Music reviews for music originally released in 1975.
1. Keith Jarrett: The Koln Concert (10/10)
Like much of the great music of the world, it sounds instantly familiar and yet I can’t place it, it sounds like it has existed forever; I can’t believe he could just make this up, either.
2. Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (10/10)
I can’t be objective about this record, FYI.
The Floyd take their earlier approach of pairing a side-long track with shorter pieces, and play with it, halving the track so that it bookends the record. It’s their best side-long track, in my opinion. Building to two crescendos and fading out twice. (Probably wasn’t conceived as a whole, especially given that one part that’s from “One of These Days.”)
The other songs on the record stand among Waters’ best lyrics. The title track is perhaps their greatest song (as opposed to composition) they ever recorded, and the other two stand as relatively unique in their oevre.
As a Floyd snob, this is my favourite record. I don’t really know if it’s their best, but it’s my favourite.
2. Neil Young: Tonight’s the Night (10/10)
Neil Young was a star for the first time in 1973. And yet even though he was star, and he was expected to pump out further “Heart of Gold” style hits, his life was a mess. Whether or not he may acknowledge it now, he had drug issues. And within a rather short span of time, the rhythm guitarist for one of his bands died, and then a roadie died, both of heroin overdoses.
4. Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (10/10)
Dylan will tell you he doesn’t write confessional songs. (I wonder if any interviewer has responded to this statement with “What about “Sara”?”) But even his son thinks this album is about the end of Dylan’s marriage.
Regardless of what the album is or isn’t about, this is Dylan’s best set of songs in nearly a decade. And though I haven’t delved into the depths of his late ’70s and ’80s music, it’s arguably his last truly essential album worth of songs. (He’s definitely written songs since that are among his very best, but I’m not sure he’s put out an entire album of them.) For me, it’s the only record he’s put out since the motorcycle accident that belongs with his truly astonishing run of world-changing albums from 1963 to 1966.
Moreover, the whole thing feels more mature – well, at least most of the time. (Except when he’s calling his ex wife an idiot…) He’s not just lyrically showing off now; instead he’s writing for a unified purpose, whether that’s to process the end of his relationship or whether it’s, um, to put Chekhov to music. (I’ve never read a defense of this claim, but I’m curious: does it hold any water? I’ve read a fair amount of Chekhov and really don’t see it at all.)
It’s one of the great singer-songwriter albums of the 1970s and Dylan’s last masterpiece. Essential.
5. Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (10/10)
I have been listening to this album for nearly two decades at this point, so it is way too close to my heart. But, on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, I am going to try to review it.
This is not Zeppelin’s very best record – it’s a little too spotty – and it’s not my favourite either. But I think it might be the most Zeppelin of Zeppelin albums. Nearly everything they did is available here: it’s got some of their very loudest material, and some of their poppiest; their longest songs and also their shortest; some of their flirtations with folk and country and tracks with ten (!!!) guitar overdubs; it contains some of their most mature, original compositions, and still has its share of ripoffs of other people’s work; despite being a showcase of Page’s abilities as a producer, it’s probably an even better showcase of how great a drummer Bonham was; it contains both new material and a host of outtakes from the last three albums; etc. Everything about the band is encapsulated here. If someone didn’t believe me about Zeppelin’s diversity I would point them to this record. If someone didn’t believe me that you could dance to Zeppelin (not that I do), I would point them to this record. (It’s their funkiest by far, I think.)
It’s a shame that so many metal bands either don’t like Zeppelin (not metal enough) or ignore the lessons; numerous good bands could benefit from following Zeppelin’s example of eclecticism and its on this album that that eclecticism is on its fullest display.
6. Brian Eno: Another Green World (10/10)
To my ears this is the missing link between Eno’s earlier solo albums and Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” Sure, this is a little more jazz-influenced, and Eno is no Bowie (as a performer), but this music (and Eno’s early ambient stuff), makes Bowie’s Berlin albums sound a lot less like they came out of nowhere.
