Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Recently I played a few CDs by artists who only released one album before disbanding, and it started me thinking about how many such records I own. Fortunately I’ve catalogued my music collection on a spreadsheet, so I sorted through that list and narrowed it down to include side-projects, solo albums, supergroups and any artist with only one album in their discography. Although some of them are well-known & even legendary, I realized that many have probably been forgotten by anyone who wasn’t around at the time of release. I’m very familiar with about half of the 130+ titles on the master list, and I’ll have to revisit the others to see how they stack up. Instead of merely posting the complete list, I’ve decided to highlight my favorites in a short series of posts, where I can write a brief description for each & include some audio clips for your listening pleasure. I’m sure there are plenty of one-album artists that others like more than I do, so this is not designed to be a best-of list but rather a documentation of the ones that had the greatest impact on me. Hopefully you’ll find some surprises in these posts, and maybe even discover a new favorite. For Part 1, I’ve chosen ten albums that I know extremely well, listed in no particular order as they’re all classics in my eyes.
Album Title/Year Of Release: SECONDS OF PLEASURE (1980)
Any group combining the rock & roll classicism of Dave Edmunds with the pub rock/new wave sensibilities of Nick Lowe had to be great, and the only album released under this band name lived up to expectations. Along with Billy Bremner and Terry Williams, this four-piece previously performed together on several Edmunds & Lowe solo albums (much like Faces had provided the music for some early Rod Stewart records), and they were the backing band for a number of songs on an album by Carlene Carter (Nick Lowe’s then-wife and Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) the same year as Seconds Of Pleasure. Every song here is a winner, from covers like Joe Tex’s “If Sugar Was As Sweet As You Honey” and Chuck Berry’s “Oh What A Thrill” to originals like “When I Write The Book” and “Play That Fast Thing One More Time.” The bonus EP of Everly Brothers songs was an added treat that made this great record even more enjoyable.
Artist: THE LA’S
Album Title/Year Of Release: the LA’S (1990)
I still remember hearing the now-classic “There She Goes” for the first time when the video aired on MTV in 1990 and being immediately enthralled. Without knowing anything else about them, I bought their self-titled album within a week and discovered a collection of proto-Britpop gems that preceded bands like Oasis, Blur and Suede. Not that The La’s sounded anything like those bands, but they did share a distinctly British sound that might have made them more successful beyond that one single had their timing been different. By the time this album was released Lee Mavers was the sole creative force, writing and meticulously recording & re-recording these songs in an attempt to capture a particular sound in his head. Based on everything I’ve read over the years, he was unhappy with the final product (produced by Steve Lillywhite), but his disappointment resulted in a much-loved album that’s a genuine all-time classic. The combination of melodic pop with skiffle and an almost sea-shanty feel to many of the songs helped it stand out from anything before or since. “There She Goes” is one of the best pure pop songs I’ve ever heard, but “Timeless Melody,” “Feeling,” “Doledrum” and just about everything else here are on the same level of greatness.
Artist: BLIND FAITH
Album Title/Year Of Release: BLIND FAITH (1969)
What do you get when you combine former Cream bandmates Eric Clapton & Ginger Baker with Steve Winwood between stints in Traffic and the underrated Ric Grech (formerly of Family, Traffic and many recording sessions) on bass & violin? A reluctant supergroup weighed down by unrealistic expectations which still managed to release a near-masterpiece before imploding. Clapton is in fine form, stretching the boundaries of his guitar playing beyond the blues & psychedelia of his previous work, while Winwood’s soulful vocals & tasteful keyboard work is the focal point throughout most of the album. It’s an amalgam of everything that came before it from these four stellar musicians, and pointed the way forward for some of Winwood’s more exploratory contributions to Traffic when he rejoined the following year. There are many highlights, with “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Sea Of Joy” being the two most accessible.
