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, February 13, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Black Sabbath (2/13/70) 40 Years!


“Play me loud!” should have been painted across the cover of Black Sabbath, the eponymous first album by the band that achieved near-universal credit for introducing “heavy metal” music to the world. It was released in the U.K. on February 13, 1970 - a Friday, no less! - and three months later in the U.S. (Check out the Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne playlist in Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault).

The monotonous rhythm of Ozzy and his bandmates’ macabre sound was best heard on a Victrola when played louder than anything our parents would approve of – louder than even the poppy, hand-holding Beatles’ songs from just a short six years earlier. Murky, dripping with occult imagery and morbid lyrics, Black Sabbath came with three individual tracks and two lengthy multi-song pieces oozing dark satanic themes and droning rhythms. “Kids, where are you?” was the question. “We’re in there, Mommy” the response.

Dankly dungeonous, Black Sabbath had an auspicious debut for over a year on the US charts, peaking at #23 and selling a deadly million copies. Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album #241 on its list of the Top 500 albums of all-time.

Black Sabbath is available on CD, LP or mp3 at Amazon. Unfortunately for metal-Podders, it's not on iTunes. (Incidentally, Black Sabbath is one of only a handful of rock and pop albums where the band name, the album name and the title track are all the same. Can you name any others?)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Jerry Garcia (1/20/72) 38 Years!

Jerry Garcia released his first solo album, Garcia on January 20, 1972, a few months before his Grateful Dead (see my playlist here) bandmates, Bob Weir (Ace) and Mickey Hart (Rolling Thunder) did the same. The three solo LPs provided some needed relief for Dead fans, who endured a three year gap in studio material by the Dead between American Beauty (1970) and Wake Of The Flood (1973).

Garcia is a delightful mix of bluesy rock ‘n roll (“Sugaree”), upbeat country-rock (“Deal”), off-tempo country-rock (“Loser”), full-textured folk (“Bird Song” and “To Lay Me Down”) and late-period psychedelia cum peddle steel twang (“The Wheel”). These six tracks, all co-written by long-time Garcia collaborator and Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, would quickly become staples in the Dead’s legendary on-stage set lists. Garcia is also a testimony to the breadth and depth of his musical prowess and a nearly pure solo effort. He sang vocals and played all of the stringed instruments and keyboards. Dead-partner Billy Kreutzman, who’s credited with co-producing the album and co-writing four of the 10 tracks thereon, handled the percussion. Otherwise, Garcia is all Jerry.

As I said in a previous post, I am not a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Deadhead, but am more than a just a casual Dead fan. For me, Garcia is a standout among the dozens of albums in Garcia’s long list of solo works, his various collaborative efforts, and releases as leader of the Jerry Garcia Band and de facto leader of the Grateful Dead. Incidentally, Jerry is ranked #13 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. And Garcia can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Pretenders (1/19/80) 30 Years!

Punk was cresting and the New Wave was just beginning to swell when the Pretenders (see my playlist here) floated their eponymous debut on January 19, 1980. Pretenders was one of those bridge-the-gap albums that clearly spanned the divide between the loud, raw energy of 70s British punk and the subtler, synthesized post-punk sounds of the 80s.

Ohio native Chrissie Hynde assembled her band in 1978 in London, where she’d been a music critic and aspiring songwriter. The band released several singles in 1979 and generated enough enthusiasm to produce a full album. The nucleus of Pretenders is several of those early tracks, including the cover of the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing,” the glorious pop-rocker “Brass In Pocket” (#14 single in 1980) and a re-recorded version of staccato “The Wait” (a Dr. Rock favorite). Seven new songs round out the affair, notably a rolling “Tattooed Love Boys,” a jangly love song in “Kid” and a pop-based but still edgy “Mystery Achievement.” On all tracks, frontwoman Hynde’s beautifully confident, rich voice reaches above but still complements the riffs and solo spurts supplied by guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and the driving rhythm from bassist Peter Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers. (Sadly, Honeyman-Scott and Farndon would die from drug overdoses less than a year apart in 1982 and 1983).

Pretenders reached #1 on the U.K. album charts (#9 in the U.S.). I’ve included it as #10 on Dr. Rock’s Best Debut Albums (click here for the list) and #2 on my Top 25 Albums for 1980 (click here). Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #155 on their Top 500 Albums of All-Time. That should tell you enough about its place is your collection. Pretenders is available for download on iTunes (click here) and can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

 

Vintage Video: The Byrds (1965)

Bob Dylan (click here for Dr. Rock’s playlist) wrote “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1964, recorded it in January 1965, and released it on Bringing It All Back Home in March 1965. The Byrds (click here) released their version as a single on April 12, 1965. It quickly shot to #1 on both the U.S. and U.K. singles charts and eventually settled at #79 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 songs of all-time. Click here for a Vintage Video of the Byrd’s lip-synching and fake-playing their way through “Mr. Tambourine Man” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Bruce Springsteen (1/5/73) 37 Years!


