Friday, May 6, 2016

"The Singles: 1969–1973" by The Carpenters (November, 1973)

Brad's Take:

I randomly discovered a YouTube video a few months of Karen Carpenter killin' it on the drums on some old variety TV show, and I was so impressed. I thought she was just "the girl from the Carpenters." I didn't realize she was also a great drummer! It caught me by surprise, and I immediately started watching interviews and documentaries about Karen and Richard Carpenter, and listening to all their music, including Karen's solo album that wasn't even released until 13 years after her untimely death. Needless to say, I became a fan.

"We've Only Just Begun", "Rainy Days and Mondays", "Top of the World", and 9 other classic Carpenter tunes fill out this compilation. If you're a fan at all of the group, this is an essential piece to have on deck when you're feeling like just chillin' on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. And if you aren't a fan of them, this is not for you because it most likely contains every song you hate.

There isn't much else I have to say about this. There's no real duds on here. It just showcases the best of the best. It's nice and laid back. I could fall asleep to this and have happy dreams.

Dad's Take:

I've mentioned before that I think it's kind of cheating to include greatest hits records in a list of classic albums. However, if any deserve the title classic, this is one, along with the Eagles Greatest Hits.

Everybody had this album. Well, I didn't. I didn't need it. Enough people I knew had it that I could hear it whenever I wanted, back when music sharing meant listening to records together in somebody's room. Also, because the Carpenters were radio darlings, you could pretty much be sure you'd hear them whenever you turned on your clock radio or your parents' hi-fi console. Only problem is, your parents liked 'em too, and man, that's just not cool.

This album cover should appear as the definition of ear candy in the dictionary. Karen Carpenter's voice was sweet and clear, and the Carpenters used songs by some of the biggest songwriters of the period. (Oh, and Richard Carpenter's own songs weren't so bad either.) Mix that with mellow, somewhat muted arrangements performed by some of the best musicians available in an LA studio, and the combination is pure, easy listening bliss.

If you're not a Carpenters fan, chances are you'll find at least a couple songs here that you like, even if you don't want to admit it out loud. And if you just can't handle anything this sweet because of your hyperrocksemia, stay away. Baby baby baby baby oh baby, is it sweet. This will likely put you into a diabetic coma.

For those occasions when you need to hear something soft and warm, though--like maybe a rainy Monday--you just can't do much better than this album. If you like a dose of Carpenters now and then, this is the only record you need. It has most of the songs you remember. Every sha-la-la-la and every whoa-woh-oh-oh will bring back happy memories. But for some listeners, the shing-a-ling-a-lings will put you over the edge.

Just make sure you brush your teeth after you listen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John (October, 1973)

Brad's Take:

How have I never listened to this before? Elton John wasn't fooling around with this one.

A huge, epic 6 minute long instrumental track opens the album and flows seamlessly into "Love Lies Bleeding" which sounds like a classic upbeat Elton song. Making the opening track 11 minutes long is a bold move, but this was very well done. The instrumental intro and the song itself were both interesting and awesome enough that putting them together in one single track was just fine. But boy was it daunting before I hit play! What a way to open an album though! So good.

With such a huge opening to the album, of course he'd follow that with the fantastic ode to Marilyn Monroe, "Candle in the Wind", and then with (as if it couldn't get any better) my favorite Elton John song "Bennie and the Jets." 19 minutes into the album, it's already perfect.

The vast majority of this album is completely new to me. I'm kicking myself for not listening to this sooner! There are so many fantastic songs on here that I've never heard before, such as "Grey Seal", "Dirty Little Girl", and "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock'n' Roll)."

Big hits aside, every song on this album is great. Even "Jamaica Jerk Off", which was pretty unexpected but still fun. I'm definitely going to have to dive into the bonus tracks and documentaries that revolve around this. Somehow 17 songs didn't satisfy me enough. I need more!

Dad's Take:

Ah, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the album I wanted for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but never got.

Every decade has its smash hits, the albums that define the decade. Can anybody doubt that this is one of them for the seventies? I envy Brad for hearing it for the first time. At the same time, I wondered how he'd like it out of the context of its time. That he digs it makes me happy.

