Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Hollies' Greatest" by The Hollies (August, 1968 - UK only)

Dad's Take:

Few groups in the mid-sixties had the kind of success The Hollies had. This album collects their best-loved songs in one package. Although I still think greatest hits packages are kind of cheating in classic album lists, this is a fantastic record.

As you'd expect, it's loaded with the Hollies' peppy pop rock hits. It's hard not to like a record that contains songs like "I Can't Let Go," "Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window," "Stop Stop Stop," "Jennifer Eccles, and my personal favorites, "On A Carousel" and "Carrie Anne." It's no wonder this album spent seven weeks atop the British charts. (Remember, the list we're using for these reviews is in a book published in Britain.) There are also several songs that are less familiar, at least on this side of the pond, like the catchy, Beatlesque "We're Through" and "Here I Go Again," songs that were big in Britain before the group's US chart success began in 1966.

I really don't have much more to say about this. It didn't break new ground. It didn't change the face of popular music. It's a greatest hits album, full of the group's grooviest pop hits, mostly songs I know very well and have loved for many years. I'm looking forward to Brad's review. I suspect many of these songs will be new to him, and that he's going to dig this. I'm just going to kick back and sing along. You don't want to share in that experience, believe me, so I'll just end my review here.

Brad's Take:

Normally, when writing a review on here, I listen to the album all the way through without ever skipping songs or going back to other songs or anything like that. But half way through the first track, "I Can't Let Go," I knew that I was going to have to listen to that song at least two more times before continuing on with the rest of The Hollies hits. That song just totally hit me hard and made me grin like when a burrito is sitting in front of me. The back and forth vocals reminds me of a lot of the more current bands that I love. Just listen to this song if you're wishy-washy about listening to the band. You'll want to hear more. Guaranteed.

Like my dad said though, The Hollies didn't really bring anything new to the table. They just did the whole pop music thing really well. Even their cover of "Stay" by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs is great. For being so poppy, The Hollies never sound or feel too gimmicky, like The Monkees did at times.

There are things I love in every single song on this collection. Some songs have more awesomeness than others though, but there isn't a bad song on here. The mega-poppy vocal melodies and harmonies really carry each of their songs.

Dad, I'm kind of mad at you. Maybe you played them around the house or in the car here and there, but you should have engraved this band into my head, like you did with The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and Dr. Demento. This stuff ruuuules! Now I need to collect all things Hollies.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake" by The Small Faces (June, 1968)

Dad's Take:

This unexpected concept album from psychedelic tinged pop band The Small Faces (best known, maybe, for their hit "Itchycoo Park") was a smash in Great Britain, and went pretty much unnoticed in the U.S. It also led to the end of the band, nearly all of whom went on to stardom in other bands like The Faces and Humble Pie.

That the record only hit #159 in the U.S. after going to #1 in the U.K. is a shame, but the US market demands a strong single and this album doesn't have an obvious hit. Still, it really is a fun, interesting, and weird record, especially the story on side two about a boy named Happiness Stan who wants to find the missing half of the moon.

It should be no surprise that the entire band continued to succeed in rock and roll after The Small Faces broke up. The playing on the album is excellent. It has a heavier sound than people might have expected from them, showing that they had some serious rock chops.

The title instrumental that opens the record is interesting, but the album really takes off with the second track, "Afterglow." Although it has many of the hallmarks of the 1968 psychedelic scene, the song still manages to sound somewhat contemporary today. Next up is "Long Agos and Worlds Apart," another good song, although I kind of wish the vocals weren't mixed down so low. Musically, the song shines, like the rest of the album. The cockney feel of "Rene" and the fun "Lazy Sunday" make them stand out as enjoyable tracks.

It's Side Two, though, where the album becomes really interesting. Narrated by British comedian Stanley Unwin in his characteristic Unwinese gobbledygook. The result is some serious weirdness wrapped around cool, complex music and a fun, twisted little musical fairy tale. The weirdness pays off because the songs are good. They are unusual, but not to the point of being hard to listen to. In fact, I really enjoy them. "Mad John" stands out for me, but I enjoy the whole story.

I suppose I can understand why this one never took off in the US. Between the lack of an obvious hit and the difficult-to-comprehend narration, it's not particularly easy on American ears. But I like it. The music is fun, and the silly psychedelia of Happiness Stan's story appeals to me. I understand why this album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Whether you love it or not, you really do need to listen to it at least once.

Note: Our version comes with a bonus live version of the hit "Tin Soldier," which works well as a rocking finale for the record.

Brad's Take:

I had no idea who The Small Faces were before going into this. I figured it was probably because they weren't an American band, and I was right.

Musically, I really liked quite a few of the songs on this album. If you have read some of our past reviews, you'll know that I'm not too big into 60s psychedelic music. This record has enough variety though to keep me interested though. It has the experimental psychedelic stuff that doesn't really do anything for me, but it also has some great rock songs that I can totally get behind. "Song of a Baker" was an awesome jam and was probably my favorite song on the album. I also loved the bouncy little tune "Lazy Sunday." The scat-like vocals on that song crack me up because they're so silly and fun.

The mixing of the audio on this is really weird and distracting at times. Sometimes things sound really quiet, but then get really loud out of nowhere. And sometimes instruments pan back and forth at random times. It's easy to let it slide though because this was the sixties and things weren't perfect back then as it was all done manually, without the help of computers and everything, which actually makes these albums more interesting to me.

At it's core, this is a concept album. One that has actual narrations rather than just story-telling lyrics. I can't understand about 87% of the narrations between some of the songs., but it sounds like he's using all sorts of English lingo that I'm just not in on, but I love it. The narrator is so goofy and I can't help but get a big smile on my face whenever he talks. I want him to tell me stories all day long.

Overall, the narrations and the straight up rockin' songs were my favorite parts about this album. I don't think it's an album I will come back to anytime soon, but it was a fun listen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"The Circle Game," by Tom Rush (May, 1968)

Dad's Take:

You could call 1968 the year of the concept album, and this is another. This time, folk-rock singer Tom Rush follows a relationship from beginning to end.

Most of the songs on the album were written by others. Rush wrote two himself, but others come from such big names as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and Charlie Rich. He might not have written most of the songs, but he combined them into a story and delivered them in his own style. Using so many cover songs was an interesting choice, considering Tom Rush's own songwriting talent. His two songs are among the best on the record, especially "No Regrets," which has become a standard, covered by several big-name artists.

This is one of those records that you have to put on and then sit back and listen. The poetic lyrics demand attention. And it's easy to give it. Like a lot of folk and folk-rock, the voice isn't the draw. Rush's voice is kind of a combination of Dylan and Lou Reed, with a little Gordon Lightfoot and a touch of Leonard Cohen mixed in, but it usually fits the songs fine. The draw is the songs and the messages behind them.

Some songs are a little jarring. For example, if you know James Taylor's version of  "Something in the way she moves," Rush's almost hyperactive musical arrangement feels more than a little odd. But for the most part, the album takes a mellow, enjoyable, and emotionally satisfying folk-rock approach.

I like the record best in its mellower moments, such as "Tin Angel" and "Urge for Going," both written by Joni Mitchell. The somewhat countrified old-school rocker "The Glory Of Love," written by Billy Hill and performed by people like Benny Goodman in the distant past, is fun, but sounds slightly overdone compared to most of the tracks.

Jackson Browne's "Shadow Dream Song" holds up well to the Tom Rush treatment. It's one of Browne's earliest songs and shows that he'll one day be a songwriting force to be reckoned with. It's one of the best songs on the record. I also really like Joni Mitchell's title song, "The Circle Game."

This record isn't a personal favorite, but when it's good, it's really good. I've gone to it a couple times in the last few months, when the mood has hit me. Usually I'll listen to a few songs, then move on to something else. But like most concept albums, it is best when listened to whole, despite a few weaker songs. Where it's weak, it's usually due to some production decisions that aren't to my taste, rather than the songs themselves, as in "Something In The Way She Moves." Overall, though, it's a solid album, a classic in its genre.

One additional note: the cover photo of Tom Rush and his girlfriend Jill Lumpkin was shot by photographer Linda Eastman, who later became Mrs. Paul McCartney.

Brad's Take:

The 60s were all about folk music that (to me) was very hit and miss. My tastes sway more to "miss" but I actually really liked this album by Tom Rush. I'd never heard of this guy before, but it's classic singer-songwriter/folky music, but the production and other instrumentation going on sets this apart a little bit from the rest of that era. It's not just an acoustic guitar and vocals. I always prefer multiple guitar tracks and other instruments in this kind of music.