Bruce Springsteen’s (click here for my B.S. playlist) rough-and-ready debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. ended up in a dead-end South Jersey alley with nowhere to run. It received positive but limited response from music critics after its January 5, 1973 release. Columbia Records followed the LP with two terrific singles, “Blinded By The Light” and “Spirit In The Night,” but they flopped badly and even the early accolades (“the next Bob Dylan”) had little impact on the album’s sales or Springsteen’s fan base. Shaken but undeterred, the Boss soldiered on, releasing The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle in September 1973. That album, too, generated critical praise but meager sales. Springsteen pushed one more time, realizing that the three strike rule would apply with Columbia. But record company executives, aware of the critics and his huge cult following in the Northeast, gave Bruce a big production and promotion budget for 1975’s Born To Run, and the rest is history.

It’s difficult to fathom why Asbury Park tanked early on (it retroactively went gold once Bruce hit the big-time). It’s a great debut album, mixing Dylanesque lyrics with a 50s rock ‘n roll electrified sound with piano, horn and acoustic guitar accents and Bruce’s deep, sometimes growling vocals. Thematically, it explores teenage angst (“Growin’ Up”), one-way love (“For You” – a Dr. Rock favorite), tragedy and despair (“Lost In The Flood”), and exuberant optimism (“Blinded By The Light”). Largely overlooked 37 years ago, Asbury Park is a classic roots-rock album and one of the better debuts of all time.

Asbury Park is #389 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Greatest albums of all time. I think it should be in the top 200 (they didn’t ask me). You’ll find Asbury Park as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).

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Monday, January 4, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Yes (1/4/72) 38 Years!

Yes released their fourth album, Fragile on January 4, 1972, a scant six months after Rick Wakeman left the Strawbs and joined Yes (click here for my playlist), bringing synthesizers and another strong classical music background to a band on verge of breakthrough. While contractual issues precluded any official credit for his keyboard and co-writing work on the album, Wakeman’s presence solidified the band, their sound and their place in rock history. Fragile quickly rose to #4 on the Billboard 200 and pushed the band to the forefront of the burgeoning prog-rock movement.

The whole affair owes everything to the surprise hit single version of the 8-plus minute “Roundabout,” which became a cross-over AM and heavy FM hit after a shortened version was released as a single. That extremely unusual achievement lifted an otherwise excellent prog-rock album to unheard of heights and began a nearly 40 year reign for Yes as the quintessential and longest-running prog-rock show on Earth.

Surprisingly, Fragile is not on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of all time, but it should be in the first 100. However, it is available as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).

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Monday, December 14, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Clash (1214/79) 30 Years!

London Calling is the best damn punk album ever. Period. It was released by The Clash (click here for my playlist) in the U.K. thirty years ago today on December 14, 1979 (it came out in the U.S. during January 1980).

Without losing one snarling bit of the raw, nervous, socio-politically nihilistic core of pure punk, The Clash spanned the late 70s abyss from mainstream pop-rock, power pop and straight-up rock ‘n roll to the driving noise of pure punk rock, and pulled everyone back across. And it’s no sell-out. A double album(!), London Calling is full of memorable riffs, toe-tapping rhythms, sing-along lyrics and more distinct genres than the Sex Pistols or Generation X could ever play. And it’s still basic punk.

London Calling has the shuffling reggae sounds of “Rudy Can’t Fail,” the anachronistic, danceable celebration of “Revolution Rock,” the pulsing but melodic punk of “Hateful,” the hard-rock title track, the roots rockabilly of “Brand New Cadillac,” and the hard-edged pop-rock of “Train In Vain” (which was not listed on the cover or Side 4 label of the original Epic vinyl release – but I’ve got mine!).

London Calling is an essential LP in any rock music collection. It’s a Grammy Hall of Fame record, #8 on the Rolling Stone Magazine list of the 500 top albums of all time, #1 on the magazine’s Top 100 Albums of the 80s, and available as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).

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Monday, November 30, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Pink Floyd (11/30/79) 30 Years!

Only Pink Floyd could release a double-sided concept album filled with dark themes of personal despair, narcissism and condescension, and then sell millions of copies and find the album ranked as one of the best of all time. They did, and resoundingly. The Wall (November 30, 1979) is one of Floyd’s best and one of the hottest (for good reason) double albums of all time. It’s pure late-life Floyd: moody, rhythmic and spacey, but punctuated with top-classics like “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell”, “Hey You” and “Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2” (a #1 single). Bandleader Roger Waters penned all of the material (with occasional help from bandmate David Gilmour and others). That proved to be the beginning of the end for Pink Floyd. Their next album, aptly-named The Final Cut, was the last that Roger Waters composed in its entirety and his swan song with the band.

The Wall is ranked #87 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums of all time. It’s available as a CD from Amazon (click here) and as download tracks on iTunes (click here).