For those who weren't there, it's hard to comprehend just how massive this record was, and maybe even why it was so huge. I can't separate it from nostalgia and just listen to it for a review. I can't help but view it through retro specs. Big, huge, gigantic, diamond-studded retro specs adorned with feathers and everything shiny.

It's somehow easy now to dismiss the album as seventies AM pop (not that there's anything wrong with that), but even a casual listen shows that it's more than that. From the epic "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" through the rest of all four sides, this is a creative album, filled with interesting, fun songs that often go deeper than mere pop radio fluff.

This is one of those that, if I were to cite favorite songs, I'd pretty much have to list them all. The title song is brilliant, with some of the best put down lyrics this side of Dylan. "Grey Seal" is great. "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "Bennie and the Jets" were favorites then and still hold up now. "Harmony." "All the Girls Love Alice." I might as well just list the entire album. I can't even pick a favorite side. With a knife to my throat I might pick Side 4, but I'd do it regretting that I hadn't picked the other sides.

So often, the old classics don't fare well when you listen again many years later through your later experiences and changes in taste, especially when so many songs have become part of the fabric of life to the point where maybe you've heard then one too many times. Or a thousand too many times. But not this one. Not for me anyway. Some songs, like "Candle in the Wind," have grown a little old, but for the most part, this is still a great listen, just like it was back in Jr. High.

This album is more than a relic of the past. (Admittedly, it's hard to say that about an album that has just about always been there for me, because I can't judge it without the past coloring my opinion.) That it can still captivate a younger audience, like my kid, shows that there's something timeless here. Take away the Elton John kitsch and the tackiness of the time, and you're still left with a classic album that holds up today.

"Countdown to Ecstasy" by Steely Dan (July, 1973)

Brad's Take:

Steely Dan is another one of those bands that I've always heard mentioned but never actually sat and listened to.

Countdown to Ecstasy is packed with groovin' jazz rock. It's really fun to listen to. I'm sure the more I listen to it, the more I will pick up. There's a lot of cool stuff going on throughout the songs. The jazz drum beats, with the bass plucking along, the crazy keyboard solos, the distorted rock guitar solos, catchy vocal melodies, etc.  make it really interesting. This is an album that you can sit and listen to intently, dissecting each instrument, lyric, or melody, or you can listen to it as background music. Either way, it's very enjoyable. It's mellow and rockin' at the same time, which makes it easy to listen to at just about any time.

Some songs I especially enjoyed are "The Boston Rag", "Show Biz Kids", and "My Old School." The album didn't produce any hit singles, but I think that if "My Old School" had been shortened in order to be more radio friendly, it could have done really well. It's a fantastic upbeat catchy tune, but it's almost 6 minutes long.

I'm not sure what the rest of their discography sounds like compared to this album, but I'm definitely more interested in diving into more of Steely Dan's stuff after hearing this.

Dad's Take:

Confession time: Unlike many of my peers, I was never a big Steely Dan fan. There, I said it.

It's not that I didn't like them, exactly. They're one of those bands who were a radio constant in the 70s, and I usually liked the songs I heard well enough. They didn't usually capture me at a visceral level, but I liked them. The songs were well-crafted, well-produced, and deserved their popularity. They were a part of the soundtrack of my life, but they never became more than that for me, personally. They were almost too tight, too slick.

Except one song. One song that wasn't played much, but when it was, I stopped what I was doing and I listened.

That song, "Boddhisattva," happens to open this album, starting things off in a way that opens my ears to the band I never gave as much attention to as I probably should have. If anything, "Boddhisattva" should have told me that I should go deeper into Steely Dan than the usual radio hits. But what can I say? I was a teenager. I wasn't that aware. Even today, though, when I hear their name mentioned, I think, "Great band, but not quite my cuppa."

Unless I'm actually listening to them.

The truth is, these days, I like their style of jazz rock, and I like their early work, like this one (their second studio album), best. "Boddhisattva," "Razor Boy," "The Boston Rag"--great song after great song, all the way through this album.

