Monday, April 30, 2007

Dinosaur Jr. (1994)

During the time that Scott and I lived together on 43 Love Street (so nicknamed more for Scott's exploits than mine) in Albany, Scott owned a copy of Green Mind. I listened to it a few times and thought it was a consistently good album, but it lacked anything that really grabbed and reeled me in. I also recall noticing that Len owned a copy of Where You Been, when I stayed with him while in Boston for Mark's wedding. I didn't listen to it then because Dinosaur Jr. weren't really on my radar at the time.

I don't know why it was that I eventually picked up my own copy of Where You Been, but the rest, as they say, is history. I know that Bug and You're Living All Over Me are generally considered to be their best, but to me, Where You Been is the album that kicked off the obsession that would eventually lead Scott to begin referring to them as Danosaur Jr.

I don't know how many times I listened to Where You Been, Green Mind and the less impressive Without a Sound during the next year, but it may have rivaled the extent to which I overplayed Steely Dan less than a decade earlier.

A couple of years later, while visiting my favorite record store in Portsmouth NH, I stumbled across J Mascis' new live solo acoustic album, Martin and Me, and inquired with the store clerk about it. Although she liked it, she was quick to point out that J Mascis' voice in this Unplugged-style setting was a bit difficult to take. In her words, this was certainly not melodic folk. We both admitted an affection for J's gratingly annoying vocal style, which in retrospect, is harder to listen to when not backed by his blistering guitar playing.

It wasn't until the past few years that I paid very close attention to the earlier and more critically acclaimed albums. Scott bought a copy of Bug back in the Albany days, but I didn't spend much time with it then. I know that the first three albums, with Lou Barlow still on board, are considered somewhat revolutionary in that they pre-dated the early 90's grunge movement, and maybe even helped to pave the way for Nirvana's success. Regardless, I've never been much of a Lou Barlow fan, and I remain partial to the less inventive, but more indebted to Neil Young, albums on which J Mascis was the sole creative force.

I saw Dinosaur Jr. live only once, and it was about all I could handle. It was in the late 90's and they were touring to support Hand it Over, which at the time was supposed to be their swan song...but we all know how those things go. The show was at the Middle East downstairs, and at one point I had to move far away from the speakers because I could literally feel my heart pounding. I watched the rest of the show from the back of the venue, and I swear I could barely hear the drums because the guitar was turned up so loudly.

I have to say that I was more entertained by seeing J Mascis play air drums while walking in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston last summer than I was by this particular live show. Still, Dinosaur Jr. ranks as the first indie rock band of whom I consider myself a big fan.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Joni Mitchell (1994)

This being my 19th entry, you may or may not have noticed a complete lack of female artists. In fact, the only significant female contributors to the 18 preceding artists (not including Jon Anderson) are the aforementioned Emmylou Harris, Jayhawks' keyboard players Karen Grotberg and Jen Gunderman, and various women who've recorded alongside Neil Young, including Harris.

I'm not sure why this is. For whatever reason, I've always been partial to male performers. Despite this, there have been occasions that I've been totally captivated by female vocalists, and Joni Mitchell was perhaps the first of these. A year or so prior to this, I was completely enthralled with Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes and Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, but the successors to both of these albums were slightly disappointing, as both artists eventually proved to not have much staying power.

Around this time, Jen made me a mixed tape, one side of which entirely consisted of Joni Mitchell songs. I just dug this tape out this afternoon. On it she wrote, "Hope I didn't spoil the Joni by overdoing it", this despite the fact that I'm sure I made her at least two or three mixes entirely made up of Neil Young songs. Blue and Court and Spark would quickly become my favorite Joni albums, although "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio", with its classic line, "You don't like weak women you get bored so quick, and you don't like strong women 'cause they're hip to your tricks", still remains one of my favorite songs.

Prior to meeting Sara a few years ago, Jen is the only woman who had ever had an influence on my musical taste, other than my sister, of course. The significance of this is that none of my girlfriends have ever really made an impact on what I've listened to. I'm not sure what to make of this it that women I've been with simply haven't been passionate enough about it to influence my musical taste, or that I generally seem to get involved with women with bad taste in music? Hmmm...maybe a little of both.

1994 was also a year in which a certain major void became a permanent part of my life. I don't know if there's a connection between this and a sudden interest in female artists or not. I would tend to think it's just a coincidence, but one that I feel like pointing out nonetheless.

Gram Parsons (1994)

Although the idea that The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo was the first country-rock album is not entirely accurate, the concept of Gram Parsons as the father of the genre may very well be true. To that end, it could be argued that Cambridge, Massachusetts is the birthplace of country-rock.

While studying theology at Harvard, Parsons met John Nuese, Ian Dunlop and Mickey Gauvin, and together they formed The International Submarine Band. Shortly thereafter, Parsons dropped out and the band moved to New York, before eventually settling in Los Angeles. Still, the ISB are quite possibly the band that truly started it all, as their one and only album, Safe at Home, was the precursor to Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Parsons' post-Byrds work.

I had read about Parsons' career beyond The Byrds, but hadn't really dived into the music, until listening to a mixed tape that Anders made for Scott, which included "Return of the Grievous Angel". That particular mix also contained a fine selection of Anders' own four-track recordings and a song named "I Got Drunk" by a band called Uncle Tupelo.

My first purchase of Parsons' post Sweetheart-era Byrds catalog was Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers, followed by the 2 albums on 1 cd version of GP and Grievous Angel. The latter would be the only two solo albums Parsons would release prior to his legendary morphine and tequila induced death in Joshua Tree, California in 1973. Both of these albums were absolute masterpieces, and not only launched the career of Emmylou Harris, but also influenced countless country and rock acts that followed.

