Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Rocker's Lucky 13

I have a fear. Being a music lover despite not being a musician, I worry that within the next decade, downloading music will be as mainstream for all of us, even oldsters like myself, as a morning login to check our e-mail is now. What that will mean is that in favor of downloading individual songs, humanity will have lost appreciation for an ordered collection of an artist's works released all at once, or on an album. OK, on a CD. By the time that I was sixteen, I could have told you the names of all Led Zeppelin, Rush, Jethro Tull, Kansas and numerous other band's albums, in order and what year they were released. Though my kids are still far from their teens, I'm guessing that today's sixteen year olds only know songs, not albums and their histories, their themes and the flow that a chronological production of music lends to the listening experience.
So because that fear greatly consumes, that's over the top. So because I'm growing weary of writing about and commenting on crazy, sleezy government antics and I just want to have some fun darn it, following is the SteeleonSaipan Rocker's Lucky 13. This was supposed to be a Rocker's Dozen but I couldn't make that final cut and getting from twenty to thirteen was traumatic enough. Because this is a very short list of music released over four decades, I'm sure that everyone who reads this will think that I'm a fool for leaving off their favorite band or musician. I can already hear a certain skinheaded blogger scream as he sees no Jimi. I don't care, make your own list!!

So without further rambling.....drum roll please.....SteeleonSaipan presents the Rocker's Lucky 13!

1. A collection of rock's best releases can't begin or be complete without a large dose of Led Zeppelin. The 1993 box-set release, Complete Studio Recordings, is a 10-disc compilation of Led Zep's first nine albums (1975's Physical Graffiti was a double-album), spanning from their 1969 debut album to 1982's Coda. The band's 1976 live release, The Song Remains the Same, is not covered on this compilation but I have a better, 3-disc, live recording that covers twice the material as the commercial release. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham ushered in hard rock as we know it today and in my opinion as well as millions of others, made up the greatest and most influential rock and roll band of all-time. Led Zeppelin was the definitive heavy metal band with their crushingly loud interpretation of the blues. They incorporated mythology, mysticism, and a variety of other topics into their sound. Led Zeppelin had mystique. They rarely gave interviews and consequently, the only connection the audience had with the band was through their records and the concerts. More than any other band, Led Zeppelin established the concept of album-oriented rock, refusing to release popular songs from their albums as singles. In doing so, they established the dominant format for heavy metal, as well as the genre's actual sound. Their anthem, Stairway to Heaven, is perhaps the most played song in the history of radio. Ten of their albums were certified at multi-platinum levels. The band have sold more than 300 million albums worldwide, including 109.5 million sales in the U.S. Led Zeppelin are ranked No. 1 on VH1's list of the 100 greatest artists of hard rock.

Yeah, this is supposed to be just thirteen of the greatest releases and I'm bending the rules beyond break right off the bat but any over-40 rocker will tell you that man cannot live on one Led Zeppelin CD alone.

2. By the time that I started high school in 1979, my buddies and I were burning major vinyl off of a number of Jethro Tull albums but the band's fourth album, 1971's Aqualung, was their masterpiece. Mixing hard rock and folk melodies, the album is loaded with riff-heavy classics such as the title track, Locomotive Breath and Cross-Eyed Mary. Side A lyrics on the original album featured singer, flutist and lyricist Ian Anderson's observations of humanity's sometimes wretched ways while most Side B tracks turned to his surly views on how man's faith in God has been tainted by organized religion. The three, one-minute acoustic tracks are excellent, serving as perfect bridges between longer tracks with similar themes. Even my wife who's from the provinces of the Philippines recognizes "Sitting on a park bench......!!"
Now let's walk that thick, gray line of parameters for this Lucky 13 once again by combining a live, Tull experience into this pick. In 1978, the band released Live: Bursting Out, an outstanding live recording stocked flush with Tull's best hits to date. I saw Tull live three times starting in 1978. Being close to the stage was a must as a Tull show was as much a theatrical production as it was rock concert. Ian Anderson's wild-eyed stage prancing and snarling flute-playing and theatrics was a blast to watch. The bandmembers would don outfits to fit the theme of the album that they were touring for and often start the show with nearly the entire album of that tour. Excellent, live versions of Minstrel in the Gallery, Hunting Girl and Thick as a Brick, along with the Aqualung classics mentioned above are all covered here. I recommend these two choices for a Jethro Tull starter-kit well before any of their greatest hits albums.