In retrospect, it's surprising that this album didn't have bigger hit singles, especially when tracks like "Boddhisattva" and "My Old School" are so familiar now.

So, let's wrap this thing up. I really like this album. A lot. Whenever I listen to it, I don't understand why I don't dig it out more often. It's not as uber-slick as the impression I got from the later seventies hits, for one thing. For another, it's simply a collection of great songs that hold together as a complete album. This album does to me what many other Steely Dan works do: it makes me want to listen to more Steely Dan, more often.

Maybe I am a Steely Dan fan after all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"For Your Pleasure" by Roxy Music (March, 1973)

Brad's Take:

Morrissey calls this the "one truly great British album" but I can name a handful of other British albums that I'd rather listen to than this one again.

While For Your Pleasure isn't bad, by any means, it just didn't have a lot of tracks that I fell in love with. Not on first listen anyway.

"Editions of You" was the first song on here that really got my attention, and I fell more in love with it as it went on. Such a cool, fun, and rockin' song! It almost sounds like if the Rolling Stones had a synthesizer. I really liked that song a lot and will definitely be going back to it.

"In Every Dream Home A Heartache" is about a blow up doll, which is interesting. Kind of a cool song though that I'll probably find myself going back to. It's like how it fades out and then comes back in with a phasing effect on it.

Those two songs were the only ones that I really enjoyed. The others aren't bad, but didn't grab me the same way, but they still make a real solid album.

Dad's Take:

This is one of four Roxy Music albums to make the Rolling Stone 500 Best Albums list. It's also the last Roxy Music album to feature Brian Eno, who later became a pretty big name on his own.

And, I don't think I've ever listened to it. Go figure.

This is another of those kind of odd British albums that telegraphed what we were going to hear a lot in the eighties. It's sort of Bowie-esque or T-Rex-ish, but not quite exactly. I mean, they were clearly Glam Rock, but if all you do is listen without any visuals, you might hesitate to put them in that category. And then, some songs are obviously glam. It's really hard to imagine the eighties without these 70s glam bands. Then again, the eighties weren't exactly my favorite musical decade, overall, despite some stuff I really enjoy.

Like Brad, "Editions of You" was the first song to really grab my attention, probably because it's more of a straight-up rocker from the familiar R&B tradition.On the other hand, the slow, haunting "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" reminds me a little of the Vanilla Fudge version of "Season of the Witch," only without the creepiness..About halfway through, I'm kind of wishing there'd be some kind of change. And then, finally, there it is. The song starts to rock about three minutes in. That's one of a few songs that hearken back to psychedelia, which, of course, I like. The lengthy "The Bogus Man" is another of those psychedelic-tinged songs that held my attention.

I think my reaction is a little more positive than the boy's, but then, I survived the seventies and the oddness of much of the decade is nothing new to me. Three songs in, I'm enjoying this, but not loving it. I think this might be one of those more-than-one-listen records, to get through the initial impression and really hear it. But it does make me curious about their other albums. Really, I know them mainly for a few singles, like "Love Is the Drug." There's nothing here I dislike, exactly, but there's not a lot that grabs me by the, er, throat--yeah, let's go with throat.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield (May, 1973)

Dad's Take:

I have to admit to being surprised to see this on our list of classic albums. Yes, the title song was a big hit after being used as the theme for The Exorcist, but if every album that spawned a big hit made our list, we'd be reviewing a lot more albums.

When I read that the album stayed on the British charts for a whopping 279 weeks, all became clear. We are, after all, working from a British list. It was not as popular in the U.S., although it did go gold, largely because the unauthorized single edit reached number 7 on the Billboard charts.

So, here I am, listening to an album that I've always considered kind of a novelty record without ever listening to the whole thing, and I realize I haven't given it enough credit. As a pioneering mix of Progressive and New Age music, it has, indeed, been influential. And it's an interesting listen, moving from the music that seems creepy because I associate it with the Exorcist, through some edgy guitar bits, pleasant soft sections, instrumental demonstrations, freaky bits, and so on, the album is kind of all over the map. Some sections are a complete surprise, like the final section of "Tubular Bells (Part Two)," which is like nothing before it on the record.

