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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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Band – Stage Fright

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: THE SHAPE I'M IN or STAGE FRIGHT

As a commentator on the Band’s intro corrected me, the Band’s third LP is every bit a “debut” for the group as their actual debut and their self-titled album. Granted, the gap between this album and their self-titled is far smaller than that of the latter with Music from the Big Pink, but there are enough differences to think of this as a slight reinvention. For starters, the lyrics are toned down significantly in Biblical allusions (there’s but one minor one) a la Big Pink or historical references (there’s a few very subtle ones) a la The Band; that’s not to say the lyrics are lightweight, as Robbie’s new interest, his own or made-up personal problems, can get very dark, but it’s something just about any singer-songwriter can tackle. Fortunately, he and the rest of the Band deliver these simpler topics with the same gusto as they would the Civil War, and while the musical skeletons might even be simpler takes on the various roots genres than before, the instrumental variety is still as great as ever.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Frank Zappa – Weasels Ripped My Flesh

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: MY GUITAR WANTS TO KILL YOUR MAMA

If one were to make the assumption that the purpose of Burnt Weeny Sandwich was to present Frank Zappa and the Mothers' ability of creating beauty on stage (even if a large part of that beauty came from varying forms of dissonance), than the purpose of Weasels Ripped My Flesh must be to show their ability at making the most hideous noises possible (not always on stage, though, as a good chunk of the material here are studio outtakes). Saying that, and given the grade I give this album, you probably think I'm totally off my rocker, but hear my out. This isn't just ordinary ugly noise for the sake of itself; rather, this is very creative noise, obviously drawing from free jazz and other avant-garde genres, yet you also see a return of the group's patented humour back with a vengeance after the semi-serious nature of its predecessor. And for good measure, there are still a few tracks, or moments of some uglier tracks, that recall the complex jazz-fusion beauty of Zappa and the Mothers' first archival release of the year.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed & Delivered

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: Any of the first four tracks

With Stevie's studio debut of the new decade, we're back on track to the greatness that would eventually lead to his early-mid-'70s masterpieces, as he creates a minor masterpiece in its own right. While My Cherie Amour briefly brought him back solidly into covers territory, Signed, Sealed & Delivered is almost as Stevie Wonder original-packed as For Once in My Life; some might see the 7-5 proportions as disheartening compared to the 8-4 of its 1968 predecessor, but rest assured that this album manages to improve on a number of areas lacking on Stevie's last serious album (serious in the artistic sense of pursuing his songwriting, playing and arranging talents, that is). The lone Motown "songwriting guild" collaboration is just as great, if not better, than the last, the selection of covers is more obscure, which allows for different expectations than tackling jazz classics, and fewer of the originals sound like rewrites of each other (only two, rather than three, although I guess that just comes from the one-song shifted proportion of originals to covers), while most of them sound like something Stevie had never done before.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: QUESTION (honourable mention to MELANCHOLY MAN)

The Moodies were clearly on a roll here, because this is nearly almost as great as To Our Children's Children's Children. Before getting into why it isn't as great, let's discuss how the album came to be. Because of the increasing amount of overdubs used on their recordings, the band were having difficulties playing these songs live, so for their next album, they would try to minimize the amounts of overdubs, or at least have ones that could somehow be replicated live. In that regard, this can be seen as their return-to-roots album: it's still pompous art rock, but the arrangements aren't too complex, with only one main instrument per member, and only piano, Mellotron and even Moog synths (making them unknown pioneers of it in the art-rock world) from Mike Pinder. And, they must have thought, what better way to return to one's roots than to return to the ultimate root, the Earth?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo's Factory

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN? or I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

I don't know why, after nearly 40 years, Willy and the Poor Boys maintains its reputation as CCR's best album when their actual best album has been sitting in front of critics' noses the entire time. Indeed, their first of two 1970 albums – named Cosmo's Factory after Doug "Cosmo" Clifford's comment that the rehearsal process under John Fogerty's tutelage was like factory work – had to be seen as a success of some kind: after all, it spawned three double-sided singles, with all but one of those six original compositions charting at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 (and that last one still made it to #4), and all of those originals plus one more as well as one of the four covers from the album are mainstays of classic rock radio to this day and are frequently used for their various greatest hits albums. Of course, it's hard for critics, back then as much as today, to consider an album great for its singles' commercial successes, but in this case I'll have to agree with the general public. John Fogerty penned seven distinct originals, seven of his very best, and chose four covers that showcased his and his band's talents as good or better than on their previous records.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Yes – Time and a Word

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: NO OPPORTUNITY NECESSARY, NO EXPERIENCE NEEDED

Since their record debut was a commercial flop, and since rock and pop were becoming more artistic, progressive and symphonic (all at one point synonyms for the same genre, since acquiring a variety of different meanings), Yes probably thought it was feasible to eschew the accessible route and further develop their artistic tendencies. The challenge is, when only two of the members of your band could potentially be considered virtuosos (the rhythm section) but have yet to hone their talents in that way, another is an excellent player in his own right, and the other is a solid contributor but not much more, you'll need outside help to pursue ambitious goals. That's where John Anderson's clever idea of bringing in an orchestra to help fill out there sound had come in; the upside to this decision was that would allow the band to come up with more diverse and complex arrangements, but the downside is that it caused great friction, especially with Peter Banks, who felt like he was being pushed to the side with this decision, ultimately leading in his departure and replacement by Steve Howe (who would even replace him on the US cover of their second album, in sad irony and the US label's dislike of the semi-nude black and white artwork).

