Supertramp – Breakfast in America

ARTIST: Supertramp 220px-Supertramp_-_Breakfast_in_America

TITLE: Breakfast in America

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: The Logical Song (#6 US, #7 UK), Breakfast in America (#62 US, #9 UK), Goodbye Stranger (#15 US, #57 UK), Take the Long Way Home (#10 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Gone Hollywood

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After two sub-par albums following their breakthrough (to be covered in the compilation I will cover), Supertramp hit it out of the proverbial park.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Since their breakout in 1974, Supertramp had released two albums that didn’t light the world on fire, critically or commercially. While it wasn’t desperation as it was for Crime of the Century, it was possible that they were going to fade away if they didn’t release another successful record.

Well, consider this a success.

With four singles that are still played on rock stations, and well known by most everyone over 40 (maybe 30?), and deep cuts that are memorable without being ponderous or pretentious (for the most part), Breakfast in America is the album they needed, and probably their all-time legacy in music history.

Three of the four hits were anchored by Roger Hodgson’s falsetto voice, but the instrument that comes to fore is the electric piano of Rick Davies. The two also collaborate on vocals more (even though every song is credited to one or the other solely), making it seem like a true band effort. The rest of the group also add color and chops to the proceeding.

They didn’t throw away their prog tendencies (which does make some cuts linger a bit too long), and after their last two albums this was a welcome comeback to form where hooks and chops co-mingled.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, the record was conceived as a discussion between Hodgson and Davies, but that was scrapped very early on.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE A: It’s really an enduring album with just a few tracks that seem to linger a bit long, but it wouldn’t be proggy if it didn’t have those, would it?

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

ARTIST: Supertramp  220px-Supertramp_-_Crime_of_the_Century

TITLE: Crime of the Century

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #38 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Dreamer (#13 UK), Bloody Well Right (#35 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Crime of the Century

LINEUP: Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Anthony Helliwell, Dougie Thompson, Bob Siebenberg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Struggling prog band finds some pop chops, and a little humor, and gets a hit record that sustains a long career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the dribs and drabs of their first two albums (on comps), Supertramp had talent. Leaders Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson had their musical ideas (always different) but in reality the band wasn’t that much different than in their hit making phase.

This one, coming out in 1974, was basically their last chance. It was their last chance for good, as their original financial backer pulled out and A&M were going to lose patience if this one stiffed. Davies and Hodgson replaced the rest of the band, improved their songwriting, and threw in some humor and hooks along with their progressive and arty pieces. There wasn’t a lot of noodling – at least not as much as before.

Some songs do linger a bit too long, but a better and more sympathetic band helped out the songwriters. This record really introduced Supertramp to the world, and over the next decade (give or take) they were one of the bastions of popular progressive rock.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first two records aren’t streaming, and really are for uber-completists only.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live set.

GRADE B: The deep cuts kind of ramble along, but the well-known songs are the ones that helped their career take a leap.

Blink 182 – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Blink-182 220px-Blink-182_-_Greatest_Hits_cover

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #6 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: Top 20: Dammit (#11 Alternative), What’s My Age Again (#58 US, #2 Alternative, #17 UK), All the Small Things (#6 US, #1 Alternative, #2 UK), Adam’s Song (#101 US, #2 Alternative), Man Overboard (#117 US, #2 Alternative), The Rock Show (#71 US, #2 Alternative, #14 UK), First Date (#106 US, #6 Alternative, #31 UK), Feeling This (#102 US, #2 Alternative, #15 UK), Stay Together for the Kids (#116 US, #7 Alternative, #117 UK), I Miss You (#42 US, #1 Alternative, #8 UK), Down (#10 Alternative, #24 UK), Not Now (#18 Alternative, #30 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If you knew more, you wouldn’t need a comp

LINEUP: Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker. Scott Raynor drummed on their first two albums and you can tell why they 86’d him.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power pop punk was a hit making machine for a few years in the early 2000’s, but in retrospect were just a bit derivative and vapid.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: One notable thing about this collection is that it doesn’t ignore their two pre-hit albums. You hear right away the germination of their sound, and why they had to get rid of their original drummer.

