Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part I)

I’ve spoken about this band many times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but ELO remains one of my favorite bands from my childhood that Wasn’t The Beatles (well, almost not the Beatles, anyway…heh). And while its singer Jeff Lynne celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary with multiple Apple and Spotify playlists, it’s interesting to see how this band evolved over its long career. And since it is a long career, it’s gonna take a few posts to check it all out!

The idea of ELO was actually not Lynne’s but of singer Roy Wood, who at the time was the leader of The Move. He’d been the one to come up with the idea of mixing strings and classical elements with the rock format, and Lynne was more than delighted to join in on this project. As it happened, Wood only remained for the band’s self-titled 1971 debut (renamed ‘No Answer’ in the US due to a communication misunderstanding) and the mood seems very proggy here, but you can already hear the seeds of Lynne’s ‘Beatlesque’ pop style of songwriting.

Their second album, simply entitled Electric Light Orchestra II and released in 1973 after a significant lineup change, suffered from similar prog meanderings, though it did score a surprise hit with a rocking cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, featuring a clever insertion of the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Album three, On the Third Day (also from 1973), showed they were almost there. The extended prog ideas were slowly phased out to focus more on tighter and shorter melodies (but not without a few fun forays into classical, including an interesting take on Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). The single “Showdown”, added to the US editions of the album, ended up breaking them towards a wider mainstream audience.

Now album four, 1974’s Eldorado, was where they really hit their stride. An odd yet extremely entertaining concept album about a daydreamer with an eye-catching cover still from The Wizard of Oz, it features their next big single, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” which became a rock and pop radio staple. I distinctly remember hearing this on the local AM pop station as a kid. [Also worth checking out is one of my favorite ELO deep cuts, “Mister Kingdom”, which ended up being the song I used as Krozarr’s theme in In My Blue World.]

They followed it up one year later with Face the Music in 1975, and by this time Lynne and the band had perfected their odd hybrid and started having numerous hit singles and radio hits through the rest of the decade.

In 1976 they dropped A New World Record, which sounded even more Beatlesque than anything else they’d done previously. Gorgeous ballads like “Telephone Line” hinted at McCartney’s best on Abbey Road, “Livin’ Thing” hinted at the complex experimentation of Sgt Pepper, and the silly yet fun “Rockaria!” harkened back to the hard-rocking covers of Beatles for Sale.

And then, in 1977, they dropped their double album opus, Out of the Blue, which many still consider to be their crowning achievement. It featured several hit singles, it was a multi-platinum seller, and it even features a weather-themed four-song concerto! There are so many famous and well-loved songs on this one that if you had to buy only one ELO record, this would definitely be the one. [This was one of two of their albums that influenced and inspired my novel In My Blue World. The title of the novel itself comes from the single and opening track “Turn to Stone”.]

And of course, the massive hit single and fan favorite “Mr. Blue Sky” was used to absolutely hilarious effect as the opening credits for 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

They’d bring the seventies to a close with a bright and shimmery album called Discovery in 1979. It was by far their most commercial sounding record, with the strings mostly sliding into the background and the danceable rock melodies coming to the fore, including radio favorites “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love”. Interestingly, the band created promotional videos for every single track on the album, which are available on YouTube.


So what would the 80s bring this band…? More hits, a killer half-soundtrack to a lemon of a movie, a cult-classic concept album about time travel, and eventually dissolution. But Lynne didn’t necessarily stop there, nor did he drop off the face of the earth! Stay tuned!

First Listens: Gary Numan’s ‘The Pleasure Principle’

INTRODUCTION: Yes, believe it or not, there are famous albums I have not yet sat down and paid significant attention to. Many of them, actually. Some I have in my mp3 collection while slowly gathering various band discographies, and some I’ve only read about in the numerous music biographies and histories I’ve read over the years. And some I’ve owned back in my vinyl days and only paid attention to the singles from it. This occasional series is my way of dedicating some time to focus on the album as a whole, to familiarize myself with them, get to know them a bit. These are albums that can be fan or critic favorites (or both), many of them you can probably find in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Rolling Stone’s varied Best Albums of All Time lists.

