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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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Doors

INTRODUCTION:
If you want scary music, the Doors are for you. Forget all these flatfooted metal bands who think recording the destruction of their instruments while howling nonsensical satanic hooliganry into the mic is "scary", this is a classy kind of scary that has some sort of artistic merit (and please note that I'm not denouncing metal completely, but it's neither the time nor the place). As George Starostin pointed out, it's like taking Alfred Hitchcock's clever, intelligent horror/suspense films over the generic, trashy, gory horror flicks. Much like Hitchcock in comparison to his peers, the Doors were artists. Not that the shock rock tactics of peers and followers (Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop immediately come to mind) are atrocious in any way, but when the Doors' "shocked" with tales of snakes, Lizard kings and Oedipus or Nietzsche references, it certainly wasn't purely for entertainment purposes. Jim Morrison, talented guy that he was, transcended his over-the-top lifestyle by actually meaning it, actually having some sort of deep attraction to death, mysticism and probably the occult.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cream

INTRODUCTION:
The formation of Cream was both a blessing (for the pop/rock music world at large) and a curse (for the individual band members). Clapton, Bruce and Baker were all among the British blues elite of the mid-'60s (approx. 1964-1966), so when they formed a group called Cream – as in cream of the crop, naturally – they were in a way poised to conquer the blues/rock world, being three of Britain's top players. Of course, this could only spell disaster when you have three highly talented, but also three highly stubborn, performers working together. How they managed to be even more stubborn than the Beatles with their egos or the Who with theirs is beyond me, but it suffices to say Cream weren't destined to last so long.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Animals – Animalism

Year: 1966
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: HIT THE ROAD, JACK

Keep note of that missing "S". That's the small difference between the (since expanded) UK album from earlier in 1966 and this collection of tunes never released officially outside of the US (aside through exports, I suppose), and difficult to locate since its original release. As the original line-up of the Animals – which was no longer original with Dave Rowberry and Barry Jenkins as members, come to think of it –was reaching its end, the band were sent to the studio one last time to record an LP, before slowly disintegrating, with only Eric and Barry remaining in the end to help form the "new" Animals early the following year. Under circumstances like these, it would seem like the album could have easily been a toss-off. A brief look at the tracklisting might confirm that suspicion, with at least five easily recognizable soul/R&B/blues/rock classics, and two tracks leftover from Animalisms that didn't make its US equivalent, Animalization.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane Takes Off

Year: 1966
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: BLUES FROM AN AIRPLANE or AND I LIKE IT

Who would have thought Jefferson Airplane would be really, really good even before Grace Slick joined the band and catapulted them into big time success in the world of hippie counterculture? Well, they were destined to be important, right from the beginning, even as they were borrowing from the folk-rock scene. Yet, unlike ordinary folk-rock, this stuff is pretty dark. It's not scary, per se, but there's an underlying sense of… something… that leaves you uneasy, in a perfectly artistically viable and sonically pleasant way. But the formula is pretty easy to define: Jack Casady's thick, decadent bass playing, a guitar jangle so much scragglier than the one pioneered by Jim McGuinn and his fellow avian band, and some of the greatest harmonies in rock: not single-track, chord-like harmonies of the Byrds, but multi-rhythmic ones à la Beach Boys, but more based in emotional outburst than careful arrangement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jefferson Airplane

INTRODUCTION:
Of all the San Francisco hippie bands, there's probably a good reason that Jefferson Airplane are one of the few that are still somewhat remembered today. And I say "somewhat" because it's not a Beatles-level recognition: people may think they know a thing or two because they've heard "White Rabbit" and/or "Somebody to Love" at stores run by neo-hippies/hipsters, and while these are amongst the group's best songs, there was more to them than getting stoned. But for people who might know a bit more about this place and epoch in music, the Airplane are remembered best (along with the Grateful Dead) for spearheading the movement. Yes, the drug side is exploited, and the free love side as well, but in a lot of ways, they were amongst the most political of their San Franciscan peers, even if they only showed this later on. But then, the way they touched upon drugs and free love was fairly "political" in a sense, trying to provoke the upper classes/older generations they disdained.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Animals – Animalisms

Year: 1966
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: MAUDIE (or INSIDE-LOOKING OUT or DON'T BRING ME DOWN of the bonus tracks)

