The Beach Boys: The Warmth Of The Sun
Capitol Records
Release Date: May 22, 2007

The Beach Boys’ music has defined Southern California ever since they began recording in 1961 and had their first charted hit, “Surfin’,” in February 1962. Six months later, the band followed with “Surfin’ Safari,” and by the time they stopped recording as a band (a little over a decade ago), they had racked up five dozen chart singles and over fifty albums. Their most popular hits included “Good Vibrations,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Kokomo.” What separates this compilation from all of their others is the fact that this 28-track set isn’t necessarily the hits that the record company slapped together, but rather album cuts and songs that have been compiled and sequenced by The Beach Boys themselves. The surviving members include Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston (who joined the band permanently in 1965). Brian’s brother Dennis Wilson died in a drowning accident in 1983 at age 39 and his other brother Carl Wilson died in 1998 at age 51.

The CD kicks off with the perfect song to set the stage for the sounds of the season – a first-time stereo remix of the 1964 recording “All Summer Long,” lifted from their album of the same name. The first-time stereo remixes are most welcomed, as is the digital quality, making this one of the best Beach Boys sets ever compiled. Other selections that are treated to a first-time stereo mix include two songs taken from the 1965 gem Summer Days (And Summer Nights), “You’re So Good To Me” and “Then I Kissed Her,” along with “Please Let Me Wonder,” “Let Him Run Wild,” from The Beach Boys Today and “Wendy,” from the aforementioned 1964 album All Summer Long.

One of the most revered albums in The Beach Boys’ vast discography is their 1971 tour de force Surf’s Up, which offers up five (count ‘em, five!) of their finest, that include the title cut “Don’t Go Near The Water,” “Feel Flows,” “Till I Die” and one of their most beloved and most covered treasures, “Disney Girls (1957).”

Half of the album contains album tracks from the 1960’s and the other half from the 70’s, with the exception of a cover of The Mamas & Papas crown jewel, “California Dreamin’,” which was recorded in 1986 and appeared on their album Made In U.S.A. Most of the songs were not released as singles to radio, but “California Dreamin’” is just one of eleven that was. The other single releases include “It’s OK,” “The Little Girl That I Once Knew,” “409,” “Little Honda,” “Please Let Me Wonder,” “Wendy,” “Friends,” “Break Away,” “California Saga (On My Way To Sunny Californ-i-a)” and the 1973 song that was a comeback of sorts on pop radio, “Sail On, Sailor.”

The final and title track to this compilation is one of my very favorite recordings from The Beach Boys’ entire catalogue, “The Warmth Of The Sun.” From Brian Wilson’s superb vocals to The Beach Boys’ unmistakable harmonies, this song exudes everything that made up “the California sound” and is the reason why The Beach Boys still rank as one of the Top 15 musical acts of all time.

I wanted to end this review by saying it doesn’t get any better than this, but it does. If you include the 2003 compilation of The Beach Boys: Sounds Of Summer, you’ll receive an additional 30 songs that were literally the greatest hits of this band, as well as some of greatest hits of all time. For purists, I also recommend picking their most treasured album, 1966’s Pet Sounds. Now I can end this review by admitting honestly – it doesn’t get any better than this.

Dirty Dancing: Original Soundtrack & DVD – Legacy Edition
Release Date: May 8, 2007

Exactly twenty years ago this summer, I was taken to a screening of a movie that took place in the summer of 1963. It was a small coming-of-age film and was about to be on the lips of every movie-goer and critic in 1987. I’m speaking of the little film that could – Dirty Dancing. As I left the screening, I couldn’t stop talking about this film. It’s evident now that I was treated to one of the “sleeper hits” of the summer, and of all time. How peerless was Jennifer Grey, and who ever really paid attention to Patrick Swayze before this film? Yes, we had seen glimpses of Grey’s talent in small film roles, most notably as Matthew Broderick’s perturbed sister in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Swayze had made waves, most notably for The Outsiders and on television in the successful mini-series North and South. For those of you who think it was Ghost that shot Swayze to fame, think again. It was undoubtedly his turn three years earlier as the dirty dancing rebel with a heart, “Johnny Castle,” that was his true star turn.  And why oh why didn’t Jennifer Grey become a major star after this vehicle? It’s yet another one of the many mysteries of Hollywood.

On this two-disc 20th anniversary edition, we’re not only treated to a 27-track listing of songs (15 more than the original soundtrack), but the DVD also offers the original film and bonuses galore. Isn’t that what the consumer really puts down their hard earned dollars for? I know I do. Among the 15 additional songs of the era, the highlights include “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Franki Valli & The Four Seasons, “Some Kind Of Wonderful” from The Drifters, “Wipeout” by the Surfaris, the R&B gem “These Arms of Mine” by the late, great Otis Redding, The Shirelles’ dazzling #1 smash “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and an alternate instrumental version of the Oscar-winning “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” performed by The John Morris Orchestra.

The DVD bonuses seem to go on and on – which is a good thing. They include five music videos; “She’s Like The Wind” by Patrick Swayze (featuring Wendy Fraser), Merry Clayton’s “Yes,” Eric Carmen’s hit “Hungry Eyes,” “Do You Love Me” from The Contours, and, of course, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. There’s also a dazzling photo gallery to please the most finicky DVD collector. For the fun of it, the disc also includes a Karaoke version of “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” for practicing in the privacy of your own home, or for making a fool out of anybody that cares to participate after too many Margaritas! Extras also include deleted footage, including a great two-minute clip titled “Dirty Dancing” that’s an oversexed version of Swayze and Grey gyrating until the censor’s came-a-calling. Other extras include interviews with Swayze, Grey and choreographer Kenny Ortega. This deluxe package is the perfect summer treat, and to use the “F” word to its fullest, it’s absolutely the most fun & fabulous CD/DVD package to come out of Hollywood in ages. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” And you should take the same advice for this deluxe edition. It’s too good to miss.

Paula Abdul: Greatest Hits – Straight Up!
Virgin Records
Release Date: May 8, 2007

The cover of Paula Abdul’s first-ever greatest hits collection has a label that reads “Grammy Award-Winning Platinum Singer, Choreographer and Actress.” When I mentioned this CD to an acquaintance of mine, he asked rather sarcastically, “Shouldn’t it be Paula Abdul’s greatest hit?” He was quite surprised to learn that Abdul didn’t have just one hit, she had six #1’s and nine Top 10 hits!

