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~ Established 2011 ~

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UPDATE: April 19th

Hey everybody,
So as you may have noticed, the format I thought of at the start of 2018 didn't quite work out, and school work started to pile up, but when that eased a bit, I opted for a new schedule where one day out of the week I would review one major artist from one of five distinct musical time periods (pre-1960s, 1961-1965, 1966-1969, 1970-1975, 1976-1989) randomly during the week. I had to take a break the past week and a half because of finals, but I'll get back to where I left off (Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure) on its scheduled date next Wednesday, April 25th, and with time off until September, I'll be able to add a sixth review weekly, working on a random artist from all of those time periods that didn't make the cut as a "major" artist but that I enjoy quite a bit. Those reviews will be published either Saturdays and Sundays, depending on how far along I'm done writing them Fridays. For the moment, I'm thinking it'll probably be the Doobie Brothers or Booker T. & the MG's. So stay tuned.

— Mr. X

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Rolling Stones

by the Rolling Stones
Year:
1964
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: I'M A KING BEE

If the brevity of the Rolling Stones’ debut EP was enough to make people sceptical of the Rolling Stones deserving to be seen as the raucous, blues-oriented yang to the Beatles’ energetic, poppy yin, then perhaps their first LP is sufficiently representative of why they, more than anyone else, rose up to become the commonly cited antidote to the Beatles during the British Invasion – and beyond, if you want to include the American market into this. With the Beatles’ near-even mix of originals and covers on their two domestic LPs preceding the Stones’ debut, a ratio of 3:1 in favor of covers might seem a little underwhelming. “That's it?”, you might say. And considering every other blues-based British Invasion band, from the Animals to the Yardbirds, recorded in similar or greater cover-favoring ratios, the Rolling Stones’ reputation, even before Mick Jagger and Keith Richards became the rival songwriting duo to Lennon/McCartney, seems all the more confusing. I guess, for starters, it could be that the Stones came first and helped influence the Animals and the Yardbirds. But, for the most part, I would say that it’s because, unlike what Decca thought when they dismissed the Beatles, audiences generally preferred guitar-based rock, excluding the Animals, and the Yardbirds, for a band so fond of the blues, was a bit too “clean” for mass teenage appeal. The Stones, in fusing blues and rock, didn’t just take the speed of the latter and inject the musicality of the former, they added the soul as well. If the title of “devil’s music” for rock ’n’ roll seemed inappropriate when it was in the hands of Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, bluesmen like Robert Johnson’s dealing with the devil and their darker, tormented lyrics and melodies were far more deserving of having their art called in such a manner, so you can bet your life the Rolling Stones, in understanding the soul of blues, would truly make rock ’n’ roll into the “devil’s music”.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Give 'Em Enough Rope

by the Clash
Year:
1978
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: SAFE EUROPEAN HOME or TOMMY GUN

It didn’t take long for the Clash to move on from pure punk to punk-inspired rock and other genres. Fortunately the lyrics are still largely meaningful – and many of them focused on the topic of war in particular – and the melodies are largely still good, so only the punk purists should be offended here. It’s not like the change in sound is that dramatic. If anything, if you speed it up from 33 and 1/3 RPM to 45 RPM on your record player, you’d get something not unlike their debut (as ex-critic Mark Prindle famously proclaimed), and I recently tried it using Audacity, and sure enough, it kind of works. The change in sound of the album proper could be attributed to Joe Strummer and Mick Jones simply wanting to branch out a bit more stylistically, especially considering the extent to which they’d accomplish that on their next two albums, but I’d also like to think that their label insisting they take Sandy Pearlman as producer – the guy that made Blue Öyster Cult marketable –, as well as replacing drummer Terry Chimes with jazz-trained and prog-rock-rooted drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon had something to do with it. Much of the album sounds like heavy, loud classic rock, à la Rolling Stones or the Who, and it’s something that certainly might make the band’s regular fans and some neophytes see it as a sell-out, but personally, I see it as growth. Besides, as I mentioned, the melodies are largely as good as those to be found on their debut album, and the song’s being slightly slower and significantly longer (though not quite as long as “Police and Thieves”) certainly helps you appreciate them more. So, even though there aren’t nearly as many classics – my dad, who much prefers the non-punk Clash, knows and likes more songs from their debut, for instance –, this album is hardly a step down. In fact, there’s no point in waiting for the end for me to conclude that both this and their debut deserve a solid 12/15 rating as simply great albums.

Friday, April 06, 2018

That'll Be the Day

by Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes
Year:
1956 (released 1958)
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: I'M CHANGING ALL THOSE CHANGES

Technically this is the third – and last – LP released in Buddy Holly’s lifetime, but its contents fit right at the beginning. Before demoing “That’ll Be the Day” with Norman Petty and the band that would become the Crickets in 1957, Buddy was a country musician turned rock-&-roller inspired by Elvis and the like in a band initially called the Two Tones, later the Three Tunes. Failure for the two released singles in his brief tenure with Decca proper, – his successful releases being on Decca subsidiary Brunswick –, his contract was not renewed, but as he became successful with the Crickets and solo, Decca attempted to capitalize with a few more singles, including a reissue of his first one, to no avail. Even this LP compiling the 8 single sides released by Decca during and beyond Buddy’s time with the label plus 3 other tracks failed to even make a dent, as far as I can tell, until reissued posthumously, and even then only in the UK. I don’t particularly agree with the music buying public of the time. Nothing here reaches the greatness of his 1957-1959 recordings, but it’s as enjoyable as a bunch of lesser rockers’ works at the time who had more success.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Fresh Cream

by Cream
Year:
1966
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: I FEEL FREE or NSU or SPOONFUL

