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 14, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Van Halen (4/14/82) 28 Years!

Van Halen’s fifth record, Diver Down, surfaced on April 14, 1982. It’s a mixture of decent original material and vastly more memorable covers of 60s classics. The band recorded the album in about 12 days to catch the wave of popularity from the shooting star single, the cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” which they’d released earlier in the year.

Without the exuberant remakes of the Kink’s “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” and the Martha & The Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Street,” the originals might have been lost. They’re good but memorable only to hard core Van fans. Those three cover-singles outperformed the three original singles (“Secrets,” Little Guitars” and “The Full Bag”) by a wide margin and floated Diver Down into the #3 spot (it spent a total of 65 weeks on the charts) and eventually over 4 million in unit sales.

Perhaps the oddest cover of all is Van Halen’s rendition of Dale Evan’s (wife of Roy Rogers) “Happy Trails,” the song she wrote for her husband’s TV show (on which she was a nearly equal star). Van Halen’s in the Playlist Vault and Diver Down can be downloaded from Amazon and iTunes.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Elton John (4/10/70) 40th Anniversary!

Sir Elton John’s eponymous album was released on April 10, 1970. It was his U.S. debut LP but his second in the U.K., following the Brit-only Empty Sky from April 1969 (that was eventually released in the U.S. in 1975 once Sir Reg reached superstardom on the left side of the Atlantic).

Elton John (playlist here) sired the careers of Elton and his songwriting sidekick Bernie Taupin, with two big AM pop hits, the funky “Take Me To The Pilot” and the languid, now-standard “Your Song” since becoming signature John/Taupin songs. But Elton John is more. It’s a perfectly-timed, early 70s showcase LP for the burgeoning singer/songwriting genre. It’s got plenty of soon-to-be-perfected piano/orchestra ballads (a la “Border Song,” a well-crafted companion to “Pilot”), light rockers (“The Cage,” which Warren Zevon likely borrowed almost a decade later), and heavily-orchestrated, over-produced melodies with harpsichords, violins and punching pianos. Yet Sir Reg does it all well on Elton John, a great debut and prelude to Honky Chateau and all the other great E.J. albums. Elton John is the door-opening listen to a hugely influential pop-rock career.

The visual cacophony of Elton John’s later career is absent on Elton John. That would all come later, and none too soon. The duck suits, big glasses, flamboyant hairdos and genre-busting wardrobes aren’t on Elton John. It’s just the early work of true and earnest 70s singer/songwriter looking for his big break. And he got it. Elton John can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon or iPod files on iTunes.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Bob Dylan (4/9/69) 41 Years!

Nashville Skyline wasn’t Bob Dylan’s best album by any stretch, but it did top out at #3 in the U.S. and a surprising #1 on the U.K. charts (find Bob in The Playlist Vault, here). Recorded in Nashville (where else?) with a cadre of local session musicians and released on April 9, 1969, the album includes a duet (a remake of “Girl From The North Country”) with Johnny Cash and reflects the emergence of the country-rock sub-genre and the early shift of pure country music toward the pop mainstream.

Nashville Skyline spun three singles onto the pop charts, with “Lay Lady Lay” the only one to see significant chart action. The other two (“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and “I Threw It All Away”) were pretty decent slower country tunes, but Dylan wasn’t a country artist and Nashville Skyline was far from a rock album, so one shouldn’t be surprised that the singles didn’t hit. But that’s the whole point. The album was smack in the middle of the early development of country-rock, and Dylan was on the forefront along with the Byrds, Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

And Bob Dylan’s best? My money’s on Blonde On Blonde, with Highway 61 Revisited at #2 and Blood On The Tracks #3. Your bias can be registered on DrRock.com. Nashville Skyline can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon or iPod files on 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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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Genesis (3/31/80) 30 Years!

A good number of people - critics and die-hard Genesis fans especially - accused the progressive rock band of selling-out when they released their tenth studio album, the pop-oriented Duke, on March 31, 1980. Truth is, the seeds of change on Duke were sewn years before. Anyone who failed to hear the drift toward pop-rock wasn’t paying attention to all the signals, foul-crying critics and fans especially. Check out and comment on my Genesis playlist here).

Peter Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in mid-1975 ended the growing clash over musical direction for the band and, more importantly, brought drummer Phil Collins into the lead singer role. Where Gabriel was into high brow, theatrical live shows and heavy-handed concept albums, the remaining three (Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford, guitarist Steve Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks) knew a good pop-rock melody and could pen them easier than Gabriel could design the costumes and deep lyrics for his stage persona. The last Gabriel-era LP, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, gained radio airplay in the U.S. to chip away at their cult status (they were always big in the U.K.). Each successive album grew bolder with pop rhythms, riffs and harmonies, with “Robbery, Assault And Battery” (1976), “Your Own Special Way” (1976) and “Follow You Follow Me” (1978) setting up the two hits from Duke, “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again.”

Duke is usually viewed as the mid-point between the “new” and the “old” Genesis. While I disagree that the distinction is that clear, the fact remains that it became their first #1 record in the U.K. (and #11 in the U.S.). It was followed by four more terrific Genesis albums in the 80s paralleling Collins’ solo career. CD issues and mp3 downloads are available on Amazon (click here). iTunes downloads are available here.

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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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Monday, March 22, 2010

 

Album of the Day: The Beatles (3/22/63) 47 Years!

