“Are You Gonna Go My Way?” Why, Yes Mr. Kravitz, I Think I Will

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Over the years, I have listened to many artists who I would say their careers have been “confounding”. I mean, sometimes I like them, and other times I don’t. One huge example for me is Bob Seger. While in high school, it seemed as though a majority of the people walking through the doors of my old school would describe themselves as Bob Seger fans. But, I never really got it. I understand that his lyrics were bringing country music themes to the rock world, but if you honestly recall the Urban Cowboy sound of the late70s/early 80s, country music was very vanilla. I preferred my heartland rockers in the form of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and, despite that I am a born-Hoosier, John Mellencamp (most people from Indiana like Mellencamp because he is from Indiana, where I like him because his lyrics buck our Hoosier culture, whatever that means).

Back when this artist burst on the scene in 1989, I had him pegged for some retro-, faux cover artist, meaning an artist that could perfectly co-opt another artist’s sound in his song, while never really synthesizing that influence into his own sound. This artist is Lenny Kravitz. Now, his music never made me turn the knob on the radio as Bob Seger’s would/does. Still, Kravitz music never inspired me to purchase his music. I remember when my older son was in high school, that he once owned Kravitz’ Greatest Hits CD. And, at the time I thought it was okay. But, lately, my attitude has changed toward Kravitz.

Let me get it off my chest right now, his last two albums are fantastic, if not the best in his career. Finally, he has shed it tendency to make songs that sound like his heroes (Hendrix, Prince, Gaye, Lennon, etc.) and has now created his own sound. In 2011, Kravitz released Black and White America. Finally, we got to hear what he felt as a child of an interracial marriage. This album is a fine social critique of America’s race relations, that can be played along side other classic albums of this ilk such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah.

Then, in 2014, Kravitz followed up that near-classic with his most rockin’ statement ever on his album Strut. Finally, Lenny shed the trappings of his heroes and became Lenny Kravitz, his own voice of a rock star. Now, I am a fan of Lenny Kravitz. So, today, I will rank Lenny Kravitz’ 10 albums from my least favorite to my favorite.

10. Baptism (2004). As the new millennium dawned, Kravitz was experiencing something of a hot streak. He had just had three of his five biggest hits: “Fly Away”, “American Woman” remake and “Again”. Four years later, he misplaced his mojo and presented us with this crap. Foolishly, I wrote him off at the time.

9. 5 (1998). The Kravitz fans will yell at me for this, but other than “Fly Away”, Lenny was going through the motions.

8. Circus (1995). At this point in Kravitz’ career, he had a tendency to follow up a classic album or two with some drivel. This was the first of two consecutive pieces of the latter.

7. It’s Time for a Love Revolution (2008). I officially gave up on Lenny after this album. In retrospect, it is not that bad, but it is still not what he was capable of making.

6. Lenny (2001). I give this album the slight edge of the previous one because it has the song “Dig In”, which I dig.

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5. Mama Said (1991). I had such high hopes for this album after hearing “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”. Unfortunately, when he had the chance to make his divorce album, like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Lenny understandably pulled back on the rains.

4. Let Love Rule (1989). This is his debut album, and it announced to the world that we might have another Prince on our hands, in that he writes, plays a bunch of instruments and wanted to take over the world. I was with him at the time.

3. Are You Gonna Go My Way (1993). Lenny was still in his can you name my influences for each of my songs phase. That’s okay, when you have an Hendrixian song like the title song to base the album on.

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2. Strut (2014). FINALLY! Kravitz has become a rock star with his OWN voice. Several songs are classics that many other artists probably wish they could write at this point in their careers. This is a keeper!

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1. Black or White America (2011). This album BLEW my mind when I first heard it. I thought that Lenny Kravitz has finally put on his observation glasses and told us what it’s like to be a child of a mixed race relationship. This man spelled it all out right on this album. Unfortunately, the general public missed out on a great Lenny Kravitz album.

So, over the years, I have evolved from someone interested in Lenny Kravitz’ music, to one who could not stand to listen to him, to my present status as a Kravitz fan. By the way, rumor has it that a new album is on the way for 2017. That remains to be seen.

Re-evaluating Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’

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Remember those great 80s T-shirts that read, “Frankie Say RELAX”? Honestly, I never owned one, though I must admit I spent the summer of 1984 scouring the stores of Muncie and Indianapolis searching for such a T-shirt. That T-shirt and the ones that read “Frankie Say War Hide Yourself” were brilliant pieces of the hype machine behind an up-and-coming band from Liverpool called Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Those Frankie T-shirts were parodied in Wham!’s video for their U.S. breakthrough hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” when the people in the background were wearing those “Choose Life” T-shirts. Then the flood gates burst open with all kinds of T-shirts based on those initial Frankie tees.

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Frankie Goes To Hollywood came to my attention in the winter of 1983 through their brilliant debut single “Relax”. At the time, I was doing my record store excavations for the newest dance songs for my party mixes, when a guy at the used record store in the “Village” near the Ball State campus introduced me to Frankie. He put this single on his turntable and turned the knob to “11” (Spinal Tap was still a few months from being big on campus). To be honest, the energy of the use of 80s musical trappings of synthesizers, computers and drum machines blew me away. As the employee and I discussed the single, he informed me that the band was the studio concoction of former Buggles/Yes lead singer-turned Art of Noise/Yes’s 90210 producer Trevor Horn. I was told this band was HUGE in the UK, based solely on the hype machine behind this single and the aforementioned T-shirts. In my mind, “Relax” was the sound of something new and exciting, so I bought the single.

3.29 FGTH Relax

I then debuted the song while DJ-ing a party that very weekend to an extremely enthusiastic crowd. It may have been the song of the night according to the crowd’s reaction, even beating out reactions to Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Gap Band, “Atomic Dog” & the rap trilogy of “Planet Rock”, “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message”. I actually had a hot, new single that was relatively unknown on campus.

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A few months later, my record store connection hooked me up with the 12-inch single of Frankie’s second single “Two Tribes”. That song took the energy of “Relax” and replaced it’s sexually based lyrics with those about the cold war tensions being felt at the time between the US and the old USSR. Of course, that song ripped up the dance floor as well. Now, I owned two singles from this mysterious new band from England that had yet to release an album.

As 1984 was ending, finally, Frankie Goes To Hollywood released their debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome. Now, this album had expanded to a double album, which is very rare for a debut album. By the time the album was released, people were tired of all of those damned T-shirts and critics and music journalists began a backlash to the band. It seemed as though this album was doomed from the start. But, I am here to tell you that this is a perfect album to place in a time capsule to represent all of the “hot” musical ideas being hatched and thrust upon our listening ears as 1984 turned into 1985. Now, nearly 33 years later, I am ready to say that this might be a forgotten classic of the 80s.

