The Cars vs. Van Halen: The First Six Albums!

East coast vs. west coast. Cool indifference vs. standard cool.

The Cars and Van Halen are both classic bands that released six albums in their original incarnations. Although these two American bands have little in common, such as musical style, flamboyance, and influences, they DO have a lot of similarities, including humorous and ironic lyrics “Can I talk you out of staying here tonight?” vs. “You’re semi good-looking,” iconic videos on MTV, and both bands were local favorites before breaking out, along with, stellar, but radically different lead guitarists. Most importantly, in the big picture, both The Cars and Van Halen appealed to listeners outside their respective genres, pretty much a first for rock bands. Egos broke up Van Halen, and apathy within the band stalled The Cars.

Debut Album

Van Halen: Released February 10, 1978 #19 Billboard
The Cars: Released June 6, 1978 #18 Billboard

The greatness of these debuts can’t be underestimated!

Here are two band debuts, both from the first half of 1978. In both cases, the debut album was a genre game-changer, bringing their respective styles to the mainstream (heavy metal and new wave). Both of these albums had multiple tracks played on the radio, and today, both remain staples on classic rock radio. Better writers than me (are there any out there?) have penned tomes on both these classics. If you haven’t worn out copies of these albums, you really have no business reading this.

Winner: Draw

Sophomore Album

Van Halen II: Released March 23, 1979 #6 Billboard
Candy-O: Released June 13, 1979 #3 Billboard

The Cars had a sexier cover.

No dreaded sophomore slump here with either band, but no great shift in the sound, either. While both albums could be considered “Part 2” of their debut, this round is incredibly tight.

Van Halen, while producing a worthy follow-up including a hit single (“Dance the Night Away”), dropped the ball on the opening track, a non-necessary (and not very good) cover version of “You’re No Good,” made popular a few years earlier by Linda Ronstadt.

Meanwhile, The Cars also lobbed out a classic hit (“Let’s Go”) and filled out the rest of the album with hook-filled tunes, delivered in the way only that The Cars could. And although they dabbled in weirdness (“Shoo Be Doo”), it was the songs carried the day.

Winner: The Cars

Third Album

Women and Children First: Released March 26, 1980 #6 Billboard
Panorama: Released August 15, 1980 #5 Billboard

Now the pressure was on, for both bands. Time to go to the next level or fade away. In both instances, there were radio hits (“And the Cradle Will Rock” and “Touch and Go”), but three albums in, it sometimes seems like both bands were flying on autopilot.

The first album of the 1980s for both bands.

For the third time in a row, Van Halen doesn’t alter its sound significantly. They’re sticking to a tried-and-true formula, David Lee Roth’s flair as a front man, Eddie’s prowess on guitar and the party-hearty attitude of the band. Nothing groundbreaking here but zero covers for the first time!

Back in Boston, The Cars have slightly changed their sound, with a darker, more experimental edge, focusing on keyboards and less hooky songs. Both critics and fans find this album a bit bewildering, and but there are some moments in there for those who bothered to look.

The Winner: Draw

Fourth Album

Fair Warning: Released April 29, 1981 #5 Billboard
Shake It Up: Released November 6, 1981 #9 Billboard

Here was the fourth album in four years for both bands. By now, Van Halen and The Cars were household names, FM radio staples and arena fillers.

The Cars win the cover art battle, but lose the album battle badly.

This time around, Van Halen issued its heaviest album to date. From the opening notes of “Mean Street,” the band is out for blood and doesn’t let up for the entire disc. While it doesn’t contain any top 40 hit singles, three of the tracks garnered airplay: “Mean Street,” “Unchained” and “So This is Love?” This is a case of a band taking it to the next level.

The Cars, however, played it safe with a knee-jerk reaction to the moody overtones of Panorama. Coming out of the box with their biggest hit to date, the title track, one would think that The Cars would win, or at least tie this round. Afraid not. Despite the exuberance of the hit single, the rest of the album (particularly side two) isn’t up to the level of previous albums (or the hit single). Seemed like it’s a good time for a break. (More on that later.)

Winner: Van Halen

Album # 5

Diver Down: Released April 14, 1982 #3 Billboard
Heartbeat City: Released March 13, 1984 #3 Billboard

The Cars’ most polished album vs. Van Halen’s worst. No contest!

Now thigs start to diverge: While Van Halen followed the standard “another year, another album, another tour” The Cars wisely took a break, during which members Ric Ocasek and Greg Hawkes released solo albums.

Now it was Van Halen’s time to foolishly listen to “the suits.” The band was informed that there were no hit singles on the previous opus, so the band went the other way, releasing their weakest album to date, loaded with cover versions, with the misguided hope that they bring in fans who would never otherwise consider buying a Van Halen album, so the results were basically an EP of original songs. (And nothing particularly outstanding.) Shows what happens when you cave and listen to others!

Meanwhile, The Cars released their most successful (commercially, at least) album of their career. Bringing in a new producer (Mutt Lange), the band got a sonic makeover, and delivered a hit-filled disc that not only received major radio play, but produced a series of classic videos that fully brought the band into the video age.

Winner: The Cars

The Final Album:

1984: Released January 9, 1984 #2 Billboard
Door to Door: Released August 25, 1987 #26 Billboard

No contest here! Van Halen wiped the floor with The Cars – both in content and cover art.

And now it’s time to say goodbye. While both bands split after the 6th album, they went on wildly different paths: Van Halen carried on with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals, while The Cars closed shop and went their separate ways. (Both bands would reunite 20+ years later, minus their original bass players.)

Perhaps taking a page out of The Cars playbook, Van Halen took a break (“One break, coming up!”) before releasing 1984 in, well, 1984. By this Orwellian date, the band took advantage of synths, giving them a #1 hit (“Jump”) and a produced slew of memorable videos. Like previous Van Halen albums, this one barely made it past the half-hour mark, but fortunately, 1984 featured no nonsense, no filler, and best of all, nary a cover version.

For the second time in three albums, it was The Cars’ turn to lose big time. After the marathon Heartbeat City sessions and tour, the band bought time by releasing a hits package with a new song “Tonight She Comes,” and saw solo releases by Elliot Easton, Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek, with the later two also having success on the singles chart. But when it came time to regroup, the band was running on fumes. Door to Door, the resulting album certainly wasn’t an artistic disappointment, but instead of sounding like Heartbeat City, it continued the tradition This Side of Paradise, Ocasek’s 1986 less radio-friendly album. Recording two tracks that were written in 1977 (but never released on a Cars album) didn’t provide the required salvation, and along with sluggish sales along with the most generic songs in their career, the band pulled the plug after a short 1987/1988 tour to less-than-full arenas.

Winner: Van Halen

The Cars: Two
Van Halen: Two
Draw: Two

So, the great Van Halen vs. The Cars match ends in a draw. But it was a hell of a ride for fans of either (or both) bands!

As far as cover art goes:

The Cars vs. Van Halen: Draw
Candy-O vs. Van Halen II: The Cars
Panorama vs. Women and Children First: Draw
Shake It Up vs. Fair Warning: The Cars
Heartbeat City vs. Diver Down: The Cars
Door To Door vs. 1984: Van Halen

Cover Art Recap:

The Cars: Three
Van Halen: One
Draw: Two

Bad Company Albums Ranked: From Worst to First!

The good old days where a bunch of hairy goons can become the biggest rock band of the year.

Bad Company, arguably the fourth British supergroup (after Cream, Blind Faith and Emerson, Lake and Palmer) ruled the charts and concert halls for much of the 1970s. Unlike those Clapton-based groups, the band released multiple albums. (Six in total.) Hooking up with Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, the band was a hit from the word go, scoring a Billboard #1 album their first album.

Unfortunately, like ELP, their albums grew weaker as time passed. In fact, the original incarnation of the band (Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke from Free, Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople and Boz Burrell from King Crimson) hold a rare distinction in rock; every album declined in quality, being not as great than the previous one, making it a band whose catalog diminished with every new release.

This is a Brian Howe-free page!

