1973 in Music

The music I’ve reviewed from 1973.

1. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (10/10)

This is the point when everything the Floyd had been doing for the last 5 years finally came together:

  • Waters’ wannabe singer-songwriter ambitions (which never fit in with the Floyd’s sound before),
  • Gilmour’s and Wright’s melodies,
  • the band’s jamming,
  • and the musique concrete;

It’s all here but for the first time it’s actually all together at the same time, instead of in different racks. Previous Floyd albums would have a Waters song and then a musique concrete or other experimental track, and some spacey jams. Here it’s all of a piece.

This is not my favourite Floyd album, in part because I think Waters has written way better lyrics but also because I just prefer the jammier version of the Floyd to this more restrained version. But it’s hard to deny how effective this record is – there’s a reason it was a massive hit – as well as how unbelievably well-produced it is. This stuff was really hard to do in 1972 and the fact that it still sounds good 45 years later is some kind of miracle.

It’s not my favourite album, it might not be their best album, but it’s far and away their most iconic album and one of the landmark records of the 1970s, with how it managed to integrate the avant garde into such a commercial package.

2. The Who: Quadrophenia (10/10)

What they screwed up in Tommy they fixed here. Incredible. Their best album.

3. King Crimson: Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (10/10)

Like listeners of the day, I heard this record after first listening to earlier Crimson releases, and it was shocking. In hindsight, it’s clear that this was Crimson’s first sign that they weren’t like the other prog bands, they would actually evolve.

The result of this evolution (a completely new band) is a dramatic left turn into modernism, hard rock, funk and free improvisation, harder and more “rock” than just about any other prog rock being made at the time. It’s the beginning (or nearly the beginning) of Crimson’s inspiration for math rock and it’s likely one of the founts of progressive metal as well.

As the only record with Muir, it’s also got a weirdness to it = and a dense percussive sound world – that is unlike any other Crimson record.

Their best album or very close to it, and one of the great progressive rock albums ever.

4. Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy (10/10)

Though not considered the classic the last record was, this is one of my favourite (perhaps my favourite) Zeppelin records (in part because it was my first, I think). Also, if you were to put a gun to my head, I might argue it’s their best (depending upon my mood).

This is the first Zeppelin album where they thought they could do everything: from borderline prog rock (“The Song Remains the Same” and “No Quarter” to ballads!!! (“The rain Song) to funk (“The Crunge”) to reggae (“D’yer Mak’er”). And two of the three more traditional Zeppelin songs are among their best ever (“Over the Hills and Far Away” and, my personal favourite, “The Ocean”). Though it might all sound like Zeppelin to us now, in 1973 it was a bold left turn. So bold, in fact, that a lot of people didn’t like it. (Witness the hilarious contemporary Rolling Stone review from one Gordon Fletcher, who seems to have awarded the album zero stars because it doesn’t sound enough like “”Communication Breakdown,” “Heartbreaker” and “Black Dog.”” Seriously.)

If I were to make a case for Zeppelin as the best “hard rock”/early metal band, this record would be among the couple records that I would present.

5. David Bowie: Aladdin Sane (10/10)

Though some consider this a step back from Ziggy Stardust, it has long been one of my favourite Bowie albums. (It vies with Scary Monsters.) Fare more ragged and rough than Ziggy, it’s like the facade has dropped away. There’s no framing concept (beyond “Ziggy does America”) and you could easily argue that Ziggy is more coherent and a better album but I like these songs better. And, frankly, I appreciate the greater stylistic diversity here, and the ragged edges.

Also, some of Bowie’s greatest moments are here including some of my favourite Bowie songs, such as “Drive-In Saturday,” perhaps the perfect encapsulation of his famous “future nostalgia.”

And then there’s the title track, which contains the greatest piano solo in the history of rock music – I ask you to find a better one – and which is worth the price of admission alone. (Bowie always has great sidemen and Garson is at his absolute best on this record.)

Some days I prefer Scary Monsters, but if I was making a desert island list, this is often the Bowie album I’d put on it.

6. New York Dolls (10/10)

We can debate forever whether or not this is the first “punk” album, but even if it isn’t the first punk album, it’s a major step along the road to punk. (My person opinion is that it’s just too damn campy to be the first punk album. Most punk that comes after it is not remotely this campy.)
So much of what makes punk punk is on display here:

  • the love and celebration of early rock and roll
  • tons of attitude
  • the (relative) lack of professionalism
  • the reveling in immaturity.

In addition to its influence on what came later, it turns out they wrote a pretty great set of songs. Arguably a better set of songs than most of the other “proto punk” bands managed.

A classic and one of the most important albums of the 1970s.

7. The Stooges: Raw Power (10/10)

Disclaimer: I have only ever heard Iggy’s mix of this; it is the mix I know and the mix I like. I feel like listening to the original Bowie mix would be disorienting but I have never tried.

