Rockin’ Christmas Albums

The Ventures' Christmas Album album cover   Fuzz For The Holidays (CD, Album) album cover Image result for los straitjackets complete christmas songbook Image result for socks jd mcpherson Image result for brian setzer dig that crazy santa claus

Well here we are once again near the end of a year getting ready to make what for many is that annual pilgrimage to church.  We will once again all be harkening to some angels named Harold plus musing on what heavenly peas are and why we need to sleep in them.  Those tunes remind us of childhood or other hopefully fond memories (though we can usually only remember the first verse).  Perhaps for that reason it seems like every rock and roller be they Christian, agnostic or even Jewish (Bob Dylan!?) have attempted at least one Christmas song.  The more adventuresome will sled through a whole album (usually recorded in the heat of summer).  Christmas records may not sell a lot of copies in any given year, but often have long lives as they get trotted out every December.  2018 sees another fruitcake load of long players in the stores including new ones from Eric Clapton and Captain Kirk himself – William Shatner!?  Some artists stay with mostly the classics on their Christmas albums while others get crazy and try to write their own.  The fact that pretty much none of the newly written songs ever are catchy enough to remember beyond the first year gives credence to how difficult it is to write a classic such as “Jingle Bells” – let alone a neo classic like John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”.  You are encouraged to click on the November 2016 link of my site to check out my 20 fave rockin’ Christmas songs thus gaining some understanding of the mind of a pasty white aging rock and roller.  I freely admit that while I love the classics by folks like Andy Williams, I do enjoy amped up rockers even more or at least non-traditional releases so that is the conceit behind this new list (the order is fluid).  I talked to my friend DC in D.C. and he chimed in that he is still a traditionalist: Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song, Perry Como – I Wish it Could Be Christmas Forever, Christmas with Bing, Johnny Mathis – Merry Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas.  No doubt all good choices, but we are gonna switch things up a bit on my list (anybody wishing to chime in with their vote, I encourage feedback).  I encourage you to visit your local CD shop and purchase a few of these goodies.

Image result for rudolph the red-nosed reindeer cd

Let us start out by saying that my fave Christmas album of all-time isn’t rock and roll at all so didn’t make the list but needs to be acknowledged.  This album involves an elf that wants to be a Dentist (natch), a Bumble, Yukon Cornelius, a lovable snowman and of course a reindeer with a red nose.  The album is the soundtrack to the 1964 TV classic hosted by Burl Ives – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  “Silver & Gold”, “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “We’re A Couple Of Misfits” – every (Medicare) card carrying boomer can sing them all.

1.The Ventures – Christmas Album

The Ventures have been hands down the greatest and most prolific instrumental combo of the rock era (over 60 studio albums) so it was natural that they would tackle a Christmas LP.  Back in 1965 they issued this 12 track goodie on the Dolton label.  Somewhere along the way they got the bright idea to interpolate a rock and roll classic riff with a Christmas song so for instance we get the Beatles’ “I Feel Feel” intro grafted onto “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  The Searchers’ “When You Walk In The Room”  starts “Blue Christmas” while “Wooly Bully” begins “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”.  Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, Mel Taylor and Don Wilson finally made it in to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008.  Don’t confuse this with their decent 2002 album Christmas Joy.

2.Ringo Starr – I Wanna Be Santa Claus

The ex-Beatle drummer has been a prolific solo artist with this 1999 Christmas album being his 12th of 19 studio releases (as of 2018).  Since his early hits when he collaborated with his former fab mates, by far his best albums were the ones he did with Mark Hudson who brought a bright Beatles feel to the sound.  My biggest gripe with many of the other solo Fabs releases is they seem to want to ignore the Mersey style sound that made them successful.  Ringo’s drumming is particularly prominent on this album coming to the fore on a fun version of “Little Drummer Boy” and a stompin’ glitter-beat track – “Come On Christmas, Christmas Come On”.  Ringo owes a great debt to Hudson for putting the fun back into his music.

Image result for billboard rock n roll christmas

3.Billboard Rock ‘N’ Roll Christmas

This is a 1994 Rhino records ten track compilation that includes three of my top ten fave rockin’ Christmas songs by Foghat, The Kinks and Dave Edmunds.  As of this writing, I note that a national online sales site has a copy for 1.79 plus shipping which has to be a great deal –  or find it locally at some CD emporium.  Canned Heat, Cheech & Chong, Queen – you can’t go wrong.

4.The Mavericks – Hey! Merry Christmas!

So I picked up two new Christmas CDs in the past week and both are already in my top holiday music list including this fine groover from one of my fave bands – The Mavericks.  I love a band that really doesn’t fit into a neat category and that describes these brujos.  Are they country, tex-mex, rock – who knows?  They are simply good which unfortunately usually means struggling now-a-days – so buy their music, folks!  Most of the songs are originals and go from rock (“Christmas Time Is [Coming ‘Round Again]”) to ballads (“I Have Wanted You For Christmas”).  They do a great version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” which was sung by Darlene Love on the Phil Spector Christmas album (and no that one didn’t make my list).

5.Davie Allan & The Arrows – Fuzz For The Holidays

Fuzz-tone guitar, cheesy organ, “Wipeout” drums – what’s not to like?!  Back in the ’60s Mr. Allan used his fuzz-box for evil making nasty instros with his band The Arrows to accompany biker movies from American International Pictures – “Blue’s Theme”, “Devil’s Angels”, “Theme From The Wild Angels” – all great.  When music got all soft and singer/songwriter then disco flash, nobody wanted trashy guitars.  Thankfully America came to its senses and Allan found a new cult following ultimately leading to his turning his fuzz-box back on and using it for good to cut this excellent album of Christmas chestnuts (he didn’t just roast them – he incinerated them).  Check out “Winter Wonderland” and the grafting of the James Bond theme to “Hark” The Herald Angels Sing”.  After this 2004 original he recorded volume 2 a few years later which is also good.