So why am I doing this? Well, why not? I’m always up for discovering a new (old) favorite!


I’m old enough to remember when “Cars” came out and thought it was the coolest damn thing I’d ever heard in late summer of 1979. It was so different from the pop, disco, AOR and classic rock that filled all our local radio stations. It was like M’s “Pop Musik” that came out just a few months previous: what the hell am I listening to, and why does it sound so cool?? It was one of those songs that was just so weird yet so catchy it became a huge hit — one of his biggest in the US, and pretty much the one everyone knows the most — but certainly it was a one-hit-wonder fluke. Even Numan had no idea it would be so big, as it’s just a song about when some yobs once tried to carjack him. It’s hanging out as the next to last track on the album, almost forgotten.

While the single itself was relatively easy to find, The Pleasure Principle itself was a bit tougher to find for someone like me whose closest record shop was a section of the local department store. It wasn’t high on my list of albums to look for anyway, considering I was deep into my Beatles collection at the time. I’d see it at Strawberries or Musicland. It never really went away.

The thing that blows my mind today about the record how quickly it was recorded and released after the second Tubeway Army album, Replicas, which already had a cult following due to its several singles and deep tracks like “Down in the Park”, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Me! I Disconnect from You”. That particular album is worth having in your collection as an early example of Numan’s flirtation with science fiction and dystopian imagery. Sacking his original band soon after, he gathered a new backing group and leaned even harder on the sci-fi synth gloom. [He’d move away from that sometime in the early 80s but return to it and stay there a decade later. His brand new album Intruder just dropped last week, continuing his recent foray into NIN-style industrial darkness.]

It wasn’t until recently that I finally got around to catching up with Numan’s discography, so I figured, why not start with the one that put him on the map for most Americans? Here we go!

Track 1: Airlane — An instrumental opening to set the mood. Right away you can hear the difference between the punkishness of Replicas and the post-punk synthetics of this album…a fascinating change given the five months between these two records. Right away you can hear many differences: Cedric Sharkpley’s powerful drumming, and the several synths going on.

Track 2: Metal — I’m familiar with this one as it was the b-side to the “Cars” US single (I learned to pay attention to flip sides early on). While it’s got the creepiness of his earlier songs, there’s far more aural tension here, with the grinding bass keyboard riff keeping the pace, inserted flanged whooshes and the twitchy tones throughout. It feels totally devoid of any emotion or humanity, which is kind of the whole point with early Numan. Totally makes sense that Nine Inch Nails covered this later on, as it’s right in their wheelhouse.

Track 3: Complex — This ballad kind of sounds a bit like a Replicas outtake, as it’s more tender and solemn. There’s even a treated viola in there, countering the swirling monotone-ish melody that kind of meanders all over the place. It feels more like a mood piece than an actual song, even though it was the follow-up single to “Cars” in the UK. Noting here that the first three songs do feel super short, even though they’re all a bit over three minutes.

Track 4: Films — Okay, this one’s a LOT groovier, more melodic, and a lot more sinister. Hiring Sharpley as a permanent drummer was one of his best moves. The bass is pushed up front here as well. This one’s a really memorable and fascinating deep cut and I know it’s shown up on some of his numerous best-of compilations. Love the bassiness of this one, gives it that sprawling on the floor feel. Apparently Afrika Bambaataa loved this track and cited it as an early influence!

Track 5: M.E. — Not nearly as memorable a deep cut but kind of interesting. He’s leaning super heavy on the sci-fi here (it’s about the last machine on Earth) but I’m not sure if he truly pulls it off. Another track with the use of treated viola! That’s an unexpected choice, but it kind of works? Feels a bit overlong, though…could have faded out maybe a minute earlier.

