I'm way behind and half of this shit got deleted midway through the write-up, so don't expect anything real deep in these thoughts. Here we go. . .
Foreigner — Double Vision (1978)
Just solid arena rock from when that whole thing was taking off. I don't know what it is about Foreigner that so appeals to me, as they are seemingly in direct contrast with everything else I'm normally into. Maybe it's the thoughtful guitar work of Mick Jones (which is surprisingly sparse, for this sort of thing). Of course, you get the two big hits on here: 'Hot Blooded' and the title track. Couple of harmless rockers, they are. But fun for sure. Perhaps predictably, I like the more introspective-themed mid tempo numbers like 'Back Where You Belong' (is it just me, or this oddly reminiscent of early Prince?). The twangy ballad 'I Have Waited So Long' is fantastic and easily the album highlight.
Foreigner — Head Games (1979)
More of the same and still pretty much harmless fun. The production on this one is a bit more layered and interesting, as the use of synthesizers is done in a fun way that incorporates weird sounds with pop melodies. Case in point is 'Love on the Telephone' which is lyrically a pretty dumb song, but musically, it's pure stylistic sheen and all around ear candy. The title track was the big hit on this one, but I again prefer the mellower stuff: 'The Modern Day' (sung by Mick Jones) is the sort of blue collar, relishing in the simple pleasures of life tune that arena rock is supposed to be about while 'Do What You Like' is (shockingly!) jangly and perfectly understated.
Foreigner — 4 (1981)
Probably their biggest album. 'Juke Box Hero' should get any 80's night started off right. There's a bit more of a melodramatic overtone to the songs here and you can definitely hear the album's subsequent influence on the rest of the 80's rock scene in that respect. For a full example of this, see the buildup in 'Break it Up.' 'Waiting for a Girl Like You' is the power ballad here and I must have something wrong with me, because I find something rather appealing about its Fender Rhodes electric piano riff. Another surprising moment is the funk rock and tremelo-obsessed riff of 'Urgent'. Great sax by the one and only Jr. Walker as well. The big moment for me, though, was the weird atmospheric riff of 'Girl on the Moon' which I knew previously in another form. Enjoyable as hell, with that great early late 70's/80's feel in the production sounds.
Cheap Trick — One on One (1982)
Yeah, Cheap Trick was not at their best on this one. This kind person is to be commended for this upload as it gives a slight indicator of just how much the band was going through the motions here. Tom Peterson was gone and Robin Zander sounds like he's trying too hard with his pseudo-tough guy vocals most of the time. The title track is a good Cheap Trick rocker and 'Saturday at Midnight' is such a goofy new waver that it gets by purely on appearance. Side two is a lot stronger (despite 'I Want Be Man') and might make you forget how mediocre side one was. Otherwise, yeah: not their finest moment.
Cheap Trick — Next Position Please (1983)
Eff what you think, this is a darn fine Cheap Trick long player. If I were to continue believing the hype, I would have just lived my life thinking they stopped being good after Dream Police and that would have been that. But no, this Todd Rundgren-produced album is peak period new wave-ish rock from a band that had struggled for a few albums previous. Something should spark in the listener's ears right away when the first track 'I Can't Take it' kicks in: it's jangly, it's layered, it's catchy and it's ultimately an excellent song. When 'Borderline' follows in the same vein, you should be clued in that something is up. The tough-guy rock stance that One on One took is noticeably absent from this entire album. The title track is another richly melodic strummer that finds the band getting critical of consumer philosophy (much in the vein of 'Stiff Competition'), while 'Invaders of the Heart' could be mistaken for an outtake from the first album, if you ask me. Overall, yeah! I never thought I'd dig another Cheap Trick album as much as their initial output, but here it is. The expanded edition from the early 90's (sixteen tracks in total — all worth it, too) is out of print (and subsequently, kind of spendy), but all of the bonus tracks are available for download for a buck a throw on Amazon, so go for it, I say (especially when you're able to find the vinyl in the dollar bin in the first place!). Color me downright pleased.
