Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Led Zeppelin II" by Led Zeppelin (October, 1969)

Brad's Take:

Odds are that if you're reading this blog then Led Zeppelin is already a borderline household name for you. When you listen to a Led Zeppelin record, you know exactly what you're getting. This album is not an exception. It isn't much different than their debut at all, but that's totally alright with me. These guys knew how to make 5+ minute long rock songs interesting and original yet familiar and catchy, all without sounding overly repetitive, at least for the most part. I really can't say anything negative about any of the songs, the members, or the album as a whole. It's just a great classic rock record, and a perfect sequel to their debut, that leaves me wanting more. Normally, I'd probably complain a little bit about the drawn out slower songs on this, but right now they're hitting me in just the right way.

My favorite songs on this album are:
Whole Lotta Love
The Lemon Song

Moby Dick

Led Zeppelin was such a great band, and compared to the similar rock records that we've already reviewed from this era, Zeppelin just had a different spark to them. They stand out. Maybe it's got a lot to do with each individual member of the band being incredibly talented and perfect in their role, or maybe it's because of guitarist Jimmy Page's production skills in the studio. I don't know what it is exactly, but whatever they had, it was a perfect formula. If you're going to listen to this record, listen to their debut as well.

Dad's Take:

Led Zeppelin's second effort is one of those albums that every fan of classic rock has to have.

The album opens with what may be the classic Led Zeppelin rocker,  "Whole Lotta Love." It's pretty much a straight blues-based rock and roll song, except for the prog rock middle section. And if you've never heard it, you've probably been living under a rock. Other classics on the album include "Heartbreaker" with its instantly recognizable riff and incredible solo, "Living, Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)," and "Ramble On."

The album ranges from the straight-up blues of "The Lemon Song" to the psychedelic "What Is and What Should Never Be." It has touches of prog and pop, with legendary guitar work and big drum solos.

The album is also somewhat controversial, with three songs that resulted in lawsuits for failure to give credit to sometimes obvious sources, something the band doesn't deny.

What more can you say about this one? If you like Zeppelin, you already love this album. If you don't know them, check this one out for a good sense of what they were all about.

It's a classic rock album with a bit of everything you expect from a great 1969 band.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"King Crimson in the Court of the Crimson King" by King Crimson (October, 1969)

Dad's Take:

This is one of those albums I've somehow missed over the years. I've heard parts, but I think I've only sat and listened to the whole thing once before. Not sure why, because I like it.

I'm wondering how Brad will respond to this one. I don't really see him getting into this kind of heavy prog rock, but I don't think he'll hate it either. But here's my own response.

The album begins with the crazy rock music of "XXI Century Schizoid Man." It almost sounds like a spacy precursor to grunge or alternative rock. I like songs about the insane, for some reason, and this doesn't disappoint.

Next up is the very pretty, Pink Floyd-ish "I Talk To The Wind." I got so wrapped up in the song that I forgot to take notes. Beautiful song with classical touches.

The third track, "Epitaph," has a Renaissance feel to it. It's a pretty song that reminds me in places of the Moody Blues, which shouldn't be too surprising because they had moved into the brand new progressive rock territory with their two albums that came out before this one.

The next track is the one that hit me the hardest. "Moon Child" completed altered how I feel, which I guess meant it was a successful tune. Like the other songs on this album, it's a mini-suite, this time comprised of three sections, "Moon Child," "The Dream," and "The Illusion." The first section is spacy and psychedelic, with a softer, classical-leaning sound. It creates a moody musical fantasy about a moon child waiting to be kissed by a sun child. "The Dream" is unlike anything I've heard before. It begins with a chimey, pretty, sleepy section that feels like you're being carried away on a cloud, then moves into a hypnotic succession of little tinkling bits of sound. like a dream, you wonder where it will take you, but then you end up somewhere different. The track ends with an attempted return to reality, only reality has been altered and is not real anymore. If there were such a thing as a lullabye of awakening, it would sound like this.

Finally, the last track, "Court of the Crimson King," is a return to a more rock-like environment. Think of it as medieval fantasy prog-rock. It moves all over the place, from rock to a circus and back to some Moodies-influenced rock. At one point, the song becomes almost silent, then it explodes into waves of rock music before suddenly coming to an end.

There are only five tracks on this album, but their suite like quality includes enough variation to keep the tracks from becoming dull or from feeling overly long. Like most prog-rock, there's a bit of pretension and self-indulgence, but it's not as annoying here as on some other albums.

This album met with very mixed reviews upon release, but has since become a classic. There was nothing quite like it when it was released, so it's not surprising that it seems to have been a love-it-or-hate-it record. I'm looking forward to see where it takes Bradley.

Brad's Take: 

When I saw the album title and cover art, I knew this wasn't going to be a straightforward pop album or anything like that. I could just tell that it was going to be interesting and weird, so I went into it with that mentality. I judged a book by its cover, and my assumptions were spot on.

The first song "21st Century Schizoid Man" is a heavily distorted rock song with strange lyrics and distorted vocals. It reminded me a little bit of Black Sabbath, although it had a middle section that was basically a metal band playing jazz music, with everyone taking solos. The song is definitely titled correctly, in that it's completely schizophrenic. Also, an interesting side note: This song was sampled in Kanye West's song "Power."

The next song ("I Talk To The Wind") is a lot less schizo. It's basically drums, bass, and flute dancing around with some mellow vocals laced in. This song is very "1969-ish."

"Epitaph" has a special significance to me. While doing a little bit of research while listening to this album, I learned that one of my favorite punk rock record labels in high school (Epitaph Records) was named after this song. Without that record label (started by Bad Religion's guitarist, Brett Gurewitz), I probably wouldn't have gotten into a lot of the music that I fell in love with in high school. So for that, it gets my respect. As for the song itself though, I struggled to get through the entire thing. Unlike the previous 2 tracks, I could feel the song's length taking a toll on my patience. It sounds like a typical Woodstock-era prog-rock song.

"Moonchild" is more mellow jazz stuff. Some parts of the song actually get to the point of being almost completely quiet. You can barely hear the drums and guitars being touched. It's an interesting little jam, but I can only handle so much free-form playing before it sounds like it's just a band dinking around on their own while another member is tuning their guitar or something. I've experienced moments like that many times at band practice and it gets kind of irritating. Especially 12 minutes of it, like in this song.

The final track, "The Court of the Crimson King", had a cool chorus of "Ahhhh's" which sound very epic. I feel like this song (and the entire album) would probably be a lot more enjoyable if the listener was on some kind of drugs, which I assume the band was at the time. It's a late 60's prog-rock song, that's all there really is to it.

Especially for being the band's debut album, I think they did it exactly what they set out to do. And the fact that they produced it themselves makes it even more impressive. This type of album would typically be a band's third or fourth, where they decide to take their poppy music to a "more artistic level" with no boundaries. They just went straight for it though on their debut which is admirable.