I give the most credit for opening my ears to country music to Parsons' two solo albums, and for allowing me to bond with my father over music for the first and only time. I spent countless hours following this new interest by digging into my father's collection of music by the pioneers of country music, discovering such artists as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams Sr. and, my personal favorite, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Perhaps the best tribute album ever released, in my opinion, was 1999's Return of the Grievious Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, which included interpretations by two of Gram's most important collaborators, Emmylou Harris and Chris Hillman. Still, on the album's closer, The Rolling Creekdippers' version of "In My Hour of Darkness", Mark Olson, Buddy Miller, Victoria Williams and Julie Miller eerily channel the magnificence of Parsons and Harris, in as fitting a tribute as I've ever heard.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nirvana (1993)

I had gone through my hard rock phase during my high school years, and by the time I was out of college I was too "grown up" to continue to embrace loud music. This was a ridiculous notion, and thankfully I'm long since over it. Maybe being 25 and managing 60 truck drivers was partly to blame for my growing up a bit too fast.

When I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit", I thought it was a good song despite being by some new run-of-the-mill hard rock band. I never really gave Nirvana another thought until I came back north from Florida. A drive from Albany to Poughkeepsie with Scott and Jen was the first time I heard Nevermind in its entirety. In Utero was released shortly thereafter. It didn't quite have the pop sensibilities of its predecessor, but these two albums were back-to-back classics.

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York was another brilliant album, probably the best to come out of MTV's Unplugged series. This album led to Scott's purchases of Meat Puppets II and The Way of the Vaselines, both very worthwhile indeed. I think of the mid-90's as the period when we rabidly sought out the music that influenced, or was championed by, our favorite artists. I even bought Truth and Soul because Neil Young is pictured wearing a Fishbone shirt in the liner notes to Harvest Moon. It turned out to be a good purchase as well.

In October of '93, Jen planned a trip to the Springfield Civic Center to see Nirvana as a surprise birthday present for Scott. I don't remember what was given as the reason we were driving east on the Berkshire section of the New York State Thruway, along with Jen's brother Marshall, but it was a great plan nonetheless. It was at this show that this band's brilliance really resonated with me. Less than six months later, on April 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain was dead of apparent suicide.

I remember pretty vividly the day that my sister came into my room to wake me up for school and tell me that John Lennon had been murdered. I was 13. I was 26 and leaving the parking lot of the Grand Union distribution center in Waterford, NY when I learned on the radio of Kurt Cobain's demise. These are the two most memorable rock star deaths of my lifetime. Given my current age, this is all the more reason to celebrate turning 40.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Jayhawks (1993)

While I was spending my one year of exile in Florida (Fort Myers to be exact), I read a brief write-up in some second rate music magazine about a band that they compared to Neil Young. Oddly enough, this was in the same issue that declared Neil the Godfather of Grunge. Later, just prior to my return trip north, I videotaped Farm Aid VI, primarily to see Neil Young's performance. As luck would have it, scanning through the tape looking for other artists who might interest me, I discovered the band that the aforementioned article was about.

The Jayhawks only played three or four songs for that Live Aid performance. Although there was a vague similarity, I'm not sure that I completely got the Neil Young comparison. Still, they were pretty good. Prior to that, my main attempt to get into current music had been the purchase of the Spin Doctors' Pocket Full of Kryptonite. I think that fine acquisition was due to the influence of Mark, when I hung out with him and Len as they vacationed with their mother in Naples. That cd would survive my collection for two or three years, until I threw it out the window of the Albany apartment I shared with Scott at the time. That particular disc would prove to have the survival instincts of a cockroach, as it took a trip outside and a few more throws to finish off it off for good.

Upon my return to the Northeast, during my brief stay in the Albany suburb of East Greenbush, I purchased The Jayhawks' 1992 album, Hollywood Town Hall. Later that year, I moved into an apartment in Brunswick, just outside of Troy, with Scott and Jen. This arrangement didn't last long, but Jen would become the first person whom I turned on to The Jayhawks. I didn't realize how well respected The Jayhawks were, until years later I learned that Sean and Anders were fans as well.

Although The Jayhawks are considered one of the pioneering acts of the modern alt-country movement, I was still just dipping my toes into the genre at this point. It wasn't until a couple of years later, with the release of Tomorrow the Green Grass and a couple other pivotal albums, that I would become fully immersed.

Following the release of Tomorrow the Green Grass, Mark Olson quit the band, leaving Gary Louris as the sole driving force. I thought their sound would suffer, and I still contend that their show at Saratoga Winners in Latham in 1995, when Olson was still a member, was their best live performance that I've seen. However, Louris would prove to be a more than capable band leader, and they would release three more strong albums before officially calling it quits last year.

Trivia Part 2

Before I continue, I've got to admit to a pretty significant error I made in my trivia question. There are, in fact, 11 different double-duty members of the Fab 40. It's pretty incredulous that I could make such a major mistake, although there is a pretty simple explanation. I'll get to that later.

I still think there's really no gray area regarding what constitutes a legitimate member of a band, but I'm going to clarify, just to be on the safe side. A "legitimate" member is defined as someone who is an official member of the band for at least one album. Simple enough? Well, I know there's potential for debate, but I think it's pretty clear with the artists in question.

I'm also going to make a slight modification to the rules. You can guess anytime you want, even prior to all of the bands involving these members being revealed, but you only get one guess. So, if you guess prematurely and you're wrong, you can't guess again. Considering there are 11 answers, I would suggest waiting it out a bit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Byrds (1991)

Afshin seems to get a kick out of calling everything I listen to folk-rock, but this is the band who truly made that genre relevant. Interestingly enough, just as Afshin is misguided in his categorization of bands in this realm, it's an inaccurate generalization to use that moniker to describe the various styles employed by The Byrds. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that they were among the pioneers of three separate sub-genres of rock music: folk-rock, psychedelic rock, and country-rock.

I had developed at least a mild interest in The Byrds during my years in Syracuse, and first purchased a compilation called Original Singles, Vol. 1 (1965-1967). I'm not sure what happened to this cd. I probably sold it back after I purchased the magnificent 4-disc box set that was released in 1990.

This collection brought together the best of all eras of this innovative band. They were only together for eight years, but as I said, they covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Upon reading the songwriting credits in the booklet that came with the box set, I wondered about these two different McGuinn characters who were band members at different times. I didn't at first realize there was no overlap, or that this lack of overlap wasn't just a coincidence, as I didn't know then that they were the same person...Jim McGuinn changed his name to Roger in the late 60's.

