Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Blackboard Jungle Dub" by Lee Perry and the Upsetters (1973)

Dad's Take:

Lee Perry was pioneer of dub music, taking sounds he and dubbing them into innovative reggae music. This album originally had a very limited release, 300 copies, and sold only in Jamaica. That it has managed to build a cult following worthy of a classic albums list is pretty amazing.

OK, I have to admit it. Everything in that previous sentence led me to dread this review. This really isn't my kind of thing. But I didn't need to be afraid. It's actually a pleasant listen, although it's also very long and quickly starts to all sound the same.

It's really not so bad. It reminds me of some of those tropical sounds albums we did early in our attempt to review everything in this list. It makes for some interesting listening, and sometimes the sounds capture my imagination.

The problem is, this is so long, and that rhythm starts to sound monotonous very quickly. So, I'm listening to the whole album, and enjoying parts of it, but I have to admit, I'm really kind of bored. Nothing really stands out. It's just one long groove, kind of cool at times, but mostly it just grows old fast. I know there are probably devotees who would jump all over me for this review, but, you know, people like what they like, and this just does very little for me. It doesn't affect me emotionally or interest me intellectually.

I don't know what else to say. This just isn't the kind of music that holds my attention for 14 songs (18 on our expanded edition). I'm not saying it's bad. It might even be great. If it weren't so goldern long I might even actually like it, kind of. But, sorry dub fans, this just isn't for me.

Brad's Take:

The purpose of my dad and I starting this blog was to the show how generation gaps might affect reviews of a particular album. There's been a lot of albums so far where my old man loves an album, but I have a total opposite opinion, and that's what makes this blog the most interesting, usually.

This will not be one of those interesting reviews.

Dub music (or reggae, or whatever you're supposed to call this) is so far out of my comfort zone and personal taste. I just can't get into this at all. I can't even pretend to be optimistic about it. I have absolutely no interest in this style of music.

I think it's safe to say that you won't be seeing me or my dad at any reggae/dub festivals anytime soon.

"Talking Book" by Stevie Wonder (October, 1972)

Dad's Take:

The 1970s turned out to be a great decade for Stevie Wonder, and really started with this record, his 15th album.

Fueled by two monster hits "Superstition" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," Stevie left Little Stevie Wonder behind and showed that he was a grown-up musical force to be reckoned with. This is where he became a superstar. This was hist first album to reach #1 on the R&B charts, and it made #3 on the Pop charts. It also took home three Grammys at the 1974 awards (the same year his next album, Innervisions, won album of the year). Obviously, Stevie Wonder dominated 1973, and it all started with this release in October, 1972.

Any album that starts with a classic megahit love song like "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," has a lot to live up to. Sometimes it's hard to get beyond the kind of sappy lyrics and notice the jazzy rhythm section that drives the song. It's just a good one, all the way around.

But once Wonder gets passed the obvious radio hit that naturally starts the album, he hits a funky groove that shows he is more than a hit machine, that he's an innovative master of R&B. Today's R&B artists owe a huge debt to Stevie Wonder. While many of the songs seem locked very much in their time period, mainly because of the very-seventies electronic keyboards, others transcend the calendar and could have been laid down any time from the late sixties to today. "Maybe Your Baby" could have been sent back in time from now, especially vocally. But it's really the backing track that makes it for me, with the big Moog bass sound and the funk guitar, and interesting rhythms. I dare you to try to do something else while this song is playing.

The album goes on like this, combining gentle jazzy love songs with big R&B numbers, showing both sides of Stevie Wonder, and never getting boring because of the sameness that dominated some other albums of the period. There are also plenty of the social messages that have always been found in soul records. "Big Brother" is the obvious example here. Wonder is versatile, and his talents as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist drive this record.

Of course, for me, the album is dominated by the monster sounds of "Superstition." What a song that is! Even after all these years, it's timely and modern and just plain Funky with a capital F. The kind of song that, if you do nothing else in your career, you'll be known as a legend because of this one record.

This is a great album. Sure, today parts of it sound dated, but certain sounds become associated with a specific time period because they dominated that time, and dominant albums are usually classics. It's hard, though, to imagine where modern R&B would be without the influence of this and other Wonder albums. And, as good as this is, it's hard to believe how much bigger Little Stevie was going to get over the next few years.

Brad's Take:

First off: It's crazy to think that in the early 70's Stevie Wonder was already releasing his 15th album. Was this guy releasing music since the beginning of time? What a machine!

The album opens with the super popular (and super dated) "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life." It's a cute song, but a great classic song? I dunno. The dated-ness of a few of these songs (mostly the slower ones) really took a toll on my patience and willingness to get through this. Blame it on the generation gaps before you strike me! Fortunately though, the great songs are actually really, really great!

"Maybe Your Baby" is definitely a highlight on Talking Book. Ray Parker Jr. (the Ghostbusters song guy!) plays some mean electric guitar on this heavy funk jam. If this song was peanut butter, it'd be extra chunky. "Tuesday Heartbreak" is another one of the great up-beat tunes on here that I really enjoyed.

But let's get real... "Superstition" takes the top highlight spot. That song still rocks! Totally timeless, Everything about that song is perfect,

Even on the very few doozies on Talking Book, Stevie's voice is what really carries the album. His voice and the emotion he packs behind it really makes his music shine. That voice is just "wonder-ful", even still.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968" by Various Artists (September, 1972)

Dad's Take:

For most sets like this, I'd complain about a various artists compilation being on a classics albums list, even when I really like the music, as in this case. But this compilation belongs on the list, for two reasons.

First, this set was very popular. It led to sequels, and eventually to a series of CD box sets, some of which I have. Popular does not necessarily equal classic, but in this case, because the album is full of classic music that often came from small labels and short-lived bands that didn't necessarily release classic albums (or even albums), I'll let this one in.

Second, and most importantly, this compilation was hugely influential. Although the subtitle and cover art make it look like this album contains a bunch of psychedelic music--and it does--the record is most notable for its sizable collection of late-sixties garage bands. Why does this matter? Because the re-emergence of these lost garage classics led directly to punk music, one of the biggest movements to grow out of the seventies, one that is still dominant today. In fact, the liner notes for this package contain one of the first usages of the term "punk rock."

Songs like "Dirty Water," "Night Time," and many of the others on this record, are clear predecessors to punk. Seminal punk bands like the Ramones ate up these garage classics from the sixties, sometimes even covering the songs.

I'd talk about all of the songs I like, but there are too many to list in this 27-song compilation. And they don't really matter. It's more about the movement and the unburying of lost songs that often appeared on small, local labels. I'll mention a few songs, though. Like "Psychotic Reaction" by the Count Five, a band that I can attest to being a garage band because they used to practice in a garage on my grandparents' street in San Jose, California, where I remember seeing them at least a couple times when I was but a wee lad. I wasn't impressed, but I was like six. I like their song now.

And then there's the Brian Wilson/Smile inspired beauty of "My World Fell Down" by Sagittarius, featuring sometime-Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. It's a great song. "Pushin' Too Hard" by the Seeds is pure protopunk. "A Public Execution" by Mouse & the Traps, the somewhat exhausting "Run, Run, Run" by the Third Rail, "Tobacco Road" by Blues Magoos, the blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go" as performed by Ted Nugent's band, the Amboy Dukes, "Open My Eyes" by Todd Rundgren's band The Nazz--these are all just great songs. And there are so many more. It's fun to look up these bands, most of which are barely remembered, and see how many of them include musicians who later became famous.

