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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Vinyl Cave: Dollar bin diving with Heart, Billy Joel, The Eagles

Building upon last week's trip through my back stacks, I now turn to a trio of classic rock era warhorses I listened to a lot as a kid. This set includes some of the biggest records of the 1970s -- will they hold up today?

Heart: Dreamboat Annie
Here's an example of an album which, between myself and my mom playing it regularly, I heard approximately one million times in the '70s and '80s. We never got sick of it, though. Conversely, I've come to appreciate Heart's debut album more over the years, to the point where it's an album I pick up and drop on people who haven't listened to it before. It's a quintessential '70s rock record, in fact. It offers: a couple album rock staples ("Magic Man" and "Crazy on You"); lots of fancy guitar playing by Nancy Wilson, including acoustic a la Zep; occasional semi-mystical themes, also a la Zep; solid original songs across the board; and a great lead singer in Ann Wilson. You can't go wrong. It's also another example of a really good sounding record, in this instance with the majority of vintage Mushroom copies mastered/cut at Kendun. (Mushroom MRS-5005, 1976)

Billy Joel: The Stranger
Years ago I filtered most of the Piano Man's albums out of my collection, but over time as the "overplayed" factor faded, many of the pre-Glass Houses discs have gradually trickled back in. Over the last couple decades, I've often defended Billy Joel to naysayers. Despite that, I have had to agree the naysayers often have some irrefutable points, the main one being that Billy Joel is not afraid to slather on the MOR cheese if it serves the cause of making a hit record. The Stranger includes probably the defining moment of that strategy in "Just the Way You Are," a song that invariably gets the "why are you listening to this?" response when the record gets pulled out.

Hey, folks, it worked! After a decade of music industry slogging, both in bands and solo, "Just the Way You Are" finally put Joel in the Bilboard Top 10. Three other tunes followed into the Top 30, and The Stranger went platinum, starting a string of such albums for Joel. If I remember correctly, it was the first LP I ever bought used, and I played the heck out of it.

Do I think The Stranger is kinda cheesy at times? Well, yeah. But I also think people forget that along with the occasional schmaltz, Joel has his rocking moments too, which help balance out his '70s discs. And any LP that includes "Only the Good Die Young" stays in the collection. (Columbia JC 34987, 1977)

The Eagles: Desperado
Speaking of bands often accused of being cheesy -- at least partially due to their huge success and overwhelmingly ubiquitous presence on the radio since the mid-'70s -- we come to The Eagles. Veterans of various groups from the genesis of the California country rock scene, they sanded off the rough edges (eventually including most of the country touches) and gradually synthesized into a pop music killing machine. Desperado is their second album, a concept of sorts about the Dalton gang. It was not a gigantic hit on release, just missing the Billboard Top 40 album charts and not spawning any big hit singles. The title track may be iconic today, but was not a single.

The Eagles are another band I completely wore myself out on, playing the two greatest hits discs and the individual albums to death during high school. In the recent past, I've revisited their original albums, and for the most part feel that the compilations hit most of the highlights I might want to hear again in the future. Desperado, however, is easily The Eagles best, most ambitious original album from before they morphed into a more straight-up rock band upon the addition of Joe Walsh. It is pretty funny, though, that a California country rock album was recorded by Glyn Johns at Island Studios in London. (Asylum SD 5068, 1973)

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