Most of the songs kind of stay in a certain style, but "The Glory of Love" is a fun little early 60s pop-inspired tune. It's full of melody and even features background vocals by a female group. Not sure who it is though. This was one of my favorite songs from the album though. I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff.

Generally, I've found that most of folky stuff from the 60s all sounds kind of similar. This album was refreshing though. It has the classic popular folk style, but there's also a lot of other non-traditional parts throughout each song that makes it not as bland to me. Some might argue that a lot of these kinds of records were so stripped down is so you could focus on the story that the songwriter was telling through their lyrics. But I think that Tom Rush has the perfect balance of interesting music and interesting lyrics. I don't feel like the music takes away focus from the stories at all.

This is definitely a folky album that I don't have a hard time backing at all. Consider me a fan!

On a side note: Tom Rush's voice reminds me a lot of a singer-songwriter I like named Mark Kozelek (who is also the frontman of the bands Sun Kil Moon and The Red House Painters.) If you haven't checked him out, or his other bands, do it.

"Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" by Johnny Cash (March, 1968)

Dad's Take:

You pretty much know what you're going to get from a Johnny Cash album. And this has exactly what you'd expect. We are releasing the 1999 reissue, which contains three more songs than the original release ("Busted," "Joe Bean," and "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer." There's also a 2008 Legacy Edition, which contains both shows Cash played that day, along with a DVD.

My mom had this album on a reel-to-reel tape and I listened to it often as a kid. So it brings back good memories. But you definitely have to like Johnny Cash to listen to this. The one knock on his unique sound is that it doesn't vary that much from song to song. Still, this deserves its classic status as one of the great live albums.

From the opening "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" that leads into the classic "Folsom Prison Blues," through the rest of the 19 tracks, you get everything you want from the man in black. Whether he's singing standards like "Busted" or "Green Green Grass of Home" or showing his funny side in songs like  "Dirty Old Egg-Suckin' Dog" and "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart," Cash provides a set list aimed squarely at the prisoners in the audience. His audience interactions are brilliant and personal. He's not afraid to sing about criminal acts, including drug use and murder, and even suicide by prison guard, topics some performers might shy away from, considering the audience. He sings about justice ("Cocaine Blues") and injustice ("Joe Bean"), and about missing the people back home, as well as the hardships of life behind bars, subjects close to his audience's hearts. And the inmates love it. They go nuts in several places on this record. The result is a live concept album, and it's a good one.

It's a lot of Johnny Cash in one sitting for me, but it makes it clear how he reached legendary status. His career was lagging before he released this record, without a hit for a few years, but it became a sensation and led to a new peak.

I was kind of dreading this one. I generally like my Johnny Cash in smaller doses. But I enjoyed the album more than I expected, and almost as much as I did as a kid. I remember his San Quentin album a little better with its tons of hits, but I like the concept album nature of this one more, I think.

Brad's Take:

I've never been a big Johnny Cash (which probably isn't very surprising, if you've followed our blog at all and realized that I'm not the biggest folk music fan) so, like my dad, I was kind of dreading listening to this too. Hence our two month hiatus.

The album kicks off with Johnny's low voice saying, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." This is definitely Johnny Cash. He's doing what he does and he's doing it well.

It's fitting for him to be performing these songs at a prison. His lyrics were probably never as relatable in any other setting. For example: "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" or "I took a shot of cocaine and shot my woman down."

The recording quality of this album is fantastic. It sounds clear and it's mixed very well. Sometimes live albums, especially older ones, are mixed terribly. Maybe this version we're listening to is remixed and remastered though. I'll have to find out. But regardless, I'm impressed with the quality.

In the end, I'm still not a Johnny Cash fan, but this is a fun performance. The overly-responsive crowd, Johnny $'s humor between songs (and sometimes in the middle of songs), etc. make this fun to listen to. But being a double disc album, it feels a little too long to me.

And thank goodness someone got the man a drink of water!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"The Who Sell Out," by The Who (Jan. 1968)

Dad's Take:

It's hard to say for sure, but if I were forced to choose only one Who album for my collection, I think I would pick this one. I love the combination of The Who's loud rock with the sometimes delicate production. The result is a psychedelic concept album more subtle than most, creating the sounds of the time without the over-indulgence of many of the psychedelic bands. Whatever the Stones failed to do with their psychedelic experiment, The Who succeeded at. In spades.

Part of the reason for the success was the concept. Blending songs that are mostly about commercialism with both real and fake radio ads creates a cohesive feel that makes the album a delight. Best of all, though, are the songs. There's the hit, the great "I Can See For Miles," the only single from the album and a genuine classic. But there's so much more. And, of course, a concept helps you get away with silliness like "Heinz Baked Beans" and "Medac."

There's not a bad song on this record. The Who's Pythonesque humor comes through in many of the tunes, and the band really tries to stretch their limits and grow beyond those often bombastic garage proto-punk of much of their early material. Story songs like the sad/comical "Tattoo" and "Odorono," their song about using the wrong deodorant, show The Who moving toward the rock opera they'd record soon. And let's not forget great characters like Silas Stingy.

It's hard to single out favorite songs here, but some of the tunes that stay with me include the aforementioned "Tattoo" and, of course, "I Can See For Miles." But there's so much more. "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" has become a classic, with arguably the best melody the group ever produced, all over amazing Latin rumba rock. Perhaps less generally well known, but every bit as good are songs like "I Can't Reach You" and the incredible "Our Love Was" (maybe my favorite on the record), with its deep personal lyrics and great melody, set to the expected heavy bass and guitar, but played much more subtly. Mostly. You can't listen to this song without hearing the obvious inspiration for Queen's operatic rock. Some of the songs also foreshadow the great "Tommy" rock opera. Especially "Rael 1&2," which is built around one of the main riffs from Tommy. You also get lyrics in "I Can't Reach You" about not being able to see, hear, or feel.

Producer Kit Lambert deserves as much credit as the band. Every time I listen to this record, I hear little touches I didn't notice. A clever bit of percussion. Some little horn thing. A soft guitar lick in the background of a heavy rock song. The album is perfectly produced, and impeccably mixed.

Great songs. Great production. Fun concept. Brilliant performances. There's nothing this record doesn't have. It's one of the reasons I often claim that 1968 is my favorite year for rock and roll. The experimentation of 1967 solidifies into great records like this, less avant garde, but full of all those brilliant studio touches that had been developed over the previous two years.

So get this record. It's both exactly what you'd expect from The Who, and not at all what you think you'll hear. Great stuff.

Brad's Take:

The Who is a band I've been pretty familiar with my whole life, thanks to my old man. Songs like "My Generation," "Baba O'Reilly," and "Pinball Wizard" are a small handful of classic songs that I can name off of the top of my head. None of which are on  this album, unfortunately.

Although I can and have always said "I like The Who," I feel like I am missing something here. Maybe this is an album you have to listen to a few times before you can truly understand the beauty and greatness of it. Only listening to it once though, nothing really clicked with me until the sixth track began, "Our Love Was." The next few tracks that followed were pretty great too, but to me, nothing really special. None of these songs are even on their Greatest Hits albums, besides "I Can See For Miles." Which, again, makes me feel like it's more of an album that you need to listen to more than once to fully appreciate it.

I think the biggest reason I feel kind of let down by this album is because I assumed every Who song sounded like "My Generation" and "Baba O'Reilly." I don't get that feeling from any of the songs on this Who record though, unfortunately. Sorry dad!

"Days of Future Passed" by The Moody Blues (Jan., 1968)

Dad's Take:

This is one of my desert island discs, one of the seminal prog rock masterpieces, a blend of rock and roll and classical that leads the listener through a day, morning to night. It was a complete surprise to those who knew the Moody Blues as a relatively minor British R&B band, known primarily for their biggest hit, 1964's "Go Now."

One of the biggest changes between "Go Now" and "Days of Future Passed" was the addition of two new band members, Justin Hayward and John Lodge. These two set the direction of the Moody Blues throughout their classic period and beyond.

Fittingly, the record begins with an overture, "The Day Begins," which starts with an orchestral crescendo that informs the listener that this is not going to be your typical rock and roll record. The "story" itself begins with a poem, echoed by it's near twin at the end of the record, a brilliant set of bookends. The record moves through song after song of orchestral rock and roll, leading us through the day. Along the way, we get the classic "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)," better known as "Tuesday Afternoon." At the end, of course, is the even more classic "Nights In White Satin," a hit at least twice, and the final song of many dances I attended as a kid.

