My Morning Jacket’s Soulful Experiment

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As I was coming to the decision to retire from coaching forever, I discovered a new musical group that helped me through that time. The band I discovered was My Morning Jacket, a Louisville, Kentucky based jam band whose third album, Z, had just been released. As I listened to that album, I came away convinced that this band could be the worthy heir to the mantle vacated by my beloved The Band way back in 1977 when they called it quits. So, I was very excited to hear MMJ’s next album.

8.30 MMJ - Evil Urges

Early in the Summer of 2008, my MMJ wish came true, as they released their fourth album, Evil Urges. But, I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. In place of the Americana-ish sound of Z, I was hearing a band attempting to incorporated more R&B touches to their sound. Here I was, in 2008, listening to an actual band that could play their instruments challenging the notion of their sound through some expansion of it.

8.30 SNL-MyMorningJacket

In the past, where the band would lean on a Lynyrd Skynyrd-type jam sound, now I was hearing a sprinkling of late-Eighties Prince here and a touch of current EDM there. In other words, I felt I was listening to one of the greatest albums of all-time. The problem is that all of the greatest albums of all-time, except for maybe Radiohead’s Kid A, is anchored by one great single. Well, MMJ’s Evil Urges has that in spades with “I’m Amazed”. To this day, the song remains one of my eternal favorites. “I’m Amazed” has a nice little groove to it, but, in the middle, the band unleashes a hot guitar solo, followed by a nod to the Seventies with a near ending that undoubtedly would leave the band room to jam. It is a progressive song that has its feet firmly stuck in the Seventies roots of the Eagles.

8.30 mmj - im amazed

But, “I’m Amazed” is not the only great song on the album. No, the very next song on the album, “Thank You Too!”, is a ballad that reminds me of those yearning ballads from the mid-Seventies that made you wish you were slow dancing with that special someone. The music has a natural sway to it, much like the dancing you can picture yourself doing in the summer during your teens.

Two other songs stand out to me, “Sec Walking” and “Librarian”, either of which would make for fantastic Daryl Hall & John Oates Seventies songs. But keep in mind, where Hall & Oates would tighten the songs into pop perfection, MMJ have left space for either song to be developed into jam band grounds.

Evil Urges made me a fan of My Morning Jacket. Unfortunately, the band has moved on from their R&B experimentation. If I could compare this album to another band’s album, it would have to be Queen’s Hot Space, in that both bands used these albums to successfully incorporate R&B into their sound. In both cases, I loved the outcomes.

8.30 My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket will continue to be one of America’s great bands of the 21st century. But, I feel like that should not have left that R&B-thing behind so quickly. To these ears, My Morning Jacket’s masterpiece is Evil Urges.

I’d Like To Introduce You To The Rubinoos

8.29 the rubinoos

Oh crap! Here goes Keller again, going to rattle on ad nauseum about some band we’ve never heard of. I mean, come on Scott! Just write about those bands WE know, like REO or Bon Jovi. Well, yes, I could very well do that, but where’s the fun in writing about a ’70s journeyman band that finely made good with one huge selling album a couple of years after they wrote their true masterpiece. Or, I could write about that New Jersey band which took the Springsteen sound, stripped it down to its pop essence, then decorated their songs in some pop-metal trappings, laughing all the way to the bank. But, noooooooo! I want to write about some little-known Californian band that released two classic power pop albums in the late 1970s who went by the commercially repugnant name of The Rubinoos.

8.29 the rubinoos the rubinoos8.29 the rubinoos i think we're alone now

The Rubinoos first came to my attention back in 1977 when they “played” the new “hit” song, a cover version of the Tommy James & the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”. The song stuck in my conscience for a very long time because once in a great while I would discover the song on a CD compilation in the 1990s. But, the big coup occurred when I was out visiting Graham & his lovely wife Kaitlyn in the Wilkes-Barre area this past Independence Day weekend. Graham, Seth and I had a Kellers’ Men Day Out by going to Graham’s favorite record. In and amongst our discoveries, I had found copies of the band’s now classic first two albums: The Rubinoos (1977) and Back to the Drawing Board (1979). Imagine my excitement as I had been on the hunt for these two used albums for a dollar a piece.

the rubinoos back to the drawing board8.29 the rubinoos i think we're alone now

Those albums were the first two I played after we got back from our trip. But, as I played them, I was transported back to those late-Seventies summer days when AM radio was still somewhat important. The Rubinoos were just a step beyond Shaun Cassiday, but not quite as the dirty rocking sound that The Knack quickly made popular by The Knack in 1979 or The Romantics in 1980. Still, The Rubinoos provided an important stepping stone in the Power Pop continuum. (Shoot, even Cassiday recorded a Power Pop classic with Todd Rundgren in 1980, but that’s another story!)