Artist: ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE
Album Title/Year Of Release: ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE (1989)
I’ve been a Yes fan since my pre-teens, before I knew what progressive rock was. They were just another amazing band writing really cool extended songs with stellar musicianship & lyrics I could never decipher. By 1983 they had modernized their sound after another round of personnel changes and had the biggest hit of their career. I loved the 90125 album as much as anything in their catalog, but by the end of the decade I longed for a return to their classic prog sound. With “Yes” still controlled by one version of the band, four members of their classic-years lineup (Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe) started an offshoot entity that was Yes in all but the name. Bruford’s affinity for electronic percussion aside, the ABWH album is an incredible collection that bridges ‘70s Yes with a more updated sonic sheen. Some fans might not be able to get past the production (which explains why I’ve seen it so often in the budget bins) but I’ve adored this album since the first time I played it. I’m also fortunate to have a poster of the album art signed by artist Roger Dean, framed on the wall to my right as I type this. It’s an album that should be listened to in its entirety, but “Brother Of Mine” (which was edited into a radio-friendly version) is the perfect entry point for the uninitiated.
Artist: TOY MATINEE
Album Title/Year Of Release: TOY MATINEE (1990)
This is one of those records that came & went pretty quickly, and if you missed that brief window of opportunity you’ve probably never even heard of it. Fortunately I have a few friends who also love it, and I’ve learned via the internet that Toy Matinee has a relatively small but very loyal following. Formed by songwriter/producer Patrick Leonard, best known for his collaborations with Madonna, as a showcase for his progressive art-rock leanings, the real star of this album is singer/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert. The two of them, along with a cast of musicians including bassist Guy Pratt (best known for his work with Pink Floyd & David Gilmour) and Gilmour-esque guitarist Tim Pierce, crafted a collection of songs that run the gamut from spacey Pink Floyd soundscapes to melodic art-pop that recalls artists like 10cc, The Alan Parsons Project and Little River Band. They only released this one album before Gilbert pursued a solo career (which was cut short by his death at the age of 29, in 1996). A few years later Leonard tried to recapture the magic with former Mr. Mister frontman Richard Page in the similarly named 3rd Matinee, and although it’s a very good album I’ve never felt as passionate about it as I do with Toy Matinee. I adore every song on the record, none more so than “The Ballad Of Jenny Ledge,” which is the ideal introduction to their music.
Artist: LITTLE VILLAGE
Album Title/Year Of Release: LITTLE VILLAGE (1992)
I discovered the music of John Hiatt via his 1988 album Slow Turning, unaware that he had been a recording artist for nearly 15 years at that point. I began my slow trip backwards through his discography with the preceding album, 1987’s Bring The Family, and that’s still the gold standard of his catalog for me. The musicians on that album (Nick Lowe on bass, Ry Cooder on guitar and the ubiquitous Jim Keltner on drums) brought a distinctly subtle mood to a collection of Hiatt songs that ranks among his best. Needless to say I was excited when the foursome formed a band a few years later, this time including songs by Cooder & Lowe. There was no way it could live up to the greatness of Bring The Family, but once I got past those expectations I discovered a number of gems, and when I played it last week for the first time in several years I enjoyed it more than ever. The songs are a little more playful this time, with titles like “Solar Sex Panel,” “Do You Want My Job” and “Don’t Bug Me When I’m Working” indicating that the writing & recording sessions must have been fun for all involved. The key track for me has always been “Don’t Think About Her When You’re Trying To Drive,” Hiatt’s incredible ballad that features all four musicians in peak form.