But those aren't the only worthwhile songs here. The moody (blue) "Dawn Is A Feeling," the wild "Peak Hour," and one of my favorite tracks on the record, "Time To Get Away." It's a record that lends itself well to multiple listenings, with a musical depth most normal people don't fully catch the first time through.

Do the Moody Blues present rock and roll? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame don't seem to think so, but there's no question that, despite the orchestrations, this record has R&B roots, blended with mid-sixties psychedelia and art rock. It's a wonderful record, and I can't imagine life without it.

Brad's Take:

This was my first time listening to a Moody Blues record. I can't imagine that all of their stuff sounds like this, especially this classical. But either way, this is great, and definitely something new to our list.

The orchestral pieces on this album are fantastic. "The Day Begins" was probably my favorite of the classical songs, or interludes, whatever you want to call them. The instrumentation sounds so big and full on these recordings. They're gorgeous and listening to them actually makes me want to listen to an entire classical album right now.

Days of Future Passed isn't only classical music though. It's got some rock songs too. "Forever Afternoon (Tuesday)" is a track I recognized immediately. I've heard this song many times in random places. I think I remember a recent commercial using that song, in fact. One of my favorites is "Dawn Is A Feeling."

Aside from "Forever Afternoon," this isn't an album of singles. I feel like this is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. It's no surprise that their record label was a little hesitant on releasing this. It's different than anything we've reviewed so far from this era. It's different, but I love it.

I wouldn't expect the classical music to run so smoothly with the rock songs, but (somehow) it works magically.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"The Four Tops Greatest Hits" by The Four Tops (Jan., 1968)

Dad's Take:

The Four Tops managed to stay together without a single personnel change from 1953 until 1997, when Lawrence Payton died of cancer. To get their signature sound, songs were written just a bit high for lead singer Levi Stubbs, a baritone. As a result, he often sounded like he was reaching for an emotional high note.

It's hard to review a greatest hits album. What do you say? "This album contains all their greatest hits," at least those recorded through 1967. "Reach Out I'll Be There," "I Can't Help Myself," "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Shake Me Wake Me (When It's Over)," It's The Same Old Song"--all there, as well as several others you might not know by title, but you'll know it when you hear it.

This is a rock-solid record, a great listen all the way through. But what else would you expect from a greatest hits album by one of the great soul vocal groups?

Brad's Take:

Every song that I already knew by The Four Tops I had no idea was actually The Four Tops. I've heard of their group's name, but never really associated any songs with it until now. Not really sure why I slept on that because I should have gotten their entire discography a long time ago.

I love this kind of music. It just feels so happy and fun, despite what the lyrics talk about sometimes. This music just puts me in a good mood.

"I Can't Help Myself" and "Reach Out I'll Be There" are a couple of the songs on this collection that are immediately familiar to me. But there's some tracks on here that I haven't heard before that I love now, like "Seven Rooms of Gloom," "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever," and "You Keep Running Away," just to name a few.

After listening to this, I decided that I'm definitely going to have to dive into more of The Four Tops' discography. This is a great collection that really showcases their greatness. I really hope other songs off of their full albums are as good as their hits are. This is one of my favorite albums we've gotten to listen to, I think. So much fun!

"Greatest Hits" by Diana Ross & the Supremes (January 1968)

Dad's Take:

In the mid-sixties, the Supremes were up there with people like the Beatles and Beach Boys as a chart force, creating hit after hit and dominating the radio. This two-record set of twenty songs contains all the hits and several less-familiar B-sides from that period.

There's not much more to say. If you like the Supremes but aren't fanatical enough to want all of the original albums, everything you'd expect to hear is here. "Can't Hurry Love," "Stop in the Name of Love," "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," and even more songs with love in the title, "Come See About Me," "Back In My Arms Again," "I Hear A Symphony"--all bona fide classics and more familiar to many of us than the stuff at the back of the refrigerator. Throw in some lesser tunes like "Ask Any Girl" and "Whisper You Love Me Boy," that you might not know but that will sound familiar anyway, and you have a classic greatest hits comp.

There aren't any big surprises. It is, afterall, a greatest hits package. So kick back and enjoy some soulful Motown diva pop. It's a welcome antidote to the experimentation of 1967, straight up pop song, mostly about love. Nothing particularly groundbreaking about the songs, but the Motown productions are stellar and the performances by Diana Ross and her girls are, well, yeah, supreme.

Brad's Take:

Now this is more up my alley! Who could not love The Supremes. They are just a fun little Motown group that you can't help but dance along with. There isn't really much more to say about Diana Ross and The Supremes.

Some of my favorite tracks on here are "Baby Love," "Where Did Our Love Go?", "Stop! In The Name of Love," and "Come See About Me." There's a bunch more that I like just as much, but I don't want to copy and paste the entire track list. The only negative thing I'd have to say about this compilation though is that I enjoy the first disc more than the second.

Like my dad said, there's no real surprises here. The biggest surprises are the B-sides, and even those are just about as great as the hits.

"White Light/White Heat" by The Velvet Underground (December 1967)

Dad's Take:

John Cale, who makes his last VU appearance on this album, claimed that the record was "a very rabid record...The first one had some gentility, some beauty. The second one was consciously anti-beauty" (Wikipedia). They succeeded.

Important because of the influence the distorted, feedback-ridden, rough recordings had on future musical genres, the album tanked upon release, peaking at #199 on the Billboard charts. It's not an easy album to listen to. "The Gift," for example, is kind of the dark side of a coin shared with Leonard Cohen, a dull short story set to distorted music and feedback.

Brad's going to love "Sister Ray," because I know he'll really dig a 17-minute three-chord improvisation. If they'd kept it to about three minutes, I think I might like it. Even six. It's kind of a fun little jam, but it goes on too long. "Lady Godiva's Operation" is maybe the most listenable track for me. The instrumental portions of "I Heard Her Call My Name" are some interesting bits of proto-punk, which is pretty cool. But they still sound like the guys down the street who put a band together but don't know how to play, so they just go loud and distorted and hope nobody will notice.

I'm OK with weird. I'm OK with rough. I'm OK with anti-establishment. But I have trouble getting into this record. It has its moments, and I'm glad it's around to influence records I like better, but it's not my thing.

After this album was released, John Cale left and recorded some solo stuff that I enjoy more than most of his VU work.

Brad's Take:

First off, the mixing and overall quality of the recordings on this album drive me crazy, in the worst way. Everything is so muddy and gross sounding. Even if they meant for it to sound so bad, this was a waste of someone's money. I don't get it...

Aside from all of that, there isn't really much else to say about this record. It was really hard for me to actually get through each song. Especially "I Heard Her Call My Name." That guitar mutilation was incredibly hard for me to stomach. So was the entire "Sister Ray" track.

This was one of my least favorite albums we've had to listen to, for sure. Sorry, Velvet Underground fans...

"Their Satanic Majesties Request" by The Rolling Stones (December, 1967)

Dad's Take:

In the wake of Sgt. Pepper's, everybody had to do a psychedelic album, including the Stones. Problem is, their album sounds like they were jumping on a bandwagon. It sounds insincere, more than a little off, and just not especially good.

The Stones are best when they play blues-based garage rock. They are clearly out of their element here. A few songs are interesting, like "She's A Rainbow" (reviled by John Lennon), and my favorite from the album, "2000 Light Years From Home," but most of the album comes off as nothing more than a pretention, over-produced (and badly produced) attempt to follow a trend. Trend following is the opposite of what people love about the Stones. Throughout their 50 years, they've been themselves, managing to stay current without huge shifts in style--except here.

The album charted very well, #3 in the UK and #2 in the US, but didn't maintain its popularity very long. Many listeners agreed with Keith Richards, who famously called the album "a piece of crap." Unfortunately, when it comes to many of the songs, he may be right. Like in the way overlong "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)," with all of its sound effects that just never quite work. Or "Gomper," which sounds like an attempt at Indian music by somebody who doesn't understand it.

I'm all for bands stretching their wings and trying new sounds, even if it doesn't quite work, so I'll give them credit for trying. Every band needs to grow and occasionally take a new path to keep it fresh. I'll give them even more credit for returning to their own sound after this anomaly.

Brad's Take:

A lot of these songs just sound like... well... not songs. They sound like they improvised parts on each instrument individually, recorded themselves saying weird stuff into the microphone (snoring? really?), and then played them all at the same time, and then declared it as art and put it out into the world. Like my dad said, it's obvious (but very poorly executed) that the Stones were trying to ride the coattails of The Beatles here. It almost sounds like they're trying to make fun of The Beatles.

I didn't know "Yellow Submarine" was on this album. Oh wait, it's actually the song "On With The Show."

