Paul Heinz

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Record Night Returns: the Recently Departed

Music fans everywhere have been ruminating for a while about how difficult these next twenty years are going to be, as our rock and roll heroes leave Planet Earth just in time to avoid the developing catastrophe that will be the latter half of the 21st Century.  But upon further reflection, we really don’t have to wait to feel the pain because the last decade has already been rough.  I hadn’t realized the extent to which we’ve lost our musical brothers and sisters until last week, when Record Night festivities resumed at the Wall of Sound in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  A dubious crew gathered to honor those artists who died within the last decade.  Songs were celebrated, drinks were consumed, and mistakes were made, as noted below.  But even avoiding the obvious casualties – Michael Jackson, David Bowie, George Michael and Tom Petty (until the very last song) – there were a staggering number to choose from.  True, we reached pretty deep with some of these, but that’s what makes these types of outings fulfilling. 

Without further ado, celebrate with us as we pay homage to the recently departed.  My apologies for any errors.

Southern Nights – a twofer tribute of singer Glen Campbell and songwriter Allen Toussaint.  We also played a bit of God Only Knows, which was unfortunate
Massachusetts – Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees
Glory Days – Clarence Clemons of the E. Street Band (though, sadly, no saxophone on this song!)
Fool for the City – Craig MacGregor of Foghat
Drown in my Own Tears – Pat Dinizio of The Smithereens
It’s the Singer Not the Song – Jimmy Jamison of Survivor
I Was a Teenage Werewolf – a twofer of Lux Interior of the Cramps and producer Alex Chilton
Beyond Belief – producer Geoff Emerick for this Elvis Costello and the Attractions song
Starrider – Ed Gagliardi of Foreigner
Dreams/Zombie – Dolores O’Riordin of The Cranberries

It should be noted that in the midst of these record selections, one could hear Kevin uttering while checking Google, “That sucks!  I thought he was dead!”  Such is the competitiveness of song selections on record night.

Peaceful Easy Feeling – Glenn Frey of The Eagles
Home and Dry – Gerry Rafferty

This has been my favorite song for the past two weeks.  I’ve played it perhaps twenty times and figured out the unusual chord pattern on the piano.

Creep – Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots
Thank You For Being a Friend – Andrew Gold
Say It Isn’t So – John Spinks of The Outfield
The Cover of Rolling Stone – Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show
Touch and Go – a twofer of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of – in this case – Emerson, Lake and Powell
Knocking at Your Back Door – Jon Lord of Deep Purple
Burning Bright – Roger Ranken of General Public
20th Century – Shawn Smith of Brad
Saturday Night – Alan Longmuir of Bay City Rollers
Looking Around – a twofer of Peter Banks and Chris Squire of Yes
Love at First Feel – Malcom Young of AC/DC
God Only Knows (again!) – this time with Daryl Dragon of Captain & Tennille
Snortin’ Whiskey/Boom, Boom – Pat Travers
Call Me a Dog – Chris Cornell
Flying Cowboys – producer Walter Becker for Rickie Lee Jones
Livin’ Thing – Mike Edwards of ELO
Queen of the Night – Whitney Houston
Be Like That – Matt Roberts of Three Doors Down
People are Strange – Ray Manzarek of The Doors
Think – Aretha Franklin
Might Mighty – Morris White of Earth, Wind & Fire
Ride My Seesaw – Ray Thomas of The Moody Blues
I Go Crazy – Nick Marsh of Flesh for Lulu
In the Dead of Night (Presto, Vivace and Reprise) – a twofer of Allan Holdsworth and John Wetton of UK
I Can Feel Your Heartbeat – David Cassidy

Note: Paul thought it was 10cc!