First, their cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” opened the door to late-Seventies California Power Pop scene that was burgeoning at the time. Once the record companies had poked open a hole into the bands’ area, the scene was ready to explode. Following The Rubinoos and The Knack, we got classic albums over the next decade from The Plimsouls, The Bangles, The Go-Go’s, The Long Ryders, The Greg Kihn Band, The Three O’Clock and Jellyfish, to name a few.

Now, The Rubinoos have only achieved cult status like most power pop bands. Still, there is a fairly large group of power pop aficionados all around the world like myself, who will write about these partially-know bands in the hopes of piquing the interest of others to seek out these bands.

All I know is that Power Pop brings to me a sunny disposition, which when you are suffering from chronic pain can only help your outlook. By the way, The Rubinoos are together and still releasing relevant Power Pop music. As a matter of fact, some critics even believe that the band’s more recent releases are some of their best music. Me? Personally, I find the new stuff much like I find the new stuff of all classic band. Their new material is very workman-like, but lacks the naivety and youthful enthusiasm of those original two albums. Still, the new stuff is better than much of what is currently being released. So, raise a glass to The Rubinoos, one of the original inductees in the relatively new Power Pop Hall of Fame.

More Than Rap-Metal: It’s A Shame Faith No More Didn’t Catch On

8.26 Faith No More

C’mon! Y’all remember the great band Faith No More that popped into our collective consciousness back in 1989 and 1990. They had that fluke hit “Epic” in 1990, back when my older son was in kindergarten. It always seemed as though after picking him up from school at noon, the first video played on MTV when we got back was “Epic”. And, I remember him laughing as the fish flopped around in slow motion in the video, which of course set off the PETA people. Whatever it was about that song, I knew I had to hear the album.

8.26 The_Real_Thing_album_cover

For me, the early Nineties represented the moment when I finally was going to transition from vinyl to digital CDs. So, my second CD purchase was this Faith No More album entitled The Real Thing. Now, if you go by “Epic”, you are expecting to hear music that is somewhat following the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ funk-rock-rap amalgamation, only with a metal guitar driving the songs. After all, that’s what “Epic” was. Plus, while reading the back cover, I discovered the band was covering Black Sabbath’ “War Pigs”. I thought, “Cool! A little war protest as tensions in the Middle East were ratcheting up.”

8.26 faithnomore-epic

So, I was expecting a headbanging half hour or so of a new form of metal. What I got was mind-blowing. Sure, this band could play metal with the likes of Metallica or Anthrax, but there was much more to them. These guys played a variety of music. Being musically eclectic myself, I loved the album. But, guessing by the number of copies of this CD at the used music shops, a majority of people did not enjoy the musical variety of metal, alternative and pop.

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So, in 1992, Faith No More’s new album, Angel Dust, was released to much expectation. The critics were falling all over themselves to praise this album as one of the finest of the year. The critics loved that no one could truthfully pigeonhole the band into one simply category. They continued to produce highly stylized music videos, that the critics loved as well. Unfortunately, while Angel Dust is an outstanding album, and quite possibly one of the Nineties Greatest Overlooked Albums, the band did not write a compelling and catchy hit song like “Epic”. And, just as quickly as the band rose to prominence, just watch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey to see what kind of white hot impact the band had initially made, the band was forgotten. Which was a shame, because they continued to create another couple of great hiatus, before disbanding.

8.26 FNM Bill -n- Ted

Last year, Faith No More reunited to produce their first album in nearly twenty years, Sol Invictus. The album continued in their established sound of pop/metal/rap/funk/rock mixture. And, once again, the critics hailed the album, only to watch it fade away quickly as it came.

In retrospect, Faith No More is too talented for its own good. They create all forms of music, even making great and honest covers of the Commodores’ classic ballad “Easy” or the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke”. Go back and check out the OTHER Faith No More songs to get an idea of what I am talking about. I think you’ll see that they are one of the more underappreciated bands in history.

Does Anyone Remember Queen’s ‘Hot Space’ Album?

8.24 Queen_Hot_Space

Hello friends! It’s been a while for me. In the words of my beloved grandmother, “I’ve been ill.” But, I’m back and ready to write again, though for some of you, this hiatus was not long enough.

