My music reviews for music originally released in 1972.
1. Miles Davis: On the Corner (10/10)
Along with Kind of Blue this just seems to stand outside of time itself. It’s just insane. I cannot put it into words.
1. The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St. (10/10)
There’s this idea that The Beatles “killed” rock and roll. It’s absurd, given their early recordings, but the idea is that they professionalized it, and they added ambition and pretension and, to the eyes of some, these things are not just bad but antithetical to the very idea of rock and roll. But though the Stones flirted briefly with that kind of ambition 1966 and 1967 they abandoned it pretty quickly, and were back “simpler” music pretty quickly. They charted a different course in those years, a course that melded rock and roll/rhythm and blues with country, blues, gospel and other things. A few other bands went a similar direction as the Stones around this time, but arguably nobody did what they did better. This album is the culmination of that period.
I think most people likely get into the Stones through their string of hit singles. If you do push beyond Hot Rocks, you likely find your way to Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, and Sticky Fingers, and maybe you find your way to their late ’70s and early ’80s stuff, which saw them back on the charts for the first time in a while. But it takes a while to get to Exile.
I think that’s for two reasons: for one, there are no truly big songs on it, as far as most people are concerned. No hits here (relatively speaking). The other reason is that this is like the holy grail for Stones fans and there’s kind of this weird sense that only real Stones fans are allowed to listen to this. This is the album you listen to after you know you’re a Stones fan, or something like that. At least that’s how it was for me. That’s how I came to this, after years (decades) of knowing the Stones’ biggest songs and hearing of this record in only hushed whispers of music critics and people older than me.
Whether or not The Beatles did anything negative to the genre of rock and roll, they pretty much abandoned it between 1966 and 1969 with a few exceptions – it basically became one of the many, many things they were good at, and liked playing. But The Stones progressed down some path where they seemed to get closer and closer to what rock and roll is supposed to be. On the previous studio albums, there are a bunch of different genres sandwiched together but, though those albums are great, they do feel like these genres are distinct.
Exile is different. Though it is ostensibly four sides representing four genres, it’s really four LP sides representing four sides of rock and roll. Everything is murky, gritty and blends together. It’s as if they’ve captured the essence of a genre on vinyl. Though the genre had existed for at least 20 years prior to this record, no record I’ve ever heard has better encapsulated what I mean when I say the words “rock and roll.” It is the single greatest “rock and roll” album ever, as well as the best Stones record and one of the great records of its decade. Never before or since did the stars align just enough to capture everything good and bad about the Stones at their peak in one hour and seven minutes.
If you listen to one “rock and roll” album in your life, make it this one.
3. Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick (10/10)
I am not entirely sure how successful Thick as a Brick is as a parody or satire of other concept albums. Sure, the author of the lyrics is a decent joke, but the thing about parody is you have to let the audience in on the joke. And Anderson sings these lyrics so sincerely that it’s hard to know that he’s mocking. It’s also hard to know who he’s mocking, given that he does not appear to target a particular band or author (to my knowledge) with this “poem.”
But none of that matters: this is Jethro Tull’s best album, their most consistent musically and probably the best “LP as song” in the history of rock music. There’s no other record of theirs where Anderson’s penchant for melody meshes so well with the band’s muscle and his pseudo-profound lyrics can be enjoyed here because we know he’s not serious (so we don’t have to worry about what he means).
There is only one flaw with the record and it’s not their fault: technology wouldn’t let them record in one go. I would have played straight through and just cut the thing in half. The fade between the two tracks is not only the most boring part of the album but also clearly unnatural as the suite takes its own break slightly after the fade out and in.
Still, a masterpiece and one of the essential prog rock albums even if it’s a joke.
4. David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (10/10)
Bowie’s most famous and iconic album finds him at his glammiest and perhaps the closest he ever got to achieving his famed “future nostalgia” aesthetic. Bowie and band combine a super vague story of a sexually ambiguous rock star, 5 years before the end of the world, with music that is basically just a louder, rawer version of traditional rock. It’s basically the platonic ideal of glam rock, with stronger songs than just about every other glam rock band/artist. In another way, it’s like what the New York Dolls were doing at the same time in, um, New York, but with none of the camp, the utmost seriousness – no tongue in cheek here – and a lot more intelligence (for better or ill) and record production.
