Styx – Man of Miracles

ARTIST: Styx                       220px-Styx_-_Man_of_Miracles

TITLE: Man of Miracles

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #154

SINGLES: Best Thing

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None, and there’s a reason for that

LINEUP: Dennis DeYoung, James Young, John Curulewski, Chuck Panozzo, John Panozzo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Styx tries to pivot to rock away from progressive rock, with semi-embarrassing results.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: As much as John Curulewski could hit those high harmonies on “Lady”, the rock songs he wrote for this album as a way to get radio to become interested in Styx were, um, not good. The vocals sound like parodies and there’s a forced energy that permeates them.

James Young’s rockers are no better. Add to that a track that was already on an album, and you have a band at a definite crossroads with themselves. Dennis DeYoung steps up and creates some of his better early work, and while they were trying to get away from prog, “Man of Miracles” seems to be one of their better prog efforts and does set up their next few records.

This was their last effort for the Chicago-based Wooden Nickel, and they were lucky to have some good timing with a single released two years prior (“Lady) to keep their career moving.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Best Thing”, already on their debut album, was on this album too and released as a single. When this was re-released, a horrid cover of “Lies” by the Knickerbockers replaced it. Then, “Unfinished Song” replaced that, though it was on another album as well. The streaming version has “Lies”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: See above for the fun. 

GRADE:C : They were damn lucky “Lady” was a hit, because this wasn’t cutting it, despite Dennis DeYoung’s efforts.

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The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today!

ARTIST: The Beach Boys                              BeachBoysTodayCover

TITLE: The Beach Boys Today!

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: #4 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (#9 US, #27 UK), Dance Dance Dance (#8 US, #24 UK), Do You Wanna Dance (#12 US).

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Please Let Me Wonder, Help Me Ronda (original)

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson PLUS The Wrecking Crew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first album where Brian entrusts his songs to the famous Wrecking Crew of studio musicians.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Brian Wilson’s songs were evolving, changing, become more complex, and the sound he wanted certainly wasn’t going to be replicated by the band itself. Brian had stopped touring after a mental breakdown, and the result was a leap forward in musical structure and complexity.

Starting with Dennis’(!) vocal for “Do You Wanna Dance”, the first side of up-tempo numbers have deep cut classics like “Good to My Baby” and “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” along with the first two singles. Brian’s falsetto, my goodness…

The second side has three of Brian’s best ballads to date, especially “Please Let Me Wonder”. A couple of ok tracks, and the usual unbearable talky album filler (though it’s positioned at the end for easy exiling) are there.

It’s the first Beach Boys album that sounds like a conceptual whole without a lot of filler or half-assed instrumentals. Just one of THOSE cuts.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was only issued in mono on first release. Also, “Help Me, Ronda” was later remade as “Help Me, Rhonda”, shorter and punchier – and that’s the version everyone knows.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, the formerly unreleased stereo mixes along with some singles.and B-sides. 

GRADE: A-: A set up for Pet Sounds, though there’d be some detours on the way.

20/20 – 20/20

ARTIST: 20/20                         R-1213210-1370911704-5407.jpeg

TITLE: 20/20

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #138

SINGLES: Cheri, Tell Me Why (Can’t Understand You)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, please.

LINEUP: Steve Allen, Ron Flynt, Chris Silaygi, Mike Gallo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Another heartland power-pop band (though this one formed in LA with guys from Oklahoma) met with critical acclaim but little success.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Shining harmonies, some tight guitars, interesting keyboard flourishes, and hooky tunes. With all of those elements in its favor, 20/20 became more of a legend than a success. Well, they were a legend in certain power pop circles. They never had success.

Fans of the Shoes and other like-minded bands were dazzled by the potential of 20/20, especially since they had the blessing of Bomp! Records (who put out their first single). But they didn’t hit with the general public, except for some limited play on power pop friendly stations.

It’s also kind of an uneven album. The faster cuts seem to not have as much polish and substitute energy for hooks, and for a band that thrives on hooks and polish, that’s an issue to my ears. Most of this is prime power pop, but really for connoisseurs only. Still, I’m a connoisseur.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike Gallo, who had the name and the idea, met Steve Allen and Ron Flynt (who were from Tulsa). Gallo was then asked to leave after or during the recording of the album. Ah, well.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: It was released on a combo CD with their second album. At times, that CD went for $30 or more. 

GRADE: A-: Enough good to outweigh the unconvincing tracks.

Taylor Swift – Red

ARTIST: Taylor Swift                       220px-Taylor_Swift_-_Red

TITLE: Red

YEAR RELEASED: 2012

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (#1 US, #4 UK), Begin Again (#7 US, #30 UK), I Knew You Were Trouble (#2 US, #2 UK), 22 (#20 US, #9 UK), Red (#6 US, #26 UK), Everything Has Changed (#32 US, #7 UK), The Last Time (#103 US, #25 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: With seven singles, probably no, unless you’re one of the badillion people who have this record.

LINEUP: Taylor Swift, with 44 studio musicians and six additional backup singers (!!) Not like the old days, is it?