6.The Smithereens – Christmas With…

Back in 2007, the brand of hard-edged guitar rock taken into the charts by these guys in the late ’80s/early ’90s  wasn’t selling well. The Smithereens turned to the holiday album solution and came up with a 12 track winner that included some nice left-field covers like “Merry Christmas, Baby” (the Beach Boys) and “Christmas” (the Who).  Their version of the old Brenda Lee classic “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” made my top songs list back in 2016.  Their usual lead singer Pat DiNizio passed away in mid-December 2017, but the rest of the band has been soldiering on with Marshall Crenshaw singing.

7.J.D. McPherson – Socks-A Christmas Album By…

This is the other new CD of Christmas tunes to hit my collection and after a few more spins could end up moving up on my top list.  McPherson and his band are the real deal if you like authentic R&B/Rockabilly in the vein of Chuck Berry/Bill Haley.  His band is amazing and put on a great show so be sure to see them in some sweaty club when they hit your town.  The album doesn’t feel like a Christmas record so much as a rock and roll record that happens to have a holiday theme.  “Hey Skinny Santa”, “Holly, Carol, Candy & Joy”, “Santa’s Got A Mean Machine” – all rock like you would hope, but the slow ones like “Socks” are great too.

It's Christmas: 18 Original Christmas Hits

8.It’s Christmas

Being a U.K. import on the EMI label, this 1989 compilation is skewed heavily towards the kind of songs I love that inexplicably never made it here in the U.S.  I’m talking about classics like Roy Wood’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” and Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone”.  Five of these songs made my 2016 list including Greg Lake (“I Believe In Father Christmas”), Elton John (“Step Into Christmas”) and John & Yoko (“Happy Xmas [War Is Over]”).   Once again, I note that the major online sale site has copies for sale starting at 1.71 plus shipping.

9.Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone

Oh man, talk about a crime against rock and roll – Shakin’ Stevens has charted over 30 classic ’50s style rockers in the U.K. yet is totally unknown in the U.S.  Sometimes I think I should have been born a Brit – Slade, Dave Edmunds and of course Shakey.  Back in 1991 He released this 12 song holiday album with his take on mostly originals such as the Elvis-like “Sure Won’t Seem Like Christmas” and rockers like “The Best Christmas Of Them All”.  Production on the title track was by Dave Edmunds while the rest were helmed by John David and included the late great Micky Gee on guitar (both from Edmunds’ band).

10.Jethro Tull – Christmas Album

Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull had over the years performed songs with a holiday theme (“A Christmas Song”, “Ring Out Solstice Bells”) so it wasn’t totally unexpected when this album came out in 2003.  Tull remakes those two songs here (plus “Jack Frost & The Hooded Crow” and “Bouree”) while tackling a few new songs.  For me, it is the flute-led instrumentals of classics like “Greensleeves” and the mix of two songs in “Holly Herald” that are the stand-outs.  With Anderson’s falling out with guitarist Martin Barre this may be the last time they put out new music.

11.The Rubber Band – Xmas! The Beatmas

There is a whole world-wide cottage industry that exists of Beatle cover bands.  The Rubber Band is a Danish Fab Four cover act that released this beat themed Christmas record in 1996.  Each classic old Christmas song is given an arrangement that mimics a Beatles song such as “I Saw Her Standing There” wrapping around “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”.  “Love Me Do” mixes with “Jingle Bells” while “Ticket To Ride” meshes with “White Christmas” also.

12.Blackmore’s Night – Winter Carols

While I am a sucker for this kind of music (Celtic instruments in a bit of a rock context), I am not a fan of the female singer’s overly earnest vocal style.  Guitarist Richie Blackmore late of Deep Purple and Rainbow came up with a winning concept with this band, however I wish he would record an album of just instrumentals.  The other song I like a lot on this 2006 album is “Lord Of The Dance/Simple Gifts”.

13.Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Christmas Trilogy

I was struggling with how to place each of the three Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums in this list and then I discovered that they have all been released in one three CD/one DVD set so problem solved.  Back in 1996 three members of hard rock band Savatage Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli along with their producer the late Paul O’Neill founded T.S.O. which has been a holiday juggernaut over the years.  Their first album Christmas Eve And Other Stories (1996) built off of the Savatage instrumental “Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24” pointing the way to heavy guitar based classical sounding instrumental songs and bombastic rock opera vocal tracks (they remind me of Meatloaf). Their next two holiday records The Christmas Attic (1998) and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004) have continued in the rock opera tradition (though I admit I don’t understand the stories – I just listen to the music).

14.The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Dig That Crazy Christmas

When Setzer’s band The Stray Cats was winding down, he managed to recharge his career with a horn driven swing band.  The Brian Setzer Orchestra released two studio albums of Christmas music mixing jivin’ swing and classics.  I far prefer his second holiday album that was released originally in 2005.  You can buy a best-of collection but then you would miss out on one of my fave tracks by Setzer, the original rockabilly with horns workout on “Hey Santa!”  My other fave track here is his great instro version of “Angels We Have Heard On High”.

