Thursday, December 30, 2010

King Crimson “In the Court of the Crimson King” (1969)

Released in progressive rock's ground zero year of 1969, King Crimson's debut instantly upped the ante in terms of expanding the possibilities of where rock music could go, it's expansive songs and the individual members' mastery of their instruments defining the genre. One seriously heavy and hyper-intelligent statement, In the Court of the Crimson King explodes with the primal, scalding venom of "21st Century Schizoid Man," as lyricist Peter Sinfield's Vietnam-era imagery of "innocents raped by napalm fire" delivered through Greg Lake's distorted vocals are encircled by a torrent of lacerating Fripp guitar chords, tightly controlled high-octane ensemble passages, and free-jazz discord from Ian McDonald's layered sax solo. "21st Century Schizoid Man" sets you up for an almost reverse-whiplash effect, as tracks like the exploratory "Moonchild" and lush chamber balladry of "I Talk to the Wind" widen the scope further with their fragility, while the stately "Epitaph" and bombastic title track are carried on the towering waves of a booming, primitive/modern mellotron orchestra, as images of doom and destruction abound. In the Court of the Crimson King would set the template for much of King Crimson's work, despite the band's multiple lineup changes, with it's ability to bludgeon, soothe, and strike a nerve throughout this landmark release resulting in a distinguished rock institution. –Ben

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Miles Davis “Get Up With It” (1970)

Without a doubt, one of the greatest albums of them all, a double set only comparable to the likes of the Stooges' "Funhouse" in its darkness, intensity and raw, funky sexuality. Now for starters let's get something straight: I loathe "fusion", and to even CONSIDER putting Miles' music of the '70s in that category - a genre filled with lilly-livered chumps like Return To Forever and the Yellow Jackets - is a great disservice to Miles and his music. From 1969 to '75, Mr. Davis pioneered and created his own unique sounds, a mixture of hard funk, psychedelic rock, avant-garde electronics and free jazz, that has never been equalled in regards to its sonics or its "vibe". There is NOTHING that can touch the raised-middle-finger jab in the guts felt when one puts on discs like "Dark Magus", "Live Evil", "Agharta", "Big Fun" or "On The Corner". The feelings of utter loathing and despair, the overwhelming EMOTION of these discs can be too much, yet nothing can prepare you for 1974's "Get Up With It", a disc of such wildness and total lack of any commercial forethought (and thank the heavens for that) that it was granted pretty much instant deletion upon release and has mainly only been available from Japan for the last 25 years.

Start with the cover: a big, slightly unflattering, grainy photo of The Man. It's the sight of a man against the world, battling for his own identity. Hit the first track, "He Loved Him Madly" (a tribute to Duke Ellington), a 32-minute ambient piece only broken up occasionally by Peter Cosey's mumbling guitar lines. It's one of the saddest damn songs you'll ever hear, and you can bet yer booty that if it was made by a bunch of white guys in Berlin ca. '71, every Krautrock freak in town would be hailing it as a classic. Next track "Maiysha" is a schizophrenic one. For ten minutes in merely putters along like a lite Latin number, interrupted sporadically by Miles' Sun Ra-like organ, then it stops, gets into a hard groove and proceeds to move along to Peter Cosey's awesome guitar screeches for another five minutes. Hot. "Honky Tonk" is up next, a brief interlude of stop-start rhythms and noisy organ crunch. It prepares you for the next track the unstoppable "Rated X", THE peak of Miles' - or maybe anyone's - sonic capabilities. Part hyperdive breakbeat rhthyms, part uber-funk, and nine parts pure noise, there is no other sound on earth as MOVING as this song. Get up with it. Disc two starts with "Calypso Frelimo", another 32-minute piece that starts where "Rated X" finishes off. Ecstatic peaks of dark psychedelic jamming, aided by Miles' wah-wah'd trumpet, gel and compete. "Red China Blues" is a brief number that kicks it in a Chess-Records-meets-Ornette way, and the 15-minute+ "Mtume" once again takes you for a ride with its collision of Cosey's guitar (a highly under-rated player in a field with the likes of Sonny Sharrock) and about half a dozen percussionists. Finishing is "Billy Preston", more chilling mid-range avant-funk to close the set. "Get Up With It" is the perfect summation of what was filling Miles' head at the time: the avant electronics of Stockhausen, the cyclical funk of James Brown, the wailing psych guitar of Hendrix, the improvised freeness of Ornette Coleman and as The Man himself put it, "a deep African thing". Many words have been written on Miles' music of this period, but to really GET it, you have to LISTEN to it. Not a word is spoken on GUWI, yet it speaks volumes on its creator's alienation and sense of despair. As far as so-called "out-rock" goes, this is about as "out" as you could get, and certainly about as purely "psychedelic" as music has ever gotten, so do the done thing and get with it. –Dave

Sunday, December 26, 2010

ZZ Top - Tejas (1977)

1977s Tejas is a transition album for Texas rockers ZZ Top. It is the beginning of their step away from the Blues Rock that had brought them fame and a lot of record sales and towards the 1980s Electronic Blues that would eventually make them a worldwide phenomenon. There is more of the former Blues Rock than the latter Electronica here though. Tejas is almost as good a ZZ Top's masterpiece Deguello, but is held back by some weaker tracks, something Deguello didn't suffer from. Still there are some amazing songs here, notable the blazing, yet tongue in cheek Arrested for Driving While Blind, the countrified and rollicking She's a Heartbreaker, and the achingly beautiful Asleep in the Desert. Overall Tejas is an important part of ZZ Top's discography, and a very good album. –Karl

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ventures “The Ventures Christmas Album” (1965)

The Ventures, who seemed to crank out a dozen-odd albums every year during their heyday in the 1960s, released this gem in 1965. It distinguishes itself from its holiday brethren by using a mixture of two styles that should be antitheses of each other: the Christmas carol and surf music (or more fundamentally, winter and summer). Traditionally, the heart of each of these styles lies in evoking a mood. The danger in trying to evoke two moods simultaneously is that it might become a hokey mishmash (like those "Santa-in-a-Hawaiian-shirt" tourist trinkets for sale in the islands). Through the skill of The Ventures and their producers, however, the two are combined into a fairly seamless whole, both heartfelt and fun - a pretty nifty trick. As on their other surf records, the guitar tones of Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards are still king, but sleigh bells (more or less subbing for the hi-hat) and glockenspiel challenge for supremacy in the mix. This elf approves! Favorites from the album include the majestic "What Child Is This" and "Silver Bells." –Wilson

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yes “Time and a Word” (1970)

1970s Time And A Word is one of the greatest first-generation Progressive Rock albums, and a wonderful musical snapshot of a young and unsettled Yes that hadn't quite yet settled into their later Prog Godhood role. Only two-thirds of the "classic" Yes lineup is here, Jon Anderson at Frotman, and the wondrous Chris Squire at Bass and Bill Bruford at Drums. Otherwise it's part-time Yes man Tony Kaye on Keyboards and Yes's original (And quite substandard compared to Steve Howe) Guitarist Peter Banks. Still Time And A Word is a wonderful solid album with some truly amazing songs hidden in it's grooves. The title track is, in my opinion, the most gorgeously beautiful song Yes ever created. And No Opportunity Necessary No Experience Needed is simply thrilling. If you are a fan of Yes, or Progressive Rock you need Time And A Word. –Karl

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Van Morrison “Astral Weeks” (1968)

