Ritchie Valens was an American performer who died in a plane crash in 1959 at age 17. His ballad “Donna” was the first record I ever bought. The flip side of the 45 was a Spanish-language rocker called “La Bamba.” Here’s the two-star “Donna” from 1958.
Van Halen are an American hard rock band. For me they did their best work in their first ten years. For many years their original vocalist was replaced by Sammy Hagar, who I liked from Montrose and his solo work. Here’s “Runnin’ with the Devil,” a five-star song from their inaugural self-titled 1978 album.
Vanilla Fudge are an American psychedelic rock group who were most active in the late 60′s. The rhythm section, Carmine Appice on drums and Tim Bogert on bass, went on to form half of world-class rockers Cactus and later formed a band with Jeff Beck called Beck, Bogert and Appice.
Vanilla Fudge’s sound matured by the final studio album of their initial incarnation, 1969′s Rock & Roll. Here’s a three-star track from it, “I Can’t Make it Alone.”
The Verve were a British dreamrock band most productive in the early 90′s. They were known as just Verve when I first got into them. Here’s the dreamy four-star psychedelic journey “Beautiful Mind’ from 1993.
Von Groove is another band I’d never heard of and only discovered in recent years. They were a Canadian group who made fantastic hard rock in the late 80′s and early 90′s. Here’s the four-star stomper “Soldier of Fortune” from their 1992 debut self-titled album.
Joe Walsh is a guitar mage from Cleveland. From his early days leading The James Gang, through his solo career, and as a member of Eagles, Joe has blown listeners away with his guitar sorcery. He has also played a prominent role as a session musician. Most notably, he launches Jay Ferguson’s five-star song “Turn it Up” into immortality.
Here’s the mere three-star piece “Rocky Mountain Way” from Joe’s 1973 album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get.
Bob Welch was one of those rock triple threats — writer, singer, guitarist. He came to near-fame with a middle-period version of Fleetwood Mac, providing a significant number of excellent songs. He left just before they became mega-stars.
First he founded a smooth hard rock band called Paris. Then he released a series of solo albums. The first two in particular were of high quality. Here’s the three-star item “Outskirts” from his first solo release, 1973′s French Kiss.
David Werner was one of those outstanding but obscure artists whom I discovered by taking a chance in a record store. His self-titled 1979 album is excellent. The smattering of references to him call his music glam rock. There are hints of Bowie and T. Rex but the bottom line is this is just outright superior rock. Here’s his four-star masterpiece “What’s Right.”
West, Bruce & Laing were a supergroup fronted by Leslie West of Mountain and Jack Bruce of Cream. West is American and Bruce, who just passed away, was Scottish. Their first album Why Dontcha came out in 1972 and featured three massive tracks. Their second and last studio album did not repeat the magic. Here’s one of the four-star songs from Why Dontcha, “Love is Worth the Blues.”
Whitesnake are a British hard rock band. Though I’d seen their albums in stores, I had never checked them out. They got more of my attention when Jimmy Page formed a short-lived group with their lead singer, David Coverdale. But I still didn’t check out their music.
I finally did in recent years. It’s a good thing I waited. They had a lot of good songs but not much in the way of amazing tracks. But they have two monster four-star songs on their 2008 release Good to be Bad. Here’s one, “Can You Hear the Wind Blow.”
The Who are a British rock band. I remember getting excited about the first single I heard by them back in 1965, “I Can’t Explain.” It was a while before they really took off here in the U.S. with albums. The became a major force.
They were like the Beatles in that one secondary member occasionally contributed songs which were quite good. In this case it was bass player John Entwistle. When I saw them live around 1971 he stole the show, playing his bass like a lead guitar from another galaxy.
Here’s a well-known three-star song, “Pinball Wizard,” from 1969′s rock opera Tommy.
Johnny Winter was an albino blues guitarist and singer from Texas who put together some terrific rock tracks during a brief period in the 70′s. The pinnacle was 1974′s Saints & Sinners. Here’s one of the three four-star songs from it, “Rollin’ ‘Cross the Country.”
Henry Wolff & Nancy Hennings make ethereal instrumental music with Tibetan bells. They’ve been releasing albums with this sound since 1971. Here’s the two-star item “Adrift” from 1988′s Tibetan Bells III: The Empty Mirror.
There’s very little information about World at a Glance available. They were another excellent obscure band that I stumbled on in a record store. Their one and only album, released in 1988, is consistently great. Enjoy their four-star song “Burning Out.”
Gary Wright is an American keyboardist and singer. He hit the big time in the British rock group Spooky Tooth in the late 60′s. He’s had a long solo career since then. He’s probably best known for this 1976 three-star song from the album of the same name, “Dream Weaver.”
Like so many of the New Wave bands, XTC emerged from the punk scene in England in the late 70′s. They produced a series of fine albums. They reminded me a bit of the Kinks, with occasional irony and humor. Witness this three-star power pop song from 1982′s English Settlement, “No Thugs in Our House.”
Y & T were a hair metal band I discovered late in the game. They were originally called Yesterday and Today. They had a slew of three-star songs. Here’s “Life, Life, Life” from 1984′s In Rock We Trust.
The Yardbirds were one of the most important rock bands ever. They showcased three all-time rock guitar greats: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Beck replaced Clapton. Page joined while Beck was still in the band. Then Beck left. There’s a priceless scene in the 1966 movie Blow-Up where the band with both Beck and Page performs.
Here are photos of the various lineups. The first shows a cleancut Clapton (center). The second has an intense Beck (second from right). The third has Beck and Page (far left and second from right, respectively). The final photo is Page’s Yardbirds (he’s at the bottom).
The Yardbirds were pioneers of heavy rock. They infused their songs with philosophy. The song that I have chosen for the compilation is “Think About It,” a four-star piece written by Jimmy Page. It hails from 1968. For decades I only had it on a 45 rpm single. It clearly presages Page’s new band, Led Zeppelin.
Yes were a prog rock band. They transformed into a pop rock band in the 80s. I don’t care for prog rock, but liked quite a bit of their 80′s material. This evolution was similar to what occurred with Genesis. Some fans of both groups decried this change as a commercial sell-out. Here’s a three-star rocker called “Does It Really Happen” from 1980.
Neil Young has been in some good bands and has had a long solo career. He was in Buffalo Springfield and has been with Crosby, Stills & Nash off and on. I liked his early days. He had some very good songs with Buffalo Springfield and on his first few solo albums. Here’s “Cinnamon Girl” from 1969, worthy of two stars.
The Zombies were a great British Invasion band. They had some hits. Two of the members had future success — Rod Argent founded Argent and Colin Blunstone released a number of fine solo albums. The Zombies had two four-star songs, both obscure. Here is one of them, “Leave Me Be,” from 1965.
ZZ Top is a Texas rock band best known for the long beards sported by two of the three members. They have gotten airplay over their long career. 1994′s Antenna is their standout album, with several three-star songs. Here’s “Pincushion.”
I’ve been reviewing hundreds of 3’s lately and am demoting them in bunches. Has my taste changed, or my ability to discern quality? Not necessarily. When originally classifying these songs as 3’s I may have been particularly lenient and now I’m being stricter. If some element of a song wasn’t that strong I may have overlooked that if there were other strong elements. Now I’m being tougher.
But there’s an intangible at work here in long-term liking of the song. If I had left the song at a lower rating to begin with, I might feel ok with it now. But having made it a higher level than it ultimately deserved and then demoting it leaves a taint. It’s like a trial jury being asked to forget some line of reasoning or evidence that has later been stricken from the record. Not being in the mind at all is not the same as having been in mind and then released, perhaps imperfectly. Some trace may remain.