The Fixx “Reach the Beach” (1983)

     Today’s album was a pleasant surprise, as I listened to “Reach the Beach” by the British new-wave band, the Fixx.  There have been two songs by the band I have always loved, both of which are on this record, but it was nice to discover how much I enjoyed this entire album.  The Fixx is one of those bands that was always around in the ‘80s, and had more hits than I remembered, but one I had never researched or looked into in any way, until now.

     The album opens with “One Thing Leads To Another”, which has always been my favorite song by the band.  It has a great, driving tempo, and I love both the lyrics and musical components of the song.  Definitely one of my favorite hits from that era and genre.  Next up comes “The Sign of Fire”.  It is another great song, and as the 3rd single from the album, it is on that cusp of familiarity where I thought I had heard it before, but wasn’t immediately sure.  Two songs later we have the 1st single from the record, and the other well-known hit, “Saved by Zero”.  This song has a mellow groove, and overall, this song and this band reminds me a lot of Roxy Music and the Psychedelic Furs.  As much as I like this record, I may have to dig further into their catalog as well as the comparative acts I just cited.

     I always love it when I hear new songs (to me, at least) that I really love and want to add to my playlist.  We have two of these on this record.  The title track is funky by British new-wave standards, and I also really love the track “Liner”.  The entire record is consistently strong, and the voice of Cy Curnin is classic new-wave at its finest.  This was a good one…

R.E.M. “Murmur” (1983)

     Another sub-genre of the new-wave music movement emerged in the early 1980s, as the advent of “college radio” or “underground” music flourished in campuses and their low-profile radio stations, along with coffee houses across America.  No band represented this intellectual and subtle rock movement better than R.E.M., who came from the same town of Athens, Georgia as the B-52’s.  Led by singer Michael Stipe, with Peter Buck on guitars, Michael Mills on bass and backing vocals and Bill Berry on drums, their sound advanced the jangly guitar rock of The Byrds and Tom Petty into the next generation, with a focus on elusive lyrics and serious and thoughtful music.  Their debut album, “Murmur”, is rated #165 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time.

     I personally think R.E.M. has better music still to come, although I do enjoy this album and look forward to following more of their evolution through this decade.  The record opens with the biggest hit from this first record, “Radio Free Europe”.  Upbeat and driving without being frivolous or absurd, this song sets the stage well for their entire catalog.  “Pilgrimage” is another very representative track of their haunting sound, and on “Laughing”, you can really hear the way Michael Mills drives the melody on bass for the band.

     My second favorite song on the album is “We Walk” on side two, which oddly opens with the exact same chords as “Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton, before taking a different path in their happiest and warmest song on the record.  Some of the remaining highlights include “Talk About The Passion”, “Perfect Circle”, and “Sitting Still”.

     I was a bit slow to the party on college radio and this genre of music as a whole, and it wasn’t until my second year in college, when Jim and I moved into a house of college seniors before I really started paying attention to bands like R.E.M.  However, since I took that step, I have been a faithful fan, and they are planted at the very top of my “concert regrets” list of bands I never saw in concert, but really wish I had.

ZZ Top “Eliminator” (1983)

     For many of the classic rock and roll bands of the ‘70s, the change in sound that came with the ‘80s was a sign of trouble.  Perhaps no band pulled off this transition more effectively than ZZ Top.  With the release of “Eliminator”, ZZ Top proved that not only could they incorporate synthesizers and more electric sound into their music, they also conquered the domain of music television.  With several huge hits, all of which came with brand-defining music videos, “Eliminator” was a massive hit and a reinvention for the band.  More than ever, you see that ZZ Top is primarily the Billy Gibbons show, as he took over the production and remixed and re-recorded much of the album on his own to add these effects.  He sings lead on all but one song, but to their credit, bass player Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (the only one without a beard) remained a visible component not only in the videos, but also as a really strong live act.