For what it is, it's pretty great. It was an enjoyable listen, for the most part. Sometimes the songs dragged on in the middle sections, but I got through it just fine. The first track was definitely my favorite though. I wish more of the songs had been heavier like that one.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Cloud Nine" by The Temptations (February, 1969)

Brad's Take:

Seeing a Temptations album come up on our list, I got really excited. I was surprised when this one started up though. From the get go, this is not your typical Temptations record. This is a borderline-psychedelic, upbeat, almost-funky version of the group that previously performed ballads such "My Girl" and other classics. Needless to say, it took a few minutes for me to warm up to this new direction they were going in.

Apparently, a couple of the members became very inspired by Sly & The Family Stone. Not all of the songs are upbeat soul jams with groovin' bass lines. In fact, it's mostly just the first half of the the album that ventures into that style. Cloud Nine has some classic Temptations styled songs as well, such as "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" and "Why Did She Have To Leave." Mid-tempo songs about bummed out hearts.

After the first couple of songs, the change in sound clicked with me, and I was fully on board. I even went back and started the album over so I could give those first couple songs a more open-minded listen. Cloud Nine feels extremely dated, sure, but for what it is, I thought it was a lot of fun. The second half is a lot more comfortable and laid back, which is how I prefer my Temptations to sound. The groovin' upbeat jams are definitely welcome though.

Dad's Take

It seems like, so far, Motown has been under-represented on our list. Cloud Nine is a good way to bring it back to our attention. The Temptations wanted to emulate the new funky psychedelia of Sly & the Family Stone (and where are their excellent late sixties albums on our list, huh?), so this album is the beginning of their psychedelic period.

The title song is the one indisputable classic track on this album, and it's a great one, a funky, psychedelic, socially aware about using chemicals to escape from the kinds of problems that were all too common among the primary audience of Motown's soul groups. The other great song here, is the often-forgotten "Runaway Child, Running Wild."

Other than those songs, the album is enjoyable but doesn't blow me away. There's a lackluster vocal performance of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," over a pretty cool track, punctuated with some Sly-like "boom boom" scatting. It seems like for a while, everybody on Motown tried their hand at that song. I really enjoyed "Love Is A Hurting Thing," "Hey Girl," and "Why Did She Have To Leave Me (Why Did She Have To Go)."

Other than that, the album is enjoyable but not particularly memorable. Still, the title song was highly influential and still sounds good today, even if it is, as the youngster pointed out, a little dated. On the strength of that one song, it's easy to argue in favor of this album's inclusion on our classic albums list, and the rest of the record supports it nicely.

"Tommy" by The Who (May, 1969)

Brad's Take:

This double album was the first album to be deemed as a "rock opera." Tommy tells the story of a young boy named Tommy, who witnesses a murder between his father and his mother's new lover. After his parents tell him that he "didn't see or hear anything", Tommy continues his life as being "blind, deaf, and dumb." He goes through a lot of terrible things in his life (and plays a lot of pinball), until he becomes "magically cured." The story is a lot more in-depth than that so you'll just have to listen to it to get the full story. It's really sad and intriguing.

It's obvious why this album is considered such a classic. It's a compelling  rock opera that must have been an incredibly large undertaking for the band, and on top of that, it must have been such a risky move for them to take. Fortunately though, it definitely paid off. It's sold over 20 million copies and was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 for "historical, artistic and significant value."

Although I can absolutely see why Tommy was and still is such a classic album, the music itself is very hit or miss to me. I got through the first 10 songs and didn't even realize I'd listened to that many already. Most of the songs blended together. In a way, I can see that as being a compliment, in that the songs blend together because it's all just one big story. I understand if that was the intention, and I can see the appeal there, but I personally am not really turned on by that kind of thing. To me, it's just a long album that all blends together, but with an occasional awesome song or moment.

I love all kinds of music, but I think it's become apparent that I'm not much of a reader. I like a good song, but a good story within a song doesn't necessarily make it a "good song" to me. For me, I get the most pleasure from a song by the way it actually makes me feel; the way the guitars punch, the melodies of the vocals, a catchy beat, etc. Technicality and lyrics have always been lower on my list of "what makes a good song good." That may or may not be why Tommy doesn't connect with me on its first run through.

The amount of thought that had to have gone into the writing and making of this album is extremely commendable. That's about all I will take away from listening to this though. It's an album that every music fan or musician should listen to it at least once, I must say. It shows that music can be more creative and thoughtful than just a catchy chorus and a pretty face. Music should be original and viewed as a piece of artwork and not just a money-grabbing monster. Tommy proved that it can be both.

Dad's Take:

The boy's take on this one was about what I expected. And it was pretty spot on.

Although often referred to as the first rock opera, Tommy was actually preceded by almost a year in that category by S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things, which we reviewed a few months ago. Brad's right that the music can be hit and miss, but I give it credit for a lot more hitting than my offspring does.

It's a highly ambitious project, and is best listened to with full attention. The story is odd but interesting. The music is the highlight, though, as it should be. It is given a more dramatic treatment, maybe, in the movie soundtrack, but I very much prefer the Who's original version.

Pete Townshend was really stretching himself here, far beyond what would have been expected of this band when the first came up. They were always creative and a little weird, but were best known for being loud and for their destructive behavior, especially that of Keith Moon. They are not the band you'd expect to challenge the limits of their genre this much--not, at least, unless you'd really paid attention to what they had done previously.

The music here is mostly excellent. It's the Who, after all. Because of the nature of the rock opera, it often feels a bit fragmentary, but the fragments hold together very well, for the most part.

What sets this apart from S.F. Sorrow and the few other attempts at rock operas is the characters. Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin are two of the weirdest characters you're likely to find in any kind of storytelling. They are creepy and cruel and sick and disgusting and tremendously fun. The Acid Queen is memorable, and Tommy's mother is pretty messed up, although she's nowhere near as prominent in the original as she is in the movie. But, hey, if you have Ann-Margret hanging around, you give her screen time. And beans and chocolate to roll around in. I mean, duh. But no wonder Tommy is so screwed up. Unlike Bradley, I'm a big fan of stories and story songs, so the strength of these memorable characters is a big part of why I love this album. I mean, just the guts it takes to try to tell a story from the point of view of somebody who can't tell it. Brilliant.

And then there are the songs. Although several of the pieces are obviously there to link the plot elements, there's some great music. "It's A Boy," "Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)," "Christmas," "Cousin Kevin," "The Acid Queen," the brilliant "Underture" with Moon's excellent drumming, "Do You Think It's Alright," "Fiddle About" with its dark chords and even darker subject matter, "Pinball Wizard," "Go To The Mirror," "Tommy Can You Hear Me?," "Smash The Mirror," "Sally Simpson," and the anthemic songs from the climax, "I'm Free" and "We're Not Gonna Take It"--those are all obvious highlights, but there are other great songs between these.

