My Top 5 Studio Albums Turning 50

The other day while driving in my car, I caught a cool program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) titled the “Top 50 Albums Turning 50.” Hosted by former Doors guitarist and drummer Robby Krieger and John Densmore, respectively, it was a countdown of records that came out in 1971, as voted by listeners. Once again, this reminded me what an outstanding period the early ’70s were for music, and I’m not only talking about classic rock. The radio show also triggered the idea for this post. While I don’t want to call this a series, I have a funny feeling I’ll do more about 1971, now that I’ve been bitten by the bug.

The amount of great albums released in 1971 is mind-boggling, especially from today’s perspective. It’s a true gold mine! Some artists and bands like Johnny Cash, Carole King, Faces and Yes released even more than one record. Following are my top five albums turning 50 this year. I’m not great at ranking, so I’m listing my picks in no particular order. Live records and debuts are excluded, since I’m contemplating separate posts for these categories. I guess it’s another way to admit that if you love early ’70s music, summing up 1971 with just five albums is mission impossible!

The Who/Who’s Next

As my favorite album by The Who, including Who’s Next in this short list was a no-brainer. The fifth studio album by the British rockers appeared on August 14, 1971. It came out of Lifehouse, another rock opera Pete Townshend had conceived as a follow-up to Tommy. Eight of the nine songs from Who’s Next had initially been written for Lifehouse. Additional tracks from the abandoned project were subsequently released as singles and appeared on other Who and Townshend (solo) records. Except for My Wife, which was penned by John Entwistle, Townhend wrote all tracks. I pretty much could have highlighted any song from the album. Here’s Bargain, which according to Songfacts is an homage to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment, which also influenced songs like Baba O’Riley and See Me, Feel Me. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment.

Carole King/Tapestry

Folks who follow the blog or know me otherwise won’t be shocked by this pick. When it comes to the singer-songwriter category, Carole King will always remain one of my all-time favorite artists. Tapestry, released on February 10, 1971, is her Mount Rushmore in my book. A couple of months ago, leading up to the 50th anniversary date, I devoted a 10-part series to the album (“Ten Days of Tapestry”, see final part here, which includes links to all previous installments). Therefore, I’m keeping it brief here. Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move was solely written by King, like most other tracks on the album.

Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway to Heaven marked the start of my Led Zeppelin journey. While they were an acquired taste, Led Zeppelin have become one of my favorite rock bands. To me, their fourth studio album, which came out on November 8, 1971, remains one of the most exciting ’70s rock albums, though I’ve also come to really dig their other records. Instead of the obvious tune Stairway, which I would select if I could only choose one classic rock song, let’s do Rock and Roll. It’s the record’s only tune credited to all four members of the band. In addition to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Rock and Roll features Rolling Stones co-founder Ian Stewart on keyboards.

The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers

Speaking of the Stones, Sticky Fingers is another must-include on my top five short list of the greatest albums released in 1971. You can read more about my favorite Stones album in this recent post I published a few days ahead of the April 23 50th anniversary date. Here I’d like to highlight a track I did not call out in that post: Sway, which also became the b-side of the album’s second single Wild Horses, released on June 12, 1971. The slower blues track features some sweet slide guitar action by Mick Taylor. Another factoid worthwhile noting is the song marked Mick Jagger’s first electric guitar performance on a Stones album. Oh, and there were some notable backing vocalists: Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces) and Billy Nichols, an American guitarist and songwriter who first came to prominence during the ’60s for his work with Motown.

Pink Floyd/Meddle

With so many great albums that were released in 1971, it’s tricky to keep this list to five, but that’s what I set out to do, at least for now. Meddle was the sixth studio album by Pink Floyd, which appeared on October 31, 1971. It foreshadowed the band’s mid ’70s masterpieces The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, especially on the 23-minute-plus track Echoes. While I was tempted to feature this epic track, I think it’s safe to assume very few readers would listen. Instead, let’s go with the opener One of These Days. The characteristic pumping bass line was double-tracked, played by bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. The instrumental is credited to all members of the band, which in addition to Waters and Gilmour included Richard Wright (organ, piano) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion). The only spoken line in the song, the cheerful and digitally warped “One of these days I’m gonna cut you up into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Thanksgiving Is Coming Up…And An Annual Rock & Roll Marathon

Will Stairway To Heaven finally be toppled from the no. 1 spot it has held for 17 straight years on Q104.3’s Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time?