So, although a various artist compilation, like a greatest hits package, might technically be cheating when included on classic album lists, I won't argue with this one. Arguing would just take away from my listening time, and I love listening to this one. I even think that Brad, not a fan of psychedelic music, is going to find a lot of groovy tunes to dig in this one.

Brad's Take:

Well, my dad was right. I did enjoy this!

It's obvious that this compilation came out at the peak of the Beatles initial success in the mid-60s because a lot of these bands sound a lot like them. Like, a lot. For example, The Knickerbockers' track "Lies" sounds very early-Beatles-ish. I guess when it comes to mid-60s garage bands, it only makes sense for them to be influenced by the biggest bands at the time, especially The Beatles, as this collection consists of songs that came out right after the Beatles came to the U.S. for the first time. Basically, if you like the early Beatles music, you'll most likely dig this entire album.

The Beatles aren't the only band with obvious influence on a lot of these bands though. "Don't Look Back" by The Remains sounds a lot like a song The Rolling Stones would have penned in their early days. The vocalist even emulates a bit of Mick Jagger. Also in a good way.

On this compilation, when the songs don't sound Beatles-esque garage rocky, they are your typical 60's psychedelic pop/rock, which I don't gravitate to as much. I don't think any of the songs on this collection really bothered me at all though. Despite its length, this was a pretty enjoyable listen front to back. There are definitely a few bands on here that I'd like to check out more.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Foxtrot" by Genesis (October, 1972)

Dad's Take:

Back before Genesis became an icon of Eighties pop radio, they were a groundbreaking, if sometimes dull, progressive rock band. This particular album, their fourth, is more proof that the list we're working from for these review comes out of Britain, because this particular album, which hit number 12 on the UK charts, did absolutely nothing here in the US. But, hey, it was #1 in Italy.

I have to admit that I've never been much of a fan of Phil Collins's singing, although I think he's a very talented and very funny dude. That bias prejudices me against much of Genesis's work, maybe somewhat unfairly. But people like what they like.

That said, this is a pretty good record, for what it is. It's more accessible to a pop/rock ear than some prog rock is. Sure, it lacks that working-class edge that most of the best rock and roll has, but it is a musically interesting album, with meaningful (if sometimes somewhat obscure) lyrics. There's some real rock here at times, and there are indications that Genesis had some serious radio potential, as they proved later in their career. I like the whimsical pseudo-medieval-fairy-taleism of some of the songs.

I'm actually enjoying this album, but I'm not loving it. There are bursts of brilliance. I think the highlight for me is the "Willow Farm" section of the "Supper's Ready" suite that ends the record. That section is funny and dramatic and I like it. And then, at other times, I find my attention being easily drawn away to other things. I like that there's plenty of rock in their prog, but I'm hearing very little that makes me fall in love with the record.

I'm afraid this is like a pleasant first date that is fun while it lasts, but you know it's not going to go anywhere so you just try to have a good time while you're there. And, yes, one of the reasons is the rather annoying whine of that Collins voice. And the keyboards that sometimes remind me of the old Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade. Maybe if I went back to this one for a second date, there could be a more meaningful connection, but I feel little compulsion to try it again. Now that I've listened to it all the way through and I know what it contains, if I feel the right mood and have nothing better to do, I might give it another shot. There really is some good stuff here, so I'll keep its number in my little black book.

But, really, if I were Genesis, I wouldn't sit by the phone waiting for me to call. I guess I'm just not that into you.

Brad's Take:

Like most people my age, I pretty much only know Genesis for their album Invisible Touch. In fact, I forget that they were around LONG before that album came out in (the year of your Bradley) 1986. Their popular songs from the 80s are the sound I know them for, so this album was a surprise to me.

Also, I always forget that before Peter Gabriel wrote "In Your Eyes" he was the lead singer of Genesis for a long time. Fortunately, he takes on lots of the vocal duties on this album. So does drummer Phil Collins though.

I don't hate Phil Collins' voice as much as my old man does, but I feel like it Peter Gabriel's works much better for this particular style of music. Phil's voice makes a lot more sense on the poppy 80s tracks that I know him best for. I can't even get into the Disney Tarzan movie that Phil Collins did all the music for. Something about the soundtrack drives me absolutely nuts. It's just too much Phil, I guess.

These prog rock albums are hard for me to get through willingly. I have music A.D.D. or something because when I see a song is over 5 minutes, I get very weary of it. And this particular album only has 2 tracks that are under 5 minutes, and a closing track that is 23 minutes long.

It's hard to tell if I have favorite/least favorite songs on here. Each song has parts that I liked a lot, but just as many parts that I thought were really terrible. If I absolutely had to pick a couple songs to go back to, I'd probably choose "Get Em Out By Friday" and "Can-Utility And The Coastliners." Those two songs had a lot of really enjoyable parts in them.

Overall, I think I'll stick with Invisible Touch.

"I'm Still In Love With You" by Al Green (October, 1972)

Dad's Take:

This album brings back memories. I didn't have the record back in the day, but some of the songs were radio staples, and the sound is so typical of early seventies soul that it was everywhere, whether performed by Green or his contemporaries. It topped the Billboard R&B chart, and hit #4 on the Billboard Top 200.

Al Green has this smooth, classic soul voice, and the songs are perfect for his vocal stylings. The title song, for example, is everything you need to know about soul love songs in 1972 wrapped into one tight little package: not too deep, not too poetic, but loaded with emotion and, well, soul. The other hit, "Look What You Done For Me," is, not surprisingly, a radio-friendly love song punctuated by those early seventies horns and a soft and gentle groove. The second song on the record, "I'm Glad You're Mine," isn't one of the stronger songs, but it still has this cool funky groove that you don't always hear on a ballad, a little reminiscent of Sly Stone. Even Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," gets a groovy soul update that works pretty well. And who knew that the other cover on the album, Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times," could be so soulful? But then, Ray Charles already showed us how full of soul a country song could be.

The album is full of songs created in that vein, with Green delivering easy soulful ballads full of his smooth singing and tight, emotional squeals. There;s a sameness (or a unity, if you prefer) that makes the songs flow together, with nothing that jumps out and spoils the mood that the record creates. Typical of this genre, the songs aren't as much about the music or lyrics as they are the vocal stylings, the singing and the little sounds--the squeals and growls and moans--that create the feeling that the songs are trying to convey. At his best, Green was a master of the soul delivery.

If you like your soul on the softer side, or if you're just in The Mood, put this one on. It's such a cool, mostly mellow album full of gentle soul funk. It sounds like sleeping in with your honey late on a Sunday morning.

Brad's Take:

The album art should have been Al Green sitting on a bed, rather than him alone in a chair. It would have been a lot more fitting for these sexy 35 minutes.

The album never drifts away from the 70's sexy-time soul style, which makes it very cohesive. If you like one song, you'll like them all. However, there were still a couple songs that stood out to me. "Love and Happiness" has a really nice beat and groove. "Simply Beautiful" is extra soft and extra sexy, like he is whispering right into the girl's ear that he's singing to. And of course, his twist on the Roy Orbison classic "Oh, Pretty Woman" is a highlight and is very fitting for this album. And like I said, if you like one song, you'll like them all. There isn't a song on here that I didn't enjoy.

I've never gotten into Al Green before this, and I'm kind of disappointed in myself for it. I see this specific LP at an antique store that I frequent whenever I am in the mood to shop for old used records. For whatever reason, I notice it every time I am sifting through the records, and now I realize that I should finally pick it up since it's always caught my eye, now that I know it catches my ear too.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"School's Out" by Alice Cooper (July, 1972)

Dad's Take:

I like Alice Cooper as much as the next guy my age, but I have to admit, I was surprised to find him on our list. It's almost like the schlock of his act is being taken seriously. Not that that's a bad thing. Thing is, he's fun, and he did some pretty good songs.

