Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Otis Blue (Sings Soul)" by Otis Redding (February, 1966)

Brad's Take:

Otis Redding should be a household name to all music fans, let's be honest. If it's not for you, do yourself a favor and get this album, Otis Blue.

This album has so many great songs on it. I was surprised song after song after song. It's mostly cover songs, including songs by the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction," The Temptations "My Girl," a few Sam Cooke songs, and a bunch of others. Although most of the songs are covers, there is also a small handful of Otis Redding originals that will make your soul groove.

The most popular Otis Redding song on this album is probably one that not many know he actually wrote. Even I was surprised. "Respect" was written by Mr. Redding, but it was made insanely popular by the one and only Aretha Franklin. I know Aretha's version much better so Otis' kind of caught me off guard. The original version doesn't have the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" part or (my favorite part) the "sock it to me! sock it to me! sock it to me!"s. It almost feels like an entirely different song without Aretha's touch, but it's still got just as much soul as can be.

Otis Blue is definitely an album from this list that I will listen to many more times. I've always known Otis Redding from random hits of his, but this is the first time I've listened to a full Redding album front to back. I'll definitely have to jump around to some of his other records and give those a spin too.

Dad's Take:

It's a shame that most people today know Otis Redding for one incredible song. By the time he recorded "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" just before his death in 1967, Redding had been around for about seven years, and had become a legend of black music, crossing over to white audiences. "Dock of the Bay" is a great song, but it doesn't even come close to showing how much emotion Redding could put into a song.

Otis Redding had a great voice and could deliver a great song with as much soul as James Brown and the other greats. Redding was a superstar, and this album shows why. Brad already talked about "Respect." One of my personal favorites is the highly emotional ballad, "A Change Is Gonna Come." Very few songs have ever been this soulful. And many of those that are were performed by Otis Redding. Some are right here on this record. I dare you to try to do anything but listen when Redding sings "I've Been Loving You Too Long." That song demands your full attention, grabs your guts, twists them, and doesn't let go. I also really like "Shake," even if it is maybe a little too reminiscent of "Twisting the Night Away."

Like most albums of the time, there's a lot of filler here, especially cover versions. But even when he's performing more pop-oriented soul tunes like "My Girl" and "What A Wonderful World," and even the Stones' "Satisfaction," Redding is a great singer. I like him best when he dives deep into old-school soul like "Rock Me Baby," but it's difficult for him to do anything I don't like. At the end of the album, I really want to give him a drink of water, since he misses it so much, but even though "You Don't Miss Your Water" kind of makes me laugh, it's still a great song and a brilliant bit of soul singing.

If you only know Otis Redding for "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," go out and find more of his music. This album is a great place to start, but you can pick just about any album you want. Otis Redding is one of the true greats of soul music, one of three (including James Brown and Sam Cooke) to have been given the title "The King of Soul." Those other two are in good company with him.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Sounds of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel (January, 1966)

Dad's Take:

This is a good way to ease into my favorite three-year period in the history of popular music.

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel found a magical formula when they combined the sounds of Dylan's electrified folk and the mellow harmonies of the Everly Brothers. With smart, poetic lyrics and a cool pop sound, they appealed to the Greenwich Village intellectual college folkies as well as the kids, blending the coffee shop with the burger joint jukebox. The rock and roll folkie Simon and the beautiful-voiced Garfunkel were a combination that could not be beat.

The commercial highlights here are the title track, which went to #1 in the U.S., and the smash "I Am A Rock," a song that worked as a personal theme song for much of my adolescence, an anthem for introverts everywhere. The gorgeous "Kathy's Song" is among my favorite songs by this duo. But don't let those hits lead you into believing the rest is filter. This album is full of smart songwriting wrapped in melodic harmonies and excellent instrumentation. I think this record also introduces the word "groovy" to our list in the fun, upbeat "We've Got A Groovy Thing." Our version of the album ends perfectly with bonus track "Blues Run the Game."

A little side note: There's a line in "A Most Peculiar Man" that might make Brad chuckle a bit because of a family inside joke. Laughing might not be appropriate during a song about a suicide, but I suspect Brad won't be able to help himself.

This is a wonderful album. Put it on on a rainy day or a mellow morning, and it'll fit the day perfectly.

Brad's Take:

This is actually my first time listening to a full Simon & Garfunkel record straight through. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard more than 5 of their songs before this. Now I'm kind of kicking myself though because I like this a lot.

It's folk rock, but it rocks a little more than Bob Dylan's similar style. I also definitely hear the Everly Brothers reference that my dad mentioned in Simon & Garfunkel's vocal harmonies. The vocals are my favorite part about these songs. Both of these fine young men have awesome tenor voices that (most of the time) blend perfectly together, like vanilla ice cream and root beer.

The only song that I recognized off of this album was "I Am A Rock," but some of the songs that I liked a lot from first listen were "The Sound of Silence" and "Blessed." I liked those two songs a lot, but the whole album was awesome. It was folky at times, it was rockin' at times, but it was awesome all of the time.

Side note to my dad's side note: Maybe I'm just tired, or forgetful, but I didn't catch any inside jokery in the song "The Most Peculiar Man."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The Paul Butterfield Blues Band" by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (October 1965)

Dad's Take:

The mid-sixties is when the white boys learned to play the blues, and this band was among the best. In fact, when Dylan shocked the crowd by going electric at Newport, he was backed by members of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, only without Butterfield himself.

It was bands like this who set the stage for much of the blues-based music of the late sixties and seventies, influencing CCR, Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, the Doors, and the rest. It's hard to believe this album was made in 1965. I would guess '68 or '69 by the style and the sound.