Of all the British Invasion bands, the Animals probably have the most amusing cross-continental discographical mishaps. In the US, most of the first two UK albums and all but one of the non-album singles appeared on three different LPs, two of which share names with their UK LPs, although the one named Animal Tracks is mostly comprised of non-album singles and tracks from the first two UK LPs that didn't make their US equivalents. The one that substitutes the British Animal Tracks LP went with the even more confusing name The Animals On Tour, which is one of those annoying studio LPs with titles that imply a live album (see the Who's Magic Bus: The Who on Tour and Dave Clark Five's American Tour for reference).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Frank Zappa

INTRODUCTION:
I'm reviewing Frank Zappa. The Great Mustached One®. There's probably something greatly ironic about any music critic tackling the greatest known music critic hater, whether we have something nice to say or not. And yet it seems to be every music critics duty – if not their dream – to analyze Zappa's body of work, and it's certainly a body of work that demands extensive analysis. So what do I have to say about him? It's hard to say… I mean, I consider the guy a 4-star artist, so clearly it's more than just respect, but fandom is far from the equation. And it's hard to talk about the guy without resorting to clichés, and it's the very thing he mocked with his music. Arrrgggghghhhhhghghh…! Okay, I got that out of my system. Let's restart.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Who

INTRODUCTION:
Of the three bands forming the "Holy Trinity" of British rock, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, the latter has been, and always will be, my favorite one, as well as my favorite band altogether. And yet, for Who fans aside, it's generally the former two that get all the glory. They were at the forefront of the British Invasion, having a number of major hits in the US from 1964-1967, whereas the Who were largely ignored. In the '70s, with the Beatles out of the picture, the Stones were still the better recognized group, being considered one of the best rock bands in the world, and Led Zeppelin basically took the place of the Beatles as the giants towering over the rock world, even if they mostly modeled themselves after the Who (and got their name from two of their members). In short, the Who were rock's "runner-up", and while it never put them down, it did affect what they sang about: the outcasts, the losers, the hangers-on, anyone who could try all he wanted to be the best yet would always be dismissed by others.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Moody Blues

INTRODUCTION:
One thing that's always troubled me is trying to distinguish genres that are so closely knit – hard rock vs. heavy metal is probably one of the most irritatingly debatable topics – and it's something that has existed since practically the '60s. Before heavy music, the problematic genre definition came with the artistic, conceptual, intellectual groups of post-psychedelic persuasion. What makes progressive rock different from art rock (and God forbid you start calling something symphonic rock, or art pop, or prog pop, making the debate that much harder to follow)? Everyone has their own theories, so I'll divulge mine. Prog rock usually entails more complex composition, drawing from jazz, classical and medieval influences, and features highly-skilled, dare I say virtuoso musicians. Art rock, on the other hand, is still clearly linked to regular pop/rock music, but with an interest in conceptuality, experimentation (especially in the production) and diverse instrumentation. I'm still not sure what I'd call symphonic rock, though. Something in between art rock and progressive rock, maybe? And if you substitute rock for pop in their titles, it's basically pop with a hint of influence from the similarly named genre.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Byrds

INTRODUCTION:
The Byrds are one of those bands who are better known as innovators than creators of good music. They have every right to be praised for their innovations, of course: no other group could possibly lay claim to being amongst the chief innovators of folk-rock (merging folk lyrics and melodies with a pop/rock rhythm section), psychedelic rock (incorporating elements of jazz, tentatively using synthesizers before most other major groups, and of course using or alluding to experimental drugs) and country-rock (ditto as folk-rock). And yet, they cannot be considered one of the best American bands (and, alongside the Doors, my personal favorite American band) simply for "creating". The Searchers "created" the 12-string jangle the Byrds used, yet are not a "great" band. Various avant-garde groups in the '60s were impossibly creative, yet not too many can be called great (and the only one that immediately comes to mind is the Velvet Underground). What made the Byrds great was that their innovations were always coupled with great songwriting; not only that, they've had a number of terrific songwriters in their ranks. It's a shame they were never all in the group at the same time (or writing while some of the more prominent members were still in the group), otherwise they might have been up their with the Beatles in that department.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Animals – Animal Tracks

Year: 1965
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: WORRIED LIFE BLUES (or either the first or last two single a-sides among the bonus tracks)

