Friday, February 29, 2008

Dream Theater makes the Top 100 CD list

Great band, but what's with the Horror Movie style album cover?
Number 38 on my countdown of my 100 favorite CDs is a band I really got into about ten years ago...
Number 38: Dream Theater - Images and Words (1992)
The New York based band is one of the most talented in the limited field of Progressive Metal. They have lots of chops and instrumental prowess to spare and wear their influences on their sleeve. Bits of Rush, Queensryche, Journey, Queen, Kansas, ELP and just about every other group to play Prog, Arena Rock or Metal gets mashed up into the Dream Theater sound. At times they can be derivative yet always engaging.
Images and Words is my favorite of the Dream Theater albums, it's the one that seamlessly blends their influences together. The amazing tempo shifts in the opener "Pull Me Under" recall Rush at their best as drummer Mike Portnoy nails every beat. The power ballad "Another Day" is moving and capped with a stellar soaring guitar solo by John Petrucci. "Surrounded" is almost U2ish with the echoing Edge style guitarwork.
A ten minute epic, "Metropolis pt.1" is the highpoint of the album as the band unleashes a flurry of tightly structured instrumental interplay that rivals Classic Yes. It even ends with a bit of Prince's "Purple Rain" for good measure. Bassist John Myung comes to the foreground a little to show his dexterous playing style.
"Under A Glass Moon" features what Guitar magazine ranked among the Top 500 guitar solos of all time. Throughout the album Kevin Moore's tasteful keyboards and James LaBrie's wailing vocals add emotional power to the band's super tight rhythm section.
Even with all the great Dream Theater music that followed, nothing tops Images and Words for me as my all time favorite from DT. And now, here's a little "Pull Me Under"...

Dream Theater - "Pull Me Under"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Results Are In! The Journey continues...

After months of preparation and speculation, Journey has emerged with new lead singer Arnel Pineda. They've been performing in South America and were "Captured" on television in Chile. I had some concerns that Pineda would turn out to be more of a talented mimic than rather than have his own style and in some ways he is. But those ways turn out to be the best ways, he seems genuinely excited to perform, ad-libs during instrumental breaks, engages the audience, sings with his eyes closed half the time and runs all over the stage. Best of all, Pineda has the sense of sincerity in his voice that Perry had which goes along way towards selling the songs. Despite all of these similarities, Pineda does come across as his own person and not just a copy cat performer. He changes up some of the vocals with a raspier edge and bounds around the stage with enthusiasm. So I'll have to eat my words and say Arnel Pineda is the real deal. And this gives Journey the potential to be in their best shape since 1983.

Journey - "Open Arms"

Journey - "Any Way You Want It"

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What's Your Name? George Jetson!

He's got his balls to the walls man!

Some Kind Of Wonderful's recent mention of the band Accept reminded me of something that happened recently. While playing Guitar Hero 3, my wife was playing Accept's "Balls to the Walls" in the game and when the song hits the chorus, I realized I never really knew the lyrics. What I remembered hearing was "What's Your Name?/George Jetson!/Gonna Break the chains!/Yeah!!/You got your balls to the walls man." To me, that's the lyrics and I don't want to know the real words because I like it more this way. Other songs where I found out the lyrics were different from what I thought sometimes made me like the song less.

The time I remember most strongly from this was Eric Clapton's "Forever Man" which used to play regularly on a local radio station in the 80's. For decades, I thought the song was "Four Letter Man" and sang it that way. I thought it was his best song, kind of bluesy and nasty but with innuendo like a good rock star should do. When I sang the song in the car with my wife she cracked up because she knew the real words to the song. I have to admit it was really funny, except now I find the song really boring because there's no edge to it.

Another example is Boston's "More Than A Feeling" where I thought he was singing about drinking a Coke but really was talking about feeling cold. I drink a lot of soda so I thought it was cool for Coke to get a shout out in a song. Prince's "I Would Die 4 U" had a fast talking part and I thought he was saying "I'll be the fire when you come" which made sense because, well, Prince is nasty and would say something like that (the actual line is "Be the fire when you're cold"). I think I have a problem hearing the word Cold. Fortunately, some mishearings persist like Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Zephyr Song" where everytime he says "Zephyr" I hear "Cell Phone" even though I know the real lyrics.

I guess what it comes down to is mishearing lyrics can be fun. My wife still likes the "Four Letter Man" story. Like a Rorschach test it can say something about the person or in the least give a good laugh. In College, I once went to Reno with some friends and a girl insisted that Def Leppard's "Armageddon It" was "Are You Getting It" and the word "Armageddon" was not in the song at all. She would sing along and shout the wrong lyrics which was great. Even showing her the cassette case with the song title couldn't convince her. It was hilarious. I also got a kick out of someone who thought the Eagles were singing "Pussy on the highway" in the song "Take It To The Limit".

