Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Various Artists - Blue Boogie (1999)


Subtitled "Boogie Woogie, Stride and The Piano Blues," this compilation CD is part of Blue Note's fantastic "Blue Series." But whereas most of the other CDs in that series mainly feature releases from the 1960s and '70s, this one reaches back to mono recordings from the late '30s and 40's. Stride piano isn't really my thing but the technique is certainly impressive throughout and it's a nice change of pace to hear these lively blues nuggets every now and again.


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks:

19 tracks from eight artists: Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, James P. Johnson, Sammy Benskin, Art Hodes, Earl Hines, and Art Tatum. Most cuts are simply solo piano (track 7 is solo harpsichord!) and anyone who ever took a piano lesson should be amazed at the left hand accuracy. There's also a piano duo (Twos And Fews) and seven cuts with combos ranging from 3-7 members.

Here's a fun related oddity featuring music from the opening track of this CD:


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I found several CDs in this series when they were originally released in the '90s, but then they became harder to find as the century turned. Now, as used CD bins are packed to capacity and discs are priced to move, I see them more often and I'll pick up whatever discs I don't already own. So check this space for more Blue Series CDs in the not-so-distant future.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Blue Bacharach (1999) Capitol Rare (1999)
Blue Brazil (1999) Capitol Rare Vol 2 (1999)
Blue Break Beats (1992) Capitol Rare Vol 3 (1999)
Blue Beat (1991) Blue Bossa (1991)
Blue Series Sampler (2001) Blue Bossa Vol 2 (1999)

Friday, May 26, 2023

Barry Manilow - Greatest Hits (1978)


Note: this release was originally purchased as a 2 LP set, later replaced by a CD.

This recent pickup from a used bin was completely unneeded yet absolutely necessary. I've got all the songs on other discs, so why on earth would I pick up this compilation? Simple nostalgia. This one brings back memories of 1978 when my family moved 500 miles to a new city and I started 7th grade in a new school with new friends but didn't give up my existent musical tastes. I became a "Fanilow" at the tender age of 10 and the two-LP set with gatefold sleeve was the very first "greatest hits" album I ever purchased. It was also the first gatefold sleeve double LP set I ever purchased (suggested list price: $13.98). Man-oh-man did I ever play the mess out of the thing. So while Ultimate Manilow may arguably be a more complete single disc compilation, this is the one for this guy. And now I'll play the mess out of it.

Released in late 1978, just in time for your Christmas shopping. Also released that season were greatest hits packages from Steve Miller Band, Wings, Barbra Streisand, Commodores, Steely Dan, and Earth, Wind & Fire - strong competition for your gift-giving dollar.

And since this Columbia Record Club CD version didn't include the hyperbolic liner notes from Clive Davis, here ya go:
It's hard to believe that it was only four years ago that I first met Barry. I had gone to Central Park to see him open for Dionne Warwick. There he was relating to 8,000 people, most of whom did not know who he was, with incredible verve, enthusiasm and musicality. He was thoroughly professional yet refreshingly innocent. In one sense he dared the audience not to succumb, and yet the incredulous wonder that the crowd was already loudly claiming him as their own personal discovery. That sense of pure boyish bewilderment that his talent is loved, cherished and respected is still with him today despite the fact that his fans are legion, now numbering in the millions.

Today, Barry Manilow is peerless in the world of popular music. His interpretive performances rank him at the top. He's the unquestioned best arranger of songs in America today. Further, he brilliantly co-produces his own records and, even more, he has written many of his own giant hits. For those who love a great song, a great melody, a great rhythm, Barry Manilow is synonymous with music itself. More important than his now historic sales achievements is his uncanny ability to reach the average person in a way to meaningfully affect that person's life. That is artistry.

And, yet, with all the popular acclaim surrounding him, Barry has never lost perspective on the important values of life. His sense of loyalty, responsibility and caring for others has only increased with time. So, let me dedicate this album to him as a wonderful artist, composer and friend. Success could not have found a more deserving person.
Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "featuring all the highlights of his meteoric career climb"
  • CashBox: "further solidify Manilow's position as the leading figure in the pop/easy listening market"
  • Record World: "many highlights"
  • High Fidelity: "worthwhile"


Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200: #7
  • CashBox: #4
  • Rolling Stone: #14

