Journey, Look into the Future album cover

Album Cover of the Week: Journey, Look into the Future

Once upon a time, there was a Journey that was not massively successful. I speak of course about the band’s first three albums — which were certainly harder and more progressive than later material, but were nonetheless not very popular.

So for this entry let’s look at one of those three albums, and the one with the weirdest cover — 1976’s Look into the Future.

Journey, Look into the Future album cover

So it looks like we’ve got a little bit of an MC Escher thing going on here, but less complex. It does fit with the vibe of Look into the Future, however, which is definitely more progressive and jazzy than the band would become after Steve Perry joined.

Journey, which was a five-piece outfit for their first album, lost rhythm guitarist George Tickner and was reduced to a quartet. The four band members, shown here as floating blue spirit beings, are (clockwise from the back left) guitarist Neal Schon (and his epic ’70s afro), bassist Ross Valory, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar.

Information on the cover design is not easy to come by, but from what I can tell the design is credited to Rick Narin and photography is credited to Ethan Russell.

Later CD issues of Look into the Future add a dark red band around the edge of the cover. The scan you see here is from a 1976 CBS Records U.K. release.

Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments

My favorite music: 1983

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1983.

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Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments — While I would in no way claim that Robert Plant’s solo output bests Led Zeppelin’s music, a lot of times I simply prefer to listen to Plant. In fact I’d say that Plant has enjoyed one of the most artistically rewarding solo careers of any artist who was part of a popular band that I can think of. The Principle of Moments is probably my favorite Plant solo effort (next to Fate of Nations) — he sounds freed from the constraints of creating larger-than-life rock and the music just crackles with energy. “In the Mood” and “Big Log” are all-time classics.

Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind — Four albums into their career, Iron Maiden had gone through just as many lineup changes. But when drummer Nicko McBrain replaced Clive Burr (trading Burr’s pocket groove for McBrain’s heavy metal thunder), the classic Maiden lineup was complete. With McBrain behind the kit the band released Piece of Mind, their most ferocious LP yet. While not the top-to-bottom classic that The Number of the Beast was, this album boasts some of the best songs in Maiden’s catalog — “Where Eagles Dare,” “Flight of Icarus,” and “To Tame a Land” just to name some. Even so-called filler songs like “Sun and Steel” or “Quest for Fire” are raucous fun.

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic — It feels like Weird Al has been making fun of popular music forever, but in fact it all started with his modest self-titled debut in ’83. I can’t imagine this being of interest to someone just getting into his music, but I love all of it. The parodies are strong — “I Love Rocky Road” and “My Bologna” being the best — but the originals carry this disc. “Gotta Boogie” and “The Check’s in the Mail” are absolutely products of their time, but are musically strong. Capping the whole thing off is the absolutely twisted and hilarious “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung,” a touching tale of the friendship between a young man and his terminally ill pal.

Yes, 90125 — I would have been perfectly happy with another album from the Drama lineup of Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Horn, and Geoff Downes. I loved that album so much. But it’s hard to deny the greatness of 90125, even as slick and thoroughly ’80s as tracks like “Changes” and “Leave It” sound now (or perhaps because of that). This album (thanks in no small part to “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) achieved something most probably thought was impossible — it made one of the champions of ’70s progressive rock artistically and commercially relevant for a whole new generation of music listeners.

R.E.M., Murmur — There’s a small but vocal legion of R.E.M. fans who hold that nothing the band did after Murmur measured up to the group’s debut LP. I don’t buy that, but I can see where they’re coming from. There are just so many strong songs here — especially “Perfect Circle” and “9-9” — and they’re all delivered in such stark, simple fashion. And as I wrote in the second part of my ongoing R.E.M. exploration series, Murmur seems to get stronger as it goes on.

AC/DC, Flick of the SwitchAC/DC, Flick of the Switch — This is the last album AC/DC released in the ’80s that’s worth hearing, although admittedly it doesn’t stack up to Back in Black or For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Still, Angus Young’s thunderous riffing is mostly on the money on this record, and Brian Johnson still sounds energized behind the mic. Overall the tried-and-true hard rock-meets-blues formula feels fresh here, and songs like “Rising Power” and the thundering title track are the best examples of that.