First off, the album’s sides are not labeled 1, 2, 3 and 4 but F, G, T, and H, to further jump into the hype. Next, the sound of that dance/rock fusion you heard on the first two singles were emphasized throughout the album. Plus, the band took major chances. First, they successfully updated the great Motown hit “War” in their own unique manner, utilizing sampled speeches from Ronald Reagan to drive home that we could very well be on the brink of war. The other remake they attempted was Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Born to Run”. Sorry, fellas, but that song belongs to the Boss and no one else. But, even the attempt of hijacking that song makes the album that much more daring. To Frankie, there were NO rock & roll sacred cows that were not ready to be smashed and co-opted into a new sound.

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This album is like prog rock had been taken to a disco and given Ecstasy, which released the inner dance versions of rock. The whole concept would have never been conceivable if punk had not happened. The whole thing reeks of a punk attitude being applied to this whole dance thing.

Perhaps the biggest statement made by this album was that gay men could rock as hard through a disco vision as any heterosexual hair metal man out there dressing like a girl. The other thing is that this type of album could have only been produced in the UK, since the Brits have always kept pop music in its proper place while maintaining a healthy reverence for the music.

Now, is Welcome to the Pleasuredome a perfect album? No. But, with hindsight being 20/20, it is a wonderful album of many chances taken with most of them hitting the target dead center.

As the 80s progressed, Frankie Goes To Hollywood continued to release albums that appealed only to people who enjoyed alternative music. But, for a magic moment in the time from 1983 through 1985, Frankie Goes To Hollywood gave us some of the most exciting music this side of Prince. Although the band is not RRHOF-worthy, this album is worthy of being mentioned as one of the greatest albums of the 80s that contained two of the greatest singles of the decade in “Relax” and “Two Tribes”. Maybe, we need a T-shirt that reads, “Remember Frankie”.

“How Does It Feel to Be Back”: Ranking All of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ Studio Albums

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Laugh if you will, but I am here to tell you that Daryl Hall & John Oates have produced some very powerful music. Now, when I say powerful, I am not talking about Aretha Franklin-blowing-you-over-with-the-force-of-her-voice type of power. No, I am talking about the kind of power. Nor, am I talking about the power of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, Metallica’s “One” or the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. No, the former Philly-based duo, now known as the most successful duo of all time, have a power that goes directly with their music, though it is a subtle power.

Let’s just say their music holds a certain romantic power. Be careful while listening to the duo, because you might end up with children, much like we did. Funny as it seems, it is true. Buy and listen to Big Bam Boom, conceive a child. Go see them in concert, conceive a child. Be careful with their music because it is powerful stuff. You should either listen to their music when you are by yourself, or if you are definitely ready for children. That’s the power of the music of Daryl Hall & John Oates.

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Now that my wife and I have moved past the baby-making years, we can be careless with our listening habits. So, since I personally safe from this power, barring any divine intervention, can finally feel safe enough to rank all of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ studio albums. I know that most of you think of the duo as a singles artists, meaning they are more known for their hit songs than their albums, but I am here to try to change that view. But, if you insist on knowing their bliss of their singles, then treat yourself to either The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates or the older, exact version of that CD called The Ultimate Daryl Hall & John Oates.

But, if you are more adventurous, then this list should help you determine where to start your Hall & Oates collection. So, in the words of P!nk, let’s get this party started…

18. Whole Oates (1972). This is a tentative debut where we find the duo attempting to decide in which direction to musically travel. Were they a folk duo, a rock duo, a soul duo, or something else? Stay tuned.

17. Our Kind of Soul (2004). Rarely is a covers album a good idea. And that’s what this is, a bad idea.

16. War Babies (1974). Daryl Hall & John Oates turned to Todd Rundgren to help them create a rock, soul & folk concoction, but the album fell short as they tried too hard and Rundgren over-produced the duo.

15. Home for Christmas (2006). This holiday special remains the band’s last studio album. For a Christmas, this is great. But for a Daryl Hall & John Oates, it is weak. I prefer to think of it as a Christmas album.

14. Bigger Than Both of Us (1976). Yes, this album has the classic “Rich Girl” on it. Unfortunately, the rest of the material is weak and sounds rushed, as though they were trying to tap into the success of “Sarah Smile” from the previous summer.

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13. Marigold Sky (1997). This independently released album got lost during the days of rap and alternative music. The album is what War Babies SHOULD have sounded like.

12. Ooh Yeah! (1988). It seems that when an artist gets HUGE and takes a break, they usually lose their mojo. And, that’s what happened here. It’s not a bad album; Daryl & John decided to work with new people, so the chemistry was all different.

11. Beauty on a Back Street (1977). This is Hall & Oates’ darkest album, from the cover to the lyrics. There initial burst of success was over now, so what do you do for an encore?

10. Do It for Love (2003). At the time, their record label actually was mounting an old-time, all-out promotional assault on behalf of this great album. Unfortunately, times had changed, and no one but 20-, 30- & 40-somethings wanted this album. And what a shame, because it is an over-looked gem.

9. Big Bam Boom (1984). This was the last album of their most successful and artistically fertile period. On this album, the duo was stretching their rock & soul sound into early-80s hip hop with some success. After this, the guys would do “We Are the World”, a Hall & Oates Live Aid set, another Live Aid set with former Temptations Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffian, and release a live album from their concert at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater. Then, they went silent until 1988’s Ooh Yeah!

8. Change of Season (1990). Remember 1990? It was a time when people were wanting to bury all things 80s and wanted new kings and queens of music, such alternative and rap artists. So, Daryl Hall & John Oates released a terrific album of rock & soul music that sounded as organic as Abandoned Luncheonette. Unfortunately, few people cared. This is another one of their lost classics.

7. Along the Red Ledge (1978). It was around 1978 that music began to get exciting again, with disco, punk and new wave beginning to make inroads. And, the duo had just moved to New York City to begin soaking up these sounds. On this album, the hired session players reads like a who’s who in the new rock scene, with guitarists Robert Fripp, formerly of King Crimson, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen leading the way. This is where the foundation of their 80s success is located.

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6. X-Static (1979). Slowly, our heroes are putting together the band that will carry the duo into the stratosphere of success between the years of 1980 and 1984. You can actually hear obvious touches of new wave and punk being melded to their sound.

5. H2O (1982). This album was the maturing of the rock & soul sound perfected by the Daryl Hall & John Oates band. There is an air of confidence on this album that had never been heard before. The track listing nearly reads like a ‘Greatest Hits’ album.

4. Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975). This one is known as “The Silver Album”, since the album cover is a metallic silver. This album represents the duo’s commercial breakthrough. Contains their first Top 10 hit “Sarah Smile”. This is the album that got the whole ball rolling for the duo.