Eno’s early solo music is severely underrated – or at least severely underapreciated by people other than music nerds – and it’s crazy to me that this record doesn’t get more attention.
When he wanted to be, Eno was a pretty great “art rock” songwriter and this shows that off about as well as his first two albums, but includes all these diversions – hints at the ambient to come – that make a really unique record, unlike anything else in 1975 that I am aware of.
7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Zuma (9/10)
Young’s reunion with Crazy Horse is basically everything you’d want it to be: it’s a strong set of songs featuring the ragged playing from both Young and the band that you would expect.
Though, at first, the songs might appear to be not quite up to the rather high par that Young set with the so-called “Ditch trilogy,” this has nearly as many classics as any of Young’s other classics from the first half of the ’70s.
It’s only not among his very best because of the ridiculous records he put out before it.
8. Henryk Gorecki: “Amen” (9/10)
The “Amen” feels slight in comparison to Gorecki’s “Miserere,” in some ways, but it is still kind of immense, despite its relative brevity. It features even fewer words than the “Miserere” (to my ears, I only hear the one), and it just goes to show you that lyrics can be totally irrelevant. (Though that really doesn’t make sense in this case, since “Amen” carries a great deal of import for a great many people.) Gorecki’s crazy use of dynamics are on considerable display here and the contrasts between near-silence and the massed voices is incredible.
9. The Dictators: Go Girl Crazy! (9/10)
I haven’t listened to this record in ages (years?) and I forgot how much I loved it. It’s so unbelievably dumb but so self-aware that it makes it all the more wonderful.
Like so much “proto punk” this is clearly not punk – in this case it’s far too competent and conventional. (So ridiculously competent.) This band is clearly a hard rock band with punk lyrics. (And those pop backing vocals, too.) It’s like a arena rock band wished it was a punk band, or something like that. They also seem to have started the punk tradition of covering hit songs and trying to make them sound as stupid as possible. (I don’t know if that became a trend until the nineties, so they might have been close to a decade and a half ahead of their time.)
10. Patti Smith: Horses (9/10)
Smith tries to do the same thing Jim Morrison did: combine rock music with serious poetry. I’d say Smith’s far more successful as her approach is more musical than theatrical. However, The Doors were a much more versatile band than The Patti Smith Group.
Anyway, musically this is basically just the kind of rock and roll that was common to New York at the time – where the emphasis was on energy over professionalism and idiosyncratic approaches to playing over traditional ideas of mastery – with some very good lyrics. I prefer Television and the Voidoids but Patti Smith was first (on record) and I can’t deny that.
11. Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of the Summer Lawns (9/10)
At this point Mitchell had been moving slowly away from the straightforward singer-songwriter aesthetic of Blue for some time. But her interest in mainstream jazz had really never fully manifested itself previously as it does here: even if her songs rarely actually turn into jazz – save for that piano solo in the “Centerpiece” cover – their is the sound of jazz throughout the album.
The other thing that’s apparent in this (slightly) more experimental sound is the synthesizer, which plays a prominent role on two songs. And then there’s that African drumming.
These accents, added to her already rather unique approach to rhythm guitar and backing vocals (she creates choirs through overdubs) marks this as perhaps her most difficult album to date. But that shouldn’t put you off. Though the songs are not her very best, they’re still strong and, combined with the idiosyncratic approach to the arrangements, they make this one of her very best records.
It’s rather shocking it was poorly reviewed at the time. But then people probably expected her to just write sequels to Blue over and over again.