Journey, Frontiers — I knew nothing of the older, more rock and fusion-oriented sounds of Journey before I bought this on cassette in ’83 and I didn’t care. Hell, I still don’t. I love everything about Frontiers — from the arena-ready rockers (“Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”) to the tender ballads (“Send Her My Love”, “After the Fall”) to the obscure, off-kilter cuts (“Back Talk”). In my mind’s eye, Journey will be forever rocking out on the pier with invisible instruments.

Frank Zappa, The Man From Utopia — One of the most-asked and most difficult questions in music fandom is, “Which Zappa album is the best for a non-fan to start a collection with?” There are a handful of outstanding options, one of them being The Man From Utopia. Zappa plays it relatively straight here — well for him anyway, although the music is unmistakably his. If the crude humor of tracks like “SEX” or “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” isn’t your style, there’s always the excellent instrumentals “Tink Walks Amok,” “We Are Not Alone,” and “Mōggio.”

Genesis, Genesis — I’m not one of those Genesis fans who gnashes his teeth over any album that isn’t 100% prog rock. They have plenty of really good songs that are relatively straightforward and poppy. And this album (aka Mama) has very good pop songs (“That’s All”, “It’s Gonna Get Better,” and “Silver Rainbow”) as well as very good art rock (“Mama”, “Second Home By the Sea”). Yeah, “Illegal Alien” is a but much to take, but it’s the only really dodgy song here. It’s also a more consistent record than Abacab.

Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones — I’ve never been a huge Paul Simon fan but this album has resonated with me for some time. The title track alone is worth the price of admission, and ranks among Simon’s greatest compositions. The up-tempo tracks are uniformly good, but I go for the more melancholy numbers like “Train in the Distance” or the excellent “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” the latter of which was as much a eulogy to John Lennon as to the titular rock and roller.

Metallica, Kill ’em All — Raw, powerful, visceral. From the fade-in of “Hit the Lights” to the fade-out of “Metal Militia,” Kill ’em All is 50-plus minutes of some of the finest thrash metal ever recorded. Metallica wanted to release this with the title Metal Up Your Ass but was convinced by Megaforce Records to ease up a bit. But musically, there is no compromise on this album. And although guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted from the band just prior to the recording sessions, his fingerprints are all over it in the form of four co-writing credits and numerous uncredited guitar parts. (I’d include a song sample here but, you know, Lars.)

Randy Newman, Trouble in ParadiseRandy Newman, Trouble in Paradise — The sound is sleeker, and the arrangements are a little slicker, but this is Newman near the top of his game. This is worth the price of admission just for the timeless pop paean “I Love L.A.,” but the one-two punch of the melancholy “Same Girl” — his best ballad since “Marie” — and the acerbic yet mechanical “Mikey’s” is stunning.

Kiss, Lick It Up — A lot of people attribute Kiss’s resurgence in the ’80s to them taking off the makeup and getting out of the 1970s. That’s probably true, but I think it was also a case of them finally producing kick-ass rock for the first time in years. With short-timer Vinnie Vincent in the fold, the band effectively straddled the squiggly line between hard rock and heavy metal. Dismissing Lick It Up as mere hair metal is lazy and misses the point — groups like Poison and Cinderella never put out music with as much power or ferocity as songs like “Exciter,” Fits Like a Glove,” or “Young and Wasted.”

XTC, MummerMummer seems to take a bit of a beating from fans and critics who didn’t care for the more pastoral and introspective bent XTC took after Andy Partridge retired from public performing. As it turns out, this is the one album of theirs I never get enough of, and it’s by and large because of the pastoral and introspective moments (“Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” and “Ladybird” are simply divine). Of course if you like your XTC angular and nervous, there’s still the outstanding “Beating of Hearts” or “Deliver Us From the Elements” to satisfy.

Queensrÿche, Queensrÿche — While Queensrÿche’s debut EP did little to distinguish them as a metal act, it was a surprisingly mature and accomplished effort all the same. The entire band is ferocious, but it’s Geoff Tate’s soaring and Halford-esque vocals that push songs like “Queen of the Reich” into the stratosphere. The band’s full-length debut (The Warning) showcased their ambition much better, but the 18 or so minutes of this release are much more aggressive and laser-focused, setting the stage for things to come.