3. Voices (1980). Voices was a slow burning album that sneaked up on the public, and before we knew what had hit us, we were knee-deep in great radio hits like their remake of the Righteous Brothers’ classic “You’ve Lost Your Lovin’ Feelin'”, and their now classics “Kiss on My List” and “You Make My Dreams”. This album had touches of Beatlesque songs, new wave, power pop, full on pop, punk, rock and a barn-burner of a soul classic worthy of Otis Redding called “Everytime You Go Away”, which became a #1 hit for Paul Young in 1985. But, the definitive version is this one.

2. Abandoned Luncheonette (1973). Initially, this album was not a hit. But, in the wake of “Sarah Smile”, the duo’s original label re-released the classic soul cut “She’s Gone” and the rest is history. This album is worthy of mention as a Philly soul classic as anything released by Huff & Gamble, Thom Bell, or any of the other production greats from the city.

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1. Private Eyes (1981). Private Eyes was Daryl Hall & John Oates, as well as their conspirators in songwriting, Sara Allen and Jana Allen, telling the world they were ready to take over the radio world with their hit songs. We have two number one songs in the title song and “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)”, as well as “Did It in a Minute”. If this album had been released after Thriller, we probably would have had four more songs become big hits.

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Daryl Hall & John Oates have been huge in my collection ever since my mom said she would buy ‘The Silver Album’ for me during the Summer of 1975. And, although some of the photos in the packaging of that album made the duo look like romantic partners, I could care less. The music is what captured me, not the image, which would change from album to album. In my humble opinion, Hall & Oates are the greatest duo in rock history, and remain my fifth favorite rock artist.

“Life Was Easy When It Was Boring” – My 15 Favorite Police Songs

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Back in June of 1979, while driving with a couple of my high school cross country team members to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, in order to run in a road race that we ran in every year of high school, we picked up on my buddy’s car radio a song coming from the I.S.U. radio station. As I turned the knob (remember those analog days?), I pulled in a song that blew me away. Remember: I grew up in Indiana, so we were ALWAYS about a year behind the rest of the country with regards to music, fashion, building roads, etc. But, that day I heard a band for the first time that would come to dominate my listening preference over the next five years. That very day I heard “Roxanne” by The Police. Now, my English brethren might wink at the faux punk band, but I loved them.

Unfortunately, they could not stand each other. That musical tension drove their music to magical heights, but, after they became successful, egos started to run wild. Basically, Sting, the group’s main songwriter, decided it was time for him to go solo. That was 1985, making their grand Synchronicity album from 1983 the band’s last statement.

Back in the fall of 1981, I purchased what remains my favorite album by the band, Ghost in the Machine. I would literally run back to my dorm room only to play that album once through before my next class or work. As I sit here listening to the album for the first time in years, memories come running back. The biggest memory was the fact that I purchased a single ticket to go down to Indianapolis to see the band play in concert shortly after our spring break. By the way, the opening band was Joan Jett & the Blackhearts! How many times did you see a concert in which both artists became members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? On that night in March, I was blessed, as my ticket cost me a whopping $15.

The Police - Ghost in the Machine tour shirt

Anyway, while a group of us went to Houston, Texas, for spring break (we weren’t that smart of guys, though our lodging was totally free and it had a full keg, but more on that some other time), we met some girls from Ball State who were down there too and hung out with them most of the time. Anyway, one of the girls felt sorry for me that I was going to this concert alone, so she said she would buy a ticket and drive us down to Market Square Arena. I don’t remember her name, but the company was nice. The trip was totally platonic, as I held no feelings toward her. Needless to say, we saw an awesome concert in a half-filled arena as The Police had yet to capture the imagination of the youth of Indiana.

As we all know, Sting went on to become a pretty successful solo artist, though never really reaching the level of his former band. Guitarist Andy Summers has released several “experimental” guitar-based albums over the years, none of which have been financially successful. And, drummer Stewart Copeland, released a couple of new wave, Police-sounding EPs, did some soundtrack work, played in an experimental band called Oysterhead with Phish guitarist Trey Anastacio and Primus bassist Les Claypool, and some session work.

You can relive the magic the trio made back during their reunion tour of the mid-2000s on the live DVD set Certified, which is an excellent document of their live prowess and volatile strength as a unit. Unfortunately, that tour may be the last time the band will work together.

So, today, I give you my Top 15 Favorite Police Songs.

15. “Too Much Information” (1981, Ghost in the Machine). Sting predicted the future with this song.

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14. “Spirits in the Material World” (1981, Ghost in the Machine). You have to give Sting credit for writing songs about society that still hold up today.

13. “Wrapped Around Your Finger” (1983, Synchronicity). Here is an example of the lyrics reading like poetry without the music. That was Sting’s brilliance as a songwriter.

12. “Message in the Bottle” (1979, Regatta de Blanc). This song is so ingrained in class rock radio that people forget that it was never a Top 40 hit in the US. Radio thought we wanted to hear Kenny Rogers at the time, I guess.

11. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” (1980, Zenyatta Mondatta). What the hell is this song about? I still don’t know. But, I STILL don’t care! It’s got a good beat, and it’s easy to dance to.”

10. “Roxanne” (1978, Outlandos d’Amour). This song kicked off the band’s career here in the States. But, it did not reach iconic level until we heard Eddie Murphy singing it in 48 Hrs.

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9. “Synchronicity II” (1983, Synchronicity). This song’s success walked in opposition of the intelligence of the lyrics. Maybe, I have under-ranked this song after all.

8. “Omegaman” (1981, Ghost in the Machine). This was the band’s last nod to their punk influence. Still, that synth-guitar thing that Andy played at the beginning was my hook.

7. “King of Pain” (1983, Synchronicity). The lyrics read like poetry. The music is magical. And, the title described the look on my oldest son’s face when I would look back at him in the review mirror of our mini-van.


6.”When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” (1980, Zenyatta Mondatta). I love love songs with long titles.

5. “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” (1979, Regatta de Blanc).

4. “Walking on the Moon” (1979, Regatta de Blanc). This song was number one seemingly in every country BUT the USA. Go figure. In the words of Elvis Costello, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused.” Words to live by.

3. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” (1980, Zenyatta Mondatta). This is the book Lolita set to music. Still, it’s an awesome song.

2. “Every Breath You Take” (1983, Synchronicity). This is their biggest hit from their biggest album. FYI: It’s NOT a love song, but a stalker’s song. Listen to the lyrics! It’s down right creepy!

1. “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” (1981, Ghost in the Machine). What can I say? Sting can sure write a love song!

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Well, this was a fun trip in the “Wayback Machine”. This is just another set of songs that make up the soundtrack of my life. Sting was correct when he sang, “Life is easy when it was boring.”