To Be With You – Pat Torpey of Mr. Big
Getting Closer – producer Phil Ramone for Billy Joel, who was playing not 30 minutes away at Miller Park
Space Station #5 – Ronnie Montrose of Montrose
Jammin’ Me – Tom Petty

That was all we had time for, but there were others we could have chosen, most notably the aforementioned superstars, but I was ready to go with George Martin productions, songs co-written by Jerry Lieber, Chuck Berry, etc. were it not for a two hour drive home awaiting me.

There will be more heroes to fall, as there must be.  Hang on tight, music fans.  It’s going to be a rough ride.

Joe Jackson at Thalia Hall (again)

Joe Jackson has been busy lately.  After not one, not two, but three tours supporting his very strong 2012 release, Fast Forward, he immediately took his band consisting of bassist Graham Maby, drummer Doug Yowell and guitarist Teddy Kumpel to a studio in Boise, Idaho (the location of last summer’s final show), and quickly recorded an eight-track album called Fool.  It too is strong, and at last night’s return to the fabulous Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago, he and his band played five tracks from the album along with a selection of other songs spanning four decades to an enthusiastic sold-out audience.

To commemorate Jackson’s forty years in the industry and to mix things up a bit from his previous tours, the band highlighted tracks from four other albums from four different decades, though two of them were way too predictable: Look Sharp from the 70s, Night and Day from the 80s (those are the predictable ones), Laughter and Lust from the 90s and Rain from the 00s.  It’s these latter two along with the six newer tracks (one from Fast Forward) that made the evening interesting, along with a rendition of “Steppin’ Out” that mimicked the original recording to perfection, including a glockenspiel and Jackson’s Boss DR-55 drum machine whose “club beat” was used in the original.

All of the musicians were excellent and given various moments to shine, though Jackson took more solos than I remember from previous concerts, including one from his once-ubiquitous melodica.  But it was drummer Doug Yowell’s high energy performance who really sole the show.  Animated, forceful and dexterous, Yowell blew me away with the beginning of one of my favorites, “Another World,” when he managed to play the drum beat and accompanying cowbell and timbale beat simultaneously.  My drummer son and I turned to each other with mouths agape.

The biggest surprise of the evening was the final track from 1991’s Laughter and Lust, the moody tune of resignation to love, “Drowned,” along with the opening – and closer! – “Alchemy” from Fool.  That’s right, Jackson both opened and closed with the same song under dim, red lights.  I loved it, if only because it meant that we didn’t have to hear the band end with “Slow Song” again as they had repeatedly since 2000.  Adding “I’m the Man,” “Got the Time,” and Steely Dan’s “King of the World” were welcome crowd-pleasers near the evening’s end, and the new song, “Fool,” was among the most exciting songs of the night.  Jackson pointed out that it is sometime the fool – or jester – who makes life sane (“If you lose your sense of humor, you’re fucked.”) and the song’s playfulness seemed contagious to the four musicians on stage.

All in all it was a great concert.  Jackson continues to use an iPad teleprompter for his lyrics, which is a little odd for songs that he’s been singing for forty years, but hey, if that’s what the guy has to do to keep touring, then I’m all in. I’ve seen Jackson perform eight times now, and this show ranks in the top three for sure. Keep ‘em coming, Joe!

Springsteen on Broadway

You gotta hand it to Bruce Springsteen.  The guy can compose a great tune, his stage performances are unparalleled, his autobiography is one of the best I’ve read by a musician, and now he’s completed a sort of companion piece with his autobiographic Broadway stage show, no small feat for this aging rocker.  I looked forward to checking out the Springsteen on Broadway release on Netflix a few weeks ago, and while I enjoyed aspects of it, I’m thankful I didn’t shell out $500 to see it in person, and it’s unlikely that I’ll view it again.

Pulling off a two and a half hour stage show with extensive narration is impressive, and the sheer volume of prose Springsteen had to memorize and deliver with conviction is to me no less admirable than, say, the one-man show on Hemingway that I saw Stacy Keach perform last summer at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.  I couldn’t tell by watching the film whether or not Springsteen used a teleprompter, but it wasn’t apparent, and aside from some initial narration that seemed a bit canned and rehearsed, he does a fine job of delivering the material as if for the first time.