“If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream...” and so opens the poetic dream masterpiece, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” It's one of those monuments to human emotion that has the power to carry the weight of your life with it. The funny thing is, I really wasn’t feeling Van for the longest time, always shelving him away in the “mom-rock” bin. Then all of a sudden something hit me and quickly snowballed into the realization of his genius. With Astral I find the strength lies in the fact that, although the production is both classical and traditional in instrumentation, the record comes across as highly psychedelic from the mysticism of the arrangements. It’s similar in that way to the first few Leonard Cohen records or Townes Van Zandt’s “Our Mother the Mountain,” And for being such a contender among quality poetic-psyche LP’s, it’s easily available and usually pretty cheap, so there's no reason why you can't check it out. –Alex

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band “Express Yourself” (1970)

Somewhere between the Funk formalism of James Brown and free-spiritedness of Sly Stone can be found Charles Wright. In a perfect world, this enormous talent would be mentioned in the same breath as Redding, Gaye, and Green, but Wright's long-term success was hobbled by the line-up changes of his various backing bands, inconsistent records, and other music biz unpleasantries. Though he recorded lots of great music–even his weakest efforts are at least worth hearing–this record is his shining moment. Its title track is its most famous (and most sampled), but other tracks like I Got Love and the free-form funk freakout, High as Apple Pie parts 1 & 2, give it a Gospel-like sense of joy. Few reissued records have caused as much confusion as this one. The original release kicked off with a tight little number called A Road Without End. Future pressings, however, replaced that track with Love Land, which appeared on his previous LP, In the Jungle Babe. Love Land is a great song in its own right, but it doesn't suit the feel of Express Yourself as well as the track it replaces. For this reason, an original pressing of the record is well-worth tracking down. –Richard P

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back “Sea Change” (2002)

Covering The Zombies, John Martyn, and Nick Drake during his sessions and tour of Sea change, Beck's influences are clearly heard and channeled this time around. While Mutations was all over the place, here Beck works on a very focused playing ground yet stretching some songs to the limit like the bare "Paper Tiger" or very solemn "It's All in Your Mind". His voice reaches such a level of power and beauty that could never have been foreseen coming from Mr.MTV Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack, especially in the country tinged "Guess I'm Doing Fine". There is just such a chilling yet peaceful tone to Beck's voice and overall melodies that fully captures what the man must've felt to put out such an unpredictable yet honest record.

Beck has always channeled his place in life and views throughout his albums, whether people could see it through his bizzare language and theatrics is something less debatable. Mutations was his Moon & Antarctica (read: Hopeless, disenchanted sad sack record) but you would have never known, but here we see the most straightforward lyricism yet from Beck. The bitterness ("Is that what you thought love was for?"), the one sided love ("I can't cry them anymore/I can't think of what they're for"), and hopeful hopelessness ("Let it pass on the side of the road/What a friend could tell me now"); Everything here is easy to read into yet nonetheless powerful or mysterious.

As much of a downer Sea Change was in 2002, it gave me a real sense that Beck went on this sorrowful, soul-draining spiritual journey so I wouldn't have to. It was quite the opposite but Sea Change turned out to become one of the best friends I've had. Life's turned out to be less of my own private award show of Mr. Holland's Opus and more of a grim train ride passing by everyone I've hurt and everyone that's failed to see how I've helped them. I guess I'm at the "Already Dead" part of my life working up to "Side of the Road", so it makes sense that the 2nd half of the album has began to click with me. It's also has begun to make sense how strangely beautiful the most awful moments of your life can be, especially when Sea Change is your soundtrack. –Allistair

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fleetwood Mac “Tusk” (1979)

I believe that the true power in this world is love. There's obviously a strong universal relation to the longing of the soul. I also believe that Fleetwood Mac just might be the best musical representation of love. I could probably write about any Mac record, making similar points, TUSK just happens to be living on my turntable at the moment. It's not a perfect album by any means, but when you dive deep into this band, it all hits the spot. TUSK is the double-LP follow up to their multi-platinum break up monster, Rumors. Of course there's no way Tusk could ever have been nearly as much of a commercial success, but that's what's nice about it for me, there's at least one full-length records worth of killer pop "anti" hits that still satisfy the listener in the same way, beautiful vocal coloring over lindsey buckingham's percussive strumming and driven home by that wonderful snare crack that mick fleetwood perfected in the pop years. Plus this seems to be the point where Buckingham really took over the production and, for lack of a better term, went insane. So the arrangements are wacky as hell at some points and he must have played at least 50 different stringed instruments on it, but what's love without craziness? Give this a chance if you haven't already. For lovers only. –Alex

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Repost: King Crimson “Red” (1974)

A caged beast of a record, and easily this group's best, it strips away most of their obscurantist pretensions to serve up a guitar bass and drum assault that runs frequently into the red and is something to behold: Bruford's drumming is jaw-dropping, while Fripp plays with a dark metallic intensity that suggests he's one of rock's wasted talents. I can even put up with John Wetton here, whose ferocious bass playing is more like a second (maybe third) lead instrument and whose singing has a kind of macho bravura that suits this music's seething intensity. Still, the beast is caged. I'm always a little let down by the second side, which is what keeps Red from essentially essential status, with the wandering "Providence" (another crack at the improv-based excursions heard on the previous album) and the somewhat undercooked "Starless." No, I'm not kidding: "Starless," which many listeners seem to think is a masterpiece, could've used a little more work. I'm forever disappointed by the whole trajectory of this track, which at 12-some minutes would've benefited from a few more (the majestic ending should've been lengthier, to provide a kind of bookend equivalent to the sturm-und-drang of "Red;" it may be quibbling, but it's my party and I'll cry if I want to). So, instead of the Godzilla of prog-rock tracks, "Starless" is merely a woolly mammoth. This group never made the great record they should've made. This one's the only one that comes close. And oh so close. –Will

Monday, December 06, 2010

Go-Go’s “Beauty and the Beat” (1981)

Much as the Rock press would like to think, The Go-Go's were never Punk Rock. What they did take from Punk was the ethos rather than the music, the ability to form a band from a group of like minded individuals who perform music, disregarding technical musical ability or preconceived notion that rock is a masculine world, and for a brief moment they were the Darlings of the music industry. "Beauty And The Beat" is a testament to this ethic, brash, fun, slightly shambolic, but always heartfelt Power Pop. Formed in 1978 and originally called The Misfits and made up of Belinda Carlisle (Vocals), Jane Wiedlin (Guitar, Vocals), Charlotte Caffey (Guitar, Vocals), Margot Olaverra (Bass), and Elissa Bello (Drums), the band's major breakthrough would come through building a following from their support slot for British Ska nutty boys, Madness, and this led to a contract with Stiff Records for a one off single "We Got The Beat". The major record labels showed an interest in both the single and the live following the band were attracting, and The Go-Go's signed to IRS in early 1981. This, their debut would reach number 1 in the Billboard album charts for 6 weeks and would eventually go to sell over 2 million copies. Spiky Power Pop at its best, the Jane Wiedlin/Terry Hall co-composed single "Our Lips Are Sealed" would be the star attraction, along with other highlights including "We Got The Beat", "This Town", "Lust To Love", and the fine closer "Can't Stop The World". A surprisingly assured album, that carries alongside its demure directness, a touching astuteness. –Ben H

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tim Buckley “Starsailor” (1970)

Tim Buckley had already begun to alienate his folkie fanbase with “Lorca” a few months earlier– what the hell was up with this golden-voiced disciple of Fred Neil? Why would he release an album filled with meandering free jazz-like structures and vocal gymnastics that made it sound as though he was being disemboweled? Well, if they wuz bewildered by “Lorca,” “Starsailor” musta felt like a kick in the groin. Not only was it a continuation of the avant garde themes which in hindsight, he’d barely scratched, it was a full-on operetta revolving around the pit of anguish that burned in his guts; he also began to fully utilize the five and a half octave vocal range he had at his disposal.