Speaking of Def Leppard, years later they had a song called "Four Letter Word" but it still wasn't as exciting as what I thought Eric Clapton's song was. I'll have to try self hypnosis to change the lyrics back. "Four Letter Man, Four Letter Man, Four Letter Man..." It's not working, guess I'll just have to get used to "Forever Man".

Eric Clapton - "Forever Man"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mr Mike's Midnight Madness

Belt it out Janis! Amanda Overmeyer comes within inches of being eliminated from American Idol but lives on to the next show. Here's to hoping she doesn't play it safe with a ballad next week and goes out in a Blaze of Glory.


Well, it's been a busy few weeks and haven't had much time to post much so it's time to throw down a catch-all post I'll call Midnight Madness (because Night Ranger rules! At least that's what I keep telling my wife). Lotsa random junk out there, so time to get started:

It's a new season of American Idol. This year has been on snooze control and the Top 24 hasn't made much of an impact yet. The guys Top 12 was mostly forgettable until dreadlocked Jason Castro busted out Beck style on Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream". The first hour of the girl's Top 12 was no better until Asia'h Epperson jumped to Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart". The show finally caught fire with a dramatic reading of Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" by Ramiele Malubay and Carly Smithson's professional take on Tony Bennett's "The Shadow Of Your Smile". Two guys and gals were shown the door tonight, hopefully cutting off the dead wood to make for a better set of shows next week. Best news of all, Simon has gone from bored to vicious in his verbal barbs the past few weeks, even telling one of tonight's losing contestants to give up music and get a job.

The next James Bond film is going to be called Quantum of Solace. It's said to take place minutes after the end of Casino Royale. I'm looking forward to another round with Bloke Bond Daniel Craig strangling dudes with one hand while slamming down a Vodka Martini with the other. Shaken, not stirred...OY!

Star Trek XI is underway with new actors emulating the classic series crew and JJ Abrams in the drivers seat. Should be interesting, problem is it's going to be tough to Out-Shatner Shatner in his signature role. I'm a big fan of Original Star Trek so I'll give the new movie a shot. And who knows, if Shatner can be replaced maybe they'll make a movie of TJ Hooker! Al Pacino is...TJ Hooker. And Adrian Zmed is still Adrian Zmed, because he is truly irreplaceable. Who's laughing now Dance Fever?

A new CGI Star Wars movie is in the works to be followed by a TV series. CGI actors-finally George Lucas can get the performances he wants. Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith gives me hope this might be good, but I've got a bad feeling about this...

A flood of music by artists from the 90's is coming out most of which is pretty decent. Sheryl Crow,both the Black and Counting Crowes and Lenny Kravitz have new songs and albums. None of them have blown me away yet with their new material, but collectively they make me long for a Starbucks coffee and an episode of Friends. Whomp! There it is!!

A new episode of Family Guy ran last weekend! Finally. Now it's back to the reruns again. Awww.

Going back to American Idol for a second, my favorite so far has been blooze rocker Amanda Overmeyer who came close to being cut from the show tonight following her Van Morrison by way of Aerosmith version of "Baby Please Don't Go". I don't know how long she'll last but I really enjoy her performances.

Lastly, I thought I knew every failed attempt by an 80's metal band to cross over to the mainstream. Dokken's "Burning Like A Flame" comes to mind (they made like five albums and this was their only happy song) as does Y&T's "Summertime Girls" (stiff doesn't begin to describe this Top 20 hit) and Triumph's "Somebody's Out There" (is this really the same band that did "Fight The Good Fight"?). These songs lessened or in some cases buried whatever music came out before it with their desperate pleas for Top 40 love by neutering and shellacking their sounds in generic hooks and in most cases synthesizers. I left the TV on VH1 Classic last weekend and was shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear a Heavy Metal version of Christopher Cross' "Ride Like The Wind" by none other than Saxon. You can't ride the wind far enough from the smell of this one. Which is why I got it immediately so I can play it to death.

Saxon - "Ride Like The Wind"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: 38 Special-Tour De Force

Men without hats. 38 Special brought Southern Rock to the 80's masses

It was 1983, I rode the bus to school with a couple of friends one of whom I would help with homework and that guy liked 38 Special. I didn't know any of their music, but I totally ragged on him for liking that band (because it was fun). Then I actually heard 38 Special, saw the video for "Back Where You Belong" to be exact, and thought they were the greatest thing ever. I ran out and bought Tour De Force and played it nonstop for a few months.

I became a fan and bought all of their albums, facinated by this Southern rock band that played City Slicker music. They never get credit for it, but I consider 38 Special to be the forerunner to Modern Country for their blending of Country and Southern Boogie with Mainstream Pop Rock. I think guys like Garth Brooks owe a tip of their 10 gallon hat to these Florida boys. They paved the way for an audience of Urban Cowboys to find an Arena Rock show while retaining enough of their original sensibility to keep their Southern Rock following.