The Beatles (playlist here) recorded the bulk of their debut album, Please Please Me at EMI Studios in London in one, 9-hour marathon in February 1963. The album was rush-released in the U.K. on March 22, 1963 to leverage the success of two singles, “Love Me Do” and the title track, both of which came out in late 1962. Beatlemania was bubbling in Britain, but it would be nearly a year before the Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, bringing the brouhaha to the U.S.

Please Please Me contains 14 excellent samples of the Beatles’ early work. You’ve heard them all many times over, but they’re just a fresh today as they were 47 years ago when four brash young guys banged them out for a few pounds pay (but millions more to come in royalties). And it wasn’t that much trouble for them to get it down in 9 hours, as most of the songs were staples of their live shows honed in the clubs of Hamburg and Liverpool. Eight Lennon/McCartney originals mix with six covers, including Motown (“Boys,” featuring Ringo on vocals, and “Baby It’s You,” another Shirelles hit), a Gerry Goffin/Carole King mid-tempo rocker (“Chains,” sung by George Harrison) and “Twist And Shout,” a hit for the Isley Brothers in 1962. Of the originals, there’s a balance of rock ‘n’ roll (“I Saw Her Standing There” and the title track) with sweet ballads (“There’s A Place” and “P.S. I Love You”) and the eternal “Do You Want To Know A Secret.”

Unless they purchased import copies, American listeners would have to endure a 10 month wait for the Beatles’ first U.S. releases, Introducing…The Beatles on Vee-Jay Records and Meet The Beatles on Capitol (both released in mid-January 1964). Even the Canadians got in ahead of their southern neighbors, as Capitol released a Canada-only version of With The Beatles (the second U.K. release) in November 1963. Please Please Me is available as a CD or mp3 downloads on Amazon, but as with all Beatles music, not on iTunes.

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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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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Steely Dan (3/9/75) 35 Years!

Advance disclaimer: I’ve always been a big Steely Dan fan (soft sell: download tracks here). That being said, I still proclaim with extreme confidence that the seven albums Walter Becker and Donald Fagen released between 1972 and 1980 represent the best collection of any one artist or group during the 1970s. And their fourth album, Katy Lied (released on March 9, 1975) is the cream of the bucket.

Steely Dan, of course, wasn’t a true rock band, but the platform for songwriter/musicians Becker and Fagen to showcase their eclectic, one-of-a-kind amalgam of jazz, pop, R&B and light rock influences, using a progression of top-level, veteran studio session as their backing band (“Skunk” Baxter, Larry Carlton, Michael McDonald and Jeff Porcaro, to name just four). Together they produced a consistent, but not repetitive sound with enough pop to field several AM radio hits and enough substance to create a cult following off free-format FM radio. By the time Katy Lied came out, the duo had stopped touring (and wouldn’t resume so for nearly 20 years) and became perfectionists on the mixing board. With light rock (“Black Friday”), jazz-pop (“Doctor Wu”), funky R&B (“Bad Sneakers”) and drowsy blues (“Chain Lightning,” featuring Rick Derringer on guitar), the album is prime stuff all the way through.

From their pop-rock debut, Can’t Buy A Thrill all the way to the artsy jazz-pop of Aja and Gaucho, Steely Dan perfected the subtle but persuasive mix that’s more than stood the test of time and shifting musical tastes. My take on Steely Dan’s Top 25 is in the Playlist Vault. Katy Lied is on Amazon (as a CD or individual mp3 downloads) and iTunes, where you can download the album or individual tracks.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

 

Album of the Day: David Bowie (3/7/75) 35 Years!

David Bowie’s 24-odd mainline albums evidence his unusual skill at adapting himself, his wardrobe and his music to changing times and genres. That’s why he frequently called “The Chameleon.” Bowie’s 9th studio album, Young Americans came out on March 7, 1975 and heralded a self-termed “plastic soul” phase in which he briefly embraced the sounds of 60s and 70s American R&B music.

The blue-eyed soul of Young Americans followed Bowie’s late-60s start as a pop and music hall performer, the hard rock of The Man Who Sold The World (1970) and the glam-rock of Ziggy Stardust in the early 70s. But plastic soul was short-lived. Within a year, Station to Station moved him to an avant-pop mode, and 1977’s Low transitioned further into an electronic, synth-pop sound.

Young Americans had a #1 single in “Fame” (co-written by John Lennon, who also provided backing vocals) and a lesser hit with the title track. The album itself made it into the Top 10 in both the U.S. and U.K. It’s available on Amazon and iTunes. Check the Playlist Vault for my interpretation of Bowie's 25 best songs.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Patti Smith (3/3/78) 32 Years!

Though rightly given the moniker “Godmother of Punk,” Patti Smith drew much broader appeal than that of the hard-core punks who came after her. (A Patti Smith playlist will be on DrRock.com shortly). Many of Smith’s earliest songs were primitive, stripped-down rock ‘n roll and garage rock in the punk vein. Her first two albums, Horses (1975) and Radio Ethiopia (1976) were unquestionably the lead-in to the punk movement. But she also delivered shining examples of toned-down punk with melodies and poetic lyrics that actually held meaning, and thus was far more accessible than most of the buzzsaw noise that pounded New York, London and Los Angeles in the late 70s.