     The album opens with “Gimme All Your Lovin”, the first big single and music video release.  It isn’t my favorite song on the album, with that and “Legs” there might even be a bit of hit fatigue, but it certainly was a huge hit and set this new act in motion.  My favorite song on the album is next, “Got Me Under Pressure”, and it will serve as the central component of some ZZ Top stories to follow.  It is a fast-paced rocker, and this really is some of Frank Beard’s best work.  The hits continue with “Sharp Dressed Man”, another image-defining song for the band.  I have to say though, I can’t argue with the hypothesis of the track.  Side one continues with their blues-iest song on the album, “I Need You Tonight”.  This takes you back to their roots, and I had forgotten just how good this song is.  And to end side one, we get our usual dose of double-entendre from the band, as Dusty Hill takes the lead on vocals for “I Got The Six”.  Like most tracks, it is a really good blend of old and new, and it warmed my heart to hear Dusty belt one out.  Rest In Peace, Dusty…

     Side two opens with “Legs”, another iconic song and video for the band.  You have to be a pretty hardcore ZZ Top fan to recognize that the version of this song they put on the album is different than the single.  I actually prefer the single better, it has more layered guitars and rocks with a steadier grind than this tricked-up version on the album.  Next comes the song “Thug”, which features perhaps the only Dusty Hill bass solo I have ever heard.  My other real favorite song comes next, the bizarre but wonderful song, “TV Dinners”.  I think only ZZ Top can pull off an ode to the terrifying ingredients of old-school TV dinner meals, and they lay it down, especially near the end of the song, with a groove few can match.  The video is just as unusual as the song, definitely out-of-step with their other hot girls and hot cars videos.  The last three songs are simple but not quite as memorable, with my favorite being the last track, another high-tempo rocker, “Bad Girl”.  This is just a really good album, much better between the hits than I had recalled, and I’m glad I got to enjoy several listens.

     So, back to “Got Me Under Pressure”.  It is central to three of my favorite nights ever.  After two failed attempts to conquer the high school air guitar contest with Rush & Jimi Hendrix, we finally reached the top of the mountain as my friends and I took on ZZ Top our senior year.  My friend Chris and I assumed the two bearded roles.  One of us found a fake beard, the other just strapped an old wig on our face and it worked just as well.  We knew “Got Me Under Pressure” was the perfect up-tempo rocker to synchronize our moves, and we pretty much crushed it.  Our second song was “Tush”, from “Fandango”, so that each of us could take lead vocals on one track.  With my friend Matt driving the beat on drums as Frank Beard, we finally reached the top of the mountain and claimed the $100 first prize.  We each took $20, and claimed we would use the last $40 to buy a keg, which still hasn’t happened yet…  Chris, Matt… let’s get this done.

     The second night was in 1986, after the first year of college.  ZZ Top came to Denver, and while I enjoy pretty much every concert I have ever attended, this one stands out to me as possibly the best time I have ever had at a show.  Part of that may be attributable to some of the choices we made in the parking lot before the show, but it was just a great gathering of many of my closest friends after a year away at school.  Along with Matt, I was joined by Jim, John, Mike and Shane, and the six of us just lost our collective minds and rocked the entire show on our feet.  Words can’t describe how much fun that night was.  “Got Me Under Pressure” was the song that opened the show, and I even pre-coordinated stopping at a 7-11 before the show, making a secret purchase so I could pull out my own “Cheap Sunglasses” to surprise my friends when that song came on.  As if the show wasn’t enough fun, while Jim & John headed back to Greeley, Matt and I took on Mike & Shane in a midnight game of basketball at Pine Lane Elementary School.  I’m pretty sure we dominated the event, and when we tried to explain to the cops that we were really there just to play basketball, the officer replied, “I was born on Sunday, but not last Sunday”.  No harm, no foul…

     Fresh from the exhilaration of that show, Jim and I headed off towards Florida on our first major road trip, in my ’81 Camaro.  As we rolled into Texas, we somehow learned that the same ZZ Top tour was back in their home state, and we quickly realized we had no other choice but to see the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” in Texas, in Dallas to be specific.  We wound up sitting next to two exotic dancers that may have been past their prime, and I’m pretty sure we looked as young, clueless and ridiculous to them as we actually were. 

     So yes, ZZ Top, “Got Me Under Pressure”, and the entire “Eliminator” album was just another key soundtrack to the crazy decade that was the 1980s.  They released several other albums that followed this same electronic sound and music video theme, but none reached the heights of “Eliminator”. 