I also like how everything comes with two opposites with this band. There are two drummers, one bearded and one not. Two lead singers, one related to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the other sings the hits. And two guitarists, one with a smooth style and the other with a crunchy blues sound. There's just one bass player, but it was his second chance having quit Skynyrd before they became big.

In hearing Tour De Force, it could be argued that after Wild Eyed Southern Boys (1980) they just made the same record over and over again and there's some truth to that statement. But there's no denying that when the formula was working it sounded fantastic. So here's Tour De Force, track by track, produced by Rodney Mills.

1. If I'd Been The One - I once read this was written as a "riff that developed" which explains how it kind of keeps the same pace through most of the song. This was the first single from the album and featured a great video with horses running in slo mo and starred the future former Mrs. Bruce Springsteen, Julianne Phillips. Great driving song and having two drummers comes in handy for those doubled drum hits (the splash-splash sound that comes at the end of the main guitar part).

2. Back Where You Belong - Loved loved LOVED this song back in the day. Other than the catchiness of it, I liked the conversational tone of the lyrics (I heard you're asking/how I'm feeling/guess I'll take it day by day). It's classic 38 Special, midtempo pop rock with a polished sound and just a touch of raggedness and verve to let you know they weren't studio hacks. It ends with a great flowing guitar solo from Jeff Carlisi. Throughout, Don Barnes shows the emotional range that made him the voice of 38 Special on the radio. And the video for this was a funny cross between Keystone Cops and Hill Street Blues. One of two songs written by songwriter Gary O'Connor for this album (he also wrote a song for the Eric Martin Band also produced by Rodney Mills).

3. One Time For Old Times - It's 1983, bring in the synths! I guess even a Southern Rock band needs to give their guitar players a rest every once in a while as the keyboards dominate here. The second song written by Gary O'Connor, it's a nice ballad though it doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the band's sound. This was the third single from the album.

4. See Me In Your Eyes - The song starts off with some stark guitar licks a'la "Chain Lightning" from their Special Forces album (1982) before going into a dark heavy groove like, um, "Chain Lightning". Where it differs from "Lightning" is that the chorus goes into this lifting melody that kicks my ass every time I hear it.

As the old Tubes record would say, you have reached the end of side one. Please turn over the record and begin side two.

5. Twentieth Century Fox - Let's boogie! At least once an album 38 would cut loose with a boogie rocker where the vocalist and guitarists trade off lead parts. Not to be confused with the Doors song, this song brings the album's energy way up after the preceding midtempo cuts. She's a Twentieth Century that talk!

6. Long Distance Affair - Other than "Back Where You Belong" this was my other favorite song back then. I liked how the drums kind of "floated around" in this song and the contrast between the tense verses and lurching chorus. I just noticed I'm really abusing "quotes" in this "post." Really upped the drama here, Don Barnes could have won best actor for his performance as a frettin' suitor torn by long distance love.

7. I Oughta Let Go - The first clear cut lead vocal from Donnie Van Zant (I think he sang "One Time For Old Times" but sometimes his voice is sometimes similar to Barnes and makes it hard to tell) has the band going into a little Country ditty that's a lot of fun. Love song lyrics about getting shot and hung definitely add to the fun flavor of the tune (it's upbeat, trust me).

8. One Of The Lonely Ones - When you have a big hit like "Hold On Loosely", what do you do? Make it again, how could you not? You might call it "Caught Up In You" or "Like No Other Night" or "One Of The Lonely Ones" and the beauty of it is fans like me will buy it every time. Like all the other sequels, I think this is a great song and if you've heard "Hold On Loosely", then you've pretty much heard this one too.

9. Undercover Lover - Van Zant shows up again (I always wondered how he felt being the official "leader" of 38 Special and getting fewer lead vocals) with some good Southern rock and a touch of urgency. The most "Skynyrd" sounding cut on the album (and I love me some Skynyrd). Terrific backing vocals from Carol Bristow and Lu Moss.

After Tour De Force the Special ones continued to rock though after a Greatest Hits album went through an extreme lineup change where Don Barnes was replaced so the group could score it's biggest hit, "Second Chance" (there's those "two" things again). Since then, they've regrouped with new members including a keyboard player centered around Barnes and Van Zant (guess they didn't need two drummers after all) and still perform. My favorite band member, Jeff Carlisi, now works with kids to teach them music. That guy always came up with great solos, no surprise it's featured in the Guitar Hero video game.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Belated Valentine-Short Distance Dedication

Happy Belated Valentine's Day!