This album is easily one of the high points of sixties rock, the culmination of the concept album trend. The story is strangely satisfying, even if summarizing it makes it sound like a hopeless mess. And the music stands up well, even now. That said, it is definitely a product of its era, a time when limits were being pushed everywhere. Being as separated from that time as Brad's generation is, the fruits of that experimental iconoclasm are going to be appreciated differently. I don't know how well Tommy stands up as nothing but a rock album, because I can't separate it from its context, but that's how these young whippersnappers are going to hear it. And that's to be expected. I can understand it being kind of a generation-gap album, like Straight Outta Compton is on the other side of the gap. My generation is right, though, of course.

So, I'm going to go back to listening now, basking in the brilliance that is Tommy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Crosby, Stills, and Nash" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash (May, 1969)

Brad's Take:

The debut album from the power trio Crosby, Still, and Nash deserves the "Classic" title. It's a great blend of everything that was popular in the late 60s; folk, pop, and bluesy jam rock. The album's Wikipedia page puts it best: "Not only blending voices, the three meshed their differing strengths, Crosby for social commentary and atmospheric mood pieces, Stills for his diverse musical skills and for folding folk and country elements subtly into complex rock structures, and Nash for his radio-friendly pop melodies, to create an amalgam of broad appeal."

In the first track, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," it sets up the listener perfectly for what to expect from the album as a whole. Great finger-picking guitar work, beautiful three-part harmonies, and catchy melodies. The "doo doo doo" part at the end of this song will be stuck in my head the rest of the day, at least. Some of the songs on here even remind me of the style the Kingston Trio was doing back in their heyday.

There are a few snoozers on here, but the album has some really great songs on it. "Judy Blue Eyes" and  "Pre-Road Downs", which is a song that I will definitely go back to down the road. (No pun intended.) That song is a lot of fun.

For a debut, it's no wonder that it did so immediately well. They hit the nail on the head with what they were trying to accomplish. And really, they were pretty genius by combining all of the popular styles at the time, getting the attention of a much larger spectrum of listeners. There was something for everyone. I think the album still holds up even today.

Dad's Take

Crosby Stills & Nash might not have been the first supergroup, but they were one of the first that blended so well that you almost forget they were with great bands before they got together. David Crosby of the Byrds, Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash of the Hollies blended their strengths perfectly to create arguably the greatest debut album ever.

This album is classic in every sense. Hugely popular, it was also a major influence. It’s not stretching the truth to say it changed the popular music scene by ushering in the change from heavy blues-based rock (although they certainly don’t leave that behind) to a softer hippy sound that helped open the door for the singer-songwriters of the first half of the seventies. But it’s also just a pure joy to listen to, and the more you listen, the deeper it gets vocally and musically.

This record is so familiar that it’s almost like reviewing a greatest hits package.It’s been a while since I’ve really gushed over one of the albums on our list, but this one deserves a song-by-song treatment.

The album’s opener, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the group’s second single, may be the best opening track on a debut album ever. It says, “Hey, we’re a supergroup and a super group and we’re awesome, so deal with us.” Great harmonies, a brilliant song structure and, as Brad mentioned, some of the catchiest bits of vocal magic you’re likely to find anywhere. This song is hard to beat.

Next up is their first single, “Marrakesh Express,” which brilliantly shows off Graham Nash’s pop capabilities.The highlight of this irresistible song is the train-whistle-like “All on board the train” vocal line.

“Guinnevere” is pure heaven on record. A spectacular piece of gorgeous atmospheric beauty, this song has become a classic.

“You Don’t Have To Cry” is a very good song that suffers a little from having to follow the previous three songs. It showcases Stephen Stills’ songwriting skills and how well his voice blends with Graham Nash’s singing.

“Pre-Road Downs” is one of the least-known songs on this record, but this doesn’t mean this Graham Nash song is weak by any means. This is psychedelic music all grown up and mellowed. Instead of banging the listener over the head, the guitar and other psychedelic touches create a thing of beauty and blend well in the overall feel of the song. And, this song has the best surprise final line since the Beach Boys’ “I’d Love Just Once to See You.”

“Wooden Ships” is a poignant piece of anti-war psychedelia noir. It’s an atmosphere-drenched story about two soldiers from opposite sides meeting, realizing they are both human, and helping each other to survive. Now, I love a good, obvious anti-war song as much as the next guy, but by switching the tone from “war is bad so don’t do it” to “the people on both sides are human and worthy of respect,” the message becomes much stronger.

“Lady of the Island” is kind of a companion piece to “Guinnevere,” returning us to that beautiful fairy tale world. Beautifully poetic lyrics combine with a simple production to transplant the listener into another place and time, either Arthur’s Camelot with its lords and ladies or a wildflower-filled meadow in 1969 Topanga Canyon with its cannabis.

The next classic song on the album is “Helplessly Hoping,” a song whose alliterative verses are almost impossible to resist singing along to. This tune showcases the classic CSN vocal blend.

“Long Time Gone” is another example of psychedelic folk rock all grown up. Slightly subdued psychedelia and hippy “escape from the Man” sensibilities combine in a mellowed Southern California package. Again, we’re not beat over the head with the hippy messages, but they still come across clearly and are more enjoyable for being a little less obvious. This song brings to mind the David Crosby tune, “Almost Cut My Hair,” that appears on their next album.

The album closes with the suitably titled “49 Bye Byes,” another of the less-well-known songs on the album. It may not be a standout track, but that’s only because there are so many strong songs on this record. I love the extended note that ends the song and the record, leaving me wanting more.

This is a truly great record, and I hate to see it end.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"The Gilded Palace of Sin" by The Flying Burrito Brothers (February, 1969)

Brad's Take:

The Flying Burrito Brothers... Immediately, the band's name caught my attention as I have an insane love for burritos. I also have a love for terribly ugly clothing so this album's cover is great. We're off to a good start so let's hope the music is up to par.

First, a little back story: Musician Gram Parsons joined the popular pop/rock band The Byrds in February, 1968 (exactly a year before this album was released) and upon joining, he helped the band (or hindered, depending on how you want to look at it) change their sound from pop music to country. Parsons and found Byrds member Chris Hillman both bonded over country music so it's no surprise that the change happened, or that the two left The Byrds to focus even more on writing country rock jams with each other.

Gram Parsons "flew the coup" the night before The Byrds were to go out on a tour. And just a few weeks later, so did his country-lovin' pal Chris Hillman. Together, they got a few more musicians rallied up and then released their debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin.

This album wasn't really a struggle for me to get through, but I didn't feel any emotional connection to anything on it, unfortunately. Maybe it's because this 60s folk/country music isn't generally my cup of tea, as we've all heard from me a million times already throughout this blog. To me, this just doesn't sound too much different than previous late-60s country music we've reviewed other than it sounds a little bit more full, production-wise.

Each song has cool enough arrangements and production to make them fun to listen to, even if you don't like the style of the songs. The band plays their instruments like pros and there's no denying that the band has lots of talent, which makes it no surprise that they inspired other folk/country artists like The Eagles, Dwight Yoakam, Elvis Costello, and Wilco, among many others.