U2 “War” (1983)

     Depending on how you look at it, U2’s third album, “War”, was either a beginning or an endpoint.  For me, it was really both.  As a beginning, it was my continuous listening to this record that initiated my life-long fandom and appreciation for the band.  With several highly played and visible hits, the band reached a much broader audience as many of us jumped on the bandwagon.  That said, I think this album also represents the end of the simplistic and raw sound that propelled the band to initial fame.  Also produced by Steve Lillywhite, this is the last album before they changed producers and greatly expanded on their sound, never to look back again.  For those who only know U2 in their current state, I often encourage them to check out their roots from this simple beginning.

     That isn’t to say that “War” isn’t also a step forward, because it certainly is.  The overall quality of the songwriting and performance builds notably over “Boy” and “October”, and they had three highly appreciated singles that serve as the foundation of this album.  The record opens with the militant anti-war song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.  Based on the continued violence in Northern Ireland, this was the most overt attempt to date for Bono to insert himself in the middle of a challenging political issue; it most certainly wouldn’t be the last.  “New Year’s Day” is probably the most enduring song from the album, with the haunting imagery of the cold and isolation of war, amplified by beautiful piano and guitar from The Edge.  “Two Hearts Beat As One” is probably my favorite of the three prominent hits from this record, the intensity of the pace and the driving guitar from The Edge really elevates this track.

     As great as those three songs are, what really lifts this record are some of the other lesser-known songs.  Sometimes I have to ask myself, do I like them better because I know them more, or do I know them more because I like them better?  Perhaps some of both, but there are several other powerhouse songs on this album.  “Seconds” is yet another really intense anti-war song that I love, and I love the blast of Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums on “Like A Song…”, accompanied by Bono’s passionate vocals as always.

     Two other songs stand out on this record for me.  I find that the warming melody of “Surrender” really balances the record, and it may be the prettiest song on the album.  The guitar and backing vocals just really blend remarkably well.  The last song of the album, which became a consistent set closer, is the song “40”, which is based on the 40th Psalm, from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.  It is truly an impactful blend of faith and music.  Early in their days, U2 struggled with the choice of music fame or following the passion of their faith, and I love how they chose to blend the two in this song.

     And since we mentioned this song as a set closer, we can’t discuss this album without talking about what has to be the most memorable concert I did NOT attend, regretfully.  It was June 5, 1983, and I was in 10th grade.  Even though it was June, it was a cold and miserable day in Colorado, filled with rain and clouds.  The band had been planning this event for months as a concert to perform and film at Red Rocks Amphitheater, pictured on this blog, and the weather was so awful they waited until mid-day before ultimately deciding to perform.  Only about half of the fans actually attended, and I will always regret not being there myself.  I wasn’t quite far along enough in my discovery of U2 to prioritize this show, but quickly heard from friends who attended what a magical night it was, performing under the light of bonfire and in a misty, mystic, drizzly haze.

     If you have ever witnessed the performance of “Under a Blood Red Sky”, you will see both a video and accompanying live album that is truly spectacular in sight and sound.  Along with the Beatles’ show in 1964, it is probably the most historic show ever performed at Red Rocks, and one I will always regret not attending, even as I celebrate the greatness of the moment.  Taking the best from “War”, along with “Boy and “October”, the band closed the show with “40”, slowly winding down as each member individually left the stage, until only Larry Mullen Jr. was left on the stage pounding out the recurring rhythm to the unison chant of the fans singing “How long, to sing a new song…”.  The legend of the band was cemented that night, forever.