I didn't have time to post on Valentine's day, so I thought I would catch up now. My wife had a tough day yesterday, she was hit by a pickup truck, almost got ran over by a Mack Truck and is feeling under the weather. Nonetheless, she made a delicious Italian dinner last night. So my Valentine's day post will be written in the form of a Classic America's Top 40 Long Distance Dedication. It goes like this:

"America's Top 40 is brought to you around the world and in places like the San Francisco Bay Area. Today we have a letter from a listener in the City by the bay and he writes-Dear Casey, my wife has had a hard Valentines day. First, she was hit by a pickup truck. Then, she was almost ran over by a Mack truck. And if things couldn't get any worse, she is not feeling well too. She has done so much for so many people that I would like to dedicate a song to her. Could you play "I'll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)" by Steelheart? It would mean a lot. Thanks. Sincerely, Mr Mike. Well Mr. Mike, coming in at #28 in the countdown, here's your long distance dedication. I'm Casey Kasem. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"

Steelheart - "I'll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Alicia Keys and the Winehouse Conflict

We know she's no good but like her anyway
I recorded the Grammy's last Sunday so I can watch it without all the boring parts (i.e., commercials, tributes, winners and acceptance speeches) and focus on the music performances. I saw the end of Rihanna's "Umbrella", a Kanye West performance that went from Tron to emotionally riveting, a Beyonce and Tina Turner revue and a Foo Fighters performance that was oddly remiscent of Metallica's S&M album.

But the best performance of the night for me was Alicia Key's performance of her hit "No One". I've got to admit, before this performance I was not sold on this song. I just thought it was OK and at the MTV awards she was overshadowed by the Kid Rock/Tommy Lee debacle. But on the Grammy stage, Keys delivered a forceful performance and finally made me believe in this song. To cap it off, she had John Mayer come out and do what he does best-play guitar (the only John Mayer CD I own is Try (2005) where he gets his Stevie Ray Vaughan groove on).

Despite Key's great performance, she was again overshadowed. It would have been by Kanye West who kicked it off with a rap song I could tolerate ("Stronger") and then finished with a moving tribute to his recently deceased mother. But he too would be overshadowed by the living trainwreck that's not Britney Spears-Amy Winehouse.

When Winehouse appeared on the TV screen I was expecting a mess of "Gimmie More" proportions. I mean, this is the crack addled walking disaster that Scotland Yard is investigating for what seems like an endless series of charges. And even though Winehouse's dancing accumulates to looking like someone who has to use the bathroom really bad (she bounces and then crouches down with her hands on her knees) there was no denying she was, as Randy Jackson might say, in it to win it dawg.

Despite appeared to be reading her own lyrics off a teleprompter, she was charismatic and coy while she ran through "You Know I'm No Good" and her big hit "Rehab" which, ironically, is where she's been.

This brings me to the Winehouse conflict. I've heard four songs from her Back to Black album and thought they were all great. But if I buy her album, I will feel like I'm sponsoring her drug habit and ridiculous life style. But should that matter? I've listed to a lot of musicians who are addicted to drugs. Eric Clapton didn't sing JJ Cale's "Cocaine" because it sounded cute. Jim Morrision? Did he write any lyrics not being high? Sure, they did drugs under the subterfuge of "mind expansion" but I think we've all learned that was just code for "There's never been this many middle class Americans on drugs before." I'll have to give it more thought, I don't see Winehouse as a lasting performer though she's definitely talented but I do like her music.

What I do know is that Key's performance was my favorite of the evening. And here it is!

Alicia Keys and John Mayer - "No One"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Come Go Saturday Lovin' with Me

A few weeks ago my wife and I turned on the radio to entertain Dixie while we stepped out of the house. As soon as the radio snapped on, we heard the phrase "Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturdaaeee" and we both said "What is this song?" I guessed it was titled "Saturday Love" and by a stroke of luck I was right and my wife found it on You Tube. I've been listening to this song since then because it's drop dead catchy and my wife and I both like it a lot. The song also has a sound that takes me back to a time of sweaty crowded dance floors and smoke filled beer drenched clubs.

Looking back at my ill-conceived attempts to meet girls in clubs seems insane now, because I am not an outgoing person and can't dance at all. Genesis' "I Can't Dance" is practically my theme song on this subject. When I went through this phase, decked out in my finest acid washed jeans, worn brown leather jacket and a full head mousse slicked hair, Expose' was big and I really liked "Come Go With Me". I even went to Summerjam #2 to see them live (along with Sweet Sensation, Klymaxx, Cover Girls, Stacey Q, The System and Lisa Lisa with Cult Jam but not Full Force) only to miss most of their set except "Point Of No Return". So put your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care, 'cause we're electric sliding into a double shot of 80's dance club fever!

Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal - "Saturday Love"

Expose - "Come Go With Me"

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Very Special Artist Spotlight: Foreigner

More intensity than a headband could hold

It's hard to look at the "F" section of our CD collection where I've been picking up the Foo Fighters CDs and not see one of my all time favorite bands, Foreigner. Foreigner was one of the first bands I ever liked, I even liked their music before I bought records or tapes thanks to "Hot Blooded". So, in a very special episode, like when Carol Seaver's boyfriend died on Growing Pains, or when Mike Seaver went to the party where everyone did drugs in the bathroom on Growing Pains, or when the Seavers went to Italy and Mike Seaver met the girl from the Nightmare On Elm Street Movies who was later on Just The Ten Of Us (Heather Langenkamp)...I watched a lot of Growing Pains...its time to learn a life lesson amid the laughter and love. Not really, but it's time to shine the spotlight on the mighty Foreigner!

