Jason’s Jukebox: Styx Worst to Best

logostyxThere are many bands that I feel are unjustly hated. One of these is Styx, which has been making great music since the 70’s. This time on Jason’s Jukebox, I’ll be ranking all of their albums from worst to best.

styx1 Styx  (1972)** Single: “Best Thing”

This album begins the “Wooden Nickel” era, so named because they were signed to that label at the time. It’s an all right debut, starting with “Movement for the Common Man”, a 4-part suite. This was more of a prog rock sound, but they didn’t stay that way. Best tracks: “Movement for the Common Man”, “Best Thing”.

styx2Styx II (1973) *** Singles: “You Need Love”, “Lady”

This is the first album not to feature songs written by James Young. (The album was later renamed Lady after Styx left Wooden Nickel) It’s a little better than their debut, and gave them their first big hit, “Lady”.  Best tracks: “Lady”, “Little Fugue in G”, “You Need Love”

styx3The Serpent is Rising (1973)* This is Styx’s first concept album, and the band considers it their worst recording. I won’t disagree. It contains a hidden track called “Flexible Plexiglass Toilet” that I think is their worst song. It’s good for a laugh, but I just can’t stand it.

Best track: “Krakatoa”

styx4 Man of Miracles (1974) ***1/2 This album has a different tracklist, depending on which version you listen to. My version had “Lies” on it instead of the re-releases that were on other versions. This was their final album on the Wooden Nickel album, and the best one from that era for me.

Best tracks: “Rock n Roll Feeling”, “Lies”, “Evil Eyes”

equinox Equinox (1975) ***1/2 Singles: “Light Up”, “Lorelei”

This was their debut on A&M, which had probably the best production value so far. It’s a blast and just feels more bombastic than their Wooden Nickel material. I think this is a great place to start for them, and it shows a lot of promise.

Best tracks: “Lorelei”, “Midnight Blue”, “Born For Adventure”, “Prelude 12”

crystal Crystal Ball (1976) ***1/2 Singles: “Mademoiselle”, “Crystal Ball”, “Jennifer”

This album has a recital of Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune” leading into the final track “Ballerina”. Dennis DeYoung wrote “This Old Man” for his father.

Best tracks: “Jennifer”, “Claire de Lune/Ballerina”, “This Old Man”

illusion The Grand Illusion (1977)***** Singles: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)”

This is my favorite Styx album, with many fantasy themes. This is considered the album that launched the band into stardom. And I love that album cover.

Best tracks: “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Castle Walls”, “The Grand Illusion”

pieces Pieces of Eight (1978)****1/2 Singles: “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”

This is the band’s second concept album, with a theme about perseverance. It achieved triple platinum success, and definitely deserves it. Lots of great songs on here.

Best Tracks: “Lords of the Ring”, “Blue Collar Man”, “Renegade”, “The Message”

cornerstone Cornerstone (1979) ***1/2 Singles: “Babe”, “Boat on the River”

This album began the transition from prog rock to a more “arena” rock sound, as a response to the bad press they were getting on their first tour of England. The album is packed with ballads. While it’s a different sound from their previous work, I still like it.

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: Styx Worst to Best”

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Best Albums of 2018

This year has been an excellent year for music. We got new albums from titans like Judas Priest. The White Album was remastered in celebration of its 50th anniversary! The Police released a B-sides compilation. Thanks to Spotify’s Release Radar feature, I tried out new albums throughout the year. I heard over 30 albums this year, and of them only 2 were duds.

Let’s get the duds out of the way first:

gravity Bullet For My Valentine: Gravity–I really don’t know why I gave this band a try. I’d heard their name thrown around a lot, so I got curious. This album was just noise. I don’t know if they have better stuff, but I don’t think I want to find out.

origins Imagine Dragons: Origins–What happened, guys? I thought your first two albums were great! Evolve was okay, but this? This is like someone sucked all the inspiration out and left vapid music only good for backgrounds in commercials. If I want commercial music, I’ll watch TV.

And now for the countdown! These will be arranged by how much they impressed me.

badwitch Nine Inch Nails: Bad Witch I’ve been following Trent Reznor since way back, like Pretty Hate Machine. I wouldn’t say they hit a slump, but this was only a half-hour, not nearly enough to whet my appetite.

reign Avenged Sevenfold: Black Reign This is the soundtrack for the latest Call of Duty game. It was a blast, but the spark didn’t last long enough for me. I’ll be checking out more stuff, so it impressed me that much anyway.