I Just Ranked Every Cheap Trick Album and Survived

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I’m back. The two words Michael Jordan used to announce that he was returning to the NBA after an ill-advised two years spent trying to play baseball. Now, my return to blogging is not as dramatic as Michael’s return to professional basketball. Still, after adjusting to a new concentration of medicine in my pain pump, helping my beautiful bride of 32 years get better after a week-long bout with influenza type-b, and then spending some time out in Pennsylvania and New York City with our older son and his beautiful wife, I finally am back in order to do some writing.

Of course, while in NYC, Graham and I got to visit a record store on the Lower East Side, called A-1 Records. Of course, for the two of us, the store was, in Graham’s words, “a target-rich environment”. The two of us could have spent hours in that store, or any record store for that matter, and made some great finds. Personally, I finally found the vinyl version of Elvis Costello’s Spike and Cheap Trick’s Lap of Luxury. All and all, the visit was awesome.

Yes, Cheap Trick was finally made a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I maintain the band would have been inducted ten years sooner if they were a New York or Los Angeles band instead of a Chicago, or more specifically Rockford, Illinois, band. The band’s sound and image were such that 80s metal and hair metal bands, 80s & 90s alternative bands and power pop bands from all decades have named Cheap Trick as major influences. No other band seems to have been so versatile in its influence as Cheap Trick. Let’s run down a quick list of bands and artists whom have listed Cheap Trick as a major influence: Nirvana, Mötley Crüe, Green Day, Poison, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Jellyfish, Matthew Sweet, Enuff Z’Nuff, Guns N’ Roses are but a few to have name-dropped Cheap Trick as a major influence on their sound and career. You could not corner the band as a power pop band, because they could go into a lite metal mode that we now call “Hair Metal” or, more accurately, “Glam Metal”, followed by some heavier metal sounds that could be likened to Thin Lizzy or Queen which became an influence of metal bands like Metallica or Def Leppard. Perhaps, more often, Cheap Trick’s Power Pop side has been sited as an influence upon the power pop and new wave artists of the 80s and 90s, from Marshall Crenshaw to the Posies and fellow Chicagoan Material Issue. Then, the alternative nation of the 80s and 90s also held the band in high esteem, such as Green Day, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, blink-182, Weezer, to name-drop but a few.

So, let’s take a closer look at this unheralded band as I rank their studio albums, since we all know that they created the classic live album from 1979 titled At Budokan. That album was originally intended to be released solely in Japan, as a gift to the enthusiasm of the crowds who had gone crazy for the band. But, that album became the biggest selling import album at the time, so the band’s label decided to release it in the States. Good thing they did, because the album became the biggest-selling album in the band’s catalog. But, it is the studio albums where you will find the aural nourishment from Cheap Trick that makes the band so tasteful.

So, here is my ranking of my favorite artist’s albums this side of Prince.

17. The Doctor (1986). This album has songs that sound like everything that was bad with 80s music at the time. It was produced by 70s Glam rocker Platto, wh0se ham-fisted production kept the band from their own unique sound in an attempt to make Trick sound like Poison or some lesser hair metal band. This easily the band’s worst band.

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16. Standing on the Edge (1985). Sure, this album has the great “Tonight It’s You”, but that song is the only thing keeping this album from being The Doctor, Part 1. Cheap Trick should NEVER have used synthesizers in order to sound hip. They only made their music sound dopey, not hip and current.

15. Busted (1990). So, in 1988, the original line-up of the band reunited, and experienced more success than they had up that point. So, they followed up Lap of Luxury with this album of songs written by more outside writers, thanks to the brains at Epic Records. If it wasn’t for a couple of songs (“Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” and the Chrissie Hynde duet “Walk Away”) written by the band, the album would be forgettable.

14. Lap of Luxury (1988). This was the big comeback album that the label put together. Bassist Tom Petersson, gone since 1980, was back in the fold. Epic, on the heels of the disaster of The Doctor, forced a bunch of outside songwriters on the band, including a lame power ballad the band hated to play, “The Flame”, which ironically became Cheap Trick’s only #1 hit. The rest of the album sounds like the same 80s rock crap that was being force upon us by hair metal bands and songwriter Dianne Warren.

13. All Shook Up (1980). So, guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E. Carlos were summoned by John Lennon to his Double Fantasy sessions to rock a rollicking version of “I’m Losing You”, which was not released until the Lennon box set was released in the 90s. So, expectations were high for Lennon’s favorite American Band when he got them together with The Beatles’ former producer George Martin. Outside of the great “Stop This Game”, the rest of the album came out lame and was a huge disappointment. Unfortunately, the band was in disarray as bassist Tom Petersson left the band during this album’s recording.

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12. Special One (2003). Here was the band’s quiet return to studio recordings. It had been six long years for the band’s fans since Cheap Trick had released a new set of songs. Unfortunately, the songwriting was tentative and unsure throughout. The songs were overall simply okay. For some reason, band keeps playing “Scent of a Woman” live. Personally, I wish they would forget about that song and stick with playing “Pop Drone”, “My Obsession” or “Hummer” live in concert.

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11. Rockford (2006). The first single, “Perfect Stranger”, was easily the best song on the album. The only problem was it got my hopes up for the album, which turned out sounding like a distillation of their 80s music, meaning too much reliance on synthesizers. Still, this batch of songs sounds good live.

10. Next Position Please (1983). Everyone in the world thought that the pairing of Cheap Trick with producer Todd Rundgren would be a match made in heaven. At least, it should have been, because the label started interfering since they were desperate for the band’s next “I Want You to Want Me”. So, the label forced a decent song, “Dance the Night Away” made popular by the English new wave band The Motors. The song was totally wrong for the band, since they had recorded the great “I Can’t Take It”, which was a much better tune than the lame cover song the label wanted. If the label had stayed out of the way, this album would have ended up much better. As it is, NPP is a pretty good album.

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9. One on One (1982). This was easily the best album of the Jon Brandt years. Now, that’s not a knock against the bassist. I remember thinking at the time the band had rediscovered their “punk” side of their sound. This song was full of potential hits, like “She’s Tight” and “If You Want My Love”.

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8. The Latest (2009). This ended up being the last studio album with original drummer Bun E. Carlos. But, what a way to prove that Carlos was still a helluva drummer, even after all of his debilitating back problems. The band knocked it out of the park as they covered Slade (“When the Lights Are Out”), rocked out a Cheap Trick classic (“California Girl”) and created THE garage classic of all time (“Sick Man of Europe”). The band had not sounded this cohesive since their 1996 self-titled classic. THIS is what Cheap Trick should sound like.

7. Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello (2016). Last year, the band celebrated their long-overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by releasing a new album, after coming to a legal agreement with longtime drummer Carlos, in order to record with touring drummer Dax Nielsen, son of guitarist Rick Nielsen. This album was ironically released on the same day as Weezer’s White Album, which made that week one hell of a power pop week. Do NOT overlook this album, since it might have been the best album released in 2016. Who could have predicted the band ever being as vital in their 40 years together.

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6. Woke Up with a Monster (1994). Here is the forgotten Cheap Trick album. It was the band’s only album on Warner Bros. Then, it was the only album not to use their logo on the cover. Still, it was a solid batch of rockers that only Cheap Trick could do. Unfortunately for the band, the album was released during the heyday of grunge and got lost. Then, the band was dropped by Warner Bros.

5. Cheap Trick (1997). So, after Monster, the band was invited to tour by many of the artists whom Trick had originally inspired. So, the band was one of the first older bands to bypass the big labels by going with the independent labels that are today so prevalent. The band had created the best set of songs since the 70s that had excited the group so much that they were looking at this situation as a “re-boot”, hence the name of the album. Unfortunately, in typical Trick fashion, a series of events that lead to the abrupt bankruptcy of their new label (Red Ant, or as the Trick faithful calls it “Dead Ant”). Which meant this brilliant album was released without any kind of push behind it, so it unfortunately stalled its momentum and left the band so shell-shocked that they stayed out of the studio of another six years. It may be, along with Monster, the long lost great album of the 90s.

4. Cheap Trick (1977). Here is Cheap Trick answering the opening bell with a mix of songs that, at the time, sounded as though they were rooted in the punk movement as well as being part of current rock sound. On their debut, the band may have been the first group to look both forward and backwards simultaneously as they applied the lessons of The Beatles, Who and Yardbirds to what the punks and new wavers were doing in New York City and London by giving the whole amalgamation a Midwestern work ethic needed to smooth things out. If you can’t hear “Oh Candy”, then you might need a hearing aid or two.

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3. In Color (1978). This album is full of the band’s classic songs: “I Want You to Want Me”, “Clock Strikes Ten”, “Southern Girls”, “Oh Caroline” and “Come On, Come On”. The problem with the album is the production – it’s too slick. It’s like Tom Werman was trying too hard to get the band on the radio. The result? The band did not get on the radio. If only Jack Douglas had come back to produce this album the way he produced the debut, then this album would be remembered as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time by more people than just me.

2. Dream Police (1979). Yes, Werman’s production is slick. But, this time, the slickness is used in the experimental strings added throughout the album. Yes, this album was held back as the success of At Budokan continued, so it seemed to be released a little too soon for the public at the time. Still, the band had created a great and classic set of songs that sound fresh in the 21st century. C’mon, this LP has the title song, “Voices”, “Gonna Raise Hell”, “Way of the World” and “I Know What I Want”. How can anyone forget about this album?

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1. Heaven Tonight (1978). This is THE album that captures the essence of Cheap Trick best! This time, producer Tom Werman left the “live” warts in the performances of the songs and quit worrying about how to get Cheap Trick on the radio. And the band responded by recording THE best teen angst song of all time with “Surrender”. Then, the band gives us a cover of The Move’s “California Man”, “On Top of the World”, “Auf Wiedersehen”, “Heaven Tonight” and “Stiff Competition”. This is the best Cheap Trick album of the classic late-70s era.

I have been a HUGE Cheap Trick fan ever since I bought In Color during the Fall of 1978. As a matter of fact, many of my high school friends still associate me with loving the band as I did nearly 40 years ago. Today, I am a Prince fan first, but Cheap Trick remains my second favorite artist. Back in the ’90s, I used to tease all of the kids who were discovering and falling in love with Weezer that they were falling in love with a band that shared many similarities with one of my favorite, Cheap Trick. So, when those students listened to Weezer followed by a little Cheap Trick, they heard what I was saying and became converted fans.

So, here is to a band that helped me through some difficult years in my life and continue sound great to this day. Cheap Trick rules!

Another Great Family of Rock Music: The Gibb Brothers

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Here I go again. I’m on one of my kicks again! So beware. During the month of February, I was all about hip hop. I read two books on the subject, which is nearly typical of me. But, it looks like I am diving into 70s and 80s pop music again. All of this began with the arrival of a biography of the late, great George Michael. So, the digging began. All of which lead me to my royal Australian-through-the-United-Kingdom, the four Gibb Brothers. The older trio, eldest Barry and the middle twins Robin and Maurice, became the Bee Gees. Several years later, a younger brother came along as a solo act, with the option of eventually joining his older brothers. That brother’s name was Andy.

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In a cruel twist of fate, Andy was a shooting star that burnt brightly and quickly, who, unfortunately, died at a very young age in the late 1980s. Then, just as nostalgia seemed to be building around the original older brothers, the younger of the twins, Maurice, was struck down at the relative young age of 53. But, the fate of the most successful group of the 70s was about to be dealt a huge blow as the older twin, Robin, died unexpectedly in 2012. Still, Maurice has persevered. Last year, he released a fine solo album, that I am certain would have been a huge Bee Gees comeback album, much like the Monkees had earlier.

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You know what? The Bee Gees had nine #1 hits, eight of which came between 1975 and 1979. Add to that total, Andy Gibb’s three #1 hits during that time period, and you have a hit machine that scored eleven #1 hits in five years. Now, if we were to throw in Barry’s production work, the brothers would have been responsible for several more #1 hits. All of this means that those of us who cared during that time period were witnessing something along the lines of the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

So, today, thanks to the website musicvf.com, which assigns every Top 100 hit an artist had a number value based upon the number at which the song stopped during its journey. The higher the song places, the more points it amasses. Likewise, the longer a hit stays at a position. I then went through the hits of the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb. Then I took each songs’ total values to aide me in ranking the songs of the Brothers Gibb.

Let me begin by saying that I am shocked by the number of terrific songs that came out of these talented guys. And, of course, there are so many fantastic singles that did not make this list. Missing are songs like the Bee Gees’ “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” (1975) and “New York Mining Disaster 1941” (1967), Robin Gibb’s solo hits like “Boys Do Fall in Love” (1984) and the Beatles cover of “Oh Darlin'” (1978) and Andy Gibb’s “Time Is Time” (1980).

Okay! Enough of my tomfoolery! Let’s make a countdown!

