Category: Grade: A

Rick Springfield – The Best of Rick Springfield

ARTIST: Rick Springfield  71tV4Lm-B1L._SX425_

TITLE: The Best of Rick Springfield

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Jessie’s Girl (#1 US, #10 Mainstream, #43 UK), I’ve Done Everything for You (#8 US), Love Is Alright Tonight (#20 US, #40 Mainstream), Don’t Talk to Strangers (#2 US, #11 Mainstream), Affair of the Heart (#9 US, #23 Mainstream), Human Touch (#18 US, #23 UK, #34 Mainstream), Love Somebody (#5 US, #95 UK, #13 Mainstream), Bop ‘Til You Drop (#20 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: What Kind of Fool Am I

LINEUP: Rick Springfield. Mike Baird drummed on almost all of this, but he used a lot of session musicians galore on these records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Teen idol turned soap actor turned power popper turned pop rock schlock meister turned fond memory. This focuses on the power popper that turned to schlock. It was a fun ride.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first three singles on this collection (“Jessie’s Girl, “Love Is All Right Tonight”, “I’ve Done Everything for You”) were all over the radio and MTV in the early 80’s. For good reason, too, as they fit on new wave, power pop, rock, and Top 40 formats. From there, he was a force in the early 80’s – releasing hits like clockwork. Aside from “I’ve Done Everything for You” (a Sammy Hagar joint believe it or not), Springfield wrote or co-wrote everything here, which showed he had an ear for hooks and melody.

What happened to him was typical of the 80’s. As time went on, he moved towards updating his sound from power pop / new wave towards electronics and new romantic sounds which sometimes clashed with his melodies and pop sense. His songs became busy and sounded forced and extended themselves past their sell date (you don’t need seven minutes of “Human Touch”).

This collection covers his glory years up until 1988, and is probably the best bet of avoiding filler and remembering glorious days on the roller rink. Though the electronic noise on tracks like “Bop ‘Til You Drop” may make you wonder why the mid-80’s existed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had a teen idol career in Australia (barely in the US), that resulted in “Speak to the Sky” here (#14 US). His song “Bruce” (#26) was originally released in 1980, re-released outside of his control in 1984 (and is not on here thank God) and coincided with his decline. There may be a correlation.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But there are several other compilations depending on how deep or shallow you want to go on Mr. Springfield. I thought this was the best one to grab his high points though it missed radio hit “Calling All Girls” (#4 Mainstream).

GRADE B: Springfield has some impressive tunes, and some tunes that are just good for nostalgia. There’s a couple of groaners here that you can avoid as well. Depends on your love of schlock there.

Gloria Estefan – The Essential Gloria Estefan

ARTIST: Gloria Estefan 220px-Gloria_Estefan_The_Essential_Gloria_Estefan

TITLE: The Essential Gloria Estefan

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: With Miami Sound Machine: Dr. Beat (#17 Dance, #6 UK), Conga (#10 US, #7 Dance, #79 UK), Bad Boy (#8 US, #10 Dance, #16 UK), Words Get in the Way (#5 US), Falling in Love (Uh-Oh) (#25 US, #89 UK), Solo Top 20: Can’t Stay Away from You (#6 US, #7 UK), Anything for You (#1 US, #10 UK), 1-2-3 (#3 US, #9 UK), Don’t Want to Lose You (#1 US, #6 UK), Get on Your Feet (#11 US, #20 Dance, #23 UK), Here We Are (#6 US, 23 UK), Oye Mi Canto (#48 US, #16 UK), Cuts Both Ways (#44 US, #17 UK), Coming Out of the Dark (#1 US, #25 UK). Go Away (#103 US, #13 UK), Turn the Beat Around (#13 US, #21 UK), Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me (#11 UK), Everlasting Love (#27 US, #19 UK), Reach (#42 US, #15 UK), You’ll Be Mine (Party Time) (#70 US, #18 UK), Heaven’s What I Feel (#27 US, #17 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe so? She has some of her Spanish language hits here.

LINEUP: Gloria Estefan, and whatever incarnation of the Miami Sound Machine was on those records.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the first Latin crossover artists that made a long-lasting impact in the US and abroad has a compilation stacked with her festive hits and romantic ballads.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ever since the Miami Sound Machine made the move to English-language records (after seven Spanish language albums), Gloria Estefan, her husband Emilio, and the band have been a force in European, Latin, and American markets. And while it could be said that the music is formulaic, it is also joyous and memorable.

From 1984 to 1998, Estefan and / or the group had hits in the US or the UK, and still held sway over the Latin charts when she recorded in Spanish. Combining Cuban and Latin American rhythms and flourishes with modern synthesizers and drum machines made their sound unique in the pop markets. The arrangements may be bold and big, but they usually don’t overpower the song or her voice.