McGuinn apparently had quite the ambitious plan when he hired Gram Parsons to play keyboards in 1968. However, his idea to create a double album that would represent a history of contemporary music styles quickly gave way to Parsons' influence in turning the band in a country direction. That year, they released their best album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and as quickly as you could say "You Ain't Going Nowhere", Parsons was gone. Several reasons were given for his departure, but the obvious one was the tension between him and McGuinn over creative control of the band. Not to be discouraged, Parsons would continue his country-rock pioneering ways as a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers and a solo artist until his untimely death in 1973.

Parsons wasn't the only band member with whom McGuinn clashed over asserting a more prominent role in the band. Original member David Crosby left for similar reasons in 1967, and, although his departure was blamed on personal problems, Gene Clark's early exit seems suspicious as well. Personally, I'm convinced that Jeff Tweedy has always looked to Roger McGuinn as a role model.

Although intrigued by such songs as "The Christian Life", "One Hundred Years From Now" and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" (which Parsons co-wrote but didn't play on), I wasn't instantly convinced that The Byrds' country-rock material was their best. I was still overcoming the anti-country bias that was typical of many young fans of rock music at the time. Years later, the remastered and expanded reissue of Sweetheart would be the only Byrds album I would purchase beyond that comprehensive box set.

The Byrds may not necessarily be the band who turned me on to country-inflected rock, but their Sweetheart-era sound certainly deserves some credit for opening my mind to the style of music that would eventually become my favorite.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Neil Young (1990)

During my late college years, I experienced a dearth of exposure to new music that really made an impression on me. I think this was basically because, for two years, I listened to nothing but Steely Dan and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, as odd a combination as that is. This downward spiral would change drastically, shortly after my graduation from college.

Somewhat surprisingly, to those who know me at all, I was a relative latecomer to the ranks of Neil Young fandom. I was a fan of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Deja Vu during those lean college years, but it wasn't until I visited Joe in Hartford that I would discover the musical genius who would influence my interest in just about everything I've listened to since.

I don't know if Joe is aware that I consider him at least indirectly responsible for turning me on to Neil Young. As I was preparing to return home to Syracuse, after a weekend visit with Joe and Carol, Joe lent me a Best of Neil Young tape. I've never seen another copy of this album in existence, but you can look it up on (sans track list), as it was released in 1987. I listened to this tape on my drive home, and shortly thereafter, purchased Decade, the 3-record on 2-cd compilation that does a pretty good job of summarizing Neil's output from 1966 to 1976.

I wasn't exactly sure what I thought of this material at first, but it quickly grew on me. I have to admit here, that during my younger years, I absolutely hated "Sugar Mountain". I've since reconsidered, although it's still far from my favorite song. Joe, upon learning of my newfound interest in Neil, mused aloud about how cool it would be if I became as big a Neil Young fan as he was a Bob Dylan fan. I think it's safe to say that I've long since reached this level.

As I said earlier, this music would affect much of what I'd listen to later, but his biggest influence, directly and indirectly, was on my eventual and total immersion in the alt-country genre. More on that later.

I've tried, at various times, to be a Neil Young completist and own everything he's ever released. This is almost an impossible task. First of all, I'd have to settle for attempting to own every release that is attributed to him as a solo artist or a band in which he was a member (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, w/ Crazy Horse, etc.). Otherwise, I'd have to purchase jazz bassist Rob Wasserman's Trios for the song "Easy Answers", on which Neil and Bob Weir teamed up with Wasserman. As you might imagine, owning every song that Neil Young appeared on would be impossible, so this compromise would be a necessity. Even still, this is a difficult proposition.

In the mid-90's, I began fairly successfully scouring used record stores, and purchasing copies of Time Fades Away, American Stars 'N Bars, Hawks & Doves, Re-ac-tor, Everybody's Rockin' and Trans, out of print albums that were never released on cd. At one point, I even had a Life cassette, which I think I've since lost. I was never able to find a vinyl copy of On the Beach, although Anders had one. Several years ago, after On the Beach was finally released on cd, and I found myself a used copy of Journey Through the Past, the soundtrack to a movie never made, I thought I finally had everything...not counting the fact that I didn't realize I had lost my Life cassette, and disc one of Decade.

But alas, do I need to own all the compilations too, like the aforementioned Best of Neil Young, 2004's Greatest Hits, and 2001's Mystery Train? What about the Eldorado EP and singles with otherwise unreleased b-sides? And what the hell is Where the Buffalo Roam, not to mention the completed, but never released, albums that are now kicking around on the Internet? For crissakes, I give up. Who knows, maybe one day I'll achieve this goal after all.

I feel like I should spend several days writing about Neil Young. He's now been my official favorite artist for over a decade and a half, and probably will never lose that distinction, no matter what. But, I have 26 more artists to go, and I suspect I have yet to make my last mention of Neil.

Addendum (4/24/07): When I moved to Albany in 1993, there was a recently opened brewpub in Troy named Brown & Moran's Brewing Company. This was at a time when the microbrew craze was yet to reach full effect. Scott was still living in Rochester, but Jen had already moved to Albany. That summer, she and I hung out at Brown & Moran's probably 2-3 times a week. There, we befriended a bartender named Chris, who now owns a bar around the corner from that brewpub (now just Brown's Brewing Co.), called Ryan's Wake. I visited his bar two summers ago, probably the first time I had seen Chris in 5-6 years, and we did some reminiscing about those days. He also fired up "Cortez the Killer" on the jukebox, impressively remembering my favorite Neil Young song.

During the time that Jen and I would sit at the bar and talk over many pints, another Neil Young song was becoming one of my favorites, "Ride My Llama" from Rust Never Sleeps. We would frequently discuss my dissatisfaction with my current job and my dream to go to umpire school. A lyric from that song, "I'm gonna ride my llama from Peru to Texarkana", inspired the song's title to become a metaphor for chasing your dream. I guess it had something to do with how crazy it would be to actually make that trip. So, when I told Scott and Jen that I had quit my job with Ryder to attend Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School, Jen instantly pointed out that I was riding my llama. Sounds a little odd, but to me it was inspirational.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1986)

I first heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Their version of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" was that show's theme song during the late 70's and early 80's, to my recollection. Fittingly, ELP gave me my first introduction to classical music. I own about a dozen classical cds, and three of them are directly influenced by ELP's rock versions.