In 1980 and 1981, the rock band Queen was arguably the most popular band in the world, based on the performance of their number one album The Game, which also yielded the band’s first number one songs: the rockabilly “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the rock-disco hybrid “Another One Bites the Dust”, whose bassline had many similarities to Chic’s “Good Times” (and subsequently, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”). And after releasing seven rocking albums, most with the following disclaimer printed on their covers, “Made with no synthesizers”, Queen decided for some reason to kick off the Eighties by finally using synthesizers. For the most part, as a huge Queen fan at the time, I felt a little betrayed until I listened to The Game and heard how tastefully the band had incorporated the sound of the future into their rocking sound.

Still, there was an undercurrent on this record that I could not put my finger on. Yes, Queen were still rocking AND producing fantastic hit songs that were bordering on anthemic, like usual. But, there was something that I could not quite figure out about their music on The Game. So, I simply decided to enjoy the album. During the summer of 1980, I finally got to see my heroes in concert, and they did not disappoint. They even played a new song they were about to release for the first time in concert, “Another One Bites the Dust”. I just remember how the song brought the house down that night.

Later on in 1980, Queen released a soundtrack to the cheesy movie Flash Gordon. The album was all awash in synthesizers, but the band still managed to squeeze out a classic song in “Flash”. But, most Queen fans simply brushed off that soundtrack as a moment in time during which they could produce noncommercial songs using instruments that were foreign to them in order to create sci-fi sounds that would fit the movie.

8.24 Queen_&_David_Bowie_-_Under_Pressure

In 1981, Queen released their first greatest hits package. On that album, fans were treated to a dream match-up as the four lads in Queen worked with the one and only David Bowie to create a second masterpiece single called “Under Pressure”. We all know that Queen’s signature song will always be “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But, “Under Pressure” should have prepared us for what was going to happen on their next album, but NO ONE in the States were ready for what Queen dropped on us in the Spring of 1982.

Now, remember, a couple of things were happening in music at that moment of time. First, MTV was just beginning to realize its power as new wave and dance songs were becoming hits. The other was that dance music was HUGE in Europe. I kept reading about this dance music but was not really putting it together with the new wave music being released at the time. At that moment, Freddie Mercury was diving into the dance scene, while John Deacon was hanging out with black artists such as Michael Jackson, Nile Rodgers, among others. Even the band’s resident rockers, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, were indulging in the burgeoning European dance scene. So, what happened, in retrospect, was the most Queen-like thing to happen: make a record that displayed these new sounds in the “Queen” context. In that way, Hot Space may be the MOST Queen album Queen ever produced, since the band still maintained their heart, sense of humor AND musicality in the process.

8.24 Queen Hot Space Tour 19828.24 Queen Hot Space Tour 1982 Back

Hot Space has been written off as the album that killed Queen’s career in the States. Personally, I really don’t think Queen was thinking about the US (bite your tongue Keller!). They were looking at what was popular throughout the world and incorporated it, warts and all, into this album. Come on, go back and listen to it and remember that in a short six months we would all be dancing to the rock-dance music being released by Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (1999) and Duran Duran (Rio). They were simply ahead of the curve. Plus, they underestimated just how conservative the ears of the U.S. had become. If Queen had just delayed the album by a year, history would have been rewritten and Hot Space would be held in higher esteem.

8.24 hot-space-live-concert-1982

Unfortunately, history is what it is. In 1984, Queen did bounce back a bit here with The Works. But, the damage had been done, and American radio was done with new Queen music. You know, I saw Queen during the summer of 1982 for their Hot Space North American Tour. The same arena I had just witnessed them sell out two summers earlier was only three-quarters full this time. Yet, the band was even better in 1982. Go figure.

Hey, go back and listen to Hot Space and tell me what you think now that the album is 30+ years old. Re-evaluate it. Why not do that with your whole collection! Some of our favorites really haven’t aged well (God save me, but Rush’s Signals, another 1982 release, is awash in synths but lacks the humanity of Queen’s Hot Space!).

Do You Have Any Frampton With That Tide?

Peter Frampton
Peter Frampton will perform his entire seminal album, along with other highlights from his Grammy-winning career, on Aug. 27 at Riverside Casino. (Peter Frampton photo)

Remember when the great Mike Myers character said these words in Wayne’s World II:

If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide.”

