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.

Rush - Black Forest bootleg album cover

Listening Booth — Rush at Stadhalle, Offenbach, Germany (May 28, 1979)

Rush - Black Forest bootleg album coverI can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner, but it’s high time I posted a Rush show on this site for the first time. After all, they finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it only seems right. And so inspired by my friends at Addicted to Vinyl sharing an excellent concert from the band’s first album tour, I’m sharing one of favorites.

This concert was recorded at the Stadhalle in Offenbach, West Germany on May 28, 1979 — the second-to-last date on the Hemispheres tour. It goes by several names, but the copy I have is called Black Forest. It’s a fantastic soundboard recording and the band is, as usual, on fire.

Of note is that the entire “Hemispheres” suite is played, as is all of  “2112.” Some of the transitions are rather abrupt, but otherwise this is an extremely enjoyable show. If you want to download the show and also want all the artwork, you can get it from the Digital Rush Experience.

As with all the other bootleg shows I post here, I’m providing these files in .mp3 format. I don’t even think I have the FLAC version of these files anyway.

Set list for Rush at the Stadhalle — May 28, 1979:

Disc 1
Anthem [powerpress url=” Anthem.mp3″]
A Passage to Bangkok [powerpress url=” A Passage to Bangkok.mp3″]
By-Tor and the Snow Dog [powerpress url=” By-Tor and The Snow Dog.mp3″]
Xanadu [powerpress url=” Xanadu.mp3″]
Something for Nothing [powerpress url=” Something for Nothing.mp3″]
The Trees [powerpress url=” The Trees.mp3″]
Cygnus X-1 [powerpress url=” Cygnus X-1.mp3″]
Hemispheres [powerpress url=” Hemispheres.mp3″]
Closer to the Heart [powerpress url=” Closer to the Heart.mp3″]

Disc 2
A Farewell to Kings [powerpress url=” A Farewell to Kings.mp3″]
La Villa Strangiato [powerpress  url=” La Villa Strangiato.mp3″]
2112 [powerpress url=” 2112.mp3″]
Working Man (surf version) [powerpress url=” Working Man (surf version).mp3″]
Bastille Day [powerpress url=” Bastille Day.mp3″]
In the Mood w/Neil Peart drum solo [powerpress url=” In the Mood.mp3″]

The band:

Geddy Lee — vocals, bass, synthesizer
Neil Peart — drums, percussion
Alex Lifeson — guitars

Rush at the Prudential Center (Newark, NJ), 10/20/12

In Concert: Rush at the Prudential Center, 10/20/12

I’ll admit that at this point in my life as a Rush fan, I’m rather spoiled. I’ve been going to Rush concerts since they came to Madison Square Garden in December 1991 on the Roll the Bones tour, and I’ve seen them on every album tour since (as well as the 30th anniversary tour). And the thing is, even a mediocre Rush show is better than most bands on their best night. So for me, the sheer visceral thrill of seeing Geddy, Alex, and Neil live isn’t what it used to be.

But after sitting out the last few tours, I decided to see the band for the first time since the Snakes & Arrows tour in July 2007. I did so for two reasons — I caught a peek at some of their set lists from the tour, and I was impressed with the first several tracks I heard from the Clockwork Angels album. But before I touch on those things let me first say that as far as the band’s performance is concerned it was as tight, professional, and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect. A Rush concert is still one of the great spectacles in music today, and nothing about what I saw last night changed that for me.

Rush at the Prudential Center (Newark, NJ), 10/20/12

Trust me, this was taken at the Rush concert.

OK, so let’s talk about Clockwork Angels. What I wrote about the record for Popdose is pretty much how I still feel about it. I’ve tried to get into it several times and it still hasn’t really connected with me. And I stand by my assertion that the production hampers it the most.

But when I heard the album played live last night — and they played nine of the album’s twelve tracks — I saw it in a whole new light. The songs breathed in a way they don’t on the record, and there were actual dynamics. It also helped that the guys omitted a few of the weaker songs from the album and focused on the strong material. In any case, while many longtime fans of legacy acts view new songs as bathroom breaks, I really appreciated the chance to hear most of Clockwork Angels the way it was meant to be heard.

Now on to the set list. Let me just say that while Rush’s ’80s material lacks the punch and raw excitement of their ’70s output, it’s still mostly great music and I love that they’re showcasing it once again. I swear that toward the end of the first set I thought it was 1988 all over again, and it was glorious. I think the band has spent enough time appeasing fans of “Working Man” and “La Villa Strangiato” that relatively younger fans like me deserve some love.

