Category: Grade: C

Rare Earth – The Very Best of Rare Earth

ARTIST: Rare Earth  very best of rare earth

TITLE: The Very Best of Rare Earth

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Get Ready (#4), (I Know) I’m Losing You (#7), Born to Wander (#17), I Just Want to Celebrate (#7), Hey Big Brother (#19), Warm Ride (#39)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Gil Bridges, Eddie Guzman, Peter Hoorelbeke, Ray Monette, Kenny James, John Persh. Then Mark Olson and Mike Urso joined, and then it became a chore to keep track of who’s who.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first hit-making white band on Motown released some catchy tracks (mostly written by others) but really went crazy on the LONG album versions like they were Iron Butterfly or something.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Rare Earth was not the first white Motown artist, but they were the first to have a hit. They were a Detroit band that was signed after a failed album on Verve (which also had a version of “Get Ready”).

“Get Ready”, a hit for the Temptations and written by Smokey Robinson, was their first Motown single and became a bigger hit for them. The album version was over 21 minutes long! (Holy padding out the record, Batman) And it was just a lot of noodling and jamming for no reason except the tape was rolling. That was a shame, because they had a chance to be tight and funky, but they rambled on and on…

“I Just Want to Celebrate” is their best known track, and it wasn’t an overly long version on the album (just in concert, because why not…)earth tones

That was the story for their early career. Cover a Motown song, and jam forever (so it seems), and profit (?). When they decided to record their own material in 1972, they still jammed for way too long. Oh, but when they did their own stuff, the hits dried up (until 1978 and they got one scraped in at #39). There’s a reason for that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer Peter Hoorelbeke (Pete Rivera back in the day) was the lead singer for the most part. 20th century rare earth

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: You can get collections with the LONG versions. Be my guest.

GRADE C. At their best, they were tight and funky with catchy tunes. That happened so rarely, as it were.

The Gin Blossoms – Congratulations, I’m Sorry

ARTIST: The Gin Blossoms Gin_Blossoms_-_Congratulations...I'm_Sorry

TITLE: Congratulations, I’m Sorry

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #10 US, #42 UK

SINGLES: Follow You Down (#9 US, #6 Mainstream, #8 Modern, #30 UK), Day Job (#29 Mainstream,, #31 Modern), As Long As It Matters (#75 US), Not Only Numb

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on the normal version. See below.

LINEUP: Robin Wilson, Scott Johnson, Jesse Valenzuela, Bill Leen, Phillip Rhoads.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Followup to their surprise breakout sees them mining the same territory, but without their best songwriter the tracks didn’t have the same impact.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Gin Blossoms second major label album did change up their sound on a few tracks, but mostly mined the same slight power-jangle pop sound. The issue was the songwriting – without the late Doug Hopkins the rest of the band had to pick up the songwriting slack, and except for a couple of tracks (“Day Job”) they seemed like lesser takes on their first album.

“Follow You Down” was really the only track that stands out amongst the rest of the tracks and it was the song that sounded like it really could have been on the first album. Really, much of the album sounded like that. They were really gunning for a second big smash, but by 1996, people seemed to be over the simple sounds of the band.

A major reason for the disappointment could have been a decision by their record company. A&M decided that their single for the 1995 Empire Records movie, “’Til I Hear It From You” (#11 US, #4 Mainstream, #5 Modern, #39 UK) should be left off of the new album even though the soundtrack was also released by A&M. That cut some sales and interest in the album, and forced the band to fill the void.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title comes from the phone calls the band got for their success, and the loss of Doug Hopkins.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, they finally tacked on the 1995 single. It really could have made the album just a bit better.

 GRADE C+: It really was the same kind of album as before, but with fewer memorable tracks.

The Moody Blues – On the Threshold of a Dream

ARTIST: The Moody Blues 220px-Thresholdofadream

TITLE: On the Threshold of a Dream

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #20 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Never Comes the Day (#91)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lovely to See You

LINEUP: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hoo boy. A muddled album that seems to have a theme, but doesn’t except for the most part the Moody Blues are thirsty.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s some real good 60’s hippie hokum in the poems and lyrics here (“In the Beginning” is a ‘poem’ of sorts that has awful sound effects and puerile scare mongering), and that’s not the worst of it. Ray Thomas’ songs seem to be flown in from another concept album, and Mike Pinder’s “Have You Heard” and its nonsense is broken up by “The Voyage” which is an excuse for him to use his mellotron and other effects.