Smith’s third album, the March 3, 1978 release, Easter was the most entertaining (and commercially viable) of all of her early works. Sure, there’s the fury of “Babelogue,” the snarl of “Space Monkey” and the indignation of “Rock N Roll Nigger.” But there’s also the straight-ahead rock of “Till Victory,” the sweetly plodding, vaguely choral sound of the title track, and the emphatic hit “Because The Night,” the song she co-wrote with Springsteen and took to Top 10 status in the U.K. and #13 in the U.S.

Smith moved just enough away from the punk movement she helped launch to score a Top 20 album that charted for over five months. And with Easter, she also unmistakably opened the door for 80s hard rocking females like Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, Joan Jett and the Wilson sisters of Heart.

Easter is available as a CD and mp3 files on Amazon (click here), and as iPod downloads on iTunes (click here).

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Monday, March 1, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Elvis (3/1/65) 45 Years!

In the five short years following his discharge from the Army in March 1960, Elvis Presley went on a tear (click here for Dr. Rock's Top 25 Elvis songs). He recorded and released 13 albums, eight of which were soundtracks to films he starred in. And every one of those albums charted in the Top 10. Few other recording artists or groups have ever – or will ever – equal that prolific output.

Girl Happy was released on March 1, 1965 and was the sixth straight Elvis soundtrack album after Girls! Girls! Girls! from November 1962. Both Girl Happy the movie and its counterpart soundtrack were an obvious attempt to cash in on the beach party movie craze of the mid-60s (remember Frankie and Annette in the classic Beach Blanket Bingo?). As it turned out, neither was particularly memorable. The album featured only one single - “Do The Clam” peaked at #21 - but it did reach #8 for a short period in mid-1965.

Girl Happy is available as a CD on Amazon (click here), but not on iTunes.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

 

Album of the Day: The Beatles (2/26/70) 40 Years!

An unusual collection of singles and B-sides never included on any of the Beatles mainline albums (except certain U.S. versions), Hey Jude was released by Capitol Records in the U.S. on February 26, 1970. Its original working title was The Beatles Again, but that was changed shortly before the album’s release to leverage the inclusion of the August 1968 single, “Hey Jude,” which still commanded significant attention on the radio and in stores 18 months after it hit the streets.

Hey Jude features ten former 45 rpm-only songs that span the Beatles’ career, including “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better” from 1964 (both of which appeared on United Artists’ soundtrack to the movie A Hard Day’s Night but not on a previous Capitol LP), sides A and B of the 1966 disc “Paperback Writer”/“Rain,” and three tracks from the acrimonious recording sessions in the winter and spring of 1969 that led to the LPs Abbey Road and Let It Be, “Don’t Let Me Down” (the B-side to “Get Back”) and both front and back of the disc “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”/“Old Brown Shoe.

Hey Jude was followed closely by the Beatles’ final album Let It Be (May 1970) and the long-rumored announcement that the band would dissolve. As the only one-stop source of all of the songs included on the album, it’s almost required for any serious Beatle collector, but it was never issued on CD and the LP versions on Amazon are quite pricey. Apple iTunes, of course, doesn’t carry any Beatles, but Dr. Rock has 50 of the best Beatles songs in the Playlist Vault for you to use as a guide for downloading mp3 files on Amazon or other sites.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Neil Young (2/25/72) 38 Years!

Neil Young released his fourth solo album, Harvest, on February 25, 1972, a long 18 month gap following After The Gold Rush (for Dr. Rock’s Neil Young playlist, click here). The delay didn’t seem to matter to his fans, and likely stoked their collective interest. Harvest met with an enthusiastic reception; the LP quickly went to the top of the Billboard album charts and eventually became the highest selling album of 1972.

Along with the #1 hit “Heart of Gold” and the #31 single “Old Man,” Young delivered a masterful collection of second-tier slow, plodding and mid-tempo country-rock and folk tunes. Background vocals were provided by Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and Young’s former bandmates, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. Two tracks (“A Man Needs A Maid” and “There’s A World”) feature the London Symphony Orchestra, a potentially disastrous mix that could have resulted in schmaltzy elevator music, but Neil pulled it off with his plaintive vocals topping just the right level of soaring orchestral background.

Harvest brought Young into the glare of rock stardom as a solo artist. While his later work includes many great albums, he never matched the widespread popularity of Harvest, his biggest seller. It’s available on CD, LP or mp3 at Amazon (click here). Downloads for iPods are on iTunes (click here).

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Fleetwood Mac (2/24/68) 42 Years!

Fleetwood Mac (for Dr. Rock’s playlist, click here) is more than the 70s superstar group that brought “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain” to the top of the pops. Surely those are undeniably great and lasting tunes, but long before Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and John and Christine McVie cut those classic pop-rock tracks, FM was a hardcore 60s British blues band organized around and named for the rhythm section of bassist McVie and drummer Fleetwood. But the two led the band in name only. Founder, blues guitarist and songwriter Peter Green and his partner Jeremy Spencer controlled things, at least until Green succumbed to lengthy drug fests and left Mick and John to move forward on their own in 1970. Seven years and seven LPs later, the latter two had the last laugh en route to the bank.

Debut album Fleetwood Mac (2/24/1968) is top-notch material from the British blues-rock bloom of the mid- and late 60s. A mix of Green/Spencer originals and covers of mid-level Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, it’s one of the era’s best and a terrific counterpoint to what the world thinks is the real Fleetwood Mac.