Here, I’m going to rank the six “original” Bad Company albums – the ones with the classic lineup (Rodgers, Ralphs, Kirke and Burrell) – ignoring the Brian Howe era, which, although not a commercial failure, did nothing but sully the good name of Bad Company from its inception in 1986 and beyond.

Rough Diamonds
Released 1982
Highest Chart Peak: 26
Standout Track: “Electricland”

The end of an era.

Released August 1982, Bad Company’s final album, Rough Diamonds, is also its weakest. It came along three years after the previous outing, Desolation Angels, a gap that showed them how out of touch the band was. By the time its lone radio track, “Electricland,” hit the airwaves of FM radio, it was fighting for airtime along with the “new rock” of Men at Work, Missing Persons, and A Flock of Seagulls, unlike three years earlier when the band was up against now-departed counterparts such as Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and The Knack.

Maybe the album would’ve done better if the songwriting was more memorable. The band sounds like it’s going through the motions, simply putting out an album because they don’t know what the hell else to do. To be fair, manager Grant has secluded himself after John Bonham died, and to be sure, the drugs, alcohol and stress didn’t make things any better. There was no 1982-1983 Bad Company tour, and the group quietly disbanded without any sort of formal announcement. Rough Diamonds is the sound of a band that was too tired to carry on.

Fun fact (could there possibly be anything fun about this album?): The album sat in the can for well over a year before it was released. (If Wikipedia is accurate!)

Desolation Angels
Released 1979
Highest Chart Peak: 3
Standout Track: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy”

Hipgnosis designed this cover. Not as good as the Pink Floyd albums it produced.

A comeback (commercially, at least) for the band; this album peaked at #3, mostly due to its monster hit lead-off track, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy.” Which is an all-time classic for the band – but unfortunately, the rest of the album is reasonably dull. (Just not quite Rough Diamonds dull.) But the album/song had enough juice to get the band out of its slump, and back on the radio in style. To be fair, this album could be swapped with Burnin’ Sky in this list – however, Sky doesn’t have the ups and downs (mostly downs) that this one does, as it remains a consistent listen all the way through. The Hipgnosis cover – similar to those on contemporary albums by UFO and Led Zeppelin – wasn’t one of the art collective’s best works.

Fun fact: Alison Krauss recorded a cover of Desolation Angels “Oh, Atlanta” in 1995.

Burnin’ Sky
Released 1977
Highest Chart Peak: 15
Standout Track: “Burnin’ Sky”

The only Bad Co. album that didn’t include the band’s name on the cover.

The fourth album in four years, Burnin’ Sky is where the cracks start showing. Unlike albums two & three, which only fell a bit down in quality from the previous release, this one falls further downhill than those that proceeded it. Which is fully understandable in the days of the album/tour cycle repeated every year, as was the norm in that era. While there is nothing terribly wrong here (aside from the unnecessary silliness of “Knapsack”), there aren’t those strong standout tracks we’ve come to expect from the band. What seemed at the time as a slight dip in quality was, unfortunately, a harbinger of things to come.

Fun fact: The cover art was based on the poster from the 1969 film, The Wild Bunch.

It never got this good again…

Run With the Pack
Released 1976
Highest Chart Peak: 5
Standout Track: “Run With the Pack”

The first Bad Co. album that wasn’t a classic. And the first without a classic cover.

The third album in as many years was also the first one that lacked at least one big classic tune. Despite the fact that all the tracks are reasonably strong for the most part, it certainly doesn’t hold up to the first two albums. Oddly enough, it was also the first time (and only, other then the aforementioned “Knapsack”) that the band recorded a cover version – “Young Blood” (which strangely became a top twenty hit single). Although it contains “Silver, Blue and Gold” and “Live For The Music,” these two songs just didn’t have the staying power of some of the tracks on the earlier albums. Not a bad album by any stretch – just not a classic like the first two. After two albums festooned with timeless rock classics, Run With The Pack is the band’s Led Zeppelin III.

Fun fact: Pack Engineer Ron Nevison later hit pay dirt in the mid-1980s, producing platinum albums from Survivor, Heart, and Ozzy Osbourne.

Straight Shooter
Released 1975
Highest Chart Peak: 5
Standout Track: Shooting Star

The band’s second album (both chronologically and in greatness), Straight Shooter picked up right where its predecessor left off, not an easy feat considering the impact (both artistically and commercially) of the debut. Hitting the ground running with its two lead tracks (“Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”), the band proved that it wasn’t a one-hit wonder and could deliver the goods the second time around, which usually wasn’t the case for most bands that released a #1 debut. (The Knack, Asia, and The Go-Go’s, call your office.). Straight Shooter is a mighty album – just one classic song away from being as good as the debut.

Fun fact: Straight Shooter was one of two albums (the other being the debut) that didn’t feature a Boz Burrell writing credit.

Bad Company
Released 1974
Highest Chart Peak: 1
Standout Track: All of Them!

One of the stellar albums of the classic rock era. Five of its eight tracks remain FM radio standards to this day. Listen to the album – there’s nothing else to say about this monster debut!

Fun fact: Mick Ralph’s “Ready for Love” was originally recorded by Mott the Hoople on the All The Young Dudes album.


In addition, the band released a few compilation albums; most notably, 1985’s mistitled 10 From 6 (whose ten songs supposedly are from the original six albums, although no tracks from Burnin’ Sky were present) and 1999’s fantastic The Original Bad Company Anthology (which was followed by a short, if not entirely successful reunion tour), whose four new tracks can be tolerated, because the collection includes non-album B-Sides, unreleased material, and alternate takes. Along with Cheap Trick’s Sex America Cheap Trick and The Cars’ Just What I Needed collections, one of the most tremendous compilations from a classic rock band.

1983: The Year Of The Rainbow

Rainbow live in all its glory in the Dio era. Some say Ronnie is the only vocalist that mattered.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 1983 was the year of the pig. It was also the year of a lot of other things as well; the end of a much-loved (but dragged out too long) sitcom; a TV movie about nuclear war; and most notably, the release of Bent Out Of Shape, the seventh (and final for quite a while) album from Rainbow, the band ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore founded in 1975. Rainbow went through three singers, four bassists, four drummers and five keyboard players between 1975 and 1983. And one guitarist. In fact, over the course of its seven studio albums, there were zero albums that had a lineup that lasted more than one album. 

The final Rainbow lineup – live in 1983.

Rainbow was the band that launched the diminutive Ronnie James Dio into metal god territory; the band also got panned for pandering to the AOR Foreigner crowd with third vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, who, like Dio, got to front the band for three studio albums. Then there was the sandwich vocalist Graham Bonnet, whose sole album, Down To Earth, was released right in the middle of those two other eras. Bonnet, the George Lazenby of Rainbow, was a polarizing figure; his image didn’t fit the mold of music, as he looked more like a member of Joe Jackson’s backing band than a hard rock singer, but on the other hand, many of those in the know consider Down To Earth the greatest Rainbow album.

Whatever. By 1983, there were enough ex-Rainbow members to start several bands, and of all the years that Rainbow existed, 1983 was the most prolific. There were twelve releases in that year that featured Rainbow members or alumni. They are, in no particular order:

Artist: Rainbow

Album: Bent Out Of Shape

The namesake band released its seventh studio (and eighth overall) album to moderate success in mid-1983. The single “Street of Dreams” was a radio and MTV hit – and the band toured successfully. However, the lure of big money prompted a Deep Purple Mark II reunion the following year, and when Blackmore and Purple bassist Roger Glover rejoined the most popular version of Deep Purple, Rainbow ceased to exist.

Artist: Ronnie James Dio

Album: Holy Diver

The post-Rainbow era was kind to Dio. He ended up replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and released a monster album (Heaven and Hell) and a pretty decent follow up (Mob Rules), both followed by successful tours. Fights during the production of the tepidly received live album Live Evil sank Sabbath, and RJD went on to front his own eponymous band, bringing former Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain (more on him below) along for the ride. Dio’s debut, Holy Diver, was cut from the same cloth as Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz (former Sabbath vocalist, young, unknown hotshot guitarist, veteran rhythm section, keyboardist hidden behind the curtain) was a success, and is considered one of the genre’s classic albums.