Artist: COVERDALE PAGE
Album Title/Year Of Release: COVERDALE PAGE (1993)
It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin has been my favorite band since I was 13 years old, and I’ve always gravitated to anything the band members have done since they split in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham. Jimmy Page hasn’t been terribly prolific over the years, releasing the Death Wish II soundtrack in 1982, two albums with Paul Rodgers as The Firm in 1985 & 1986, and his only solo album (Outrider) in 1988. When he paired up with former Deep Purple/Whitesnake singer David Coverdale (who was often derided for being a Robert Plant clone) many fans scoffed, but they missed out on what I consider to be the most Zeppelin-esque work that Page has done. The songwriting (with a couple of exceptions) is fantastic, and his guitar playing is as inspired as I’ve ever heard it. Coverdale was still in his prime, hitting all those high notes effortlessly. The secret weapon, though, is drummer Denny Carmassi (best known for his work with Montrose and Heart), who captures Bonham’s unique mixture of power, technique & swing like no one else I’ve ever heard. They cover a lot of musical ground, with power ballads (“Take Me For A Little While”), massive bluesy rockers (“Whisper A Prayer For The Dying”) and syncopated radio-friendly tunes (“Shake My Tree”). Ignore this album at your own risk.
Artist: THE GRAYS
Album Title/Year Of Release: RO SHAM BO (1994)
The subgenre known as “power pop” started with bands like Badfinger, Big Star & The Raspberries, who combined the melodic genius of The Beatles, The Kinks, The Hollies, etc. with power chords and stomping drums. Many artists have carried on this tradition, from Cheap Trick to The Knack, The Romantics to The Smithereens. One of the greatest power pop acts was the short-lived Jellyfish, who I was fortunate to see on both of their tours before they split up in ’93. The guitarist on their first album and tour, Jason Falkner, has since become one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and my initial introduction to his music came via this one-off collaboration with fellow songwriters Jon Brion (best known for collaborations with Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple) and Buddy Judge, along with drummer Dan McCarroll. All three writers deliver some stellar melodic tunes, with Falkner’s having the biggest impact on me. Album opener “Very Best Years” is as good a place to start as any.
Artist: ERNIE ISLEY
Album Title/Year Of Release: HIGH WIRE (1990)
One of the younger siblings in the Isley family, Ernie Isley wasn’t part of the initial Isley Brothers success, but when he officially joined the group in the early ‘70s his impact was immediate & huge. Having learned to play guitar from family friend Jimi Hendrix, Ernie acted as Hendrix’s disciple, adding his fiery playing to many of their smooth soul & funk-rock songs. For his only solo album, he shone a light on all aspects of his musical personality, with soulful vocals, guitar heroics and (most importantly) memorable, melodic songs. Some might be turned off by the synthetic rhythms on many of the tracks but it never sounds plastic or robotic. This is another album where just about every song is a winner, from the bouncy title track to the slow-burning “Love Situation” and guitar masterclass of “Rising From The Ashes.” I consider myself very fortunate to have seen Ernie at a small club in New York City when he supported this album.
Album Title/Year Of Release: GTR (1986)
Ah, the mid’80s. For many music fans this was the nadir, a vast wasteland of drum machines, Fairlight synthesizers and all-around sterile productions. Having been a teenager & in my early 20s during that decade I had no problem with those sonic choices, but I also admit that many recordings from that time have aged more poorly than the music of just about any other era. In some cases, however, the production flourishes couldn’t take away from the performances, and the sole album by GTR is an example of that. A collaboration between former Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, they embraced modern technology but surrounded themselves with musicians (drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spaulding) and a vocalist (Max Bacon) who kept their melodic prog/pop songs grounded. This album isn’t for everyone, but if you like the slightly bombastic nature of Asia’s prog/pop hybrid from a few years earlier, you would find a lot to like here. “When The Heart Rules The Mind” was a Top 20 hit and, with a little more promotion, songs like “The Hunter” and “Imagining” could have had similar success. GTR is a rare example of an album that sounds dated & timeless in equal measure.
There will be at least a couple more entries in this series since I have so many one-album artists to revisit & discuss. Please let me know if you’re a fan of one or more of the albums listed above, and tell me about any similar records that have made a big impact on you. Perhaps some of those will be addressed in one of my upcoming posts.