I’ve Been Here Times Before

For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week I didn’t share an album. A year ago, we shared a playlist of songs from high school. A year later, I’m sharing a mix of songs that inspired me in my rock band from high school.

A number of factors have led to me thinking about this recently.

  1. I got back in touch with the guys from my high school band (rock band, not symphonic/marching band)(although I guess our drummer was in that band with me, too).
  2. As a by-product of that, I invited Scott to play this game with us (since he was in that rock band).
  3. While I have shard some of my early musical influences with you guys before (The Beatles, Eagles, Black Sabbath, Fountains of Wayne, Weezer), Scott’s recent Elvis suggestion really got me thinking about my musical influences.

I put down some other influences just to get my mind going. They were bands that someone else had already shared in this game and I didn’t want to repeat. Bands like Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Elton John, Buddy Holly, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, ChicagoCat Stevens, Everclear, Bon Jovi, Kiss, AC/DC, and maybe a little Judas Priest, too. I’m sure Scott might point out some other cover we did or influence I’m not thinking of, but this is what I came up with.

But first, here’s what my friends suggested I listen to this week. Not that there’s anything wrong with it or that I’m complaining, but both albums shared with me this week come from artists we’ve already visited in this game. There have been weeks when one of the three or four have revisited an artist, but this is the first time that everything I listened to has been a repeat of an artist.

Boston – Third Stage (1986)

I really haven’t listened to a ton of Boston – pretty much just the hits. On this album, that means I had only heard Amanda, which I’ve never really been a fan of (I think the lyrics are a little corny) and didn’t make me want to go out and listen to more Boston, even though what I had heard from their first album was awesome.

The short version of my review is the guitar is great, and most of the rest of everything was not bad, but not really noteworthy. Two of my favorite tracks were The Launch and A New World, because the whole point of the song was the guitar. The worst thing about those tracks is that they were so short. I wanted more, especially of The Launch.

Cool the Engines did some kind of interesting things that actually reminded me a little of Aerosmith’s Sweet EmotionI Think I Like It felt almost Journey-esque, but with a different singer (obviously). Specifically it reminded me of Any Way You Want It, which is a good thing. My Destination was ok, but I feel like it was a reprise to Amanda and not as good musically. Lyrically, To Be a Man and Hollyann felt like they were in the same vein as Amanda, and not particularly impressive. Although the key solo/noodling in Hollyann was pretty sweet. Still, I wanted a better end to the album.

I think I preferred their debut to this, but it’s still good. 3/5

Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)

I think anyone who knows me knows I’m not really a Michael Jackson fan. As far as ’80s pop goes, this isn’t bad (no pun intended). But I don’t really get the larger Michael Jackson thing. It’s like U2. I think they’re overrated.

Right up front, I know I have to get over the fact that all of the instruments are going to be very ’80s synthesizers. For your reference, songs like Another Part of Me and Leave Me Alone are pretty much exactly what I expected from this album. They’re not terrible, but the synths and bass just make the song feel dated. This kind of ’80s pop may not be my favorite, but I’m trying to be open-minded. I was going to say “objective,” but this whole point of rating music is to explain your subjective opinions.

I had heard Smooth Criminal before, but only because I first heard the Alien Ant Farm cover and wanted to compare them. AAF are talented in that they can play as a cohesive band without making fools out of themselves, but comparing late ’80s funk rock to early ’00s funk metal isn’t really fair. I like the grungier guitars more than the synths (especially the synth horns), but musically there’s probably a better third alternative that doesn’t date itself. The problem with covers is often the band paying tribute tries to emulate the original artist, but it’s an exercise in futility. Even if you don’t love the original, the cover will fall short unless they try to do their own thing. Simply updating the genre 13 years won’t do it. As much as I’m not a fan of the Michael Jackson noises (you know what I’m talking about), only he can really get away with them. It’s even more annoying when someone else does them. That’s all more of a review of the cover, but it’s a good song.