From 1988-1995, Abdul held her own with the best-of-the-best of the dance music genre, from Janet Jackson to Madonna. Abdul was racking up more hits than the latter, and it seemed it was time to welcome her in as the new dance diva for the new decade. People wondered who and where she came from. It was only known in the industry that this L.A. native began as a “Laker Girl” (to be more descriptive, a cheerleader and choreographer for the Los Angeles Lakers) while she was still a teenager. She got her start in the entertainment arena by choreographing Janet Jackson’s Control videos. Yes, the same music videos that shot Michael’s little sister to superstardom at age 19. By the time Abdul had enough experience under her belt guiding other people’s destiny, she thought it was time to create her own.

Her first album, Forever Your Girl, arrived at retail nineteen summers ago (July 5, 1988 to be exact) and the album and the first single, “Knocked Out,” just stalled in the center of the chart. The single came this close to hitting the Top 40, peaking at a disappointing #41, and the album just laid stagnant. The second single, “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me,” didn’t do much more to help as it peaked at a dismal #88 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album was falling off the charts quicker than Paula can now blurt out the word “pitchy.”  The old adage “third time’s a charm” seemed to be apropos, because three weeks after the second single release, a desperate attempt was made releasing the third single, the fierce dance ditty “Straight Up.” To say it worked would be an understatement. The single shot straight (pun intended) to #1 in the winter of 1989, and the rest is (as they say in Hollywood) the stuff that dreams are made of. All of a sudden, Paula Abdul was renamed “an overnight sensation.” Funny how many nights it sometimes takes to become that type of sensation, but in Abdul’s case, she had one more thing going for her than today’s crop of Paris Hilton’s with a record contract – she actually had real honest-to-goodness talent. And if you’re not convinced, I suggest taking another look at one of her six #1 music videos (which was also released May 8) for further proof.

Following “Straight Up” and its platinum status three-week stay at the top of the charts, the title track, “Forever Your Girl,” was released and it followed identically in its predecessor’s charted footsteps. After a gold certification for the single and a two-week residency in the penthouse position, the single “Cold Hearted” was released, and just as the previous two singles, it followed them to the top and earned Abdul another gold single. By the time “Cold Hearted” was sent to radio and retail, the album was just about to spend its first year anniversary on the chart.

Now that Abdul was a full-fledged star in the world of pop music, it was time to reintroduce her single that bombed ten months earlier. “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” had just the opposite effect, and its #3 peak was icing on the cake, in addition to the album’s four #1 singles. The final single from the album, “Opposites Attract,” was released eighteen months after the initial release of the album and it too reached the pinnacle, while earning Abdul her fourth gold-single certification.

Forever Your Girl proved to be such a mega-success that Abdul’s follow-up album, Shut Up And Dance, took six of the successful singles plus one that hadn’t been released, “One Or The Other,” and sent the package to retail, while the first album had just spent a staggering ten weeks on top of the Billboard 200. Ultimately, Forever Your Girl was certified platinum seven times over and spent an astonishing three and a half years on the chart. The follow-up dance mix package wasn’t too shabby for remixed singles also, earning platinum status and peaking at a very respectable #7.

The music industry and its consumers can be so fickle, it left many wondering if Abdul could repeat her success when her third album (her second of all-new material) Spellbound was released May 14, 1991. I already mentioned the third time’s a charm, and the new album, with its five single releases, didn’t disappoint. The album and the first single “Rush Rush” had a rush of its own when the two topped the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously. Yes, Abdul was now glowing in the success as a full-fledged recording star. After “Rush Rush” spent more than a month on top of the charts, not to mention another gold certification, the second single, “The Promise Of A New Day,” was released just two months later and replaced her old #1 with a new one. Abdul was a one woman dynamo, alternating the top spot of the charts with Mariah, Madonna, Janet and Whitney. The girls had taken their lion’s share of the gold and there was no stopping them. After the three final releases from the album, “Blowing Kisses In The Wind,” “Vibeology” and “Will You Marry Me?,” with backing harmonica by Stevie Wonder no less, Abdul seemed to take the message of the song literally, when she married actor/director Emilio Estevez at the same time the single was a Top 20 hit. Spellbound was certified three-times platinum.

Paula Abdul released only one more album, Head Over Heels – her first album not to reach the top ten, but still a respectable #18 peak. The first single, “My Love Is For Real,” peaked at #28 and, disappointingly, August 23, 1991 would mark the last time a Paula Abdul single would have a release with a charted position. “Crazy Cool” was the first of her one dozen consecutive singles that failed to reach the Top 40. The final three singles, although none charted, are hidden unknown gems to those that didn’t own the album; “If I Were Your Girl,” “Ain’t Never Gonna Give You Up” and “It’s All About Feelin’ Good.” But luckily, they end up on this compilation titled Paula Abdul’s Greatest Hits: Straight Up!

As for my “acquaintance” who asked about Paula Abdul’s one hit, I let him know that Paula Abdul had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, possesses two #1 albums, six #1 singles, seven MTV Awards, two Emmy’s, two People’s Choice Awards, a Grammy and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Pardon my pun, but that should set the record straight up! And as for this record, it’s an anthology not to be missed.

Maroon 5: It Won’t Be Soon Before Long
A&M/Octone Records
Release Date: May 22, 2007

Early buzz on the new Maroon 5 album was that Andy Levine and Company were headed for a completely revamped sound. After listening to this follow-up to their multi-platinum 2002 debut, Songs About Jane, they thankfully released an album that’s not only familiar, it’s also fresh without any trace of cheesy retreads. After all, if it ain’t broke…

To say that Maroon 5’s standing in pop music after a five year hiatus is safe and wonderfully “sound” would be a gross understatement. Their sophomore release, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, picks up where they left off exactly five years ago this month. Debut albums are sometimes a phenomenon that can’t be repeated (MC Hammer had the #1 album of the 90’s, and where are Alanis, Hootie and Shaggy these days?) but Maroon 5 seems to have sidestepped the curse by releasing an incredible album that captures their wonderful mix of R&B and rock for a completely satisfying pop album that has already earned its first #1 single, the slick pop/rocker “Makes Me Wonder,” in its first couple of weeks of release.

The title, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, is a play-on-words that seems to generate the feelings of the public as well as the frustration of the record company when they asked front man/lead vocalist/songwriter Andy Levine when this follow-up could be expected. The wait was worth it. Every one of the dozen tracks has commercial appeal and is as accessible to radio as the DJ who introduces these sure-fire hits.