429 Building 429: Live the Journey–This is one of my favorite Christian Music bands. I liked this album, but it had way too many singles released before the album finally dropped. The rest of the album was good too, but a few of the singles weren’t all that great.

monkeys Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino–This is Arctic Monkey’s first concept album, about a hotel and casino on the moon. A few of the songs sounded like lounge music, and I didn’t like that. My main problem is that the concept didn’t seem fully represented, and only a few songs seemed to follow the theme. But points for doing something new, guys!

death cab Death Cab For Cutie: Thank You For Today–Don’t get me wrong, Death Cab fans. I’m well aware how good this band is, but I only slightly enjoyed this album.

shiny Smashing Pumpkins: Shiny and Oh So Bright, V. 1: No Past, No Future, No Sun–Man, that’s a long title. Its great to see the original line-up, and for an EP this was a nice small package of talent. (you can call it an LP all you want, Corgan, but this was only a half-hour. That’s an EP)

wyeoak Wye Oak: The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs: I really like how experimental this duo gets. I mean, can you think of any other band where the drummer will play the keyboards while he’s playing the drums? The music always makes it hard to believe there are only two musicians. It has a great surreal sound to it.

prine John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness–When I saw John Prine’s name on the list of nominees for induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, I was curious because I’d never heard of him. His blend of humor and country roots impressed me a lot, and then I found out this new album came out. I’ll definitely be listening to his older material.

kamikaze Eminem: Kamikaze–The world’s fastest rapper can still knock one out of the park. There’s some great diss tracks on this one, and the guest stars don’t overshadow Mathers at all.

nownow The Gorillaz: The Now-Now–Humanz was a great rescue from the slump that was The Fall, and this album continues the trippy direction that the previous album started. It wasn’t better than Demon Days (my favorite album by the band), but it was pretty good.

theory Muse: Simulation Theory–Man, this album has seriously divided the fanbase. Some people really like this album, but others outright hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle. This is far from the worst. It has a good concept, and I like the 80’s feel. It’s not one I’d play for someone who’s never heard of Muse, but I like it, even if it took a couple listens to really appreciate.

myles1 Myles Kennedy: Year of the Tiger–Normally Kennedy likes to collaborate with other artists like Alter Bridge, but this is a solo album. It’s an album inspired by the death of his father, and he pours out all his pain, bleeding the wounds into some deep, dark music. It’s a bit of a departure from his normal stuff, with an almost country vibe thanks to the lap steel guitar on some tracks. Good stuff here.

noise Spock’s Beard: Noise Floor–This is a great progressive metal band, and speaking as a first-time listener, it sounded great. Some great long songs on here, which is why I like progressive rock and metal, so good job guys.

daughterMatthew Sweet: Tomorrow’s Daughter–Matthew Sweet is a great indie artist who’s been around since the 90’s, and he’s not about to disappear. This was  a great album and it’s as beautiful as its cover.

living Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators f/Slash: Living the Dream: This felt like a jam. It was some great pure rock and Slash did his usual routine of pulling out impressive riffs on his Les Paul. It’s a great one.

unheavenly Coheed and Cambria: Vaxis pt. 1: Unheavenly Creatures–What, you thought the Amory Wars saga ended with Afterman? No! There’s five more parts now, starting with this album. If you have an hour and a half to fill, this is a good one to listen to, but I hope you’ve listened to the rest of the saga first.

vale Black Veil Brides: Vale– I’m not that familiar with these guys, and from what I have heard before this, Vale doesn’t blaze any trails. But it sounds great, so I guess if the formula still works, why not stick to it?

onlyjesus Casting Crowns: Only Jesus–Yes, we have another worship band. Casting Crowns, in my opinion, is the best of the worship music genre, and this is great inspirational music. I especially like the song “One Awkward Moment”.

cipher Follow The Cipher: Here’s a new band from Sweden, formed by Ken Kängström, who collaborated with Sabaton, another great Swedish metal band. Their lead vocalist Linda Toni Grahn has an impressive set of pipes, and this is an impressive debut. Check it out if you’re storming a castle.

Continue reading “Best Albums of 2018”

Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Nominees

Well here we are, another year and another big list of potential inductees for the Rock Hall. If I sound cynical, there’s a reason. I’m 50/50 on this list. I was really hoping for people like Grand Funk Railroad, Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, and Weird Al to get the nod. What we got instead were a few people I want to vote for. (Really, Kraftwerk should already be there, and so should MC5) We also have some people I feel should wait their turn, like Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine. On the other hand, we have Devo, Stevie Nicks, and Def Leppard–now that’s something to get excited about.