Fleetwood Mac made it to #4 on the album charts in the UK but barely registered in the US. It’s available on CD, LP or mp3 at Amazon. Downloads for iPods are on iTunes.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Heart (2/14/76) 34 Years!


Heart. A debut album from a sister act. Two hotties in longing poses on the cover. Dreamboat Annie, the title. Released on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1976. How perfectly arranged! (Find Heart’s playlist here).

It didn’t take long to discern that this was no fluff-stuff. Nancy and Ann Wilson shot Cupid’s arrow dead on - pure, straight-ahead rock from a female perspective. Yes, Pat Benatar and Joan Jett snarled and rocked harder, but Heart covered all the bases. Hard rock with harmonies (“Magic Man” and “Crazy On You”, both now classics), dreamy-folksy love songs (the title track), and sweet female vocalist MOR pop-rockers (“I’ll Be Your Song”), even though they never made the soft-rock AM radio charts (but should have).

The debut topped out at #7 on the album charts in the US and launched what became one of the most important female rock acts (and attractive sisters, no less) in the 70s and 80s. Dreamboat Annie is available on CD, LP or mp3 at Amazon. Downloads for iPods are on iTunes.

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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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Friday, February 12, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Allman Brothers (2/12/72) 38 Years!


The band’s tribute to departed brother Duane, the Allman Brothers released Eat A Peach on February 12, 1972. Duane had died in a collision between his motorcycle and a flatbed lumber truck (not a peach truck as commonly thought) on October 29, 1971, and the double album included a mixture of studio tracks recorded before his death, live cuts from the Fillmore concerts in early 1971 that were not included on the terrific Live At The Fillmore collection from July 1971, and a handful of new songs completed in the studio by the band in the weeks following the accident. (For a 25 song playlist of the best of the Allman Brothers, visit Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault here).

By mixing live jams and studio tracks, Eat A Peach creates the quintessential Allman Brothers Band collection. From boogie-rock (“One Way Out”) to jazz-rock instrumental interplay (“Les Brers In A Minor”) to inspirational piano-guitar rock (“Blue Sky”) to plaintive folk-rock (“Melissa”) to acoustic simplicity (“Little Martha”), the album highlights the exceptional range and capabilities of the ABB as a tight-playing group and as individual artists. Duane’s slide guitar virtuosity is showcased on “Mountain Jam,” a 2-side, 33-plus minute rendition of the ABB’s take on Donovan’s “First There Is A Mountain.” Although it’s quite long for casual fans of the band, it’s a great track that’s even better when compared to the less polished version the band released in 1991 on the Live At Ludlow Garage 1970 retrospective CD.

Eat A Peach is one of my favorites and is available for purchase as a CD or download as mp3 files on Amazon (click here) or as iPod downloads at iTunes (click here).

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

 

Album of the Day: The Others


A few notable album releases for February 10 (in addition to Carole King’s Tapestry):

John CaleChurch Of Anthrax (1971)

Judas PriestStained Class (1978)

John LennonLive In New York City (1986)

Van HalenVan Halen (1978)

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Album of The Day: Carole King (2/10/71) 39 Years!

Carole King (click here for Dr. Rock’s playlist) had already established her credentials as a top-notch pop music songwriter by the time her second solo album, Tapestry was released on this date in 1971. As a member of the acclaimed Brill Building team of song crafters, King’s work (most often in collaboration with future husband Gerry Goffin) had been covered by numerous top acts throughout the 60s and early 70s, including the Beatles (“Chains”), the Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), the Shirelles (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), the Chiffons (“One Fine Day”) and Aretha Franklin (“[You Make Me Feel] Like A Natural Woman”).

Tapestry came at the beginning of the singer/songwriter boom in the early 70s and ultimately proved to be one of the seminal releases of the genre. Well-crafted, minimally-produced, warm, resonant and introspective, it ruled the US Pop charts for 15 weeks and included the #1 singles “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel The Earth Move.” In its day it was the longest charting album by a female performer and (rightly so) is one of the highest selling pop albums of all time.

Tapestry is available for purchase as a CD or download as mp3 files on Amazon (click here) or as iPod downloads at iTunes (click here).

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Rush (2/7/81) 29 Years!

Probably the definitive Rush album, Moving Pictures came out on February 7, 1981, a year after their biggest hit single (“Spirit Of Radio”), from the Permanent Waves album, and spawned two radio-friendly tracks, “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” which I won’t bore you by talking about (yay!). But you can check out these and other top Rush tracks in Dr. Rock’s Playlist Vault by clicking here.

Like its predecessor, Moving Pictures had a punning cover (check it out: not only are they [physically] moving pictures, but they are making [films] moving pictures, and the whole thing has people crying, making them [emotionally] moving pictures) and some great songs, and their last stab at a Proggy-concept track “The Camera Eye” with its intriguing intro (a typewriter tapping – do you kids even know what a typewriter is??) and very spacious sound and alternate major/minor backing to the guitar solo, was a graceful salute and farewell to the excesses of the Prog Rock era.