Artist: Graham Bonnet

Album: No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll

The one-and-done vocalist of Rainbow wasn’t finished; post-Blackmore, he founded his own band, Alcatrazz, which featured Blackmore-rivaling guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, who lasted about 3.5 minutes before splitting and going on to fame (but maybe not fortune). (Malmsteen was replaced by up-and-coming wunderkid Steve Vai, but that’s a story for another time.) Alcatrazz released its debut, No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll in late 1983 to mild success.

Artist: Tony Carey

Albums: I Won’t Be Home Tonight, Planet P

Two albums, and at least one very bad cover.

Probably the most prolific of any Rainbow alumni, Carey, the keyboardist best remembered for the epic intro to “Stargazer” on the Rising album, typically released a couple albums a year. In 1983, his solo album I Won’t Be Home Tonight spawned two minor hit singles (the title track and “West Coast Summer Nights”), but his big score was Planet P’s “Why Me?,” a chilling space-rock track that was a hit on both radio and MTV that year.

Artist: Jimmy Bain

Albums: Holy Diver (see above), Dirty Fingers

In addition to joining Dio’s band, Jimmy Bain played on Gary Moore’s Dirty Fingers release in 1983. Previously, Bain played with Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy, Wild Horses and Kate Bush, among many others. Sadly, Bain died in 2016 while on a ship, in his cabin, while participating on Def Leppard’s “Hysteria on the High Seas” rock cruise.

Artist: Mark Clarke

Albums: All of the Good Ones Are Taken, Michael Bolton

OK, which one had the better hair?

A bassist who only played live and didn’t record with Rainbow, Clarke, a veteran bassist, has played with many artists, including Colosseum, Uriah Heep (plus on Ken Hensley solo albums), Tempest, Natural Gas, and most famously, Billy Squier’s Don’t Say No album and tour in 1981. In 1983, Clarke contributed to Ian Hunter’s All of the Good Ones Are Taken and Michael Bolton’s self-titled album from that year. Sorry to hear that.

Artist: Craig Gruber

Album: Ground Zero

This band is so obscure, that I can even find an image of its album Ground Zero online!

Another bassist, and one of the original Rainbow members, Gruber played on the early stages of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell release in 1980 (before Geezer Butler returned and rightly took his place) and Bible Black’s (who?) 1983 album, Ground Zero. Bible Black is best known for being Joey Belladonna’s band pre-Anthrax.

Artist: Bob Daisley

Album: Bark at the Moon

Best known for being the subject of Ozzy Osbourne’s wrath due to legal issues, Daisley played on one Rainbow album (Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll), before being dismissed by Blackmore himself. After Rainbow, he recorded the biggest albums of his career, the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. In 1983, he also was involved in Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon, despite all the trouble his involvement in the first two caused.

Artist: Cozy Powell

Album: Octopus

One of the worst album covers of all time!

A long-standing drummer in the Rainbow camp, Powell played on three of its albums Rising, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll and Down To Earth, and went on to play with Graham Bonnet, MSG and Whitesnake before releasing his own Octopus LP in 1983. He later went on to be the fake Carl Palmer in a reunited ELP, which lasted for exactly one album and tour in 1986.

First New ABBA Album in 40 Years – Reviewed!

Yesterday, when we were young…

ABBA is back!

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but in any case, it’s been 40 years since the last album (The Visitors, November 1981). And except for a couple of new tracks for a 2-LP (remember those??!?) career retrospective the following year, there has been no new music released in nearly four decades.

And even though ABBA is a name-band in America, the really big sales numbers are overseas. Although the group enjoyed big hit singles over here that are still fondly remembered today, a mid-level rock band like Survivor has had far more success on the American singles chart than ABBA ever did. Post-breakup, the members had fleeting success; Frida had some success with the Phil Collins-helmed Something’s Going On (read my blog about that album here) and the boys in the band had some success writing scores, most notably for the musical (and later movie) Chess.

The last new ABBA music was released in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s first term.

But, whatever. The fact that these four Swedes are still alive and well is certainly good news, and probably gives credence to the Scandinavian Diet. Coming back after 40 years with a new album? Hmm….

OK, there has been talk about a tour – not a real tour, but more of a hologram thing. Then why not throw in a couple of new tracks to keep the punters happy and have something to sell? That was all the rage for awhile. Then a couple years of silence and suddenly a new album appears. One that is being reviewed right here at Albums That Time Forgot!

Full disclosure: I’ve never bought an ABBA album (unless you count getting The Visitors from Columbia House because I forgot to send my right of refusal card back to them in time). But I bought The Singles back in the day and today I own the standard two albums: ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold. And I’ve visited Sweden on a couple occasions. (I’ve even been inside the Ikea in Stockholm!)

Sweden in December. Photo by yours truly.
The new album.

First thing to note; the new album, Voyage, is like an old-school album – ten tracks, 37 minutes. None of these 15 tracks, 71-minute affairs like some of these cosmic veteran rockers release late in the day. So, the group gets a gold star for that decision. And also understand, like all of the previous albums, the performance and vocals are all first-rate, so it all is distilled down to the material.

The album gets off to a slow start; two of the first three tracks “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Little Things,” both of which are mid-tempo, OK-but-not-standout songs. After that, it’s hit-and-miss with the songs; some have great hooks and really make an impression, while others are… just there. Just like the the other albums of their era, I would imagine. The best on Voyage is track 5 – “Just A Notion,” the 2021 descendant of “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.” Second best is “Keep An Eye On Dan,” but that song gets a demerit for its daft lyrics.

ABBA 2021 – older and wiser.

And in the end, none of these tracks are going to make anybody forget the ABBA bookend singles, “Waterloo” and “The Winner Takes It All” – the first and last of ABBA’s great hits. But the album is a pleasant enough listen – and about a third of the tracks on Voyage could fit comfortably on either Gold collection. Which is a good thing, I suppose.

Rating: 7 Out Of 10, using Michael Butler’s patented, scientific Rock and Roll Geek scoring system.

Huey Lewis Albums Ranked!

In 1984, these were the coolest guys EVER!

Huey Lewis and The News were one of the most successful artists of the 1980s, on both the singles and albums charts as well as the concert circuit. Not to mention huge in popular culture as well. Although tagged as an overnight sensation by the casual observer, nothing could further from the truth. The band – made up of three members of Soundhole (drummer Bill Gibson, bassist Mario Cippolina and guitarist/saxophonist Johnny Colla), a local Marin County band, two members of Clover (keyboardist Sean Hopper and vocalist Huey), an outfit whose commercial failure was dwarfed only by their longevity along with a young, hotshot guitarist (Chris Hayes).

The members of the band had encounters, both live and on record with rock royalty (Thin Lizzy, Rockpile, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello, among others), but when the 1970s were fading fast, they formed a new group that would hopefully go places. A self-titled debut was released in mid-1980; it did little to spread the word. Early 1982’s Picture This and the singles “Do You Believe in Love?” And “Workin’ For a Living” got them noticed on the radio and MTV, and shortly after Sports was released in 1983, they were right up there with the big boys (and girls); Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, Tina Turner, and the rest of the decade was theirs.

The original sextet released six studio albums and one album of covers between 1980 and 1994; here they are, ranked worst to first!

Four Chords & Several Years Ago
Released 1994
Highest Chart Peak: 55

The end of the beginning. Or the end of the end.

When you’re a platinum-selling band, with hit singles and albums galore behind you, releasing a covers album is a cry for help; it’s telling the world that there is nowhere else to go. (See Guns n’ Roses – The Spaghetti Incident.) Truth of the matter is that by the time the Hard At Play tour concluded in 1992, it was all over. Musical tastes had changed, and the previous two albums had revealed that there was plenty of apathy among the fans, and the band, who were used to headlining arenas for years, suddenly found themselves booked in small to medium-sized theaters. So, at the time, maybe a covers album made sense.

