Wondering what to use those Tower Records or Sam Goody Christmas gift certificates for? Well, there are some new discs out now of particular interest for fans of '70s and '80s pop:

Steve Perry  
Greatest Hits + Five Unreleased

Ex-Journey singer Steve Perry has had a checkered solo career since he began stepping out from Journey. His first solo album, 1984's Street Talk, launched four Top 40 singles (all featured on this Greatest Hits CD) including his best known hits "Oh Sherrie" and "Foolish Heart." A second solo disc, however, was scrapped in 1988, and four of its tracks (which, by the way, were deservedly scrapped these are not lost bits of musical gold) appear here for the first time.

Three of the songs from those 1988 sessions resurfaced on what would eventually become his second released solo disc, 1994's For The Love of Strange Medicine, which managed two weak Top 100 hits, "You Better Wait" and "Missing You." So this album fails to live up to its title, somewhat, because it isn't exactly a CD that's chock full of hits Perry hasn't had very many on his own. It also fails to include Perry's recent soundtrack recording work, which would have made this an especially valuable collection for fans.

Probably the most interesting piece on this CD for Perry/Journey fans, though, is the last song, "If You Need Me, Call Me." This was the demo from Perry's previous band that got him signed on to sing for Journey. It's a straight ahead, slightly twangy rock song which shows Perry's vocal style already firmly developed, and doesn't seem too far afield from the sound of "Wheel in the Sky" and other early classics that Journey and Perry would turn out shortly thereafter.


Toto XX (1977-1997)

Fans of Toto in its prime will definitely want to get their hands on this disc. From 1978 to 1988, Toto scored 14 Top 40 hits including "Hold The Line," "99," "Rosanna," "I Won't Hold You Back" and "I'll Be Over You." The songs from Toto XX (1977-1997) are rescued from that prolific first decade of the band's existence. Consequently, they share the same signature sound of classic Toto hits.

"Goin' Home," recorded for 1989's Past To Present album, is probably the most vital song uncovered here it's amazing that this well-crafted big rock gem was never before released.

While the last three of these 13 songs are live recordings from the band's 1997 tour of South Africa (and include a recording of the band's biggest 1984 hit, "Africa," with African background singers and percussionists), the bulk of the disc is a collection of leftover studio recordings and demos that were recorded but never made it onto albums during the band's late '70s to late '80s heyday, before Jeff Porcaro's death and other lineup changes threw Toto into a downward spiral. Of particular interest to fans are the two 1977 demos that got the band its record deal.

Are the bulk of these 10 previously unreleased studio tracks truly lost classics? To some hard-core fans, maybe yes, but most likely no. They're better than most of the band's output in the '90s, but these songs are average Toto numbers compared to most of the band's '80s output. What these songs do offer, however, is a chance to revisit the days of huge-sounding, well-harmonized rock pop that is rarely made in this age of garagey Green Day and Matchbox 20. These guys really knew how to play and sing.


Manilow Sings Sinatra Barry Manilow 
Manilow Sings Sinatra

Manilow has become the consummate Vegas-style glitzy showman over the past two decades, and this Sinatra homage collection, which follows other Manilow big band and swing albums like Showstoppers, Swing Street and Singin' With The Big Bands, is predictably smooth and well-sweetened.

There are 14 tracks here, including two Sinatra-esque songs co-written by Manilow for this CD (one of which is a direct lyrical tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes called "Here's To The Man.") Sinatra fans will likely find Manilow's readings just a little too soft; part of Sinatra's charm was the rough, charismatic edge that he added to these love songs. Manilow doesn't have that edge, nor does he tackle too many of Sinatra's real swing numbers.

This disc could have used a few more "Lady Is A Tramp" style tracks. Instead, we get elevator easy readings of "All The Way," "Strangers in the Night" and "Summer Wind," among others. He does offer Chicagoans a new (slightly slow) version of "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)" for party play, and also swings it up a little with "I've Got The World On A String," and "Come Dance With Me/Come Fly With Me."

While some more edge could certainly be desired in these recordings, Manilow does deliver a slickly crafted album. His vocal style has always been well suited to crooning, and the orchestra charts here are as warm and soothing as any. This album would likely have been a huge hit among the post-30s crowd in 1965.

Today? It's an interesting nostalgia piece that fans of both Sinatra and Manilow will likely enjoy.