blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
You hit me with a flower
5 Out Of 5 Stars

David Bowie and Mick Ronson must have really been fans of The Velvet Underground, because when Lou Reed's fledgling solo career needed a dynamite second album, the two of them stepped in and offered to produce. The glam-bomb that is "Transformer" became a bona-fide hit and delivered what is arguably the weirdest top 40 single of the 70's, "Walk On The Wild Side." Bowie and Ronson tarted up Reed with glammy arrangements that also flirt with cabaret while leaning heavily on atmospherics, which resulted in an enduring classic and one of the few times Reed made a conscious effort at recording a commercial album (albeit one that deals with drag queens, dealers, drug users and plenty of other denizens of NYC's darker regions).

"Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side"

You didn't hear much anything else like it on the AM radio, and nothing much like it since. Bowie and Ronson kept the production clean and "Walk On The Wild Side" had a slithering bassline that carried most of the song, topped by Reed's deadpan delivery. When he tries to really sing ("Goodnight Ladies"), it comes close to the Berlin trappings that he'd explore on his next album. Still, the songs are often smarter than a surface listen would give away, like the lovely "Perfect Day." It sounds like another nice day in the city until you understand that it's about wandering Central Park while higher than a kite.

That was Reed's greatest strength on "Transformer," that he could so easily couch lyrics that almost anyone else would run and hide from before committing them to an album. The flirtatious mixing around with sexual identity ("Make Up," "Walk") was probably just as much Bowie's Ziggy personae giving Reed a bit of a goosing, but it holds up really well. You also can't discount Ronson's contributions, as it's his fuzz-buzz guitar that drives "Vicious" for one instance.

The songs themselves have endured, too. "Satellite of Love" (complete with Bowie singing back-up) remains one of Reed's best, and stands as strong as "Walk On The Wild Side" and "Perfect Day." "Transformer" marked the launching pad commercially for Lou Reed, is as flawless a record as the 70's had to offer, and possibly the best outside album work Bowie has been involved in.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
When Bowie Met Brian in Berlin
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Executing a course change that was extreme even by David Bowie's madcap standards, the first of his trio of albums with Brian Eno turned Bowie into a cold man-machine working against often dissonant electronics and half the time without even singing a note. "Low" gave Bowie the space to swing as hard towards an avant-garde as he could, with Eno more than happy to pave the way.

Bowie, when he does sing, operates more as a song-speaker than his traditional rich singing. Only "Low's" single, "Sound and Vision," has the shimmer of music that matches the voice, other times, like "Warszawa," he's just chanting. (Is it any wonder Phillip Glass based a whole album around "Low" and this song in particular?) Even "Sound and Vision" tests the limits of Bowie's audiences, the jangle of the guitar hook goes on for about 90 seconds before Bowie chimes in.

"Low" is definitely a collaboration and, of the 'Berlin' period of albums with Eno, the one that weighs heaviest towards Eno's solo album soundscapes. The second half of the CD is mainly that sort of sculpting, until the very end when Bowie coos for Shirley briefly on "Subterraneans." It's a chilly underground Bowie was searching for, and although "Low" doesn't hit the heights the following "Heroes" did (and that album is an unabashed classic), it still has the ability to evoke a deep resonance among those divided on how Eno and Bowie propelled each other towards a creative apex.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
35 Years Later...
2 Out Of 5 Stars

And Tom Sholz, the notorious perfectionist, is wondering why folks aren't taking to new Boston albums with the fervor of old. He even blames the unspectacular reception given 2002's "Corporate America" on poor promotion instead of the fact that Boston's audience has simply moved on, so much so that there are three re-recorded or re-mixed songs from that album here, even a few featuring the late Brad Delp. Who was, frankly, a major brick in the wall-of-sound Scholz so prefers. So how does "Life Love and Hope" measure up? Let's just say that nobody will be giving up their copies of "Don't Look Back" for this one.

The fault lies mainly with Scholz. He can spend as much time as he wishes in the studio, but the songs need to have a significant hook if he wants them to stick in the memory. On "Life Love and Hope," it seems he forgot that part. He favors the trademark layers of guitars that are a hallmark of Boston's classic sound, and when it clicks (like on "Someone," featuring Delp), it's "More Than A Feeling" all over again. It's telling that the best track does feature Delp, as the new singers are either imitations (Tommy DeCarlo) or the inappropriate female vocalist Kimberly Dahme, who doesn't have the powerhouse voice needed to propel herself above that wall of sound.