Def Leppard “Pyromania” (1983)

     By 1983, I was facing a bit of a dilemma.  Most of my favorite bands, including Led Zeppelin, my all-time number one, were disbanded or had their best days behind them.  As I looked for new acts to follow, one band that stood out to me was Def Leppard, with their third album “Pyromania”.  This was the album that propelled them from second-tier opening act to the headline days, although we caught them live in the earliest stages of this transformation.  Connecting with AC/DC producer “Mutt” Lange, he was instrumental in helping them transform their sound from a variant of British metal to a much more radio-friendly act.  It didn’t hurt that most of the band were handsome chaps as well, which played well to the expanding audience on MTV.  This album was released in January of 1983, and with my friend Doug, and one other person who I can’t remember for the life of me, saw them in April of 1983 when they were still an opening act, in front of Billy Squier.  I don’t fully recall all of the details, but I’m about 80% sure Doug and I went to see them at a public appearance at our Sound Warehouse record store the day before the show.  Today my son was shocked to hear that Def Leppard opened for Billy Squier, but Def Leppard was clearly still on the upswing when they released this album, and Billy Squier had already peaked with “Don’t Say No”.

     As noted, this album contains several very radio-friendly hits, and even though they were a far cry from Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, they could rock hard enough to maintain a respectable amount of credibility.  The band was in a state of transformation, as founding guitarist Pete Willis was fired during the recording of this album for excessive alcoholism, and even though his work is still on the record, most of the solo efforts were recorded by new lead Phil Collen along with co-lead Steve Clark.  Joe Elliott filled the role of the front-man lead singer admirably, and with Rick Savage on bass, and Rick Allen, pre-auto accident on drums, they had a solid five-man lineup in similar fashion to their heavier metal cousins in the UK.  In an interesting matter of small trivia, for the augmenting keyboards that are heard on several tracks, those were performed by none other than Thomas Dolby, the man who gave us “She Blinded Me With Science”.

     “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a rousing opener, followed by the album’s first and biggest hit, “Photograph”.  The non-hit songs on the album are nothing memorable, even with a couple of fresh listens, but “Too Late for Love”, and “Foolin’”, which opens side two, garnered a lot of airplay and for good reason, as they are among the better songs on the album.  The other really big hit from the album, perhaps second only to “Photograph”, was “Rock of Ages”, where they borrow the Neil Young phrase, “It’s better to burn out, than fade away…”.

     This album was a huge success, selling over ten million copies eventually, and the days of Def Leppard as an opening act were over, at least for a long, long time.  At the end of the day, there wasn’t quite enough depth or top-to-bottom musical diversity for me to latch on to Def Leppard at quite the same level as some of their UK predecessors I obsess over to this day, but they were very talented at what they did, and they were far from done at this point in their career.

The Neville Brothers “Neville-ization” (1982/84)

     For the majority of my life, I have lived in one of three states, Colorado, Florida and Virginia.  There are two other locations that earn an honorable mention.  The first is California, where my father lived and worked for several years in the 1970s on a temporary assignment.  The second, and more significant, is Louisiana.  My parents moved there in 1986 for a ten-year stint, just as I was finishing my first year of college.  While it struck me primarily as a better place to visit than live, I spent enough time there over the rest of my college days to completely fall in love with the music scene in New Orleans.  I mentioned previously that it started with a trip to see Dixieland Jazz at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter with my dad, but I quickly learned that some of the best music was to be found far away from the tawdry excess of the French Quarter.  Uptown, at the intersection of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas, is my favorite indoor music venue of all time, Tipitina’s.  The building was first constructed in 1912, and opened in its current form in 1977.  The club is named for a song by New Orleans piano legend Professor “Fess” Longhair, who has a bust in the entrance as you come into the club.

     In the 1980s, two bands ruled the local scene at Tipitina’s.  One was The Radiators, and although very popular in New Orleans, I have never really connected with their sound.  However, the other act was a realization of the most amazingly talented musical family I have ever seen, the Neville family of New Orleans.  We have heard previously from The Meters, featuring Art “Poppa Funk” Neville on keyboards and vocals.  When you take Art, and combine him with his three younger brothers, each with their own unique musical gift, you have a remarkable gumbo of sound and spirit.  After leaving The Meters, Art formed the Neville Brothers, with brothers Charles, a Grammy-award saxophone player, soulful R&B legend Aaron, and reggae-rock-soul master Cyril, who also played a multitude of percussion.  Over the course of time, many guitarists and bass players have come into the band.  Brian Stoltz was the primary guitarist from this era, and one of the true secrets to the success of the band was the remarkable “Mean” Willie Green on drums.