“Red Barchetta” was a brief return to the sci-fi/fantasy song themes of yore, and also a tip to Neil Peart’s individualist social/political thinking, which had drawn Rush so much criticism during the 2112 era. “Witch Hunt” has clear, pro-tolerance, anti-mob lyrics, and the absence of a guitar solo only reinforces the power of the words: “Quick to judge/Quick to anger/Slow to understand”. Nice. “YYZ” with its deliberately odd-rhythm/flattened-fifth intro (you did know “YYZ” was the code for Toronto airport, right? Sorry – just checking) now appears on Guitar Hero, for those of you who find Whack-a-Mole an acceptable substitute for musical ability.

Big “uh-oh” reserved for the final track “Vital Signs”, which was a taster for some of the clunkier tracks with just-plain-stupid lyrics that Rush did in the later 80’s, when they started to sound like a heavy-rock version of the Police (Sting’s old band), or Yes-plays-Bob-Marley or some such.

Moonglum rating: 4.5 gilt picture frames (out of a possible 5)

Review by Moonglum.

Moving Pictures is available for purchase as a CD or download as mp3 files on Amazon (click here) or as iPod downloads at iTunes (click here).

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Friday, February 5, 2010

 

Album of the Day: The Cure (2/5/80) 30 Years!

The album title was a bit of shock for this Brit. What’s Boys Don’t Cry (BDC)? ‘Cos in the UK, it was Three Imaginary Boys. Whatever it’s called, it was the first record by The Cure, and introduced the world to Robert Smith and…ummm… the revolving cast of characters that his support band turned out to be. (For Dr. Rock’s playlist of The Cure, click here).

For those of used to the full-on guitar/tongue-in-cheek onslaught of the Sex Pistols and the quirky humor of the Stranglers and their keyboard-dominated-punk driven sound, The Cure were a definite WTF? moment. From the introspective, moody, Albert-Camus-inspired lyrics (and, yes, THAT’s where the lyrics for “Killing an Arab” came from) to the sparse, crisp, distortion-free and (dammit) intriguing guitar style of Mr. Smith, the Cure left its audience a bit baffled as to genre. They weren’t punk, ‘cos no one was spitting at them. They weren’t pop because Robert Smith didn’t look like he’d ever smiled inanely in his life; and Goth hadn’t been invented yet - although kudos to Howard Devoto’s Magazine, who were making serious strides in that direction before the Sisters of Mercy got going.

Overall a great album, and a neat glimpse into Mr. Smith’s highly-inventive guitar chops, which dominate here, before keyboards started pushing his sound a little off center stage in the next album, Seventeen Seconds.

Moonglum rating: 4 tubes of mascara (out of a possible 5).

Review by Moonglum.

Boys Don’t Cry is available for purchase as a CD or download as mp3 files on Amazon (click here) or as iPod downloads at iTunes (click here).

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Fleetwood Mac (2/4/77) 33 Years!

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was released today in 1977 (click here for my FM playlist). Coming 18 months after 1975’s eponymous Fleetwood Mac, the album completed the transformation of the band from a late-60s, moderately successful British blues-rock outfit to a juggernaut, pop-rock phenomenon. Within months of its release, the LP shot to the top of the charts and spawned four U.S. Top 10 singles (“Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way” and “You Make Loving Fun”). It’s full of classic 70s vocals and jingle-jangle guitar licks, not to mention thinly-disguised references to the romantic inner turmoil that was beginning to pull the band apart. Original (and the lone remaining) founder Mick Fleetwood was enduring a messy divorce, caused in part by his affair with new singer Stevie Nicks, whose relationship with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was unraveling, and bandmembers John and Christine McVie were separating and headed for divorce as well.

The rock star version of Peyton Place didn’t stop Rumours from quickly becoming the one of the best-selling albums of all-time. To be a part of the amorous sub-plot, you’ll find Rumours available as a CD or individual mp3 downloads on Amazon (click here) and as $.99 download tracks for iPods and mp3 players on iTunes (click here).

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Moby Grape (1/30/72) 41 Years!

Hard core fans of psychedelic rock know Moby Grape was one of the premier bands of the era, despite the fact that they really weren’t a psych-rock outfit in a strict sense. Regardless of their genre label, the Grape had a terrific series of albums between 1967 and 1972, including their fourth, Moby Grape ’69, which came out on January 30, 1969. While their 1967 self-titled debut album is widely acclaimed as one of the best 60s albums of the psych-rock era, Moby Grape ’69 was no slouch.

Never prone to the drawn out, self-indulgent, often pretentious instrumental improvisations of some of their San Francisco brethren, Moby Grape featured a five-man, three-guitar lineup with roots in Canada, the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. With all five musicians sharing the songwriting, the Grape produced a wide variety of sounds, blending elements of blues, rock ‘n roll, country and folk into a rootsy mix with just enough spacey, acid-rock to put them in the realm of psychedelia. Moby Grape ’69 found the band honing their sound with deeper country and folk influences, presaging the mellow country-rock of the 70s. Fans of Poco (click here) and the Eagles (here) in particular will enjoy Moby Grape ’69 and its predecessors, Truly Fine Citizen (July 1969) and 20 Granite Creek (1971).

Moby Grape ‘69 is available as downloads for iPods and mp3 players on iTunes (click here) and can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Simon & Garfunkel (1/26/70) 40 Years!

Simon & Garfunkel’s hugely successful folk-pop partnership was unraveling during the recording sessions for their fifth album. Bridge Over Troubled Water was released on January 26, 1970 and proved to be a fitting and reflective bookend to a turbulent decade and the stellar run for Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the most popular folk duo of the Sixties – and inarguably all time.