The sound of pop/rock has never been more appealing, especially on highlights such as “If I Never See You Again,” “Little Of Your Time” and “Not Falling Apart,” which is a throwback to the Police’s 1983 Grammy-winning smash “Every Breath You Take,” complete with the same synth backbeat. If this song and album doesn’t become one of the biggest hits of the year, I’m in the wrong business.

Although the album is mostly upbeat, it does have a couple of chances to shine as well with the beautiful, yet bittersweet, ballad “Better That We Break.” The closer, “Back At Your Door,” is a mid-tempo rock ballad that’ll have you pressing “repeat” in order to listen to this great CD over and over again.

The CD artwork and liner notes may be a tad smaller than the album art we took for granted when bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles were in their 70’s heyday, but the brain power for releasing a full package as fine as Rumours and Hotel California is fully appreciated. The packaging, complete with the lyric sheets (that have been absent from most releases nowadays), is just icing on the cake, but it’s the music itself that earns this album five gold stars.

Tiffany: Just Me
10 Spot Records
Release Date:  June 5, 2007

In the March 15, 2007 issue of Billboard Magazine, they declared “Only six female solo artists have been able to pull two or more Hot 100 No. 1 singles from a debut album in the last 20 years. The list includes Tiffany, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé & Fergie.”

If you were expecting the Tiffany persona of 20 years ago, you may be disappointed until you hear the Tiffany of 2007. The driving beats that shot her way up the charts in 1987 and made her the youngest female singer to score a Number 1 album, have been replaced with a mature vocalist who not only has a fabulous voice, but she’s now writing and co-writing her own music, which she began doing in the 90’s. Tiffany wrote and recorded the album The Color of Silence, which was claimed as “One of the finest pop albums of 2000” by Billboard. On this latest outing, she co-penned seven of the eleven tracks. Gone are the overbearing managers and producers that dragged her down as quickly as they helped make her famous. She now answers to one person – herself.

The first track and single, “Feels Like Love,” is a mid-tempo romantic ballad and all around feel-good song. The track is an excellent choice to kick-off an album that’s a potpourri, and could be recognized with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Benatar and Alanis Morissette. The only thing Tiffany has in common with Britney is that they’re both former child prodigies. This former teen queen has real honest-to-goodness vocals, and her emotive style is extremely impressive. This woman makes you feel. The biggest difference between the two is that Tiffany had and has the pipes, and they never sounded better than they do on this musical semi-autobiography.

Following the first track, the most commercial track on the album to have a shot at radio would be “This Love.” It’s a mid-tempo rocker that reeks of sophistication and is pop/rock at its best.

Other standouts include “Mind Candy,” which is a country/folk tale with a terrific hook and an arrangement that could’ve been lifted from one of Bonnie Raitt’s platinum collections. The bonus track, “I Will Not Breakdown,” carries a fabulous rock riff that holds its own to one of Tiffany’s idols, Alanis Morissette, yet carves out an identity of her own.

“Winter’s Over” is a quite effective ballad, which highlights her superb vocals, as is “Anybody But Me,” which is an interesting take on reality shows that seem to inhabit the television airwaves since the beginning of the new millennium. It also displays Tiff’s wonderful sense of humor, considering she’s been a participant on a few shows herself. To begin with, she was a contestant on Star Search at nine years old, and in the summer of 2005, she was back on the small screen on the NBC hit series Hit Me Baby One More Time – a series that showcased musical talent from years gone by (primarily from the 80’s and 90’s).

When I asked her in a recent interview how she made the choice to appear on the show, she answered, “I actually did the UK version of that show, and it was great. I had the best time of my life, and I think it was perceived differently. I knew doing that show here in America, that we have more of a jaded perspective of those type of things. Whereas in England they really do look at people as “Wow, there you are up on stage and I remember that song.” They don’t look at it as “Where are they now?” or that you’ve fallen off your pedestal. They celebrate your success no matter what timeframe it was.” She told me that while she was in the UK taping the TV series, “I married an English guy, and we were living over there. So I go where a lot of the work is and I ended up having a lot of club dates here because of the success of the show. After ‘Hit Me Baby’ over there, I was offered my own TV show, I was offered hosting work, it was a totally different thing. But I had already committed myself here and I have a 13 year-old son and I didn’t want to uproot him from his school.”

Tiffany hasn’t abandoned dance music altogether. A couple of years ago she recorded an all-out dance disc entitled Dust Off The Dance, a tongue ‘n cheek mention to her past club songs, including the Number 1 pop and club smash “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

As she prepared for her summer tour, which includes performances at several gay pride events including her recent stint at L.A. Pride, she recorded a dance single entitled “Higher” on the Dauman Music label. This song is sure to heat up the dance floors across America this summer. The mixes were done by Josh Harris, Jamie J. Sanchez and Emjae. The song will also be featured in an independent movie entitled “Alice,” coming to a theater near you this summer.

Now that Tiffany’s feet are firmly planted on the ground, she’s out singing at several gay pride festivals as well as promoting the new album, Just Me. Tiffany was quick to tell me of her appreciation for the LGBT community. She said “gay people are very supportive, and again as a songwriter, I write from a woman’s perspective of being in a relationship, and I think that it’s great that kids, gay men and women can look at the lyrics and just see the heart in it. They don’t really pigeon-hole it. It’s real, it’s sincere and it is raw emotion, and I think that’s what people are. I’m just so grateful that gay audiences embrace my music.”

Like so many artists from the past, I’m hoping this album doesn’t slip under the radar. It’s truly one of the best albums from a singer/songwriter this season. Only you can give Just Me the recognition it deserves.

Paul McCartney: Memory Almost Full
Hear Records
Available NOW

If it weren’t for the infectious melodies (which happen to be some of McCartney’s best), the album’s lyrics are a bittersweet and melancholy look back on six decades. There’s plenty to analyze – life with and without Linda and the fact that this album was released two weeks prior to Paul’s 65th birthday, he seems to be focusing on life, love, loss of life, and basically, his own mortality.

After hearing the heavy beat of the bass drum, which opens to a mandolin, and Paul’s jubilance on the CD’s opener “Dance Tonight,” it’s hard to even fathom that McCartney is going through a very messy, highly publicized divorce. If it weren’t for the headlines, you’d think Paul was having the time of his life, listening to this song. Then again, since when can we take the tabloids seriously? This song is the first U.S. single release, and though it’s hard to get radio to play anyone over forty these days, I dare you to tell me that this song isn’t better than a lot of the music that’s being played on Top 40 radio today.