Of course, I own an Aaron Copland collection, which includes the aforementioned "Fanfare" as well as "Rodeo", a piece of which ELP covers on their finest album, 1972's Trilogy. Gustav Holst's "The Planets" was purchased as a result of hearing the band's 1987 incarnate, Emerson, Lake & Powell, perform "Mars, The Bringer of War". Most importantly, though, my favorite classical composition, Modest Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain", was the final track on a cd of "Pictures at an Exhibition", which I purchased after hearing ELP's live album of the same name.

How did I get turned onto ELP is the real question? And how the hell did they become, not only my favorite British prog-rock band, but my absolute favorite band for a short period of time? The latter question will have to remain unanswered, but I have several theories regarding the former.

I'm pretty sure I first truly learned of this band when the progressive rock supergroup, Asia, came on the scene in 1982. Asia, of course, included Carl Palmer, as well as Steve Howe of Yes, John Wetton of King Crimson, and Geoff Downes of The Buggles...ok, it was 75% of a supergroup. Yes, I had heard "Fanfare" in the 70's, but didn't know or care who performed the song, and I had confused them with ELO during that decade as well.

However, I think the overriding factors were that Greg Lake had sang on the seminal prog-rock album, In the Court of the Crimson King, and the logical next step for me was to become obsessed with this keyboard heavy style of music. Of course, anyone in their right mind knew that Rick Wakeman couldn't match Keith's Emerson's organ...playing, that is. Back then, I could frequently be heard saying that the guitar was, in fact, my least favorite rock instrument. I've since reconsidered this ludicrous statement, but it was true at the time.

I have to say that ELP is currently inhabiting that territory, along with Styx and Triumph, of the band's in whose music I'm finding the fewest redeeming qualities as I take this stroll down memory lane. I'm pretty sure this is the last time I'll be making a statement such as that.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Steely Dan (1986)

It was some time around the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college that I popped into the cd player a copy of A Decade of Steely Dan that I found lying next to the stereo in Anders' house. I recall the house was full of guys sleeping off alcohol-induced hangovers, although I'm sure that wasn't the only substance involved. Of course, I had heard many, if not most, of these songs before, and had often enjoyed singing the lyrics to "Deacon Blues" while intoxicated, but this collection of hits initiated my desire to explore this musical territory further.

Within a year, I would purchase, in cassette format, all seven of Steely Dan's studio albums that existed at the time. In fact, years later, I would purchase all seven of these on cd, making this the only artist that I, at one time, owned their entire catalog (not including compilations) in two different formats. Of course, that no longer is the case since I don't own either of their 21st century albums in any format.

1976's The Royal Scam was my first purchase, although the hit-laden Aja would've seemed the place to begin, and remains my favorite to this day, despite being considered by some to be among their worst. In my opinion, as many as five of those first seven albums could legitimately be considered their best, with Gaucho and Countdown to Ecstasy being the exceptions. By the summer of '87, I would be so enthralled that I would declare it a Steely Dan summer, much to Scott's chagrin, as that moniker would describe the only music played on my car stereo during those months. Beau would later give me The Best of Van Morrison as a gift, just so I would listen to something else.

I was fascinated by the sarcasm and cynicism of their lyrics, even if I had no idea what many of the songs were about. I even drove through the upstate New York town that was the subject of the less than flattering "Barrytown", to try to learn what Donald Fagen was singing about. Barrytown was towards the northern end of the Hudson River, nearby to Annandale-On-Hudson, where Fagen and Walter Becker had met while attending Bard College. I found no evidence of the other worldiness that this song portrayed.

Steely Dan may very well be the band that I overplayed the most, thereby taking some of the enjoyment out of their music for years to come. I seem to have recovered from this, though, and I now consider their 70's output to be among the strongest decade long runs of any of my favorite bands.

Friday, April 13, 2007

King Crimson (1985)

Len listened to a Geddy Lee guest spot as a DJ on an obscure radio show, sometime around the summer between our junior and senior years. His interest, and eventually mine, in King Crimson came out of this spot. Unfortunately, Geddy's spins also influenced Len's interest in such bands as Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure, and thus changed his musical taste for the worse, in my opinion, especially at the time. I guess it could've been worse, considering it was the 80's. It wasn't until about ten years later that I would rescue him and finally return the favor for all the bands he turned me on to in high school.

Len subsequently would purchase the first ever King Crimson retrospective, A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson, long before their catalog would be plundered three or four times a year for new and unique compilations. One of those questionable compilations would later become my first CD purchase ever. I believe Len also purchased the live album USA, on which I first heard the strange but magnificent "21st Century Schizoid Man", before starting in on the Adrian Belew era releases of the early and mid-80's.

The 80's releases were interesting, and quite a change in direction for the band. 1981's Discipline was clearly the best, with several standout tracks including "Elephant Talk", "Thela Hun Ginjeet", and my personal favorite, the alternatingly nonsensical and hard-rocking "Indiscipline". Looking back, the latter was a bit of a novelty song, but it stirs in me memories of hearing something that was so different from anything I had ever heard. 1982's Beat was pretty good as well, as it included probably my favorite song from that period, "Neal and Jack and Me", as well as the radio-friendly (relatively speaking) "Heartbeat". Three of a Perfect Pair was certainly a dropoff from the first two, although the title track is excellent, and it would signal the end of King Crimson until...what else, a mid-90's reunion.

I said earlier that my first cd purchase was a King Crimson compilation. This wasn't until 1989, while I was living in Syracuse, shortly after graduating from college. I believe Mark was the first of my friends to purchase a cd player, even before his older brother Len. I know Mark was still in high school at the time. I don't remember what his first cd purchase was, but the three that most jog my memory are Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers, The Power Station's self-titled debut, and This is Big Audio Dynamite. And, to think, I was worried about the direction that Len's taste was moving in.

