Van Halen – Van Halen II

ARTIST: Van Halen                van_halen_-_van_halen_ii-1

TITLE:  Van Halen II

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #23 UK

SINGLES: Dance the Night Away (#15), Beautiful Girls (#84)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Van Halen fans know it

LINEUP: David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Anthony

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The second album blues strikes Van Halen. While some songs are top notch, the record reveals shortcomings that would plague the band going forward.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It was going to be hard to follow up their debut album, but when “Dance the Night Away” came out as a single, there was hope the second album would reach the heights of the first.

That was a perfect pop metal tune, and while other songs were almost as fantastic, there wasn’t enough good tunes to outweigh the issues. Mainly, there wasn’t enough songs to make it worthwhile, and a couple three tracks were blatant filler.

Van Halen would never be prolific in their early days, releasing short albums and / or plenty of covers. While there are some good to great songs here, it’s not an essential release.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They thanked the Sheraton in Madison after they trashed the seventh floor during a tour stop.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-:  Too short, too much reliant on filler. A shame since there’s some good stuff here.

Merle Haggard – I’m a Lonesome Fugitive

ARTIST: Merle Haggard                                    imalonesomefugitive

TITLE:  I’m a Lonesome Fugitive

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #165, #3 Country

SINGLES: I’m a Lonesome Fugitive (#3 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Life in Prison

LINEUP: Merle Haggard, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Billy Mize, Lewis Talley, Ralph Mooney, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Ward, James Gordon, Bonnie Owens

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The title cut is a classic, and the rest of the album is quite complementary, making this a great 60’s country album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Merle Haggard was one of the few country artists not to succumb to the ‘hit plus filler’ country album that many lesser artists churned out in the 60’s.

The title cut is a legendary country song from the husband and wife team of Liz and Casey Anderson, but Hag writes most of the other songs on the record and they’re good quality as well. “Life in Prison” is his self-penned classic here – a tale of woe covered by so many others, including the Byrds.

The band was full of LA hotshots, and included great backing vocals by Bonnie Owens. All in all, a great country album – and a rare one to cross over somewhat to the pop charts.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: When the songwriters played “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” to Haggard, they were unaware that he actually did time at San Quentin.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A-:  Another great country album from Haggard, and the deep cuts are worthy as well.

Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy

ARTIST: Joe Jackson                    beat_crazy_joe_jackson_band_album_-_cover_art

TITLE:  Beat Crazy

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #41 US, #42 UK

SINGLES: Mad at You, Bat Crazy, One to One

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Someone Up There, Biology

LINEUP: Joe Jackson, Graham Maby, Gary Sanford, David Houghton

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A somewhat mixed album from Jackson – the last from his classic band for many years. Sequencing is a big problem here.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s some great songs on this album. “One to One” is a classic Joe Jackson piano ballad, “Biology” hearkens back to the origins of the band with some interesting production, and Jackson’s band handles reggae beats well with “In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare)”.

The main issue here is sequencing. There’s some weaker songs here, and they stand out thanks to their placement. Also, opening with “Beat Crazy” instead of “One to One” (which to me sounded like a classic album opener for Jackson) is off-putting to my ears. “Mad at You” is great, but then goes on for about 30-45 seconds too long.

The album shows the bands versatility, and Jackson’s knack for songwriting in many genres and styles, but it seems more of a tossed together collection than a cohesive unit – even with the songs blending into each other.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was credited to the Joe Jackson Band, which would break up after the European tour for the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B-:  If it was sequenced properly, it would probably be a B or B+.

Curtis Mayfield – Roots

ARTIST: Curtis Mayfield    220px-curtis_mayfield_-_roots_album_cover

TITLE:  Roots

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #40, #6 R&B

SINGLES: Get Down (#69, #13 R&B), Beautiful Brother of Mine (#45 R&B), We Got to Have Peace (#32 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Curtis Mayfield, Craig McMullen, Joseph Scott, Tyrone McCullen, Henry Gibson, Leroy Hutson, Michael Hawkins

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second studio solo studio side from Mayfield moves his funk vision forward.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Curtis Mayfield’s move from the Impressions vocal magic toward being a funk auteur is complete with this great 1971 album. A hot ensemble featuring some great bass work by Joseph “Lucky” Scott creates outta site grooves, while Mayfield’s voice floats above it all.

Even though Mayfield still has his social conscious side, he’s also moved into the carnal with the salacious “Get Down”. His vocals adapt from that randy funk to “Keep On Keeping On”, a great ballad about perseverance.

Mayfield wouldn’t strike retail gold just yet, but while this album isn’t as well known as others by him, it’s definitely funky enough to have in your collection.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The female vocalists aren’t credited, and one of them definitely did some ‘work’ on “Get Down”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, single edits and a demo.