But that sound, a power-pop crossed with punk hybrid with lyrics about early 20’s angst, was only good when they had hooky choruses that almost made you forget that some of the lyrics were hackneyed. As they grew more ambitious, and branched for a few chords and a hook, they got less interesting. When they stayed in their lane, it seemed like they were constrained and just repeated themselves. Their limitations boxed them in.

Yet it’s not without its charms. Blink-182 had a lot of charisma and fun in them and on occasion they satisfy. But over a long collection, their flaws become more apparent.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was released after their first breakup. Since rock never dies, they’ve been reunited a couple of times.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: This is one of two collections. The later stuff isn’t compiled, yet, and it doesn’t seem it would enhance anything. There are bonus UK and Japanese tracks for this, though.

 GRADE B: A collection like this is probably your safest bet for the Blink-182 experience overall. Still, it feels like you’re hearing either the same song over and over, or a different band that doesn’t know how to vary from a sound.

Sly & the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

ARTIST: Sly & the Family Stone  220px-Slyfamstone-dance

TITLE: Dance to the Music

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION:  #142

SINGLES: Dance to the Music (#8 US, #9 R&B, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Higher (the original version, not the hit)

LINEUP: Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Larry Graham, Rose Stone, Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini, Gregg Errico. The group Little Sister did some backing vocals as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: “Hits, we need hits!” While they weren’t a fan of it at first, they found a formula that combined their egalitarian vocal arrangements, the upbeat politics, and their funky grooves and it struck gold. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: First, you keep the peace and love lyrics, but then add each member getting a solo turn on vocals and / or their instrument, and keep the funky beat while making the record swing and radio ready. “Dance to the Music” was the result of their first experiment with that, and it was a smash success.

While there were some kinks to work out (the material wasn’t consistent and the medley at the end of side one kind of is a filler riffing on the single for the most part), the joyous nature of the songs and arrangement shine through.

It’s still not the place to start with this important band, but you can’t get the entire experience by compilations. Their albums from here until the mid-70’s were important culturally, as they reflected the optimism and the reality of the times.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sister Rose Stone joined the band, and everyone joined in on ‘vocal improvisations’.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some B-sides and stuff left on the cutting room floor.

GRADE B+: Yeah, there’s some filler here, but there’s some funky joy here and it points them toward their creative peaks.

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.

Strawbs – Halcyon Days

ARTIST: Strawbs  Halcyon_days_uk

TITLE: Halcyon Days

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: Lay Down (#12 UK), Part of the Union (#2 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Their albums charted here but really it was a select crowd.

LINEUP: Dave Cousins was the constant. Tony Hooper was his foil until 1973 or so. Dave Lambert, Ron Chesterman, John Ford, Chas Cronk, Richard Hudson, Ron Coombes, Rick Wakeman (yup!), Blue Weaver, and  John Hawken all appeared at some point.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Fantastic, if not overwhelming, collection from a UK band that straddled folk, psychedelic, prog, and glam (a bit). Leader Dave Cousins had a knack for melody and lyrics that allowed for various instrumentations and arrangements.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Strawbs started in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1969 that they got their first record deal and immediately gained a foothold in the UK in the folky / psychedelic / prog lane, near the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and some of the earlier Yes records. But they weren’t easy to pin down, as their sound evolved with the various band members coming through the group.

The constant was Dave Cousins, who had serious songwriting gifts. His songs were complex and led themselves to various arrangements. Sometimes they were long and pastoral meditations, some were suites in line with the progressive bands of the time (like King Crimson in the early 70’s) and then sometimes they were in step with the synth / mellotron / guitar progressive rock of the mid-70’s.

For those not knowing about them, it is a bit much to bite off at once, especially if you don’t think you’re totally on board. But just a few tracks (like the opener “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus”) should make you a believer on some level.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Sandy Dennis was in the band for a bit in 1967, and Rick Wakeman was on three albums before he decamped to Yes.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There are two versions, as the band differentiated between US and UK markets with their promotion The US version has tracks in chronological order, and this approach makes sense. The UK version is scattered, and has several different tracks (and three not streaming – probably due to issues with Rick Wakeman’s contract). They also have solo work from Cousins and the UK version has tracks from spin off group Hudson Ford.