The Paul Butterfield Band's highly electrified version of Chicago blues led this album to place (although barely) on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums. It's also #11 on Down Beat Magazine's list of the fifty best blues albums.

It's an excellent album, full of rocking tunes from beginning to end. Standout tracks, for me, include "I Got My Mojo Working," the ironically titled "Mellow Down Easy," "Our Love Is Drifting," and "Mystery Train," but the other tracks are just as good.

With this album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band takes rock and roll back to its roots but with a very modern feel, at a time when the studio was taking over popular music. The Beatles and Brian Wilson and Phil Spector were creating shiny, ever-more-elaborate productions with a somewhat corporate feel. This album returns to the crunchy jams of an earlier age, with the electrified sound of the sixties.

It works for me.

Brad's Take:

I think Paul Butterfield forgot his birth year during the recording of this album. In the opening song "Born In Chicago," he sing "I was born in Chicago in 1941," but apparently he was actually born in 1942, when I was reading about the man and his blues band. Maybe he just wished he was older for some reason. Aside from that small technicality, I enjoyed the album.

It has fast paced energy that James Brown could have danced to, and it has cool guitar solos that would have gotten a thumbs up from Jimi Hendrix. Apparently this album was recorded 3 different times before their record label, Elektra Records, was finally happy with it. I'm glad this version of the album was approved because it's a good, solid blues rock record.

Like my dad stated, it sounds like this album should have been released a couple years later., but maybe they decided to change the release date to make it seem older too, wink wink!

"Look At Us" by Sonny and Cher (August, 1965)

Dad's Take:
I'm afraid this album will always remind me of the time Dave Jensen and I sang "I Got You Babe" to each other during a karaoke shindig at work, making up most of the words as we went. Sonny and Cher will always be associated with that day.

There are two hits, the #2 "I Got You Babe" and the #3 follow-up, "Just You." The album went to #1 in both the US and the UK.

I'm not really sure what makes this album such a classic. It wasn't unusual in 1965 for an album to contain a lot of cover versions as filler, but this one takes that trend to new heights. Nearly every song was a cover. That, despite the fact that Sonny Bono was a fairly respected songwriter and producer, who wrote the megahit "Needles And Pins," recorded several times, but most significantly by the Searchers in 1964.

The problem is, the covers include several excellent songs, but the recordings have that unmistakable filler feel. "Then He Kissed Me" is particularly jarring as Cher sings "then he kissed me" in the chorus while Sonny sings "then I kissed her," and the two don't blend well. On the other hand, there's something charming about their whitebread version of "You've Really Got A Hold On Me."

Overall, the record has a bit of a Hollywood Argyles feel, fun but lightweight. The arrangements and production are interesting and enjoyable, but not spectacular. The Phil Spector influence is strong on Sonny's production, including the use of some of Spector's (and most of L.A.'s) studio musicians, which adds to the poppy charm of the album. The influence is no surprise, considering that Sonny had worked for Spector.

In short, it's not a bad record by any means, but it's not exactly groundbreaking or overly original. The version we listened to includes two Spector-like bonus tracks, which add to the fun and make it so the disc ends, ironically, with a little spoken thing called "Hello."

While I might not agree with giving this record classic status, it is still a fun record, with its proto-hippy L.A. sound. The record never takes itself too seriously, foreshadowing the schtick of the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour on TV. It's one of those albums you pull out every once in a while, just for fun, then put it away and forget about it for several months.

Brad's Take:

I've never really been too familiar with the dynamic duo Sonny and Cher. I've heard "I've Got You Babe" a few hundred times, but that's about as far as I've gone in their discography.

Look At Us is full of cover songs, like my dad said, and a couple originals. The originals definitely surpass their covers though. It's too bad there weren't more originals on this. It could have made listening to this more enjoyable. Because, honestly, this album was hard for me to get through.

This whole album kind of felt like I was listening to a drunk couple singing karaoke. This feeling especially came during the song "It's Gonna Rain." Sonny and Cher's off-key vocals are bad enough, but then when they try to harmonize with each other, it sounds like the Titanic hitting the iceberg. Also, I second my dad's opinion on "Then He Kissed Me." You can't sing "me" and "her" at the same time. It just doesn't work.

Overall, Look At Us felt like a waste of my time. I would have much rather reviewed another Bob Dylan album than sit through off-key karaoke.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Highway 61 Revisited" by Bob Dylan (August, 1965)

Dad's Take:

Poor widdo Bwadley has to listen to another Dylan album already. Poor guy. This one is listed at number 4 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums list, and its big single, "Like A Rolling Stone," is number one on their list of greatest songs. In other words, This will be pure torture for Brad. He's really going to be thrilled that the songs are so long on this record. But this album is a classic with a capital C. Even outtakes from this record like "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" are great.

OK, so for Rolling Stone to pick a song called "Like A Rolling Stone" seems like it could have more behind it than simply liking the song, but seriously, it's hard to argue that choice. This song is a tour de force, unlike anything by anyone else (except maybe a few other Dylan tunes). It's spectacular. If it were the only decent song on this album, the album would be a classic.

But it's not.

Song after song is a gem. After "Like A Rolling Stone," we're treated to "Tombstone Blues," with its brilliant fast blues groove and its tribute to Woody Guthrie in the chorus. The lyrics are playful and poetic. This is a song that takes multiple listens before it all sinks in, but it's better with ever listen, and not so bad on the first one. Six minutes of near perfection, from the lyrics to the crunchy guitar. Next comes the piano-based blues of "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," with its train-whistle harmonica (oh, Brad's gonna love that!) and easy, shuffling blues rhythm.

This album is song after song of highlights. More favorites for me include "From a Buick 6," and "Ballad of a Thin Man" and and "Queen Jane Approximately," and the title track, and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (again, incredible lyrics, set to a cool song), and "Desolation Row," and --wait, I just mentioned every song on the album.