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Doors – Absolutely Live

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: No clue... it's pretty consistent

The Doors' live reputation was one of many strong ones in the '60s and early '70s, so it's only logical that they would release a live album in their prime, which many prime live bands at the time tried to do. A full Doors show wouldn't see release until well into the posthumous part of their career, but this double LP, mostly consisting of a New York show in 1970 but filling in the gaps with Philly and Detroit performances from the same year and an Aquarius Theatre performance the previous year, gives a pretty good idea of what makes the Doors a great band on the stage: take some blues, some vaudeville, some cabaret, some heavy psychedelic rock, add the instrumental talents of Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, and cap it off with the incredible showmanship of Jim Morrison as the ideal late '60s rock frontman.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Grateful Dead – Workingman's Dead

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: DIRE WOLF or CASEY JONES

Having finally satisfyingly accomplished their goal of presenting their talents as premier acid rock group, the Dead essentially splintered into two groups as of the 1970s: one was the live Dead, whose main purpose was to uphold their reputation in the '60s for the decades to come, and the other was the studio Dead, where they could focus more on songwriting rather than jamming, since their live side focused on that (oddly, one can easily describe the Who's approach in a similar manner, albeit the line between the live side and studio side is much thinner). I'm not sure what exactly initiated the shift, though I know plenty of the reasons that might have justified their decisions: as of 1968, many rock bands were hopping off the psychedelic bandwagon and onto the return-to-roots one, and as the Dead finally took psychedelia to one of its final original peaks, it was time they too returned to their roots, especially as the band members all had origins in the blues, folk, country, bluegrass, etc. The band's most claimed influence was their good friend David Crosby finally getting back to work after leaving the Byrds by forming Crosby, Stills & Nash, which continued the hippie movement through a more down-to-earth musical prism and sang some of the best harmonies around, enough to show the Dead the genius behind the human voice.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Bob Dylan – Self Portrait

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: THE MIGHTY QUINN (QUINN THE ESKIMO)

If Bob Dylan's goal was to alienate his fanbase, then he did an excellent job with this ol' piece of plastic. I pity Bob circa 1969/1970, actually. Two/three years had passed since his motorcycle accident, and still he couldn't shake off that dirty tag of messiah so many of his fans seemed to bestow upon him: if going from a folk hero to an eclectic rocker to a proto-psychedelic genre-crossing mystique to an 19th century country/folk recluse couldn't do the trick, he was positive something like Nashville Skyline, a more concurrent style of country, would do the trick, and even that failed, so he needed to take drastic measures. Instead of taking another path, he doubled down on the softer voice and more "generic" arrangements as on NS and came out with a double album of the stuff; the trick, this time, is that not only would he do this style, it would be mostly made up of covers.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Procol Harum – Home

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: WHISKEY TRAIN

When your main instrumentalist leaves your band, it's the perfect opportunity for the secondary one to take over, and that's just what happened with Procol Harum when Matthew Fisher packed up his Bach-esque organ flourishes and hit the road (although he briefly worked with the band in the producer's chair). With his and the subsequent departure of bassist David Knights, they needed someone who could supply both instruments, and the cheapest method would be a two-for-one, with ex-Paramounts band member Chris Copping joining in, usually overdubbing one instrument or the other in the studio. With the band being as close to their early '60s Beatles and Stones ripping off incarnation in all but name, it was a perfect opportunity for Robin Trower to steer the helm in the direction of the R&B and guitar rock his powerful guitar playing was intended for.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Deep Purple – Deep Purple in Rock

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: CHILD IN TIME

Alongside Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut, this is not only one of the greatest heavy metal debut albums (if you count this as Deep Purple Mark II's "debut", that is), but one of the greatest heavy metal albums, period. Blackmore and Lord's dream to explore a heavier sound comes true with Ian Gillan at the vocal helm and Roger Glover teaming up with Ian Paice in the rhythm section, and after honing their live act for four months, they went into the studio and cut six ferocious rockers that would later define the heavy metal genre and one epic that transcended it. The major difference between Deep Purple-brand metal with Led Zeppelin-brand metal or even Black Sabbath-brand metal is in the intent; Led Zeppelin had the penchant for bringing out the sexual, the mystical, and the occultist tendencies of the blues to the forefront, while Black Sabbath wanted to make a B-movie horror film equivalent of rock full of shock tactics and sounds to frighten the average Joe and average Jane, but Deep Purple's philosophy was play it fast, play it loud, make it raw, dirty and fun. All three are legitimate interpretations of heavy music, but I can't help but be partial to the last one, since it's easily the most accessible.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Beach Boys – Live in London

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: THEIR HEARTS WERE FULL OF SPRING

Since their commercial suicide in 1967, there weren't nearly as many cash-ins... Actually, scratch that, because it's a serious understatement. There was only one such cash-in until their commercial self-whoring that first began in 1976, the misguided Stack-O-Tracks. Yet while this 1970-released, 1968 live document – coincidentally first released in the US six years later in the "self-whoring" period, under the inaccurate title of Beach Boys '69 – could be accused of being a cash-in, it hardly is that way compared to their live debut. After all, aside from a non-release in the US for a notable time period, who would consider this, a live album with a Brian-less line-up at their most commercially infertile, to be a cash-in? I suppose their popularity in England in the second half of the '60s could account for it, but even Capitol knew they weren't likely to fall for this.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Who – Live at Leeds

