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.

Cliff Richard – 40 Golden Greats

ARTIST: Cliff Richard  40-Golden-Greats-Cliff-Richard

TITLE: 40 Golden Greats

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  #1 UK

SINGLES: All of ‘em, and most all were huge in the UK

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Well, only three tracks here were Top 40 hits in the US. You tell me.

LINEUP: Cliff Richard and the Shadows and others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Without Cliff Richard, the UK rock scene would be a totally different world.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Cliff Richard could rock, croon, swing, sing country, and do almost anything he was asked to do in the 50’s and 60’s, and his success in the UK and then Europe was incredible. He had 34 Top 10 UK hits in the 60’s and almost as many in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway.

His backing band, the Shadows, was almost as famous, and for an early rock-and-roll combo they’re one of the best. But they didn’t always use them, as many of tracks (such as his second US hit “It’s All in the Game”) used an orchestra instead of rock.

The fact that he never made real inroads in the US until the mid-70’s is a mystery, but that’s what happened. As the 60’s moved on, he fell behind the times, and went more into a vocal pop direction (and recorded Eurovision songs). So this 40 track extravaganza (ending in 1977) may be a bit much for casual fans, but any rock fan can find several nuggets for your collection

 NOTES & MINUTIAE: This collection doesn’t have a few of his bigger late 70’s and early 80’s hits, and those are found on their respective albums.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Isn’t 40 enough?

GRADE B: It’s a lot to bite off, and there’s schmaltz and treacle, but he’s an important and historical rock figure.

Del Shannon – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Del Shannon R-3844037-1363413923-3560.jpeg

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Runaway (#1 US, #1 UK), Hats Off to Larry (#5 US, #6 UK), So Long Baby (#28 US, #10 UK), Hey! Little Girl (#38 US, #2 UK), The Swiss Maid (#62 US, #2 UK), Little Town Flirt (#12 US, #4 UK), Two Kinds of Teardrops (#50 US, #5 UK), Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun) (##9 US, #3 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Stranger in Town, Handy Man, Do You Wanna Dance

LINEUP: Del Shannon and session players. Max Crook was the inventor and player of the Musitron, which gave Shannon’s records that neat keyboard sound.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An unlikely pop star for the early 60’s, as he was almost 27 and wrote his own songs, Shannon deserved more accolades for his entire work, but Runaway is still an all-timer.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Del Shannon met Max Crook in 1959, and together the two changed rock music for good in 1961 when they struck gold with “Runaway” featuring Crook’s Musitron as a lead instrument. The Musitron was arguably a synthesizer and that keyboard sound helped widen the sound of music besides simple piano or organ.

Besides “Runaway”, Shannon had a decent pre-Beatlemania career in the US, and a longer stretch of hits in the UK (where the Beatles were big fans). But as time went along, Shannon fell out of favor despite embracing psychedelic pop for a couple of fine late 60’s records.

This collection has all of the early 60’s high points and shows that Shannon’s songwriting had some depth (even if the Musitron solos all were similar in his early stuff), with the only nit to pick was the anonymous and very white female backup singers. He later had alcohol and depression issues, and took his life in his mid 50’s even as he was being considered to replace Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He was the first US artist to cover the Beatles, as his version of “From Me to You” which hit #77 in the US (and was the flip to a hit in the UK).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The Rhino version isn’t streaming, but there is one streaming that adds on three later songs instead of the final three tracks. You take what you can get.

 GRADE B+: “Runaway” is an all-timer, and some of his other hits are must have for your collection.

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.

Blackfoot – Strikes

ARTIST: Blackfoot 220px-Blackfoot_-_Strikes

TITLE: Strikes

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #42

SINGLES: Highway Song (#26), Train Train (#38)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover songs by Spirit, Blues Image and Free

LINEUP: Rickey Medlocke, Charlie Hargrett, Greg T. Walker, Jason Spires. Pat McCaffrey plays keyboards. Donna Davis, Pamela Vincent, and Cynthia Douglas sing backup Shorty Medlocke and Cub Koda play harmonica.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After many years and two failed albums, Southern rockers finally get some success.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Before this album came out, Blackfoot had been together off-and-on since the early 70’s, and had recorded two basically unheard albums in the mid-70’s. Leader Ricky Medlocke’s grandfather wrote “Train Train” and added the harmonica beginning which became the touchstone track for the band.

With only one other hit single to their credit (“Highway Song”), you’d be surprised that this album isn’t…bad at all. They cover three tracks that fit their style and the other originals aren’t slap-dash either.  What is odd that the two hits are the last two tracks on the album, with “Highway Song’ extended to 7 ½ minutes (the 70’s man). But you know, whatever. The production and the embellishments with the female backing vocals and some keyboards keep this away from strict guitar boogie.

Southern rock was waning, and Blackfoot was one of the last ones that carried the banner of that genre (along with .38 Special). While this isn’t award winning, for those who like that Southern rock type of boogie, you could do worse.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The last name of Rickey and Shorty was actually Medlock, but Shorty added the “e” and his grandson followed.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE B: For a band that’s kind of an afterthought (and looked down upon at times), this is decent enough to keep around.

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.

Dokken – The Best of Dokken

ARTIST: Dokken 220px-BestOfDokken

TITLE: Best of Dokken

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Breaking the Chains (#32 Mainstream), Into the Fire (#21 Mainstream), Alone Again (#64 US, #20 Mainstream), Just Got Lucky (#27 Mainstream), The Hunter (#25 Mainstream), In My Dreams (#77 US, #24 Mainstream), Dream Warriors (#22 Mainstream), Burning Like a Flame (#72 US, #20 Mainstream #78 UK), Walk Away (#48 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Tooth and Nail

LINEUP: Don Dokken, George Lynch, Mick Brown, Jeff Pilson. Juan Croucier was in the band early on before he bolted for Ratt.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pop metal band had one deadly weapon in George Lynch, and screwed it up with inane lyrics and songwriting.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Oh, Dokken. You listen to them, and some things rouse you, and then, there are things that make you cringe. Now, pop / glam metal wasn’t the genre where wordsmiths went, but Don Dokken was not one to eschew clichés when presented with lyric writing issues. “Burning Like a Flame”? Please.

This collecton covers their first era, before their inevitable reunions and long time cash grabs. MTV made the band as it showcased their perfect locks and good looks, but as for the music, Lynch aside, it was damn generic, at best.

Dokken does have some decent riffs in their songs, but most of their tracks are mid-tempo sing alongs or love songs that appeal to 8th graders.

 NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their first record was released in Europe in 1981, then released in the US after some doctoring in 1983.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE C: I gave it a whirl, but I didn’t like them then and I really don’t like them now.

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.