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Last updated: January 4th, 2017

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Rolling Stones – Five by Five EP

Year: 1965
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: AROUND AND AROUND or CONFESSIN' THE BLUES

This is their final EP comprised entirely of studio material (their third EP is made up of some live tracks taken from various UK shows) and while it's not "unquestionably the first and last great EP", as British critic Roy Carr put it, it's certainly a mild improvement over their first EP in my ears. However, it is my understanding that the majority of non-paid critics – most of whom know these tracks only from their appearance on the US-only LP 12 X 5 – think only two of the tracks are worthwhile, comparing the rest to weaker versions of similar songs from their first album.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Beach Boys – All Summer Long

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: I GET AROUND

By 1964, the British Invasion was already in full flight, and Brian Wilson must have been aware of this (and I suppose, since he's co-credited on most of the originals, Mike Love as well), because the songwriting here is a hell of a lot more consistent, and the choice of covers is definitely worth complimenting as well, making this their best LP since Surfer Girl (I really like Shut Down, Vol. 2, mind you, but the smell of filler is still rather persistent), their first LP I could call great, and their first nearly-filler free record.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Kinks – Kinks

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: YOU REALLY GOT ME

In the early days, the Kinks suffered from hit-single-itis. This is a medical condition where you release a single, be it your first, your second, your third or your sixteenth, that somehow (either because it deserved it or their was just nothing else of merit around or people missed out on some great stuff in favor of it) became a hit, so you need to record a full album to promote the damn thing, and fast. If you ask me, the notion of quickly recording an album of songs that might not resemble the single should hardly seem like a good way to profit on your success, but the 1960s were a crazy time where anything went, including such sudden changes from go-nowhere third-rate pop band to chart-topping superstars.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Beatles – A Hard Day's Night

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: THINGS WE SAID TODAY

If Please Please Me introduced the Beatles' songwriting abilities, and With the Beatles showed them fine-tuning it, then their third album shows them take British Invasion pop to its limits. Coupled with the fact that the album cleverly combines the happy ways of their debut and the newfound dark aura of its follow-up, it's easy to see why this is considered to be the peak of the early Beatles era. Making this album a success could have been tricky. Having just broken big in the States on the heels of "I Want to Hold Your Hand", some of their time – otherwise dedicated to writing and recording – would be consumed by touring on the other side of Atlantic (as well as facing crowds of groupies after their asses; with minimal reluctance, probably). Fortunately, we have the gift of retrospect to tell us that the Beatles were geniuses, so the seven months between the release of With the Beatles and this one's final recording sessions were ample to come up with, not only something worthy of our attention, but also containing nothing but Lennon/McCartney originals.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: I'M A KING BEE

At its birth, rock 'n' roll was dubbed as "the Devil's music", an epithet that I find actually quite confusing. What, pray tell, is so demonic about Chuck Berry singing about his preference of this style of music over classical or jazz or Elvis Presley warning us not to step on his brand new blue suede shoes, which probably cost him a pretty penny? No, in the late-'50s, there was nothing majorly "evil" about rock 'n' roll (as for their lifestyles, well, that's a different story all together), and certainly no evil music was going on in the early-'60s, where these guys either died in a freak accident (Buddy Holly or Eddie Cochran), were busy preaching (Little Richard) or were caught in some sort of scandal (Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage to his 13-year old cousin), so their music's impact was being diluted by easy-going pop hits of the day.

If anything should have been called "Devil's music", it should have been the blues, what with the theories behind Robert Johnson selling his soul for his guitar talent only to be poisoned to death at age 27 (the first of such young deaths in 20th century music, I believe). Yes, rock 'n' roll was musically based on the blues, but blues musicians were always fascinated in making references to both God and His evil counterpart. Thus, for rock 'n' roll to be truly evil, it needed to take its drive and mix it with the mystical aura around the blues. That, my dear friends, is exactly what the Rolling Stones did.

Obviously, the Stones weren't the only ones to combine the two genres. The Yardbirds were another blues-based rock combo, and the Pretty Things (whose guitar player was the original bassist to the Stones) would eventually follow suite. The problem is, in the early days with Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds would play extremely professionally, but also extremely safe. As for the Pretty Things, the issue was quite the opposite; they played with plenty of energy all right, but most of the time, they couldn't keep up with each other, let alone the bigger names in the business. This is where the Rolling Stones come in, finding the golden middle. The same could be said about the Beatles, actually, on the pop side of things, hence the whole yin-to-their-yang relationship between the two groups.

Talent and sound are one thing, of course, but having good songs is another. Fortunately, on their debut, the Rolling Stones deliver. There's only 12 songs, two blues jams credited to the entire group, and only one Jagger/Richards composition; the rest are covers varying from Chuck Berry to Muddy Waters to Bo Diddley to Jimmy Reed, even some Motown numbers make it to the proceedings. One pretty clear advantage is that they rarely make the most obvious choices (not that this would always be the case for the Yardbirds and the Pretty Things), and besides, there's hardly any filler in sight.