When hearing Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume most folks think of family, friends, turkey and other feasts. To many it also involves travel to spend time together with their loved ones. While there’s nothing wrong with all of that, to me the upcoming holiday first and foremost means it’s time again for classic rock radio station Q104.3’s annual tradition to play the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time, as voted by listeners. I suppose the fact that I care of much about this rock & roll marathon indicates I can be quite nerdy. But when it comes to music, that’s just fine with me!

Playing 1,043 rock songs means many hours of great rock music. And, yes, each is fully played, even Pink Floyd’s epic 23-minute Echoes! In order to accommodate all that music, Q104.3 needs to start the countdown the day before Thanksgiving at 1:00 pm ET and go all the way to Sunday evening – a fantastic listening experience for any rock fan! It’s also a nice break from the 50 or so songs they tend to play all the time – just like most other radio stations do!

Collage

One of the things I find remarkable about the list, which is compiled for the 18th time this year and presented in a countdown from no. 1,043 to no. 1,  is that for the past 17 years, Stairway to Heaven has consistently captured the no. 1 spot. While I dig Led Zeppelin and, if given only one choice, may even select the tune myself as the greatest rock song ever, the reality is there are so many other outstanding classic rock tunes. As such, I feel it’s time to shake up the list! While I doubt there will be many changes in the top 10, following are my selections I submitted earlier this morning.

1. Sunshine Of Your LoveCream (78)

2. Purple HazeJimi Hendrix Experience (80)

3. LaylaDerek & The Dominoes (4)

4. TushZZ Top (865)

5. Stairway To HeavenLed Zeppelin (1)

6. While My Guitar Gently WeepsThe Beatles (29)

7. RefugeeTom Petty and the Heartbreakers (110)

8. Dead FlowersThe Rolling Stones (547)

9. SoulshineThe Allman Brothers Band (-)

10. EchoesPink Floyd (311)

The numbers in parentheses indicate the ranks of the songs in last year’s countdown. One, Soulshine by The Allman Brothers Band, didn’t make the cut – I told ya, I’m a music nerd! In case you’d like to join the fun, you can enter your submissions here. Happy voting and happy listening!

Sources: Q104.3 website

Greta Van Fleet’s Widely Anticipated Full-Length Debut Album Is Out And It Rocks

Anthem Of The Peaceful Army shows young Michigan rockers can move beyond Zeppelin-like crunchers

“Greta Van Fleet can’t get the Led out of its sound,” declares the headline of a Chicago Tribune review. V.e.r.y.  c.l.e.v.e.r.! “They come bearing shamelessly recycled Zeppelin-isms with a frontman who seems to have heard Rush’s “2112” a few times,” opines Rolling Stone. Did they just identify a second band Greta Van Fleet “rips off?” Asks Consequence of Sound: “The throwback rockers can resurrect the sounds of the past, but what about the future?” Gee, how about giving this young band some time beyond their first full-length album Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, which was released on Friday.

As I’m looking at the reviews of the widely anticipated record, I feel like telling certain critics to take a chill pill. Yes, there’s no denying the Michigan rockers have tunes with a Led Zeppelin I vibe. But, frankly, what’s so terrible to sound similar to one of the greatest rock bands of all time? Especially in an era where mediocrity gets most of the limelight? Plus, at least to my ears, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army proves there’s actually more to Greta Van Fleet than Zep-style rockers. Caveat: As a former bassist and someone who has listened to loud music many times, I can’t deny a certain degree of hearing loss!😆

Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet (from left): Sam Kiszka, Josh Kiszka, Danny Wagner and Jake Kiszka

All tracks on the album are credited to all four members of the band. They include Josh Kiszka (lead vocals) and his brothers Jake Kiszka (guitar, backing vocals), who is Josh’s twin, and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), as well as Danny Wagner (drums, backing vocals). Let’s kick things off with the opener Age Of Man. Except perhaps for the lead vocals, right out of the gate there’s a tune I don’t feel sounds particularly like Led Zeppelin.

Next up: The Cold Wind. Okay, this kick-ass rocker has an undeniable Zeppelin vibe. I can already see some critics getting their knickers twisted over it. But guess what? I don’t care – on the contrary, I love the fact that here we have a young band that embraces full throttle classic rock, a genre that generally isn’t doing particularly well these days. Wouldn’t it be cool if the tune would top the Billboard Hot 100?

