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Last updated: January 4th, 2017

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Live Cream (1970)

by Cream
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: N.S.U.

Just because I don't have a lot to say about a lengthy blues/rock jam doesn't mean I don't like it; it's just that there's only so many ways to talk about a blues solo without recurring to the same adjectives and adverbs ad infinitum. And I bring this up because, well, as you can see, we're dealing with Live Cream, the first "cash-in" on the band's name since their 1968 breakup (Goodbye notwithstanding), and with only four songs from Fresh Cream performed here (plus a studio outtake from the Disraeli Gears sessions, which I'll get to that in a minute), it's easy to get lost in the jamming, what with two being particularly lengthy at 10 and 15 minutes long, and the "short" ones not exactly being pop radio filler at short of seven minutes long.

And yet, I can't help but enjoying these jams. Some people might say that Cream's marathon-like jams are pretty much interchangeable – that you could edit out the one from "Spoonful" and stick it in between the actual portions of the "Sweet Wine" tune here and get away with it – but that's closer to the AllMusic "who actually listens to albums for reviewing?" philosophy than you'd think, since aside from the jams actually capturing a similar vibe to the main song, there are plenty of melodic quotes throughout. That doesn't mean that they're memorable all the way through, but play them loud enough, and they're as energetic as necessary, and what's the purpose of a live album other than adding a bit more energy to a tune?

[Read on...]

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Goodbye Cream (1969)

by Cream
Overall Rating =
12

Best Song: I'M SO GLAD (live side) and BADGE (studio side)

Shortly before the release of Wheels of Fire, it was announced that Cream were on the verge of breaking up and were to put on a farewell tour, including a final show at the Royal Albert Hall (classy!). Of course, simply touring wasn't enough; they needed to make an album to capitalize on the breakup, conveniently called Goodbye Cream – and the video of the tour would be called Farewell Cream… what's next, a biographic book on the tour called Auf Wiedersehen Cream?! – made with the intent of emulating the style of their half-studio/half-live double album. There was one problem with this, though. While there was plenty of live material to go around, they had a hard time scraping out more than a few tunes before deciding that they would make it a half-live/half-studio single album; at exactly 30 minutes, with one of the live sections on the studio side, it hardly counted as that either.

Most treat this album accordingly: they pat it on the head, keep it as a memento, but generally dismiss the contents. As you can see from the high grade, I hardly agree with that. The three live tracks are fantastic, and I guarantee you that had they been on Wheels of Fire – redundancy of two of them being performances of two of its studio tracks aside – people would like the live disc far better, considering their oft-voiced (and understandable) complaints about Jack and Ginger's showcases.

[Read on...]

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cruising With Ruben & the Jets (1968)

by the Mothers of Invention
Overall Rating =
10

Best Song: STUFF UP THE CRACKS

Frank Zappa sure loves messing with people. After what was arguably the peak of his vehement satirical approach, he pretends to be a Cuban named Ruben (oh, I see; haha… very funny Frank!), turns the Mothers into the Jets and makes an album that sounds like a late-'50s/real-early-'60s doo-wop/pop LP. Sure, that sounds sort of like the set up behind Freak Out!, but for one thing it doesn't end with the middle-finger-esque music concrète suite, and you have to keep in mind that some of the material for this album was given to radio stations without any indication of involving Zappa – just the new Ruben & the Jets epithet – and was believed to be authentic doo-wop(!!!) and that the most doo-wop loving members of the group, such as the sax players and the returning Ray Collins (whose actually skillful vocals were the only thing lacking from We're Only In It for the Money), became a lot more prominent.

Sure, the cover art, with Frank Zappa alluding to the group being sell-outs, or his high-school picture to represent Ruben, or the weird way of crediting the musicians (Roy Estrada contributed "high weazlings" and dwaedy-doop" apparently) in the liner notes all scream "parody", but more often than not, the material sounds like a real doo-wop group, though inferior to the real greats of the era when it comes to harmonies.

[Read on...]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Stevie Wonder – Eivets Rednow

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: GRAZING IN THE GRASS

This album is Featuring Alfie by Eivets Rednow… Wait, what's this written on the top corner? "How do you spell Stevie Wonder backwards?" …Oh, I get it. The album is called Eivets Rednow, by Stevie Wonder, and it features "Alfie" (a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition). And I managed to figure that out despite the fact that Stevie Wonder backwards is Rednow Eivets, not Eivets Rednow. As usual, Motown are at their silly marketing tricks, slightly less stupid than those Capitol Records enforced on the Beach Boys, but stupid nonetheless. Of course, these sorts of schemes usually go along quite nicely with marking-time albums, being the only sensible solutions to selling such albums.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (1968)

by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Overall Rating =
4

Best Song: Error 135 – songs not found

"What the bloody hell is this?!" was my first, second and third reaction to this turgid pile of cockroach dung (do cockroaches even produce excrements…? Aw well), and I highly doubt subsequent listens or large doses of hallucinogenic drugs will help (in fact, I'm sure this crap on acid would either scar me for life or kill me). If you don't know what this is, let me elaborate. John Lennon met Yoko Ono at an exhibition of her art in late '66, as Lennon was asked by the art gallery's owner to preview the stuff. The British music giant and the idealistic Japanese girl struck up a friendship, so when John's wife Cynthia went away to Greece, disillusioned by her marriage in late Spring 1968, John duly called Yoko over to spend some time together. She was interested in his avant-garde home recordings, which the rest of the Beatles refused to even acknowledge (except on the odd occasion it could be useful, i.e. the tape loops on "Tomorrow Never Knows"), so it was while John was showing her his tapes that they decided to make an avant-garde recording. It was only at the end that they realized they loved each other and consummated their relationship by dawn, with Cynthia Lennon soon returning to find Yoko in her bathrobe…

That's the most interesting thing to say about this project, because aside from the reasons for the titles – it was called Two Virgins because they recorded it before their relationship was consummated, and that they were two "innocents lost in a world gone mad", and Unfinished Music because, by the time it was released, Cynthia was out of John's life, and John & Yoko decided to document their lives together (hence "unfinished") – and the controversial cover of the rather hideous couple (John himself said they looked like a couple of overweight ex-junkies on there, and I can't but agree) standing naked before us, there is nothing worth saying about this project that could be "objective". You know why? Because what's actually contained on the recording is some of the most hideous garbage I've ever had the displeasure of committing (read: torturing) my ears too.

[Read on...]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Book of Taliesyn (1968)

by Deep Purple
Overall Rating =
12

Best Song: SHIELD or ANTHEM

Deep Purple's second album – recorded before their first was even released in the UK so they could have more than those eight songs to play for their US tour – has received a lot of criticism over the years, especially on its subject matter. With the title of the LP and the opening track, people have drawn the conclusion that the record is a concept album, and a poorly made one at that, but from what I've read of the recording sessions, this was never the intention for the album, so I haven't a clue where people got this story from. Whatever the case is, this impression has seen people dismiss this record and say "next please" until In Rock (or their following and final Mark I album if they're not purist metalheads, I guess), and yet I can honestly say that, in most parts, this is practically an improvement over Shades.

[Read on...]

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

This Was (1968)

by Jethro Tull
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: BEGGAR'S FARM

Before becoming one of the premier progressive rock bands, Jethro Tull were a blues rock band! And not just an ordinary old-fashioned guitar-bass-drums and occasional keyboards blues; to distinguish themselves from the then-autodestructing Cream, the then-rising Fleetwood Mac, and whatever other blues bands were around, Tull had the distinction of having a flute player, future group despot Ian Anderson. Strangely enough, he hardly knew how to play the instrument two weeks before they recorded their first single, and even then it was only because he wanted to keep the bookings they finally got under their umpteenth name change… Apparently the club owner must have been a big fan of innovative 17th/18th century agriculturists (which the real Tull was), because he wouldn't hire them under any other name.

Anyways, the flute playing is important, but it's not the only thing that makes the record. The material is surprisingly non-generic, partly due to the flute, naturally, but a fair number of the originals like to play around with ordinary blues/jazz stylings instead of the same 12-bar that Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac would abuse to the point of no return on their second LP.

[Read on...]

Monday, April 13, 2015

Electric Ladyland (1968)

by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Overall Rating =
14

Best Song: VOODOO CHILE or one of the last two songs

Whether it was meant to be or not – and it probably wasn't foreseen to be as such, unless the existential spoken word near the end of the previous record's first side has any say on the matter – Jimi Hendrix's third studio album was to be his last: not just because the Experience were basically dissolving during the recording sessions, with a good chunk of the bass playing done by Jimi himself, but because his attempts to manage to top this one (or even the previous two, naturally), was just too difficult to accomplish. Indeed, even if you compile any number of the released post-Ladyland recordings into sets of approximately the same length, it's nowhere near on the same level, and none of these possible albums even compare to his prime with the Experience.

Some may – and some have actually – noted that it has to do with a general descent in songwriting from Mr. Jimi. In terms of riffmaking, nothing really beats Are You Experienced?, and as for melodies, he was at worst decent on the softer stuff of both '67 albums, so on that level, even Electric Ladyland might seem inferior. And yet, despite its notable flaws, there are times where this is my favorite Hendrix album, and part of it has to do with the encyclopædic scope of this thing. The heavy rock side, the feedback-noise side, the Bob Dylan-like thoughtful side, and the fervent psychedelic experimenter side are all here together, so even if the double-LP is long, it can't ever get particularly boring.

"Wait a minute", cry the naysayers. Surely, they'll be thinking I've made a mistake in saying the album is never boring, considering that the first and third sides each have their own lengthy epic… actually, the third side is three sections of this epic, which even has its finale starting the fourth! And yet, I love these tunes and consider them to be among the record's highlights.

[Read on...]

Friday, April 10, 2015

Magic Bus: The Who on Tour (1968)

by the Who
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: MAGIC BUS or PICTURES OF LILY

This album is better known by name than for any other reason: understandably, considering that the title, if not promises, than at least implies, that the recordings that ensue were performed live, when they're just a rather hodge-podge collection of recordings from 1966 to 1968. It's not the first record to create this illusion with the word "tour" in its title (off the top of my head, there's the Animals' US On Tour and the Dave Clark Five's American Tour albums), but for some reason this is everyone's go-to example for it, despite the fact that it came out after those – although maybe it's because the Who were the better live band, making the sham more piercing. It's a shame that this LP in the States and the similar Direct Hits in the UK were released to fill in the gap between The Who Sell Out and Pete's then-still untitled rock opera, since there was so much unreleased studio material that could have appeared on the project Who's for Tennis? record, and even the Fillmore East performance could have been pretty interesting as well.

In terms of track selection, the original LP as released isn't too redundant, with only three tracks from the previous two studio albums, and not particularly obvious choices either; they could have gone the easy route with "Boris the Spider" as A Quick One repeat and "I Can See for Miles" as a Sell Out repeat, but "Run Run Run" and the two "I Can See for Miles"-surrounding ballads, "Our Love Was (Is)" and "Can't Reach You", are decent choices. In fact, it's far more redundant in retrospect, if you happen to have the bonus track-laden reissues of the preceding two albums and a slew of greatest hits (for the hit singles) and rarities (for the lesser-known crap) compilations. As it is, there are 7 out of 11 tracks (I mentioned "Someone's Coming" in The Who Sell Out review) that I haven't spoken reviewed before, so here we go!

[Read on...]

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

by the Byrds
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE or NOTHING WAS DELIVERED

Much like its predecessor, the history behind the Byrds' second 1968 album is an interesting one; despite the smaller number of personal changes, though, one that did take place proved to be major. Initially, Roger had the idea to take the modernity of Notorious a step further, by making a double-album exploring the history of American music from Appalachian music through bluegrass, C&W, jazz, R&B, rock and the nascent electronica the band had been exploring since Younger Than Yesterday – and interestingly enough, the Doors thought of making their next album like that as well, but came up with The Soft Parade instead. Anyways, to bring this project to completion, the band needed to be more than a trio (of McGuinn, Hillman, and the latter's cousin Kevin Kelley on drums), and in particular, wanted someone who could play jazz piano. The band's business manager found Gram Parsons, who pretended to play jazz piano during his audition, but the band got on with him so well that they brought him in anyways.

As it turned out, Parsons had an ulterior motive: to bring his Cosmic-American music, a form of honky-tonk country with elements of bluegrass, blues, rock, folk and R&B, to a larger population, by annexing himself to one of America's (former) biggest bands. It was easy to persuade Hillman that Parsons' project was the superior one, given his start as a mandolin player in a bluegrass group, and eventually McGuinn would acquiesce as well, sealing the fate of his band for better or for worse. No Byrds album seems to split hairs as much as this one, and that from its release: on one hand, the change in style could well have been a morale booster for the band – rather than continuing with McGuinn's experimentation that, along with Crosby's own ideas, caused the previous split – but on the other hand, the move was unlikely to keep their liberal hippie fans with conservative material nor acquire conservative C&W fans with their liberal hippie origins.

And yet, it's quite surprising that an album this unassuming has generated such love/hate feelings. The majority of the songs are covers, some old country classics, some newer stuff, even having little to do with country, but, like with all "generic" roots music, as long as they play with feeling and manage to transmit it, whilst offering an occasional change of pace, than everything should be fine. More often than not, I find myself enjoying the music, simply because these guys seem to really love this kind of music, and they do a pretty good job at trying to get the listeners to try and love it too.

[Read on...]

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Beach Boys – Stack-O-Tracks

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 5
Overall Rating = 9

Best Song: Not applicable

It's almost too hard to believe that, even after the commercial failures and the disillusions and the band slowly sinking into obscurity, Capitol Records had the audacity to go and do something like this: release an INSTRUMENTAL Beach Boys' album – that's not even new music but old backing tracks! – in an attempt to cash-in on the group's former glories when, to the average public, the Beach Boys were just that, an antiquated glory. Maybe a gimmick like this could have worked – commercially, at least – had it been released in 1965, when albums like Party! and the Christmas Album couldn't stay on the racks long enough to satisfy everyone's desire for a Beach Boys LP, but the idea of releasing the backing tracks to one of America's greatest vocal groups – imagine a B.B. King album without his guitar! – has got to be the stupidest one this side of the Stones' giving "Out of Time" to Chris Farlowe.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Wheels of Fire (1968)

by Cream
Overall Rating =
13

Best Song: WHITE ROOM (studio disc) and CROSSROADS (live disc)

I still can't seem to find the exact reason that triggered Cream's (or perhaps their management's) decision to make their third LP a double – as history would have it, double albums frequently follow up what's considered to be a band/artist's absolute peak, like Exile after Sticky Fingers or Blonde on Blonde after Highway 61 or whatever, but that's probably not the case – though I can certainly understand the function given to the two discs; the first is nine new studio tracks more-or-less split between the three members as a proper follow-up to Disraeli Gears, and the second is four live tracks to showcase this band who were considered one of the ultimate live performers in rock, alongside the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Why they didn't end up having a studio album and an even longer live album is beyond me, though it's difficult to imagine them apart after nearly half a century of them as one.

With the studio disc, gone is the happier psychedelic-blues rock that permeated their sophomore effort – the cover is once again pretty indicative; still very much a psychedelic collage of shapes, but the muddy gray instead of the bright colors shows the shift pretty well – though the experimental urge hasn't faded yet. Unfortunately, for many the album contains more flawed experiments than the previous one (mostly because, for all its modern hipness, it was heavily rooted in their pop, blues and rock pasts), with the usual accused being a three-track stretch in the middle, two closing a side and one opening. Clearly, these three tunes are the weakest of the LP, but they're nonetheless decent.

[Read on...]

Monday, April 06, 2015

Shades of Deep Purple (1968)

by Deep Purple
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: HUSH

These guys with the funny-looking '60s white-boy afros are Deep Purple of "Smoke on the Water" fame? Actually, no, this Deep Purple and the famous one are two different bands… no wait, that's not it either. Let's start over. In 1967, former drummer for British Invasion's folksiest band, Chris Curtis, had the idea of a band called Roundabout, a series of session musicians touring together with a variety of line-ups. Originally recruited for the project were Jon Lord on keyboards and Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, both known for their frequent studio work. With increased troubles with uppers and downers, Curtis soon became disinterest with the project, so Blackmore and Lord decided to form a regular band with similar setlists to the ones planned for Roundabout (a mix of more modern psychedelia that was popular in London and older R&B, rock 'n' roll and British Invasion covers that was still all the rage in regional England).

The first to be recruited was bassist Nick Simper, a former bandmate of Lord's in the Flower Pot Men (or the Ivy League, as they were initially known), and then there was vocalist Rod Evans, far from the metal screamer that Ian Gillan would be for classic Deep Purple, but with a terrific voice in its own right, mixing Elvis-style crooning, smoother white R&B and British pop sensibilities. Rounding out the line-up was Ian Paice, a drummer with a terrific Mitch Mitchell-inspired ability to incorporate speedy jazz-influenced fills into a rock context, from Evans' band the Maze who had to be snuck in to auditions not to offend Curtis' first substitute. After changing their name to that of an old jazz standard, they were finally ready to record.

[Read on...]

Friday, April 03, 2015

In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)

by the Moody Blues
Overall Rating =
12

Best Song: LEGEND OF A MIND

Amidst the Moodies and possibly the group's management, the successes of Days of Future Passed and its two singles were met with ambivalence; on one hand, this was certainly a great prospect for all of their wallets, but on the other hand, there was the nagging fear that the only reason these records were successful was do to the novelty of it all; after all, it wasn't every day bands made concept albums with orchestral links. It was obviously out of the question for the group to continuously hire the London Festival Orchestra, or any orchestra for the matter, every time they stepped into the studio. There was only a single two-part solution to their problem: firstly, Mike Pinder and his orchestra-emulating Mellotron would need even more prominence in their sound, and secondly, every member must take up a handful of instruments to diversify the sound, and if they don't know how to play one of these, than to buy a book and learn. And indeed, for the classic line-up's second LP, that's exactly what they did.

With the arrangement problem cleared up, they needed a follow-up concept. Looking around them, they probably noticed the whole hippie, flower-power craze (duly ignoring Frank Zappa and the Mothers' We're Only In It for the Money, of course) and took inspiration for the early '60s novelty song about the "perfect chord", and decided that the album should be about a search for said chord, with some of their most dated, hippiest lyrics ever… Rarely do I use "dated" as an insult (in fact, for me "modern" is a worse one), and this album certainly is no exception. Admittedly, the album and its theme is plenty cheesy, but if you substitute "chord" for "purpose", than questioning whether the epoch's fads could fulfill such a purpose is philosophically useful, I suppose.

Whether you like the concept or not, the bright side is the music is, for the most part, quite good. With that said, there's a slight drop-off in quality from Days of Future Passed, with a number of melodies that kind of drift off aimlessly – a given considering the record's philosophy – but the highlights are so high (no pun intended) that the album would get a solid grade either way. Besides, the problem isn't necessarily that there is this sort of lesser material, but that it's all on the second side.

[Read on...]

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: I PUT A SPELL ON YOU

After struggling to make a name for themselves for nearly a decade (under the cool jazzy name of the Blue Velvets and later the stupid somewhat racist name of the Golliwogs) as third-rate British Invasion imitators, the band found their style with the name change to Creedence Clearwater Revival that you're all probably familiar with by now – whether you know much about classic rock and its radio staples or not. Actually, although CCR are often heaped with praise for deviating from the psychedelic norms of the day, pioneering a return to the roots, I can't help but feel that this isn't 100% accurate. There are hints of that influence still around – how could there not be, having recorded the ol' piece of plastic in the heart of Frisco? – that even go with the trippy blue border on the cover, or the band cluelessly standing in the woods…

This isn't necessarily a problem, of course, as long as the music that goes with it is good. It is, for the most part, but John Fogerty had yet to refine his songwriting talents, only coming up with a measly five originals, one of which being their last single as the Golliwogs and another a re-recording of one they did in 1966. As it is, the record is only eight tracks long, leaving three covers to fill in the space. Incidentally, two of the three covers are the albums absolute highlights and CCR classics if there ever were any.

[Read on...]

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Waiting for the Sun (1968)

by the Doors
Overall Rating =
11

Best Song: FIVE TO ONE

If 1967 was THE year of the Doors, than it's no wonder they would have a tough time coming up with something even a tenth as interesting. Indeed, a lot of the tracks on their first two albums were written before the recording of the first, and they were running low on this backlog of terrific material, having to work on newer outtakes or come up with something entirely new altogether. This would be fine if they tried to make something that fit with the dark, mopey, vicious, anti-hippie vibe of their self-titled album and Strange Days – and the few material in that vein is pretty indicative of this potential quality too – but a lot of this material is surprisingly lightweight. Indeed, instead of anything like "The End" (on the lengthier side) or "Break On Through" (on the shorter side), at least half of the material is closer to "I Looked At You" or "Take It As It Comes", regular pop songs with okay but repetitive melodies and lyrics that don't go beyond happy on one side of the emotional spectrum or somewhat mopey on the other.

Part of the problem was that the album's planned centerpiece, the proposed 17-minute side-long "Celebration of the Lizard" suite – something that was probably meant to top "The End" and "When the Music's Over" as a poetic/psychedelic/acidic/spacey/etc. rock epic – could not be fully recorded and mixed in a way the group found satisfactory, so the band picked one section the length of a pop single for the album. Unfortunately, that left a little under 14 minutes of music they needed to fill, and quickly. Somehow, though, more of this filler appeared than what would have been one of the record's highlights, the brilliant title track, which would be held over for another two years?! Come on!

[Read on...]