Track 6: Tracks — Don’t let the quiet piano opening fool you — it quickly turns into a jerky uptempo track that almost sounds like post-Stardust 70s Bowie. [Side note: apparently those two initially did not get along at all, apparently due to Bowie offering a snarky “he’s trying to sound like me” at the time, but I digress.] I kind of like it!

Track 7: Observer — Another uptempo track that sounds like a variation on “Cars” with its “doont da-doont” backing riff and high, ghostlike synth notes. It’s not nearly as catchy, but he’s getting there. This one also feels a bit like a mood piece. Feels too short!

Track 8: Conversation — Back to midtempo here, and the drums and bass are up front once more. A groovy deep cut with delicate, sparse lyrics that interestingly reminds me of Three Imaginary Boys-era Cure. He’s definitely leaning heavy on the not-quite-human riffs here. It kind of meanders, but it goes in really interesting places, including a brief passage with that viola.

Track 9: Cars — Ah, here we go. This song really is brilliant and perfect, even decades later. Like “Films”, the tension is extremely high here. He makes really great use of the emptiness between the notes, filling them only with that three-note bass riff or the brief synth slap. And it’s the most danceable track too! Pretty sure the Blitz Kids loved this one. It’s like he really did his homework on this one track to make it the best song on the album: each section of the song is unique, with the verses cradled in that emptiness, switching only to a verseless and extremely melodic middle-eight that lifts up the listener…only to drop back down to another tense and sparse verse. And that extended ending! While it only repeats that two-chord verse riff, it’s what he does with the layers that pulls it all together: the high, soaring melody and its lower counterpoint, driving you away from it all with a super-slow fade.

Track 10: Engineers — Tying up the whole man-as-machine theme of the album, this one wraps it all up with a slow, chugging rhythm with all sorts of aural sound effects going on. It’s like you’re in a forest of technology, where all the living beings are really wired-up automatons. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as memorable as I’d like but soundwise it’s definitely interesting.


Thoughts: As a post-punk/synth/new wave album, I see where he was going with this, though I don’t think he quite pulled it off. “Cars” definitely does feel out of place here, as it sounds super-polished compared to all the other tracks. I know now that it took him several albums until he figured out where he wanted to go with his records and how to make it all cohesive (personally I think 1986’s Strange Charm is where he finally hit that). I know he was going for the unfeeling “non-human” thing here, and seeing it in that point of view, it makes much more sense.

Final Opinion: I know this one will grow on me, like Replicas did. For me, it’s not a ‘drop everything and pay attention to this’ album but a background soundtrack, something to listen to while I’m writing.

First Listens: Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man-Machine’

Image courtesy of Discogs

INTRODUCTION: Yes, believe it or not, there are famous albums I have not yet sat down and paid significant attention to. Many of them, actually. Some I have in my mp3 collection while slowly gathering various band discographies, and some I’ve only read about in the numerous music biographies and histories I’ve read over the years. And some I’ve owned back in my vinyl days and only paid attention to the singles from it. This occasional series is my way of dedicating some time to focus on the album as a whole, to familiarize myself with them, get to know them a bit. These are albums that can be fan or critic favorites (or both), many of them you can probably find in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and Rolling Stone’s varied Best Albums of All Time lists.

So why am I doing this? Well, why not? I’m always up for discovering a new (old) favorite!


Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine was released on 19 May 1978. I was seven years old, and more than likely I was listening to my older sisters’ record collection and taking out albums from the local library. (ELO’s Out of the Blue was a constant favorite at the time, I recall.) I’d also listen to whatever was playing on the radio, still wet behind the ears (*ba-doom-tiss*) when it came to finding my own musical tastes. My Beatles obsession would becoming within a few months, of course.