My first cd purchase was The Compact King Crimson, a questionable compilation for sure, but one that captured my interest in the band at that time. It consisted of four of the five songs from the epic In the Court of the Crimson King, leaving out the least essential track, "Moonchild". Besides those tracks, it was basically the best of the Adrian Belew era, except that it included two songs from Three of a Perfect Pair and only one from Beat, which meant no "Neal and Jack and Me". Then there were the five tracks from Discipline, but no "Indiscipline". So, in hindsight it was a compilation that summarized two albums in the history of a band that had ten studio releases to that point...questionable indeed. Regardless, it was my first, and 18 years later it's still holding up well enough that I'm listening to it right now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Yes (1984)

90125 was released in 1983, and the opening guitar riff to "Owner of a Lonely Heart" totally grabbed my attention. Len also owned a copy of Classic Yes, the concise but essential greatest hits collection released in 1981. I recall an 11th grade lunch room conversation in which John Clark remarked that he didn't like 90125 because it didn't sound anything like old Yes. My feeling, at the time, was that I wasn't a huge fan of the older material, so I didn't care. In hindsight, as questionable as that assessment was, there's no denying the fact that 90125 was the album that piqued my interest in Yes.

Eventually I would come around on "old Yes" and near the end of the summer of 1984, Len, Mark and I would plan to go see them live at the New Haven Coliseum. Len and Scott were both working as lifeguards at Manchester Gardens, the apartment complex that Len's father managed. I showed up there one afternoon to ask Scott if he wanted to go with us. Scott was there with his girlfriend Laurie, and as I walked into the pool area, he said, rather brusquely, "Len's not here". When I informed him of my purpose for being there, he warmed up a little, but I kind of had a feeling that Scott didn't like me. Regardless, from the day of the concert on, Scott and I quickly became good friends. I don't know if it was due to watching me throw up after a pre-concert Uranium 232, or because we bonded over being scared out of our minds as the speedometer of Mark's 1972 Pontiac Catalina hit 116 on I-84 on the way home, but it seems that Yes concert was the pivotal moment in our friendship.

Oh, the infamous U232. Rob and Len returned from a class trip to Russia in the spring of 1984 (Scott and John were on that trip as well), and for three hazey Thursday afternoons in May (one on my 17th birthday), we consumed copious amounts of vodka. For that three-week span, the Thursday Afternoon Pact was born, reached its zenith, and came crashing to earth, along with our bodies and many brain cells. Twice at Rob's house and once at mine, the three of us played quarters with shots of vodka, and you can just imagine the results. I'm not even going to get into explaining what a U232 was, but I will say that it was born out of my desire at the time to do everything to extreme.

The third session, and the pact, ended with Rob and I, aided by an extremely amused Mark, dragging Len into his bedroom, putting a trash can next to his bed and leaving him to his misery...not to imply that we were really in any better shape. Later, Rob would get lost walking home from my house, or so he claims, and his mom would call me demanding to know what he had induced. I denied vehemently that we had been drinking, claiming that Rob just got sick on some pizza. Rob's mom, concerned that drugs were involved, called his Uncle Brian, who assured her that if he was puking then it had to be alcohol, and if you couldn't smell it on his breath, it must be vodka.

Although considered somewhat legendary in the classic rock realm, the strength of Yes' entire catalog was not beyond question. Just a few years ago, I would introduce a somewhat subjective type of music trivia discussion which went something like this: What bands, who have reached the status of icons, have actually produced more albums not worthy of their legend than records that live up to that status? The example I intended to use was The Rolling Stones, but I came to decide that Yes were, in fact, the poster children for this affliction.

It's difficult to remain objective about 90125 because of its nostalgic meaning to me, but other than that, there are only three Yes albums that are inarguably very good, The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge. All three of these albums were released within a two-year period (1971-1972) of Yes' 30+ years as a rock 'n roll entity. Tales of Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Tormato, Drama, and everything post-90125 are pretty much crap. Everything else is in that gray area. Still, Yes produced enough good material to earn their spot as the most successful of the British prog-rock bands, even if they weren't my favorite.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Trivia Part 1

As I prepare to write my 10th entry, thus completing the first quarter of the Fab 40, I'm going to introduce a trivia question.

There are a total of seven musicians who are or were legitimate members of two bands of the 40. There's really no gray area here, so I don't feel the need to define "legitimate", except to say that when a solo artist makes the list, he or she is considered the only legitimate member of his/her band.

Of course, it will be impossible to answer this question without continuing to read, because it is here that the answer will eventually reveal itself. Since the only people reading this are pretty familiar with my musical taste, I'm sure there are a few artists who will spring to mind right away. However, they're not on the list until I write about them, so I will not accept any guesses until all seven answers have been revealed.

The first person to name all seven will win an as yet undecided prize. If you're confident enough with your answer, then submit it via blog comments. Otherwise, send as an email to

Monday, April 09, 2007

Triumph (1982)

I have to correct myself on my previous claim that the only artist of the 40 by whom I do not own any CDs is Styx. I could have sworn I had Allied Forces, but apparently I do not. After listening to Classics, Triumph's 1989 greatest hits album, while preparing to write this, I think I understand why. Forget what I previously said about Styx. Triumph is the worst band in my Fab 40.

The entry for Triumph describes them as follows: "Late-'70s/early-'80s prog metallists Triumph endured countless comparisons to Rush throughout their career, and with good reason; they were both quite similar musically and lyrically, comprised of three members each, and hailed from Canada."

Huh? Yeah, they were both Canadian power trios but the similarities end there. Musically and lyrically similar? I know that previously I sarcastically referred to the lyrical depth of Rush, but come on. They were certainly making a much more profound statement than such gems as "I'm young, I'm wild and I'm free. I've got the magic power of the music in me," "Live it fast, but live the life you choose," and "Fight the good fight every moment, every minute, every day." Lyrically similar to Bon Jovi maybe, but not Rush. And these are from their more cerebral songwriter, Rik Emmett. Don't get me started on the Gil Moore-penned songs. Musically, I find little evidence that Triumph was any more than a solid, straightforward 80's hard rock band, not the progressive outfit they're made out to be.