It’s the first hour or so of the show that’s particularly hard to watch for me, and I found myself ready to press fast forward through some of the moments that felt routine and self-serving, as of course an autobiographical show must be.  It takes a tremendous ego to think people want to hear your story, but it takes skill to mask that ego enough to appear relatable, and there are times when Springsteen fails at this tightrope act.  Fortunately things begin to turn about mid-way through the show, as if the Boss needed a little time to gain his footing and truly immerse himself in the material, and I found his soliloquies on Vietnam, his father and mother, and the current political climate to be the strongest parts of the show.

His narration would hardly be a matter of critique if Springsteen’s musical performances – there are something like sixteen songs in all – provided their usual redemptive force, but absent the E Street Band, Springsteen’s pedestrian musicianship is glaringly obvious.  Bruce is not an accomplished guitar player, even less so as a pianist, and it’s woefully apparent throughout the show, as his three-chord songs provide no variation or upward lift in the hands of a limited instrumentalist.  Like Melissa Etheridge who I saw perform in Waukegan last month, Springsteen is a great songwriter and gifted lyricist whose music is bolstered by the skills of surrounding musicians, but alone is a strum and hum performer with a limited musical palette.  The Boss also sabotages his own works by reinventing the melodies in uninspiring ways, pausing and slowing things down at times when the song requires lift and momentum, and insisting on singing in his faux-western voice that he’s grown accustomed to using during the past decade and a half or so, summoning his inner Arlo Guthrie that some may find endearing and heartfelt, but I find to be as artificial as his blue-collar lyrics, which he refreshingly admits early in his show, “I made it all up.  That’s how good I am.”

Three songs do rise to the occasion: his stripped-down, dour take of ”Born in the U.S.A.” and the two songs performed with wife Patti Scialfa: “Tougher than the Rest” and “Brilliant Disguise.”  Having a partner to harmonize with and – perhaps more importantly – to play off of, is exactly what the show needs.  Springsteen has made a career out of interacting with his fellow musicians – the joy and sweat shared between his comrades on stages is half the fun of watching him perform – and it’s lacking for most of this Broadway show. 

Still, I can’t think of many artists who could pull off a relatively sincere theatrical show for 236 performances, sell the hell out of it, and still have demand to showcase it on Netflix.  I’m glad it exists, and it isn’t a bad legacy for the old man to leave behind – that of a great storyteller with love for his country and its people, and concern for its future.  I wish there were more artists – and hell, more people  - like the Boss.  Check out the entire show on demand on Netlfix.

The Last Eleven Albums I Can't Live Without

Fifty down with another eleven below, capping off my list of albums I can’t live without at sixty-one. As a reminder, this list is limited to rock/pop albums, no greatest hits or typical live albums are allowed, and double albums count for two picks unless only two sides are chosen.

Rush – Permanent Waves (1980). I’ve written extensively about Rush’s catalog before, but I’ll quickly say that Permanent Waves is their best album.  It’s such a fresh and positive collection of songs, with just enough prog-rock elements to keep things from getting stale. 

Sting – Mercury Falling (1996).  One of the best-sounding albums ever, Sting was at his peak here, creating sonic moods, telling compelling stories (“I Hung My Head” and “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”) and deftly encapsulating feelings (“Let your Soul Be Your Pilot” and “All Four Seasons”).  The album preceding and succeeding this release are good too, but this is Sting’s best solo recording, and while I could certainly make an argument for the Police’s second and last albums, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I rarely turn to those aside from the title track of the former and the title tracks of the latter.

