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~ Established 2011 ~

Last updated: January 4th, 2017

NOTE: This page is under construction, so some older reviews might appear different from the newest ones. Some changes may also affect the layout of artist pages, and some links may not work.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: TRY (JUST A LITTLE BIT HARDER)

Everyone – from critics and friends to record labels and management – put pressure on Janis Joplin to abandon Big Brother & the Holding Company and go solo. Aside from the same tired ol' argument that they played sloppily, I can't see what reason they had. If it wasn't for them in the first place, she wouldn't have had any reputation, so to shun them ought to have been a huge blow. When she finally did leave the band – taking Sam Andrew along with her, resulting in Big Brother's dissolution – the critics sheepishly suggested she go back to them, "if they'll have her". It doesn't surprise me that, within a year from this, she would die of a heroin overdose; her drug and alcohol use was far from "just for fun", and critical dismissal was probably a huge factor in her debauched living.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Stevie Wonder – My Cherie Amour

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: MY CHERIE AMOUR

As you can tell by the preceding reviews – and as will be confirmed by a smattering of subsequent ones – 1969 was one hell of a year in music, possibly the best year of the '60s. With Stevie Wonder's gradual, but impressive improvement with each real album since the mid-'60s (so excluding any intentional throwaway Christmas or Easy Listening instrumental albums), you would think that his album in that year would have been the peak of this part of his career, especially with how great I Was Made to Love Her and For Once in My Life were. And yet, leave it to Motown to mess that all up, with what I call the Motown paradox: on one hand, the label was highly innovative, with some excellent soul-pop hits to boot, but on the other hand, the execs down there were highly conservative, forcing Las Vegas-schlock and show tune ballads and whatnot on their artists to make as many album as possible, even when dealing with their artists who happened to have significant songwriting talents, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson (who seemed a lot more content with this despotic label than the other two, who broke out of the mold, but that's a story for another time).

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Fleetwood Mac – The Pious Bird of Good Omen

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: ALBATROSS or BLACK MAGIC WOMAN

This isn't a real album, per se. It's kind of a long story, but here goes. Mr. Wonderful wasn't released in the States for reasons I can't seem to find. In its place, about five months later, they released English Rose, which featured six selections from Mr. Wonderful – idiotically enough, all four Elmore James derivations made their way onto it; I figured that would be the reason for not releasing that album in the first place – three single sides, two of which were relatively successful in their home country, and three new songs, two of which would appear on the group's third official LP on both sides on the Atlantic. This album, a UK only release, wanted a sort of equivalent to English Rose, so it took the three single sides, found another three (four?) previously released non-album ones (one of which was well received in the UK), as well as two recordings where they backed Mississippi blues pianist Eddie Boyd (the guy who wrote blues classic "Five Long Years"), two songs from Mr. Wonderful and one from their debut. With the Complete Blue Horizon boxset, which already contained their first two albums, they cut out the three repeats, as well as the Eddie Boyd recordings (I guess they were trying to force people to buy Boyd's records...) and added one track from their third official LP (which isn't on the Complete Blue Horizon box), a different one from either of the two that appeared on English Rose, plus some alternate versions.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: WROTE A SONG FOR EVERYONE or LODI

CCR's second of three 1969 albums is clearly the best of the lot, and easily their second best album overall. With the bulk of the album made up classics or semi-classics on the level of their first two albums' best tracks, and without the lengthy filler of the previous one and only one poor cover choice, the rest of the tracks show an increased care in John Fogerty's songwriting, with the first seven selections being absolutely perfect as far as easy-going roots rock goes. In fact, that sequence of seven songs is stronger than any other sequence in the band's selection, which should say a lot about it considering I don't even consider it their best (even if, again, it's a very close second).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Jethro Tull – Stand Up

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: BOURÉE (but many others qualify)

While Jethro Tull's second LP was pretty well received upon release – reaching no. 1 on the British album charts and even made it to no. 20 in the States, as well as receiving uniformly positive reviews – it hasn't really gone down as their best album, or one of their best. While it's not necessarily my favorite Tull album – although even at worst, it shares the top spot with Aqualung and Thick as a Brick – it's still an amazing feat that after a pretty good blues album, they were able to come up with something like this. It helps that Mick Abrahams left the group. As good a guitar player as he was, his desire of becoming the band's main songwriter and to strictly maintain a blues and/or roots rock sound was enough to lead to his dismissal. In his place came at different times two superior guitarists. One was Tony Iommi(!), who had left his band Earth to join Tull, appeared with them at the Rolling Stones' Rock 'n' Roll Circus and returned to Earth with a stronger work ethic that helped transform them into Black Sabbath. The other, the one who stuck around, was Martin Barre, and he's the absolute ideal choice for Tull. He's just a really solid player, who's able to play crunchy hard rock riffs, fluid melodic solos, Jimmy Page-like devil-ish ecstatic playing and charming folksy guitar playing. Most importantly, though, he wouldn't get in the way of Anderson when it came to songwriting.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Yes – Yes