This is a large collection, and there’s some stuff that isn’t up my alley, and probably not up yours either. But she deserves a lot more credit than she gets sometimes for being a force in pop and dance music for so many years.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She survived a huge bus / semi crash in 1990 and was touring ten months later.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There are other comps but this is the most comprehensive.

 GRADE A-: You don’t really think about how long she was on top of the game until you start listening to these tracks back to back to back.

Chuck Berry – The Chess Box

ARTIST: Chuck Berry  220px-The_Chess_Box_(Chuck_Berry_box_set)_cover_art

TITLE: The Chess Box

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Maybelline (#5 US, #1 R&B), Wee Wee Hours (#10 R&B), Thirty Days (#2 R&B), No Money Down (#8 R&B), Roll Over Beethoven (#29 US, #2 R&B), Too Much Monkey Business (#4 R&B), School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell) (#5 US, #1 R&B, #24 UK), Rock and Roll Music (#8 US, #6 R&B), Sweet Little Sixteen (#2 US, #1 R&B, #16 UK), Johnny B. Goode (#8 US, #2 R&B), Carol (#18 US, #9 R&B), Almost Grown (#32 US, #3 R&B), No Particular Place to Go (#10 US, #10 R&B, #3 UK), My Ding-A-Ling (#1 US, #42 R&B, #1 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: How many don’t you know?

LINEUP: Chuck Berry. His early band had Johnnie Johnson, Willie Dixon, and Fred Below, but there so many others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: It’s Chuck Berry. C’mon, man.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: His impact is short-changed by the charts, but running down the tracks in this collection is staggering as to what he wrote, and what he performed. Even if you don’t like a couple of tracks, there are many many others you’ll know.

He wrote about a lot of every day problems, and always tinged with his status as someone who was poor and a minority in Middle America.

There are 71 tracks here, from his great beginning, to some of his best later stuff (like “Tulane”), and yes, “My Ding-a-Ling” which should be excised from human existence. But that should not dissuade you. Just delete it from your collection and move forward.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He had some legal issues, tax issues, and some…other issues. He’s not in the HOF of best-ever people.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. Chess did a good job here.

GRADE A+: It’s Chuck Berry.

Glen Campbell – The Legacy (1961-2017)

ARTIST: Glen Campbell Glen_Campbell_The_Legacy_album_cover

TITLE: The Legacy (1961-2017)

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 5: By the Time I Get to Phoenix (#26 US, #2 Country), I Wanna Live (#36 US, #1 Country), Dreams of the Everyday Housewife (#32 US, #3 Country), Wichita Lineman (#3 US, #1 Country, #7 UK), Galveston (#4 US, #1 Country, #14 UK), Try a Little Kindess (#23 US, #2 Country, #45 UK), Honey Come Back (#19 US, #2 Country, #4 UK), All I Have to Do Is Dream (#27 US, #6 country, #3 UK), Everything a Man Could Ever Need (#52 US, #5 Country, #32 UK), It’s Only Make Believe (#10 US, #3 Country, #4 UK), Bonaparte’s Retreat (#3 Country), Rhinestone Cowboy (#1 US, #1 Country, #4 UK), Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in LA) (#11 US, #3 Country), Don’t Pull Your Love / Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye (#27 US, #4 Country), Southern Nights (#1 US, #1 Country, #28 UK), Sunflower (#39 US, #4 UK), A Lady Like You (#4 Country), Still Within the Sound of My Voice (#5 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Turn Around Look at Me, Universal Soldier, The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde, Gentle on My Mind, True Grit

LINEUP: Glen Campbell and Session musicians. Duets with Bobbie Gentry and Anne Murray too.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After being an in-demand session guitarist and backing vocalist (and temporary replacement Beach Boy), Glen Campbell’s solo career took off after recording songs by Jimmy Webb. It was a perfect match.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Glen Campbell’s impact on pop and country seemed diminished for a while, as his happy-go-lucky TV personality and his later marital issues and gossip column fodder overshadowed his gifts. But while he wasn’t much of a songwriter – he was an ace guitar player and an excellent vocalist who could evoke emotion from each song he performed, and fit his voice perfectly with arrangements.

His first big hits came when he started collaborating with songwriter Jimmy Webb, starting with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, and “Wichita Lineman”. He recorded the definite version of “Gentle on My Mind” by John Hartford, and many other songs became standards due to his interpretations, even down to Alan Toussaint’s “Southern Nights”.

This collection has some fluff, especially his later career, and honestly, the string-laden productions can get a bit overblown in his 60’s material, but for music fans from 1966 through 1977 or so, Campbell was a force in country, pop, and television.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was the first to record (and he co-wrote) “Turn Around, Look at Me”. He also released 14 albums between 1967 and 1970. Holy studio time!