But most of the tracks in the middle, are, frankly, about the Moody Blues wanting to bed down some hippie chicks from London. “To Share Our Love”, “So Deep Within You”, and “Never Comes the Day” are almost embarrassing in their brazen codes for “get naked with me”, using most of the clichés of the business.

Lyrics aside (and they were supposed to be a deep group, too), the tunes themselves are memorable, with nice hooks and arrangements, and they even make the ‘love’ songs tolerable. The label also messed up and didn’t release the best pop song (and least embarrassing love song) “Lovely to See You” as a single.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The electronic sounds at the beginning also were in the run-out groove of the second side, so you couldn’t escape them.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, alternate takes and BBC sessions.

 GRADE C+: I really like some parts of this record, but some of this is just too embarrassing.

Blue Cheer – New! Improved!

ARTIST: Blue Cheer 220px-Blue_cheer_new_improved

TITLE: New! Improved!

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #84

SINGLES: West Coast Child of Sunshine

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover a Dylan song

LINEUP: Dickie Peterson, Paul Whaley. Bruce Stephens and Ralph Burns Kellogg are on side one. Randy Holden is on side two.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A move away from proto-metal after lineup shifts does nothing for the band, and many fans jump ship after this.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dropping the needle on side one, track one, and you get “When It All Gets Old”, a song written by now full-time member Ralph Burns Kellogg. It’s not heavy, not at all. The second track, the single, has some of the old feel, but the record shows the band to have devolved into a semi-folky hippie band, complete with a bad Dylan cover.

Then, there’s side two. The way the band was supposed to sound. Randy Holden (famous for being an unknown guitarist of the 60’s and 70’s – seriously) led the band through two out-of-this-world psychedelic rock tracks in “Peace of Mind” and “Fruit and Icebergs” (go-to songs for mixes for those in the know – especially the latter). Blue Cheer as a power trio with guitars at the fore – that’s the band we know and love.

But that’s all we got from Holden, and Peterson and Whaley had to scramble to finish the record after Holden left. So that’s why the first half is the way it is, and why Blue Cheer moved away from their best selves.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Holden joined after Leigh Stephens left due to deafness or in protest of Peterson’s drug use. Holden left suddenly when he found he had no money as the money went to Peterson’s habit. Oh, this isn’t streaming, but the good Holden tracks are on a Blue Cheer comp that’s still around.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of extra tracks.

 GRADE C-: An A for Side Two, with Holden. You can tell what I think about the other side, and Blue Cheer going forward.

Modern English – Mesh and Lace

ARTIST: Modern English 220px-Mesh_&_Lace_cover

TITLE: Mesh and Lace

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #5 UK Indie

SINGLES: None on the album, but they’re bonus tracks.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on this one

LINEUP: Robbie Grey, Gary McDowell, Michael Conroy, Richard Brown, Stephen Walker

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Post-punk band is Joy Division-lite, all mood and atmosphere with only a few compelling tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Forming in 1979, signed by 4AD in 1980, and releasing this in 1981, Modern English were fast-tracked into the post-punk world and the Joy Division sector of that world. Their debut album contains none of their singles (I never understand this), and only a few album cuts rise to the occasion.

Atmosphere and mood are the keywords here. Everything is moody and stark and while some melodies and other parts escape, most of the time they’re hidden in the mood, whether it’s a slow or fast tempo. Also, the intros to the songs are long and tedious at times. You know, setting the mood for art and all.

If you missed this, don’t worry. Nothing here reminds me of their MTV hit. If you’re into the moody pre-goth post-punk era, indulge at your whim.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They used to be The Lepers, but changed that quickly. Also, the title cut was a B-side that didn’t make the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with singles and B-sides. Weirdly, one of the singles (“Gathering Dust” (#36 UK Indie)) starts the deluxe CD. The other singles added were “Swans on Glass” (#46 UK Indie) and “Smiles and Laughter” (#16 UK Indie).

GRADE C+: All depends on your love for moody gothy post-punk. The bonus cuts make the package much more palatable.

The Rascals – Collection

ARTIST: The (Young) Rascals 220px-Young_Rascals_Collections

TITLE: Collections

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #14

SINGLES: Come on Up (#43), I’ve Been Lonely Too Long (#16)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover a few tracks you know – the best known by them is Too Many Fish in the Sea

LINEUP: Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, Dino Danelli

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: For their second album, the (Young) Rascals write more of their songs, with mixed results – mostly from the covers.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Recorded over seven months in 1966 (in between tour dates), the Rascals (still Young Rascals at this time) moved on from garage rock towards a more soulful blend of tracks. They’re dominated by the organ of Felix Cavaliere, who also wrote the strongest tracks by the band.