Personally, though, this isn't a burrito that I'll think about ordering again anytime soon.

Dad's Take:

What can I say about The Flying Burrito Brothers besides that they had one of the best name ever?

For one thing, it's really difficult to look at that early country-rock like this from today's standpoint. Truth is, nowadays, it's hard to hear the "rock" in much of this album. It sounds almost like straight country. But that's really a testament to the album's influence. In 1969, country music sounded much different than it does now. It was pretty much all twang and Hee-Haw. It was about breakups, jail sentences, and the world is going to Hell in a handbasket and only country folk can preserve whatever was good.

Then along come all of these hippies and they start taking some of the country sounds and combining them with modern attitudes to create a new sound.

That new sound is what you hear on country stations even today, although some of the subject matter doesn't seem to have changed much. Most of today's country music sounds like it owes more to The Flying Burrito Brothers than to Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson and Buck Owens. It's more of a rock-light that borrows, sometimes, the old lyrical themes.

So the influence of this record is obvious and undeniable. It sounds very much like modern country has sounded for decades, so it's easy to forget that this is a new and almost revolutionary sound.

The problem is, like Brad, I was not especially engaged by the songs. The sound and production might have been new and revolutionary, but the songs themselves don't really say much. Maybe they are a deliberate attempt to break away from the artsy or bluesy or heavy or downright crude iconoclasm of late sixties rock, and so as revolutionary a fusion of genres of rockabilly was in the fifties, but they are not particularly relatable. They rarely speak to me.

I can listen to the album and have a pleasant enough experience, but I look back at it without remembering the songs very well. I don't feel like I've been pulled in by the record at all. It might be a good album. It might be a very good album. It might have forever changed popular music through it's influence on many of the key artists of the seventies and the people those artists influenced.

But on a personal level, it doesn't do much for me. It's an album I can pull out now and then for background music, but it's not one that calls to me. I don't crave it like I do many albums, sometimes even some that are not particular favorites. Nice enough to listen to now and then, but not much, if any, personal connection.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Led Zeppelin" by Led Zeppelin (January, 1969)

Brad's Take:

Led Zeppelin is a band I've become very familiar with in the last few years. So when I saw that this album was next on our list, I was really excited to dive into it. Led Zeppelin (or as some refer to it: I) contains some of my favorite tracks by the band.

This album was recorded in only about 36 hours, over the course of a few weeks.

The album kicks off with guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer John Bonham having a conversation with each other on their respective instruments on the classic tune "Good Times Bad Times." The song's intro must be one of the most instantly familiar rock intros of all time.

Next up is another great song, and my personal favorite Led Zeppelin jam, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You." To me, this song encompasses everything that Led Zeppelin is. It starts with beautiful classic-styled acoustic guitar playing by Page with vocalist Robert Plant crooning about (you guessed it) leaving his babe. Then, the song busts into a hard hitting rockin' riff that you can't help but headbang to. The song is almost 7 minutes long, but it could play all day, and I wouldn't even mind.

The fact that this album was Led Zeppelin's debut is very impressive. Right from the beginning of their professional career, these guys were already destined to become a classic household name. It was recorded and mixed in only 36 hours over the span of just a few weeks. A very impressive feat. It contains a whole slew of recognizable hits. The ones I mentioned above as well as "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown." Listening to this record feels like a vacation for me. It's pretty much all gold.

Part of what makes this album so great is Jimmy Page's production. There are no points on here that feel sloppy at all. Everything was very well organized and pre-calculated before they even hit the record button. Page knew exactly what he wanted this album to sound like, and he nailed it.

I really only have good things to say about Led Zeppelin's debut. There are songs I like better than others, but there isn't a single note on here that is bad. This is a perfect album to start with if you're wanting to get into the band.

Dad's Take:

It's hard now to think of a time when Led Zeppelin was new, when their first album came out and nobody knew who they were. The members of the band were not complete unknowns. Jimmy Page had kicked around British recording studios for quite some time appearing on several well-known records as a session guitarist, and had joined the Yardbirds not long before Zeppelin's debut. The other members were also busy studio musicians or had been in other local bands of decent reputation.

But there had been no Led Zeppelin.

Then, in April, 1969, that iconic intro to "Good Times, Bad Times," introduced the new band to the world, and the music changed.

On their debut record, Zeppelin moved into the heavy blues rock world of Hendrix, Mayall, Butterfield, the Yardbirds, Cream, and others who had come before, but it's sometimes hard to recognize today that they came in with a fresh, new take on what was by then a common genre. It wasn't a new style of music, but the interpretation and presentation and reimagining of what had come before them resulted in something that was, and remains, absolutely unique.

Songs like "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" fit perfectly with the psychedelic-infused blues of those other bands. If you were a fan of other heavy blues rock bands of the day, much of this album would have felt comfortable and familiar. But then songs like "Communication Breakdown" would have made you sit up and realize that this was something fresh, and these guys were something special. Critics weren't crazy about the album, but rock fans ate it up, and it became even bigger as people discovered their subsequent albums and looked back to the band's beginnings.

This is a difficult album to write about, because so much has been said about it. But an album with the songs I've mentioned already, plus "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown" couldn't become anything but an instant classic.

Every song, thanks to Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones' impeccable playing and singing (and, no doubt, thanks to almost 45 years of frequent play) is now familiar and classic. You might not be as familiar with"You Shook Me" or "Your Time Is Gonna Come,"  but you'll immediately recognize them.

What I like best about this album is how firmly blues-based it is. Everything that Led Zeppelin added to the blues to create their unique sound is here, but it's wrapped tightly around the blues. For example, the album's closer, "How Many More Times," is at its root a basic blues tune, but by the time Led Zeppelin is done with it, it's something much more, something unusual that transcends the blues and psychedelia and anything that had been heard before. Sure, you could hear the influence of bands like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, but this was no copy-cat band.

I don't want to write any more. I just want to listen. Many records are called great, but this one truly deserves that over-used adjective. It builds on what had come before, but there had never been anything like it, and all imitators since then have fallen short. This is an iconic, classic album.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Uncle Meat" by Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (April, 1969)

Dad's Take:

I can agree that Zappa was a genius. I can really enjoy his music in the right mood and the right dosage. But I must admit I've been dreading listening to four sides at once. So now I'll just let it play, for better or for worse.

From the first moment, Zappa's instrumentation gets me. A little weird, which I can enjoy, inventive, creative, stand-up comedy with a keyboard. The arrangement is interesting and unusual, a little reminiscent of Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks in 1967. This is not your typical pop or rock or jazz music. This isn't what you put on the hi-fi for your teenage dance party, or to bandage your aching heart. It turns the conventions of popular music on their ear, obliterates all of the usual rules about what makes a song, and creates something completely new and different. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to each listener. To me, it's pretty mixed. There are moments that blow me away. There are moments that make me want to get on to the next thing and see if I like it more. There are moments when I want to stick sharp objects in my ears but Zappa beats me to it. I think that's what he was going for, though.