But not the best. Man in the Mirror was actually a good song, not just a good ’80s Pop song. I would actually listen to this again if I’m not in the mood for something harder. I also liked I Just Can’t Stop Loving You too, even though it’s not really my style. I think it was just a great performance. But Dirty Diana may have been my favorite. It was a little heavier, had minimal extra vocalizations, and the synths backed up the guitar well.

Another surprise was the title track. It actually sounded like someone took a modern pop song and did a ’80s remix to it, which I think says something about pop music. The opening sounded like it was supposed to be played on an 8-bit tracker. Except back then, that wasn’t a thing. That’s just how some of the music was.

Just Good Friends was my least favorite song on the album. It just felt so fake and manufactured. Liberian Girl was a little weird, but there were little things (guitar licks, etc.) that I liked. As a whole, I’m not sure I’d really seek it out again, but it was interesting. In a good way.

I may not ever be a Michael Jackson fan, but I do like this album more than I thought I would. After listening to this, I’m willing to give Michael Jackson more of a chance. I’m not surprised I liked this more than Dangerous, but I was surprised I like this as much as Boston. 3/5

My mix

Here is a 10 song playlist of influences on me as a rock musician in high school. Except for the first one, they’re just in alphabetical order of the band name. You can listen to this whole playlist on Spotify here.

Usually, if my coworkers tell me what they thought, I’ll just stick it after my album suggestion. Since this is a bit different, I’ll post what they thought about each song (if they say anything at all) after that specific song.

Up Around the Bend off Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory

I have to admit I stole our name, Stillwater, from a band my brother had a couple of years earlier that I think only wrote five songs. But I liked it because it reminded me of CCR. I stole it and suggested it to the other guys, who I think were also reminded of CCR. Maybe not something I’m proud of, but it was high school and it happened. Aside from the name, Creedence was a musical influence on me. Cosmo’s Factory is my favorite record of theirs and it was hard to pick a favorite song. I really like Long as I Can See the Light, but I like playing Up Around the Bend.

Apparently there was another Stillwater band in the ’70s, and I’ve listened to some of their stuff, but I didn’t know about them until just a couple of years ago.

“I love CCR. For some reason this sounds like a different recording than the version I remember, but its good.” 4/5 – Spencer

“Classic. Nuff said.” 8/10 – Chris

One Way Out off The Allman Brothers Band off At Fillmore East

This was the hardest track to decide. I love Jessica, but to be honest, I never heard it until after our band went on hiatus (I’ll never say we broke up – if we can get in the same city at the same time, I’d jump on the chance to jam). So I’m going with my second favorite Allman Brothers tune. I love the grooves they set up. They’ve got some great movement.

“I’ve never been that into ABB. They are great guitarists so I should listen more but something about it just doesn’t really pique my interest.” 3.2/5 – Spencer

“Good but a little long winded for me.” 6/10 – Chris

Pipeline off The Chantays’ Pipeline

My dad introduced me to The Ventures and surf rock in general. As much as I love them or Dick Dale, the standard against which I judge all surf rock is Pipeline. It’s a great get-your-blood-pumping or summer-drive-with-the-windows-down-and-the-volume-up kind of tune. I love the reverb on the guitar. This is quintessential ’60s.

“I’m a fan of surf rock, but this tune seems unfantastic. Its not bad at all. Something about the dirty organ turns me off too. If I heard this on a surf rock mix it wouldn’t stand out in any way to me.” 3.8/5 – Spencer

“Fun instrumental.” 7/10 – Chris

All Along the Watchtower off Dave Matthews Band’s Live at Red Rocks

My older sister was way into Dave Matthews Band in the late ’90s, and that meant that I also got into them. That’s better than picking up Hootie and the Blowfish, right? I was torn between Ants Marching and this. The bass part on Ants is hard at first, but other than singing, it’s the only fun part of the song to play. And even though this is a three-chord Bob Dylan cover, DMB plays Watchtower in an almost unrecognizable way. Jimi Hendrix‘s cover is better than Bob’s, but Dave and Band’s version is my favorite. Plus it has Tim Reynolds on guitar, who is amazing.

