Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Headhunters" by Herbie Hancock (October, 1973)

Dad's Take:

From the first throbbing bass beat, you know this is not going to be your typical jazz album. Hancock brought jazz into the 70's by adding a solid helping of funk, and the result is brilliant.

There are still plenty of jazz notes, but the twin infusion of funky backbeats and electronic synths add a level of fun that drew me in immediately. Even if the six-note bass beat of the first track, "Chameleon," does start to feel repetitive, there's so much going on behind it that the song does not get dull, even clocking in at 15 minutes. And, yes, you do eventually get a break from that beat eventually. About when you really want a change, the song shifts to another funky breakdown in the next movement. "Chameleon makes me think of a jazzier Sly & the Family Stone. Which is probably no coincidence, since the third song on this album is called "Sly," and is dedicated to Mr. Stone. I'm usually not sorry to see a 15-minute song end, but I was this time.

The second cut is a reworking of Hancock's classic "Watermelon Man." It starts out with some great beer bottle blowing that imitates an African Pygmy hindewho. Yeah, I looked that up. It's not something I just knew. Until now. "Watermelon Man" feels more like an older, classical jazz song, even after Hancock imbues it with a healthy serving of funk flavors that may be more mellow than they are on the first track, but they still keep the head and neck bopping. Add in the sweet and weird sounds of that bottle, and the you get a huge pile of Amazing.

Next up is "Sly," and it does remind me of my favorite funk/soul band. The album was recorded in Sly's San Francisco, so it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Mr. Stone popped his rather spaced-out head in once in a while to listen and offer his approval. Of course, I don't know if this happened, but I suppose it could have. "Sly" even reminds me of San Francisco, with its African funk, Latin rhythms, and a psychedelic undercurrent, all of which are, of course, also represented in the music of Sly & the Family Stone. The song really takes off at the six-minute mark, taking you higher until resolving in a cooler closing section.

The final track is the appropriately named "Vein Melter," which starts out with a cool, mellow groove, then builds into a melodic piece of visceral jazz built around Hancock's brilliant keyboards and some cool sax. From the title, I expected something harder, but this proves that you don't have to rock hard to have your veins melted. It's spacey, gentle, with a melting coolness.

I expected to like this album. I didn't expect it to be one of the favorites from our list so far. I don't remember ever listening to it start-to-finish before, but it's never too late to get hooked on a great record. These 42 minutes have been far too short.

Brad's Take:

Whenever I hear the name Herbie Hancock, I think of this scene in the 90's movie Tommy Boy starring Chris Farley. I can't recall any time where I've actually listened to Herbie Hancock, so this 90's movie reference is pretty much all I've had to go off of when it comes to this man. But after hearing this album, what a disservice! This guy rules!

I'm loving this funk jazz (or jazz funk) music so much. This album is full of energy, cool solos, funky bass lines, etc. It's like he's making music for the parents AND the kids, and that's pretty darn cool!

Usually when I see an album that just contains under 5 songs that are each 10+ minutes long, I get cautious, but right when I started Headhunters, I was all aboard! The funky bass line that immediately comes in immediately got me hooked. I wonder if it's an actual bass guitar, or if it's a synthesizer. Or maybe a mix of both? It sounds synthy to me, but I love it.

The third track, ("Sly"), has some incredible playing on it. Every instrument sounds like it's being played at the fastest tempo they could go. It almost sounds like it's being fast forwarded, but you're still able to understand everything that's being played. If I had drank a Red Bull or a coffee before listening to this song, I think I would have exploded. It's so energetic and fast that it makes you want to bob your head a million miles an hour. This is probably my favorite track off the album.

Overall, these 4 tracks go by way too fast and I just want to listen to this a few more times.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Tales From Topographic Ocean" by Yes (December, 1973)

Dad's Take:

And so we move from a rock opera to symphonic rock.

I remember some great Yes songs, but what I remember most are the gatefold covers that I could easily get lost in. Yes had some of the best covers of the period. Unfortunately, my favorite Yes songs and covers come mostly before this one.

This is not an easy album to write about, especially in a short-form medium like a blog. Four sides, four tracks, and a little more than 80 minutes of music. What I like about Yes is that it consisted of brilliant musicians, most with lengthy musical pedigrees. These guys knew how to play, and they created tight, almost-too-perfect, atmospheric soundscapes that teleport you to the worlds depicted on their covers.

On the other hand, Yes (especially on this album) exemplifies the excesses of this musical period and of prog rock in particular. They are highly listenable here, as usual, as they slide from movement to movement through their dense electronic symphonies, but they also make it clear why the back-to-basics CBGB's scene that brought us the Ramones a couple years after this was released were necessary. Especially when you combine the studio mastery of bands like Yes with the corporate studio transgressions of the about-to-arrive disco era. Something had to balance the excess.

I enjoy listening to Yes and to this album. They are smart and absorbing, full of imagery, and they play very well. Nobody can look at this band or listen to this record and claim these guys couldn't play or compose. This is good stuff, especially if you like rock keyboards, which Yes did better than anybody. Rick Wakeman might not have loved this album's concept, but man did he play it. And much of the fretwork is mind-blowing. Plus, for so-called symphonic rock, this record sometimes rocks pretty hard. Then again, sometimes it mellows out and takes you to a blossom world. (Wait. That "blossom world" thing was that one band. That other one.)