Despite being a debut album, Fresh Cream feels very much like a transitional album, although the title pretty much explains it: “fresh”, because originals and covers alike – and on the original UK edition, they’re at equal numbers in terms of representation – they’re steering into new directions of heavier, spacier or jammier music (though the latter two characteristics in smaller proportions than on their later albums or on albums by those they influenced, and the former not as heavy as they could go) and “cream” because they’re the cream of the crop already, being three established musicians with phenomenal reputations both among the general public – Eric Clapton for his time with the Yardbirds who continued to be popular without him – and the in-the-know blues underground crowds – Clapton again, with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and both Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker with the Graham Bond Organisation. If I were to guess, it was mainly those interested in the “fresh” aspect that gave the band its due respect, because those looking for the cream of the crop in jazz/blues purism would be highly disappointed, and more so on subsequent albums. Of course, these guys would get the live performances to cheer them up, but this album only hints at what they could do on stage.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Roxy Music

by Roxy Music
Year:
1972
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: RE-MAKE/RE-MODEL or LADYTRON or IF THERE IS SOMETHING or VIRGINIA PLAIN

Many like to paint Roxy Music’s evolution thusly: their debut was a Battle of the Brians (pun intended) – vocalist and main songwriter Bryan Ferry versus sonic wizard Brian Eno –, their sophomore effort was Ferry wrestling near total control from Eno, and the latter departed out of frustration, resulting in his own successful solo career while Roxy Music became Ferry’s brainchild. But I feel it’s a little more complicated than that. For one, Ferry is the sole author of every song on here (and only an obscure b-side would feature a non-Ferry writing credit in this phase of the band’s career). I’m sure Eno must have had some kind of material written given what he would pen for his “official” debut in only a year’s time which he could have contributed if he really wanted that much control over the band. And as important as he is in large swaths of the album’s sound, he’s not the dominant force; in fact, I’d say every member of the band contributes about equally on the musical level. That’s what I think the key to getting Roxy Music, both the debut album and the group’s output as a whole, truly is. Ferry could have gone solo to put his unique persona to tape (and he would while still working with Roxy Music) and Eno would go solo to develop his atmospheric capabilities further, but only on Roxy Music could you combine the two with three other musicians who could create such a revolutionary sound: one that, like many glam rockers at the time, was nostalgic for the time of early rock ’n’ roll, doo-wop and, in their case, art, film and European cabaret music, but that combined them with a sound that strives for the future. Yes, it’s basically just a woodwinds, guitar, piano, bass, drums set-up of the ‘50s (with a few exceptions), nothing revolutionary, but each of those instruments is played by avant-garde loving dorks rather than kids in their garage idolizing Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, and it’s all filtered through effects that go whooshing and squealing like some high-tech machine blasting into space, whether they came up with their own effects or Eno conjured them up with his synthesizers.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

The Rolling Stones EP

by the Rolling Stones
Year:
1964
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: MONEY (THAT'S WHAT I WANT)

It’s not quite clear what the goal of the Rolling Stones’ self-titled debut EP was: the two dominant hypotheses are either a) to capitalize on the success of their wild, rocking cover of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man” that sowed the seeds for the reputation as the yang to the aforementioned Liverpudlian quartet’s yin; and b) to test the waters on the non-single market before fully introducing the Rolling Stones to the (ever-so-slowly) burgeoning LP market. One thing that’s certain, though, is that despite this EP, at a measly 9-minute running length(!), is unusually shorter than what I normally review, I feel it’s quite an important addition to the Rolling Stones’ catalogue whose components are difficult to assemble by collecting a variety of Rolling Stones’ LPs and compilations (especially if you follow the US catalogue chock-full of redundancies). In fact, despite only having four tracks, it does a pretty good job of summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the Rolling Stones at this early juncture in their career, though admittedly more of the former than the latter.

Monday, April 02, 2018

The Clash

by the Clash
Year:
1977
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

The Clash’s debut may not have been the first punk album, – the Ramones’ debut had ‘em beat by a year –, but it is arguably one of its most important. It came out during the genre’s peak, and its reputation is certainly much higher today than the LPs of their then-considered betters, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols (the former’s two 1977 LPs being deemed inferior to their ‘76 debut and the latter now being considered a joke, a “manufactured” punk band), and despite not being released in the US until 1979, it was a highly sold import LP there anyhow. The Clash, like any kind of punk band with appeal marketable beyond any hardcore punk fan base, were essentially pop bands that crunched up their guitars and added some anger or frustration or bitterness or lust or whatever non-sentimental emotions dominate teenage lives; no different than the Troggs in the mid-‘60s when they basically took pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys or early Monkees-style melodies and caveman’d them up. So what made the Clash different than those oft-mentioned Ramones? For starters, the lyrics: both the Clash and the Ramones have simple, but relatable lyrics, but if you ask me, the Clash’s are somewhat more relatable, and even when they delve into something a bit deeper, like politics, they can make you crack a smile regardless of your political orientation. Another important aspect is the vocals: both Joe Strummer and Mick Jones do their fair share of singing around here, and not only does each have a distinctive voice, when and how one, the other or both of them sing is very much an important part of the songs. And of course, the music itself is where the Clash distinguish themselves the most from other punkers: even at this stage before they started going all experimental from London Calling onward, there’s a great sense of musical diversity here, where every song has something different to offer, in the riffs, arrangement, mood and, even on the rarest of occasions, instrumentation.