It's funny that this one follows Bowie in the list, because Alice Cooper is, in many ways, the dark side of the Bowie coin. It's really clear when you listen to the two albums back to back. Alice Cooper emphasizes the male posturing and the projection of danger, where Bowie lets the feminine side of rock and roll out of the closet, but Alice still hides his strut behind a Bowie-like androgeny, only less pretty. The second song on the album, "Luney Tune," even reminds me a bit of "Suffragette City" and explores some of the same themes as Bowie does with his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego. Also like Bowie, Alice Cooper helps to usher in the weird cheeseball that was the last 2/3 of the seventies.

The stand-out tune on this album is no surprise. "School's Out" was a huge hit. Even those of us who liked school were sucked in by those dorky lyrics of rebellion, the anthem for the end of the last day of school for the rest of the decade. "My Stars" and "Public Animal No. 9" are vintage Alice as well.

This album doesn't take itself too seriously, and yet it pushes the limits in its own way. The Marilyn Manson of my generation comes off as a comic book character now, but at the time, he actually scared people with his act, like Manson would later. But behind it all was a highly image-conscious performer who understood how to commercialize his image, and who had a tight band to help him do it.

This isn't straight-up rock. The music is surprisingly creative. Just check out the instrumental break of the Broadway parody "Gutter Cat vs. the Jets," a song that always makes me laugh. That's followed by the Batman-like (the sixties version) music of the "Street Fight" between those gutter-cats (there are even meow sound effects) and the Jets. West Side Story goes rock, and it's funny and weird and entertaining.

The rest of the album is like that. Seventies hard rock meets Broadway show tunes, with some surprising instrumental bits that are inspired as much by Fosse as they are by Ozzy, even when they rock. It's corny, schlocky, cheesy, stupid, smart, bombastic, dorky, subtle as a stubbed toe, and a whole lot of fun.

A classic? Sure, why not? It illustrates the period when it was made very nicely, and isn't just another cookie-cutter rock album.

Brad's Take:

Alice Cooper is one of the most well known classic metal guys around. I immediately recognize him when I see him in a magazine or on TV. He's just one of those house hold names. He was like the Marilyn Manson of the 70s. But listening to his album School's Out, I came to the realization that I don't really understand why he is so popular anymore. I only know (and like) just one of his songs. At least from this particular album.

"School's Out" is probably the only song I could ever name off the top of my head, before (and after) listening to this album. That song was the only one that stood out to me across this whole album. Maybe because it's the only one I knew, or maybe because it was the only one I enjoyed, but something about this album just didn't do it for me. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that it didn't sound any different than the other "stoner metal" from around this era, like Black Sabbath, but with a dash of David Bowie's weird experimental spacey stuff. Despite only recognizing one of the tracks, I felt like I had listened to this album a dozen times already.

I really don't have much else to say about it. Nothing surprised me, except for the fact that this album even made the list of "classic albums." It must only be because of the massive title track. Unless I'm completely missing something and it just went over my head. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" by David Bowie (June, 1972)

Brad's Take:

I might be in the minority here, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as Hunky Dory. The first half was hard for me to get through. I pushed through it though (fortunately) because the last half of the album is mostly pretty great.

"It Ain't Easy" was the first song that I got to on here that I actually liked, and after that pretty much every song was enjoyable to me. I think I liked "Star" the most though.

To me, "Star" sounded like a song that a "rock n roll star" would sing in their own head while standing center stage, looking over a massive crowd. It almost sounded cocky, in a way. I liked it a lot though.

I think I'm beginning to get a decent idea of what David Bowie is all about now. I know that we have a few more Bowie albums coming up soon on our list, and I'm afraid all of my reviews of his album are going to be very similar. Hopefully he will surprise me soon because at this point I just don't really see the appeal yet.

Dad's Take:

I like the concept of this album, with the singer taking on the persona of a stranger in a strange land. Being a foreign observer means you can say stuff that others might not say about what you're observing, to explore themes that are not always talked about in the macho world of early seventies rock, like bisexuality and the phoniness of image.

The only problem is, I never quite believe it here. There's not doubt that Ziggy is Bowie wearing a mask, and that he loves that image, even when he knows it's phony. That's OK, but stories are always better when the author doesn't make himself so obvious. I forgive him though, largely because I've always really liked "Starman." Of course, the big hit here is "Suffragette City," which earns its popularity but stands out a little too much from the rest of the album, like "Changes" does on Hunky Dory. For me, this album has always been about "Starman." There are quite a few other great songs here. There's the T. Rex-like "Hang on to Yourself," the mood-setting "Five Years," which opens the album. "Ziggy Stardust" is a cool bit of pre-eighties glammy space rock in all its cartoon-like glory.

Bowie may be my generation's Oscar Wilde, so hiding in the shadows of his own work is not likely to happen. And as Oscar Wilde would have, Bowie cuts through one of the truths about metal bands--that behind the overt masculinity was a lot of teenage boys enjoying the physical image of the performers, whose androgeny might not have been as obvious as Bowie's, but it was a big part of their appeal to a large segment of their audience. Bowie just made it more open, and by doing so, helped create the disco culture and, especially, the eighties. I think Bowie foresaw the revelation of what was behind the rock, and opened the door for the rest of the seventies and eighties by killing it off with "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." And "Suffragette City" drew the rock fans in to witness their own demise, without realizing yet what was about to happen to the radio within a couple years.

All that aside, this album goes beyond the surface glitter and glitz of glam rock. It actually has some depth. Between the messages, the story, the concept, the rock, and the sheer creativity of the songs, it's an enjoyable listen. More than that, it rises to the level of essential for understanding the period and, especially, what was about to happen to seventies when the often empty shell of disco glam took over. I don't mean to imply that that's what this album is, at all. But I think it helped move us in that direction.

The album might not be one of my favorites, but it is pretty good. I think I might like this one better than Hunky Dory. I like the concept, and I think it holds together better as a complete album. Still, I don't think I can say I love it. I recognize it as an excellent album, and I enjoy listening to it. I like that there's more straight-up rock on this one. Unlike the last Bowie album we reviewed, I think this one is a classic in its own right, for what it is, not just for its influence on the following decades.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Exile on Main St." by The Rolling Stones (May, 1972)

Brad's Take:

Exile on Main St. is The Rolling Stones' 12th studio album. A double album that was recorded between 1969 and 1972. Recording began during the Sticky Fingers sessions, but when the band spent all the money that they owed in taxes, they all got out of Britain to avoid the government and moved to France. Most of the album was recorded in Keith Richards' new home's basement while the control room was actually in the band's infamous mobile studio. According to Keith Richards, the band never meant to record a double album. When it was time to compile all the tracks, they decided they liked all of the material they'd recorded so they chose to just release them all as a double album.

The first half of the record (or disc 1) kicks off with "Rocks Off." It's a typical Rolling Stones sounding rock song, but that pretty much just means that it's a great song. The next track "Plundered My Soul" is also great. It's got some gospel influence in it, especially with those powerful female background vocals. This first disc is blended perfectly with everything that you'd expect from the Stones. It's got a nice mix of rock, gospel, and blues songs, but they all flow really nicely with each other. It ends with probably my favorite song from that first disc, "Loving Cup." That song has an awesome ending filled with horns, cool percussion, piano, and group vocals.