Perfection on vinyl. Or whatever CDs are made of. This is Dylan at his bluesy best, showing that there's more to Zimmy than a folk star. He's reinvented himself so many times, but this is the Dylan phase I like best. People Who Don't Know won't expect these words, but they're true: Dylan rawks! My favorite Dylan album is yet to come on our list, but this is awfully close.

Have fun, Braddio. Me, I'm spinning this one again, a little louder this time.

(Just a note about influence: watch what happened to rock and roll after these last couple Dylan albums. Dylan's direct influence is clear: the popular music of the day moved from typical songs about love to deeper songs with a more poetic and personal lyrical content. Thanks to Dylan, the Beatles (for one) moved from "I want to hold your hand yeah yeah" to "Doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to, isn't he a bit like you and me?" And where Dylan took the Beatles, the rest of the serious music scene followed. Sure, there was still plenty of moon/June/hand/understand on the radio, but most of the more substantial artists moved beyond that, and the music world changed. Thank you, Mr. Dylan!)

Brad's Take:

Here we go...

On Bob Dylan's previous album, Bringing It All Back Home, he made Side A the electric/bluesy side, and Side B consisted of acoustic driven songs. Ol' Bobby decided to take it even a step further on Highway 61 Revisited though, and decided to make almost the entire album electric, much to the dismay of his long time fans; the ones who began to love him when he was just playing acoustically. I, personally, much prefer his electric stuff. It's easier for me to listen to because there's a lot more going on. (Dad, are you proud yet?)

The album opens with the lead single "Like A Rolling Stone." I, of course, have heard this song a few times before, but I never actually listened to it until now. It's definitely a song I can listen to many more times. I was surprised with how much I actually liked it. (How 'bout now, Dad?)

A few songs later, and I found myself really digging this album. It's upbeat and bluesy, and Bob's voice isn't as irritating on this album. (Or maybe I'm just used to it now.) But then about halfway into "Ballad Of A Thin Man," I started to feel the urge to skip to the next track, in hopes that the album wasn't actually starting to go downhill, like it felt like it was. I got through the whole song though, and then regained some faith as "Queen Jane Approximately" played, although not completely. (Sorry, Dad.)

It's safe to say that I really enjoyed the first half of Highway 61 Revisited the most, while the second half felt like just another Bob Dylan album to me, for whatever reason. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" was enjoyable though. It should have been in the first half, as Side B feels to be the mellower side.

In the end, I did not dislike this album. In fact, I enjoyed the majority of it. "Like A Rolling Stone" was definitely my favorite song off of it. I got a bit bored with the second half of the album, but that might be mainly because the entire 9 song album is 51 minutes long. It was a struggle to get through it, but I did it without really suffering. It was a good album. (Now are you proud, Dad??)

Sad music news

We interrupt our reviews to say goodbye to Johnny Otis.


"LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Johnny Otis, the "godfather of rhythm and blues" who wrote and recorded the R&B classic "Willie and the Hand Jive," and for decades evangelized black music to white audiences as a bandleader and radio host, has died. He was 90."

"What Now My Love" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (April, 1965)

Dad's Take:

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass are just plain fun. With their combination of pop, jazz, and Latin rhythms, with an occasional bit of folk music thrown in for good measure, all impeccably produced with enjoyable (and sometimes amazing) arrangements, they are the perfect background music for a sixties-style cocktail party.

Alpert continued his career at least through the seventies when he had a (no, really) disco hit or two (his 1979 "Rise" won a Grammy and was later sampled by rapper Notorious B.I.G.), but this is his classic sound. It's not the record Mom had when I was a kid (at least I don't remember this one), but Alpert was a big part of my childhood musical memories. OK, not a big big part, but I remember hearing him often.

Alpert won six Grammies with the Tijuana Brass, and in 1966 they outsold the Beatles. They were huge. Even now, they are fun to listen to once in a while, mostly due to the strength of the arrangements. The sound might be dated and a bit cheesy, but I like cheese and some of those arrangements still amaze.

Brad's Take:

I really like the combination of the Latin backing music by the Tijuana Brass with Herb's poppy trumpet melodies that he plays over it. It's fun and pretty unique. The music makes me want to dance around with a cheesy grin on my face. 

What Now My Love is a roller coaster ride though. There are a couple fast songs, then a couple slow songs, then a couple fast ones again. The album slows down quite a bit with the Broadway Musical sounding "It Was A Very Good Year." This song felt kind of empty to me. I feel like I should have been watching a scene being acted out while the song should have just been in the background, if that makes sense. It just feels like a soundtrack kind of song to me.

I felt this way with a few of the other songs on this album. When I did a quick Wikipedia search to learn more about Herb and this record, I discovered that some of these songs have indeed were Broadway songs and some were even used for American TV shows, such as the game show The Face Is Familiar. (I don't know what that is either, don't worry.)

The one song that I recognized was "If I Were A Rich Man," which was originally written for the musical Fiddler On The Roof, but I wouldn't know anything about that. Wikipedia helped me out with that fun fact, as well. I couldn't quite pinpoint where I'd heard the song before though until the chorus repeated. Then, I remembered it was sampled by Gwen Stefani and Eve in their hit song "Rich Girl" that came out in 2004.

