When it comes to ranking music, especially bands of different genres and generations, it’s kind of like having to rank your kids. Many times, like beer or food, it’s a lot about what sounds good right now in the moment.
Album lists are highly subjective and intensely personal, so what registers for one person may not make the radar of someone else. When compiling this list, I put together ten albums that are highly important to me. Then I snuck in an extra one for good measure. It’s not about total sales, historical significance, pedigree of band members or anything of that nature; it’s simply what ten (eleven) albums moved me more than any others. With that, let’s agree to disagree.
11. Next Position Please – Cheap Trick
When money’s no object and I can hire any band in the world to play my birthday party, I’m going to hire Cheap Trick. I’m going to overpay the band, because I will insist on creating the setlist.
Said setlist will include playing the entirety of my favorite Cheap Trick album, Next Position Please. What’s not to like about this masterpiece? Vocalist (and Mt. Rushmore of singers resident) Robin Zander was in his prime as he was cranking out hit after should-be hit on this radio-friendly epic.
I Can’t Take It leads the rock assault as the opening (and album’s best) track. The title track, Younger Girls and Invaders of the Heart are all highlights. Don’t Make Our Love a Crime is just a fun song. And Y.O.Y.O.Y shows off the best of Zander’s vocals; as good as anything he’s done since Voices.
Todd Rundgren produced the record and even lent his songwriting expertise on Heaven’s Falling, which sounds, well, basically just like a Cheap Trick song, so it worked flawlessly.
Sure, Budokan broke this band, and it may be “sexier” to list the debut album, In Color or Heaven Tonight as a favorite. Even Dream Police or their MTV smash, One on One – all good choices. But for my money, this 1983 album is the best of the bunch.
10. Don’t Look Back – Boston
No top ten anything list would be complete without the inclusion of Boston. This band was the pure definition of everything great about music – and America, for that matter. Apple pie, fourth of July and Boston! (Chevy, not so much.)
Many consider their debut album to be the greatest debut album of all time. I think it’s close, but I give that edge to Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love, yet with Boston slightly outranking Led Zeppelin I and Van Halen I.
How about that patented “Rockman” guitar sound??!! So far ahead of its time, in my opinion.
Don’t Look Back is upbeat, happy, inspirational and still as cool today as it was when it was released in 1978. Feeling Satisfied is the quintessential party rocker. It’s Easy is somewhat unheralded, yet one of the album’s highlights. Don’t Be Afraid closes the album as strongly as DLB opens it.
A Man I’ll Never Be is probably Boston’s greatest tune. This, and the kick ass blue graphics on the album cover, make Don’t Look Back the Boston representative in a very tight race with its predecessor, the self-titled Boston.
9. Big Bang Theory – Harem Scarem
No list of mine could be complete without inclusion of the band Harem Scarem. As a melodic rock songwriter, I immerse myself in bands of this genre, so I know the great majority of them. Harem Scarem pretty much created the mold for how to craft the ideal melodic rock song.
This band simply doesn’t write bad songs. They are either good, great or out of this world. When the band’s self-titled debut came out in 1991, it was classic hair metal (of the best kind). The classic follow up, Mood Swings, was more of the same, only better.
As grunge dirtied the airwaves, the Scarem sound also got darker for the subsequent two albums. It wasn’t until Big Bang Theory that they found their true identity.
Big Bang Theory is a masterpiece from the very first note. This is one of those albums that – even if you’ve never heard of the band or the music – you’ll find yourself with the songs stuck in your head after just one listen.
Harry Hess is the lead vocalist and producer, and apparently can write great songs at will. His vocals are always exactly what the song calls for, and the harmonies are perfect every single time. Every so often, you can hear Harry channeling Freddy Mercury, one of his personal vocal heroes.
If I could start a band with any guitarist on the planet alive today, hands down it would be Pete Lesperance. He can play pretty much anything he wants, but he doesn’t overplay like so many guitarists. His note choices are brilliant and tasteful, and his sound sets the standard for the music genre. He’s also a studio whiz which is why Scarem records simply sound better than most others out today.