Now, I say hardly, because there is a small amount of filler present, so I'll get through that first. The two easiest accused are the two Motown-style numbers; one, "You Can Make It from You Try", written by country-soul fella Ted Jarrett, shows Mick Jagger's ineptitude at the time to tackle this sort of soulful material (in fact, that's always been the Stones' most noticeable flaw, not that it would always be a flaw, of course), and another, Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness?" just doesn't quite fit the group's persona, even if I usually can't get enough of that simple boogie-based riff. A third song, "Honest I Do", sounds sort of Motown-ish, but it's actually a Jimmy Reed tune, just with the cavernous echo making the ringing guitars sound more ballad-like than bluesy; said echo has a wonderful effect on the harmonica, though. Deep and mysterious, that one is, which explains why this one rarely gets lumped together with the rest of the filler tunes.

The rest of the covers are all terrific blues-rock. Their opening rendition of Bobby Troup's "Route 66", which the band probably got from the Chuck Berry cover, along with Berry's actual hit "Carol", shows just how well Keith Richards has mastered and even improved upon those Chuck Berry licks, to inspire future rockers, ranging from Aerosmith to AC/DC. As the Stones themselves would continue to play this kind of material, they could only get better at it, even when it came time to write their own variations. As for the second track, "I Just Want to Make Love to You", it was originally a slow, moody, Willie Dixon-penned tune for Muddy Waters, but here it's revved-up and blasphemed, perhaps the quintessential example of the "beauty" of the marriage between rock and blues. It's sloppy enough to get your heart pumping but professional enough to sound like a real blues band, only all hopped up instead of doped down.

For their U.S. debut, the Bo Diddley-influenced Buddy Holly number "Not Fade Away" opens the record, but opted to remove the actual Bo Diddley number on here, "Mona (I Need You Baby)". It's a damn shame, really; I consider this to be one of the best British covers of a Bo Diddley classic. Not that "Not Fade Away" isn't played well. It was their third top 40 hit, after all, as well as their first to hit American charts. But the way they sink into the groove of Bo's beat on "Mona" is simply unbeatable; Bill's hypnotic, yet simple, bass, Charlie's pounding drum rhythm, the muddy tremolo guitars, and of course, Mick's sneering growl, as deeply effective as Bo's original. This might be the one track where Mick sounds less like a talented British kid with an affinity for black music, but one who can do a spot-on impression of a black vocalist.

If "Mona" has Mick's most impressive outgoing vocal performance, than "I'm a King Bee", the record's best tune, has his most impressive sly vocal. The Rolling Stones were always about sleaze, after all, and whenever they did it subtly, they really came out on top. So when you combine Mick whispering out the song's innuendos with low-range guitar slides buzzing around and stinging leads over it (and no, the choice of adjectives there were anything but accidental, don't you know?), not to mention a dirty ol' harmonica solo, you get something that Slim Harpo would never really achieve, as excellent a bluesman he may be. It's no wonder that the second best Harpo cover, one of his "Shake Your Hips", is the work of the Stones as well.

The final cover, one of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog", is a great recording too, and not just because it corrects the mistake of "Witness" and "You Can Make It" by closing the record instead of the them. It's another great blue groove, with gruff guitars and gruffer backing vocals; I don't know who does them, but they almost sound like someone barking out the words. Add the hilarious whistling in between verses, and you've got an excellent cover. And I've yet to mention the "original" numbers. "Little By Little", while not a highlight by any means (nor a real original in the strictest sense of the word), is a groovy blues stomper, which gives the band plenty of space to jam in between the minimal amount of lyrics (and that sly harmonica line is pretty nifty too).

That's not the only reason why I used quotation marks around the word "original", because "Now I've Got a Witness" is basically an instrumental version of "Can I Get a Witness?" Well, call me crazy, but this instrumental is way better than the actual tune (that is, the Stones' rendition; I'm not one to dismiss Marvin for no reason). Ian Stewart, the "sixth" Stone, contributes some excellent organ, especially that pulsating bass part, which matches Bill Wyman's actually bassline – simpler, but more menacing – just great, and is the perfect tune to jam to, or so it would seem anyway. Some more excellent harmonica and a sharp guitar solo ensue, as if Brian or Mick (I don't know who's playing harmonica on here) is competing with Keith to see who the real leader is. If you ask me, it's a tie, but it's fun to here the "fight" go on.

The only actual original (that is, a Jagger/Richards-penned composition) sounds like nothing else on the LP. It's a Mersey-style pop song, so it sticks out like a sore thumb (or rather, like a perfectly healthy thumb on an otherwise rough, bruised, and callused hand), but it's a fine composition, taking inspiration by Lennon/McCartney without ripping them off. As they would prove later on, Jagger and Richards had their own nose for these sorts of pop hooks, and that hypnotic ringing acoustic guitar and those crooning backup vocals from Richards are hard to dismiss. It's a bit primitive, for sure, but it's one step closer to writing something as brilliant as "Ruby Tuesday", so I sure as hell don't mind.