All in all, What Now My Love doesn't sound much different than some of the other albums we've already reviewed, such as Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. The mix of Latin music and jazz isn't all that new here. It was a really fun listen, but I can see myself forgetting about it pretty quickly, unfortunately.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"The Sound of Music" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (March, 1965)

Dad's Take:

I remember when I was very small, going with my parents to see this movie at the drive-in, probably in Oakland. Even as a tyke, the movie held my interest. Long after mom and dad told us to go to sleep in the back seat, I still watched the movie. I'm sure I watched it at least to the point where little Nazi Rolf threatens the family in the convent and then chickens out. I remember feeling afraid. My mom had this record, and it became part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

Later, when I lived in Austria, not far from the area where the movie was made, I remember American tourists wanting to find the sights and sounds from the movie. They were less interested in tracking down anything having to do with the real Von Trapp family (and a good thing too, because learning the actual history of the family spoils the illusions of this highly inaccurate story). They wanted to find places they saw in the movie. They wanted to hear Austrians singing that old-time Austrian folksong, "Edelweiss," which is not an Austrian folksong at all but rather a song written for the musical by a couple of New Yorkers.

This is one of the most beloved musicals of all time, and was a huge sensation when it hit the screen. Its popularity continues to this day. Many of the songs have become classics, like "Maria," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "So Long, Farewell," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Do-Re-Mi," and, yes, "Edelweiss." The soundtrack is like a greatest hits album. No matter whether you know the musical very well or not (and who doesn't?), you know the songs.

The album is not without it's clunky moments. Like the movie, the songs often slip into sappy sentimentality. And I cringe every time I hear the party goers sing "Goodbye" in unison at the end of "So Long, Farewell." I'm also not a big fan of the Reverend Mother's voice on "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."

But overall, this is a solid soundtrack. I've already mentioned many of the popular songs. I've always been a bit of a sucker for "The Lonely Goatherd," even if it really makes very little sense in the context of the story. And, sure, I'll admit it, I've never quite lost my boyhood crush on Liesl, the oldest daughter.

There was a time in my life when I loved this soundtrack more than I do now. It has suffered from over-exposure. But it's a classic, and it's fun to dig out every once in a while.

Brad's Take:

I don't think I have seen this movie more than twice in my whole life so I'm not very familiar with these songs, aside from the total classics like the title track, "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," So Long, Farewell"...Wait... I am naming almost half the soundtrack! I forgot that this soundtrack contained so many classics. Although I can't remember the last time I watched the movie, I hear a lot of these songs quite a bit from time to time.

There are so many great songs on here. I was anxious to get to "The Lonely Goatherd" because my dad said it was his favorite, and the title didn't sound familiar to me. Right when the song started though, I instantly recognized it. It's such a fun little song. I even caught myself yodelay'ing along with Maria and the children. Speaking of Maria, whether she's telling us her favorite things or just yodeling, Julie Andrews rules. She has a great voice and an even greater personality. She lets both qualities shine equally throughout the entire soundtrack. I like her.

My dad said it best. This album is like a soundtrack of greatest hits.  All of the songs on this album are just straight up fun to listen to. Soundtracks aren't typically my favorite kind of albums to listen to, but listening to this was a good time!

Some of "my favorite things" about this soundtrack are a couple punk rock covers that I've listened to far more often than the originals. "My Favorite Things" by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is probably my favorite, but The Vandals did a fun version of "So Long, Farewell" off of an album that my dad and I mutually enjoy, Hitler Bad, Vandals Good.

"Bringing It All Back Home" by Bob Dylan (March, 1965)

Dad's Take:

"Bringing It All Back Home" didn't make Dylan many friends in the folk world, with its full side of electric music, but it further cemented his place as one of the greatest influences of sixties music.

It's hard to find three better songs to open a record than "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (Dylan's first single to chart in the U.S.), "She Belongs To Me," and "Maggie's Farm." With a start like that, you'd expect it to be all downhill from there, but it's not. As much I like the acoustic Dylan, the first side of this album, with its electric rock and roll sound, is one of my favorite sides ever recorded.

Side two is just as good. It might be acoustic, but it's not typical folk music. Dylan moved beyond the folky protest songs and wrote lyrics that are more personal and poetic, and often abstract. The obvious highlights on side two are "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," but the other songs on the side are just as good. The side includes one of his most ambitious compositions, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," interestingly a scathing critique of commercialism (and other things, especially hypocrisy) on his most commercial album so far. It's a song full of grim images and brilliant wordplay, set to a classic blues guitar.

Dylan's gamble paid off. This album hit number 6 on the Billboard albums chart, his biggest seller up to that time. It was also highly influential with important rock and roll bands like the Beatles and the Byrds, and other bands that were not misspelled animals. It was during the sessions for this record when Dylan met the Beatles and reportedly turned them on to marijuana.

47 years later, this still one of Dylan's best, and one of my favorite albums of all time.

Brad's Take:

This is the second Bob Dylan album out of the few on our list. It's also the second album on our list that I went into borderline dreading... Although I didn't hate the first one we reviewed, I have a hard time getting used to the fact that I will be listening to another entire Bob Dylan album, almost forcibly, and then a few more later on down the list. But here we go!

Once again, we have another album full of stories and politically charged lyrics put to some (mostly acoustic) folk music. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always Dylan.

This album feels a lot more free and fun than the mega political The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Kind of ironic. The hysterical laughter at the beginning of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" even got me laughing along.

Overall, I think I enjoyed Freewheelin' more. It was more interesting because it felt like it was a snapshot and a good representation of the civil rights movement, as a whole. This album didn't hold my attention at all really. Sorry Daddy-o!

Monday, January 9, 2012

"A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane (February, 1965)

Dad's Take:

John Coltrane claimed that this album was inspired by a turn to spirituality following a drug overdose. Whatever the cause, this is a masterful work by Trane's classic quartet.

