Category: Grade: B

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Dare to Be Stupid

ARTIST: “Weird Al” Yankovic           weird_al_yankovic_-_dare_to_be_stupid

TITLE: Dare to Be Stupid

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: #50

SINGLES: This Is the Life, Like a Surgeon (#47). I Want a New Duck, One More Minute, Hooked on Polkas

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Yoda

LINEUP: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Rick Derringer, Steve Jay, Jim West, Jon Schartz, other sessioneers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A third “Weird Al” album follows a predictable formula, with predictable laughs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: By 1985, “Weird Al” was a known commodity. Any new record was going to have a half-dozen parodies, a polka medley, and some originals lampooning a style or motif.

While the parodies are pretty hilarious (all but one provide a guffaw, or at least a loud ha), the originals seem to be better on this album. Especially “This Is the Life”, with a catchy melody and a convincing update of the jazz age sound, and the title track, which hits Devo where it hurts,

There’s fun to be had here, and at least you won’t skip some of the originals here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He covered the George of the Jungle theme, which is his only straight cover.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s more consistent, even if it doesn’t reach the highs of his previous parodies.

Robin Trower – For Earth Below

ARTIST: Robin Trower                 220px-robin_trower_-_for_earth_below

TITLE: For Earth Below

YEAR RELEASED: 1975

CHART ACTION: #5 US, #26 UK

SINGLES: Shame the Devil

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It sold, but it’s not played now.

LINEUP: Robin Trower, James Dewar, Bill Lordan

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Trower plays it safe with his third album, basically a stylistic repeat of his breakthrough.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I suppose that there’s nothing wrong with an artist making an album in the same mode as their previous work, but the former Procol Harum guitarist made Bridge of Sighs 2 with this release.

Not to say that this is a bad record. There’s definitely some cuts here to thrill the rock-and-rollers and the guitar fiends. James Dewar’s vocals fit the blues motif of the songs pretty well, and Trower adds some spacey rock guitar all over the place. That’s fine, but it’s becoming formulaic.

This sold a lot of records, hence the chart activity, but it’s hard to listen to now unless a satellite radio station programs a cut somehow. That’s a shame, because even Trower repeating himself is worth a listen or ten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In case you were wondering, he’s a Startocaster maven/

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B: It’s perfectly okey-doke, but it’s not a revelation as his other solo albums were. It’s just workmanlike rock-and-roll.

Naked Raygun – All Rise

ARTIST: Naked Raygun                   220px-naked_raygun_-_all_rise

TITLE: All Rise

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Home of the Brave

LINEUP: Jeff Pezzati, John Haggerty, Pierre Kezdy, Eric Spicer

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Workmanlike Chicago punk rock commenting on political and social issues in the Reagan area.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Naked Raygun’s high point to date, this record is a meat-and-potatoes Chicago punk rock band. Borrowing some of the rigid structure found in Big Black, along with some incendiary political commentary (“Mr. Gridlock”), Naked Raygun hit the mid-80’s in stride.

Featuring “Home of the Brave”, an anthem about the alienation of the youth of the 80’s, the band’s tightened song structure allows the messages to come through loud and clear, and also keeps everything focused.

There’s still some experimentation (“Peacemaker”), and a few tracks don’t really distinguish themselves from the others. Yet with “Home of the Brave”, Naked Raygun would not be forgotten.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There’s a new rhythm section, though the record was written before they joined except for “Backlash Jack”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A B-side and a comp cut added on.

 GRADE B+: Decent punk rock with a couple of outstanding tracks.

Eddie Money – The Essential Eddie Money

ARTIST: Eddie Money                                220px-eddie_money_-_the_essential_eddie_money

TITLE: The Essential Eddie Money

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Baby Hold On (#11), Two Tickets to Paradise (#22), Maybe I’m a Fool (#22), Think I’m in Love (#16, #1 Mainstream), Shakin’ (#63, #9 Mainstream), The Big Crash (#54, #17 Mainstream), Take Me Home Tonight (#4, #1 Mainstream), I Wanna Go Back (#14, #3 Mainstream), Endless Nights (#21, #10 Mainstream), We Should Be Sleeping (#90, #18 Mainstream), Walk on Water (#9, #2 Mainstrream), The Love in Your Eyes (#24, #1 Mainstream), Let Me In (#60, #30 Mainstream), Peace in Our Time (#11, #2 Mainstream), Heaven in the Back Seat (#58, #6 Mainstream), I’ll Get By (#21),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Isn’t that enough?

