Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Beatles (1978)

Rob's parents took him to NYC to see Beatlemania in the fall of 1978. Shortly thereafter, they would buy him the two compilation albums that would be the introduction to The Beatles for a lot of folks who didn't grow up in the 60's. They were commonly referred to as the Red Album, covering the early period of 1962-1966, and the Blue Album, which spanned 1967-1970. Rob and I dismissed these references, as we would contend that the late era singles and B-sides compilation, Hey Jude, was the Red Album. I'm not sure where we came up with this. First of all, there isn't a trace of red on the album's cover, other than George Harrison's tie...but maybe that's the reason. Hang on a sec...a Google search has just unearthed this description of an album being peddled on what appears to be an eBay copycat site: "THE BEATLES Hey Jude (Extremely rare Ecuadorian 10-track compilation LP pressed on RED vinyl..."

Somehow, I doubt Rob and I were aware of this rare Ecuadorian LP, but this may be a hint as to why, in some circles back then, it was referred to as the Red Album. Anyway, it appears that today, the title of that album is universally considered to be Hey Jude.

Ok, where was I? Oh yeah...those two compilations got it started, but we quickly dived into the entire catalog, with a particular emphasis on the period from Rubber Soul on. Back then, and even to this day, I was and have never been a big fan of The Beatles' early work. I'm pretty sure I used to say that every song from that period sounds the same. This may or may not be true...well, it is to some extent...but I still find that material to be much less compelling than Sgt. Pepper's, Abbey Road, The White Album, etc.

Rob and I would obsess over The Beatles even more than we did over Kiss. While vacationing at Rob's family's place on Sacandaga Lake in the lower Adirondacks, we developed a Beatles board game. I still associate bike treks into the nearby town of Broadalbin with those songs, as Rob and I would always attach a cassette player to the rack on one of our bikes for the trip. This didn't work very well, as it always favored one person's ability to listen over the other's. I'm pretty sure Rob usually got the better end of the deal.

Our biggest Beatles' fixation occurred after reading the book, The Walrus was Paul, Gary Patterson's account of the great Beatle death clues. Rob and I became fully engrossed in researching every clue related to the rumor that Paul McCartney had perished in a car accident in 1966, and been replaced by an imposter named William Campbell, also known by the pseudonym Billy Shears, the winner of a Paul McCartney lookalike contest. We tried to slow down "Strawberry Fields Forever" on a Magical Mystery Tour cassette to determine if the mysterious voice near the end says "I buried Paul" or "I'm very bored". We probably did irreparable damage to Rob's copy of The White Album and his turntable by attempting to play "Revolution 9" backwards.

Despite being impressionable youths, and really wanting to believe this fascinating rumor, neither one of us was convinced. It seemed too great a coincidence to believe that, not only did this imposter look like Paul McCartney, but he also sang like him and shared his songwriting ability. Although...The Beatles did stop touring in 1966, and considering their extreme shift in musical direction from Sgt. Pepper's on, it is possible that John Lennon was writing alone, but continuing to credit Lennon/McCartney. Now, wouldn't that be ironic?

The Beatles would be the last musical obsession that Rob and I would share. Our tastes went in decidedly different directions during our high school years, as I would enter my hard rock phase. Rob, meanwhile, despite being the Quarterback of the Arlington football team and the lightbulb-eating Center/Power Forward of the basketball team, would compromise his macho jock image by getting entirely too excited about such musical gems as the Flashdance soundtrack.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Styx (1977)

When I started on this topic, I thought that there would be at least a few bands that I would be slightly embarrassed to admit I was once a fan of. But now, as I look over my final list, I realize that this is the only band of the 40 that I do not own any CDs by...records and cassettes, of course, but no CDs. I guess that's something of a commentary on their staying power in my book, or maybe an admission that this is the one that I feel the silliest about.

I'm not exactly sure how I became a fan of Styx. My guess is that I first bought the 45 for "Come Sail Away" and went from there. One thing's for certain...1977's The Grand Illusion was my starting point. I still consider this to be their strongest album. Personally, I preferred the second single, "Fooling Yourself", and a couple other songs, to "Come Sail Away". Another thing I know is that Kiss and Styx being one's two favorite bands was an odd combination.

In 5th grade, I recall listening to a cassette of 1978's Pieces of Eight on headphones in the library with Bill Iori, Dan Hickey, and, of course, my second oldest friend, Len. Little did I know that, post-high school, I would wind up standing with high school pals Scott and Beau, on Dan Hickey's doorstep, as Beau threatened him with a billy club for punching Scott's sister at a party. Dan pleaded with me that I knew him better than that..."You remember the kid who listened to Styx with you back in 5th grade. You know I wouldn't hit Scott's sister on purpose". Alright, he didn't actually say that, and I honestly don't think he meant to hit her, but he was an asshole regardless. Oh shit! I just remembered...that was the night that I fooled around with Julie (Scott's sister) on the floor of Debbie Smith's finished basement. I was pretty much a jerk to her after that, but I guess I was really uptight about the fact that I was 18 and she was 15. Over two decades later, she seems to have forgiven me.