Improvisational jazz is sometimes not the easiest to listen to for somebody like me who is untrained in the form. It often sounds like everybody is doing his own thing. But that's kind of the point. They do their own thing, but create a unified sound

I like this album best when Trane is playing his sax. The drum work, although amazing, often sounds a little busy to me, although the solo in "Pursuance" blows me away, followed as it is by a cool mellow bass solo. But Coltrane's sax is melodic and beautiful, and sounds at times very much like the prayer that this recording is for him. My favorite track is the fourth part of the suite, "Psalm." It is dramatic and cinematic, with Coltrane's prayerful sax playing over a stormy rhythm section.

Most of the jazz we've reviewed before this has been fairly easy. This is much more difficult, kind of hardcore jazz. I can definitely appreciate how great these players are, but the combined effect probably works bets for people who are much more experienced with jazz.

At times, listening to this album feels like I'm sitting in a class that's two levels too high. I can follow along, but I don't quite grasp it all. My ear isn't sure what to focus on, especially when there's no sax, kind of like sitting in a room where everybody is talking at once. Important things are being said, but it's hard to follow the words for me, and the effort can be exhausting.

I definitely see why this is considered one of the greatest jazz albums ever, but it's going to take more than one listen for me to really get it. That's OK. Great art is often like that.

Brad's Take:

My dad made a good point though. This isn't beginners jazz. This is a few steps ahead of the jazz music that I typically listen to. This is the math-rock of jazz. It's wildly creative, experimental, and... mathematical. 

John Coltrane and his band are each incredibly talented musicians, for sure, but sometimes on this album, it felt like sometimes they were all trying to get in the spotlight at the same time. Parts of the songs just sounded overly cluttered with solo-like playing, and it kinda stressed me out with how fast paced and wild it sounded. It was like standing in the middle of the sidewalk in New York City, with hundreds of people walking past you, bumping into you, and sometimes almost knocking you down. Although some parts of the songs felt extremely cluttered, there were plenty of times when they'd let each other shine on their own. The album is mostly all of them playing together though, and those parts sound great.

While this album's improvisational aspects sometimes wow you, more often than not, it sounds like they're not all on the same page until a few minutes into the song. Maybe that's just my untrained ear telling me, "No, Brad. This is all wrong and too weird." Or maybe I am just naive and don't understand it completely.

Either way though, the album isn't bad. In fact, it's actually really interesting and kind of fun to listen to. I need to listen to it a few more times to see if I eventually will actually understand it and appreciate it more.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Beach Boys Concert" by The Beach Boys (August, 1964)

Brad's Take:

This is the only official live Beach Boys album released that features all 5 original members; Brian, Mike, Carl, Dennis, and Al. Beach Boys Concert features a few hits, like "Little Deuce Coupe" and "In My Room" and it also includes a lot of previously unrecorded cover songs that they'd typically throw into their live sets, such as "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" (originally by Jan & Dean) and even "Monster Mash" (originally by Bobby "Boris" Picket.)

I like The Beach Boys just as much as anybody, but this "live" album disappoints me. I have two big problems with this album. First, the screaming of the fanatic crowd is annoying and obviously overdubbed. The screaming goes throughout the entire album at various different volume levels. They cranked up the screaming on the hooks of most of the songs. It sounds like it's just some stock sound clips of screaming girls, and they just layered it over the live recordings. My main issue with this record though is that not all of the songs are actually live recordings...

Before listening to this, I burned a CD with the whole All Summer Long album, and I squeezed Beach Boys Concert onto the same disc. I had a bit of a drive to make so I wanted to listen to these two albums so I could review them when I got back home. All Summer Long features the hit "I Get Around" and since it was released around that same time, it was also on the live album that came out a month later. When I heard "I Get Around" on Beach Boys Concert, I thought to myself that it sounded an awful lot like the original studio recording I heard on All Summer Long. So after I got home, I did a quick little Wikipedia search, and BAM! I was right.... Apparently Brian Wilson and the producers of Beach Boys Concert didn't like the live version of "I Get Around" (if they even played it at the concert) so they took the flawless studio recording from All Summer Long, took various tracks off of it, added in the annoying 60s Wilhelm-esque screaming, and then threw it on the "live" album. They did the same thing with "Fun, Fun, Fun" as well.

I know this isn't necessarily unheard of when it comes to live albums, but that's one reason why I dislike them, usually. When you're aware of things that were altered in the studio, it kind of takes away from the feeling of being at the concert, and then you realize that they're really just ruining perfectly good studio recordings by adding screams and taking tracks off of the original songs.

If it wasn't for the doctored recordings and the overuse of cover songs, I'd agree that this is a classic album. But really, I'd call this just a classic gimmick, unfortunately.

Dad's Take:

Of all the classic Beach Boys albums that were left off our list, I'm more than a little surprised this was included. Yeah, it was their first number one album, but there's nothing ground-breaking here.

As Brad pointed out, there's plenty of studio sweetening on this record. They used the studio version of "I Get Around" (closely compare the ends of this version with the on "All Summer Long" and you'll hear a little something that gives it away). They also recorded a new version of "Fun, Fun, Fun" in the studio (not the hit version, as Brad claimed) and threw it on here with the canned screams. That was very common for "live" albums of the time (and now), but it's still a bit off-putting.

Thing is, I've heard the original recordings of the two Sacramento that, along with some other live material from 1963, were assembled into this record, and those original recordings are pretty good. They could have done a real live album and it would have been good. Still, they did what had to be done at the time. With Brian Wilson's more sophisticated arrangements and the constant touring, this live album bought time that was needed for the next album.

One positive is that eight of the 13 songs don't appear on any other record, making this less of a greatest hits package than many live albums are. The one thing that maybe did break new ground on this album was the packaging. Originally released a single album in a gatefold cover, the album featured four pages of photos from the concerts. As far as I know, this had never been done before.