S&G (see my playlist here) found a broad audience in all age groups and across the spectrum of pop and rock music with Bridge Over Troubled Water. With its gospel-tinged title track, the tambourine chops and light African rhythms of “Cecilia,” the haunting mandolin of “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” and the flowing introspection of “The Boxer,” the album won the hearts of the public, garnered multiple Grammy awards, spent more than ten weeks at #1 on the Billboard album chart, and sat for an astounding 33 weeks atop the British charts. But despite their lifelong friendship, the strains of a decade-long artistic association, Garfunkel’s move toward an acting career and Simon’s desire for freedom as a solo artist were causing a rift even before they began to record Bridge in October 1969. By the time the album came out, the ampersand was gone and the two were headed down separate paths.

One of the top selling albums of the 70s and a 25 million plus seller over 40 years, Bridge Over Troubled Water is available as downloads for iPods and mp3 players on iTunes (click here) and can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Friday, January 22, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Spirit (1/22/68) 42 Years!

Spirit was one of the more adventurous groups to emerge from the Los Angeles psychedelic rock scene in the late 60s. Over 20 years and more than a dozen albums they presented a quirky, amorphous blend of psychedelia, jazz, blues, hard-, folk- and art-rock that benefited first from the emerging, album-oriented FM radio of the late 60s and later from a devoted fan base during the early 70s progressive rock era.

Spirit’s 1968 eponymous debut was released on January 22, 1968 with songwriter/guitarist Randy California and his stepfather, drummer Ed Cassidy leading bandmates Mark Andes (bass), Jay Ferguson (percussion and vocals) and John Locke (keyboards). The album includes the heavy, thumping “Mechanical World,” which was pressed as a single but never caught on. Two better choices for chart action might have been “Uncle Jack” (pop-rock harmony vocals) or “Fresh Garbage” (a rocker in the vein of several contemporary Doors tunes). Two modest hits would come over the next few years with “I Got A Line On You” and “Nature’s Way,” both of which are now staples on the few classic rock radio stations that dig deeper into the period.

The revolving door of personnel changes doomed Spirit to remain a might-have-been band and a venue for California and Cassidy’s eclectic genre experimentalism. In 1971 and 1972, Ferguson left for Jo Jo Gunne and a solo career (remember 1977’s “Thunder Island”?), Andes went to Jo Jo Gunne and then Firefall, and Locke left for Nazereth. The two originals kept at it through the 80s and 90s with several decent art-rock LPs, but with California’s untimely death in 1997, Cassidy called it quits and Spirit’s long-run ended.

Spirit spent more than six months on the Billboard album chart through the summer of 1968, peaking at #31. It is available as downloads for iPods and mp3 players on iTunes (click here) and can be purchased as a CD or mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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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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Monday, January 18, 2010

 

Album of the Day: ZZ Top (1/18/94) 16 Years!

No other rock band can match ZZ Top’s record for longevity and consistency (click here for Dr. Rock's playlist). They’ve been playing and recording for over four decades with the same line-up: Billy Gibbons (vocal and guitar), Frank Beard (percussion) and Dusty Hill (bass and keyboards). Since forming in Houston in 1970, the band has kept their sound firmly rooted in pounding, Texas-baked blues-rock with occasional updates to match the changing decades and musical tastes. Theirs is a remarkable test of time and critical and commercial success.

After seven straight-ahead blues-rock albums between 1970 and 1981, ZZ Top layered in New Wave synthesized backing sounds and a bit of MTV glamour to their trademark. There followed three Top 10, multi-platinum albums – Eliminator (1983), Afterburner (1985) and Recycler (1990) – that brought the band a level of success unmatched by even their best 70s discs. For their eleventh studio album, Antenna (released on January 18, 1994), the boys returned to the hard edge of Tres Hombres (1973 and Fandango! (1975) but maintained just enough synth-pop to keep the music relevant. Antenna is not their best, but it’s quite good and worth a long listen for its two Top 10 singles, “Pin Cushion” and the slow-burning “Breakaway,” the searing guitar on “Lizard Life” and the growling pump of “Fuzzbox Voodoo.”

ZZ Top has scheduled a concert tour of South America in mid-2010 and is expected to release a 15th studio album later in the year. Those events will kick-off the fifth consecutive decade for the “little ol’ band from Texas”. Antenna 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 14, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Paul Simon (1/14/72) 38 Years!

So far, this second full week of January has been a week of debut albums. My past two posts have featured Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut and Aerosmith’s 1973 first LP. Today, January 14, Paul Simon’s eponymous first album is in the spotlight (and you can click here for Dr. Rock’s Rhymin’ Simon playlist).

Hot off his decade-long, multi-platinum gig with partner Art Garfunkel in the acclaimed 60s folk-pop duet Simon & Garfunkel (playlist here), Simon cooled off for two years to work on his debut album as a solo artist. When released 38 years ago today, Paul Simon became the first of three straight Top Ten, million-selling studio LPs for Simon (not including the 1974’s Live Rhymin’).