The new music selection that month was extremely varied. Captain & Tennille released Dream, which contained the single “You Never Done It Like That” which I thought was kinda groovy. Cheap Trick dropped Heaven Tonight, their best and rockingest album to date with the classic “Surrender” as its first track. Commodores had a chart hit with “Three Times a Lady”, as did Nick Gilder with “Hot Child in the City”; The Cars dropped their amazing first single “Just What I Needed”; Bob Seger’s Stranger in Town and Journey’s Infinity quickly became AOR radio gold; The Rolling Stones released their very first 12″ remix with “Miss You”. And on the more obscure, won’t-know-this-stuff-until-later side of things, The Go-Betweens released one of their first singles, “Lee Remick”, The Dickies covered Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, and The Stranglers dropped their Black & White album.

I actually knew about Kraftwerk early on, as one of my sisters owned the “Autobahn” single, which I thought was a really neat track. I loved that it had that sort of mellow prog-rock feel to it, and that it was purely synthetic in its sound. I’d listen to that single enough that it eventually ended up becoming part of my own burgeoning collection. For me, Kraftwerk is up there with Gary Numan (and in a way, Gary Wright’s The Dream Weaver) as This Is What Science Fiction Music Sounds Like in the 70s and early 80s, before I discovered post-punk. [Side note: I’ll be listening to the English version here.]

Track 1: The Robots — I know this one well as it’s an AOR classic and one that KEXP plays every now and again. It’s kind of funky, isn’t it? It has a bit of a late 70s disco groove too. I recently learned the Blitz Kids in London loved dancing to this track. I love how the R’s are rolled on purpose like it’s some kind of We Are Aristocracy type of thing. It’s also very bloopy — I can see where early Depeche Mode picked up on this style on their early albums. It’s deliberately synthetic in its completeness.

Track 2: Spacelab — Have I heard this before…? I think I have! Hooray! It’s this series’ first example of “Oh THAT Song”! And there will be many, I’m sure. The opening is like that cool spacey intro to the album version of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, which I love so much! Nice use of rippling ascending keyboards to signify liftoff. Kicking in now…a high meandering melody with a driving yet primitive drumbeat. Kinda groovy! I’m picturing this as a music bed under some PBS film I might have seen as a kid, or one of those long bumpers that MTV used to play in their early days, you know, the ones with a bunch of NASA and public domain films. This totally sounds like something off of Duran Duran’s first album…one of their deep cuts. Martin Gore must have taken a page from this song as well, as it kind of sounds like something from A Broken Frame! Looking at Discogs, apparently this was a single in the UK and the US, so maybe that’s why I recognize it…I must have heard it at some point in the past.

Track 3: Metropolis — The Depeche Mode comparisons continue…this plodding, plonky opening is straight off Construction Time Again, and that one bass note that’s keeping the beat sounds like water droplets on a PVC tube, doesn’t it? Very Blue Man Group there. Ah, there we go…song kicks in, and now it’s got a bit of Thomas Dolby beat to it. Minor key, high flanged chords shimmering in the background. Okay, I see what they’re doing here…kind of going for an aural poem of 70s urban tension, with maybe a bit of a wink to the 1927 movie of the same name with its dramatic delivery. Not exactly a memorable track, but it’s an interesting deep cut.

Track 4: The Model — I definitely know this one. Their Other Big Hit here in the US. I remember seeing the video for this on MTV, which I learn was made because of its resurgence with the English version as a 1981 single. It’s kind of sad sounding, isn’t it? Comparing this to Air’s Moon Safari this time, with some pretty nifty use of mellotron-like chords and delicate high melodies. But yeah…it’s kind of an odd song, isn’t it? It’s definitely got radio potential, though.

Track 5: Neon Lights — Longest song on the album. so I’m going to assume this is the centerpiece. It’s kind of a counterpoint to “Metropolis” I think…definitely lighter and dreamier in its delivery. I can see where M83 stole a bit from them here! I do like the shift two minutes in…a change in key to a motorik-style single chord groove (which makes sense, considering Neu! was formed by two ex-Kraftwerk guys with similar musical ideas). I like that this has suddenly become an extended jam for the main melody synths. Okay, yeah…this song is in my wheelhouse as Possible Writing Session Soundtrack material!