Tracks:
SongYearHot 100AC
Mandy197411
New York City Rhythm1975--
Ready To Take A Chance Again1978115
Looks Like We Made It197711
Daybreak1976**
Can't Smile Without You197831
It's A Miracle1975121
Even Now1978191
Bandstand Boogie1976--
Tryin' To Get The Feeling Again1976101
Could It Be Magic197564
Somewhere In The Night197994
Weekend In New England1977101
All The Time1976--
This One's For You1976291
Copacabana (radio edit)197886
Beautiful Music1975--
I Write The Songs197611
*this CD inexplicably contains the studio version of Daybreak, not the later live version, which peaked at #23 on the Hot 100 in 1977. Also, the 1976 album cut Jump Shout Boogie, originally on the LP version, was omitted from this CD version. With a total disc running time of 69 minutes, that's an odd omission. However, the shorter radio edit of Copacabana is included here and I didn't have that elsewhere, so it all evens out.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I have a specific memory of this being the first album I played once I moved into my room at the new house. However, that can't be the case as the move happened in August 1978 and this set wasn't released until later that year. Shrug.


Finally, when my wife and I finally saw Manilow in concert in 2018, his setlist was very similar to this tracklist. And that's exactly what we wanted.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Ultimate Manilow (2002)
Here At The Mayflower (2001)
Summer of '78 (1996)
If I Should Love Again (1981)
Barry (1980)
One Voice (1979)
Even Now (1978)
Tryin' To Get The Feeling (1975)

Monday, May 22, 2023

Wetton/Downes - Icon (2005)


European import

And to the surprise of absolutely no one, this sounds remarkably like an Asia album.


It's a little more poppish than Asia, but the overall sound is quite familiar. I like it good enough, but will I ever pick one of the subsequent releases by this duo? Only time will tell.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: Highlights are God Walks With Us and the chorus of I Stand Alone. The only true misstep is Far Away which is an attempt at a midtempo prog-pop ballad in the vein of latter-day ELO; a more successful ballad is the lullaby Sleep Angel. I'd have liked a real rocker or two, but ya get what ya get.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: none, but on a related note, I recently caught "The Buggles" opening for Seal on his current tour. Sadly, Geoffrey Downes was not present. Was Downes invited to rejoin Trevor Horn for the dates? I can't find any evidence either way, but my gut feeling says no. Maybe it was because Horn wore a tshirt that read "Solitary Buggle" while the rest of the band had shirts that read "Best Buggles (Ever)".

Sunday, May 14, 2023

James Newton Howard & Friends (1984)


Subtitled "Rock Instrumentals for Synthesizers, Drums, and Percussion," it's below average music being performed by above average musicians using the newest audiophile technology available when this was recorded in December 1983:
Audiophilia isn't my bag, but if you consider yourself an audiophile, please click here for a more thorough analysis of things like surface noise, dynamic range, and the like. Produced by Bill Schnee (Pablo Cruise, Boz Scaggs, Huey Lewis, etc.) under the direction of Sheffield Lab founders Lincoln Mayorga and legendary mastering engineer Doug Sax. Sax's liner notes thoroughly explain the history of this recording so I won't go into it in this space. The latest in digital synth technology at the time from Yamaha was the DX7, DX9, and GS1 - all used on this album.


I first became aware of James Newton Howard by reading his name in the credits on the Toto IV album. While this music is a bit bland, Howard would go on to score over 100 motion pictures, receiving nominations for Oscars, Emmys, and Grammy awards in the process.

To be honest, this CD should have appeared during "Early CD Week," but I didn't own the disc back then so there ya go. For those interested, my copy appears to be a later reissue because of the ridged jewel case as well as the indication that the disc was made in the US. Also included in the jewel case was a Sheffield Lab catalog that included a lot of CDs with which I was previously unfamiliar. I'm not saying I need to collect them all, but never say never, right? In the catalog, this particular disc lists the following review:
Best sounding record (and CD!)? Probably Sheffield Lab's 'James Newton Howard & Friends.' Great playing - alive, daring, powerful - aided by a superbly clean and dynamic recording.
-Jimmy Hughes/Hi-Fi Answers
Likewise, I have no complaints about the sound or the playing. It's the writing. Also, I was previously unfamiliar with Hi-Fi Answers. It appears to have been an audiophile magazine from the UK published in the '80s, but now I'm down that rabbit hole, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: 9 tracks, 26½ minutes. To my ears, it sounds like Toto demos for a prog rock album.  All tracks seem to be written/arranged to show off what the new digital Yamaha synths should do, confirming what Sax writes in the liner notes. The better of these nine are Gone Buttlefishin' and the simple ballad She. Track 4, L'Daddy, has a promising groove that desperately needs a melody. The others are forgotten as soon as the next track begins.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Grover Washington, Jr. - Inside Moves (1984)/Paradise (1979)


Two Elektra releases from the master of smooth jazz saxophone. An odd album pairing for a couple of reasons: 1) the overall sound of the two albums are very different, from production style to mix to instrumentation, and 2) the newer album is first on the CD - should have been the other way around, in my opinion. You can never go wrong with chronological order.