“Another artists thats ok, but I don’t really see what everyone else seems to here. This sounds like most any dave matthews band song. Its great, but not a lot of variety in his songs.” 3.5/5 – Spencer

“Good cover, a band that always delivers live.” 7/10 – Chris

Black Water off The Doobie Brothers’ What were Once Vices are Now Habits

There were a couple of songs I had a hard time choosing between. The harmonies and counter-melodies on this are too good to not share. It’s a pretty simple song. I think it shows when you do have something musically complex, surround it by simplicity so it stands out. Just make sure you do it well.

“Love this tune and this artist. This is a favorite.” 5/5 – Spencer

“Not what I was expecting for some reason, I guess I haven’t listened to enough of the Doobie Bros” 8/10 – Chris

Crazy on You off Heart’s Dreamboat Annie

I had a really hard time choosing between this and Barracuda, but in the end, the great guitar work at the beginning of this track (well, actually there’s great guitar work throughout) made me share this song. I also feel like this song, which is mostly solid rock, also blends in some bluesy stuff, kind of flamenco stuff, and even a little funk and disco. I just think this is  a well-written, catchy piece.

“I’ve never given heart a real listen, but heard this on the radio a lot as a kid. Its a good rocker. Great guitar riff.” 4.1/5 – Spencer

“Another classic. Has aged very well.” 8/10 – Chris

Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress off The Hollies’ Distant Light

I have never been very good about playing this. The opening riff kills me every time, but it’s a super sweet riff. The rest of the guitar in the song is just alright with me. The bass, though, is noteworthy. I always thought this sounded like a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, and as I learned kind of recently, it was inspired by CCR.

“the songs of the hollies that I like, I LOVE. This is one of those. great tune. Incredible groove.” 5/5 – Spencer

“Not my favorite Hollies song, but still good stuff.” 7.5/10 – Chris

Four Day Creep off Humble Pie’s Performance Rockin’ the Fillmore

I thought about sharing Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love the Way off his self-titled solo album, but the stuff he was doing when he was part of Humble Pie had a bigger influence on me. And this live cover is how I first heard them and got me hooked. Although we never did anything so bluesy, there are a couple of songs off our album that were inspired by the kind of heavier feel. After we recorded, there was a song I was working on that is very much a musical tribute to this song. This was actually recorded a couple of months after The Allman Brothers Band recorded their live album at the same venue.

“Nice bluesy stuff. I’ve never heard of this group. I’ll have to look them up.” 4/5 – Spencer

“Tasty guitar licks.” 7.5/10 – Chris

Black off Pearl Jam’s Ten

There aren’t a lot of more modern bands on this list, but here’s one. I love the sound of the guitar. There are some guitarists that hunt for their ideal tone. I don’t have the money to do that, but while listening to music, the sound of Mike McCready’s guitar is one I’d emulate. Maybe this isn’t the best song to highlight that sound, but it’s one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. The piano really does it for me.

“never much into pearl jam, there’s a few songs I like. This one was pretty good.” 3.6/5 – Spencer

“Used to like this song and band a lot more back in the day, but still lovely.” 8/10 – Chris

All for You off Sister Hazel’s Somewhere More Familiar

This is one of the more obvious and specific influences. There are a couple of songs off our one album that have little riffs or what-have-you that remind me of this song. I really like the harmonies on here.

“in college somebody in the dorms listened to this song over and over for weeks. I didn’t care too much for it when it was on the radio (mostly because of my contempt for contemporary music in my school days), but that really ruined it. Its hard to listen to the whole thing due to association. Its catchy but I’m not catching it.” 2.5/3 [sic] – Spencer

“I don’t hate it, but never really loved it either. A very nostalgic and adequate pop rock song.” 6.5/10 – Chris

Feel free to leave your own thoughts about any of this in the comments below. Here’s what my coworkers thought in general:

“Well, I find mixes always difficult to rate, as usually the songs are fairly disjointed. Nice mix. average score: 3.87” – Spencer

“I liked Paul’s mix. It was definitely a greatest hits, but it was arranged well, and of course the songs were great. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to review each song, but I really enjoyed Crazy on You and Black Water the best (definitely 5’s for me).” 4/5 – Tim

“Good mix overall.” 7.35/10 – Chris

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