I hope you remember what album he was talking about to Cassandra. It was one of the albums that I associate with the Summer of 1976, and there were several. Wayne was talking about Peter Frampton’s classic live double album Frampton Comes Alive. Now, being the oldest offspring in my house where I was the only one really getting into music, I thought ALL live albums were going to be rowdy affairs, much live KISS Alive! was just last year. Little did I know that until I was over at the neighbors’ home listening to albums, when the oldest daughter, Kim, put on this very album. I remember making my hyperactive body calm down long enough to listen to the first side, since it had “Show Me the Way”, and I loved that song.

Well, to be honest, I only kind of liked it. That’s it. Just kind of. I liked “Show Me the Way” because it put me in a calm place to run distance. I wasn’t always good at pacing, and that’s what Frampton Comes Alive is all about…pacing. I understand that now as an adult, who is no longer physically hyperactive due to chronic back pain and spasms. Now, I can see the attractiveness of this Frampton album in that you can kick back on a summer’s night, open the windows to the house, crank up the speakers, drink some wine and let Frampton’s tunes take you away as the sun sets. It all makes sense now 40 years later.

I did eventually buy this album for the first time back in the early 2000s, since Tide was no longer handing out copies of it. Oh, sure, some smart-ass bought the 8-track tape for me back when it was popular, but I barely listened to it. Right now, I am listening to it, and it seems to be putting me to sleep. Of course, that could be do to the medicine change that I got yesterday in my pain pump. I didn’t have a concentration change or anything like that, but I still feel wiped out after getting some fresh meds in my pump.

8.11 frampton talk box

Okay, enough of my random pain references! You came here for the music talk. Personally, I think that Frampton Comes Alive can be summed up in one word: talkbox. You know, that crazy guitar piece that runs a tube, and thus your breath/voice through your guitar to get that crazy sound that everyone thought was so futuristic back in 1976. And, Frampton only used it on one song, “Do You Feel Like We Do”. I have to admit, I still love hearing it on the radio, but I even know what it is used for by the DJ – to go to the restroom. We had several 10- to 15-minute songs that we used for bathroom breaks. For me, this was my personal favorite one to use. The key to playing this song on your high school radio station is that you HAVE to let the talkbox section play, which means all 14 minutes and 15 seconds of the song will be played.

The other highlight for me on this album was “Baby, I Love Your Way”. And I want Frampton’s version, not that semi-reggae version that was popular in the late-80s as a medley with Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. That thing was sacrilege. No, Frampton’s version was fantastic during the summer of 1976 for slow dancing at the summer dances that were held at the gymnastics center in town. Or, as my youngest son would call it, great for a “big make-out session.”

8.11 frampton im in you

So, does anyone remember how Peter Frampton followed up this live album? Well, his label, A&M, wanted to focus on the fact that the man was blessed with great looks, so they went the superficial route and tried to make him into a teen idol. The problem was that the man was blessed as a guitarist, and that ability needed to be on display. So, what we got with his next, highly anticipated album I’m in You was an uneven mess of teen idol crap (though don’t let anyone fool you! “I’m in You” really is a good song! And, I stand by that statement!) and a semi-rocking display of Frampton’s guitar prowess. And, although that album I’m in You was a big seller, it was not critically acclaimed nor well liked.

8.11 frampton in sgt pepper

So, how did Peter get back on the right track? Well, he was signed to join the Bee Gees in bringing The Beatles’ songs to life on the silver screen in the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Frampton was to play Billy Shears, the dude who was the lead singer of the Lonely Hearts Club Band. Once again, his management was trying to play upon his looks. Of course, the movie flopped. But, somehow the Bee Gees came out of the fiasco unscathed, while Frampton’s career was essentially over. And, even though he released albums, little was heard from him until he went on tour as David Bowie’s guitarist on Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour of 1986-87. That move brought Frampton some musical respect back for his playing, and word had that Peter was enjoying being in the background of his old friend’s stage show.

8.11 peter frampton

To this day, Frampton is more remembered for his musicianship than his stupid teen idol image that was laid upon him. He is a well respected guitarist in the music world. And Frampton Comes Alive continues to sell well, though nothing like it did during the Spring and Summer of 1976, and nothing when compared to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. But, at least Frampton got his respect back! And, for one short moment in rock history Frampton was more than alive, he was it.

Which Is The More Important Export From Sweden: IKEA Or Abba? It’s Gotta Be Abba, Of Course.

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It was August, at the tail end of the summer before I became a big, bad sixth grader at the middle school campus in my hometown. Little League baseball had ended a good three weeks ago, and my dad thought that I should run Cross Country in order to get in shape for Basketball. Since Dad had been a varsity coach, I began to develop a routine in order to become successful in that sport. Dad had been a good baseball and basketball player when he was in high school, so I listened to him.Sports were my life, and that really did not change until after I became a chronic pain sufferer.