So ’80s Rush fans, take heart. Power Windows lives again!

What else? Well, there was a neat twist to the proceedings this time around, in the form of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, a group of about 9 or 10 players who took the stage behind Neil Peart’s drum kit and played for most of the show’s second half. Their presence on the Clockwork Angels songs added a great extra element to the songs, and I also enjoyed hearing what they added to numbers like “Dreamline” and “YYZ.” I loved watching one of the performers, an older guy with white hair standing stage right, go absolutely apeshit with air drumming and headbanging. Very fun and a good move for Rush to add these guys. I just hope they didn’t pull an Amanda Palmer and try to pay them in beer and hugs.

Lastly I’ll touch on the venue. This was my first trip to the Prudential Center (aka The Rock), and it’s a pretty cool building. The acoustics are definitely a cut above the mammoth concrete echo chamber that is the Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center. I was disappointed in the lack of any video monitors for those of us sitting to the side of the stage. There are a bunch of large-screen TVs hanging all around the arena; they could’ve at least turned those on. As it was, I had to do with the main video screen at the back of the stage, which was partially obscured by the lighting and sound rigs.

I reflected a bit last night that while I would love the experience of introducing my son to Rush at a concert, he’s not yet three years old and Rush will most likely be done as a touring act by the time he’d be old enough to bring. It’s a shame, because they proved once again last night that they’re one of the great live bands ever, and worth every bit of dedication their generations of fans have given them.

Set list

Set 1

Video intro (Gearing Up)
The Big Money
Force Ten
Grand Designs
Middletown Dreams
The Analog Kid
The Pass
Where’s My Thing? (with Neil Peart drum solo)
Far Cry

Set 2

Video intro (The Appointment)
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight (with Neil Peart drum solo)
Halo Effect (with Alex Lifeson guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Garden
The Percussor (Neil Peart drum solo)
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio


Tom Sawyer
2112: Overture/The Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
Video outro (Office Of The Watchmaker)


“Headlong Flight” — NEW RUSH SONG!


Let’s just get down to it, people. “Headlong Flight” is the first official track released from the upcoming Rush album Clockwork Angels. And yea, verily, it rocketh quite hard.

Behold! “Headlong Flight” via Rolling Stone.

Love the fact that Rush brought back Nick Raskulinecz to co-produce, as he did a bang up job on Snakes & Arrows. Geddy, Neil, and Alex all sound as energetic as they have in at least 20 years. Looks like I need to set aside some money to see this tour.

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Rush - Clockwork Angels album cover

Here’s Your Rush ‘Clockwork Angels’ Album Cover and Track Listing

Here’s a special Wednesday edition of Album Cover of the Week. It’s the cover for Clockwork Angels, the upcoming studio album from Rush. It’s their first studio LP since 2007’s Snakes & Arrows. Behold!

Rush - Clockwork Angels album cover

The press release doesn’t say who designed the cover, but I’m guessing it was Hugh Syme again. It reminds me of that old internet game Alchemy. And wouldn’t you know it, but according to the press release this will be a concept album that “chronicles a young man’s quest across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy as he attempts to follow his dreams.  The story features lost cities, pirates, anarchists, an exotic carnival, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.”

Well OK then. Sounds like it could be cool, or it could be a mess like Judas Priest’s Nostradamus record. In any case, the album is out June 12th. Here’s the track listing:

  1. Caravan
  2. BU2B
  3. Clockwork Angels
  4.  The Anarchist
  5. Carnies
  6. Halo Effect
  7. Seven Cities of Gold
  8. The Wreckers
  9. Headlong Flight
  10. BU2B2
  11. Wish Them Well
  12. The Garden

Looks like it’s time to fire up the Rush geekery in these parts. For starters, you should check out the four-part countdown of the greatest Rush studio albums that I ran prior to Snakes & Arrows:

Part 1 (#17 – #15) — RushHold Your FireRoll the Bones
Part 2 (#14 – #12) –  Test for EchoVapor TrailsFly by Night
Part 3 (#11 – #9) — Caress of SteelPower WindowsPresto
Part 4 (#8 – #5) — CounterpartsHemispheres2112A Farewell to Kings
Part 5 (#4 – #1)Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures

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Rush, circa 1974

Does it matter if Rush never makes it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Rush!

Don't hold your breath. Seriously, don't.

I’ve been a Rush fan for, oh, just over 20 years I suppose. It’s not exactly the most exclusive club in the world, but it’s not like being a fan of the Beatles or Bruce Springsteen either. In most circles, when you tell people you’re a Rush fan, they give you a sideways look as if to say, “Oh, that’s nice. And do you still play Dungeons and Dragons?”