Anyways, for an album that consists mostly of covers, this is quite excellent; revolutionary, energetic, professional, what more could you ask for? Yes, the Rolling Stones would only get better from here, but if it weren't for this album, there would be no blues-rock, only blues-based rock. Hell, even the Animals, who made one of the most innovative singles of 1964, had to bow down to their importance – even before the release of this record – in their pseudo-composition recounting the tale of rock 'n' roll's first decade. Besides, no other mid-'60s band could make jams this engaging, nor place a pop ballad in such an album with such ease and nonchalance. The only thing we've got to wait for is for them to be more sincere on this sort of material, but that didn't take too long.

Read more Rolling Stones reviews here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones EP

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 11

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

With the top 20-chart success of "I Wanna Be Your Man" in late 1963, the Stones' manager/producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, decided they needed to capitalize on this. Their label still weren't too sure about it – they were probably afraid that the band were as evil as Oldham was trying to market them; it's amazing they wouldn't drop them reading some of the suspicious comments he would write in the liner notes of their US releases – so it was decided that they would test the waters to the LP world with a brief, four-song EP.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stevie Wonder – Stevie at the Beach

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: HEY HARMONICA MAN

Instrumental jazz didn't work. Capitalizing on his blindness didn't work. Lounge music didn't work (this really shouldn't have been their idea of a good album for a 13-year old to make for more than two seconds, but they did it anyways). It was time Motown took a look around to see exactly what it was kids Stevie's age were listening to, and make him record something in that vain. They did just that, and decided that surf music was the word of the day, so for Stevie's fourth studio album, they were going surf.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Beach Boys – Shut Down, Vol. 2

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: FUN FUN FUN or DON'T WORRY BABY

Before I get on with the review, please do not call me stupid for the lack of a Shut Down, Vol. 1. There is one, of course, but it was a multi-artist compilation of car songs (taking the concept of Little Deuce Coupe and sharing it with the Beach Boys' peers), which of course had the Beach Boys' "Shut Down" on it, as well as their other car classic, "409". For some reason, it was decided that the next full-fledged Beach Boys LP should be considered the second volume to the compilation, despite the fact that car songs do not form a clear majority of the tracks on here; I suppose it could have something to do with an instrumental called "Shut Down, Part II", but that could have easily been written only after the album title had been chosen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a-Changin'

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

Following up an album as brilliant as Freewheelin' would be quite a difficult task. Instead of making a proper follow-up, Bob Dylan decided it was time to make a full-blown album of protest folk, in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, etc. Deviating from the obvious track was always something Bob loved doing, as he would prove time and time again. Occasionally, you get a winner out of it: John Wesley Harding is a masterpiece, the country-era albums are for the most part fun to listen to, but this is just kind of a bore.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stevie Wonder – With a Song in My Heart

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 3
Overall Rating = 7

Best Song: I give up…

For Stevie's first album without the "Little" prefix, Motown decided it would be a good idea to market him as a standards kind of guy (a similar move was made with Marvin Gaye around this time as well). Apparently, the success of "Fingertips" did not make the message clear that R&B is the way to go, or the label's greater success with the style in question when it came to other, more consistently successful artists on the still somewhat nascent label. At this point, they just seem to be wasting our time and Stevie's talent. But please, do not get the impression I don't like this kind of music. In fact, I hold Ray Charles albums of similar nature (like The Genius Hits the Road and the two volumes of Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, even if these albums alternate the ballads with more upbeat material) in high regard, and Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours has quickly become a favorite of mine since I first discovered it. But this album is just a big bore.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Beatles – With the Beatles

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: ALL MY LOVING

Same year, same formula (8 originals, 6 covers), and already the Beatles show progress on their second British LP. I can't be quite sure, but something tells me it's due to the record's slightly darker aura (and I'm not referring to the album cover – although it is quite suitable). Before, the majority of the covers were sappy little love songs ("but what's wrong with that?", to paraphrase a then-future Paul McCartney single) and danceable rock 'n' roll numbers, but now, there are at least three quasi-operatic readings of Motown numbers, a similar non-Motown track and only two covers that could be called "lightweight" and "faithful to their originals" (and even this term stretches the truth). Even the originals are a change of pace, with only a re-recorded outtake from the Please Please Me sessions counting as real teenybopper stuff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Beach Boys – Little Deuce Coupe