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Monday, November 23, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Cat Stevens (11/23/70) 39 Years!

Cat Stevens had several singles and three mediocre albums during his attempt to launch his career as a folk-rock singer/songwriter in the late 60s. While he garnered some attention in his native England, he found virtually no audience in the U.S. and, out of frustration, considered ending his efforts. But he had a backlog of decent material, and so decided to give it one more shot. His fourth album, Tea For Tillerman, rang the bell upon its release on November 23, 1970, reaching #8 in the U.S., #11 in Canada, #20 in the U.K. and, eventually #206 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums.

Tea For Tillerman's push up the charts benefited from the big single “Wild World,” which was issued in advance of the album and created the buzz Stevens needed to break into the U.S. market. But the album carried its own weight beyond the single. Four songs in particular, “Father And Son,” “Longer Boats,” “Where Do The Children Play?” and “Hard Headed Woman” have become timeless favorites for Cat’s devotees and casual fans alike.

Tea For Tillerman was the first of five straight U.S. Top 10 albums for Stevens. It’s available as a CD from Amazon (click here) and as downloadable tracks from iTunes (click here).

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Beatles (11/22/68) 41 Years!


The Beatles released two albums on November 22: With The Beatles in 1963 and The Beatles (White Album) in 1968. In the short five years between the two, the Fab Four made a dramatic and incomparable transformation from an up-and-coming rock ‘n roll band playing mostly love songs to an enormously popular, innovative group recording songs based on a wide range of genres and subjects. Musically the two albums were as far apart as anything the Beatles ever recorded. With The Beatles was 14 crisp, mostly upbeat songs. The White Album was a double LP of 30 eclectic tracks with mixed content and styles, from light, folk-based tunes (“Martha My Dear” and “Blackbird”), to vaudevillian novelty songs (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “…Bungalow Bill”), to out-and-out rockers (“Birthday,” “Back In The U.S.S.R.” and “…Me And My Monkey”) to the wild and edgy “Helter Skelter.”

The White Album was a watershed event for the band and was the beginning of their 18-month dissolution dance that ended in early 1970. It was the last full album on which the band recorded all of the material together. Under the strain of individual egos, divergent musical interests, outside influences, disputes over management and the financial problems at their new business, Apple Records, it’s a wonder that their final two albums, Abbey Road (1969) and Let It Be (1970) ever saw the light of day (tracks for 1969’s Yellow Submarine were recorded prior to the White Album).

The Beatles (White Album) ranks #10 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 albums and is available as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Prince (10/27/82)

51VXXGHHBYL._SL160_Prince found national prominence with his October 27, 1982 release, 1999, which set the table for his blockbuster 1984 LP, Purple Rain (check my Prince playlist at www.DrRock.com).

A double album, 1999 was Prince’s first Top 10 release (it peaked at #9) and the fifth best-selling album in all of 1983. And rightly so. 1999 is great electro-pop-R&B-soul as only Prince (or Michael Jackson) could deliver. Prince beat Michael’s Thriller LP into the record stores by all of five weeks, giving him a leg up of sorts in the race for supremacy atop the Top 80s R&B charts. Of course, Jacko ultimately won that contest, but not before Prince and 1999 delivered three big, enduring hits: the title track, “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious,” plus the lesser hit “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” The album benefited from heavy airplay on the-fledgling MTV, which was barely 15 months old when 1999 came out. Rolling Stone Magazine lists 1999 as #163 on its Top 500 Albums. Jacko’s Thriller is #20.

1999 is available as download tracks from iTunes (click here) and as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Led Zeppelin (10/22/69)

41UGySBN4OL._SL160_We’ll argue forever about which Led Zeppelin album is better, their debut or Led Zeppelin II, which came out 40 years ago today on October 22, 1969, nine months after its predecessor. If you’re on the “other side’, you still can’t deny that Led Zeppelin II was a monster album, and together they are a formidable duo of highly influential hard blues-rock music (tracks from both are included in my LZ playlist on DrRock.com). One interesting fact: while Led Zeppelin I was recorded at a leisurely pace in the fall of 1968, Led Zeppelin II was laid down during breaks in the band’s hectic touring schedule in the U.S. and U.K. between January and August 1969. With no time for unlimited retakes and overdubbing, II is a raw and energetic album, a full set of great guitar riffs, distorted vocals, heavy metal rhythms and very memorable tunes (“Ramble On,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Thank You” and “What Is And What Should Never Be” are the best).

Now back to the argument at hand. Rolling Stone magazine fails provide any true guidance on the issue of which is better. Led Zeppelin II is listed on the RS Top 100 albums at #59, is included on the RS200 (there were no rankings on that one), and takes the #75 spot on the RS Top 500 list. Led Zeppelin I isn’t on the Top 100 or Top 200 lists, but finds itself at #29 on the Top 500 list. Go figure.

Led Zeppelin II (my pick of the two) is available as download tracks from iTunes (click here) and as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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