Track 6: The Man-Machine — And we’re back in early Depeche Mode territory again. Like “Metropolis”, it’s not entirely memorable as a song, but the parts that make it are kind of neat. Programmed drum loops, vocoderized voices, and the classic high dissonant bloops to hint at Big Computer Technology. Kind of an odd, anticlimactic way to end the album (this feels more like a denouement than a climax point), but it does work in its own way, pulling the rest of the album together as a whole, as it’s a more humanlike response to the cold and clinical “The Robots”. This song’s less about the song and more about the What Have We Learned Here summary of what we’ve just heard.


Thoughts: I can definitely see now how all those early 80s synth bands like DM, OMD, Visage and so on were highly influenced by this record and others like it. A lot of them had their minds blown by this stuff, realizing that not only could they write and play this sort of thing that was so different from the pop charts of the time, the newest much smaller keyboard models were actually becoming quite affordable — or alternately, they were learning to kludge together their own electric bits and bots to make the same or similar unnatural sounds and beats.

There’s also the fact that this stands out separate from other experimental bands at the time, in that they’re supremely melodic. They’re not hard on the ears like Throbbing Gristle, or hypnotic like Neu!, or weird like Einsturzende Neubauten. Each of these bands would inspire other bands in some way, and Kraftwerk, to my opinion told these new groups that electronic music can be enjoyable as much as it is experimental. It’s the appeal of the passive listener as well as the big music nerd.

Final Opinion: I think it might take me a few more listens for most of the album to stick with me, but it’s definitely something I’ll listen to in the future!

Getting into (the) Spirit and other classic rock bands

First off, my apologies for that terrible pun.

Lately I’ve been reading Kent Hartman’s Goodnight, L. A.: Untold Tales from Inside Classic Rock’s Legendary Recording Studios, and it’s quite an interesting read.  The 70s was definitely an interesting and extremely varied decade for music, that’s for sure.  But what struck me was that this is yet another music biog where I’m quite familiar with the titles of the albums mentioned from this era and the surrounding years: The Family That Plays Together, TapestryEverybody Knows This is NowhereRumoursTea for the Tillerman, and so on.

But how many of them have I actually sat down and listened to?  Sure, I know Rumours and Hotel California and Fly Like an Eagle from my preteen years listening to the radio and getting records from the library.  But I know only two Spirit songs: “I Got a Line On You” and “Nature’s Way”, and I only know the latter because This Mortal Coil covered it in 1991.  I know tons of Carole King songs (and I just recently read her autobiography, Natural Woman) but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to any of her albums, including her most famous one.

I’m thinking I should change that.  I mean, sure, do I really have enough time in the day to listen to streaming radio stations, new releases, and older favorites on top of listening to classic albums for the first time?  Well, maybe.  I have Amazon Prime so I can give a lot of these a listen essentially for free.  And this is back when full albums lasted maybe thirty minutes, forty tops.  I can fit in a few a day, I think.  I’m always up for expanding my musical knowledge.

It’ll be a long-term project, but I’m thinking it’ll be fun to finally give these a listen and figure out what all the buzz was about.

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part III

Finishing up on this little diversion, here are a few more songs and albums that were on my radar in my youth.  The year would of course end with my mom buying me 1967-1970 (aka the Blue Album) for Christmas, kicking off a now forty-year obsession with buying and listening to music on a daily basis.  And it’s not stopping any time soon…


Styx, Pieces of Eight, released September. Not quite prog, not quite arena rock, not quite glam, and sometimes a bit ridiculous, but Styx was a radio favorite for years. “Renegade” still gets played nowadays, both on radio and in stadiums.