But, as a David Bowie fan, this is not my favourite album by a long shot. The songs are not as good as Hunky Dory or Aladdin Sane (or on some later albums) and the album does not feel as daring as the music he was making in the late ’70s. In some ways Ziggy may be near perfect, but it’s somehow not as good as like 6 other Bowie albums (Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station; much of The Berlin Trilogy and Scary Monsters).
I guess it deserves full marks, but only because of how enduring it is culturally.
5. Genesis: Foxtrot (10/10)
This is the record on which Genesis finally added some muscle to their sort of poppy, sort of folky prog thing. Sure, they had started getting louder but here, at long last, they “rock” in the classic sense of the word.
So now you’ve got their crazy rhythms mixed in with an actual power that is missing in a fair amount of prog rock, allowing the whimsy to be, well, less whimsical. Even the ballad feels like it has more of an edge. Which is good.
The songs are pretty strong too; despite their complicated rhythms, the melodies are really strong (and there are a lot of melodic elements, never a problem with this band). And the lyrics are mostly above average for prog rock.
It would already be Genesis’ best album to date if it was just the music on the first side plus some other tracks (though I don’t know what those would have been). But what elevates this record to among the very, very best prog rock albums ever is “Supper’s Ready.”
Since 1970 (perhaps earlier), prog rock bands had been exploring the idea of side-long suites, essentially 20+ minute songs. There had already been a slew of them before Genesis attempted theirs (and there was even an album-long one, courtesy of Jethro Tull) but,to me, Genesis’ attempt is the best to date, and possibly the very best ever.
“Supper’s Ready” manages to achieve everything you would want in a suite as long as it is: there are strong melodies in the individual sections, with call backs to the main theme (and there might be some melodic relationships as well, though I am no musician) and there is a real sense of forward momentum, culminating in the awesome climax of “Apocalypse in 9/8” which, if you concentrate too hard on, will turn your stomach into knots. There is a story to the suite as well. Maybe it’s somewhat incomprehensible, but at least it’s a story and not just a bunch of different ideas strung together. “Supper’s Ready” is the band’s finest moment outside of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and one of the essential prog tracks. And it makes this record Genesis’ second best and an absolute classic of the genre.
6. Keith Jarrett: Facing You (10/10)
I don’t know if this is Jarrett’s first “spontaneously composed” solo piano record, but it sure sounds like it to my ears (even though it’s not live). Putting aside Jarrett’s claims about his process, I’ve always found his solo piano recordings of this type to be rather incredible. He manages to skirt between extremely inventive playing and simple, easy melodies – some that sound piratically new agey or, in the case of the opening track, that sound stolen from a Christmas Carol. If Jarrett wasn’t so damned talented, this would be a bad thing. But he is such a creative, beautiful player that you’re overwhelmed both by the beauty and the invention.
An essential record.
7. Yes: Close to the Edge (10/10)
I have never loved Yes the way I once loved Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Pink Floyd or even ELP. (Shock! Horror! In my defense, the ELP infatuation did not last very long.) I have never quite been able to identify specifically what it was about Yes that I liked less than the other “Big 6” prog bands, but I only found myself thinking “I like this, but I should love it and I don’t.”
My prog obsession has abated considerably since I first discovered the genre nearly 20 years ago, and I find that what I once loved I only sometimes love now. (Sometimes I like it, sometimes I’m embarrassed.) But, during that time a funny thing has happened: I like Yes (or, at least, peak Yes) more than I used to. And this album is the central part of that.
This is, for me, the greatest expression of Yes’ sound and their masterpiece. It’s got all the things I like about Yes with little of the stuff I don’t (though a little bit, for sure, see “And You and I”).
