Cheap Trick – I Can’t Take It

“Then I tell myself I’ll put you down,
Don’t wanna see your face around…don’t call me up anymore.
When I hear your voice it’s in my ear,
You’re kissin’ on the phone…it makes it all come clear.”

Cheap Trick are the ultimate cult band in modern rock n roll. Although their early hits have been defining statements, in the process of becoming radio staples, they have sustained one of the most productive and varied catalogs in modern music. From their formative years in Rockford, Illinois to continuing to record and tour with their original lineup, the band continues to push the limits and release unconventional, yet always innovative power pop.

The album “Next Position Please” from 1983 was released at a crossroads in the band’s career. Founding member and bassist Tom Petersson was on a several year hiatus and they had turned to famed producer Todd Rundgren (Eutopia, Meatloaf, etc.) to guide the recording process for this, their eighth relase for Epic Records. ‘I Can’t Take It’ was the album’s second single, edged out by ‘Dancing the Night Away’, the only song on the album not produced by Rundgren. ‘I Can’t Take It’ is the superior song, however. Written by vocalist Robin Zander, the song features a strong melody line and an infectious chorus…a hallmark of all Cheap Trick classics.

While the album failed to chart highly, it is a fan classic that features great production, sonwriting and musicianship. The band would ultimately come back into commercial favor with 1987’s ‘The Flame’, but it is on “Next Position Please” that the band show their true strengths as an American original.

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Joe Cocker – You Can’t Have My Heart

“You can keep that diamond ring.
Take it downtown and find out what it will bring.
You can ask me to give you almost anything….all except my heart.”

It is essential for an artist to evolve if they are to survive changing times and tastes in the music industry. Joe Cocker began life in the late sixties as a counter culture icon with his iconic performance at the Woodstock festival and subsequent “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour with Leon Russell. Establishing himself with classic songs like “You Are So Beautiful” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”, by the mid seventies Cocker had faded from public view but had established a reputation as the preeminent rock interpreter of some of the greatest writers in the modern era.

His comeback in the eighties was miraculous to say the least, with the ballad smash “Up Where We Belong” returning him to the top of the charts. He continues to ride that wave of success, especially on classics like 1989s “One Night of Sin” and 1987s “Unchain My Heart”. While old fans stay mired in the sounds of his early days, those willing to investigate these newer albums will find many hidden gems.

One of his best efforts in years was 2002s “Respect Yourself”, his 18th studio album. Produced by John Shanks (Chris Isaak, Stevie Nicks, etc.), the album never veers too far from his soul and blues roots. The original track ‘You Can’t Have My Heart’, written by Shanks and frequent Cocker cohort CJ Vanston, is a classic example of why Cocker still is vital in the genre he helped to define.

Pearl Jam – The Fixer

“When somethings broke, I wanna put a bit of fixin on it.
When somethings bored, I wanna put a little exciting on it.
If somethings low, I wanna put a little high on it.
When somethings lost, I wanna fight to get it back again…”

Of the bands to emerge from the Seattle scene of the late eighties, Pearl Jam has endured and continued to make consistently good music while many of their peers have either faded away or broken up. The release of the documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty” highlights the ups and downs of an intensely personal and tightly knit group of individuals who do not usually invite the critical eye to view their creative process. Many only know Pearl Jam from their days as cultural icons of the early nineties and the hits found on their 1991 debut, “Ten”. For devotees, the band has a rich catalog of songs to delve into and examine, songs as diverse as the influences of the group, which range from arena rock to blues to punk to folk and beyond.

‘The Fixer’ is a classic pop rock single from their first true indie release, 2009’s “Backspacer”. The album was the first release for the band after finishing their tenture on the J Records label. After years of releasing their own bootleg series albums on their own Monkeywrench Records, Pearl Jam decided to completely take the major labels out of their business model…a paradigm shift that has worked for other groups like Barenaked Ladies and Radiohead.

The album saw the band branching out into more mellow sounds on songs like “Just Breathe”, a conceptual precursor to Eddie Vedder’s second solo release, 2011’s “Ukelele Songs”, also on Monkeywrench Records. ‘The Fixer’ is as song that came to the band originally from drummer Matt Cameron and it shows. The driving beat and infectious rhythm make this the bands catchiest song since their pop heyday on “Ten”. The song was featured in several Target commercials, as it was the official retailer of the album and it was also one of the bands only official music videos of the new millenium.