But then again, no. The songs were not the standard “golden oldies” – but more obscure R&B material that the band liked. Probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but in their defense, all were competently performed. But it certainly wasn’t what the fans of Sports and “The Power of Love” wanted to hear. Oh, the times, they are a changin’!

What happened next: The band did a short tour for the album, and by 1995, bassist Cippolina either quit or was fired, depending on who you ask. A hits album was released in 1998, after which guitarist Chris Hayes bailed. The next album of original material, Plan B, was released seven years after Four Chords.

Small World
Released 1988
Highest Chart Peak: 11

So where is the News?

Small World is the album that the band was so proud of. Unfortunately, not everybody held the same high standard to it. Like the critics for example. And the fans. And FM radio, where the singles were ignored while rockers like Tracy Chapman and Melissa Etheredge got plenty of airtime that summer and fall. Worst of all was Rolling Stone magazine, where Small World was named “Worst Album of The Year” in 1988, the year of The Escape Club’s Wild Wild West album. Ouch.

Although some of the tracks, particularly the lone top ten single “Perfect World,” retained the sound the sound that the fans wanted, the rest of the album was… kind of blah. Trying to shoehorn jazz sensibilities into the band might’ve pleased the musicians, but to the general public, not so much. It should be noted that this album followed closely on the heels of the string of hit sings from 1986’s Fore! (more on that in the Fore! section below), so there was the burn out and the oversaturation factor that might’ve contributed to the sales slump.

What happened next: The band wisely took a break (maybe a case of a day late and a dollar short) and actually jumped record labels. The result? See below.

Hard At Play
Released 1991
Highest Chart Peak: 27

A comeback, of sorts. At least sound wise. The band wisely waited three years after Small World to release of Hard At Play, giving the fans (and public) a break for the first time in a decade. Whether this helped things or if it was too late in the day to make a difference will never be known.

And while Play DID get things back on track (somewhat), the songs didn’t have the staying power of the previous hits.  The lone hit single “Couple Days Off” was “Working For a Living’s” bastard cousin and the rest of the album made REO Speedwagon’s Good Trouble sound like an original work. But of course, look at the music scene from 1991, and you’ll quickly notice that Huey Lewis is a likable relic of a bygone era, and besides a record that made a little noise on the charts, they didn’t fit into the music world of the 1990s. A decent album, but pales to the band’s earlier work.

What happened next: Four Chords and there’s where the story ended.

Released 1986
Highest Chart Peak: 1

Can they top Sports?

Similar to my ranking of Billy Squier’s Emotion in Motion (read all about it here), I’m sure fans will scoff at the relatively low ranking of this monster album. But trust me, there are good reasons!

For starters, it’s doubly hard for any artist to top (or even equal) an era-defining album.  Hi Infidelity, Asia, Thriller, Beauty and the Beat, Metal Health, etc. all suffered from the “follow-up curse”, some more so than others. The biggest problem here – the hit singles dragged on far too long. Now, that sounds counterintuitive, but trust me, that’s a problem that many of Huey’s peers suffered from.

Look at it this way; take an artist who had a huge breakthrough album, and then the follow up is seemingly on steroids pumps out the hit singles. Bon Jovi – New Jersey. Phil Collins – …But Seriously. And now Huey Lewis and The News – Fore! Now think of those fourth or fifth singles; “Living in Sin,” “ I’ll Be There For You,” “Do You Remember?,” “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”… None of those were the stuff that made these artists great. And actually, all pretty forgettable. “I Know What I Like” and “Doing It All For My Baby” fall into the same category. Not what the band’s legacy is based on. Songs like “I Want A New Drug” were far more edgy than, say, “Whole Lotta Lovin’.”

Now, let’s going into case of “what if”: If Fore! had hits only with its first three singles (“Stuck With You,” “Hip To Be Square” and “Jacob’s Ladder,”) and then things calmed down after that, it might’ve lessened album sales, but it also might’ve helped his career last longer. Trust me, nobody likes album cycles that drag on too long. Except for the suits at the label.

What happened next: After fans were worn down by the final two singles in the long, dull summer of 1987 (a time when Richard Marx and Whitney Houston were the only artists aired on MTV), the signs were there that it was time to take a break. But no, instead we got Small World, a mere year after the Fore! tour concluded.

Huey Lewis and the News
Released 1980
Highest Chart Peak:  Did not chart

Where were YOU in 1980?

Yes, the “forgotten” album in Huey’s catalog deserves a lot more love than it’s gotten. Here were a bunch of guys that were footnotes in the late 1970s rock scene, trying to make it on their own. It’s the sound of a new band making music in a new decade. The songs aren’t all there yet and the band is still trying to find its sound, but there is a lack of pretention and a sense of fun that would be revealed in the next couple of albums.

Oddly enough, once the band hit the big time, there was never any “push” to go back or even to rerelease the debut. The band DID get some milage out of the live version of “Trouble In Paradise” from 1985’s USA For Africa’s We Are The World charity album, but otherwise than that, Huey Lewis and the News (the album, NOT the band!) has languished in obscurity since the day it was released in 1980.

What happened next: Nothing but good stuff for the next several years. Fasten your seatbelts, gang!

Released 1983
Highest Chart Peak:  1

If this is it, please let me know!

Sorry Sports fans, but the band’s greatest commercial achievement isn’t its best album. This isn’t to diminish the attributes of it, only that there was a better one, which just happened to precede it. In the end, Sports spawned four top ten singles, one more top twenty, all with hit videos. And a rare non-single video (“Bad Is Bad”) got major airplay.

The power and the glory of Sports – and all the hit singles – has been documented ad nauseum here, there and everywhere. It was Huey’s time – heavy rotation videos on MTV, a cameo (and #1 theme song) in 1985’s Back To The Future, USA For Africa… A great time to be Huey Lewis and the News. All the pieces came together with Sports.

What happened next: More of the same, just not as memorable.

Picture This
Released 1982
Highest Chart Peak:  13

Again, you may question why Picture This (and not Sports) holds the top position here. It’s really a matter of a bunch of factors: The jump in quality from the debut; the band’s decision to produce itself; and lastly, for the ability to come up with the goods in the ninth inning, two men out, two men on and down by a run.

The song quality – from start to finish – is perfect. But then again, so is Sports, but here, they didn’t have a cushion going in to record. This record is full of great music, every track has a personality all its own and it has the sound of a bunch of veteran rockers who finally found their groove.

What happened next: Sports and reaching the top of the mountain.

Bonus video! The Power Of Love” – not on any Huey Lewis and The News Album! (But found of international versions of Fore!)

Billy Squier Albums Ranked!

Billy Squier – a mainstay of AOR radio in the first half of the 1980s. A stellar guitarist in his own right, and more heavyweight than contemporaries like Rick Springfield, Squier was able to balance rock cred, stylish looks and great music seemingly effortlessly. Although he was over thirty when he hit the big time, he had a five-year winning streak that netted platinum albums, sold-out arenas and soundtrack contributions to some of the most iconic 1980s movies.

An ill-conceived video, changing musical tastes and, let’s face it, plain bad luck ended his golden age, but despite all that, he still managed to pump out quality albums on regular basis. His eight albums on Capitol Records range from good to classic, not a clunker in there. Naturally, some are better than others, and as is the case with every other “worst to first” list, those albums near the bottom aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that the artist has released some better ones. I’ve left his post-Capitol release Happy Blue, the King Biscuit live CD and any anthology collections off of this ranking.

So here we go – Billy Squier albums ranked! Enjoy!

Not his worst cover, but the lowest ranked of all his albums.


Produced By: Godfrey Diamond and Billy Squier

Release Date: April 9, 1991

Highest Chart Position: 117

Ranked: 8/8

Standout Track: Hands Of Seduction

Why is this ranked in bottom place? Because this is the most “pop” of Squier’s albums. Considering what was happening in the music world in 1991, this record didn’t fit in anywhere. Production-wise, it’s strong sounding (he used the same team as his previous album), but the songs just don’t hold up. “She Goes Down,” really? Plus, the cartoonish cover art is out of step with the times. An artist ten years past his greatest achievement.