Pink Floyd, The Final Cut — Yeah it’s basically a Roger Waters solo album, so what? While more David Gilmour would have been welcome, it’s clear that the band was done by this point. Even so, this is a powerful album that is made all the more so because it largely bypasses the excesses of The Wall. Waters’ sense of weariness and betrayal is evident throughout the entire record on songs such as “The Hero’s Return” and it makes for riveting listening.

Mötley Crüe, Shout at the Devil — The amount of really good music Mötley Crüe released relative to their stature is not all that much. But this is one of the defining metal albums of the ’80s, and nothing can change that. This is the sound of a hungry and creative band, before drugs and glam metal excess took their toll. Side B runs out of steam just a bit, but there are so many killer songs on here — the title song, “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” just for starters — that you won’t even notice. And I still maintain that Tommy Lee’s name deserves to be included in the list of great metal drummers of all-time.

The Police, SynchronicityThe Police, Synchronicity — The transformation from the Police’s first album to Synchronicity is astounding. While some of the punkish aggression heard on Outlandos d’Amour is still present here (especially on the Andy Summers-penned “Mother”), there is a high level of gloss now. Sting is very clearly in the driver’s seat from a creative standpoint, although in retrospect it’s clear that Summers and Stewart Copeland kept him somewhat in check. How else to explain numbers like “Every Breath You Take” and “King of Pain”, which are still essential listening today rather than forgettable soft rock dreck Sting was to become known for?

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Texas Flood — I can count the number of blues or blues rock artists I like on one hand and still have fingers left over. And yet there’s something so positively mesmerizing about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his debut album. I guess the only way I can put it is that Vaughan just oozed authenticity. Oh yeah, and there’s that instantly recognizable playing style and guitar tone. How can a song like “Pride and Joy” not make you want to boogie? The best thing about this album is that as popular music was becoming buried in synthesizers and other artifice, this album took three musicians (Vaughan, bassist Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton) a total of three days to record.

Def Leppard, Pyromania — In retrospect it’s easy to see how Pyromania was just another step on Def Leppard’s road to blandness (under the guiding hand of producer Mutt Lange). But at this point, they still delivered the best pop metal in town. There’s enough crunch to please all but the most hardcore metal fans, and of course there are hooks and melodies to spare. You’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to love songs like “Photograph” or “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop).” And of course there’s my absolute favorite, “Foolin’.”

Billy Joel, "Tell Her About It"Misc. 1983 songs that I love:

  • U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • Black Sabbath, “Zero the Hero”
  • Frank Stallone, “Far From Over”
  • Tears for Fears, “Pale Shelter”
  • Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
  • Elton John, “I’m Still Standing”
  • David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl”
  • The Beepers, “History Lesson” (WarGames soundtrack)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark at the Moon”
  • Madonna, “Borderline”
  • Asia, “Eye to Eye”
  • Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say”
  • The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another”
  • Duran Duran, “Union of the Snake”
  • John Cougar Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down”
  • Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark”
  • Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” & “Easy Money”
  • The Tubes, “She’s a Beauty”
  • Men at Work, “Overkill”
  • Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  • Herbie Hancock, “Rockit”
  • Steve Hackett, “Bay of Kings”
  • Tangerine Dream, “The Dream Is Always the Same”
  • The Human League, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
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Original 1980s MTV logo

30 for 30 — Our Favorite MTV Music Videos of All-Time

classic MTV logo with moonmanIt seems like forever since watching videos on MTV was a regular part of our lives, but once upon a time it was. We could go on and on about how the station — which turns 30 on August 1 — turned to crap years ago for one reason or another, or about how the “M” in MTV seems to stand for Mook now, but let’s not go there. Let’s make this post a happy remembrance, one in which we celebrate what was rather than lament what isn’t.

So in that spirit of celebration, here is a list of our 30 favorite music videos of the MTV era (which kicked off on August 1, 1981). Not the best videos, necessarily, but the ones that had the most impact on us. Oh, and for you ranking junkies — sorry, this is strictly in alphabetical order.