What's memorable then? "Heaven On Earth" may be a cliche of a title, but it does kick the album off with fond reminisces of Boston past. "Someday" is noble in its intent, as a song against bullying. "Te Quiero Mia" is another retread (from the reissued Greatest Hits) and again features Delp, and also makes the best of Sholz's studio perfectionisms. After that, it's strictly hit and miss. I might add "The Way You Look Tonight" as a decent love song, and that's about it. Everything else will depend on personal tastes, or just how bad you're jonesing for Scholz's particular brand of classic rock. I'll even give the guy some bonus points for a decent production job, which studiously ignores the loudness wars for a recording that has some sonic depth to it. If that is also an attraction for you to pick up "Life Love and Hope," by all means, dig in.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Pump Up The Volume
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Aerosmith continued their unlikely comeback with a second powerful album, "Pump." Working off the momentum supplied by "Permanent Vacation" and still collaborating with a few hired guns (Jim Vallance and Desmond Child snag a few songwriter credits), the Toxic Twins of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were back in a groove that rivaled their heyday. "I'm a .38 Special on a Saturday night," growls Tyler on "F.I.N.E." and he means every word of it.

Not only did they have their groove back, they were also now MTV darlings. It turned "Love In an Elevator," "Jamie's Got a Gone" "The Other Side" and the power ballad "What It Takes" into hit singles. But it's the unlikely turns that made "Pump" into a little extra. There's a Sgt Pepperish middle section on "Elevator" that comes from outside the band's usual meat grinder. And would you have ever expected Aerosmith to pick up a Dulcimer and rock out with it (as does the "Dulcimer Stomp" that precedes "The Other Side." Despite "Pump" being a through-and-through Aerosmith album, they were stepping outside their box.

"Pump" was the peak of Aerosmith's second act. The outside influences began to overrun the band come "Get a Grip" and soon after that, the usual rock and roll demons took control. However, for sheer song for song bang, "Pump" offered conclusive proof that Aerosmith were one of America's classic rock bands that had the goods to outlast many of their 70's peers.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday: I was deeply saddened today to hear of the passing of my High School Drama Coach Jim Woland. There were only a few teachers in High School that I ever thought changed me for the better, and Mr Woland was one of them. I auditioned for my first play in 1976 and was subsequently cast in several others, including a lead and several major supporting roles, plus a few ensemble casts. He was one of the reasons I had a Communications and Theater Arts major when I shipped off to college.

He demanded nothing less than the best of his students, be it in class, the HS Newspaper (where I was a staffer) or on stage. He had many friends in NYC who worked on Broadway and often incorporated their techniques into our performances at PHS. Most of us who worked under him (and many of those who just knew the man) felt he was worthy of Broadway work, yet he was content to work with students and then theater organizations in the Harrisburg area to the delight of all who had the opportunity to work with him.

He also had the uncanny ability to create terrific sets using the bare minimum of supplies that were offered in a High School setting. He took to my father's junk yard for old auto parts once to have rusted mufflers along the stage for a performance of Hamlet, and stage crews could also be seen painting over flats that has seen years and years of cutting, nailing and pasting. He even had me once write some original lyrics for a song used in one of his productions, something that I am proud if to this day. Like I said earlier, he could draw the best work from the barest of bones, and we all loved him for it.

Unfortunately, like many of my High School acquaintances, I didn't keep up with him. I met him once at a random event and came out to him. He was not surprised. The picture of me is from one of Mr Woland's directorial efforts, a production of Story Theater, where I was part of the ensemble, and also sang. Sophomore year, 1977.
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Did you do it for love? Did you do it for money?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The last Eagles album of their initial run was also their weakest. Coming off the triumph of "Hotel California," the same pitfalls that they sang about on that album now befell the band. Drugs, dissent and an impossible to meet demand kind of doomed "The Long Run" before it was even released, but then the weakness of the bulk of the album didn't help the situation, either. "The Long Run" is the first album since their debut to feature obvious filler, and some of it was even desperate sounding.

The two initial singles, "Heartache Tonight" and the title song did do the band proud. Don Henley employs his jaded sense into "The Long Run," asking his lady friend if she measures up to her expectations, while teasing that "all the debutantes in Houston, baby, couldn't hold a candle to you." Heartache Tonight" is a chant along number from Glenn Frey and rocks out pretty well.