That said, for a considerable period of time, Triumph was my second favorite band to Rush, and they do hold a place close to my heart. The most special memory that Triumph stirs in me is one of Johnny Kranik constantly quizzing me and Len as to who our current favorite band was, who was second, third, etc. Johnny was three years our junior and, it seemed, he looked up to us. One of these conversations would typically go something like this:

JK: Dan, who's your current favorite?
DM: Rush, of course.
JK: Who's second?
DM: Triumph.
JK: Are they a close second, or pretty far behind?
DM: Not even close.
JK: Who comes next?

You get the picture. Probably the only person who will find this remotely amusing is Len, but I credit these informal lists as my first Rob Fleming moments, almost 15 years prior to Nick Hornby's creation of said character. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my affinity for lists and, therefore, my desire to be Rob Fleming. I'm not.

I'm sorry that I don't have much good to say about Triumph. I will say that 1981's Allied Forces was a solid rock album and easily their best effort. After becoming enamored with this one, we would dig into the back catalog and check out 1980's Progressions of Power and 1979's Just a Game, and have our concert shirts stolen while seeing them live at the New Haven Coliseum. I also know that I remained loyal for much longer than they deserved, from 1982's Never Surrender, through 1984's Thunder Seven, and on to 1985's The Sport of Kings.

Years later, in the early 90's, while visiting my parents in Poughkeepsie and watching the television show Wheel of Fortune with my Mom, I was astounded to see Triumph bassist Mike Levine as a contestant. I would immediately call Mark, because he was always the one to play Mike Levine in our mock concerts in Len and Mark's basement. This was in the days that Len and I could pretty much tell Mark what to do, so as a result, Mark always played the least desirable role in the band. Of course, a couple years later, after Mark returned from his year in exile at New York Military Academy, he would consistently make both of us, especially Len, pay for ever having bossed him around.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

AC/DC (1982)

We got into AC/DC right around the height of their popularity, shortly after the release of For Those About to Rock We Salute You, which reached #1 on the U.S. charts in 1982. By we, I'm referring to me, Len, Mark and the rest of our Martin Drive crew, but once again I'll acknowledge that I was a bit of a latecomer. For Those About to Rock was actually a less than inspired effort by the band, but they were still riding high on the strength of its predecessor, 1980's Back in Black.

These were the first two albums of the Brian Johnson era, following the alcohol related death of lead singer Bon Scott in early 1980. Unbelievably, the band was able to replace Scott and release their most successful album within the same calendar year. Despite this, we were always partial to Bon Scott over Johnson. Highway to Hell, Scott's swan song and the band's breakthrough album; Let There Be Rock, my personal favorite, which included the undisputed (in my mind) greatest song in heavy metal history, "Whole Lotta Rosie"; and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap were an effective case for the strength of their mid to late-70's material, despite the greater popularity of their first two albums of the 80's.

It wouldn't take long before anybody who had a clue would come to agree with us. If For Those About to Rock was more than a slight dropoff from Back in Black, 1983's Flick of the Switch and 1985's Fly on the Wall were a plummet. I don't know if these were the two weakest albums in their history, because I stopped paying attention after that, but they were definitely the two worst to date.

As I write this, while listening to "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be" from Let There Be Rock, it seems like a good time to return to the Satanism issue. Among the bands I listened to, AC/DC was near the top of the list in terms of the amount of grief they received from the holy rollers [Iron Maiden and Judas Priest certainly were not overlooked either]. Some even thought it was fitting that Bon Scott met his demise following the release of Highway to Hell.

My cousin Lorri had found God (although I don't know where he was hiding) and was worried about me. She gave me a cassette on which an admonishing narrator outlines most, if not all, of the Satanic references in the past decade and a half of rock music. It was awesome! It would have made one of the most informative and entertaining VH1 documentaries in existence. I was absolutely enraptured, that is until my cassette player ate the tape.

I was a bit freaked out. Was this a sign? Despite my arrogant dismissal of these accusations, deep down I had always remained a bit wary, so this incident definitely fostered those concerns. Was there really evil in this music? Obviously, I considered myself too intelligent to be swayed by these influences, but was there some credence to the idea that these "subliminal" messages could affect me in a way that I couldn't even realize? Plus, what was I going to tell Lorri? My final answers to these questions, in order: no, give me a break, you've got to be fucking kidding me, and nothing. I completely ignored this "message", and, to this day, I'm yet to check into the Hotel California.

Among the bands that I listened to during my heavy metal phase, AC/DC is by far the best. In fact, although I have nothing against the heavy metal moniker itself, I have often contended that AC/DC was not really a metal band, but a band with a true knack for pop music that just happened to rock hard.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Blue Oyster Cult (1982)

I'm pretty sure that I became a big fan of Blue Oyster Cult primarily due to Len and Mark's influence, but I know I had been somewhat familiar with them prior to that. Of course, I was well aware of the overplayed rock 'n roll radio (the term classic rock didn't exist then) hits, "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Burnin' for You". I think WPDH even gave some airplay to "Black Blade", which was always one of my favorites.

But I became briefly obsessed with them around the time of the release of Extra Terrestrial Live, the magnificent two-record set that perfectly captured the scope of their first decade of recording, except for the inclusion of "Dr. Music" and "Roadhouse Blues". I know I throw the term obsessed around pretty loosely, but this time I mean it. Seriously. I dreamed of starting up a radio station called WBOC. "All Blue Oyster Cult, all the time!" would be our catch phrase. I think maybe me and two dudes from Long Island, who saw them play back in the Soft White Underbelly and Stalk-Forrest Group days, would've listened. Who knows, maybe one of them was named Lee Mazzola.

Blue Oyster Cult was somewhat legendary in Poughkeepsie. I really don't know why, except that they played the Civic Center a couple times a year, but their legend catapulted when they gave a shout-out to the City of Sin on E.T.L.. During "Dominance and Submission", recorded at the Civic Center in fact, Eric Bloom proclaims "We like to come up here from New York City about once or twice a year because we know Poughkeepsie is serious about rock and roll".