Genesis – Duke (1980).  It came down to this or the following year’s Abacab, but ultimately I can’t say no to the thrilling bookends to the album and “Turn it on Again,” among my favorite tracks ever.  Once again, Tony Banks contributes a few killer tracks in “Heathaze” and “Cul-de-Sac,” and Rutherford even adds a terrific “Man of our Times.”  Collins disrupts the genius with “Please Don’t Ask,” but oh well.  It’s still a fantastic album, and at 55 minutes in length, you can skip that one track and still have a ton of Genesis leftover to enjoy!

Yes – Tales from Topographic Albums (Sides 1 and 2).  Look, I know that The Yes Album, Fragile, Going for the One, Drama and 90125 are all great, but in the context of the other albums I’m selecting, having the first few sides of Tales is a really satisfying addition, a set of rich and mysterious tracks that still mesmerize me after all these years, having purchased the album used in Milwaukee back in 1981.  If I made a top 100 albums, I’d probably include many of the aforementioned albums.

Toto – Toto (1978).  This is another one I might get crap for, but doggone it, it’s such a solid album from front to back, with terrific hooks, crafty musicianship, and a killer lead-off track, it’s hard to resist.  Employing not one, not two, not three, but four lead singers, the album alternates between solid rock and jazz-tinged pop, and with Jeff Porcaro on the drums, it’s as tight as can be.  It you like some of the later hits off of Toto IV, check this album out and be amazed.

Indigo Girls – All That We Let In (2004).  This duo is so fricking good I could have chosen another three albums, but this one made the cut, an extremely solid album from start to finish.  The Indigo Girls is another band that really benefits from having two singers with two distinct voices and two distinct writing styles, Emily Saliers’s sweet and Amy Ray’s edgy, and the way they intertwine these voices gives them a distinctive sound. Ray’s songs on this effort are particularly strong, which isn’t always the case, and songs like “Perfect World” and “Tether” work perfectly alongside “Fill it Up Again” and “Come on Home.”  Just beautiful.

The Beatles – The Beatles, sides 1 and 3 (1968).  You knew the Fab-Four would have to be represented somewhere on this list.  It’s not easy to stay excited about songs you’ve heard a thousand times, but The White Album still grabs me, particularly side one.  I love the rising guitar motif at the end of “Dear Prudence,” the juxtaposition of “Glass Onion” and the quirky “Wild Honey Pie” surrounding “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” and Harrison’s best composition, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” but its Lennon who really shines on this album throughout.  Sides two and three are tossups, with Lennon’s beautiful “Julia” almost giving the former the edge, but I love how the band rocks on side three in sharp contrast to the rest of the album (also, “Don’t Pass Me By” is on side two – which is unfortunate).  The band’s next album, Abbey Road, is probably the most complete Beatles release, and it’s second side is among the best album sides ever recorded, but I’m no longer intrigued with “Come Together” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”  With the White Album, it’s not the individual tracks that lead to greatness, but the collective whole.

Pat McCurdy – The Big, Bright, Beautiful World of Pat McCurdy (1997).  Some may categorize this Milwaukee artist as a novelty act, but I argue that there’s a lot more going on here than cheap laughs.  McCurdy, whose songwriting prowess is apparent, has a penchant for memorable melodies, social commentary and satire, with an occasional touching moment.  The song “Thankless Bastard” was a regular sing-along song for my children (which tells you something about their father), but the whole album is well-done, with a few live numbers to heighten the energy and give it jovial feel.  Yes, this album harkens me back to my nights watching McCurdy at The Celebrity Club in Milwaukee when I was young, poor, drunk and obnoxious, but I think it holds up on its own merits.

Utopia – Utopia, sides 1 and 2 (1982).  When I saw the Todd Rundgren-led Utopia open up for the Tubes on my eighteenth birthday, they didn’t leave much of an impression on me except that they were really, really weird.  I didn’t pay them any attention for the next thirty-one years, but then a record-collection friend of mine encouraged me to check out their self-titled 1982 release, and my oh my, what a superb power-pop album.  Funny and witty, melodic and complicated, mixed moods, tight harmonies.  This collection has it all.  It’s not unlike some of XTC’s best stuff, but whereas I have trouble digesting more than twenty minutes of the latter’s music, this album goes down nice and easy.