Foreigner (1977)

One of Foreigner's best album covers. That's not saying much.

The debut album shattered expectations and along with The Cars bucked the trend that it took three or four albums for a rock band to become successful. Guitarist Mick Jones sought to create a band that could encapsulate all of the popular musical styles of the day, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, R&B, even a little disco (original bassist Ed Gagliardi acknowledged the bass part to "Feels Like The First Time" was discoish). Teaming up with fellow Brits Dennis Elliot (drums), Ian McDonald (ex King Crimson multi-instrumentalist) and Americans Lou Gramm (vocals), Ed Gagliardi (bass) and Al Greenwood (keyboards), Jones formed Foreigner. Named for the split nationality of the original band lineup.

I got the record from Columbia House because I wanted to hear the original long versions of the hits. "Cold As Ice" still kills with it's pensive piano and overlapping vocals. "Feels Like The First Time" with that brief guitar intro and swirling synthesizers is still a good time anthem. "Long Long Way From Home" was a great song about being homesick for New York but I always thought it was about being held hostage by Aliens in space (does that sound geeky? Yes, it does).
The record had additional treats like the Pink Floydy "Starrider" where Mick Jones supplies the David Gilmourish vocal. Best of all, the band pours on the Hard Rock with the Bad Companyesque "Head Knocker" where Gramm's gravelly voice shines (After Beavis & Butthead, I can't help but sing "Fart Knocker" when this song comes on). The debut album set the stage for the band's continued dominance of the rock world for years to come.

Double Vision (1978)

Wow, it's like there's two images to mean double vision or something. I always found it facinating that Mick Jones had like an ugly fur coat on. It's just wrong in so many ways.

There are bands who believe major success of an album means creative license to do something entirely different the next album. Foreigner is not one of those bands. They figured, you like the first record well here's more of it! Double Vision added to the band's string of hits including their first #1 single, "Hot Blooded". I can still remember hearing this song on the car radio and trying to remember the lyrics because it was so catchy. The title track was also a Top 10 hit as Foreigner continued to be the only band in Rock to have significant saxomaphone parts (sax-a-mo-phhooone).

I just found out tonight that Double Vision is one of the group's most successful records. I was surprised because even though I liked it, it was pretty far from my favorite album. Even with great moments like the brittle "Blue Morning, Blue Day" or the ballad "You're All I Am" I found the album a little boring overall. Maybe I just missed the moment on this album, after all I bought it in the 80's because in 1978 my main thing was baseball.

Head Games (1979)

Oh, she's sitting in the head. HEAD GAMES. Oohhh, I get it now.

The first personnel change brought in bassist Rick Wills in place of Ed Gagliardi for the band's second hardest rocking effort, Head Games. For some reason I can't figure out, Foreigner decided they weren't tough enough so they puffed up their chests and blew out their most misogynistic record.

Foreigner aims for a bluesier sound to rough up their polished arena rock sound and does succeed in rocking hard and rocking well. The lead single, the hard charging "Dirty White Boy" caused a stir as it sought to cast their audience as, uh, dirty white boys (I always found it a little funny how uncomfortable the song title made people when discussing the song with me. Though it's understandable, I wouldn't want to hear a song called "Dirty Asian Boy").

If that wasn't enough to shake up their audience, there was a lot of sexism and attitude on this record. "Women" ran a flurry of lyrics about how dangerous beautiful women are (I remember a lyric about a woman cutting out your heart with a switchblade knife, stealing your heart away or kicking you out). "Seventeen" didn't exactly bring the band back to the PC zone either. Even with the band's storied history of bad album cover art, nothing could prepare people for the sight of a young girl sitting in a urinal trying to wash off graffiti from the bathroom stall with a long strip of toilet paper.

Still, there are winning moments like the title track and "I'll Get Even With You". As over the top as Head Games gets, it's one of my favorite Foreigner albums for that reason. You've gotta admire the risk of trying too hard to prove that you're dangerous. But as in life, anyone who has to go out of their way to tell you how dangerous they are usually aren't.

4 (1981)

You see, it's the fourth album and movies have a countdown reel that includes the number 4 and...never mind, yet another sucky album cover from Foreigner.

More churn in the lineup led to Al Greenwood and Ian McDonald getting the heave-ho. It was the 80's, prog and saxophones were out and synthesizers with drum machines were in. Calling in super producer Mutt Lange (that's Mr Shania Twain to you) assured a tight, focused sound. Bringing in All Star sidemen didn't hurt either as the band sought to break new ground.