"Sing This All Together" would be a lot better if it was half as long and didn't have the random middle section. That song is probably the only one that I kind of liked. "2000 Light Years From Home" is okay, but it still doesn't feel original at all, no matter how hard they tried for it to be. I'm not sure why this album is considered a classic, other than maybe a classic parody album.

The album's production has a flaw that I've noticed in a lot of albums from this era. It's the panning of the tracks that really bothers me. Why is it that they sometimes insisted on putting the drums in just one speaker, or like in the case of "Citadel," the lead vocals are only in the left speaker. It drives me crazy. Drums and lead vocal tracks should always be in both ears. It feels so lopsided when they're not. It really bothers me.

"Songs of Leonard Cohen" by Leonard Cohen (December 1967)

Dad's Take:

This is another album that shows that the list we're basing our reviews on comes from Britain, where this album charted much better than it did in the U.S. That said, I like Leonard Cohen and his songs.

The problem is, the album suffers from a sameness between songs that makes it hard to get through without getting bored, unless you listen very closely to the poetry Cohen sets to music. But that's kind of the point. This isn't an album for casual listening. It demands attention to Cohen's often poignant story poems set to music.

"Suzanne" is the obvious classic here, along with "So Long, Marianne," but the rest of the album is worth a listen, in the right mood. My favorite, beyond the two classics, is probably "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye." The acoustic music is played well throughout the album, but often doesn't differ much between songs, although if you listen closely there are interesting things happening in the arrangements. Cohen's droning chanting of his poems also doesn't change a lot from song to song, but he's easier to listen to here than in later albums when his voice became little more than a deep growl.

When I listen to my collection on shuffle, I always enjoy the Cohen songs when they pop up. Listening one or two at a time is a great experience. So is listening to a career-spanning collection, where his voice and music change over the years. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the end of this album when listening to the entire thing--which I've done several times because, when it comes down to it, I'm a sucker for stories about strange, sad people-- I become somewhat numb and don't give the songs the attention they deserve. It gets better with repeated listenings, when the subtle differences between songs start to pop a bit more and it becomes more clear how much is going on in each of these songs.

If you like story songs and poetry, check this one out. If you want a good beat, this isn't your album. And if you're looking for something to party to, an album of mellow, depressing stories isn't right for you. Well, at least not until you're wasted and everything sounds deep.

All that might not sound like much of an endorsement, but I like this album. The stories are good if you can keep your attention focused, and the musical arrangement are actually more varied and interesting than they sound the first time you listen or if you don't listen closely. This might not rank up there with my favorite albums, but when heard at the right time, I really enjoy it.

Brad's Take:

"Suzanne" is such a pretty song. I love everything about it. The female background vocal on the chorus was especially great. "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" are also really great. And again, the background vocals really help make these songs shine for me. I don't know who she is, but she has a really pretty voice.

I wouldn't say there's any bad songs on this record, but there aren't a lot of songs that I love individually either. However, I really like the overall mellow feel I get from listening to the album as a whole. I don't think I would like it this much every day, but this evening it's hitting the spot. It's definitely a mood record, and right now my mood is: Sleepy.

Most of the songs on this album are basically two songs. The casual listener who just listens to this as background music or something will probably just hear Leonard's voice and an acoustic guitar on most of these songs. But those who put on headphones and give this record a focused listen will hear a lot of other instruments that kind of hide out in the background a little bit. The production on this album carries every song perfectly. It never overshadows the actual skeletons of the songs, but it puts just enough meat on the songs for it to be attractive to the ears.

"Forever Changes" by Love (November, 1967)

Dad's Take:

Our excursion into psychedelic rock now turns stateside, where Love takes a lighter approach, full of strange turns that nearly always lead someplace special. Rolling Stone lists this album at number 40 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and it's not hard to understand why.

This ambitious album, full of unusual twists and turns that never bend beyond taste and always work, was not a big seller, but it's one that holds up better than many of the better-known records of the period. A brilliant fusion of folk rock, acid rock, and pop, often with a classical feel, is nothing short of incredible. Like many people, I don't know it nearly as well as I should, but I suspect that will change soon.

At times, like on the opening track, "Alone Again, Or" it reminds me of the sound that the Moody Blues had not yet created. Then there's one of my favorites on the record, "Andmoreagain," similar to the best of the pre-disco Bee Gees songs, which they also had not yet created.

Throughout the album, the playing is excellent. The lyrics are poetic and sometimes psychedelic without dipping to often into the silliness that was so common during that time. Unlike much of the classic output of 1967, this album stills feels vibrant and relevant. There are still echoes of this record in many of today's subgenres.

I feel like I should be mentioning more songs but, although individual songs are great, this record is best appreciate as a whole. There's a cohesive sound here that can accommodate disparate songs like "The Red Telephone" (another of my favorites), "Old Man," and the jazzy horn-drenched "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale," or the Hendrix like "Bummer in the Summer." Can't wait to read Brad's reaction to "Live and Let Live," probably the catchiest song ever to feature snot. I also really like "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This." Then the closer, "You Set The Scene" is one of the best-realized rock mini-suites I've heard, leaving me wanting so much more. But, as I said, this record is much more than a collection of interesting songs. Everything combines perfectly into a great piece of work.

This is one of my favorites on our list so far, and I can't believe I haven't given it more attention before. I've always kind of written it off as just another psychedelic critical favorite that doesn't fit as well outside its time, but I've been very wrong. This is great stuff. It takes all of the self-indulgent weirdness of 1967's rock and combines it into an almost timeless, highly accessible record that should be listened to as often as it is talked about. 

Brad's Take:

The opening track "Alone Again Or" starts off with an almost silent acoustic guitar, but the track explodes quickly. "And I will be alone again tonight my dear." That line is probably going to be stuck in my head the rest of the night. Big guitars and an even bigger horn section makes this song really stand out to me.

This band doesn't just utilize horns to stand out with their competition. They also use a string section sometimes,  like in the songs "Andmoreagain" and "Old Man." The horns and orchestral arrangements on this album are awesome. They really make the songs they're featured in sound even bigger and fuller. But the band doesn't need that stuff all the time. 

On songs like "The Daily Planet," it's just the band doing what they do. Go glitz and glamour, just guitars, bass, drums, and vocals rockin' out together. This would have been a really fun song to see performed live by Love, I think. Plus, it's called "The Daily Planet." I hope that's a Superman reference because that would make me like the song even more. 

The album gets the weirdest with the songs "The Red Telephone" and "Live and Let Live." The lyrics to these songs are just ridiculous, especially the former. But I think I know why my dad was excited to read what I have to say about "Live and Let Live." The songs opens with the line: "Oh, the snot has caked against my pants, it has turned into crystal." Probably the best line in any song of the 60s.

Overall, I really enjoyed this album. It's really accessible, for the kids who aren't into most psychedelic rock, like myself. It's got really weird stuff, really rockin' stuff, and really mellow stuff. It's just a lovely, well-rounded, little child made out of Love. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Disraeli Gears," by Cream (November, 1967)

Dad's Take:

This is one of those heavy sixties rock albums that every collection should include. You know any album that begins with the one-two punch of "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine of Your Love" is going to rock. Throw in songs like "Swalbr" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and you have a bona fide classic. Although it's still full of those sixties sounds, I have a feeling Brad will like this better than some of the other recent albums, especially the bluesier songs like "Outside Woman" and "Take It Back."

Being drenched with psychedelic sounds doesn't stop this album from rocking. It's full of great Clapton guitar work and classic riffs. "Sunshine Of Your Love" is the obvious killer track here, but there's plenty more where that came from. The epic "Tales of Brave Ulysses" is one of the great album-oriented rock tunes of the period, one I don't listen to enough. How can anyone resist a song with lyrics like "Tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers"?

It seems kind of fitting that I'm listening to this one in San Francisco, even though Cream was not a San Francisco band. You know this was played heavily in the Haight as the summer of love faded into the winter of...well, whatever.

"World of Pain" has cool psychedelic sounds as the singer contemplates a tree outside his window. "Dance The Night Away" also seems to be interested in what's outside the window, only with some heavier riffs mixed into the mellowed-out contemplation. I also like the Cockney stoner tune, "Blue Condition." It makes me laugh. But that's nothing compared to the album's closer, "Mother's Lament." That song doesn't quite fit the rest of the album, but what a fun little encore.

Classic albums attain that status for many reasons. Some are just so packed with hits that they can't be ignored. Others are just plain great music that transcends time and place and remains popular for decades. Others, like Disraeli Gears, are a time capsule of their time. Is it dated? Sure. Nobody makes music like this anymore unless they are paying tribute to that time. But "dated" isn't necessarily bad, especially when the record serves almost as a historical document of the time, and features one of the world's great guitarists and one of the great bass players.

