Billy Joel – Piano Man

ARTIST: Billy Joel Billy_Joel_-_Piano_Man

TITLE: Piano Man

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION: #27 US, #98 UK

SINGLES: Piano Man (#25 US, #136 UK), Worse Comes to Worst (#80 US), Travelin’ Prayer (#77 US), The Ballad of Billy the Kid

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Captain Jack

LINEUP: Billy Joel and the cream of the LA session crop at the time (Ron Tutt, Wilton Felder, Larry Carlton, etc.)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After his disaster of a first album (in Quick Hitters), Joel catches a few breaks and gets a new deal, and hits on his first try.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It was a long couple of years for Billy Joel after his first album. Legal issues, tours, and a six month stint in LA grinding as a nightclub entertainer. But an appearance on WMMR, and at Mar Y Sol, got CBS interested and this album was the result after a couple of years of grinding it out.

The title track became the hit, and a few songs became standards, especially “Captain Jack”. After a rousing “Travelin’ Prayer”, and the hit, the album stalls out a bit, though the arrangements are varied. But the songs aren’t 100% all there until the end and “Captain Jack”.

Joel has a better backing band and production. Nothing is in the sad piano motif (for the most part), and it does what it meant to do – introduce Billy Joel to the public.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Joel played a set on WMMR that included the as-then-unrecorded “Captain Jack”, and that became a sensation in Philly, then New York, and then CBS got him.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, including the entire WMMR broadcast.

 

GRADE B: Joel throws a lot out there, stylistically, and some sticks.

Montrose – The Very Best of Montrose

ARTIST: Montrose montrose

TITLE: The Very Best Of Montrose

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Rock Candy, Bad Motor Scooter, I Got the Fire, Rock the Nation, Space Station #5. Music Man, Jump On It

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, I doubt it

LINEUP: Ronnie Montrose. First album had Sammy Hagar, Denny Carmisi, and Bill Church. Alan Fitzgerald replaced Church. Bob James replaced Hagar and Jim Alcivar added keyboards. Montrose regrouped a band in the 80s with guys from Gamma and Buster Brown

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Former Edgar Winter guitarist forms his own band, rocks out, gets bored, and what was promising dies on the vine.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ronnie Montrose could sling an axe, as he proved for Edgar Winter, Van Morrison and others. Leaving Winter, he formed Montrose and released a debut album which gained some fans in the hard rock world, but had no sales to speak of.

Montrose’s records were mainly spotty with some bursts of innovation and fire, and then low spots with second-rate material. (Sammy Hagar wrote perhaps their best song, “Bad Motor Scooter”, not Montrose).  Sure, there are moments, but when Bob James took over for Hagar, it was all over for the most part. Then there was a 80’s glammy band. No thanks.

For the most part, this collection is all you need, and even then you have to be judicious. Montrose could have been a classic band, but it was not meant to be.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Montrose expected sobriety from his band members, after he had a near-lethal overdose.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B-: With good material, they were great. But the good material diminished as time went on.

Lene Lovich – Lucky Number (The Best Of)

ARTIST: Lene Lovich

TITLE: Lucky Number (The Best Of)

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Lucky Number (#3 UK), Say When (#19 UK), Bird Song (#39 UK), What Will I Do Without You  (#58 UK), New Toy (#19 Dance, #53 UK), It’s You, Only You (Mein Schmerz) (#25 Dance, #68 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Think We’re Alone Now, Home, Be Stiff

LINEUP: Lene Lovich, Les Chappell. Justin Hildreth, Nick Plytas, Jeff Smith, and Mark Hayward-Chapman helped on most of the songs.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Quirky Stiff Records “star” used her quirky voice and look to make an impression.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: By the time MTV came along, “Lucky Number” was three years old, and Lovich was prepping a new album (her third). But then “Lucky Number” got a lot of play, and introduced her to the US. It also stopped her momentum (that and buffoonery at Stiff). Alas.

This compilation compiles tracks from her Stiff Records era, which are all examples of New Wave, with dance rhythms, keyboards galore, dramatic arrangements and Lovich’s vocal quirks.

Surprisingly, there’s not really a down spot of the compilation even though it’s 22 tracks long (!) because Lovich and her partner / producer Les Chappell kept things varied and lively.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Born in Detroit as Lilli-Marlene Premilovich.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A-: Great and varied collection of a new wave touchstone.