The KISS solo albums, released 18 September. All four members released a solo album in the fall of 1978. Though it didn’t generate the critical or fan excitement the label had expected (and we now know that Casablanca was known for its brilliant yet catastrophic ideas…), a lot of KISS fans I knew went out and bought them anyway. The only track that got any major play was Ace Frehley’s discofied “New York Groove”, but it’s a hell of a fun track regardless.

Ramones, Road to Ruin, released 22 September. I may have been only seven, but I knew about “I Wanna Be Sedated” even then, thanks to WAAF’s hard rock playlist. Plus, one of my cousins was a big fan. [She was also the same person that would get me hooked on Duran Duran a few years later.]  They were never far from my radar, so I’ve always been a fan.

Blondie, Parallel Lines, released 23 September. I was never the biggest Blondie fan, but I loved “Heart of Glass”. Production so sleek you could see your reflection in it, and the insistent drumbeats front and center and propelled by that ticking sequencer.

Billy Joel, 52nd Street, released 13 October. Another musician whose songs you could not escape in the 70s. Not that I minded, because I quite enjoyed his piano work at he time! This album was a huge hit for him and started a long string of pop radio hits lasting well into the 80s.

The Police, Outlandos d’Amour, released 2 November. When “Roxanne” dropped, it was picked up by every rock station out there and never left. Their debut album is amazingly tight and shows off their punkier side, even when it veers into silliness (the classic ode to a blow-up sex doll, “Be My Girl – Sally”). A fun album from start to finish.


So yeah, I definitely skipped a LOT of stuff in between. Some releases that I don’t own, some singles I’ve missed… but thinking about it now, 1978 was a watershed year on multiple fronts. As I’ve mentioned here before, this was the year where radio listening habits shifted from AM to FM. While FM was becoming more commercial and focusing more on set rotations, there was still quite a bit of room for free-form playlist experimentation. It was a turning point for a lot of music genres on radio; disco was on the wane, rock was rediscovering its spine, punk and post-punk was sneaking on to college radio, funk was still going strong, and even country would experience a surge in popularity. I may have been seven, but there was a lot going on musically that excited me!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part II

Welcome to another wave of great tunage that dropped when I was a mere seven years old and already listening to the radio far more than anyone else my age probably was.  (Again — I’m skipping a lot of music that could be listed here but isn’t, merely because I did not start listening to those albums and bands until years later.)

Journey, Infinity, released 20 May. The first Journey album to feature Steve Perry, this album finally pushed them into the limelight with less focus on lengthy jams (a holdover from Neal Schon’s Santana days) and more on power pop. They would remain an arena rock favorite for the next ten years.

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town, released 2 June. After the powerhouse that was 1975’s Born to Run (and its ensuing tour), it took Bruce another three years — and some very ugly legal issues concerning a manager he’d needed to jettison — he returned with this strong and tense album. He can barely contain the energy he’d been holding onto for far too long.

The Cars, The Cars, released 6 June. Living in MA as a kid, you’d hear a track from this album on every single rock station that came in at least once a day, for decades. And you wouldn’t just hear one of the two singles, either; of its nine tracks, seven of them would end up in heavy rotation. There aren’t that many albums that can claim to have that much success, let alone debut albums. It truly is a classic worth owning.

The Rolling Stones, Some Girls, released 9 June. The Stones went through so many different style changes over the years they give David Bowie a run for his money. This particular album has them sounding like the two sides of Manhattan nightlife at the time: equal parts punk and disco. It was a critical success and the fans loved it.

Dire Straits, Dire Straits, released 7 July. They were a blues band that sounded nothing like Clapton, a jam band that sounded nothing like the Dead, and a London-based band that sounded Middle American. They were hard to pin down but they were amazing musicians and you couldn’t ignore them. And “Sultans of Swing” is still an amazing song after all these years.