The only beef we had with BOC around this time was that they closed every concert by playing "Roadhouse Blues". Len and I hated that song, and hated The Doors for that matter. On two separate occasions, we walked out of their concerts when they played that song as an encore. Years later, I would change my opinion of The Doors in general and decide that I no longer hated that song. In fact, I think I even grew to like it. This is difficult for me to believe today, as once again I prove to myself that my first impressions were right on. Sorry to all my friends who played numerous Doors covers during the glory days, but "Roadhouse Blues" blows.

My favorite albums were Fire of Unknown Origin and Agents of Fortune, and to a lesser extent, Cultosaurus Erectus. It wasn't until years later that I recognized that their best three album run was the first three, Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation, and Secret Treaties, released from 1972 to 1974. In fact, my first impression of those three albums was that I disliked them. I liked the versions of "Cities on Flame", "Dominance and Submission", "Hot Rails to Hell", and "The Red & The Black" that appeared on Extra Terrestrial Live, but when I purchased Secret Treaties, I was not impressed.

Thus was born the "old switcheroo" scheme at Caldor, a local department store. I would return the album, with receipt, and say it skipped. The returns and exchanges desk was in a completely different part of the store as the records department, so they would tell me to go get another one. I would return, saying they didn't have any more copies of that album, but with another record of the same price in hand, and ask if I could take that instead. Now, it wasn't that much of a stretch to do this with albums that I had recently purchased, but I quickly started pulling this stunt to get rid of albums I no longer wanted, but that were still in passable condition. Eventually, I got so cocky that I started asking for my money back instead. In these instances, of course, I had to be sure to hide the one copy they actually did have somewhere they wouldn't find it, just in case.

This worked every time, I do not lie...although I guess you could say I do steal. One time, they actually sent me to the record department, where they attempted to play the record on their turntable. Unbelievably, the record actually did skip. So, the records department clerk went to find another copy of that same record, and, would you believe it, they didn't have one. They just couldn't foil my plan. I think that particular record was Kilroy Was Here. Thank God I didn't get stuck with that piece of crap.

Incidentally, my previously discussed falling out with Victor Feliciano was due in part to a similarly elaborate scheme, involving petty theft, gone wrong. State troopers were involved, parents were notified, kids were grounded, friendships destroyed. Actually, my friendship with Victor probably meant about as much to me as my desire to own a copy of Kilroy Was Here.

Alright, now I think I've confessed too much. Eventually, my guilt would overcome me and lead me to the confessional, as deep down I was a God-fearing Irish/Italian Catholic. After confessioning my sins, I would never obtain another record without paying for it.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rush (1981)

There's no doubt in my mind as to who it was who introduced me to the band that holds the distinction of the second longest run as my favorite artist. Of course, that's like owning the second most World Series rings to the Yankees. Incidentally, last year, the Cardinals broke that second place tie (with Oakland) by winning their 10th. That person would, coincidentally, happen to hold the distinction of being my second oldest friend. Sorry Len, but Rob's parents pulled down the driveway in that little red MG convertible to the house next door two years prior to meeting you in kindergarten.

There seems to be a trend here...three bands in a row, and four out of six, who I became a fan of in a year that they released two very good albums (one with new material). In 1981, Rush released both Moving Pictures , which contained the single that I have to admit started it all, "Tom Sawyer", and the live album Exit...Stage Left.

I had been friends with Len for years, but I started hanging out regularly with him, his younger brother Mark, Luis Mejias and Johnny Kranik, after a falling out with Victor Feliciano. To this day, Victor is the one person whom I consider my mortal enemy. There were several almost run-ins during the high school and post-college years. One incident that comes to mind was when several of us crashed Victor's party, and after Beau and I performed the black knight sketch in his living room, Jackie Wilson, a friend of both ours and Victor's, told us we'd probably better leave. I think crashing parties where we didn't belong was the foundation of my friendship with Beau. Another time, we crashed a party thrown by one of Dan Hickey's best friends, did tap hits with a drunken Dan, and then left before anyone remembered that they wanted to kick our asses. This was after the billy club incident. But, obviously, none of this has anything to do with Rush.

"Tom Sawyer" had caught my ear before Len played Moving Pictures and Exit...Stage Left for me, but those albums reeled me in. I don't recall if Len already owned 1980's Permanent Waves as well, but I know we immersed ourselves in their entire prior history after that. 2112 was a no-brainer, but my purchase of their first live album, All the World's the Stage, turned us on to their first three studio albums.

We were enamored with the supposed lyrical depth of their concept albums, although we were well aware that Hemispheres and 2112 were really just concept album sides. We nicknamed Len's car "Red Barchetta" after the song on Moving Pictures. We even named Dungeons & Dragons characters after our beloved Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson...God, it's painful to admit that. Most importantly, though, we scoffed at anyone who dared claim that anyone but Mr. Peart was the greatest drummer in rock and, predictably, we quoted Neil in our senior yearbook.

Signals came out in 1982, and in 1983 we saw Rush at Radio City Music Hall. We were blown away, but we did observe that Geddy's vocal range was not what it was when he was belting out "Temples of Syrinx" back in 1976. I liked 1984's Grace Under Pressure even better than Signals. Some might call me crazy for saying that, but I still do. By the time Power Windows came out, we were already off for our freshman years in college. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn't hanging out with Len on a regular basis anymore, or maybe it was because Power Windows kind of sucked, but I started to lose interest in new Rush material after that.

I know Len stuck it out with them for a little while longer, and even claims that Roll the Bones is a really good album, but I honestly have not listened to a single post-Power Windows album in its entirety. I intend to break that trend this year, when on May 1, Rush releases their 18th studio album, Snakes & Arrows. I'm not sure just what to expect, but I'm checking it out, maybe just for old time's sake.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cheap Trick (1979)

I remember the day almost as if it was yesterday. Rob and I were walking through the neighborhood on our way to the Ciccones' house, which was basically where all of the kids from the three adjacent streets where we lived would congregate. Our neighborhood was frequently referred to as Bart Drive, even though that was only one of the three streets. Rob's family lived at the head of Bart Drive, while my family lived next door, at the head of Simone Drive. The Ciccones, a Catholic family with seven children ranging in age from four years older to seven or eight years younger than I, lived on Martin Drive. Needless to say, their father held down three jobs and was never around, while their mother's full-time job was keeping track of them. She handled this assignment fairly well, and she essentially embraced her role as matriarch of the neighborhood.