U2 –The Joshua Tree (1987). U2’s seminal release took place during my freshman year in college and the album was everywhere.  Hard-core U2 fans prefer one of their first four releases, but I’m not really a hard-core U2 fan.  The album does lose steam on the final two tracks, but it would have been a lot to ask that the heightened ecstasy be sustained beyond the album’s first nine songs.  “Where the Streets Have No Name” is the perfect opener and was quite the splash at the Super Bowl in 2002, and “Red Hill Mining Town” has always been a favorite of mine.   I’ve sadly never seen them in concert because their ticket prices are usually ridiculous.

Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing (1997).  I recall purchasing this album and 10,000 Maniacs’ Love Among the Ruins in Allentown, PA with my friends Scott and Todd.  I wavered holding Surfacing in my hands, and Scott said, “You should get it.”  I did, and happily absorbed this album as part of soundtrack to my first year of parenthood.  What I dig about this album is the alternating between darkness and heartbreakingly beautiful, with neither side winning.  The song “I Love You,” is pretty terrible, but it’s the only song I consistently skip on this release.  The opening track packs a punch, as does “Sweet Surrender,” and then we get to probably the most forgiving and empathetic breakup songs ever, “Adia,” with beautiful vocals skating on top of a tasteful guitar and piano arrangement.  A lovely album.

So there you have it! Sixty-one albums. There are undoubtedly another thirty or forty that I might have chosen at a different time, but this collection would serve me quite nicely if I were forced to downsize my collection to a paltry sixty-one. In a week or two I’ll do a recap, with a graph of years represented and some of the albums I considered that didn’t quite make the cut. Happy New Year!

20 More Desert Island Albums

Thirty down with another twenty below. This list of albums I can’t live without is limited to rock/pop albums, no greatest hits or typical live albums are allowed, and double albums count for two picks unless only two sides are chosen. Here are my first thirty entries, in no particular order:

Kean - Hopes and Fears
Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic
Innocence Mission - Umbrella
Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach
Lyle Lovett - The Road to Ensenada
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 1 and 2)
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 3 and 4)
Radiohead - The Bends
Company of Thieves - Ordinary Riches
Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life (sides 1 and 2)
The Pursuit of Happiness - Love Junk
Big Country - Peace in our Times
Pink Floyd - The Wall (sides 1 and 2)
Pink Floyd - The Wall (sides 3 and 4)
Randy Newman - Little Criminals
Randy Newman - Bad Love
Bad Examples - Kisses 50¢
Paul Simon - Suprise
Off Broadway - On
Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark
Lloyd Cole - Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe
Phil Collins - Hello, I Must Be Going!
The Who - Quadrophenia (sides 1 and 2)
Gabriel Kahane - Where are the Arms
Supertramp - Crisis? What Crisis?
Supertramp - Breakfast in America
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People
Yes - Close to the Edge
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Elton John - Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Up to speed? Okay - here are my next twenty selections in detail:

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (1979).  Wow, what a debut.  I’m not sure how an unknown singer managed to nab Steve Gadd, Dr. John, Randy Newman, Jeff Porcaro, etc. to accompany her, but having first-class musicians to backup your debut sure doesn’t hurt!  Jones’s next two albums are also wonderful, but listening to them front to back, her debut is the standout, with nary a weak track to be found, offering a wide ranging output: playful, nostalgic, desperate, loving and chilling.  “Last Chance Texaco” and “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963” are favorites of mine.  That’s another release from 1979.  More to come!

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel (1985).  Just a few years post-Who, Townshend returns with an excellent solo effort, a sort of story (though I’ve never followed it) taking place in a section of London in the 60s, Townshend surrounds himself with a terrific cast of musicians and focuses on short, melodic songs without getting too bogged down in the story it’s supposed to tell.  Instead, we’re simply left with a solid set of songs, with “Crashing By Design” the highlight.