So this might not be a truly great album, but it's not a bad album either. The performances are fun, and some are great. It captures a time when the band still toured as an intact unit, before stage-shy Brian Wilson retired from touring to concentrate on the studio productions that would lead to the Beach Boys' best work. Still, I could easily argue for a half dozen or so other Beach Boys records that deserve to be on our list more than this one does and were left off.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"All Summer Long" by The Beach Boys (July, 1964)

Brad's Take:

For those who don't know, my dad is arguably one of the biggest Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fans ever so this band of fine young gents are no strangers to me. This is an album that contains a lot of songs that I grew up hearing a lot, especially "I Get Around."

You can tell that the boys were growing up with this release. There were still some songs that sounded like good old fashioned Beach Boys, like "I Get Around" and "Little Honda", but there were also a few glimpses into the sound that they'd eventually find with Pet Sounds just a couple years later. Song like "Wendy", "We'll Run Away", and "Don't Back Down" still have young Brian Wilson lyrics, but you can tell that his production skills and melody/harmony ideas were starting to really take shape here. I read that Brian even had studio musicians come in and record demos of the whole album, under his direction, and then he had the actual Beach Boys come in and overdub their parts. Whether or not that is true, my dad will let us know.

"Wendy" and "Don't Back Down" are both songs that I remember listening to in the past, but I didn't realize how much I really like them until I listened to this in my car when preparing to write this review. Both of those songs are really great, and are definitely highlights on this album for me.

This album does have its flaws though. "Drive-In" was pretty bad, let's be honest....

If you say you watch the movie you're a couple o' liars
And "Remember only you can prevent forest fires"


Overall though, this album had its ups and downs, but it's a perfect transitional album of classic Beach Boys to influential Beach Boys.

Dad's Take:

Of all the summery sounds in the Beach Boys canon, this could easily be argued to be their classic summer album. This is when the Beach Boys still sounded like they were having fun, Brian Wilson was still touring with the group, and they were putting out at least three records a year, produced, arranged, and mostly written by Brian. As the boy said, the music was starting to get more complex, but it still had that classic Beach Boys sound.

Few albums have started with the one-two punch this one had. The brilliant and surprisingly complex "I Get Around" with its deep organ notes followed by "All Summer Long" with its chimes provide all the signal you'll need that this is an extraordinary record. How they never released "All Summer Long" as a single has always amazed me.

This may well be the feel-good record of all time.

The Beach Boys reputation has been diminished somewhat by soft drink commercials and endless jukebox tours, but listen to this album and you'll understand why they are the classic American band. Complex arrangements, perfect harmonies, fun themes, and successful mythologizing of the American teenaged lifestyle create a sound that has often been copied but never matched. Even filler like their cover of the doo-wop classic "Hushabye" show that these young men were up to something. We'd soon see what that was. "We'll Run Away" would have been a perfect fit on side two of the even better "Beach Boys Today!" album a year later. (How did THAT gem not make our lists? Flat-out amazing record.)

As for "Drive-In," Bradley Boy, it's a funny song with an unusual arrangement. Like much of their filler of the time it was a chance to experiment a bit. And that "Only you can prevent forest fires" rings a bell with those of us who grew up at the drive-in. It's a reference to the classic "Smokey the Bear" PSA that played for years at the drive-in, mixed with a bit of innuendo.

That the British authors of our list would choose this album is no surprise. "I Get Around" was a monster British hit, the first major success by the Beach Boys in Britain, the beginning of a relationship with a country that treated the band with more respect than their own country did.

This was one of my first three Beach Boys albums (along with "Today!" and "Surfer Girl"), purchased for nearly nothing at a flea market by my parents and given me on my 12th birthday. This record played a key role in beginning decades of fanaticism, and remains a favorite. I've told people that if they want to get just one Beach Boys album and want that classic sound, then get this one. Not every second is brilliant, but close. Even the gimicky bit of humorous filler goofiness called "Our Favorite Recording Sessions" is fun.

In retrospect, closing the album with their last surfing song, "Don't Back Down" was a stroke of genius. They used their original sound as a challenge for what was to come. Like the Beatles, they were growing musically at an astounding pace, and only two years later would create what many consider the finest rock and roll album ever, "Pet Sounds."

But for now it was all about Brian's studio creations of the California myth, played (yes) mostly by the finest studio musicians in LA, the same ones used by Phil Spector, and sung impeccably by this brilliant harmony group.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Folk Singer" by Muddy Waters (April, 1964)

Brad's Take:

Now this is folk music I can get behind! Although I'd give it the "blues" title before I called it folk, it was deemed as "folk" because of it being stripped down and acoustic.

This is the first time I've ever really given Muddy Waters a real solid listen, and I have to say, I am loving it! His soulful, powerful, low voice is so awesome. His voice just rumbles from your speakers while he and the great Buddy Guy jam delicate but intricate acoustic guitar phrases back and forth to a snails drum beat.

I only got halfway through the second song before I told myself that I loved this album. Every song is soooo good! I feel like I'm watching Muddy and Buddy play together in a tiny little coffee shop where all they have enough room for is their acoustic guitars.

I don't think I can say enough good things about this album. It's totally hitting the spot for me right now. If you want mellow, acoustic, powerful blues music, pick this up right now. But be warned: You won't be able to put it down.

Dad's Take:

This is to folk music what the Ray Charles album we reviewed earlier is to country, only unlike Ray, who gave his soulful sound to country classics, Waters is playing straight-up blues, the way it had been played in the old days. All I can think is that a record company exec thought they needed a title that would cash in on the folk craze, maybe because of the crossover succes Ray Charles had enjoyed with his record. No matter what the title claims, this is a blues classic. It's a beautiful thing.