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: SWEETNESS

Well look at that, a Yes album where not a single track goes over seven minutes, let alone the 10-minute plus length you expect. Of course, it's still the late '60s, and the only ones concocting songs of that length aren't starting out their careers – think Procol Harum or Deep Purple – like Yes did in 1969. That's not to say that there aren't any prog elements: Chris Squire's robust, dexterous bass playing and Bill Bruford jazz-influenced drumming are every bit as solid as they would be in the group's prime, and while Tony Kaye's piano and organ and Peter Banks' psychedelic/jazz/rock playing aren't of the Wakeman and Howe variety, they fit the late '60s art rock vibe just right, and if you ask me, Banks is a pretty underrated player. And the strangest thing of all about their performances is that Jon almost sounds human here; none of his mystical shaman high-pitched tomfoolery (which wouldn't work outside of the stereotypical Yes context), but here he rather sounds like a highly talented '60s pop singer, both in the solo vocals and the harmonies.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Yes

INTRODUCTION:
While plenty of bands contend for this title, I would have to say that Yes are the quintessential progressive rock band, or at least tied for first place. Few of their numbers go below 6 minutes, a good portion of them go way over 10, and in their 1970s prime, they managed six side-longs, four of which were on the same (double) record(!), with lyrics implying some sort of fantasist universe that us "plebeians" would never be able to fathom, and in terms of consummate musicianship, look no further than a handful of the keyboardists that have passed through their ranks, both of the drummers, the original bassist and the guitarist, most of which find themselves at the top of a good number of progressive rock instrumentalist rankings, which is a highly competitive batch of musicians to begin with. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if, when the punks were "born" with the duty to destroy prog to bring rock back to its roots, among the first "victims" of the shifting music scene were Yes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Doors – The Soft Parade

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: THE SOFT PARADE

1969 wasn't a particularly good year for the Doors. With Jim's increasingly excessive alcoholic problems and disinterest in any future recordings, focusing more on his poetry, not to mention his arrest for exposing himself on stage – which he pleaded guilty to even if his bandmates insist it never happened – any chances of keeping the band afloat were up to Robby Krieger. Yes, the previous three albums credited the entire group for every track, but only Morrison and Krieger ever wrote lyrics, which usually formed the basis of their songs before they were set to music, so Morrison's absences (physical and mental) caused by legal issues, alcoholism and depression meant that Robby had a lot more work to do. It didn't help that Morrison demanded individual songwriting credits when he finally did start to contribute, because of issues he had with some of Krieger's lyrics. To top it all off, the band also decided it would be a good time to add some orchestration to their sound, costing them a pretty penny, which along with their personal problems and an increased burden on a less-prominent composer (or somewhat less talented, given his best songwriting contributions were on the first two albums two years prior) convinced critics to dismiss the ensuing album entirely. Talk about bad luck...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Procol Harum – A Salty Dog

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: A SALTY DOG or WRECK OF THE HESPERUS

Procol Harum's third LP is often cited as their peak, or at the very least the peak of the first line-up, and while I still like their debut by a small margin, I can definitely see where they're coming from. While the balance of the three instrumentalists was a bit off on Shine On Brightly, with Fisher and Brooker dominating and Trower's guitar being relegated to second fiddle so they could focus on experimenting and developing their sound further, this one reinstates an equal partnership between the piano, the organ and the guitar, not just in arrangement prominence but in the fact that both Fisher and Trower get a handful of songwriting credits alongside Keith Reid, and they each get at least one lead vocal (with Fisher taking a whopping three) add to the fact that a couple of tracks introduce orchestration to their musical arsenal and the popularity of the title track (easily the group's second best-known composition), and it becomes pretty clear why Procol fans jump for joy on this one.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Deep Purple – Deep Purple

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: I really don't know... something off of side one, I guess

Surrounding the recording of Deep Purple's third LP – their final one with the Mark I line-up – were plenty of hard times. While their live reputation in Britain was slowly gaining momentum, in that critics were positive about their performances, their overall reputation was still minimal due to a lack of hit or notable song that would make them outstanding compared to other British bands (which already existed in "Hush", but they weren't paying attention) and the overall dismissal of the band by the British underground for having had said US hits. Meanwhile, even in the States their popularity was starting to wane when they couldn't follow up their first two big hit singles with a third, no matter how hard they or their record company tried. And speaking of their record company, they were losing money and fast, with Deep Purple being the only artist on their roster that achieved hits, so the amount of money they spent on trying to get a third was leading them to a deficit. And finally, within the band itself, the members were kind of split as to which direction they wanted to pursue: Rod Evans and Nick Simper preferred psychedelic-pop, Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord wanted to explore more hard rock (even if the latter penned a good portion of the psych-pop tunes on all Mark I albums), and Ian Paice was pretty much waiting for the issue to be sorted out.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Grateful Dead – Aoxomoxoa