The cover shot was probably the only part of the album that went quickly.


Produced By: Peter Collins

Release Date: September 27, 1986

Highest Chart Position: 61

Ranked: 7/8

Standout Track: Love Is The Hero

The production for the follow-up to the “Rock Me Tonight” album fell to Peter Collins of Rush and Queensryche fame. Although Enough’s predecessor, 1984’s Signs of Life sounds dated today with its synths and other 1980s flourishes, at the time it was Squier’s most cutting edge sounding album. The follow-up? Not so much. The sterile production here is below average for the era (not to mention for a Billy Squier record), and to be frank, the songs weren’t up to the level of his earlier work. Considering the quality of his previous three releases, it’s no surprise that this one came and went rather quickly and the tour plans for Enough were scuttled.

The 1970s were history, but you wouldn’t know it here.


Produced By: Billy Squier and Eddy Offord

Release Date: May 1980

Highest Chart Position: 169

Ranked: 6/8

Standout Track: Calley Oh

Not a bad record by any stretch, but it sounds like an artist trying to find his way. (Which it is.) Eddy Offord, a producer/engineer whose resume included Yes, Rory Gallagher and Emerson, Lake and Palmer seemed a rather odd choice to helm the board, and the results, although decent, aren’t anything to write home about. Plus, the “band” wasn’t in place, something that was to become an important part of Squier’s sound moving forward.

Like’ Sticky Fingers, the cover was designed by Andy Warhol.


Produced By: Mack and Billy Squier

Release Date: July 23, 1982

Highest Chart Position: 5


Standout Track: Learn How To Live

Purists might scream about this low ranking, but for the follow-up to his breakthrough album, it’s justified. Again, a very good/borderline great album, but it’s only in the fifth spot because there are others that are better. Stacked up against Don’t Say No, it’s a step down. The production (and songs as well) seem bit “flat” when compared to Don’t Say No, and worst of all, it suffers a little too much from a problem that haunts most Billy Squier albums: It’s too “top heavy” – with the popular (read; better) songs stacked toward the first half of the album.

This time we get the “tough Billy” on the cover.


Produced By: Godfrey Diamond, Billy Squier, Jason Corsaro

Release Date: June 14, 1989

Highest Chart Position: 64

Ranked: 4/8

Standout Track: Mine Tonight

A much more focused (not to mention better-sounding) album than its predecessor, Enough Is Enough, Hear & Now sounds like a lot more effort was put into it. We hope that’s true, because it came three years after Enough, a long time, especially considering he didn’t tour for the previous disc. It garnered some airplay for him, a good thing, because it was the first time in five years the world heard old Billy over the air. But five years out of the radio and concert circuit is a long time in any era, not to mention that tastes changed (most of his contemporaries in the “Class of 1981” – REO, Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, etc.- had either peaked or broken up by this late date, and hair metal – and Guns n’ Roses – were the big news of the day) and sadly, commercially he was too far in decline by this point to ever make it back to the top.

Billy Squier’s only album not to feature him on the cover.


Produced By: Mike Chapman

Release Date: April 27, 1993

Highest Chart Position: Did Not Chart

Ranked: 3/8

Standout Track: Break Down

Squier’s last Capitol album was an overlooked gem. For a 1980s AOR artist, the Spring of 1993 was a lousy time to release a new album, as the rock world was focused on the next Nirvana and Pearl Jam albums and pretty much nothing else. This time around the songs (not to mention the cover art) were all first-rate, and Squier took some chances too: He mixed and matched musicians (his core band members along with others) for different songs, giving many of the songs a fresh sound. Sublime production by Mike Chapman certainly didn’t hurt, but Capitol Record’s refusal to promote the album led to Squier’s retirement from the music business (for the most part). Students of psychology will note that the lyrics here quite often reference psychotherapy.

The album is much better than the cover indicates.


Produced By: Jim Steinman and Billy Squier

Release Date: July 1984

Highest Chart Position: 11

Ranked: 2/8

Standout Track: (Another) 1984

Squier’s 1984 album was the last of his big hits. The “Rock Me Tonight” video debacle aside, Signs of Life was his most “contemporary-sounding” record, and probably should’ve been his biggest seller overall. Originally-slated producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (riding high due to his work with Def Leppard and The Cars) pulled out for reasons that were more personal than professional, and Steinman, notable mostly for writing hits for Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply, ended up being the pinch producer. No worries, this album is one of the few Squier albums to maintain consistency throughout the entire disc, most likely due to Steinman’s “pushing” Squier’s songwriting to new places. Still a great listen today. More than any of his other records, Signs of Life accurately captures the sound of the era.

The album where years of hard work all came together gloriously


Produced By: Mack and Billy

Release Date: April 13, 1981

Highest Chart Position: 5

Ranked: 1/8

Standout Track: My Kinda Lover

What can you say here? This is the breakthrough album that made Billy a household name. Miles better and more focused than his debut, Squier released an instant classic album that, along with Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Rush, Pat Benatar and Foreigner, ruled AOR stations for 1981 and continues to be played all these years later on classic rock radio. There is no way that this could be ranked anywhere else but in first place. Killer from start to finish.

Billy Squier also released some non-album tracks on popular soundtracks. Plus, a 1981 Christmas single.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

Metropolis (1984)

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

And of course, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

That Last Top 40 Hit

Rock and pop acts usually have some sort of shelf life – a period of time when things are good and their records climb the chart. (Good things happen to musicians when their records chart.) Then, of course, stuff happens. Certain styles of music go out of favor, bands lose members or break up, or simply didn’t get the lucky breaks anymore.  But once in a while, a group that had a number of hits gets lucky and gets that “one last hit” – a record that charts years after their previous hit single.

Kansas – All I Wanted (1986)

Kansas, a kinda-prog band from middle America (well, Kansas, actually) was one of those mid-1970s road warrior bands that released an album, toured like hell, etc. Like many of their contemporaries on the middle America tour circuit (Rush, REO, Nugent, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith, among many others), rock fans and radio started noticing, bringing the band to larger venues and more spins on the air. Things went well the second half of the 1970s, with the band scoring both AOR and Top 40 hits, platinum albums and packed concert halls.

Farm hands or rock stars?

But by 1980, the writing was on the wall that bands full of old-looking hairy guys (ZZ Top excepted, of course) were no longer welcome, and Steve Walsh left (wisely?) for solo fame and fortune.  The rest of the guys auditioned a number of singers (Sammy Hagar and future Kings X vocalist Doug Pinnick among them) before settling on the mighty afro of John Elefante.

Replacing a legendary (if not entirely short) vocalist like Walsh could prove to be a daunting task; however, against all odds, the band’s 1982 album, Vinyl Confessions, contained their biggest hit since “Dust” – “Play the Game Tonight,” which peaked at #17 and even received some airplay on a fairly new cable channel, MTV. (Maybe by being a “faceless” band helped; casual fans probably weren’t aware of the change.)

But that’s where the good times ended; 1983’s Drastic Measures spawned no hit singles and barely made a chart impact, so by 1984, the band had splintered, with members forming Christian rock bands or just doing nothing of note. A hits package was then released and sold modestly, and Kansas was a 1970s dinosaur, whose songs were still played on FM radio alongside Led Zeppelin and Foghat. So, by 1985, Kansas was generally thought of as a relic of a bygone era, mainly remembered for two songs; “Dust in the Wind” (which produced one of the scariest videos ever – those guys weren’t even 30 yet and yet seemed so OLD!) and “Carry On Wayward Son.”

There’s not much difference between THIS…
…and this.

Right about that same time, Walsh’s band, Streets (formed after his wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto), had also called it quits after three albums failed to find success. Long story short, he spent that summer on the road playing keys as a sideman to Cheap Trick on their Standing On The Edge tour, who were crossing the states opening for REO Speedwagon. By the fall, he exited that role and went about the task of reforming Kansas.