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: CAR CRAZY CUTIE

No wonder Brian Wilson went insane; by the time the SMiLE project began, he had already been overworked for 5 years. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the 1963-1965 period. In that time, the Beach Boys released 10 albums, whilst the Beatles, for example, only released six (although it should be noted that, in this time frame, the Beatles also released ten LPs in the States, but considering they had the same label there, it could be assumed it was Capitol's fault all along). The most explicit example of them attempting to overwork the group, aside from releasing 4 of those LPs in 1964, is that Surfer Girl and Little Deuce Coupe were only released a month apart.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: IN MY ROOM

This is the third Beach Boys album in a row with the word "surf" in the title, and ultimately, it would be their last, except in 8 years from then with Surf's Up, although its content has little to do with the maritime sport. To commemorate the end of an era, most of the songs are about surfing, and a grand total of five have the word "surf" somewhere in the title, with another having the word "wave", another's title is a slang term for surfboard, and a final one references a place known for its tremendously oversized waves. In short, the Beach Boys' last surf album has the most surf-related songs they've ever made. The thematic of the Beach Boys' LP would be far narrower next time around, though, as on Surfer Girl there are also two car songs, a ballad about summer romance, and another ballad that I'd rather not summarize in such a manner.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Little Stevie Wonder – Recorded Live: The 12-Year Old Genius

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: FINGERTIPS

Some sources claim this album came out before Tribute to Uncle Ray, giving them release dates of May and June 1963, respectively; of course, I went with the source that said Tribute was released in October '62. If the brief moment where The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie is referred simply to as "[his] album" during the stage patter, you should keep in mind that this set was performed shortly after the release of his debut LP. Whatever the case may be, most of the material here is what appears on Tribute, with the two opening performances being culled from Jazz Soul (and fortunately, they're two of its highlights) and the third track wasn't even released on a non-compilation LP (it was released a b-side though; Stevie had a lot of non-album singles, which is not to be unexpected for a performer in the early 1960s).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL

It's hard to exactly pinpoint when the singer-songwriter genre became one of the ultimate goals to achieve, the pinnacle of self-expression in music. Not being a huge expert on folk music of the XVIIth-XIXth centuries or the folk revival spurred on by the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, what I'm saying here is purely speculation, but considering that folk music is basically like some kind of club where everybody borrows from each other, it doesn't really matter what I say, since there's a possibility of being at least partially right. So, taking into consideration all the singer-songwriters whose music I'm familiar with, ranging from John Lennon to Neil Young to Van Morrison to Joni Mitchell, it's safe to say that The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was an influence to all of these artists, and a great deal many more.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Beatles – Please Please Me

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: THERE'S A PLACE

When compared to other pop records from the early '60s, Please Please Me stands out like a brilliant gem. Considering that 10 of the 14 tracks were recorded in a matter of 13 hours, in one day's worth of sessions no less, it would seem like this LP is nothing short of miraculous. And it's not exactly like the Fab Four set out to make some kind of artistic triumph. The six covers were essentially culled from their live setlist (in fact, the original intention was to record the LP live at the Cavern Club, but George Martin, their producer and probably the best candidate for legendary "fifth Beatle" title, deemed the acoustics feeble at best), and one or two of the four non-single originals were also performed live in their club days.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Odds & Sods #32

As Safe As Yesterday Is (1969)
***1/2

Like with any other supergroup at the time, I imagine expectations for Humble Pie's debut were quite high (not quite as high as expectations set for Cream, Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominoes; as well known as the Pie's members' origins were by 1969, there's no doubt in my mind that any Eric Clapton-related project would be even better known by the British music-listening public at large). After all, the Small Faces had only a year earlier released Ogden's Nut Gone Flake; what would have been the band's Tommy ended up being their Abbey Road. With Steve Marriott at the helm of this new outfit, perhaps we might have continued on that path.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Odds & Sods #31

Vincebus Eruptum (1968)
***1/2

As a general rule, I don't like referring to styles of music that I listen to as "metal"'; to me, the word is too close in association with all kinds of talentless hacks who think a whole lot of distortion makes a song. Only for historical reasons do I ever refer to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple as "heavy metal". I make one clear exception when it comes to one of the biggest influencing factors on these acts, Blue Cheer, probably as derivative as the metal I shun, but also a hell of a lot more fun.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Odds & Sods #30

T.N.T. (1975)
****

This is where AC/DC really come crashing through the walls – thanks to the help of some dynamite, I suppose – and come up with an album where, surprisingly, four songs would go on to become live standards, three of which would be joined by a different fourth song as staples of classic rock radio. Obviously, these accolades wouldn't mean anything if the songs weren't any good, but that's certainly not a problem. Usually, if an AC/DC song makes it to the airwaves, it's because it's got rocking power and accessibility rolled into one.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Odds & Sods #29

High Voltage (1975)
***1/2

In the beginning, AC/DC were a progressive-folk band whose focus was their ancestral Scottish melodies played on bagpipes and electric guitars… Okay, scrap that, it was a bad joke (although they would give the bagpipes a shot anyway). AC/DC were always AC/DC, whether their lead singer is Brian Johnson, Bon Scott or their lesser-known predecessor Dave Evans. Hell, they could suddenly recruit Barry Manilow as lead singer and not a whole lot would change.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Odds & Sods #28

