Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Laughter

Part of the new wave movement in the late ’70s, Ian Dury and The Blockheads never gained the traction in the United States like they did in the UK. I probably would’ve never heard any of their music had I not been introduced to it while serving in the US Army in the ’80s. A fellow soldier who had just come back from Germany was really into them.

Taking influences from all over the map, Ian Dury’s songs can’t really be compared to any other artists of the day except in bits and pieces. Although Laughter is a musically upbeat album, the lyrics often deal with more serious topics like alcoholism and depression. Dury dealt with both during his life. After the album’s release, Dury explained that the album’s title and the upbeat feel of it was an attempt to cheer himself up while recording it.

Released in 1980, Laughter was Ian Dury’s third and final album with The Blockheads. Though both would continue to record separately after their split, I think their strongest material was when they combined their respective talents.

The Alarm – Change

One thing I will never understand is how Change was not the Alarm’s huge breakthrough album, bringing their musical status at least on par with their musical peers, U2.

The members of U2 and The Alarm actually became friends as their musical paths interweaved through the ’80s, which is something that’s easy for me to understand. Both bands wrote some of the most passionately gripping music back then. They both had a style that rode the cusp of alternative and mainstream rock. And both had a powerfully dynamic frontman who knew how to deliver the lyrics with an intensity that mad you know the songs were personal to the band. They both mixed sociopolitical, spiritual, and interpersonal themes throughout their music. Both were great bands.

The thing is I always felt The Alarm was better. If not better than U2, definitely better than the level of success they attained.

Want proof? Listen to any of their albums. Change is a good place to start.

Chicago – At Canegie Hall

In 1971, Chicago was the first rock band to sell out an entire week of concerts at the Legendary Carnegie Hall in New York. The event was chronicled in a massive 4 album box set. The amazing part of that is Chicago only had three studio albums out at the time. Then again, Chicago had a strong jazz influence in their early days and would often stretch songs out with extended solos when they played them live. And there’s some new stuff here too.

Packaged with a huge six by four foot poster plus two smaller ones and an 18-page booklet At Carnegie Hall kind of set the standard of what a rock album box set should be. In 1971, it became the top selling box set ever and held that claim to fame for 15 years, until Bruce Springsteen released his live career retrospective in 1986.

Hooters – Nervous Night

Because of the large and dedicated following they had built up around Philadelphia, the Hooters hit it big in 1985 with their major label debut, Nervous Night. Their previous independently released album Amore, sold over 100 thousand copies around the Philly area due mainly to the regional popularity the band had built up playing the live circuit. That live reputation probably had some influence with the Hooters being chosen to open up the US segment of Live Aid at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. That opening performance undoubtedly had zome influence with Nervous Night going platinum in numerous countries and selling over 2 million copies in the US alone.

I didn’t see the Hooters’ Live Aid performance on TV back then. However, I did see them live at Pine Knob in Clarkston, MI in the summer of ’85. That is what really inspired me to pick up a copy of Nervous Night. They were the opening act for…I don’t even remember what band it was. I just remember the Hooters. That’s how good they were. I bought the album a day or two later.

A couple of my favorite songs on Nervous Night are the folksy Where Do the Children Go and All You Zombies. The former features beautiful mandolin playing as well as a vocal duet with Patty Smyth. The latter has a somewhat dark melody that’s contrasted by thought-provoking, religiously inspired lyrics.

Pink Floyd – A Nice Pair – A Saucerful Of Secrets

Released in 1973, A Nice Pair is essentially a repackaging of Pink Floyd’s first two albums; The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, from 1967, and 1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets.

A Saucerful of Secrets is Pink Floyd’s last album with Syd Barrett as a member. Syd was always a bit off, which is what made Pink Floyd’s early music so intriguing. But by the time they had started recording A Saucerful of Secrets, Syd’s behavior had become so bizarre and erratic, the band found it impossible to continue with him in the band, even though it seemed unfathomable for them to keep going without him. Their friend, David Gilmour was recruited to fill in when Syd was unable, or unwilling to perform, He ultimately became a permanent replacement. The original lineup with Syd only appears on two songs on this album, Remember A Day and Jugaband Blues, the latter being the only Syd Barrett composition on the album. That’s a stark contrast to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn where Syd contributed to nearly every song. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is the only Pink Floyd song that includes all five members, featuring both Barrett and Gilmour. The remaining five tracks include only Gilmour. Syd was never officially told he was kicked out of Pink Floyd. He just kind of stopped showing up.

Gilmour brought with him a more musical sensibility. Without him, the band may never have achieved the level of success they reached later on. But without Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd might well have never been noticed in the first place. It was his songs, his creativity, his controlled madness (which eventually went beyond his control) that made Pink Floyd stand out from other bands around London in the late 1960s. Although he did release a couple of post Floyd solo albums, Syd soon after slipped into a reclusive madness. He was only spotted in public a handful of times until his death in 2006.

It’s the transitional aspect of A Saucerful of Secrets that makes it such a significant album in Pink Floyd’s catalog. A Floydian trip through what was, what could have been, and what was about to come.

The Electric Light Orchestra – No Answer

The Electric Light Orchestra’s first album was only titled No Answer in the US, and it was all because of time zones.

Typical to a lot of British bands, Electric Light Orchestra’s early albums were released on different labels in the US than in Britain. When United Artists was ready to press the US editions of ELO’s debut. They noticed they only had the band’s name, not the title of the album. Those darn Brits! How could they forget to give them the albums title. No one took the time to think that the band’s debut album title might be eponymous — not really an uncommon thing. One of the execs was tasked with contacting Harvest records overseas to get the info so the record labels could be printed.