25. “Alone” – Bee Gees (1997 – Still Waters). This was the last US Top 40 hit for trio. #28

24. “You Win Again” – Bee Gees (1987                                                                                                                                                                                                                 – E.S.P.). This song was one of the few songs the Bee Gees had in the Top 100. #75

23. “Run to Me” – Bee Gees (1972 – To Whom It May Concern). This Top 20 hit from the Bee Gees mid-70s doldrums. #16

22. “Nights on Broadway” – Bee Gees (1975 – Main Course). This is the Bee Gees most underrated song. #7

21. “One” – Bee Gees (1989 – One). The brothers found the magic one last time in the late 80s with their last Top 10 hit. #7

20. “I Started a Joke” – Bee Gees (1968 – Idea). In the late 1960s, the Bee Gees were often confused with the Beatles, like with this song. #6

19. “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” – Andy Gibb (1978 – Shadow Dancing). Here is Andy’s first 0f six entries in this list. #9.

18. “Lonely Days” (1970 – 2 Years On). The Bee Gees’ Beatlesque song was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. #3.

17. “Desire” – Andy Gibb (1980 – After Dark). This is Andy’s last Top 10 hit. #4

16. “Love So Right” – Bee Gees (1976 – Children of the World). This hit came during the Bee Gees’ second run of success. #3

15. “(The Light Went Out in) Massachusetts” – Bee Gees (1967 – Horizontal). What?!?! This one did not even make the Top 10! (Psst! It was huge in Britain) #11

14. “An Everlasting Love” – Andy Gibb (1978 – Shadow Dancing). I gotta admit this song is my favorite one by Andy. #5

13. “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” – Bee Gees (1968 – Idea). Yet, another Top 10 hit during the band’s first run of hits. #8

12. “Love You Inside Out” – Bee Gees (1979 – Spirits Having Flown). Here we go, the first of the number one hits. #1

11. “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” – Andy Gibb (1977 – Flowing Rivers) Of Andy’s #1 songs, this is the weakest, in my opinion. #1

10. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” – Bee Gees (1971 – Trafalgar). This was the brothers’ first #1 hit.

9. “Jive Talkin'” – Bee Gees (1975 – Main Course). This song started off the Bee Gees’ greatest run of hit songs.

8. “You Should Be Dancing” – Bee Gees (1976 – Children of the World). This is the Bee Gees’ best disco song, not the stuff from Saturday Night Fever. #1

7. “Shadow Dancing” – Andy Gibb (1978 – Shadow Dancing) Even though this song had a long stranglehold on the number one position in 1978, it was NOT the number one song of that year. Right! That honor went to his brothers.

6. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” – Andy Gibb (1977 – Flowing River). This song WAS the number one song of 1977. #1

5. “Tragedy” – Bee Gees (1979 – Spirits Having Flown). I think the record company tried to hold this song back to improve sales, but “Tragedy” would not be held back. There is nothing like an anthemic pop song with a touch of disco and a whole lot of bombast. Just think what this song would song like if Queen had recorded it. #1

4. “Too Much Heaven” – Bee Gees (1978 – Spirits Having Flown). So, the Bee Gees were going to follow the game plan used with Saturday Night Fever: Release a grooving ballad first, then hit ’em over the head with an anthem. This song was the lovey-dovey disco ballad. #1

3. “Stayin’ Alive” – Bee Gees (1977 – Saturday Night Fever OST). I think more people associate this song with disco than nearly any song this side of “Y.M.C.A.” This song is associated with the movie’s iconic scene where John Travolta is walking down the sidewalk.

2. “How Deep Is Your Love” – Bee Gees (1977 – Saturday Night Fever OST). This disco ballad is the song that re-ignited the whole disco movement and allowed disco to move into the mainstream.

1. “Night Fever” – Bee Gees (1978 – Saturday Night Fever OST). This is THE disco song of all Bee Gee disco songs. The song would even stand on it’s own even if it had not been included on that iconic soundtrack. Both “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” are the memorable songs of the soundtrack.

Well, folks, that’s wrap on the Gibb family. I feel like they are an underappreciated set of artists in rock history. You can hear their influence throughout 80s pop, such as George Michael’s outstanding pop gems, up to and including today’s prefabricated cookie cutter studio hits. Still, can you imagine how the Bee Gees would have sounded if they had become a quartet and tragedy had not struck the family three times.

Queen’s ‘A Day at the Races’ Is a Special Album to Me

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In the winter of 1976, I was in the midst of my eighth-grade basketball season. Unfortunately, no matter how well I played, I was still stinging from my father moving out on us six months earlier. At one time, practicing my Maravich drills, working on my ball handling drills and developing my passing skills were acts of complete joy. But, now, my basketball workouts with my dad were very strained. I was mad at him because I felt a sense of betrayal at his leaving. While I was very protective of my mom, Dad was the one person who understood my strangeness. But, now he was gone, and my gym time dropped from every day to every other weekend. I was way too painful to go with Dad to the gym to workout. So, instead of hitting the gym, I began to obsessively ran every time something in my life was bothering me.

Between running two to three times per day, I was listening to music. Around that time, I heard Queen’s recently released song, “Somebody to Love”. For some reason, that song reached into my soul and caressed my heart, almost giving me five minutes of reprieve from that stupid pain I was feeling. Then, the more I heard the song, the more obsessed I became with it. I would purchase Cream, Circus and Hit Parader magazines that had pictures of the band Queen in their pages in order to read the articles and to cut out the best pictures to hang on my bedroom wall.

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Most evenings, I would hang out down the street at a neighbor’s home that had a couple of daughters who became sisters to me during that time. Kim, Lori and I would play music in their family room while their parents and brother would watch TV in their living room. The girls would make me dance to various songs, either on record or on the radio. Occasionally, unbeknownst to me, we would “air jam” songs. Without ever seeing Freddie Mercury perform live or on TV, I used to extrapolate his movements based upon the poses I saw of him in the pages of those once great magazines. Because of the song’s popularity, I was quite song with my air jam performance of “Somebody to Love”.

With “Somebody to Love”, I could feel the pain in Freddie’s lyrics, though I was more in touch with my heterosexual side than Freddie was. But, I found his faux ballet posing hilarious. That, coupled with the facts that I had been forced as a grade school student to take dance and gymnastic lessons, I could pull off a decent Freddie performance.

Anyway, around Christmas, I went down to the neighbor’s home, and discovered their whole family had a Christmas gift for me. Being a teenaged, high energy male, I ripped into the present and discovered they had given me the album A Day at the Races by Queen, an album I have to this very day. I was so excited that I had to be bouncing off the walls of their house, that the girls grabbed my album and put it on the stereo. And, we listened to it. That album was magical to me. I sat reading the lyrics as the album played. Many of the lyrics dealt with the loss of a love, which I felt deeply. Though, the love of the band’s lyrics were directed toward romantic loves lost, I could relate those same lyrics to my situation.