The Who, Who Are You, released 18 August. After a long wave of two rock operas, a few filler albums and the occasional single, the band released one hell of a powerful and timely album. Alas, it would be the last record featuring Keith Moon, who passed away three weeks after it was released. Still, it’s one of their best albums of their 70s output and the title single still gets away with an uncensored “who the fuck are you” on commercial radio. Heh.


More groovy tunes from 1978 coming soon!

Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part I

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  This is by no means complete, and I’m leaving out a LOT of great tunage primarily because it’s stuff I didn’t listen to or even know about until years later… but here’s a smidge of some of my favorite songs I heard on the radio when I was seven and my lifelong obsession was just starting out.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr Blue Sky” single, released January. Their fantastic Out of the Blue had been out for a few months by this time, but this became the fan favorite for years to come. Hearing it as the opening song for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 made me ridiculously happy.

ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me” single, released January, My sister was a big ABBA fan and I loved listening to The Album, which had come out in December. They may be sugary pop, but they could write one hell of a great song.

Van Halen, Van Halen, released 10 February. The local rock stations LOVED this album and played most of its tracks. A staple cassette in your boombox or your car stereo at the time.

Wings, London Town, released 31 March. I always say that Yellow Submarine and the Sgt Pepper movie kickstarted my Beatles obsession, but I’m pretty sure Paul’s “With a Little Luck” single had something to do with it as well, as it got played EVERYWHERE and I remember my mom and I liking it a lot.

Hot Chocolate, Every 1’s a Winner, released April. I loved the funky groove and the wonky production of this track, and it (along with their “You Sexy Thing” remains one of my favorite 70s songs.

KISS, Double Platinum, released 2 April. One of my other sisters was a KISS fan and got this for her birthday. I was quite familiar with their songs, so this was a great entry point for all involved.

Cheap Trick, Heaven Tonight, released May. “Surrender” drops and becomes everyone’s favorite rock song for the entire summer and for decades to come. One of the best rock songs of the 70s. A and I drove down a highway towards Houston with this song blaring, the both of us singing along like happy idiots!

Coming up: More 1978 goodness!

Favorite Albums: The Osmonds, ‘Crazy Horses’


Yeah, yeah, I can hear y’all from here: oh god, he’s finally run out of things to blog about.  But hear me out:  I’ve been obsessed over this wonderful 1972 gem since I was a little kid when I used to listen to my sisters’ old beat up copy.

Why the Osmonds, you say?  Well, for starters, this is most definitely not your Jackson 5 wannabe album with sugary confections like “One Bad Apple” or feel-good grooves like “Down by the Lazy River”.  This is the five brothers taking an unexpected and amazingly competent turn into rock territory.

We’re talking about taking a page from freakin’ LED ZEPPELIN, fer pete’s sake:

It doesn’t hold a candle to “The Immigrant Song”, sure, but you gotta admit it’s got a hell of a punch. Their longtime fans didn’t know what the heck to think of it, but radio stations loved it and got it major airplay.

A few tracks later we get a goofy Beatlesque riff that I’m surprised more ukulele-playing hipsters haven’t covered, with “Girl”.

There’s also the groovy MOR sound of “What Could It Be”, which could easily be a song by Badfinger or The Raspberries:

…and the fantastic “Crazy Horses”, which is just as bananas as it is badass.

And my favorite track from this LP, “Hey Mr Taxi”, which sounds like they were trying to record their own version of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”, complete with all the noise, distortion and wailing guitars slowly going out of tune.

It’s does have their signature sugary pop as well, such as the swinging “Julie” and the ballad “That’s My Girl”.  There’s even a jamming groove dedicated to their home state, “Utah”.  There’s a nice comedic Looney Tunes touch at the end of the record with a twenty-one-second track called “Big Finish” that gives a teasing nod to their previous sound.

