Thursday, April 15, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Lynyrd Skynyrd (4/15/74) 36 Years!

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s #2 LP, the aptly titled Second Helping, was served up on April 15, 1974. It’s now widely considered a first-tier 70s Southern rock album, right up alongside the several releases by the god-band, Georgia-based Allman Brothers Band. But Skynyrd cooked up a grittier, harder-edged platter of Southern blues-rock. Many will argue that they were the real Southern rockers (even when Allman fans chime in). Whatever your bend, Southern rock peaked about the same time Second Helping. It is unquestionably a showcase album.

For a young-but-bar-scene-seasoned band, Skynyrd explored the edges with “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Workin’ For MCA.” The former’s a now-classic retort to Neil Young’s self-righteous condemnation of southern American history (sings Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant: “we don’t need him around, anyhow”). The second’s a thinly-veiled shot at their growing dissatisfaction with the music business (guys, aren’t you biting the hand that feeds you?). Add the spunky “Don’t Ask Me No More Questions,” the rocking drug-fest of “Needle And The Spoon” and a Dr. Rock-favorite in the rollicking “Call Me The Breeze,” and Second Helping’s everything is billed to be – first-rate, kick-ass Southern guitar rock.

Like its predecessor (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd), Second Helping was produced by Al Kooper, the terribly under-appreciated but still-legendary blues-rock god (founder and leader of The Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears) and producer for the 60s pop-rockers The Zombies, among others. Kooper coaxed the best out of Van Zant and his bandmates. The result really is one of the best Southern blues-rock albums of all-time.

Second Helping reached #12 on the Billboard album charts. Skynyrd’s in the Playlist Vault and Second Helping can be downloaded from Amazon and iTunes.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

 

Album of the Day: CSN&Y (4/7/71) 39 Years!

Live albums generally sell well, but very few make it into the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 4 Way Street, released on April 7, 1971, broke that rule and then some by topping out in the #1 album position shortly after its release. Following re-release as an expanded CD in 1992, 4 Way Street became a multi-platinum seller and one of the highest selling live albums of all time.

Assembled from tapes made at a half-dozen shows in Chicago, L.A. and New York in June and July 1970, the double disc contains a nearly even sampling of songs by the four stars on its four sides. Most of the songs were previously released, either on solo works or in various groupings. And the live versions of their most well-known (“Ohio,” “Southern Man,” “Teach Your Children,” “Long Time Gone” and “Love The One You're With”) are all quite good.

What isn’t evident in the music is the internal friction that was tearing the band apart just as the shows were being taped. Within weeks after the tour ended, the band split, and by the spring of 1971 all four had released highly-acclaimed solo albums (with Nash’s Songs For Beginners and Stills’ Stephen Stills 2 coming within weeks of each other right after 4 Way Street). CSN&Y re-formed in mid-1974 for a summer tour (without an album to support), issued the compilation So Far that fall, but didn’t return as a foursome until American Dream came out in November 1988 (though CSN sans Young had three albums between 1977 and 1983).

That 4 Way Street was a big hit isn’t surprising given that every album from CSN&Y (and those without Neil) between 1969 and 1982 reached into the Top 10. They were (and in many was still are) the premier American folk-rock band in the 70s and 80s, and for live versions of their hits and other good tunes, 4 Way Street is required listening. It’s number 14 on my Top 25 Live Albums list and available on Amazon and iTunes.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Elvis Presley (3/23/56) 54 Years!

Elvis Presley was the first rock ’n’ roll album to reach #1 on the Billboard pop album chart (spending 10 weeks there), the first million-selling rock ‘n’ roll album, and the first million-selling pop album for RCA Records. While Elvis Presley (playlist here) had seen some action on the country and western singles charts in 1955, when his debut album was released on March 23, 1956, the ground shook, The King was born, rock ‘n’ roll found its legs and the world of pop music was never the same again.

Elvis Presley wasn’t really a cohesive album in that sense of the term that came along in the 60s, and certainly not in a time when teens mainly bought 45s. It’s disjointed, with 12 tracks on the original vinyl (mono) disc recorded at three different times. Seven came from two sessions in January at RCA studios in Nashville and New York. The remaining five were leftovers culled from Presley’s catalogue of singles acquired from his previous employer, Sun Records (RCA bought his contract from Sun in November 1955 for $35,000). But who cared? Inconsistency aside, the landmark record had great rockabilly (Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”), country-pop (“Trying To Get To You”), shufflin’ R&B (Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”) and languid cover of the classic ballad “Blue Moon” (which doo-wop group The Marcels would speed up with startling effect in 1961).

Most CD reissues of include the classic hit “Heartbreak Hotel,” which rose the charts along with the LP but was not on the original vinyl pressing. Together, though, they make one helluva starting point for a playlist of the Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (soft sell, click here). Elvis Presley is #55 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 top albums of all-time. CD reissues and mp3 downloads are available on Amazon, but and iTunes downloads are available here.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Wild Cherry (3/20/76) 34 Years!

Funky one-hit wonder band Wild Cherry endured the bar and lounge circuit among the gritty steel mills along the Ohio River in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and southeastern Ohio for several years before their 5:01 minutes of global fame came in 1976. Allegedly pestered one night by a group of non-whites to “play something funky,” leader and guitarist Rob Parissi and his mates did just that, responding with the now-classic “Play That Funky Music (White Boy).” The single opened their eponymous debut album, released on March 20, 1976.

Unfortunately for Rob and his lounge pals, that was it. The single and album were an out-of-nowhere, huge and enduring hit. “Play That Funky Music” topped both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts, and the album and single were platinum sellers. Wild Cherry tried but never came close to matching the success of their one-hitter. But they’re still enjoying the income from royalties, including when you download the (pretty good funk/rock – for $6.99) album or mp3s on Amazon (click here) or iTunes (click here).

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Aerosmith (1/13/73) 37 Years!

America’s favorite bar band-turned-rock superstars, Aerosmith (click here for my Top 25 Aerosmith playlist) burst from their Boston-centric fan base on January 13, 1973 with their self-titled debut album. They’d been touring the Northeast for nearly three years after frontman Steve Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry met in an ice cream parlor in central New Hampshire in the summer of 1970. Through constant road work, Aerosmith steadily honed the swaggering bluesy hard rock that made them the hottest hard rock band in America in the late 70s.

The debut LP Aerosmith attracted generous, but not universal attention. It peaked at #21 on the Billboard 200 album chart with two memorable rock gems (“Mama Kin” and “Walkin’ The Dog”) plus “Dream On”, a classic rock track and an early entry in the 70s/80s “power ballad” genre. As a single, “Dream On” peaked at #59 in 1973 and rose to #6 in 1976 when re-released after the band reached superstardom with the LPs Toys In The Attic (1975) and its follow-up, Rocks (1976).

Aerosmith is not available on iTunes but can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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