At first listen, the album doesn’t seem to have any natural segues, although it’s obvious after my second and numerous listens that the song sequence was quite deliberate. Track 2, “Ever Present Past,” might possibly be one of the finest songs written and performed by solo McCartney…ever…past and present! The introspective lyrics tell how “the time has gone so fast – the time I thought would last.” This song was wisely chosen as the first single release in the U.K. and programmers have already started playing it in the U.S. on satellite radio. Is this the place to hear legends nowadays? If so, sign me up.

The music steadily becomes even more upbeat as the album continues, and “See Your Sunshine” is another song that seems to recall happier times with his beloved Linda. It’s almost as if this song was written while she was still alive. It’s a joyful song filled with the love and admiration that he had for his late wife.

Just when you felt things were slowing down with a slow symphonic introduction that lasts close to a minute, Paul rocks out as hard as ever with the raucous “Only Mama Knows,” which is a highlight among highlights. But things do slow down a bit, and when they do, it’s a sentimental journey on “You Tell Me,” which is a bittersweet ballad that has Paul reminiscing and almost begging the request to be answered by someone near and dear to him. Once again, it’s hard to shake the fact that he’s singing about Linda and asking her for the answers.

“That Was Me” is an all-out rock song that has Paul going back to his earliest memories as a child growing up in Liverpool, to his teenage years, to life as a Beatle. “That was me on the TV,” as he tells us his stories and how it happened from his point of view.

“House of Wax” has to be the heaviest Paul has rocked in three decades. The electric guitar and heavy bass are at times bombastic, but in true McCartney fashion, it still holds its melody while taking us on a head-banging journey.

As he winds down, “End of the End” is another melancholy look at his own mortality. He talks of how “things must be very special at the end of the end” and orchestrates just how he would like to be remembered: “On the day that I die/I’d like the bells to be rung and the songs to be sung…” It’s not a morbid tale but rather a blueprint of how his life should be celebrated after he’s gone.

And in the end, Paul gives us the final track, “Nod Your Head,” which makes reference to a man (as he sees himself) sitting in a chair and answering questions by “looking left” for one answer, “looking right” for the other answer, and if he’s in agreement, just “Nod Your Head.”

This album is a masterpiece, and most definitely worthy of next year’s Grammy Album of the Year. These thirteen tracks sum up one of the most important songwriters of all time. I do hope this isn’t Sir Paul’s final recording, as is rumored. From the quality of his songwriting and the clarity of his vocals, it would be a shame not to have years more of his recordings. Maybe Paul’s memory is almost full. Notice how he said “almost.” My optimistic side tells me there’s more to come.

Instant Karma: The Campaign To Save Darfur
Warner Bros. Records
Available: NOW

This album is about human rights and saving the souls of Darfur, Sudan. The inhumane crimes that have occurred to the people of that country since 2003 are unfathomable. With the help of Amnesty International, people are being saved, but the effort is often overwhelming.

In this new two-disc set, Instant Karma, twenty-three artists perform twenty-three songs by John Lennon. And what better artist is there than this man who sought out and fought for peace practically his entire (but tragically) short life? It’s one of life’s ironies that he died so violently.

All of the songs were meticulously chosen by the artists, and in order to bring in the widest audience possible, the diversity of the recording acts is immense.

It seems only apt that U2 would be kicking off this potpourri of Lennon’s finest, considering that Bono has become one of the most philanthropic high-profile recording stars to be giving as much as he gets. He didn’t make this past year’s Time magazine “Man of the Year,” along with Bill Gates, because of his hit albums.  His vocals on the 1970 top-ten smash “Instant Karma” are fierce and faithful to the original. R.E.M. follows suit with another smash hit from Lennon’s repertoire, “#9 Dream,” the last hit single that Lennon penned before his infamous five-year hiatus from 1975-80, to raise his son, Sean, with his wife, Yoko. The song is performed almost as magically as the original, but since I’m such a fan of Lennon’s, it’s hard to escape the comparisons.

Christina Aguilera takes on the task of one of Lennon’s most revered songs, “Mother,” and delivers it with so much intensity, you’d swear this girl could cover any material and make it her own. She almost makes you forget that it was Lennon’s personal angst from which this song was derived. Other highlights on disc one include Los Lonely Boys’ cover of Lennon’s Number 1 hit “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” as well as Corrine Bailey Rae’s haunting rendition of “I’m Losing You.”

Jakob Dylan, featuring Dhani Harrison (the extremely talented offspring of legends Bob Dylan and the late George Harrison), team up for a stirring interpretation of “Gimme Some Truth,” and makes a believer out of me that another generation of musicians can successfully carve out careers of their own beyond name recognition. On track five, all hell breaks loose, when Lenny Kravitz peels the paint off the wall with his raucous cover of “Cold Turkey,” while Aerosmith, featuring Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, offers a reggae flavor to Lennon’s anthem “Give Peace A Chance.” In between those highlights there’s a touching version of “Oh, My Love” performed by Jackson Browne, Big & Rich add flavor to “Nobody Told Me” and the defiant Avril Lavigne closes the first set with a stunning interpretation of Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine.”

Disc Two continues this awe-inspiring journey as Green Day gets the wheels spinning with the first single and video release from the album, “Working Class Hero.” Their performance is absolutely spine-tingling. The Black Eyed Peas follow with the rousing anthem “Power To The People” and “Imagine” gets another treatment, this time from the tranquil vocals of Jack Johnson. Ben Harper’s brilliance shines on the exquisite “Beautiful Boy” that Lennon wrote for his five year-old son Sean, just months before his untimely death, and The Flaming Lips never sounded so good as they do on Lennon’s 1980 return to the airwaves, the wise and optimistic “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which segues into the introspective “God” performed by Jack’s Mannequin, featuring Mick Fleetwood. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Matisyahu’s stirring interpretation of “Watching The Wheels,” which was Lennon’s vision of his semi-retirement in the mid-late 70’s, Postal Service’s moving and melancholy “Grow Old With Me,” and one of Lennon’s best, “Jealous Guy,” performed magnificently by Youssou N’Dour.

The magnetic Regina Spektor closes down the show with one of John’s last compositions, “Real Love,” which is such an apropos song to sum up the genuine sentiment of this amazing collection of John Lennon’s solo work. The music stands for itself and makes for the ideal tribute to helping those in need living in Darfur.