Disc 2 begins with "Happy", a poppy little song with blues influence. The vocal melody in the verses sounds similar to "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. It kinds of ends in the same way as "Loving Cup" did so listening to both of those songs back to back feels a little repetitive. "Ventilator Blues" was a really cool song. It has that twangy country-blues kind of thing going on and I love it. This is a sound that I don't recall the Rolling Stones doing before. At least not that I've heard. The second half of this album feels a lot more bluesy to me than the first, and I really liked that. The Stones do the blues very well.

It's kind of difficult to get really into a double album by a band that you're not very familiar with. Especially when you listen to the whole album in full only once through. It's hard to remember earlier tracks and fully digest everything. Exile on Main St. was pretty fantastic though! Solid blues/rock/pop/gospel kind of stuff. However, there weren't a lot of real highlights for me, so quite a few tracks (which were good) just went through one ear and out the other. I wouldn't say there's any bad songs, but maybe just too much material to really focus on and remember as well as some.

Dad's Take:

I'm not surprised that this is the Stones album that Brad finally dug. Or at least kind of dug. This is the Stones doing their Stones thang as well as they ever did. But they also do an awful lot of it here.

There's nothing really deep here, just loud, raucus, irreverent, R&B-based rock and roll with those rough edges that were often missing from other British Invasion bands. Within a couple seconds, you know this is a Stones album. And that's not a bad thing.

"Rocks Off" is a great opener, followed by the brilliantly updated fifties sound of "Rip This Joint," one of my favorite tracks from this album. Everything that follows stays pretty much on that same path. If there's one knock on this album, it's that, being a double album, the quality of the songs is somewhat inconsistent. But, true though that may be, even the weaker songs have that Stones thing going on in spades. And, of course, any album that contains "Tumbling Dice" is going to be worth listening to. Then again, of the eighteen songs on the record, that's the only one that almost everybody knows (although "Happy" is also pretty well known as well), which says something about the album too.

But hits and standout tracks aren't always the best way to judge an album. This one, despite its length, works well. The songs fit together, and there's enough variety in styles and tempos to keep it interesting. It's a good album to put on when you're in a Stones mood and don't necessarily want to hear a greatest hits album, and maybe you don't want to listen really closely--you just want to enjoy that Stones groove. And you're rewarded for your perseverance by a great closing set. Those last four songs sound great, great enough that I'm sorry to see them end, even when so much came before that one might be excused for feeling ready to move on.

Despite Mick Jagger's dissatisfaction with this record, it's an enjoyable listen, and has everything you'd expect from a Rolling Stones album. It has aged well, increasing its status with the years until it has become known as one of the greatest rock and roll records ever.

"Sail Away" by Randy Newman (May, 1972)

Brad's Take:

My dad and I are going to have very different views of this, I think.

Having been a little kid in the 90s really makes this album hard to approach fairly. I can't help but imagine each song as a movie scene featuring Woody and Buzz Lightyear because (as I assume everyone is aware of) Randy Newman did a few timeless classics on the Toy Story soundtrack. That movie and the songs from it have been in my life since it came out 20 years ago, when I was just 8 years old! So as you can imagine, it's really hard to hear Randy Newman's voice and separate it from those movies.

Just because I can't help myself: "Sail Away" is a prequel to "I Will Go Sailing No More" (from Toy Story) about Andy taking his toys sailing with him out on the lake. "He Gives Us All His Love" is about Andy from the perspective of his toys, obviously. "Old Man" must be a rejected song about Andy's dad, which would make sense as to why Andy's dad was absent from all of the movies. (But seriously, just for a second, "Old Man" is a really fantastic song, albeit super sad.)

I'll try to stop messing around now...

I think picturing this as an alternate Toy Story soundtrack made it a lot more enjoyable for me. Randy Newman's songwriting style and voice are very corny, chipper, cute, and other good C-words, like "cucumber"... Anyway, imagining the songs as rejected Toy Story songs helped me get through it with a child-like smile. I really liked this album, in that regard. I think if I had gone into this with no knowledge of his timeless classics (such as "You've Got a Friend in Me") I don't know if I would have liked this as much. It was a fun little album, but just a tad too jolly for my typical liking.

One thing's for sure though. There is nobody else that sounds like Randy Newman. His signature voice and songwriting style mixed with his family-friendly accessibility are the reasons he is on this list and why he's adored by so many.

Dad's Take:

Brad called this one. Different views, indeed.

Before Toy Story, Randy Newman was known as one of the world's most acerbic singer-songwriters, putting out deceptively fun songs full of bitter wit. Sail Away is the classic example. 

There's so much dark humor in Newman's songs, sometimes so subtle that people miss it. Listen to this album once, then listen to it again with the lyrics in front of you, and you'll be surprised at how much you missed when you thought you were just listening to catchy, old-fashioned songs.

No one likes us--I don't know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try 
But all around even our old friends put us down
Let's drop the big one and see what happens 

Few songwriters have had so much to say, and have said it so well. Whether poking fun at the government or making it sound like thermonuclear war is the best party in town, or even poking fun of a religion based on love, but that allows incredibly suffering, Newman points his finger at everybody, then raises the next finger high to the sky.

I burn down your cities--how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind

 Kick me again, Mr. Newman. I enjoy it.

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor, and the filth, and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind 

And he kicks us, every one of us, in a way that's just so much fun. There's even a song I first heard on The Muppet Show.

Who needs money when you're funny

So put on this record and listen to some of the most brilliant songs to come out of the singer/songwriter period of the early seventies, by a guy who might best be described as the anti-singer/songwriter. You can leave your hat on while you listen, but just don't blink or you'll miss, well, everything, and you won't even notice that Newman stripped you down and left you naked in the cold. Sail Away might sound like happy Gershwin-inspired Tin Pan Alley fun, but if you pay attention, you'll notice he's singing about the bums sleeping behind the dumpsters in the alley, and he's making fun of them, only he's really making fun of you. It's one of the darkest albums I know, and I love it.

Listen all you fools out there
Go on and love me--I don't care
Oh, it's lonely at the top.  

"Machine Head" by Deep Purple (March, 1972)

Brad's Take:

If Ozzy Osbourne picks this album to be in his "Top 10 favorite albums" list, then you can assume this going to rock. (Spoiler alert: It does!)

Generally not my go-to genre, this early 70's metal album is actually really good. Like, really good! Huge guitar riffs and super fast solos sets this album apart from just about anything we've reviewed so far.

I'd list the songs I like the most, but they're seriously all so good. But I mean, you can't not mention "Smoke on the Water" since that song contains one of rock music's most classic guitar riffs. You still can't go into a guitar store without hearing someone jamming that riff. With only 7 tracks in total, this album is a perfect example of "all killer, no filler." Each song totally rules. "Pictures of Home" even has a badass bass guitar solo.

There isn't enough good things I can say about Machine Head. It just rocks. And for 1972, this seems ahead of its time to me. This definitely deserves to be on our classic albums list. I'm glad I got to hear it and finally see what these guys were all about. I really dig it! Time to listen to it again.

Dad's Take:

If asked to list the top five songs that exemplify classic rock, you're going to mention "Stairway to Heaven" first, and chances are good you'll mention "Smoke on the Water" second. If not second, then it won't be far down the list. For that iconic song alone, this album belongs on our list. But that's not the only song that makes this a classic album.

From the opening beat of the great "Highway Star" on, you know this is going to be a great album. That opener is one of the best driving songs ever, perfect for dropping the top, cranking the volume, and pushing the pedal. How can this album get any better?

But it does. Or at least it maintains that quality.