It's the "height" of 1960s experimentation, of trying new sounds and forms, of mixing strangeness, rock, and jazz with something that's none of the above, none of whatever "above" you might think of. I can appreciate that. I don't always like it, though.

This isn't an easy album to listen to, but I don't think it's supposed to be. Call it avant garde, musique concrete, or whatever. Zappa and the Mothers are making fun of music, and of themselves, while moving into new territory. The are tracks I like, usually those that are more commercial sounding, like "Dog Breath, The Year of the Plague," which sounds like a funky R&B song until it starts to go in directions that make fun of the genre, while paying homage at the same time. He does the same thing with doo-wop on the infectious "Electric Aunt Jemima," one of my favorite tracks on this album. Or his other bit of doo-wop humor, "The Air."

Zappa is flipping off convention and rules, and having a good time doing it. And at times we can share their fun. Spike Jones meets rock and roll meets your best friend's drunken mom's hippie boyfriend and his dancing bear. 

The centerpiece is the King Kong suite, which tears jazz apart and brings it into the age of the hippie. And isn't particularly easy to listen to. It's an interesting work, but by the time you get there, it's not hard to be Zappa'd out.

During my youth, Zappa was renowned for his cosmic creative craziness. It would have been interesting to sit down with the critics when they first put this on their turntable in 1969, when they wondered if this was all a big put-on.

It's often self-indulgent ego music, experimentation for the sake of geeky hipness. It takes itself too seriously while demanding that we don't take it seriously. And sometimes it works. Sometimes it's frustrating, or scary, or annoying, or funny, or brilliant, or maddening. It's exhausting and heavy and thick. But that's Zappa for you.

This will never be my favorite album. I'm not likely to put it on very often. I can't say I was sorry to see it end. But it's not like anything else, and sometimes that makes something a classic bit of art, and sometimes it makes something incomprehensible. With this album, either response is justified.

Brad's Take:

Frank Zappa is an animal. This dude is like a hyena who learned that banging on instruments can make noise. And once he discovered that he could make sounds, he taught his little hyena self to hit the record button. Then, he never stopped. For two whole hours. This album is the definition of "cacophony."

It wasn't until track 5 ("Dog Breath: The Year of the Plague") (which was 10 minutes into the album) that actual music started to play through the speakers. Up until that point, it was just sounds layered on top of a million other sounds.

"Electric Aunt Jemima" (track 12) is the first song that I could actually say I legitimately enjoyed. It's sounds like a Buddy Holly song being covered by Frank Zappa. It was interesting and fun. I don't know if it's actually any good though, to be honest. It's like this.... If this album was a wild river and I was careening down it panicking, looking for something to grab onto, this song would be the first tree branch that I could finally grab hold of to feel like I was somewhat safe. But then, by golly, not even two minutes go by before the tree branch snaps and I go right back under the water. Dammit!

"Mr. Green Genes" contains the lyrics: "Eat your shoes. Don't forget the strings and socks. Even eat the box you bought them in." Can you sense my eyes rolling right now? That song did make me chuckle a little bit though. I'll give it that. It was yet again, another tree branch, but I grabbed onto it just because it looked like a penis and I thought that was funny. I knew it wouldn't save me, but my sense of humor is still intact, even while struggling to breathe in a crazy river.

After two solid hours, I got out of the river alive. It sucked though. Really bad. And I am cold and wet and all banged up. I probably have a concussion. But at least I made it out alive, and I can move on with my life. At least I have a story to tell...

Thank goodness Led Zeppelin is next. I need Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to nurse me back to health.

Cacophony. That is all there really is to say about this album.

"Velvet Underground" by The Velvet Underground (March, 1969)

Dad's Take

As has been clear in previous reviews, The Velvet Underground are not a personal favorite. That said, I might like their third album best of their records, even though it does not include John Cale, whose solo efforts are my favorite of any band member.

This album takes a somewhat more subdued approach than the two previous albums, beginning with the opening track, "Candy Says," which I really like. A lot, actually. I also like "Pale Blue Eyes" for its deceptive simplicity and confessional nature.It's not surprising that this is one of their most covered songs. This might be my favorite Lou Reed vocal. "Jesus" is another pretty little confession, performed softly and intimately, to draw the listener in.

In general, the album feels more mature than the two before it, and less self-indulgent. Even the more rocking tunes like "What Goes On" (which reminds me a little, strangely, of The Grateful Dead), have a more enjoyable sound, or at least more to my taste, whatever that's worth. On the first two albums, "What Goes On" might have become a ten-minute epic. Here, they keep it to a more enjoyable length, keeping it from becoming dull.

There's really not much here that I dislike, something I couldn't say of their first two albums. I'm not overly fond of songs like "Beginning To See The Light," but I actually kind of like the verses, although the choruses become a bit repetitive and uninteresting. "The Murder Mystery" might be my least favorite tune here, mostly because it's hard to follow what's being said, and because, at eight and a half minutes, it's too long, and features a kind of annoying attempt at self-indulgent poetry. Mostly, it just doesn't have the same vibe as the rest of the record. Still, I find it more listenable than many of their earlier avant garde pieces. I was glad when it ended, though. It left me feeling tired. But maybe that was the point, if there was one. On the other hand, the following track, the closer of the album, is the fun little ditty (and that's an appropriate word in this case) "After Hours." Fun little child-like tune that provides a nice recovery period following "The Murder Mystery." Nice sequencing choice.

This is still obviously a VU album. It's not like they completely changed their sound. But by taking a somewhat more restrained approach, they created an album that, if not more commercial, is more accessible to people who are not used to that particular type of East Coast precious experimentation that can quickly become annoying to people who have not spent significant time on the dark streets of New York City. This album feels almost like sitting in a coffee shop and listening to an artistic band in an intimate setting. I can't help but think that, by this time, they had been influenced by the sounds coming out of California. The ballads have a bit of an L.A. feel, while the faster songs remind me of San Francisco artists like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane ("I'm Set Free").

Of course, it's the New York-style experimentation of the early albums that appeals to many VU fans. But for me, not really a fan, this album is the one I'm most likely to return to of their first three. Fact is, I really kind of like it, enough to rethink my opinion of the band.

Brad's Take:

In the review that we wrote for The Velvet Underground's first record, The Velvet Underground & Nico (the Andy Warhol banana one), I stated that the band sounded immature and like they were just trying to replicate the folky rock stuff that was popular at the time, but that they fell short. It was a nice try, but it wasn't good. It sounds like they finally found a nice little comfy place on their third album though, The Velvet Underground.

The opening track "Candy Says" was a surprise right from the get go. Immediately, I noticed that this was a more mature band compared to who we heard on their first two albums. Like my dad said above, this doesn't sound like a completely new band or anything. They didn't change their sound necessarily, but they pulled back to a something more in their expertise and then tightened up what they needed to. Making those very necessary changes makes this album feel a lot more focused and mature.

