What can I say? This album is a band going into the studio and going crazy (and someone just happened to record it). It encompasses everything that I feel a hard rock band should be- showy, edgy, technical, have amazing tone, fun, great vocals (lead and backing) and above all- great songs. VH had a real hunger on this album, one that few bands have ever been able to reach, in my opinion. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” was the first song I ever learned to play from beginning to end, so it holds special meaning for me. They set the bar very high
with this one, but continued to reinvent themselves and rock n roll at
the same time in the years to come.
Key track: “I’m the One"
I had already been listening to Van Halen for about a year and a half when my guitar teacher at the time asked me if I had heard of Steve Vai. I said that I thought I had a Whitesnake compilation that had him on it, and he said “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” So off to the record store I went to check out some Steve Vai, and Passion and Warfare was bought that day. This and Van Halen are the only two albums that I can honestly say “changed my life.” This album still confuses and boggles my mind when I listen to it. The production is dense, the orchestrations are rich and the guitar playing- forget it. This is the perfect blend of blazing chops, quarky songwriting and great production. It’s like Frank Zappa with shredding tendencies and an eye for pop songwriting, but tilted at a 45-degree angle. That’s the best way I can describe it. Unreal. Case closed.
Key track: “Blue Powder”
Seger is most likely the first music I ever heard. My mom says she played Seger, and more specifically this album, to me before I was born. I couldn’t think of better music to be exposed to right off the bat! I liked Seger when I was a kid, but it took coming back to his music later down the road after I had started playing guitar to truly grasp what a genius this man is. One of the greatest, and sometimes overlooked, American songwriters of the last 40 years. ‘Live’ Bullet is Seger and his band at their very best, and for “Turn the Page” and “Jody Girl” alone this one has to get the nod. Much love.
Key track: "Turn the Page"
This was the first “guitar album” I ever owned. I got Blizzard as a present for my 8th birthday and I nearly wore out the cassette (yes, I grew up in the last years of cassettes- God bless analog). Of course I was drawn to this album being that young by hearing “Crazy Train” on the radio all the time. But it was later, once again after picking up the guitar, that I discovered the amazing chops and songwriting of Ozzy’s genius guitar fold Randy Rhoads. Randy will always be my go-to any time I need inspiration. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he and Eddie Van Halen came up at the same time in the southern California scene, but what I really love about this album is that it’s heavy metal at its finest but many of the songs are in uplifting, major keys. This was something that was fairly new for heavy rock music at the time (especially with Ozzy singing). It was a complete 180 from Black Sabbath and reignited Ozzy’s career and helped bring hard rock storming back.
Key track: “Mr. Crowley”
Sure, people talk about how crazy this album is and sync it up with “The Wizard of Oz,” but Dark Side of the Moon is a landmark in audio recording, let alone rock music. I believe this album will stand the test of time past just about any record put out since Sgt. Pepper’s. This is essential listening for any fan of music and if you haven’t listened to it from beginning to end, I would highly recommend it. Once again, I got this album as a gift sometime around the end of junior high (on cassette of course, CDs were out, but my parents weren’t too hip to “new technology” *insert canned laughter*). I can remember listening to this album on cold, rainy days and thinking it was the perfect soundtrack to living in the Midwest during the cold months of the year. A song like “Time” really made me start to pay attention to lyrical content. What the hell does “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” mean? I still don’t quite know, and I love that.
Key track: "Us and Them"
This is such an awesome album, and another that I had on cassette when I was a kid. A lot of tracks off this album made it onto the classic rock radio station that I listened to (back before Clear Channel swallowed up so many of the once-cool stations). I think in many ways that Pearl Jam, along with the Foo Fighters, are the last great rock band. This was their debut album and it contained all of the grit and fire that fueled the “grunge” movement, but also had great production, amazing musicianship and stellar song craft. I can remember hearing that crazy fretless bass playing as the album faded in on “Once” and of course “Even Flow” and “Jeremy” further extended my interest in paying attention to the lyrics of a song. Keep in mind I was oftentimes listening to these albums on headphones, and the art of “panning” (where the sound of certain parts can be pushed from one side of the headphones to the other) became very apparent to me, especially with this album. Eddie Vedder is still one of my heroes and I think Pearl Jam’s debut is their magnum opus!
Key track: “Black”
So many people, including die-hard SRV fans, do not give this album the credit it deserves. The fact is, Stevie Ray neither played nor sang better on any album than he did on In Step. He had recently kicked his drug and alcohol addiction and was an entirely new person and thus it shows in a big way on this record. Much of the song content was dedicated to his newly-found sobriety (ie “Crossfire,” “Wall of Denial,” “Tightrope”), but there were also many party tunes on this as well (“The House is Rockin,’” “Let Me Love You Baby,” “Love Me Darlin’”). And of course what many, including myself, feel is some of his best playing ever on the incredible instrumental “Riviera Paradise,” which closes out this album. Drummer Chris Layton said they ended this track just before the tape machine ran out of tape. Fate!