One time Mrs. Ciccone heard a rumor that I was involved in defacing the fort in one of her neighbors' back yards. She recounted the story to me of how she vehemently defended me saying, "he's such a nice kid, there's no way he would do such a thing". I think it was her way of laying a guilt trip on me, as I was guilty as charged. It was one of those typically childish acts of tormenting the family that we all disliked.

Rob and I were on our way to hang out at the Ciccones' when we ran into Mike, the second oldest of the seven children, two years my senior and one year older than Rob. Mike said to us, "I hope you like Cheap Trick", because At Budakon was blaring from his bedroom window into the front yard. 1979 was a turning point for Cheap Trick, as the live version of "I Want You to Want Me" would launch their initial stardom. That same year, they released Dream Police, which in hindsight wasn't their best album, but it was my favorite back then, despite the fact that the opening to the title track sounded eerily similar to their other big hit, "Surrender".

The person that I really remember bonding with over Cheap Trick was my sister, Denise. In prior years, Denise and I had spent countless hours in our living room, playing 45s on our parents' old-fashioned cabinet style record player, with built-in speakers. We didn't always agree on the songs, but we always managed to piece together a steady rotation of hits from the 70's. We even killed the b-sides to some of them. I still remember that the flip side of Player's "Baby Come Back" was "Love is Where You Find It", and that Billy Joel's ode to his bad boy side, "You May Be Right", was backed with "Get it Right the First Time". This, of course, is not to mention the Barry Manilow double single of "Mandy" and "It's a Miracle".

Cheap Trick, though, was the first band where our tastes really connected. Denise took me to see them at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie in 1980. It was the Dream Police tour, and it was my first concert ever. Thinking about this, I realize that she was only 15 in 1980, so considering she couldn't drive, it might not be accurate to say she took me. I'm sure our father drove us there and picked us up, but he and Mom wouldn't have let me go by myself, that's for certain. Years later, I believe it was 1998, Cheap Trick would play a three-night stand at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The theme for the shows was that each night they played, in its entirety, one of their first three studio albums. Denise drove up to Boston to go to one of those shows with me, and it felt a little like old times.

Cheap Trick really tailed off after Dream Police. I don't believe they produced another strong album, although there were a couple decent ones, until last year's Rockford. Still, their first four albums were tremendous, and there are few, if any, artists that I look back on as fondly as I do this quartet from Rockford, Illinois.

Monday, April 02, 2007

E.L.O. (1979)

Another band that I'm not really sure about the circumstances by which I was turned on to them is Electric Light Orchestra. There was a time when I actually thought that ELO and ELP were the same band. They're not. I know Rob owned a copy of Out of the Blue, but I really think it all started when I took a chance and picked up ELO's Greatest Hits, possibly the best single record intro to an artist that I can recall. Who cares that it ignores their first two albums? Roy Wood? Should it have included their "stirring" classical rock rendition of "Roll Over Beethoven"? I don't think so. This album captures the essence of ELO in the mid-to-late 70's, that is the best thing to happen to pop/rock since The Beatles. Actually, I think they're better than The Beatles. In fact, Jeff Lynne is probably the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Paul McCartney's coffee table in my Dr. Maarten's and say so. Okay, maybe I'm taking that a bit about on Billy Campbell's coffee table?

Seriously, though, it feels sacrilegious to make comparisons to The Beatles. It's not that they're my favorite band, but they occupy such an important place in music history that it just doesn't seem right. Therefore, anytime I make a definitive claim about this artist or that artist, you can basically add the phrase, "not including The Beatles", to the end of that statement. That is, of course, except if such statement is in reference to Neil Young. But I digress...ELO is my favorite band today from among those that I idolized as an adolescent.

After ELO's Greatest Hits, my next purchase was their studio release of that same year, Discovery. Despite the existence of their big radio hit, "Don't Bring Me Down", and the lesser hit, "Shine a Little Love", my favorite songs were "Need Her Love" and "The Diary of Horace Wimp". I fell in love with the subtly bluesy guitar intro and cheesy romanticism of the former, and I think I identified with the latter's title character, the ultimate bumbling romantic fool. I know, I know...I was only 12 and didn't have any experiences of my own to relate to Horace's predicament. This just proves how much foresight I had, even at such a ripe young age.

As far as digging into the ELO back catalog was concerned, my explorations would only take me to the mid-70's releases Face the Music and my personal favorite, A New World Record, in addition to the aforementioned Out of the Blue. It wouldn't be until a few years ago that I would discover the beauty of the album that many consider their magnum opus, Eldorado.

Incidentally, the album Face the Music would contain one of the most blatant jabs at the religious right, who claimed that subliminal messages contained in the music of many rock bands, including ELO, promoted Satanism. The instrumental song, "Fire on High", features a moment where a strange voice chants in an obviously intentionally garbled manner. When played backwards, the voice clearly states, "The music is reversible, but time is not, turn back! Turn back! Turn back!" A couple years later, I would become utterly fascinated with the controversy surrounding Satanic messages in many of the bands I was a fan of, greatly influenced by the misguided, but well-meaning, warnings of my born again cousin Lorri...more on that subject later.

Beyond Discovery, I would only purchase 1981's Time before losing interest for a while. While a pretty inconsistent effort, Time had its moments, but my tastes were moving in a heavier direction and distanced themselves from ELO until a late 90's/early 00's renaissance of sorts. Flashback, the 3-cd box set released in 2000, would prove to be an excellent jumping-back point. It helped me discover the earlier material that I had overlooked, and even to appreciate some of their finer moments from 80's releases Secret Messages and Balance of Power.