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: ST. STEPHEN

I think these guys would have been better off sticking to the lengthy jamming thing. On their third LP, the Dead decide to write shorter songs, so the partially live, multi-parted nature of Anthem of the Sun makes way for short psychedelic and country/roots rock mixtures, and it makes the seams in their songwriting abilities that much more apparent. At least on the other one, they could take a bunch of half-baked ideas and squeeze them into a single song and come up with a winner, like they did with "That's It for the Other One". Fortunately, half of these tracks are pretty good, so my complaints are somewhat empty; if only these four or so good tracks could be extended just a bit, rather than to make room for more questionable ideas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: Let me get back to you on that one... in a million years

This is one weird album. Of course, everything from ol' Beefheart is weird to some degree, but there's a reason this is the centerpiece of his legacy: a double album, with 28 tracks, with his Magic Band rehearsing this album in some pitiful conditions with little food or drink, physically and mentally abused by Don Van Vliet until they cracked, everything about the making of the album and the immediate content of the album is the stuff of legends, and can be described in detail in countless other places. Once you put the record on, though, it's a whole other story. The cliché is to either hate it or love it, for the former group to claim it's just noise for the sake of noise and the latter group to claim you have to "get it". Given the relatively high grade I give this, you'd think I'd agree with the latter group, but I think they're both wrong. If you ask me, "getting it" was never quite the point of the album. The Captain's intent probably was permanent confusion, and in that regard, the album is a definite success.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pink Floyd – Music from the Film More

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: GREEN IS THE COLOUR or CYMBALINE

This album initiated two things for Pink Floyd: one is that their long and steady association to soundtrack albums – including their regular albums syncing up with films – officially begins, barring a couple of brief contributions to soundtracks in the Barrett days, and the other is, with convenient placement in this sentence, their first full-length release since Syd's departure. Like A Saucerful of Secrets, this album still captures them in a transitional period, but overall they seem to have a better idea of where they were headed: a handful of tracks retain elements from the instrumental texture of their first two LPs, and another handful has them exploring a perfectly valid and interesting path for them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Elton John – Empty Sky

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: EMPTY SKY or SKYLINE PIGEON

You'd think that Elton's debut's being ignored is something logically justifiable, like if it were to present an Elton who had yet to find his style, or was too busy exploring other ones. As it turns out, though, the only stylistic differences from his classic period are the notable folk and psychedelic influences and the handful of rockers that aren't like your average Elton John rocker. I guess you could blame the fact that it wasn't released in the US until 1975, but that doesn't explain why it was almost completely ignored in England in 1969. It's not like there's that much more filler than his classic period's lesser efforts.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Elton John

INTRODUCTION:
Reginald Kenneth Dwight, better known as Elton John, is something of an enigma to me: his musical reputation from 1970-1976 was one of the strongest in the business, but since then he's seen as nothing more than a washed-up sell-out of a dinosaur, yet while similarly once-revered British solo artists have had pretty strongly received and remembered comeback efforts (Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, what have you), Elton's current reputation is that of a cheesy balladeer penning soundtracks for Disney cartoons and "dead broads", as Keith Richards put it. Alright, so technically his classic period also prominently featured his trademark piano ballads, but then creating these songs when you're young and ambitious is in a whole other ballpark than an old guy singing sappy middle-of-the-road stuff.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Who – Tommy

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: PINBALL WIZARD or WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT/SEE ME, FEEL ME/LISTENING TO YOU

I should warn you all that this review is going to be a long one, my longest since The Beatles and Blonde on Blonde and any other post-Sgt. Pepper 15-rated album, inclusively, and will most probably be my second longest one altogether, as my second favorite album (Quadrophenia, my favorite album, will narrowly beat this one). The Who's luck as the '60s were closing to an end did not seem like it would be as great as when they began. Crippling debt was taking over, their singles stopped charting as high (with only one major chart success after "I Can See for Miles"), and with the growing dominance of the album market over the singles market, it was high time they figure out a way to dominate that area as well, even if artistically I insist they created some of the very best LPs of the '60s. Regardless, the Who needed a catalyst of an album that would catapult them to the top alongside the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as the greatest rock band from the UK to conquer the world. And that album is Tommy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

George Harrison – Electronic Sound

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 2
Overall Rating = 5

Best Song: ...There are no songs...

Urggh… Why George? In the same year that you started recording this stuff, you were making fun of John Lennon's avant-garde tendencies with the infamous phrase "avant-garde a clue" and yet, here we are, listening to an avant-garde experiment made by George Harrison. It's basically two lengthy tracks – "compositions" these are not! – on which Harrison and Bernie Krause, an engineer or something from Moog, dick around with one of the infamous synthesizer company's machines for nearly an hour, but feels like an eternity. It hardly deserves points for originality, even if it's the very synthesizer you here the Beatles use on Abbey Road, since there were better uses of synthesizers in the preceding two years, like the Monkees' "Star Collector" or the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers album.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sly & the Family Stone – Stand!