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: So many to pick from... I guess SUMMERTIME BLUES is the most "iconic" performance, whatever that might mean

While debates about the best studio albums tend to be much more divisive, such debates on live albums tend to be more civil, as far as I have seen or read: all it takes for a live rock album to be great, as a general rule, is that it presents more energetic performances than the studio versions, that display enough minor twists for them not to be boring straightforward run-throughs, and its sound quality is not on the level of a chewed-up tape recorder playing from inside a washing machine – and as an occasional bonus, great covers of well-known or obscure rock classics, songs written by contemporaries, etc. That's why Live at Leeds can top so many of these lists without too much contention, because in all of its incarnations, it's managed to accomplish everything that a rock live album ought to. So whether you get the 6-song, 38-minute single LP, the 14-song, 73-minute single CD, or the full, double CD show with the Tommy portion on its own disc, you're guaranteed a live album that's among the greatest around. The version I had for the longest time was the double disc, but I also recently got Live at Leeds Complete, supposedly the best quality bootleg around, and indeed, it restores some cut-out jamming, the Tommy portion is significantly better mixed, and it's better to hear it in the proper order. A recent HDTracks release for iTunes follows this version better, but it still has the lengthier jams cut by a minute each for no apparent reason, but it's your best bet on a legitimate full experience of Live at Leeds.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

King Crimson – In the Wake of Poseidon

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: PICTURES OF A CITY

King Crimson had only just started when everything seemingly came to a screeching halt. All but Robert Fripp and Peter Sinfield were left by 1970, yet for their second album, having already started writing music for it in the original line-up, they did manage to drag Greg Lake and Michael Giles back in on a paid-by-session basis, and since Lake only sang for these sessions on all but one track (his future replacement, an old friend of Fripp's, sang on the remaining tune), they also managed to dig out Giles' brother Peter to play bass. There was no way of getting McDonald back, though, so the Mellotron work was taken care of by Fripp himself, and the woodwinds were taken care of by another session man, Mel Collins. And just to fill out the sound, Fripp enlisted Keith Tippett to play piano, but they couldn't get him to join the band full-time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Beatles – Let It Be

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: LET IT BE

Of all of the Beatles' albums, this one's conception was probably the most difficult, and probably longest lasting – long gone were the days of cutting 10 tracks in an entire day's worth of sessions. After a band-within-a-band concept album, a televised mystery tour, a psychedelic cartoon and a monolithic double album sprawl, Paul, in his increasingly industrious – or as his bandmates would say, despotic – ways, felt it was time they get back to their roots. It certainly wasn't a unique idea; everyone was doing it at the time, and there were definite signs of it on the White Album already. The difference is that Paul decided they should pursue this path even further, starting with trying to play as an ensemble, perhaps even with an audience, and playing covers of songs they didn't all the way back in their Hamburg days.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jethro Tull – Benefit

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: WITH YOU THERE TO HELP ME or one of the three best bonus tracks

With the new decade and the rise of progressive music, Jethro Tull decided to try their hand at it, and given the talents displayed in 1969 in handling an artsy synthesis of folk, blues and hard rock, and the addition of a soon-to-be full-time keyboardist in John Evan, it shouldn't have been too difficult. And in many ways, this album is a successful development of the Jethro Tull sound on Stand Up into the sound of subsequent albums, but to me, there's clearly something missing. Sometimes, it's the melodies, with the band being more focused on being experimental or atmospheric than to care about the melodies, which shouldn't have needed to be highly focused on given the ease Ian seemed to come up with hooks on the last album (which future albums would prove was no fluke). Not that there's anything wrong with experiments or atmospheres, but they have to be effective, and it's not always the case. Another key absence is that of diversity: most of the album is moody, mid-tempo, with more or less the same instrumentation and production, which makes some potentially good songs get lost in the mix, makes for a rather dreary listen and negates the fact that they're trying to push the boundaries of music forward. If you can't create boundaries from song to song, how can you create new ones for entire genres?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Paul McCartney – McCartney

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: MAYBE I'M AMAZED

I think it was pretty inevitable that, of all of the Beatles' releases to come out in 1970, Paul McCartney's would face the most scrutiny, mostly due to a media frenzy surrounding what they saw as vehement anti-Beatles sentiment in its preliminary press releases (even if it was nothing more than pointing out McCartney's uncertainty of the Beatles' future and his assumption of at least a hiatus in 1970). The reviews weren't particularly friendly either: when the critics got McCartney, their expectations were set for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band level, and instead what they got was Village Green Preservation Society level, but even less ambitious, so the lambasting was more than expected. Worse, rather than being able to give credit to the album for its surprising humility, it only further enraged them for trying to create an image of a humble, friendly family man the press no longer attributed to Paul.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Elton John – Elton John

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: BORDER SONG, but there's plenty of competition

Whenever an artist names one of his albums after him/herself (or whenever a band names one of their albums after themselves), and it's not a debut album, usually it's supposed to indicate something specific. It can be a stylistic reinvention (the Band's sophomore effort), a creative move to indicate a new era for the band that has "matured" (the Beatles' White Album, I guess Metallica's Black Album), and sometimes, it's simply to disown their previous record/earlier part of their career. Since I affirmed that Empty Sky had plenty of elements that would find their way into classic Elton John material, and it's too early in his career for him to declare his maturation, Elton's self-titled record seems to imply a disownment of his '60s material – unless it's the rare fourth reasoning, an artist's first trans-continental release, which is often grounds for considering something to be a debut, but is rarely grounds to name it after oneself.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stevie Wonder – Live at the Talk of the Town