But then you start getting to the questionable material. "In The City" was already a modest solo hit for Joe Walsh, so there was not much point to adding it here in an Eagle-fied version other than to fill up time. "Teenage Jail/The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" are kind of goofy, but they'd gone to great lengths on both "Hotel California" and "One of These Nights" proving that they could fill an album without penning songs that ventured into an approximation of self-parody.

That not withstanding, there are three other songs that keep "The Long Run" from being a total dud. Timothy B Schmidt rises to the occasion with his R'n'B inflected "I Can't Tell You Why" while Don Felder and Walsh do a slinky twin talk-box guitar riff on "Those Shoes." Then there's another masterstroke from Henley, who penned what sounds like it could've been an outtake from "Hotel California," the melancholy "The Sad Cafe." Once again, he ruminates on the loss of Californian innocence and wonders where all the good times have gone. After all, Eagles themselves could have been one of those fledgling bands to use the likes of a "Sad Cafe" to get their start. It's kind of ironic that a song lamenting humble beginnings closed out an album that was the sound of Eagles' imminent collapse.

"The Long Run" was basically that. Once they squeaked this album out, the infamous Long Beach incident took place and the band would stay apart until, as Henely oft put it, "Hell Freezes Over." But "The Long Run" was the end of a band that went out, not with a bang but a whimper.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
This is a Public Service Announcement...With Guitars!
5 Out of 5 Stars

Way back when, some muckity muck in the CBS Records Promo Department had the brilliant idea to slap a sticker across covers of the new Clash double LP that read "The Only Band That Matters." Even if the rest of the artists on the CBS roster might have been wondering a hearty WTF were they, chopped liver moment, but in 1979, The Clash actually felt like they could be that band. The band that all the hopes and dreams of rock and roll prophets whispered about in dark rooms when they quietly mused to themselves that a savior would be born unto them, bearing loud electric guitars, politically savvy lyrics and swagger that would never end. In 1979, it really felt like The Clash just might be that band. Hence, the 5 stars for The Singles.

But we all know how those kind of dreams end up. When Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon kicked Mick Jones out of the band and recorded "Cut The Crap," the world suddenly gave a collective yawn, and the general consensus to "Cut The Crap" was somebody, please pull the plug. But from 1979 to 1985, The Clash charged forth with revolutionary single after single often attached to stunning albums. If you don't have "London Calling," stop reading this review and order it now. They may not have been the best singers or the most proficient musicians, but that didn't stop them from playing fast, loud and even early on, playing with reggae and other influences than their punk roots might suggest.

So while you get the fury of "Clash City Rockers," you have the single "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," backing up the guitar roar with a reggae tune...both from their ferocious debut. Even more incredible is just how fast The Clash got better at what they were doing. The big riff of "London Calling" was matched by the almost soulful "Train In Vain" (their US breakthrough single). They were also going deeper into other musical forms, soon cutting rap-influenced songs like "The Magnificent Seven" and "This Is Radio Clash." Even as bloated as "Sandinista" was, the singles "Hitsville UK" and the politically charged "The Call Up" could blow you over.

It's interesting that their final, absolute American breakout was arriving as the band was beginning to fracture; "Combat Rock" delivered the remarkable "Rock The Casbah" and the big guitar attack of "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The album cover itself had the band on train tracks, quite literally at a crossroads. But even after splintering, they still could pull one more ace out of "Cut The Crap," the lovely and ironic "This Is England." Then it was over, except for side projects (Big Audio Dynamite being the most successful). But for the 20 singles collected on this The Singles, the final song sums it up. These were "Groovy Times" indeed.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Red Sox, Shane Victorino and Bob Marley
5 Out Of 5 Stars

It was the World Series that drew me back to Bob Marley and The Wailers' "Legend." I hadn't pulled it out for awhile, but then Shane Victorino began using "Three Little Birds" as his walk-on music, and the Boston Crowd would boisterously sing "every little thing's gonna be all right." That was enough for me to put this in the car for a couple of weeks, and reminded me of just how great an anthology "Legend" is. It even surprised me in that I'd forgotten that "One Love" was squeezed into an episode of "Glee." If that doesn't sound of universal appreciation, I don't know what does.

It still boils down to the music. Marley championed reggae as a style that could be more than just the sound of Jamaica. In doing so, he became a global superstar, made even more iconic by his untimely death in 1981, a mere 36 years old. That makes "Legend" all the more amazing when you realize that these sixteen songs came out of a burst of activity that lasted from 1973 till his passing. It's an irresistible mix of songs that included songs that became international hits like "Buffalo Soldier," "Jammin'" and "One Love," among so many others. His music inspired many other artists to take songs and make them popular in other means, like "Jammin'" for Stevie Wonder, "I Shot The Sheriff" for Eric Clapton and "Waiting in Vain" for Annie Lennox, among others.