This is a ballsy record, featuring only three tracks in 37 minutes. But all three of those tracks are memorable, catchy (for prog) and full of pretty incredible musicianship. Two of them begin with parts that are aggressively difficult, to the point at which it’s hard to imagine a popular band such as this getting away with deliberating alienating intros to very, very long “songs.” But the songs succeed in spite or because of this. And even the sappy ballad is rendered not sappy by how aggressively difficult much of it is.
My favourite Yes album. Their best album. The only one to listen to if you’re just investigating prog rock now.
8. Can: Ege Bamyasi (10/10)
I haven’t listened to Tago Mago in so long that I have sometimes just remembering how different this record is. And, though Future Days was my first Can love, I haven’t listened to that record in so long either, once again making it hard to remember how much different the two records are despite some obvious similarities. Really, what I am trying to say is that when I sat down to write this I realized I haven’t listened to this band in long enough to put together some coherent thoughts.
Though all three records are essential, sometimes it’s this one that I think I would recommend to someone wondering what Krautrock was all about it. I manages to capture the spirit of the band so well: the repetitiveness, the weirdness that seems to fly into the track and then leave, the bizarre (for their time) vocals, etc. As said by many before, when young people heard this record they had no idea what to make of it, because it sounds so different from so much of the music being made in the world at the time.
And, on top of all that, it’s actually surprisingly catchy for such radical music (at least much of the time).
9. Klaus Schulze: Irrlicht (10/10)
Probably one of the most important electronic albums of the 1970s. Read the review.
10. Gentle Giant: Octopus (10/10)
This is probably the best album that Gentle Giant, the most proggy of the first wave of prog bands, ever made. I usually waiver between this and Acquiring the Taste (as I suspect most fans do). Octopus contains some of their most daring music but has enough melody to overcome the typical jarring changes in tempo and the riffs that are way too long. It also has perhaps their most direct (and cheesiest) ballad, which is not something most of the other records boast.
I’ve always found that it’s their really, really traditional singing which is the biggest barrier to entry for most people, and this record is no different. But it’s the way they combine that singing with all their other musical ideas that feels more organic on this record (particularly on “Knots”).
This remains a band that is absolutely not for everyone but if you are going to give them a try, this is probably the record to listen to.
11. Nick Drake: Pink Moon (10/10)
As close to a perfect singer-songwriter record as exists from the 70s in my mind – brief but brittle and raw in a way that so little singer-songwriter stuff was in the 70s. Basically, if you listen to one Nick Drake album, it’s this one.
12. Roxy Music (9/10)
On their debut, Roxy Music appear to have stumbled upon a unique take on art rock: it’s borderline prog at times but Ferry’s songs and croon are just way too rooted in popular music conventions – whether they subtly overturn them or not – for this to be mistaken as King Crimson or some Canterbury Scene band or what have you.
On the other hand, the artiness is in full assault: Eno, Mackay and Manzanera are all really trying to impress upon you how much they like avant garde jazz and other esoteric things like that.
It’s a unique fusion of ideas that not only cannot be mistaken for the prog rock of the era, but also isn’t The Doors or David Bowie or any of the art rock that came before. It’s very much its own, new thing, and it’s fantastic.
13. Little Feat: Sailin’ Shoes (9/10)
Whether or not this is Little Feat’s best record it is my favourite. It’s the first record where they adopted their patented genre-hopping, and it’s a great set of quirky (and not so quirky) songs from George (and Payne). “Texas Rose Cafe” is my favourite thing here, as nothing better encapsulates the band’s musical abilities and George’s bizarre, sometimes borderline avant garde approach to songwriting. But the songs are all strong, the performances are on (as you would expect from a band famed for their playing abilities) and just about everything is note perfect.
14. Lou Reed: Transformer (9/10)
Despite being a rather big fan of Reed, I have still never heard his debut solo album. But I have heard a number of Velvets demos that formed the basis for many of the songs. Listening to these demos there is one utterly unmistakable influence, an influence that was every well hidden with the Velvet Underground, and that is Bob Dylan. sometimes Reed seems to be aping nearly everything about him, except for the particular lyrical style. My assumption has always been that his debut failed in part because the Dylan-worship of the demos made it to the finished product. I have no idea whether or not that’s true but I like to think so, because it makes Transformer necessary for Reed’s artistic development, rather than the weird anomaly it is.