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER

On to live album number two of 1970, and it's a clear improvement over the first. Maybe the record execs just like the British record buyers better. This time, there are only 11 tracks (12 if you include the band intro, or 10 if you squeeze the two tracks that follow it into one like some editions do), and while more than half of them are repeats, all four of the new tracks are highlights, and there are plenty of reasons why a number of the repeated tracks are improved, even if these improvements are minor. The only complaints I have about this one in regards to its predecessor is that, at times, Stevie's voice cracks in a way that sounds tired and possibly jet-lagged (flights to Europe from North America are always a bitch), but the band are in particularly fine form, making up for whatever minor issues Stevie might have, and the shorter length on a single disc makes for a more prominent sound.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: MACHINE GUN

In between the recording/release of this album and the recording/release of Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix was pretty busy: firing bandmates, writing songs, playing shows, and getting high. As it usually so happens when a year goes by and one of a record label's star artists hasn't released anything in a while, they put pressure on said artist to release something, anything, and usually, a live album does just the trick. So, with his new band – consisting of Billy Cox, who had already replaced Noel Redding before his Woodstock performance, and Buddy Miles, drummer/soul singer/aspiring songwriter – and with the name Band of Gypsys (partially based on a comment Jimi made after announcers mistakenly referred to the line-up at Woodstock as the Experience), they put on a couple of shows New Year's Eve 1969 that finished New Year's Day 1970, to then select an LP's worth for release.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Stevie Wonder – Stevie Wonder Live

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 6
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: BLOWIN' IN THE WIND

You know, I find it quite strange that it took Motown seven years to think it was high time for another live Stevie Wonder album. After all, his debut live release came out at a time where he was still going under the name Little Stevie Wonder, and he sure wasn't little anymore. And while I fret the inexistence of an official live document of Stevie's from his 1972-1976 prime, I can say that 1970 was otherwise a mighty fine choice for Motown, every bit as much in retrospect as in the label's then-financial goals with most of their stars. He had a big number of hits by now, with early 1970 seeing the release of two more big hits, and he was no longer just popular in the States, but in Europe as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Van der Graaf Generator – The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: DARKNESS (11/11) or REFUGEES

To the members of Van der Graaf Generator, The Aerosol Grey Machine wasn't a legitimate debut album, but their first of two albums released in 1970 was. Their reasoning is easy enough to follow: their technical debut began life as a Peter Hammill solo record and it only acquired the group's name due to the end of a contractual dispute, and, retrospectively, this album having been recorded by the core of their classic line-up (Hammill, Banton and Evans joined by woodwind player David Jackson) plus bassist/guitarist Nic Potter (in some ways as much of an integral part of the classic line-up, since he would play on most of the next album, would rejoin at the end of the '70s and played on a handful of Hammill solo albums) adds to the legitimacy of it. It also set their core ideology for future albums far more concretely than Aerosol did: there are but six tracks averaging seven minutes each, and the structures are far more diverse, containing multi-part compositions with loose, sometimes dissonant, jamming in the same track with relative ease.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: BLACK SABBATH

It was a cold day in February: a Friday the 13th, no less. It was clear that something sinister was a-brewing, with an unmistakably evil chill in the air. It otherwise seemed like a perfectly normal day too, but above every record store were storm clouds, pounding rain and thunder hammering the ground around them. After every purchase of one particular album, a loud church bell would be heard ringing in the distance, and by the time these shoppers reached their cars to go back home, they met a tall, faceless figure in black, and it was the last anyone would see of them. The only remains police officers found was a copy of the LP they all purchased... an LP titled Black Sabbath.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Black Sabbath

INTRODUCTION:
As I've probably mentioned countless times before, heavy metal is a tricky subject for me. I'll never outright say in public that I listen to heavy metal, for fear of people assuming I listen to the kind of growling vocals about violent death/one million notes and drum hits per second metal music, and just in general, my interest in the genre from the '80s onward doesn't go far beyond Van Halen as pioneers of otherwise tasteless hair metal, Iron Maiden as pioneers of otherwise pompous power metal and Metallica and Accept as pioneers of otherwise headache-inducing thrash metal (ok, so these are gross exaggerations, but you get my point). On the other hand, bands that were considered heavy metal before the meaning became extremely vague are the ones I like best: early '70s Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and most importantly Black Sabbath.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention – Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: THE LITTLE HOUSE I USED TO LIVE IN

Following the break-up of the original Mothers of Invention and preceding the reformation of the group, with mostly new members and new ideals, Frank needed to fill in a gap, lest the year 1970 go without any albums. The best way for someone as intellectual as Frank to fill such a gap would be with some archival live material; the decision seems pretty much perfect, since the Mothers had a pretty solid live reputation in the late '60s, and there was plenty of material around to use, so you could probably have a dozen or more such releases until Frank was ready to record new, original music. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this only resulted in the release of two archival albums in 1970, but since then there have been other releases, most famously the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series in the late-1980s/early-1990s, but many others have surfaced since.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Doors – Morrison Hotel

Year: 1970
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: ROADHOUSE BLUES or MAGGIE M'GILL