In short, the album is more enjoyable that I expected.

At times it teeters on the brink of boredom or the threshold of tedium, but then it changes in time (usually) to keep from falling over the edge. At other times, it is cool, mesmerizing, and even exciting.

Although, to a Yank, it hardly seems to qualify in the same class as other albums on our list, I have to give this one credit. Anyone who was paying attention in '73 will recognize the main theme of this suite, and it continues to be used today. More importantly, the record is creative and inventive. This might not become part of my regular rotation, but I do feel better educated than I was before I spun it. It's a more substantial record than I believed going in.

Brad's Take:

Typically, I find myself dreading going into albums with 20+ minute long songs. It's always hard for me to push play. But once I finally gain the courage to begin, I usually know after a few minutes if I was being silly or not. Tubular Bells is 2 instrumental tracks that are each over 20 minutes long. I've been putting off reviewing it because of that. I needed to be in the right mood. Today, I was in that mood, and after about 5 minutes I knew that it was going to be okay.

The tracks are always changing which makes this pretty easy to sit through. There's moments of classical, new age, metal, and typical 70s rock all sprinkled through these 49 minutes. It keeps it interesting and everything flows brilliantly, even when it goes from soft and quiet parts to metal guitar solos and back again. It almost feels like it's a bunch of song ideas that are all just glued seamlessly together.

I'm not really sure why this album is on the list. Would it still be on the list if it wasn't for The Exorcist? Who knows...

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Raw Power" by The Stooges (February, 1973)

Dad's Take:

Iggy Pop and the Stooges take us into the days of proto-punk.

The first two songs on this album remind me of the Velvet Underground and the Doors, respectively, but with a new attitude and swagger that came out of the VU's New York club scene. Equal parts hard rock, late-period psychedelia, Bowie-influenced glam without the glamour, and what we knew later as punk, this album is edgy and--as the title says--raw, a bridge between everything before and everything after.

Like many classics, this is an album that wasn't well received at the time, but in retrospect was highly innovative and influential. Innovation is just weird when it first surfaces, but gains in value an statue over time. It's hard to imagine punk or grunge developing as they did without the Stooges laying the foundation.

Iggy is scary, powerful, odd, and crazy--he's rock and roll. And he had the right band behind him to deliver his unique brand of Iggyness.

Something tells me Brad might see this as a familiar island in the seventies sea, not that different from what he knows better. But the boy surprises me with some of his reviews (and that's kind of the point of our bigenerational assessments), so we'll see,

Brad's Take:

Kicking the album off with "Search and Destroy" sets this album up perfectly. I love how fuzzy and gross the guitar sounds on it. It's like guitarist James Williamson said, "I'm cranking up my amp's distortion to a million and stomping all eighty-two of my distortion pedals!" It sounds so offensive, yet perfect at the same time. I think that sums up Iggy Pop and his band as a whole pretty well, actually.

Raw Power kind of reminds me of the early Black Sabbath stuff, Deep Purple, and albums like theirs where there isn't much else to say other than "this rocks!" There isn't really much else to say about this. You just want to turn it up, clear your mind, and enjoy it because every song is great.

The album is definitely raw and powerful like the title describes. It sounds dated, but that doesn't take away from the overall fun of it. It doesn't take itself too seriously so why should we? But if you're not cranking the volume up while you're listening to it, you're doing it all wrong.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"The Faust Tapes" by Faust (May, 1973)

Brad's Take:

Well, this is awkward... The Faust Tapes consists of two untitled 20+ minute long songs. Actually, nay. I wouldn't call these "songs." Let's just call them "tracks" as they're basically just a bunch of segements of "stuff" glued together. 

"Stuff" includes: 
- Noise
- Static
- People talking
- Actual songs
- Ambient instrumental interludes
- Creepy vocal things that sound like ghosts crying (actually scary)
- Other sounds I can't describe

Needless to say, this is a very strange (yet interesting) album, and even quite enjoyable, actually. I was not expecting to actually be as entertained as I ended up being. There's some really weird stuff on here. I had fun trying to figure out what they were actually using to make these sounds. The way they blended so many different sounds together and wove all of these weird segments into each other takes some real creativity and artistic vision. It's not as easy as just recording random sounds and calling it an album. The Faust Tapes isn't something you'd put in your car stereo and blast with your windows down with your friends. This is a very unique and interesting that begs for your attention. I'd highly suggest listening to it in headphones so you can experience the stereo mixing. I'm actually kind of sad that it's already over...

Dad's Take:

Interesting history on this one. Faust signed with a new label and part of the agreement was to give the label the recordings they'd done since their previous album for nothing so they could release it at a very low price. The result is an album of fragments pieced together to form a whole.

As the boy said, much of this is actually quite good, kind of a jazzy prog-rock, mixed with some studio experimentation. Some of the experiments remind me of some of Brian Wilson's recordings of chants and musical fooling around during the Smile sessions, mixed with some of John Lennon's sound collages from the last couple years of the Beatles catalog. They work pretty well, for the most part. Most of the fragments are short enough that even the "wayest outest" experiments don't get tedious. The whole thing is actually pretty mesmerizing.

Some of my favorite tracks include "Untitled," "Untitled," "Der Baum," and the surprisingly catchy bit of jazz-funk, "Untitled."

Unlike most of the classics on our list, this is one that completely escaped my attention until we started going through the list. It wasn't part of the seventies air I breathed like many of the other albums. In fact, I wasn't even aware it existed back in the day. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it that much in my early teens. But I like it more than I expected now.

This might not be the record to put on during your next dance party, but it makes for an interesting listen, one that will reveal new discoveries in subsequent spins.

"The Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd (March, 1973)

Dad's Take:

March 1, 1973 was a pretty good day in the music world, seeing the release of both John Cale's Paris 1919 and Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

I've learned a lot doing these reviews, but one of the lessons I've learned is that it's very hard to review a record that has been a cultural icon. This one, arguably the best-known album of the rock and roll era, demands much more attention than I'm going to give it on our little review page.

Between the opening heartbeat that segues into insanity (and I do love records that deal with insanity, whatever that may say about me) and the closing heartbeat that fades into oblivion, are the fantastic sounds that make this a special record. It's so deeply dyed into the fabric of my generation that to review it would be like reviewing the human circulatory system. It's such an ordinary part of existence that we forget how extraordinary it really is.

I really don't even know where to start writing. I'd rather just listen. So, yeah, this review is kind of a punt, but I get to hear this classic again, and that's the best part anyway. You should do the same.

Brad's Take:

It's really strange being from a totally different generation. I didn't really start discovering and getting heavily into music until the mid/late 90's so listening to music that came out in the 70's and earlier is sometimes hard for me to want to do because I just don't understand it a lot of the time. The generation gap has been very evident in a lot of my reviews. I don't try to hide it. I don't say "I don't get it" to sound snobby or anything, it's because I just actually don't get it.

With a lot of these albums we've reviewed, I feel like in order to fully understand why it's a classic album, you needed to be there witnessing all the hype happening in real time. You needed to see the affect it had on the world at the time it was released. You needed to witness the controversy it caused. You needed to be there to see how the music that came afterwards was influenced by one particular band or album, etc. For me, I'm working backwards here. So it's sometimes hard to keep an open mind and pretend that there hasn't already been something influenced by a particular classic album that I would describe as being much better than its source material, if that makes sense. For example, production styles and recording quality in general are so much more crisp and clear now compared to everything before the 80's. There's albums right now that sound better than anything The Beatles put out. Hell, even musicians recording in their bedrooms have better sounding recordings than a lot of these ones we've reviewed! Anyway, I'm rambling and going off topic a bit...

Needless to say, this is my first time listening to Dark Side of the Moon. It's an album I've always known about, but I never had an interest in listening to. I pretty much only knew Pink Floyd for their song "Another Brick in the Wall." I remember seeing the music video on VH-1's Pop Up Video every once in awhile when I was in junior high school.

My initial reaction is: It's weird! It's weird, but also very calming and hypnotic. It's no wonder the stoner kids gravitate towards it.

Although a lot of it is just super long instrumental music and jamming, there are some tracks that stood out to me:

"Time" has a nice funky groove to it which I enjoyed. "Money" is a song I forgot that I knew already, so that was cool to listen to. My favorite track was "Us and Them" though. I loved the choruses. Sounds so big and loud! And the chord changes during the choruses feel reeeeally good. That song was almost 8 minutes long, but it could have been longer and I'd be pleased.

I like how all the songs flow into each other. There's no fadeouts or long pauses. It's all pretty seamless from one song to the next. It makes it a lot easier to sit and listen to the entire album because it feels like you're supposed to. Like it was intended to be that way, which I'm sure was the intention.

While I don't see myself going back to this anytime soon, or feeling the need to dive into Pink Floyd's entire catalog now, it was cool finally giving this album a proper listen. I enjoyed the whole album. This is one of the rare ones we've reviewed where I agree that it should be classified as a classic.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Paris 1919" by John Cale (March, 1973)

Dad's Take:

Funny how reviewing an album makes me notice something that has always kind of been there, as if it's the first time. Paying attention will do that.

When Paris 1919 opens, I detect an immediate Brian Wilson influence, a melodious baroque pop rock that was really not at all what I expected. The opener, "Child's Christmas in Wales," is poetic, as you'd expect from its titular reference to Dylan Thomas who is also referenced in the second verse. But it has poppy light-rock feel that makes it accessible despite its complicated lyrics. It's only the first of several literary references in an album that also includes songs named for Graham Greene and Macbeth.

It's a great introduction to an excellent album.

This record immediately grabbed me and didn't let go. It's smart without being self-obsessed, poetic without being obscure and, more than anything else, it's musical, with great melodies and incredible songs. A good example of this musicality is "The Endless Plain of Fortune," with its Wilson-like dark chords and heavy orchestration that create a somewhat frightening mood that grabs me by the throat and doesn't let go.

Song after song blows me away. "Andalucia" takes me to another world. "Macbeth" has a rock sound you wouldn't expect, with a bouncy Beach Boys-like rhythm and melody, but a harder feel. "Graham Greene" is another fun song. Every song on the album is enjoyable, and every song is substantial enough to require multiple listening to take it all in.

This is a great album, start to finish. Definitely one I need to know better.

The version I have includes a number of bonus outtakes, alternate takes, and rehearsals, which help to illuminate the album, but which I won't review in detail.

Brad's Take:

I can't say I ever heard of John Cale before his album Paris 1919 popped up on our list. I've started listening to it maybe three or four different times so we could carry on with our reviews, but each time ended pretty quickly after it started. I either got distracted, got bored, or it didn't fit the mood I was in at the time. I wanted to give it a fair shot so I waited. But when I decided to try and give it another go, it hit me. Right from the opening chords of the first track, "Child's Christmas in Wales" I knew that this was the right time to finally write about it.

Like my old man said, the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson influence is definitely apparent. But it's not a copy-cat situation, like Billy Fury trying to be Elvis and Buddy Holly. Instead, you just hear a guy creating beautiful music that is inspired yet unique.

To me, this doesn't feel like an album that was recorded in an actual recording studio. It feels more like something he created in his house at his own leisure, and then eventually released to the outside world when he thought it was finally right. The reason I feel that way, I think, is because it sounds so warm and laid back. "Andalucia" is a good example of what I mean.

But then "Macbeth" comes in... This song changes everything. Just when you start feeling comfortable and at home, all of a sudden, John throws a curve ball and hits you in the face with a loud, energetic, rocker. Squeal-y guitar solos and relentless drumming throughout the whole song really makes this one stand out.

Paris 1919 really is a masterpiece. It packs so much into just 30 minutes. There isn't anything missing here. You've got fantastic pop hooks, gorgeous instrumentation, big rockin' curve balls, and stripped down mellow songs. The lyrics are unique, the melodies are great... The whole album is just awesome.

I'm glad I waited so long to review this. Today was the perfect day to listen to this one.