I’m gonna hazard a guess that Buckley had been listening intently to Leon Thomas– particularly his work with Pharaoh Sanders on “Karma.” He liberally borrows Thomas’ conventional-croon-to-absurd-yodel on several tracks, most notably “Monterey,” a dissonant Voodoo Blues that conjures a vibe equal parts atavistic ritual and sleazy mating call. Bunk Gardner, late of the Mothers of Invention, provides some Ornette-esque sax squawk, further pushing the song into uncharted territory– at least for the early 1970’s zeitgeist. “Moulin Rouge” is a brief slice of Franco-Pop that coulda easily been recorded by Edith Piaf– I only mention it as it is one of the few cuts that provides a respite from the suffocating melancholy and bordering on psychedelic experimentation that makes up the rest of the LP. For instance, the ethereal title track is akin to smoking far too much DMT, only to discover that instead of encountering the promised elves hiding in the artificial netherworld, you find yourself surrounded by bloodthirsty, shapeless abominations far outside the realms of HP Lovecraft’s worst nightmares. Lee Underwood’s stellar guitar work also deserves a nod. His connection with Buckley borders on preternatural– be it the spare, mournful licks he uses to accompany Tim’s wounded wail on the oft-covered/butchered “Song to the Siren,” or the majestic, fleet-fingered riffs that double Buckley’s vocal on “Come Here Woman.”

If you’re new to the elder Buckley, this may not be the best place to start. I’d recommend “Dream Letter: Live in London” for virgins, as well as for fans of his offspring, a certain Jeff. –Jake P

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mercyful Fate “Melissa” (1983)

Melissa unleashed the dark majesty of Mercyful Fate on welcoming hordes of eager metalheads ready to set sail on a lake of fire, the band picking up where Priest left off with their late 70's platters of pain and injecting an elevated sophistication and malevolence embodied in the angelic blasphemor wails of King Diamond. While the edge of Melissa's sacrifical blade is slightly dulled by the tangled fortress "Satan's Fall" on side two, the purity of purpose in classics like "Evil," grave robbing "Curse of the Pharaohs," and the pummeling "Black Funeral" let loose such torrents of spectral ferocity and hell-spawned riffage that Melissa stands as an all-consuming plethora of wicked delights. –Ben

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Isley Brothers “3 + 3” (1973)

“3 + 3” is a celebratory achievement on a number of levels. The radical shift for many soul acts that were popular in the 60s was to relinquish the sweetly string drenched sounds for a stripped down, harder, rock influenced edge. This 1973 recording is a perfect example of how a band can successfully augment a new style and yet maintain the sumptuous tunes and tight grooves. The full time introduction of younger brothers Ernie (guitar) and Marvin (bass) Isley and cousin Chris Jasper (keyboards) to the fold adds a fresh dynamic and a realisation that the older siblings could count on a level of instrumental originality to compliment their obvious vocal skills. Ernie Isley’s dominating licks bear an uncanny resemblance to the skilled grandeur of Santana, even Hendrix. Chris Jasper’s keyboard embellishments disprove the thought that Stevie Wonder was the only black artist who was experimenting with new sonic textures.

The first revelation is the re-recording of “That Lady”, a song that had been in the Isley Brothers back catalogue for 10 years. The extended jam and Ernie Isley’s ecstatic lead gives the song a remarkable resonance that brilliantly invents new silks from old threads. Their version of Seals And Croft’s tepid “Summer Breeze” adds the beautiful vocal harmonies that came so naturally to the brothers, and for this reviewer is THE definitive interpretation of the song. The heartfelt “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” harks to their former glories without a hint of cliché. “If You Were There” is simple joyful pop, and their version of The Doobie Brothers “Listen To The Music” bravely pumps up the funk for a new take on a tried and trusted tune. It’s all here, in triplicate, and without doubt constitutes one of the most entertaining soul albums of the 70s. “3 + 3” is The Isley Brothers watershed moment. –Ben H

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Phil Manzanera/801 “801 Live” (1976)

Not your every day live album, 801 Live captures the supergroup featuring ex-Roxy Musicians Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno in one of their few performances. Featuring all the sonic detail, colorful guitar and synthesizer tones, and high-class musicianship you'd expect from such a lineup, another pleasant surprise here is the excellent recording, which almost sounds more like a studio album. A subtle, delicate style informs many of these performances, highlighting tracks from Eno and Manzanera's early solo albums, the Quiet Sun album, and skewed reworkings of "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "You Really Got Me." Brainy and electronic, but warm and human as well, 801 Live is an essential purchase for fans of the musicians involved, or seventies art-rock in general. –Ben

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Joni Mitchell “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” (1975)

And so, the dazzling beauty of Court and Spark carries on with The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Musically, it continues in a similar vein - an all-star lineup effortlessly shifting between Pop, Folk and Jazz, playing rich, multi-layered arrangements which never overpower Joni, whose main concern is always the song and its words. The lyrics have become more intimate, more melancholic on The Hissing of Summer Lawns and so has the music. Again, one or two songs don't meet my undivided approval (Shadows and Light and The Jungle Line, even though the song marks the beginning of a lasting Pop format, the attempt to create a multicultural world music, ten years before Peter Gabriel, Sting and others), but the rest is again of celestial beauty. Even Joni, who would go on to record important albums until today, wasn't able to match the artistic consistency and beauty of Court And Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns until many years later, with Turbulent Indigo and Travelogue. –Yofriend

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The La’s “The La’s” (1990)

Even though John Power was an essential member of The La's, I'm loathe to label the band the forerunner of Cast. There are some similarities in the homogeneous nature of the pop music but Power had little to do with writing anything for The La's. The band was almost the private property of Lee Mavers who, if proof were needed of that fact, took it upon himself to destroy the only copy of the master tapes for the proposed second album because he was dissatisfied with the results. An action which ensured the self-destruction of the band.  On the one hand the band's demise was a cause for pity. The timeless nature of some of the songs, particularly "There She Goes", hinted at them being around for some time to come. However, on the other hand, the perfectionist disposition of Mavers would probably result in interminable periods of time between albums during which the fickle music fan would have moved on to pastures new. Whilst the songs smack of a long Merseyside tradition for producing enduring pop, Mavers almost hypnotises the listener by repeating the same word or phonetic sounds throughout. The effect lulls you into a trance-like state and the music carries you with it. It really is quite an amazing album and one for which a follow-up would have been eagerly awaited. –Ian

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Human League “Dare!” (1981)

When Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware left the Human League following the release of the band's second album "Travelogue", one would have thought that the sole remaining member Philip Oakey would have either called it a day, or risked a solo career. When the music press revealed that he was re-assembling the new Human League with an unknown Bass player ( Ian Burden), a slide projector operator (Philip Adrian Wright), two girls he had met in Sheffield club with no musical experience whatsoever (Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley), and a guitarist from the long defunct Punk band The Rezillos (Jo Callis), many must have thought that Oakey had lost the plot, and the world was half expecting the next appointment to ba a fire eating lion tamer from Halifax. Virgin uneasily supported Oakey's moves and recording started on the band's 3rd album "Dare", with The Stranglers producer Martin Rushent at the helm. Musically, Oakey wanted to retain the mechanical, industrial synthesised instrumentation and style, but introduce a Pop and Dance element to make the music a more viable proposition to the growing New Romantic following. He suceeds, and "Dare" is THE best Pop/Synth/New Romantic album of the era, a culmination of great Pop songs, dark vocals, and simple, crisp instrumentation, resulting in a number one album in the U.K. and a top 5 success in the States. There are many highlights, from the pure Pop duets "Don't You Want Me" and "Open Your Heart", the brilliant Dance numbers "Sound Of The Crowd" and "Love Action", the upbeat "Things That Dreams Are Made Of", and the paranoic "Darkness". A masterpiece of it's time, and Oakey would never be able to recapture this moment again. The album gave us an excitement that no one had come close to. –Ben H

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Parliament “Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome” (1977)

George Clinton was unstoppable. The previous album The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein was good, but this LP is unbelievable. Bob Gun opens the album with danceable Funk. Then, Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk: aside from being ultra-funky and the "lyrics" mad beyond control, the music here may be the most advanced and far-reaching of all Parliament tracks. Just listen to Bernie Worrell's synth wizardry and his abstract comments on the acoustic piano, Clinton's Sir Nose travesty, the girls' background vocals, the brass arrangement, the fat bass - at a running time of more than ten minutes, this song is a miracle! Other highlights: Funkentelechy (also over ten minutes long) and the hit, Flash Light . –Yofriend

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Velvet Underground “1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed” (1974)

"Good evening, we're the Velvet Underground.” It's a far cry from another intro uttered that same year: "Ladies and gentleman, the greatest rock and roll band in the world…” Lou Reed’s intro is obviously more understated and, coming from a notoriously prickly New Yorker, surprisingly cordial. And it goes on for awhile... After asking the audience if they would prefer a one-long-set or two-set performance, we get a recap of a Dallas Cowboys game. Almost a full minute and a half has passed when, out of nowhere, Reed casually states, "this is a song called I'm Waiting for My Man". The band then wastes no time locking into an historic, rock-solid groove.

1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed has always been a VU fan favorite, but it’s overshadowed by the band's iconic studio catalog. Misguided marketing and lame packaging are also to blame for its somewhat limited cult status. Released in 1974, during the most lucrative period of Lou Reed’s solo career, Mercury’s insistence on using his name in the title implied that other members of the VU were little more than his backing band, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The inner gatefold spread is also misleading, depicting an earlier and different (in both sound and appearance) incarnation of the band. Finally there’s the cover itself, which, in the immortal words of Patti Smith, “eats shit”. Despite this indifferent misrepresentation, this record is the first and last word in any discussion about the Velvet Underground as a live act. Almost all of the band’s classics are here, given new life---sometimes even bettered---by Reed's remarkably expressive vocals (one pines for the days when he actually sang), Sterling Morrison’s precision guitar work, Mo Tucker’s majestically simplistic drumming, and the melodic bass-playing of the most under-appreciated VU member, Doug Yule. Surprisingly large amounts of live VU performances were recorded, but this collection---the bulk of which was culled from a multi-night engagement at a tiny club in Dallas---has the best sound quality of any that have survived. It’s a different sound than the sharp and crackly production of the 1967 "Banana" LP: bluesier, and with a bottom that rattles the windows and shakes the floors. It's the sound of a band that’s been honing its craft in divey clubs and ballrooms across the US for over a year, and which, during the last few months of the 60’s, delivers the best live Rock and Roll show on either side of the Mississippi. –Richard P

Thursday, November 11, 2010

XTC “English Settlement” (1982)

What on earth was I thinking of? After English Settlement I gave up on XTC for 20 years! There's simply no excuse. I knew the first time I heard English Settlement I was listening to a classic and yet I still let my interest lapse. This is probably one of the most perfectly crafted double albums by any English band, notwithstanding Exile On Main Street and London Calling. It contains such complex, intricate constructions the word "song" seems too restrictive a word to describe their function. Like an absorbing novel, a spectacular movie or a sumptuous meal, this album can be enjoyed on many levels. There was an abridged version of English Settlement released at the same time as this double and I'm aware that many prefer it, feeling it cuts out the filler. I've never heard it and I never want to. Listening to English Settlement today, I can't think of a single track I'd want to get rid of. It would be like choosing a favourite from among my kids.

Considering how perfect this album is I've always felt that it was around the release of English Settlement that it all started going wrong for XTC. An overstressed and exhausted Andy Partridge was overtaken by stage-fright and suffered a breakdown soon after the album's release. As a result the album passed relatively unnoticed. How huge could this band have been if given the opportunity to publicise and tour English Settlement? How huge could this band have been if Partridge had ever been able to overcome his fear? Tragic really.

Even though Colin Moulding contributes the ska rhythms of "English Roundabout", the twisted "Fly On The Wall" and the excellent "Ball And Chain", English Settlement really is Partridge's album. "Senses Working Overtime" would provide the band with their only top ten single. "All Of A Sudden (It's Too Late)" is simply sublime. "Yacht Dance" is a mix of pure pop and English folk and Dave Gregory's Spanish guitar is a revelation and the flamenco rhythms continue to ripple through anti-gun rant "Melt The Guns". "It's Nearly Africa" brings the sounds of that continent into XTC's quaintly weird world and "Snowman" takes what is well-worn subject matter for a song – a crumbling relationship – and comes at it from an unusual perspective.

English Settlement is a fabulous album but, amazingly, still isn't the high point for XTC but, as an example of the quintessential English band playing the quintessential English eccentrics, it's difficult to beat. –Ian

Monday, November 08, 2010

Queen “Jazz” (1978)

In comparison to much of the Queen back catalogue, this album has been ripped apart, criticised, and sometimes even ridiculed to the point that one begins to believe in the negativity and almost approaches this 1978 release with a view that it is going to stink however hard one tries to judge it objectively. O.K, it doesn't contain any of the anthemic masterpieces one had become accustomed to. There is no "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody To Love", " We Are The Champions", or "We Will Rock You". Yes it does open with one of the most bizarre songs the band would ever record, the pseudo Arabesque "Mustapha", which must have been a shock to regular fans.Yes one has to agree that their choice to stage an all nude female bicycle race at Wimbledon Racetrack and include a poster of the event with the album was not the most inspired promotonal strategy, particularly when one considers that The Womens Liberation Movement were at that time getting a certain amount of empathy for their vehement stand against Playboy, Miss World, and anything that showed women as objects for masculine amusement. Although the album would be released with the poster in the U.K, both Kmart and Sears in the States refused to handle "Jazz" with the poster, so American fans would only be able to purchase through Mail order. (It sounds like a Spinal Tap scene doesn't it ?). The American press were particularly scathing, Rolling Stone reviewer Dave Marsh panned "Jazz", and added "Queen may be the first truly Fascist Rock band".

So..is "Jazz" really that bad ? Quite honestly, no it isn't , it's actually a good album. Ostensibly, it is the most diverse Queen album up to that period but much of the material is strong, entertaining, and one gets the impression that the band enjoyed "stretching themselves", both musically and generically. The fun element of this recording comes through on songs like the macho Rocker "Fat Bottomed Girls", the magnificent multi tracked Vocal arrangement on "Bicycle Race", and the double entendre filled "Don't Stop Me Now", a whirling soaring Pop/Rock song on speed, and easily the best cut from the album. Freddie's ballad "Jealousy" is gentle and sweetly performed and works well as does Brian May's "Leaving Home Ain't Easy". The Roger Taylor songs are pretty bad ("Fun It", clunky Disco Rock) and ("More Of That Jazz", badly edited reprise music) and the John Deacon song "In Only Seven Days" seems like an act of appeasement so that all the band members can be recognised as song contributors.

"Jazz" really needs to be re-considered as a good album that was dumbed down by a Rock press who really didn't understand that every top Rock band needs to diversify at some stage in their career, and although this isn't Queen's best work, it is at times both fun and entertaining. –Ben H

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Miles Davis “My Funny Valentine” (1965)

Never has there been such a perfect example of the difference between what we might call the Apollonian and Dionysian (if we were utterly pretentious). In February 1964, Miles Davis and his then band -- Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano and George Coleman on sax -- played a concert at New York's Philharmonic Hall that was subsequently split for release on two LPs. The fast numbers went on Four and More, a fun little album but no great shakes; there's plenty of power, but not much else. The ballads, though, wound up here, and the end result is one of the most beautiful and moving jazz records I own. It's stunningly delicate; the five musicians play with almost ESP-like sensitivity to each other. Listen, though, to Miles; he has rarely played with such lyricism, such emotion. "Stella by Starlight" in particular sounds like a direct connection to a place far deeper than any he has gone before. Naked, and necessary. –Brad

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band “The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse” (1968)

The great lost psychedelic album. On their second album the Bonzos knock off the trad jazz parodies and pair their surreal lyrics and wild imaginations with rock music to match. Neil Innes still gets to sing the catchiest songs -- "Beautiful Zelda", for instance, examines the perils of dating a space alien -- but Vivian Stanshall beats him with what could be the band's mission statement, "My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe". Plus there's the amazing Love parody "We Are Normal" ("and we dig Bert Weedon!"). The summit, though, is the too awesome for words "Rhinocratic Oaths", which, with its cheery narration ("You should get out more, Percy, or you'll start acting like a dog, ha ha ... He was later arrested near a lamp-post") reveals the Bonzo's ultimate truth: that there is nothing so lunatic as what passes for everyday life. (Hey, that Dada/Doo-Dah wasn't in their name for nothing.) If you have any spark of imagination or individuality, you must get this record. –Brad

Royal Trux “Cats and Dogs” (1993)

At a time when punk and indie were well into the mainstream, and everyone involved was flexing their love for all the classic rock heavies, little seemed to hit the target. Too much irony, too much 90's production, no balance. It's like punk was stuck in some kind of endless halloween. Royal Trux by all means should have blended right in; Stones worshiping hipster junkies playing dress up while kind of fumbling around with 70's licks. Yet, somehow, they're just so fucking cool that you cant deny their magnetic draw. Their vibe is smeared all over their sound and look and record covers in a way that makes up for EXTREME looseness at some points, by glorifying the superficial and criminal side of rock. "Cats and Dogs" is RTX at their peak of form, blending an avant-punk aesthetic with early 70's rock grooves. The end result is a sort of 4-track collaged mess of vocals and guitars rolling all over the place like you're listening to "Tonight's the Night", "White Light, White Heat", and "Maggot Brain" at the same time. Shit is loose, man. Perfect for stoned chillin' with the lights down. A great homage to rock history, check out this LP. –Alex

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Magazine “Real Life” (1978)

You can't seem to pick up a music magazine nowadays without some interviewee citing Howard Devoto and Magazine as defining influences upon their own musical aspirations. Either that or some sycophantic retrospective which seems totally out of proportion for a band who were nothing more than a mote in the eye of music chronology. Amazingly, in this case, the hype is totally justified. Unhappy with the direction The Buzzcocks were taking and, possibly, recognising the limited shelf life of punk, Devoto formed Magazine and attempted to weave punk conviction into a more conventional and structured rock format. I'm convinced that longevity was no more guaranteed down this route, but it proved a panoramic trip whilst it lasted. The album is full of highlights and some quite astounding musical performances, particularly the bass and keyboards on the likes of "Definitive Gaze". Messrs Adamson, McGeoch, Jackson and Formula deserve praise. Personally I have reservations about Devoto's vocal style but as a discordant counterpoint to the music it works perfectly. "Shot By Both Sides" is spiky rock at its best and "The Light Pours Out Of Me" remains in my personal top twenty to this day. Magazine paved the path for post punk, pity they couldn't walk the road for longer themselves. –Ian

Friday, October 29, 2010

J.J. Cale “Troubadour” (1976)

J.J. Cale's fourth album Troubadour is a mixed stew of everything from country, jazz, arena rock, blues, folk to funk; and that's just in the first song. He manages to whisper like Nick Drake, growl like John Lee Hooker and wine like Dylan...did I mention he's an extremely adept guitar player as well? Cale's songs have been covered by many artists, the most famous being "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton, but here we have the original; stripped down, but somehow fuller, with funky jabs and clumsy power chords. There's also some simple love songs as well, "Hey Baby" never gets too corny with jazzy horn phrases intertwining with country style chicken-pickin.' "Travelin' Light" is an intense study of the driving song with guitars and vibes throughout, pulsing like highway lines in the corner of your eye. This record is about the groove, while brilliant arrangements and clever instrumentation provide the texture, making everything unclassifiable. –ECM Tim

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Zombies “Odessey and Oracle” (1968)

If elegantly arranged chamber pop going for baroque is your cup of tea, get out your best china. Just about every minute of this record is beautifully constructed and rich in mood, and the arrangements are continuously compelling: comparisons with other groups don’t suffice, because this is a record on its own terms. The Zombies were kind of a musician’s group; all very good players writing very conscientiously for accessibility and sophistication (rather like those Beatles blokes, but I wasn't gonna compare). Even if this disc falls off a bit on the second half, which isn’t wall-to-wall classic, the vocal harmonies and the variety of musical textures these guys manage to wring out of every chord should satisfy, even when the song isn’t quite spot-on. But jeepers, when they're on, they are really on. One of the high water marks of ’60s pop. –Will

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Les McCann “Layers” (1974)

Think of the work of the following artists in the early seventies: Tonto's Expanding Head Band, The Mizell Brothers, Lonnie Liston Smith, Stevie Wonder, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis. If you like their work, you'll like - love - this album. Aside from an electric bass and three percussionists, this is the epitome of a keyboard album. By overdubbing (this was the first album recorded in 32-track format), McCann employs ARP synths, clavinet, Fender-Rhodes e-piano, and piano to simulate horns, woodwinds, and whatnot. On the basis of funky grooves, he creates a reflective atmosphere that's both nostalgic and futuristic. The album is structured like a suite, with the tunes fading into each other. The result is something that could be called Prog-Jazz. McCann created a visionary sound when he recorded this album in '72. Layers is a groundbreaking Fusion album from the early seventies when fusion was not yet something to be ashamed of. The record belongs to the best of that genre. –Yofriend

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rush “2112” (1976)

Rush's first truly definitive release, 2112 kickstarts a run that would vault the power trio to the top of the heap among Canada's rock exports. Sporting an iconic sleeve and crystal-clear production values, the album has come to define Rush's early sound, featuring traditional hard rock retooled with progressive precision, while lyricist Neil Peart's mix of philosophy and fantasy would ignite the sci-fi dreams of pimply-faced rockers for years to come. The epic title suite covers the whole of side one, and credits it's dystopian storyline to author Ayn Rand's Anthem, whose individualist outlook would fuel the lyrical fire of many a Rush classic. The track tells it's Saturday afternoon story of futuristic rebellion with an interwoven set of songs ranging from the complex "Overture" section and barnstorming "Temples of Syrinx," through the delicate "Discovery," tortured "Soliloquy" and tear-down-the-walls "Grand Finale." The remainder of 2112 in no way pales in comparison to it's flip side, boasting the fan favorite wacky-tabaccy ode "A Passage to Bangkok," supernatural imagery of "The Twilight Zone," and self-reliant rocker "Something For Nothing." As the critics looked on in dumbfounded disbelief, the sounds of 2112 filled the bedrooms and basements of suburban exiles worldwide, who from then on would live in anticipation of the next time they could lay their comic book ink-stained fingers on a new Rush album. –Ben

Friday, October 22, 2010

Randy Newman “Little Criminals” (1977)

The more I listen to Randy Newman, the more I'm impressed. It's not his voice, even though his nasally vocal has a pleasant, relaxing quality. It's certainly not the music which on Little Criminals is particularly one paced with a soporific, dozy aspect. It's not even the lyrics. They can be incisive, biting and sardonic but they also are simple and endearing with a homey feel. No, it's none of that. What it is, is the subjects he choses to write about and the subtle twists he puts into the stories. Take the title track as a prime example. Start listening to "Little Criminals" and you have this picture of indigant locals determined to rid their town of a small-time drug dealer. But, as the song progresses, you suddenly realise his protagonists are themselves criminals worried about a newcomer taking away their business - or, even better, lowering the tone of the neighbourhood because they're into armed robbery and consider that a higher calling than drug dealing. Brilliant! Or how about "Rider In The Rain" which subverts the myth of the lone cowboy wandering the plains by reminding us of the wife he's abandoned and the fact he's "raped and pillaged" his way to the place he is now. Or "In Germany Before The War" which conjures up a picture of a old guy shutting up his store every day to wander down to the banks of the Rhine to gaze out over the river. Only this guy is (I think) Peter Kurten, a real-life serial killer, preying on defenceless children. And all that's without mentioning Newman's dig at psychiatry in "Sigmund Freud's Impersonation Of Albert Einstein In America" or how appearances can be deceptive with "Jolly Coppers On Parade". And another example of how satire can backfire in "Small People" which a great many people took offence to because they believed Newman was deadly serious. Although, thinking about it, I suppose it wasn't technically a backfire as the song became a massive hit! As you would expect there are a couple of tender love songs - "Kathleen (Catholicism Made Easy)" and "I'll Be Home". Plus the song "Baltimore" is particularly affecting as I visited the city very recently. I think there must have been a great deal of urban regeneration since that song was written because Newman's Baltimore is a far bleaker and darker place than I saw. I don't think Newman will ever release a classic album because of the way he writes. The uncertainty of the does he mean it? is he joking? is unsettling and uncomfortable and makes it impossible to like everything. But I'm equally convinced that, after hearing just two of his albums, there will always be something for me to enjoy on all his others. –Ian

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie “Bird and Diz”

This is hardly a typical recording, but I have to say that this is my favorite jazz album ever recorded. It's the only recording to have Thelonious Monk playing together with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, which in itself is pretty amazing. Although their styles are so distinct, they do play quite well together. Hearing them playing together is almost surreal. It's hard for me to describe how and why I like this album. I think the main reason that I like it is that it's so strange and so normal at the same time. The tunes exemplify this...two catchy blues (Bloomdido and Mohawk), a laid-back song to the same chord changes as "Stompin at the Savoy" (Relaxin' with Lee), a slowish and rather bizarre rhythm-changes tune (An Oscar for Treadwell), leap frog which is just ridiculously fast, and rather cheerful...and then...my melancholy baby. And of course...bizarre stuff happens to the harmonies and rhythms when you put these musicians together. One moment it sounds so old-fashioned, the next moment totally modern. I love it all the way! –Alex

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Circle Jerks “Group Sex” (1980)

When Keith Morris left seminal Californian Punksters Black Flag, it was obvious he needed something even more shocking, for pushing the boundaries of music and taste was it seems his ambition. So in 1979 he formed Circle Jerks  with Greg Hetson (Guitar), Roger Rogerson (Bass), and Lucky Lehrer (Drums). A reputation for the most wild local shows and enormous amounts of alcohol intake onstage and off started the folklore legend which attracted the disaffected SoCal Skater punks. The debut “Group Sex” is amazing by its brevity, with 14 songs spanning just under 16 minutes. It’s typical early American Punk thrash, razor sharp lyrics, tinny production and songs covering Politics, middle class Hollywood malaise, drugs, and of course sex... What seems unusual for the time and the sentiment, is that Hetson is a strong Guitarist and musically the band seems tight which in turn raises the quality above many of the bands of the period. The highlights include “I Just Want Some Skank”, “Beverly Hills” and “World Up My Ass”.That same year, the group was one of several California punk bands to be immortalized in the Penelope Spheeris documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization”, and live versions of four songs from “Group Sex” appear on the movie's soundtrack album. “Group Sex” is a rabid pulsing slice of aggression liberally smattered with gruff and gritty lyrics from Morris. Though not essential, it’s a useful snapshot of American Punk circa 1980.  –Ben

Rudimentary Peni "Death Church" (1983)

Pick up any Rudimentary Peni album an stare at it's wild cover art for awhile. This is what it will most likely sound like; total no-pose insanity, and in a very dark shade. This is all a product of Nick Blinko (aka Rudimentary Peni) who's demented art and mind grace every square inch of every Peni release. 1983's "Death Church" is probably the most accessable album, but in no way comprimises to sanity. Subtle mind altering sonic tone rolls off what would otherwise be generic, mid-tempo, three chord death rock cuts. While their earlier work had more of a harsh UK hardcore edge, and later they went absolutely bonkers making LSD trip style punk sound collages, Death Church keeps a cool 4/4 pace through the whole record that makes it sound like some sort of meaty saturday night car cruising music that goths can get down to, which is nuts enough in itself but then it's also super Brittish sounding? I dont know, man. What can I say, the guy's crazy. And you are too if you don't give this raging slab a listen. –Alex

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jellyfish “Bellybutton” (1990)

From The Beatles right through to the likes of The Lightning Seeds, Britain has a knack of producing bands who deliver a brand of pure, polished pop. The content may have dark or serious overtones but the melody and vocals carry a rare, unblemished character. When a band is lauded as new pop sensations in America don’t expect the same characteristics. In some respects our pop is their AOR whilst their pop arrives way over from left field. They Might Be Giants and Eels are good illustrations of this idiosyncrasy and Jellyfish can be added to that list. They may have more rounded edges than the others but, underneath, they are equally strange. Vocally the closest comparison to Jellyfish is Crowded House (Andy Sturmer even sounds like Neil Finn), but when it comes to lyrical content they are a mile apart. Absent fathers ("The Man I Used To Be"), prostitution ("The King Is Half Undressed"), marital abuse ("She Still Loves Him"), rampant consumerism and parental neglect ("All I Want Is Everything") are all covered. It's testimony to the skill of the band that, no matter how heavy the subject, the music retains a lightness of touch to stop proceedings becoming too maudlin. Special mention should also be given to "I Wanna Stay Home" and "Baby's Coming Back" which, on their own, prove that Jellyfish was definitely a band that got away. –Ian

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Japan “Adolescent Sex” (1978)

Deciding enough’s enough is a tough call to make at the best of times. For a band accustomed to fame and its requisite trappings the severance must be that much harder. So it’s understandable why so many plow on regardless of their relevance or quality of work. The Stones, for instance, will continue until someone drops dead but their sound will remain timeless. On the other hand, Bon Jovi have had nothing to say since the early 90s but refuse to accept the fact. Japan belong to an elite club. Although diehards will argue, they jacked it in at just the right time leaving a stunning, if flawed, volume of work. I’ve always had a preference for their original incarnation as trash glam funksters a la New York Dolls or Hanoi Rocks but they were criminally ignored. There is some quite brilliant guitar playing from Rob Dean, particularly on "Suburban Love", "Wish You Were Black" and "Television" but this, along with David Sylvian's strangled, sneering, kazoo-like vocals were lost when they turned towards the New Romantic movement. Their musical vista of the seedy, dangerous, disposable isolation of modern day living deserves retrospective re-evaluation. –Ian

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mike Oldfield “Tubular” Bells (1973)

It's difficult to asess the importance of "Tubular Bells" and indeed the career of Mike Oldfield without reference to two important figures who contributed to the success of the album, Richard Branson and William Friedkin. The 19 year old Oldfield had used valuable studio time funded by Branson, to record his debut, then titled "Opus 1". Oldfield then hawked this work around the major record companies to complete rejection, and Branson, who at that time ran a mail order company, decided to form his own record company (Virgin), and release this (retitled "Tubular Bells") as the inaugural record. William Friedkin was at this time Directing the ground breaking horror flick "The Exorcist", and having heard "Tubular Bells" decided to use the opening eerie tinkling piano intro, decided to use it as the title music for the movie. And so, the die was cast and the album would go on to sell sixteen million copies worldwide, win Oldfield a Grammy award, and develop a new genre of music. It's difficult to review "Tubular Bells" as a straight Popular, Classical or Rock recording. It contains all of these genres and more, classically structured, it's a complex, startlingly unique, and undoubtedly valiant recording. At times the sound is beautifully symphonic, at other times hauntingly powerful. Oldfield uses over thirty different musical instruments and probably just as many percussive instruments, to create a plethora of differing interludes, some gentle, some sonically robust, all linked together by intricate tempo changes perfectly exemplified about twelve minutes into side one where a delicately intricate section is cleverly interrupted by rifferama guitar crash chords which fade into the next musical excursion. The album finishes with a traditional English folk tune which perfectly concludes a divinely satisfying album. Some Oldfield fans argue that "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommadawn" are better musical performances, but I stoutly defend "Tubular Bells" because of its bravery, complexity and utter originality. "Tubular Bells" remains a colossal achievement. –Ben H

Devo “Are We Not Men?” (1978)

Imagine the scene. The house lights dim on an expectant crowd. It's difficult to see through the darkness but the swish of heavy fabric announces the stage curtains being drawn back. The spots slowly rise on a stage shrouded in a huge sheet of black plastic which rises to cover the vague shape of a drum-kit. A bright beam of white light picks out movement from under the sheet and flashes off a number of blades which pierce the plastic and slash vicious tears into the black skin. Like a sci-fi caesarean Devo push themselves through, clutching instruments and dressed in vivid yellow boiler suits. It takes a little time to rip the sheet away from the drums before they launch into "Uncontrollable Urge", but it's still got to be one of the best entrances ever.

Far more guitar-led than their later releases, Are We Not Men? Was considered radical upon its release in 1978. Much closer to the punk revolution than is realised, Devo savaged the American materialistic way of life and dared to suggest that humankind was de-evolving. From sex related psycho-babble ("Uncontrollable Urge") to satellites falling from the sky ("Space Junk"), from consumerism ("Too Much Paranoias") to genetics ("Mongoloid"), this is a very strange and, on one plain, deeply disturbing album. It remains a powerful indictment of the human condition. –Ian

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bill Withers “Just As I Am” (1971)

What a cool debut album! At first glance (including the cover), “Just as I Am” seems so low-key, almost unspectacular, but once you get used to these songs, and when you consider this is almost forty years ago, you come to realize just how much sophistication this guy Bill Withers had back then when he decided to record his first album. And in spite of a respectable cover version of Let It Be, Bill Withers outs himself as a respectable songwriter. His music is as related to the Blues and the Soul tradition as it is to the Folk tradition of, say, a James Taylor.
One of Bill Withers’ best records and still a great record. –Yofriend

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Montrose “Montrose” (1973)

Montrose’s debut was one of the premier rock albums of the seventies and remains a powerful, if little known, influence today. Featuring Ronnie Montrose, formerly of the Edgar Winter Group, on guitar and newcomer Sammy Hagar on vocals, their brand of pyrotechnic rock was totally divorced from the more blues based guitar of other bands in the field. Some of the tracks remain rock standards including "Bad Motor Scooter" and "Space Station No. 5" whose futuristic sounds the likes of Steve Vai would build a career upon. There may only be eight tracks on the album but there's not a wasted note to be heard anywhere. From the anthemic "Rock The Nation", through the wonderfully sleazy "Rock Candy", whose intro I'm sure Brian May must have ear-wigged before writing "We Will Rock You," to the brilliantly bluesy "Make It Last" this is one hell of a hard rock album and the best thing both Montrose and Hagar have ever done. This should be mandatory listening for every rock lover. –Ian

Monday, October 04, 2010

Silver Apples “Silver Apples” (1968)

Considering that this kind of music was released in 1968 is amazing, but even more amazing is that it still kicks the ass of every other electro-pop-band, save perhaps Kraftwerk. The oscillators flow wildly, the drums lay mindnumbing beats and the lyrics, maybe hippie-esque considering the day, somehow seem ageless still. And it’s unbelievably catchy, like in a pop way. I could tell a funny tale about Syd Barrett finding a Close Encounters of the Third Kind-style alien mothership wrecked somewhere in the forest and going all circuit breaking on the mushrooms, but I won’t. Pioneering and reigning still. All hail the whirly-bird! –Tuukka

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Replacements “Let It be” (1984)

For me this is far and away the best album The Replacements ever made. Some people say that they wish rock and roll was always imbued with the spirit that The Clash brought to it on "London Calling". I could easily say the same thing about "Let it Be". This is the perfect synthesis of rock aggression and songwriting finesse. A song like "Androgynous" probably wouldn't move me so much if it had been more slickly produced. The raw beauty of these songs makes me believe in them. There have been a million songs written about adolescence but "Sixteen Blue" is one of the only ones that really feels like it. The painful yearning and confusion of being sixteen is captured perfectly in those crunching guitar chords and especially the guitar solo with which the song closes. Rather than offering release, the end of the song raises the unresolved tension higher and higher. It is full of beauty and sadness. And then we have the album closer, "Answering Machine", with its fabulous, tight guitar playing, its earnest, pleading vocal and gorgeous melodicism. This is one of the best songs ever written about romantic obsession. Indeed this is one of the best rock songs period. In its rawness, energy and its dual loyalties to grunge and melody, in 1984 this album sounded like the future itself. –Javasean

Friday, October 01, 2010

Blood, Sweat & Tears “Child Is Father to the Man” (1968)

It’s easy to overlook the ubiquitous Blood, Sweat & Tears as their LPs seem to be present in almost every dollar bin in every city. Spend the buck! Their debut is an essential listen and features the unpredictable Al Kooper at the peak of his powers. The music is an eclectic fusion of progressive and psychedelic rock, blues and jazz. There are even elements of lounge music, and occasional orchestration added to the mix. The album features eight originals and four covers. The best covers are Randy Newman's uplifting Just One Smile and Carole King's So Much Love which closes the album. Most of the originals were composed by Al Kooper. His bizarre Overture opens, with it's enticing orchestrated music joined by some manic laughing. Kooper's I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know is an excellent jazzed-up blues song and Something Goin' On is a great jam that was an essential part of late 60s progressive rock. Child Is Father to the Man is an excellent experimental rock album and an important part of any 60s pop collection. –Jim

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ornette Coleman “This Is Our Music” (1961)

It was over 30 years ago that I bought my first Ornette Coleman album, Free Jazz, from the second-hand record shop: it was love at first sight (first hear?). Love is inexplicable, at least to those in love, but the sound of Coleman’s alto had an immediate effect on me, an emotional connection, that continues until today. It is the early Atlantic recordings that remain at the heart of my love for Coleman. I have only been listening to This Is Our Music for the past couple of months (I feel no need to rush a love affair), but, other than Free jazz, it has become my favorite of the Coleman-Atlantic albums (but I don’t feel I have to be bound by that judgement in the future). I have heard it said that compared to other figures of the 1960s jazz avant garde Coleman now seems very tame: I think that is true, at least as far as he doesn’t howl and shout in way that threatened to blow away all our assumptions of what music should be, but then the other avant garde sax players tended to fall in behind Coltrane, in their stance of difference they tended to sound the same, while Coleman remains unique. He has created his own musical world, one I find as vivid and friendly as an Impressionist painting, and it is a world that has no successful copies. The one musician who shared this vision was Don Cherry and he is the Engels to Coleman’s Marx, the Watson to his Holmes, the Robin to his Batman – he is the lesser figure, the one who takes his imaginative world from his dominating companion, but maybe he brings Coleman closer, creating a bridge between him and us. Charlie Haden is the anchor for this music, for most of this album playing an idiosyncratic hard bop bass, it has the clear lines that stabilize the music. The exception is Beauty Is a Strange Thing where, playing with a bow, he allows the music to drift away like a cloud without any clear edges. Ed Blackwell is a unique drummer (and I much prefer him to Billy Higgins’ work on the earlier Atlantic-Coleman albums) – he is the gentlest of drummers, not giving the music the rhythmic propulsion we expect a drummer to provide, but rather a rhythmic voice responding to and answering the horns. Writing about other Coleman-Atlantic albums I have said that their great limitation is that all the tracks tend to be a bit the same – here there are two numbers that stand out for their difference: the slow and hovering Beauty Is a Rare Thing and the reinvention of Embraceable You. The latter is the only Ornette Coleman version of a standard I know – it is as though Gershwin’s melody has been replanted in a totally alien soil and it has grown in an unforeseeable way, still recognisably having the same shape, but also disturbingly different. –Nick

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kiss “Kiss” (1974)

Before the merchandising, neon spandex, and nostalgia circuit, KISS were just another hard rock band with stars in/on their eyes. Kiss, the debut, is loaded with future klassics that display the Stanley/Simmons partnership's knack for grafting pop hooks to bludgeoning riffs, sporting the likes of "Deuce," "Strutter," "Nothin' to Lose," and immortal hooker drama "Black Diamond," a vocal-shy Ace checking in with urban intoxication anthem "Cold Gin," and an overlooked gem in the simple charm of "Let Me Know." While the less said about the "Kissin' Time" cover grafted on to later pressings, the better, and ignoring the fact that a certain sluggishness drags some of these recordings down compared to their Alive! revamps, Kiss remains an auspicious debut. –Ben

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Fixx “Reach the Beach” (1983)

I remember seeing The Fixx on MTV when I was 13, there was always this dark sophistication surrounding them. Their sophomore album, Reach the Beach lives up to those first impressions. This record was quite a success for them with the hits "Saved by Zero", a complex tune with a hopeless optimism that seems to clash with the melody & "One thing Leads to Another", an almost dance track about deceit in relationships. The rest of the record follows suit with clean, chorus drenched guitar licks, snappy bass slaps, dissonant keyboards & those wonderful synthesized drums we all loved from the eighties. Cy Curnin's vocals croon like The Cure's Robert Smith trying to imitate Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, in fact, the music could be described in the same way, new wave funkiness with a sense of melancholy underneath it all- like trying to dance when your sad. Slightly cynical lyrics with upbeat, yet complex arrangements spare this record from being another eighties novelty, the contradictions keep it real. –ECM Tim

Repost: 10cc “Sheet Music” (1974)

10cc’s “Sheet Music” may be one of my favorite pop albums of all time, lovingly crafted songs, witty, ironic and containing themes still highly relevant even today (“Clockwork Creep” is both funny yet scary when one consideres what the world has had to endure these last few years and “Hotel” nails American Imperialism down with wit and ingenuity), musically this album never fails to surprise taking in 70’s rock (Wall Street Shuffle, Silly Love, Oh Effendi), Calypso (Hotel), Latin Rock (Baron Samedi) and pure pop (The Worst Band In The World, Clockwork Creep), however the two standouts are the most cinematic pieces on the album, “Somewhere In Hollywood” brilliantly send up Hollywood and the star system, whilst “Old Wild Men” looks forward to 10cc’s eventual decline with heart and soul. –Derek

“Sheet Music” is a perennial Jive Time favorite and one of my top ten albums of all time. Fans of Sparks, late Move and early ELO will find things to love here. For those who only know 10cc from their hits; you may be pleasantly surprised when you hear “Sheet Music.” –David

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love “Da Capo” (1966)

Inhabiting a strange dimension between the Byrds-meets-the-Rolling Stones bluster of first LP and the psychedelic mariachi sprawl of Forever Changes, Love's Da Capo is a transitional album in every sense of the word. Taken together, the six songs that constitute its “Side A Suite” represent some of the best music of the 60’s, making it all the more painful that Side B represents one of the biggest let-downs in Rock History. On the opening track, “Stephanie Knows Who”, Arthur Lee not only comes into his own, but also establishes himself as one of the most unique and expressive lead vocalists of his generation. There are probably Hallmark cards that are less maudlin and sappy than the MacLean-penned second track, “Orange Skies”, but somehow, miraculously, the band’s tight playing and Lee’s delivery elevate it to greatness. The flamenco-flecked “¡Que Vida!” is a little on the fluffy side, but it’s groovy as hell. The mighty “Seven and Seven Is”, one of the few Love songs that ever charted, has been reproduced on garage compilations many times over, but hearing it here in its natural environment reveals what a massive artistic achievement it really is. Loud, fast, and intense, it could only end with the famous nuclear blast of its coda. Thankfully, respite is provided in the form of the acoustic and introspective gem, “The Castle”. Finally comes the mystical masterpiece, “She Comes in Colors”, a song so great that even the Hooters couldn’t ruin it when they covered it almost two decades later. But then there’s the meandering blues-jam, “Revelation”. Taking up that whole flipside and clocking in at almost 20 minutes, it’s perhaps unfairly maligned. On its own merits it’s not terrible, and it’s certainly not boring (live it was probably mind-blowing), but here it only detracts from the focused brilliance of what came before, and it wears out its welcome quickly. Had wiser council prevailed at Elektra, Da Capo would take its place among such giants such as Are You Experienced, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and even its creators’ own definitive artistic statement, Forever Changes, but instead this sophomore effort has to settle for “almost great” status. However, it is still essential. –Richard

Frank Zappa “Hot Rats” (1969)

If there's one thing I'm a sucker for, it's psychedelic wah-wah guitar; Eddie Hazel's Game, Dame & Guitar Thangs, Randy California's Kapt. Kopter, John McLaughlin's Devotion. And Frank Zappa's second solo effort, 1969's Hot Rats, proudly belongs among this stellar mind-blowing company. Somewhat of a break from the high-concept Mothers Of Invention, it's divided between long guitar jams, most notably "Willie The Pimp," which re-introduced Captain Beefheart to the world in all his eccentric splendor, and fusionoid instrumentals featuring multi-reedist Ian Underwood in multiple overdubs. Interestingly, Underwood's flat intonation here takes intriguing lyrical compositions such as "Little Umbellas" and "It Must be A Camel" out of jazz wannabe Weather Report territory into a more formal "classical" direction, always the underlying goal with Zappa anyway. But, in the end, Rats is a showcase for Frank to wail and he ain't fooling around! –Singersaints

Friday, September 17, 2010

Felt “The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories” (1984)

"The Strange Idols Pattern..." is the masterpiece of early indiepop, although is often less considered than Felt's fifth album, the organ driven "Forever Breathes The Lonely Word". Here Maurice Deebank provides the best guitar playing I've ever heard, a constant whirl of sweet jangly picking (on a 12 string guitar I think) and sometimes classical/Spanish melodies; Lawrence encapsulates such imaginative and brilliant solo playing in wonderful three-chord songs, sung with a monotonous and subtle tone that never sounds cheesy or pathetic like Morrissey's howling. I understand that such vocals can be considered boring, but I think they're the best accompaniment for the stream of background notes that - at least for me - has to be on the frontline, while the vocals are secondary. Absolutely great album, my favourite song here is "Crystal Ball", with the best guitar work ever made by Deebank, and a constant sense of tragedy that remains subtle and never explodes, not even in the final short solo. –Gneo