In spite of what could be perceived as a decline after the Doors first two albums, they managed to really end their career on nearly just as solid a note (if you ignore the decent, but inessential post-Morrison albums), even if "hardcore" Doors fans might say that these last two albums lack the true Doors spirit. Of course, for people like these, the Doors spirit can only exist if there's a lengthy epic and exclusively that kind of atmosphere that their first two albums displayed, so albums where the Doors suddenly decided they want to become a roots rock band – mostly in the blues rock vein, but there are elements of folk, country, jazz and funk thrown in for good measure, and there's still some of their patented brand of gothic psychedelia as well – are definitely not up there alley.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Deep Purple – Concerto for Group and Orchestra

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 4
Overall Rating = 8

Best Song: WRING THAT NECK, I guess

Well this is rather disappointing. After Deep Mark Mk. I split, with Rod Evans being replaced by Ian Gillan and Nick Simper "accidentally" being replaced by Roger Glover (see the intro if you haven't read it already), Mk. II of the band should have been ready to conquer the heavy metal world. And certainly, with their flop debut single and their honing of their live show, they were working on it, but something interrupted their progress. As far as I understand, the group were on a cruise ship (probably performing) when their manager overheard Lord's idea/dream of getting the group to play with an orchestra, which instantly intrigued their manager, who got Malcolm Arnold, conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on board and booked the touted Royal Albert Hall, forcing Lord to work straight away on the score for a composition that didn't even exist yet.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: I haven't the slightest idea on how to just pick one

1969 was a very eventful year for the Rolling Stones (well for rock music in general, actually). First there was the firing of Brian Jones, whose drug problems made him unable to fully contribute to the recording process the way he was doing 3 years prior, and made him a liability when touring, as he couldn't get a visa to perform in the US. Then as Mick and Keith tried to work without a second guitarist for a while, they hear about Brian drowning in his own pool, resulting in them picking up ex-John Mayall stringbender Mick Taylor as new lead guitarist full time and for a previously planned show that was transformed into a Brian Jones tribute concert, and only a day after the release of the album recorded during this tumultuous time, the band's infamous Altamont Freeway Concert took place, where the Hell's Angels as security knocked out Jefferson Airplane vocalist Marty Balin cold and killed audience member Meredith Hunter in a moment of extreme confusion, and if memory serves, the pre-planning of the band's attempt at a US West Coast Woodstock was a difficult one too.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Fleetwood Mac – Blues Jam in Chicago, Vol. II

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: HOMEWORK

The main advantage of this second volume of recordings made by Fleetwood Mac at Chess Studios with blues and R&B musicians that backed their biggest idols and blues, R&B and early rock 'n' roll's greatest visionaries is how much more diverse it is: and I don't just mean in terms of tempos or styles of blues that are available (although this one does improve on that aspect a bit), but in the amount of vocal numbers, who takes lead – not just one Peter Green vocal, a handful of Jeremy Spencer vocals and a few Walter Horton vocals, but some Danny Kirwan tunes and vocals from piano player Otis Spann and sax player J.T. Brown, all three of which contribute in songwriting too – and the increased prominence of certain instruments, especially Spann's piano and Willie Dixon on standup bass occasionally substituting for John McVie.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Fleetwood Mac – Blues Jam in Chicago, Vol. I

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: WATCH OUT

Whatever progress was made between Mr. Wonderful and Then Play On, not to mention the singles following the latter, are pretty much gone with these final two LPs featuring Green released while he was still a member; to be fair, though, one of the aforementioned follow-up singles to Then Play On was released in 1970, and the recording sessions that resulted in this first volume and its follow-up were recorded a few months before the earliest sessions of the "official" final Green-era album. You can't really fault these two volumes – here called Blues Jam in Chicago, but also known under the names Blues Jam at Chess or Fleetwood Mac in Chicago – for any sort of regression, because a) the "jamming" implies that there's no seriousness in this, it's just a bunch of musicians playing some of their favourites or riffing around their own ideas and b) the fact that this was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago with a number of blues musicians who often backed Spencer and Green's biggest heroes makes this nothing more than a tribute/collaborative album. If you wouldn't fault Bo Diddley for recording an album with Muddy Waters and Little Walter for that purpose (and I don't), why should Fleetwood Mac get all the blame?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Jefferson Airplane – Volunteers

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: WOODEN SHIPS

Of all of Jefferson Airplane's albums, this one is probably the most dated of all; no one every throws accusations of datedness to their debut, and while Pillow and Creation are easily identifiable for their time period, the former is mostly apolitical and managed to be the quintessence of its year of release despite having been recorded the previous year, and the latter's political ambitions aren't particularly specific, or at least are subtle when it comes to political orientation. Yeah, Baxter's is pretty dated, but it spends most of its time being stoned out and playful, which kind of fits with the re-emergence of drug culture. This one, though, is heavily influenced by fear of the Vietnam War, and the band's own political leanings of some sort of ecological/farming-based/anarcho-communist ideology is one that could only make sense in the '60s, and there are plenty of people who simply can't get into the music of the album because of the lyrics and ideas.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Moody Blues – To Our Children's Children's Children

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: GYPSY (OF A STRANGE AND DISTANT TIME) or CANDLE OF LIFE

While you can find a Moody Blues fan that will consider any one of the Core Seven albums (1967-1972) to be their best – well, I've yet to read glowing reviews of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, but that's the only major exception I can think of – the two most common are Days of Future Passed and To Our Children's Children's Children. While today I consider them to be pretty much on par, with me slightly leaning more towards the former for its incredible innovative qualities, there once was a time I considered it to be the weakest of their 1960s releases (bar their debut, of course). I'm not sure quite what it was that made me think that; it's no more or less conceptual than the previous ones and the songwriting proportions are far more equally distributed than any of them in two years, and certainly production-wise it's one of their best sounding efforts.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Grateful Dead – Live/Dead