15.Christmas With The Kranks music from the motion picture

Little Steven from the E Street Band has some great taste when it comes to alternative type music that is in my wheelhouse (’60s garage rock, Merseybeat).  It is no surprise that the soundtrack to this 2004 movie is loaded with cool songs since Mr. Van Zant produced it.  There are nifty Beatlish takes on “White Christmas” by Tina Sugandh and “Joy To The World” by the Butties.  You can also rock to The Chesterfield Kings (“Hey Santa Claus”) and the Ramones (“Merry Christmas [I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight]”).  I have to admit, however, that I have never seen the movie and likely never will unless someone can tell me why I should.

16.Los Straitjackets – Complete Christmas Songbook

For the 2018 season, Yep Roc records combined all the Christmas music done over the years by my favorite modern instrumental rock band into one handy 27 track CD package.  Their 2002 release ‘Tis The Season For…. had the lion’s share of the best tunes here, but the new package concludes with one of my faves they have done – a live version of “Linus And Lucy” from the Charlie Brown soundtrack so you do need the whole CD frankly.  I am also fond of “Marshmellow World” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”.  When you think of Christmas, you will forever associate it with Mexican wrestling masks after you buy this CD.

17.The Beach Boys – Ultimate Christmas

This 1998 CD expanded the original 1964 12 track LP The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album to 26 tracks (including messages and interviews).  The five band originals on the old LP were pretty good (“Santa’s Beard”, “The Man With All The Toys”, etc.) but I never much liked their overly earnest takes on the old classics like “White Christmas”.  Frankly without the bonus tracks this album wouldn’t have made the list, but I really like many of them including the single version of “Little Saint Nick” which has seasonal overdubs that improve on the album version.  Many of the bonus tracks are from a 1977 proposed Christmas album that their label rejected though many of those tracks are pretty darn good including “Santa’s Got An Airplane” and “Winter Symphony”.

18.38 Special – A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night

38 Special were/are a hard rock band mostly successful in the ’80s.  They were formed in Florida by Donnie Van Zant (younger brother of the late lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd Ronnie) and Don Barnes.  This holiday CD was released in 2001 and was your usual mix of standards and new songs.  They do a few too many ballads here for my taste as it is the rockers like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night” that move me.

19.The Moody Blues – December

As it currently stands this 2003 album is the most recent studio release by one of my favorite progressive pop bands.  At this time the band was Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge.  There are some truly lovely orchestrations on songs like “A Winter’s Tale”.  The originals are quite good here including the Hayward composition “Don’t Need A Reindeer” which is really catchy.  They do a nice version of John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” though interestingly they chose to omit the “war is over” lyric.  The album is mostly fairly sedate including a nice Bach rewrite “In The Quiet Of Christmas Morning (Bach 147)”.  I could have done without the trite “White Christmas”, however.

20.The Albion Band – Live-Another Christmas Present From…

Ashley Hutchings has been involved with some of the best and most important British folk outfits – Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band.  The latter was his longest tenured outfit with a fluid membership.  For many years they put on Christmas shows in the U.K. and this is a record of the 1986 tour which included Cathy Lesurf on vocals.  They alternated fiddle driven music with spoken word pieces such as “The History Of Christmas”.  My other faves here are “The Official Branle” and “Lumps Of Plum Pudding” – two instrumentals.

 

BEST PACKAGING AWARD:

Related image  Image result for elvis presley if every day was like christmas

Elvis Presley – Christmas Album (and) If Every Day Was Like Christmas

The original RCA Victor LP was his third overall and was released in 1957 as perhaps the first rock and roll holiday album.  Listening today, it doesn’t really hold up for me with one side devoted entirely to religious themed music while the other side has only three great songs.  It might have made a better EP with “Blue Christmas”, “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me”, “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and I guess “Here Comes Santa Claus”.   That hasn’t stopped it from selling over 20 million copies worldwide so I guess I am in the minority.  The content didn’t make my list, but I would nominate the original with a booklet insert of great Elvis promo pictures from his Jailhouse Rock movie as my favorite packaging.  I might also include the 1994 limited edition If Every Day Was Like Christmas that was expanded to 24 tracks and came with a pop-up Graceland (his home) in the middle – very cool packaging as well.

BONUS DOPEY CD YOU REALLY NEED TO OWN:

Jingle Cats – Meowy Christmas

The Singing Dogs’ “Jingle Bells” since 1955 owned eye-rolling Christmas silliness till 1993 when a feline 20 track CD hit the market.  It is pretty difficult to listen to the entire album, but whenever you feel a need to annoy your kids or your dog (or perhaps clear out a late party crowd so you can go to bed) this really comes in handy.

 

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Twenty Fave American Bands

  

Independence Day celebrates the July 4th, 1776 ratification (by Congress) of our nation’s  formal Declaration of Independence.  While caught up in the recent patriotic fervor of our 2017 celebration, your Rock N Roll Dentist was moved to pen a list of his favorite American bands (three or more members).  It’s hard to figure these sorts of lists out criteria-wise.  Do you rate a band that only stuck around for a few great albums then broke as high as a band that also put out a few great albums but then kept pumping out records well after they should have given up the ghost?  These sorts of lists always feel like personal puffery so please forgive me especially if I have omitted one of your faves – if anything, please feel free to comment and submit your additions.  Sorry, but the Electric Flag (seen above) didn’t make it.  Oh and if you are looking for the Monkees, forget it as Davy Jones was British and I really couldn’t include them on this list of All-Americans.