When people talk about this album, they often use the term “glam makeover” and when you listen to it, it really feels correct. Ronson and Bowie really do makeover Reed in the image of a UK glam rock artist. You can listen to any other Reed album and you will not hear a record like this. That’s a bad thing in some ways, I guess, especially if it’s the first Lou Reed album you ever hear (as it might be the last you ever like).
But I’m not convinced it’s a bad thing. Mick Ronson is a talented musician and a tasteful arranger. He (and Flowers on one song) has found settings that work for these songs, even if they are far from the originals or may not be close enough to the Velvet Underground for your liking.
And I’m not sure Bowie and Ronson’s role as editors can be underestimated. If there’s one thing that has caused the inconsistency in Reed’s solo career it’s his willingness to put bad shit on his albums. Sometimes he even reveled in it. But here only has good songs; among his very, very best sets of songs, actually. And I can’t help but think that David Bowie had something to do with that.
Sure, this record sounds way more like David Bowie and Mick Ronson’s idea of a singer-songwriter than Lou Reed’s. And there’s nothing else like it in Reed’s catalogue. But it’s still a great record. So great, in fact, that I would rank it his second or third best of his entire career.
15. Joni Mitchell: For the Roses (9/10)
Arguably nearly as strong a set of songs as Blue but more daring musically than her most famous record, this is one of the Joni Mitchell records that seems to get ignored more than it should. When I look back at my own initial thoughts, I find myself not rating it as highly as those records which bookend it and I’m not sure why.
The songs, as I said, as pretty damn strong. It’s among her strongest collections, I think.
And the arrangements feel braver than previous records. Yes, the previous records had the odd arrangement that was out there for a singer-songwriter but there weird things start popping up: more woodwinds than ever, a guitar that sounds a lot more like a synthesizer, and her usual idiosyncratic guitar playing.
The tendency is to say that Blue is better. I haven’t sat down and listened to both of them back-to-back in a long enough time but this one feels a little braver, even if it’s less consistent (perhaps).
16. Uriah Heap: Demons and Wizards (9/10)
Sometime in the mists of time, I wrote this:
Just a fantastically cheesy and ridiculous old school British metal album. Every song is good, but the standouts gotta be “Circle of Hands” and the final two-parter “Paradise/The Spell” which actually manages to swing (I don’t even know how that’s possible!). You can tell that the evil hair metal bands of the 80s listened to bands like Uriah Heap WAY too much. But here it’s fresh and just pure awesomeness. The lead guitarist (I forget his name at the moment) has a pretty cool style too. Anyway, it’s so much fun. Definitely rather listen to this than most of the “cheese” that people usually revive from the ’70s (ex: disco).
And then, because I didn’t realize I’d written that review, I wrote this:
For the most part, I have a hard time with the most fantasy-obsessed metal – I find the lyrics ridiculous, I often find the music ridiculous as well, and I think the genre was pretty much ended before it truly began, with “Stonehenge.” After watching or listening to “Stonehenge,” I’m not sure you can ever really take “fantasy” metal seriously any more. It’s not good when a band sounds like another band satirizing something.
But none of that applies to this record. I’m not sure why – I guess, partly, it’s because this is old – but where normally cheesiness is repulsive to me, here it is wonderful. This may be my personal favourite “cheesy rock record” – it’s got the songs (all of which are strong in their ridiculously cheesy way), it’s got the musicianship (even if these guys are cheesy, they’re talented musicians) and it’s got some absolutely classic, albeit cheesy, moments, which feel like they are monumental in the development of fantasy metal: other people heard this record and decided they wanted to make music like this (for good or ill).
I can listen to this thing over and over and over again and never get tired.
17. Neu! (8/10)
Less consistent than CAN, more consistent – and, arguably, more daring – than Faust. Read the review.
18. Faust So Far (8/10)
Once I could only describe this record as “Unbelievably zany.” In the intervening years I still have never heard any other one of their records, so I’m not sure what to say exactly.