As the album goes forward, we hear some more upbeat tracks that have obvious traces of some of their influences, like Bob Dylan ("Some Kind of Love") and The Beatles ("Beginning to See the Light"). Although those songs are great, they shine the most on the mellower more stripped down songs. "Pale Blue Eyes" is a great example of that. It's a very pretty song.

And now, as you see, I don't think I've said a bad thing about this album yet. And that's because the majority of the album is as great as VU has sounded up to this point in their discography. But then we get to "The Murder Mystery"... I don't want to talk about it, but let's just say that this less-than-casual Velvet Underground listener has a very disappointing headache now. Thankfully, the end of the record recovers with a bouncy bass driven jam called "After Hours."

Despite its very few flops, this album was a pleasant surprise. Especially compared to the other VU albums we've reviewed so far. It's not perfect, but I'm proud of them for making an album like this. I compared them to junior high school kids who just started a band to emulate their heroes on their first album, but on this one, I feel like they've matured and found their own little place that's a little more unique. Not bad, boys, not bad.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Dusty In Memphis" by Dusty Springfield (March, 1969)

Dad's Take:

This is the album where Dusty Springfield switches from Phil Spector-ish productions to a more soulful sound, Memphis style.

After heavy albums like "S.F. Sorrow," this feels a little light, but it's a good album, full of good songwriting by people like Bacharach and David, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Randy Newman, and Barry Mann. Dusty is no Aretha, but she handles herself well on these tunes, providing a pleasant listening experience. 

The standout is, of course, the major hit "Son Of A Preacher Man," but it's not the only worthy track here. I also really like "So Much Love," "Don't Forget About Me," "Breakfast In Bed," "Just One Smile," and the minor hit "The Windmill Of Your Mind." There's not a dud in the set.

This album is, for the most part, a gentle version of R&B, but it's a great album for those mellow or romantic times. Much of side two feels more like light jazz than soul, actually. Dusty's legendary insistence on perfection comes through loud and clear on these eleven impeccably produced and performed songs. The songs flow well together, so the record holds up as a complete album, and not just a collection of songs. This is one of the softer albums on our list, but it's enjoyable and pretty darn close to flawless.

Brad's Take: 

I liked this album. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I loved it, but it was a pleasant change of pace from the last few on our list. Easy listening jazzy R&B/soul is always nice to listen to. It makes me want to sit back in a comfy couch sipping a glass of wine in the dark.

"Son Of A Preacher Man" and "Don't Forget About Me" were a couple of my favorites on first listen. While listening, I read a little bit about Dusty Springfield and the making of this album. It's interesting that she was such a perfectionist. She knew she'd be compared to all the soul greats at the time, like Aretha Franklin, but Dust succeeded. Her voice may not be as huge and powerful as Aretha's, but Dusty doesn't miss a note. I actually enjoyed the mellowness of her vocals.

Especially for the time, I can totally see why this album would be considered a classic and be on our list. At this point, I'd probably put it in the lower half of the top 20 albums we've listen to so far.

"S.F. Sorrow" by The Pretty Things (December, 1968)

Dad's Take:

1968, like many other years in that musical decade, was a year of firsts. "S.F. Sorrow" by The Pretty Things is best known as the first rock opera, beating The Who's "Tommy" by a full six months. Would it make everybody's great albums lists if it wasn't? Is it actually any good? Let's see, shall we?

It's tempting to write about this album in the context of "Tommy." Both albums came out of the same general area and the same generational attitudes of breaking away from conventions in a somewhat oppressive culture shaped by post-war attitudes. It's an inevitable comparison, but not really fair, since "Tommy" did not yet exist on record when this one came out. I'll try to review it in its own terms, rather than how it compares to The Who's better-known classic. It won't always be easy though.

I like the orchestral psychedelia of the first song. It's musically interesting, and portends a tragic life when Sebastian F. Sorrow is born. Next is a song about love, that seems to lack love, then moves into another psychedelic gem. I can imagine my little Bradley cringing at brilliant lyrics like "Fly to the Moon on the curve of a spoon I turn upside-down," but I'm digging it. There's a bleak overtone to this album, but the music and lyrics are playful, even if far from cheerful.

Three songs in, the characters are not nearly as strongly portrayed as in "Tommy" (Doh! I compared them). The end of "She Says Good Morning" could have come from "Sgt. Pepper's," though. The influence there is obvious, as it is at other times on this record.Then It moves into "Private Sorrow," one of my favorites on the album. But with 13 cuts on the album (20 on our reissued version), I can't do a track-by-track without going really long. So let's stop that right now. There are many highlights on this album for me, including the huge percussion break of "Baron Saturday," the spaced-out use of the studio on "I See You," the swirling Beatlesque feel of "Trust," the almost modern alternative rock feel (especially on the verses) of "Old Man Going," And the mellow--even pretty--"Loneliest Person" that ends the album. I'll refrain from detailing the five bonus tracks for this review, because I want to stick to the original album, but I think they add to the album nicely. I especially like the sudden unexpected explosions of guitar and bass on the wonderfully schizophrenic bonus track "Defecting Grey." 

Here's the thing. This album doesn't really work as an opera. It tells an interesting and dark story about S.F. trying to break out from a world that tries to keep him down and eventually descending into madness. It takes multiple close listens (and maybe some internet help) to really figure out the story. It is not a happy album. You don't get the feeling of freedom and success at the end like you do on "Tommy" (I did it again, didn't I?), but I think it's a very good album, much better than its US sales would indicate. Then again, it didn't see store shelves in the US until after Tommy came out, by which time it would seem like a pale imitation. (Ack! It's so hard not to review this in the context of "Tommy.") Its relative failure led to the demise of the band. Like so many classics, it is recognized now, but at the time, nobody knew quite what to do with it. That's what happens when you break down barriers.

It's not quite like anything that had ever been done before, and is full of great playing and unusual touches. It works for me. The songs are often melodic, inventive, and trippy (in a good way). It holds together well musically and lyrically as a good concept album should. I like it.

And, yes, it belongs on all of those classic album lists, in its own right.

Brad's Take:

This album really didn't do much for me. The psychedelic genre as a whole all blends together and sounds the same to me. It seems like the bands that went this route are all just imitating each other with their organs and sitars, but they just try to out-weird each other. But even the weird experimental stuff sounds familiar.

I wouldn't say that there were any songs on this album that I liked, but there also were none that I hated. To me, the music just went in and out of my head. I couldn't connect with it at all. I wouldn't say that I wasted 41 minutes of my life by listening to it because I honestly don't remember the time going by. Maybe the music hypnotized me and made me feel tripped out, or it's because it's 7:30am right now, but either way, I couldn't care less about what I just listened to, unfortunately. Sorry, Dad!

"NBC Special" by Elvis Presley (December, 1968)

Dad's Take:

Elvis made a big comeback with this TV special. It shows him at his Vegas-y best, with a mixture of rock 'n' roll, gospel, and cheesy nightclub music. This is the Elvis that the Elvis imitators emulate and parody.