4 showed the Jones / Gramm union to be on a roll with a slew of strong material. The Hard Rock funk of "Urgent" gave the band a presence I've not felt since...sorry, got distracted by a Star Wars reference. "Urgent" gave them a presence on the dance floor and contained one of the all time great sax solos thanks to Junior "Shotgun" Walker being called in for a session. Their first significant ballad, "Waiting For A Girl Like You" kicked off a thousand radio dedications and added many years to the band's career by making them balladeers. Thomas Dolby provided additional synths to provide more atmosphere. The pulsing "Juke Box Hero" is still a classic and was even featured in a recent phone ad. "Break It Up" pumped up the drama with Gramm's straining vocal.

Even away from the hits, the moody "Girl On The Moon" and the badass opener "Night Life" assure a good time.

Records (1982)

The best Foreigner album cover ever, it actually looks decent.

The band released their first greatest hits set, the succient Records. This was the first Foreigner tape I ever had, I recorded it off a friend of mine and was amazed at how many of the songs I knew. Records is still notable for the live version of "Hot Blooded". Back in the day, if you went to any rocker and started the speech about "We've got the amps, you've got the numbers. The strength in numbers!!!" they could usually complete the speech for you. Of all the Greatest Hits sets this band has its the skimpiest yet the most satisfying. It really rocks.

Agent Provacateur (1984)

I always imagined this was my high school GPA.

Foreigner returned with their biggest hit, the gospel power ballad "I Want To Know What Love Is". The song was such a huge hit that it changed the public's perception of the band permanently from rockers to Adult Contemporary balladiers, like a slighly ballsy Air Supply. It's become the bands signature song and overshadows everything the band accomplished, including this album. (I WANTTOKNOW what love iissss...)That's too bad as New Wave producer Alex Sadkin was brought in to modernize the sound. (Whooaaa...) Sadkin responded by using a batch of studio tricks to give each song it's own unique texture. (I WANTYOUTO show meeeeee.....)

Other highlights included the cavernous "That Was Yesterday" and the screeching rocker "Reaction To Action". (I WANTTOFEEL what love iiisss....)I used to really like the watery drama of "A Love In Vain" or the steely "Tooth And Nail". (And I know, and I know, I KNOWYOUCANSHOWMEEEE...)But what has grown over time is an appreciation for "Stranger In My Own House", a comical look at a guy obviously not wanted by his woman (or dog!) over a really heavy groove.

I remember seeing Foreigner play during this tour and they put on a great show. But it wasn't a sold out show and older fans would ask me why the kids weren't into Foreigner.

Inside Information (1987)

Okay, it's an album cover made up of a woman's eye. The album is called Inside Information. This makes no freakin' sense!

The Foreigner disc of my college years, I remember playing "Can't Wait" on a pool hall juke box until it pissed off the other players. Anyway, after a successful solo LP for frontman Lou Gramm and Mick Jones co-producing Van Halen's 5150, the band regrouped for Inside Information. Determined to leave the atmospheric work of Sadkin behind, the group returned to their streamlined sound of Foreigner 4. But you can't always go back home and a half album of strong songs wasn't enough to sustain their career.

Still, a platinum album and two Top 10 hits isn't bad. The "Head Games"ish "Say You Will" was the first hit single. (I used to try to scratch on the 45 so it would go "Say-Say-Say You Will") The second hit was the utterly boring ballad "I Don't Want To Live Without You". Fortunately, the anthemic rock of "Counting Every Minute" and the Zeppified "Beat Of My Heart" provided some excitement. But it wasn't the comeback the band needed and Gramm left shortly after. Meanwhile, Mick Jones produced Billy Joel's Storm Front disc.

Unusual Heat (1991)

The Thirst Quencher

As I had mentioned elsewhere on this blog, at this point soundalike singer Johnny Edwards (the future of Foreigner!) was brought in. I once heard a rumor that Gramm left because he didn't feel Foreigner was rocking hard enough anymore among all the ballads. If that's true, it's really ironic that Gramm's next solo album Long Hard Look was soft rock while Jones re-emphasized the Rawk on Unusual Heat. Foreigner's hardest rocking album. A noticeable blues feel is established with hard rock anthems like "Lowdown and Dirty" and "Mountain Of Love".

To be fair, Edwards does a good job of digging into the hard rock with a voice a little smoother than Gramms. I really liked "Lowdown and Dirty" though I only bought the cassingle and didn't get the CD until about 15 years later. I could never get into the second single, the ballad "I'll Fight For You" although the song itself wasn't bad. Caught between Hair metal and the pending Alternative Invasion, Foreigner had no place left in the Rock world. Having an album cover that looked like a Gatorade ad didn't help either.

Very Best...and Beyond! (1992)

Who put this album cover together? It looks a fifth grade project to play with glue and magazine pictures.

The dwindling fortunes of both Gramm and Jones was enough to get the two back together following Gramm's stint in the hard rocking Shadow King with guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Dio). The Foreigner 4 lineup was back and recorded new songs for their second Greatest hits collection. The rocker "Soul Doctor" was great although the guest backing vocals by Cheap Trick's Robin Zander was a little distracting. They covered the usual Foreigner bases with a ballad ("With Heaven On Our Side") and a midtempo dramatic rocker ("Prisoner Of Love"). Foreigner was back! Now they just had to find someone other than me who cared.