It's easy to listen to this and feed off the mellow vibes, but Marley was just as much an assertive political figure. "Get Up Stand Up" and "Redemption Song" were as forceful songs as anything from the 60's folk-protest years in America. Every song here is potently powerful, be they the "Songs of Freedom" "Redemption Song" calls for or the lovely "Stir It Up" (also transposed into an American hit by Johnny Nash). "Legend" is a CD that holds together as a single album, where every track matters and you'll not be wanting for any track to end so you can get to better ones. Thanks to the Red Sox for reminding me just why I enjoyed this album in the many years since I first listened to it in the 80's.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Eagles Rock
4 Out Of 5 Stars

In the documentary, "History Of The Eagles," band members repeatedly griped that their first two albums, produced by Brit Glyn Johns, were being held back from the band's desire to rock. That lead to the ditching of Johns after two songs for "On The Border," and bringing in Joe Walsh's producer, Bill Szymczyk for the rest. Then came the real magic touch when the band gained Don Felder as an additional guitarist. The chemistry clicked and "On The Border" became Eagles' first album to convincingly rock.

When I say that, I believe that the band may have wanted to think of themselves as rockers, but up to "On The Border," had yet to write a convincing rock song. Say what you want about Glyn Johns, but "Chug All Night" and "Out Of Control" from the first two albums were songs so generic that any bar band in America could've written them. "James Dean" (written by Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther) and "Already Gone" (which the band did not write) changed that completely. With the addition of Felder, they had a new twin guitar attack that kicked the songs into a higher gear than before. So yes, Eagles finally got their wish. They rocked.

They rocked for exactly two songs. The rest of "On The Border" still captured the country rock leanings of the first two albums, with Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon turning in a banjo powered bluegrass rocker for "Midnight Flyer" and Leadon's "My Man" (alleged to be written about the late Graham Parsons) is pure country. They also made the interesting choice to cover Tom Waits' "Ol' 55." Then, even with their slagging of Johns, the album's biggest hit and the band's first number one single was countrified ballad "The Best of My Love," one of the two songs John's produced. Then, as a precursor to both "One Of These Nights" and "Hotel California," the title track uses a funky bassline and a political lyric to set itself apart from any prior Eagles' song.

All of this makes "On The Border" a transitional album for the Eagles. The new line-up and producer partnership would yield serious fruit a year later when "One Of These Nights" made its debut. But for now, "On The Border" stepped one up from the "Desperado" concept and made the Eagles feel more like a band than ever before.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
5 Out Of 5 Stars

There aren't too many figures in America Rock and Roll that have a footprint quite like Lou Reed's. From his start as part of Andy Warhol's factory band to his later status as a sort of NYC Poet Laureate, to even recording and album in cahoots with Metallica (not represented here, though), he is one of the USA's predominant rock icons. Or as he put it on one of his live albums, a Rock and Roll Animal. This "Essentials" set is a repackaging of "NYC Man," but still a great set if you don't already own that older package.

The tracklist is a varied set and covers most of his time with various incarnations and major labels (RCA, Arista and Warners). There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Lou himslef, describing the thought processes behind the songs. The sequencing is a bit odd, as the first song here is from "The Raven" (his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe) and then ends on disc two with "Transformer's" "Pale Blue Eyes." Reed describes his concept for the sequencing as "the point of view which songs relate to each other in the best fashion." Because of the really sweet remastering job (mostly from 2003), many of the songs, even from the Velvets, slip into the others sounding as contemporary as ever. There's the basic rock of "Dirty Boulevard" to the atmospheric guitar the grinds through "Rocket Minuet," which Reed viewed as worthy of following each other. (Minuet" also featured his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, on violin.) He could make any sound he wanted, and he did, without compromise.