By the time the album Power was released in 1986, there was a new look to the band. Only drummer Phil Erhart and guitarist Rich Williams were holdovers from the old lineup (violinist Robbie Steinhardt left before Drastic Measures, bassist Dave Hope and guitarist Kerry Livgren didn’t return), and Walsh added bassist Billy Greer from the failed Streets, and former Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse Joined the band.

Although Power was only a modest hit (#35 on the Billboard Top 200 chart,) the single “All I Wanted” was a top twenty hit (peaking at #19). The accompanying video showed very little of the band, mostly focusing on attractive women and couples, and actually only Walsh and Morse were featured. But chartwise, it was the band’s first top 40 hit in four years – their seventh and what proved to be their final top 40 hit. And though the band has carried on (wayward son) since then, surviving lineup changes and barely released albums, “All I Wanted” was that last gasp of singles chart success.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Kansas
  • Single: All I Wanted
  • Album: Power
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 4
  • Label: MCA Records
  • Producer: Andrew Powell, Phil Ehart
  • Released: October 1986
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #19

Trivia: Kansas is still alive and touring today, though with only two original members, yet all former members remain alive, if not entirely healthy.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Runner (1984)

Remember Manfred Mann? (Spoiler alert – NOT his real name!) That tall, glasses-wearing dork who was the namesake behind the C-list band who had the WORST British Invasion hit song “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” which was quite possibly in the top ten of worst #1 songs of the 1960s. A few minor hits followed, and before the group imploded in 1969, they had a hit with a Dylan cover, “The Mighty Quinn.”

The original Mann men. Spot the dork!

After that, one would assume the Manns would follow the path of Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies (another dorky looking band) and The Troggs – a relic of an exciting era that they were on the fringes of, but in the big picture, didn’t have a huge lasting role in. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, fellahs. Another band followed, Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three, which was about as successful as it sounds. And after two albums that tanked, it came time for the “real” chapter three – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which was formed in 1971.

Ah, yes. Who can forget MMEB’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light?” After the horror of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Mann pulled a repeater and did it again – having the honor of having one of the worst #1 hits in two consecutive decades. I mean really, who didn’t he was saying “douche,” not “deuce?” More Springsteen covers and other failed singles followed, and by the dawn of the Reagan era, it looked like Mann was finally put out to pasture.

Not so fast there, cowboy! On the band’s 1983 Somewhere in Afrika album was the single “Runner,” which was loosely connected with Terry Fox’s cross-Canada run, which also had ties with John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” 1985 hit, speaking of annoying #1 singles. It probably didn’t hurt that “Runner” was released shortly before the 1984 Summer Olympics – and clips of Olympic runners were featured prominently in the clip. That Olympic connection probably tapped into the mania that surrounded that summer’s Olympics in Los Angeles, because “Runner” peaked at a respectable #22.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
  • Single: Runner
  • Album: Somewhere In Afrika
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 7
  • Label: Arista
  • Producer: Manfred Mann
  • Released: May 1984
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #22

Trivia: Future Firm and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade was a member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for most of the 1970s.

(Wish you didn’t know this) Trivia: There is an extended version of “Blinded By The Light.” Ugh.

The Carpenters Touch Me When We’re Dancing (1981)

We all know the story of The Carpenters: From their humble beginnings in New Haven, CT to the big time. Their first single of the 1970s (“Close To You”) peaked at #1, and for the next few years, went on one of the hottest streaks of hit singles since CCR – eleven top ten hits in the first half of the 1970s, three of them reaching the top spot.

The Carpenters, in happier days.

But by 1975, the bloom was off the rose and the hits just weren’t as large anymore. After “Only Yesterday” peaked at #4, their top ten days were behind them. They hit the top 40 five more times – lower and lower chart positions – until their last top 40 hit (of the 1970s, anyway), a bewildering cover of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)” which peaked at a lowly #32.

Then the serious stuff happened: Karen’s well-documented health issues and Richard’s detox from prescription meds occupied the rest of the decade. An aborted Karen solo album and an ill-advised marriage took place; between all of these distractions, the band took off four years from releasing a new album or performing. (Though a couple of television appearances did happen during that time.)

So, in 1981, in the middle of the REO/Journey/Foreigner/Styx era, a Carpenters comeback was seemingly impossible. But don’t count them out; they not only released a new album, Made in America, but also had a hit single (the #16 “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”), surprising anybody who was paying attention. The sound, though updated, was recognizably Carpenters. Unfortunately, that was the last hit; although a few more singles followed (and charted), and it all came crashing down upon Karen’s death on February 4, 1983.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: The Carpenters
  • Single: Touch Me When We’re Dancing
  • Album: Made In America
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 4
  • Label: A&M Records
  • Producer: Richard Carpenter
  • Released: June 1981
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #16

Trivia: Karen Carpenter released an unsuccessful single, “Looking For Love” in 1966, four years before “(They Long To Be) Close To You.”

The Bottom of the Top

Billboard Top 40: The toppermost of the poppermost.

Back in the day when singles ruled the world, there was something called “Top 40 Radio” – a place where the most popular songs in the nation were played. But not ALL the songs – only the most popular forty (both past and present).  Why forty was the number that the powers that be settled on as the number is beyond the scope of most normal people. And out of my paygrade as well. (Though I’m sure the mighty Wikipedia has the answer.)

One old rumor is that jukeboxes could only hold 40 singles – so that’s a reasonable answer. Or maybe the mobsters who controlled the jukebox market couldn’t count past 40. Whatever the reason, it’s about a radio format – what singles (those are 45s, which are the 7″ records that play at 45 RPM and had one song on each side) – anybody who remembers Casey Kasem knows what Top 40 means.

So, really, a song that is in the Top 40 is a “hit single,” and that’s a big deal apparently. But there is this barrier, a line drawn in the sand, if you will, that divides the Top 40 from the bottom 60. Now, to be fair, the “Bottom 60” contains songs that have dropped out of the Top 40 and songs that are climbing up to the Top 40 (along with plenty of others that never hit the Top 40).

But once you’re in the club, you’re in, even if you only hit the bottom rung of the charts. Don’t worry, there are plenty of classic tunes that have peaked at #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. These include:

  • Breakdown – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • I’d Love to Change the World – Ten Years After
  • All I Really Want To Do – The Byrds
  • Burnin’ For You – Blue Öyster Cult
  • Strung Out – Steve Perry
  • Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
  • Don’t Tell Me You Love Me – Night Ranger

* Among many others.

But back in the summer of 1982, three AOR (Album Oriented Rock) bands released singles that peaked at #40. Of course, airplay on FM stations allowed these songs to chart higher on other charts, such as the Mainstream Rock chart, so they got more airplay then their lowly chart position indicated. Anyhoo, here are three singles that peaked at the bottom of the hit charts in 1982!

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue

These guys were popular on MTV??!?

The J. Geils Band was a strange beast in the world of rock. Starting out as a blues purist’s wet dream, they released a couple of smoking albums early on, popped a few hit singles on the charts and toured like crazy. They certainly had their ups and downs, but by the time the late 1970s came around, it looked like their time was up.

But never count a hard-working band from Boston out. The band shifted to a more contemporary sound (no doubt annoying their old time fans) which brought them a wide fanbase and yes, hit singles. The albums Sanctuary (1978) and Love Stinks (1980) were respectable, if not entirely decent successes, but nobody could predict what the band would release in late 1981. Freeze Frame (a #1 album in its own right) contained the band’s biggest hit, the #1 single “Centerfold” (one of the defining hits of the 1980s) and its follow up, the #4 title track.

The third single released, “Angel In Blue,” tells the story of a “tabletop dancer” who is used and abused by all the men who pass through her life. A sleeper hit and a seldom-seen video, it barely charted in the Top 40, yet was a hit on AOR radio. But oddly enough, it was The J. Geils Band’s last studio Top 40 hit – later in the year, the band released their third live album (and final album overall with vocalist Peter Wolf) with their final hit single, “I Do.”