3. Before the surge of rock-and-roll live albums in the mid-to-late '70's, which will be generously covered soon, in 1973 the classical-influenced band, Yes released Yessongs, a live, triple-album highlighting not only their best songs and instrumentals but also the band members incredible musicianship. Jon Anderson's near-falsetto is one of rock's most recognized voices, Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire have long been recognized among rock's top keyboardists and bass players respectively and Steve Howe's fingers peeled the guitar frets as fast as any with a sound of beauty unlike anyone before or after. Playing most of their concert tours throughout the late '70's and '80's "in the round," with a revolving stage in the middle of the arena rather than at one end, providing twice the number of good seats, this is a classic collection of Yes' early work with excellent live renditions, better than the studio versions in most cases, particularly on classics such as Starship Trooper, Heart of the Sunrise and Yours is No Disgrace. By the 1980's, Yes' music was far more top-40ish (i.e. Owner of a Lonely Heart, blah!) with a completely different sound from the awesome, classical orchestra jams that early Yes served up. One of the great, live rock albums of all-time.

So this Rocker's Lucky 13 starts with three albums borne from the British Invasion.....but doesn't include the Beatles, Stones or The Who. A sign of more insanity to come, you have now entered.....the SteeleOnSaipan Zone.

4. ".....And the meek shall inherit the Earth......" The Canadian rock-trio Rush, comprised of bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer extraodinaire Neil Peart, released their first album in 1974 but their breakthrough came with their fourth release, 1976's epic 2112, which featured the twenty-plus minute, futuristic rock opera of the same name comprising all of Side A on the album. For me, this story of a young man, living in the totalitarian society of the Red Star of the Solar Federation, who finds an ancient guitar, teaches himself to play, presents it to the ruling priests of the temples and is told that there is no room for this "toy that will destroy" in their society, is simply the greatest rock song ever. The second half of this album is very good, maybe not great, but the first half alone makes this album a rock and roll classic. You give this album a listen if you haven't heard early Rush, when Geddyshriek falsetto was what all boy-rockers wanted to emulate. "We are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx. All the gifts of life are held within our walls!"

5. By the mid-70's, as a member of the Kiss Army, I was sworn by blind loyalty to know or recognize no other band but those men in black-and-white make-up. That all changed in 1976 when the midwestern band, Kansas released their classic Leftoverture, featuring the timeless hit Carry On Wayward Son. To this day I still know every lyric to every song. In 1978 I attended my first rock concert, Kansas' tour for Point of Know Return, the excellent follow-up album to which I also still have every word in my noggin. For a fifteen-year old kid, two words: blown away. I'm a Kansas fan for life and their 1978 live, double-album, Two For The Show, is the perfect keepsake of what would be the first of three Kansas concerts and possibly fifty or more live arena and stadium shows that I've attended. An excellent recording with great song selection from the band's first five albums, Kansas' sound of fusion between two guitars, a bass, drums, piano, synthesizers and a rockin' violin, was orchestral rock at it's best.

6. In 1979, the British opera-rock band, Queen went on tour in support of their seventh album, Jazz. A product of that tour was the magnificent double-album, Queen Live Killers. This album is scorching with hard and mellow, Queen rock-and-roll classics in which many songs sound far better than the studio versions. The set opens with a hopped-up, guitar-filled rendition of We Will Rock You, the foot-stomping, cheerleader classic and followed up by one of Queen's great rockers, Let Me Entertain You. Songs like Don't Stop Me Now, Spread Your Wings and even Bohemian Rhapsody come radically alive on this album in a way not possible in the studio. I was there in 1980 on the tour supporting this release, 12th row on the floor, dead-center. The late vocalist-supreme, Freddie Mercury was as great a frontman as I ever saw. Queen's backing vocals were just as good live as in the studio, which is very rare and Brian May was incredible on guitar. You don't have to be a Queen fan to dig this live album. In fact if Queen's older stuff got your attention but the later, quirkier music like Radio-Gaga rightfully turned you off, buy this album. Some Queen songs that I didn't really care for are now classics in my mind after hearing them juiced-up live nearly thirty years ago. This album was certified double-platinum.