Faust combines the motorik of Krautrock (or, perhaps a primitive version thereof stolen from the Velvet Underground) with a more zany, a more absurdist bent than their contemporaries. Though there are similarities between this version of Faust and, for example CAN, both in the pulsating music and how instruments and noises sometimes fly into and out of the mix, this band, and particularly this band’s lyrics, stand out with their deliberately difficult, borderline-amateurish approach. There is a definite feel of anti-professionalism without much precedence popular music. (Sure, there were amateurs, but these guys can play but choose to play primitively.) Much like Neu it at times feels like this music is a predecessor to punk as much as it is to art rock.
But unlike CAN and most of the other Krautrock bands of the era, this record is a lot more stylistically diverse. What should be a strength is a weakness, as the record is pretty inconsistent from song to song.
Still, you are never going to hear anything else like it.
19. Van Morrison: Saint Dominic’s Preview (8/10)
When Morrison is on he is like few other performers and songwriters – he creates this seemingly effortless blend of so many things that we never would have expected would go together and he makes it all sound organic, as if his genre-blending was the most normal (and obvious) thing in the world.
This is one of those records. This isn’t his best set of songs, by any means, but the performances are so great that it doesn’t matter that he didn’t necessarily write enough strong material. When I listen to a record like this I always wonder why it took me so long to give this guy his due. (Too much “Brown Eyed Girl” is probably the reason.) He’s just incredible.
20. David Ackles: American Gothic (8/10)
Ackles has a really idiosyncratic style, combining the confessional storytelling of other songwriters of his era with a huge does of musical theatre, particularly cabaret and American musicals, with borderline novelistic lyrics. It’s a weird amalgam that mostly doesn’t just work but wows.
Some of Ackles’ songs are really impressive – rather, I should say that some parts of some of Ackles songs are really impressive, among some of the best I’ve ever heard. I feel like I never quite love any of the songs; I’ll mostly love one and then a particular line, or particular delivery will make me reconsider.
It’s not just Ackles’ songs that are near-great but not quite great; it’s his delivery and performance. At times, Ackles really does think he’s in some kind of terrible lounge or something. (A few times he reminds me of Burton Cummings at his lounge singer worst.)
I don’t think I blame Ackles entirely. I think I at least partially blame Taupin, who likely didn’t have enough experience producing records to guide Ackles to his best.
But all of this is nitpicking what is otherwise a pretty great record featuring strong songs, an utterly unique approach to songwriting and a fierce committing to a particular stylistic approach out of step with the time.
It’s not the lost masterpiece many claim, but it’s not that far off.
21. Manassas (8/10)
When I was young I used to regard this as some kind of lost masterpiece that only I (and music critics) knew about, arguing it was like the country rock Exile or something foolish like that. (Foolish both because it’s not and because Exile didn’t exist yet.)
The older I get, the less I can handle Stills’ sheer self-righteousness and overall self-absorption. I also don’t think he’s a great songwriter.
But this band makes me able to ignore the lyrics I don’t like – they really are solid (even if the band itself is not the same throughout the record).
And even if this isn’t some long lost masterpiece, it’s still a pretty great record featuring great musicianship, genre-bending and some decent songs.
22. WAR: The World is a Ghetto (8/10)
Great stuff. Read the review.
23. Oliver Knussen: Choral (8/10)
For a piece titled Choral, this opens with music that is the furthest thing I can think of from choral music. And it continues that way until it builds to its impressive climax. I am not sure what Knussen’s goal is here and I think having some kind of explanation from the composer would help me understand why a piece like this has such a confusing name. That being said, I like the music. A lot. It is an early sign of Knussen’s particular genius for conjuring images. (Not the image of a choir, mind you.)
24. “Euntes Ibant et Flebant” by Heryk Gorecki (8/10)
The “Euntes Ibant et Flebant” is quite subtle by comparison with his other religious choral music, at least until about half way through the piece where there is a brief “peak” for lack of a better word.
25. Tim Buckley: Greetings From L.A. (8/10)
Buckley goes soul. Read the review.
26. Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin: Love, Devotion, Surrender (8/10)
All this is is two guys showing off. It’s great, but it’s just technique.
27. Deep Purple: Machine Head (8/10)
The third part of the supposed “Holy Trinity of British Heavy Metal” is absolutely the weakest link. It’s safe to say that Purple just didn’t write the songs that Zeppelin did (or steal from the right people…) and that what Sabbath did was not only more innovative and influential but just holds up better all these years later.
Purple are incredible musicians but the lyrics are often brutal. Hilariously, this record was praised for having good lyrics by some critics when it was released!
Unless you get off completely on Blackmore and Lord showing off, there’s not enough here to make it the classic it’s supposed to be. There are better Purple albums and both Zep and Sabbath released many better records around this time.
28. Neil Young: Harvest (8/10)
Neil Young’s most famous and most popular album is not one of his best from the era – it’s probably the least strong of his records between his debut and Stars and Bars. This is Neil Young as the crowd-pleasing country/folk rocker. It’s the closest he’s ever sounded to those wannabes America.
The album is patchwork of three different styles: his amiable country and folk, orchestral ballads, and rock songs that sound like they should have been given the Crazy Horse treatment. To his credit, it’s still pretty good, as many of the songs are strong and one of them is among his very best.
But this remains the Neil Young album for people who don’t like Neil Young. (Along with its sequel from the ’90s.) It’s the record that, with one major exception, doesn’t confront the listener with the fact that life isn’t as great as you were told it was going to be.
29. Santana: Caravanserai (8/10)
Without McLaughlin, the whole thing sounds a little less intense which is both good and bad.
30. Big Star: #1 Record (8/10)
This record deserves its reputation as one of the great early power pop records. At a time when virtually nobody (at least in the US) was making music like this, they wrote an excellent set of songs, performed and arranged them well, and nobody cared.
But how great this record is likely depends upon how much you love power pop. If you do, I’m sure you’ll feel like this is a masterpiece.
31. Return to Forever: Light as a Feather (8/10)
The vocalist adds an interesting touch to the whole fusion thing, even though I don’t particularly like vocal jazz.
32. Black Sabbath: Vol. 4 (8/10)
Some misses on this one. Read the review.
33. Al Green: I’m Still in Love With You (8/10)
As Al Green goes, I like this. Read the review.
34. Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live! (8/10)
Enjoyable but a little short on great material
35. Ry Cooder: Into the Purple Valley (8/10)
He hadn’t quite got the format down pat yet.
36. Gentle Giant: Three Friends (8/10)
This record feels like a step back from Acquiring the Taste if only because of how crazy that record is. Listening to this record without knowledge of their other albums, though, one would be surprised to hear such a thing as, compared to just every other major prog album of the period, this is out there stuff – Gentle Giant were the most brazenly virtuoso prog band, willing to show off just how much they learned in music school, with few concessions to contemporary rock music.
This record is a strong prog rock offering compared to much of what was out there in 1972, but it’s probably the weakest of their early albums, feeling only a hair more ambitious than their debut, and lacking that album’s shocking introduction of their talent.
37. Todd Rundgren: Something/Anything? (7/10)
This is one of the earlier bedroom pop albums. As such, it’s a pretty impressive display of both Rundgren’s songwriting and his musical ability.
But pop really isn’t my thing and, for me, the stylistic diversity of this record is kind of ruined by Rundgren’s insistence on making everything really poppy and accessible. I would far more impressed if he could pull of some of these genres as is, without applying the syrupy backing vocals. (For example, this is the poppiest “hard rock” I’ve ever heard on “The Kid Gets Heavy.”)
The other thing is that fourth side is far and away the weakest (and silliest) part of the record. Maybe he felt it was necessary but, to me, it hurts the rest of the record and feels like it belongs on a different album.
Not the classic we’re told it is.
38. The Allman Brothers Band: Eat a Peach (7/10)
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, all I really cared about was great musicians showing off their great musicianship. I got more than a little obsessed with who was the best this or that, and with prioritizing rock music with great, virtuoso playing in it, over good songs. Then I heard jazz.