Brad's Take:

"Strange Brew" kicks off the record with a fun little groove that you can't help but bob your head to immediately. This might be my favorite track off the album. And then it kicks right into the massively popular jam "Sunshine Of Your Love," which is undeniably one of the most recognizable rock guitar riffs. We can thank the great Eric Clapton for that one.

Eric Clapton definitely is the star on this album, and that goes without saying really. The dude shreds on the guitar and that's all there really is to it. 

It's got a little bit of filler, but this album is pretty great for the most part. The awesome songs help you look over the filler tracks. This isn't one of my favorite albums we've listened to, by any means, but it's definitely not one of the worst either. It's in the middle range somewhere.

Friday, May 4, 2012

"The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" by Pink Floyd (August, 1967)

Dad's Take:

In the months following the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," psychedelic rock exploded on the scene. The Beatles weren't the first to venture into that territory, but they helped bring an underground musical form to the masses, opening the door for bands like Pink Floyd, who took psychedelic rock and eventually led the way into a new genre, progressive rock.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was Pink Floyd's first album, and the only one created under the direction of their legendary leader, Syd Barrett, probably the prototype of the rock genius driven to madness. Barrett's decent into insanity makes others like Brian Wilson and Sly Stone look almost normal.

For better or worse, madmen seem to make interesting music, and Barrett is proof of that. Piper is a crazy record, at times whimsical and at times just mad, but seldom dull. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the album is like a heavier Sgt. Pepper's without borders. Moving from fairy tales to space to bicycles and just everything in between, the album is unlike anything before it, defining Pink Floyd's unique musical vision and helping to usher in a period of baroque 'n' roll, where the studio is the most important instrument in the music.

For better or worse, Pink Floyd helped shatter the three-chord, three-minute idiom of popular music, pushing the way into art rock, and burying it all in the deep tones of madness.

Possibly my favorite song in the collection is the heavily whimsical "Flaming," with its fairy tale images, insane sound effects, and insane chord patterns. "Pow R. Toc H." takes the sounds and rhythms we heard on the exotica albums of the late fifties and makes them psychedelic--a pretty cool effect, actually. "The Scarecrow" and "The Gnome" are also interesting tunes. Throughout the album, every song seems to build on the last, creating a cohesive record that demands a close listen to get it all.

OK, and a weird album. There's no denying that this is a strange record, even in retrospect. Even without the help of chemicals, the listener's mood is altered, and we are pulled into the mind of a madman. It's not a comfortable place to spend time, but that only makes the record all the more interesting.

These album makes me wonder what Barrett could have given us if he'd been able to. On the other hand, if he hadn't been losing his mind, this would be a completely different experience, and not necessarily for the better. Art and madness often go hand in hand, and this is a classic example. I like it, in the right mood.

I can't wait to read Brad's take. I know how much he loves psychedelic rock.

Brad's Take: 

I've tried listening to a couple Pink Floyd albums before (The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon) to see what the big hype was all about. That was a couple years ago, and I still haven't figured it out. They're weird as hell, but that's pretty much the only thing I have been able to take from Pink Floyd's music. I don't really find "weird" to be that cool. Just weird. So I have been kind of dreading listening to this album, but my old man's been patiently waiting for me to do it so we can move on to more reviews. So here goes...

The first third of the album wasn't all that bad. It was more rock-oriented and pretty structured. As structured as Pink Floyd allows themselves to get, anyway. "Matilda Mother" was probably the song I liked the most on the whole album.

When the record moves into its belly section, you start to hear how crazy and weird this band can get.

Doi, doi, doi... "Pow R. Toc H." almost made my brain go inside out. I just imagine a whacked out Syd Barrett jumping around like Dr. Frankenstein screaming, "We need more of this!!! Play that instrument over there!! What is it?! Who cares!!!! Just go nuts!!! This is AMAZING!!!! Don't STOPPPPP!!!!!!!!! HAHHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!" He must have been on the verge of an aneurysm his whole musical career.

The last third of the album is more poppy. Still just as weird as everything else on the album, but there was more of a bouncy Beatles-ish kind of vibe to these last few songs. I want to hear my dad sing the song "The Gnome." He can't roll his R's so it would be pretty funny.

All in all, Syd Barrett was nuts. Or maybe the whole band was nuts. Even the producer was probably nuts. Either way, not just any band or producer could make (or even want to make) this record. It could only be done by a band of equally crazy people so they could all get inside of each other's heads to make the songs work. Everyone must have been on the exact same page, and that kind of scares me.

After listening to this album though, I am starting to understand the appeal of Pink Floyd a little bit. They had no rules. The only rule they had was "make it weirder." They were geniuses when it came to experimenting with different sounds, structures, chords, and all sorts of other stuff (including, but not limited to: drugs).

Although I am not exactly looking forward to listening to the inevitable other Pink Floyd albums on our list, I'm not dreading them as much anymore.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," by The Beatles (June, 1967)

Dad's Take:I've actually been dreading this review. Not the album. I love the album. It's just, how do you say something fresh about probably the most written about album of the rock and roll era? I don't think it's possible.

Song after song, start to finish, this is perhaps THE classic rock and roll album, the one where the Beatles took everything they had done up to this point, ratcheted up the experimentation (musical and otherwise) that made Revolver so great, and used the studio to its maximum potential. This is as much a George Martin masterpiece as it is a Beatles classic. That this whole thing was recorded using four-track equipment still amazes me.

Many Beatles fans point to other albums as their favorites, and I do too. But there's still no disputing that this is an absolute classic, an album that defined a musical generation and influenced nearly everything that came after it, at least for a year or two. While staying within a rock and roll milieu, the Beatles pushed music and recording to places where it had never been before.

There is no filler here. Each song is a classic, from the iconic opener to the closer, "A Day in the Life," my personal favorite Beatles tune. Nearly every song challenges the musical norms of the day and slams them to the ground. Some of my favorite moments include the instrumental breaks in "Being for the Benefit of Mr. K," the heady sounds and lyrics of "Within You Without You," the humor of "Fixing a Hole," the playfulness of "Lovely Rita," and of course the suite-like structure of "A Day in the Life." But that's just the start. I could list so many more.

I'm too young to have experienced and appreciated this as a ground-breaking new album. I heard some of the songs, since 1967 was the year I became interested in the radio, but I didn't recognize the significance of this thing. If I had only been a few years older I could have had my mind blown like so many people did. I still had that experience the first time I listened to it all the way through, but by then the innovation had been obscured by all the imitators and all the times I had heard most of the songs. I really feel like I missed out. But running through the chronology of great albums like Brad and I are doing now gives me a better taste of how this relates to the albums that came before it.

And my mind is blown again.

Brad's Take:

I'm not as familiar with this Beatles album as I am with Abbey Road and Rubber Soul, but every time I listen to this one, I remember how much I love the opening title track. That song is just so catchy and rockin'. Actually, the first four songs are just completely flawless pop songs. It's definitely my favorite section of the album.

The middle section is the weird and experimental section. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. K" is a song you'd hear at a circus put on by an insane asylum. And "Within You Without You" puts you in the head of a person high on some crazy drugs. This isn't my favorite section of Sgt Peppers, but I do love the amazingly arranged ballad "She's Leaving Home."

The bouncy little tune "When I'm Sixty Four" kicks off the last 1/3 of the album. These last few songs are more upbeat and accessible than the middle of the album, but they still have a lot of silly weird parts.

The epic "A Day in the Life" concludes the wacky last half of the album. There's a huge build up that sounds like a train is about to come slam into your face, but right when it's about touch your nose, it poofs like smoke and immediately takes you back into another catchy little verse. The part "I love to tu-U-u-U-urn you o-O-o-On" is one of my favorite moments from the entire record. And just when you think you got away from that damn nightmare of a train, it comes back, but this time even faster than before! It knocks you on the ground, unconscious, until you come finally to and notice you're seeing stars.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"The Velvet Underground & Nico" by The Velvet Underground (March, 1967)

Dad's Take:

I find the Velvet Underground very hard to relate to personally, with its urban junkie themes, but it's impossible not to hear how this band that barely scratched the awareness of the general public during most of their career influenced much of what came later, especially in the punk and post-punk alternative scenes.

The opening track, "Sunday Morning," is like late-sixties sparkly pop on heroin. Maybe because of Lou Reed's pop sensibility and his substance issues. It belies the darkness of most of the rest of the album.