I have my own personal favorites here, especially from the albums "Magic and Loss" and "New York," which in my opinion, were brilliant even if it took a few years for an audience to catch up to them. And while the Arista albums tended to get slagged, selections from the likes of "The Blue Mask" and "Legendary Hearts" are here and deserve a re-listen. Of course, there are the magical songs from "Transformer," including "Perfect Day." As a compilation, it's a great starter kit, although I'd recommend any of the albums mentioned here (and "The Velvet Underground and Nico") as perfect albums in their own right. "The Essential Lou Reed" is a terrific overview of one of Rock's greatest cantankerous characters, and the world is a slightly less interesting place because of his passing.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Young and Rich; 4 Stars, Now; 3 Stars
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Finally, a sound upgrade for The Tubes' "Young and Rich." Or for that matter, that it's back in print at non-extortion prices. The Tubes got some serious road work in after their first album, and it shows on "Young And Rich." They also had a more sympathetic producer in Ken Scott (over Al Kooper's helming of album one). Scott gave "Young And Rich" a sense of discipline, and you need go no further than "Tubes World Tour" to catch how fast the Tubes had grown under his control in the studio. A tightly wound if somewhat exaggerated account of the mayhem that trailed in the wake of The Tubes' concerts, it has a conciseness that the first album lacked.

The range displayed on "Young And Rich" is also evident on the album's next two songs. "Pimp" and "Brighter Day" feature vocals from Bill Spooner and Roger Steen, giving the individual Tubes a chance to prove they were more than Fee's backers. But Waybill (listed here as "method frontman") struts his stuff admirably. His finest moments on "Young And Rich" come with the progressive opus "Poland Whole/Madam I'm Adam" (where Fee reluctantly is cast as man one in God's creation porno-movie and Cher is his Eve) and the almost Top 40 "Don't Touch Me There" duet with Re Styles.

A highlight of their live shows, "Don't Touch Me There" sent up girl groups with a Phil Spector wall of innuendo that was at once finely crafted and hilarious. It's the kind of media satire that would be honed to perfection by their next album. In fact, the only misstep here is "Proud To be An American," which plays it too close to "What Do You Want From Life" to come off as clever. Other than that, "Young And Rich" comes highly recommended and shows The Tubes ducking the dreaded sophomore slump.

The same could not be said of "Now," which could be The Tubes' most experimental album. That's not saying the music is all too interesting, frankly, it's not. There was everything here from fusion jazz experimentation ("God-Bird-Change," the main contribution from one album member Mingo Lewis) to a Captain Beefheart cover of "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains." Which was apparently enough to get the Captain himself to sit in on sax for the otherwise draggy "Cathy's Clone," Re Styles' vocal contribution to "Now." On the original liner notes to the LP, The Tubes gave heavy acknowledgement of having recently discovering The Ramones. So in tribute, they nick Dee Dee's trademark "One Two Three Four" kickoff and insert it twice into "You're No Fun."

Fun is exactly what is missing from "Now." There are a couple of Tubes Classics here ("Smoke" and "Pound Of Flesh," in which Fee brags about being a 98 pound weakling with another, more serious attribute). But for a band that made their bones on outrageousness and top-notch musicianship, "Now" comes up short. They'd blow "Now" out of the water soon after with the genius of "Remote Control." Think of it as parallel to Alice Cooper's lackluster "Muscle of Love" before the brilliant "Welcome To My Nightmare" concept.

As a pair, it's worth having just to get the disc of "Young and Rich."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Dictators Forever
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Producers Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman saw the nascent Blue Oyster Cult sound in The Dictators' voice and made "Manifest Destiny" parallel the early BOC discs. Thick, sludgy guitars, vocals back in the mix and heavy on the reverb. As a result, I really can't give this 5 stars due to the muddy production, but at the same time, this was the album that made me a Dictators fan for life! Why the Dic's haven't been put on the pantheon they deserve is beyond me, but with songs like "Science Gone Too Far" and their blistering cover of The Stooges' "Search And Destroy," they proved they could blast as well as their CBGB contemporaries of the period. And they were not without a sense of humor; just check out the opening lines of "Hey Boys" or Handsome Dick's monologue on "Disease." "Manifest Destiny" is a brilliant artifact of an era in American Music. They followed it up with their masterpiece, "Bloodbrothers," and Sony has been kind enough to leave "Go Girl Crazy!" in print. My advice is get 'em all now and that includes the recent "DFFD" because it still smokes the competition.

Then there's "Bloodbrothers": The Dictators make sure you know exactly what you're in for as soon as the music starts..."Faster And Louder!" This was the most forward of the Dic's three original albums and the closest they came to a mainstream sound. That being if you could call anything The Dictators did "mainstream." Their's was a take no prisoners attitude, with everything about "Bloodbrothers" being so sorely missing in music at the time of its release. In 1978, Punk was just beginning to come into its own and the whole CBGB's crowd was setting their sights on world domination.