So, from that day until I purchased Love Gun by KISS, that album was nearly played every day, whether I had purchased a new album or not. I played the hell out of that Queen album. The only other albums that came close to being played that much were Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises or London Calling by The Clash. Anyway, I KNEW the lyrics to every song on that Queen album. But, the biggest thing is that A Day at the Races helped me get through one of the more difficult times of my life.

Eventually, Dad and I worked through our problems, which were my own teenaged perceptions. But, all of that came after I got married and had my own children. As my children were growing up, I never really played A Day at the Races much. But, I still enjoy it now whenever I listen to it. The album is unique, as the music begins with some sort of Native American-influenced opening, only to kick out the jams with “Tie Your Mother Down”. And, it takes the listener through a day of songs about happy times (“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”), hopeful times (the Japanese-influenced “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” and less happy times (the Native American lament “White Man”). But, smack dab in the middle of the album is that glorious gospel-influenced hit song “Somebody to Love”, which might contain Freddie’s greatest vocal performance ever.

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Although the album continues to pale to its companion album, A Night at the Opera, with the critics, A Day at the Races continues to hold a special place in my heart.

Re-evaluating INXS

Back at the end of the Summer of 1983, I returned home for the month of August after working for a couple of months at a Southern Wisconsin Resort. Those two months working at that resort is a book unto itself, so I will skip over the salacious details and get down to business. You see, my younger brother (younger by 3.5 years, taller by 3.5 inches…the decimal only added for irony) was still mad at me for not taking him to see The Who on their “Farewell” Tour of 1982. He was (and, I think, still is) a big Who fan. I didn’t take him because I did not get paid in time to purchase the tickets, plus I had heard (correctly I might add!) that The Clash were NOT opening for The Who during their Indianapolis stop, which made me mad. So, instead of taking him to see The Who at their most burnt, uncaring, addicted and sad state, I promised to take him to see a band of his choice after I got back from Wisconsin.

Imagine my surprise when he met me at the door of our home after making my eight hour drive from Wisconsin. He said that he wanted to go see the Men at Work/INXS tour in Indy at the end of August. So, being a fantastic yet bleary-eyed older brother, he and I drove to the local record store (remember when you bought tickets at a record store or the box office? Those were the days before scalpers…er…ticket brokers.) to purchase those tickets.

Now, honestly, I enjoyed both of Men at Work’s early albums, as they perfected a pop version of The Police sound, with lyrics that were loaded with whimsy. Plus, their videos were endearing during those early days of MTV. INXS, on the other hand, had yet to break in the States. I was not a big fan of their first single, “The One Thing”, but I loved their forgotten new wave classic “Don’t Change”. That song never found its audience, which was probably good for the band’s long-term prospects as they were forced to grow as writers.

Now, the concert was good, but my brother thought it was one of the greatest concerts that he has ever seen. I am glad he has such great memories of it. Me? I remember Men at Work seeming to have zero chemistry on the stage. So, I left the concert thinking their days were numbered. Unfortunately, it turns out that I was correct, even though the band attempted a half-hearted album in 1985. To me, the band that was hot was INXS. You could tell by some of their songs they were trying to marry Eighties dance rhythms to a Stonesy-type rock sound. And, even though they had yet to hammer down their sound, their performance was sincere and earnest. So, I decided that I would follow this band by purchasing their albums to see if they would develop over time.

In 1984, INXS released The Swing, which contained another classic yet unheralded song called “The Original Sin”. The song tackled interracial romantic relationships, so the times were still a bit tender in Indiana for those views, but it was a hit in dance clubs all over. This album was produced by the genius of Nile Rodgers, but the band’s songs were not up to snuff.

INXS finally hit pay dirt in 1985 with their Listen like Thieves album, and the brilliant lead single “What You Need”. Veteran producer Chris Thomas was finally able to pull that dance/rock sound out of the band for that lead single. The rest of the album, though their best to date, still lacked a certain songwriting consistency throughout. But, another world tour did wonders for the band as they finally gelled and were ready to rejoin producer Chris Thomas in the studio for the sessions that would become the classic album Kick.

Few were ready for the strides this band made on Kick, which was released near the end of 1987. During that particular year of 1987, we were blessed with a near glut of now-classic albums. 1987 was the year of U2’s The Joshua Tree, Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, John Cougar Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee, Bad by Michael Jackson, Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen, among many, many others. Personally, I was so happy when I heard Kick for the first time that I immediately knew this was the band’s first classic album. I honestly expected the band to explore this sound further with each subsequent album, finally reaching a penultimate musical statement as they found the magic formula to become the Rolling Stones, or even the J. Geils Band, of the Nineties.

Just peruse the titles of the songs on Kick and you will find several US Top 10 hits. First, there was the very sultry “Need You Tonight”. The band followed that one up with “Devil Inside”and the pleading “Never Tear Us Apart”. Radio also made hits of “New Sensation” and “Kick”. I even heard the great alternative music station in Oxford, Ohio playing “Guns in the Sky”. Needless to say, this album was a big one.

But, for some reason, that I will never understand, INXS lost it’s momentum by the time they released their 1990 album called X. The album’s lead single was a blistering slice of dance/rock with a touch of blues thrown in for good measure. That song was “Suicide Blonde”. And, although “Suicide Blonde”, with it harmonica hook, peaked at number 9, the album was considered to be too much like the previous one. And, to be honest, the album is solid, but it shows no growth.

Unfortunately, the band never recovered. They tried a U2 Achtung Baby-type of makeover, but the public wasn’t buying it. Instead of following U2 into Europe, they should have explored American music, like U2 did on Rattle & Hum. INXS is Australian, so it makes more sense for them to have dug through some slimy blues and R&B and even some gospel for their transition. The band had more in common with American music than European music. I still think INXS left their greatest albums unfulfilled. And, even though they had nine Top 10 Hits over the years, I feel as though they never reached their potential, especially when lead singer Michael Hutchence took his own life. He was a brilliant frontman who could never be replaced, not even by a reality music program (anyone remember Rock Star?).

I still say INXS was a great band, perhaps even one of the 10 to 15 best artists from the Eighties. It is just a shame that they never could have realized their full potential.

It’s “Urgent”! Foreigner’s ‘4’ Is a Classic

Today, I found out a former student of mine retired today from the Indianapolis Colts. I got to know Joe Reitz from my time as a varsity assistant basketball coach when he was still in middle school. And, although I became the boys’ varsity track coach, I remained close to the basketball program, constantly trying to get “Big Joe” to come out for track to throw the discus and shot. He always laughed at me because he was playing AAU basketball. He was All-State in both football and basketball and went to college to play basketball. And, even though I had his brother and one of his sisters, Joe never went out for track. Like I told his mom once, “Joe would have been an NFL starting lineman sooner if he had gone out for track.” His mom loved that. And, I still kind of believe it. Throwing would have helped his footwork, which was good, but could have been great. Regardless, this man went from college basketball to professional football, just like he told me he would. Now, Joe is turning to talents to his brain and personality, which are equal to his athletic prowess. So, here’s to you Joe. Not many get to fulfill their dreams, as you have.