The Hollies — The Hollies' Greatest Hits (1960's/early 70's)
I'm here as a Graham Nash fan, first and foremost. I find him and his work in the 70's (be it with CSN, just C or on his own) to be extremely underrated and a lot more enduring than a lot of his peers' work. But, also as a 60's music fan in general, when this thing kicked off with 'Bus Stop' I couldn't help but grin ear-to-ear. This the later issue of this compilation from the 70's, so it does include some later songs from after Graham had parted company with the band, but even some of those are darn good. But still, Nash is why I'm here and it's awesome to hear his unmistakable vocal timbre and enunciation on songs like 'Carrie Ann' and especially the godlike mini-masterpiece 'King Midas In Reverse.' Great stuff, especially out of the dollar bin. And nice to finally hear where Nash was coming from, pre-CSN.
Donovan — Barabajagal (1969)
I decided, after hearing a number of his songs in passing and surmising that they kick all kinds of butt, that I've neglected Donovan long enough, thank you very much. I've had that one album that seemed pretty much essential for a few years, but I've not bothered beyond that. Until now. The big revelation here for me is: he's folky! Strummy and jangly, poppy and lyrical. Sheesh, he's a downright songwriter, by gum! 'Where is She?' displays Donovan the balladeer and just goes to that place that I love in 60's pop. And, you know, I should say that I have a serious predisposition to this music. I love the way the snare drum crackles, the way the the bass sounds like an oversized rubberband. You just can't recreate that. 'Atlantis' was the hit off this one and its pure gold. Its seemingly effortless resonance is just a screaming clue to the obvious fact that I should not have been ignoring the guy for this long. And besides, he sounds way too much like Stuart Murdoch at times for me to be able to honestly dislike him.
Donovan — The Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Probably too much of a mixed bag that anybody at the time would really take a step back and understand what Donovan actually did here. It's all here: psychedelic blues rock, strumminess, novelties, folky guy musings. Packed to the brim with thirteen short tracks that find Donovan firing on all cylinders like nobody's business. The highlight here is easily 'Get Thy Bearings' which manages to be pseduo-funky, jazzy and retain that great strummy acoustic base that Donovan used as his launching pad. Understandably underrated, as there were no hits on this one, but that just ensures its enduring quality. Nearly fifty years later and it still sounds great. Right on.
The (English) Beat — Special Beat Service (1983)
Born out of Britain's ska-revival, I have to say that I'm shocked it took me so long to get to these guys. They have so many of the qualities that I love in music. British? Check. New wave-era? Check. Jangly guitars? Check. Slight reggae influence? Check. Introspective tones? Check. When I dropped the needle on this and heard 'I Confess' as the opener, I knew that I had (finally) made the right decision. There's a pop sensibility at play here, so even the band are from England's ska-revival, they have not forgotten the lesson that a great pop tune can teach (see 'Sole Salvation'). 'Save it for Later' is the band's biggest moment for us Americans and, boy oh boy, is it a good one. As a fan of Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and the Clash, I'm surprised that it took me this long to find these guys. Glad I did though. Peak new wave stuff.
Travis — Coming Around (2000)
Non-album single that finds the band finding their voice for the first time. The title track is a tasty R.E.M.-esque twelve-string jangler, complete with chorus harmony vocals. There are two b-sides here as well: 'Just the Faces Change' is an acoustic strummer that finds a rare non-Fran Healy lead vocal while 'The Connection' is the sort of layered, jangly, introspective song that the band has made its calling card over the past decade. I know bands like Crowded House, the Trashcan Sinatras and these guys are not considered "cool" with most Americans, but as long as these guys are able to remain one of the kings of the middle of the road jangle band throne with songs like these, I don't want to be "cool."