It’s definitely a trip to listen to.  While their previous album (Phase III, which had come out only nine months earlier) toyed a bit with rock, for the most part it stayed firmly in the pop category.  Their follow up after this one, their semi-religious concept album The Plan (released nine months after Crazy Horses) is even more of a head trip, with woozy blues, psychedelic joyrides and even the occasional horn-laden showstopper.  After that they’d return back to their safe haven of lite rock and MOR, and Donny and sister Marie would become a 70s television staple.

So yeah — I admit it.  Crazy Horses is a ridiculously fun album, and I still love it after all these years.


fm movie poster
Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite records that I used to love taking out of the library — aside from The Beatles 1962-1966, which I did not yet own — was the soundtrack to a 1978 movie called FM.

It was an amazing double-album filled with huge rock hits of the last few years: Bob Seger’s “Night Moves”, Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, The Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane”, Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle”, Boston’s “More than a Feeling”, and more…and of course Steely Dan’s classic theme song.  Pretty much a perfect cross-section of what would become the classic rock genre in future radio programming.  [It’s still available on CD at this time, by the way, and highly recommended.]

I don’t remember the movie ever playing anywhere close at the time of its release (April 1978), but then again, I was only seven at the time.  The soundtrack was good enough for me.  Still, it would be another few years before I finally saw it when it was shown on one of the local independent TV channels a few years later.  I enjoyed it, even if some of the more mature issues (like Eric Swan’s sexual encounters or Mother’s consistently-baked persona) went right over my head.  The short version of the plot is that Q-Sky, an LA-based rock station with committed fans but not much profit, is being threatened by upper management to play more commercials and less music to make more money.  The stalwart deejays (your classic tropes here: the smooth-talking overnight guy, the ex-hippie still living in the previous decade, the young and spunky morning host, the cute and friendly girl everyone loves, the popular prima donna, and so on) decide to go against upper management to keep the station alive and rockin’ at whatever cost…even if it means going on strike.

[There are definitely shades of WKRP in Cincinnati here, but please note that the show was actually in pre-production talks when this movie came out; they’re not connected to each other in any way.]

It wasn’t until I read Richard Neer’s 2001 book FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio (also highly recommended) that I renewed my interest in the film.  It took me another number of years to finally find a dvd copy.  Years older and more knowledgeable about the way radio works, I’d discovered that the movie, for all it’s worth, was actually quite accurate in its portrayal of a radio station’s ups and downs during that time.

FM rock radio was in fact becoming the preferred choice for younger listeners by 1978, bypassing AM radio’s previous popularity — thus the riff ‘no static at all’ in the theme song.  It was also the zenith of rock radio to that point, with numerous bands releasing platinum and gold selling albums that are still highly regarded to this day.  At the same time, however, the financial woes of running a popular radio station had started taking its toll on the programming.  It was becoming harder and harder to be a free-form station where the deejay could play anything they wanted, when the business itself needed to make a profit to stay alive.  FM was in fact a spot-on commentary of this, even when it veered into the occasional Hollywood movie silliness.

Running a radio station nowadays is still just as hard as it’s ever been.  The issue is that it’s not built to be a moneymaker; it’s built to be a community service.  It provides free entertainment and information to its listeners; its money is made from its advertising or donations and fundraising events.  Most owners and station managers try to keep the moneymaking part of the business as unobtrusive as they can.

But that’s another post altogether.  I’m just here to talk about one of my favorite movies and soundtracks!

We are GROOT

Okay, so my posts are a little off the start of this week due to our visit down to Anahiem to go to Disneyland for the long weekend. It was fun, the weather was much warmer and brighter, and I may have even gotten a bit of a tan out of it! That said, It is kind of strange to be walking around the area known for its cheery, poppy, family-friendly atmosphere and hearing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the same time. A bit of a mental disconnect, but a pleasant one!

So while I get myself back up to speed, here’s some more tunage from that very weird and absolutely hilarious movie.

PS. We did in fact see Groot at California Adventure! 🙂

PSS. Yes, I actually remember these songs when they were new. I am that old. Turning 47 next Monday!