After hearing hearing about the retirement of my former student, it got me to thinking rock bands that seemed to have a workman-like attitude toward their music. Recently, I touched upon one band that I enjoyed while growing up, REO Speedwagon. So, my triangulation led me to Foreigner. In the fall of 1977, I was running cross country as a high school freshmen. I was one of four guys from my class to be the first freshmen to letter in cross country in the school’s history. And, he could have had two more letter winners, when our coach took away their letters after they acted stupid at the last meet of the season. I disagreed with the coach’s move, and it broke up a very close class, as those talented guys never ran again.

But, in 1977, a new band called Foreigner had just hit the scene with a hammer. The band had a somewhat infuriating sound that was at times based in the garage but reached for the arena. I never understood why that sound pissed me off so much, but it did. For example, “Long, Long Way from Home” always musically began as a garage-sounding song, but always lost its musical momentum by the first minute. And, the band’s first two singles made me react the same way.

Then, the following year, Foreigner released Double Vision. I bought the album before leaving for Colorado to participate in a national track meet. I dubbed the album on tape for the ride out there, while I had also dubbed the Stones’ Some Girls and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Personally, I preferred the other two, while the others who were on the trip were constantly listening to Foreigner.

But, everything changed for me when, in 1979, I heard “Dirty White Boy” from their Head Games album. It was obvious to me that the band had been influenced by punk and new wave on that song and a couple of other ones on the album. What I like about “Dirty White Boy” was how the band remained in the garage that allowed them to reach the arena in a more authentic manner. But, little did I know that the brains behind the band, guitarist Mick Jones and singer Lou Gramm, were moving in that direction.

The sound came to fruition on the 1981 blockbuster album 4. The first was the hot-sounding “Urgent”, still one of my favorite songs of 1981. The song indicated what I had hoped for the band: get back to a more garage sound that would naturally fill up an arena. And sure enough, that’s what the band did on 4. They released a fantastic, heartfelt power ballad called “Waiting on a Girl like You”. But, the song that grabbed rock fans everywhere was “Juke Box Hero”, which was a concert highlight. This album was the hottest album in the dormitory that fall. “Juke Box Hero” was all over the Indianapolis radio stations. To top it off, something like 10 to 20 Ball State students that I knew, all road-tripped to Indy to see Foreigner in concert (BTW: Billy Squier was their opening act).

I must admit that I love that album, 4. It is easily the band’s greatest album, arguably making the band worthy of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But, I remain on the fence about this band actually entering the Hall. If they are to get into the Hall, they better get in after Pixies, Hüsker Dü, Replacements, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, New Order, Joy Division, Eric B. & Rakim, LL Cool J, The Spinners, War, Chic, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Big Star, Raspberries, Styx, among many others including Boston.

Still, Foreigner 4 is a great album, and one of my favorite of all-time. So, let’s make this “Urgent” and raise a glass to the brilliant minds behind this album!

Hey! I Rediscovered REO Speedwagon today!


Back in the summer of 1977, as I was getting ready for my ascension to the top of the middle school heap as an eighth grader, I spent the summer training for the upcoming Cross Country season by running with a guy on the high school team. My class was considered to be “loaded” with distance running talent, so I think the high school coach had his upperclassmen runners match up with a middle school runner to encourage them and keep them interested in the sport.

In addition to running, Billy and I shared a love of listening to music. While running, we would talk about this group and that album. Since it was 1977, I was still a member of the KISS Army, and Love Gun was my favorite album. Billy, in an attempt to “broaden” my musical scope, would loan albums to listen to. I remember one day after a particular five-mile run, Billy loaned me his new live REO Speedwagon album called Live: You Get What You Play For. What hooked me was that he told me that one side of this “concert” album had been recorded at the old Convention Center in Indianapolis. I thought that was pretty cool since nothing cool but the old ABA Pacers played in Naptown, the old nickname for Indy.

REO had always been played on the big rock station of the Seventies, WNAP, 93.1 FM, “The Buzzard”. So, I was familiar with a couple studio versions of the songs on this album but never thought too much about the group. But, when this band played their music in concert, their performance was transcendent. This “live” album became a favorite of mine, though my younger brother hated the album being played all of the time. After he first expressed that, I had to turn my speakers toward the wall that separated our rooms and blared the album so he would hear it. Now, Mom was cool with my music but would object whenever I did this to my brother.

Anyway, I eventually bought this album on my own, though I traded it in for a punk or new wave album back in college. Recently, I started playing the CD again. And, these memories came rushing back to me. One big memory is when the high students who were DJs on the high school radio station played cuts from this album on the radio. Also, that same year, at the homecoming bonfire, the live broadcast was playing the football team’s song “Riding the Storm Out”, which, of course, sold the song to the middle schoolers who were at that event. In the fall of 1977, “Riding the Storm Out” could be heard all over my hometown.

Another song is something of an Indiana urban legend, especially at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. According to the legend, REO played the Muncie bars quite often while paying their dues on the club circuit in the early 1970s. The Ball State students became big and loyal fans of the band. So, according to this legend, the REO show-stopping song, “157 Riverside Ave.” was written in honor of the street on the Ball State campus that is called “Frat Road” there. Allegedly, the band played the frats so often there that they wrote the song in honor of the street. The downside to that legend is that the number 157 would put the house in the middle of the White River that flows through the college town. Frat doe NOT have a street number as low as 157, but the song made for a great story back in the 1970s and early-1980s.

As you know, although I am a huge fan of all kinds of music, my gateway music into rock was arena rock. In addition to REO, I listened to Styx, Journey, Boston, Foreigner, etc., though most of the time, that music left me wanting something more visceral. That’s why I was able to switch to punk, power pop and new wave so easily, since that music seemed to be more “real”. But, I still enjoy listening to my arena rock. And, there are very few great songs like “157 Riverside Ave.” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out”. They take me back to a more innocent time, back when sports and music could really take me away from the worries of finance, homework and politics. This was a time when my records were my best friends, who spoke to my soul whenever I felt like I was way too different than my peers. Music continues to teach me about people’s reactions to society. Although these records and CDs are no longer my best friends, they remain old friends who can transport me back to times while eliciting long-forgotten memories, like the few I spilled on you today. And, to me, that is what we all should hold dear about music and the arts.


So, here’s to REO Speedwagon! And, more specifically, my first REO album, Live: You Get What You Play For! I’d like to thank the band and this record for helping me get through that difficult eighth grade year. May musicians continue to leave marks on young people’s lives throughout the ages.