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: DEATH STAR

On Live/Dead – and what a "clever" title, too, as captured by the front and back covers with the pleasant but not excessively psychedelic art – the Grateful Dead did what they should have already done to prove they were at the forefront of the acid rock movement: it's not heavily experimental mixing of their ordinary roots rock compositions or by mixing portions of such studio recordings interspersed with brief recordings of their live jams that would do the trick, but a full, honest-to-goodness live album befitting their reputation. And just as their future live albums would be, this one's a double, ordinarily the minimum they were willing to spring for in the live context. Whatever the case is, this album serves as a turning point: acidity should be reserved for the stage and the live album, with only their rootsy charm remaining for their studio albums, which helps for a consistently strong trio of albums ending their first decade and starting the next one.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

David Bowie – Space Oddity

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 10

Best Song: SPACE ODDITY

In a way, David Bowie's second LP is every bit his debut as his first one was. It most probably was intended to be that way, given that, after two years of inexistence since his actual debut, this LP would see the light of day as another self-titled release – not that this always implies some sort of reinvention, but we're not talking about Peter Gabriel's first four albums here. Of course, in the States they needed a new title (maybe they hoped to sell more if no one knew this "hack" that released the last David Bowie album was involved), coming up with Man of Words/Man of Music, but since 1972, when the song "Space Oddity" became a hit upon re-release coinciding with David Bowie's rise to fame thanks to his Ziggy Stardust character and rock opera, the album adopted that very name, and that's how it will be known as from now on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: DOWN ON THE CORNER or FORTUNATE SON

The American music press really wanted an American album to be worthy of the title of their very own Sgt. Pepper; I don't think they really meant sound-wise, because otherwise Pet Sounds could most definitely apply. Besides, that one isn't very American. There's plenty of Bacharach influence, sure, but he doesn't necessarily represent the quintessence of American culture. My pick probably would have been the Band's self-titled album, although I can understand why it would be inaccessible in that sense due to the substantial academic flavour. So it took our favourite Californians masquerading as Southerners (as opposed to our favourite Canadians masquerading as Southerners) to come up with Willy and the Poor Boys and claim the title of American Sgt. Pepper.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pink Floyd – Ummagumma

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE

If you think Piper at the Gates of Dawn is weird, it just means you haven't heard this album yet (and even its title is bizarre; supposedly it's a slang term for sex "created" by one of the band's friend and roadie). Basically, it's a double album with one live disc and one studio disc, but don't go confusing this for Cream's Wheels of Fire: the four live tracks, recorded in Birmingham and Manchester, may be lengthy, but this isn't heavy blues rock jamming, but groovy, surreal space rock, and the studio disc has each member contribute and play his own composition, most of which are in the weird avant-garde experiment genre. As you can tell by my tone, I far prefer the live side, and it's what brings the rating up so high. The live disc on its own would be a strong 12/low 13 whilst the studio one would be a solid 9 (i.e., something that peaks my curiosity but doesn't really grab me as an album).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: WHAT IS AND WHAT SHOULD NEVER BE

Led Zeppelin's sophomore effort – can the latter of two LPs released in the same year be called "sophomore"? – somehow managed to improve upon the formula of their debut and yet make it more noticeably formulaic. On one hand, the explicit blues rip-offs are basically condensed to about 10 minutes of music, otherwise they're more implicit for another five, and the folk influence spreads out to a little under 10 minutes. On the other hand, the rip-offs were the basis of their talent; rearranging rather than composing. Add to that the pressures of constant touring on Robert Plant's vocal cords, an uneven mix from inconsistent recording conditions (i.e. recording at whatever studio was available on tour) and a general lack of fully fleshed material, which was mostly pulled from the lengthy jams of their first LP's compositions/covers.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Kinks – Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: SHANGRI-LA

As much as I love Village Green Preservation Society, this album pretty much beats it for me. In fact, if I had heard this album first, I'm not sure they would both get a 15. Even if this album wasn't a big success, it was a definite step in the right direction in combining accessibility with Ray's artistic vision; it was good timing too, since the band's ban in the United States was soon to be lifted. Anyways, as the title of the album implies, there's not just one concept, but two thanks to the contrasting parenthetical subtitle. The original intent was for the album to be a soundtrack to a TV film, and while that secondary project fell through the cracks, the album manages to keep that film-like vibe without sounding filler-ish. As a matter of fact, I would say there's not a single filler track amongst the album's twelve. Like I did with the Who's Tommy, the year's other major story-based album with a titular character, I'll go through the songs one by one to describe anything of musical interest and how the different tracks fit with the concept.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN

The common stereotype is that, from the beginning, Robert Fripp was an eccentric dictator, but with two of King Crimson's first album's tracks being exclusively credited to two other members and the remaining three being credited to the band as a whole, I hardly think that's a plausible argument. His despotism was a gradually acquired one, one that can only be witnessed by going through Crimson's catalogue. And as a whole, In the Court of the Crimson King is a clear group effort. Yes, Fripp's guitar, which alternates between soft, jazzy beauty and pure blissful, raucous noise, is one of its pillars, but so are Ian McDonald's complex layers of Mellotron overdubs and his counterpoint saxes and flutes, Greg Lake's full bass sound and even fuller, quasi-operatic vocals, Michael Giles' tight, acrobatic drumming and Peter Sinfield's most certainly pretentious, but also quite unique lyrics. To put it short, everyone involved made this the early pinnacle of progressive rock it's so frequently praised to be.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Giles, Giles & Fripp – The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp

Year: 1968
Record Rating = 7
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: ONE IN A MILLION

I don't know if you ever tried this, but writing out the tracklisting to this album is a long task. Upon first glance, such a tracklisting would be absolutely frightening: the original album has 22 of these buggers, and the CD reissue has six bonus tracks. Of course, amongst the original 22, only 13 are actual songs. The remaining 9 are portions of two sketches very much in the style of Monty Python's Flying Circus, or its troop members' earlier activities, most likely, and whatever your opinion on them is, they do make an amusing complement to the actual music, all silly and vaudeville-y like the Kinks and 1966-67 Rolling Stones, though most importantly like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who were musical backers of one pre-Monty Python show. Did I mention that all three members of the band would go on to be in King Crimson?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

King Crimson

INTRODUCTION:
Although King Crimson are one of the pioneering progressive rock acts – up there with the Nice, who are probably the "first" progsters thanks to their 1967 debut – they seemed to somehow evade the biggest criticism/problem of the majority of progressive rock groups, both the innovative (Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant) and highly derivative (Styx, Kansas, Marillion). Despite the (highly talented) individuals' love of improvisation, jazz and classical leanings and dismissal of song structures they deemed "inferior", it's hard to consider their most ambitious efforts pretentious in the way you might consider Yes and Van der Graaf Generator's fantasist tendencies or Peter Gabriel of Genesis' elaborate costumes as such. My best proposal as to why this might be is simply that, for King Crimson, the lyrics never meant that much (even when Peter Sinfield was an official member of the group as lyricist), and the focus was always on the music, so unlike their peers, there was no illusion of the group being a higher power as spokesmen for some grand political statement or message. King Crimson were, in fact, the most no-bullshit prog rock act ever.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Frank Zappa – Hot Rats

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 13

Best Song: I don't know... maybe THE GUMBO VARIATIONS

Probably due to their financial issues, Frank Zappa decided to split up the Mothers – only to revive the name, but with few of the same people, the next year, but I can suppose at the time it was meant to be a permanent decision – and released his second solo album, which in my opinion is his second best record of the 1960s, and a close second at that. The album is surprisingly simple to sum up: six tracks, ranging from 3 minutes to 17 (actually that lengthiest track was edited down to 12 or 13 for the vinyl edition, but CD reissues restored the rest), stylistically in the ballpark of Zappa's newfound love/co-creation, jazz fusion. Actually, calling it jazz fusion, while not inaccurate, doesn't begin to cover the whole story. In these six tracks – I can't quite call them compositions, since only one was probably composed, the rest had a basic melody composed and lots of jamming – there's certainly elements of jazz and rock, but there's also classical, folk, funk bordering on proto-disco, Italian music, you name it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Van der Graaf Generator – The Aerosol Grey Machine

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 8
Overall Rating = 11

Best Song: AFTERWARDS

Van der Graaf Generator are rarely seen as among prog's main pioneers, and yet their debut album was right up there at the forefront, only a month or so before King Crimson's debut and a coupe of years after the Nice's proto-prog and the Moody Blues' and Procol Harum's pioneering art rock efforts. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this LP began life as a Peter Hammill solo album since the rest of the band were having contractual issues with the record company and all, which I sort of guess is irrelevant to its long run reputation. Suffice to say, this ought to be just as well regarded as the Nice's first couple of albums in the world of pre-Crimson progressive rock. At the very least, it's a more accessible early prog offering than Keith Emerson's group, and it's definitely more accessible than Van der Graaf's "classic" period. Of course, it helps that, since it began as a Hammill album, he has a far more central role than on their more jamming-oriented LPs, so it has the singer-songwriter prog flare of his official solo albums, and given the time period, it also has a late '60s psychedelic influence, spanning both sides of the Atlantic, with touches of early Soft Machine and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd especially, although it's every bit as influential as influence-filled; indeed, signs of David Bowie's early rambling style and Black Sabbath minus the cool guitar tones can be found on this LP.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Van der Graaf Generator

INTRODUCTION:
Theatricality and progressive rock are no strange bedfellows. Certainly guys like ELP – whose Keith Emerson was known for gouging knives into his Hammond organ – and Genesis – whose Peter Gabriel donned a multitude of elaborate costumes suiting the whimsical characters in his compositions – can tell you as much. And yet, for those who consider themselves progressive rock aficionados aren't all that fond of the theatrics, far preferring them for their complex compositions, impenetrable atmospheres and consummate musicianship. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that amongst some hardcore prog fanatics and in prog-friendly circles (the kinds to extol the virtues of the lesser-knowns to the general public like Gentle Giant), guys like Van der Graaf Generator are dismissed as bloated, substance-less knock-offs – sometimes emphasized by the origins of their name; who names themselves after an electromagnetic generator anyhow? – of the real good stuff, where the theatricality isn't just one element, but the very foundation as to what makes the band work, at least at their peak.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Beatles – Abbey Road

