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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Fair
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Vinyl Cave: Dollar bin diving with Iron Butterfly, Yes, Steve Miller Band

The holiday season often makes one think about past times and comfortable memories. Since I've been on a random binge of picking up some classic rock warhorses in recent weeks, it's time to revisit several childhood favorites -- some long out of the collection, and some that have never completely left the listening rotation -- and see how they hold up. It's the music that warped me as a child, for better or worse.

Iron Butterfly: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Iron Butterfly is one of the groups who originated the heavier rock sound that would develop in short order into metal. Due to the overwhelming success of their second album and its (admittedly) somewhat simplistically pummeling side-long title track, many have dismissed the group over the years. And the song itself has become synonymous in some circles with hippie musical excess. However, many others have continued enjoying the music -- In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida has sold tens of millions of copies over the years and never gone out of print.

Being a very common album, I glommed on to a copy at a pretty early age and listened to it a lot. It's never left the collection (I picked up this one out of curiosity because the title track is inexplicably banded at random places), but it did sit untouched for many years. Today it's an album I loved as a kid that I actually appreciate more as an adult.

For all its excess, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is one of the few side-long rock excursions of its era that actually works as more than just a jam session. It's very carefully structured, and there's no flailing about looking for ideas. Some may say that's because they pound the riff into the ground, but what the heck, it's an elemental riff. The more psych-pop songs on side one make a good contrast, too. (Atco SD-33-250, 1968)

Yes: 90125
I'm not really much of a prog rock guy. However, when 90125 came out in 1983, I wouldn't have known Yes as a prog rock band. To me, they were radio stars, thanks to "Owner of a Lonely Heart." I bought the album and it got spun approximately a million times on my little Realistic turntable (and, if memory serves, the Fisher-Price that preceded that!). At some point, though, 90125 left the collection, as did many 1980s records. Hearing it today, I'm surprised by a few things. One, this is nowhere near as '80s-production style a record as I remembered; the drums sound like drums, the guitars are loud, the synths are textural much of the time. Two, I think I still know all the words. Finally, what a great sounding LP! (The originals were cut at Masterdisk by Robert Ludwig.) I wouldn't have expected it, but this one's got a chance to go back into the collection. (Atco 90125-1, 1983)

Steve Miller Band: Fly Like an Eagle
Sometime after hearing Greatest Hits 1974-1978 approximately one billion times during high school and college, I dumped all Steve Miller records after 1969's Brave New World. I just couldn't imagine needing to hear them again. Well, that's a couple decades ago (and the dollar bin is still full of copies), so I guess it's safe now to revisit Fly Like an Eagle. Or maybe not.

Speaking of synth-heavy records ... this puppy starts in spacy Roland-land before eventually settling down to a bunch of amiable guitar rock and blues. It includes some backward looks by Miller, including an updated-for-1976 take on "Mercury Blues" and some guitar playing by former bandmate and Wisconsin native Curley Cooke. It's also forward- looking in that Miller re-used parts of the chord progression for "The Window" later in "Abracadabra." Eagle is another vintage LP that sounds absolutely huge, but provided I'm still around I think I can wait another 20 years to hear it again. (Capitol ST-11497, 1976)

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