I know that from a quick glance at the track listing (minus the bonus tracks), you're all thinking "this is the album he picked as the Animals' best? There's not a single one of their hits among them!" Yes, perhaps some of the song's names may only seem familiar to you if you know their original artists or far more familiar covers of these tunes, but rest assured the Animals do them justice. It seems as if they could peer into the future and read my review of their debut, which claimed their strengths were in slow, moody songs and speedy, non-guitar focused stuff, because that's exactly how they do these songs, and with few exceptions at that. Besides, the choice of covers is far better than the previous year: sure, maybe nothing seems to reach the heights of "Boom Boom", but nothing reaches the lows of "The Night Time is the Right Time" either. But most important of all is Alan Price's increased role in the proceedings (or Hilton's diminished role; I haven't exactly compared the exact amount of time each one was in the spotlight on the two LPs). After all, if you're going to do slow, soulful jazzy stuff, your keyboard player is your best bet, and he certainly delivers on those numbers. For all but one of these numbers, Price dismisses his usual Vox combo organ in favor of another instrument: not the ringing '60s electric piano of the previous year, but an honest-to-goodness real, acoustic piano. It makes the performances far more authentically soulful and allows us to truly hear the extent of his chops.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Zombies – Begin Here

Year: 1965
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: SHE'S NOT THERE (or one of the excellent bonus tracks, perhaps?)

Man, is the artwork on this here album sleeve ever misleading. With the serious looks on their faces and the two bespectacled gentlemen, you'll expect some of the classiest-sounding British Invasion pop/rock imaginable. Well, truth be told, you do get that, mostly. But even in 1965, new pop outfits with talented songwriters didn't get their way that easily. The only reason the Dave Clark Five managed to avoid covers almost completely from their first record deal in 1963 was their title member's businessman-like craftiness (managing to get one of the best pre-Led Zeppelin record deals in the UK, apparently). And the Beatles had Brian Epstein on their side. But for whatever reason, the Zombies were forced to include covers of R&B songs that they had little mastery over, so the first impression of the record brought on by the first song is a shocking contrast from the pseudo-intellectual "appeal" of the album art.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Zombies

INTRODUCTION:
Of all the groups from the 1960s to have been reevaluated as worthy artists who have made potential "lost" classics, the Zombies are probably one of the few to almost completely deserve the accolades bestowed upon them since the 1990s (with the only other major examples in my mind are fellow British Invasion groups, the Kinks and the Pretty Things). Sure, they had a trio of successful singles in the US (though only one hit in their homeland) throughout their brief career, but the fact that a dozen other singles of equal songwriting quality and based on a similar, yet still unique – in that it's definitely their own – formula were completely ignored by the public is quite a shame (especially when Englebert Humperdinck singles would not only top the charts around this time, but would also surpass every one of the incredibly innovative singles in 1967).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Animals – The Animals

Year: 1964
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: BOOM BOOM (or THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN of the bonus tracks)

I wasn't sure whether this or the next album should get the top score (the age old debate of innovation vs. consistency strikes again), but ultimately I think I should let them share the grade, even if overall I think I prefer the follow-up. Either way, the easiest method of acquiring the tunes the Animals recorded from 1964-1965 is through the 2-CD The Complete Animals set, as the bonus track-adorned versions of their UK LPs as reviewed here are only available in Continental Europe (and I don't actually have these, I just rearranged the easily available compilation for the chronologically comforting European releases) and in Japan, although these have tracks not available on The Complete Animals either (although these are only alternate versions). Then again, even bonus track-less versions of their original US LPs covers much of the same ground, but the few exceptions are definitely not to be missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Animals

INTRODUCTION:
By 1964, writing original material had become the key to success for British pop groups, following the lead of the Beatles after their highly successful A Hard Day's Night "soundtrack" album. A very minimal amount of groups could survive ignoring this crucial information. Even supposed blues/rock purists like the Rolling Stones tentatively dipped their toes in these waters before fully immersing themselves into the world of accomplished songwriters. Yet there was one group whose belief that proper arrangement could be nearly – if not just – as effective as creating one's own songs helped them not only score nearly a dozen British hit singles in their first three years, but also helped them become one of the most innovative British bands. That band is the Animals.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Kinks

INTRODUCTION:
While it took me quite some time to come to this conclusion, it was worth the wait. What is this conclusion, you ask? That Ray Davies, in his prime, was one of the most identifiable songwriters in rock/pop music. I won't be the first to note – and certainly the ever-blunt Mark Prindle put it best – that as a melodist, Ray was one of the Lennon/McCartney duo's greatest competitors amongst their peers, British or otherwise, and on occasion he could even surpass them. In how these melodies could complement his vision arguably make them even better. His work is frequently focused on nostalgia from the point of view of the lonely little guy – and to me that earns him the title of the quintessentially English "working class hero", nearly a decade before New Jersey had their own such hero in Bruce Springsteen – and his melodies, at his peak, always contained a perfect mixture of hopefulness, peacefulness and melancholy to capture the mood. That it took the Kinks' onstage fights and their consequent banning from playing in the United States for Ray to fully embrace his heritage is unfortunate as far as recognition for them goes but in retrospect it seems worthwhile.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Rolling Stones

INTRODUCTION:
I know. It's only rock 'n' roll. But I like it. When singing these words, the Rolling Stones were doing nothing but preaching the truth. At the same time, though, they were doing themselves in. They've since been filed and locked away as generic rock 'n' roll (with the eventual additional tag of old geezers since – if not the glam or punk eras of the mid-to-late-'70s, then most definitely the early-to-mid-'80s); a decent number of their hits were definitive of 1960's/early 1970's rock 'n' roll, but to glue the "generic" tag on them is unfair. They never could be generic until they reached the top. And when three of these five boys from Dartford joined together, their goal was conquest of at least one world: the blues world.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Beatles

INTRODUCTION:
I don't want to sound like I'm just pandering to the General Critical Opinion (or GCO, if you will), but there's a damn good reason the Beatles are considered the greatest band of all time… actually, several reasons. First, it was through the Beatles that original songwriting truly became not only a right, but also a duty. True, they weren't the first musicians to write their own songs: Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, two huge influences on the Beatles in their early career, have their fair share of classic songs, and many noted rock 'n' roll/R&B performers from the '50s would write their own material, from Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley. The problem is, as songwriters, they would run their talents dry a bit sooner than they might have wanted do.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Beach Boys

INTRODUCTION:
The Beach Boys have a rather unjust reputation of sorts. In the beginning, they were a bunch of kids with a love of music and summer, which, by extension, included the beach, driving, girls and surf – even if only one of the members was able, or even willing, to do that maritime sport – who were accidentally propelled into big time music-biz through the local success of their first single. While the band's oldest members, Brian Wilson and Mike Love were 19 and 20, respectively, the rest were between 13(!) and 16. Evidently, that meant that Mike and Brian were to be the group's de facto leaders, whether the Wilson brothers' father managed them or not.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Stevie Wonder

INTRODUCTION:
If you were to ask people to name a Motown star – as in those likely to have heard of the label – I'm not quite sure how many would actually name Stevie Wonder. The way I see it, Wonder has become just as iconic on his own as part of Berry Gordy's roster of artists/performers. Sure, Marvin Gaye's attempts at breaking away from Motown's controlling hands concurred with Stevie's, and most would be familiar with Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson by name, not to mention that Michael Jackson's commercial appeal surpasses that of Wonder. Yet there's definitely something – for me, certainly, but for others as well – that would still put Stevie on top. The Motown executives themselves knew he was different from the others too, right from the beginning. They first signed was with the epithet Little Stevie Wonder deviating greatly from his real name Stevland Morris at the tender age of 11(!); today, with an endless supply of child virtuosos worldwide guesting on boring, stale talk shows, this might not seem like a big deal, but this was in 1961, after all.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Bob Dylan

INTRODUCTION:
Bob Dylan is not a guy that likes to be pigeonholed. One's basic impression of him might be "that folk guy with the hillbilly voice takes up rock 'n' roll", but there's a lot more to him than that. First of all, his career actually began because of rock 'n' roll, where in the '50s he formed a band in high school after having heard Elvis Presley and the like. Only when he realized that he couldn't become a rock 'n' roll star because he didn't quite have the looks for it did he move on to folk. Thus, he left his sheltered Jewish community in Hibbing, Minnesota – not forgetting to bring an acoustic guitar and a harmonica – and headed east for New York City, where Greenwich Village, one of the capitals of the folk revival since the late-'50s, could be found.