1.Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Back in 1978, their classic 2nd album You’re Gonna Get It moved me to visit my local vinyl emporium (Underground Records on Pearl perhaps?) after hearing “Listen To Her Heart” on the radio.  It sounded a lot like a snottier version of the Searchers (clear chiming 12 string guitar over a great tune) – something sorely missing from the disco-drunk music scene of the late 70s.  To rock starved ears they filled the bill, but could they keep it going?  Well, here it is over 40 years after their debut and they don’t show any signs of slowing down with their 13th studio album Hypnotic Eye (2014) debuting on the charts at #1.  The team of TP on vocals + rhythm guitar and Mike Campbell on lead guitar is as potent as ever with original keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Ron Blair.  The late Howie Epstein was a fine Heartbreaker bassist as well who formed a great rhythm section with the much missed Stan Lynch on drums and backing vocals.  The volatile Lynch left in 1994 to be replaced by Steve Ferrone who is an able replacement but doesn’t have the distinctively loping behind the beat style Stan brought.  Their 1979 album Damn The Torpedoes was their breakout album with great songs like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That”.  My personal favorite Petty song is “The Waiting” from the 1981 LP Hard Promises.

2.Creedence Clearwater Revival

Their 1968 debut single, a remake of “Susie Q” by Dale Hawkins, got played on Denver’s first underground radio station KMYR – all 8 minutes and 37 seconds.  It was a strange amalgam with classic screaming rock vocals over a nearly metronomic rock backing that gave in to a psychedelic guitar/vocal workout before returning to its roots.  Frankly, I wasn’t ready for it or their first album – but boy did that change in 1969 when John Fogerty and company pumped out three classic albums – 3 in 1 year!!  Bayou Country, Green River + Willy & The Poor Boys were loaded with rock and roll classics like “Born On The Bayou”, “Green River”, “Fortunate Son” and “Proud Mary”.  By July of 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory, CCR were America’s biggest band.  John’s late brother Tom Fogerty played rhythm guitar while the able rhythm section was Stu Cook on bass and the undervalued Doug Clifford slammin’ the drums.  John Fogerty, however, was the MVP writing, producing, playing guitar and possessing one of the greatest swamp rock vocals of all-time (chooglin’ from California – go figure).  In addition to playing his music in college, I also adopted Fogerty’s look of lumberjack shirts and jeans not to mention his mop of Prince Valiant hair and long-sideburns (where did all that hair go!?).  One more pretty good album and another not so good album then it was all over in 1972.  While the passing of Tom and the acrimony with Stu and Doug means no CCR reunion, at least John Fogerty has embraced his legacy and still sounds and looks great in concert.  John (if you are reading this – unlikely) why don’t you write an update on your character Jody as I would like to know what he’s been up to since he fell out of his tractor on “It Came Out Of The Sky” and he went to the rodeo on “Almost Saturday Night”.   You can’t beat “Travelin’ Band” from the classic Cosmo’s Factory for 2:07 of rock and roll maniac energy on a vinyl record.

3.Los Straitjackets

Oh my – I can hear many heads being scratched.  Who are these guys?  Well kids, they happen to be one of the coolest and rockin’est instrumental combos to grace a stage plus they have pumped out just south of 20 albums if spiffy rock and roll since their 1995 debut The Utterly Fantastic And Totally Unbelievable Sound Of…  If that isn’t enough, who can resist the mysterioso wrestling masks not to mention on-stage choreography on classics like “Itchy Chicken” (cool cheesy instro choreography at that – not pre-packaged lip-synced dance a la Madonna and her more modern ilk)?  Danny Amis of the Raybeats (way ahead of their time) and rockabilly Eddie Angel (the Neanderthals – great band) formed the original guitar core with Amis spouting fake-o Mexican jive on stage (they’re as Mexican as Jose Jimenez after all – look him up if you don’t remember Bill Dana).  Scott Esbeck gave way to the winged Pete Curry on bass in ’99 while an assortment of drummers (Jimmy Lester and Jason Smay) have lead to Chris Sprague.  When Amis became ill in 2010, Greg Townson from the Hi-Risers (another great band) came on board and has given a nice kick to the sound now that Amis is back.  On stage nifty originals like “Lonely Apache” stand next to classics like “The Munsters Theme” and Duane Eddy’s “Yep”.   They have a history of teaming up at times with vocalists including, recently, Nick Lowe leading to their newest record – an instrumental tribute to Lowe’s music called What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Los Straitjackets.  Go see them in concert now!  They do a killer “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic.

4.Paul Revere & The Raiders

When rock and roll was a fresh music style to this brand new teenager in 1965, my parents signed up for the Columbia Record Club (remember those, baby boomers?).  They got something like 10 records for a penny (give or take) as an intro offer and gave the catalog to me to pick out two albums of my own.  Thanks to mom and dad’s largesse I got to drive them crazy repeating over and over Do The Freddie (Freddie & The Dreamers – my first concert too) and Just Like Us! by the very sharp looking Paul Revere & The Raiders who also rocked like mad.  I suspect my first exposure to the Raiders was similar to other teens of my era – Dick Clarks’ after-school music TV show Where The Action Is.  They seemed to be having a great time while wearing revolutionary war costumes and pumping out covers of the day’s rock and roll hits.  They followed that formula on their LP adding the singles “Steppin’ Out” and “Just Like Me” – two garage rock classics.  Who knew that they had already put out over a dozen records since 1960 in a frat rock style (unless you had bought their early chart instrumental “Like Long Hair”).  That classic line-up of Revere on Vox organ, Mike Smith on drums, Phil “Fang” Volk on bass, Drake Levin on guitar and the pony-tailed and leather lunged Mark Lindsay on vocals and sax was the band I remember (though on-line they list around 30 members over the years).   I saw them at my 2nd ever concert (at the echoy Denver Coliseum) after Jim Valley had replaced Levin.  For a time I forsook them as being too pop (Hendrix called), but couldn’t resist tasty radio hits like “Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon” and “Too Much Talk” and returned to buy all their albums.  Sadly three of that classic line-up are gone (including Revere), but Lindsay occasionally performs and records (saw him a few years back and he could still rock).  That they are not in the rock and roll hall of fame is a total travesty.  “Hungry” is classic rock and roll.