The years of 1978-79 not only produced the two great, live rock albums listed above but Cheap Trick's classic Live at Budokan album and my favorite Rolling Stones album, Some Girls, were both products of those years. But 1978-79 were not only years for great classic rock and live albums. At a time when the older, traditional rockers like Led Zep, The Who and the Rolling Stones were either winding down or searching for a second-wind of creativity, synthesized rockers like Boston and Styx were enjoying viable success and disco was dying a quick death, two newer forms of rock music began to emerge and would change the face and direction of rock-and-roll music forever. I view 1978-79 as the two most important and influential years in modern, rock music history and following are a few examples why.

7. I can't word what should be said about Van Halen's 1978 debut album better than a reviewer on did; "It was the late 70's and unless you lived through it, it may be kind of hard to understand. Disco ruled the radio, you couldn't turn the dial without finding the latest and greatest by the Bee Gees or The Village People. The term "Rock" was now assigned to bands like Styx or Supertramp. The guitar driven rock of Led Zep, The Who and Kiss, were pushed to the back-burner of the American music scene. Then out of nowhere Van Halen burst onto the scene. With the opening chords of Runnin' With The Devil into Eruption and You Really Got Me, Van Halen cemented the new American rock sound. This was something new, something purely American, and opened the door to what we know as Hard Rock or Heavy Metal today. It's impossible to listen to any rock artist today and not hear the influence of Van Halen. The 80's hair-metal scene was basically made up of bands immitating this album. Is it coincidence that soon after Van Halen debuted, disco died and bands like Twisted Sister emerged? Unless you have lived under a rock for the last 25+ years you have heard each of the songs on this album at one point or another. These songs are classics, and have stood the test of time."

8. In the late '70's, the British punk and ska-music scene was in full-swing and about to export itself in bulk to the United States. In late 1978, a trio of bleached-blonde Brits with punk music ties who were accomplished, multi-influenced musicians, released their debut album in the U.S. From the opening tunes of Next to You, to So Lonely and then the mega-hit ode to a prostitute, Roxanne, The Police debut album, Outlandos d'Amour pushed the accelerator of New Wave music to the floor. Though The Police are viewed as an offspring of punk, I see them, along with bands soon to be mentioned, as the fathers of New Wave music. The Police were the band that set the standard for New Wave throughout the early-to-mid '80's until a turn to pop-ish tunes, then the beginning of vocalist Sting's solo career, contributed to the end of the decade of New Wave music. A lot of New Wave acts have The Police to thank for their music careers. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

The time when the New Wave movement burst onto the American music scene, or at least it did in Southern California where I grew up, was during my high school and early college years, a time of discovery of many things, music among them. It's a time of a person's life where music represents certain time periods. In other words, you hear a song that you like and it reminds you of fun times of your youth. That's how New Wave is for me. It's not odd then that in whittling my favorite thirteen albums/CDs, many from this era were in the running. Some that made my Top 20 but missed the final cut are briefly described below;

Just months prior to the release of The Police' first LP, Ric Ocasek and The Cars exploded on to the airwaves with Just What I Needed, the first single from their self-named debut album. Their 1979 follow-up, Candy-O is my favorite Cars album and nearly every song from these two albums became radio hits with half a dozen cracking the Billboard Top 40.

Two months after The Cars first release, the spudboys of devolution from Akron, Ohio climbed into our heads with their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! The first track, Uncontrollable Urge, is still a surf/punk anthem to this day. Listen to this song if you have never heard any slammin' fast Devo songs from their beginning. Their 1979 second release, Duty Now For the Future, carried on the success with hits Secret Agent Man and Mr. DNA. Laugh now but listen to these two records if you've never heard the raw side of Devo before they laid down their guitars and went synth-heavy on their remaining albums.

