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Top 10 Albums of Every Year Since 1960

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1971:

 

 

 

10. Joni Mitchell – Blue

 

Sad, spare, and beautiful, Blue is the quintessential confessional singer/songwriter album. Forthright and poetic, Joni Mitchell's songs are raw nerves, tales of love and loss (two words with relative meaning here) etched with stunning complexity; even tracks like "All I Want," "My Old Man," and "Carey" -- the brightest, most hopeful moments on the record -- are darkened by bittersweet moments of sorrow and loneliness. At the same time that songs like "Little Green" (about a child given up for adoption) and the title cut (a hymn to salvation supposedly penned for James Taylor) raise the stakes of confessional folk-pop to new levels of honesty and openness, Mitchell's music moves beyond the constraints of acoustic folk into more intricate and diverse territory, setting the stage for the experimentation of her later work. Unrivaled in its intensity and insight, Blue remains a watershed.

 

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9. Alice Coltrane - Journey in Satchidananda

 

The compositions here are wildly open and droning figures built on whole tones and minor modes. And while it's true that one can definitely hear her late husband's influence on this music, she wouldn't have had it any other way. Pharoah Sanders' playing on the title cut, "Shiva-Loka," and "Isis and Osiris" (which also features the Vishnu Wood on oud and Charlie Haden on bass) is gloriously restrained and melodic. Coltrane's harp playing, too, is an element of tonal expansion as much as it is a modal and melodic device. With a tamboura player, Cecil McBee on bass, Rashied Ali on drums, and Majid Shabazz on bells and tambourine, tracks such as "Stopover Bombay" and the D minor modally drenched "Something About John Coltrane" become exercised in truly Eastern blues improvisation. Sanders plays soprano exclusively, and the interplay between it and Coltrane's piano and harp is mesmerizing. With the drone factor supplied either by the tamboura or the oud, the elongation of line and extended duration of intervallic exploration is wondrous. The depths to which these blues are played reveal their roots in African antiquity more fully than any jazz or blues music on record, a tenet that exists today over 30 years after the fact. One last note, the "Isis and Osiris" track, which was recorded live at the Village Gate, features some of the most intense bass and drum interplay -- as it exists between Haden and Ali -- in the history of vanguard jazz. Truly, this is a remarkable album, and necessary for anyone interested in the development of modal and experimental jazz. It's also remarkably accessible.

 

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8. Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate

 

Songs of Love and Hate is one of Leonard Cohen's most emotionally intense albums -- which, given the nature of Cohen's body of work, is no small statement. While the title Songs of Love and Hate sums up the album's themes accurately enough, it's hardly as simple as that description might lead you to expect -- in these eight songs, "love" encompasses the physical ("Last Year's Man"), the emotional ("Famous Blue Raincoat"), and the spiritual ("Joan of Arc"), and the contempt in songs like "Dress Rehearsal Rag" and "Avalanche" is the sort of venom that can only come from someone who once cared very deeply. The sound of the album is clean and uncluttered, and for the most part the music stays out of the way of the lyrics, which dominate the songs. Thankfully, Cohen had grown noticeably as a singer since his first two albums, and if he hardly boasts a range to rival Roy Orbison here, he is able to bring out the subtleties of "Joan of Arc" and "Famous Blue Raincoat" in a way his previous work would not have led you to expect. And while Bob Johnston's production is spare, it's spare with a purpose, letting Cohen's voice and guitar tell their stories and using other musicians for intelligent, emotionally resonant punctuation (Paul Buckmaster's unobtrusive string arrangements and the use of a children's chorus are especially inspired). And Songs of Love and Hate captured Cohen in one of his finest hours as a songwriter, and the best selections (especially "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Joan of Arc," and "Love Calls You by Your Name") rank with the most satisfying work of his career. If Songs of Love and Hate isn't Cohen's best album, it comes close enough to be essential to anyone interested in his work.

 

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7. Sly & The Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On

 

It's easy to write off There's a Riot Goin' On as one of two things -- Sly Stone's disgusted social commentary or the beginning of his slow descent into addiction. It's both of these things, of course, but pigeonholing it as either winds up dismissing the album as a whole, since it is so bloody hard to categorize. What's certain is that Riot is unlike any of Sly & the Family Stone's other albums, stripped of the effervescence that flowed through even such politically aware records as Stand! This is idealism soured, as hope is slowly replaced by cynicism, joy by skepticism, enthusiasm by weariness, sex by pornography, thrills by narcotics. Joy isn't entirely gone -- it creeps through the cracks every once and awhile and, more disturbing, Sly revels in his stoned decadence. What makes Riot so remarkable is that it's hard not to get drawn in with him, as you're seduced by the narcotic grooves, seductive vocals slurs, leering electric pianos, and crawling guitars. As the themes surface, it's hard not to nod in agreement, but it's a junkie nod, induced by the comforting coma of the music. And damn if this music isn't funk at its deepest and most impenetrable -- this is dense music, nearly impenetrable, but not from its deep grooves, but its utter weariness. Sly's songwriting remains remarkably sharp, but only when he wants to write -- the foreboding opener "Luv N' Haight," the scarily resigned "Family Affair," the cracked cynical blues "Time," and "(You Caught Me) Smilin'." Ultimately, the music is the message, and while it's dark music, it's not alienating -- it's seductive despair, and that's the scariest thing about it.

 

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6. The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

 

The Beach Boys' post-1966 catalog is littered with LPs that barely scraped the charts upon release but matured into solid fan favorites despite -- and occasionally, because of -- their many and varied eccentricities. Surf's Up could well be the definitive example, beginning with the cloying "Don't Go Near the Water" and ending a bare half-hour later with the baroque majesty of the title track (originally written in 1966). The album is a virtual laundry list of each uncommon intricacy that made The Beach Boys' forgotten decade such a bittersweet thrill -- the fluffy yet endearing pop (od)ditties of Brian Wilson, quasi-mystical white-boy soul from brother Carl, and the downright laughable songwriting on tracks charting Mike Love's devotion to Buddhism and Al Jardine's social/environmental concerns. Those songs are enjoyable enough, but the last three tracks are what make Surf's Up such a masterpiece. The first, "A Day in the Life of a Tree," is simultaneously one of Brian's most deeply touching and bizarre compositions; he is the narrator and object of the song (though not the vocalist; co-writer Jack Rieley lends a hand), lamenting his long life amid the pollution and grime of a city park while the somber tones of a pipe organ build atmosphere. The second, "'Til I Die," isn't the love song the title suggests; it's a haunting, fatalistic piece of pop surrealism that appeared to signal Brian's retirement from active life. The album closer, "Surf's Up," is a masterpiece of baroque psychedelia, probably the most compelling track from the Smile period. Carl gives a soulful performance despite the surreal wordplay, and Brian's coda is one of the most stirring moments in his catalog. Wrapped up in a mess of contradictions, Surf's Up defined The Beach Boys' tumultuous career better than any other album.

 

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5. Serge Gainsbourg – Histoire de Melody Nelson

 

You don't need to speak a word of French to understand Histoire de Melody Nelson -- one needs only to look at the front cover (with its nearly pornographic portrait of a half-naked nymphet clutching a rag doll) or hear the lechery virtually dripping from Serge Gainsbourg's sleazily seductive voice to realize that this is the record your mother always warned you about, a masterpiece of perversion and corruption. A concept record exploring the story of -- and Gainsbourg's lust for -- the titular teen heroine, Histoire de Melody Nelson is arguably his most coherent and perfectly realized studio album, with the lush arrangements which characterize the majority of his work often mixed here with funky rhythm lines which underscore the musky allure of the music. Perhaps best described as a dirty old bastard's attempt to make his own R&B love-man's record along the lines of a Let's Get It On (itself still two years away from release), it's by turns fascinating and repellent, hilarious and grim, but never dull -- which, in Gainsbourg's world, would be the ultimate (and quite possibly the only) sin.

 

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4. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

 

Conceived as a statement from the viewpoint of a Vietnam veteran (Gaye's brother Frankie had returned from a three-year hitch in 1967), What's Going On isn't just the question of a baffled soldier returning home to a strange place, but a promise that listeners would be informed by what they heard (that missing question mark in the title certainly wasn't a typo). Instead of releasing listeners from their troubles, as so many of his singles had in the past, Gaye used the album to reflect on the climate of the early '70s, rife with civil unrest, drug abuse, abandoned children, and the spectre of riots in the near past. Alternately depressed and hopeful, angry and jubilant, Gaye saved the most sublime, deeply inspired performances of his career for "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," and "Save the Children." The songs and performances, however, furnished only half of a revolution; little could've been accomplished with the Motown sound of previous Marvin Gaye hits like "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike" or even "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." What's Going On, as he conceived and produced it, was like no other record heard before it: languid, dark, and jazzy, a series of relaxed grooves with a heavy bottom, filled by thick basslines along with bongos, conga, and other percussion. Fortunately, this aesthetic fit in perfectly with the style of longtime Motown session men like bassist James Jamerson and guitarist Joe Messina. When the Funk Brothers were, for once, allowed the opportunity to work in relaxed, open proceedings, they produced the best work of their careers (and indeed, they recognized its importance before any of the Motown executives). Bob Babbitt's playing on "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" functions as the low-end foundation but also its melodic hook, while an improvisatory jam by Eli Fountain on alto sax furnished the album's opening flourish. (Much credit goes to Gaye himself for seizing on these often tossed-off lines as precious; indeed, he spent more time down in the Snakepit than he did in the control room.) Just as he'd hoped it would be, What's Going On was Marvin Gaye's masterwork, the most perfect expression of an artist's hope, anger, and concern ever recorded.

 

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3. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

 

Pieced together from outtakes and much-labored-over songs, Sticky Fingers manages to have a loose, ramshackle ambience that belies both its origins and the dark undercurrents of the songs. It's a weary, drug-laden album -- well over half the songs explicitly mention drug use, while the others merely allude to it -- that never fades away, but it barely keeps afloat. Apart from the classic opener, "Brown Sugar" (a gleeful tune about slavery, interracial sex, and lost virginity, not necessarily in that order), the long workout "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and the mean-spirited "Bitch," Sticky Fingers is a slow, bluesy affair, with a few country touches thrown in for good measure. The laid-back tone of the album gives ample room for new lead guitarist Mick Taylor to stretch out, particularly on the extended coda of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." But the key to the album isn't the instrumental interplay -- although that is terrific -- it's the utter weariness of the songs. "Wild Horses" is their first non-ironic stab at a country song, and it is a beautiful, heart-tugging masterpiece. Similarly, "I Got the Blues" is a ravished, late-night classic that ranks among their very best blues. "Sister Morphine" is a horrifying overdose tale, and "Moonlight Mile," with Paul Buckmaster's grandiose strings, is a perfect closure: sad, yearning, drug-addled, and beautiful. With its offhand mixture of decadence, roots music, and outright malevolence, Sticky Fingers set the tone for the rest of the decade for the Stones.

 

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2. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

 

It starts with a crackle of feedback shooting from speaker to speaker and a voice intoning, "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for y'all have knocked her up" and talking about rising "above it all or drown in my own sh*t." This could only have been utterly bizarre back in 1971 and it's no less so decades later; though the Mothership was well on its way already, Maggot Brain really helped it take off. The instrumental title track is the key reason to listen, specifically for Eddie Hazel's lengthy, mind-melting solo. George Clinton famously told Hazel to play "like your momma had just died," and the resulting evocation of melancholy and sorrow doesn't merely rival Jimi Hendrix's work, but arguably bests a lot of it. Accompanied by another softer guitar figure providing gentle rhythm for the piece, the end result is simply fantastic, an emotional apocalypse of sound. Maggot Brain is bookended by another long number, "Wars of Armageddon," a full-on jam from the band looping in freedom chants and airport-departure announcements to the freak-out. In between are a number of short pieces, finding the collective merrily cooking up some funky stew of the slow and smoky variety. There are folky blues and gospel testifying on "Can You Get to That" (one listen and a lot of Primal Scream's mid-'90s career is instantly explained) and wry but warm reflections on interracial love on "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks," its drum hits distorted to give a weird electronic edge to the results. "Super Stupid" is a particular killer, pounding drums and snarling guitar laying down the boogie hard and hot, while "Hit It and Quit It" has a great chorus and Bernie Worrell getting in a fun keyboard solo to boot.

 

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1. Can – Tago Mago

 

With the band in full artistic flower and Suzuki's sometimes moody, sometimes frenetic speak/sing/shrieking in full effect, Can released not merely one of the best Krautrock albums of all time, but one of the best albums ever, period. Tago Mago is that rarity of the early '70s, a double album without a wasted note, ranging from sweetly gentle float to full-on monster grooves. "Paperhouse" starts things brilliantly, beginning with a low-key chime and beat, before amping up into a rumbling roll in the midsection, then calming down again before one last blast. Both "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah," the latter with Schmidt filling out the quicker pace with nicely spooky keyboards, continue the fine vibe. After that, though, come the huge highlights -- three long examples of Can at its absolute best. "Halleluwah" -- featuring the Liebezeit/Czukay rhythm section pounding out a monster trance/funk beat; Karoli's and Schmidt's always impressive fills and leads; and Suzuki's slow-building ranting above everything -- is 19 minutes of pure genius. The near-rhythmless flow of "Aumgn" is equally mind-blowing, with swaths of sound from all the members floating from speaker to speaker in an ever-evolving wash, leading up to a final jam. "Peking O" continues that same sort of feeling, but with a touch more focus, throwing in everything from Chinese-inspired melodies and jazzy piano breaks to cheap organ rhythm boxes and near babbling from Suzuki along the way. "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" wraps things up as a fine, fun little coda to a landmark record.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Bill Withers – Just as I Am

 

Of course, the instantly recognizable anthem "Ain't No Sunshine" gets all of the acclaim it so richly deserves, but tracks like "Harlem" and "Better Off Dead" also warrant kudos for the intensity and maturity of their performances. Even when he's doing covers, Withers treats them as if they are his own compositions and handles them with great delicacy.

 

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Harry Partch – Delusion of the Fury

 

The performance is led by Danlee Mitchell, who also had to teach the players how to play the instruments and read their parts. He did a magnificent job. The performance ranges from haunting to sonically overwhelming to truly funny. At first hearing, nearly everyone finds Partch's music, written outside the familiar piano scale, to be weird. But this joyful and splendid recorded performance is one of the best introductions to it imaginable.

 

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Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

 

 

Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of '70s hard rock. Expanding on the breakthroughs of III, Zeppelin fuse their majestic hard rock with a mystical, rural English folk that gives the record an epic scope. Even at its most basic -- the muscular, traditionalist "Rock and Roll" -- the album has a grand sense of drama, which is only deepened by Robert Plant's burgeoning obsession with mythology, religion, and the occult. Plant's mysticism comes to a head on the eerie folk ballad "The Battle of Evermore," a mandolin-driven song with haunting vocals from Sandy Denny, and on the epic "Stairway to Heaven." Of all of Zeppelin's songs, "Stairway to Heaven" is the most famous, and not unjustly. Building from a simple fingerpicked acoustic guitar to a storming torrent of guitar riffs and solos, it encapsulates the entire album in one song. Which, of course, isn't discounting the rest of the album. "Going to California" is the group's best folk song, and the rockers are endlessly inventive, whether it's the complex, multi-layered "Black Dog," the pounding hippie satire "Misty Mountain Hop," or the funky riffs of "Four Sticks." But the closer, "When the Levee Breaks," is the one song truly equal to "Stairway," helping give IV the feeling of an epic. An apocalyptic slice of urban blues, "When the Levee Breaks" is as forceful and frightening as Zeppelin ever got, and its seismic rhythms and layered dynamics illustrate why none of their imitators could ever equal them.

 

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T. Rex – Electric Warrior

 

 

The album that essentially kick-started the U.K. glam rock craze, Electric Warrior completes T. Rex's transformation from hippie folk-rockers into flamboyant avatars of trashy rock & roll. There are a few vestiges of those early days remaining in the acoustic-driven ballads, but Electric Warrior spends most of its time in a swinging, hip-shaking groove powered by Marc Bolan's warm electric guitar. The music recalls not just the catchy simplicity of early rock & roll, but also the implicit sexuality -- except that here, Bolan gleefully hauls it to the surface, singing out loud what was once only communicated through the shimmying beat. He takes obvious delight in turning teenage bubblegum rock into campy sleaze, not to mention filling it with pseudo-psychedelic hippie poetry. In fact, Bolan sounds just as obsessed with the heavens as he does with sex, whether he's singing about spiritual mysticism or begging a flying saucer to take him away. It's all done with the same theatrical flair, but Tony Visconti's spacious, echoing production makes it surprisingly convincing. Still, the real reason Electric Warrior stands the test of time so well -- despite its intended disposability -- is that it revels so freely in its own absurdity and willful lack of substance. Not taking himself at all seriously, Bolan is free to pursue whatever silly wordplay, cosmic fantasies, or non sequitur imagery he feels like; his abandonment of any pretense to art becomes, ironically, a statement in itself. Bolan's lack of pomposity, back-to-basics songwriting, and elaborate theatrics went on to influence everything from hard rock to punk to new wave. But in the end, it's that sense of playfulness, combined with a raft of irresistible hooks, that keeps Electric Warrior such an infectious, invigorating listen today.

 

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The Who – Who’s Next

 

Much of Who's Next derives from Lifehouse, an ambitious sci-fi rock opera Pete Townshend abandoned after suffering a nervous breakdown, caused in part from working on the sequel to Tommy. There's no discernable theme behind these songs, yet this album is stronger than Tommy, falling just behind Who Sell Out as the finest record the Who ever cut. Townshend developed an infatuation with synthesizers during the recording of the album, and they're all over this album, adding texture where needed and amplifying the force, which is already at a fever pitch. Apart from Live at Leeds, the Who have never sounded as LOUD and unhinged as they do here, yet that's balanced by ballads, both lovely ("The Song Is Over") and scathing ("Behind Blue Eyes"). That's the key to Who's Next -- there's anger and sorrow, humor and regret, passion and tumult, all wrapped up in a blistering package where the rage is as affecting as the heartbreak. This is a retreat from the '60s, as Townshend declares the "Song Is Over," scorns the teenage wasteland, and bitterly declares that we "Won't Get Fooled Again." For all the sorrow and heartbreak that runs beneath the surface, this is an invigorating record, not just because Keith Moon runs rampant or because Roger Daltrey has never sung better or because John Entwistle spins out manic basslines that are as captivating as his "My Wife" is funny. This is invigorating because it has all of that, plus Townshend laying his soul bare in ways that are funny, painful, and utterly life-affirming. That is what the Who was about, not the rock operas, and that's why Who's Next is truer than Tommy or the abandoned Lifehouse. Those were art -- this, even with its pretensions, is rock & roll.

 

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1972:

 

 

 

10. Big Star - #1 Record

 

The problem with coming in late on an artwork lauded as "influential" is that you've probably encountered the work it influenced first, so its truly innovative qualities are lost. Thus, if you are hearing Big Star's debut album for the first time decades after its release (as, inevitably, most people must), you may be reminded of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers or R.E.M., who came after -- that is, if you don't think of the Byrds and the Beatles, circa 1965. What was remarkable about #1 Record in 1972 was that nobody except Big Star (and maybe Badfinger and the Raspberries) wanted to sound like this -- simple, light pop with sweet harmonies and jangly guitars. Since then, dozens of bands have rediscovered those pleasures. But in a way, that's an advantage because, whatever freshness is lost across the years, Big Star's craft is only confirmed. These are sturdy songs, feelingly performed, and once you get beyond the style to the content, you'll still be impressed.

 

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9. Milton Nascimiento & La Borges – Clube De Esquina

 

A classic double LP recorded in 1972 by Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges, the album had orchestrations from Eumir Deodato and Wagner Tiso under the conduction of the renowned clarinetist/composer/orchestrator Paulo Moura. The title Clube da Esquina is related to the gang of mineiros (people from the Minas Gerais state) that populate this release, either singing compositions or vocal/instrumental performances, like Nascimento and Borges themselves: Wagner Tiso, Beto Guedes,Milton Guedes, Tavito, Toninho Horta, Márcio Borges, Ronaldo Bastos, and Fernando Brant, among others. The album covers a great number of Clube da Esquina hits, like "Tudo Que Você Podia Ser," "Cais," "O Trem Azul," "Caravo E Canela," "Um Girassol da Cor do Seu Cabelo," "San Vicente," "Clube da Esquina No. 2," and so many others, with the competent backing of some of the best musicians in Brazil, including bassist Luiz Alves and percussionist Robertinho Silva. A must-have.

 

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8. David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

 

Borrowing heavily from Marc Bolan's glam rock and the future shock of A Clockwork Orange, David Bowie reached back to the heavy rock of The Man Who Sold the World for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie's fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like "Suffragette City," "Moonage Daydream," and "Hang Onto Yourself," while "Lady Stardust," "Five Years," and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust -- familiar in structure, but alien in performance -- is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion.

 

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7. Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht

 

Schulze's solo debut is a masterful album featuring some of the most majestic instances of space music ever recorded, all the more remarkable for being recorded without synthesizers. "Satz Gewitter," the first of two tracks and the highlight here, slowly progresses from oscillator static to a series of glowing organ lines, all informed by Schulze's excellent feel for phase effects.

 

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6. Can – Ege Bamyasi

 

The follow-up to Tago Mago is only lesser in terms of being shorter; otherwise the Can collective delivers its expected musical recombination act with the usual power and ability. Liebezeit, at once minimalist and utterly funky, provides another base of key beat action for everyone to go off on -- from the buried, lengthy solos by Karoli on "Pinch" to the rhythm box/keyboard action on "Spoon." The latter song, which closes the album, is particularly fine, its sound hinting at an influence on everything from early Ultravox songs like "Hiroshima Mon Amour" to the hollower rhythms on many of Gary Numan's first efforts. Liebezeit and Czukay's groove on "One More Night," calling to mind a particularly cool nightclub at the end of the evening, shows that Stereolab didn't just take the brain-melting crunch side of Can as inspiration. The longest track, "Soup," lets the band take off on another one of its trademark lengthy rhythm explorations, though not without some tweaks to the expected sound. About four minutes in, nearly everything drops away, with Schmidt and Liebezeit doing the most prominent work; after that, it shifts into some wonderfully grating and crumbling keyboards combined with Suzuki's strange pronouncements, before ending with a series of random interjections from all the members. Playfulness abounds as much as skill: Slide whistles trade off with Suzuki on "Pinch"; squiggly keyboards end "Vitamin C"; and rollicking guitar highlights "I'm So Green." The underrated and equally intriguing sense of drift that the band brings to its recordings continues as always. "Sing Swan Song" is particularly fine, a gentle float with Schmidt's keyboards and Czukay's bass taking the fore to support Suzuki's sing-song vocal.

 

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5. Miles Davis – On the Corner

 

Could there be any more confrontational sound in Miles Davis' vast catalog than the distorted guitars and tinny double-timing drums reacting to a two-note bass riff funking it up on the first track from On the Corner? Before the trumpet even enters the picture, the story has been broken off somewhere in the middle, with deep street music melding with a secret language held within the band and those who can actually hear this music -- certainly not the majority of Miles' fan base built up over the past 25 years. They heard this as a huge "fuck you." Miles just shrugged and told them it wasn't personal, but they could take it that way if they wanted to, and he blew on his trumpet. Here are killer groove riffs that barely hold on as bleating trumpet and soprano sax lines (courtesy of Dave Liebman on track one) interact with John McLaughlin's distortion-box frenzy. Michael Henderson's bass keeps the basic so basic it hypnotizes; keyboards slowly enter the picture, a pair of them handled by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, as well as Ivory Williams' synthesizer. Finally, Colin Walcott jumps in with an electric sitar and there are no less than five drummers -- three kits (Al Foster, Billy Hart, and Jack DeJohnette), a tabla player, and Mtume. It's a four-tune suite, "On the Corner" is, but the separations hardly matter, just the shifts in groove that alter the time/space continuum. After 20 minutes, the set feels over and a form of Miles' strange lyricism returns in "Black Satin." Though a tabla kicks the tune off, there's a recognizable eight-note melody that runs throughout. Carlos Garnett and Bennie Maupin replace Liebman, Dave Creamer replaces McLaughlin, and the groove rides a bit easier -- except for those hand bells shimmering in the background off the beat just enough to make the squares crazy. The respite is short-lived, however. Davis and band move the music way over to the funk side of the street -- though the street funkers thought these cats were too weird with their stranded time signatures and modal fugues that begin and end nowhere and live for the way the riff breaks down into emptiness. "One and One" begins the new tale, so jazz breaks down and gets polished off and resurrected as a far blacker, deeper-than-blue character in the form of "Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X," where guitars and horns careen off Henderson's cracking bass and Foster's skittering hi-hats. It may sound weird even today, but On the Corner is the most street record ever recorded by a jazz musician. And it still kicks.

 

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4. NEU! – NEU!

 

Fresh after leaving Kraftwerk in the fall of 1971 for what they perceived to be a lack of vision, guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger formed their own unit and changed the face of German rock forever -- eventually influencing their former employer, Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk. The 1974 album Autobahn was a genteel reconsideration of the music played here. NEU! created a sound that was literally made for cruising in an automobile. While here in the States people were flipping out over "Radar Love" by Golden Earring, if they'd known about this first NEU! disc, they would never have bothered. Dinger's mechanical, cut time drumming and Rother's two-note bass runs adorned with cleverly manipulated and dreamy guitar riffs and fills were the hallmarks of the "motorik" sound that would become the band's trademark. On "Hallogallo", which opens the disc, the listener encounters a timeless rock & roll sound world. The driving guitar playing one chord in different cadences and rhythmic patters, the four-snare to the floor pulse with a high hat and bass drum for ballast, and a bassline that is used more for keeping the drummer on time than as a rhythm instrument in its own right. These are draped in Rother's liquidy, cascading single note drones and runs, so even as the tune's momentum propels the listener into a movement oriented robotic dance, the guitar's lyrical economy brings an aesthetic beauty into the mix that opens the space up from inside. The tense ambient soundscape of "Sonderangebot" balances things a bit before the slower-than-Neil Young "Weissensee" opens with a subtle industrial clamor and opens up into a lyrical exploration of distorted slide guitar aesthetics with an uncharacteristic drum elegance that keeps the guitar in check. "Im Glück" tracks a restrained, droning path through the textural palette of the guitar, treated with whispering distortion and echo. All hell breaks loose again on Dinger's "Negativland" as an industrial soundscape eventually gives way to a bass and guitar squall as darkly enticing as anything on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. It's really obvious now how the JD's sound was influenced by this simply and darkly delicious brew of noise, bass throb, percussive hypnosis, and an oddly placed, strangely under-mixed, guitar. Rother's style had as much to do with not playing as it did with virtuosity, and his fills of open chords, stuttered cadences, and broken syntax provided a much needed diversion for the metronymic regularity of the rhythm section. Rother didn't riff; he painted a mix with whatever was necessary to get the point across. His mannerisms here are not to draw attention to himself, but rather to that numbing, incessant rhythm provided wondrously by Dinger.

 

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3. Nick Drake – Pink Moon

 

After two albums of tastefully orchestrated folk-pop, albeit some of the least demonstrative and most affecting around, Drake chose a radical change for what turned out to be his final album. Not even half-an-hour long, with 11 short songs and no more -- he famously remarked at the time that he simply had no more to record -- Pink Moon more than anything else is the record that made Drake the cult figure he remains. Specifically, Pink Moon is the bleakest of them all; that the likes of Belle and Sebastian are fans of Drake may be clear enough, but it's doubtful they could ever achieve the calm, focused anguish of this album, as harrowing as it is attractive. No side musicians or outside performers help this time around -- it's simply Drake and Drake alone on vocals, acoustic guitar, and a bit of piano, recorded by regular producer Joe Boyd but otherwise untouched by anyone else. The lead-off title track was eventually used in a Volkswagen commercial nearly 30 years later, giving him another renewed burst of appreciation -- one of life's many ironies, in that such an affecting song, Drake's softly keened singing and gentle strumming, could turn up in such a strange context. The remainder of the album follows the same general path, with Drake's elegant melancholia avoiding sounding pretentious in the least thanks to his continued embrace of simple, tender vocalizing. Meanwhile, the sheer majesty of his guitar playing -- consider the opening notes of "Road" or "Parasite" -- makes for a breathless wonder to behold.

 

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2. Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra

 

Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit's 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun's haunting voice hovering above the arrangements. As the album's title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On "Kyrie" droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit's spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun's celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith. Indeed, Fricke called this album a "mass for the heart" and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy "Abschied" and the gossamer-fragile "Segnung," which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a "cosmic convalescent home" -- an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it.

 

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1. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.

 

Greeted with decidedly mixed reviews upon its original release, Exile on Main St. has become generally regarded as the Rolling Stones' finest album. Part of the reason why the record was initially greeted with hesitant reviews is that it takes a while to assimilate. A sprawling, weary double album encompassing rock & roll, blues, soul, and country, Exile doesn't try anything new on the surface, but the substance is new. Taking the bleakness that underpinned Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers to an extreme, Exile is a weary record, and not just lyrically. Jagger's vocals are buried in the mix, and the music is a series of dark, dense jams, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor spinning off incredible riffs and solos. And the songs continue the breakthroughs of their three previous albums. No longer does their country sound forced or kitschy -- it's lived-in and complex, just like the group's forays into soul and gospel. While the songs, including the masterpieces "Rocks Off," "Tumbling Dice," "Torn and Frayed," "Happy," "Let It Loose," and "Shine a Light," are all terrific, they blend together, with only certain lyrics and guitar lines emerging from the murk. It's the kind of record that's gripping on the very first listen, but each subsequent listen reveals something new. Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones' best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Alice Coltrane – World Galaxy

 

Alice Coltrane had become a musical world unto herself by the time she issued World Galaxy, recorded in late 1971. With jazz-rock fusion taking over the mainstream and the terminal avant-garde heading over to Europe, Coltrane stubbornly forged an insistent, ever-evolving brand of spiritual jazz that bore her own signature as much as it did her late husband's influence. On the two days in November when World Galaxy was recorded, Coltrane chose drummer Ben Riley, bassist Reggie Workman, violinist Leroy Jenkins, saxophonist Frank Lowe, and timpanist Elayne Jones in addition to a string orchestra of 16 to help her realize her latest vision. Coltrane herself plays piano, harp, and organ on this date, sometimes within a single track, as she does on her glorious post-modal reworking of "My Favorite Things." This was a gutsy move, considering it was one of John Coltrane's signature tunes, but Alice has it firmly in hand as she moves from organ to harp to piano and back, turning the melody inside out wide enough for the strings to whip up an atmospheric texture that simultaneously evokes heaven and hell and skewers the prissy nature of the tune in favor of bent polyharmonics that allow the entire world of sound inside to play. The jazz modalism Coltrane presents on "Galaxy Around Olodumare" is quickly undone by Lowein his solo and reconstructed into polyphony by the string section; it's remarkable. The harp work on "Galaxy in Turiya" (Alice's religious name) is among her most beautiful, creating her own wash of color and dynamic for the strings to fall like water from the sky into her mix. As colors shift and change, the rhythm section responds, and focuses them in the prism of Coltrane's textured harpistry. The album closes with another John Coltrane signature, "A Love Supreme," here given an out of this world treatment by the band with Jenkins playing full force through the middle of both channels. There is a narration by Coltrane's guru inside it, a poem really, spoken by the great guru Satchidananda, which no doubt would have moved John Coltrane, but the real news is Alice's killer, funky breakbeat organ solo that covers the tune top to bottom in blues, in stark contrast to Jenkins' improvisation. This set may take some getting used to for some, but it's easily one of the strongest records Alice Coltrane ever released, and one of the finest moments in jazz from the early '70s.

 

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Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Paix

 

 

Her fourth album, Paix, is one of Catherine Ribeiro's more intense recordings. The band is less folkish on this outing and veering more into space rock, with a sound that is even more cosmic, especially on the 15-minute title track as well as the 24-minute "'Un Jour la Mort" that fills side two. Both tracks contain long instrumental passages with multi-layered keyboard and guitar soundscapes over pulsing percussion, as well as some of Ribeiro's more gutsy and emotional singing (especially on "Paix," where at some places she is practically screaming). "Jusqu'a Ce Que la Force" is a short moody piece, while "Roc Alpin," on the other hand, is joyful, with an upbeat rhythm and playful melody that Ribeiro vocalizes wordlessly.

 

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Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly [Original Soundtrack]

 

The choice of Curtis Mayfield to score the blaxploitation film Super Fly was an inspired one. No other artist in popular music knew so well, and expressed through his music so naturally, the shades of gray inherent in contemporary inner-city life. His debut solo album, 1970's Curtis, had shown in vivid colors that the '60s optimist (author of the civil-rights anthems "Keep On Pushing" and "People Get Ready") had added a layer of subtlety to his material; appearing on the same LP as the positive and issue-oriented "Move On Up" was an apocalyptic piece of brimstone funk titled "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go." For Super Fly, Mayfield wisely avoids celebrating the wheeling-and-dealing themes present in the movie, or exploiting them, instead using each song to focus on a different aspect of what he saw as a plague on America's streets. He also steers away from explicit moralizing; through his songs, Mayfield simply tells it like it is (for the characters in the film as in real life), with any lessons learned the result of his vibrant storytelling and knack of getting inside the heads of the characters. "Freddie's Dead," one of the album's signature pieces, tells the story of one of the film's main casualties, a good-hearted yet weak-willed man caught up in the life of a pusher, and devastatingly portrays the indifference of those who witness or hear about it. "Pusherman" masterfully uses the metaphor of drug dealer as businessman, with the drug game, by extension, just another way to make a living in a tough situation, while the title track equates hustling with gambling ("The game he plays he plays for keeps/hustlin' times and ghetto streets/tryin' ta get over"). Ironically, the sound of Super Fly positively overwhelmed its lyrical finesse. A melange of deep, dark grooves, trademarked wah-wah guitar, and stinging brass, Super Fly ignited an entire genre of music, the blaxploitation soundtrack, and influenced everyone from soul singers to television-music composers for decades to come. It stands alongside Saturday Night Fever and Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols as one of the most vivid touchstones of '70s pop music.

 

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The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

 

A major turning point for the O'Jays, Back Stabbers took the group to the top of the charts and made them household names in the R&B world. the O'Jays had been paying serious dues since the late '50s, and their perseverance payed off in a major way when the unsettling title song, the infectious "Time to Get Down," and the uplifting "Love Train" became their biggest hits up to that point. Indeed, this album did more than its part to help establish Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International Records as the most successful soul label since Stax and Motown.

 

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Neil Young – Harvest

 

Neil Young's most popular album, Harvest benefited from the delay in its release (it took 18 months to complete due to Young's back injury), which whetted his audience's appetite, the disintegration of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Young's three erstwhile partners sang on the album, along with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor), and most of all, a hit single. "Heart of Gold," released a month before Harvest, was already in the Top 40 when the LP hit the stores, and it soon topped the charts. It's fair to say, too, that Young simply was all-pervasive by this time: "Heart of Gold" was succeeded at number one by "A Horse with No Name" by America, which was a Young soundalike record. But successful as Harvest was (and it was the best-selling album of 1972), it has suffered critically from reviewers who see it as an uneven album on which Young repeats himself. Certainly, Harvest employs a number of jarringly different styles. Much of it is country-tinged, with Young backed by a new group dubbed the Stray Gators who prominently feature steel guitarist Ben Keith, though there is also an acoustic track, a couple of electric guitar-drenched rock performances, and two songs on which Young is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. But the album does have an overall mood and an overall lyric content, and they conflict with each other: The mood is melancholic, but the songs mostly describe the longing for and fulfillment of new love.

 

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1973:

 

 

 

10. New York Dolls – New York Dolls

 

There are hints of girl group pop and more than a hint of the Rolling Stones, but The New York Dolls doesn't really sound like anything that came before it. It's hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge. The New York Dolls play as if they can barely keep the music from falling apart and David Johansen sings and screams like a man possessed. The New York Dolls is a noisy, reckless album that rocks and rolls with a vengeance. The Dolls rework old Chuck Berry and Stones riffs, playing them with a sloppy, violent glee. "Personality Crisis," "Looking for a Kiss," and "Trash" strut with confidence, while "Vietnamese Baby" and "Frankenstein" sound otherworldly, working the same frightening drone over and over again. The New York Dolls is the definitive proto-punk album, even more than anything the Stooges released. It plunders history while celebrating it, creating a sleazy urban mythology along the way.

 

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9. John Martyn – Solid Air

 

Solid Air (whose title track was written for John Martyn's friend, songwriter Nick Drake) is one of the defining moments in British folk, in the same league as Fairport Convention's Liege & Lief, Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, and Michael Chapman's Rainmaker. Martyn stepped out of his comfort zone to record and produce it, including not only jazz and blues but rock and plenty of sound effects, and featuring Rhodes piano on some of its tracks, dismaying some fans while winning a ton more for its genre-blurring presentation. A number of its cuts -- such as the title track, "Over the Hill," "I'd Rather Be the Devil," and "May You Never" -- remained staples in his live sets until the end of his life.

 

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8. Hawkwind – Space Ritual

 

Recorded live in December 1972 and released the following year, Space Ritual is an excellent document of Hawkwind's classic lineup, underscoring the group's status as space rock pioneers. As the quintessential "people's band," Hawkwind carried '60s countercultural idealism into the '70s, gigging constantly, playing wherever there was an audience, and even playing for free on five consecutive days outside the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The band's multimedia performances were the perfect accompaniment for exploring inner space and imagining outer space. While not concerned with rock's material trappings, Hawkwind were, ironically, among the hardest-working groups in Britain, averaging one show every three days during the year preceding these recordings. Given all that practice, it's not surprising that the performances collected here are incredibly tight (although, reportedly, a couple of tracks were edited). Incorporating most of Doremi Fasol Latido, the show for the Space Ritual tour was conceived as a space rock opera, its blend of sci-fi electronics, mesmerizing psy-fi grooves, and heavy, earthbound jamming punctuated with spoken word interludes from astral poet Bob Calvert. Although his intergalactic musings date the album, coming across now as camp futurism, they still provide fitting atmospheric preambles to Hawkwind's astounding, mind-warping sounds. Calvert's manic recital of Michael Moorcock's "Sonic Attack," for instance, is an exercise in tension that subsequently explodes on the stomping "Time We Left This World Today"; with Nik Turner's otherworldly sax, Dave Brock's guitar distortion, and the earth-moving rhythm section of Simon King and Lemmy, this track offers a blueprint for the album's most potent material. Another standout is "Orgone Accumulator," ten minutes of hypnotic (Wilhelm) Reich & roll that could be the missing link between Booker T. and Stereolab. A 1973 advertisement described Space Ritual as "88 minutes of brain damage"; that characterization still holds true.

 

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7. Fela Kuti - Gentleman

 

Gentleman is both an Africa 70 and Afro-beat masterpiece. High marks go to the scathing commentary that Fela Anikulapo Kuti lets loose but also to the instrumentation and the overall arrangements, as they prove to be some of the most interesting and innovative of Fela's '70s material. When the great tenor saxophone player Igo Chico left the Africa 70 organization in 1973, Fela Kuti declared he would be the replacement. So in addition to bandleader, soothsayer, and organ player, Fela picked up the horn and learned to play it quite quickly -- even developing a certain personal voice with it. To show off that fact, "Gentleman" gets rolling with a loose improvisatory solo saxophone performance that Tony Allen eventually pats along with before the entire band drops in with classic Afro-beat magnificence. "Gentleman" is also a great example of Fela's directed wit at the post-colonial West African sociopolitical state of affairs. His focus is on the Africans that still had a colonial mentality after the Brits were gone and then parallels that life with his own. He wonders why his fellow Africans would wear so much clothing in the African heat: "I know what to wear but my friend don't know" and also points out that "I am not a gentleman like that!/I be Africa man original."

 

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6. Faust – Faust IV

 

Coming on the heels of the cut-and-paste sound-collage schizophrenia of The Faust Tapes, Faust IV seems relatively subdued and conventional, though it's still a far cry from what anyone outside the German avant-garde rock scene was doing. The album's disparate threads don't quite jell into something larger (as in the past), but there's still much to recommend it. The nearly 12-minute electro-acoustic opener "Krautrock" is sometimes viewed as a comment on Faust's droning, long-winded contemporaries, albeit one that would lose its point by following the same conventions. There are a couple of oddball pop numbers that capture the group's surreal sense of whimsy: one, "The Sad Skinhead," through its reggae-ish beat, and another, "It's a Bit of a Pain," by interrupting a pastoral acoustic guitar number with the most obnoxious synth noises the band can conjure. Aside from "Krautrock," there is a trend toward shorter track lengths and more vocals, but there are still some unpredictably sudden shifts in the instrumental pieces, even though it only occasionally feels like an idea is being interrupted at random (quite unlike The Faust Tapes). There are several beat-less, mostly electronic soundscapes full of fluttering, blooping synth effects, as well as plenty of the group's trademark Velvet Underground-inspired guitar primitivism, and even a Frank Zappa-esque jazz-rock passage. Overall, Faust IV comes off as more a series of not-always-related experiments, but there are more than enough intriguing moments to make it worthwhile.

 

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5. Sun Ra – Space Is the Place

 

Space Is the Place provides an excellent introduction to Sun Ra's vast and free-form jazz catalog. Typical of many Sun Ra recordings, the program is varied; earthbound songs, like the swing number "Images" and Egyptian exotica piece "Discipline," fit right in with more space-age cuts, like the tumultuous "Sea of Sounds" and the humorous "Rocket Number Nine." Sun Ra fuses many of these styles on the sprawling title cut, as interlocking harmonies, African percussion, manic synthesizer lines, and joyous ensemble blowing all jell into some sort of church revival of the cosmos. Throughout the recording, Sun Ra displays his typically wide-ranging talents on space organ and piano, reed players John Gilmore and Marshall Allen contribute incisive and intense solos, and June Tyson masterfully leads the Space Ethnic Voices on dreamy vocal flights. This is a fine recording and a must for Sun Ra fans.

 

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4. John Cale – Paris 1919

 

One of John Cale's very finest solo efforts, Paris 1919 is also among his most accessible records, one which grows in depth and resonance with each successive listen. A consciously literary work -- the songs even bear titles like "Child's Christmas in Wales," "Macbeth," and "Graham Greene" -- Paris 1919is close in spirit to a collection of short stories; the songs are richly poetic, enigmatic period pieces strongly evocative of their time and place. Chris Thomas' production is appropriately lush and sweeping, with many tracks set to orchestral accompaniment; indeed, there's little here to suggest either Cale's noisy, abrasive past or the chaos about to resurface in his subsequent work -- for better or worse, his music never achieved a similar beauty again.

 

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3. Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

 

Head Hunters was a pivotal point in Herbie Hancock's career, bringing him into the vanguard of jazz fusion. Hancock had pushed avant-garde boundaries on his own albums and with Miles Davis, but he had never devoted himself to the groove as he did on Head Hunters. Drawing heavily from Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, and James Brown, Hancock developed deeply funky, even gritty, rhythms over which he soloed on electric synthesizers, bringing the instrument to the forefront in jazz. It had all of the sensibilities of jazz, particularly in the way it wound off into long improvisations, but its rhythms were firmly planted in funk, soul, and R&B, giving it a mass appeal that made it the biggest-selling jazz album of all time (a record which was later broken). Jazz purists, of course, decried the experiments at the time, but Head Hunters still sounds fresh and vital decades after its initial release, and its genre-bending proved vastly influential on not only jazz, but funk, soul, and hip-hop.

 

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2. Can – Future Days

 

Damo Suzuki's final effort is Can's most atmospheric and beautiful record, a spartan collection of lengthy, jazz-like compositions recorded with minimal vocal contributions. Employing keyboard washes to create a breezy, almost oceanic feel (indeed, two of the tracks are titled "Spray" and "Bel Air"), the mix buries Suzuki's voice to elevate drummer Jaki Liebezeit's complex rhythms to the foreground; despite the deceptive tranquility of its surface, Future Days is an intense work, bubbling with radical ideas and concepts.

 

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1. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

 

By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs and adding a lush, immaculate production to their trippiest instrumental sections, Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough with Dark Side of the Moon. The primary revelation of Dark Side of the Moon is what a little focus does for the band. Roger Waters wrote a series of songs about mundane, everyday details which aren't that impressive by themselves, but when given the sonic backdrop of Floyd's slow, atmospheric soundscapes and carefully placed sound effects, they achieve an emotional resonance. But what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music, which evolves from ponderous, neo-psychedelic art rock to jazz fusion and blues-rock before turning back to psychedelia. It's dense with detail, but leisurely paced, creating its own dark, haunting world. Pink Floyd may have better albums than Dark Side of the Moon, but no other record defines them quite as well as this one.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Al Green – Call Me

 

Al Green reached his creative peak with the brilliant Call Me, the most inventive and assured album of his career. So silky and fluid as to sound almost effortless, Green's vocals revel in the lush strings and evocative horns of Willie Mitchell's superbly intimate production, barely rising above an angelic whisper for the gossamer "Have You Been Making Out O.K.." With barely perceptible changes in mood, Call Me covers remarkable ground, spanning from "Stand Up" -- a call to arms delivered with characteristic understatement -- to renditions of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away," both of them exemplary fusions of country and soul. Equally compelling are the album's three Top Ten hits -- "You Ought to Be With Me," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," and the shimmering title cut. A classic.

 

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Iggy & The Stooges – Raw Power

 

In 1972, the Stooges were near the point of collapse when David Bowie's management team, MainMan, took a chance on the band at Bowie's behest. By this point, guitarist Ron Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander had been edged out of the picture, and James Williamson had signed on as Iggy's new guitar mangler; Asheton rejoined the band shortly before recording commenced on Raw Power, but was forced to play second fiddle to Williamson as bassist. By most accounts, tensions were high during the recording of Raw Power, and the album sounds like the work of a band on its last legs -- though rather than grinding to a halt, Iggy & the Stooges appeared ready to explode like an ammunition dump. From a technical standpoint, Williamson was a more gifted guitar player than Asheton (not that that was ever the point), but his sheets of metallic fuzz were still more basic (and punishing) than what anyone was used to in 1973, while Ron Asheton played his bass like a weapon of revenge, and his brother Scott Asheton remained a powerhouse behind the drums. But the most remarkable change came from the singer; Raw Power revealed Iggy as a howling, smirking, lunatic genius. Whether quietly brooding ("Gimme Danger") or inviting the apocalypse ("Search and Destroy"), Iggy had never sounded quite so focused as he did here, and his lyrics displayed an intensity that was more than a bit disquieting. In many ways, almost all Raw Power has in common with the two Stooges albums that preceded it is its primal sound, but while the Stooges once sounded like the wildest (and weirdest) gang in town, Raw Power found them heavily armed and ready to destroy the world -- that is, if they didn't destroy themselves first.

 

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Lou Reed – Berlin

 

 

Transformer and "Walk on the Wild Side" were both major hits in 1972, to the surprise of both Lou Reed and the music industry, and with Reed suddenly a hot commodity, he used his newly won clout to make the most ambitious album of his career, Berlin. Berlin was the musical equivalent of a drug-addled kid set loose in a candy store; the album's songs, which form a loose story line about a doomed romance between two chemically fueled bohemians, were fleshed out with a huge, boomy production (Bob Ezrin at his most grandiose) and arrangements overloaded with guitars, keyboards, horns, strings, and any other kitchen sink that was handy (the session band included Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Aynsley Dunbar, and Tony Levin). And while Reed had often been accused of focusing on the dark side of life, he and Ezrin approached Berlin as their opportunity to make The Most Depressing Album of All Time, and they hardly missed a trick.

 

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Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On

 

 

After brilliantly surveying the social, political, and spiritual landscape with What's Going On, Marvin Gaye turned to more intimate matters with Let's Get It On, a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy. Always a sexually charged performer, Gaye's passions reach their boiling point on tracks like the magnificent title hit (a number one smash) and "You Sure Love to Ball"; silky and shimmering, the music is seductive in the most literal sense, its fluid grooves so perfectly designed for romance as to border on parody. With each performance laced with innuendo, each lyric a come-on, and each rhythm throbbing with lust, perhaps no other record has ever achieved the kind of sheer erotic force of Let's Get It On, and it remains the blueprint for all of the slow jams to follow decades later -- much copied, but never imitated.

 

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Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

 

On Roxy Music's debut, the tensions between Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry propelled their music to great, unexpected heights, and for most of the group's second album, For Your Pleasure, the band equals, if not surpasses, those expectations. However, there are a handful of moments where those tensions become unbearable, as when Eno wants to move toward texture and Ferry wants to stay in more conventional rock territory; the nine-minute "The Bogus Man" captures such creative tensions perfectly, and it's easy to see why Eno left the group after the album was completed. Still, those differences result in yet another extraordinary record from Roxy Music, one that demonstrates even more clearly than the debut how avant-garde ideas can flourish in a pop setting. This is especially evident in the driving singles "Do the Strand" and "Editions of You," which pulsate with raw energy and jarring melodic structures. Roxy also illuminate the slower numbers, such as the eerie "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," with atonal, shimmering synthesizers, textures that were unexpected and innovative at the time of its release. Similarly, all of For Your Pleasure walks the tightrope between the experimental and the accessible, creating a new vocabulary for rock bands, and one that was exploited heavily in the ensuing decade.

 

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I'm gonna do a thread when you're done of my favourite albums that don't make your list. At least 1 but aiming for 3 from each year.

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Why a separate thread? Can't it be in this one as well? Then all people's lists get in one thread. I feel it would be more organised.

 

Is it an idea also for parrotdies to have a link to all tops in the first post? (for people that find the thread later on or are only interested in tops of a certain era)

 

Oi, I just notices Mike Oldfield is not in the top of 1973. Tubular Bells is my nr. 1 of that year :bomb:

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ALADDIN SANE!!

 

Had to make some tough cuts. For example, also missing is Quadrophenia by The Who and Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. :(

 

Is it an idea also for parrotdies to have a link to all tops in the first post? (for people that find the thread later on or are only interested in tops of a certain era)

 

Will do when I get off work. Also planning on uploading each of these albums if people are interested in checking them out (Not to mention a lot of these albums are already on Youtube...)

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ALADDIN SANE!!

 

Same. :p I loved Aladdin Sane.

 

The Dark Side of the Moon is a good pick, though. :surprised: It's a decent Floyd album.

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Haha, someone's playing it cool and doesn't want to be too mainstream in their Floyd albums. You must be a proper fan ;)

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Yeah, you can say that. :p The Parrot hasn't gotten to '75 yet, so it's too soon for me to profess my love for Wish You Were Here. :lol:

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1974:

 

 

 

10. Kraftwerk – Autobahn

 

Although Kraftwerk's first three albums were groundbreaking in their own right, Autobahn is where the group's hypnotic electronic pulse genuinely came into its own. The main difference between Autobahn and its predecessors is how it develops an insistent, propulsive pulse that makes the repeated rhythms and riffs of the shimmering electronic keyboards and trance-like guitars all the more hypnotizing. The 22-minute title track, in a severely edited form, became an international hit single and remains the peak of the band's achievements -- it encapsulates the band and why they are important within one track -- but the rest of the album provides soundscapes equally as intriguing. Within Autobahn, the roots of electro-funk, ambient, and synth pop are all evident -- it's a pioneering album, even if its electronic trances might not capture the attention of all listeners.

 

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9. King Crimson – Red

 

King Crimson fell apart once more, seemingly for the last time, as David Cross walked away during the making of this album. It became Robert Fripp's last thoughts on this version of the band, a bit noiser overall but with some surprising sounds featured, mostly out of the group's past -- Mel Collins' and Ian McDonald's saxes, Marc Charig's cornet, and Robin Miller's oboe, thus providing a glimpse of what the 1972-era King Crimson might've sounded like handling the later group's repertory (which nearly happened). Indeed, Charig's cornet gets just about the best showcase it ever had on a King Crimson album, and the truth is that few intact groups could have gotten an album as good as Red together. The fact that it was put together by a band in its death throes makes it all the more impressive an achievement.

 

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8. Jorge Ben – A Tábua de Esmeralda

 

A Tábua de Esmeralda (together with Jorge Ben's 1976 album África Brasil) could be said to represent the creative culmination of his astonishing '70s. The music that Ben recorded during this period had tremendous influence on Brazilian musicians at that time and to a great extent helped to ignite the creative explosion that took place in the Brazilian samba rock and samba soul scenes during the '70s. The sound on this particular album is very simple, with the songs being driven by Ben's characteristic acoustic guitar playing together with a bass guitar and percussion. Floating in the background on several tracks are also some nice string arrangements and a double bass. The melodies are magnificently crafted, managing to be catchy and free-flowing without ever feeling banal or predictable. One of many great songs on this album is the upbeat opening track, "Os Alquimistas Estão Chegando," with its funny lyrics about alchemists. Other especially fine moments are the space-themed "Errare Humanum Est," "Zumbi," with its Africa-inspired lyrics, "Cinco Minutos," and "Magnolia." A Tábua de Esmeralda belongs in the record collection of any fan of Ben's music and is also a great starting point for someone who wants an introduction to his work.

 

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7. Gene Clark – No Other

 

There are no edges on No Other, even in its rockier tracks such as "Strength of Strings," which echoes Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" melodically, but its bridge is pure mystic Eastern harmony, complete with slide guitar wizardry. The shimmering dark textures of "Silver Raven," where Clark's falsetto vocal is kissed by synth and muted basslines and extended by a chorus that could have come off CSNY's Déjà Vu, is one of the most heartbreakingly blissed-out country-folk songs in recorded music history. "From a Silver Phial," as haunting and beautiful as it is, is one of the strangest songs Clark ever wrote, given its anti-drug references (especially considering this is one of the more coked-out records to come from L.A. during the era). The final two cuts, "The True One" and "Lady of the North" (co-written with Doug Dillard), are the only two pieces on the disc that mirror back with accuracy where Clark had come from, but even these, as they wind around the listener, are far bigger than mere country-rock tunes, and they offer glissando passages of pedal steel and ostinato piano that create narrative movement in the lyrics. This is one of those recordings, one that is being rediscovered for the masterpiece it is.

 

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6. Tangerine Dream – Phaedra

 

Phaedra is one of the most important, artistic, and exciting works in the history of electronic music, a brilliant and compelling summation of Tangerine Dream's early avant-space direction balanced with the synthesizer/sequencer technology just beginning to gain a foothold in nonacademic circles. The result is best heard on the 15-minute title track, unparalleled before or since for its depth of sound and vision. Given focus by the arpeggiated trance that drifts in and out of the mix, the track progresses through several passages including a few surprisingly melodic keyboard lines and an assortment of eerie Moog and Mellotron effects, gaseous explosions, and windy sirens. Despite the impending chaos, the track sounds more like a carefully composed classical work than an unrestrained piece of noise. While the title track takes the cake, there are three other excellent tracks on Phaedra. "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares" is a solo Edgar Froese song that uses some surprisingly emotive and affecting synthesizer washes, and "Movements of a Visionary" is a more experimental piece, using treated voices and whispers to drive its hypnotic arpeggios. Perhaps even more powerful as a musical landmark now than when it was first recorded, Phaedra has proven the test of time.

 

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5. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom

 

Many of Rock Bottom's songs are very personal and introspective love songs, since he would soon marry Alfreda Benge. Benge suggested to Wyatt that his music was too cluttered and needed more open spaces. Therefore, Robert Wyatt not only ploughed new ground in songwriting territory, but he presented the songs differently, taking time to allow songs like "Sea Song" and "Alifib" to develop slowly. Previous attempts at love songs, like "O Caroline," while earnest and wistful, were very literal and lyrically clumsy. Rock Bottom was Robert Wyatt's most focused and relaxed album up to its time of release.

 

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4. Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel

 

Much of the same band that played on his solo debut were brought back for this set, and they perform with the same effortless grace and authority (especially guitarist James Burton and fiddler Byron Berline). If Parsons was slowing down a bit as a songwriter, he still had plenty of gems on hand from more productive days, such as "Brass Buttons" and "Hickory Wind (which wasn't really recorded live in Northern Quebec; that's just Gram and the band ripping it up live in the studio, with a handful of friends whooping it up to create honky-tonk atmosphere). He also proved to be a shrewd judge of other folks material as always; Tom T. Hall's "I Can't Dance" is a strong barroom rocker, and everyone seems to be having a great time on The Louvin Brothers's "Cash on the Barrelhead." As a vocal duo, Parsons and Emmylou Harris only improved on this set, turning in a version of "Love Hurts" so quietly impassioned and delicately beautiful that it's enough to make you forget Roy Orbison ever recorded it. And while he didn't plan on it, Parsons could hardly have picked a better closing gesture than "In My Hour of Darkness."

 

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3. Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

 

In 1974, Richard Thompson and the former Linda Peters released their first album together, and I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight was nothing short of a masterpiece, the starkly beautiful refinement of the promise of Thompson's solo debut, Henry the Human Fly. In Linda Thompson, Richard found a superb collaborator and a world-class vocalist; Linda possessed a voice as clear and rich as Sandy Denny's, but with a strength that could easily support Richard's often weighty material, and she proved capable of tackling anything presented to her, from the delicately mournful "Has He Got a Friend for Me" to the gleeful cynicism of "The Little Beggar Girl." And while Richard had already made clear that he was a songwriter to be reckoned with, on I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight he went from strength to strength. While the album's mood is decidedly darker than anything he'd recorded before, the sorrow of "Withered and Died," "The End of the Rainbow," and "The Great Valerio" spoke not of self-pity but of the contemplation of life's cruelties by a man who, at 25, had already been witness to more than his share. And though Thompson didn't give himself a guitar showcase quite like "Roll Over Vaughn Williams" on Henry the Human Fly, the brilliant solos that punctuated many of the songs were manna from heaven for any guitar enthusiast. While I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight may be the darkest music of Richard & Linda Thompson's career, in this chronicle of pain and longing they were able to forge music of striking and unmistakable beauty; if the lyrics often ponder the high stakes of our fate in this life, the music offered a glimpse of the joys that make the struggle worthwhile.

 

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2. Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets

 

Eno's solo debut, Here Come the Warm Jets, is a spirited, experimental collection of unabashed pop songs on which Eno mostly reprises his Roxy Music role as "sound manipulator," taking the lead vocals but leaving much of the instrumental work to various studio cohorts (including ex-Roxy mates Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay, plus Robert Fripp and others). Eno's compositions are quirky, whimsical, and catchy, his lyrics bizarre and often free-associative, with a decidedly dark bent in their humor ("Baby's on Fire," "Dead Finks Don't Talk"). Yet the album wouldn't sound nearly as manic as it does without Eno's wildly unpredictable sound processing; he coaxes otherworldly noises and textures from the treated guitars and keyboards, layering them in complex arrangements or bouncing them off one another in a weird cacophony. Avant-garde yet very accessible, Here Come the Warm Jets still sounds exciting, forward-looking, and densely detailed, revealing more intricacies with every play.

 

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1. Neil Young – On the Beach

 

Following the 1973 Time Fades Away tour, Neil Young wrote and recorded an Irish wake of a record called Tonight's the Night and went on the road drunkenly playing its songs to uncomprehending listeners and hostile reviewers. Reprise rejected the record, and Young went right back and made On the Beach, which shares some of the ragged style of its two predecessors. But where Time was embattled and Tonight mournful, On the Beach was savage and, ultimately, triumphant. "I'm a vampire, babe, "Young sang, and he proceeded to take bites out of various subjects: threatening the lives of the stars who lived in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon ("Revolution Blues"); answering back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose "Sweet Home Alabama" had taken him to task for his criticisms of the South in "Southern Man" and "Alabama" ("Walk On"); and rejecting the critics ("Ambulance Blues"). But the barbs were mixed with humor and even affection, as Young seemed to be emerging from the grief and self-abuse that had plagued him for two years. But the album was so spare and under-produced, its lyrics so harrowing, that it was easy to miss Young's conclusion: he was saying goodbye to despair, not being overwhelmed by it.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

 

Continuing the twisted pop explorations of Here Come the Warm Jets, Eno's sophomore album, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), is more subdued and cerebral, and a bit darker when he does cut loose, but it's no less thrilling once the music reveals itself. It's a loose concept album -- often inscrutable, but still playful -- about espionage, the Chinese Communist revolution, and dream associations, with the more stream-of-consciousness lyrics beginning to resemble the sorts of random connections made in dream states. Eno's richly layered arrangements juxtapose very different treated sounds, yet they blend and flow together perfectly, hinting at the directions his work would soon take with the seamless sound paintings of Another Green World. Although not quite as enthusiastic as Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain is made accessible through Eno's mastery of pop song structure, a form he would soon transcend and largely discard.

 

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Cluster – Zuckerzeit

 

An unexpected jump from the extended kosmische jams of Cluster 71 into uncharted territory that signaled their direction for years to come, Zuckerzeit presented a vision of electronic pop, fusing the duo's haunted melodic sense with crisp, scratchy drum programs that provided a grounded focus to all those synthesizer warbles. Oddly, the ten short tracks have separate composer credits (five each), leading to the assumption that Roedelius handled more evocative synthesizer lines ("Hollywood," "Rosa") while Moebius pushed the group into experimental ground ("Rote Riki," "Caramba"). It's undoubtedly one of the most distinctive records in the Cluster discography, though the simple lack of space rock material makes it a difficult album to recommend from the outset.

 

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Henry Cow – Unrest

 

By this point Henry Cow consisted of guitarist Fred Frith, drummer Chris Cutler, bassist John Greaves, keyboardist Tim Hodgkinson, and, of particular importance to the band's sound at this point, bassoonist Lindsay Cooper. As is so often the case with avant-garde rock & roll, it's the composed pieces that work best, and the fact that Frith is responsible for the majority of them is significant. "Bittern Storm Over Ulm" is an absolutely brilliant demolition of the Yardbirds' "Got to Hurry," while the brief but lovely "Solemn Music" unfolds in a stately manner with atonal but pretty counterpoint between Frith and Cooper. The improvised material succeeds in a more spotty way. "Upon Entering the Hotel Adlon" demonstrates how fine the line can be between bracing free atonality and mindless cacophony. The unsettling but eventually gorgeous "Deluge," on the other hand, shows how well Henry Cow could walk that line when they tried; in this piece, random guitar skitterings, scattershot drum clatter, and pointillistic reed grunts are eventually snuck up on and overtaken by softly massed chords and Cooper's gently hooting bassoon. The effect is startlingly moving. Overall, this is one of Henry Cow's better efforts.

 

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The Meters – Rejuvenation

 

 

The title is a tip-off, as is the garish, blaxploitation-chic photo on the cover -- Rejuvenation, the Meters' second album for Reprise, should be seen as a bit of a new beginning for the quintessential New Orleans funk group. It's not a clean beginning, since they were pointing in this direction on Cabbage Alley, but this is where their glistening, clear production, crisp performances, rock influences, and hard-edged funk coalesce into a sound distinct from their Josie recordings -- not better, just different. As such, this is the definitive Reprise album from the Meters, not just because the material is stronger (which admittedly is true), but because the performances are continually inspired and the production is professional but hits at a gut level, resulting in a first-class funk album.

 

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The Residents – Meet the Residents

 

 

The Residents are true avant-garde crazies. Their earliest albums (of which this is the first) have precedents in Captain Beefheart's experimental albums, Frank Zappa's conceptual numbers from Freak Out!, the work of Steve Reich, and the compositions of chance music tonemeister John Cage -- yet The Residents' work of this time really sounds like nothing else that exists. All of the music on this release consists of deconstructions of countless rock and non-rock styles, which are then grafted together to create chaotic, formless, seemingly haphazard numbers; the first six "songs" (including a fragment from the Nancy Sinatra hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'") are strung together to form a larger entity similar in concept to the following lengthier selections. The result is a series of unique, odd, challenging numbers that are nevertheless not entirely successful. The album cover is a fierce burlesque of the Beatles' first U.S. Capitol label release, sporting puerilely doctored photographs of the Fab Four on the front and pictures of collarless-suited sea denizens on the back (identified as Paul McCrawfish, Ringo Starfish, and the like). This is an utterly bizarre platter that may appeal to very adventurous listeners.

 

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1975:

 

 

 

10. Patti Smith – Horses

 

It isn't hard to make the case for Patti Smith as a punk rock progenitor based on her debut album, which anticipated the new wave by a year or so: the simple, crudely played rock & roll, featuring Lenny Kaye's rudimentary guitar work, the anarchic spirit of Smith's vocals, and the emotional and imaginative nature of her lyrics -- all prefigure the coming movement as it evolved on both sides of the Atlantic. Smith is a rock critic's dream, a poet as steeped in '60s garage rock as she is in French Symbolism; "Land" carries on from the Doors' "The End," marking her as a successor to Jim Morrison, while the borrowed choruses of "Gloria" and "Land of a Thousand Dances" are more in tune with the era of sampling than they were in the '70s. Producer John Cale respected Smith's primitivism in a way that later producers did not, and the loose, improvisatory song structures worked with her free verse to create something like a new spoken word/musical art form: Horses was a hybrid, the sound of a post-Beat poet, as she put it, "dancing around to the simple rock & roll song."

 

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9. Harmonium - Si On Avait Besoin d'une Cinquième Saison

 

Released a year after Harmonium's debut album, Si On Avait Besoin d'une Cinquième Saison (If We Needed a Fifth Season) marked an impressive departure from the guitar trio folk-pop the band first played in cabarets. The first difference is the addition of two new members, reedist/flutist Pierre Daigneault and keyboardist Serge Locat (still no drummer). Second, the album is structured on a concept revolving around seasons, the first four pieces representing each one of them. Third, the fifth piece (or season) is a 17-minute epic suite. This is not folk-rock anymore, but a very personal form of progressive rock rooted in folk (the closest comparison would be early Strawbs). Special care has been put into the arrangements; the song "Dixie," a spirited summer tune, features dozens of instruments coming in and out, topped by Locat's grand piano solo (and the only apparition of percussion on the whole album, a hi-hat hit and a bass drum kick). Songs have gained in length and complexity, the use of Ondes-Martenot waves (courtesy of prog rock band Etcetera's Marie Bernard), mellotron, piano, and flute add another dimension to band's sound and point toward what L'Heptade would be. At the same time, acoustic guitars still provide the backbone of the songs -- but they are not easy-to-learn campfire tunes anymore. Vocalist Judy Richard guests on the beautiful "Histoires Sans Paroles" ("Stories Without Words"), one of Québec's finest progressive rock moments, once again without a single percussion sound. Between the folk simplicity of Harmonium and the symphonic grandeur of L'Heptade, Si On Avait Besoin d'une Cinquième Saison gave the band its unique voice. This remains one of the best transitional albums ever recorded and an essential item in Québec's music history.

 

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8. Parliament – Mothership Connection

 

The definitive Parliament-Funkadelic album, Mothership Connection is where George Clinton's revolving band lineups, differing musical approaches, and increasingly thematic album statements reached an ideal state, one that resulted in enormous commercial success as well as a timeless legacy that would be compounded by hip-hop postmodernists, most memorably Dr. Dre on his landmark album The Chronic (1992). The musical lineup assembled for Mothership Connection is peerless: in addition to keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell; Bootsy Collins, who plays not only bass but also drums and guitar; the guitar trio of Gary Shider, Michael Hampton, and Glen Goins; and the Brecker Brothers (Michael and Randy) on horns; there are former J.B.'s Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker (also on horns), who were the latest additions to the P-Funk stable. Besides the dazzling array of musicians, Mothership Connection boasts a trio of hands-down classics -- "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)," "Mothership Connection (Star Child)," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" -- that are among the best to ever arise from the funk era, each sampled and interpolated time and time again by rap producers; in particular, Dr. Dre pays homage to the former two on The Chronic (on "The Roach" and "Let Me Ride," respectively). The remaining four songs on Mothership Connection are all great also, if less canonical. Lastly, there's the overlapping outer-space theme, which ties the album together into a loose escapist narrative. There's no better starting point in the enormous P-Funk catalog than Mothership Connection, which, like its trio of classic songs, is undoubtedly among the best of the funk era.

 

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7. NEU! – NEU! ‘75

 

One thing that is noticeably different on 75 is the presence of synthesizers and the preference of them, it seems, over Rother's guitar. "Isi," which opens the album, features Dinger's metronymic percussion holding down the 2/4 rhythm and a trademark one-note bassline provided by a piano, but the gorgeous sonic washes and flourishes normally handled by Rother's guitar-slinging hands are now painted with a synth. "Seeland" offers a return to the six strings with what would in subsequent years become Rother's ornate "singing" style of playing. Dinger's rhythmic patterns here are deceptively simple. They create a long, trudging 4/4, syncopated every other line, and punctuated by a small ride cymbal at the end of each phrase as Rother's guitar provides both cascading single string notes and a shifting, pulsing bassline. It's a beautiful wasteland, this track; sparse yet full of melodic interplay and layered guitars and keyboards. The last track on side one is "Leb Wohl," an exercise in white noise, industrial textures, and natural or, "found" sounds, a piano and gorgeous, spare and intricate guitar chords. For side two, NEU! adds Dinger's brother, Thomas, and Hans Lampe on various percussions to allow Dinger to play guitar, piano, and organ, and to add some bottom end to the band's sound. The funny thing is they come off sounding more like a melodic punk band on "Hero," with Dinger's growling vocals being reminiscent of a young Mick Jagger on steroids. His Keith Richards-style chords stand in stark contrast to Rother's more lyrical approach. Perhaps this isn't such a surprise when we consider the Damned's first album was recorded in 1975. The ten-minute "E-Musick" becomes NEU!'s signature track for this disc, however. With distorted percussion -- courtesy of a synth and sequencer, as well as a drum kit put through a phase shifter, Rother's melodic synth lines are free to roam, wide and far, carrying within them a foreshadowing of his guitar solos a few minutes later. These long screaming lines, reminiscent of Steve Hillage at his best, with Dinger's wonderful rhythm backing and treatments of the instruments, provides a definitive statement on the NEU! "motorik" sound. This is music not only for traveling, from one place to the next, but also for disappearance into the ether at a steady pace.

 

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6. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

 

Led Zeppelin returned from a nearly two-year hiatus in 1975 with Physical Graffiti, a sprawling, ambitious double album. Zeppelin treat many of the songs on Physical Graffiti as forays into individual styles, only occasionally synthesizing sounds, notably on the tense, Eastern-influenced "Kashmir." With John Paul Jones' galloping keyboard, "Trampled Underfoot" ranks as their funkiest metallic grind, while "Houses of the Holy" is as effervescent as pre-Beatles pop and "Down by the Seaside" is the closest they've come to country. Even the heavier blues -- the 11-minute "In My Time of Dying," the tightly wound "Custard Pie," and the monstrous epic "The Rover" -- are subtly shaded, even if they're thunderously loud. Most of these heavy rockers are isolated on the first album, with the second half of Physical Graffiti sounding a little like a scrap heap of experiments, jams, acoustic workouts, and neo-covers. This may not be as consistent as the first platter, but its quirks are entirely welcome, not just because they encompass the mean, decadent "Sick Again," but the heartbreaking "Ten Years Gone" and the utterly charming acoustic rock & roll of "Boogie With Stu" and "Black Country Woman." Yes, some of this could be labeled as filler, but like any great double album, its appeal lies in its great sprawl, since it captures elements of the band's personality rarely showcased elsewhere -- and even at its worst, Physical Graffiti towers above its hard rock peers of the mid-'70s.

 

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5. Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit

 

Musically, the Afro-funk and tribal rhythms that Kuti and his Africa '70put down can rightfully be compared to that of James Brown or even a George Clinton-esque vibe. The beats are infectious with a hint of Latin influence, making the music nearly impossible to keep from moving to. Although the band is large, it is also remarkably tight and malleable enough to accompany and punctuate Kuti's vehement and indicting lyrics. The nature of what Kuti says, as well as infers, amounts to much more than simply whining or bad-rapping the law.

 

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4. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

 

Pink Floyd followed the commercial breakthrough of Dark Side of the Moon with Wish You Were Here, a loose concept album about and dedicated to their founding member Syd Barrett. The record unfolds gradually, as the jazzy textures of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" reveal its melodic motif, and in its leisurely pace, the album shows itself to be a warmer record than its predecessor. Musically, it's arguably even more impressive, showcasing the group's interplay and David Gilmour's solos in particular. And while it's short on actual songs, the long, winding soundscapes are constantly enthralling.

 

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3. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

 

Bruce Springsteen's make-or-break third album represented a sonic leap from his first two, which had been made for modest sums at a suburban studio; Born to Run was cut on a superstar budget, mostly at the Record Plant in New York. Springsteen's backup band had changed, with his two virtuoso players, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Vini Lopez, replaced by the professional but less flashy Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg. The result was a full, highly produced sound that contained elements of Phil Spector's melodramatic work of the 1960s. Layers of guitar, layers of echo on the vocals, lots of keyboards, thunderous drums -- Born to Run had a big sound, and Springsteen wrote big songs to match it. The overall theme of the album was similar to that of The E Street Shuffle; Springsteen was describing, and saying farewell to, a romanticized teenage street life. But where he had been affectionate, even humorous before, he was becoming increasingly bitter. If Springsteen had celebrated his dead-end kids on his first album and viewed them nostalgically on his second, on his third he seemed to despise their failure, perhaps because he was beginning to fear he was trapped himself. Nevertheless, he now felt removed, composing an updated West Side Story with spectacular music that owed more to Bernstein than to Berry. To call Born to Run overblown is to miss the point; Springsteen's precise intention is to blow things up, both in the sense of expanding them to gargantuan size and of exploding them. If The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle was an accidental miracle, Born to Run was an intentional masterpiece. It declared its own greatness with songs and a sound that lived up to Springsteen's promise, and though some thought it took itself too seriously, many found that exalting.

 

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2. Brian Eno – Another Green World

 

A universally acknowledged masterpiece, Another Green World represents a departure from song structure and toward a more ethereal, minimalistic approach to sound. Despite the stripped-down arrangements, the album's sumptuous tone quality reflects Eno's growing virtuosity at handling the recording studio as an instrument in itself (à la Brian Wilson). There are a few pop songs scattered here and there ("St. Elmo's Fire," "I'll Come Running," "Golden Hours"), but most of the album consists of deliberately paced instrumentals that, while often closer to ambient music than pop, are both melodic and rhythmic; many, like "Sky Saw," "In Dark Trees," and "Little Fishes," are highly imagistic, like paintings done in sound that actually resemble their titles. Lyrics are infrequent, but when they do pop up, they follow the free-associative style of albums past; this time, though, the humor seems less bizarre than gently whimsical and addled, fitting perfectly into the dreamlike mood of the rest of the album. Most of Another Green World is like experiencing a soothing, dream-filled slumber while awake, and even if some of the pieces have dark or threatening qualities, the moments of unease are temporary, like a passing nightmare whose feeling lingers briefly upon waking but whose content is forgotten. Unlike some of his later, full-fledged ambient work, Eno's gift for melodicism and tight focus here keep the entirety of the album in the forefront of the listener's consciousness, making it the perfect introduction to his achievements even for those who find ambient music difficult to enjoy.

 

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1. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

 

Following on the heels of an album where he repudiated his past with his greatest backing band, Blood on the Tracks finds Bob Dylan, in a way, retreating to the past, recording a largely quiet, acoustic-based album. But this is hardly nostalgia -- this is the sound of an artist returning to his strengths, what feels most familiar, as he accepts a traumatic situation, namely the breakdown of his marriage. This is an album alternately bitter, sorrowful, regretful, and peaceful, easily the closest he ever came to wearing his emotions on his sleeve. That's not to say that it's an explicitly confessional record, since many songs are riddles or allegories, yet the warmth of the music makes it feel that way.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Earth, Wind & Fire – Gratitude

 

Neither hardcore EWF devotees nor more casual listeners should deprive themselves of the joys of the live versions of "Shining Star" and "Yearnin' Learnin'." Maurice White is magnificent throughout, and Philip Bailey truly soars on extended versions of "Reasons" (which boasts a memorable alto sax solo by guest Don Myrick) and "Devotion." The album also introduced some excellent new studio songs, including the haunting "Can't Hide Love" and the uplifting "Sing a Song." One could nitpick and wish for live versions of "Evil," "Keep Your Head to the Sky," and "Kalimba Song," but the bottom line is that Gratitude is one of EWF's finest accomplishments.

 

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Harmonia - Deluxe

 

A touch more immediate and song-oriented than its predecessor, but no less enchanting and lovely to hear, Deluxe again features the trio experimenting with a variety of approaches, most particularly including vocals here and there for the first time. There's also a guest musician helping out, namely Mani Neumeier from Guru Guru, and while he's not playing all the time, where he does appear, as on the wonderful lengthy jam "Walky-Talky," a blend of his percussion and swooping guitar filigrees and keyboards, it's a fine choice. His slow, subtle build throughout the song helps send it higher and higher without seeming to. The various vocals really do fit the music in a lovely way, and it's little surprise that Brian Eno might have felt even more of an affinity with the group than before, being non-musical but still affecting, like mysterious chants or barks. The motorik pulses and rhythms, however soft and subtle, still dominate the proceedings, while the glazed, warm feeling of the whole album is astounding. "Deluxe (Immer Wieder)" makes for a just majestic enough start -- Rother's sudden guitar builds over five minutes in avoid brute domination for a structured, rising approach -- while "Notre Dame" consists of a series of mini-movements exploring central themes. There's also a bit in the way of straight-ahead rock in a distinctly NEU!-like fashion, with "Monza (Rauf und Runter)" easily coming across as an analog to NEU! 75's "Hero," a charging, fantastic number that is without question one of Krautrock's best individual songs.

 

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Klaus Schulze - Timewind

 

Dedicated to Richard Wagner, Timewind is a 60-minute electronic expedition that is broken up into two half-hour tracks, "Bayreuth Return" and "Wahnfried 1883." The first 30 minutes involves icy pulsations and lengthy tonal flights that unnoticeably converge into each other. While one rhythm gains momentum, the other one slowly fades into a bubbly electronic bath of bright swirls and meandering keyboard waves. Similar to early Tangerine Dream, the music here rises and falls above a distant sonic horizon, and the effect is truly mesmerizing. One specific flow can last for minutes, while small, detailed noises adhere themselves to the main electronic run. On the second track, more of the same far-off synthesized altering takes place, but the washes of keyboard become inoculated with a sharper, more precise sound. Longer notes build into resilient pieces with the same comforting result. This album will sketch a barren wasteland in the mind through the wispiness of the wind-like effects. Timewind serves as splendid mood music, and the ears are forever kept busy following Schulze's electronic wandering.

 

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Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night

 

 

Performing with the remains of Crazy Horse, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, along with Nils Lofgren (guitar and piano) and Ben Keith (steel guitar), Young performed in the ragged manner familiar from Time Fades Away -- his voice was often hoarse and he strained to reach high notes, while the playing was loose, with mistakes and shifting tempos. But the style worked perfectly for the material, emphasizing the emotional tone of Young's mourning and contrasting with the polished sound of CSNY and Harvest that Young also disparaged. He remained unimpressed with his commercial success, noting in "World on a String," "The world on a string/Doesn't mean anything." In "Roll Another Number," he said he was "a million miles away/From that helicopter day" when he and CSN had played Woodstock. And in "Albuquerque," he said he had been "starvin' to be alone/Independent from the scene that I've known" and spoke of his desire to "find somewhere where they don't care who I am." Songs like "Speakin' Out" and "New Mama" seemed to find some hope in family life, but Tonight's the Night did not offer solutions to the personal and professional problems it posed. It was the work of a man trying to turn his torment into art and doing so unflinchingly.

 

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Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Zuma

 

 

Having apparently exorcised his demons by releasing the cathartic Tonight's the Night, Neil Young returned to his commercial strengths with Zuma (named after Zuma Beach in Los Angeles, where he now owned a house). Seven of the album's nine songs were recorded with the reunited Crazy Horse, in which rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro had replaced the late Danny Whitten, but there were also nods to other popular Young styles in "Pardon My Heart," an acoustic song that would have fit on Harvest, his most popular album, and "Through My Sails," retrieved from one of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's abortive recording sessions. Young had abandoned the ragged, first-take approach of his previous three albums, but Crazy Horse would never be a polished act, and the music had a lively sound well-suited to the songs, which were some of the most melodic, pop-oriented tunes Young had crafted in years, though they were played with an electric-guitar-drenched rock intensity. The overall theme concerned romantic conflict, with lyrics that lamented lost love and sometimes longed for a return ("Pardon My Heart" even found Young singing, "I don't believe this song"), though the overall conclusion, notably in such catchy songs as "Don't Cry No Tears" and "Lookin' for a Love," was to move on to the next relationship. But the album's standout track (apparently the only holdover from an early intention to present songs with historical subjects) was the seven-and-a-half-minute epic "Cortez the Killer," a commentary on the Spanish conqueror of Latin America that served as a platform for Young's most extensive guitar soloing since his work on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

 

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1976:

 

 

 

10. Jorge Ben – África Brasil

 

This 1976 album is undoubtedly one of the greatest classics of Brazilian popular music, with Jorge Ben mixing funky samba, Afro-Brazilian beats, and crunching guitars to create one of the most fascinating sounds ever recorded in Brazil. The album kicks off with the raw, energetic "Ponta de Lança Africano," and from there on it never slows down, but continues to pile up one fiery, funky gem after the other. The samba soul and samba funk scenes of the '70s in Brazil produced many great artists and many great recordings, fully comparable with the best soul and funk music recorded in the U.S. during the same period. Jorge Ben was the most prominent figure of this scene and África Brasil is probably the most famous of his '70s recordings. For any person who is interested in the music of Jorge Ben, or indeed Brazilian funk in general, there is no better sample of it than África Brasil.

 

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9. Cluster – Sowiesoso

 

The evocative toybox melodies (usually the Roedelius compositions) on 1974's Zuckerzeit reached their peak with Sowiesoso, courtesy of ambling pieces like "Dem Wanderer," the title track, and the vaguely Oriental "Halwa." The drum programs are still irresistibly simplistic (not to say simple), but even when Sowiesoso stretches out into primarily beatless terrain ("Es War Einmal," "Zum Wohl"), the album retains its power.

 

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8. Charlemagne Palestine – Strumming Music

 

If anything, "Strumming Music" is slightly reminiscent of Steve Reich's work from the early 70's both in the rhythms employed and in the obsessiveness of concept. But Palestine occupies a unique place among the minimalists, perhaps bridging the gap between composers like Reich and La Monte Young. By keeping the piano strings undampened and by the considerable physical force he used while playing, he allows clouds of overtones to manifest in ways that suggest the sort of justly intonated tunings that Young employed although, in fact, none are used. Technical concerns aside, Palestine appears to have been aiming for an ecstatic kind of experience, one similar to that aspired to by Eastern singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Pandit Pran Nath. It's an idea that perhaps doesn't bear repeating more than once, but that one time is pretty thrilling. Strumming Music is a monumental work and belongs in the collection of any self-respecting fan of contemporary minimalism.

 

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7. The Upsetters – Super Ape

 

By 1976, Lee "Scratch" Perry was well established at his Black Ark studio, a fact proven by the quality of the creations emerging from its walls. The success of Max Romeo's "War in a Babylon" brought a deal with Island Records and the possibility of greater financial rewards. The single was followed by a full-length album of the same name as well as deejay Jah Lion's Columbia Colly LP. Riding this crest of productivity, Scratch then turned to a creation of his own. Super Ape offered a series of the producer's finest 1976 rhythms, from Devon Irons' "When Jah Come" and the Blue Bells' "Come Along" to Romeo's "War in a Babylon" and "Chase the Devil." All are bathed in the distinct, murky atmosphere that was becoming a Black Ark trademark, then served up in the form of dub-like de-constructions. Island's U.K./U.S. sequencing of Super Ape places "Dread Lion" at the album's heart. If any track fulfills the cover's promise to "Dub it up, blacker than dread", this is it. Vocals from numerous cuts seem to compete for their spot on the rhythm, while a dizzying mix of horns, flute and melodica swirl around them. Punctuating the song's rock-solid underbelly, Perry conjures startling thunderclaps from his mixing board. Other Super Ape heavyweights include "Croaking Lizard" and "Zion's Blood": thick muscular constructs from the Upsetter session team. The former features an excellent Prince Jazzbo toast over the "Chase the Devil" rhythm, while the latter, a cut of "When Jah Come," draws its elusive meaning from vocal phrases courtesy of Heptones Earl Morgan and Barry Llewellyn. Super Ape is a dubwise, alternate universe to Perry's Black Ark vocal hits. It awaits anyone willing to heed it's closing call: "This is the ape-man, trodding through creation, are you ready to step with I man?".

 

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6. Klaus Schulze – Moondawn

 

Klaus Schulze is one of the most legendary e-musicians of all time. He is also one of the best and most original. Moondawn is one of the true classics of the genre. For many serious listeners, this was the first and/or most important electronic music purchase. There is good reason for such sentiment -- this is a great album. It is definitely hardcore Berlin school electronica and much more. Like his contemporaries, Schulze added some extra flair to his style. This album has loads of ambient atmospheres accompanying the deep sequences. While the original album is an analog creation, it still holds its own with new millennium digitalia and is uniquely old school. This album bears comparisons only to Schulze's peers of its era: Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese, T.O.N.T.O.'s Expanding Head Band, and Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company.

 

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5. Tom Zé – Estudando o Samba

 

Though he is mainly known for his contributions to the Tropicália movement of the sixties, and by his resurface during the nineties thanks to David Byrne, Tom Zé managed to create during his obscure seventies a magnificent album, probably the masterpiece mixture between Samba ans Psychedelia. Mixing a large variety of instruments with intricate compositions, fully immersed within the tropical sound of the psychedelic age, Estudando o Samba is definitely a latin masterpiece.

 

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4. David Bowie – Station to Station

 

Taking the detached plastic soul of Young Americans to an elegant, robotic extreme, Station to Stationis a transitional album that creates its own distinctive style. Abandoning any pretense of being a soulman, yet keeping rhythmic elements of soul, David Bowie positions himself as a cold, clinical crooner and explores a variety of styles. Everything from epic ballads and disco to synthesized avant pop is present on Station to Station, but what ties it together is Bowie's cocaine-induced paranoia and detached musical persona. At its heart, Station to Station is an avant-garde art-rock album, most explicitly on "TVC 15" and the epic sprawl of the title track, but also on the cool crooning of "Wild Is the Wind" and "Word on a Wing," as well as the disco stylings of "Golden Years." It's not an easy album to warm to, but its epic structure and clinical sound were an impressive, individualistic achievement, as well as a style that would prove enormously influential on post-punk.

 

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3. The Gladiators – Trenchtown Mix Up

 

When the band began work on this album, many believed that man's final days were nearing, be it Armageddon itself or civil war, and "Know Yourself Mankind" gives voice to the seething turmoil of the time, while "Bellyfull" reflects the suffering and unsettled conditions causing turmoil in the ghettos. Throughout this set the musicianship is superb, the vocals fabulous, the arrangements sublime, while the songs are filled variously with rich atmospheres, fierce rhythms, sweet melodies, or easygoing riffs as required. Everything about this set is masterful, and it remains a classic, one that Gladiators fans have consistently returned to over the years.

 

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2. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

 

The opening "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "Have a Talk with God" are curiously subdued, but Stevie soon kicks into gear with "Village Ghetto Land," a fierce exposé of ghetto neglect set to a satirical Baroque synthesizer. Hot on its heels comes the torrid fusion jam "Contusion," a big, brassy hit tribute to the recently departed Duke Ellington in "Sir Duke," and (another hit, this one a Grammy winner as well) the bumping poem to his childhood, "I Wish." Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft." Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Stevie questioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst.

 

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1. The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers

 

Compiled of demos the band recorded with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers is one of the great proto-punk albums of all time, capturing an angst-ridden adolescent geekiness which is married to a stripped-down, minimalistic rock & roll derived from the art punk of the Velvet Underground. While the sound is in debt to the primal three-chord pounding of early Velvet Underground, the attitude of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers is a million miles away from Lou Reed's jaded urban nightmares. As he says in the classic two-chord anthem "Roadrunner," Richman is in love with the modern world and rock & roll. He's still a teenager at heart, which means he's not only in love with girls he can't have, but also radios, suburbs, and fast food, and it also means he'll crack jokes like "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole...not like you." "Pablo Picasso" is the classic sneer, but "She Cracked" and "I'm Straight" are just as nasty, made all the more edgy by the Modern Lovers' amateurish, minimalist drive. But beneath his adolescent posturing, Richman is also nakedly emotional, pleading for a lover on "Someone I Care About" and "Girl Friend," or romanticizing the future on "Dignified and Old." That combination of musical simplicity, driving rock & roll, and gawky emotional confessions makes The Modern Lovers one of the most startling proto-punk records -- it strips rock & roll to its core and establishes the rock tradition of the geeky, awkward social outcast venting his frustrations.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Bob Dylan – Desire

 

If Blood on the Tracks was an unapologetically intimate affair, Desire is unwieldy and messy, the deliberate work of a collective. And while Bob Dylan directly addresses his crumbling relationship with his wife, Sara, on the final track, Desire is hardly as personal as its predecessor, finding Dylan returning to topical songwriting and folk tales for the core of the record. It's all over the map, as far as songwriting goes, and so is it musically, capturing Dylan at the beginning of the Rolling Thunder Revue era, which was more notable for its chaos than its music. And, so it's only fitting that Desire fits that description as well, as it careens between surging folk-rock, Mideastern dirges, skipping pop, and epic narratives. It's little surprise that Desire doesn't quite gel, yet it retains its own character -- really, there's no other place where Dylan tried as many different styles, as many weird detours, as he does here. And, there's something to be said for its rambling, sprawling character, which has a charm of its own. Even so, the record would have been assisted by a more consistent set of songs; there are some masterpieces here, though: "Hurricane" is the best-known, but the effervescent "Mozambique" is Dylan at his breeziest, "Sara" at his most nakedly emotional, and "Isis" is one of his very best songs of the '70s, a hypnotic, contemporized spin on a classic fable. This may not add up to a masterpiece, but it does result in one of his most fascinating records of the '70s and '80s -- more intriguing, lyrically and musically, than most of his latter-day affairs.

 

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Chico Buarque – Meus Caros Amigos

 

The album has Milton Nascimento delivering the vocals to the important "O Que Será," later recorded by Nascimento and many other interpreters. "Mulheres de Atenas," from Augusto Boal's play Lisa, a Mulher Libertadora, is a delicate canção with a feminine theme. "Olhos Nos Olhos" is a deeply heartfelt song about the end of a love affair. "Vai Trabalhar, Vagabundo," from Hugo Carvana's homonymous film, is a lively samba talking about oppression and massification. "Corrente" is a very interesting semiological experience, where each sequence of verses can be followed with no specific order. "A Noiva da Cidade," a lyrical and tender samba-canção, was taken from Alex Vianni's same-named film.

 

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The Mighty Diamonds – Right Time

 

Few reggae bands evoked their audience's suffering as viscerally as the Mighty Diamonds, not least because of lead vocalist Donald "Tabby" Shaw. Although overshadowed by stars like Bunny Wailer, Shaw's aching lilt remains a compelling signature of the roots-oriented '70s era. His graceful yet forceful presence on songs like "I Need a Roof" -- which laments lack of housing -- is exactly what the music needs. A strong moralistic undertone runs throughout the album. "Right Time" warns of an impending breakdown in social order, and "Why Me Black Brother Why" decries the rampant lawlessness afflicting the island nation. "Them Never Love Poor Marcus" scornfully denounces the people who betrayed the black nationalist leader (Marcus Garvey) for "rice and peas." "Gnashing of Teeth" takes up the Biblical imperative of Judgment Day, in which "only good works shall see you through." Some strategic departures help to leaven the band's approach, most notably the love song "Shame and Pride." Lloyd Ferguson steps out of his backup vocalist role on "Go Seek Your Rights," which reminds people to respect their differences while striving for social change, and "Africa" is a wistful tribute to the continent that Rastafarian believers consider their final home. The playing is first-rate, bolstered by unobtrusive contributions from session aces like bassist Robbie Shakespeare and drummer Sly Dunbar. No student of the genre should miss this landmark roots album.

 

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Ramones – Ramones

 

 

With the three-chord assault of "Blitzkrieg Bop," The Ramones begins at a blinding speed and never once over the course of its 14 songs does it let up. The Ramones is all about speed, hooks, stupidity, and simplicity. The songs are imaginative reductions of early rock & roll, girl group pop, and surf rock. Not only is the music boiled down to its essentials, but the Ramones offer a twisted, comical take on pop culture with their lyrics, whether it's the horror schlock of "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement," the gleeful violence of "Beat on the Brat," or the maniacal stupidity of "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue." And the cover of Chris Montez's "Let's Dance" isn't a throwaway -- with its single-minded beat and lyrics, it encapsulates everything the group loves about pre-Beatles rock & roll. They don't alter the structure, or the intent, of the song, they simply make it louder and faster. And that's the key to all of the Ramones' music -- it's simple rock & roll, played simply, loud, and very, very fast. None of the songs clock in at any longer than two and half minutes, and most are considerably shorter. In comparison to some of the music the album inspired, The Ramones sounds a little tame -- it's a little too clean, and compared to their insanely fast live albums, it even sounds a little slow -- but there's no denying that it still sounds brilliantly fresh and intoxicatingly fun.

 

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Tom Waits – Small Change

 

 

The fourth release in Tom Waits' series of skid row travelogues, Small Change proves to be the archetypal album of his '70s work. A jazz trio comprising tenor sax player Lew Tabackin, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Shelly Manne, plus an occasional string section, back Waits and his piano on songs steeped in whiskey and atmosphere in which he alternately sings in his broken-beaned drunk's voice (now deeper and overtly influenced by Louis Armstrong) and recites jazzy poetry. It's as if Waits were determined to combine the Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson characters from Casablanca with a dash of On the Road's Dean Moriarty to illuminate a dark world of bars and all-night diners. Of course, he'd been in that world before, but in songs like "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart," Waits gives it its clearest expression. Small Change isn't his best album. Like most of the albums Waits made in the '70s, it's uneven, probably because he was putting out one a year and didn't have time to come up with enough first-rate material. But it is the most obvious and characteristic of his albums for Asylum Records. If you like it, you also will like the ones before and after; otherwise, you're not Tom Waits' kind of listener.

 

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I've just realised that the mid 70's are not an place in time that I listen to, musically. I thought I spanned all of modern time.

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I've just realised that the mid 70's are not an place in time that I listen to, musically. I thought I spanned all of modern time.

 

It's the calm before the storm of '77.

 

:guitarist:

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1977:

 

 

 

10. Iggy Pop – The Idiot

 

In 1976, the Stooges had been gone for two years, and Iggy Pop had developed a notorious reputation as one of rock & roll's most spectacular waste cases. After a self-imposed stay in a mental hospital, a significantly more functional Iggy was desperate to prove he could hold down a career in music, and he was given another chance by his longtime ally, David Bowie. Bowie co-wrote a batch of new songs with Iggy, put together a band, and produced The Idiot, which took Iggy in a new direction decidedly different from the guitar-fueled proto-punk of the Stooges. Musically, The Idiot is of a piece with the impressionistic music of Bowie's "Berlin Period" (such as Heroes and Low), with it's fragmented guitar figures, ominous basslines, and discordant, high-relief keyboard parts. Iggy's new music was cerebral and inward-looking, where his early work had been a glorious call to the id, and Iggy was in more subdued form than with the Stooges, with his voice sinking into a world-weary baritone that was a decided contrast to the harsh, defiant cry heard on "Search and Destroy." Iggy was exploring new territory as a lyricist, and his songs on The Idiot are self-referential and poetic in a way that his work had rarely been in the past; for the most part the results are impressive, especially "Dum Dum Boys," a paean to the glory days of his former band, and "Nightclubbing," a call to the joys of decadence. The Idiot introduced the world to a very different Iggy Pop, and if the results surprised anyone expecting a replay of the assault of Raw Power, it also made it clear that Iggy was older, wiser, and still had plenty to say; it's a flawed but powerful and emotionally absorbing work.

 

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9. The Clash – The Clash

 

Never Mind the Bollocks may have appeared revolutionary, but the Clash's eponymous debut album was pure, unadulterated rage and fury, fueled by passion for both rock & roll and revolution. Though the cliché about punk rock was that the bands couldn't play, the key to the Clash is that although they gave that illusion, they really could play -- hard. The charging, relentless rhythms, primitive three-chord rockers, and the poor sound quality give the album a nervy, vital energy. Joe Strummer's slurred wails perfectly compliment the edgy rock, while Mick Jones' clearer singing and charged guitar breaks make his numbers righteously anthemic. Even at this early stage, the Clash were experimenting with reggae, most notably on the Junior Murvin cover "Police & Thieves" and the extraordinary "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," which was one of five tracks added to the American edition of The Clash. "Deny," "Protex Blue," "Cheat," and "48 Hours" were removed from the British edition and replaced for the U.S. release with the British-only singles "Complete Control," "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," "Clash City Rockers," "I Fought the Law," and "Jail Guitar Doors," all of which were stronger than the items they replaced. Though the sequencing and selection were slightly different, the core of the album remained the same, and each song retained its power individually. Few punk songs expressed anger quite as bracingly as "White Riot," "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A.," "Career Opportunities," and "London's Burning," and their power is all the more incredible today. Rock & roll is rarely as edgy, invigorating, and sonically revolutionary as The Clash.

 

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8. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue

 

Though the roots of this 1977 album go back to the early '70s, Dennis Wilson's one issued solo project, Pacific Ocean Blue, is certainly a product of its time, both musically and texturally. The set's 12 songs reveal a songwriter who was looking to stretch out on his own and engage a vision of music that stood far outside what the Beach Boys were capable of handling or executing. Wilson himself panned the album, claiming it had no substance, and looked forward to the release of Bamboo, a record that remained unfinished and unreleased at the time of his death. (Brother Brian, however, loved the album and celebrated it with his usual childlike intensity.) Pacific Ocean Blue is a moody view of the SoCal landscape, and of Wilson's own interior life -- or his struggle to have one. From the environmental lament, "River Song," that opens the disc, we can hear a new kind of West Coast music emerging. It's not steeped in the weighty philosophical and political concerns that other Angelenos such as Jackson Browne were penning. Instead, it's a wispy rock tune revolving around a beautiful piano figure, shuffling guitars, and lyrics that take a personal concern for the state of the nature crumbling around it. "Dreamer" is a classic piece of '70s rock as it wound itself around the emerging R&B of the time, with interlaced horn lines, synths, and funky basslines cutting through the bridge and into the final verses; all steeped in a gorgeous, lush groove that even at this relaxed tempo won't quit. Mostly, however, Pacific Ocean Blue is a diary. Given that it was recorded over nearly seven years, the songs reflect the snapshot quality of Wilson's life in the studio: what he was capable of, what he learned, and how he stretched himself. Take, for example, the tender stoner balladry of "Thoughts of You" and "Time;" with their languid, echoing piano hovering in the mix with a shadow presence as Wilson sings with a longing that is true, yet muted by his seeming resignation to things being a total loss. The latter track also features a moody trumpet solo reminiscent of Chet Baker and transforms itself into a horn-driven anthem by its nadir. This album is a classic, blissed-out, coked-up slice of '70s rock and pop that is as essential as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.

 

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7. Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77

 

Though they were the most highly touted new wave band to emerge from the CBGB's scene in New York, it was not clear at first whether Talking Heads' Lower East Side art rock approach could make the subway ride to the midtown pop mainstream successfully. The leadoff track of the debut album, Talking Heads: 77, "Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town," was a pop song that emphasized the group's unlikely roots in late-'60s bubblegum, Motown, and Caribbean music. But the "Uh-Oh" gave away the group's game early, with its nervous, disconnected lyrics and David Byrne's strained voice. All pretenses of normality were abandoned by the second track, as Talking Heads finally started to sound on record the way they did downtown: the staggered rhythms and sudden tempo changes, the odd guitar tunings and rhythmic, single-note patterns, the non-rhyming, non-linear lyrics that came across like odd remarks overheard from a psychiatrist's couch, and that voice, singing above its normal range, its falsetto leaps and strangled cries resembling a madman trying desperately to sound normal. Talking Heads threw you off balance, but grabbed your attention with a sound that seemed alternately threatening and goofy. The music was undeniably catchy, even at its most ominous, especially on "Psycho Killer," Byrne's supreme statement of demented purpose. Amazingly, that song made the singles chart for a few weeks, evidence of the group's quirky appeal, but the album was not a big hit, and it remained unclear whether Talking Heads spoke only the secret language of the urban arts types or whether that could be translated into the more common tongue of hip pop culture. In any case, they had succeeded as artists, using existing elements in an unusual combination to create something new that still managed to be oddly familiar. And that made Talking Heads: 77 a landmark album.

 

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6. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True

 

Elvis Costello was as much a pub rocker as he was a punk rocker and nowhere is that more evident than on his debut, My Aim Is True. It's not just that Clover, a San Franciscan rock outfit led by Huey Lewis (absent here), back him here, not the Attractions; it's that his sensibility is borrowed from the pile-driving rock & roll and folksy introspection of pub rockers like Brinsley Schwarz, adding touches of cult singer/songwriters like Randy Newman and David Ackles. Then, there's the infusion of pure nastiness and cynical humor, which is pure Costello. That blend of classicist sensibilities and cleverness make this collection of shiny roots rock a punk record -- it informs his nervy performances and his prickly songs. Of all classic punk debuts, this remains perhaps the most idiosyncratic because it's not cathartic in sound, only in spirit. Which, of course, meant that it could play to a broader audience, and Linda Ronstadt did indeed cover the standout ballad "Alison." Still, there's no mistaking this for anything other than a punk record, and it's a terrific one at that, since even if he buries his singer/songwriter inclinations, they shine through as brightly as his cheerfully mean humor and immense musical skill; he sounds as comfortable with a '50s knockoff like "No Dancing" as he does on the reggae-inflected "Less Than Zero." Costello went on to more ambitious territory fairly quickly, but My Aim Is True is a phenomenal debut, capturing a songwriter and musician whose words were as rich and clever as his music.

 

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5. Suicide – Suicide

 

Proof that punk was more about attitude than a raw, guitar-driven sound, Suicide's self-titled debut set the duo apart from the rest of the style's self-proclaimed outsiders. Over the course of seven songs, Martin Rev's dense, unnerving electronics -- including a menacing synth bass, a drum machine that sounds like an idling motorcycle, and harshly hypnotic organs -- and Alan Vega's ghostly, Gene Vincent-esque vocals defined the group's sound and provided the blueprints for post-punk, synth pop, and industrial rock in the process. Though those seven songs shared the same stripped-down sonic template, they also show Suicide's surprisingly wide range. The exhilarated, rebellious "Ghost Rider" and "Rocket U.S.A." capture the punk era's thrilling nihilism -- albeit in an icier way than most groups expressed it -- while "Cheree" and "Girl" counter the rest of the album's hard edges with a sensuality that's at once eerie and alluring. And with its retro bassline and simplistic, stylized lyrics, "Johnny" explores Suicide's affinity for '50s melodies and images, as well as their pop leanings. But none of this is adequate preparation for "Frankie Teardrop," one of the duo's definitive moments, and one of the most harrowing songs ever recorded. A ten-minute descent into the soul-crushing existence of a young factory worker, Rev's tense, repetitive rhythms and Vega's deadpan delivery and horrifying, almost inhuman screams make the song more literally and poetically political than the work of bands who wore their radical philosophies on their sleeves.

 

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4. Television – Marquee Moon

 

Marquee Moon is a revolutionary album, but it's a subtle, understated revolution. Without question, it is a guitar rock album -- it's astonishing to hear the interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd -- but it is a guitar rock album unlike any other. Where their predecessors in the New York punk scene, most notably the Velvet Underground, had fused blues structures with avant-garde flourishes, Television completely strip away any sense of swing or groove, even when they are playing standard three-chord changes. Marquee Moon is comprised entirely of tense garage rockers that spiral into heady intellectual territory, which is achieved through the group's long, interweaving instrumental sections, not through Verlaine's words. That alone made Marquee Moon a trailblazing album -- it's impossible to imagine post-punk soundscapes without it. Of course, it wouldn't have had such an impact if Verlaine hadn't written an excellent set of songs that conveyed a fractured urban mythology unlike any of his contemporaries. From the nervy opener, "See No Evil," to the majestic title track, there is simply not a bad song on the entire record. And what has kept Marquee Moon fresh over the years is how Television flesh out Verlaine's poetry into sweeping sonic epics.

 

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3. Kraftwerk – Trans-Europa Express

 

Although Autobahn was a left-field masterpiece, Trans-Europe Express is often cited as perhaps the archetypal (and most accessible) Kraftwerk album. Melodic themes are repeated often and occasionally interwoven over deliberate, chugging beats, sometimes with manipulated vocals; the effect is mechanical yet hypnotic. Thematically, the record feels like parts of two different concept albums: one a meditation on the disparities between reality and image ("Hall of Mirrors" and "Showroom Dummies" share recurring images of glass, reflection, illusion, and confused identities, as well as whimsical melodies), and the other the glorification of Europe. There is an impressive composition paying homage to "Franz Schubert," but the real meat of this approach is contained in the opening love letter, "Europe Endless," and the epic title track, which shares themes and lyrics with the following track, "Metal on Metal." The song "Trans-Europe Express" is similar in concept to "Autobahn," as it mimics the swaying motion and insistent drive of a cross-continent train trip. What ultimately holds the album together, though, is the music, which is more consistently memorable even than that on Autobahn. Overall, Trans-Europe Express offers the best blend of minimalism, mechanized rhythms, and crafted, catchy melodies in the group's catalog; henceforth, their music would take on more danceable qualities only hinted at here (although the title cut provided the basis for Afrika Bambaataa's enormously important dancefloor smash "Planet Rock").

 

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2. Wire – Pink Flag

 

Perhaps the most original debut album to come out of the first wave of British punk, Wire's Pink Flag plays like The Ramones Go to Art School -- song after song careens past in a glorious, stripped-down rush. However, unlike the Ramones, Wire ultimately made their mark through unpredictability. Very few of the songs followed traditional verse/chorus structures -- if one or two riffs sufficed, no more were added; if a musical hook or lyric didn't need to be repeated, Wire immediately stopped playing, accounting for the album's brevity (21 songs in under 36 minutes on the original version). The sometimes dissonant, minimalist arrangements allow for space and interplay between the instruments; Colin Newman isn't always the most comprehensible singer, but he displays an acerbic wit and balances the occasional lyrical abstraction with plenty of bile in his delivery. Many punk bands aimed to strip rock & roll of its excess, but Wire took the concept a step further, cutting punk itself down to its essence and achieving an even more concentrated impact. Some of the tracks may seem at first like underdeveloped sketches or fragments, but further listening demonstrates that in most cases, the music is memorable even without the repetition and structure most ears have come to expect -- it simply requires a bit more concentration. And Wire are full of ideas; for such a fiercely minimalist band, they display quite a musical range, spanning slow, haunting texture exercises, warped power pop, punk anthems, and proto-hardcore rants -- it's recognizable, yet simultaneously quite unlike anything that preceded it. Pink Flag's enduring influence pops up in hardcore, post-punk, alternative rock, and even Britpop, and it still remains a fresh, invigorating listen today: a fascinating, highly inventive rethinking of punk rock and its freedom to make up your own rules.

 

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1. David Bowie – Low

 

Following through with the avant-garde inclinations of Station to Station, yet explicitly breaking with David Bowie's past, Low is a dense, challenging album that confirmed his place at rock's cutting edge. Driven by dissonant synthesizers and electronics, Low is divided between brief, angular songs and atmospheric instrumentals. Throughout the record's first half, the guitars are jagged and the synthesizers drone with a menacing robotic pulse, while Bowie's vocals are unnaturally layered and overdubbed. During the instrumental half, the electronics turn cool, which is a relief after the intensity of the preceding avant pop. Half the credit for Low's success goes to Brian Eno, who explored similar ambient territory on his own releases. Eno functioned as a conduit for Bowie's ideas, and in turn Bowie made the experimentalism of not only Eno but of the German synth group Kraftwerk and the post-punk group Wire respectable, if not quite mainstream. Though a handful of the vocal pieces on Low are accessible -- "Sound and Vision" has a shimmering guitar hook, and "Be My Wife" subverts soul structure in a surprisingly catchy fashion -- the record is defiantly experimental and dense with detail, providing a new direction for the avant-garde in rock & roll.

 

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Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

The Damned – Damned Damned Damned

 

While the Sex Pistols will always have a prominent place in the story of U.K. punk, the Damned did nearly everything first, including the first single, the smoking "New Rose," and the first album, namely this stone classic of rock & roll fire. At just half an hour long, Damned Damned Damned is a permanent testimony to original guitarist Brian James' songwriting (ten of the 12 tracks are his) and the band's take-no-prisoners aesthetic. Starting with Captain Sensible's sharp bassline for "Neat Neat Neat," which rapidly explodes into a full band thrash, the Damned left rhetoric for the theoreticians and political posing for the Clash. All the foursome wanted to do was rock, and that they do here. Dave Vanian already has his spooky-voiced theatrics down cold; "Feel the Pain" indulges his Alice Cooper fascination while the band creates some creepy fun behind him. Most of the time, he's yelping with the best of them, but with considerably more control than most of the era's shouters. Scabies' considerable reputation as a drummer starts here; comparisons flew thick and fast to Keith Moon, and not just for on-stage antics (of which there were plenty). His sense of stop-start rhythm and fills is simply astounding, whether on "So Messed Up" or in his own one-minute goof, "Stab Yer Back." Though the Captain doesn't get his full chance to shine on bass, he's more than adequate, while James just cranks the amps and lets fly. Concluding with a version of the Stooges' "I Feel Alright" that sounds hollower than the original but no less energetic, Damned Damned Damned is and remains rock at its messy, wonderful best.

 

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Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

 

Rumours is the kind of album that transcends its origins and reputation, entering the realm of legend -- it's an album that simply exists outside of criticism and outside of its time, even if it thoroughly captures its era. Prior to this LP, Fleetwood Mac were moderately successful, but here they turned into a full-fledged phenomenon, with Rumours becoming the biggest-selling pop album to date. While its chart success was historic, much of the legend surrounding the record is born from the group's internal turmoil. Unlike most bands, Fleetwood Mac in the mid-'70s were professionally and romantically intertwined, with no less than two couples in the band, but as their professional career took off, the personal side unraveled. Bassist John McVie and his keyboardist/singer wife Christine McVie filed for divorce as guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks split, with Stevie running to drummer Mick Fleetwood, unbeknown to the rest of the band. These personal tensions fueled nearly every song on Rumours, which makes listening to the album a nearly voyeuristic experience. You're eavesdropping on the bandmates singing painful truths about each other, spreading nasty lies and rumors and wallowing in their grief, all in the presence of the person who caused the heartache. Everybody loves gawking at a good public breakup, but if that was all that it took to sell a record, Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights would be multi-platinum. No, what made Rumours an unparalleled blockbuster is the quality of the music. Once again masterminded by producer/songwriter/guitarist Buckingham, Rumours is an exceptionally musical piece of work -- he toughens Christine McVie and softens Nicks, adding weird turns to accessibly melodic works, which gives the universal themes of the songs haunting resonance. It also cloaks the raw emotion of the lyrics in deceptively palatable arrangements that made a tune as wrecked and tortured as "Go Your Own Way" an anthemic hit. But that's what makes Rumours such an enduring achievement -- it turns private pain into something universal. Some of these songs may be too familiar, whether through their repeated exposure on FM radio or their use in presidential campaigns, but in the context of the album, each tune, each phrase regains its raw, immediate emotional power -- which is why Rumours touched a nerve upon its 1977 release, and has since transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.

 

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Giorgio Moroder – From Here to Eternity

 

From Here to Eternity is Moroder's quasi-instrumental masterpiece, a continuous mix of banging Eurodisco complete with vocoder effects and this statement on the back cover: "Only electronic keyboards were used on this recording." The metallic beats, high-energy impact, and futuristic effects prove that Moroder was ahead of his time like few artists of the 1970s (Kraftwerk included), and the free-form songwriting on tracks like "Lost Angeles," "First Hand Experience in Second Hand Love," and the title track are priceless.

 

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Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation

 

 

Richard Hell was one of the first men on the scene when punk rock first began to emerge in New York City as an early member of both Television and the Heartbreakers (he left both groups before they could record), but his own version of punk wasn't much like anyone else's, and while Hell's debut album, Blank Generation, remains one of the most powerful to come from punk's first wave, anyone expecting a Ramones/Dead Boys-style frontal assault from this set had better readjust their expectations. "Love Comes in Spurts" and "Liar's Beware" proved the Voidoids could play fast and loud when they wanted to, but for the most part this group's formula was much more complicated than that; guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian bounced sharp, edgy patterns off each other that were more about psychological tension than brute force (though Quine's solos suggest a fragile grace beneath the surface of their neo-Beefheart chaos), and while most punk nihilism was of the simplistic "Everything Sucks" variety, Hell was (with the exception of Patti Smith) the most literate and consciously poetic figure in the New York punk scene. While there's little on the album that's friendly or life-affirming, there's a crackling intelligence to songs like "New Pleasure," "Betrayal Takes Two," and "Another World" that confirmed Hell has a truly unique lyrical voice, at once supremely self-confident and dismissive of nearly everything around him (sometimes including himself). Brittle and troubling, but brimming with ideas and musical intelligence, Blank Generation was groundbreaking punk rock that followed no one's template, and today it sounds just as fresh -- and nearly as abrasive -- as it did when it first hit the racks.

 

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Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

 

 

While mostly accurate, dismissing Never Mind the Bollocks as merely a series of loud, ragged midtempo rockers with a harsh, grating vocalist and not much melody would be a terrible error. Already anthemic songs are rendered positively transcendent by Johnny Rotten's rabid, foaming delivery. His bitterly sarcastic attacks on pretentious affectation and the very foundations of British society were all carried out in the most confrontational, impolite manner possible. Most imitators of the Pistols' angry nihilism missed the point: underneath the shock tactics and theatrical negativity were social critiques carefully designed for maximum impact. Never Mind the Bollocks perfectly articulated the frustration, rage, and dissatisfaction of the British working class with the establishment, a spirit quick to translate itself to strictly rock & roll terms. the Pistols paved the way for countless other bands to make similarly rebellious statements, but arguably none were as daring or effective. It's easy to see how the band's roaring energy, overwhelmingly snotty attitude, and Rotten's furious ranting sparked a musical revolution, and those qualities haven't diminished one bit over time. Never Mind the Bollocks is simply one of the greatest, most inspiring rock records of all time.

 

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i was sad you missed diamond dogs but Rumours </3

i really can't do a list though since i haven't listened to much of a range of 60's/70's/80's stuff.

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