5.The Beach Boys

With guitarist Al Jardine having a brief desire to study Dentistry, it’s easy to see why your kindly Rock N Roll Dentist is in the thrall of these guys (not to mention I have always loved those striped shirts).  Some 56 years after they formed literally as a garage band, there is still a version lead by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston on the road plus another version in all but name lead by Brian Wilson and Jardine.  While they have recorded something like 29 studio albums and a pile of live records, we think mainly of their output of the 60s when they went toe to toe with every style of music and came out on top.  Heck, they didn’t even have a #1 single till the British Invasion swept many U.S. acts off the charts yet they managed three during the Beatles’ heyday – “I Get Around”, “Help Me Rhonda” and “Good Vibrations”.  Brian combined the great harmonies of the 4 Freshmen with the wall of sound a la Phil Spector plus he threw in a dose of Chuck Berry rock and roll for good measure and came up with the classic Beach Boys sound of summer.  Brian’s genius for pop hits gave way to amazing studio productions that he heard in his head an translated to beautiful art with Pet Sounds and Smile.  When Brian and the big hits faded, it gave his late brothers Dennis (drums) and Carl (guitar) a chance to shine.  Frankly there aren’t many bands who could sing as well as the former Pendletones then you add in the songwriting and you come up with nearly 60 chart singles.  The Mike Love helmed version scored an unexpected #1 in 1988’s “Kokomo” that doesn’t sound out of place with their classics of two decades previous.   When former guitarist David Marks and the rest of the living originals toured in 2012, they stopped at Red Rocks Amphitheater for an outstanding show that was non-stop hits – over 50 of them.  No other American band could top that.  My favorite hit by them is a great cover of “Sloop John B”.

6.Raspberries

No fan of what we now call power pop music should be without at least a Raspberries greatest hits album.  Since they only recorded four albums between 1972 and 1974 (the Raspberries, Fresh, Side 2, Starting Over), it is smarter to just buy their whole discography.  Dave Smalley, Jim Bonfanti and Wally Bryson came out of the Ohio band The Choir (“It’s Cold Outside”) and added Eric Carmen of rival band Cyrus Erie in the 1970.   Their self-titled debut on Capitol (combining some Beach Boys with Badfinger and the Who soundwise) came with a scratch & sniff fruit scented sticker on the cover – my copy still has that odor.  Their sound   While Smalley and Bryson both sang and wrote, it was Carmen’s smokin’ rock and roll voice plus his catchy songs (“Go All The Way”, “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)”, “Tonight”) that bore chart fruit.  Acrimony lead to Smalley and Bonfanti leaving before the final excellent album on which Scott McCarl and Michael McBride replaced them.  After a strong Carmen solo career (“All By Myself”, “Make Me Lose Control”) I was lucky enough to see one of their rare reunion shows at Denver’s Fiddler’s Green in 2005.  Sadly they didn’t record any new material, but they did release an outstanding live album in Live On Sunset Strip.  Their quintessential hit has to be “I Wanna Be With You” from Fresh.

7.Cheap Trick

This band from Illinois seemed to take over the style Raspberries and have kept it going through 18 studio albums and induction in to the rock and roll hall of fame last year.  They are a 40+ year tribute to perseverance with very few changes (music and personnel-wise).  Power Pop bands seem to be the offspring of the Beatles and the Who with other smart Anglophile references of their own.  In Cheap Trick’s case, over the years they have added some Roy Wood (The Move, ELO, Wizzard) in the form of “Brontosaurus” (at least the riff) and “California Man”.  The Move classic “Blackberry Way” is covered on the deluxe edition of Trick’s newest album We’re All Alright!.  They showed another of their influences with the strong tribute to the Beatles in 2009’s Sgt. Pepper Live.  Singer Robin Zander still has a great set of pipes while unlikely guitar god Rick Nielson lugs around some of the coolest guitars ever seen on a stage.  He also can send a guitar pick soaring through the audience for several rows with one landing in my souvenirs following a Fiddler’s Green concert purely by luck.  Original bassist Tom Petersson left for a time then returned while drummer Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson) was replaced by Nielson’s son Daxx in 2010.  Their second album (1977’s In Color) is the one that first grabbed me with great songs like “Come On, Come On” and “So Good To See You”, but didn’t take off in the U.S. till a live-in-Japan “I Want You To Want Me” became a surprise hit.  Over the years they have had hits like “Surrender” and “The Flame”, but my fave will always be “Dream Police” from the album of the same name.

8.The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Though not as flash a guitarist as his sorely missed younger brother Stevie Ray, the cool Jimmie Vaughan was the first of the two to strike pay-dirt when he teamed with singer and harp player extraordinaire Kim Wilson.  From ’76 to ’90 those two led one of the best swampy blues rock outfits in the country while selling few records.  In ’86 with drummer Fran Christina and bassist Preston Hubbard, they finally hit it big with “Tuff Enuff” which was of a piece with all their other fine records including “The Crawl” from 1980’s What’s The Word and “I Believe I’m In Love” from Butt Rockin’ the following year.  Since Vaughan left in 1990, Wilson has nested with a flight of fine players (including the late great Nick Curran on guitar) and continues to keep the Austin sound alive in concert.  My fave T-birds track is 1989’s “Powerful Stuff” from that same album.