That may have been to The Dictators' detriment. In a period when bands were deliberately trying to sound more garagey and nihilistic, Handsome Dick Manitoba and the boys were rocking polished and hard, more like Blue Oyster Cult than the Dead Boys. Despite being "Faster And Louder," this band was not trying to break punk rock's land speed records. A classic case of zigging when they should have zagged. No matter. There were no other bands with this much panache, humor and ballsy fun coming out of NYC, and "Bloodbrothers" spends its nine songs without letting up on the throttle once. If you aren't out of breath by the end of The 'Tators' rip snorting cover of "Slow Death," then you'd better start the record over and start paying attention.

As others have noted, there are "breaks" between the segues on "Bloodbrothers" that someone should have picked up during the mastering process. You can get "Manifest Destiny" as an Auto-rip from Amazon. but not "Bloodbrothers." BB you can get from I-Tunes.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Spirits of the '70's
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Offering conclusive proof that the 70's were more than disco balls and The Captain & Tenille, this punky soundtrack to the movie "CBGB" mixes in classic New York punk and new wave, along with some classic proto-punk and the late owner of the club, Hilly Kristal, singing a country inflected ditty called "Birds and The Bees." It's enough to make you sappy for the old, ugly pre-Disneyfied Times Square.

The mix is pretty cool, as well. While you get some of the more obvious (IE famous) bands to break out from the CBGB stage (Blondie, Talking Heads), you also are offered some of the better bands that got brought into the big label league, only to fall victim to an audience (and more often than not, record labels) that just didn't get it. Those bands include delights from The Dictators, Laughing Dogs, Tuff Darts and others. Then there's the notorious of the bunch, like Wayne (eventually Jayne) County and Johnny Thunders. There's also quite a few others that fell somewhere in the middle, building a well known reputation but never equaling the talk with the sales (New York Dolls, Television, Dead Boys).

If it seems to you that the bands I'm pointing out are all pretty darn different from each other (Dead Boys' nihilistic punk is not the same as Blondie's power pop is not the same as Television's arty guitar compositions), then you're right. The tiny stage of CBGB's was a place that hatched all sorts of Bowery Bands, and while the DIY ethic was often the same, the bands could often be miles apart. So having the likes of the MC5 ("Kick Out The Jams"), Iggy and The Stooges ("I Wanna Be Your Dog") and The Velvet Underground ("I Can't Stand It") along for the ride shows that the roots of the NYC Scene came from just as many sources as the sounds the new bands were making on their own.

There are a few nods to the aftermath of the time, including Joey Ramone's posthumous "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)" from 2002 as something of a footnote to the period. The neighborhood that fostered musicians and junkies is now gentrified and the original club closed. Kristal died in 2007, a year after the bar closed over a rent dispute. At one point, some jokers in Las Vegas wanted to open a club that carried the namesake amid all the rest of the phony glitter. There's real gentrification for you. But as Richard Hell sings, "I was saying let me outta here before I was even born!" which about sums up the heart of this whole soundtrack. While the trendier of the 70's NYC luminaries were headed for Studio 54, a whole batch of young ne'er-do-wells were smashing their way out in the opposite direction, preserved here on the "CBGB" Soundtrack.

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Don't Hate Yourself for Loving Her
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Joan Jett is a true rock and roll survivor. After the crash of The Runaways, who were often derided as some kind of stunt/joke from Kim Fowley, she rose from the ashes, got rock impresario Neil Bogart to sign her, and released "Bad Reputation." While it was the second album, "I Love Rock and Roll" to really make the breaks happen, Joan rose from the ashes and has kept her career going into the next century. This two disc Greatest Hits anthology is a super way to find out just how (and why) she never went down without a fight.

First off, she dusts off a couple of Runaways tracks, "Cherry Bomb" "School Days" and "You Drive Me Wild" show that The Runaways were perfectly capable of turning out decent rock songs, and Jett takes them over with authority. She's had a knack for doing that from the start, as her choice selection of cover songs has always shown. Here you get "Do You Wanna Touch," "Crimson and Clover," "Everyday People," "AC/DC" (the Sweet song, not the band, although her version of "Dirty Deeds" could have fit nicely), and her explosive version of a song Bruce Springsteen handed over to her, "Light Of Day." Oh yeah, and an obscure song from a band called The Arrows, "I Love Rock and Roll." OK, so we've established that Jett has eclectic tastes in rock artists, but what about her own songs?