 GRADE B+: There’s some impressive stuff here that everyone should like, but most of it is probably great for prog fans and not so much for those who don’t dig that scene.

Shoes – Black Vinyl Shoes

ARTIST: Shoes  R-4444570-1365064987-9145.jpeg

TITLE: Black Vinyl Shoes

YEAR RELEASED: 1977

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Power pop mavens only

LINEUP: John Murphy, Jeff Murphy, Gary Klebe, Skip Murphy

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Indie before indie. Three friends from Zion, IL decided to form a band, and after three years released this on their own label selling it via mail order. It was then picked up by an established indie label, and the buzz started! R-5062814-1383492565-7635.jpeg

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you weren’t punk rock, you didn’t do what the Shoes did. They decided to form a band, went away for a year to learn instruments, brought in a drummer, recorded two acetates, then after 3 ½ years released this collection on their own label. They recorded in their own studio and did everything themselves, until PVC / Jem picked them up.

What do we have then? Polished power pop, with hooks and great choruses. The three principals (the Murphy brothers and Klebe) all sing in a similar airy, breathy way and harmonize well. For 1977 / 1978, the music press was gushing about this record, as an alternative to staid corporate rock and toward the promise of what Big Star and the Raspberries held a few years before.

And yes, there’s some resemblance to the Cars. But the Cars were local in Boston at this point without a record deal. The mined the same lode for their sounds, that’s all.

As a listener now, you get a sense that the band was almost ready to escape Zion, IL and go national. They crammed 15 tracks onto two sides of vinyl, and while this isn’t as consistently good as their major label records that would follow, it’s fairly amazing that kids from a Chicago suburb (almost Wisconsin) could do this all themselves without any help in the 70’s. R-2886208-1406157665-3279.jpeg

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded two other albums before this – an acetate for the four of them, and a 300 count pressing that occurred when Klebe was in France.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B+: You can sometimes tell this is in a home studio, if you really want to pick nits, but it’s pretty impressive record and got them noticed.

The Ohio Express – The Best of the Ohio Express

ARTIST: The Ohio Express R-3041990-1313008318.jpeg

TITLE: The Best of the Ohio Express

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Yummy Yummy Yummy (#4 US, #6 UK), Down at Lulu’s (#33 US), Chewy Chewy (#15 US), Sweeter than Sugar (#96 US), Mercy (#30 US), Pinch Me (Baby Convince Me) (#99 US), Sausalito (Is the Place to Go) (#86 US), Cowboy Convention (#101 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, I doubt it.

LINEUP: Joey Levine is the vocalist you know on their hits. 10cc stood in later (yep). There was a ‘real’ band that was featured on a few cuts their first album (second album?), sent off to tour, and were never seen again in the studio.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of best known Kasenetz–Katz ‘bands’ had a real band going around touring, but they didn’t play on any of their hit singles, which were radio gold..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Kasenetz-Katz production empire was nothing if not efficient. The Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Music Explosion, and others relied on session musicians, shared backing tracks, and even the same songs released on the others B-sides. R-3556232-1335122443.jpeg (1)

Despite “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy”, their other singles were better than the usual bubblegum fare. They had hooks galore and crack session players and the unique Joey Levine voice. When Levine left the production company due to a dispute (it’s always about the money) they drafted others in, like the masterminds behind 10cc, to keep up the groups appearance until the bubblegum fad faded.

Don’t try out their albums, since they really focused on singles, and the few cuts that the actual bad played on are gunky. They focused on the A-sides so much the B-sides were instrumentals, or songs run backwards.

This is damn fine pop candy for those inclined. Or, gum, I guess. Bubble Yum?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The origins of the name and band Ohio Express are wild. Basically the ‘first’ album was patched together after the Kasenetz-Katz team bought a few songs and rebranded them Ohio Express from the Rare Breed, and then had others record stuff to fill it out, then found another group to become the Ohio Express for album two.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but there are other comps with different tracks. Beware of re-recordings. And seek out the original “Cowboy Convention” on comps that are not streaming.

 GRADE B-: I mean, it’s pop fluff, but it’s tasty. I can’t help it.

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.