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Firmly moving from country with dabbles in pop to a total pop star, Taylor Swift begins her true pop culture domination.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: (This is Ms. Swift’s fourth album. The first three I’ve put in my country music playlists to go through later. Why? Because, that’s why…)

A battalion of musicians and producers descended on whatever studios Taylor Swift was recording in, and the result was the album that put Taylor Swift on the way to super-ultra-duper stardom, and one of the forces driving pop culture in this decade.

Despite the vast array of talent, Swift has made this album sound like her own – as she’s in control and not a puppet of the producers. It has a current pop sheen, has the requisite electronic gizmos and tools (but doesn’t over do them – it uses auto tune and the like as enhancements, not substitutions), and the true pop songs are candy for the ears.

It’s not perfect, because there’s bloat. There’s four or five too many songs, and sometimes the ballads and slower songs are stuck in the way. Most pop albums could use some paring in these times, and this is no exception.

Yet, this is definitely a touchstone for the 2010’s, and cuts on this record will be long lasting.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There were 38 engineers, mixers, producers, assistants, programmers, etc. credited. Also, Swift’s hair stylist and make-up artist are credited. Ok then.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Of course, the deluxe version has a few b-sides and demos. 

GRADE: A-: Some bloat, but even after five years you’re not sick of the best songs.

The Long Ryders – State of Our Union

ARTIST: The Long Ryders               state of our union

TITLE: State of Our Union

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: State of Our Union (#66 UK)

SINGLES: Looking for Lewis & Clark (#59 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, probably not unless you were in my house in the 80’s and 90’s

LINEUP: Sid Griffin, Tom Stevens, Stephen McCarthy, Greg Sowders. Snake Davis & His Longhorns play on a track

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Major label debut for the fathers of alt country combines country, blues, and rock in a delightful mix. No one bought it here in the US, though.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A complaint in the 80’s was that ‘real rock and roll’ was going away, thanks to the New Wave hipsters and hair-metal glamsters. Well, the Long Ryders practically gave the US ‘real’ rock and roll, to crickets.

The Byrds and Gram Parsons figure in heavily here, but so does CCR, and hints of Memphis blues and Buck Owens show up here as well. Rock was always an amalgamation of those elements, and the Long Ryders delivered. The single, “Looking for Lewis & Clark” burned up some college radio airwaves, but they never broke a video in MTV, which doomed them here. The UK was kinda into them for a bit, but they only charted for a week or two.

Not a perfect album (a couple of cuts slow the thing down a bit), but it still should have been a hit for those who wanted rock and roll. Alas, no.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: All four members of the band contributed songs, and three of them sing lead.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Some bonus tracks on the CD.

GRADE: A-: It coulda been an alt-country contender, if it was released 10 years later.

 

The Jesus Lizard – Head

ARTIST: The Jesus Lizard                    220px-JesusLizHead

TITLE: Head

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Nooooo

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They played Killer McHann at almost every show

LINEUP: David Yow, Duane Denison, David Wm. Sims, Mac McNeilly

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Texas weirdos kick it up a notch and release a full-length album with sinister sounding tunes and David Yow all over.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: David Wm. Sims’s bass is rumbly and menacing, Mac McNeilly pounds the drums and locks into Sims, and Duane Denison’s guitar chars whatever is in its way with riffs and fills. Then…there’s David Yow.

Yow’s vocal delivery ranges from incomprehensible, to distorted, to deranged. Sometimes, in one song, he’s all three. Definitely not for the weak of heart, or those who really insist on melody or something like that. They’re excused here.

The Jesus Lizard’s still trying to figure out their best approach, but this, their first full-length, is getting close. A couple of tracks lumber on where the menace becomes boring. But there’s some classics, especially “Killer McHann”, a concert staple.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was the first release featuring McNeilly. They had used a drum machine before.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD included their debut EP

GRADE: B+: A step in the evolution of a crazed band.

The Dismemberment Plan – !

ARTIST: The Dismemberment Plan  !_(The_Dismemberment_Plan_album)

TITLE: !

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only the devoted.

LINEUP: Eric Axelson, Travis Morrison, Jason Caddell, Steve Cummings

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: DC-area band learned its lessons well.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A band that definitely studied UK Post Punk and the late 80’s DC scene, The Dismemberment Plan’s debut is angular and sharp musically, and holds up decently to their later, more popular material.

Travis Morrison’s vocals are the first things that catch the ear, and his talky-singy delivery of his densely lyrical songs stand the band out a little bit from the crowd that was exploring the same kind of precise, jagged rhythms in their delivery of punk / indie / whatever you wanna call it.

Their songs are catchy despite the lack of truly melodious vocals, and they can kick up a racket. Their songs would improve – some of these do sound like filler or sound-alikes. But all in all, a good first record for an innovative band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The name comes from something Ned Ryerson says in Groundhog Day.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B+: A dash of post-punk and a mix of Dischord means a decent album.

