well together, though Gilbert’s not as adventurous as Joey Santiago.

It’s not the Pixies, but it’s what we had by him in 1999, and that was fine.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Rich Gilbert became the group’s lead guitarist for this album 

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-:  It’s rock, with weirdness, but not really weird rock.

 

Rufus – Rufusized

ARTIST: Rufus                                    Rufus_-_Rufusized

TITLE: Rufusized

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #2 R&B, #48 UK

SINGLES: Once You Get Started (#10 US, #4 R&B, #2 Dance) Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me of a Friend) (#48 US, #6 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The deep cuts played on some radio stations.

LINEUP: Chaka Khan, Tony Maiden, Kevin Murphy, Bobby Watson, Andre Fischer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Rushing back into the studio, Rufus recorded a set that kept their momentum that fit right next to their last record, even with turnovers in personnel.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: To many people, Chaka Khan was Rufus, and that impression caused a few of their old members to bolt. But the replacements fit right into the groove established earlier in 1974, so all was good for this album.

It’s got a similar funky feel, and Chaka Khan’s vocals are the focal point (except for the funky instrumental “Rufusized”). None of the songs have reached the cultural zeitgeist of their early hits, yet most all of the cuts are quality, especially the early feminist anthem “I’m a Woman (I’m a Backbone)”

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Keyboard player Nate Morgan was on the album cover, but didn’t participate in the sessions.  And officially, the band is now Rufus (featuring Chaka Khan), but that’s unweildy.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: A-:  A perfectly fine funky record.

Earth, Wind & Fire – Last Days and Time

ARTIST: Earth Wind & Fire                 Lastdaysandtimealbum

TITLE: Last Days and Time

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #87, #15 R&B

SINGLES: Mon (#104)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Bread’s Make It with You and Where Have All the Flowers Gone. No, really.

LINEUP: Verdine White, Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Jessica Cleaves, Roland Bautista, Ronnie Laws, Larry Dunn, Ralph Johnson

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A re-booted band and a new record label. EWF begins its journey to being a top flight funk / soul / disco behemoth.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A change in record company coupled with a change in band – that signaled a change in the direction for Verdine and Maurice White’s horn-based funk and soul outfit.

Maurice began using the kalimba extensively, coloring their work with the sound of the talking drum. They also got a dynamite singer in Philip Bailey, whose falsetto covered all of the high notes and blended with the other vocals to create some ethereal backing vocals. With Bailey on board, romantic ballads were also in their wheelhouse now.

The covers were ‘interesting’ but not horrible. EWF were skilled at arranging those songs to make them their own. The only things that don’t fit are the three ‘interludes’, which are more annoying than anything else. Those I exiled.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Roland Bautista left the band soon after, but joined the group again in 1981 and stayed for a couple more years. 

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B:  The interludes knock it down a little bit, but this is a fine unheard gem that showcases the band forming their new sound.

Christopher Cross – Christopher Cross

ARTIST: Christopher Cross        220px-Christopher_cross

TITLE: Christopher Cross

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #14 UK

SINGLES: Ride Like the Wind (#2 US, #69 UK), Sailing (#1 US, #48 UK), Never Be the Same (#15 US), Say You’ll Be Mine (#20 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Really Don’t Know

LINEUP: Christopher Cross and the best session players of the time, including Larry Carlton, Lenny Castro, Victor Feldman, Jay Graydon, Michael McDonald, Rob Meurer, Michael Omartian, Andy Salmon and Tommy Taylor.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A debut album that may have been the apex of mellow, well played and engineered music now called “Yacht Rock”.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Nine well-crafted, polished, well-played, exquisitely produced and engineered songs. A few of them are earworms (the filler isn’t particularly catchy, nor exciting). And the addition of Michael McDonald on backing vocals on two tracks was genius.

Here’s the deal – the album is OK, weighted down by some clunky ballads, and really more of a nostalgic boat ride into the past than anything fresh or exciting. There aren’t any hidden gems, unless you haven’t heard “I Really Don’t Know” – the other track with Michael McDonald. You probably know what you’re going to get, so you truly like this, or you like this ironically, or you don’t.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was one of the first digitally recorded albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B:  No doubt the apex of 70’s soft rock.