13th Floor Madness (1983)
***

Imagine my surprise when I put on this record thinking I was going to hear 999's worst album (this in spite of the fact that the AllMusic Guide rates it a star more than its predecessor, but the lack of review for the latter only added to my usual scepticism towards their integrity, accuracy and credibility) and ended up getting a perversely enjoyable listening experience? I believe the biggest complaint among the band's fans is that they "sold out" with this album, what with the significant presence of synthesizers and electronic drums, but their presence is nowhere near as exacerbating as they make it out to be. They're used in a slightly Prince-ish way, so it's easy to call this their "groove" album.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Odds & Sods #27

Live and Let Live (1977)
***1/2

What do you do when, after the departure of two of your band's founding members and songwriters, you're still insecure about your ability to maintain a solid fanbase, concluding that a single studio album is not enough to rectify the situation? Why, it's quite simple; you follow it up with a double-live album with a newly assembled touring band and play a selection of your hits and latest album tracks. That's exactly what 10cc try to do with this album, released fairly shortly after Deceptive Bends, a time-gap that wouldn't be such a big deal if not for the fact that 8 of the 9 songs from their then-recent LP are found in live performances here, although I guess that's simply a matter of them needing to promote the album.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Odds & Sods #26

Deceptive Bends (1977)
****

With Godley & Creme's departure to work on their un-10cc-like Consequences project, Gouldman and Stewart were left to carry the 10cc name on their own; of course, they had the help of touring drummer Paul Burgess, but he wasn't really going to be a major help in terms of songwriting, but I guess it could have helped them keep a connection to their golden years with G&C. Anyways, with their first LP as a duo, they had a lot to prove, that they could make an album worthy of the 10cc name. In my ears, it's a success, and is most definitely worth of a 4/5, and it's pretty close to a 4 and a half, too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Beach Boys – Surfin' USA

Year: 1963
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: LONELY SEA

On the album art of the Beach Boys' second LP, it is clearly printed on the top left corner – next to the group's name – "The No. 1 Surfing Group in the Country". Somehow, I'm really bothered by that statement. For one thing, out of five (six if you count Al Jardine) members, only Dennis surfed. And another thing, the Beach Boys' main specialty lied in vocal music, and vocal harmonies, yet surf music was primarily still an instrumental genre. It seems the execs down at Capitol figured that one out on their own, which would explain why this album is chock-full of surf instrumentals, two of which were penned by the real king of surf music, Dick Dale. Anyways, if the epithet on the cover is based on these numbers, than this is some seriously overdone marketing (respectable in a commercial sense, but as a consumer, its either offensive or persuasive, depending on how stubborn you are, or aren't).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Little Stevie Wonder – Tribute to Uncle Ray

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 4
Overall Rating = 8

Best Song: HALLELUJAH, I LOVE HER SO

Another day, another review of an average album by Little Stevie Wonder. Even before recording Little Stevie's debut, Cosby and Paul they decided to try Stevie as the next Ray Charles, a seemingly obvious choice, as the former went blind shortly after birth while the latter was a young child when he succumbed to glaucoma (though I don't know the reason for this LP's postponement). And as it would turn out, our child prodigy was not only a gifted musician, but also a good vocalist. Now, I must admit, I have never been a big fan of the "child star" concept. One of the bigger problems is the material they are saddled with; more often than not, it's material not suited until you've actually dealt with a few heartbreaks. I highly doubt a 12-year old would have had too many of these, so all this considering, a tribute album to "Uncle Ray" might even be a worse idea than an instrumental album with a minimal amount of melodies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: FREIGHT TRAIN BLUES or THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

While Bob Dylan is best remembered for his abilities as a lyricist, dismissing any of his work where the emphasis lies elsewhere only fuels the myth that Bob Dylan songs are only as good as the artists who cover them. I'm certainly not saying that all these acclaimed covers of Dylan's material are worthless (in fact, I can only name a few that are really overrated – such as Guns 'n' Roses' cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), but I digress. The most accurate way of proving Dylan's worth as an artist rather than as a songwriter is to listen to what he can do when the words are not entirely his; of all albums who have this purpose (often, but not always, these are released during transitional periods; since there are so many different periods of his career, it's understandable that some transitional albums won't rely on this too much, yet even some main albums will have unlikely contributions, like on Desire), one of the best of these is before the lion's share of what Dylan recorded was of his own writings, his humble debut, released in good ol' 1962.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Little Stevie Wonder – The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: WONDERING

Before the series of artistically triumphant albums of near-conceptual grandeur, the chart-topping hits and the successful collaborations, Stevie Wonder, then known as Little Stevie Wonder, was a child prodigy picked up by Motown, to be guided and molded. By early 1962, the biggest successes for Motown were Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)", the Miracles' "Shop Around" and the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman"; even if the label had yet to establish itself as the soul/pop factory, this stylistic front was quite evident, at least from those singles. With Stevie, they decided for a different route – an instrumental one. Considering that they had a multi-instrumentalist in their hands, the record execs (in this case, Berry Gordy and Stevie's "mentors", Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby) felt they needed to showcase this.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Beach Boys – Surfin' Safari

Year: 1962
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: SURFIN' SAFARI

The one thing I enjoy the most about early '60s pop music is how innocent it sounds. Everything is all cheery and sunny, and it makes you feel all warm inside. Modern pop music doesn't even have half the impact. Granted, I dislike most modern music with a passion (although I've gradually become more tolerant to it, at least), but admittedly, even if it has an impact on you, it's not the same one. The word "innocent" doesn't exactly come to mind when I think of kids/teens of the XXIst century; I think of debauchery, which I liked better as a word for successful rock stars who liked throwing their life away, but that's just me. So whenever a modern pop song tries to be cute and "lovey-dovey", rather than the fuzzy warmth I get from similar sentiment in older pop music, I get nauseous.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Odds & Sods #25

Breaker (1981)
****

Now, normally I'm not the type to make grand, end-all statements about albums being, say, "one of the greatest heavy metal albums I've ever heard in my life", but Accept's third album is one of the greatest pure heavy metal albums I've ever heard in my life. Gone are the disco experiments, and while there are two ballads still present, the remaining 8 songs are ass-kicking rockers with the majority rendering nearly everything from their first two albums inessential (and I was quite fond of a good number of tunes from them, mind you). Not only that, Accept's classic style, proto-thrash metal with pop-metal choruses is in full flight, when it was only hinted at before.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Odds & Sods #24

The Album (1977)
****

This album, whose official title is ABBA: The Album, was to be released in conjunction with the concert film ABBA: The Movie, centered on their 1977 tour, whose own centerpiece was a four-song mini-musical called "The Girl with the Golden Hair". With that in mind, it shouldn't be too hard to understand why The Album ended up being their most artistic offering. Björn and Benny's compositional and arrangement skills continued to improve, and while this album is harder to get into than the previous two – due to the lack of major pop hits and stronger presence of slower tempos – it's ultimately an effort that should be made to truly see what ABBA were capable of doing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Odds & Sods #23

Concrete (1981)
**1/2

With a name like Concrete, you would think that 999's fourth studio offering would really be heavy and leaden, but, aside from the band's punk vocals and guitar tones, the only "heavy" thing about it is Pablo Labritain; the drummer is back from an injury that prevented him from playing on Prize, but here, he plays like his life depends on it, so on most of the tracks, each hit on the drums sounds like a slab of concrete is falling on your head. I don't know if "the John Bonham of punk" is a possible title, but if it were, give it to ol' Pablo, then!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Odds & Sods #22

Levitation (1994)
***

With a band whose live reputation is fairly abundant, it's a wonder an official live recording from the 13th Floor Elevators has never surfaced. The only case I can think of where a band with such a reputation was ignored was with Sly and the Family Stone, but even their iconic Woodstock performance saw release (even if it took 40 years after the event in question). On the bright side, quite a few semi-legal Elevators releases have seen the light of day since the late-'80s. This one here named after one of their most enduring cult classics is not only one of the easiest found of the bunch, but is also said to be one of the earliest, some stating that the recordings may be from late '65, which may seem odd considering some of the Easter Everywhere tracks that are performed, but it also explains why their best songwriting ideas were almost completely exhausted by the end of 1967.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Odds & Sods #21

You Didn't Like It Because You Didn't Think of It (1976)
***1/2

10cc have a fairly interesting pre-history, stemming all the way to the mid-'60s, though the first recordings by the fearful foursome were only made in 1969. Most of the recordings from that period, the 1969-1972 recordings as in-house session band for Strawberry Studios, have been made available on the Strawberry Bubblegum collection, which I unfortunately have not been able to locate. However, with Graham Gouldman's brief departure from the studio to work in New York for bubblegum conglomerates Kasenetz and Katz in 1970, Godley, Creme and Stewart continued to record, even making an album called Thinks: School Thinks (with a cover that looks amazingly similar to Alice Cooper's School's Out, although I highly doubt the former could have influenced the latter, as big a coincidence as it may seem) in an attempt to capitalize on the success of a surprise hit single made during Gouldman's absence.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Odds & Sods #20

Arrival (1976)
***1/2

I think I figured out why this album is called Arrival, and not the one that precedes it. See, ABBA (the album) is self-titled because it sort of says, "this is ABBA", in a very introductory sort of way. By calling it so, it reminds you that some hints of their past flaws are still noticeable, even if it's in the form of decidedly superior filler to that of their first two albums. With Arrival, not only do they really arrive, but it's also when a style of their own invention – okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration… let's say that they helped create – makes its first appearance. The style in question, for those of you that don't know, is that of Europop.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Odds & Sods #19

The Biggest Tour in Sport (1980)
***1/2

First off, I should mention that this live record was originally a 19-minute long EP, but the version I have here is expanded by another 15 minutes worth of music, in the form of three studio single sides. Of course, the 6 live tracks and these singles are available as bonus tracks on certain CD issues of Prize. Speaking of which, am I the only one that's certain the similarity of name must have caused some confusion, what with the minimal time gap between the two original releases? Or maybe that's why their first live release was an EP rather than a full LP, so as to avoid this problem… of course, they could have given this one a different name, but I digress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Odds & Sods #18

I'm a Rebel (1980)
**1/2

Accept's second album is significantly shorter, in the number of tracks at least (down by two). This wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing, if not for the fact that with 8 tracks, there are more chances of filler spoiling the picture, and the filler might be lengthier since the album is only 3 minutes shorter than their debut. Not that their debut gave us any real reasons to worry. They were all catchy rockers, maybe not as good as their classic period, but nowhere near the 1-star album the AllMusic Guide proclaimed it to be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Odds & Sods #17

Bull of the Woods (1969)
***

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. You can't be the leading psychedelic band and hail from Texas without someone trying to bust your lead vocalist for some kind of drug possession. As fate would have it, Roky would be arrested for possession (for a single joint, apparently; even if the group's drug use went far beyond that), but would escape from imprisonment by pleading insanity – which had some factual basis, showing signs of having developed schizophrenia in 1968 – but was institutionalized, preventing the band from continuing with their frontman.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Odds & Sods #16

How Dare You! (1976)
****1/2

As their albums became gradually cinematic (on this, their fourth LP, the references to film go from the screenshot-esque album art, the closing number that fits said album art and the opening title track that sounds like it could be a song in an intro to any moving picture of the epoch), their musical approach became more progressive. If you've ever wanted to hear 10cc as a prog band, this is the record for you. Of course, there is one danger with going "progressive", and that's taking oneself too seriously. Fortunately, with G&C still sharing the helm with the Gouldman and Stewart team, there's nothing to make their most mature album particularly pompous and self-elevating.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Odds & Sods #15

ABBA (1975)
***1/2

While they wouldn't refer to an album of theirs as an "arrival" until the next year, it's with their third LP that we hear the ABBA we know and love (or love to hate). The titles of their first two LPs are quite telling in retrospect, their sole purpose being the title tracks, the rest being a sea of filler with which to surround the hit single. They had the occasional moment of interest, for sure, but more often than not, they were repetitive, derivative, naïve and annoying. Here, though, even what should be considered filler is quite pleasant.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Odds & Sods #14

The Biggest Prize in Sport (1980)
****

A new year, a new producer, and a new album; wait a minute, it's actually been two years since the last 999 album. If you're a punk band, that's particularly risky. New Wave and post-punk were born and the Sex Pistols were no more, after all. As for what your options were as a group, you could either go to something musically different but spiritually in tune with your past, like the Clash, except 999 were never about the politics. You could continue doing the same thing until the formula runs out, like the Ramones. 999's solution was to look at everything around them – not just at their contemporaries, but at their ancestors as well – and come up with their best album.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Odds & Sods #13

Accept (1979)
***

Before becoming an ass-kicking proto-thrash band, Accept started out as a not-so-ass-kicking proto-hair band, and not in a hip and ironic way like Van Halen, but more like the Scorpions, who took their cue from the more cock rock-like tunes of the otherwise artsier metal bands (Uriah Heep and their main disciple, early Judas Priest). We could have been compensated with some rougher hewn guitar tones, and the guitars are rather heavy, but on some songs are a bit too glossy; not glossy enough to be as accessible as hair metal bands, but that might actually be an advantage.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Odds & Sods #12

Live (1968)
**1/2

These sneaky record exec types are always trying to pull a fast one on their customers. Since the 13th Floor Elevators are one of the original psychedelic bands (as the announcer boasts at the start of this record) with a sizeable live reputation, it was obvious to these cigar-smoking, money-hungry businessmen (okay, so maybe they weren't all like that; but who's the critic here?) that a live album by these spirited Texans would be the next best investment. The problem was getting a decent live recording of these guys; live albums weren't quite what they would be in the '70s. The best examples at the end of 1967 were probably the Yardbirds' Five Live Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones' Got Live If You Want It! (in rock, at least; but it doesn't mean the sound quality of Benny Goodman's shows in the '30s were necessarily hi-fi). The solution: take studio outtakes and add audience sounds for a "thrilling" simulated live appeal.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Odds & Sods #11

The Original Soundtrack (1975)
****1/2

I don't think there's another album that uses the word "soundtrack" in its title without being an actual soundtrack to a film, and yet the title fits so perfectly. It's nothing like real soundtrack albums, usually consisting of filler-ish instrumental re-recordings of a band's hits with an occasional highlight thrown in. First of all, there's no film to associate this album with (unless someone's tried the Dark Side of the Rainbow trick with this one, which I highly doubt). The whole LP itself feels like a movie without the images, with nods to cinematic or theatrical music throughout (operetta for musicals, Hollywood ballads, etc.). If that limits them in anyway, it's that they try to stick to the same sound for the duration of a whole song rather than jumping all over the place like on Sheet Music; but who said maturity is bad, as long as the band's (un)usual sense of humor is still intact?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Odds & Sods #10

Waterloo (1974)
*1/2

ABBA's second album (technically, the first under the ABBA name) has but one reason to exist; the title track that won the 1974 Eurovision Contest and consequently brought them international fame. It's a piece of glam pop excellence (they wouldn't obtain perfection until the next year) with energetic staccato pianos, playful saxes and the girls' terrific harmonies. The only complaint I have is the way the title is sung sounds a bit too much like the way Diana Ross and the Supremes sung "Baby love, my baby love" 10 years earlier. Still, that's only a small problem, compared to the rest of the album.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Odds & Sods #9

Separates (1978)
***1/2

Only a couple of months had passed since the release of 999's debut, and yet their sophomore effort is a significant improvement (as a supposed to the rushed suck-job rushed follow-ups usually end up being). The line-up is the same, and they're still a punk band, but the producer is new, and it definitely shows. I had never heard of Martin Rushent before, but apparently he had definite punk credentials (producing the Buzzcocks' Music in a Different Kitchen). Not only that, he was engineer for artists produced under Tony Visconti, including prog rock band Gentle Giant and glam rock band T. Rex. Obviously, this sounds nothing like the former group, but the glam rock influence is definitely noticeable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Odds & Sods #8

Duane & Greg Allman (1972)
***1/2

In some ways, this is closer to being an Allman Brothers Band album than anything else. After all, both Duane and Gregg are on it, as the album's title proudly states (misspelling Gregg's name in the process). I have a sneaking suspicion the reason this stuff was released in the first place was to capitalize on the ABB's success, considering this stuff had been sitting in the vaults for 4 years (it was recorded shortly after the brothers joined in 1968). Plus, you get an early version of "Melissa", one of the Allmans' all-time classics, and a cover of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", which Duane would do as a guest member of Derek and the Dominoes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Odds & Sods #7

Easter Everywhere (1967)
****

If the message behind Psychedelic Sounds was "here is our sound", than the Elevators' second album says, "here's what we can really do with it". It should come as no surprise that this album is far more ambitious; the very proof is that both the opener and the closer have a running length beyond 6 minutes. On top of that, it's on this album that the whole concept of "psychedelic religion", only hinted at before in their debut's liner notes, really takes flight. Maybe that's why the title has "Easter" in it. What better way could one express that his work has religious foundation than referencing one of the most notable religious holidays?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Odds & Sods #6

Sheet Music (1974)
****1/2

Apparently, working in the same studio as Paul McCartney works a whole lot of wonders. At the very least, it was an inspiration for 10cc to be in the same studio; they even got to use the drum kit he was using for sessions on his brother Mike McGear's debut. The resulting album is the one the members of the band usually refer to as their masterpiece. I don't necessarily agree; their first three albums are all highly consistent, and my choice of their third as their best is most certainly marginal. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this is a great album.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Odds & Sods #5

Ring Ring (1973)
*

If you come to this album expecting the catchy, glossy pop of classic ABBA, you'll be disappointed (of course, if you come to this album expecting some kind of Hendrix-influenced psychedelic rock music, you'd be just as equally disappointed, but I guess that's a given, huh?) Yes, this is pop, but it's more like the bubblegum pop of the late-'60s – the Monkees, Harry Nilsson, what have you – "update" for the early 1970s. Of course, "update" is a very poor word to describe this album, as it implies some sort of improvement, of which this album contains none. Okay, maybe there is one. The title track certainly is a catchy pop single, with the girls' harmonies in full flight on this ditty about a girl waiting for her guy to call. It even has some interesting drumming and country-esque guitar work, which contradict the predominant bubblegum aspects of the tune.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Odds & Sods #4

999 (1978)
***

It's funny how the fellas down at the AllMusic Guide rave about these guys, because I don't see what they have that sets them apart from any of the major punk groups. They don't have the recklessness of the Sex Pistols. They don't have the brutal simplicity of the Ramones. They don't have the interesting lyrics or the creativity of the Clash. They don't have the melodicism or sincerity of the Jam. The singer is nasally in the usual British punk way, the songs are all mildly catchy, the guitar solos – and there are quite a few for a punk record – are all distorted Chuck Berry-isms, but the overall effect is that this is a rather dull album that tries to come off as energetic (which fortunately, it occasionally is), but fails to be even marginally unique.