12. Jeff Beck: Blow by Blow (9/10)
13. Queen: A Night at the Opera (9/10)
14. Aerosmith: Toys in the Attic (8/10)
I grew up during Aerosmith’s reunion: I was eight when Pump came out and twelve when Get a Grip was released (which was apparently old enough to stay up to watch that SNL skit pointing out all Aerosmith ballads are the same). My introduction to Aerosmith was therefore Much Music (Canada’s version of MTV) and Wayne’s World 2. When I was young enough, they seemed cool. The older I got, the more like a caricature of the hard rock bands I was slowly discovering they seemed. And then they released “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” – which may be the worst thing about Armageddon (I exaggerate slightly), something that is a particularly difficult accomplishment – an ’80s power ballad somehow recorded and released in 1998 by a band that was supposedly good in the ’70s…Read the full review.
15. Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band: The First Minute of a New Day (8/10)
A way bigger, more musical sound than the previous record. Read the review of The First Minute of a New Day.
16. Oliver Knussen: Ophelia Dances (8/10)
I like the Ophelia Dances more than Trumpets (see below). I’m not sure that anyone could dance to this very well, but if it’s meant to conjure Ophelia in her descent into madness, then it does a good job.
17. Gentle Giant: Free Hand (8/10)
18. Tom Waits: Small Change (8/10)
19. Neu! ’75 (8/10)
20. King Crimson: U.S.A. (8/10)
The overdubs and the fade-outs make it weaker than it should have been.
21. Emmylou Harris: Pieces of the Sky (8/10)
I have listened to this record a few too many times and it’s funny because a lot of stuff I claim to dislike in seventies country and country pop are present here and yet here I sit claiming I like it. It’s horribly over-produced, it’s got a number of the Mellow Mafia on it, making it mellow. But it’s very varied for a country album. (Seriously, it’s true!) It lacks the rawness of her work with Parsons. I’m sure if I listened to it for the first time ever today I would disparage it more than a little bit for being a product of the ridiculous seventies obsession for making everything perfect. But I just can’t bring myself to say that, knowing the songs as i know them and with these standing as the definitive performances for me.
22. Ritchie Blackmore’s R-A-I-N-B-O-W (8/10)
Rainbow is like a combination of Uriah Heap and Purple. Or, if you prefer, Uriah Heap with a better lead guitarist, a better singer, slightly less ridiculous songs (both a plus and a minus) with better riffs but nearly as ridiculous lyrics.
Some stray thoughts:
- It sounds to me like Blackmore is holding himself back and I don’t know why.
- Dio is an acquired taste, and I still haven’t acquired it yet, but I can’t deny that this is an influential record and that his approach to both singing and lyric-writing has been incredibly influential.
- Is “Black Sheep of the Family” really something you would quit your band over?
- Jimi Hendrix wants his royalties for “Catch the Rainbow.”
All in all, this is a little bit more “metal” (or rock) than the slightly more over-the-top Heap. So I guess I like it better. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for this stuff, but it’s hard to really be too critical, given the era.
Decent hard rock for its time.
23. Oliver Knussen: Trumpets (7/10)
Trumpets is not a piece for trumpets. Instead it’s a piece for clarinets and voice. The clarinets don’t try to sound like trumpets, either, as far as my ears can tell. Instead they jump around manically.
24. Oskar Morawetz: Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra (7/10)
Morawetz’s concerto is, unsurprisingly, minor by comparison with something such as Ginastera’s. There’s nothing wrong with this piece, but it’s just not anything special, especially given everything that has gone before it. (And let us remember that it was written 10 years after Ginastera’s…)
25. Roxy Music: Siren (7/10)
I only know one Roxy Music album, For Your Pleasure. I like it, I don’t love it. But one of the things I like about it – perhaps the thing I like about it most – is the artiness of it, provided primarily by Eno and Manzanera (to my ears). I assumed that when Eno left the artiness did too, but according to reviews, it didn’t leave just yet. Not until this album. And that makes me sad.
This is certainly as mainstream as art rock gets without ceasing to be art rock. It’s accessible (as these things go), its often danceable, it’s relatively catchy. It features so little of the overt weirdness I associated with (early) Roxy Music. It’s just mainstream pop rock, far as I can tell.