     Although today’s album, “Neville-ization” was actually released in 1984, it was recorded in 1982, so that is where I have sequenced it on my list.  This gem is a collection of live performances by the band at their home club at Tipitina’s, and oh, what an experience that was to see and hear.  I first caught them in the spring of 1987 at Tips, during my first Mardi Gras visit with my friend Lorenzo.  He had seen them open for the Grateful Dead on several occasions, and when we saw them that night, Stevie Ray Vaughan actually sat in on a song, which was mind-blowing.  In this old, wooden concert bar with perfect acoustics, the mixture of funk, soul, jazz, R&B, reggae and rock and roll was unlike anything I had heard before.  The combination of rhythm and percussion created a groove that moved the room for hours.  Typically, their first set would start around 10:30 PM, and they would play until midnight.  Then, as they took about a 20-minute intermission, most of the bar would spill out into the streets to revel, drink, smoke, or do whatever, before returning back indoors for another hour-plus of music that would end close to 2AM.

     Once I discovered their sound, I became a passionate and dedicated lifelong fan.  I would plan my visits to New Orleans around their schedule, and as I got older, I would see them anywhere I could, whether it was Tipitina’s or what other venue they might play at.  I have estimated I probably saw them about 15 times at Tips, and in total, probably about 35 times, which far outnumbers any other act I have seen live.  Sadly, they stopped performing in 2015.  I will never forgive myself for not going to their farewell show, and since then, we have lost Poppa Funk and Charles.  Their music lives on, through the occasional contributions and performances from Aaron and Cyril, as well as the sound of Aaron’s son Ivan, and Art’s son Ian, in the band Dumpstaphunk, along with Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall, who both played bass for the Neville Brothers at some point.

Many of my Colorado friends joined me at some point to them play, but the one friend who stands out as my lifelong Neville companion is my first roommate out of college and coworker Matt, who was also a professional saxophone player, and a damn good one. Matt and I share a love of all things New Orleans, and I love all the great memories I have together with him, including a triumphant return to the Crescent City with my friend Shane in 1994 for Mardi Gras and a Nevilles Tipitina’s show.

      Thanks for bearing with me on this extremely long setup, but I can’t overstate how much this band has been a part of my life since that first experience in 1987.  There are three great live albums you can find on most streaming services, or better yet in your local record store, but I chose this one for the list as it is the only one that was recorded at Tipitina’s.  It was originally released as an eight-song album, and thankfully the current expanded release has a total of 16 songs.  If I had to recommend the must listens for a new listener, I would pick their version of “Fever”, “Mojo Hannah”, Aaron’s big hit from the 1960’s, the beautiful “Tell It Like It Is”, Charles’ sax masterpiece on “Caravan”, and the Professor “’Fess” Longhair classic “Big Chief”.  From the newer bonus tracks, I would add in “Fiyo On The Bayou”, perhaps the funkiest song on the album, and often the set opener, featuring Poppa Funk himself, and two unforgettable medleys.  The first medley is their extended version of “Iko Iko”, a song I love so much I probably have ten different versions saved on my playlist.  This was always the most celebrated and exuberant moment in the show, when the crowd sing-along “Hey Now… Hey Now”, would send us all into a frenzy.  On this version, you hear a great walk-on of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”, which is a perfect fit.  And… after 2-3 hours of dancing and decadence, the show almost always closed with Aaron, in his absolutely angelic voice, taking us to church with “Amazing Grace”, followed by a collection of gospel beats.  Later in their career, Cyril would typically add on the Curtis Mayfield composition “People Get Ready”.  Drenched in the sweat of the Big Easy and a night of dancing, and completely drained, we would then finally retire for the night, completely satisfied and satiated by this musical magic.

     If you find yourself in New Orleans, please make the time to go visit Tipitina’s, and better yet, try to line it up with when Dumpstaphunk is on the bill.  Nothing will ever quite match the collective talents of those four Neville Brothers, but their spirit, as the act who would close down the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) each year, lives on forever. 