9.The Doors

It’s interesting how the mythology of singer Jim Morrison has kept the legend of the Doors going over 46 years after his death, but if the music wasn’t there no one would really care.  If they had only released their 1967 self-titled opener, that might still be enough to get them on this list.  Robby Krieger’s “Light My Fire” was the song that drew us all in, but “Break On Through”, “Soul Kitchen”, “Crystal Ship” and the powerful “The End” kept us there.  John Densmore’s whip-crack drumming and Ray Manzarek’s keyboards all fit with the enigma that was Morrison to create one of the more unique sounding bands of the rock era.  They weren’t heavy but they rocked on songs like “Hello, I Love You” and “Roadhouse Blues” (Waiting For The Wind and Morrison Hotel respectively) – but how do you classify songs like “Horse Latitudes” (Strange Days) or “Runnin’ Blue” (The Soft Parade)?  Their last album (1971’s L A Woman) is nearly the equal of their debut.  Frankly they should have broken up after Morrison’s passing July 3, 1971 but instead they released two easily forgotten albums before mercifully closing in ’73.  I would love to know if Robby and I share any common ancestors, but from pictures it appears we shared a love for Gibson SG guitars (which I too played through my Vox amp back in the day).  I guess my favorite Doors song is “Twentieth Century Fox” off The Doors.

10.Huey Lewis & The News

In my music life, it seems there are certain bands that everybody seems to like at a certain time.  Santana in college and Fleetwood Mac later.  These guys were in that category in the early 80s when they could do no wrong.  They came out of the 70s Bay area music scene being mostly an amalgam of Soundhole and Clover (who backed Elvis Costello early on).  The original six have stayed amazingly stable over the years with only guitarist Chris Hayes and bassist Mario Cippolina departing.  What remains from that band are Bill Gibson (drums), Sean Hopper (keys), Johnny Colla (sax/guitar) and Huey Lewis (harp/vocals).  They struggled for a time till 1982’s Picture This with “Do You Believe In Love”.  Their next record Sports is the one that really spread the word far and wide with hits like “Heart & Soul”, “I Want A New Drug”, “If This Is It” and “The Heart Of Rock & Roll”.  Placing their leader and their song “The Power Of Love” in the movie Back To The Future kept things rolling till the 1986 album Fore! which sported “Hip To Be Square”, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Stuck With You”.  Their everyman image seemed to be tailormade for heavy MTV rotation as well.  Since then they have had a few lesser chart hits (though still good musically) and continue to crop up every so often in concert.  If I want to play a News track it is generally “Workin’ For A Living” from Picture This.

11.The Lovin’ Spoonful

From mid-1965 to early 1969 these guys charted 14 singles on the Hot 100 which is pretty darn good, but that they charted top 10 with seven consecutive singles is a feat only matched in the 60s by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.  The stretch from “Do You Believe In Magic” to “Nashville Cats” was remarkable with great material like “Daydream” and “Summer In The City”.  Coming out of N.Y.’s folk scene, we had never seen any band that had someone like John Sebastian happily singing while playing the electrified autoharp.  We CERTAINLY had never seen a band with someone like Canadian Zal Yanovsky with his cowboy hat and crazy persona (sorta like a template for one of the Monkees in ’66).  Quiet Steve Boone on bass and occasional singer Joe Butler on drums rounded out the original four.  My favorite LP of theirs is the 1966 album Daydream (their 2nd) with great album cuts like “Let The Boy Rock And Roll”, “Jug Band Music” and “There She Is”.  The original band only recorded three albums and two soundtracks before Yanovsky left to be replaced by Jerry Yester in 1967.  Their sound was less ‘good-time music’ by this time and more guitar pop though “She Is Still A Mystery” and “Six O’Clock” are great singles (the album Everything Playing was only okay).  After Sebastian split in ’68 they still managed a decent swansong LP in Revelation: Revolution ’69 with Butler singing lead on the excellent singles “Me About You” and “Never Goin’ Back”.  The original four had an odd reunion playing music in a cameo appearance in the Paul Simon movie  One Trick Pony (1980) and then finally at the rock and roll hall of fame induction in 2000.  With Yanovsky’s death and Sebastian’s vocal problems, Boone, Butler and Yester continue to perform under the old name.  I saw Sebastian a couple of years ago and even if his voice isn’t up to par, his stories and quick wit are.  “Rain On The Roof” remains my fave track by them.

12.The Smithereens

Keepers of the power pop flame, the Smithereens are a band that found success a bit later than most.  At the time of their excellent 1986 debut album Especially For You, singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio was 31 while high school buddies John Babjak (guitar), Dennis Diken (drums) and Mike Mesaros (bass) were nearly 29.  From New Jersey, these guys were fighting an uphill battle to get on the charts with great pop tunes like “A Girl Like You” and “Blood & Roses”, but their lack of chart success had nothing to do with lack of quality.  In addition to their original albums, they have recorded their version of the Who’s Tommy and two albums of Beatles tributes not to mention an excellent Christmas album.  Mesaros left in 2006 to be replaced by Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion and are still outstanding in concert as a recent Denver show proved (though I worry about DiNizio who no longer plays guitar as he had little use of his arms it seems since an accident).  You can’t beat the song “Top Of The Pops” from their ’91 album Blow Up.

