One of the greatest indie labels in American history is reopening after a heartbreaking hiatus, and they’re celebrating it with the rerelease of their most storied compilation ever. I’m talking of course about Cleveland International Records and the genre-bending Cleveland Rocks, a thirteen-song treasure chest of sonic wonderment that influenced thousands of artists, producers and even critics like myself to embrace the magic of music like we never would have otherwise. When I was offered the opportunity to write a review about this release, I couldn’t help but jump at the very notion, because when you’ve got the chance to review a record sporting such legendary hits as Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” Mike Berry’s “I Am a Rocker,” Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” and the Euclid Beach Band’s “There’s No Surf in Cleveland,” you don’t turn it down.
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Rhythm defines “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” “Sweet Fools” and “Wasn’t That a Party,” and even though it’s presented to us in very different ways via the commanding presence of Jim Steinman, Essence and The Rovers, respectively, it makes for an exotic, almost theatrical, listening experience in Cleveland Rocks. One track bleeds into another in this LP, as if we were listening to a classic radio broadcast instead of spinning a studio album. It’s not common for me to listen to Just Us Girls and Iron City Houserockers in the same sitting, but when presented with such sizzlers as “Time Warp” and “Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive,” pressing shuffle or skip is simply out of the question.
Lyrically, it doesn’t get much better than what Ellen Foley dishes out in “We Belong to the Night” and Ronnie Spector & the E Street Band’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and if I’m being frank, I don’t know that I’ve heard anything in the last fifteen years of pop that is quite as vulnerable as what we find here. Both from a poetic standpoint and an instrumental one as well, there’s a raw intimacy to even rip-roar rockers like The Boyzz’ “Too Wild to Tame” that is painfully absent from contemporary FM playlists, but perhaps in the aftershocks of this label’s comeback, that narrative might start to change for the better.
If you’re as dedicated a music aficionado as I am, then you’re already aware of how serious a required-listen Cleveland Rocksis both in terms of its legacy and its unflinching accessibility. This is a rare instance of an LP that amounts to a literal melting pot of styles, genres and approaches to recording coming off without a hitch and playing out like a concept record. Whether you’re looking for something to score your next road trip or merely want to relive some of rock n’ roll’s best moments in one neatly packaged album, it’s paramount that you get your hands on Cleveland Rocks if you’re not already in possession of a copy. It’s a rock-solid record that was built to last, and some four decades from now, I think that future critics will likely be saying the same.