But, that being said, it is good mainstream pop rock. Ferry is a decent writer, his lyrics are fine and his melodies are just left field enough to be interesting. And, of course, there’s saxophone and violin to keep things slightly off kilter. (And the occasional burst of art rock guitar. Really occasional.)
But I just don’t love it. I can’t. It sounds to me like an interesting band in the process of making itself uninteresting.
26. David Bowie: Young Americans (7/10)
The critic’s cliches about this album seem to be true. This is more of an enthusiastic tribute than it is any kind of Bowie album of the quality of most of his other ’70s albums, albums which embraced various emerging styles but still managed to sound like Bowie, that is innovative and traditional at the same time. This album lacks a lot of that, and comparing it to Station to Station, for example, it is clear that Bowie hadn’t quite figured out his unique take on “blue eyed soul” yet. That being said, there are many fine moments. As has been pointed out many times before, “Young Americans” is fantastic and features probably Bowie’s greatest vocal performance ever (though the end of “Can You Hear Me” is also pretty impressive). “Fame” is also pretty classic. It’s weird that an album trying to recreate certain aspects of American music would be so full of the Beatles.
27. The Grateful Dead: Blues for Allah (7/10)
This is kind of shockingly middle of the road, given what I know of the Dead. I am kind of tempted to say they sound like Steely Dan here, though I hardly know what Steely Dan sounds like. This is a little too polished and safe for me, though I appreciate the musicianship and their attempts at incorporating at least somewhat unusual musical influences (for jazz rock).
Disappointing given the album’s reputation.
28. Al Green is Love (7/10)
I have heard so much about Al Green, I guess I was bound to be disappointed.
This is very competent, able smooth soul. Green is undeniably a great performer. But I like my music with a little oomph behind it. As someone who values both grit and history, it’s hard for me to understand why this is considered such a classic (by critics anyway) when it glosses over and doesn’t appear to improve upon what went before it.
Well, anyway, I’m definitely not the audience. Fine, but I’m not going to go out of my way to listen to more.
29. Steve Hackett: Voyage of the Acolyte (7/10*)
30. Azymuth: Azimuth (7/10)
I have a problem. For the last 18 years or so, I have been keeping track of what music I want to listen to. The list is now gigantic.
But that’s not my problem. I know I will never listen to everything on the list. It’s an aspirational list not a practical one.
The problem is that I didn’t track when I added particular albums to the list. So I might have added something last year or 17 years ago. And the problem with that is my tastes have changed. (I would say they’ve matured.) And so some of the stuff I added in my late teens or early 20s…well, maybe I don’t actually want to listen to it any more.
And that’s how I ended up with the debut album from Azymuth. From the very first track I thought “Oh god, I added this in my jazz fusion phase.” I sure did.
The jazz fusion I still like is the hard stuff. This soft, wussy shit is not for me. But that being said, I recognize that this is an interesting take on the genre; a fairly unique one. And so I have to respect it for that. But this is definitely not my thing, despite the talent involved and the (possible) originality of the take on the genre.
31. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (6/10)
Full disclosure: I have avoided Springsteen much of my life because I grew up with a bunch of stupid TV shows telling me “Springsteen saved Rock and Roll from Disco.” These interviewees (boomers all) were apparently ignorant of Punk Music but, also, in retrospect, maybe Disco won? Anyway…Read the full review.
32. Fleetwood Mac (5/10)
When I was a kid and a tween, I only listened to oldies. For reasons I may never know, the oldies station in Toronto played Fleetwood Mac songs from this album and Rumours, among the very limited amount of music it dared play from post-1970. This stuff was deemed acceptable.
33. Eric Clapton: There’s One in Every Crowd (5/10)
Bob Dylan and the Band: The Basement Tapes (9/10)
John Coltrane: Alternate Takes (6/10)
On its own, of interest only to the collector or Coltrane fanatic.