So, Dad being Coach Dad told me that I ought to run a little bit before I started practice so I wouldn’t be sore when practice started. I ran in some old yellow low top Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes. We set up a course that was 1.5 miles long, the distance we would run in middle school. So, every day for the next three weeks, I ran that coursed.

One day, I was running past a home that contained a new family in the neighborhood. The first thing I noticed that they family had a girl. More importantly, she was laying out in the front yard listening to the radio, which was playing ABBA’s first hit song “Waterloo”. Immediately, I was taken by the melody, the vocals, the seemingly simplistic melody and the earworm quality of the chorus. I was hooked on the song. I immediately stopped to introduce myself to her and her family, but mostly to listen to the rest of the song. After pleasantries were exchanged and “Waterloo” ended on the radio, I re-started my run, only to finish it with the sound of “Waterloo” reverberating through my consciousness. Sometime later, I purchased a 45 single of that very song and still own to this day.

8.9 abba the definitive collection

ABBA never really became big artists in the U.S.A. For most, the band was way too pop to be cool. And, thus the general population here never understand the greatness of this band that consisted of two married couples, though by the end of the group’s run, both couple’s marriages would end in divorce. However, what was unique about ABBA was that their music and lyrics did a fantastic job relating sophisticated pop melodies with some seemingly simple, yet still very insightful lyrics.

8.9 abba snl 1975

As the Seventies moved on from the time of their first American Top 10 hit, the group blew up to be the biggest selling band in Europe and the UK. ABBA registered hit after hit, most of which would only brush the lower threshold of the American Top 40, according to the great Casey Karem, who was working tirelessly to keep me informed about all popular music. In 1975, I became acquainted with such minor hits as “Honey Honey” and “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”. But, then came the next song that capture my attention, “SOS”, which was yet another great pop song. Still, I was not convinced that the band was nothing me than another run-of-the-mill pop band.

Then, in 1976, ABBA, cut loose a bit. First, the group released the sublime disco hit “Dancing Queen”. By doing so, they had the first American Top 40 (and Billboard) number one song. The band followed up that hit with two more solid hits, “Money, Money, Money”, “Mama Mia” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. Now, the surprising thing about ABBA is that, like I said earlier, their lyrics tended to be somewhat sophisticated concerning their subject manner. The surprising aspect was the fact the women singers did not speak English, yet their lyrics were in perfect English. Go figure!

Finally, in 1977, ABBA released a great album ironically entitled The Album. The first hit song was a slice of pop heaven called “Knowing Me, Knowing You”. The follow-up was a strong hit song called “The Name of the Game”. But, for me, it was their third single, “Take a Chance on Me” in which the band became immortals in the rock world. The song worked as a soft rock hit, a dance hit, and, of course, a true hit pop hit. Now, I am determined to take ABBA seriously as artists. For me, this was the peak of their recording career., even though the band would continue record and release more music, little of the rest would measure up this album.

By the end of the Seventies, rumors were swirling around the UK music press that the couples in the band were hitting the skids. And although the two couple were  facing divorce, they made four more albums, all of which contained some fantastic Europop songs, most of which would not translate into hits in the States. They only had two hits from their 1979 album, “Chiquitita”, as well as my all-time favorite ABBA song “Does Your Mother Know”, which has the distinction of being the only US hit song ABBA had in which the men sang lead. If you remember the song, it could nearly qualify as a power pop song, so you know why I like it.

As the 1980s began, ABBA released an album in 1980 called Super Trouper which really only spawned one hit song over here in the States. The song was the strong “The Winner Takes It All”, which seemed to be a veiled reference to the couples’ divorces. Finally, the most success Swedish export next to IKEA called it a career upon the release of their final studio album in 1981 called The Visitor. Although the album had many great hits in Europe and the UK from it, the album was quietly put to rest here in the States with no real hit songs to brag about.

But what has happened to the band is something next to remarkable. First, in 1982, one of the female singer in the band, the brunette Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad teamed up with producer-slash-drummer-slash-songwriter Phil Collins to produce a fantastic hit song called “I Know There’s Something Going On” from her debut album entitled Something’s Going On. She released the project under her nickname Frida. That album happens to be one of the great “lost” albums of the 1980s.