Though arguably a different band (not just in their name but because James Williamson is now here, co-writing the songs), this is the best Stooges album and the one that most encapsulates the band at their best. Gone are the 10 minute songs and the saxophone – sure there’s a celeste and what sounds like some kind of keyboard on two songs, but it’s still less arty and arguably louder (at least this mix is) than their first two records.

The songs are stronger too, I think, as a body of songs anyway.

Listening to this for the first time in a few years I’m left wondering why this is not quite punk. And I guess it isn’t because it’s too competent and still just a titch too arty. But it’s pretty damn close and it’s easy to understand why punk was the next logical step.

8. Herbie Hancock: Head Hunters (10/10)

Incredible. I don’t know why people thought it was controversial.

9. Can: Future Days (10/10)

Of all CAN albums, this is the one I know the best so I have long thought of it as the best. When I heard earlier albums, I always compared them to this one. That isn’t fair given that the albums came earlier in time, but that’s how I felt.

With reflection and many listens to earlier albums, though, I still feel like this is some kind of culmination of CAN’s sound. The album is what your might call their “breeziest,” just floating by with seemingly minimal effort. The long tracks find some edenic place where the avant garde and new age meet. (“New age” isn’t the phrase I want, but I can’t come up with something more appropriate right now.)

And the record also contains the closest thing they ever wrote to a pop song, a song that remains far and away the most memorable CAN song I have ever heard.

It’s really remarkable that a band this radical could make a record this pleasant sounding.

10. Lou Reed: Berlin (10/10)

This has long been my favourite Lou Reed album, despite or perhaps because of its poor reputation among some people.

Reed and Ezra set out to accomplish something and I think they basically entirely succeeded; this is a legitimate candidate for “The Most Depressing Album of All Time,” at least up until July 1973. Reed’s songs are portraits of romantic and drug-fueled anguish, set in some imagined Berlin which is nothing like the actual place (that doesn’t matter).

And perhaps better than any other album, Ezrin’s over-the-top arrangements suit Reed’s songs. So many times, Ezrin gets in the way, but here its’ hard to imagine what Reed’s songs would have sounded like if he had performed them with two guitars, bass and drums. It would not have had the same impact at all. (If you ever want to understand where [i]The Wall[/i] came from, listening to [i]Berlin[/i] will give you a pretty good idea.)
Songwriter and arranger are basically perfectly matched and I have a hard time imagining the world without this record.

If I can say only thing in criticism, I think the album is a bit back-loaded in terms of song quality, but that’a minor quibble.

A unique beast.

11. Genesis: Selling England by the Pound (10/10)

Not quite as good as its predecessor (though it is better produced). Lacking an absolute classic, it’s still very good.

12. Neil Young: Time Fades Away (9/10)

I love how he’d just perform whatever he wanted.

13. Gram Parsons: GP (9/10)

I came to country through country rock (and, to a lesser degree alt country) so I am a suck for country music meshed with rock. For some reason, I just cannot find straight-up country as appealing as country rock. Maybe that will change as I experience more and more “real” country, but it hasn’t so far.

When I think of the country rock albums that have shaped my view of country rock, this one is right up there, second only to the Burritos records Parsons made before it.

The song selection is great, featuring music from a bunch of different places, but rendered as one coherent whole by Parsons and his band. The aesthetic is appealingly fragile – so much so that when I hear country music that isn’t this fragile I am underwhelmed – and everything is basically note-perfect.

I don’t know if it’s quite up to the standard of the Burritos’ debut record – both in quality and in influence – but it almost is. It’s a pretty great record.

14. Henry Cow: Leg End (9/10)

Is it jazz? What about those pieces that are written out, which don’t resemble jazz?

It is prog rock? What about the clearly improvised pieces?
What is it?

These musicians have found the point at which two forms of avant garde music meet; not content to just improvise, they compose; not content to just write out big prog rock pieces, they spazz out.

To this day I’ve still never heard anything else like it.

And it’s not wonder it took them so long to get a record out; this is music for people who have a high tolerance for the avant garde.

15. Gentle Giant: In a Glass House (9/10)

Almost as good as O and TF.

16. Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery (9/10)

“Toccata” is brilliant and this is their strongest formula album, but it’s still a formula.

17. The Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire (9/10)

The same as the debut, really.

18. Return to Forever: Hymn of the 7th Galaxy (9/10)

No singer works well. Maybe better. I can’t make up my mind.

19. Ladysmith Black Mambazo:  (8?/10)

I don’t know if it his is a classic of the genre or not, really I don’t. Listen to the review of Amabutho.

20. Betty Davis (8/10)

YES. Read the review of Betty Davis’ debut album.

21. Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure (8/10)

This was the first ever Roxy Music album I heard and, for the longest time, the only one. So I have a real fondness for it (and for this era of the band’s history, which I greatly prefer to their later music).

But now that I’ve heard the debut, this record sounds relatively restrained. This is not to say that the record isn’t good – nobody else really sounded like Roxy Music at the time – but rather that its more professional, polished sound seems to have lost some intangible thing that makes me absolutely adore the debut record.

This is still a pretty great set of songs, featuring their typical balance of accessible music and crazy artiness and there are few other bands who could walk this line this well.

I just prefer the debut album.

22. The Allman Brothers Band: Brothers and Sisters (8/10)

You could think of this album as the first record that is out of of the shadow Duane; it’s not the hodgepodge tribute the previous record was, and instead is a good set of songs from the band’s two main songwriters. Though apparently Betts was winning the battle between him and Gregg for who would lead the band post-Duane, it’s certainly not evident in the finished product, which sounds coherent and lively and basically like what you would be thinking the Allmans should sound like, if a little bit more country than they used to be.

23. John Martyn: Solid Air (8/10)

An exceptional jazz folk album by some guy I’ve never heard of. Read the review of Solid Air.

24. Little Feat: Dixie Chicken (8/10)

A lot of people seem to view this record as their best or, at the very least, the record upon which Little Feat hit their stride up until Lowell George fell apart.

Well, as an unabashed fan of Sailin’ Shoes, I must say I have a hard time accepting that view. I get why people like this, I just think it’s not its predecessor.

The band is bigger and, as a result, the sound is fuller than it was before. It’s arguable that everything is better integrated too – instead of jumping from style to style and genre to genre, everything is combined into Little Feat’s patented version of eccentric funky southern boogie rock.

And George remains a great songwriter, able to make you laugh as much as anything else. His idiosyncrasy has been tamed slightly by the band’s growing professionalism and size, but it’s still there.

But I just like the weirder, more idiosyncratic version of the band more. This is still pretty great.

25. Yoko Ono: Approximately Infinite Universe (8/20)

It’s possible I liked this so much because my expectations were so low. Read the review of Approximately Infinite Universe.

26. Steeleye Span: A Parcel of Rogues (8/10)

A unique, virtually drumlesss, take on folk rock. Read the review of A Parcel of Rogues.

27. (pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd) (8/10)

Likely their best album. Read the review of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album.

28. Keith Jarrett: Fort Yawuh (8/10)

Jarrett is crazy. Despite that, this is a good performance.

29. Doug Sahm And Band (8/10)

Lots of fun but nothing more.

30. John Cale: Paris 1919 (8/10)

Not in any way what I’d expect but still consistent.

31. Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy (8/10)

I actually like this one! Read the review of Countdown to Ecstasy.

32. Bob Marley and the Wailers: Catch a Fire (8/10)

I think this is pretty good. Read the review of Catch a Fire.

33. Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells (7/10)

This is an extremely ambitious album, all the more ambitious given it was performed mostly by one person. There are only a handful of “rock” records that had come out before this that matched or exceeded Oldfield’s ambition here, and the fact that Oldfield wanted this to be viewed as a singular piece (though it absolutely isn’t), adds to the daring. If there was really going to be unification between high art music and rock, or if prog rock really would create its own genre, this kind of thing is where you’d find it.

Of course that’s not what happened and just about every one of these overly-ambitious records now comes across as sort of bonkers. But I find myself liking this more and more, over time, than I did initially. Because even though I find the final part of Part One incredibly corny – and annoying! – it is a remarkably catchy record, for all its ambition.

And it’s also neat to look at it from the perspective of bedroom music – in some ways this is the idea of the pop genius in his bedroom taking to its logical extreme (if you forget about the additional musicians and you ignore that it’s prog rock).

PS The beginning of “Part 1” is also the theme from The Exorcist, so you’ve actually heard the beginning of this record, despite its inaccessibility.

34. 10cc (7/10)

Pretty fun and inventive, but too poppy for me to love. Read the review of 10cc’s debut.

35. Funkadelic: Cosmic Slop (7/10)

A bit inconsistent. Read the review of Cosmic Slop.

36. Marvin Gaye: Let’s Get It On (7/10)

This is some smooth soul. Read the review of Let’s Get It On.

37. Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (7/10)

I get why people like this but I don’t. Read the review of Innervisions.

38. Willie Nelson: Shotgun Willie (7/10)

Maybe this should be ranked higher, but I honestly don’t know. Read the review of Shotgun Willie.

39. Eloy: Inside (7/10)

Derivative but pretty great. Read the review.

40. Frank Zappa: Over-Nite Sensation (7/10)

A far cry from the Mothers, that’s for sure. Still very entertaining.