I enjoy his entire Ĺ“uvre, but there's just something different about Washington's releases on Elektra (1979-1984). I prefer Inside Moves to Paradise, but with a total running time of around 80 minutes, this is easily a top-to-bottom listen that offers up just the right amount of variety.


INSIDE MOVES (1984)
7 tracks, 52 minutes


Washington hit his commercial peak with 1980's Winelight album and the hit single Just The Two Of Us. He spent his remaining time on the Elektra label chasing that success and hoping lightning would strike twice. Can't say as I blame him - I'd have done the exact same thing. Inside Moves has plenty of good stuff from great musicians, including Ralph MacDonald, Marcus Miller, Richard Tee, Eric Gale, Steve Gadd, and Jon Lucien. The latter provided the vocals for the single release When I Look At You, which unfortunately didn't dent the charts.

Reviews/ratings:
  • Billboard: "flawless, smooth crossover"
  • Downbeat (★★★): "Real good album, all in all"
  • The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide (1999): ★★
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (1999): ★★★
  • The Penguin Guide to Jazz (5th ed., 2000): ★★


Album chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200: #79
  • Billboard R&B Albums: #21
  • Billboard Jazz LPs: #3
  • CashBox album: #60
  • CashBox Jazz albums: #1
  • Radio & Records Jazz Radio National Airplay: #4

Tracks: It's all good 'n' smooth, but my favorites today are Dawn Song, Secret Sounds, and Jet Stream.


PARADISE (1979)
10 tracks, 36 minutes


Note: this release was originally purchased as a LP, later replaced by a CD.

This album has a very different sound when compared to Inside Moves and utilized a completely different backing band, most notably electric violinist John Blake, who is featured prominently on each cut. 

Reviews/ratings:
  • CashBox: "a provocative showcase"
  • Record World: "could prove to be one of his biggest"
  • Downbeat (★★½): "one man's boredom can be another man's gold"
  • The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide (1999): ★★
  • The Virgin Encyclopedia of Jazz (1999): ★★★★
  • The Penguin Guide to Jazz (5th ed., 2000): ★★½



Album chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200: #24
  • Billboard R&B Albums: #15
  • Billboard Jazz LPs: #2
  • CashBox album: #33
  • CashBox Jazz albums: #1
  • Rolling Stone: #36
  • Record World Jazz LPs: #1

Tracks: Of the seven tracks on Paradise, my top picks are Tell Me About It Now, the title track (written by Blake) and Asia's Theme.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: The little town where I attended undergrad had - for a brief time - a record store that stocked both new and used. I don't remember buying anything there but a used copy of Culture Club's Colour By Numbers LP. The guy in the next room over, nicknamed Buffalo Tom, was starting to develop a taste for the smooth stuff in late '84/early '85 and picked up copies of Inside Moves and David Sanborn's Straight To The Heart. On my fairly new Fisher all-in-one, I promptly dubbed Inside Moves to one side of a blank cassette then dubbed Sanborn on the flip. That tape got a lot of playing time; it's nice to have this album handy again.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Prime Cuts: The Columbia Years 1987-1999 (1999)
Soulful Strut (1996)
All My Tomorrows (1994)
Time Out of Mind (1989)
Anthology of Grover Washington, Jr. (1985)
The Best Is Yet To Come (1982)
Come Morning (1981)
Winelight (1980)
Skylarkin' (1980)
Mister Magic (1975)

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Various Artists - Billboard Top Dance Hits 1980 (1992)


Truth in advertising from the good folks over at Rhino: ten tunes from 1980, all but two hit #1 on the Billboard Dance chart. Pro: great tunes. Con: only 3 of the 10 tracks are extended dance mixes, all others are single versions. (Extended versions marked below with an asterisk.) Oddly, two of the alleged "extended dance mixes" - by Kano and Geraldine Hunt - clock in well under four minutes.