Because the sessions were spread out (two singles released in 1966 – one of those actually appearing on the next album), the sound of the album doesn’t flow well. A couple tracks (“No Love to Give, a song written by guitarist Gene Cornish) were downright regrettable. Their cover of “Mickey’s Monkey” is fun, but the real gem is “Come On Up”, a raving rocker that’s their last gasp as a true garage band,

There are tracks in here that are going to be exiled, but the best are good to fantastic. Such is the album game in the 60’s.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The single “You Better Run” was released in May of 1966, but wasn’t on this album though the B-side (“Love Is a Beautiful Thing”) is.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE C+: This has some real clunkers, so pick the good ones and exile the rest.

Steppenwolf – At Your Birthday Party

ARTIST: Steppenwolf  220px-SteppenwolfAtYourBirthdayParty

TITLE: At Your Birthday Party

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #7

SINGLES: Rock Me (#10), It’s Never Too Late (#51)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Jupiter’s Child

LINEUP: John Kay, Michael Monarch, Goldy McJohn, Nick St. Nicholas, Jerry Edmonton

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The gas had run out of the Steppenwolf engine at this time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Rock Me”, an all-time classic, was released on the Candy soundtrack, and became a big hit with a great B-side in “Jupiter’s Child”. But when it came time to create a new album, John Kay was almost tapped out of tunes. Kay only wrote or co-wrote two other tracks (which are the best of the rest) and the others came from producer Gabriel Mekler and other band members.

Kay didn’t even sing on some of the tracks. Bassist Nick St. Nicholas and guitarist Michael Monarch had their turns at the mic, and, well, Kay was much missed. There were a couple of throw away short trackss, a country spoof, a couple of horrible ballads, and basic tomfoolery in the studio.

The band regrouped a bit the next year, with a great single and a good protest record, but this killed the momentum of the band for the most part. It was half-crap and the fans knew it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Monarch left the band a few months after this came out.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE C-: Had “Rock Me” and “Jupiter’s Child” not been here, it definitely would have been a “D”…

Stone Temple Pilots – Core

ARTIST: Stone Temple Pilots 220px-Stonetemplepilotscore

TITLE: Core

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION: #3 US, #27 UK

SINGLES: Sex Type Thing (#23 Mainstream, #55 UK), Dead & Bloated, Crackerman, Plush (#9 Alternative, #1 Mainstream, #23 UK), Creep (#12 Alternative, #2 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Wicked Garden

LINEUP: Scott Weiland, Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, Eric Kretz

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Hard rock (not really grunge, fight me) debut is rather clunky and meatheaded.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The debut record from the Stone Temple Pilots was more hard rock than most 1992 releases – it was more in the vein of a turgid Guns ‘n” Roses – but it really wasn’t grunge in that there wasn’t a lot of punk influence.

Turgid is the name. “Dead and Bloated” was the lead track, and it’s apt. Except for a few select tracks, they live in the mid-tempo sludge with angsty and / or sexist lyrics. “Sex Type Thing” was defended to the hilt as Scott Weiland playing a character, but…it’s too personal and close to home to be an effective character piece.

“Creep”, while a big hit, is the worst offender. It doesn’t GO anywhere. I always flipped it off the radio back in the day, and it hasn’t improved with age.

STP wasn’t really part of the grunge scene, and this album isn’t exciting or subversive at all. Yawn.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They opened for Henry Rollins at their first gig in San Diego.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Demos and live cuts in a huge package.

 GRADE C: The 90’s ‘revolution’ ran aground right as it began when it embraced this record.

The Human League – Reproduction

ARTIST: The Human League 220px-Human-League-Reproduction

TITLE: Reproduction

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #34 UK

SINGLES: Empire State Human (#62)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover You Lost That Loving Feeling

LINEUP: Maryn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh, Philip Oakey.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Electropop synth group releases tentative album featuring their synthy doodling.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a couple of years of noodling around as The Future, The Human League changed their name, recorded a single and then their first record as a trio. The goal was to expand electronic pop to the charts while remaining experimental.

Sure, Jan.

While “Empire State Human” was kind of successful, the rest of the record seemed lacking in hooks, or excitement, or really any experimentation that wasn’t already out there in the world. The lyrics are also daft and too arty.

Blah in the first degree except for a couple of high notes on a few tracks.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They released a single before this (“Being Boiled / Circus of Death”) and re-recorded the latter for this album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. The first single, a B-side, and a quite boring instrumental EP.

GRADE C: If you’re into non-poppy electropop, be my guest.

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.