Additionally, the two men, Benny Andersen and Björn Ulvaeus continued their songwriting partnership that lead to a Broadway production entitled Chess. The show was about the Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky world chess championship. The show did spawn an American Top 10 hit song, “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head. The duo also worked together to bring their ABBA hits alive in a terrific Broadway show, and eventually a big hit movie called Mama Mia. The movie led to a small ABBA revival during which ABBA’s record was finally given all the respect it deserved. And all of that publicity finally lead ABBA to induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Finally, a band that experienced more frequent success in Europe was given the credit and recognition it deserved. Hopefully, their induction will open the doors to other worldwide phenoms rather than being American successes. Now, the RRHOF should be ready to consider The Smiths, Slade, Cliff Richards, The Jam/Paul Weller, among many others.

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Who knew that ABBA would be considered an influential band? Thank goodness that they have been.

Stop Comparing Them To The Stones; They’re The J. Geils Band

8.8 J. Geils Band Live

Back in the early to mid-Seventies it was common for rock critics to attempt to describe a band or artist as the “next” in a long litany of artists. Look at all of those “Next Dylans” that were running around the world; yet we now know that there is only ONE Bob Dylan. Likewise, a couple of American bands were hung with the title of being the “America’s Answer to the Rolling Stones”. Please! Although like the Stones, these bands were definitely influenced by the blues, they were nothing like the Stones. I am talking about two Boston bands, Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band. Aerosmith went on to redefine American hard rock, while just as the J. Geils Band were ascending to their right place as a big-selling band, egos got in the way as lead singer Peter Wolf left hot on the heels of the band’s biggest success in 1982.

8.8 J._Geils_Band_-_Love_Stinks8.8 J._Geils_Band_-_Freeze_Frame

Go buy ANY of the albums by the J. Geils Band, and you will hear one of the greatest party bands in the history of rock music. Sure, every knows “Centerfold”, “Freeze Frame” and “Love Stinks”, but the band had ten albums of blues-based party time music BEFORE those songs and the albums they come from ever hit the airwaves. Sure, their record sales were not like the Stones, but the quality of their music is unparalleled. As a matter of fact, I was known as a dance DJ to throw in lesser known Geils cuts without a diminished coverage on the dance floor.

8.8 J. Geils Band SNL

The first song of theirs I remember becoming a fan of was “Must of Got Lost”, a number 12 hit in the U.S., and the band’s first Top 20 hit in Blue From that point, the J. Geils Band was on my radar. Believe it or not, none of the songs they played on the episode of SNL in which Rodney Dangerfield hosted peaked higher than number 38. That night they played “Love Stinks”, which peaked at number 38, and an older song “Sanctuary”, which peaked at #47 in 1979. As a matter of fact, the only Top 40 songs they had in addition to “Must of Got Lost”, “Centerfold” (#1), “Freeze Frame” (#4) and “Love Stinks” (#38), where “Looking for a Love” (#39, 1971), “Give It to Me” (#30, 1973), “One Last Kiss” (#35, 1978), “Come Back” (#32, 1980), “Angel in Blue” (#40, 1982) and “I Do (live)” (#24, 1982).

8.8 J._Geils_Band_-_Nightmares

But, honestly, the J. Geils Bands was an album band that few realized existed. They had great studio albums and even better live albums. Unfortunately, I never got to see them in concert, but they had a reputation of being a fantastic live band. That’s why you should get all three of their live albums in order to get a small peaked into their truest form, live. And even though they graduated into arenas, they were a bar band in their DNA, much like Springsteen’s E Street Band. They are from a by-gone era, but they were one of the best at the time.

Now, they do periodically perform live. If you want to hear new music, then you need to follow lead singer Peter Wolf’s solo career, since he continues to release excellent albums in the J. Geils Band vein.

One day, the J. Geils Band will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, we they do, remember that I predicted it, and even promoted it. Now, go out to your favorite record store and buy some vinyl Geils, and start with something other than the Freeze Frame or Love Stinks albums, since you know those songs. Go deeper than that, and you will be greatly rewarded. The J. Geils Band rocks!

Re-Evaluating Kansas

8.4 Kansas band iconic pic

From the first time I ever heard “Carry on My Wayward Son” all the way back around Christmastime 1976, I had mixed feelings. You see, my parents were going through a divorce at the time that had left my head spinning in confusion. At that moment, a song’s lyrics could have a very visceral effect on me. So, the lyrics (and song for that matter) written by guitarist extraordinaire Kerry Livegren messed with me. I was should if Kerry was espousing some cloaked variation of Christian view of life, or was he being existential? Or, to make me more befuddled, was he being an existential Christian? That is the thing about Kansas, they were much, much more than just an American version of Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer, virtuoso players attempting to integrate classical music movements, sounds and instrumentation in with good ol’ rock music. Regardless, they were never easy for me to digest. Heck, I think I had an easier time learning about the imagery of Don McLean’s lyrics in “American Pie”.

