By Michael Popke
Keyboardist/producer Erik Norlander, perhaps best known for his band (Rocket Scientists) and his wife (vocalist Lana Lane), also plays in Asia Featuring John Payne. He has collaborated with science-fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson for a project called Roswell Six and toured or recorded with — among others — Joe Lynn Turner, James LaBrie, Glenn Hughes, Tony Franklin and Vinny Appice. So it’s no surprise that Norlander’s musical tastes are decidedly “progressive.”
Electric Light Orchestra: “Time”
This album introduced me to the idea of an album production combining synthesizers with pianos, a string section and a rock band, and then mixing phase shifters, echoes and reverb machines as a dominant force in the music. Although I don’t think this was much of a commercial hit, I consider this to be Jeff Lynne’s finest production.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: “Pictures At An Exhibition”
This was my introduction to the idea of “lead keyboards” in a rock band. What an amazing live album, with all the ephemeral aspects of a great live show, including even some out-of-tune (and out-of-control) modular Moog bits. So much great energy and personality from all three musicians.
Yes: “Tales from Topographic Oceans”
I loved the albums of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Kitaro growing up, but this was the first ROCK album that demonstrated the concept of “unhurried” music: two LPs, one song per side. They’re taking their time with each piece, and it’s brilliant. This album apparently drove Rick Wakeman out of the band. Too bad, because I think this is Yes at their peak.
Rainbow: “Difficult to Cure”
Don Airey’s keyboard work in a hard-rock/heavy-metal setting was both inventive and masterful. His CS-80 solo on “Spotlight Kid” still ranks as one of my favorite keyboard moments. Joe Lynn Turner, following in the footsteps of previous Blackmore vocalists Ian Gillan, David Coverdale and Ronnie James Dio, brought a more-modern sound to the band and kept all of the fire, energy and fury from the previous vocalists. Rondinelli, Glover and Blackmore’s performances are fantastic also, but you already knew that.
Supertramp: “Crime of the Century”
Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” is an amazing album, but I think the award for “Audiophile Production of the ’70s” must go to “Crime of the Century.” Ken Scott’s production is clean and crisp in a way that sounds 20 years ahead of its time while still retaining the warmth and mood of a ’70s big-budget analog recording. Check out the multi-tracked pianos and electric pianos.
Rush: “A Farewell to Kings”
The standout album for the power trio of my generation. There was, of course, Cream about 10 years earlier. But Rush added some more modern elements, such as synthesizers, bass pedals and orchestral percussion, along with writing some very compelling long-form songs that do not come off as indulgent — but rather the right length for what they had to say.
UK: “Danger Money”
The first UK album was amazing, too, but “Danger Money” took the best of the band and condensed it into a power trio with new powerhouse drummer Terry Bozzio — an incredible prog drummer who apparently doesn’t consider himself “prog.” Eddie Jobson’s keyboard and violin work are astounding. The music is progressive, but not at the expense of great, memorable songwriting.
Blue Oyster Cult: “Secret Treaties”
Space rock done well! The band clearly had lots of classic-rock influences, from Clapton to Black Sabbath. But the science fiction element takes the music to another place. It’s no wonder they had so many successful collaborations with legendary sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock (also of Hawkwind!) on future albums.
Deep Purple: “Machine Head”
Rock historians will go back further than this, but I consider Machine Head to be the first proper heavy-metal album. Grinding Hammond organ with wide vibrato blues guitar, kinetic, figure-laden drumming with purposefully heavy-placed bass grooves create the formula for hundreds (thousands?) of albums to follow. Ian Gillan’s dramatic, wide vibrato vocals are the perfect crown to a royal rock classic.
The Alan Parsons Project: “I Robot”
A phenomenal production, again with skillful use of phase shifters and reverb effects, where keyboards and synthesizers mingle seamlessly with rock-band instruments and a real orchestra. Great and varied vocals, great songs, and a concept album without being too specific or heavy handed.
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