Yoko Ono contributed a beautiful foreword to this album that in-part reads “John would be proud of this album.” She continued halfway into her introduction that “John wrote his songs with a very deep love for the human race and a concern for its future. He believed with his heart it was possible to create a better world. He also believed that each one of us plays a role in changing the world. I hope the Instant Karma campaign has the ability to not only save lives in Darfur, but to create the next generation of activists willing to stand up for the rights of others and the basic human rights we all share, now and in the future.

The changing is daunting, but these goals are achievable if we put our hearts and minds to the task.

Imagine all of us living life in peace. It is too beautiful to just be a dream.”

Kelly Clarkson: My December
RCA Records
Release Date: June 26, 2007

The wait is over. After months of speculation about when and if this album would see the light of day, it has. For fans of Clarkson’s vocals, I’m happy to report that the songstress’ voice is registering full throttle. For fans of the music on her two previous pop albums, this might be a bit jarring for you. But if you loved the hit “Since U Been Gone,” you shouldn’t have any trouble enjoying this rock effort – and I do mean rock!

Having listened to practically every pop and rock artist since I was a kid, it’s hard to escape the similarities I hear in Clarkson’s songs and delivery to those of Alanis, Benatar and all the serious female rock musicians of the past four decades.

The first single, “Never Again,” hit the top ten in its first week of release. It’s a dark rock and roll song about an intimate relationship that’s gone terribly wrong, and under no circumstances would she ever allow this person back into her life – Never Again! The single is also the album’s first track, and it’s just a taste of what’s in store for this fourteen-track autobiographical account of Clarkson’s past couple of years.

The hard rock show continues with the Benatar-esque “One Minute,” and the deeply troubled but fabulously executed “Hole.” The raucousness doesn’t take a breather until the fourth track “Sober,” and even though the pace has slowed down, the pain that this relationship has caused her is most evident in this haunting rock ballad. 

Of the fourteen tracks, there are a few other rock ballads worthy of being some of the best material on the album, including “Be Still” and the mid-tempo “Maybe.” Clarkson never sounded as vulnerable as she does on the bittersweet tale “Can I Have A Kiss,” but it’s the final track, “Irvine” (that runs just under nine minutes), that really grabs your emotions. When asked about the song, Clarkson has said that it was a song that described the lowest point in her life. She confesses to writing the song after the last gig of her last tour in Irvine, California, and it’s about getting somebody terribly negative out of her life and the struggle and strength it took to do it. It’s the perfect closer to a dark but fiery collection of music that would’ve been terribly wasted had the record label had their way and filled the album up with pop confections.

This is the first collection of music that was completely written and co-written by Clarkson. After selling ten million copies worldwide of her last CD, Breakaway, which spawned a half dozen top 20 hits, she doesn’t expect this album to achieve those statistics (but would be grateful if it did). The album’s artistic quality took precedence over the label’s concern for quantity, and it’s not as if she’s off to a bad start. The first week sales of 291,000 units outsold Breakaway’s first week of 250,000. The country is clearly responsive to Clarkson’s output, and even though I don’t expect major airplay from the fourteen tracks at top 40 radio, I do think Clarkson will be able to add a Grammy to the two she’s already won.

No one has recorded such polished female rock with such an incredible range as consistently as Pat Benatar did in the 80’s, and Clarkson seems to be picking up where she left off in her heyday. As the Rolling Stones sang, “It’s only rock & roll but I like it.” I have to echo those sentiments.

Many pop artists have strayed into the rock arena, only to achieve mixed results. Despite what the tabloids are saying about Clarkson, she proves that her former American Idol cutie image, that could belt out the adult contemporary material with the best of them, is just as effective (if not more) with this material.

As for My December, Clarkson rocks!

Marc Almond: Stardom Road
Sanctuary Records
Release Date: June 26, 2007

For those old enough to remember gay pride 1982, it’s hard to forget one of the biggest electronic dance anthems of that year, “Tainted Love” performed by Soft Cell, a.k.a. Marc Almond and Dave Ball. For those too young to remember, how about Rihanna’s smash single “S.O.S.” from last year? The infectious instrumental behind the Caribbean queen teen’s vocal was “Tainted Love.” The song has been one of the most revered of the techno genre, and Soft Cell has been awarded with album sales that have toppled the ten million mark. It’s been said that Soft Cell has influenced many techno electronic bands to come afterward, including everybody from Erasure to Pet Shop Boys to Goldfrapp.

Marc Almond has been riding the success of the music world for the past twenty-five years, and up until his near-death motorcycle accident in 2004, he had continued to record and perform.

I’m happy to inform you that he’s back with a sensational new album entitled Stardom Road. It’s a collection of covers (with the exception of one original self-penned song) that he felt were appropriate to sum up his professional life in the spotlight.

The album has a larger-than-life feel to it, as its grand and lush orchestrations set the stage for some of the most interesting renditions of some very well-known songs.

The album kicks off with the Charles Aznavour song, “I Have Lived.” Marc comments, “This song was the perfect opener. It is the theme song to my life, a celebration of life itself, a rally to live and to experience as much as possible, even when bad experiences turn out to be the consequence of good ones. The song speaks without remorse or excuse for embracing the joie de vivre (joy in life), seeking neither redemption nor forgiveness on the day of reckoning.”

In the thirteen-track collection, Almond covers everything in grand style, including a take on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night,” which has an arrangement reminiscent of George Michael’s 1988 classic “Kissing A Fool.”

His take on the David Bowie 60’s classic “London Boys” is very true to the original, and even Almond’s vocal takes on an eerie resemblance.

Other songs that are carried off in fine form include a great rendition of the Bobby Darin hit “Dream Lover,” that’s slowed way down from the original arrangement to give it a more intimate feel than the bouncy version from the 50’s, and Gene Pitney’s “Backstage I’m Lonely,” a tribute to the late recording artist that Almond idolized and had the opportunity of working with several years ago. The result is hauntingly exquisite.

Just when you were thinking everything is melodramatic, in walks the electronic dance ditty “Kitsch,” and it lives up to its name perfectly. It’s got that cheesy yet appealing sound that would make a great single for club play if remixed properly.

The one original song Almond penned was “Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem The World).” It’s a line taken from Dostoevsky. Almond claims, “It’s a song that resonates with me now that I’m older and hopefully wiser. I want things differently now.” He further explains, “It’s been one hell of a ride, so I can’t complain.” Neither could I after hearing this song sung so magnificently – and being in close proximity to his age, I related to the song on my own terms.