“Iko Iko All Day…”

Michael Jackson “Thriller” (1982)

     As I noted in the last post, as great as Prince’s “1999” album was, that and every other album on the charts would soon be overshadowed and dominated by the worldwide greatest-selling album of all time, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.  Rated as the #12 all-time album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I fully recall the monumental impact this record had on the music world upon its release.  From both an audio and video perspective, this record was literally everywhere.  Seven of the songs were released as singles, and they all reached the Top 10.  Almost every song on this album is really good, and several are all-time classics.  For all of his success, “Thriller” still stands as the high point of Michael Jackson’s career.

     This landmark record opens with “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, one of four original Jackson compositions.  Building off the disco-era success of “Off The Wall”, this upbeat track is a classic.  I had to learn a lesson the hard way on this one, and we can put this in the category of me usually being wrong.  At the end of this infectious track, the coda repeats a Cameroonian chorus, “Mama say mama sa ma ma coo sah”.  For most of my 39+ years with this album, I 100% thought they were singing “I was saved by the song that Michael sung.”  Yep… wrong most of the time.

     Next comes “Baby Be Mine”, one of two tracks on the album that didn’t really stick, but that was followed by “The Girl is Mine”, the duet with Paul McCartney.  This song is utterly ridiculous, including the chorus, “The doggone girl is mine”, as well as the laughable concept that Michael and Paul would have a fight (maybe a pillow fight?) over a girl.  It is charming in its absurdity, and my son and I always laugh that with all of the titanic material on this album, THIS is the song Jackson and the record company chose to release as the first single.

     Side one ends with the title track, which remains a legendary song, especially around Halloween, to this day.  With the voice-over from horror movie legend Vincent Price, its funky beat, and the famously produced music video that was directed by film director John Landis, this served as the perfect example that everything Michael did turned to gold, as well as proving that everything he did at the time was just a little bigger than everyone else.

     The magic continues on side two, with the rock tune “Beat it”.  I don’t know if this is true, but Van Halen singer David Lee Roth claims he didn’t know Eddie Van Halen recorded the guitar solo for this song until he heard it on the radio.  True or not, this is fully plausible, as any novice rock fan would easily recognize Eddie’s unmistakable sound on this track.  Along with the West Side Story imagery of a dance fight in the video, this was one of the two biggest hits among the hits of this album.

     Next comes the other one, my all-time favorite Michael Jackson track, “Billie Jean”.  Tapping into Michael’s growing fear and paranoia of the world around him, this obsessive fan ode is just about the cleanest and meanest groove I have ever heard.  Originally, producer Quincy Jones tried to convince Michael the magical bass-beat intro was too long, but thankfully Michael stuck to his guns and that opening riff is just untouchable.  The rest of the song is also legendary, as is the music video, another step up the ladder of all-time greatness for Jackson.  Jackson further elevated his status by performing this song on the 25th Anniversary tribute to Motown, where he debuted his infamous moonwalk and the world literally lost their collective minds.

     Continuing on, we have the highly successful ballad “Human Nature”.  As Eddie Murphy claimed, “Michael is just so sensitive”, and this song is the best evidence of this reference on “Thriller”.  The hits carry on with “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”, an up-tempo dance track that includes his sisters Janet and LaToya on backing vocals.  The last song on the album, “The Lady in My Life” is not very memorable, but I think that is excusable considering the hit factory the rest of this record became.

     “Thriller” was so big and so enduring, it was the number-one selling album in the U.S. for 1983 AND 1984, and as noted above, has sold more copies worldwide than any record in history.  I’m not here to judge Michael Jackson’s remarkably unique personal life.  There are plenty of people on this list who were highly imperfect and flawed individuals, and furthermore, I don’t have any factual basis to make such a judgment if I chose to do so.  I do know that he was a one-of-a-kind talent who truly was the “King of Pop”, and growing up under the microscope of fame and an abusive and controlling father, it isn’t inconceivable to see how he struggled to cope with his fame and fortune with any remote sense of normalcy.  I loved this album when it came out, and listening to it again from beginning to end was a great look back to the unmatched achievement of its release.

