Friday, May 6, 2016
"The Singles: 1969–1973" by The Carpenters (November, 1973)
I randomly discovered a YouTube video a few months of Karen Carpenter killin' it on the drums on some old variety TV show, and I was so impressed. I thought she was just "the girl from the Carpenters." I didn't realize she was also a great drummer! It caught me by surprise, and I immediately started watching interviews and documentaries about Karen and Richard Carpenter, and listening to all their music, including Karen's solo album that wasn't even released until 13 years after her untimely death. Needless to say, I became a fan.
"We've Only Just Begun", "Rainy Days and Mondays", "Top of the World", and 9 other classic Carpenter tunes fill out this compilation. If you're a fan at all of the group, this is an essential piece to have on deck when you're feeling like just chillin' on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. And if you aren't a fan of them, this is not for you because it most likely contains every song you hate.
There isn't much else I have to say about this. There's no real duds on here. It just showcases the best of the best. It's nice and laid back. I could fall asleep to this and have happy dreams.
I've mentioned before that I think it's kind of cheating to include greatest hits records in a list of classic albums. However, if any deserve the title classic, this is one, along with the Eagles Greatest Hits.
Everybody had this album. Well, I didn't. I didn't need it. Enough people I knew had it that I could hear it whenever I wanted, back when music sharing meant listening to records together in somebody's room. Also, because the Carpenters were radio darlings, you could pretty much be sure you'd hear them whenever you turned on your clock radio or your parents' hi-fi console. Only problem is, your parents liked 'em too, and man, that's just not cool.
This album cover should appear as the definition of ear candy in the dictionary. Karen Carpenter's voice was sweet and clear, and the Carpenters used songs by some of the biggest songwriters of the period. (Oh, and Richard Carpenter's own songs weren't so bad either.) Mix that with mellow, somewhat muted arrangements performed by some of the best musicians available in an LA studio, and the combination is pure, easy listening bliss.
If you're not a Carpenters fan, chances are you'll find at least a couple songs here that you like, even if you don't want to admit it out loud. And if you just can't handle anything this sweet because of your hyperrocksemia, stay away. Baby baby baby baby oh baby, is it sweet. This will likely put you into a diabetic coma.
For those occasions when you need to hear something soft and warm, though--like maybe a rainy Monday--you just can't do much better than this album. If you like a dose of Carpenters now and then, this is the only record you need. It has most of the songs you remember. Every sha-la-la-la and every whoa-woh-oh-oh will bring back happy memories. But for some listeners, the shing-a-ling-a-lings will put you over the edge.
Just make sure you brush your teeth after you listen.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Elton John (October, 1973)
How have I never listened to this before? Elton John wasn't fooling around with this one.
A huge, epic 6 minute long instrumental track opens the album and flows seamlessly into "Love Lies Bleeding" which sounds like a classic upbeat Elton song. Making the opening track 11 minutes long is a bold move, but this was very well done. The instrumental intro and the song itself were both interesting and awesome enough that putting them together in one single track was just fine. But boy was it daunting before I hit play! What a way to open an album though! So good.
With such a huge opening to the album, of course he'd follow that with the fantastic ode to Marilyn Monroe, "Candle in the Wind", and then with (as if it couldn't get any better) my favorite Elton John song "Bennie and the Jets." 19 minutes into the album, it's already perfect.
The vast majority of this album is completely new to me. I'm kicking myself for not listening to this sooner! There are so many fantastic songs on here that I've never heard before, such as "Grey Seal", "Dirty Little Girl", and "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock'n' Roll)."
Big hits aside, every song on this album is great. Even "Jamaica Jerk Off", which was pretty unexpected but still fun. I'm definitely going to have to dive into the bonus tracks and documentaries that revolve around this. Somehow 17 songs didn't satisfy me enough. I need more!
Ah, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the album I wanted for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but never got.
Every decade has its smash hits, the albums that define the decade. Can anybody doubt that this is one of them for the seventies? I envy Brad for hearing it for the first time. At the same time, I wondered how he'd like it out of the context of its time. That he digs it makes me happy.
For those who weren't there, it's hard to comprehend just how massive this record was, and maybe even why it was so huge. I can't separate it from nostalgia and just listen to it for a review. I can't help but view it through retro specs. Big, huge, gigantic, diamond-studded retro specs adorned with feathers and everything shiny.
It's somehow easy now to dismiss the album as seventies AM pop (not that there's anything wrong with that), but even a casual listen shows that it's more than that. From the epic "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" through the rest of all four sides, this is a creative album, filled with interesting, fun songs that often go deeper than mere pop radio fluff.
This is one of those that, if I were to cite favorite songs, I'd pretty much have to list them all. The title song is brilliant, with some of the best put down lyrics this side of Dylan. "Grey Seal" is great. "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and "Bennie and the Jets" were favorites then and still hold up now. "Harmony." "All the Girls Love Alice." I might as well just list the entire album. I can't even pick a favorite side. With a knife to my throat I might pick Side 4, but I'd do it regretting that I hadn't picked the other sides.
So often, the old classics don't fare well when you listen again many years later through your later experiences and changes in taste, especially when so many songs have become part of the fabric of life to the point where maybe you've heard then one too many times. Or a thousand too many times. But not this one. Not for me anyway. Some songs, like "Candle in the Wind," have grown a little old, but for the most part, this is still a great listen, just like it was back in Jr. High.
This album is more than a relic of the past. (Admittedly, it's hard to say that about an album that has just about always been there for me, because I can't judge it without the past coloring my opinion.) That it can still captivate a younger audience, like my kid, shows that there's something timeless here. Take away the Elton John kitsch and the tackiness of the time, and you're still left with a classic album that holds up today.
