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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Best of Steppenwolf - Reborn To Be Wild

When I was a little tyke in the '70's, Steppenwolf, like Donovan or The Beach Boys or any other surviving '60's artists, were mainly getting radio play for their famous tracks.  Very few new tunes would become radio staples for these bands.  It's easy to understand why a radio station would want to play songs already ingrained in the culture, but why would it shun a successful artists' new work simply because there might be new music to buzz about (and sell in bigger numbers than an artist everyone has known for sometime)?

Though I spent the '80's adoring the sheen and purpose of the newest and last wave of musical revolution, I also backtracked to the artists I grew-up on.  Album by album, I returned to the past to dig-up albums I'd never heard, from artist's worthy of a listen.

One day, around '89 or '90 I was visiting the cheap-o VHS racks at Osco (then the current name of Thifty's locations) and thought, "Why not look-over the audio cassettes?" Knowing the pathetic selection doesn't deter one from checking.  I'd be happy to find titles I already had or decent 'best ofs' for other customers to discover.  One of these collections was from a band that would create my favorite catalog of music ... The Kinks.  It was a red colored collection from Spain with a picture of the band on a stage with no title.  Perusing the song list, there was only one song on it that I didn't have.  In these days, shelling out $7.99 for only one song was an economic no-no.  But, I was just about to change gears in my record-buying life and start doing just that.  The song was "Lincoln County" by Dave Davies.  After many weeks of picking this cassette up, looking at it, and putting it back, I finally dove in.  (CDs having just come out at the tail-end of '87 here in Los Angeles, I eventually bought all the '60's Kinks albums as imports.  A special release, The Album That Never Was would represent the unissued and previously issued songs of brother Dave from this period and it would have this track.)

The only other cassette I looked at with curiosity and surprise was a 'best of' from Steppenwolf lamely entitled The Best of Steppenwolf - Reborn To Be Wild.  As predictable a title as it was, it actually described the contents correctly because none of the famous songs I had known as a child were on it.  In addition to that fact, the cover was gripping.  Again, while being predictably tough with leather and bikes, the fact that they were wearing masks was frightening, but not gory.  This peaked my interest.

I don't know why I bought it.  Maybe I was hoping that one or two songs would be worth the $7.99 in spite of the fact that losing $8 bucks to a possible bummer was taking a chance.  In these days, $3.99 was the acceptable bargain price for new records and $2.99 to $0.99 being the norm at the local used-record stores for new recordings that were cut-outs, having clipped corners, hole punches, or record company stamps to reserve right of ownership.

Discovering the '70's incarnation of Steppenwolf was a refreshing journey down a path I was already on.  One where smart words matched with powerful music created images like any book or movie.  I'd also never known that a collection culled from original studio albums could be strong enough to tell a story of its own.  I thought that was just something I did at home when I'd make my own collections pulled from all the studio albums.  This is the only 'best of' I've heard that has the power to be considered a storytelling masterpiece!  The song order gels, the stories are all on the same serious theme, and the music all fits seamlessly together.

Replacing cassettes with vinyl and compact discs, I eventually came across a vinyl copy of their album Slow Flux.  I was so excited!  From the shine of the metallic cover to the playlist that included songs from the 'best of'.  Welp, major disappoitment.  The songs it had that weren't on the 'best of' seemed unnecessary or downright average.  Fast forward to the CD which contains all 3 albums from this period: Slow Flux, Hour Of The Wolf, and Skullduggery and the same problem remains.  Regardless, a big round of applause for one of the greatest albums of all time, whether accidental or not.

  • Straight Shootin' Woman
  • Hard Rock Road
  • Another's Lifetime
  • Mr. Penny Pincher
  • Smokey Factory Blues
  • Caroline (Are You Ready For The Outlaw World)
  • Get Into The Wind
  • Gang War Blues
  • Children Of Night
  • Skullduggery

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