Despite the success of Freeze Frame, the band fractured – vocalist Peter Wolf wanted to continue the style of music the band the made since the late 1960s, while keyboardist Seth Justman (acting as a proxy for the other four members) wanted to carry on more as a slickly-produced pop band. Sadly, the band broke up the following year and the Wolf-less Geils band issued one more barely-released album, while Peter Wolf started a well-received, if not commercially overwhelming received solo career.

Rainbow – Stone Cold

The one constant in an ever changing world.

Rainbow, along with Whitesnake, was one of the successful spinoff groups from the juggernaut Deep Purple. Formed by crabby-ass guitarist RItchie Blackmore, the band’s 1975 album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow became an instant hit with fans of the guitarist. Blackmore commandeered the band Elf, kicked its guitarist to the curb and used the rest of band for the album, “used” being the operative word here. Once it was recorded, he jettisoned the other players, with the exception of vocalist Ronnie James Dio and stocked the band with a combination of veteran players and unknown hotshots.

Unfortunately, Blackmore’s forte wasn’t harmony among band members, and throughout the course of Rainbow’s original seven album run, the band went through three vocalists, five bassists, five keyboard players and four drummers. And one guitarist. You tell me who was calling the shots there…

Talk to any of the purists, and they’ll tell you that the vocalists got duller as time went on, and that Ronnie James Dio was the only “real” vocalist of Rainbow. But “melodic rock” fans will side with number three, Joe Lynn Turner. (Wow, both these guys have THREE names!) Maybe that’s why Graham Bonnet only lasted for one album in the band. Or maybe because he looked more like Joe Jackson’s drummer than the lead vocalist in a serious hard rock slash heavy metal band.

Whatever. By the time album number six, Straight Between The Eyes dropped n 1982, Joe Lynn Turner was firmly ensconced as the voice of the band. Blackmore had his eye on the radio, and with the single “Stone Cold,” he got his wish. Somebody has to be #40, and 40 turned out to be Rainbow’s lucky number, as it became the band’s biggest hit, peaking at #40. (But “Stone Cold” did top the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.) But time wasn’t on the band’s side – one more moderate hit album followed (1983’s Bent Out Of Shape), and in 1984, Deep Purple Mark II reunited, and that was it for Rainbow. (Yes, Blackmore resurrected the band after he quit Purple in the 1990s, but with a bunch of new scabs and no former members.)

Genesis – Man On The Corner

Cut them a break – it WAS the 1980s after all…

Everybody knows the story of Genesis – the public schoolboy founding, the prog years, the exodus of original front man Peter Gabriel and the anointing of wallflower drummer Phil Collins as new vocalist, the defection of guitarist wunderkind Steve Hackett and all that. Once all those minor nuisances were settled, the band hit the big time and went on a hot streak that lasted for a decade and a half.

One small issue hit the band in late 1978 – Phil’s wife Andrea (women named Andrea tend to be trouble!) called B.S. on his touring schedule. It was either her or the band, and despite the old college try on his part (though I haven’t heard her side of the story), it ended badly and our boy wrote a batch of songs about the situation. One of these (“Misunderstanding”) became a hit from Genesis’ 1980 Duke album; the rest became the bulk of Phil’s hit debut LP, Face Value.

But there was one more for the world to hear. Single number four from Genesis’ 1981 album, ABACAB was the sparse “Man On The Corner.” Similar in to Phil’s “In The Air Tonight” (but without the classic drum fill), “Man” was the tale of a lonely man waiting for something that never came. But unlike J. Geils Band and Rainbow, there were hits in the future for Genesis. Plenty of them, as a matter of fact. The next four albums (three studio and one live) netted the band hit singles galore, including FIVE top five hits from 1986’s Invisible Touch, and one them hit #1, the title track. We can’t dance, indeed!

Frida – Something’s Going On

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a “normal” post, so here we go, back to basics.

Say what you want about ABBA –  their worthiness of inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their lack of street cred and all of that, but to be fair, they were the real deal. Listen to their music – for 1970s Europop fare, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff, which made their contemporaries sound like low-end lounge acts.

But what most people around here don’t realize, that they were FAR huger internationally than they were in America. In the States, they had about about as many charting hits as a mid-level rock band with a similar-length career, say, Survivor (20 Billboard singles each), but everywhere but here, their albums were practically in Michael Jackson Thriller territory.

ABBA consisted of two males and two females (two couples at one point, but neither relationship outlasted the life of the group), and had a winning formula down pat; the guys would write the songs, the women would sing them. Among male watchers of the band, there was a Ginger vs. Mary Ann thing between the two vocalists; blonde Agnetha Fältskog and redheaded Anni-Frid Lyngstad (a.k.a. Frida).

The year; 1982. As the powerhouse Swedish pop group is winding down its winning streak career, members are busy checking their parachutes. After a couple of new tracks are cut for a career retrospective, no further work is produced by the group. The two guys have no plans to quit working together; their next move was to create the music for the successful musical “Chess.”

Thank you for the music. NOT for the outfits!

The women of ABBA weren’t so sure of their futures; they were on their own, professionally (not to mention domestically), for the first time since the group was founded. And although they were both seasoned professionals, they hadn’t worked without the guidance of the ABBA machine for many, many years.

First to strike was Frida. She glommed on one of the hot “new” stars of the decade, Phil Collins (of Genesis and recent solo artist fame) to produce her debut English language solo album. (Her two previous solo releases were both in Swedish.) Phil, originally the drummer of Genesis, had graduated to singer upon the (amicable) departure of original Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel in 1975. Six years later, after Collins’ Face Value becomes an unexpected hit (sales eclipsed Genesis), he was a star in his own right. Phil’s downer album certainly caught Frida’s ear; she was going through her own domestic hell and wanted a kindred soul to work on her album with her. Find out his side of the story in his autobiography, Not Dead Yet.

So, for eight weeks in early 1982, Phil (and his solo band) worked with Frida at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm. (Besides ABBA, other classic rock albums recorded at Polar include Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door and Genesis’ Duke.) Phil produced and played drums, not to mention duetting on the album’s closer, “Here We’ll Stay.” The sound: Bigger and definitely more rocking than any of ABBA’s output. Partially due to Phil’s pedigree and partially due to the huge drum sound he was able to squeeze out of the studio, which insiders say was state-of-the-art.

Phil and Frida, hard at work. He has a beard; she does not.

The songs that ended up on the album came from here, there and everywhere; they included a Phil Collins cover (“You Know What I Mean” from Face Value), Bryan Ferry;  Steven Bishop (another degree of Phil Collins separation), a pre-Roxette Per Gessle (which featured a Dorothy Parker poem as a lyric) and a Rod Argent song later covered by Colin Blunstone.

But the centerpiece of the album (and the worldwide hit single) was the title track, “I Know There’s Something Going On.” That song, written by Russ Ballard (formerly of Argent and author of classics including Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove,” Santana’s “Winning,” Rainbow’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and KISS’ “God Gave Rock and Roll To You.” Among others.

“Something” featured the Phil Collins “gated reverb” drum sound that was now becoming famous (due to Collins, Peter Gabriel and Genesis songs that were now becoming hits) and Daryl Stuermer’s treated guitar solo. The same guitar effect was also employed on contemporary radio hits by Genesis (“ABACAB”), Saga (“Wind Him Up”), and Rush (“Subdivisions”). The song, which was an international hit, peaked at a respectable #13 on the charts over here.

While the album was only a moderate success in America (#41), it was a huge success internationally. Reviews weren’t always kind: In early 1983, People Magazine mocked the title (something to the effect of “If Frida thinks ‘something’s going on’ with her solo career, she’s sadly mistaken!”). But lousy reviews aside, whatever success or goodwill the album gave to Frida’s career, none of it translated to her next project; the follow-up, 1984s Phil Collins-free, new-wavey Shine wasn’t even released in America. And so it goes.