Prince “1999” (1982)

     Moving forward, we have some legendary albums coming up.  The first is the next release from Prince, “1999”.  Back in 1982, 1999 seemed so far away… just like it does in 2021.  This a great record, I only have one complaint (the same one I usually have for Prince) on this album, but we will get to that soon enough.  I’m surprised it isn’t a little higher, but this is the #130 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

     When you share the love of music with friends and family, occasionally it can become the source of a healthy debate.  This album, and specifically the title song, gives me two of my rare triumphs as I’m sure I am wrong more often than I’m right.  The first was easy and obvious, when I debated with my son, who is a massive Prince fan, who sings the first two lines of the song.  He was somehow convinced it was all Prince.  However, any reasonable review of the audio or video reveals that with Prince’s band The Revolution, who make their debut on this album, we hear that Lisa Coleman and Dez Dickerson sing the first two lines of the first and second verse, before Prince enters the scene.

     The much more glorious, and long running debate, was with regards to Mr. Dickerson specifically.  My good friend Jim, for reasons unexplained by science or reason, was convinced Mr. Dickerson was Puerto Rican or otherwise a Latino, when I could see, and knew in my heart, that he was and is a proud, all-American black man.  While I will always claim an obvious victory here, just for reinforcement, some quick research indicates that Mr. Dickerson was born and raised in Minneapolis, just like Prince.  Now maybe there was a burgeoning Puerto Rican population in the Twin Cities in the 1950s, but I like my odds here.  “But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last…”

     OK, enough of the frivolity here, let’s move on to the album itself.  It really is a great record from beginning to end.  My one complaint, and it isn’t a new one, is that Prince just lets too many of his songs go too damn long.  I have no issues with long songs that evolve and remain interesting.  I can let an extra minute or two of Prince riffing and losing his mind at the end of a song slide, but on a song like “Automatic”, which clocks in at 9:28, there is at least six minutes of unnecessary and redundant filler music at the end of the song.  OK… rant over, at least for this album.

     This double-album, which possibly could have been downsized to a single album with a “less is more” philosophy, opens with three massive hits on side one.  First, we have the above-noted title track, warning us all of the need to party while we still can, in advance of nuclear annihilation which coincides with the end of the century.  It’s an iconic track, possibly his most famous song of all time.  Next comes my favorite song on the album, and definitely an all-time favorite, “Little Red Corvette”.  It is the perfect reflection of Prince’s of pop-hit expertise, with a subtler edge and an irresistible hook.  As if those two songs aren’t enough, side one also includes “Delirious”, yet another phenomenal Prince dance song.

     The other three sides aren’t quite as hit-laden, but I love every song, at least the first four or five minutes of each.  Among my favorites are “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, “D.M.S.R” (which is Dance, Music, Sex, Romance for you newbies), “Free”, “Lady Cab Driver”, and “All the Critics Love U in New York”.  There isn’t, in my opinion, a single dud on this album, and it remains one of the most timeless and significant albums of the early 1980s.  It might have done even better, were it not for what came next…

The Who “It’s Hard” (1982)

     Who would have thought that The Who would sound tame by comparison, but by 1982, with an explosion of punk and heavy metal, they were definitely pretty mild for the most part, particularly without drummer Keith Moon.  In 1982, they released their second and final album, “It’s Hard”, with Kenney Jones on drums, and kicked off their worldwide “farewell” tour.  Both the album and the tour carry a lot of significance for me.

     Let’s take on the tour first.  The band declared that after the release of the album and the completion of their tour, this would be the last we would ever see or hear from The Who.  So, when the band came rolling into Boulder, Colorado, at CU’s Folsom Field, this was a must-see event.  Attended with my friends Doug, Mike and Shane, we went up early in the day as we had general admission seating on the field.  My dad was kind enough to both drive us and bring us back, which was not an insignificant endeavor.  When I asked him why he did this, he said, “Because I won’t be able to do this much longer”.  I will always love him for that.

     Back to the show, it was a rock festival of sorts.  The first act was a relatively new artist, John Cougar, and unfortunately for him, he was eventually booed off stage while flashing two middle fingers.  Next came Jethro Tull, which was much more warmly welcomed, but of course, we were all there primarily to see The Who.  They played an amazing set, it was remarkably loud, and every year on October 17th I reconnect with those three guys and celebrate the memory of that great show.  I actually saw the band again on two other tours after they came out of retirement, but this would be the last we would see of Kenney Jones on drums, and sadly, we also lost the amazing bassist John Entwistle way too early in 2002.