You’re The One introduces acoustic-oriented rock. But wait, didn’t Zep also do plenty of acoustic stuff? So is it yet another rip off? I don’t worry much about it. All I can say is I like this tune. It’s got a catchy melody. I also dig the organ part.

Anthem is another acoustic track. Here’s the first verse of the reflective song: Read the news/There’s something every day/So many people/Thinkin’ different ways/You say “Where is the music/A tune to free the soul/A simple lyric/To unite us all?”

Let’s throw in one more tune: Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer), another nice rocker and the album’s closer.

According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, Anthem of the Peaceful Army was produced by the Rust Brothers, three “veteran Detroit music guys” who are connected to Kid RockAl Sutton, the owner of Rustbelt Studios and Rock’s longtime recording engineer; Marlon Young, lead guitarist of Twisted Brown Tucker, Rock’s longtime backing band; and Herschel Boone, a songwriter and producer, who also worked with Rock as a backing vocalist. The album, which appears on Lava Records, was produced at Rustbelt and at Blackbird Studio in Nashville.

I guess some of what is happening to Greta Van Fleet is perhaps unavoidable for a band that has received a lot of attention in a relative short amount of time. Add to this the fact that none other than Robert Plant during an interview with Australia’s Network 10 said of the band, “They are ‘Led Zeppelin I'” and called lead vocalist Josh Kiszka “a beautiful little singer,” as reported by the Detroit Free Press in a separate article, and you can see why there’s so much buzz around Greta Van Fleet. And buzz oftentimes also brings less than flattering commentary to the forefront.

I think Greta Van Fleet is on a promising trajectory. Keep in mind they are very young guys. Josh and Jake are 22, while Sam and Denny are 19. Their talent is undeniable. With Anthem Of The Peaceful Army they have taken a step forward. Let’s just give them time to find their own unique style and sound. And if in the meantime, they continue to throw in some Zeppelin-like rockers I have no problem with that whatsoever!

Sources: Wikipedia, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, Consequence Of Sound, Detroit Free Press, YouTube

Greta Van Fleet Continues To Rock Like Early Zeppelin On Sophomore Album

Michigan rockers deliver more hard-edged ’70s style rock

When I told a colleague yesterday I was going to see Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out last night (see previous post), he asked me whether I had ever heard of Greta Van Fleet. The name somehow sounded familiar, and just a little while ago, I finally remembered – I had first read about these Michigan rockers in a previous post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast.  On November 10, the band released their second studio album From The Fires – close enough to put it into the “new music” category.

The record actually is a double EP, combining the four tracks from Greta Van Fleet’s debut EP Black Smoke Rising with four newly recorded tunes. I have to say I really dig their music, which almost sounds like a reincarnation of early Zep. Exactly because of that, I could see some people might dismiss them.

Greta Van Fleet

I also recall previously reading that Lenny Kravitz in his early years was accused of sounding too retro, too ’60s, too much like Jimi Hendrix; or that blues rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd essentially was a Stevie Ray Vaughan knockoff. The reality is great musicians listen to other great musicians, and in certain genres this inevitably leads to some repetition. Plus, last time I checked, Hendrix, Vaughan and Zeppelin recorded some of the best rock in music history, so I don’t mind if others embrace their sound. With that being out of the way, let’s take a look at From The Fires.

The record’s opener Safari Song is one of the four tracks from the first EP. Credited to all four members of the band – brothers Joshua Kiszka (lead vocals), Samuel Kiszka (bass guitar, keyboards) and Jacob Kiszka (guitar) and drummer Daniel Wagner – this rocker sounds like a tune that could have been included on Led Zeppelin IV. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance, which was captured in June at a music venue in Chicago. While at first sight these guys may look like a high school band, they certainly don’t sound like one!

Next up: Edge Of Darkness, one of the newly recorded tunes.

The album includes two covers: Meet On The Ledge, the second single from Fairport Convention, released in December 1968 and written by Richard Thompson; and the great Sam Cooke tune A Change Is Gonna Come, from his 1964 studio album Ain’t That Good News. I find this rock version intriguing, so here’s a clip.

The last track I’d like to call out is Talk On The Street, another new song.

According to their Facebook page, Greta Van Fleet was formed in 2012 in Frakenmuth, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where 20 year-old twin brothers Josh and Jake Kiszka began playing shows with their 17 year-old younger brother, Sam, and 17 year-old family friend Danny Wagner. Their name is derived from a local resident called Gretna Van Fleet and used with her permission. Apparently, one of band’s members had heard it mentioned by a relative.