LINEUP: Eddie Money. Early on Jimmy Lyon, Lonnie Turner, Gary Mallaber and Tom Scott were in his band in the studio. After 1983 he used session guns after Lyon left.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Journeyman classic rocker somehow fills a 2-CD compilation. You don’t remember many of these songs, even though they charted. eddiemoneyessentialeddiemoney

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: An earnest, conventional rock-and-roller if there ever was one, Eddie Money burst onto the scene with two fantastic classic rock songs (“Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise”). Yet, his management and record company decided to grab for more pop ears, and added sweeteners like strings and dance rhythms, and his career clunked a bit as that played to his weaknesses, not his strengths. (It probably was the production – on the 2-disc set there are four live cuts from his second album that redeem those tracks.)

After his third album tanked and he had a medical scare due to too many downers, Money took time off and then hit the MTV era hard with “Think I’m in Love” and the video hit “Shakin’” (well all remember that one…oh yeah!). Then there was the song with Ronnie Spector (“Take Me Home Tonight”) that was justifiably huge.

As time went on, Money charted pretty regularly on the Mainstream chart (where AOR radio lived), and he tried to branch out (he shouldn’t do reggae, or dance pop, c’mon), and had a few ballads hit the A/C chart (gloppy as you can imagine) but nothing stuck as much as those classic songs we all know.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He lost a lot of creative control in the mid-80’s and that’s when his records turned into bland showcases for songwriters.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There’s a one disc version. That may be a better value, really.

 GRADE B-: A handful of great tracks, and then, ooof.

Jet – Get Born

ARTIST: Jet                                                   220px-jet_-_get_born

TITLE: Get Born

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: #26 US. #14 UK

SINGLES: Are You Gonna Be My Girl (#29 US, #3 Alternative, #7 Mainstream, #16 UK), Rollover DJ (#14 Alternative, #14 Mainstream, #34 UK), Look What You’ve Done (#37 US, #3 Alternative, #33 Mainstream, #28 UK), Cold Hard Bitch (#55 US, #1 Alternative, #1 Mainstream, #34 UK), Get Me Outta Here (#37 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Nic Ceter, Chris Cester, Cameron Muncey, Mark Wilson with help from Billy Preston, Roger Manning Jr., Dave Sardy, Davey Lane, and Andre Warhurst

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Australian hard-rock revivalists make a sometimes fun record that drags at points.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: While everyone remembers “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”, and some remember “Cold Hard Bitch”, the rest of Jet’s debut did have some decent rock-and-rollers that reminded some of us of the halcyon 8-track tape days.

The pacing and sequencing of the album is fine, with some slower songs mixed in with the rockers. The problem is that Jet’s ballads aren’t up to scratch. They weren’t much in the lyrics department, so the ballads and slower numbers suffer without the hard rock bangers.

Still, there’s enough good stuff to keep this around. You can pick or choose, or just zone out during the slow stuff. That’s when you can go get some more nachos.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They defended themselves against plagiarizing Iggy Pop by admitting they nicked the Supremes for the rhythm for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, B-sides, etc. as usual

 GRADE B-: Enough good stuff to keep. Just don’t expect lyrical genius.

Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne

ARTIST: Fountains of Wayne      220px-fountains_of_wayne-fountains_of_wayne_(album_cover)

TITLE: Fountains of Wayne

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #67 UK

SINGLES: Radiation Vibe (#14 Alternative, #32 UK), Sink to the Bottom (#42 UK), Survival Car (#53 UK), Barbara H (#119 UK), Leave the Biker

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger, Danny Weinkauf

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: New Jersey new wave / power pop affecionadoes release their ‘tribute’ to the suburbs of the Tri-State area.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting out with a good one-two punch, the Fountains of Wayne (at this time a duo with a hired gun bassist) show their love for the 80’s new wave, catchy melodies, and their penchant for sneakily snarky lyrics.

But, as the record goes on, it seems the inspiration dries up a bit. Everything is polished, of course, but the songs seem forced at times, or suffer from too much irony.

A good debut and a good start for a band (they formed a touring band soon after this was released), but after three highlights it’s all kind of meh-ly good.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The bassist, Danny Weinkaupf, had been in bands with Adam Schlesinger, and is the bassist for They Might Be Giants.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A Japanese bonus track

 GRADE B: Some great tracks – enough to keep you in the game.

Parliament – Up for the Down Stroke

ARTIST: Parliament                                      Parliament-Up_for_the_Down_Stroke_(album_cover)

TITLE: Up for the Down Stoke

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #17 R&B

SINGLES: Up for the Down Stroke (#63, #10 R&B), Testify (#77 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: All Your Goodies Are Gone

LINEUP: Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Gary Bronson, Ron Bykowski, Raymond Davis, Tiki Fulwood, Fuzzy Haskins, Cordell Mosson, Calvin Simon, Grady Thomas

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: George Clinton re-interoduces Parliament to the masses – making it a lighter, horn based funk band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The core musicians are the same, but the addition of James Brown’s horn section (somehow uncredited) and the return of Bootsy Collins brought a more commercial funk sound than the hardcore guitar funk of Funkadelic.