Classic Hits Live (1993)

A particularly sweaty CD cover

To drum up more enthusiasm, Foreigner released their first official live album. To it's credit, Classic Hits Live is mixed cleanly and shows how the band would expand the arrangements of their big hits to keep things interesting. Best of all, it shows Lou Gramm's voice was no studio gimmick as he powers his way through "Juke Box Hero" and "Double Vision" like a bulldozer. Still, with recordings taken from various points in the band's history mixed together it lacks the cohesiveness of a single show.

Mr. Moonlight (1994)

It's Mac Tonite!

The last true Foreigner album showed Gramm and Jones replacing Dennis Elliot and Rick Wills with a bunch of young guns that I can't remember. For aging rockers, Unplugged was all the rage so Foreigner released their most acoustic album ever. With the exception of the opening cut "Under The Gun" and the sax heavy instrumental "Big Dog", everything was a ballad or acoustic guitar driven pop rock. It wasn't bad, but a little boring in spots. The requisite power ballad "Until The End Of Time" was pleasant and featured a guest spot by 50's icon Duane Eddy and his Twangy Guitar. I bought this CD shortly after my wife and I were married, I always associate this disc with our first apartment.

Mr. Moonlight would be the final true Foreigner album. I heard they released an even more Unplugged sort of album called Rough Diamonds but haven't seen it yet. Greatest Hits after Greatest Hits package ensued in just about every way possible short of a box set. In 1998 I saw Foreigner play on a double bill with Journey. It was a little sad in that Lou Gramm's once powerful voice was reduced to a mere croak and all of the background vocals sounded fake. I later found out Gramm had serious health problems around that time.

Eventually, Gramm and Jones parted ways again leaving Mick to form a new Foreigner. Jones has put together a lineup that includes a strong vocalist in Kelly Hanson plus bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and drummer Jason Bonham (Bonham). It'll never be the same even if Gramm should ever return, but for two decades they were one of my favorite bands for creating no nonsense arena rock that was catchy and powerful. And what better way to close than a clip of "Juke Box Hero" during the peak of their career.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Artist Spotlight: Foo Fighters

This will be an interesting post in that the Foo Fighters are a relatively modern band so I don't have a lot of trivial knowledge about them. At the same time, they are one of the few bands to have a regular output that I followed from the mid 90's and sort of provide sign posts to the adult phase of my life. The Foo Fighters started as a collection of demos recorded by Dave Grohl, drummer of Nirvana during the successful part of that band's career. Grohl formed a band to support the demos which have consisted of a rotating lineup of people with the exception of drummer Taylor Hawkins. I've spent the last month re-listening or in some cases hearing for the first time these Cds to have a fresh perspective on them. So I'll start with the debut album which appeared about a year after the demise of Kurt Cobain and the end of Nirvana.

Foo Fighters (1995)

I was out of touch with modern music in 1995, I found most rap rock to be repetitive and boring once you got past one song per band (311="Down", Korn="Freak on a Leash" and so on...). Grunge was almost dead and the rest of the rock scene was filled with pleasant but mellow Lilith Fair acts like Jewel. I had no idea who the Foo Fighters were or that Dave Grohl had formed a band, but I had heard and liked "Big Me" though I didn't know who performed it. At this time in my life I didn't have much money and had been married for about a year so music wasn't as much of a priority anyway.

I bought this CD a few months ago and actually liked it, though not as much as the later stuff. The demo-ey feel gave everything a nice raggedness lacking from their other discs and it's great to hear Grohl pound the skins (I think he's an outstanding drummer, a lot of power and fluidity in his playing). Maybe because of his drums, the CD did sound a lot like Nirvana but in place of anger and sadness was odd humor and a touch of classic rock epicness. The hit "I'll Stick Around" holds up well and the rest of the album does a fine update of the Nirvana-Nevermind sound. Grohl succeeded in creating Grunge music for the next half of the 90's, punky and melodic with a lot less angst.

The Colour and The Shape (1997)

This was the first Foo Fighters disc I ever had. I used to have a friend who was a bit of a scam artist and would receive promo CDs through his nebulous ways. We would go out bowling and drinking and talk about music and people we knew from High School. He gave me The Colour and The Shape because, well, his Mom told him to. Still didn't have much money at this time so I was happy to get it!

The first time I heard "Monkey Wrench" I was hooked. It was punky, poppy, silly and full of fury. A pure rush of adrenalin. Hawkins makes his first appearance on Colour, his Stewart Copeland inspired drummer contrasted well with Grohls pounding approach and gave the band a less Nirvana-like sound. Still, it was hard not to think of Cobain after hearing the sarcastic anthem "My Hero" even if it turns out not to be about him (I've never checked, told ya I lacked trivial knowledge here). Their classic "Everlong" comes towards the end of the disc, I like the track although I never got it's "classic" status. The Colour and The Shape is a great album and was even reissued recently as a deluxe edition.