Chicago – Chicago at Carnegie Hall

ARTIST: Chicago                                     

TITLE: Chicago at Carnegie Hall

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They did all of their early hits

LINEUP: Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A four (FOUR) record set (and four CDs in the bonus version) documenting their 1971 residency at Carnegie Hall. Zzzzzzz…..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Several albums in history have had notorious bad reviews, and Chicago’s quadruple live record had some of the worst in history. I’ve given this one a shot…and…the reviews are mostly spot on.

It’s way too long, To be clear, extremely way too long. Chicago always extended songs with intros and jams, but in their early albums they also had the long-ass free-form intros as well. They had suites that contained some classic pop and meandering solos. None of those were cut here, and they were even extended past tolerance. But the worst offender is the sound of them tuning up and dead space between tracks, and elongated applause. I mean, tuning up? On stage? Why put that on the record? Ye Gods.

With some judicious editing, I think they could have got this to a double or triple live. That wouldn’t have improved the sound, which is flat and doesn’t benefit the group at all. Some of the performances are ragged, especially vocally.

All in all, you don’t need this or want this, except for the one unique song “Song for Richard and His Friends”, which showed Chicago’s political side – siding with the leftists. That didn’t last.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At least three members of the band hate this album or said it shouldn’t have been released. It could have been edited down for sure.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, somehow a quadruple album has a bonus disc of alternates, etc.

 GRADE: C-: Meh sound, way too long, not the best performances, I mean, a perfect storm of exiled records. I did, except for the new political track.

Yo La Tengo – May I Sing With Me

ARTIST: Yo La Tengo                      

TITLE: May I Sing With Me

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Upside Down

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If you’re a fan

LINEUP: Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, James McNew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perhaps the beginning of the true Yo La Tengo cult. Ira Kaplan’s guitar flipouts define this era of the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Yo La Tengo combined their love of pop and noise with this record. “Upside Down” is one of the better non-grunge alternative rock songs of 1992, with a great hook and enough guitar noise for the rockers.

The entire album is split between the noisier blowouts “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss” and some quiet pop, a pattern they would follow the rest of their careers (sometimes alternating noisy albums with quiet ones).

It’s not always successful, as some of the tracks tend to be a bit bland, and some of the noise is just…noise. But it’s the start of Yo La Tengo’s true dichotomous period.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original CD inside cover featured a letter from a disgruntled fan who thought they were a band just like the Fakebook album, and was dismayed when they were loud. He ended the letter with a anti-semitic slur.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+: At times, draggy, but it’s got “Upside Down” and all of the noise you expect from YLT.

UFO – Force It

ARTIST: UFO                                 220px-Force_It_cover

TITLE: Force It

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #71

SINGLES: Shoot Shoot, High Flyer

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let It Roll

LINEUP: Phil Mogg, Michael Schenker, Pete Way, Andy Parker, Chick Churchill

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An almost not-quite breakthrough record that has some tasty hard rock but is dragged down by ballads.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Firmly establishing themselves as a hard rock band, featuring the guitar wunderkind Michael Schenkre, UFO almost struck paydirt with the fantastic “Shoot Shoot” and “Let It Roll”, getting airtime on late night TV and some radio airplay.

A very dry production (so dry, you can almost hear the kick drum pedal squeak) emphasized the basic tracks – especially Schenker and drummer Andy Parker, while Pete Way’s bass holds down the bottom and stays out of the way. No doubt it sounded great on 8-tracks blaring from muscle cars and Camaros and the like.

But, it seemed that every hard rock band had to do ballads – not ‘power ballads’, but actual love ballads. Judas Priest did, Sabbath did (“Changes” lest ye forget), and here Phil Mogg gets his. While they’re tastefully done, they take away from the ROCK that was building up. We needed the rock then – as we do now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The album cover by Hipognosis was controversial, and it actually featured Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, an outtake and live cuts.

GRADE: B: “Shoot Shoot” is an all-timer, but man, the ballads bring me down.