8.4 kansas miracles

Well, I recently watched a documentary about Kansas on MTV-Classic. The documentary, entitled Miracle: Out of Nowhere, which got me thinking about this band once again and listening to their music for the first time in years. First off, the documentary is excellent. I love well-done documentaries about rock artists that not only give you the history of the band, but also make you interested enough in the band to re-evaluate the artist. And, that is what I am doing now. Think about it! An all-star band of the best musicians in the state of Kansas all organically assembling into a band with a common goal: to develop a unique art-rock sound that is American in nature. The original line-up was Phil Ehart (drums), Dave Hope (bass), Kerry Livegren (guitars, songwriting), Robby Steinhart (violin, vocals), Steve Walsh (lead vocals, some songwriting and some keyboards) and Rich Williams (electric and acoustic guitars). Immediately, all of the band members were on the same musical page, though it did take a few years for the band’s sound to develop. But, once it did develop, Kansas was very successful from 1976 through 1979. Then, new wave and punk kicked their overblown sound. Now, in the twenty-first century they band is content to rake in royalties and continue live performances.


By the time in 1976 when the band was recording what was to become their breakout hit album, Leftoverture, Kansas was feeling the pressure to write a hit song. They were becoming a solid concert draw, after successful turns opening for Aerosmith and Queen, the latter with whom Kansas developed a strong friendship. When the band initially entered the studio, they looked to their two main songwriters Kerry Livegren and Steve Walsh, but neither had much. So, Kerry took the reigns and each new day in the studio, Kerry brought a new song with him. Then, just as the band was getting ready to wrap up work on the album, Livegren brought in a killer new song called “Carry on My Wayward Son”. At that moment, the band, management and the label all knew the band had a hit. The song peaked at number eleven on the Hot 100, while the album topped out at number five. Now, Kansas were superstars.


As is often seen in rock history, once a songwriter gets hot, his streak can be stretched into multiple albums. While Kansas had their biggest selling album of their career with Point of Know Return, they also created two more hit songs with the title song (which stalled at number 28 but was huge on FM radio) and the band’s most iconic song “Dust in the Wind” which peaked at number 6, though I swear central Indiana radio stations were all playing the song EVERY hour for the song’s two month life-span, or was it six months?. Regardless of the answer, Kansas had developed into one of biggest bands in the world. But, then came MTV.

Unfortunately, Kansas was not a darling of the music channel. Their songs, which were deep in lyrical thought and abstract playing, were the antithesis of MTV’s WAM BAM, Thank Ya MA’AM montage of glitter, fun and an underpinning of sex. For a couple more years, Kansas continued to make creative music all the while attempting to adjust to the new musical climate. And for that short period of time, the band had rock radio hits, but they were not the huge superstars they were just a couple years earlier in the late Seventies. Slowly, original members began leaving the band, while surprisingly maintaining friendship with their former band mates. For a while it even seemed as though there were a couple of different versions of Kansas, but that was quickly rectified.

8.4 kansas band poster

To this day, you can turn on any classic rock radio station and hear any of Kansas’ three big hits, especially “Dust in the Wind”. And that song has even survived a great heartfelt parody in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to be earning respect from today’s current crop of rock critics. So, here’s to Kansas! The United States’ very own art rock band from Middle America!

WTF Wednesday: I Am A Carpenters Fan

8.3 Carpenters_-_Nixon_-_Office

Go ahead! I dare you to ask me for my “man card” friends. Yes, when we became teenagers we also became too cool for the Carpenters’ brand of music. Or, at least so I thought. Then, in the Nineties, a bunch of alternative groups came together, recorded versions of their favorite Carpenters’ songs and the compilation was released as If I Was a Carpenter. It was at that moment that I re-evaluated those great songs. Sure, the Carpenters had songwriters who wrote most of their songs for them, but brother Richard arranged them musically to perfectly cuddle his sister Karen’s smooth voice that belied an undercurrent of pain.

8.3 Superstar_album_cover

As we know now, Karen was entrapped in a cloud of darkness that was manifested in the disease of anorexia. Still, during her life, Karen Carpenter was the female voice of a period of time from 1969 through 1974. C’mon! I dare you to tell me that “Superstar” is not one of the great pop songs of all-time. Yes, they did The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” no favors, and I will never forgive them for taking Klaatu’s “Calling All Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)”. But, you take away those two, and you have a hit song resume that other artists would die for.