 “Curtain Falls” was beautifully placed as the closer to the album. The sentiment of the song is “Take off the makeup; turn off the lights, goodnight.” Of course, you’ll want to re-open this curtain again and relive the grandeur of this album.

Almond speaks proudly of this album, as he should. It’s one of the best recordings of his career, and the songs tell his story and give us (the audience) a glimpse into his life on Stardom Road.

Tegan and Sara: The Con
Vapor/Sanctuary Records
Release Date: July 24, 2007

If you think you may not be familiar with Tegan and Sara, it’s more than likely you will be with this release. If you are an avid viewer of the hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy, chances are you are familiar with this duo’s music, but you just weren’t aware of who it was. Five of their songs were staples on the series’ first season.

This duo not only happens to consist of twin sisters, Tegan and Sara Quin, but they are both lesbians as well. Does that make a difference? Yes and no. If the music wasn’t so good, nobody would really care either way, but that’s not the case here. The music is so superb that it does matter. It matters because people aren’t just waking up to the fact that these two people are relatively new to the music scene and are making a name for themselves, it matters because it shows the world that no matter what flag you wave, talent is talent. And that, my friends, is another step towards equality.

The Con is the Quin twins’ fifth release, and it is following their most critically acclaimed album to date, the 2004 release So Jealous, which not only caught the ears of most Canadians, it also earned the duo a Juno nod (the Canadian equivalent to America’s Grammy). So, to say they have a lot to live up to is an understatement. Before all of the excitement, the duo started off as eighteen year-olds with their first album in 1999. Their music caught the ears of fellow Canadian and music legend Neil Young, who allowed the sisters to open for him on tour. That allowed them the freedom and the exposure to do a national tour of their own in their native Canada. Rufus Wainwright was so impressed that he then took them on tour with him in the US, and that ended up leading to a performance gig on The Late Show with David Letterman. In turn that opened the doors for further US national exposure, including spots on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel Live. To top off the euphoria, The White Stripes covered their song “Walking With A Ghost.” The sisters were well on their way, and had earned the respect of some of the finest musicians in the world.

I’m happy to report that this latest release not only lives up to their last, it surpasses it. Produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) along with Tegan and Sara, the harmonies coupled with a synthesized backbeat make their sound like nothing you’ve ever heard. Whoever said that originality was dead hasn’t had the pleasure of hearing these girls make music.

With highlights such as “Back In Your Head,” “Hop A Plane,” “Floorplan” and the great break-up song of 2007, “Call It Off,” these sisters have only one direction to go, and that is straight to the top.

I highly recommend this album, not just to the gay community, but to all that appreciate the uniqueness and quality of great music. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a listen to their samples on iTunes and I dare you not to purchase the entire set. Yes, it’s that great!

Junior Senior: Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
Rykodisc/Crunchy Frog Records
Release Date: August 14, 2007

The last time we heard from Junior Senior was with their last CD release, D-D-Don’t Don’t Stop The Beat, which spawned the Top Ten UK hit single “Move Your Feet,” and put them on American airwaves when their video of the same name went into heavy rotation on MTV and VH-1. This dynamic duo, Junior a.k.a. Jesper Mortensen, who is straight, and Senior, Jeppe Laursen, who is gay, have another all-out dance album that is as much fun as their last. Dare I say it’s better? Okay, there, I’ve said it! The leadoff single “Can I Get Get Get,” which was featured on ABC’s hit new series Ugly Betty, has already caused a commotion at the network, as well as in the clubs and on LOGO, where it’s being utilized in their summer promo campaign.

Their music is quite distinctive, as it’s a cross of sensational harmonies with a pulsating dance rhythm that’s hard to ignore. While listening to this CD, it’s almost impossible not to keep your body in tune as it moves to its contagious thump-thump-beat-beat-beat. To sum up their sound, it’s basically your not-so-average blend of dance, new wave, Motown, a dash of hip-hop influence with a big swig of pop. Guest artists on this album include Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of The B-52’s, Le Tigre and the Motown girl group, The Velvelettes.

The album is one non-stop party and never slows down. From the apropos opener of “Hello,” that segues sensationally into the 80’s hip-hop disco-ish “Hip Hop A Lula,” you know you’re in for a party that’s perfect to live out the dog days of summer and beyond. This album has all the spit and polish of the legendary groups that Junior Senior have emulated on this mish-mash of glam slam and disco, with a synth beat that’ll take you right back to the 80’s without ever feeling dated. This album is as fresh as it gets, and will be considered one of the feel-good albums of the summer. Pick up or download a copy of Hey Hey My My Yo Yo and remember, I t-t-told told you you so so.

Swinging Singles: Two CD singles arrived on my desk last week, and though I rarely promote singles, these were too good not to let you in on them. The first is Rihanna’s follow-up to her smash single “Umbrella,” entitled “Don’t Stop The Music.” When I first reviewed this album a few months ago, I predicted that most of the singles had a surefire shot at club and radio success. I’m thrilled that they included this as the second single from the CD Good Girl Gone Bad. The CD single of “Don’t Stop The Music” includes ten remixes, with the highlights being the Jody den Broeder Big Room Mix and Solitaire’s More Drama Remix. The song melts its way into my head with its contagious rhythm and sleek beats. It’s also nice to hear Michael Jackson’s pulse again (sort of) as Rihanna’s vocals glide effortlessly over a sample of MJ’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” After all of the sensational headlines Jackson’s been making for the past few years, which overshadowed his genius, this sample made me realize what we’ve been sorely missing from the pop/rock scene lately. Thanks to Rihanna, we are treated to a spectacular track that reminds us of how special Jackson was/is.

The other single comes from an unlikely dance source – it’s the fabulous Idina Menzel, who opened in the musical “Wicked,” and this remix project of the showstopper “Defying Gravity.” The single contains six outstanding remixes, including Tracy Young’s Flying Monkey Club Mix that already has people swooping in to the sensational beat. Other mixes include the Eddie Baez Club Mix coming in at just under nine minutes, Hani’s Flying So High Club Mix thumping for around seven minutes, the sensational Vocal Club Mix by Josh Harris coming in over the seven-minute mark, and Funky Junction & Antony Reale’s Club Mix beats in at six-and-a-half minutes. For the purists at heart, there’s always the original single that rounds out the set. Menzel’s voice is another treasure that we’ll have the pleasure of hearing in full when her Warner Bros. Records debut is expected to be released early next year.