One thing about these old-school blues guys: they could deliver powerful songs without the pyrotechnics of electronic instruments, effects, and amps that go up to 11. Muddy and Buddy and the rest of their supergroup (Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon, and Clifton James on one record? Really?) performing under Muddy's name deliver powerful blues moments in every song.

As the boy said in his take, this is a great album that can't be put down. When it's over, you'll want to go back and start it again.

"The Ventures In Space" by The Ventures (December, 1963)

Brad's Take:

So... one time, The Ventures decided to make an experimental spacey surf rock record. On this album, they wanted to create strange organic sounds out of several kinds of instruments which would overlap a typical surf rock album. They succeeded.

This album is pretty crazy. It's very busy. Hardly any songs are stripped down. Instead, they're mostly overdressed for the occasion, in my opinion. This is "Walk Don't Run" being covered by extraterrestrials. I may be over-exaggerating a little bit because there are some good old fashioned Ventures songs on here, like "Love Goddess Of Venus" and "Penetration." Although "Penetration" is a bit too spacey.

They did get some really awesome sounds on this record though. It's cool that they're all organic and that no sounds on this album were digital at all.

For being an experimental, instrumental surf rock album, they nailed it. Is it something I want to listen to again? Not really. It's not bad, by any means, but it's a little too "out there" for me. I like The Ventures a little better when they're on Earth.

Dad's Take:

It's the space race was in full force by the winter of '63, and who better than the Ventures to celebrate it with their instrumental guitar treatment?

"Out of Limits" is the classic here. It was a big hit, and still sounds nearly perfect, almost forty years later. Several other songs help to make this a fun album. They space up one of my favorite surf songs, the classic "Pipeline" clone, "Penetration," a little too much, but it doesn't detract that much from that great piece of music.

There's a bigger variety of music here than you might expect. There's the toes-on-the-nose lunar surfing punch of "Out of Limits," the spooky sounds of "Fear" and "Exploration In Terror," and lots of spaced-out fun, ending in a classic version of the theme from "The Twilight Zone."

Sometimes, the Ventures sound almost two perfect for me. I like the crunchy sound of some of the rougher surf bands better. But that doesn't take anything away from this record. It's pure fun, with cool songs, and is a brilliant artifact of those early days of the space race, when our culture focused so heavily on the stars that toys, TV, movies, juice, even breakfast cereal, all had a space theme.

This is a brilliant record, start to finish. It'll make you want to ride the waves in Malibu, and moon the movie stars from your board.

"A Christmas Gift For You" from Phil Spector (November, 1963)

Brad's Take:

It's only a few days into the new year, but I guess it's a good time to listen to a Christmas album again, right?

Basically, Phil Spector's own record label, Philles Records, released this compilation of Christmas songs performed by groups on the label at the time: The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.

This is an album that I am pretty familiar with. It's been playing around Christmas time in the Rhoades household for many years. Phil Spector was a great producer when it came to doo-wop styled pop acts. I've always had a sweet spot for these types of groups.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has said that this is his favorite album of all time. I think I would like this album a lot more if it didn't have so many mega cheesy songs on it, such as "Frosty the Snowman", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." However, I love The Crystals' version of the latter. It totally sounds like what Christmas should sound like. I wish it had songs like "The First Noel" and "Baby It's Cold Outside." I think those songs would have been great additions to this release.

Aside from a few ill song choices, I love this album. It's one that I try to listen to at least once every Christmas season. It's really fun, classy, and upbeat. You can't help but smile when listening to this. Unless you're the Grinch.

Dad's Take:

It's easy to argue that this is the finest rock and roll Christmas album ever. The Phil Spector approach, with his sleigh bells and castanets and other wall of sound elements lends itself perfectly to a Christmas album. Best of all, maybe, is that the Christmas album isn't much of a departure from the usual Spector sound, so this thing sounds good all year round.

If anything hurts this record, it's how loved it is. As a result, it's overplayed. It's hard to find a Christmas movie that doesn't include at least one song from this record. That tends to make a classic record sound a little more cheesy.

But the happy fact is, song after song benefits from a full production and some brilliant vocal work. There are a few Christmas albums that got more play in my house, car, and office this past season, but that doesn't mean I like this one any less. This is as good as rock and roll Christmas music gets. I'm sure ol' Saint Nick blasts this one on his sleigh stereo system as he speeds through the skies. It's upbeat and is perfect for setting the pace he has to work at.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"In The Wind" by Peter, Paul, and Mary (October, 1963)

Dad's Take:

This one brings back memories. My mom has this record, and I heard it a lot growing up. When I got a bit older, I used to play it myself. This and her Kingston Trio albums helped me develop my inner folkie at an early age.

I remember as a small child really liking "Hush-A-Bye." "Stewball" has always been a favorite, probably my favorite on the record. Brad might have fun imaging Little Dad singing along. "Rocky Road" is another favorite. Later, I appreciated their "Go Tell It On The Mountain" (this is the version I hear in my head when I think of this song, even though they changed it from a Christian spiritual to a civil rights anthem). Of course, the album features their classic "Blowin' In The Wind," which probably helped as much as anything to cement Dylan's place in the cultural mind.

So, for me, this is truly a classic album, one that has always been there, as long as I can remember. I haven't listened to it for many years, but it holds up to my grown-up ears as well. Songs like "Long Chain On" and their gorgeous cover of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" still hold up well.

"In The Wind" is a feel-good record for me. It's like a bridge between the fifties folk of the Kingston Trio and the heavier folk of the Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The harmonies are impeccable, with a perfect blend that inspired later groups like the Mamas & the Papas.

Brad's Take:

Folk music was in full force by the time In The Wind was released so it's no surprised that this album shot up to #1 on the Billboard charts. It might have helped that they cashed in on Bob Dylan's success by releasing their own versions of "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as their singles for this album.