This is riff-based rock and roll at its finest. "Maybe I'm a Leo" slows down a bit, but it still has a great riff and cool solos. "That drum that opens "Pictures of Home" tells you that this song is going to be full of more brilliant solos, and it is, with everybody getting his turn. On and on this album goes, one great driving rock song after another, through the classic "Smoke on the Water," until it finally ends with "Space Truckin'," one of the true highlights of an album without any real low points. Even the songs that might lag a bit lyrically make up for it with those riffs and solos. Ritchie Blackmore dominates here, but he's got a great bunch of players behind him, lifting him to heights that have rarely been achieved by a metal album. I can't even begin to imagine 1970s radio without this record.

If you only know "Smoke on the Water," and even if you think it's a cool song and all but you've heard it so often that it has become a metal cliche, you owe it to yourself to give this album a listen. It is so much more than one iconic song. And when you're done, throw on "Made in Japan," the live album where many of these songs are kicked up several notches.

And if you're taking a road trip, this should be in heavy rotation, maybe even the first thing you put on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Harvest" by Neil Young (February, 1972)

Brad's Take:

Neil Young reminds me a lot of Bob Dylan, but with a better voice. This album's folk/country acoustic-ness and frequent harmonica usage is pretty much what I'm basing that comparison on. One of my favorite parts about Harvest was Young's vocals. I like his voice. They aren't perfect, by any means, but they're smooth, genuine, and not hard at all to listen to.

The orchestration on "A Man Needs a Maid" is beautiful. The strings and bells are so powerful and dramatic. It's definitely one of my favorites on this record. "There's A World" is pretty similar to that song too. More beautiful orchestration coming in and out, going up and down. It takes you on an adventure, and strays from the typical acoustic folky-ness of the majority of the tracks on here.

Most of the songs are pretty slow, but it picks up a bit in "Are You Ready for the Country?" and includes some wicked slide-guitar riffage. "Alabama" is another one that picks the tempo up a bit (but only as much as you'd probably expect from Neil Young). That song even introduces distorted electric guitar to the record. It's a great song. One of my favorites on Harvest.

One thing that bothers me about older records is how they thought that adding a single live track into the tracklist randomly was a good idea. "The Needle and the Damage" is a good song, and it's a good performance of the song, but it really throws off the flow having the distraction of a crowd applauding on just one song in the middle of an otherwise completely studio recording. Neil Young wasn't the only artist that did this though, so I can't give him too much crap for making that decision, but it's just something that bothers me on some older albums.

So many fantastic classic artists released albums in 1972. It's interesting that Harvest was the best-selling of that year. They had good taste though because this really is a great album. Nice job, Mr. Young.

Dad's Take:

Harvest was inescapable the year I turned eleven. Even for us AM-radio-listening kids. This was largely due to the hugeness of "Heart of Gold," which I'm pretty sure was playing on one Bay Area radio station or another at just about any time. To say that song was big is like saying you can see a Wal-Mart every once in a while when you're driving down a freeway. Young would hate that comparison, but it's kkind of fitting.

Young was apparently surprised by the success of this record, and didn't really like being put into the mainstream in such a big way. His whole career has been a battle between success and freedom.

"Heart of Gold" might be the monster hit on this record, but it's not the only good song, and maybe not even the best. I really like the opener, "Out on the Weekend," which tells the story (or a version of it) of Young's move to LA from Canada. He tells that story in other songs as well, but this one is especially good.

"A Man Needs A Maid," quickly turns from a mellow singer-songwriter song to lush orchestration, almost a magnum opus. "Are You Ready for the Country" is a bit of upbeat fun. "Old Man" has become one of Young's standards, an unforgettable and poignant song that reminds me Cat Stevens' "Father and Son," except only from the kid's point of view. It's still a great song, even now that I am the old man, looking back at kids who aren't that different than I was, but who don't always want to believe it. "There's A World" opens with a complete change of place, with timpani and a big sound, and then moving into another symphonic mini-suite. And, of course, "Alabama" and "The Needle and the Damage Done" have become classic Neil Young songs, and for good reason. "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" is a big finish, a long, slow rocker.

Start to finish, this is a solid album, a true classic, and one of the most enduring records in a year full of classics. It's hard to do better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Something/Anything?" by Todd Rundgren (February 1972)

Dad's Take:

This may be the ultimate "studio hermit" album. It's a long double album, clocking in at almost an hour and a half, with the three of the four sides recorded by Todd Rundgren all by himself, playing every instrument, much of it in a home studio.

What strikes me about this record is the variety of styles. In addition to the straight up pop hits "Hello It's Me" and "I Saw the Light," the album has harder rock, singer/songwriter fare, and experimental studio noodling.

In a collection this big, one would hope for some great songs, and it doesn't disappoint. There are a lot of highlights. In addition to the hits, I've always been fond of "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference." "The Night the Carousel Burnt Down," is also very good, showing humor, pathos, and Rundgren's studio talents. On the heavier side, "Little Red Lights" stands out to me.

It's easy to see why this album makes our list, as well as placing at 173 in Rolling Stones list of the top 500 albums. It is loaded with good-to-great songs. That most of it was recorded by one man alone is pretty amazing. On the other hand, despite the variety of material, it sometimes suffers slightly from the sameness that is perhaps inevitable in a solo project of this length. Between several highlights and a few lowlights is a large pack of songs that don't stand out much either way. That's not to say they are bad, just that there are so many songs. Sometimes it feels like the album should be called "Something/Anything/Everything."

This album was a tremendous effort, and the work paid off. This is obviously a labor of love. It's enjoyable, sometimes great, and seldom dull. Todd Rundgren's enormous talent and range is showcased well. An excellent album all around. It's just, there's so much of it.

Brad's Take:

The problem with super long albums is that they're... well... super long. It's hard to get through an hour and a half worth of music. Something/Anything? is no exception, unfortunately. This album feels the same as other double albums; the top quarter of it is really enjoyable, the middle half is when you realize you've been daydreaming for about 20 minutes and can't remember the last 10 songs you listened to, and then the last quarter of the songs is just you impatiently waiting for it all to end.

Obviously, this didn't grab my attention much. After 5 or 6 songs, I knew what the rest of the album was going to sound like. There isn't much different from song to song, probably because Rundgren wrote and recorded every instrument on 3/4 of this record. It all just blends together, with a couple great songs sprinkled throughout.

There's no doubt that this guy is extremely talented. Being able to write and record quality songs like this is a great accomplishment, but this would have been much more enjoyable if it had been cut down to his best 12/13 songs, rather than making it a 25-song double-album. But people were into that kind of thing back then, I guess.

"It Wouldn't Have Made a Difference" and "Couldn't I Just Tell You" were the ones I liked the most out of all of these. But don't assume that those are the only two good songs. All of the others are very similar to those two, but those are just the ones that caught my attention the most, for whatever reason.

The last 1/4 of the album is different though. He has a band with him and you can totally hear a change in sound on these songs. They're good, but it didn't feel new enough for me to separate them from the rest of the pack.

Like I already said, Rundgren is obviously very talented, but this is just too much of a (pretty) good thing. It's not bad, it's not great, it's just too much.

"Pink Moon" by Nick Drake (February, 1972)

Brad's Take:

This is a complete change of pace, compared to that ELP album we reviewed just before this.

Pink Moon was Nick Drake's final studio album before he died of overdosing on depression medication at only 26 years old. Drake decided to make a solo acoustic album this time around, with just him and the sound engineer in the recording studio. The studio was booked during the day so in just two nights, Nick and his engineer would go in to record at 11pm and record during the night. It's pretty crazy to think that in just two nights, they recorded an album that became so influential.