Through it all, though, Elvis shows his sense of humor and a big ol' pile of energy. If you could only buy one Elvis album, this probably shouldn't be the one, but there's no denying it's fun.

Drenched with late-sixties horns, the songs have an appeal that is as rocking as it is cheesy. The King is in fine vocal form, even if the arrangements are often a bit too over-the-top. If you're not much an Elvis fan, this probably won't convert you, but as a document of a time and place and of the mainstreaming of a rebellious teen idol, this is an important record.

Brad's Take:

For me, Elvis is very hit or miss. From previous albums we've reviewed, I've enjoyed most of his upbeat songs way more than his ballads. This NBC special is mostly upbeat, but the arrangements (like my old man said) are over the top a lot of the time, and again, the slow songs bore me.

This special mostly consisted of a bunch of medleys with some dialogue in between. He busts out some classics, like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock", which are always fun to hear. When he's yelling and rocking out, it's pretty great, but overall, this was pretty hard to get all the way through in one sitting with all the ballads and gospel songs. Honestly, I don't know why this album is on this list.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"The Kinks Are The Village Green Society," by The Kinks (November, 1968)

Dad's Take:

If you only get one Kinks album, this should be one of the ones you consider. Not only is it the last Kinks album to feature all four original members, but it's probably the most influential album they ever did. And, like so many of these classic, influential records, it didn't sell well when first releases.

This is a concept album that explores the old-fashioned British traditions that were passing into history.

The first three songs are as good an album opening as you're likely to find. "The Village Green Preservation Society" is the obvious opener, and is a fun little singalong that sets the themes of the collection. "Do You Remember Walter?" is an often funny character study that makes me wish I did remember him. You'll probably recognize the next song, "Picture Book," from the printer commercial a few years ago. It's fun, and catchy, and sounds too modern to be almost 45 years old.

The rest of the songs continue in the same vein, exploring people, objects, and cultural artifacts that were disappearing. Most of the songs are the kind of timeless rock and roll that could belong to just about any era. Of course, there are nods to 1968 psychedelia and late sixties style rock and roll, but this album very rarely sounds dated. The total effect is a transition from psychedelia to the heavier rock that followed.

Song after song is loaded with straight-up rock and roll and the Kinks' usual quirky lyrics. This is another of those albums where singling out favorites is almost futile, because I like the whole album. And an album it is. One of the reasons it failed commercially despite nearly universal acclaim from the critics is that it didn't have an obvious single. Even now, although I can enjoy individual songs, each track works best in the context of the whole, where they fit musical and lyrical themes that make them even better than they are on their own. But songs like the aforementioned "Picture Book," Big Sky," and the psychedelic-but-not-cloyingly-so nod to nostalgia, "Sitting By The Riverside," are all excellent songs. On side two, standout tracks include "Animal Farm," "Village Green," "Starstruck," the whimsical "Phenomenal Cat" (or "Phenominal Cat" as it's spelled on the LP jacket), "Wicked Annabella" (maybe my favorite on the record), and "People Take Pictures Of Each Other."

But even the songs I didn't mention are great tunes. The funny tale of embarrassment, "All Of My Friends Were There," "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains"--I want to add every song to the list of standout tracks, but if I do that, they no longer stand out, i suppose. But it's really hard to leave anything out.

In other words, I love this album.  Front to back, top to bottom, start to finish, this is a great record, sheer brilliance, a great example of its period without sounding out of place today. If you don't know this one, you really should.

Brad's Take: 

I've listened to The Kinks here and there for awhile now, and I think I'll just stick with the hits. Nothing on this album really wowed me. It kind of blends in with the other mediocre British 60s trip-rock albums. Is "trip-rock" a real phrase? Trippy rock... Anyway...

Listening to this album as background music was enjoyable. It's pretty catchy music, and what they are doing they do very well. When you listen to the lyrics though, you realize these guys were borderline nuts, as were most musicians in the late 60s, I guess. The odd lyrics don't take away from the songs though. They're still enjoyable. Maybe even more enjoyable if you're actually paying attention to the lyrics because you can at least chuckle at them a bit.

The first half of the album is a lot stronger than the second, which gets a little more psychedelic/weird. When I wasn't paying close attention, I got a little bored about halfway through the album. It's good for what it is, but the weird lyrics and the overdone style just didn't interest me for very long. I give this album a solid "meh."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison (November, 1968)

Dad's Take:

"If I ventured in the slipstream between the viaducts of your dream"...

So starts Van Morrison's brilliant Astral Weeks. To record this influential album, Morrison gathered jazz musicians who had never played together and began recording without rehearsals or lead sheets. These musicians then played as Morrison sang his impressionistic lyrics.

It sounds like this is the formula for a disorganized mess, but the result is a flowing album that is as conceptual musically as lyrically. Unexpectedly, this album comforted me as my grandmother slipped toward death over a six month period, especially early on when it looked like she would be gone within days. With lyrics about life and loss and "another land so far away, so far away, way up in the heavens, in another time, in another place," sung with Morrison's crying, emotional voice, it made me feel like everything would be okay, even though life would never be the same.

Now, I'm not particularly a fan of Morrison's voice, a combination of Jose Feliciano and, I don't know, somebody else. The biggest issue for me is that he pretty much sings every song the same. But, it works so perfectly in these songs, cascading like a poet half singing, half chanting, and half whining his poems. Yes, I know that's three halfs, but the result is something more than a whole, a brilliantly sad-yet-comforting record that dares you to do something besides stop and concentrate on what's being sung and played.

This is literary music, and yet it remains accessible. It's jazzy folk pop blues masterpiece, not quite fitting any genre but transcending them all, a creative feat that has rarely been matched. It would be pointless to single out individual songs. Although each song is distinct and unique, they meld together into a unified piece, each song able to stand alone but better for being part of the whole. I have favorites, like "Astral Weeks," "Ballerina," and "Madame George" (a rare case where a long song doesn't bore me after four or five minutes), but even those are better in the context of the entire album.

Somehow, this record had escaped my attention until a couple years ago, probably because I thought I wasn't really a Van Morrison fan. But this changed everything and on the first listen became one of my favorite records. It made me rethink my feelings about Morrison's voice, which is still not one of my favorites, but delivers the songs and their message better than another voice could. It's hard to imagine these songs sung any other way. Its influence can be heard in songs by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and countless others.

This is experimental music that worked at a time when many musicians were experimenting and many were failing. Do yourself a favor and give this one a spin, and really listen. Maybe you won't share my enthusiasm, but this should be a part of everybody's musical education. 

Brad's Take:

I've never listened to a full Van Morrison album before. In fact, I think I've only heard "Brown Eyed Girl" before now.

There are some really great songs on this album. It's obviously trying to be a bit experimental at times, but it still has enough pop and folk influence that it's easy to listen to.

Whether he's singing softly or soulfully yelling, Van's voice sounds great. He has lots of emotion in voice that makes the songs that much better.