Summer Of Love: The Hits of 1967 – Various Artists
Time-Life Records
Released: June 19, 2007

There have been countless compilations of music from the sixties, but it is rare to receive one total packaged box set that encompasses one entire historic summer within three discs, which include two CD’s and one incredible DVD. Forty songs are included on the two audio CD’s, and several performances plus archival footage make up the visual DVD that is picture perfect, and the sound quality is so crisp, you’ll be able to forgo the drugs that were so prevalent at that time.

Disc One kicks off with the Haight-Ashbury anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair),” performed by its originator, Scott McKenzie. The apropos anthem was written by John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas, and illustrates just how life was that famous summer. Other favorites from the summer of love include The Turtles’ most famous song, the inspiring “Happy Together,” as well as The Association’s harmonic beauty on the Number 1 pop ditty “Windy.” Speaking of The Mamas and The Papas, we are treated to their autobiographical journey “Creeque Alley,” and The Beach Boys’ underrated, but brilliant, single “Heroes and Villains.”

The sound of Motown weighs in with two of its biggest acts, Diana Ross and The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, offering up their “Reflections” and “I Was Made To Love Her,” respectively.

In 1967 the Monkees actually outsold The Beatles, and they are present with the Neil Diamond-penned “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Other very famous 60’s groups and songs included are The Grass Roots’ “Let’s Live For Today,” The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” and the soaring vocals of Spanky McFarland’s with Spanky & Our Gang’s melodic “Sunday Will Never Be The Same.” The British Invasion was very much a part of ’67, and they are represented here by The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” The Hollies’ “Carrie-Anne,” and the closer is the hauntingly gorgeous “A Whiter Shade of Pale” performed by Procul Harum.

There’s no shortage of megawatt entertainment on disc two as Cream kicks off the rock side of the set with “I Feel Free,” which rolls its way to Jefferson Airplane’s humungous smash hit “Somebody To Love,” with Grace Slick’s vocals never sounding better than it did that summer. The Youngbloods’ anti-war song “Get Together” still remains an anthem forty years later, as easily as Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is as pretty as she was in 1967.

The always fascinating Donovan offers up his classic “Season of the Witch,” while Vanilla Fudge takes a psychedelic trip with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Eric Burdon & The Animals sing of their “San Franciscan Nights,” as Traffic sings of their day trip under a “Paper Sun.” Other highlights include Big Brother & The Holding Company fronted by Janis Joplin and her bluesy take on “Down On Me,” and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band dreams of “Mary, Mary.” Closing out the disc is The Yardbirds (when it still featured Jimmy Page a year before he co-founded Led Zeppelin) and the distinctive song of the era, “Stroll On.”

I love all the songs on the two CD’s and could play them for the next forty summers, but the definitive reason for recommending this box set is the phenomenal DVD. It captures everything that made the Summer of Love what it was and why it’s still talked about with such reverence. It begins with the audience, and just a look at the clothes and the free spirit that everyone was embracing made me gleefully nostalgic. The footage of performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Still & Nash (letting Neil Young sit in before it was made official), as well as the behind-the-scenes look at Janis Joplin’s life and the demands that were put upon her, and that she put upon herself, was quite revealing.

No, not all was right with the world. The assassinations of Presidents and leaders were all too prevalent, but the power of the people was so positive that it makes you ask the musical question “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” Life may be more technologically advanced now, but I still long for the time when all was for one and one was for all. Maybe I’m not being realistic and I’m looking at things through rose-colored glasses – if that’s the case, at least I’m in style for this magnificent box set. Pick it up and regain your “peace” of mind.

True Colors Soundtrack: Cyndi Lauper Presents – Various Artists
Silver Label/Tommy Boy Records
Release Date: August 7, 2007

Words can hardly be expressed for how I feel about Cyndi Lauper’s devotion to the gay community, along with the cohorts she brought along on her month-long tour during Pride month, which began less than two months ago. This soundtrack came together in record time (pun intended). Most of the acts that went on tour with Cyndi and that appear on this soundtrack were already in the midst of their own tours when Cyndi came-a-callin’. All of the artists’ songs were recorded as they were performed, with the exception of two; Cyndi’s special rendition of “True Colors” (Morel’s Pink Noise Mix Edit) and Erasure featuring Cyndi Lauper with “Early Bird” (DJ Manolo’s Trur Colors Mix). Both of these songs were remixed specifically for this release.

Ten timeless tracks carry the message that’s so important to the LGBT community. If you were lucky enough to attend one of the concerts, here’s your chance to relive the glory and unity that brought some of these artists and our community together. If you were not fortunate enough to attend, this CD is proof of how powerful the musical message was and is.

Among the other artists that Cyndi brought together are The Dresden Dolls, who perform “Shores of California,” and The Cliks, who performed “Oh Yeah” and issued the statement, “We are honored and excited to contribute to the Human Rights Movement in the U.S. by doing what we do best with some of the best artists of our time.” Indigo Girls, who have been a staple for the past two decades, offer us the beautiful “Rock & Roll Heaven’s Gate” with Pink singing backup. And what would a tour that contributes generously to the gay community be without Rufus Wainwright? Here, Wainwright delivers the sensational anthem “Gay Messiah.” Debbie Harry, a longtime supporter of the gay community, came along for the ride and sang her heart out on “What Is Love.” Jeffree Star offers up “Plastic Surgery Slumber Party,” while The Gossip and Cazwell close down the show with “(Take Back) The Revolution” and “Watch My Mouth,” respectively.

One dollar from the profit of each CD sold, as well as full download, is being donated to the Human Rights Campaign. Rosie Perez, who serves as the Executive Producer of this soundtrack, would like to send the message that “Human Rights is not a gay issue, it is a human issue and we must come together to end bigotry in all forms and on all levels.” On that note, I say, Amen!

Barry Manilow: The Greatest Songs of the Seventies
Arista Records
Release Date: September 18, 2007

Barry Manilow’s The Greatest Songs Of The Seventies is the third in a very successful series of albums that began a year and a half ago. The first was Barry’s The Greatest Songs Of The Fifties that debuted at Number 1 in February 2006, and it was followed by The Greatest Songs Of The Sixties last fall. The latter gave Manilow his greatest first-week sales tally, and it debuted in the Number 2 spot. Manilow hasn’t seen this kind of sales success since his recording heyday in the mid to late 70’s. Leave it up to Clive Davis (the man with the golden ear, as the industry refers to him) to resurrect a recording career that seemed to have peaked almost three decades ago. This latest album could possibly be Manilow’s most enduring (not to mention endearing) set in the trilogy. We are not only dealing with Manilow’s demographic, but also record buyers that have fallen back in love with everything 70’s.