Paul Simon expands from the straightforward folk-pop music of his Simon & Garfunkel years and includes reggae influences (“Mother And Child Reunion,” a Top Ten hit), African rhythms and texture (“Duncan”), and Latin tinges (“Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”). This subtle exploration of different musical genres continued with the R&B and gospel influences on 1974’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and the jazzy sounds of 1975’s Still Crazy After All These Years, which hit #2 and #1 on the U.S. pop charts (Paul Simon made it to #4 in 1973). After a relatively quiet 10 year stretch, Simon returned in 1986 with Graceland, an album deftly mixing American folk-pop with South African mbaqanga music. Those four albums, plus the heavy Latin sounds of 1990’s The Rhythm Of The Saints are Paul Simon’s best five and an incomparable collection of world-pop from one of the best all-around folk-pop songwriters of all-time.

Paul Simon 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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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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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Led Zeppelin (1/12/69) 41 Years!

The original (and many believe still the best) heavy metal band, Led Zeppelin (click here for my LZ playlist) was formed in mid-1968 by ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page, who recruited John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant to his band when his dream of a supergroup featuring himself, Jeff Beck, Keith Moon and John Entwistle failed to materialize. By summer’s end they’d played several dates in Scandinavia as The New Yardbirds, then changed the band’s name and secured a recording contract and fat advance from Atlantic Records.

Led Zeppelin’s debut album was recorded in a total of 36 hours in several sessions during October 1968 and released on January 12, 1969. It’s a great blend of different styles and moods, with most of the songs coming from the band’s set lists from the just-completed Scandinavian tour. Notable tracks are two decent Willie Dixon blues covers (“You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”), a longer, tougher blues-rock original by Jimmy Page (Dazed And Confused"), the frantic, punk-precursor “Communication Breakdown,” a sweetly folksy acoustic instrumental “Black Mountain Side” and the rolling “How Many More Times.” The lone single, “Good Times Bad Times” reached #80 on the U.S. Billboard charts in the U.S. and is #19 on my 25 Best of Led Zeppelin playlist.

Led Zeppelin is available as download tracks from iTunes (click here) and as a CD and mp3 downloads from Amazon (click here).

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

 

Album of the Day: David Bowie (1/6/67) 43 Years!

Two years and many moons before David Bowie stepped onto the world stage with his 1969 single “Space Oddity,” he released his eponymous debut album on Deram/Decca records on January 5, 1967. Long out of print as a vinyl record and available now in several expanded CDs (with multiple early Bowie bonus tracks), the album’s nothing like the David Bowie (aka “The Chameleon”) we came to know and love starting with “Space Oddity.” David Bowie is a mixed bag of vaudevillian stage songs (“Uncle Arthur”), tuba-based marching tunes (“Rubber Band”), slightly twisted MOR pop-rock tunes (“Love You Till Tuesday”), and a few memorable mid-60s psych-pop ditties (“Maid Of Bond Street”).

You needn’t listen carefully at all to hear Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Thin White Duke and other 70s/80s Bowie characters waiting for their time to come on David Bowie. If you’re a Bowie diehard, this album should be in your collection. If you’re just a casual Bowie fan, it’s worth a close listen.

For Dr. Rock's D.B. Top 25 playlist, click here. David Bowie is on Amazon (click here) as an expanded CD and on iTunes (click here) as individual downloads playable on iPods or mp3 players.

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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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Sunday, January 3, 2010

 

Album of the Day: Syd Barrett (1/3/70) 40 Years!

Syd Barrett founded Pink Floyd, played lead guitar and wrote most of the material on the band’s highly regarded first LP, 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. But beneath the melodically playful acid-based pop-rock of his music was a tormented psychotic whose freewheeling LSD use contributed to mental degradation and ouster from the band in 1968.

Barrett recorded two solo albums before he tripped into seclusion for over 30 years until his death from cancer in 2006. Released on January 3, 1970, Barrett’s first solo album, The Madcap Laughs, was engineered at Abbey Road Studios in two disjointed sessions, one in mid-1968 and the other a year later. Barrett’s nonsensical lyrics and acoustic guitar were laid down first, with session musicians and members of prog-rock group Soft Machine forced to provide overdubs based on Barrett’s increasingly whimsical and difficult direction. The result is a grab bag of sunny pop psychedelia and dark acid rock, a bit tough to follow at times but a period gem nonetheless.

Although Roger Waters and David Gilmour fired him from his band, they nonetheless were invited to produce parts of The Madcap Laughs. And they saluted Syd on their 1975 release, Wish You Were Here. The Madcap Laughs available as a CD on Amazon (click here) and download tracks on iTunes (click here).

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Rascals (12/15/69) 40 Years!

The Rascals were the quintessential 60s blue-eyed soul band, a blend of hard R&B with gospel influences, pounding rhythms and tight harmonies in the Motown and Memphis veins. In their peak years from 1966 through 1969, they released six Top 20 albums and thirteen self-composed Top 40 hits, including two #1’s (for a Rascals playlist, click here). But the internal desire to expand their music and the external pressure to retain relevance in the days of psychedelic rock caused the group to stray from their core competency – pop/soul singles - as the decade came to a close. Two experimental, near “concept” albums (1968’s Once Upon A Dream and March 1969’s Freedom Suite) delved into broader genres and were thus less focused on what the band did best. But they sold well anyway and each included a big single (“It’s Wonderful” and “People Got To Be Free,” respectively). With the release of their seventh LP, See, on December 15, 1969, the Rascals returned to their roots as a singles band, but it was too late. See was the beginning of the end and was the last Rascals’ album to have any measurable impact.