On first listen, "Sweet Thing" was my favorite.

This review is pretty short and sweet (especially compared to my dad), but there really isn't much else to say. It's a short and sweet album, and it's very worth checking out.

"Electric Ladyland" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (October, 1968)

Dad's Take:

Electric Ladyland is Hendrix's third album of new material, and his last. With tracks like "Voodoo Chile,""Crosstown Traffic," and "All Along The Watchtower," how could this be anything but a classic?

Hendrix is at his psychedelic blues best here, with the heavy, effects-driven axe pushing the limits of what a rock and roll guitar could do. This is a double album, and the entire thing is highly listenable, full of the legendary heavy blues jams that both delight and frighten the listener.

This is 1968, which means the two-and-a-half minute pop song is long gone. The album starts with three conventional-length songs, then roars into the extended 15-minute tour de force of "Voodoo Chile." One other song tops 13 minutes. The rest are in the three to four minute range.

Hendrix could do what few others managed, however. He could go into a long jam without becoming dull by varying his playing and throwing in so many magical touches that it doesn't become tedious.

The album is weakest on the songs that feature the rest of the band, as in the "Little Miss Strange," but this record's "weak" is still pretty amazing. "Little Miss Strange" combines the mid-sixties brit-pop sound of the Hollies and the Kinks with Hendrix's inventive guitar playing, taking the song far beyond the usual conventions of the genre. Songs like that only sound weak compared to the sheer power of Hendrix's vocal and musical performances.

That was Jimi's genius. He worked in conventional musical genres like blues, rock, and even folk, but then twisted the conventions on their ear and delivered something different than anything else, ever.

There are so many great songs here that to list them all would pretty much be to provide the entire track list of the album. Instead of doing that, I'm going to turn it up and listen.

Brad's Take:

I tend to have music A.D.D. sometimes so when I saw that there were a couple of songs over 10 minutes, I kind of cringed, and when I saw that the album clocks in at just under 80 minutes, I debated about going back into hiding from reviews again or not... But I hit play anyway, and when I realized that the 15 minute song "Voodoo Chile" was almost over, I became very optimistic that I was going to be able to get through this just fine!

"Voodoo Chile" really surprised me. Making a 15 minute long song feel short is a very hard and rare thing to actually accomplish, but Jimi did it. I should have had more faith in the boy. He rules.

I agree with my old man that songs like "Little Miss Strange" are definitely the weakest parts of this album, but even though they're the weakest, it doesn't make them actually weak. It's more like The Incredible Hulk going against Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s. Obviously the Hulk would win, but Arny could still put up a decent fight back then, I'm sure. Somehow this analogy makes sense in my head so just go with it...

"All Along The Watchtower" is another great song. I've heard the original Bob Dylan version of it, but also a few different cover versions of the same song, like Dave Matthews Band's rendition (which is actually my favorite version of the song.) This is one of the only songs I can think of off the top of my head where I like the original version less than the covers. Jimi Hendrix's version is great. He makes it his own, as artists should do when covering another musician's song.

The song "1983: A Merman I Should Turn To Be" was another super long one, but this one wasn't as exciting as "Voodoo Chile" was, unfortunately. I started getting antsy by the middle of it. "Moon, Turn the Tides...gently gently away" did the same thing to me.

This album really doesn't feel as long as it actually is, which is a great feat. Instead of feeling like the 80 minutes it actually is, it felt more like 60 minutes. Still a little long, but it could have been much worse. Jimi's guitar playing really makes the album enjoyable, but the weird experimental parts of the album were a little off-putting to me.

Hopefully I'll never go back in time via a phone booth made into a time machine and get stuck in the late 60s...

"Sweetheart of the Rodeo" by The Byrds (August, 1968)

Dad's Take:

In 1968, Byrds' frontman Roger McGuinn had an idea for a concept album tracing the history of 20th Century American pop music. But after the band added Gram Parsons prior to recording the album, the concept was changed and they ended up recording a country-rock album.

The critics generally approved, but the sound was such a departure from the psychedelic folk rock of the previous albums that fans weren't as overjoyed. And the conservative country music culture didn't like these LA hippies trying to take over their music. As a result, it was the Byrds' worst-selling album to that point. In retrospect, though, it is a pioneering precursor to the country rock movement that became so popular a couple years later.

I love the Byrds, and there's plenty to like here, but it makes me miss the more typical Byrds record. Still, this is an enjoyable listen, and it's easy to see how influential it became, and why.

The album is almost a rebellious act, with the group turning their backs on the psychedelic-rock movement they had helped create, a movement that had gotten away from popular music and had become a forum for weird sonic experiments. Whether it was a conscious rebellion or not doesn't really matter.

I'd love to have seen the country western studio musicians in Nashville the day they showed up at the studio to help record a version of Merle Haggard's "Life in Prison" or Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd" and saw the studio filled with hippies from L.A.

Although the style is a bit of a departure, the album is loaded with the Byrds' signature harmonies, and enough rock and roll drum behind the straight-up country to not totally offend rock ears or the rock and community. Rolling Stone reviewed it positively, as did many other reviewers.

Parsons and McGuinn clashed when McGuinn recorded over some of Parson's lead vocals, and Parsons left the band after just this one effort. But the record put his name in the mainstream and helped him get the country-rock revolution rolling. And the Byrds moved on, with Roger McGuinn as the only original band member left. They continued to record and have hit records, but they never regained the success of the original pre-Sweethearts lineup.

Brad's Take:

When I think of The Byrds, I think of their hit "Turn, Turn, Turn." I've always liked that song a lot so I was interested to listen to this album. Unfortunately though, when I got to the third or fourth song of this album, I was really disappointed so I turned it off and didn't want to go back to it or review it (hence the very long gap between reviews... sorry, pops!) Being bored at work and wanting to listen to music made me think of going back to this album and giving it a fair shot so we can get this blog rolling again. So here we go...

As soon as the first song started, I got an image in my head of boating down the bayou at night with a family of toothless people playing their respective instruments and singing to the frogs and fireflies. If I was actually in that situation, I wouldn't be able to take it seriously. I think that's why I've been hesitant to reviewing this album. Simply because it's hard for me to take it seriously. 

The whole album feels like it's one song or two songs on repeat. The songs sound so similar to each other that it's difficult to tell them apart. At least I felt that way until it got to the song "One Hundred Years From Now." This song stood out to me. It's more upbeat and rockin' than anything else before it on the album. There's no banjo, pedal steel guitar, or anything that bothered me. It's just a good 60s rock and roll song, which I appreciated. I was hoping that the songs that followed that one would be more in that style, but unfortunately it went back to the twangy country style. 

I haven't heard much by The Byrds, but I hope Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a lot more twangy country-ish than at least most of their catalog. This style of music is definitely outside of my comfort zone. I really enjoyed "One Hundred Years From Now" though so I will go back to that song.

Overall, this album is far outside of my comfort zone, but at least I got through it all this time.