But you’re not here for my complaints. You’re here for my quick breakdown of who to vote for. Well, here you go.

stevie 1. Stevie Nicks: I know what some of you are going to say: “Isn’t she already in because she’s in Fleetwood Mac?” And you’re right. But she also had a solo career, so she can get in twice. In fact, she can be the first female to do that if she gets inducted. I personally think she’s a shoe-in. As of this writing, she’s in 2nd place, right behind Def Leppard.

roxy 2. Roxy Music: One of the best glam rock bands of the 70’s, but you probably don’t know about them because they’ve gotten so little airplay on American radio (except maybe “More Than This” if you’re lucky). But I want these guys in. They need to be in because we need Duran Duran in there, and you wouldn’t have Duran Duran without these guys.

janet3. Janet Jackson: Her again? Didn’t we already have her on the ballot a year ago? And the year before that? Anyway, can we please move past the “wardrobe malfunction” that was over 10 years ago and forgive her? There are musicians with WAY more controversy that have gotten in.

prine4. John Prine: Every year, there’s at least one entry that makes me say “Who’s that?” And this year, it’s John Prine. I guess that’s what I get for not listening to country all that much. He’s a country rock star, and a pretty good one at that, judging by the songs I looked up. He’s a favorite of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Roger Waters. And he’s already in Nashville’s Hall of Fame as of 2003.

kraftwerk5. Kraftwerk: Here’s another group that I feel deserves recognition that you’re all probably scratching your heads about. Kraftwerk was a big deal in Europe, and in the rap scene here in the states. (Go look up “Planet Rock” and then “Trans-Europe Express”) But seriously, Kraftwerk is great. All that EDM you like owes their success to Kraftwerk.

devo6. Devo: Oh I can hear you guys now. “They’re a one-hit wonder! Why do they get a chance? What’s next, Men Without Hats?” Actually, Devo was more popular than you think in the 80’s. They had some big hits on the alternative stations, and that totally counts. And they fit the rock mold by being satirical. Not all rebellion is serious.

ll cool j7. LL Cool J: Here we go, the baddest boy in Old School rap! I can hear all you elitists saying Rap and Rock shouldn’t share a Hall. But if the Temptations, Hank Williams, Miles Davis, and Herb Alpert deserve a spot, then so does LL. The man totally rocks. He wrote some of the most sensual love songs, and his rap battles with Kool Moe Dee left smoke on rap’s battlefield for years.

MC5 8. MC5: The Motor City 5 is one of the longest-running punk rock bands in American music. Their song “Kick Out the Jams” has been covered by quite a few bands over the years. Musicians like Slash and Tommy Morello probably learned to play it as soon as they got their first guitars. Yeah, they deserve it.

defleppard 9. Def Leppard: Stuff the ballot box for these guys! They’ve endured quite a lot. Their drummer has one arm. They lost a guitarist to hard partying (and fired another one for the same thing early on, ironically enough). They had two big albums back to back, which was unusual at the time. What’s that? They’re at the top of the polls now? OK, you already know how big they are. Next.

cure 10. The Cure: Look, I’m not completely cynical here. I love The Cure. I already did an entry on Jason’s Jukebox where I ranked all their albums. Go read that if you want to know why this band must get in.

radiohead11. Radiohead: Um, listen Rock Hall dudes. Thom Yorke said if he and Radiohead ever get the nod, he’s not gonna show. So, I say don’t let him in. They’re too recent. They need to wait their turn. Are they good? I guess. *Looks out window and sees mob of Radiohead fans ready to lynch him*. Look, I’m only a casual fan of these guys, OK? If they had chosen a better opener for their career than “Creep”, I might’ve become a bigger fan. But I always think of their worst song. Sorry, everyone.

rage 12. Rage Against the Machine: I don’t agree with Rage’s political views, but I won’t deny they have talent. Will they be able to get Zack to get up on stage and do a show with them if they win? Probably not.

rufus 13. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan: Hip-hop loves this funk act, and Chaka Khan is a big deal in her own right. I think we should let them in. We already have Parliament-Funkadelic, and Rufus is pretty much along the same line. I know you elitists don’t think R&B deserves a spot, but I disagree. A lot of rockers wouldn’t be around if not for R&B.

toddrundgren14. Todd Rundgren: Todd don’t want to work. He wants to bang on the drum all day! Yes, this is the guy who made that song. He’s also a pretty good producer, working for such artists as Psychedelic Furs and XTC. Which means we can let him in again as a non-performer if we want.

zombies 15. The Zombies: What? They’re STILL not in? “Time of the Season”, go listen to that! It’s an awesome song! Seriously! They already should be in! In fact, most of these bands should be in. Fortunately, I don’t have to convince you. These guys are in 5th place.