"Why should I care about a Bad Reputation?" she barked out on her debut LP. Indeed, she rocks without giving a darn about what the world thought of her. She mixed hard rock, punk energy and glam, sometimes in the same song. There's a direct line from "Do You Wanna Touch" to "I Hate Myself for Loving You." You can't deny the kiss off of "Fake Friends." Or a subversive sense of humor by recording "Love Is All Around" (the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show) and punking it up. Jett proves she can still cook with a pair of songs from 2006's "Sinner," one of which is a gas of a redo of The Replacements' "Androgynous."

"Greatest Hits" has 21 songs between the two CD's, so there's not much to quibble about (and I am guessing Epic records kept control as very little of those years are represented). But for an enduring talent of Joan Jett's caliber, you'll get your money's worth from this set.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lost Among The Stars
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their final proper album as Queen (I am one of those who is steadfast that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury), Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon put in a valiant effort towards making an album worthy of their finest work. But there is no escaping that "Made In Heaven" is a patchwork effort, comprised of B-Sides, remixes and songs cobbled together from snippets of works in progress. It's a good album, but it is not a great one, and Queen is a band that produced more than their share of brilliance.

In 1995, four years after Mercury's passing, the band took a look over what they had. This included vocal tracks that Mercury had laid down prior to his death; he knew what was coming and did what any self respecting Diva would do, he made sure there were plenty of his grand voice tracks for his bandmates to choose from. These are the songs "Mother Love" and (I believe) "A Winter's Tale." Of the two, "A Winter's Tale" fairs the best as a relaxed song where Freddie ruminates on the finer yet unheralded things of life, before adding at the end, "ooo, it's bliss."

Then come the redoes, like "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You," reworked from Mercury's underrated "Mr Bad Guy" album. "Born To Love You" started life as a disco-fied dance-rock number, here Mercury's vocal track is synthed out into a mid tempo rocker with the rest of the band adding their background vocals. The two songs where Freddie's vocals weren't originally there come from "Made In Heaven" and "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (now there's some bad irony) via Roger Taylor's unheralded band The Cross and a Brian May solo album, respectively. Both are grand in the traditional Queen fashion. Same with "Let Me Live," which features Taylor and Brian sharing leads with Freddie and a gospel chorus backing them up.

That's the good stuff. The rest of "Made In Heaven" is piecemeal and sounds it. Then there's the inexplicable 23 minutes of ambient chill-out that drags out the CD (thank heaven for the skip button) to a very WTF ending where the final thing you hear is Mercury exclaiming "Fab!" I'm sure someone, somewhere, thought this was a brilliant tribute to Mercury's ascendance into legend, but it wasn't. For Queen fans and completists, "Made In Heaven" is something you should own. But I can't recommend it to much anyone else except for the most ardent of Queen fans. "Innuendo" was the last Queen album that measured up to the bend's mighty legacy. Best it should have stayed that way.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Tube Trippiness
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Trying to follow all the reissues on all sorts of labels can make a Tubes fan crazy. Their theatrical brand of rock and roll combined sex, vaudeville and an under-rated quality of musicianship. Depending on how you ask, The Tubes peakedin any variety of their many albums, and this particular collection, "Goin' Down The Tubes," collects highlights, alternate takes and for some odd reason, the entirety of "Remote Control." That was my main reason for picking this up in the first place, though that's since been nullified by an actual re-master/reissue of "Remote Control" as a stand alone deluxe CD. But would I give "Goin' Down" up because of that? No way.

The disc opens with a couple of oddities, a half live/half re-edited version of "White Punks on Dope" (that also neuters the F-word) and then an alternate take of "Up From The Deep" than the one on the debut. Then you get three re-mastered tracks from the debut, including the seminal "White Punks On Dope" is all it's glitzy glory. (Which begs the question of why this, or the bulk of The Tubes' albums not been given a proper re-issue? "White Punks" sounds amazing here.) The slicker "Young and Rich" may have tried to make lightning strike twice with "What Do You Want From Life," but the real clincher was Fee Waybill and Re Styles duet on the S&M meets boy-girl Phil Spector mashup, "Don't Touch Me There."

There are a few songs from the disappointing "Now," which you can find re-issued but it was a hot-mess of a record. And how is this for cover selections? "My Head is My Only House Unless It Rains" and "Love Will Keep us Together"? Yes, Captain Beefheart and Captain and Tennille. That's one wild pair of captains. Onetime and one album member Mingo Lewis gets a showcase on his instrumental "God Bird Change" (from "Now"), which sounds close to fusion jazz/rock. That's just the first disc of "Goin' Down."