Since becoming a jazz fan, most rock virtuoso musicianship pales and I’ve realized that the virtues of rock are often found in other things rather than just showing off how well you can play.
This is an album I used to love but too much of it is just great musicians showing off for an interminable length of time. I get the desire to create a document of Duane’s brilliance but there’s no excuse for including a 30+ minute live track on a “studio” album in my mind.
Maybe, had recording technology been different, they would have released all the Fillmore stuff, and then put out a new record of new material. But as this is, there’s too much filler for me to regard it as a classic.
39. Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (7/10)
Well, I like this more than his other records. Read the review.
40. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Trilogy (7/10)
Having just suffered through some of their late ’70s crap, it’s nice to hear them back in the day when they were still making interesting music. Always over the top, at least this stuff is also provocative.
- “The Endless Enigma” is almost a classic. It’s too bad the vocal sections are so weak compared to the rest of the composition.
- And “From the Beginning” is a Lake song I actually don’t hate, so that’s another big positive.
On the whole there is a lot to like here with their characteristic unevenness – there seem to me to be very few bands that were this desperate to be so inconsistent on record – which I guess they thought was eclecticism. But there’s stuff here that ranks among their best work. They still could have used a better producer, but oh well.
2017 update: agree with the previous assessment.
41. Bonnie Raitt: Give it Up (7/10)
I had misgivings about listening to this for the purposes of discussing it on my podcast. I have always thought of Raitt like everyone has, as the female blues singer-guitarist. She is type cast in the eyes of the public, as it were.
Well, colour me surprised as, though this is a very blues-focused record, there’s a hell of a lot more stylistic diversity here than I was expecting. Though nearly every song is routed in the blues, there are stylistic diversions into folk, jazz (in the mildest sense) and even the odd tinge of country.
But Raitt isn’t the greatest songwriter: a number of her songs recall songs by other writers (I hear a Rod Stewart influence, for example), and they’re all very firmly routed in blues traditions, regarding lyrics in particular (so they’re all about love gone bad, or having sex). It’s really the arrangements that make the songs more introducing than they should be, which is to Raitt’s credit.
The album does make me actually interested in checking out her other work, which I can’t say I was interested in before listening to it. And it’s great to hear a woman so assertive and in command of her music back when most female performers were managed to the point of suffocation.
42. Pink Floyd: Obscured by Clouds (7/10)
Entertaining but there is some definite filler.
43. Mauricio Kagel: Unguis incarnatus est (7/10)
I like the idea of Unguis incarnatus est because the backing instrumentation is flexible. This is something I am intrigued by. The piece itself is pretty impressionistic, and nice enough. The ending is insane.
44. Paul Simon (7/10)
I don’t love Paul Simon as a songwriter. I have been trying and trying but, aside from a brief period in my early teens when I liked Simon and Garfunkel, I just can’t do it. He doesn’t connect with me like so many other of the great song-writers do.
But I admit that this – Paul Simon’s sort of debut, sort of second record – is a varied record and its a strong set of songs for him. The things that I don’t like about it are things that I don’t like about Paul Simon and have nothing to do with the quality of the record. It’s just not my thing.
45. Bill Withers: Still Bill (7/10)
It’s fine, really. Read the review.
46. James Brown: There It Is (7/10)
This is the first studio album of Brown’s that wasn’t a compilation that I’ve ever heard and I have no idea what to do with it.
This is Brown’s 38th studio album, which is insane. Brown’s output is just insane which is why most of us are just better off with the boxed set of singles. How does one view this record without having listening to at least some of those 37 previous records? How does one view this without a deep knowledge of where funk was in June of 1972. I don’t have the knowledge of the genre (beyond a superficial one) and I have not heard those albums. So all I have to go by is the music.
A couple of these tracks are what you would expect from early ’70s James Brown: social (or sexual) funk featuring standout vocal performances from the man himself. But there are also a number of ballads, mostly about heroin but also about love. And for me, those generally work less well, as once you’ve heard many R&B ballads of the era, they all start to sound a little similar.