This is one of those records that's hard not to judge in retrospect. Even in the anything-goes musical world of 1967, this album is odd. For one thing, nobody can actually sing, although they almost sound like people who can. It's not just that their voices are unusual, but that they really sound like they are in the wrong business. It's like they're saying, "If Dylan can do it, we can too," only they can't. And yet, the thing works extremely well. Like so many successful artists who make it in spite of their voices, VU took their sub-par voices and made them right for their music. If they had better voices, their schtick would break. And when you look back at it from those punk and alternative days, you see how much influence they had.

The catchy pop songs like "Femme Fatale" with their sixties feel have a dark edge that is almost a parody of the pop forms they imitate. And that's the whole point. VU is like the underside of pop, and its way is more honest than the music it undercuts. Whether they are attacking the exotic sound of the Beatles Indian-influenced songs on cuts like "Venus In Furs" or flat-out junkie songs like "Heroin," there's a truth in the music that is often missing from the shiny corporate pop. Maybe this is Any Warhol's influence on the album. His art often looks like simple commercial pop art, but with a sharp underbelly. That same thing is all over this record.

I admit that I often find VU difficult to listen to, and at times feel like it's one of those "art" things that I'm not hip enough to get. Only, I do get it, I think. That it's hard to listen to doesn't mean I don't see why it is so highly rated. It's not hard to believe that Lou Reed started out by playing cover versions of popular songs for budget labels like Pickwick. You hear the pop sensibilities and the jadedness of mail-order budget commercial cynicism. This attitude became the predominant one in popular music two and three decades later. That those bands that popped up in the late eighties and nineties looked back at the VU is obvious and maybe inevitable.

And, here's the thing. There's a lot of interesting stuff happening in these songs, especially in the cynical dissonance. The almost-too-relaxed underground style of the arrangements and the garage band production values hide some smart instrumentation and an artistic sensibility. Like much worthwhile art, it's not always pretty, but it tells a truth we don't like to see.

Do I like it? What is "like"? Does the band even want me to like it? I don't know. But it's better than I sometimes like to admit, fits in with both 1967 and 1997, and rewards repeated listenings more than you might expect the first time you hear it. Yeah, that junkie New York club scene is probably as much a myth as the Beach Boys' version of California (which it also lampoons in places), and it's a mythical world that makes me uncomfortable, but that doesn't make the art any less valid.

So this is one I can pull out once in a while and get into, although I'm exhausted by the end. For its influence alone it belongs on our list, and maybe mainly for that influence. But it also takes rock and roll to artistic places where it hadn't gone before. And, even if it's hard to listen to, it is good, much better than it seems like it should be, given the elements of the band.

Brad's Take:

This is yet another good example of a band that I have heard of for many years, but never got around to listening to on my own. Because of that, I was pretty excited to bust this out and give it a whirl.

The album's first 3 songs are great. They've got that 60's folk rock kind of thing going on, mixed with some of the psychedelic sounds. It reminds me a little bit of the last Bob Dylan album we reviewed. Lou Reed and Dylan even have a similar vocal style in some songs, like "Venus In Furs."

"Femme Fatale" was a song that I was already very familiar. Not their version though. The solo project of Mike Kinsella, called Owen, recorded an almost unrecognizable version of the song for his amazing album At Home With Owen a few years ago. Until just a few months ago though, I thought he wrote it. It was cool hearing the original version of the song, but I do enjoy Owen's rendition of it most.

In the song "Run Run Run," you realize that these guys weren't the most skilled musicians... The "guitar solo" in that song is just terrible. I can't figure out what Sterling Morrison was thinking when he recorded that thing, but it's no bueno.

Overall, this album reminds me of a sloppy band of teenagers trying to write in the style of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, but doing it very sloppily and not very well. For what it is though, it's pretty good. There's definitely potential. It's like watching a local band of junior high kids that are trying hard to be awesome, but they're coming up short, but you still give them a few bucks for a CD and say, "Good job, but keep trying. You'll be great in a couple years." I could listen to this again, I think.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Surrealistic Pillow" by Jefferson Airplane (March, 1967)

Dad's Take:

This is Jefferson Airplane's second album, but it's the first after the band was joined by drummer Spencer Dryden and vocalist Grace Slick, one of the sixties' most recognizable voices. It is also the first major success to come out of the San Francisco counter-culture scene.

The album's first track, "She Has Funny Cars," makes a good opener, but the record doesn't get going until the second song, "Somebody To Love," which gets my vote for one of the greatest rock and roll singles ever. I love that song. Paired with side two's "White Rabbit," "Somebody To Love" cements Grace Slick's reputation as an icon.

Almost everything about this song is first rate. A driving rhythm section, amazing vocals, great guitar work, hippy lyrics, and an overall upbeat counter cultural feel opened the floodgates for other bands from San Francisco. Together with LA bands like The Byrds and The Mamas and Papas, this music invited the peace and love crowd to come to San Francisco for a summer of love, with the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets and ground zero. That area eventually became a sad disaster zone, but for one short period, it was something beautiful.

"Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit" aren't all this album has to offer, although they'd be enough. I've always had a tender spot for "Today," with it's great lead vocal by Marty Balin. Jorma Kaukonen's guitar work on "Embryonic Journey" is a classic of acoustic psychedelia. And I also really enjoy Balin's "Plastic Fantastic Lover." "Comin' Back To Me" also has a marijuana-fueled beauty that shows off the band's softer side. Grace Slick gets most of the attention--and deserves it--but Marty Balin's vocals are also a major part of the band's sound, a psychedelic instrument in their own right. "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds" is a another great example of the Airplane's sound, every bit as good as the record's pair of massive hits.

The version I have of this album includes several bonus tracks. Although we've tried to stick pretty much to reviewing the albums in their original form, I can't help commenting on the great blues track, Kaukonen's "In The Morning." (Brad will love the re-emergence of his favorite instrument.) The song just plain rocks. Sure, it doesn't exactly fit the sound of the album, which is probably why it was left off, but MAN! what a great tune. Same with the Paul Kantner rocker "Go To Her." There are two more bonus songs (and an instrumental hidden track), plus mono single versions of "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit." In this case, the bonus tracks really do enhance the original record. It doesn't always work that way.

I don't listen to this album enough. Whenever I do, I'm reminded just how great it is. There's really nothing here I don't like. It takes the LA folk rock and adds a generous twist of San Francisco's counter-culture (ahem) "fog," and the result is one of the best albums of the sixties.

Brad's Take:

Going into this album, I felt a bit pessimistic. 60s hippy rock music isn't typically my favorite, but by the third track, I was feeling pretty good about it! There's something about Surrealistic Pillow that is different than other albums of the same era/genre. It's got nice equal doses of just about everything from the era, and I like that. It's not overwhelmingly hippie-ish, but it's also not just a 60's rock record.

There were only a couple songs that I didn't really like as much as others, but to me, that's really surprising. Even the slow folky songs like "Comin' Back to Me" were interesting to me. Maybe it was because of "spiritual leader's" Jerry Garcia's fancy guitar playing. If it's even him. There's controversy about if Jerry Garcia contributed to this album at all. Garcia apparently even suggested the album title, but who knows. I'll need to research that stuff a little more.

But all in all, I was pleasantly surprised by my enjoyment of this album. It's got everything from folky acoustic tracks to fast rockin' songs to blues jams. I'd say this album encompasses the 60's perfectly. It makes me dislike the 60's a little bit less.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You" by Aretha Franklin (March, 1967)

Dad's Take:

First of all, that's one long album title. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? But this is Aretha, and she can call her album whatever she wants. I mean, this thing starts with her version of "Respect," after all. We've heard that one before on our list, but from the first word on, she owns this song and always will.

"Respect" is clearly the star here. But don't let that fool you. This is a solid collection. After the album rock of The Doors, this feels like an old-school record, a collection of songs not unlike other soul albums we've heard. Mixed among the great songs are some filler tunes, which are saved by Aretha's performance. The album provides two top ten hits, with "Respect" (of course) going to the top of the charts.

While I kind of agree with Rolling Stone's 1967 review, which said that the songs lacked versatility by the sidemen, the showcase here is Aretha's voice and the album has her name on it. On a few songs, like the jazzy "Good Times," the band starts to groove a bit more than on many of the songs. If this had been a 1964 album, I don't think I'd complain. But this is '67 and I want to hear the band show their chops a bit more.

One of the surprises on this album was "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man," which Aretha sings in a lower key. Although her higher, somewhat screechy voice is incomparable, I like hearing her occasionally down in the lower register of that song, with a more subtle delivery. But after a song like that one, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I'm ready for her to sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me again. And the next song, "Save Me," gave me what I was looking for, a classic Aretha delivery and head-bopping bass line, even if the song itself is a little weaker than some of the others. But I can't help moving.