Aimee Mann – Music from the Motion Picture Magnolia (1999).  Mann’s first solo effort in 1993 has a few of my favorite tracks ever, but six years later her soundtrack to a film that left my jaw on the floor upon first viewing hits the nail on the head.  Once in a while a soundtrack is so inextricably linked to a movie, the opening chords of a song like “Wise Up” is enough to send chills down the spine and transport one right back to the film.  Mann has such a knack for writing lyrics that so perfectly describe a character, it’s easy to overlook the labor that Mann must expend to finish a song.  Either that or she’s just plain brilliant.  Maybe both.  But this is a great album filled with wonderful characterizations.  The soundtrack also two Supertramp songs and a few other cuts, but the album stands on Mann’s contributions alone.  Jon Brion produces and adds his tasty flavoring throughout.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti, Sides 1 and 2 (1975). 

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti, Sides 3 and 4 (1975).  Funny how some songs grate on you after decades of being overplayed while others sound as fresh and urgent as the first time you heard them.  For me, Led Zeppelin’s sixth album is full of the latter.  I’ve never gotten tired of hearing the ball-busting intro to “Kashmir.  If I were a professional baseball player, that would be my song when I came up to bat.  (Think it’s weird to fantasize about being an MLB player?  Yeah, fair enough.)  “Ten Years Gone” is among the most beautifully-crafted songs ever produced, with Page’s multiple guitar tracks interweaving perfectly into a sublime climax.  With just the right balance of rockers and softer tracks, long and short, blues-based and folk-based, Physical Graffiti is one of the best albums in rock history.

Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976).  My favorite Genesis albums have shifted over the years.  Wind and Wuthering and Selling England by the Pound used to be tops, but these days if I am to pick a few albums by one of my top two favorite prog-rock bands, one has to be the first album with Phil Collins on lead vocals.  I’ve never been one of those goofballs who claim that Genesis after Peter Gabriel isn’t worth the time of day.  This album is a kick-ass clinic on all things prog, from shifting time signatures, obscure and fanciful lyrics and deft musicianship, but unlike many bands in this genre, Genesis manages to achieve all the essential elements while crafting beautiful melodies over challenging harmonic structures, with just enough lyrical universality to entrance the listener.  Take “Mad Man Moon,” a preeminent track composed by keyboardist Tony Banks.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what the song means or what Banks intended, but it seems to tell a tale of a man who leaves his loved-one in search of glory, and winds up in a desert, where he keenly observes how no matter where you live, the grass appears to be greener elsewhere.  Nothing miraculous there, but beautifully stated over absolutely sublime chord changes, with a mid-section of subtle percussion and piano.  It’s just a perfect, standout track on a standout album.  Only the unfortunate “Robbery Assault and Battery” keeps this album from being flawless.

Ben Folds Five – Ben Folds Five (1995).

Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001).  Just like I can’t overstate the importance of Supertramp to the 11 year-old me, I can’t tell you how revitalized my interest in music became when I first heard Ben Folds Five on WXPN, Philadelphia.  Finally, a pianist with edge, wit and chops, with a kick-ass drummer and bass player to boot.  This music influenced my own compositions in a big way, much like Randy Newman had just a few years before.  The debut album holds up oh, so well, and so do the second and third albums, but if I have to choose one from Ben Folds Five, it has to be the one that put them on the map, with “Philosophy,” “Underground” and “Boxing” the highlights.  And a mere six years later, Ben Folds releases an almost perfect solo effort, with some of this most exciting and moving pieces to date.  “Still Fighting It,” “Gone” and “Not the Same” are my favorites.