I can’t say whether this is a great James Brown record, in comparison to his others. But I can say that I’d rather just listen to his singles.
47. Steely Dan: Can’t Buy a Thrill (6/10)
I don’t like Steely Dan but I might like this version of the band more than the later one. Read the review.
48. Curtis Mayfield: Superfly Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (6/10)
I understand that this record is considered a landmark in the “socially conscious” soul and funk of the early ’70s – it has completely outlasted the film it was ostensibly created for and (I believe) is often held up as Mayfield’s greatest achievement.
But I gotta say that I don’t really hear it. What I hear is some socially conscious lyrics atop what is pretty standard funky soul from the early ’70s. I am not very up on The Impressions, and so I don’t know how much of this is growth from those days but, to me, this sounds pretty run of the mill.
I don’t love Mayfield’s songwriting and the music around it is not gritty enough for me. Better songs or a little more funk or grit in the music might help me like this more. But I can’t say I’ll ever return to this, given what’s here.
I’m disappointed, but some of that is absolutely this album’s status, which is perhaps a little too hyped.
49. Curved Air: Phantasmagoria (6/10)
Some of it works really well, some of it is very awkward. This is one of the bands that the indie-prog movement idolizes too much.
50. Pure Prairie League: Bustin’ Out (6/10)
Too much on the country side (read: soft rock side) of country-rock. Read the review.
51. The Temptations: All Directions (6/10)
I don’t know what to do with vocal groups. Most of my music-listening life I have been more impressed with the ability to play an instrument well than sing well. So when I listen to a record where the vocalists are all credited but the players aren’t really, I already get muddled, regardless of the music I’m listening to. I just don’t understand the obsession with vocals above all other things.
This is, I suspect, a rather radical turn into more controversial (and meaningful) music for a “band” I was only vaguely aware of due to my Oldies listening in my youth. The songs are considerably more topical and full of “social comment” than I would have suspected.
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is indeed a standout – a landmark track that seems to completely capture a particular social ill in a way that is just too damn catchy. And I like a couple of the other songs here as well. But I’d just rather listen to the Sly Stone version of this music, which is harder hitting in just about every way, and is not based on the decisions of label management.
Still, I understand why this was a hit.
52. O’Jays: Back Stabbers (6/10)
Why can’t we be at peace you backstabbing, nagging bitch? Read the review.
53. The Guess Who: Rockin’ (3/10)
What the hell were they thinking?
This record opens with one of my favourite Guess Who songs – “Heartbroken Bopper” is lyrically dumb but has one of the weirdest hard rock riffs of its era and I just generally love how manic it is. With the exception of “Guns, Guns, Guns,” – a very Share the Land-type ballad – and Leskiw’s country-rocker “Herbert’s a Loser,” the entire rest of this record is basically “Burton Cummings, Lounge Singer” in some misguided attempt to revive early piano-based rock and roll, I guess.
The absolute nadir of this record is “Hi Rockers!,” a suite of two songs and a skit. The first song is a reasonably pretty, albeit insignificant Winter song-fragment, the second is more of Cummings-as-Lounge Singer. The intro to the suite, though, is a skit about two Hosers in a bar. It doesn’t even work for me as a Canadian. I cannot imagine how incomprehensible it is to listeners outside of Canada. It is the worst thing they ever recorded (to my knowledge), and that’s saying something given how many missteps The Guess Who have made on their albums.
If a member of the band was looking to explain why their commercial fortunes declined in the mid 70s, they need look no further than this record.
Not ranked: Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes, Chiarov, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Convent Gardens conducted by Bonynge: Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (8/10)
So, as with any opera I have never heard before, I am stuck reviewing the opera more than the performance. I have no idea if this is a great performance of this opera, though I suspect it is (after all we have Sutherland and Pavarotti). The opera itself is a little over the top – well it is really over the top. And unlike other operas that are this over the top, I find not all that much of interest here. That being said, it’s hard to ignore, so that is certainly something. And it is less deliberately populist than some French operas that are as popular to this day. Or at least it sounds that way to my untrained ears.