During those salads days, the Carpenters had three number one hits in the US (“(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “Top of the World”, “Please Mr. Postman”), four number two hits and two that hit number 3. Then couple those with their one, number one hit album, Singles 1969-1974, with their three other albums that peaked at number 2, and you have a great career, even one that might be worthy of consideration for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Shoot, if the RRHOF can inducted ABBA, then tell why the Carpenters are not being considered.

8.3 Singles_1969-1981

During their heyday, critics blasted the duo for their emphasis on what was called “bland” ballads and mid-tempo pop songs and their “squeaky clean” image. But, now, I can find a depth in Karen’s vocals that I never noticed as a youngster. Seriously, how could anyone without a touch of darkness find the melancholy within the lyrics of “We’ve Only Just Begun”. And, now we all know that Karen did have problems, making retroactively obvious why she was able to find the infinite sadness in the lyrics of “Rainy Days and Mondays” or “Goodbye to Love”.

8.3 tommyboy1

So, now when you hear a Carpenters’ song, don’t blow it off like that scene in Tommy Boy Chris Farley and David Spade are singing “Superstar”, but really take the time to listen to those vocals along with how the music is arranged to insulate Karen with some musical protection. The Carpenters made great music and deserve to be recognized for it. And, no, I am NOT off my rocker! I truly believe this. Go get their greatest hits and enjoy that moment in time when we really didn’t realize the Carpenters were really humans like us.

Thank God For The Go-Go’s

8.2 go gos in 80s

During the early days of rock music, women were not really considered musicians. The one exception to that rule was Carole Kane of L.A.’s session musicians called The Wrecking Crew. She played bass on many hits of the Sixties, most notably one of my favorite albums, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. The rest were forced into vocal girl groups run by a producer, such as Phil Spector’s The Ronettes and Berry Gordy Jr.’s The Supremes. By the end of the Sixties, strong-willed female singers were making inroads on their creative process, like Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin. Even those bands with female singers allow the women in on the songwriting, like Grace Slick did with Jefferson Airplane, then Jefferson Starship.

In the Seventies, female music heroes were popping up as strong solo artists (Patti Smith) or lead singers in bands (Deborah Harry of Blondie). Then, finally, Heart hit the big time with “Magic Man” from their debut album called Dreamboat Annie. Yes, Heart had a female lead singer, Ann Wilson, but Heart also had Ann’s sister Nancy playing both lead and rhythm guitars, while the two ladies wrote the songs. That happened in 1976.

1976 was an important year in that rock music was peaking in quality, punk was being to rumble in the Bowery of NYC and disco was giving us some very good music. All the while, rock impresario Kim Fowley decided it was time to create an all-girl rock group. He gathered five teenage girls, including Joan Jett and Lita Ford, got the group to practice and write songs and provocatively named them The Runaways. Although The Runaways were prefabricated in much the same way The Monkees were, the band struck a nerve with women all over. By the time the Eighties rolled around, girl groups like The Slits or The Raincoats were becoming commonplace in the underground scene.

8.2 The_Go-Go'sBeautyandtheBeatalbumcover


By 1981, rock music was ready for an all-girl rock band. That’s when five California young women released an energetic album chock-full of buoyant pop-punk, new wave classic songs. Today, the album, Beauty and the Beat, by The Go-Go’s is considered one of rock music’s 500 Best Albums of All-Time, according to Rolling Stone.

The Go-Go’s were the perfect group to break the glass ceiling for women in rock in 1982 when that very album hit number one. They had hit songs from the album, like “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”. Now, boys were ogling the Go-Go’s and choosing their favorite band member (me? I was always partial to Jane Wiedlin) much like the girls did 20 years earlier with the Beatles.

Unfortunately, The Go-Go’s were really party animals and not All-American girls. Their record company made them go back to the studio to record their sophomore album when they were not ready. Then, health problems and addiction got in the way and their music suffered. But, over the next couple of years, The Go-Go’s left us a couple more great singles with “Head over Heels” and “Vacation”, but the squabbling and the addictions were too much, and the band parted ways.

The good thing is that The Go-Go’s paved the way for more all female bands like The Bangles. Now, women are playing lead guitar in male artists’ bands. Jack White and Prince recently recorded and toured with all-female bands, who could blow most all-male bands off the stage. Slowly, over the past 35 years we are getting equal rights in rock music.

8.2 go gos farewell tour

In the words of The Go-Go’s last album title: God Bless The Go-Go’s!