1. Daft Punk, “Around the World”

In college we had a primitive system in the dining hall that allowed us to watch music videos while we ate. Unfortunately, the school was too cheap to buy any more than a dozen (mostly awful) songs, so there wasn’t much choice. “Around the World” was the perfect stylish, hypnotic video to make you forget that you were eating Grade D meat at filet mignon prices. – SJ Stanton

2. Joy Division, “Atmosphere”

Joy Division Atmosphere by DrEuthanasia
A beautiful memorial to Ian Curtis. Other directors turned music videos into short movies, but I think this is one of the finest examples of pure art. – SJ

3. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”

Talking Heads – Burning down the house by Dan_of_the_Land
The fascinating yet distrubing image of David Byrne’s disembodied head singing this song will be etched into my memory forever. – Chris Holmes

4. 2Pac, “California Love” (feat. Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman)

This is not only the only 2Pac song I can listen to from start to finish, this is easily my favorite hip hop video of all time. – Chris

5. Art of Noise, “Close (to the Edit)”

I love the early videos when no one was entirely sure what would sell well, so they just did whatever weird crap they wanted. That little girl is probably my age now, which makes me feel really old. – SJ

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Chicago Live in '75 (Rhino Handmade)

Album review: Chicago — Live in ’75

Chicago Live in '75 (Rhino Handmade)To read the Ben Edmonds-penned essay that accompanies Rhino Handmade’s 2011 Chicago offering — Live in ’75 — you’d get the impression that the two handsomely packaged discs contained therein contained a glimpse of the band at its apex. This is true to an extent, as Chicago was on a hot streak when they rolled into Maryland to play a series of shows in Largo’s old Capital Centre. That tour — which saw the group join forces with the Beach Boys — marked the band’s graduation to the Big Time, aka stadium and arena concerts.

But artistically, the band was straying further and further from their jazz/rock roots and was on the precipice of Cetera Ballad Country. So in a sense, Live in ’75 does offer diehard fans a service in that it presents Chicago as they were right before the bad times — before producer James William Guercio found himself on the outs, before Cetera started to dominate the proceedings with his panty-moistening ballads, but most of all before Terry Kath shuffled off this mortal coil far too early in a moment of heart-wrenching wrecklessness.

So anyway, how ’bout that music? Well by and large Live in ’75 delivers. The band flexes its considerable muscles on numerous occassions over the course of a few hours, most effectively on “Mongonucleosis,” “Introduction,” and the multi-part “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” suite, the latter of which is the album’s crown jewel. The biggest stars Danny Seraphine and his monster drums, as well as that inimitable backing section of Lee Loughnane (trumpet), James Pankow (trombone), and Walter Parazaider (woodwinds). They lead the way for Chicago as the group tears through classics like “Beginnings,” “Old Days,” and “I’m a Man.”

But it’s not all good news, friends. For one, Terry Kath’s guitar is virtually nonexistent in the mix and, for another, Peter Cetera’s voice is too high in the mix. And by that I mean someone should’ve turned his mic off, because his lead vocals by and large are embarrassing. I’m not enough of a Chicago nut to know what a typical performance from this era sounded like, so I’ll give Peter the benefit of the doubt and assume he was sick, drugged, or both. In either case, his singing sounds totally mailed in, as if he was just killing time before the Karate Kid franchise got started.

The Cetera/Chicago feud doesn’t get the ink that the Steve Perry/Journey split does, but something is clearly going on here. I have a difficult time believing that the band couldn’t find tape from another show of the period to offer the public that didn’t make ol’ Peter sound so awful. I can only chalk the decision to use these shows up to more sinister motives.

But not even that is enough to dampen the overall effect of Live in ’75, which is to be reminded that as much as they are an oldies band now, Chicago was once mighty relevant and powerful. The package Rhino assembled is exquisite (a think booklet full of vintage photos and a giant poster that my teenage self totally would’ve hung on the wall are ensconced in a sturdy slipcase), but ultimately it’s the music that matters. And this music matters, boys and girls.