Then there are the pot shots taken by fellow music lovers, who stroke their beards, cluck their tongues, and talk about, “What’s to be done with this band with their shrill singer, overly complex songs, clinical drummer, and lyrics about dragons and sorcery?”

Ninety-nine percent of the time all that drivel rolls right off my back. But for the past dozen or so years, right about this time, I’m reminded of all the insults and all the muted laughter heaped on Rush and their fans. Because every year since 1999 (25 years after the release of Rush’s self-titled debut), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts another group of artists that doesn’t include Rush.  As much as I liked to pretend that the Hall of Fame was a shallow, irrelevant institution, it rankled me every year when Rush was snubbed.

I could rattle off a list of Rush’s commercial and artistic accomplishments, and present a rock-solid (get it?) case for how much they deserve to be inducted into the big glass pyramid in Cleveland. I could also point to a host of inductees from ’99 till now that, while they may be worthy in their own right, certainly did not deserve to get in before one of the pillars of progressive rock.

Rush, circa 1974

Who needs accolades when you look this good?

I could also rail against the entire Hall of Fame and their secretive, highly dubious nomination and selection procedures. I could raise the point that many others already have — that Rush was never “cool” enough for the likes of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone, and that as long as he’s running the show they don’t stand a chance. I’ve said all this before, and was tempted to do so again this year.

But after the latest group of Hall of Fame inductees as announced yesterday and a certain Canadian power trio was overlooked again I asked myself — why? Why the hell should I, or any Rush fan for that matter, care whether or not they ever get in? It boils down to this for any Rush fan (or a fan of any band still on the outside looking in):

If Rush makes the Hall, would that make you love their music any more? Of course not.

Do you think an induction will make haters change their mind? I certainly hope not, because it won’t. If anything, they’ll sharpen their swords.

Would it be a point of pride or a bragging right? Only in a really lame alternate universe.

Would it represent some sort of validation? Hell no. If you want validation for being a Rush fan, go to one of their shows. There you will be surrounded by people who get it, who understand. And in any case, if you’ve been paying attention to a lot of Neil Peart’s lyrics over the years they go on about how futile it is to seek approval from anyone but yourself.

If Rush doesn’t care, why should you? Every public statement I’ve ever seen from the band indicates, at best, an attitude of indifference toward the Hall. Maybe in their more private moments Geddy, Alex, and Neil cry bitter tears over the whole thing, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

So in the end, does it really matter at all? Well, no, it doesn’t. So why the annual consternation and hand-wringing from fans, as well as some critics, music writers, and fellow musicians? Why do the musical tastes and preferences of an extremely limited group of people have any impact on us at all?

So now I encourage all my fellow Rush fans — as well as supporters and general well-wishers — to take a stand today. From this day forward, let’s show the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just how much we care about getting Rush inducted by… doing absolutely nothing. No more petitions, no more angry articles, blog posts, or rants on comment boards.

Let’s just enjoy the music, the band, and the memories. Because if being Rush fans has taught us nothing else, it’s that being an outsider isn’t really all that bad. In some ways, it’s the best thing to be.


Why The Hell Should I Like… Kiss? (The Rebuttal)

Why the hell should I like... ?

Why the hell should I like… ?” is an experiment of sorts between Popblerd and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. What we’re going to attempt to do is to pick 10 songs from our favorite artists — one for which the other has professed dislike or disinterest — and show them why they’re wrong.

KISSI’m a fairly simple man. I like unique, intricate, interesting music, sure, but I’m also a tenacious advocate of the simple, three-minute pop song, and a staunch defender of the notion that, sometimes, a fistful of chords and a catchy chorus is the stuff pop music glory is made of.

With that in mind, I’m not sure why I’ve never found it in my heart to appreciate Kiss. It’s not that I grow weary of their party-hearty, sex drugs and rock n’ roll mentality: I’ll defend to the death the early careers of Aerosmith and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s not that I disapprove of simplistic lyrics and riffs: I’ve probably listened to more Bon Jovi than anyone who doesn’t want to be a New Jersey caricature ever should, and the Outfield’s “Your Love” is one of my favorite pop songs of all time.  It’s not that I’m unimpressed by the makeup and the spectacle: why, then, is there so much Lady Gaga on my iPod? No, I think this is the cold, hard truth about Kiss: I just don’t like the songs.

Take any artist. Strip the arrangement down; remove all the bells and whistles, make it uncomplicated. When all that remains is the song, how does that artist fare? I think my intangible problem with Kiss can be boiled down to that simple equation. Without completely overhauling the melodies, do Kiss songs ever work? Do they possess an x-factor that makes them special?

