Top 5: Roll With the Changes
Last year, I wrote about the best summer job I ever had--rock and roll night guy on WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois. Six nights a week, I sat in a glassed-in studio on the 12th floor of a bank building, playing album rock on a station largely uncontaminated by commercials. And here are five of the most important albums we were playing during the early part of that summer.
A Decade of Rock and Roll/REO Speedwagon. It's an indication of REO's place in the Midwestern rock hierarchy that they could release a two-disc best-of almost a year before their national breakout of Hi Infidelity and "Keep on Lovin' You." A Decade of Rock and Roll was a great summation for their Midwestern fans. If all you know about REO are the 80s radio hits, you should hear this. Key tracks: "Golden Country, "Keep Pushin'," "Roll With the Changes," and "Say You Love Me or Say Goodnight"--which is probably the single greatest balls-to-the-wall performance of REO's career.
Just One Night/Eric Clapton. Clapton has recorded a gazillion live albums, and in the summer of 1980, we dutifully played the hell out of this one, although it probably wouldn't find its way onto many turntables today. Key tracks: "Tulsa Time," "Blues Power," "Cocaine."
Women and Children First/Van Halen. Before heading out for the summer, I had written a scathing review of this album for my campus newspaper. It wasn't a review, actually--more a rant aimed at David Lee Roth, whose preening frat-boy routine got under my skin. (The review sparked a blizzard of angry letters to the paper, many of them from preening frat boys.) There was something about the band's signature guitar sound that I hated, too--it reminded me not so much of music as of engine backfire. And part of the reason I didn't like Van Halen was that everybody else did, and I was big into iconoclasm back then. My opinion has moderated over the years, though. I hear now, as I didn't hear then, how inventive they were, and I have even come to appreciate Roth's act, which is more stand-up comic than rock front-man. But Women and Children First still strikes me as unessential. Key track: "And the Cradle Will Rock."
Glass Houses/Billy Joel. This was another album I roundly hated back then, mostly because I had adored 52nd Street and The Stranger, and this couldn't have been more different, which was exactly the way Billy Joel wanted it. It was his attempt at making a real rock record, heavier on guitars (and attitude) than ever before. The heavier stuff didn't take, though. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" was the album's biggest hit; "Don't Ask Me Why" is probably its most enduring song. And 26 years later, I am still trying to turn the one cut I liked, "Sleeping With the Television On," into a hit.
Against the Wind/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. The stuff on this album is far removed from the Live Bullet era, or even from Night Moves just three years before. Seger's songs were just as good as ever, but he was clearly going for a pop audience, dialing back the rock and roll grit. This time, a crunchy rocker like "Her Strut" was the exception, while introspective tunes with lovely melodies ("Against the Wind," "No Man's Land," "Shinin' Brightly") were the norm. The album is docked points for "You'll Accomp'ny Me," partly for that stupid apostrophe in the title, and partly because it would represent the longest four minutes of Seger's career if it weren't for "We've Got Tonight."
Other key albums of the summer: Duke by Genesis, Departure by Journey, Empty Glass by Pete Townshend.