41. Dr. John: In the Right Place (7/10)

This is fine but it doesn’t grab me like his debut did. Read my review of In the Right Place.

42. Bruce Springsteen: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (7/10)

There is a lot of potential here for a working-class Dylan. Read the review of Greetings from Asbury Park.

43. Neu! 2 (7/10)

Once you know how this record is made, it’s kind of hard to view it as a classic. Read the review of Neu! 2.

44. Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies (7/10)

Meh. Too polished to be shocking, really. Read the review of Billion Dollar Babies.

45. Sly and the Family Stone: Fresh (7/10)

A step towards the past. Read the review of Fresh.

46. Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (7/10)

Enjoyable but slight. Read the review of The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

47. Budgie: Never Turn Your Back on a Friend (7/10)

I’m not sure they have the range they think they have. Read the review of Budgie’s third album.

48. Yes: Tales from Topographic Oceans (7/10)

Way too over the top. Has its moments.

49. Jethro Tull: A Passion Play (7/10)

The second, more serious time doesn’t work as well.

50. Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, a True Star (6/10)

A giant mess, albeit a fun one. Read the review of A Wizard, a True Star.

51. Caravan: For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (6/10)

I really enjoyed the first Caravan album I heard – that would be their second – despite a few glaring drawbacks, and I looked forward to listening to a later one. But this just doesn’t do it for me.

For one thing, it’s pretty glaring how conventional these guys were compared to so many other prog bands. And this album, released in prog’s big year of 1973 – when seemingly every major progressive rock band released a classic record – just doesn’t sound particularly forward thinking compared to most of the other major prog rock bands. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just pretty conventional.

There are a number of really great moments: there are some great class prog drum fills on “Memory Lain”; there are a few moments of menace on “C’Thlu Thlu” (those disappear shortly); and they have created a fantastic “progressive” pop song in “The Dog, the Dog, He’s at it Again.” The last track is illustrative of the problem: if they applied the same creativity that they applied to its vocal arrangements on the coda to the rest of the album, they might have had something more.

This fine. It’s accessible, enjoyable prog rock, but it’s not going to change your life.

52. Roy Wood: Boulders (6/10)

Not my thing. Read the review of Boulders.

53. T. Rex: Tanx (6/10)

A sort of half-assed diversion into soul. Read the review of Tanx.

54. The Isley Brothers: 3+3 (6/10)

A slick soul record with weird psychedelic guitar solos. Read the review of 3+3.

55. Roy Harper: Lifemask (6/10)

Harper at his most self-indulgent. Read the review for Lifemask.

56. Grand Funk Railroad: We’re An American Band (6/10)

Competent but inane. Read the review of We’re An American Band.

57. Elton John: Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (5/10)

Does nothing for me. Read the review of Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player.

58. Mott the Hoople: Mott (5/10)

A David Bowie rip-off with none of the artiness of Bowie. Read the review of Mott.

59. Seals & Crofts: Diamond Girl (5/10)

A soulless and slick version of roots music. Read the review of Diamond Girl.

60. Jimmy Buffett: A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean (5/10)

Ugh. He’s awful. Read the review of Jimmy Buffet’s non-debut “debut” album.

Not Ranked: King Crimson: The Nightwatch: Live at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw November 23rd 1973 (9/10)

Their best live record. Read the review.

Not Ranked: Slapp Happy with Faust: Acnalbasac Noom (8/10)

So apparently this is the original album, which was rejected by their label and then re-recorded and released as the appropriate name. Then the original recordings were released in the early ’80s, or something like that.

I haven’t heard the polished second version of this record (self-titled Slapp Happy) so I cannot judge whether or not it was the right decision by the record company but my personal bias would say ‘probably not.’ What we have hear is catchy but odd-enough pop rock with utterly unique vocals and enough quirks to keep things interesting.

It’s hard to know what a record company would have been expecting from a trio backed by Faust, but this is remarkably commercial for that description. It’s very solid stuff, though it’s hardly as progressive as I was led to believe.

A note on the bonus tracks: at least one of them sounds like it was recorded in the early ’80s and doesn’t belong at all.

Not Ranked: Duke Ellington: the Great Paris Concert (7/10)

This is a solid performance of a solid selection of songs by Duke and his orchestra. But what can I say? I like my jazz radical, and as much as this is an enjoyable set, I’d frankly rather listen to 1963 Mingus or 1963 Trane. I’m not trying to put it down. The whole thing is mostly stellar. Ellington is a little idiosyncratic – do I care where the soloists are from during the actual song? – but I guess that was part of his charm. If you like big band – especially big band that honours jazz traditions – this is for you.

Singles

James Brown: “Down and Out in New York City” (??/10)

James Brown: “Sexy, Sexy, Sexy” (??/10)

Fred Wesley and the J.B.s: “Doing It to Death”(??/10)