Wikipedia notes various remarkable accomplishments of the young band, especially in the past couple of years. In January 2016, their song Highway Tune was featured on an episode of Showtime comedy series Shameless. This April 21, Greta Van Fleet was named Apple’s new music artist of the week, and in October they won Best New Artist at the Loudwire Music Awards. The new album currently tops the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart. Based on all the band’s success, it doesn’t appear their retro Zeppelinesque sound is hurting them, which is great to see. I certainly look forward to hearing more from these guys.

Sources: Wikipedia, Greta Van Fleet Facebook page, Billboard, YouTube

A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?

Desert Trip and now The Classic look like the start of a new trend in the concert business: The mega rock festival targeting an older fan base with money to spend.

Last year’s Desert Trip was a dream come true for every classic rock fan, who had the time and money to get to Southern California’s Coachella Valley. I recall reading accounts on Facebook from people who were there and absolutely blown away – if time and money wouldn’t have been an issue, I would have been there as well, no question! With ticket sales totaling $160 million, the festival was also quite lucrative. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it was not the last of its kind.

Over two weekends in October 2016, which amounted to six days altogether, Desert Trip had a spectacular line-up: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. And so will The Classic West in Los Angeles and The Classic East in New York City. Each of the two-day weekend concerts this July will feature Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Music festivals in and of itself obviously have been around for a long time. What seems to be different about this new breed of rock spectacle is that it exclusively features big-name music artists who have come of age. Many of them no longer record new music, or if they do, release new material at a much slower pace. Recently, I saw Stevie Nicks quoted in what I believe was a Rolling Stone story, who said the reward from recording a new album in this day and age is simply no longer worth the effort to spend endless hours in the studio. It’s a pretty sad statement, but there is evidence to back it up.

Last July, Billboard reported U.S. album sales during the first half of 2016 were the worst since 1991, falling by more than 13% year-over-year. Over the same period, music streaming was up close to 60%. But that’s not much of consolation for most artists who hardly make any money from streaming. By comparison, concerts are much more lucrative, especially when you appeal to an older audience that generally has more money to spend than young people. Classic rock is one of the music genres that is popular among more mature audiences.

In a New York Times story about the upcoming The Classic music events, Irving Azoff, who represents all of the six performing acts in full or in part, put it as follows: “Classic-rock radio listeners have been underserved by current festival lineups.” The big event that comes to my mind in this context is the iHeart Radio Festival, for which Azoff’s observation is certainly true.

Tickets for The Classic are only available for both days, with regular admissions ranging between $150 and $950 plus fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are also various VIP packages, with the most expensive one topping out at a whopping $2,750. Live Nation, the promoter for The Classic, clearly must be convinced that the feeling of having been underserved will open some wallets big time!

I have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects of the shows. Every artist deserves to earn a reasonable living, and it’s certainly true that with all the changes in the music business that has become a lot harder. On the other hand, I have to believe the artists performing at Desert Trip and The Classic already made their money when records were still selling well and are not exactly living in poverty.

Another way to look at this new breed of rock festival is to consider how much it would cost to see the artists in separate shows. Through that lens, a ticket price of $150, $300 and even $600 doesn’t look that outrageous. It translates to $25, $50 and $100 per act based on six artists. Most people would consider a price of $50 to see the Eagles as a bargain. In fact, when I saw them in Atlantic City in 2015, I had to dole out a lot more cash – though I have to add it was one of the most amazing shows I have seen and as such worth every cent! And that sentiment brings me to the next point.

A big part of going to see your rock & roll heroes in concert is emotional. From a strictly rational perspective it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars. But there is just nothing like being in a stadium seeing Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and screaming from the top of your lungs together with thousands of other fans. It’s rock & roll!

And as long as great rock music exists, people will keep spending a lot of money on concerts. I also have no doubt that the new breed of rock festival will continue. In fact, I just saw this story about Desert Trip 2017. The second installment will be bigger than its debut and feature 21 artists. The headliners are REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult, Styx and Supertramp. Some of the other artists include James Taylor, Foreigner and Chicago.

Here is the official video teaser for The Classic. I’m very tempted. I’ve been to great shows with all performers, except for Steely Dan, which I would love to see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, YouTube