13.Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Admittedly the music has to start with Springsteen’s songs, but frankly it has been the six to ten headed monster that is the E Street Band that in my mind has made that music special.  It has been sort of like seeing Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound come to life in a different context then he would have imagined.  Max Weinberg’s power drumming in team with bassist Gary Tallent then Roy Bittan and Danny Federici on dueling keys formed the core.  The Boss fronted first Miami Steve Van Zandt then Nils Lofgren and now both in a guitar army with wife Patti Scialfa at times joining in.  Oh, and you can’t overlook the big man – Clarence Clemons on master blaster sax and percussion.  Soozie Tyrell came in on violin in 2002.  In it’s prime they were a formidable force on stage and on record.  Forming in 1972, members came and went before finding the core that mostly still remains.  They hit their stride with the 1975 album Born To Run carrying through great albums like The River in 1980 and the  ’84 LP Born In The USA.  The 40 track box Live: 1975-85 neatly summarized the band after which Bruce put the full act on hiatus recording a series of personal albums only reconvening off and on for various projects till a true reunion tour in 1999.  Federici and Clemons have since passed, but they finally go recognized as the E Street Band were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2014 by Bruce himself.  My favorite song by them could be “Glory Days” which has a bright classic rock sound rife with cheesy organ.

 14.The Ventures

That it took the best selling instrumental band of all time (over 100 million records) till 2008 to finally get in to the rock and roll hall of fame tells you volumes about how little many regard instrumentals, but this writer loves this kind of music.  Northwestern guitarists Don Wilson and the late Bob Bogle became the Ventures in 1959.  A version of the band continues to this day mainly touring Japan where they apparently still appreciate instros.   With Nokie Edwards on bass and Howie Johnson on drums they had a hit in 1960 with Colorado guitarist Johnny Smith’s jazz standard “Walk, Don’t Run” done in a rocked up manner.  For many, their story would end with their other big hit “Hawaii Five-O” in 1969 but there is a lot of great music in between those records and since.  Nokie Edwards was also a skilled lead guitarist so he and Bogle switched instruments while Johnson was replaced in ’63 by one of the finest drummers of early rock in the late Mel Taylor.  During the 60s the band pumped out a series of excellent albums every few months that included instrumental versions of many of the hits of the day (such as “Secret Agent Man” that was better than the vocal version frankly) plus covers of other band’s hits – often better than the original (“Out Of Limits” from The Ventures In Space Jan. ’64 and “No Matter What Shape” Feb. ’66 Where The Action Is just to name two).  In their career they have released over 60 studio albums plus countless more live records.  Looking at their classic live videos you can see many of the same moves that Los Straitjackets still do on stage – the synchronized turning of the guitarists for instance.  When Mel died in ’96, his son Leon took over with the band hardly skipping a beat.  Mel’s drum workout “The Creeper” ( from their album Walk, Don’t Run ’64) remains my favorite Ventures track likely because my pal Dan Campbell and I used to play this – me on guitar and DC on pounding skins.

15.The Turtles

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman have to be the most unlikely looking rock stars ever – sort of overweight and sort of goofy looking, but they sang like angels and had a sense of humor that always tickled me (except in their scatological era with Frank Zappa).  As Flo and Eddie they still front a version of the Turtles keeping alive all the great late 60s pop hits they pumped out – “Happy Together”, “You Baby”, “She’s My Girl”, etc.  That last abbreviation reminds me that their composition “Elenore” may be the only chart hit to include the work etcetera.  Lesser songs by them are still great pop – “Guide For The Married Man” and “Can I Get To Know You Better” come to mind.  Their crowning achievement for me was the Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands LP from 1968 on which they managed to lampoon several different music styles while putting out a good record (surf music in “Surfer Dan”, heavy rock in “Buzzsaw” and the aforementioned “Elenore”).  Al Nichol on guitar, Johnny Barbata on drums and Jim Pons and bass where the band at that point.  At various times I have listed “You Know What I Mean” from the Golden Hits album as my all-time favorite song.

16.Aerosmith

For good reason, many liken these guys to the Rolling Stones – classic blues based rock and roll and a big-lipped singer (Steven Tyler) paired with a classic riffing guitarist (Joe Perry).  Add in the other three backing musicians (Joey Kramer on drums, Tom Hamilton on bass and Brad Whitford on guitar) and you have just about the only 46 year old classic rock band still made up of all originals.  “Dream On”, “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” are standards by now.  Their issues with drugs are well documented.  That they beat the odds and regrouped to even bigger success is amazing – “Angel”, “Janie’s Got A Gun”, “Love In An Elevator” on and on.  While it wasn’t a huge success, I think their best album is their 14th studio album – 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo which is 12 trax of classic blues just like the Stones did in 2016 on Blue & Lonesome.  The use of 1987’s “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” (Permanent Vacation) on Disney’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster ride cemented it as my favorite song by them.

17.Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids

Okay, I am biased as they are from Colorado and I became friends with them in the course of writing a magazine article about the band years ago (thanks again to manager Scott O’Malley for the access).  I don’t care how much I liked them as people, however, if the music wasn’t in the grooves than they wouldn’t be on this list.  I refer you to my Jan. 2016 blog post for a thorough band history.  I can still remember reading a review of their self-titled debut Epic album in a 1973 issue of Phonograph Record Magazine and being intrigued by their wit and devotion to classic rock and roll.  They came to fame playing the high school band in American Graffiti  and kept it up on TV in Happy Days.  Sadly three of the guys in this picture are deceased (Sam McFadin, Kris Moe and Linn Phillips III), but a fine version of the band still hits the sheds on occasion with original bassist Warren “Butch” Knight and longtime sax player Dwight Bement.  They are also known for the single “Did You Boogie (With Your Baby)” that featured Wolfman Jack.  “Good Times Rock And Roll” from the Sons Of The Beaches album (1975) is one of my all-time favorite songs as it speaks to my love of music while rockin’ up a storm.