The Guess Who – Anthology

ARTIST: The Guess Who               guesswho

TITLE: Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 20: These Eyes (#6 US), Laughing (#10 US), No Time (#5 US), American Woman (#1 US, #19 UK), Hand Me Down World (#17 US), Share the Land (#10 US), Rain Dance (#19 US), Clap for the Wolfman (#6 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Shakin’ All Over, Undun, No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature, Albert Flasher, Star Baby

LINEUP: Core group in the US hit era: Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Jim Kale, Gary Peterson. Chad Allan was the original singer and leader. Greg Leskiw, Kurt Winter, Donnie McDougall, and Domenic Troiano all replaced Bachman (as a dual guitar set-up for the most part) after May 1970. Bill Wallace replaced Kale on bass in 1973.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Canadian group goes from Beat Group to Psychedelic Pop Rockers to Hippie Huggers to Pop Rockers in the span of a decade before the hits dried up and nostalgia was all they had.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: They could have been one-hit wonders in the US (“Shakin’ All Over hit #22 in 1965). After three records, original singer and leader Chad Allan left due to voice issues, and Burton Cummings took over as lead singer. The band also emphasized Randy Bachman’s guitar work, and the combo of Cummings’ piano and voice and Bachman’s guitar gave the band a run of smashes in up until Bachman left in 1970. You know them, thanks to classic rock radio.

After Bachman left, Cummings and the band kept plugging away, adding guitarists and changing the bass player. Successful at first with some hippified songs, the band soon ground down, let to a novelty hit with Wolfman Jack as its last breath.

The 39 tracks here include several post-Bachman. While the Guess Who were really a singles band (their albums were spotty and some of the experimental things didn’t work at all), the drop off in quality is noticeable. Only a couple cuts on the back half are worth having for casual fans.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band name is trademarked by Jim Kale and Gary Peterson, the original bassist and drummer, as the band didn’t register the trademark in Canada. Kale and Peterson have three other dudes and still tour as the Guess Who.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-: An A- minus for the good tunes, but a big downgrade for the bloat. Other collections omit some songs that are worthy, especially a few from the Chad Allan days.

Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare

ARTIST: Arctic Monkeys  Favourite_Worst_Nightmare

TITLE: Favourite Worst Nightmare

YEAR RELEASED: 2007

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Brainstorm (#114 US, #2 UK), Fluorescent Adolescent (#5 UK), Teddy Picker (#20 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably not, unless you bought it

LINEUP: Alex Turner, Matt Heiders, Jamie Cook, Nick O’Malley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Faster and louder than their debut. It wears you out a bit but still is pretty decent.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You’re always worried about the second album by a new band, especially if the first one had critics gushing. The Arctic Monkeys avoided the sophomore slump, by seemingly going faster and more frenetic, but still containing hooks that absorb all of the energy.

The lead single, “Brainstorm”, sets the scene, but “D Is for Dangerous”, which contains the title in its rambling lyrics, is really their call to action. Unabashed accents, clattering guitars, and a subtle yet infectious hook gives this record the pulse that pumps it throughout. The rhythm section of O’Malley and Heiders is the backbone, allowing the songs to rush over their foundations. Without them, it wouldn’t work as well.

So much of this energy may wear out the listener, because of the energy the band exudes. Still, a worthy follow-up that solidified their credentials as on the best UK bands of the 2000’s

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was named one of the “50 Best Second Albums of All Time” by Gigwise magazine.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Japanese bonus tracks.

GRADE: A-: If you need a rush of energy, this is one for you.

King Crimson – Earthbound

ARTIST: King Crimson                                  220px-King_Crimson_-_Earthbound

TITLE: Earthbound

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: 21st Century Schizoid Man (live)

LINEUP: Robert Fripp, Boz Burrell, Mel Collins, Ian Wallace

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A crappily recorded live record by a band on the verge of breaking up (well, at least, leaving Fripp behind). You can imagine…

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I’m sure that the shows presented here, if you attended them, were pretty good. King Crimson live has always been built on improvisation with unexpected twists and turns and interesting angles on their extant songs.

This record, from their 1972 US tour, was the sound of a band breaking away from its leader. Robert Fripp had once again alienated a band, and by the end of the tour his three bandmates were off doing their own thing. The band was deep into improve, with two of the tracks truly off-the-cuff, and two others variations on already recorded instrumentals. Only “21st Centry Schizoid Man” is somewhat recognizable from the record and it’s powerful and scary.

That would be great, and many fantastic live Crimson gigs are out there that contain a lot of improv. What makes this record egregious is the recording medium – a low quality cassette tape recorded on a two-track plugged into the mixer which totally distorts the sound, makes it muddy, and nearly impossible to improve even with the best technologies available today.

The sad thing is that this would be decent, if not for the sound. But it was foisted on the public because by all accounts King Crimson was dead and Island wanted some final cash from them, and Fripp agreed to it (if he had a choice, even).

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Wallace, Burrell, and Collins joined Alexis Korner for a while after splitting with Fripp.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but there will be a new box set from this era which may have better sounding live dates

GRADE: D: This should never have been released. Many bootlegs sound better than this. It doesn’t get an “F” because the version of “Schizoid Man” is terrifying (in a good way, as it should be).