9. By 1981, the New Wave movement was in full-swing. Major cities all over America had new or re-formatted radio stations dedicated exclusively to New Wave, punk and ska. New bands like The B-52's, Go-Go's and Madness were already getting more airplay than decades-old, big-name rockers. But a band that came of age in the clubs of L.A., competing with every Van Halen wanna-be and punk band imaginable, brought an even newer energy to the New Wave movement. In 1981 and 1982, Oingo Boingo released their first two albums, Only A Lad and Nothing To Fear and both became defining albums of the New Wave era. The band was founded in 1972 as a performing arts group called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and from 1976 it was led by songwriter/vocalist Danny Elfman, who later achieved renown as a composer for film and television, most notably, The Simpson's theme. In 1980, the group changed from a semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe into a new-wave band, and shortened its name to Oingo Boingo. I saw these guys six or seven times live in arenas and L.A. clubs and can somewhat proudly say that I once held Elfman in a headlock in the front pit and tore his shirt off his back when he dove into the crowd right on us. Relax, I was still a teenager. Like most New Wave acts, the best music came with their first few albums. If you aren't familiar with their music, or want to hear more from the New Wave era, these two albums are essential.

10. The breakthrough to big time by Van Halen in the late '70's brought the studios' attention back to the homegrown, L.A. rock club scene. Soon Motley Crue and the Red Hot Chili Peppers would get their break and move from the smokey Whiskey and other Sunset Strip dives into the big arenas. In 1987, Guns N' Roses, discovered at Hollywood's famed Troubadour club, released their debut album and burst onto the airwaves like a typhoon with Appetite For Destruction. The hard partying and atmosphere of turmoil that went everywhere with the band helped create some of the most aggressive and angry music to ever commercially succeed. From the opening tunes of first track, Welcome to the Jungle, this release was something special and trend setting. Top hit Sweet Child O' Mine brought hard rock to dance clubs where new wave and techno held the floor. Paradise City is still one of my favorite songs ever. Whether you loved them or loathed them, and many women rightly felt the latter, it can't be denied that GnR had a profound influence on the next decade's worth of rock creativity and ushered in a new era of hard rock and heavy metal. How big was Guns N' Roses? This album reached #1 on the Billboard charts, their follow-up, Lies reached #2 and 1991's simultaneous release of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II was so anticipated, the albums debuted at #2 and #1 respectively. No other artist or group to date have held the #1-2 spots at once.

11. Though famous in their native Australia for years, it wasn't until their sixth album, released in the U.S. in early 1988, that I discovered Midnight Oil. From the first time that I played Diesel and Dust, it has been one of my favorite musical productions. I've never heard an Oil's tune that sings about love or relationships but rather, their songs plea for world peace, environmental awareness and on Diesel and Dust, primarily the struggles of the Australian Aborigines. But singer Peter Garrett hasn't just spoken of these subjects in song, he's currently a member of the Australian House of Representatives and is a past member of the International Board for Greenpeace. This is a beautifully blended album of pop rock, acoustics, excellent supporting vocals and aboriginal beats that drills right to your soul with its themes of exploitation of the land that the aborigines hold dear. Many songs would be recognized by a first-time listener such as The Dead Heart, Sometimes and their first mainstream hit, Beds are Burning and in 1989, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 13 on their list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s.

12. A copy/paste from "Any Parrothead worth his or her salt-rimmed margarita glass knows that the central experience of being a Jimmy Buffett fan is attending his concerts. As Buffett mentions in the liner notes to this live set, it's like the circus coming to town each summer, except that in the case of his shows, it's the audience, not the cast, that wears the costumes. 1990's Feeding Frenzy contains the essential elements of a classic Buffett concert: his two best early songs, Come Monday and A Pirate Looks at Forty; crowd pleasers such as Margaritaville, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Fins, and Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw) (retitled A Love Song [From a Different Point of View] to placate his Puritan censors); and some island-leaning fare such as Jolly Mon and a version of Harry Belafonte's Jamaica Farewell. A Buffett concert is like taking a Gulf Coast vacation without leaving your hometown. With Feeding Frenzy, you can don your bird, lizard, or shark regalia and enjoy the comfort of your favorite easy chair." I saw Buffett live twice and both were an all-day-and-evening-long partyfest. This is obviously not a pick for outstanding musicianship but rather a sentimental pick that brings back great memories of my roaring 20's. My all-time favorite acoustic song is here with the previously mentioned A Pirate Looks at Forty.