Back to 5th grade though. When "Renegade" came out, we hated the intro to that song, but loved it when it kicked in as a full-fledged rocker. We probably had no idea what a "Blue Collar Man" was, and I'm pretty sure none of us aspired to be one, but we rocked it out to that song as well.

I hadn't yet hit my prog-rock phase, so I would never dive into Styx's older, pre-arena rock material. By the time I reached that point, there were much better bands in the genre to get into. I remained a Styx fan through 1979's Cornerstone and up to 1981's Paradise Theater, but Kilroy Was Here was definitely where I drew the line.

I actually think I still have a cassette of the post-Kilroy live album Caught in the Act kicking around somewhere, so it could be argued that I stuck it out right up to when they broke up in the mid-80's (before, of course, hopping on the comeback bandwagon in the 90's). Nevertheless, I'm sticking to my story that I'd had enough after the release of that lame-ass futuristic 2112 ripoff.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kiss (1975)

Kiss was my first favorite band. I still remember where in my yard we were when my next-door neighbor, best friend, and the older brother I never had, Rob, asked me if I wanted to go listen to his new Kiss records. I think I probably looked at him funny. I had no idea what he was talking about, but we went next door and listened to Kiss Alive!, which, I must say, is the perfect introduction to this band.

I can't say for certain that it was love at first hear. In fact, I find it hard to believe that this is the type of music that an 8-year old would instantly take to, but it wasn't long before they became my first musical obsession. My first LP purchase was The Originals, a three record set containing their first three studio albums: Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill.

I was sometimes the object of ridicule, some of it friendly and harmless, for being such a huge Kiss fan. In third grade, I would walk around playing air guitar to the Gene Simmons-penned classic, "Calling Dr. Love" from Rock and Roll Over. One of my classmates would joke that I was playing my zipper, which sounds weirder today than it did to me then.

Three quality albums (Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun) later, they released the less celebrated Alive II, then it was all downhill from there. I still ended up buying the four ridiculous "solo" albums, of which Ace Frehley's was surprisingly the best, then Dynasty and Unmasked. Fortunately, I came to my senses after that. Unfortunately, I later decided I was so over Kiss that I gave away all of my records to the kid across the street, who was five years, to the day, younger than I. Wow, that kid's turning 35 this year.

I'm not sure Kiss gets enough credit for the strength of their early body of work, six really good studio albums and a live album that is, to this day, their defining moment. I know I'm not embarrassed to say they were my first favorite band.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Fab 40: Chronicling my lifelong obsession with music

It's less than two months from my 40th birthday. Like a lot of people who've reached this age, I'm not too psyched about the idea of reaching this particular milestone. Don't get me wrong...I'm not freaking out. In fact, I think I've actually come to terms with this. It's just that, I'd rather be turning 30. Regardless, I've decided that, instead of dreading the occasion, I'm going to celebrate it. To that end, I've been thinking recently about what artists have meant the most to me during my lifetime of listening to music...and, to honor my upcoming birthday, I'm going to narrow the list down to 40.

I'm calling this list the Fab 40, and, of course, The Beatles made the cut. I'll give that one away right off the bat. First, let's get a couple things straight. This is not a list of the best bands of my lifetime, nor are these my current favorites. There's no critical element to this, so unless you were there with me, there's no second guessing allowed. This is purely opinion, and the only opinion that matters is my own. No matter how bad my taste was when I was a kid, this is the list. In a way, this will represent my 40 favorite bands and artists during the course of my days on this earth. But, the most important thing to remember is that 8-year old Dan gets the same vote as 39-year old Dan.

Oh, and the list is going to be chronological, so you'll be hearing from 8-year old Dan (more commonly known back then as Danny) first.

Before I begin with the list, let me make one clarification. It may be a little misleading to say that 8-year old Dan has an equal vote to 39-year old Dan. This might seem to imply that my selections are equally spread across the range of my years, which is not exactly true. For the first half of my time as a music listener (1975-1991), I've selected 15 artists, with 25 artists comprising the second half. I still contend that this distribution makes sense, as I listen to a hell of a lot more music now than I did back then. In fact, I probably listened to nothing but the first band on the list for at least a year after I was introduced to them. In 2006 alone, I listened to 400 new releases. Despite this, there is also a bias against music that I've discovered in the past few years, simply because it hasn't had the time to develop a certain sense of nostalgia. The end result is that the period of 1994-1997 may seem a bit over-represented, as this was the time that I was turned on to many of the bands that would shape my taste for years to come. Alright, now on to the list...