GRADE: A:  Solid songs, arrangements, and vocals, and then there’s the funk. Always with the funk.

The Rollings Stones – Out of Our Heads / December’s Children (and Everybody’s)

ARTIST: The Rolling Stones

TITLE:  Out of Our Heads / December’s Children (and Everybody’s) outofourheads-uk

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: OOOH – #1 US, #2 UK; DC – #4 US

SINGLES: The Last Time (#9 US, #1 UK), Play with Fire (#96 US), (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (#1 US, #1 UK), Get Off My Cloud (#1 US, #1 UK), As Tears Go By (#6 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man, I’m Free,

LINEUP: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart, Jack Nitzche

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The confusing US / UK Stones’ discography reaches its peak, with the same title for two pretty much different albums and a US collection that collects leftovers and singles, with some live cuts from a UK EP. 220px-rollingstonesoutofourheadsalbumcover

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Whew. This was a productive time for the Rolling Stones, and both Decca and London we’re trying their best to keep up. In the UK, singles came out (not on an album), and an album and live EP were delivered. The same singles came out in the US, with two albums cobbled together from the various sessions.

These recordings mark the end of the Stones as interpreters, but they go out on a strong note with great covers of “Mercy Mercy”, “Cry to Me”, and “She Said Yeah” among others. The Stones’ originals come to the fore, with “I’m Free”, “Under Assistant…”, “Heart of Stone”, “As Tears Go By”, and the two smash singles “Satisfaction’ and “Get Off My Cloud”. They were really rivaling the Beatles now in success and songwriting.220px-decchlp

 

The one ‘interesting’ piece of this puzzle is the live EP Got Live if You Want It, since it’s mostly a bunch of screaming with the Stones somewhere in the clatter. They kind of reduce the value of the US versions as they’re out of sync, and the US versions don’t have a lot of continuity (since they go back to 1963 at some points to make up the numbers).

Cobble together your own ‘super’ Out of Our Heads with December’s Children (and Everybody’s) with these sessions. Most everything is worthy of keeping in your collection.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The EP Got Live if You Want It is not the same as the US LP from 1966 (which the Stones didn’t like at all and was mostly a contractual obligation). 220px-rolling_stones_-_got_life_if_you_want_it_-ep

 

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, it’s all together there.

GRADE: A-:  The whole lot gets an A-, some outstanding tracks and a few flaws in continuity.

Johnny Cash – Ride This Train

ARTIST: Johnny Cash             220px-johnnycashridethistrain

TITLE:  Ride This Train

YEAR RELEASED: 1960

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Going to Memphis

LINEUP: Johnny Cash, Luther Perkins, Johnny Western, Shot Jackson, Marshall Grant, Gordon Terry, Floyd Cramer, Buddy Harman

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A concept album about a train trip through rural America, with each song prefaced by an anecdote recited by Cash.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Johnny Cash was one of the first artists to realize that albums and singles were totally different mediums, and that albums could be constructed with a theme and concept. So, many of his 60’s albums didn’t have singles, but revolved around a concept.

This is about a train ride through the US, and each of the eight songs is prefaced with a story by Cash. He tells these in the first person, but it’s obvious these are just tall tales (or at least didn’t happen to Cash himself).

The songs and performances are first rate, but the tales get in the way at times, and one wishes they were separated in the tracks.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There is obviously another performer in “Going to Memphis” but he is uncredited.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few bonus tracks about the West.

GRADE: B-:  Sometimes the anecdotes are endearing, but they get in the way of some good music at times.

 

The Music Explosion – Little Bit O’ Soul – The Best of the Music Explosion

ARTIST: The Music Explosion                                  r-3008817-1318618313-jpeg

TITLE:  Little Bit O’ Soul – The Best of the Music Explosion

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Little Bit O’ Soul (#2), Sunshine Games (#63), We Gotta Go Home (#103), What You Want (Baby I Want You) (#119), Yes Sir (#120)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Cover of 96 Tears and Little Black Egg, perhaps?

LINEUP: Jamie Lyons, Tudor Atkins, Richard Nesta, Burton Stahl, Robert Avery.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The prototype for the Kasenetz-Katz bubble gum empire, though they played their own tunes (mostly).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: For one brief moment during the summer of love, this garage band from Ohio captivated audiences with their brilliant rendition of “Little Bit O’ Soul”. The bass line by Burton Stahl led the way, along with the cheesy farfisa organ of some session player. That alone makes their mark in rock history.

The rest of their album material was typical garage rock of the time, with some songs blatantly copping riffs from more well-known bands. The follow up single “Sunshine Games” didn’t hit the high reaches of the charts, but it’s definitely due for a garage rock revival.

Producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz took the sound of the big hit and crafted a genre around it – bubblegum.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band is still touring even though lead singer Jamie Lyons died a few years ago due to heart problems.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: C+:  This is a melding of garage and bubblegum, and it’s for freaks who like that stuff (like me), though the first two singles are classic.

 

Derek & the Dominoes – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

ARTIST: Derek & the Dominoes         laylacover

TITLE:  Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #16 US, #68 UK

SINGLES: Tell the Truth, Layla (#10 US, #7 UK), Bell Bottom Blues (#78 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Little Wing, Key to the Highway

LINEUP: Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, Duane Allman. Aibhy Galuten on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Clapton forms a band and releases his magnum opus.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Tired of the crushing fame and adulation he was receiving, and wanting just to play, Eric Clapton formed a band hot on the heels of his work with Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison. The core (Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon) foursome had grown tight while touring with Delaney & Bonnie.

Clapton wanted to be anonymous, so they toured under this name in the UK and then moved to Miami to record this album. Duane Allman joined the sessions soon after he and Clapton jammed together, and over time, the quintet recorded this classic mix of blues and rock-and-roll, with Allman’s slide guitar fitting in seamlessly over Clapton’s blues based guitar playing. The songs were mostly co-written by Clapton and Whitlock, with some tasty covers thrown in for good measure.

The production by Tom Dowd is absolutely perfect, with all of the musicians blending well together seamlessly. Whitlock and Clapton’s vocal pairings were complimentary – neither a perfect vocalist, but they made it work together.

With the title cut, “Bell Bottom Blues” (one of my all-time favorite tracks by anyone) and the other tracks, it’s just a fantastic record from start to finish.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was the only studio record the band recorded. They made a live album, but sessions for their second album broke down thanks to the band’s prodigious use of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. Whitlock and Clapton didn’t work together again until 2000.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, sessions for the album, and some of the completed or semi-completed tracks for their second album are on releases.

GRADE: A+:  Listen to “Bell Bottom Blues” closely, hearing how they interplay, and hear the production.

Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

ARTIST: Neil Young                                          220px-after_the_gold_rush

TITLE:  After the Gold Rush

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #8 US, #7 UK

SINGLES: Only Love Can Break Your Heart (#33), When You Dance I Can Really Love (#93)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: After the Gold Rush, Southern Man

LINEUP: Neil Young, Danny Whitten, Nils Lofgren, Jack Nitzsche, Billy Talbot, Greg Reeves, Ralph Molina. Stephen Stills sings backup, and Bill Peterson was the one who played the iconic flugelhorn solo on the title cut.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A classic album that brought in the 70’s from the 60’s idyllic haze.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Neil Young was inspired by a screenplay from Dean Stockwell and Herb Bermann, and wrote a few songs for the soundtrack (the film was never released). He recorded some tracks with Crazy Horse (even as Danny Whitten was in the throes of addiction) and others with parts of the CSN band.

Young’s songs evoke the issues of the country moving from the 60’s to the 70’s. The morose theme rings through the tracks, but then there’s hope in some tracks as well. The lyrics are oblique, while the music creates the mood (except for “Southern Man” which is angry on all fronts). The album is mostly acoustic in feel, but some tracks crank out the rock. It’s a good balance showing all sides of Young.

The title track is one of the best songs Young ever wrote, and could be a theme of the 70’s even if the meaning is obfuscated by the passages of time (and Young’s memory).

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Four of the tracks were recorded with Crazy Horse, then the rest with a amalgamated band that included Nils Lofgren on keyboards, an instrument he never played on record before.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: A+:  Neil Young has recorded a lot of albums, but this is probably his best. It’s one of the best of the 70’s for sure.

Los Lobos – By the Light of the Moon

ARTIST: Los Lobos                             220px-bythelightofthemoonalbumcover

TITLE:  By the Light of the Moon

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: #47 US, #77 UK

SINGLES: Set Me Free (Rosa Lee) (#99 UK), Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: One Time One Night

LINEUP: David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano, Steve Berlin

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A let down after their brilliant 1984 album, but there are some decent tracks here.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It took a while for Los Lobos to release their second album. “One Time One Night” was under the opening credits for Colors, but the rest of the album didn’t come out until 1987.

They struggled with material, seemingly. It was an attempt to try to replicate the success, but the songs weren’t as vital or fresh as their previous set.

A couple tracks (“Set Me Free (Rosa Lee”) and “One Time One Night” are stellar, and it’s not like the other tracks are bad. But it is kind of disappointing compared to their first full-length.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their first two full length albums hit the same number on the Billboard charts.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE: B:  It’s OK, but not one of their best efforts..