Andrew Hill — Dusk (2000)
And then he was back. He would die a few years later, but this album is the one that got most critics and jazz listeners in general used to the fact that Andrew Hill was on the scene and was just as poignant as he was in the 1960's. The title track is the sort of slow, rolling post-bop exploration that Andrew made his calling card. Much too weird to be considered mainstream; much too melodic to be considered avant garde. And such was life for Andrew Hill. This is a strong set of melodies he's working with here and it's nice to hear him wrestle with themes uninterrupted on a tune like 'Tough Love' (though we'll properly address Andrew's solo explorations next time). Overall, not a lot to say outside of how I find it absolutely awesome that he can record an album like this one, thirty five years after he made his initial impact, change nothing about his compositional approach and still manage to sound wholly unique.
Kenny Dorham — Una Mas (1963)
The only album of the Kenny Dorham-Joe Henderson co-leader sessions that I didn't have. Of course, the title track is the sort of Blue Note soul jazz blowing session that made the label famous in the first place. So good, I won't even try to articulate. Just listen and try not to groove along (and then enjoy the hell out of your fail). 'Sao Paulo' is a ridiculously moody post-bopper and just goes to show how daring and uncaring Blue Note was at this point. It's like Miles' second great quintet before they even got there (though Herbie and Tony being in this band certainly helped). I can finally understand why this album has such undisputed classic status. And, besides that, it's a very important chapter in the early years of the Joe Henderson story.
Ike Quebec — Soul Samba (1962)
A glance at the title and the year of release on this one and you may guess that it's a gimmicky cash-in on the bossa nova craze that had America in its grasp at that point. But you're not taking into account that the mighty Ike Quebec is involved. At this point in his career, he could have taken polka and have successfully made it sound like some of the best soul jazz ever. Kenny Burrell is about on guitar and despite the similar pace of the songs and the similarly likable heads of the tunes, you just can't truly hate on something that has this much soul.
Ike Quebec — Heavy Soul (1961)
And again, Ike in the twilight of his career, much like Ben Webster, just hit these unbelievably soulful mid-tempo grooves like it was just nothin'. This one does have the ballads that he became known for in his later years, but it also has these moments of pure badassery that remain unmatched to this day. I often forget about how good he actually is because I've got a spotty cross-section of his discography. But, jesus, he's good. Man oh man. Maybe I should do something about that. . .
The (English) Beat — What is Beat? (early 1980's)
Good overview! As a hits collection, it does its job, but it also serves more than that purpose, as it includes extended 12" mixes of the big hits, non-album singles and even some live tracks towards the end. Can't be mad at their so-silly-it's-great cover of 'Tears of a Clown' or the long mixes. I have to say that the long mix of 'I Confess' surpasses the original for me. Just seems to lend itself to the longer, stretched-out form (thanks for the tablas).
The Byrds — Turn! Turn! Turn! (1966)
Been listening to the Byrds a bit recently and it occurred to me that, besides Notorious Byrd Brothers, I have none of their proper albums. Considering that one of my favorite singers of all time started with them and that they are quite possibly the one definitive American jangle band, I decided that I had no excuse. Had a good opportunity to scoop this one up, so I figured I'd go for it. The title track, overplayed as it might be, is quite simply, one of the greatest pieces of music I've ever heard. It never gets old. However, it was the deeper album cuts that really surprised me: the airily-atmospheric, Gene Clark sung 'If You're Gone' and Roger McGuinn's mind-expanding revision of 'Oh Susannah' clue me in to something that I never would've gotten from a greatest hits collection. I should have known better than to write off their albums for this long.
The Jam — Sound Affects (1980)
I haven't necessarily written the Jam off over the years, I've just been a lot more interested in Paul Weller's angry, but pretentious side. The big hit from this album is the decidedly not punk-sounding 'That's Entertainment' and I still love the song (though I will admit that I was more familiar with this cover than I was the original previously). 'Man in the Corner Shop' is another case for why greatest hits collections aren't representative pieces, as it's clearly the best Jam song I've ever heard that isn't called 'In the City' (although I don't have that whole album either, so I could still be missing something that might trump it). Overall, yeah man, I dig the Jam.