The film “Pearl Jam Twenty” is a must see for any music fan. It truly conveys why Pearl Jam is as important and relevent today as they were at the height of their greatest commericial exposure.

The trailer for “Pearl Jam Twenty”:

Bob Seger – Wait for Me

“I’ll be around…if you’ll wait for me.”

In 2006, Bob Seger released his first album in a decade, “Face the Promise”. His previous release of all original material, 1995’s “It’s A Mystery”, was not only a lackluster album but was vastly overshadowed by the 1994 “Greatest Hits” album that became one of the biggest catalog sellers of all time.

Seger spent the following decade raising a family and living a quiet life on the outskirts of Detroit when he reemerged with an album worthy of his cannon of classic material. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and toured to sold out arena crowds in support of “Face the Promise”, which hit #4 on the charts and eventually went platinum.

The gem on this album is ‘Wait for Me’. Produced and recorded in Nashville, this song is worthy of inclusion with his seventies and eighties megahits. The instrumentation and vocal hooks convey the message of the lyric…a simple yet declarative plea for a straightforward, simplistic lifestyle.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – Backlash

“I had it made, I never strayed…
From a course that somebody else laid.”

Simplicity is sometimes the most difficult goal to attain in pure rock & roll music. The best examples of this genre are a combination of well written, catchy songs and skilled yet rebellious musicians creating art that ends up as more than just the sum of its parts. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley pioneered this combination of attitude, rhythmic drive and chiming guitar hooks, giving birth to a tradition carried on by artists from the British Invasion to Punk and New Wave. Joan Jett has been achieving this goal and taking part in this tradition since her debut with The Runaways in 1975. Crunchy, memorable guitar riffs paired with pop choruses and a vintage rock & roll attitude, her music has retained a quality that renders her catalog essential listening for any fan of popular music.

Exploding out of the Los Angeles music scene, The Runaways were billed as one of the original all-girl rock & roll bands. They released several classic albums on Mercury Records in the late seventies, featuring Jett, lead singer Cherie Currie and future pop metal fixture Lita Ford. Under the tutelage of music business veteran Kim Fowley (“The Mayor of the Sunset Strip”), Jett honed her songwriting skills and performance style which would remain key staples during her solo career. The band was a commercial success in Japan (ala Cheap Trick and the Raspberries) but soon imploded upon returning stateside, leaving Jett to record her solo debut. Beginning a lifelong association with manager and producer Kenny Laguna, Jett released the classic album “Bad Repuation” in 1981. Later that year, she released “I Love Rock & Roll”, featuring the massive single of the same name. The song made Jett a household name, catapulting her into the top ten along with hit singles ‘Crimson and Clover’ and ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)’ and classic album track ‘Love is Pain’. A role in the Paul Schrader film “Light of Day” and another top ten hit, 1988’s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’, kept Joan Jett in the spotlight for the remainder of the eighties.

Never an artist to yield to trends, her LP’s remained consistently rooted in traditional rock & roll. In 1991, she followed the 1990 album “The Hit List” with “Notorious”, an all original affair featuring the musical collaboration ‘Backlash’. Written and performed with Paul Westerberg, a founding member of the Replacements, the song was a perfect fit for Joan Jett’s combination of pop hooks and driving rock guitar. Jett and Westerberg penned the track with Kenny Laguna, and it remains a classic single showcasing how strong an artist Jett had become after remaining a hit maker for over a decade.

(The original 1991 video, featuring Paul Westerberg):

(The trailer for the 2010 film ‘The Runaways’, produced by Joan Jett and starring Kristen Stewart. A must see rock film!):
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Don Henley – Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat

“I dreamed last night
I was on the boat to heaven
…by some chance
I had brought my dice along.
And there I stood
And I hollered someone save me
But the passengers they knew right from wrong.”

Texas native Don Henley has enjoyed a massively successful solo career since leaving the mega selling Eagles in 1980. Dominating radio dials throughout the seventies, the Eagles brought a country flavor to the popular California sound on manager David Geffen’s Asylum Records. Henley had met his fellow Eagles as a member of Linda Ronstadt’s backing band, with other members coming from the critically lauded Flying Burrito Brothers. The core of the Eagles sound came from the songwriting talents of Henley and Glenn Fry, releasing six albums and enduring several lineup changes, including the addition of guitarist Joe Walsh. Henley sang many of the groups biggest hits and served as the drummer in the lineup, much like contemporary Levon Helm. After the breakup of one of the best selling groups in popular music history, Don Henley emerged with the release of 1982’s “I Can’t Stand Still”. The album was a modest hit in relation to his Eagles success, but it was a solid effort highlighted by the hit ‘Dirty Laundry’.