One in a series of ten covering the years 1976-1985, not to be confused with The Disco Years series, also issued by Rhino.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks, with chart peaks and links to previous appearances on this blog:

SongArtistDanceHot 100R&BPrev.
Call MeBlondie21331,2,3
FameIrene Cara14
1,2
Shoot Your Best ShotLinda Clifford1
43
It's A War*Kano2


Vertigo/Relight My Fire*Dan Hartman1104
1
Stomp!The Brothers Johnson1711,2
Can't Fake The Feeling*Geraldine Hunt1
58
FunkytownLipps, Inc.1121,2,3,4
Upside DownDiana Ross1111,2,3
CelebrationKool & The Gang1111,2,3,4,5,6


The overall #1 year-end dance song for 1980, according to Billboard? A Lover's Holiday by Change. I guess Rhino was saving that particular gem for The Disco Years, Volume 4.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None. This was a recent clearance bin pickup.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Billboard Top Dance Hits 1979 (1992)

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Kool & The Gang - Albums 1979-1984 (2020)


UK Import

Some records are bathed in such a happy spirit that listening to them is like taking a short, revitalizing vacation. The effect has nothing to do with the loudness of the music or the heaviness of the beat; it's all in the spirit of the performance.
Review of As One in Stereo Review, February 1983, p. 76

I was in down mood recently and arbitrarily spun the Kool & The Gang compilation The Dance Collection and found my spirits immediately lifted. Not only were there many comforting, familiar tunes, almost all the tunes were positive, happy, major-keyed, at dance speed or midtempo. So I ordered this 6 albums on 3 CDs set from BGO and the albums have been in steady rotation ever since. I didn't have any of these albums back when they were originally released and boy did I ever miss out on some good stuff. The dates perfectly cover the years I was in grades 8-12 in middle/high school and on into my freshman year at university.

Why start the set in 1979 with the group's 11th studio album? Ladies' Night marked the beginning of the group's most successful era which (probably not coincidentally) also marks the debut of lead vocalist James "J.T." Taylor and the use of Eumir Deodato as producer. All six albums here peaked in the top 30 on the Billboard 200 chart and spawned multiple top 40 singles on both the pop charts (14) and the R&B charts (17). 

Excellent remastering job on these plus a fantastic liner note booklet that includes full credits as well as a nice essay by Charles Waring, columnist for Record Collector and contributor to MOJO and Wax Poetics. Well done. I'll probably never listen to all three discs consecutively, but just putting one CD in and enjoying 2 albums is just the right amount of good vibes. Or maybe shuffle tracks from all six. I prefer the first two CDs to the third, but it's all just a big box of feel good.


LADIES' NIGHT (1979)
6 tracks, 34 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone: "It's clearly a long way from 'Jungle Boogie'"
  • Billboard: "The group effectively fuses funk and disco with jazz, r&b and pop"
  • CashBox: "worth the wait"
  • Record World: "slick rhythmically and vocally with Deodato's production to match"
Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #13
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #1
  • CashBox album chart: #14
  • Rolling Stone chart: #32
Also, the album as a whole made the Disco Top 100 chart, peaking at #5.

Tracks: The singles are fantastic - Ladies' Night (#8 pop, #1 R&B), Too Hot (#5 pop #3 R&B, #11 dance), Hangin' Out (#36 R&B) - but the other three cuts are just as good and discolicious. The smooth grooves of Too Hot take me back to 8th grade dances/parties in a big hurry.


CELEBRATE! (1980)
8 tracks, 35 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Record World: "winning combination is back"
  • CashBox: "The band continues to craft top-flight R&B/pop songs"
  • Stereo Review: "the music is never very heavy, never very hot, never very anything except comfortable"
  • Robert Christgau (C-): "they've adapted painlessly, nay profitably, to disco"

Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #10
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #2
  • CashBox album chart: #12
  • Rolling Stone chart: #19

Tracks: The title track has become the group's signature tune and wedding reception staple. Case in point: my lovely wife and I attended a wedding last month and all the 20-somethings in attendance at the reception flooded the dance floor when this song played and they knew every word of the lyrics. (Oddly enough, they belted out Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody even louder than Celebration, but that's neither here nor there.) The truth is, I've heard Celebration thousands of times by now yet I never tire of it and it never fails to improve my mood. A rare thing, indeed.

Celebration (#1 pop, #1 R&B, #1 dance, #34 AC) was the platinum-selling hit, but there were two other singles from the album: Jones Vs. Jones (#39 pop, #33 R&B) and Take It To The Top (#11 R&B, #1 dance) - of those two, the latter gets the nod from me. But that's just the first three cuts on the album. We're then treated to the tasty dance instrumental Morning Star (that sounds like it was lifted from a Tom Browne album of the time), then the funky Love Festival. There isn't much going on in the remaining tunes, but they're certainly enjoyable enough filler.


SOMETHING SPECIAL (1981)
8 tracks, 36 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone (★★½): "finds the band comfortably rehashing the successful pop-soul formula they launched with 'Ladies' Night'"
  • Billboard: "light, lilting tempos, sprightly jazz tinged horn lines and simple good time messages"
  • CashBox: "looks like it will continue the hot streak"
  • Stereo Review: "These are nearly all monotonous, thumpy productions of songs about steppin' out an' gettin' down."


Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #12
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #1
  • CashBox album chart: #10
  • Rolling Stone chart: #19

Tracks: The lead track, Steppin' Out (#89 pop, #12 R&B, #16 dance), is a fantastic opener and I can't believe it didn't chart higher than it did. The other singles from this album were Take My Heart (#17 pop, #1 R&B, #16 dance) and my personal favorite from this release, the funk-fest of Get Down On It (#10 pop, #4 R&B, #16 dance). Take My Heart is a fantastic shuffle for sure and might have the best arrangement on the album, but "Get your back up off the wall!" is so dang catchy, the English teacher in me will even excuse the two consecutive prepositions. ;-) Good Time Tonight is the obvious attempt at duplicating the sound and feel of Celebrate and almost succeeds; Be My Lady and the super-positive Stand Up And Sing could each have been chosen for a single release; No Show is as close to a ballad as the group gets around this time and it's a dang good one, at that. The bonus track, Stop!, is a driving instrumental in search of lyrics and a melody but it's catchy enough that I'm glad it's included here.


AS ONE (1982)
7 tracks, 36 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone (★★★): "slick but substantial R&B-fueled pop"
  • Billboard: "their best bid yet to make a substantial splash"
  • Stereo Review: "one of the best dance records in many months"
  • CashBox: "a best bet"
  • Smash Hits (9 out of 10): "What more can you ask for?"

Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #29
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #5
  • CashBox album chart: #36
  • Rolling Stone chart: #24

Tracks: Street Kids is just an okay opener, but that's followed by Big Fun (#21 pop, #6 R&B) - which is indeed big fun with great horn licks and falsetto vocals. We're later treated to two entirely different but equally fantastic dance tunes with silly lyrics: Hi De Hi Hi De Ho and, my favorite cut on the album, Let's Go Dancin' (Ooh La La La) (#30 pop, #7 R&B). There's a nice variety here with some balladry, a little pseudo-reggae, funk-lite, some disco strings, the familiar Celebration and Too Hot grooves, and "I find its uncomplicated optimism heart-warming and irresistibly danceable."


IN THE HEART (1983)
9 tracks, 35 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Stereo Review: "a disappointment"
  • CashBox: "takes them even further into the pop territory"
  • Rolling Stone (★★★½): "state-of-the-art soul, brimming with optimism"


Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #29
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #5
  • CashBox album chart: #30
  • Rolling Stone chart: #50

Tracks: Joanna (#2 pop, #1 R&B, #2 AC) and Tonight (#13 pop, #7 R&B) were the big singles while Straight Ahead (#103 pop) didn't quite make the Hot 100.  Regardless of chart success, those three are the cream of the crop here. Definitely my least favorite of the six albums included in this set.

In the late fall/early winter of 1983, I was briefly interested in a girl named JoAnn. She was a couple of years younger than me and, in her father's opinion, too young to go on a "car date" so that relationship never got off the ground. Other than the similar names, the girl and the song have nothing to do with each other. However, I'm always reminded of JoAnn when I hear this tune. The trombone solo, the sappy lyrics, the constant eight note electric piano motif - it all works for me.

The dance-rock sound of Tonight certainly laid the groundwork for the next album...


EMERGENCY (1984)
7 tracks, 36 minutes

Press of the time:
  • Stereo Review: "can always be counted on to deliver easy-to-listen-to r-&-b dance music"
  • Billboard: "the group continues to develop"
  • CashBox: "one of the strongest song-for-song B/C collections of the year"
  • Robert Christgau (B-): "anonymity is their signature"


Chart peaks:
  • US Billboard Top 200 chart: #13
  • Billboard R&B album chart: #3
  • CashBox album chart: #19
  • Rolling Stone chart: #17

Tracks: This double-platinum album became the group's all-time biggest seller on the strength of four hit singles:

Pop
R&B
Dance
AC
Misled
10
3
9

Fresh
9
1
1
5
Cherish
2
1

1
Emergency
18
7
41


For those keeping track, the above four singles make up over 57% of the whole album; they're all great and I can't imagine 1985 without them. They're also the first four track on the album. So what about the remaining three tracks? Surrender is a danceable attempt at Minneapolis funk, Bad Woman is a poor man's Careless Whisper, and You Are The One is a prayer set to a manic-synth-Latin-syncopated accompaniment. Still, 5 out of 7 ain't bad.



Previously revisited for the blog:
The Dance Collection (1990)