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. This is a new collection of a collection first issued in the early 2000’s, with the last disc of live and outtakes replaced by a whole disc of his later work.

GRADE A-: Comprehensive, and most of his material is essential for pop and country fans. There’s just some dross in his later years, as one would expect.

Alice in Chains – Dirt

ARTIST: Alice in Chains 220px-Dirt_(Alice_in_Chains_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Dirt

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION:  #6 US, #42 UK

SINGLES: Would? (#31 Mainstream, #19 UK), Them Bones (#30 Alternative, #24 Mainstream, #26 UK, Angry Chair (#27 Alternative, #34 Mainstream, #33 UK), Rooster (#7 Mainstream), Down in a Hole (#10 Mainstream, #36 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Dam That River

LINEUP: Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Mike Starr. Tom Araya sang on one track with Staley.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Impressive follow-up record that put Alice in Chains in the big leagues, which was good and bad for them as it turns out.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Layne Staley had the voice, Jerry Cantrell had the riffs and the melodies, and Alice in Chains fit right into the rock scene in 1992. Not really grunge, and not in the inner orbit of what was the Seattle scene (though definitely in the conversation), they were more metal than not, but Staley’s voice and the tone and tenor of the songs definitely fit right in the times.

The band, notably Cantrell, had both expanded their sound, and cut out the parts that made their previous release too generic. Songs like “Down in a Hole” and “Rooster” blend the acoustic and the monster riff to great effect, while “Rooster” is a chilling portrait of a Vietnam vet. At least three of the songs are about heroin addiction, which was going through the band at the time (especially Staley).

The tone and tenor of the tracks, and the unvarnished depiction of addiction, created a doomy aura, which was quite effective. Yet, as the band went on, the addictions got out of control, and this era may have been a tipping point, as honest as they were about it.

 NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were going to start recording in LA, but the riots were starting and they had to flee town with Tom Araya until the situation cooled down.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Even today, it’s a chilling record with great riffs and vocals.

The Circle Jerks – Group Sex

ARTIST: The Circle Jerks 220px-Circle_Jerks_-_Group_Sex

TITLE: Group Sex

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lots of you saw the Decline of the Western Civilization

LINEUP: Keith Morris, Greg Hetson, Roger Rogerson, Lucky Lehrer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Short (14 songs in 15 minutes) burst of LA punk from a band formed from castoffs of Black Flag and Redd Kross.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Decline of the Western Civilization, the Penelope Spheeris look at the punk scene in LA in 1979 and 1980 was the coming out party of the Circle Jerks to a somewhat wider audience than the insular scene they came from.

This burst of short songs is one of the better documents of a piece of that LA scene. Keith Morris was in Black Flag at their beginning and guitarist Greg Hetson was in the original lineup of Redd Kross. They brought a few songs from their old bands and wrote some other now-punk classics like “Beverly Hills”, “Deny Everything”, and “Live Fast Die Young”.

The songs don’t linger, so there’s no energy drop off. Unlike other punk bands, they didn’t pad out their album to make it more than they were. That’s refreshing – you get in, and in 15 minutes, you’re out.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Black Flag didn’t like Morris changing some of the lyrics (and not crediting Greg Ginn), so they wrote a track that blasted him: “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: This still brings the early LA punk scene to life.

Joe Walsh – Barnstorm

ARTIST: Joe Walsh 220px-Joe_Walsh_-_Barnstorm

TITLE: Barnstorm

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #79

SINGLES: I’ll Tell the World About You

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Mother Says, Turn to Stone

LINEUP: Joe Walsh, Kenny Passarelli, Joe Vitale. Help from Pau; Harris, Al Perkins, Chuck Rainey and Bill Szymcyk.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Known as a guitar hero, Joe Walsh’s first project after leaving the James Gang is really a band (called Barnstorm) and explores some of the folkier and spacier aspects of his music.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you listened closely to the deep cuts on James Gang albums, you know that Joe Walsh wasn’t always a headstrong guitar hero. He explored textures and tones using synths and acoustic guitars as well as electric guitar and bass. It’s this motif that he focuses on with Barnstorm, his new trio, and his ‘solo’ debut album.

Walsh played a lot of the synthesizers himself, and drummer Joe Vitale also helped on keyboards and flute, while Kenny Passarelli held things down on the bottom. That versatility in the studio allowed for the tracks to be filled with interesting flourishes and excursions (especially on “One and One / Giant Bohemoth”. The songs were also not as raucous, with tracks like “Here We Go” and “Birdcall Morning” settling for mood instead of pyrotechnics.