Marc Cohn – Burning the Daze (1998).  You know him for his pseudo hits, “Walking in Memphis” and “Silver Thunderbird,” and while his debut album is undeniably solid, it’s his third album that grabs me and doesn’t let go.  Oddly, Cohn plays virtually nothing from this release when he performs live, and one gets the feeling that he’s lost all affinity for it.  This collection of songs is deep and dark, delving into the insecurities and baggage that humans carry with them on convoluted paths, with “Lost You in the Canyon” a standout, a song whose lyrics about disconnection from a loved one could be applied to society as a whole twenty years later

Rufus Wainwright – Want One (2003).   To date, this is Wainwright’s crowning achievement, a fifty-eight minute single release absolutely packed with memorable tunes, lush arrangements and lyrics that are utterly empathetic to the human experience.  “I Don’t Know What It Is” is one of my favorites tracks ever, “14th Street” is a gem, and “Dinner and Eight” brings me to tears if I’m in the right sort of mood (or, perhaps, the wrong sort of mood).  Wainwright sometimes aims high and misses the mark – which is entirely forgivable – but with Want One he hits the bulls-eye.  In the age of streaming, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear highly-produced (i.e., expensive) albums like this being recorded anymore.

Sara Bareilles – Kaleidoscope Heart (2010).  Hey, I stand by this, so back off!  Bareilles is ridiculously talented, a pop-melodist extraordinaire, and I love that her lyrics are both vulnerable and strong, providing a great role model for youth and elders alike, male or female, but there’s no denying that she played an important musical role in my daughters’ upbringing.  “Uncharted” and “Let the Rain” are standouts.

Billy Joel – Turnstiles (1976).  I wasn’t aware of just how good an album this is until a few years ago.  I knew all but two of the songs, but hadn’t realize they were all from the same album, self-produced by Billy Joel after relocating back to New York after a stint in LA.  Joel is a consummate lyricist, and the greatest pleasure in listening to his songs – aside from impressive melody – is picking up on lyrics like “Now as we indulge in things refined/We hide our hearts from harder times.”  None of Joel’s albums is perfect, and Turnstiles is no exception, with “All You Want to Do Is Dance” the clunker on Side A, but the other good stuff is so good, I’ll allow it.

Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005).  Tug of War and Flowers in the Dirt aren’t nearly as good as I remember them, Back to the Egg is a favorite with just a few too many weak points, Ram may be in vogue with the critics but it really doesn’t measure up, and Band in the Run is undoubtedly a worthy contender, but for me McCartney’s 2005 release is the most solid album from start to finish, and it’s one that speaks to me more lyrically than the nonsensical words on some of his other releases.   I’ve written about Chaos and Creation before, but suffice to say that it’s a great effort with beautiful melodies that are much more complex than they appear to be at first glance.  My one gripe is that I’d love to have more backup vocals – I can actually hear where they should go and what they should be – but producer Nigel Godric opted for a sparser album.

Steely Dan – Gaucho (1980).  Aja is probably their crowning achievement, but I’m kind of tired of the tracks, and I don’t really like “I Got the News.”  Instead, I choose the smooth-jazz follow-up, Gaucho, an album that makes me want to drink a dirty martini in a high-class nightclub.  Polished beyond belief – you can read stories about the lengths that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker went to to get the sounds they wanted – it still breathes humanity and musicianship.  “Babylon Sisters” and the title track are my favorites here.

Joe Jackson – Get Sharp! (1979).  One more from 1979!  Joe Jackson has put out so much great material in so many different genres over four decades, I feel a little bad for picking his very first effort, but there’s simply no denying its magnificence.  From top to bottom, Jackson effuses sarcasm and wit with enough insight and substance to keep it from getting downright cranky, and he wades into the waters of so many different musical feels – the breakdown of the title track, the manic anxiety of “Got the Time,” the reggae feel of “Fools in Love” – that it never gets redundant.  My favorite lyric: “Happy loving couples/in matching white polo-necked sweaters/reading Ideal Homes magazine.”  Fantastic!