Thing is, everything this album has, there's a ton of it here. Like eating ten scoops of ice cream, it can become too much. Whether you can get through it all depends on whether you are into this style of music. I suppose that's true of any album, even those that are much shorter or less pretentious.

So just kick back and listen. Let the music carry you away. I'm Dad, so I'm not going to suggest you ingest the chemicals that were sometimes used to amplify this kind of album back in 1973 but, honestly, you don't need them. The music will take you there by itself. After a while, though, it might feel like it took you there, dropped you off, and forgot to come back and pick you up.

Brad's Take:

Only 4 tracks over 80 minutes is as scary as it sounds, The songs move along and change so smoothly though that it's easy to forget that it's only just 4 tracks.

It's hard to discuss favorite parts within each song. You just have to trust me that it's all really cool! Like my dad said, it may be a little too long for someone who isn't into this kind of music (like me), but this is actually a very fun listen. The music here is beautiful at times, rocky at times, spacey at times, atmospheric at times, synthesizer heavy at times... It really has everything. Just a lot of it.

Like my dad said, these guys really know how to play. There's so much going on in each of these songs, it's incredible to think that they are this tight of a band! I'm not sure how much studio magic there was back in 1973, but I can't imagine there was too much editing of these songs, and that's crazy to me. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the recording of this album.

While this album is amazing to listen to for the first time, it really is a LOT of music. I was pretty tired by the middle of the second track, which was still about 30 minutes into the entire album. Each track though has some really awesome parts! It made listening to the entire thing not feel like much of a chore. I just needed to take a couple breaks here and there. I shouldn't have drank a huge Coke while sitting here listening to this and the last Who album...

"Quadrophenia" by The Who (November 1973, US release)

Dad's Take:

It's hard to believe The Who only released six albums between 1965 and 1973, considering how many other major bands like the Beatles were expected to put out. But it's true. Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album and second complete rock opera by this band. The advantage of not releasing as often as other bands was the ability to fully develop their material.

Quadrophenia is an excellent example of The Who's work, despite its length. It is not as well known as Tommy, their fourth album, but they were able to complete the rock opera, unlike Who's Next. It's an ambitious project full of ambitious music, approaching prog rock, at times, but with the emphasis on rock.

The album sold well, reaching number 2 on n the U.S. album charts--higher than any other Who album, held from number one only by the phenomenally successful Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-- and going platinum, despite the fact that none of the three singles from the record cracked the Billboard top 40, and only one made number 20 in the U.K.

Because this was conceived as an album and wasn't really a singles generator, it's hard to talk about individual songs. There are good ones--plenty of them--but most work best in the context of the whole. The best known songs, "5:15" and "Love, Reign O'er Me," were obvious single choices, but they are far from the only reasons to listen to this album. "The Dirty Jobs" stands out for me. "The Real Me" and the incredible "I've Had Enough," and some other songs illustrate the surprising introspection that makes this record stand out over other Who albums. "Sea and Sand" and "Drowned" have also gained a lot of popularity over the years, and for good reason. Interestingly, "Drowned" actually dates back to the Tommy period, although it wasn't included on that album.

As for the whole, the story is more relatable, perhaps, than most of Tommy, more real I suppose, but in typical operatic fashion, it's exactly Tommy's strangeness and bigger-than-life feel that makes it stand out. I don't want to say Quadrophenia isn't as good. It's so different that the albums are hard to compare. But there are reasons why people remember Tommy more. For one thing, Tommy has been more successful as part of The Who's live show, giving it more exposure. The film version was also more successful. But Quadrophenia is more subtle, and is often better played (part of why it was hard to do successfully live). Keith Moon's drumming is especially good here. It's not hard to argue that this is the better album of the two, if they have to be compared.

For sure, Quadrophenia requires more effort to listen to than most rock albums. It's long, for one thing, clocking in at over 81 minutes. It also takes some work to follow the story. It's not really an album for casual listening.

So, why should you care?

Because putting in the effort is worth it. It's one of the Who's last truly great albums, and deserves its place in lists of classic albums, both because of its ambition and the quality of the execution.

Brad's Take: 

Ah, another long one here... But since it's The Who, I feel like I need to give this my full attention, hence why it's taken me so long to finally make it happen.

"The Real Me" follows the album's intro and it's relentless! This is a fantastic classic rock song filled with amazing drumming, and even cooler bass lines. If the entire album was like this, I wouldn't mind 80+ minutes of it.

Good (unsurprising) news though! There are lots of great songs on here! So many that it would be silly to list them all because it would end up being the majority of the tracklist.

A few favorites though:
"The Real Me", "The Punk and The Godfather", "The Dirty Jobs", "Drowned", and "Belly Boy."

I honestly didn't follow the story much. I'm horrible at paying much attention to the lyrics the first go around, let alone how they all connect to the other songs. That's something that will come with multiple listens, I'm sure.

There isn't much else to say about this. It's a long album, but if you have the time to sit and listen to it as a whole, it's worth it. So many great songs! A few of which will get put onto future "Best of The Who" mixes that I make eventually. Just listen to "The Real Me." If that song doesn't make you want to listen to the rest of album, then maybe you should listen to that song again.

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.