Our list of classic albums would be incomplete without Aretha Franklin, and this is the Aretha album you have to pick. I admit that, for the most part, this one doesn't blow me away the way, say, the Ike and Tina Turner album we reviewed a while back did, it's a solid listening experience and a true classic, and would be even if "Respect" was the only worthwhile song on the record. Your soul collection isn't complete without this record, and when it comes down to it, that's the true definition of a classic.

Brad's Take:

Aretha damn Franklin...

It took me a long time to think of what else to write after that. There really isn't much else to say. Aretha Franklin just rules. The passion in her voice is just amazing. Whether she's yelling it and making the microphone levels peak or singing quietly, she's just great!

She performs perfectly on this album. However, some of the song choices and arrangements don't really impress me much. The album is lacking in memorable songs. It's got a couple hits, for sure, but the majority of the record feels like an album from the 50s or very early 60s, where it's got 2 or 3 singles (1 really huge one), and then just a bunch of filler songs mixed in to make it long enough to call "an album." It's unfortunate though since Aretha is such a huge talent. You know there's talent here on every one of these recordings, the moment you hear her voice, but it's the actual song selection that makes this fall a little flat.

With some of our past reviews, there were albums that I just knew I was going to have to buy after listening to them, as if a Greatest Hits album for the artist wasn't even going to suffice since the album itself was just so perfect. For example, Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours, Muddy Waters' Folk Singer, and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. All serious classics, in my eyes (or ears...) but after listening to this album, I think a Greatest Hits compilation would probably be better when it comes to listening to Miss Franklin.

"The Doors" by The Doors (January, 1967)

Dad's Take:

1967 opened with The Doors breaking through to the other side, the first classic album in a year full of experimentation, rule-breaking, psychedelia, and the summer of love. This would be a year dominated by Los Angeles and San Francisco, although the UK and other places would make their presence known.

Say what you will about Jim Morrison not having much of a voice, he had a power and a way of presenting a song. Over confident, swaggering, bigger than life. Whether stoned, angry (and probably still stoned), or whatever, his was the right voice for the drugged-out world of '67, especially when mixed with enough electric organ.

The Doors is one of those records that demands your attention. It's hard to do something other than listen. This is commanding music. There are the singles ("Break On Through (To the Other Side)" and the number one smash, "Light My Fire"), of course, but many of the other songs on the album have become bonafide classics. This is the era, remember, when albums had become more important than singles, at least for those artists who wanted to transcend pop. Songs became too long for the radio. The 7:06 "Light My Fire" was shortened considerably for AM radio play, with the long instrumental break and organ solo becoming the main casualty of the need to play more commercials. The Doors is truly a classic album, not just a collection of great songs but a coherent (well, mostly, I guess depending on your definition of "coherent") whole with a sound of its own.

If you know The Doors from their songs but not their albums, you'll be surprised how much of this record you know, even if you don't recognize the song titles. The album has become a cultural artifact, an icon of its time, the model of the heavier side of the year that gave us the Summer of Love with its sparkly psychedelic pop and folk rock. Unlike some of the music of that "heady" time, The Doors still holds up as something more than nostalgic. It really is a great album, the kind that you can even recognize as great if you don't really care for it personally. I happen to like it, even if The Doors don't rank as one of my favorite bands. This is just great music, with undeniable power.

Brad's Take:

The Doors are the epitome of a drugged out 60s rock band. This band was made for Woodstock, fuzzy posters, and black lights. This kind of music is totally outside of my comfort zone, but I liked it for what it is.

This album has a bit of everything from the era. Including, but not limited to: blues influenced rockin' singles, slow songs to sway to in a weird drug-induced manner, long guitar solo/jammy parts, experimental moments, lots of organ, and a shirtless front man for the sober people to drool over.

Jim Morrison had a great voice, and the instrumentation on this album is great. I really only liked a small handful of songs from this album though. "Break On Through (To The Other Side)," "Soul Kitchen," and "Back Door Man" were the only songs that really kept my attention and had me excited. The others just didn't grab me as much.

"The Monkees" by The Monkees (October, 1966)

Dad's Take:

I'm not ashamed to admit it. I like the Monkees. OK, maybe they were created by network suits with the idea of a TV series inspired by the Beatles. But the fact remains that they created some excellent pop music.

I don't know if I'd pick this first album as their best, but it's still pretty good. True, they don't do much more than sing their parts, where later they wrote and played more, but the songs are solid and these guys had some decent vocal chops, especially Micky Dolenz, who I consider one of the most under-rated vocalists in rock and roll. "Take A Giant Step" and "Last Train To Clarksville" both show off his abilities. They were treated like Fabian and Frankie Avalon, pretty faces with some talent who were fed songs from the Brill Building and forced into an image. Only, it didn't take the Monkees long to outgrow their handlers, much to the chagrin of the people who wanted to be their puppeteers, especially Don Kirschner. And, as it turned out, to the detriment of their popularity.

Even this early on, the two songs written by Mike Nesmith showed that he had real talent. Nesmith took his experience with the Monkees and became one of the pioneer of rock videos.

The Monkees is, despite its corporate baggage, an enjoyable and listenable album. Maybe putting it in the same list as Revolver, Pet Sounds, and Blonde on Blonde is pushing things a bit, but there's no denying the tremendous commercial success of this group, whose popularity continues to today, when they get more respect in retrospect than they did during their career. They are among the best of the bubble gum pop groups, easily transcending the disposable twee-ness of most of their peers.

So laugh if you must, but I'll listen to this record more than many others on our list. In fact, the Monkees currently fill two of the six CD slots in my car, and have for a few weeks. Whether it's Last Train To Clarksville" or the silliness of "Gonna Buy Me A Dog," the Monkees are just plain fun to listen to, a reminder that music does not have to be experimental, deep, or serious to be good.

Brad's Take:

I've always known of The Monkees, but I've never really jumped into any of their albums. I've heard singles though, like "Daydream Believer," "I'm A Believer," "Last Train to Clarksville," and a couple others. So this was technically the first time I have ever listened to a Monkees album. And what better place to start than with their debut.

I believe that Davy was the front man later on in their career, but it seems that in the very early days, Micky Dolenz was more of the voice behind The Monkees, while Davy was more or less just the eye candy.

Davy's first lead vocal track on this album is "I Wanna Be Free," which is a stripped down acoustic (borderline folky) song that I really enjoyed. Davy's voice was a perfect choice for that song. This is the only song that Davy sings lead on that I really liked though. Like my dad mentioned, Micky has a great voice and I think his songs are the strongest.

All of the songs on this record are great. It's a shame that The Monkees didn't actually write the majority of them though. In fact, only two of them were written or co-written by a Monkees member (Michael Nesmith.) I'm interested to dig deeper into their catalog sometime so I can see what they wrote after they broke away from the corporate puppet masters.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Revolver" by The Beatles (August, 1966)

Brad's Take:

Revolver is a Beatles album that I have been pretty familiar with for quite a few years. I remember my dad burning Revolver, Abbey Road, and Rubber Soul for me one day, and out of the three, I think Abbey Road stuck with me the most. Mostly just because of "Oh Darlin'" though. That was quite a few years ago. But now, having listened to Revolver again, I think this one might win.

Every song rules. Well, with the exception of "Yellow Submarine." I could never really get into that song. But songs such as "She Said She Said," "Eleanor Rigby," and "Good Day Sunshine," how can you not love this album? Song after song after song is just gold.

I'm not sure how The Beatles did it. Just about every song on Revolver sounds so full and polished that you think every song was 5+ minutes long because of all the production and everything distracting you, but the longest song is a second or two over 3 minutes. Pairing the Beatles with producer George Martin was a match made in Heaven. I use the term "polished" lightly though. They don't play as tightly as they could have on these recordings, but with the strings, horns, percussion, and vocal harmonies mixed it, it all works perfectly.

Pet Sounds was The Beach Boys answer to The Beatles' Rubber Soul, and Revolver is The Beatles' answer to Pet Sounds. Personally, I think Revolver falls short, in comparison. But on its own, Revolver, to me, is the perfect Beatles album. Fun and catchy, with a little bit of dorkiness, and a touch of weird experimental sounds and production.

Dad's Take:

Revolver is the third disc on my list of greatest albums ever (and the rockingest of the top three), and is, on most days, my favorite Beatles record.