The Rock Hall needs to improve, and these bands are a long way to getting those improvements. Let’s stop being cynical and complaining about the politics. Make your voice heard.

 

 

Jason’s Jukebox: The Doors

doorsIn the late 1960’s, the “British Invasion” of rock was in full swing, thanks to bands like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who. But one band was poised to remind us that rock n roll was an American invention: The Doors. Named for The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, their lead singer had a brief life. Nevertheless, they made a lasting impact on rock for years to come, influencing such bands as The Cure, New Order, Pearl Jam, and more. They released a total of 9 albums, 4 of which are considered among the greatest albums of all time. In this edition of Jason’s Jukebox, I will rank all 9 albums.

The members are:

  • Jim Morrison–lead vocals, harmonica, percussion
  • Ray Manzarek–organ
  • Robby Krieger–lead guitar
  • John Densmore–drums and percussion

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: The Doors”

Jason’s Jukebox: Counting Crows

This edition of Jason’s Jukebox covers one of my favorite folk rock bands, the Counting Crows. Named after a nursery rhyme, the group was founded by Adam Duritz in the 90’s. The current roster consists of:

  • Jim Bogios – drums, percussion (2002–present)
  • David Bryson– rhythm guitar, vocals (1991–present)
  • Adam Duritz – lead vocals, piano (1991–present)
  • Charlie Gillingham – keyboards, piano, accordion, clarinet, vocals (1992–present)
  • David Immerglück – rhythm guitar, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, vocals (1999–present, session member 1993–1999)
  • Millard Powers – bass guitar, keyboards, vocals (2005–present)
  • Dan Vickery – lead guitar, banjo, vocals (1994–present)

august 1) August and Everything After (1993) *****

Singles: “Mr. Jones”, “Around Here”, “Rain King”, “A Murder of One”

This is one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard, and one of their best overall. “Round Here” is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, about a girl contemplating suicide. “A Murder of One” recites the nursery that inspired the band’s name.

Best Tracks: “Round Here”, “Omaha”, “Mr. Jones”, “Raining in Baltimore”, “A Murder of One”

recovering2) Recovering the Satellites (1996) ****1/2

Singles: “Angels of the Silences”, “A Long December”, “Daylight Fading”

This was the first (and so far only) Counting Crows album to reach #1. It marked the band’s change from a quintet to a sextet, with guitarist Dan Vickrey becoming a new songwriter and Ben Mize becoming a new drummer. Adam Duritz considers this his favorite.

Best Tracks: “Angels of the Silences”, “Daylight Fading”, “Children in Bloom”,  “A Long December”

desert3) This Desert Life (1999) ****

Singles: “Hanging Around”, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”, “All My Friends”

One of my favorite comic book artists, Dave McKean, did the cover for this album, using an image from the children’s book The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman. The album is pretty good, and a great way to continue into the new millennium.

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”, “Color Blind”, “Speedway”, “Kid Things”

hard4) Hard Candy (2002) ***1/2

Singles: “American Girls” , “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Richard Manuel is Dead”

This album contains the band’s first cover, “Big Yellow Taxi”. Having now heard the original, I think they did a good job. In fact, I know people who are surprised it’s a cover.

Best Tracks: “American Girls”, “Richard Manuel is Dead”, “Butterfly in Reverse”, “Big Yellow Taxi”

saturdau5) Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings (2012) ***

Singles: “1492”, “Come Around”, “When I Dream of Michelangelo”

This is probably one of my least favorite Counting Crows albums. It’s divided into two parts. “Saturday Nights” is the rock side, while “Sunday Mornings” has more of a country vibe. The second part isn’t as good as the first, but it’s not terrible. Ryan Adams guest stars on “Los Angeles”.