The following two solo albums, 1984’s “Building the Perfect Beast” and 1989’s “The End of the Innocence”, established Henley as a truly durable artist. He was able to continue a streak of releasing classic hit singles, including ‘Boys of Summer’, ‘All She Wants to Do is Dance’ and ‘The End of the Innocence’, while integrating modern production touches into his repertoire of instrumentation. He also established a reputation as a conservationist through his work with the Walden Woods Foundation and a record industry activist, heading the Recording Artist’s Coalition. On the heels of his greatest commercial success came several soundtrack appearances, including a cover of the 1950 “Guys and Dolls” Broadway staple ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ on the 1992 “Leap of Faith” soundtrack. The song was a departure for Henley, but was reworked as a gospel tinged soul track that worked well as a standalone single.

The following decade found the Eagles reforming for a reunion album and a string of successful tours breaking sales records throughout the 2000’s. In the midst of this reunion, Henley released another solo album, 2000’s “Inside Job” on Warner Brothers Records. A modest hit, the album stands as a reminder that, with songs like ‘Taking You Home’, ‘Workin’ It’ and ‘Everything is Different Now’, Henley remains a consummate musician capable of producing works of both musical and lyrical consequence.

Paul Simon – One Trick Pony

“He’s a one trick pony
One trick is all that horse can do.
He does one trick only
It’s the principal source of his revenue.
And when he steps into the spotlight
You can feel the heat of his heart
Come rising through.”

As a member of Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon established himself as one of his generation’s preeminent singers and songwriters. After a string of hit singles and albums, the duo disbanded in 1970, at the height of their success with “Bridge over Troubled Water” on longtime label Columbia Records. While Art Garfunkel attained some level of success as an actor, Simon simply continued his work as a songwriter and performer with Warner Brothers Records. His success as a solo artist has mainly been due to his ability to weave expert songwriting from his folk background with a variety of musical styles and genres.

Beginning a string of solo successes, the eponymous “Paul Simon” was released in 1972. Much like George Harrison’s solo declaration “All Things Must Pass”, the album felt like a culmination of pent up musical frustration. It not only possessed a number of top ten hits (“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Mother and Child Reunion” among them), but it introduced the influence of reggae and South American music to the general record buying public. This trend continued throughout the 1970’s, with the albums “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” making Paul Simon a household name. After 1975, Simon took time away from the recording studio, unheard of at the time for a major artist, but released a stop gap single, “Slip Slidin’ Away”, a top ten hit in 1977.

Consistency is a hallmark of many great writers, and in the case of Paul Simon, his popularity has never been directly related to the quality of his material. After years of uninterrupted hit LPs, Simon released two albums that sold poorly and were deemed unsuccessful at the time of release: 1980’s “One Trick Pony” and 1983’s “Hearts and Bones”. Both albums are well written and expertly performed, seen today as overlooked masterworks. “One Trick Pony” is the soundtrack to the 1980 film of the same name, featuring Paul Simon in the lead role of Jonah Levin, a character much like Simon himself: a 60’s folk troubadour trying to fit in with the current climate of popular music. The film is a gem, written and directed by Simon, but the real magic occurs in the music attached to the project. Songs like ‘One Trick Pony’, ‘Ace in the Hole’ and ‘Late in the Evening’ project a rawness lacking in some later Simon projects. Performed by his stripped down touring group of studio vets (the incomparable team of Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Eric Gale and Richard Tee), the songs are the truest rock & roll compositions in the Simon songbook. Produced by Simon and longtime associate Phil Ramone, the album is a combination of live performances and studio cuts.

Paul Simon reemerged as a worldwide phenomenon with the 1986 release “Graceland”. Simon himself acknowledged that “Graceland” was made possible due to his open schedule after several years away from the spotlight, continuing his world music experimentation on “Rhythm of the Saints” in 1990. In the years since, he has released only a handful of solo albums, returning to his rock roots on 2000’s “You’re the One” and recording with Brian Eno on 2006’s “Surprise”. Whatever genre Paul Simon approaches, it is done with quality, due to his unending dedication to the craft of songwriting in the tradition of true American folk music.