 

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome

ARTIST: Frankie Goes to Hollywood 220px-Welcome_To_The_Pleasuredome

TITLE: Welcome to the Pleasuredome

YEAR RELEASED: 1984

CHART ACTION: #33 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Relax (#10 US, #1 UK), Two Tribes (#43 US, #1 UK), The Power of Love (#1 UK), Welcome to the Pleasuredome (#48 US, #2 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Born to Run, Do You Know the Way to San Jose, and Ferry Cross the Mercy

LINEUP: Holly Johnson, Paul Rutherford, Brian Nash, Mark O’Toole, Peter Gill. Trevor Horn, the producer, brought in a lot of session players and may have played a lot of the record himself.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hyped to the billionth degree record is a UK sensation but kind of fizzled here in the US despite MTV and the single Relax being played every 10 seconds it seems.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Notoriety and hype are the two words that come to mind with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The BBC banned “Relax” and they and MTV banned the first cut of the “Relax” video, which of course made the public want it even more.  220px-Welcome_to_the_Pleasuredome_2

“Relax” and “Two Tribes” were big #1 hits already, remixed quite a bit, and when included on the album along with several covers, some were disappointed. The US market was skeptical, as usual, and the overtly gay overtones of the band’s look and lyrics went over the head of many listeners (because sometimes we’re not too swift on the uptick, ya know). But there’s no real sub-text to a song like “Krisco Kisses”. It just is.

The production is incredible as the band and its songs were perfect palettes for Trevor Horn and the Art of Noise production crew. But as for the songs, some are overly long (the title track takes up the entire first side of the LP for all intents and purposes), and the band seems lost in the production, with the songs secondary to the sounds thrown out there. (The cover of “War” is a great example of this).

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There was a fake band that toured the US in 1998 that was quickly put out of action by swift action since one of the band members lived in Florida and saw an ad for the faux band.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with several remixes. The original CD was a sliced up version of the double album.

 GRADE B-: There’s a happy medium between the hype and the backlash, and 35 years after the fact you can separate the good, the bad, and the way too long.

Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

ARTIST: Mayhem 

TITLE: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Well, probably now thanks to documentaries and books and such

LINEUP: Atilla Csihar, Euronymous, Count Grisnackh, Hellhammer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Infamous Norwegian black metal album featuring a murderer and his victim.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Mayhem caused same in Norway in the 90’s, with a suicide (a photo of the aftermath later became an album cover), a link to church burnings, and well, murder. Count Grisnackh (Varg Vikiernes) stabbed bassist Euronymous (Oystein Aarseth) during a dispute. They put the album out that they recorded anyway, because, metal.

As for the music, it’s an influential black metal album with creepy distorted vocals from Atilla Csihar (formerly of Tormentor), and sheets and sheets of riffs from Euronymous. Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) drums in the usual double-kick fashion. The drawback is that the songs are long, and don’t go much of anywhere.

I can see why this is influential despite the notoriety – the riffs are mega-normous and the basswork from Vikiernes is stellar. But, it seems like it’s all one song.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original singer of the band, who went by Dead, killed himself. Along with the photo, Euronymous took pieces of his skull and made necklaces for the members of the scene. That’s metal, man.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE B: Individually, the songs work, but they just bend together. I EXILED it because it’s just too too same same.

Roger Miller – All Time Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Roger Miller 

TITLE: All Time Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: Dang Me (#7 US, #1 Country), Chug-A-Lug (#9 US, #3 Country), King of the Road (#4 US, #1 Country, #1 UK), Engine Engine #9 (#7 US, #2 Country, #33 UK), One Dyin’ and a Buryin’ (#10 Country, #34 US), Kansas City Star (#31 US, #7 Country, #48 UK), England Swings (#8 US, #3 Country, #13 UK), Husbands and Wives (#26 US, #5 Country), Walkin’ in the Sunshine (#37 US, #7 Country), Little Green Apples (#39 US, #6 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd, My Unlce Used to Love Me but She Died, Do Wacka Do

LINEUP: Roger Miller, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Ray Edenton and others

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Collection of the memorable hits from the country songwriter and funnyman.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Roger Miller not only was a major country personality, he was a songwriter that penned most of his own tracks and established a legacy with “King of the Road”.

In the mid-to-late 60’s, his songs were all over the radio, and he was a major television personality on variety and game shows, which led to acting roles and even work in Broadway later in life. For all that, he’s most remembered for his hits in 1964 and 1965.

He wanted to be a serious songwriter along with his funny stuff, but aside from “King of the Road” they weren’t as successful. Miller’s legacy is the funny stuff that kids loved, and a song about hobos.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: His original session lasted two days in 1964 and resulted in 1 ½ albums of material.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but there are other collections.

 GRADE B: You picks and chooses, but the funny stuff is his best.

 

Deep Purple – Shades of Deep Purple

ARTIST: Deep Purple 

TITLE: Shades of Deep Purple

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #24

SINGLES: Hush (#4 US, #58 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Help and Hey Joe

LINEUP: Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice, Nick Simper

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album from heavy psychedelic band features lots o’noodlin’.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a short time together, Deep Purple entered the studio and put down the tracks for their debut record, and hit the jackpot in the US with their cover of the Joe South song “Hush”. But a telling sign was that half of the eight songs were covers, and “Mandrake Root” stole a lot from Jimi Hendrix.