The aforementioned "Remote Control" takes up 11 of disc two's 17 tracks. The rest of "Goin' Down" is taken from concert material, I'm guessing from the "Now" tour and - I think - the "What Do You Want From Live" - double album, including a lively version of The Beatles' "I Saw Here Standing There." Just in case you missed it the first two times, "White Punks On Dope" gets a thorough workout with the audience going berserk. This was the period where The Tubes could have been the contemporaries of anyone from Zappa to Alice Cooper with a plenty of sideshow comedy thrown in for good measure. That's what makes "Goin' Down The Tubes" a best bet for Tubes fans that don't want to chase after the getting harder to find earlier CD's.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Guitars and Gunslingers.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I'm not sure why so many rock bands feel that they absolutely must write a song that equates being in a band to being western outlaws. But from Bon Jovi to Thin Lizzy, they all need to write a cowboy song. So you really have to hand it to Eagles. They skipped the single song part and went for a concept album, "Desperado." On their second full length album, yet. This also marked the beginning of Don Henley's ascent to the front of the band. On "Eagles," the band kind of democratically split the singing and songwriting. For "Desperado," Don Henley took writing or co-writing credit on 8 of 11 songs.

The singing was still split among the members (with Leadon getting on of the better album tracks, "Bitter Creek"). However, the partnership between Henley and Glenn Frey was starting to bear serious fruit, with the two most memorable songs being their co-compositions, "Desperado" and the album's hit, "Tequila Sunrise." Oddly enough, it was Linda Ronstadt's version of the title song that originally got to be well known, although Eagles' now can probably claim that prize. The overall western theme is tied in the title song and another one of the band's work with Jackson Brown, "Doolin' Dalton," which appears in three forms on "Desperado." It leads the album off, then Leadon banjo picks a reprise just before "Outlaw Man," and then a medley reprise with the title track to bring the album to a satisfying close. Also, the harmonies remained one of the band's biggest draws, with songs like "What Ever Happened to Saturday Night" and "Tequila Sunrise."

What was still holding Eagles back was they had yet to show they could convincingly rock. To their credit they've repeatedly blamed producer Glynn Johns for that, but one listen to "Out Of Control" also points out that they still didn't have the material that was up to the task. That hardly matters, as "Desperado" was an early peak for Eagles, and their albums would keep getting stronger. By the time they'd next explore the concept album, they'd be more than ready.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Original Trio and The Original Songs
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The original America trio of Vocalists/guitarists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley made faux CSN type of California pop so deftly that their initial single, "Horse With No Name," folled many into believing it was the other famed trio. Eventually the word got out and America soon began a string of seventies hits that made their first best of, "History," one of Warner Brothers' biggest selling catalog albums of the time. There have been many anthologies of America issues over the years, but this "Definitive Pop Collection" stands as one of the best.

Focusing solely on their WB tenure, "Definitive Pop" is a pretty exhaustive collection. Culling 30 songs from seven albums, the only things missing are "The Border" and "You Can Do Magic," but they were recorded for Capitol records and must not have been available to be licensed for this 2 disc set. (You can get them on "America - The Complete Greatest Hits.") But for the money, this comes up just short of the even more exhaustive Rhino box set Highway: 30 Years of America."

As to the music itself, the band kept it light but pure. The mainstay was well harmonized folkish pop, augmented with the occasional banjo ("Don't Cross The River"), electric guitar (the mysterious "Sandman") synthesizers ("Only In Your Heart"), and via producer George Martin on their later albums, some exquisite Beatlesy production (you try to listen to "Lonely People" without thinking of "Eleanor Rigby"). The three men also were a formidable songwriting trio, with each man capable of writing their own hits. In fact, it is only the treacle of "Muskrat Love" that came from an outside source on this set.

That's not to say there aren't some clinkers (I could have done without "Watership Down," for example), but they are far outweighed by such classic delights as "Sister Golden Hair," "Tin Man" or "Woman Tonight." Janet Jackson was so fond of "Ventura Highway" that she sampled it for her hit single "Someone To Call My Lover." Buoyed by many enjoyable album cuts, a decent band history/essay, and some missed singles like "Everyone I Meet Is From California" or "Amber Cascades," this is easily all the America you could ask for a minor price. The only thing better would be the "Complete" set, but it's also the America that went on without the late Dan Peek. This is the original trio in all its soft pop glory.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.


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