It’s a nice luxury when your drummer, Darren James Smith, is so talented that he also fronts another internationally known band (Red Dragon Cartel with Jake E. Lee) when he’s not playing drums for HS. Darren also released a great solo album around 2005; a time when he fronted his band – and played guitar! Of course he did. That’s just how talented these guys are.
Straightforward rockers like Climb the Gate are instant classics while others, such as Without You, defy genre categorization. Both are among my all-time favorite HS tunes in a catalog approaching almost 200 songs at this point.
Had they hit the scene a year or two before they did, and had proper record company support, there’s no doubt they could have been as big as Whitesnake, Bon Jovi or Guns N Roses. Instead, they may be destined to live just under the mainstream, but without question, at the very top of the melodic rock genre.
If you don’t know this band, you should. This is the “greatest band you’ve never heard of,” which would make a fantastic title for their biography. With a little luck and serendipity, maybe I’ll get to write that book someday.
8. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles
Abbey Road is my favorite Beatles album and you can make the case that Sgt. Pepper may be the most socially relevant album of all time. But none of it happens without this album happening first. In fact, this whole top ten list might have been a list of big-band performers if the Beatles didn’t do what they did.
Take a minute to understand the impact of an album such as 1964’s Hard Day’s Night. Pick a song – any song – and chances are it was a huge charting success.
You have the iconic title track, where Paul needed to sing the bridge because it was just out of John’s range. You have the ethereal ballad If I Fell. Tell Me Why, And I Love Her, Can’t Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better are all radio staples, as are I’m Happy Just To Dance With You, Anytime At All and I’ll Be Back. The first seven tracks were from the movie of the same name. I’ll Cry Instead was a last minute cut from the movie, but a radio hit, nonetheless.
No band did what they did. Period. They changed absolutely everything. Amassing a huge song list in a relatively short span of about EIGHT YEARS. Take a lesson Boston & Def Leppard!
Imagine that George Harrison was only about 27 years old when the band BROKE UP! They got to where they got because of dedication, hard work, a little serendipitous timing and those ridiculously catchy songs. Before they were signed, they would regularly perform EIGHT hours a day in the German Reeperbahn honing their craft. I’d like to see someone do that today.
The Beatles. The greatest band that’s ever been or ever will be.
7. Rising – Rainbow
What do you get when you combine a guitar maestro (Ritchie Blackmore), one of rock’s greatest drummers (Cozy Powell) and an up and coming vocalist who would effectively become the godfather of metal (Ronnie James Dio)? You get an instant classic. Only six songs in length, Rising delivers power and legacy well beyond most albums double the length.
Stargazer, Tarot Woman and A Light in the Black are metal royalty. This unit, complemented by bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboardist Tony Carey, created sounds that never before existed and have never been replicated. The sound was magical, just as were many of lyrical ideas produced by a young Dio. Rainbow was definitely rising upon this release. Though they may have achieved higher charting success in future records, none captured the mystique of this classic masterpiece.
6. Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne
I picked this album because of its guitarist, the late, great Randy Rhoads. It could have just as easily been Diary of a Madman; I chose this simply because it came first. In my opinion, Ronnie Dio is a better singer than Ozzy, and as much as I love the first two Dio-era Sabbath albums, the first two Ozzy solo albums reign supreme, as absolute classics. The difference between “great” and “world class” and that’s all because of the greatest guitar player who ever lived, Randy Rhoads.
I’m sure neither Ozzy or Randy could have ever imagined Crazy Train being played in baseball stadiums or on mainstream radio, but this band and its music were simply ahead of the time. Ozzy was failing as the lead vocalist of Black Sabbath, deeply immersed in booze and drugs to the point of uselessness. Saved by his manager and future wife Sharon, she kicked him in the ass, hired an incredible backing band, including the unheralded drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist/songwriter Bob Daisley, and got him back on the stage. Ozzy surpassed his Sabbath success in spades, and is still going strong almost 40 years later. Much of that has to do with the brilliance and mastery of his young guitar protege, Randy Rhoads.