There are these things called time zones that you have to consider when calling overseas. When the call was made, the offices at Harvest records were closed so there was no one there to pick up the phone (oh what a primitive world it was back in 1971, to not even have answering machines). The employee wrote No Answer on a piece of paper and left for the day. The next morning, that memo was passed along to the printers and that’s exactly what ended up on the United Artists label. And it was only on the label; the album cover still simply said only The Electric Light Orchestra. This was after all, a self-titled debut. Well, it was in Britain anyway. In the US, the name No Answer stuck and it’s what ELO’s first album is still referred to over here today.

Pretenders II

When I first heard the Pretenders’ second album, It almost killed me…literally…

Before buying the Pretender’s second album, the only song I had heard by them before then was Brass in Pocket, from their first. I actually firt bought bought on cassette, so I could listen to it on the Sony Walkman I had just bought. I was in the Army on TDY (temporary duty) at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and used to ride my bike to La Crosse once a week. It was about a 70-mile round trip, so I would listen to music to take my mind off of getting sideswiped by a car.

There was a record store there and I figured I would pick up something new for the ride back to the base. They didn’t have the debut by the Pretenders on cassette, but they had their second album. Close enough. I popped the tape in, turned up the volume, and hit play. When Martin Chambers slammed out the opening drum beats to The Adulteress, It strtled me so much, I swerved into traffic and almost got hit by a car. It was a song that sounded nothing like Brass in Pocket except for Chrissie Hynde’s voice which came in later; power driven punk rock with only a slight tinge of the more pop sound I was expecting. But I loved it!

The rest of the album was more of the same, bouncing back and forth between songs that sometimes leaned more towards the Pretenders’ punk rock side and at others, more towards the pop oriented rock that I was expecting. I absolutely loved James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar style. It was brash and dirty but with a full sound, only polishing it up now and then when needed. He had totally original hooks and solos that made me an immediate fan of the band (sadly, he would die from a drug overdose between this and the Pretenders’ third album). Pretenders II is still my favorite Pretenders albums and one of my all-time favorites in general, even though it was nothing like I expected…and despite the fact that listening to it the first time almost killed me.

The Romantics

“CAN’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY”.

That’s a line from the 1964 Motown hit Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas. It’s also the final line in the liner notes of The Romantics self titled debut album. It was a nod to their Detroit origins and also to the music of Motown which influenced their sound along with British invasion bands like The Yardbirds and The Kinks. As a matter of fact, the only cover song on this album is She’s Got Everything, a song written by Ray Davies and originally performed by the Kinks.

Because of their high energy live shows, The Romantics were already one of the most popular bands around Detroit when they broke out worldwide with their hit What I Like About You. That song is still a rock anthem standard on radio stations today. It’s very typical to the sound throughout this record. 1980s rock that just like Dancing in the Street is guaranteed to get you moving.

Pink Floyd – Relics

Here’s a bit of Pink Floyd trivia for you: Keyboardist and occasional vocalist Rick Wright also played trombone.

Relics is a 1969 album by Pink Floyd that is a collection of early Pink Floyd tracks. Some of them appeared on their albums from 1969 and earlier. Some of them were released as singles but never appeared on any Floyd album before. And some, like Biding My Time, just never appeared.

I honestly never understood why Pink Floyd never released Biding My Time as a single or on an album. One of Pink Floyd’s more unusual songs, it is also one of my all-time favorites. It starts out with a somewhat quiet bluesy guitar intro, then vocals, kicks in with Rick Wright playing a trombone solo that’s fitting for a stripper in a burlesque club, and wraps up with a totally ripping David Gilmour guitar solo. A truly unique song on an equally unique album of early Pink Floyd.

One of the most innovative bands of all time, I’m almost always in the mood for anything by Pink Floyd. Relics is an album I put on when I’m in the mood for something a bit different by them…and when I’m in the mood for some trombone.

Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated at Last

I had never heard of Thee Oh Sees when I picked up Mutilator Defeated at Last. Then again, I was at a garage sale. I asked the guy if he had any albums, and he was like “yeah, I do. I didn’t think about bringing those out here”. He had a lot of stuff I liked, but I already had almost all of it (that can be a problem when you have a large collection). One that I didn’t have was Mutilator Defeated at Last by Thee Oh Sees. I had never even heard of the band. But he only wanted a buck or two, so WTF. I mean the record itself was near mint. The guy said “Yeah, I don’t think I ever listened to that one. Maybe once. A friend of a friend of mine played in the band.”

I have to say, I really didn’t like this album when I first heard it. It was way too dark and gloomy, and it seemed like the band down-tuned all their instruments. Then I realized the album was pressed at 45 RPM, not 33 1/3. A quick speed adjustment and…

Ahhh, much better. Holy crap! Psychedelic indie garage punk rock! Great hooks, nice playing. This is awesome! I think the song that really grabbed me was Sticky Hulks, the opening track on side two. It has an early Pink Floyd meets Sonic Youth feeling to it.

After doing a little reading up on the band and album, I learned that Thee Oh Sees are from Sacramento, California. They released their first album in 2003, although they called themselves OCs (pronounced Oh Sees) at the time. Mutilator Defeated at Last is something like their 16th album. Wow! These guy keep busy. I’m going to keep an eye out for more by them when I go to the record store or a record show. I’d definitely be willing to pay more than a buck or two for some more of this. If I do run across some more by them I’ll be sure to check the record speed before I give it a listen.