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 15

Best Song: Pick one at random… it might be it

For all intents and purposes, I've always considered Abbey Road to have been the Beatles' last album, whilst Let It Be was nothing more than a – strong, mind you – afterthought. There is some foundation to that belief, though; the genesis of Let It Be stemmed back to Paul's Get Back project, which true to its word was meant to bring the Beatles back to their roots, with covers and live rehearsals and perhaps touring again, that ultimately led to irreconcilable differences that, against all odds, would be reconciled, but not around that project, but a completely brand new one that was probably the first planned swan-song (and off the top of my head, there are relatively few of these). In other words, despite how much they all hated each other, they planned something so that they could really go out with a bang.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Band – The Band

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 10
Overall Rating = 14

Best Song: KING HARVEST (HAS SURELY COME) or anything off side one

It seems pretty clear to me, and it's a common belief anyhow, that with their eponymous sophomore LP, the Band were reinventing themselves. Much like Bob Dylan with John Wesley Harding, this reinvention required a full embracement of their roots, and indeed, this is so very much the quintessential roots rock album it almost seems clichéd. And yet somehow it isn't. While I very, very marginally prefer their debut – what with all the incidental quasi-art rock trappings – it's easy to see why this is often considered the Band's absolute peak. As a playing unit, these guys are at their tightest on this record, so much so it's almost unbelievable this was recorded almost overdub-free, and speaking of overdubs, the diversity in instrumentation usually expected from such a recording technique, all in the "creative" roots rock vein, makes for a terrific listen even strictly instrumentally speaking. And in terms of songwriting, Robbie Robertson's despotic acquisition of that task most of the time (he's credited on every track, and only on four are there official co-write credits by one other, usually Richard Manuel) is akin to Paul McCartney becoming the ideological focus of the Beatles: "focus" becomes a keyword indeed, and while his peers might bitch, you really see him at his most creative, with his Dixies, and Cripple creeks, and pines and other Americana topics on the lyrical side, and various creative ideas on the structural side.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Fleetwood Mac – Then Play On

Year: 1969
Record Rating = 9
Overall Rating = 12

Best Song: RATTLESNAKE SHAKE (or one of the bonus tracks...)

Peter Green's third and final album with Fleetwood Mac was an unfortunate farewell to the band's unofficial leader – a title he refused even then, always insisting people not call the group Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac as they did and still do – but fortunately, it remains the peak of the first era of the group, although perhaps something better waited in the crevices of their minds. A shift in power had already begun in the singles preceding the album's recording; with Danny Kirwan's group Boilerhouse splitting up, and Green's inability to find suitable replacements for its rhythm section, he recruited Kirwan as a full-time third guitarist, and this was a wise choice indeed. After all, Spencer rarely played on Green's tracks, so when he needed a second guitarist, or slide guitar, he would have to do it himself. So, complementing Green's precise, emotional blueswailing was Kirwan's intricate guitar playing that fused fingerpicked jazz and country technique with classical guitar stylistics and of course, the blues. With that being said, it was clear that there was no chance of the ensuing album being straight-ahead blues like their first two albums, but rather a unique deviation of standard blues patterns that the preceding compilation showed on Green and Kirwan's numbers.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Odds & Sods #37

George Thorogood & the Destroyers (1977)
***

Given my strong preference for late '60s/early '70s heavy blues rock – especially the British bands in that employ like the Rolling Stones, Faces and Humble Pie – then George Thorogood's music should be a no-brainer for me; after all, he and the aforementioned British groups were all influenced by the same blues and rock greats like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley and the like, not to mention they all used gritty guitar tones befitting their newer era. And yet, while the Stones are one of my favorite bands of all time, and the other two British bands have a handful of albums I consider favourites in the genre, I can't say the same for George and his Destroyers, at least not when it comes to their debut.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Odds & Sods #36

Up, Up and Away (1967)
**1/2

While the Fifth Dimension are somewhat known for being a Sunshine pop group – a combination of psychedelic idealism and non-acidic elements of the psychedelic music genre with Motown-esque soul-pop – thanks to hits like "The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", their debut is a bit different. The group – as the name suggests, composed of five members, singers Billy Davis Jr., Marilyn McCoo (the two forming the group's "power couple"), Florence LaRue, Lamonte McLemore and Ron Townson – fancied themselves under their own genre title, "Champagne soul", which as the title suggests has plenty of soul, R&B and consequently gospel influence, as well as Broadway show tunes, traditional pop (i.e. Sinatra-crooning) and light opera. Clearly this was a more pretentious musical model to base oneself on, and while it's definitely not the main reason I look down on their first LP compared to their later, more popular ones, it would help if the material was more consistent.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Odds & Sods #35

The Electric Prunes (1967)
***1/2

A fairly probable first impression about the Electric Prunes is that, like a good number of groups at the time, were nothing but a garage one-hit wonder with little else going for them but one catchy hit under their belt. Aside from the fact that the Prunes actually had two fairly successful singles (the first hit and its fairly well-received follow-up), I would actually say they were one of the better garage rock groups of the epoch. At the very least, their debut LP is fairly solid, perhaps because the members of the group themselves weren't the main songwriters on here; thanks to the successes of their second and third singles, hired songwriter Annette Tucker (and either one of two co-writers) got to contribute 5 more songs (eight in total with the singles and one of the two b-sides), and the rest of the tracklisting consisted of two covers (not sure whether the group chose them or not), leaving only two songs to be contributed by vocalist/rhythm guitarist/harmonica player Jim Lowe and bassist/keyboardist Mark Tulin. In that regard, the Prunes were sort of like the Monkees of garage rock; their originals do show talent, but their consistency comes from the fact that there's a balance between covers, outside songwriters and such originals.