5. Keeper of the Seven Keys – Helloween
German metal gods Helloween may be the quintessential metal band of all time, and are my personal favorite. Doing everything Iron Maiden does, but just a little bit better, this band delivers anthemic metal with musical virtuosity.
On Keeper of the Seven Keys I & II (and two subsequent albums after), vocalist Michael showed why he is the greatest metal vocalist in the world. Bassist Markus Grosskopf challenges Steve Harris for the same title in the bass category.
Many people think this was a one or two hit wonder band because they didn’t really hit in America. That’s absolutely not the case. Still making great music today, Helloween has been uniting pumpkins around the world since 1986 – 34 solid years!
If you love metal; especially metal with a classical/symphonic band, this is your band, and Keeper 1 & 2 are your albums. The two go together as a unit, as if they were written and recorded at the same time, even if they weren’t. If I had to give a nod to one over the other, I choose Keeper part 2, since it has Helloween’s greatest song, the anthemic twelve minute masterpiece, Keeper of the Seven Keys.
4. Abbey Road – The Beatles
John and Paul did legendary things for about seven years, then decided to give young George Harrison a chance. Who knew there were three legends in this band from Liverpool? (Nothing personal Ringo, but let’s be real.)
Abbey Road is the result of everything that led up to this masterpiece. Intricate harmonies, catchy hooks, substantive lyrics and pure musical diversity that highlighted each Beatles’ strengths. There’s just something special about this album, pun intended. Pure musical mastery, the best album from the world’s greatest band.
3. Piece of Mind – Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden is the classic “new wave of British heavy metal” (NWOBHM) act. I can argue that the combination of Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave is the best 3 album run in all of music history. (Boston’s 1st 3 and Led Zeppelin’s “4,” “Houses” and “Graffiti” would also contend).
Steve Harris sets the standard for bassists while renaissance man & vocalist Bruce Dickinson delivers as good of a live show as anyone, when he’s not flying the band’s plane, writing an autobiography or creating another Trooper beer. Martin Birch writes the production gospel that every metal producer forever after will try, and fail, to replicate.
It’s hard to pick a favorite Maiden album and Number of the Beast could have easily gotten the honor – but it doesn’t have either Revelations or Where Eagles Dare – so the nod goes to 1983’s Piece of Mind.
2. Too Fast For Love – Motley Crue
The first or second album I bought with my own money as a new teenager, TFFL instantly became my inspiration for all things heavy metal. (That’s what we used to call hard rock back in my day, kids.) The raw sound (mistakes and all), the look, the attitude and damn, those songs! Nikki Sixx could never duplicate the magic of this incredible masterpiece.
The rawness is captured by the classic sound of guitarist Mick Mars and the clean, tenor-styled vocals of Vince Neil. Tommy Lee showed you can never have too much cowbell and Nikki Sixx created a whole new level of rock star by just walking into a room.
There doesn’t exist a more metal riff than the opening notes of the album’s opener, Live Wire. Awe inspiring, crusade starting and life changing.
1. Escape – Journey
While I wouldn’t mind if I never heard Don’t Stop Believing again, back in the day this was THE ALBUM! Virtually no bad songs (except maybe the mundane Lay it Down), it was hit after hit after hit. The three best songs on the album were not even released as singles (Escape, Mother/Father, Stone In Love) which speaks to the strength of this instantly memorable rock classic.
Not to mention it features the man, myth and legend – Mr. Steve Perry – at his peak – a singer who earns a spot on the Mt. Rushmore for rock singers, right there with Robert Plant, Robin Zander and Brad Delp. (But that’s a post for another day.)
The voice, the songs, the guitar sound, the solos; all speak to a soundtrack in time when life was good and the music was even better.