"Countdown to Ecstasy" by Steely Dan (July, 1973)
Steely Dan is another one of those bands that I've always heard mentioned but never actually sat and listened to.
Countdown to Ecstasy is packed with groovin' jazz rock. It's really fun to listen to. I'm sure the more I listen to it, the more I will pick up. There's a lot of cool stuff going on throughout the songs. The jazz drum beats, with the bass plucking along, the crazy keyboard solos, the distorted rock guitar solos, catchy vocal melodies, etc. make it really interesting. This is an album that you can sit and listen to intently, dissecting each instrument, lyric, or melody, or you can listen to it as background music. Either way, it's very enjoyable. It's mellow and rockin' at the same time, which makes it easy to listen to at just about any time.
Some songs I especially enjoyed are "The Boston Rag", "Show Biz Kids", and "My Old School." The album didn't produce any hit singles, but I think that if "My Old School" had been shortened in order to be more radio friendly, it could have done really well. It's a fantastic upbeat catchy tune, but it's almost 6 minutes long.
I'm not sure what the rest of their discography sounds like compared to this album, but I'm definitely more interested in diving into more of Steely Dan's stuff after hearing this.
Confession time: Unlike many of my peers, I was never a big Steely Dan fan. There, I said it.
It's not that I didn't like them, exactly. They're one of those bands who were a radio constant in the 70s, and I usually liked the songs I heard well enough. They didn't usually capture me at a visceral level, but I liked them. The songs were well-crafted, well-produced, and deserved their popularity. They were a part of the soundtrack of my life, but they never became more than that for me, personally. They were almost too tight, too slick.
Except one song. One song that wasn't played much, but when it was, I stopped what I was doing and I listened.
That song, "Boddhisattva," happens to open this album, starting things off in a way that opens my ears to the band I never gave as much attention to as I probably should have. If anything, "Boddhisattva" should have told me that I should go deeper into Steely Dan than the usual radio hits. But what can I say? I was a teenager. I wasn't that aware. Even today, though, when I hear their name mentioned, I think, "Great band, but not quite my cuppa."
Unless I'm actually listening to them.
The truth is, these days, I like their style of jazz rock, and I like their early work, like this one (their second studio album), best. "Boddhisattva," "Razor Boy," "The Boston Rag"--great song after great song, all the way through this album.
In retrospect, it's surprising that this album didn't have bigger hit singles, especially when tracks like "Boddhisattva" and "My Old School" are so familiar now.
So, let's wrap this thing up. I really like this album. A lot. Whenever I listen to it, I don't understand why I don't dig it out more often. It's not as uber-slick as the impression I got from the later seventies hits, for one thing. For another, it's simply a collection of great songs that hold together as a complete album. This album does to me what many other Steely Dan works do: it makes me want to listen to more Steely Dan, more often.
Maybe I am a Steely Dan fan after all.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
"For Your Pleasure" by Roxy Music (March, 1973)
Morrissey calls this the "one truly great British album" but I can name a handful of other British albums that I'd rather listen to than this one again.
While For Your Pleasure isn't bad, by any means, it just didn't have a lot of tracks that I fell in love with. Not on first listen anyway.
"Editions of You" was the first song on here that really got my attention, and I fell more in love with it as it went on. Such a cool, fun, and rockin' song! It almost sounds like if the Rolling Stones had a synthesizer. I really liked that song a lot and will definitely be going back to it.
"In Every Dream Home A Heartache" is about a blow up doll, which is interesting. Kind of a cool song though that I'll probably find myself going back to. It's like how it fades out and then comes back in with a phasing effect on it.
Those two songs were the only ones that I really enjoyed. The others aren't bad, but didn't grab me the same way, but they still make a real solid album.
This is one of four Roxy Music albums to make the Rolling Stone 500 Best Albums list. It's also the last Roxy Music album to feature Brian Eno, who later became a pretty big name on his own.
And, I don't think I've ever listened to it. Go figure.
This is another of those kind of odd British albums that telegraphed what we were going to hear a lot in the eighties. It's sort of Bowie-esque or T-Rex-ish, but not quite exactly. I mean, they were clearly Glam Rock, but if all you do is listen without any visuals, you might hesitate to put them in that category. And then, some songs are obviously glam. It's really hard to imagine the eighties without these 70s glam bands. Then again, the eighties weren't exactly my favorite musical decade, overall, despite some stuff I really enjoy.
Like Brad, "Editions of You" was the first song to really grab my attention, probably because it's more of a straight-up rocker from the familiar R&B tradition.On the other hand, the slow, haunting "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" reminds me a little of the Vanilla Fudge version of "Season of the Witch," only without the creepiness..About halfway through, I'm kind of wishing there'd be some kind of change. And then, finally, there it is. The song starts to rock about three minutes in. That's one of a few songs that hearken back to psychedelia, which, of course, I like. The lengthy "The Bogus Man" is another of those psychedelic-tinged songs that held my attention.
I think my reaction is a little more positive than the boy's, but then, I survived the seventies and the oddness of much of the decade is nothing new to me. Three songs in, I'm enjoying this, but not loving it. I think this might be one of those more-than-one-listen records, to get through the initial impression and really hear it. But it does make me curious about their other albums. Really, I know them mainly for a few singles, like "Love Is the Drug." There's nothing here I dislike, exactly, but there's not a lot that grabs me by the, er, throat--yeah, let's go with throat.
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