13. Not long after Van Halen re-shaped American rock music with their debut album, demand for the sound of metal meant rock bands with an even harder edge began getting published. In fact, Metallica's first album was released way back in 1983. Classifications such as thrash and metal rose to describe these heavy, new sounds. My favorite thrash-metal album ever is Megadeth's fourth release, 1990's Rust In Peace. The album was certified platinum in 1994 and received Grammy nominations in 1991 and 1992 for best heavy metal performance. I don't like all metal, particularly speed-noise with limited musicianship and simplistic lyrics. Megadeth and frontman Dave Mustaine have the best quality of lyrics in the metal category and this album stands out with its themes of nuclear war, magic and ETs. Written just before the end of the Cold War era and fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the title track's theme of ballistic missiles (When will this cease, when the warheads will all rust in peace!) is excellent lyrically and fed by pounding guitar rhythms, while most songs display insane guitar solos. The chilling Dawn Patrol describes the misery awaiting survivors of a nuclear holocaust. Hangar 18 is another excellent jam spoken by someone who may know too much about the secret location of where the government hides what was found at the supposed crash site of a UFO. There is not a throw-away song on this album, the best lyrics and guitar-work that metal has to offer, hands down.

Since classic-hard rock and metal have been my sounds of choice for nearly twenty years, about the time that original New Wave releases ceased, I'm a bit surprised that I ended up with only two metal albums in my Lucky 13. I'll call it a lack of total, complete-package album releases as well as lack of staying power. Metal and grunge albums from the last twenty years that made my Top 20 but regretfully, not the final thirteen;

Metallica's fourth release, 1988's ...And Justice For All .
Alice in Chains' first two releases, 1990's Facelift and 1992's Dirt.
Pearl Jam's excellent debut album from 1991, Ten.

So what about rock music released in the last fifteen years? There just isn't much out there. Look at what's on the airwaves now, songs like "I just don't know what to do with myself....da da." Boring!! Or how about this past year's big awards winner in the rock category, Lips Of An Angel. Gag me with a freakin' steak knife.

Smashing Pumpkins had some great work in the '90's. Limp Bizkit had some really good stuff. The only albums released this century that I'd give 4+ stars to are Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory from 2000 and System of a Down's Toxicity, released in 2001. I didn't consider any releases from the 2000's for this list as staying power cannot be determined in that short of time, however both of these discs still spend a lot of time in my CD player and could be in an edited version of the Lucky 13 ten years from now.

So that completes the SteeleOnSaipan Rocker's Lucky 13. If you didn't fade out somewhere in the middle and you're still here, thanks for reading! The comments section is for criticism, ridicule and even to lay down your own choices. Bring 'em on!


Jeff said...

Jimi isn't your only sinful omission, no Beatles, no U2, but Megadeath and Kansas are in there. Cmon now.

I did make my own list:

I'm a huge Rush fan. Have been to a dozen concerts, including this tour this summer. I think Hemispheres is better than 2112, and I think that four album run Hemispheres, Permananent Waves, Moving Pictures and Signals the unquestionable best period, moving into another period.

Kudos for getting the Cars and Candy-O in there. If you took half of each, I think it would make the greatest disk ever.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Mr. Turbitt, I assumed that you'd be the first to read and comment on this opus. This took such a life of its own and got so long, you maybe the only person to read and comment on it.

The Beatles never did move me though I'll agree with your top ten post that the Polythene Pam medley of songs was some of their best music.

As for Jimi H., I've had the Are You Experienced album/disc for 20+ years and also have their Smash Hits. Most big Hendrix fans that I've met in my lifetime are musicians as well. I think that non-musicians like myself don't have that appreciation for him that those who play music do.

U2, though I like a lot of their songs, I've always thought that they were over-hyped as opposed to mega-stars. I saw them live on their first U.S. tour following the release of Boy. Small, stand-up only Hollywood Paladium. The Unforgettable Fire is still my fave of their albums.