Key track: “Riviera Paradise”
What hasn’t already been said about Zeppelin? Of course Led Zeppelin IV (or Zoso as it is often called) gets a lot of the attention as the quintessential Zep album (which it is), but I look at Houses as the first “later” Zeppelin album in which Jimmy Page began to share much of the songwriting duties with bassist/keyboardist/everything else/genius John Paul Jones. This album features more lush and dense orchestrations and even greater production by Page. Songs such as “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter” are some of my favorite Zeppelin tracks ever, and unfortunately just aren’t as well-known as some of their earlier stuff because: 1. They were longer than classic rock radio would often allow and 2. They are borderline art rock, rather than mainstream. In the mid-‘70s, I feel Led Zeppelin became damn near a progressive rock band, and Houses of the Holy is a fantastic period in the band’s existence.
Key track: “The Rain Song”
I think The Eagles perfectly captured what music represented in the ‘70s, or at least how I like to view it, as I wasn’t fortunate enough to be alive then. Hotel California is obviously widely considered their greatest work (especially the title track), but I think the back story behind the album is just as fascinating. The Eagles were in quite a bit of transition leading up to the making of Hotel California as they wanted to shed their “laid-back” “California-rock” image and bring on a more “rock n roll” sound. Thus, the introduction of already well-known rock virtuoso Joe Walsh. I feel Walsh supercharged The Eagles, but I also feel that The Eagles redefined him. They both benefited from his job in the band, as The Eagles got an edgier sound on tracks like “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Victim of Love” just by being in Walsh’s presence I think, and Walsh was showcased as being a great songwriter and more than just another blues-rock player. A perfect example is “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” You would never hear that song on a Joe Walsh solo record. He had to be in The Eagles for it to come out. Henley is of course the king on this record with “Fast Lane” and the title track alone. An edgier Henley also comes out on “Victim of Love” (perhaps a sign of things to come in his solo career). Two of my favorite Eagles tracks ever are on this album as well- “New Kid in Town” (Glenn Frey shines) and “The Last Resort” (Henley commentating on society, one of his trademarks). This has become one of those albums I can only listen to on vinyl. Feel the cool wind in your hair!
Key track: “The Last Resort”
Audioslave was truly a modern supergroup. I feel that, much like Van Halen’s debut, this was a band showing up in the studio with a hunger and desire to rock as hard as they possibly could and someone just happened to hit record. The band was comprised of the instrumental members of Rage Against the Machine (guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk) along with Soundgarden vocal master Chris Cornell. I had already been a huge Cornell fan before I heard Audioslave, but I always felt Soundgarden somewhat lacked virtuosity and showmanship, something Morello and company were among the best at in Rage. This record is a modern classic, mixing hard-hitting riffs and deep, thought-provoking lyrics and melodies. Cornell proves once again why he is a singer’s singer, ranging from vocal-butchering onslaughts like the opener “Cochise” or “Shadow on the Sun,” to the poignant “I Am the Highway” and "Getaway Car" to the Soundgarden-esque “The Last Remaining Light,” this album packs so much into one spot and proved to me that a modern rock band could stand up with the greats that came before. Phenomenal album!
Key track: “Bring ‘Em Back Alive”
Queensryche- Empire (1990)
Eric Clapton- August (1986)
John Mayer- Continuum (2006)
Joe Satriani- Crystal Planet (1998)
Black Country Communion- Black Country Communion (2009)
Toto- Toto IV (1982)
Yngwie Malmsteen- Eclipse (1990)
Pantera- Cowboys From Hell (1990)
Mr. Big- Mr. Big (1989)
Tesla- Five Man Acoustical Jam (1990)
Eric Johnson- Venus Isle (1996)
Kenny Wayne Shepherd- Trouble Is (1997)
Miles Davis- Kind of Blue (1959)
Brantley Gilbert- Halfway to Heaven (2011)
ZZ Top- Deguello (1979)
Metallica- The ‘Black Album’(1991)
Sara Bareilles- Little Voice (2007)
Jonny Lang- Lie to Me (1997)
Jake Owen- Barefoot Blue Jean Night (2011)
Eric Church- Chief (2011)
Keith Urban- Get Closer (2010)
Zac Brown Band- Uncaged (2012)
Comment and share some of your favorite albums!