Best Tracks: “1492”, “Hanging Tree”, “Los Angeles”, “When I Dream Of Michelangelo”

underwater6) Underwater Sunshine (What I Did On My Summer Vacation)(2012) ***

This is the band’s cover album. The only song I was familiar with before I heard this was Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”. I still like the album, but I’d probably appreciate it more if I had heard the originals.

Best Tracks: “Amie”, “All My Failures, “Ballad of El Goodo”

wonderland7) Somewhere Under Wonderland (2014) ***1/2

Singles: “Palasides Park”, “Scarecrow”

Their first album with Capitol Records after leaving Geffen in 2013. “God of Ocean Tides” in particular was inspired by the tour that resulted in their third live album Echoes From the Outlaw Roadshow, Even with such a big gap from their heyday and the current scene, Duritz is still a great lyricist.

Best Tracks: “Earthquake Driver”, “God of Ocean Tides”, “Scarecrow”

Next time, I look at the classic psychedelic rock band The Doors!

 

Jason’s Jukebox: REM

The 1980’s were a great time for indie music (or alternative). You had great bands that gained mass popularity like Duran Duran, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, and The Clash. But one band that hovered under the radar for quite a while was REM. It’s also one of those rare 80’s acts that managed not only to survive the 90’s, but put out most of their best material in that decade. This time around, I’ll be looking at their albums.

The line-up:

  • Michael Stipe: vocals
  • Peter Buck: guitar
  • Mike Mills: Bass/backing vocals
  • Bill Berry: drums

murmur Murmur (1983) ****

Single: “Radio Free Europe”
Rolling Stone may have been occasionally out of touch over its lifespan, but it was on the right track when it gave the debut 4 out of 5 stars. Today, over thirty years after its release, it’s still one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard. I just wish Stipe was more coherent, but he fixed that later on, thank goodness.

Best tracks: “Radio Free Europe”, “Talk About the Passion”, “Perfect Circle”, “Sitting Still”

reckoningReckoning (1984) ***

Singles: “South Central Rain”, “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”

Producer Don Dixon wanted this album to rock harder than its predecessor, but it doesn’t really work for me. There’s some standouts, but I don’t like it as much as Murmur.

Best tracks: “Harborcoat”, “South Central Rain”, “Pretty Persuasion”

fablesFables of the Reconstruction ** (1985)

Singles: “Can’t Get There From Here”, “Driver 8”, “Wendell Gee”

This was the only REM album produced outside the US, working with Joe Boyd as their producer. The album is one of REM’s concepts (the other being Automatic For the People), exploring Southern Gothic themes. At the time, it was REM’s highest charter, reaching #28. However, Michael Stipe wasn’t fond of the result at first, but over the years he and Buck have changed their minds.  It’s not bad, but I’m not a fan.

Best tracks: “Driver 8”, “Green Grow the Rushes”

pageantLife’s Rich Pageant ***1/2 (1986)

Singles: “Fall On Me”, “Superman”

This was REM’s first gold album. It was REM’s first foray into political themes with songs like “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoya” heralding a trend that would continue for quite a few albums.

Best tracks: “Fall On Me”, “Cuyahoga”, “Superman”, “Flowers of Guatemala”

deadletterDead Letter Office ***1/2 (1987)

This is REM’s B-sides and rarities collection, so it’s only here for completeness. It marks the transition to Warner Bros and bigger fame. What really sells it are the covers.

Best tracks: “Toys in the Attic”, “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Femme Fatale”, “King of the Road”

documentDocument *****(1987)

Singles: “The One I Love”, “End of the World”, “Finest Worksong”

This was one of REM’s most important albums, marking the end of their status as solely alternative rock and the beginning of their more mainstream success. It was their final album with IRS, and their first with producer Scott Litt, who did phenomenal work with them over the years. For me, this was my introduction to the band, thanks to the loads of airplay “The One I Love” got. It’s still one of their best albums, even if I can’t sing around with “End of the World”

Best tracks: “Exhuming McCarthy”, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, “The One I Love”, “Fireplace”,  “King of Birds”

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: REM”

Jason’s Jukebox: 10 Favorite Albums V.1

For quite some year now, I’ve been posting articles ranking discographies from many of my favorite musicians and bands. But what do I think are the best albums of all time? Well, that’s far from easy! My list changes often, especially as I’ve been going through the book 1001 Albums You Must Before You Die. (I’ve only listened to over 260 of those so far.) So, here’s a new annual feature: My 10 Favorite Albums series!

Continue reading “Jason’s Jukebox: 10 Favorite Albums V.1”