Rush, I was a huge fan as well and saw them maybe a half-dozen times though none since the early '90's. The Permanent Waves tour was the best of them and I'll agree that that probably is their best album but like I said, 2112 is my all-time favorite song so I had to get it in there. I'm a bit older than you I think so I'm more into their older work. In contrast with your best period of Rush work, I thought that Moving Pictures was one of their weakest albums at that point, w/ the exception of Red Barchetta, Vital Signs and Witch Hunt. Signals was an improvement but I kind of lost interest after that. I'll take their debut album, Farewell to Kings or Fly by Night over any release after P.Waves.

On the flip-side, you dissed my choice of Kansas yet you have Paul Simon on your list. What, are you 60?

As for Megadeth, I'm surprised that you being a musician, you don't appreciate them. The best musicianship and lyric content in the metal sector by far. Give Rust in Peace a listen if you never have.

Unrelated, nice job with Angelo on Harry's show this morning though I'm still scratching my head over Angelo's stated examples of issues affecting the Commonwealth besides the state of the school system. Marijuana? What was that A-Lo? Subliminal reasoning for the consant, poor performance on the Hill?

Lewie Tenorio said...

No gripes about your picks. All fit in to my top 20 just the same(maybe not in the same order).
..even picking Megadeth over Metallica is alright with me...Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning wouldn't be the same without Megadeth's Dave Mustaine.

Just to let you know, these days one can download complete album collections from torrent download sites. Kids today can now download every cd album Britney Spears has ever made, listen to each of her songs in the order they were released and come to develop a full appreciation her artistry and genius - all from one big download.

Jeff said...

I think Streets have no name and Bad are by far the best songs of that decade, and among the best ever. I think they are very appropriately rated as the legends they are.

Paul Simon in that period is on every critics best of list. Those albums aren't just great, they're seminal. Listen to the live one and tell me I'm wrong. He captures the African rhthyms and has an unbelievable bass player of Victor Wooten proportions. I dare you to listen and then crack old jokes.

I think Rush has done a lot of great work ever since. They aren't all great, but most all of them are very good, and show more musicianship than most everyone else. You happened to name like half the album on Moving Pictures. There are only 7 songs.

I think Jimi has his admirers among non-musicians as well. He had a four year active career, and there are like 12 books on him or more.

bigsoxfan said...

Gawd, I wasn't sure Jimmy would ever make your list. My favorite is the four cd set, booze, boats, ballads, broads? Unfortunately, the cd is in Maine. I figured they would need it more than I would. Little did I know the laptop the cd's were loaded on would blow up and now I have three tracks. Woe is me...
The teacher says hello. Actually, he said something about black eyes.. His are a bit pinkish on this saturday morning, but so it goes... He's sworn off the orange for more earthly colors. Later..

SteeleOnSaipan said...

TriGuy Lewie, thanks for tuning in and for the update on download technology. I don't know why I'm not a gadget and latest-thing guy, I'm just not. I'd still be playing cassette tapes if cars were still being equipped w/ players I suppose. Glad to know that the kids can get the latest of crap in its entirety.

OK Jeff, The Comet will give Paul Simon's stuff a try. S&G were like nails on a chalkboard when I was growing up, guilt by past association I guess. I remember hearing some Simon tunes w/ the African beats, I'll open my mind.

Mark, keep up the UB (?) stories, they're enjoyable and give PinkEyes my regards. When do you head back this way again?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

No Frank Zappa? No Cream? No Iron Butterfly? No King Sunny Adai and the African Beat? No Black Uhuru?
No Santana? No Miami Sound Machine? No Engleberg Humperdink (WTF is he losing his mind?) No Def Leppard? No Tone Loc? No Aerosmith? No Busta Rhymes? No mention of Tchaikovsky's D minor violin concerto? And damnit, no mention of Commando Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. That ommission alone (plus forgetting Riders of the Purple Sage) could get you expelled from music appreciation class.

Do you lend out CDs?

bigsoxfan said...

The Teacher says: "If I was stuck on a desert island such as Saipan and allowed only one album, the choice would be The Allman Brothers, "Fillmore East" It's got it all. After all, We all know there's Only One Way Out.

CathyInSY said...

I enjoyed your take on all of this...brought back many memories of those years...mine were just in Chicago...thanks!