Joe Jackson – Blaze of Glory (1989).  Just a decade later Joe put out his most ambitious record to date, the fifty-seven minute-long Blaze of Glory that he played in its entirely when I saw him in September that year.  Each album side plays uninterrupted, beginning with the idealistic outlook of a young man who eventually grows disillusioned and who has to scratch and claw his way to an unsatisfying, but inevitable, consolation.  Bold and beautiful, the only unfortunate aspect of the album is the highly produced and electronically triggered snare and tambourine sounds.  When I saw him live these sounds were prerecorded (or triggered somehow), the drummer literally avoiding playing the snare.  It sure was the 80s!  I found this album on vinyl a few years ago for something like $8 and was ecstatic.

The Hush Sound – Like Vines (2006).  I was turned onto this band after some of its members who attended my town’s local high school rehearsed in my neighbor’s garage, but this isn’t some homer fascination with a local band.  The Hush Sound is serious shit, having produced three albums and gone onto do other musical projects both individually and together.  With a beautiful melding of male vocalist Bob Morris and female vocalist Greta Salpeter, the band produced fabulous dynamic changes from sweet piano waltzes to ballsy guitar rockers and was on regular rotation throughout much of my children’s upbringing.  Greta’s voice and influence grew as the band went on (she was all of 17 when the first album was recorded), but it’s this second album that balances both singers’ influences in perfect harmony.  I see on-line and on Spotify that “Wine Red” has been remixed into a positively horrendous dance tune, a black spot for anyone with musical taste.  If you take the jump, find the original CD avoid this egregious affront to music lovers.

Simple Minds – Once Upon a Time (1985).  Two years before The Joshua Tree, I felt like this Scottish band was accomplishing what U2 was still hoping to achieve: a consistent, powerful album with mass appeal and a unifying sound.  One Upon a Time is nearly perfect, with each of the first five tracks absolute juggernauts.  When they performed “Ghost Dancing” at Live Aid in Philadelphia, I’m not sure the American audience quite knew how blessed they were.  The band’s next album, Street Fighting Years, a whopping four years after, was such a disappointment, it gets my vote for worst follow-up to a magnum opus ever.

10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987).  This could have gone either way: the band’s 1987 release or its last with singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant, Our Time in Eden.  The latter packs more punch in parts, but the former album marked a clear delineation for me when I purchased it at Tower Records on Mass Ave in Boston instead of Toto’s seventh album.  I chose something new, something progressive, instead of the usual fair I’d been accustomed to.  I’ve never turned my back entirely on classic rock bands, but this purchase opened the door to Elvis Costello, Innocense Mission, and on and on.  This is a terrific release.  I’m ashamed to say – or maybe the U.S. education system should be ashamed – that I didn’t know who Jack Kerouac was in 1987, so that upon hearing the second song on the album – my favorite – I didn’t know who or what Merchant was singing about.  I just knew it was good.  Just as this album opened up musical doors, it also opened up literary doors, as On the Road was soon part of my library.

James Taylor – Never Die Young (1988).  James Taylor is an American treasure, but he’s laid a few eggs in his time, and few of his albums are terrific from front to back.  I thought I might pick Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, but then returned to a tried and true album that I listen to regularly: Never Die Young.  Aside from the fact that I have a personal relationship with this album – my wife and I danced our first dance as a married couple to “Sweet Potato Pie” – there’s just a lot here to like: the quirky “Valentine’s Day” that I fondly recall Taylor playing it at a concert back in 1996, and an ostensibly silly song like “Sun on the Moon” that’s actually quite poignant, speaking to the rat race that many of us choose to engage in.  The only tune I could do without is the last on the album, “First of May,” which is kind of ironic, as this track was the sole representative of the album on JT’s most recent tour.  Go figure.  Probably played better live.

So there you are! One more entry and I’ll be finished with my list of albums I can’t live without. Stay tuned as we ramp up into the new year.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved