para-para-parrotdies Posted August 7, 2013 Author Share Posted August 7, 2013 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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