The title track starts out everyone with a big ol’ party track, and then the group goes into a cover of the original Parliaments big hut. As the record moves along, they ‘cover’ a couple of Funkadelic tracks and more commercial versions of what was going to become the P-Funk sound. It’s not always successful, but Clinton had the right idea.

The success of this record encouraged Clinton to keep both names and release albums by both in their particular style, and the 70’s funk scene was never the same!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The saga of the Parliaments / Parliament and their record companies is twisted and worthy of a chapter in a book.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, alternate mixes and an outtake

 GRADE B+: They’re still figuring out how to make a commercial version of P-Funk, and the party drags a bit, but it’s still a fun record for the most part.

Big Country – The Seer

ARTIST: Big Country                             220px-Big_Country_-_The_Seer

TITLE: The Seer

YEAR RELEASED: 1986

CHART ACTION: #59 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Look Away (#5 US Mainstream, #7 UK), The Teacher (#28 UK), One Great Thing (#19 UK), Hold the Heart (#55 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Rememberance Day

LINEUP: Stuart Adamson, Mark Brzezicki, Tony Butler, Bruce Watson. Kate Bush is one a few tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Big Country shifts focus back to the Scottish history and sounds.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Big Country e-bow bagpipe novelty has worn off by now, but in this record Big Country returns to the Celtic themes and motifs.

The title track is definitely a Celtic showcase, with Kate Bush on backing vocals. Other tracks take on pieces of Scottish history and events.

“Look Away” is a rousing opening number, and “Rememberance Day” changes things up a bit in the intro, but as the record goes on, the songs blur and blend together, and then by the time the albums done, you don’t realize you’ve heard the last few tracks.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company rejected their first mix, and put out a poppier, reverb filled mix the band didn’t like.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few bonus tracks and remixes

 GRADE B: It’s got strong tracks, but as the record goes on nothing else stands out but a couple.

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf the Second

ARTIST: Steppenwolf                        220px-SteppenwolfTheSecond

TITLE: The Second

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #3

SINGLES: Magic Carpet Ride (#3)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Radio stayed away from the rest, and still does.

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldie McJohn, Rushton Moreve, Jerry Edmonton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Steppenwolf’s second (hence the title) is lighter at times, more psychedelic, more political, and more of a hodge-podge (and strained through a Leslie, as it were).

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Magic Carpet Ride” was a monster hit, of that there is no question, and is one of the best hard psychedelic songs from the era. And at first listen, this record seems like it will be a worthy successor to their first album.

Yet upon more listens, it seems weaker and more unfocused.

The band does try to mix up their sound, getting quieter at times and diminishing the hard sound of the first album. But many of those quieter songs don’t really stand up to scrutiny, with only “28” really being outstanding, while “Tighten Up Your Wig” sounds nice but is a blatant rip of “Messin’ with the Kid”.

The sides end with lengthy tracks. “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” is a ham-fisted pro-pot song, while the end of Side Two is a long suite with five tracks that range from hard rockin’ to scarily political. There’s some duds in there which dilute the quality of the suite.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Jerry Edmonton sings two tracks, the openers to each side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B: There’s enough good stuff in here to have it over a greatest hits album, but it’s not as good as I thought it was when I was young.

Wilco – A.M.

ARTIST: Wilco                              220px-Wilco

TITLE: A.M.

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: #27 Heatseekers

SINGLES: Box Full of Letters

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Must Be High, Casino Queen

LINEUP: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt, Ken Coomer, Max Johnston, Brian Henneman. Lloyd Maines adds some pedal steel.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco is first out of the gate for the post-Uncle Tupelo bands, but the record is flat and peters out at the end.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Even though Jay Tweedy won the battle of Wilco vs. Sun Volt (as it were) in the end, the debut Wilco album definitely didn’t start out great for him or the band.

A.M. was an alt-country album really wedded to Uncle Tupelo’s sound, and while it had a few good to great tracks (the first half of the record), the second half became boring and predictable.

That’s a shame, since the first three tracks (“I Must Be High”, “Casino Queen”, and “Box Full of Letters”) are great. Overall, it’s good but it was disappointing to everyone. Wilco wouldn’t disappoint much after this.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: John Stirratt sang one song on this album – the only non Tweedy vocal on any Wilco record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE B-: If you lop it off at about track seven, it’d be an A- or B+.