Nick Drake is one of the many artists that got really popular posthumously. You can hear his influence in lots of current artists, such as Mike Kinsella and Mark Kozelek, especially with the use of alternate guitar tunings, which Nick Drake really liked using. Nick was self-taught on the guitar, and when he was trying to do complex guitar chords, he'd experiment with tuning certain strings differently in order to be able to play those chords easier. His guitar playing on this album is really lovely.

It's hard to name specific songs that I like because I really liked them all. One of the more interesting ones though is "Know." It repeats one little guitar riff over and over throughout the song.

I'm glad this album is on our list. Otherwise, I may have never listened to it. Everything about Pink Moon is beautiful. I really enjoyed it, and will definitely come back to it, and will add it to my ever-growing list of albums to find for my vinyl collection.

Dad's Take:

If you thought Joni Mitchell's Blue was personal, wait until you hear this.

This album is just downright shy. Nick Drake went into the studio after hours with nobody else but his engineer and recorded it without the help of any other musicians. The benefit of this technique is that the record is completely bereft of any trendy contemporary production or musical influences. A guy with his guitar is pretty much always going to sound timeless, and so this album sounds as 2015 as it does 1972. Which is interesting, considering how much better known Drake is now than he ever was when he was alive.

Each song is beautiful, with poetic (if sometimes hard to understand) lyrics and gorgeous guitar playing with interesting tunings. Because of the stripped-down recording technique, each song blends with the others, making it difficult for a reviewer to single out individual tracks, but creating a 28-minute musical painting that gets richer each time you examine it.

Drake's life was, by all accounts, pure torture, but I'm glad he had the strength to share his work. Pity that this remarkable artist died without ever knowing how beloved his music would become, and how much he would influence songwriters for several decades to come.

"Pictures at an Exhibition" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (November, 1971)

Dad's Take:

ELP's take on Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition demonstrates simultaneously everything that was right and wrong with progressive rock in 1971.

On the one hand, the band brilliantly pulls off their attempt to show that a well-known classical piece can be performed live by a rock band, and adapted to fit that genre. The musicianship shown on this album is amazing, and the creativity to arrange, adapt, and conform the piece is undeniable. The original classical piece remains not only recognizable but more or less intact, and the original bits that are added, such as the lovely Greg Lake piece, "The Sage," fit in nicely.

On the other hand, the album is a pretty good example of why the "pretentious" label is often applied to prog rock. Taking an orchestral piece and converting it to (often) keyboard, bass, and drums is a ballsy move, a prime example of the audacious self-important attitude of prog rock, and one that not all rock fans are going to appreciate. It undeniably exceeds the usual limits of both rock and roll music and the classical source. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on the listener's preferences. Almost certainly, classical music aficionados will find this to be a sacrilege, even offensive, while rock fans will find moments of brilliance but will possibly be overwhelmed, even befuddled, by parts of the album.

Me, I like a good prog rock album now and then, and this is the first one I ever purchased. At the time, I thought it was a little weird and I wasn't sure what to think of a lot of it back when I got it. I appreciate it more now, but it has never become a favorite. I like ELP's more original Brain Salad Surgery a little better.

I think adapting a well-known classical piece makes this record sometimes feel more like a novelty record than it should. Case in point, the encore, "Nutrocker," an adaptation of "The Nutcracker" that feels tacked on. Sometimes I find humor that I'm not sure was intended. Or maybe it was. This is a highly creative, atmospheric, and brilliantly played adaptation. That they were able to pull it off live makes it even more incredible.

Actually, "incredible" is a pretty good word for it. The word means more than most think it does, and is kind of a double-edged sword. This album treads on both sides of that sword.

Overall, though, I like listening to this one now and then. Can't say I love it, though. I do love parts, but overall, it can sometimes be just a little too much of everything that it is.

Brad's Take:

This was not at all what I expected.

For whatever reason, I always assumed Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were just another 70s folk-rock band, judging by their album covers and by their band name. I thought they were basically a Crosby, Stills, and Nash-type band. I obviously never listened to them, until now.

As soon as I hit play, I threw all my prior assumptions out the window and just sat back to finally listen to them and give them their fair chance to prove to me what they actually are. I don't really know how to classify this band now. Classical rock from Mars?

When the songs on this album aren't super weird, they're super great. The whole thing is just completely strange and experimental, while still being very musical and accessible. It's weird as hell, and a bit too sci-fi for my taste, but somehow they make it work. It doesn't sound like they're just aliens banging around on synthesizers and organs. They're actually playing songs. That's the most impressive part about this album to me. It seems that experimental music from the 60s and 70s was more or less just noise to be noise. This isn't like that.

The only bad thing I have to say about this album is that the synthesizer sound they used on "The Old Castle" sounds way too similar to when you're getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist. My stress levels went very high during that song, as you can imagine.

All in all, Pictures at an Exhibition is so hard to explain. You just have to listen to it. And if you go in with an open mind, you'll probably come out of it like I did: totally confused by how much you actually enjoyed it.

This was not at all what I expected.

PS: I had no idea that this was actually an old classical piece until after I wrote my review so that kind of changes my perception of it a little bit. I mean, it's not all their own original music, but that's fine. It was still really enjoyable, even when it wasn't. It doesn't make sense to me either.

"Hunky Dory" by David Bowie (December, 1971)

Dad's Take:

As 1971 approaches its end, we are treated to our first look at one of the inescapable presences of pop music for the next 20 years or more, David Bowie. Like him or not, there's no denying his influence on much of what came later, and that he managed to never be boring.

The first time I remember seeing Bowie on TV, he and his band were all wearing dresses. I'd never seen anything like it. But there was definitely something captivating about the music. Those last two sentences probably sum up David Bowie as well as anything else.

So, let's take a listen to the record.

If you look at album openers, it's hard to find one better than "Changes" for the messages it introduces that can be found throughout the record. The rest of the album was less known to radio listeners. In fact, the album was only a modest success, although in the years to come it would be revisited and reappraised as a groundbreaking album by a major artist who had scratched public consciousness but had not yet really broken through. It's a good album, full of well-written and well-performed songs that were not like anything else, and yet drew on everything that had come before. There's singer-songwriter influence, rock influence, blues, Velvet Underground, Broadway, the brilliantly weird songwriting of the Kinks' Ray Davies, T. Rex glam, Queen's torch songs...pretty much everything. But while it's all of those things, it's also none of those things. The combination is odd and fresh. I can easily imagine people hearing this the first time and not really being sure what to do with it, but finding it somehow captivating. Like that time I saw him on TV.

Highlights for me include the iconoclastic-but-commercial "Changes," "Life On Mars" (a hit single in the UK), "Kooks," the deceptively goofy "Fill Your Heart," the uncanny "Song for Bob Dylan" (with a vocal that is so Bowie, and yet so Dylanesque), and "Queen Bitch," which could well be the best Velvet Underground song that they never did. The album closes with the impenetrable-and-nonsensical-yet-interesting "The Bewlay Brothers," a great closer even if it doesn't make any sense at all.

All in all, this is one of those looks at somebody who would become much bigger than you'd expect from the record's initial response or the response to the songs that had broken out in the previous years, but when you look back, you see it. You see the great future the artist was destined to have, and the influence he'd have, and the inevitable mixed reactions that anybody has who breaks the rules and does something that goes beyond the norm. While his previous albums had been portents of what was to come, it's on this one that he really finds his voice and his persona.

This may be our first look at Bowie on our list of classic albums, but it won't be our last. I look forward to more.

Brad's Take:

Like my dad said, "Changes" is a great album opener. If you're like me (someone who isn't very familiar with David Bowie's music) I'm sure you will recognize "Changes" immediately. Such a good song! I think it's the only one that I was already familiar with.