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My user thinks the Tron Legacy trailer looks promising

I’m usually part of the chorus railing against Hollywood for dusting off old ideas for movies rather than inventing new ones.  Still, my inner (and outer) geek is pretty jazzed about this teaser trailer for the upcoming Tron movie (which is currently called Tron Legacy but was previously known as Tron 2.0 and the much cheesier TR2N), slated for a 2010 release.

I’m not even all that concerned over how the “legacy” of Tron is handled.  Let’s face it, the original was lots of fun but wasn’t exactly rich in character development or plot complexities.  It survives because of the initial wow factor (and maybe the Journey soundtrack).  I just don’t know if the new one will be able to pack the same punch in a post-Matrix world.  Still, it’s got Jeff Bridges so how bad can it be?

Shuffle Along (aka Name That Tune) – 7/24/09

I’m going to steal something that Jess ran on his blog many times – name that tune.  It’s simple: I post a lyric from the next random batch of songs that shows up on my iPod, and you try to guess the song and artist.  If you guess correctly and have a website, you get a free link (otherwise, just your name).  You just can’t buy that kind of publicity.  If this goes well I’ll do it again.  Of course if no one guesses anything I’ll just shitcan the whole idea.  Let’s play!  (and no cheating by looking them up!)

1. “She can move you and improve you with her love and her devotion.  And she’ll thrill you and she’ll chill you, but you’re headed for commotion.” – KISS, ???
2. “Tied to a chair, and the bomb is ticking.  This situation was not of your picking.”
3. “I hang my head and I advertise a soul for sale or rent.  I have no heart, I’m cold inside.  I have no real intent.”
4. “The sheets are gray, left since the day she went away, I lost all power.  The dust is thick, the dog is sick, the kids have picked most of the flowers.”
5. “You ask me why I’m weary, why I can’t speak to you.  You blame me for my silence, say it’s time I changed and grew.”
6. “Your groove I do deeply dig.  No walls, only the bridge.  My supper dish, my succotash wish.” – Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart” (Thom)
7. “Troubled times, caught between confusion and pain, pain, pain.  Distant eyes, promises we made were in vain, in vain, in vain.” – Journey, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” (mizerychik)
8. “Angels never know it’s time to close the book and gracefully decline.”
9. “Gonna make you, make you, make you notice.” – The Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket” (Thom)
10. “I been bad, I been good.  Dallas, Texas.  Hollywood. I ain’t askin’ for much.” – ZZ Top, “Tush” (xtrev)

Extreme Makeover: Band Edition – Journey

The Problem: How does a band that has been around for more than 30 years and is more than 20 years past its commercial peak stay relevant? Well for Journey, it ain’t easy. Life after Steve Perry has been rough for the group, which is currently without a lead singer. Except for the recent popular buzz generated by the use of “Don’t Stop Believin'” in the series finale of The Sopranos, Journey’s role is now limited playing old hits to a small core of devoted fans.

The Solution: A makeover is just what this group needs to shed its image as washed-up corporate rockers! And that makeover starts with the name, because like it or not, “Journey” is primarily thrown around as an insult outside of fan circles. As in, “Man, after David Lee Roth left Van Halen they turned into Journey”, “You still listen to Journey? *snicker*”, or “Crap, I just stepped in a pile of Journey!#!”

So with that in mind, here’s a few quick ideas to spruce up this veteran rock act’s image and turn them into a whole new band:

  • Lil’ Journee – Gangsta rap may not be the commercial juggernaut it used to be, but it still outsells AOR by a good margin. Of course, simply intentionally misspelling your name and adding the ubiquitous “Lil'” prefix is not a guarantee of success. For instant street cred, the second part of this makeover calls for the band to escalate their public beef with Steve Perry and maybe send Neal Schon to pop a cap in his ass at a crowded club.
  • Kidz Journey – I still have no idea why a merciful God allows shit like Kidz Bop to exist, but since it does the band might as well gain from it. And hey, finding a new lead singer becomes a lot easier when you can just cycle through a series of tuneless 10-year-olds.
  • We Call This a Journey! – Because nothing says indie cred like an unnecessarily long name and an inappropriate punctuation mark.
  • Journey 42 – Co-opting the trend of combining a regular band name with a random number may be a bit out of date, but it’s worth a shot.