There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)

I associate this disc with two things: My wife and I moving into our home and softball. I got this CD on my own, but usually played it while going to play softball with the friend that gave me the previous disc. There was so much going on with the excitement of moving into a new place and the energy of There Is Nothing Left To Lose provided a soundtrack to those heady months (that and Yes-The Ladder).

Nothing found the Foos reining in some of their more manic moments to a more refined sense of melodicism. After the ragged opener "Stacked Actors" the sound became more polished and focused. Their biggest hit, "Learn To Fly" appeared here and is an enjoyable but slight ditty. My favorite was "Breakout" because I love when bands do variations on the original MTV theme guitar riff and Grohl's screamo vocals. "Generator" was a treat, a smooth dose of late 80's style alt rock. Interestingly, the song most people know from Nothing they probably don't realize is the Foo Fighters, that's the acoustic ballad "Next Year" which was used as the theme song to the TV show Ed.

I also started to become a fan of Grohl's sense of humor at this point, the videos for "Learn to Fly" and "Breakout" were really funny. They also started to become known for giving the Foo treatment to a range of cover songs, including Prince's "Darling Nikki" (which The Purple One reportedly hated), Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar".

One By One (2002)

Ah yes, the point I stopped liking the Foo Fighters for a long while. The first single, "All My Life" is actually my favorite Foo Fighters song with it's classic whisper-to-a-scream song structure that they employ on, like, every album. (an unrelated random insert, I'm listening to Nirvana's Unplugged disc and never realized that Cobain lifted the verse for "Pennyroyal Tea" from that song Lili Taylor sings in the movie Say Anything called "Joe".) "All My Life" is one of the songs I listen to when I need a little extra boost to get through, uh, life. (Another random movie moment, "Allow myself to introduce...myself." Bonus points to anyone who can name the movie).

There are few albums by artists I like that I actively hate, but I freakin' hate this album!!! The sad part is that it's not a bad album, just relentlessly boring and unmemorable. Even though the song "Times Like These" appears here the only time I like it is when I hear live versions. It's funny, I'll hear "Times Like These" live on Tv, think it's great, put on the CD and tune out within 30 seconds out of boredom. One By One made me dislike the Foos so much I didn't listen to them again until last year.

In Your Honor (2005)

It seems even Dave Grohl realized things were getting stale because In Your Honor was a two CD set with one disc being rock and the second disc acoustic. I just recently picked up this disc because in 05 I was still boycotting the Foo Fighters for the almost unforgiveable crime of hyping my expectations only to bore me (How dare you bore me? Your job is to entertain me Foo Fighters!)

After listening to it this week, I came away feeling mixed about In Your Honor. The rock disc is decent, I could hear Grohl trying to change up things with more off kilter beats and cleaner production than One By One. The songs are good, but only "Best Of You" kills. Fortunately, "Best" had a different groove than most of the Foo's hit songs and makes for a great rock anthem. Even Prince liked it, covering it in his famous (infamous?) Super Bowl half time show. "No Way Out" and "DOA" both make an impact as well and are decent rockers. The acoustic disc is pleasant as background music, but only two songs really stick and one is because Norah Jones shows up to play some of that coffeehouse jazz she's known for. The other, "Cold Day In The Sun" I actually liked quite a bit. The acoustic disc is reminiscent of Nirvana's Unplugged album in it's approach which is probably why I'm playing it now.

Because I didn't buy this disc at the time of it's release, it's the only Foo Fighters disc to not have any sentimental value to me ('cause I'm old and am fond of memories. I like Cheeseburgers and baseball cards too).

Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (2007)

When this came out, I thought "Another year, another Foo Fighters album". The lead single "The Pretender" I thought was OK at first, but it grew on me and has become a recent favorite of mine. But the song that brought back the love for the Foo Fighters was "Long Road to Ruin". A midtempo melodic rock gem with a hilarious video, "Ruin" is a song that has an almost Tom Petty quality to it with the self aware lyrics and strident chorus. I associate these songs with the past few months including taking a trip out to Washington to see relatives. This disc will always remind me of how my life is right now.

The rest of the disc is the Foo's most varied musically, ranging from the almost industrial "Erase/Replace" to the piano ballad "Home". This album I think is nominated for Album of the Year by the Grammys, I don't think it's quite that good but close.

Ultimately, what I like about the Foo Fighters is that Grohl often writes motivational songs from a first person perspective. "All My Life", "Best Of You", "The Pretender" and "I'll Stick Around" are all songs about getting fired up to tackle whatever you may be up against. Another song I was writing earlier about in this vein is "Times Like These", the Foo Fighters delivered the best set at Al Gore's Live Earth show last year and so I'm including this song from that show. It's a great song and I love the Husker Du reference about a "new day rising".

Foo Fighters - "Times Like These" at Live Earth