Rod Evans was the singer at this point, and while he did OK he didn’t seem to mesh very well with the style at times, especially when the band slowed down and jammed. And did they jam. With just a few songs in their repertoire they made sure they filled the time, mostly by noodling from Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore.

Their version of “Help” is almost a dirge and mostly pointless, “Hey Joe” had been done to death by now, and the ballads are flat. There’s just a few tracks worth saving here, but it’s worth at least a listen to the rest of it aside from “Hush”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band a rocky beginning with the former Searchers drummer Chris Curtis coming up with the genesis of the band, but falling disinterested as the band then searched for a singer, drummer, and bassist.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, an outtake and other incidentals.

 GRADE C-: “Hush” is great. About half the album is worth saving.

Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman

ARTIST: Ozzy Osbourne

TITLE: Diary of a Madman

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #16 US, #14 UK

SINGLES: Tonight, Flying High Again (#2 Mainstream), Over the Mountain (#38 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake, Johnny Cook on keyboards.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Ozzy’s second album as a solo artist utilizes the strengths of his band and shows his creative juices weren’t spent after his first solo album.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Showing that the Blizzard of Ozz wasn’t a fluke, Diary of a Madman continues his creative roll. Utilizing the talents of Randy Rhoads’ flashy guitar, Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake as lyricists and songwriting foils, and his ability to get convincingly deep inside his Ozzy character, Osbourne creates another record worthy of his legacy.

Rhoads comes into his own here, propelling many of the songs with his guitar and his sound. Even potentially trite ballads like “You Can’t Kill Rock & Roll” shine with his drive and sound.

The downfall of this album is that the songs, while good to great, go on too long. There were only eight of ‘em, and I know you gotta fill an album, but why not write a ninth to cut down on some of the length so it doesn’t sound too bloated?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Again, Sharon Osborne reared her head, withholding credits and firing Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake after this album was in the can. On the original releases, the only people credited properly were Ozzy and Randy

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: As with his debut, the 2002 remaster replaces Daisley and Kerslake out of spite. Avoid.

 GRADE B+: Had the songs been tighter, it would have been an easy A-.

Stellastarr* – Harmonies for the Haunted

ARTIST: Stellastarr*

TITLE: Harmonies for the Haunted

YEAR RELEASED: 2005

CHART ACTION: #12 Heatseeker

SINGLES: Sweet Troubled Soul (#37 Dance)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Arthur Kremer, Shawn Christensen, Amanda Tannen, Michael Jurin

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from NY band finds them in a more dance-oriented mood rhythmically, but still has a foot into the alt-rock scene.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Perhaps taking a nod from the trends in NYC happening at the time (with Interpol and the Rapture), Stellastarr moved themselves toward a dance-oriented rhythm, while still blasting guitars out to the fore, and singer Shawn Christensen still over-singing a bit. His enunciation on the pre-chorus to “The Diver” is cringe-worthy for sure.

What this album has is “Sweet Troubled Soul”, an all-timer of a track and head-and-shoulders above everything on this record. The other tracks are OK, but without that track the album would just be a trend-hopping exercise by a band that never really knew what it wanted to be anyway.

Still, “Sweet Troubled Soul” is worthwhile and the other tracks are decent enough to keep. So, one track saves the day.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was first issued with the blasted Media Max software that kept legit buyers from ripping a copy for their iPod.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the copies streaming now don’t have the hidden track. So an anti-deluxe?

GRADE B+: It’s really a regression with one track pumping the grade up two notches.

Candlemass – Nightfall

ARTIST: Candlemass

TITLE: Nightfall

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Samarthin, At the Gallows End

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bewitched, The Well of Souls

LINEUP: Messiah Marcolin, Lars Johansson, Mats Bjorkman, Leif Edling, Jan Lindh. Mike Wead helped as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Finding their vocalist, Candlemass releases a classic Swedish doom metal record.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It didn’t take long for Messiah Marcolin to make his mark with Candlemass. The first verse of “Well of Souls” showed his power, range, and dramatics. Coupled with classic doom metal riffs, the stage was set for a doom metal classic.

Bassist Leif Edling’s songs improved from their first record as well, and the tight playing of the band, veering from pure doomy sludge to taut thrash. “The Well of Souls” was an instant classic (though not a single, for whatever reason).

The rest of the songs suffer a bit by comparison to the outstanding beginning, and there are some instrumentals to set the mood between songs (which is fine, really). The whole album coheres and it’s great for anyone who wants some dramatic doom in their life. And who doesn’t?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Guitarist Lars Johansson broke his arm and was replaced for a few tracks by Mike Wead. Wead joined Candlemass in the 90’s.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Demos and live tracks.

 GRADE A-: Just listen to the glory of “The Well of Souls”