A lot of the songs on here reminded me of that typical late 60's pop stuff, which was cool. "Kooks" was a fun little song. It reminded me of the silly side of The Beatles, like "Yellow Submarine" or "Octopus's Garden."

I don't really have much to say about this album. This being my first real taste of David Bowie, I liked it! I can definitely see myself coming back to this album again. We have more Bowie coming up so I'm interested to see how he naturally progresses from here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"There's a Riot Goin' On" by Sly & The Family Stone (November, 1971)

Dad's Take:

I'm surprised Sly and the Family Stone aren't on this list earlier. We passed by all their pioneering late-sixties albums and skipped ahead to this one, featuring a Sly who is already burned out and showing the effects of his excesses. Still, this is a very good album, just not one of my favorites by this iconic band.

Songs like the opener, "Luv 'n' Haight" and the huge hit, "Family Affair," ensure that this is going to be a great album, but it feels darker and heavy than the earlier records. Although it charted well upon its release, it's really only in retrospect that it has earned the classic status that puts it high on best albums lists. Rolling Stone places it at number 99 of its 500 Best Albums.

The band was falling apart while this record was being recorded. Sly's behavior had become erratic, and record company deadlines had stopped meaning much to him. People who had not seen this band since the great Stand! album and their incredible Woodstock performance were likely shocked by this record. Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart) created music that reflected the troubled events in the increasingly violent, racially-divided world that emerged as the sixties ended.

The album may be dark, but it's still loaded with the funky grooves you expect from this band, and the social messages that were always present in their songs. Artistically, it's a solid album, a good reflection of where its primary creator's head was at the time. Unfortunately, Sly was well on his way to becoming the next rock and roll casualty, and that downslide is evident here. He was still among the most expressive composers in the industry, though, and his genius shines through the darkness. "Africa Talks To You (The Asphalt Jungle)" is a good example of the funk guitar and innovative slap bass that made the band famous, behind the growling vocals of a stoned Stone.

So, that I prefer the livelier psychedelic funk of their earlier records does not mean that this album does not deserve a place in our reviews. This is still influential music unlike anything that ever came before. And those beats are incredible. Even if Sly sounds completely wasted, he's still breaking ground and writing songs with a lot to say.

Brad's Take:

I haven't gone deep into Sly & the Family Stone's catalog or anything, but from what I do know about them, I know that There's A Riot Goin' On is a bit of a departure from what came out before it. Before, you had more radio-friendly funk jams, but with this album, everything is a lot darker and mellow.

After reading the Wikipedia page about the making of this album, it's very apparent that Sly was going through all sorts of personal changes and dark things that directly affected his music. Drugs, inner-band drama, and all kinds of other things. You can hear the darkness all over this album. It's almost unbelievable that this even got recorded and released at all. Sly was getting heavily into drugs and would rather do those than actually work on music a lot of the time. There's A Riot Goin' On is an obvious beginning to a new chapter of Sly & the Family Stone.

Personally, I didn't really like it. I felt the moodiness throughout the album though, and maybe that's why none of it really excited me or anything. Maybe that feeling was part of the experience. Maybe I did like it! Either way, I don't really see myself coming back to this.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"IV" by Led Zeppelin (November, 1971)

Brad's Take:

It's kind of crazy to think that even four albums in, Led Zeppelin still had it! The opening track "Black Dog" just proves that they were not even close to being done melting peoples faces off. "Black Dog", "Rock and Roll", "Stairway to Heaven", When the Levee Breaks"... This is just packed with gold. Even the lesser knows songs, like "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Four Sticks" are awesome.

This is just proof that The Beatles aren't the only band with absolutely irreplaceable band members. Robert Plant, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones together make the perfect hard-rock equation. 

Every good thing about this album (and the band, in general) has been said on all of the other reviews we've done for these guys. This is yet another perfect Zeppelin record!

Dad's Take:

This album, technically untitled but known for convenience as Led Zeppelin IV, is the one many people my age think of first when they think of Zeppelin. From the iconic cover to the well-known songs, this album is definitely a classic. From the initial "Hey mama, said the way you move" to the end of "When the Levee Breaks," much of my generation knows this one pretty much by heart. I mean, is there a bigger anthem of seventies rock than "Stairway to Heaven"? And what kind of immortal rock god does it take to write a song like "Going to California"?

The album still has some of the psychedelic touches of their earlier album, but mostly it's balls-to-the-wall rock, with touches of Tolkien fantasy and a whole lotta old blues (some of it stolen without credit...). Musically and lyrically, this is a pretty amazing album. Even if you're one of those people who never got into Led Zeppelin, I bet some of these songs will make you say, "OK, yeah, I do kind of like that one."

As Brad said, it's hard to think of new things to say that we didn't mention in earlier reviews. This is Zeppelin, and unless you've been hiding under a rock with your Air Supply records, you know exactly what that means.

If it's been a long time since you've rock and rolled, pull this album out of your collection (if you're over 50, you probably have it somewhere, and if you're younger, chances are you do too), put it on for a spin, and let your mind be blown.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Electric Warrior" by T. Rex (September, 1971)

Dad's Take:

T. Rex is best known in the U.S. for the song "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," from this album. However, listening to Electric Warrior reveals that this is a solid band and a great album.

A pioneer of glam rock, T. Rex treats us to solid bass lines, enjoyable songs, and classic riffs. "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" is clearly the stand-out track, but it fits well with the rest of the album, which is full of the elements that make that such a classic song.

When you compare this to something else from 1971, for example Joni Mitchell's "Blue," it feels like a lightweight, shallow record. There's not a lot of emotional connections to be made here. But it's not supposed to be deep. It's supposed to be a simple glam rock album, a playful record that doesn't take itself too seriously, full of musical games and wordplay (yes, he really compares the object of his affection's body to a car, but then, she does have a hubcap diamond star halo). This is kind of like what rock 'n' roll was originally meant to be, before it grew up and became serious.

It's a fun record, and clear proof that eighties rock started in the early seventies. For example, "Jeepster" could be Adam Ant or any number of eighties bands, slight but catchy and full of Marc Bolan's rather androgynous sensuality. It's no surprise that several songs from this record were covered in the eighties and early nineties.

Maybe not one of my favorite albums, but it spent a few weeks in my car stereo last summer. It's only rock and roll, but I like it.

Brad's Take:

I've never listened to T. Rex before so I didn't know what to expect at all. When I hit play, I was already into it. "Mambo Sun" was a great way to start the record. I was a little let down though when the song didn't really pick up or bust into any huge chorus or anything, like I was hoping for. But as soon as the next song started, I realized that this was just their sound and it was time to not expect anything more than just mid-tempo pop/rock music.

I don't really have much else to say about this album because it doesn't really do very much. There weren't really any standout tracks on here. They were all fairly similar, but not really in a bad way. This was a very easy album to listen to. T. Rex didn't try to be groundbreaking or anything on here. It was just a nice, safe rock record, and I can handle that. It's good though, for what it is. I just wish they had more dynamics in the music so it didn't sound so flat.

"Who's Next" by the Who (August, 1971)

Dad's Take:

Listening to Who's Next, I can't help but wonder if this is the Who album that will finally sell The Boy on this great band. With roots in another rock opera, the unfinished Lifehouse, Who's Next is as solid as a greatest hits album.