This album didn’t have a hit, and one track (“Turn to Stone”) was remade two years later. Walsh fans really need to find this one as it reveals a lot about what Walsh wanted in his early solo career and what he was capable of.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He really wanted the record to just have the artist listed as Barnstorm, but ABC Records decided to add Walsh’s name to it. This lead to the trio’s demise after their second album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: A great record that was hard to find for many years and thus a lot of the songs disappeared from consciousness.

Billy Ellish – Don’t Smile at Me

ARTIST: Billy Ellish 220px-Billie_Eilish_-_Don't_Smile_at_Me

TITLE: Don’t Smile at Me

YEAR RELEASED: 2017

CHART ACTION: #14 US, #12 UK

SINGLES: Charting (they all were singles of some form): Ocean Eyes (#84 US, #72 UK), Bellyache (#103 US, #79 UK), Copycat (#112 UK), Idontwannabeyouanymore (#96 US, #78 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe – a lot of people streamed this

LINEUP: Billy Ellish, Finneas

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: EP that collected all of her early singles and recordings which act as a prelude and taster for her LP debut.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Billy Ellish didn’t just show up out of nowhere. Even though she’s young, in 2015 she was using Soundcloud to upload files – and “Ocean Eyes” became a hit on that service. It revealed a sophistication in melody and a production by her brother Finneas that made it hard to believe that she was just a teenager.

As the buzz happened, she and Finneas did more recordings and released them as singles or they were used for soundtracks. It’s rather impressive that she and her brother can conceive and release these tracks that are sophisticated and dark, and not necessarily custom made for the pop charts. She’s blazing her own trail which is refreshing.

This relatively short EP is a great intro to Ellish, if you have been under a rock this past year, and if you’re not, it shows that she and her brother were already making music that didn’t conform to pop’s barriers.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: As time went on, they added new singles to the very original EP release. You can do that with streaming.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, see above. And Japan, of course.

 GRADE A-: Even as early as 15, Ellish was creating her own brand of electropop.

Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain

ARTIST: Aztec Camera 220px-High_Land,_Hard_Rain

TITLE: High Land, Hard Rain

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #129 US, #22 UK

SINGLES: Pillar to Post, Oblivious (#18 UK), Walk Out to Winter (#64 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt

LINEUP: Roddy Frame, Campbell Owens, Craig Gannon, Bernie Clark, Dave Ruffy

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Melodic jangly pop rock written by a young Scottish wunderkind.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Roddy Frame was 16 when he formed Aztec Camera, and by his 19th birthday he was recording their debut album for Rough Trade. But this wasn’t some teenage love story – Frame was much like Michael Brown of the Left Banke and Emmit Rhodes of the Merry-Go-Round. He was writing sophisticated pop songs at a young age with complex themes and melodies.

The first track, “Oblivious”, is an all-timer. Written with a keen sense of melody, with a great hook, the arrangement is sophisticated and the lyrics are deft wordplay. It’s hard to believe that it’s not the work of someone with years of experience behind him.

The rest of the album isn’t as bright and pop-friendly as that track, but Frame and the band still have a maturity beyond their years, and the album sounds fresh especially when comparing to the more production and electronics heavy records of that time.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They released two singles in 1981 that aren’t really compiled anywhere.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, three additional B-sides.

GRADE A-: One all-timer and the rest decent-to-good pop songs. It’s well worth some spins.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – God Fodder

ARTIST: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin 220px-Ned's_Atomic_Dustbin-God_Fodder

TITLE: God Fodder

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #91 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Kill Your Television (#53 UK), Until You Find Out (#51 UK), Happy (#11 Modern, #16 UK), Trust (#21 UK), Grey Cell Green (#24 Modern)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Less Than Useful, Selfish

LINEUP: John Penney, Gareth ‘Rat’ Pring, Alex Griffin, Matt Cheslin, Dan Worton

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: UK band with two bassists take the late 80’s shoegaze and post punk sound and make it more melodic and driving,

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After touring with the Wonder Stuff, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin recorded a couple of singles that turned heads at Sony, and in 1991, their debut record was released in the UK (and then in the US). It made them stars in the UK, and somewhat popular among the alternative crowd over here, and for good reason.

The two bassists add a texture that the UK sound at that time didn’t have – as one bassist played harmonies working with the shoegazey-style guitar and the other was a traditional bass attack along with the drums. They utilized tempo changes, hooky melodies, and pedal effects to create a unique sound that did fit in with the times.

For the most part, the songs are diverse and inviting, but a few tracks sound same-same and that kind of drags it down a little. However, this is a fine debut and brings one back to 1991, in the midst of grunge and shoegaze and on the cusp of Brit pop.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their independent record company released the first two singles and other tracks on an EP that the band didn’t authorize.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A-: At the time, it was a refreshing sound and interesting instrumentation. It still sounds decently fresh today thanks to the music’s unique qualities.