Of course, when I first fell in love with this record, it was the U.S. version, which omits three songs, "I'm Only Sleeping," "And Your Bird Can Sing," and "Doctor Robert." The result is a different listening experience, although nowhere as drastic a difference as the U.S. and U.K. versions of Rubber Soul, which could be counted as different albums entirely. Having those songs restored to their rightful place only makes Revolver even better.

Picking favorite songs from this album is like singling out your favorite bits in a perfect salad. The individual components are great, but when assembled into a single unit, each part is even better. There are so many classics here, from "Taxman" and "Eleanor Rigby" (reportedly the first rock and roll song to feature only classical instruments) to the Beach-Boys-Esque "Here, There, and Everywhere" and the heartbreaking "For No One," the happy, poppy "Good Day Sunshine" and "Got To Get You Into My Life," the experimental "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "I'm Only Sleeping," and even the goofy, silly oddball of the album, "Yellow Submarine." Revolver bridges all of the different Beatle stages, a true musical candy store, and opens the door for the more artistic, studio-based sound that would continue through the end of their career.

Rock and roll really doesn't get any better than this.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"John Mayall Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton" by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, July 1966

Dad's Take:

Classic blues, mid-sixties style. As the sixties moved into its second half, blues music began to mix with psychedelia, permeating the airwaves with a sound both familiar and new. To help usher in this new sound, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers would, in its early years, include not only Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, who are featured on this record, but future Fleetwood Mac members Peter Green and John McVie, future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, three members of Canned Heat, Aynsley Dunbar, and several other well-known names.

The lineup for this record, nicknamed "The Beano Album," featured Mayall, Clapton, and McVie, plus Hughie Flint on drums. The result is one of the legendary blues records of the sixties, a groundbreaking effort that also started the trend of playing a Gibson Les Paul guitar through an overdriven Marshall Bluesbreaker amp, helping to define the heavy rock sound of the late sixties and seventies.

Clapton's guitar work is all over this album, which is as much a showcase for his playing as anything else. But it also features his first recorded solo vocal, on Robert Johnson's classic "Ramblin on My Mind."

If you enjoy sixties style blues rockers, you need to have this album. The playing is solid, crunch without sounding overly shiny or corporate. This is the sound that paved the way for Hendrix, MC5, Led Zeppelin, and other blues-based rock with a hard edge. Made up mostly of blues standards with a few originals mixed in, this is a fine example of the trend to create album-oriented music that was not about collecting hit singles. There are not really any songs that stand out on their own, but the sound of the entire album is what makes it so great. It hit number six on the UK album charts but was not immediately well-known in the U.S. It is most important now for the influence it had on people like Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Brian May, and on the future sound of rock.

Brad's Take:

I enjoy when we get to listen to these records that I've never heard of before. I, of course, knew of Eric Clapton, but everything about this particular album was new to me.

First off, Clapton's guitar playing is awesome. But can you really expect anything less than that from him? The dude rules at guitar. There's no doubt about that. Song after song, the guitar solos are fantastic.

The album isn't much different than previous blues records from the 60s, but, like my dad mentioned, it was a little bit heavier in the rock genre than just straight up bluesy. I can really hear where Jimmy Page got some of his influence from. The song "What'd I Say" has a really long (but totally awesome) drum solo by Hughie Flint that John Bonham probably approved of, too.

Overall, this is just a great blues rock record. The opening track, "All Your Love," was probably my favorite song from the album. It's a lot heavier than most blues songs you hear, and I thought it was really good. It's definitely one I will go back to and put on my next mix CD for my car.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Pet Sounds" by The Beach Boys (May, 1966)

Brad's Take:

Man, I don't really even know where to begin... Pet Sounds has been in my life since I was born. I grew up hearing songs like "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Sloop John B" all the time since before I can even remember, thanks to my dad. You'll understand once you read his review underneath mine...

Pet Sounds opens with "Wouldn't It Be Nice." It's been one of my favorite Beach Boys songs for a long time. It's just an overall feel-good song about young lovers wishing they had more than they can have. I think anyone who was ever in high school can relate to this song perfectly.

"Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)" is beautifully orchestrated. The instrumentation on this song is just genius. One of my favorite moments in the song is when Brian Wilson sings, "Listen, listen, listen." I'm not exactly sure how to describe it, but I love the way he sounds when he sings that line.

"God Only Knows" is by far my favorite track off of the record. Originally, Brian was supposed to sing lead on this song, but in the end they decided to keep Carl Wilson's vocal take. Carl's gentle tenor voice really carries it. The ending is my favorite Beach Boys moment. The intertwining vocal melodies and harmonies are so gorgeous. Everything about that song is golden. In fact, while writing this review, I listened to "God Only Knows" three times in a row. The Pet Sounds version twice, and the original version with Brian singing lead once. I still think Carl's is better.

I think I can say lots of good things about every song on this record. There really isn't anything I dislike about it. It's full of solid songs with even more solid production, thanks to Master Brian Wilson and his crew, and their creative and experimental ideas.

The hard thing about listening to and reviewing these old albums is that I wasn't born when any of these originally came out. So I have to kind of take peoples word for it that these albums were ground-breaking when they were originally released. It's difficult to fully believe though because music has (arguably) evolved since then. It's like when your grandparents tell you about how innovative the train was back in the day. Big deal, you had a train. We have rockets that fly people to outer space, and people can buy cars that go 200 miles an hour. If I had been around when albums like Pet Sounds originally came out, I might be able to fully understand and comprehend what I'm actually listening to. But instead, I have hundreds and hundreds of albums that came out 40+ years after it to compare to. Another thing that is difficult to wrap my head around is that this album directly and/or indirectly influenced a lot (if not most) of the rock/pop music that came out after Pet Sounds was released. There's a lot of innovation and history behind this album that I will never fully be able to comprehend just because I wasn't actually there.

Dad's Take:

Pet Sounds has been my favorite album since I was about sixteen, a time when this record felt like the soundtrack of my life. Every song seemed tailor-made for me, with the possible exception of "Sloop John B," but I found ways to make that one apply too. it is especially rare in rock and roll to find the inner insecurities of the male mind so tenderly exposed.

Few records have had the intensely personal emotional depth of Pet Sounds. Starting with hopeful strains of "Wouldn't It Be Nice," the album quickly moves deeper into a relationship, and then into heartbreak.

But the emotional intensity of the lyrics that meant so much to me as a teenager is not all this disc has going for it, although that would be enough for me. The crazy genius of the instrumental arrangements matches the emotion perfectly. Whether it the weird plucked-and-played piano strings that open "You Still Believe In Me" or the bass harmonica and theremin, the kettle drums, the water bottle, or the jazz and classical fusion of some of the instrumental breaks, Wilson's pet sounds amplify the emotion and heartbreak. Only a genius could figure out how to combine two or more instruments at once to create a totally new sound, one that has never been heard before.

When listening to Pet Sounds, pay special attention to the percussion. And I don't just mean the drums and such. Guitars are played in a percussive manner, heartbeats are mimicked with the bass, and keyboards become sleigh bells. There's that huge instrumental break in "I'm Waiting For The Day," for example, or another on "Here Today."

Likewise, the vocal arrangements contain elements that don't seem to make sense when heard alone on the session recordings, like Wilson's flattened "me" is "You Still Believe In Me," or some of the inventive background vocal arrangements, but when combined with the instruments and the rest of the vocal arrangement, they are exactly right. Even unintentional background noises that bleed onto the tape become essential elements of the songs.

As tempting as it is to list favorites from this album, it would be pointless, really. Every track would make my list. This is as close to perfect as any record I know, from the odd guitar duet that opens "Wouldn't It Be Nice" to the dogs barking at a train at the end of the gorgeous "Caroline, No." In between you get the sublime "Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)," the heartbreaking introversion of "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," the hopeful cynicism of "I Know There's An Answer," and the most perfect two minutes and forty five seconds ever put on record, "God Only Knows." Every song is a gem, even the somewhat out-of-place hit, "Sloop John B," included to satisfy a record company that feared the album would be a commercial flop because this is not your typical teenaged rock 'n' roll album, and definitely not the fun-in-the-sun music normally associated with the Beach Boys. But Brian Wilson had something to say, and never before had anything been expressed like this in popular music.

Our list is full of experimental records, but few experimental records are as emotionally accessible as Pet Sounds. I would have to write a whole book to explain why this record means so much to me, and to list all the moments that stun the artistic part of my brain. And yet, nothing I write could possibly match the experience of putting this on for a spin in a quiet room with headphones and a suitable volume level. But don't trust me. Forget about the hype that usually puts this album at or near the top of any list of the all-time greatest albums. Put on Pet Sounds and see for yourself.