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: STAND! or I WANT TO TAKE YOU HIGHER or EVERYDAY PEOPLE

In keeping with the idea brought up in the last review that Sly & the Family Stone's album titles have a significant accuracy, one might concur that an album with a title like Stand! would either be a) a politically oriented album or b) a very powerful album. From the first listen, point B is very clearly the winner, but given the band's unique situation as one of the few (and definitely the most successful) fully integrated bands, and the heavy political climate of the epoch, there is a strong social awareness throughout the album, but unlike, say, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? – recorded and released two years later – the music was not created as a means to reach the goal of social awareness, but rather that said awareness and the music should both be the goal. And in that regard, it's a definite success.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Moody Blues – On the Threshold of a Dream

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: DEAR DIARY

For the classic line-up of the Moody Blues' third album, they go for a notably stripped down sound compared to the first two. Obviously, the full orchestra of their "debut" won't be seen again until they become old and heavily nostalgic, but the Mellotron isn't quite as prominent as it was on either of them, and the instrumental diversity that made In Search of the Lost Chord such a treat is nowhere to be found either. As a matter of fact, I would even describe the sound they have going here as folksy or rootsy: lots of acoustic guitars, melodic electric guitars, pianos and those splendid Moody vocal harmonies that fit right in what that style. Yet even as far as conceptuality goes, I don't think I have a clear understanding of what the concept is supposed to be, and I'd even wager that the band themselves weren't all that sure about it, with only six of the eleven tracks dealing with whatever the concept is, and since two are poems, one's an instrumental and another is a reprise, there are really only two tunes with lyrics that could help you figure this out (with their poems being too cryptical and all).

Friday, November 06, 2015

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention – Uncle Meat

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: The KING KONG suite

After only three years into their career, and Frank and the Mothers of Invention are at it with their second double LP. The "concept" for this one, if you can even call it as such, was to serve as the soundtrack to a film/pseudo-band documentary of the same name that wasn't completed at the time, though a "making of" film did surface 18 years later –though unfortunately with some dubious "bonus" material on the album, forcing the 2LP into 2CD when it could have fit on one, so those with that edition must suffer through a collage of snippets of dialogue from the released footage and an idiotic early '80s "composition" of a guy proclaiming his [censored] to be huge in dialectal Italian. Needless to say, the high grade you see above has nothing to do with that lengthened edition of the album; like with Money and Ruben, I like the originals better, with no unnecessary or excessive tampering (I still feel bad for Roy Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black for having their performances dubbed over).

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: CANDY SAYS or PALE BLUE EYES

The Velvet Underground, if anything, ought to be attributed their greatness from the simple fact how different their albums are from one another. Their debut was innovative, drone-heavy, Cabaret-meets-Eastern madness, their sophomore effort was loud, in-yer-face, gritty noise-rock, and for their third album, they get rid of all of that for… a soft, folky pop-rock sound. Well, that's what it seems like on the surface. Such a shift could not have happened had John Cale stuck around, but his departure – taking his commanding pompous voice, his noisy ideas and his unique organ, bass and viola playing – and the recruitment of one Doug Yule – who also played bass and organ, and sang in a lovely folk-pop voice – is what permitted the band to let go of some of their artistic excesses and "settle down", if you will.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Genesis

INTRODUCTION:
Genesis is basically two bands from different time periods that just happened to share a name… and a few band members. Aside from the fact that Collins-led Genesis did flirt with the idea of continuing where Gabriel-led Genesis left off for at least three years, there's little to indicate that the band that did The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and "Firth of Fifth" really is the same guys behind "Abacab" and "Land of Confusion". The usual debate is which version of the band has more of a right to live on in public memory/the public eye. Aside from the obvious claims of their prog era's defenders ("it's more intellectual, therefore infinitely superior!") and their pop era fans' rebuttals ("it's catchier and shorter, therefore more enjoyable"), there really shouldn't be any debate. Whether you like them or not, in their own way each version of Genesis is the true Genesis.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Jefferson Airplane – Bless Its Pointed Little Head

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Well, the Airplane sure could rock if they wanted to. It's not quite clear under what circumstances it was decided that they should release their live debut, but my best guess is that, with three highly regarded LPs in San Francisco circles, all three top 20 Billboard albums, and their existing reputation as a premier live act, it was almost an inevitable choice; and besides, it made for a good way to have two albums in 1969 with over a year in between their last LP's sessions and their next one's (which was delayed, but it probably still suited their record label's budget planning just fine). The double live LP not quite being the benchmark for live rock releases in late '68 when these performances – some at the Fillmore East and others at the Fillmore West, not that you can tell the difference – were recorded and early '69 when they were released, it was inevitable that this would only be one disc of vinyl, although, even with the introductory track cut-out, it still goes notably over the 45 minute "limit" usually attributed to vinyl discs.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Led Zeppelin

INTRODUCTION:
Are Led Zeppelin overrated? In a certain sense, yes, they are, given that their fans load them with praise for being one of the greatest live rock bands and most innovative bands, if not the definitive example in both cases, and while Led Zeppelin is a band I highly respect for their pioneering aspects and terrific body of work, they are in no way THE band to end ALL bands, which to me is a senseless task anyways? How fun would it be if you could only listen to one band? On the other hand, their detractors make a point of constantly pointing out their flaws, which were big, it's true, but in the hands of the group's anti-fans are probably blown out of proportion: the intentional, and sometimes illegal, ripping off of not only old bluesmen, but even then-concurrent rock bands, the often times pretentious or just plain idiotic lyrics, the ballads that pale in comparison to their rockers, the poseur-ish nature of Robert Plant as a frontman and the show-off-ish tendencies of Jimmy Page and John Bonham in the form of 20-minute solos (whereas at least the Who would show off in the song, and collectively at that). These are all valid points from both sides, so I find myself quite comfortable sitting somewhere in the middle (which still ends up covering the Class A and lower ranges of my rating system, though; the way fans talk is more like class A+++, with 18/15 rating albums and suchlike).

Friday, October 30, 2015

Eric Burdon & the Animals – Love Is

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: AS THE YEARS GO PASSING BY

For their third album in 1968, Eric Burdon decided that they needed a double album with a multitude of styles: it only made perfect sense, released a month after the Beatles' eponymous record, which fit that same definition, although it could be a coincidence, since this album was recorded at least a month before the release of the White Album. Of course, comparisons to the Beatles' two-disc offering don't go much further than that. What the Beatles did was release over two dozen songs exploring a variety of styles, whereas not only do the Animals not write – beyond one track credited to Eric Burdon and Zoot Money and another taken from the latter's previous band, Dantalian's Chariot – any of these songs, six of the nine are covers from generally well-known or highly respected artist. If anything, this is like a bridge to the original Animals' covering days and the sprawling mood of the New Animals, though far closer to their last album than their first two. I mean, normally someone who spreads out nine songs over four sides should be committed, but somehow, here, it works.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

John Lennon

INTRODUCTION:
If you know John Lennon – and even most children, misconstrued as their knowledge is, seem to know him as well, by name anyhow – your thoughts might immediately turn to one of two things, or both: the guy who, alongside Paul McCartney, ran the Beatles, and the guy who wrote "Imagine" later on (although some people confuse the two, calling the tune a "Beatles song"…). The latter seems to paint a pretty good picture of the stereotypical image of John Lennon: a caring, drugs, peace and love-kind of guy, who lived the bohemian lifestyle with his equally eccentric wife Yoko Ono, until he was unjustly shot to death by a crazed, conservative zealot by the name of Chapman. While that last part was indeed a travesty, the rest barely covers the true Lennon, that of an inconsistent, politically inconsistent, sometimes stoned and peaceful, other times drunk or sober and asshole-ish, Lennon was more than "you make think I'm a dreamer", that's for sure.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

George Harrison – Wonderwall Music

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: DRILLING A HOME

The first official Beatles solo album (so The Family Way was credited to Paul, but his input was marginal at best) is quite an interesting one overall. It's the soundtrack to some weird hippie movie, which George was asked to write, and given his admiration for Indian music in the late '60s, it shouldn't come as a surprise that so much of this LP consists of his Indian classical-inspired compositions. While some might dismiss this as generic Indian music that any stoned, pseudo-philosophical hippie can take up, it's actually not that generic. Yeah, some of the melodies could have easily been ripped off, but George takes good care of using fairly diverse instrumentation, using instruments beyond what most hippies use from this culture, like sitar, sarod and tambura.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

George Harrison

INTRODUCTION:
Good ol' George Harrison, the quiet, underrated Beatle: even if he was always, the quiet, thoughtful Beatle, even in those early days where he wrote or sang on one or two songs an album, it wasn't always the case that he was the "underrated" one. After all, in the late '60s, the music press saw him as slowly becoming the equal to John and Paul. Yet today, in this world where music knowledge is marginal at best, people may know Ringo because of his distinctive name, and if they haven't been living under a rock they probably know the names of Lennon and McCartney, and Harrison just kind of slipped through the cracks. It doesn't help that Lennon's murder is still talked about 35 years on and McCartney and Starr's constant touring leads to the usual accusations of washed-up hacks, whereas George passed away after 20 years of retirement in this music biz, releasing a final album posthumously.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Captain Beefheart – Strictly Personal

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

As I mentioned in the Cap's intro and in the review of Safe as Milk, his and the Magic Band's follow-up LP was the result of a number of difficulties: the Cap's increased paranoia of having a heart attack like his father brought on by LSD-fuelled incidents, sometimes during live performances and a number of line-up changes changed the dynamic of the band, and the fact that the record company refused to release the finished double-LP in late '67, entitled It Comes to You a Plain Brown Wrapper, resulting in re-recordings in early '68 of six of its 15 numbers and the recording of two new ones, which were then dosed in trendy, psychedelic production from their manager for release on his own label, changed the intended sound of the release.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Jethro Tull

INTRODUCTION:
There are plenty of days where Jethro Tull are my favorite prog band (and for those of you wondering, those other days it's Genesis that take first place, unless you start to include the bands I consider art rock, but then by that point my whole system in separating different musical sub-genres crumbles to pieces). The strange thing about this is Jethro Tull never meant to be a progressive rock band; although technically few bands before King Crimson's debut really meant it, since they picked it up along the way, it's the Tullsters that almost seemed against the idea of being referred to as performers in this style.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sly & the Family Stone – Life

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: INTO MY OWN THING

Sly & the Family Stone albums' titles, in their original run, anyhow, are always so accurate. This album indeed is lively, with loud drums – Greg Errico's drumming on here is some of his heaviest, bashing the shit out of his kit at every opportunity yet with plenty of funky finesse and flair – bright, exuberant horns and irresistible grooves set in Larry's busy bass and the traded vocals. For some reason, this didn't sell nearly as well as its predecessor, perhaps because of the lack of a hit akin to "Dance to the Music", but that's the general public's loss. While Dance to the Music was a great album in its own right, this one's even better, with a consistent set of short songs that manage to cross most, if not all, of the group's favorite styles in less than three minutes each, with pop, rock, psychedelia, blues, R&B, funk and even bits of jazz.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Procol Harum – Shine On Brightly

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: SHINE ON BRIGHTLY

For Procol Harum fans, their second LP is their real first LP. Technically, they're not wrong; after all, their debut wasn't conceived as a coherent LP, necessarily. It was quickly recorded to house (in the States) and/or capitalize on (in the UK) "A Whiter Shade of Pale" when it became a hit, whereas this LP was made as such. Though perhaps the real reason this album is so highly regarded by the group's fans is the presence of their first lengthy epic – technically a sidelong, going over 17 minutes, but the presence of another track on the record prevents it from officially being one – and the only one made during their prime. I certainly understand all that, and I definitely agree with them that this is an excellent record in many ways, but I certainly don't see it as a reason to dismiss their first album.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: LATHER

This is one record that really sets itself apart from whatever else was going on at the time. While the rest of San Francisco's musicians were busy living the bohemian lifestyle and singing about holding each other's hands while making love in the rainbows and whatever other excessive free-love nonsense they were concocting, the Airplane got wise to the problem: that any of this idealism is impossible because of The Man®. And how do you let the world know you're against The Man®? You make an at least partially conceptual album about it, with apocalyptic overtones and dark-sounding music. And that's exactly what the Airplane did. While I still think Surrealistic Pillow has this one beat, you can still make a pretty strong case for this being their masterpiece, since it was clearly their intention to make this their most cohesive LP.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Eric Burdon & the Animals – Every One of Us

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: YEAR OF THE GURU

Bye bye psychedelia, hello again blues and folk, and welcome late '60s R&B. Normally musicians would become disenchanted by the psychedelic and hippie movements after Woodstock, but maybe Eric Burdon really was a visionary, because his post-Woodstock disillusionment was a year too early. With the new Animals' third LP, he decided to focus on the plight of the working man, and to do so with psychedelic soundscapes would be considered either hypocritical or just plain foolish, so they decided to strip things down and return to their roots. There were others that did this return to roots at around the same time, of course, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones, but in a way, this sort of puts Eric Burdon & the Animals at the forefront of this movement.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fleetwood Mac – Mr. Wonderful

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: LOVE THAT BURNS

More blues and nothing but more blues… This album isn't exactly a carbon copy of their debut, what with the addition of piano – mostly courtesy of Christine Perfect, the future Mrs. McVie, who at the time was member of another blues revival band of notable reputation, Chicken Shack – and horns on a number of tracks, attempting the slick, jazzy blues sound of B.B. King and the like. Unfortunately, the production is way too muddy to even come close to it, and unlike with its predecessor, the recent reissue makes little effort to clean things up, so half of the time the horns sound like they were tacked on using tapes from a sound library, even if that doesn't seem to be the case.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Janis Joplin – Cheap Thrills

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: SUMMERTIME or BALL 'N' CHAIN

For me, this is undoubtedly the peak of both Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company (not that many people, if any people, have bothered with their career after Janis, especially considering since they kind of only reformed after her death). The thing that made Janis and the group popular in the first place was their live sound, and while this isn't a complete live record (although portions of it were recorded live), it sounds close enough to their live sound and includes songs that were already tested by them on the road to completely beat the chitlins out of their debut, even if it had its own insecure charm (and after all, it's the insecurities of being the plain girl back in Texas that turned Janis into such an emotional and powerful vocalist).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Deep Purple

INTRODUCTION:
I don't know why, but I've always had a strong affection for bands that have had major stylistic changes partly because of significant line-up changes. It happened to Fleetwood Mac, who went from blues to folk to prog to pop, and there's always something interesting going on in each of their line-ups. It happened to King Crimson, who were always progressive rock at the core, but progressive rock has a far more diverse meaning than "generic prog" groups seem to imply, and no group pointed that out better than the Crimmers. Yet of all these bands, I think the one I like the most is none other than Deep Purple.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: ALLIGATOR

It seems that, for Deadheads, this is where the Dead really begin. Being somewhat disappointed with their debut, these guys set out to make something more complicated, a bit more in tune with the times – I mean, yeah, their debut was modern, but the garage rock influence must have been too strong for their tastes when they looked back on it, I guess – and that could translate elements of their by that point cult-worthy live sound. Of course, their ambitions didn't sit well with their producer, who was somewhat annoyed by their desire to experiment with techniques that seemed pretty illogical (like Bob Weir suggesting they imitate "thick air" by recording sound in the desert and the city), but eventually they got their touring soundman to help them out instead, resulting in an album that literally combined their studio side and live side; within every given track, there are portions of the tune recorded in the studio (a number of studios, rather) and other portions recorded in concert from shows to "road test" the new material.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Creedence Clearwater Revival

INTRODUCTION:
Has anyone else noticed that rock bands with two or more family members have notorious levels of animosity between the members, even more so than groups made up of friends or complete strangers? I mean, just three of the biggest names in '60s pop/rock with relatives in a band are pretty good examples: there's the Beach Boys, with brother Brian Wilson dominating, cousin Mike Love harboring jealousy and brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson struggling to get their contributions in due to personal issues once Brian went cuckoo. There's the Kinks, with Ray and Dave Davies' infamous squabbles, leading to an inconsolable tear in the group that prevents any potential reunion, twenty-something years on (despite their cowardly answers in interviews dismissing questions with "yeah, yeah, one day"). Yet the band that suffered the most from this is probably none other than Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Band

INTRODUCTION:
I can honestly say that the Band are the only band I can say make me proud to be a Canadian (no offense to any Rush fans; I like them too, of course, but their "geeky" reputation is not exactly something to attach oneself to), not that you can tell they're Canadian, given their inseparable association to Americana. In fact, not only do I consider them to be my favorite Canadian band, but they're also my favorite roots-rock band, bar none. It's one thing to "just" be one of the genre's pioneers (and the list is fairly well-stocked, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Van Morrison, etc. etc.), it's another thing entirely to be the peak of ambition with a genre whose very purpose is to return to one's past. One name they definitely could have taken on without a hitch would be The Academy, because the scope of roots explored – folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, blues, jazz – and the ambitious approach definitely give the impression they are the genre's greatest intellectuals as well.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Eric Burdon & the Animals – The Twain Shall Meet

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: SKY PILOT

You know, it's strange. For a lot of people, this is a major improvement over Winds of Change. Yet, if you exclude the point I gave that one specifically for its excellent bonus tracks, I give them both the same grade. And somehow, the pretentiousness of their 1967 record seems far more… not justified, exactly, but… something. Perhaps because their "debut" had one side of pretentious, statement-like stuff and another of accessible psycho-folk-pop and psycho-hard-rock, it seemed like both sides of the band were even, quality-wise as well as quantity-wise. Yet on this one, even the songs that go for a simple psycho-folk-pop sound have that all-knowing, pseudo-philosophical vibe of the previous album's excesses. And in the former's case, even some of the overly political or social material could be considered highlights in the musical sense, whereas this album seems to be lacking somewhat.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sly & the Family Stone – Dance to the Music

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: DANCE TO THE MEDLEY

While this album didn't exactly initiate the band's string of successful releases, its title track sure did. Of course, in retrospect, it would seem that the LP, sharing the title with the big hit, could be nothing more than a cash-in of the single's name, with the rest being quickly written rehashes of it, as many albums from the late '50s to the late '60s (and in the mid-'70s too, with the resurgence of single-oriented acts at that time), could be accused of. And yet, when you actually give the record a chance, it actually goes beyond "Variations on a Theme Called Dance to the Music"; sure, a number of tunes borrow from that formula just a little bit, but that's really the only reason it doesn't get a higher grade than the preceding LP. I miss the diversity of their debut, sure, but what made the band important is pretty much set in stone here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: BRIEF CANDLES? TIME OF THE SEASON? Who can tell...?

They're back! Actually, the Zombies never really went anywhere; they continued to record singles after the success of "Tell Her No", with each subsequent one becoming less successful than the last, until they ultimately lost any semblance of chart showings in the US and the UK (where, aside from "She's Not There", they seemed to be a lot less successful to begin with). If that wasn't bad enough, venues had less interest in hosting them, which led them to playing in the small, minimally paying clubs they frequented before their career really took off. By 1967, the band had had enough, and decided they should record one final album, possibly the first planned farewell album. While even this one was plagued with certain difficulties – tension between the members almost saw Colin quit the band before recordings were finished, and the budget was spent by the time the stereo mixing was to commence, forcing Argent and White to pay for it with their own money – the end result would be worthy enough for Al Kooper to promote it as a masterpiece.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Fleetwood Mac – Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: I LOVED ANOTHER WOMAN

The blues and nothing but the blues: this album is probably a nightmare for those who can only handle about 4 minutes of blues at a time, but what the hell would they be doing here, listening to an early Fleetwood Mac album? I should note that the actual title of their 1968 debut is simply Fleetwood Mac, but to not confuse it with their 1975 debut with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, I've added Peter Green to the title… Besides, on the album cover, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac is written on the bottom and Fleetwood Mac painted on a wall, so you can count one as the artist name and the other as the album name, even if the size of the two implies which should be which.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Fleetwood Mac

INTRODUCTION:
Fleetwood Mac are one of the bands that best shows that you don't need a consistent line-up to be considered one of the prominent groups of one's generation, with the only other major example that comes to mind being King Crimson. Unlike King Crimson, Fleetwood Mac were never on the cutting edge in terms of innovation, but they certainly mattered in overall popularity, be it as a live unit (their '60s line-ups) or as a chart act (their mid-'70s to late '80s line-ups), and in the beginning, they were certainly considered one of the up-and-coming bands, and befitting their overall social importance, their constant line-up changes made them seem even more significant than they really were.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT

If ever it makes you uneasy to read these guys share the same proto-punk tag as the likes of the Stooges, MC5 and New York Dolls, then this LP will get rid of any such feelings. Okay, maybe not all of those feelings. But this is anything from the folksy/drony/sleepy mood that dominated on their debut; with Nico and Warhol out of the picture, Cale's viola also mysteriously disappeared, sticking to bass and organ (and a lot more vocals, too), leaving Reed and Morrison take hold of the musical direction, with lots of squealing, squawking, loud, brash, feedback-laden noise-guitar. Of course, this isn't music that's meant to express anger or social unrest like "real" punk, but it's meant to break down boundaries, experiment and appear intellectual… and contradictorily Neanderthal-like at the same time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paul McCartney – The Family Way

Year: 1967
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: I'll get back to you on that one

This is hardly a Paul McCartney album, since Paul's not even in it, even if his name is slapped on the cover. His involvement in "composing" the music for the soundtrack to this British comedy film is not that much greater, as, per George Martin's recollection, it was limited to about 15 seconds of music for the main theme. Granted, there are only about three different themes running throughout the original soundtrack, presented in 13 "movements", each of which take one, two or all three of these themes. So I guess I have to consider it a Paul album either way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Paul McCartney

INTRODUCTION:
I think, and this might offend some people, Paul McCartney's solo career is my favorite of the four Beatles' solo careers. Yes, even more so than the artistically more "valid" John Lennon. Obviously, I'm not impressed by his descent into generic schlock and synth-trash in the '80s, but then I don't enjoy Rod Stewart's ventures into this musical abyss, yet I enjoy his career highlights just fine. Where was I? Oh yeah. Prime Paul McCartney of the 1970s, and even Bronze Age Paul McCartney of the 1990s to today, can come up with melodies as fantastic and unique as his best ones in the Beatles, and experiment successfully in a variety of styles with a diverse cast of musicians and producers to help him out, yet that overall is quite accessible. I love weird stuff as much as the next person, sure, but John spent the late '60s with crappy noisefests with Yoko, occasionally fucked up with excess politics instead of musicality, and ended his career on what could have been his second or third best but that was marred with Yoko taking up have the time with her attempts at mainstreaming her… weirdness.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter's

Year: 1967
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: WON'T YOU TRY/SATURDAY AFTERNOON

They could have taken the easy route and recorded something along the lines of Surrealistic Pillow, Vol. 2, but they didn't, which at least shows the band were not going to settle just because it brought them some kind of fame. Instead, they opted to amp up the experimental factor, and as their live jamming took on a heavy acidic tinge thanks to the changes in live music brought on by the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead and Cream, among others, as did their studio recordings, borrowing certain elements of their live sound yet "cleaned up" for studio release. The overall effect of combining studio experiments and improvisation pretty much justifies the LP's title: with "Baxter's" being a slang term the band used for LSD, it basically refers to some sort of acid hangover, and indeed the album sounds like it was recorded in such conditions.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sly & the Family Stone – A Whole New Thing

Year: 1967
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: UNDERDOG

Well I'm not sure how "whole" or "new" this "thing" is – see what I did there? Pretty clever – but there is definitely something that sets it apart from contemporary R&B albums, not to mention preceding ones. I'd even say that, at this early stage, much like their commercially and critically more successful one, they're doing things that could be considered influential. Like other Sly & the Family Stone albums, everything here is written by Sly himself, but the key to making these tracks work beyond his songwriting abilities – which are just as great as on Stand! and the like, despite what some may tell you – is the band's ability to sing and arrange this stuff. And they definitely deliver. Four of the five prominent vocalists from their classic line-up (sister Rose wouldn't join until the next year) get a chance to bring these tunes to life, and their ability to turn in some funky rave-ups is just as strong.