It's a shame that they didn't release a single of an original song because they were great songwriters. "Rocky Road" would have been a good choice for a single, in my opinion. "Very Last Day" could have been a good one, as well. In that song, you can definitely hear where the Mamas & the Papas got their harmonies for "California Dreamin'."

Before listening to this, "Puff The Magic Dragon" was the only Peter, Paul, and Mary song I could have named off the top of my head. I liked that little ditty and the movie when I was younger, but it's not on this album. I was kind of bummed about that.

I kind of liked the album. The 60s folk music/hippy scene isn't something I can relate to at all so it's hard to get into these folky albums. It was fun listening to it though, imagining watching a young version of my dad swaying back and forth to "Stewball."

"Little Stevie Wonder the 12-Year-Old Genius" by Stevie Wonder (July, 1963)

Dad's Take:

This is the second consecutive live soul record on our list. It's hard for a 12-year-old kid to follow the dynamic veteran, James Brown, but Little Stevie Wonder holds his own pretty well.

The highlight here is the mostly instrumental hit, "Fingertips." It's followed by another instrumental, "Soul Bongo," leaving one to wonder what the the 12-year-old wunder-kind Stevie Wonder actually does (since we can't see him). The music is exciting, but where is Little Stevie?

With the next song "La La La La La" he's back singing, and talking to the audience with his prepubescent voice. According to the introduction, he's also playing drums.

After that, he starts in with some great soul singing, beginning with "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over." For me, that's where the album comes alive. He follows it with a good performance of "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." The kid had some chops.

Overall, this is a good performance, but coming right after James Brown, it can't help but feel a little weak. Standing on its own, though, it's not hard to see why this is on the list. First of all, it's a strong record. But it's also another early performance from a future major force, like some others on the list.

Brad's Take:

I forgot that Stevie Wonder was so young when he started performing. Being only 12 years during this concert, he's amazing! He has almost as much energy as James Brown.

Little Stevie had good pipes and stage presence, but I didn't really like any of the songs that much. "La La La La La La" was probably my favorite one. His faster songs were the ones I enjoyed the most, but his voice really shined on the slow ones, like "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over." On the faster songs, he put all of his energy into them, but in the slow songs, that's where he put his soul into.

Live albums are kind of harder to review than studio albums, but this is good. It's not the best live album. It's not as good as James Brown's, but like my dad said, Little Stevie held his own well, especially for a 12 year old. If nothing else, at least check out "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over" from this album, and then decide from there if you want to hear more. I can almost guarantee you that you will.

"Live at the Apollo" by James Brown (June, 1963)

Dad's Take:

There's just something about James Brown live. Whether it's the classic "T.A.M.I. Show performance or this record, put an audience in front of James Brown and this always energetic performer kicks it up to 11 and beyond.

I'm convinced that the Apollo didn't have to use any of it's own electricity. There's enough energy in this record to power a small city. In songs like "Think," He could provide energy to all of New York. Even when he slows it down, as in "I Don't Mind," he's a one-man generator.

One of several highlights here is "Lost Someone." At nearly eleven minutes long, it's a tour de force that shows Brown earning his "hardest working man in show business" moniker. I dare you to try to do something else while this song plays. It commands your attention, and gets it. He makes you believe that his pain is unbearable, and even on record you can see his performance. You hear his drop to his knees. You hear him drop away from the microphone, stepping and crying at a distance, only to return with a shout. The song blends seamlessly with a medley that includes songs like "Please, Please, Please," "You've Got the Power," and "I Found Someone," creating an eighteen-minute suite that moves from loss to hope. Then, without a break, he moves into the classic "Night Train."

"Live at the Apollo" is almost as exhausting to listen to as it must have been to perform. But that's a good thing. Most records, you listen, then stop, or you move on to the next record. When you've listened to this one, nothing can follow. You have to take a break. You know you've heard something special, and you have to breathe before you can move on. I can imagine what it was like to leave the theater that night, amazed and exhausted.

The CD version we found includes three bonus tracks, another version of the medley, as well as additional versions of "Lost Someone" and "I'll Go Crazy." These are great performances to have, but don't necessarily add anything new to the original recording, which already includes those songs. The medley contains some different bits, and the other performances are spectacular, so I'm glad the bonus tracks are there, but I feel like I could stop at the end of the original record without feeling any less satisfied.

This is James Brown at his peak. It's also one of those rare live records that captures something special. You hear his connection with the audience, whether they are reacting to him or he's goading them to scream. Live albums are often little more than another way to release a greatest hits compilation, but this one is really something special. It's no wonder Rolling Stone listed this at number 24 in its list of the 500 greatest albums. It could have been higher without any argument from me. The audience at the Apollo is as much a part of this record as James Brown is. Never has pain been so delightful. (Well, Ok, maybe that one time in ____, but that's a story for a different kind of blog.)

Brad's Take:

James Brown + live performance = Wow!

There isn't much else to say, really. James Brown kills it. This is an audio only concert experience, but you can close your eyes and see him dancing and sweating all over the stage. And you can see the crowd of girls swooning. I wish it had been more than 8 tracks. I think if James performed more than 8 songs at a time though, he probably would have exploded. He puts his all into each and every note.

The audio quality of the recording is near perfect. The performance is near perfect. The whole album is near perfect! This is definitely a classic performance, but I imagine all of his concerts were just as amazing. It was hard to not scream "Yeah!" or "Ow!" along with him when he makes the crowd do it.

 James Brown was a classic performer who inspired Michael Jackson and many, many others. He deserved all the praise he got. If you watch videos of him performing live, you will see how incredible the man was. He was out of control!