All of that was transpiring while Phil Collins was advancing his solo career – “Against All Odds” was his first #1 hit in America – and a duet (“Easy Lover”) with Earth Wind & Fire vocalist Phillip Bailey peaked at #2 later that year. (Not to mention his juggernaut No Jacket Required album and associated singles that dominated the airwaves and MTV for all of 1985 and well into 1986.) And after Shine, Frida never recorded an English language album again. All she can do today is hope for the long-awaited ABBA reunion that will most definitely pad her retirement account.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Frida
  • Album: Something’s Going On
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Producer: Phil Collins
  • Released: September 1982
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #41

B-Side Myself

Remember these things?

Rock n’ roll, which has been around a hell of a lot longer than I have, was based on the 7” 45 RPM single. Yup, in those days, you put a record on (don’t forget to switch the record player from 33 1/3 RPM to 45 RPM), something that only had one song per side on it, and just like the time you lost your virginity, in less than three minutes, it was all over.

The prime real estate was the “A-side” of the single. That’s where the hit lived, and anything else was the low rent district. Nobody cared what was on the other side of the record, it was all about the hit single. Unless you’re talking the Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog” single, who the hell turned over the record and played the other side?

By the mid 1960s, all that changed. (Good.) It started being all about the album, with The Beatles, Kinks and Pretty Things releasing albums that stood on their own. Even though rock music had become more sophisticated, plenty of classic singles were released throughout the ensuing years. And those singles still had a “B-side” that contained another song. Now, most of those songs ended up on the accompanying album, but sometimes they didn’t.

There are plenty of all-time classic singles that never were part of a proper album (“Hey Jude,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Black Night*,” etc.), but that is what it is. We’re not talking about the single, but the song on the OTHER side of the record, the place where angels fear to tread. 

Sometimes the B-side becomes more popular than anything else from the album (Led Zeppelin – “Hey Hey What Can I Do”), sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle (The Beatles – “Old Brown Shoe”) and sometimes it’s a result of record company greed, putting the B-side on the cassette version only to force the kids to buy the cassette, not the record, because records use petroleum to produce and therefore cost more per unit (See The Police – “Murder By Numbers”).

*That’s a DEEP PURPLE song!

Deep Purple in its prime. Why? Because I could.

The Beatles

“I’m Down” (B-side to “Help”) 1965

The Beatles’ 1965 single “Help!” was not only another #1 hit for The Beatles on both sides of the pond, but it was the title track for their 1965 movie. It also appeared on the album of the same name (different albums, depending on where you lived), which, was the last of their “beat group” records. From that point onward (Rubber Soul, et al), it was about making the album a stand-alone statement. So there.

But the B-side to the single, “I’m Down,” was a rewrite (of sorts) of the Little Richard standard “Long Tall Sally,” which the band had been playing pretty much since day one and had recorded at one point with Paul McCartney on vocals. Touring for the quartet had become a drag by 1965; new material had to be added.

On the band’s 1965 tour, they replaced their standard closer, “Long Tall Sally” with “I’m Down” (again, with McCartney on lead vocals) most notably playing it at the iconic Shea Stadium concert that August (as well as at all other dates on the tour). Oddly enough, for 1966’s final run as a live band, they ditched “Down” in favor for “Sally.” (They didn’t play “Help!” on the final tour either.) Why? Ask Bob Spitz.

Fun fact: “I’m Down” was recorded in the same session as “Yesterday.”

Another fun fact: After the recording, McCartney opined “Plastic Soul” – a criticism that was often aimed at The Rolling Stones. That comment – reworked – provided the title for the band’s next LP.

“You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (B-side to “Let It Be”) 1970

By the time The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be (and title single) was released, there was less “care” about a public image. So, it was OK to put a “novelty” song on the B-side of a single. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number” was something that had been brewing for quite a while; it was started in 1967. So old, that in fact, The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones played saxophone on the song in 1967, which came out almost a year after he died in his swimming pool in mid-1969.

Fun fact: There are two versions of “Let It Be” – the album and single versions were different recordings altogether. Listen to the guitar solo!

Cheap Trick

“All I Really Want To Do” (B-side to “She’s Tight”) 1982

Sometimes the best songs are the hardest to find….

By the time One On One, Cheap Trick’s sixth studio album (and seventh overall) album was released in May, 1982, the band was on the downslide of its initial fame. Original bassist Tom Petersson had bailed two years earlier, and after touring with an ill-fitting replacement, the band added Jon Brant on bass, who proved to be a competent, if not entirely generic replacement.

The Rockford, Illinois quartet’s first Petersson-free album, One On One, produced by Roy Thomas Baker was either a return to form or a noisy mess, depending on who you ask. Thirty-seven years later, it hasn’t aged as well as some of the band’s other discs but did contain two pop nuggets – the singles “If You Want My Love” and “She’s Tight.”  It was the second single that contained this classic B-side, which would’ve been one of the highlights of the album, had it been included.

Fun fact: Videos for One On One’s two singles were shot in the same day.

“Thought The Night” (B-side to “The Flame”) 1988

Fast forward six years, and suddenly Cheap Trick has a second wind. After a slight career boost (the Standing On The Edge album) and a fail (The Doctor album), Cheap Trick reunited with wayward bassist Tom Petersson and was met with renewed interest from Epic Records, which resulted in the hit album Lap Of Luxury and the #1 hit single “The Flame.”

Cheap Trick’s first (and only) #1 hit single.

All good, right? Not really. Sure, record sales, airplay and concert attendees are all a good thing, but these things came as a result of force-feeding the band songs from outside writers, a slap in the face of Rick Nielsen, who wrote virtually all the songs in the band’s career.

But – in true major label record company style, a classic tune emerged NOT on the album, but was hidden in the wilderness of a hit single’s B-side. Sure, a #1 for two weeks Billboard Magazine Hot 100 bona fide hit single, but was sadly relegated to the flip side. Give it a listen – it sure as hell is better than most of the track on Lap Of Luxury!

 Fun fact: “Through The Night” finally had a CD release on Cheap Trick’s 1996 box set, Sex America Cheap Trick.

The 1970s are dead. The 1980s are all about the money!


“Ride Easy” (B-side to “Heat Of The Moment” AND “Only Time Will Tell”) 1982

Asia – an early 1980s supergroup, made up of former members of Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Buggles, King Crimson and more – had the biggest selling album of 1982. No less than six of its nine tracks were radio hits, something that hadn’t been seen in a debut album since The Cars in 1978.

But one of the best songs ended up never ended up on the album. For whatever reason, song number ten missed out on the 12” vinyl album. It’s a shame, because it’s better than the three songs that didn’t get any radio play.

Fun fact: Upon the band’s reformation in 2005, the band performed the entire debut album. AND “Ride Easy.”

 “Daylight” (B-side to “Don’t Cry”) 1983

If some is good, more is better. The record company wanted more of that 1982 Asia magic, so it hooked its wagon to the Downes/Wetton writing team that penned “Heat Of The Moment” and the other radio hits. Needless to say, lightning rarely strikes twice, and, of course, the second album was a bit of a damp squib. (Whatever that means.)

Whatever. Alpha, the 1983 follow-up album didn’t come close to the quality or commercial benchmark set by the debut 18 months earlier. Even the B-side of the lead-off single, “Don’t Cry,” was less not up to the quality of the other songs on the album, unlike “Ride Easy.” It DID make some noise on the FM dial in 1983, but quickly was forgotten.

Fun fact: “Daylight” also was part of the record company scam to goad consumers into buying the cassette and not the vinyl record.

“Lying To Yourself” (B-side to “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”) 1983

A # 34 hit in late 1983.

By the time “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was released as Alpha’s second single, Asia’s ship had sailed. Vocalist/bassist John Wetton was sacked, the much-hyped “Asia in Asia” contest on MTV was a generic, paint-by-the-numbers concert (with Greg Lake handling bass and vocals in place of Wetton) and, by that late date (less than two years after the debut album hit, the band had run its course.

But, on the flip side of the final single of the classic era, a John Wetton/Steve Howe track emerged as clue to what could’ve been had the suits not elbowed Steve Howe out of the creative process. Oh well, it only took 23 years to get the original lineup back together again. Time wounds all heels.

Fun fact: “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was Asia’s fourth (and final) Top 40 hit single.