When a record starts with "Baba O'Reilly" and ends with "Won't Get Fooled Again" (ten-year-old me's first big favorite Who song, and probably still at the top of my list), you have to wonder if everything in the middle will be able to live up to being bookended by two of the greatest Who songs--nay, two of the greatest rock songs--ever put on record. No worries here. The stuff in the middle is just as solid. "Bargain," "My Wife," "The Song is Over," "Gettin' In Tune," "Going Mobile," and "Behind Blue Eyes" are all among the band's best.

Brilliant Townshend guitar and songwriting, classic Daltrey vocals, all to a prominent Entwistle/Moon rhythm backing that shows both of these geniuses at their best, this is the Who at the peak of their game. Absolutely freakin' brilliant from beginning to end.

I feel like I'm not doing this one justice with a short review, but I have to turn this one up and listen without worrying about having to write about it. This record might have sprung from the ashes of a failed project, but it's anything but a failure. Seriously, one of the greatest rock albums ever. It's hard to think of one that beats it. When it's done, I think I'll listen again.

Brad's Take:

You know as soon as those big piano chords comes in that this is going to be an epic song. When you kick off an album with a song like "Baba O'Riley", you're setting the expectations for the rest of the album very high. That song is a classic rock staple. The random violin breakdown at the end makes me want to get up and do a jig though, but I can forgive those last few seconds because the rest of the song is just so good.

Track 2 ("Pure and Easy") didn't really compete with "Baba O'Riley", unfortunately. The non-stop frantic drumming and funky bass lines were cool, but the most of the song was pretty forgettable to me. The next song didn't really do much for me either.

"My Wife" was really great though. Kind of a silly song about a drunk guy coming home late and being scared his wife is going to unleash her wrath on him, suspecting that he was with another woman. Bassist, John Entwistle, takes over lead vocals, as well as much of the song's instrumentation. The second half of the song was especially awesome.

The next few songs kind of blended together because I was distracted by the drumming. You can't really talk about The Who without at least mentioning Keith Moon. Did that guy ever stop?! He's non-stop on this album. It's like he walked into the studio already flailing around, and then they sat him down at a drum kit, handed him some sticks, pushed record, and then just jumped out of the way and watched the man beat the hell out of some stuff. Dare I say, I think he overplays a bit sometimes. Kind of like there's two songs playing at the same time.

"Behind Blue Eyes" would have been a better song if I didn't have the Limp Bizkit version engraved in my brain. I think until now that was the only version of this song I'd ever heard. Sad, right? Needless to say, The Who's is by far the better of the two.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" is another classic. It has the same kind of epic-ness of "Baba O'Riley" which book-ends the album perfectly.

Compared to the other Who albums we've reviewed, this is by far my favorite. There isn't a bad song on it. Sure, some blend together in the middle, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. It just makes me want to go back to this again and familiarize myself with it a little more.

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Blue" by Joni Mitchell (June, 1971)

Dad's Take:

"Blue" is one of the most influential singer-songwriter albums ever. It definitely belongs on any list of classic albums. In fact, many of today's singer-songwriter can trace their style back directly to Joni Mitchell.

The thing about Joni Mitchell is that she sounds like she is completely honest. Playing live was hard for her, especially early in her career, because she was a private person who had problems revealing so much of her inner self to a live audience. Listening to this album, recorded shortly after her break-up with Graham Nash, and largely written (as is obvious in many of the lyrics) during her tour of Europe after that relationship ended. Mitchell said that, on this album, she "felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes," emotionally transparent and open.

The album is as bare as an open wound, as stark and revealing as maybe any album has ever been. And, even though I'm not always a fan of her soprano leanings, I find this album to be beautiful in its deceptive simplicity. It's not so simple at all, with its alternate tunings and complicated melodies.

I really shouldn't try to single out any songs. I'd have to mention almost all of them. The album works best as a collection. There weren't really any hit songs, but the album itslef is on pretty much every greatest albums list ever compiled. "Carey," which peaked at 93 on the US charts, is a nice, relatively upbeat change from the mellow sadness of the songs that come before it, so it stands out to me. The opening of the title song, "Blue," sends chills down my spine. "River" is a beautiful song that might be familiar to some people. Pretty much every song is strong, but every song is even stronger as part of the whole album.

When I think of favorite artists and albums, Joni Mitchell doesn't come to mind. But this album makes me wonder why that it is. It really is a beautiful album, and a remarkable artistic statement.

Brad's Take:

I'm sure Joni Mitchell had these songs completely written when she went in to record them, but a lot of the songs feel very loose and spontaneous, like she's just playing and singing whatever she's feeling in that exact moment. That really adds to the charm and beauty of this album though. You can feel the emotion in her vocal delivery and roller coaster melodies.

I'm usually more into more upbeat songs, but on this record, I enjoy the sad slow ones the most. I especially really love her line in the title track: "Crown and anchor me, or let me sail away" or the line in "River": "I wish I had a river I could skate away on."

With this being my first first Joni Mitchell adventure, I liked Blue. I may seek out more from her eventually because this was pretty enjoyable, but I assume that she probably doesn't stray far from this particular sound over most of her 19 studio albums. I think I'd get burned out pretty quick, if that's the case. I've listened to a couple of her songs that came out of the 80s though and those are definitely a departure from the folky/singer-songwriter stuff that she's best known for. Maybe she has a killer disco album somewhere in her discography too...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic (August, 1971)

Dad's Take:

I discovered this album a couple years ago. Somehow it had slipped my attention, although I was aware of Funkadelic and had heard a couple of the songs. From the first time I put it on, I knew this one was for me.

I love funk, and I like psychedelic, and this combines them. What's not to like?

If Brad was a little bothered by the musical sameness across songs one the last album we reviewed, he'll be pleased by the large difference between songs on this record. The album begins with one of the great guitar solos, a mind-bending lengthy performance that transports the listener to another world. Next comes a soulful gospel sound on "Can You Get To That." And, of course, "Hit It and Quit It" is a funky rocker featuring more great guitar work from Eddie Hazel. Next they channel Sly and the Family Stone (minus, maybe, the hyperactivity, that wonderful hyperactivity of Sly's best work) on "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks." "Super Stupid," is another highlight, some great funk rock.

The record continues on that way, blending funk and rock and psychedelia and electronic sounds through the music and the sometimes socially conscious and sometimes abstract lyrics. The combination is, I think, fun, and definitely far from boring. Even the long final track, Wars of Armageddon" holds my interest through its sheer weirdness and humor.

Can't wait to see how the boy reacts to this one. The production is a little muddy at times, and he's not really into the whole psychedelic thing. On the other hand, he likes him some good guitar and some funky rhythms and some humor.

I really like this one. It might not ever make my personal top 20, but I like to pull it out every now and then and get down with my psych self.

Brad's Take:

Why not start an album off with an instrumental, 10 minute long guitar solo track? Apparently, Funkadelic wanted to be funky and experimental for their opening track. This track is a little misleading though and doesn't really showcase what this album is all about, in my opinion. The next couple tracks, while still funky and kinda weird, they're more straightforward funk/rock jams.

During the third track, "Hit It and Quit It," it ends with an epic guitar solo which is masked by a bunch of weird noise. I imagine this is probably what Jimi Hendrix's music sounded like to his audience back in the 60s, while they were trippin' on stuff to make it more "funkadelic."

This album actually surprised me. Even though it's a bit weirder than I usually gravitate towards, I actually enjoyed this album a lot. Most of it, at least. However, there's only 7 tracks. My favorite songs were "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks" and "Super Stupid." Both of those songs have great grooves and lots of emotion and fun behind them.

The last two tracks on the album are more less just experimental jams/random noises. The album ends with some crazy fart noises though (seriously) so I can't hate on it too much. It's a good/better-than-good album of funky experimental jams. I liked it.