Manilow carefully chose this latest set of songs from a list of hundreds, and kicks off with a heartfelt rendition of Barbra Streisand’s 1974 Number 1 smash, “The Way We Were.” Now that the nostalgic stage has been set, Manilow remains in the middle of the decade with a poignant interpretation of Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You.” Before listening to the CD, I thought it was nearly impossible for Manilow to record a believable cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s masterpiece “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” even after Aretha Franklin’s brilliant rendition from years ago, but Manilow surprised me when he succeeded brilliantly with this show-stopping Grammy-winning Record of the Year from 1970. Manilow delivers The Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” flawlessly (which also happens to be the most covered song from The Brothers Gibb), as well as the old Albert Hammond staple “It Never Rains In Southern California.” Duets are nothing new to Manilow, as he’s demonstrated beautifully over the years with fine pairings with Streisand, Midler and even Phyllis Maguire, to name a few. This time around he calls upon old friend Melissa Manchester for the apt “You’ve Got A Friend,” and breaths new life into the Carole King-penned anthem that brought James Taylor enormous success back in ’71.

For the second time in two consecutive albums, Manilow displays his affection lovingly for The Beatles with a fine rendition of “The Long And Winding Road,” which happened to be the very last Number 1 single from the Fab Four just after their split up in the spring of 1970.

Barry doesn’t just stick to the first half of the decade for the hits, he rocks the boat with his wonderful cover of Christopher Cross’ 1979 summer song “Sailing,” and winds down with a touching version of Elton John’s 1976 ode of lament “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” Other highlights include a sensational version of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, a simple and superb interpretation of Bread’s “If” and the touching Carpenters’ signature song “(They Long To Be) Close To You.”

One of the great kicks is Manilow’s acoustic versions of his own seventies hits, which complete the disc. They begin with his first hit song, 1974’s “Mandy,” and continue with his best loved and most requested songs, including “Weekend In New England,” “Copacabana (At The Copa),” “Even Now,” “Looks Like We Made It” and caps off the set with the song that will be forever identified with him, “I Write The Songs.”

For a real treat, I suggest picking up the special edition. For a few dollars more, you are treated to a second disc with nine additional bonus tracks of his own acoustic hits. They include “Somewhere In The Night,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “This One’s For You,” a fabulous Hi-NRG version of “Could It Be Magic (The Trevor Horn Dance Mix),” and alternate acoustic renditions of the aforementioned songs with an additional alternate take of “I Write The Songs.”

Normally, I would suggest the special edition to die-hard Manilow fans, but the results are so spectacular, I must recommend it to all that enjoy Manilow’s music. Never before has it been more appropriate for one of his albums to end with the line “I am music and I write the songs.” Damn right!

Elton John: 60 – Live At Madison Square Garden
Release Date: October 2, 2007

Last March 25th, I attended one of the greatest events that I have been to in all my years of concert-going. It was a celebration for Elton John’s 60th birthday at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden. John covered a great deal of his vast catalogue, focusing mainly on his greatest chart achievements from the 70’s, when he was king (and queen) of the charts. Fortunately, the entire concert had been documented not just on audio but on video as well.

For this special edition (which I highly recommend) there are one audio disc and two DVD’s. One DVD covers the entire concert, and the second DVD covers his greatest live performances culled from early television appearances, beginning in 1970 to his 2006 TV special that aired on the BBC. The archival hits are culled mostly from the 70’s with exception of one track from 1982 (“Empty Garden”), which is a tribute to fallen friend John Lennon, and one track from 2006, “The Bridge” from the critically acclaimed The Captain And The Kid.

The concert kicks off with one of his earliest songs from 1970, the appropriately titled “Sixty Years On” (who knew he’d actually still be singing this when he wrote it at age 23?) to other early jewels such as “Madman Across The Water,” “Where To Now St. Peter?,” “Take Me To The Pilot,” and “Holiday Inn.” The selected hits that were performed include “Levon,” “Daniel,” “Honky Cat,” “Rocket Man,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” “Bennie And The Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” “I’m Still Standing,” “The Bitch Is Back,” “Crocodile Rock,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” the expansive opus “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” to his final encore, the signature “Your Song.”

Disc Two of the DVD is entitled “Live, Rare & Unseen,” and the set is of the aforementioned archival live performances that begin with “Your Song,” which is a video montage from “Elton at 50,” plus his TV appearances in chronological order beginning with live performances from 1970 that include “Border Song,” and “Sixty Years On.”  From 1971 we’re treated to shattering renditions of “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer,” that in retrospect set the stage for his longevity and superstar status. In 1972, all bets were off when he started delivering radio hit after hit with “Honky Cat,” “Mona Lisa And Mad Hatters,” “Rocket Man” and “Crocodile Rock,” all taken from his concert stint at the Royal Festival Hall. The disc continues to showcase Elton’s finest performances when they were new, such as “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” from 1973, and a series of exceptional performances from the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre in 1976, where he performed “Daniel,” the haunting “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Candle In The Wind,” and “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” A highlight is the 1982 tribute to John Lennon with Elton’s emotional performance of “Empty Garden.”

In 1984, Elton performed in concert at Wembley, and included are two sparkling performances; “I’m Still Standing”  and “Bennie And The Jets.” Also from a 1984 Australian concert is “Song For Guy,” and from 1995, a mature and analytical reading of “Believe.” From 2001, 2005 and 2006 respectively, we get “This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore” from the BBC TV show “Tops of the Pops,” “We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains,” and another BBC performance of “Tinderbox” closes out the disc.

The three-disc set (two DVD’s and one CD) is being sold exclusively on, and aside from the hours of concert and archival television and concert performances, the set includes a 72-page booklet, as well as a DVD booklet. Since this is all a throwback to the seventies, a tour program and a souvenir poster are included, and to bring us into the 21st century, exclusive Elton John ringtones are also available.

Trust me, nothing, and I mean nothing, has been omitted from this collection, which is the grandest DVD/CD set I have ever seen distributed. Elton 60: Live From Madison Square Garden will have you singing Sir Elton’s praises. This collection is important for every music fan and an absolute must for all Elton John fans. 

© 2007 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.