Eager to catch a glimpse into the Kiss phenomenon, hungry to be taught why I should in any way like Kiss, I turned to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. The ten-track primer he whipped up for me right here is borne of life-long Kiss listening. Chris navigates Kiss in their prime, Kiss at their most experimental, even the inevitable modern-day incarnation of Kiss. His ten tracks are from ten different albums, and represent what, to Chris, cuts right to the heart of what makes them so enjoyable.

It’s been over a week since Chris posted his primer, and I’ve listened to these ten tracks plenty since then; this is, after all, a serious experiment, and I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. (Unless someone wants to take on “Why the Hell Should I Like… Nickelback?” In which case, I’ll dismiss it out of hand.) Unfortunately – and I’m legitimately sad to report this, Chris – I still can’t find anything to get excited about.

“Deuce”, the opener from the band’s legendary live set Alive, fares well with its AC/DC riffs and fleet-fingered solos, but it never grows into anything more; it doesn’t need to cycle through musical movements, but it never reaches anything resembling a hook, and hinges so squarely on the same riff that it becomes redundant seconds into the performance.

“Getaway” is a meat and potatoes rocker that never really needs to be more; problem is, it doesn’t seem like Kiss have anything resembling a fun melody in their arsenal, and barring anything with singalong potential, songs like this are a.) tedious, even at their very short lengths, and b.) awfully similar-sounding. It took me several listens to determine that “Getaway” isn’t, say, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, or, for that matter, “Deuce”. To these ears, “Save Your Love”, despite an agreeably vitriolic lyric sheet, suffers the same fate, as does “Sweet Pain” before it morphs into a shuffling, likable slab of ambling Cheap Trick power-pop in the chorus.

And true, Kiss aren’t entirely a one-trick pony. “The Oath,” from the band’s oft-derided Music From “The Elder”, sounds like the freshest thing here by a mile, all metal power chords and chugging guitar triplets and a downright glorious lead vocal. There are moments here where I can see why Kiss has legitimate appeal.

KISSI don’t like “In the Mirror” as a whole (and, as a side note, would like to put a moratorium on rock lyricists rhyming “mirror” with “nearer” and “clearer”), but for a few lovely seconds before each chorus, there’s a delightfully Alice in Chains-sounding breakdown featuring a terrific melody and a Staley/Cantrell-esque harmony. To these ears, the newest song here, “Even Flow” “Modern Day Delilah“, would sound like a disappointingly tepid stab at relevance from an over-the-hill act, if it weren’t for an excellent lead vocal complete with a terrific rock scream on the bridge. And “Young and Wasted” comes close to winning me over with that forcefully shouted chorus.

But those are all parts of songs. I can’t get down with them as a whole; I approached this thing hoping to, and I felt severely underwhelmed. As big, dumb rock acts go, it seems to me like I haven’t been missing anything by sticking to Def Leppard all this time — in the absence of artistry, I’m more than happy to surrender myself to cheeseball lyrics, headbanging riffs, and eminently shout-able melodies.

Unfortunately, it’s the melodies that draw me in, and in that department Kiss appears to have nothing on deck. I’m far from the guy that insists that we should all be listening to Arcade Fire and Bonnie “Prince” Billy; I just don’t find a sense of fun or any workable melodies tempering Kiss’s neanderthal rock. I found bits and pieces of songs that I found promising, but they were far too often ruined for me by retreating back into sounding, well… generic. Run of the mill.

I’m sorry, Chris, but though you made a valiant go of it, I just can’t figure out why the hell I should like Kiss.

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Listening booth — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Toccata”

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - "Toccata"I don’t know about you, but there are certain songs and albums that I always associate with particular seasons. One of those albums is Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s progressive rock masterpiece Brain Salad Surgery. On a gloomy, chilly October day like today in New Jersey my mind often drifts to the gloomy imagery and sounds of the album.

While most fans would probably point to the 30-minute “Karn Evil 9” suite as the high point of the album, I tend to go for “Toccata,” the group’s adaptation of the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concert. It’s a muscular and moody instrumental workout, the type that ELP excelled at in their prime. It’s also one of their best classical music interpretations.

Keith Emerson steals the show with his ridiculous arrangement and keyboards, but Carl Palmer matches him step for step on one of the very first recordings of a drum synthesizer.

Enjoy “Toccata” (and don’t forget to subscribe to my Listening Booth playlist on Spotify)!

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.

(Spotify users, check out the accompanying playlist and subscribe!)

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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