18.Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

By 1962 when he released “The Lonely Bull”, Herb Alpert had already tried a lot of different roles in music from songwriter and producer for Jan & Dean (“Baby Talk”) to performer under the name Dore Alpert (“Tell It To The Birds”).  This nice Jewish trumpet player hit the big time, however, when he created a new genre of instrumental hits in a Mexican vein.  On Top 40 radio back in the 60s, the charts weren’t just rock and roll and a kid like me got exposed to country and pop hits as well.  Some of that stuff was pretty good and bridged the generation gap between parent and kid.  The TJB were the only group I liked that my dad liked as well so I was allowed to go see them in Fort Collins at Moby Gym at a fine concert.  The TJB I saw in concert were not the TJB I heard on records, however, as Alpert mostly used the guys known as the Wrecking Crew as they knew the studio better.  At their peak in 1966, they had five albums in the Billboard top 20 and at one time they had four in the top 10.  Their two best records were released in 1965 – Going Places (“Spanish Flea” and “Tijuana Taxi”) and Whipped Cream & Other Delights that had a cover remembered fondly by young boys (and their dads) but was pretty tame by today’s standards.  From that latter album, the songs “Whipped Cream” and “Lollipops & Roses” were used on the TV show The Dating Game as intro music.  Alpert finally got a #1 in 1968 with the vocal “This Guy’s In Love With You” and got another with the instrumental “Rise” in 1979 making him the only artist to have a vocal and an instrumental #1 hit.  I guess my favorite song by them was “The Magic Trumpet” from the ’66 album What Now My Love which was a Bert Kaempfert tune so leaned more to Deutschland than Mexico.

 19.The Byrds

As can be seen from this picture, the early Byrds were heavily influenced by the look of the Beatles which is not surprising given that folkies Jim (late Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby switched to the use of 12 string guitars on folkish rock in 1964 after watching the movie A Hard Day’s Night.   McGuinn and Gene Clark had already been playing some Beatles covers at the Troubadour in L.A. (later joined by Crosby).  They added Michael Clarke as a drummer who was a novice at best, but looked the part.  Later came a country mandolin player in Chris Hillman who took up the bass and this version released the folk rock #1 hits “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”.  That latter cover of a Bob Dylan song was their first single and used mostly members of the Wrecking Crew on backing as producer Terry Melcher didn’t think the band was competent enough yet to record (save McGuinn’s 12 string).  Clark was the first to leave beginning a series of line-up changes seen till the group broke up in 1973.  Singles like “Eight Miles High” and “My Back Pages” came out in ’66 and ’67 leading to my favorite Byrds album in Jan. 1968 The Notorious Byrd Brothers which was not a huge chart success but featured great songs like “Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow” which showed them leaning towards country.  McGuinn and short time member Gram Parsons took the Byrds heavily in to country for the Aug. ’68 album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo which was a pretty radical move for its time (country was seen as music of straight people who supported the war and had short hair).  With a totally new Byrds, McGuinn dove head first from then on in to a country/rock amalgam on excellent records like Ballad Of Easy Rider (1969) and Untitled (1970).  The original band reunited briefly in ’72-73 for a weak album (Byrds) and did reunite off and on over the years (both Clark and Clarke are now deceased).  McGuinn seems content anymore to play as a solo act and release covers of folk songs.  Gene Clarke’s song “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” from their debut 1965 album Mr. Tambourine Man remains my favorite song by them.

 20.Z Z Top

From 1971 till today the three man team of Billy Gibbons (guitar), Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) have pumped out nasty Texas blues rock and made long beards synonymous with hot cars and leggy women.  They took a bit to grow on me as their early stuff just on London Records just seemed like mostly southern boogie rock – a genre I don’t much like.  I did buy the singles “La Grange” (’73) and “Tush” (’75) but it was a switch to Warner Brothers that got me on board as it seemed to bring out the humor and rumble on songs like “Cheap Sunglasses” and “She Loves My Automobile” from the ’79 LP Deguello.  Between 1983 and 1990 they seemed tailor-made for MTV with a series of story videos to go with their best singles “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Pressure” and “Legs” notably from the classic Eliminator album.  Afterburner and Recycler continued in that vein with songs like “Sleeping Bag” and “Doubleback”.  Releases since have been sparse and less produced but still good bluesy guitar based rock up to 2012’s La Futura.  Concert has been the best way to appreciate the band as they burn pretty good for a three-piece yet still retain their senses of humor (choreographed stage moves, fuzzy covers on the guitar bodies and even moving sidewalks for the guys on stage on one tour – a tip of the hat to Gibbons’ old psychedelic band The Moving Sidewalks).  Every time I hear “Sharp Dressed Man” from Eliminator I have to crank up the car radio and bask in the fuzzy guitar glory.

Honorable Mention – The Wrecking Crew

Though not a band per se, this fluctuating aggregation of talented musicians were the uncredited (at the time) players behind countless many of the hits we loved in our youth.  They played on The Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra sessions – Crystals (Phil Spector) and Simon and Garfunkel records.  On and on – the list is staggering and they would really have to be the #1 hit making band on this list.  Their legacy is best appreciated by watching the 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew put together by Denny Tedesco the son of the late Tommy who played guitar in the band – listen to the flamenco flourishes on the Gary Lewis & The Playboys album version of “Sure Gonna Miss Her”.