     Back to the album, as I noted above, it was mostly a pretty tepid affair.  They were clearly still missing Keith Moon, and with a few notable exceptions, it just isn’t a very exciting release by the high standards of the band.  The opening track, “Athena”, which was the first single, is a pleasant and benign song, and one of the catchier tunes.

     Most of the rest of side one is pretty dull, even the title track, with the exception of the last song, which is probably the most well-known song from the album, “Eminence Front”, which was sung by Pete Townshend.  Pete was definitely coming out of his struggle with alcoholism, and did bring a lot of clarity to the album and energy to the tour.

     Side two opens with “I’ve Known No War”, which is probably the best of the songs I had forgotten from this record.  It is one of the few songs to have the rough edge I have always liked with The Who.  Like side one, most of side two is pretty forgettable, until we get to the last song.  There is something remarkably symbolic about the last track, “Cry If You Want”.  Not only is it a reflective tune that looks back on the follies of youth, it has also felt to me like Pete went deep within his own self to deliver one last bombastic rocker to close out the band’s career.  A great song from the beginning, the last two minutes is a wonderful gift, where Pete takes us back to the reckless abandon of “Live at Leeds”, blasting power-chords like nobody else.  It really feels like the end of an era, not only for The Who, but the end of the great 20-year run of British rock supergroups.

     What started twenty years ago when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, finally closed out with the Who’s last album and tour.  Keith Moon was gone, Lennon and Bonzo were gone, Brian Jones was gone and the Stones were aging past their window of active relevance.  However, for about twenty years, the ongoing greatness, domination and mass popularity of the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who was at an enduring level in the rock world that was without parallel.

     We will occasionally see some of these acts resurface down the road in my blog, primarily with their solo work, but from this point forward, my musical world turned significantly towards what was current, and what was coming next, no matter how much I loved the rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Enjoy the ride…

“Once it was just innocence, brash ideas and insolence…”

“But you will never get away with the things you say today”

“But you can cry if you want…”

Judas Priest “Screaming For Vengeance” (1982)

     I mentioned previously that two major British metal acts would appear on my list here in 1982.  Today we have the second, as Judas Priest has us “Screaming For Vengeance” with this highly successful album.  The similarities in sound and style between Priest and Maiden are notable.  In both cases we start with a powerful vocalist with seemingly endless vocal strength and range.  Add in dueling lead guitars (K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton for Judas Priest), bass, drums, and lots of leather and explosions, and you have either band in full force.  If I had to choose, I personally would give the edge to Iron Maiden, as Judas Priest doesn’t have an answer for Steve Harris on bass, and I prefer the vocal tone of Bruce Dickinson to Rob Halford, but both of these bands, and both of these albums really rock.

     Apparently, I have needed a lot of aggressive rock music this week, and Judas Priest carried the torch very effectively.   Side one just rips open with the instrumental opener “The Hellion”, which bleeds over into “Electric Eye”.  Next comes “Riding on the Wind”, which has to be one of the best songs on the album.  The rest of side one is a slightly slower and heavier mix of songs, they do seem to mix up the pace a bit more than their British rivals.

      Side two opens with the title track, and we are back at top speed.  Rob Halford is most certainly “Screaming for Vengeance”, and if this song doesn’t make you want to run into something as hard as you can, or at least rock your head up and down, you may not be doing it right.  Next comes their one mainstream major hit from this album, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  I may not have always loved Judas Priest, but I definitely have always had this song on my playlist, it is an outstanding metal hit.

     The rest of the album was a bit more mixed.  As my son listened to the beginning of “Fever”, he said “this sounds like an REO Speedwagon song”.  I assure you, that was not intended as a compliment.  I would maybe compare it more to a band like Tesla, but I prefer my Judas Priest a bit more on the fast side.  It has certainly been a good run of loud and aggressive mix, what better way to survive a stressful holiday season?  Rock on…