See is not a bad album at all, it just lacks a monster single or two to grab the listener and carry the band’s return to the gritty, exuberant white soul of their earlier albums. It’s available as a CD on Amazon (click here) but not on iTunes.

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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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Saturday, December 12, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Byrds (12/12/65) 44 Years!

Turn! Turn! Turn! was the Byrd's second album, a follow-up collection of folk-rock gems filled with tight harmonies and bandleader Roger McGuinn's distinctive, 12-string Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar work. Though not as successful as their debut from six months earlier, it nevertheless placed the Byrds directly out front of the burgeoning folk-rock scene and provided their earliest sampling (via "Satisfied Mind") of the country-rock music they'd delve into over their following five albums. Released on December 12, 1965, Turn! Turn! Turn! was propelled by the inspiring and timeless title track, a rendition of a Pete Seeger folk tune which came out as a single two months ahead of the album and drew heavily from the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. Other notable tracks include two Dylan covers (a second single "The Times They Are A Changin" and "Lay Down Your Weary Tune") and three originals by guitarist/vocalist Gene Clark (who would shortly leave the group for a semi-successful solo career in pure country-rock).

Turn! Turn! Turn! reached #17 in the U.S. and #11 in the U.K. It is available as a CD from Amazon (click here) and as download tracks from iTunes (click here).

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Friday, December 11, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Paul McCartney (12/11/76) 33 Years!


Paul McCartney (click here for Dr. Rock’s playlist) and his post-Beatles band Wings toured the world in 1976. Their epic triple-disc live album, Wings Over America, was released on December 11, 1976 at the end of the tour and quickly became the last of five straight U.S. #1 albums and a favorite of McCartney’s fans (if not critics). The album capitalizes on several of Paul’s biggest hits from the early 70s, including “Live And Let Die,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “My Love,” plus old Beatles’ tunes and a rare live version of Wings guitarist Denny Laine singing “Go Now!,” his big mid-60s hit from his stint with the early Moody Blues.

The triple album was recorded at the Forum in Inglewood outside Los Angeles on June 23, 1976. Rather than include the songs in the order in which they were played during the show, McCartney chose a novel arrangement and batched them on the LP’s six sides by style and the instrument he played. Thus, Side 1 features upbeat rockers with Paul on bass, followed by mellower, mostly piano love songs on Side 2, acoustic-guitar based folk songs on Side 3, and more piano songs on Side 4. Paul returns to the bass on Side 5 and focuses on tracks from Wing’s March 1976 studio release, Wings At The Speed Of Sound. Side 6 completes the package with another round of upbeat rockers with Paul on the bass.

Wings Over America is one of the highest selling live 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 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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Friday, November 27, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Beatles (11/27/67) 42 Years!

Capitol Records released the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour in the U.S. as a full length LP on November 27, 1967, less than six months after their groundbreaking and immensely enjoyable Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album (a shorter 6 song version was released as an EP in the U.K. by Parlophone) was meant to be a soundtrack for a Paul McCartney-directed TV film of the same name, which turned out to be a total bust, was panned by the British press after it aired on Boxing Day 1967 and didn’t air in the U.S. until the mid-70s. But the album did very well in the U.S., becoming yet another #1 album for the Beatles and selling more copies in its first three weeks out than any other Capitol release to that time. Interestingly, the import version in the U.K. only made #31 on those charts.

Side B of Magical Mystery Tour featured five of the Beatles’ great singles from 1967, “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” “Baby You’re A Rich Man” and “All You Need Is Love,” with the sixth, “I Am The Walrus” the last track on Side A. Also on the front side are McCartney’s sobering “Fool On The Hill” and George Harrison’s sweet “Blue Jay Way.”

Despite what its title may imply, Magical Mystery Tour was not a concept album in the vein of its predecessor Sgt. Pepper’s. But it’s a worthy follow-up with similar psychedelic-pop sounds and a wonderful source of the six single tracks and the other two. Magical Mystery Tour is available as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Badfinger (11/26/73) 36 Years!

Badfinger was one of those woulda-coulda bands that had lots of promise but never was able to fully deliver on it. The British power pop group had three gifted songwriters (founder Pete Ham, bassist Tom Evans and guitarist Joey Molland), a potentially powerful record label (Apple Records) behind them, association with and support from label’s founders (the Beatles), a hit single (“Come And Get It,” January 1970) supplied by Paul McCartney, and three straight worldwide Top 10 albums in the early 70s. But by the time Badfinger’s fifth album (including one issued as the Iveys), Ass was released on November 26, 1973, the bottom was falling out. The band had allowed a series of management missteps, they’d gone through one producer after another (including Todd Rundgren) without developing a consistent, sustainable sound, serious friction within the group was developing from frustration with their predicament, and Apple was in financial trouble after the Beatles’ dissolution in 1970. (The pressure eventually proved too much for Ham, who committed suicide less than 18 months after Ass was released).

Ham and his cohorts self-produced Ass, which didn’t help their cause. Plus, it was the last record released by Apple and received little promotional support from the label. But it’s a good early 70s power pop album, slightly harder and faster than the trademark pop-rock harmonies of its predecessor, Straight Up (their best work). Ass is available as a CD from Amazon (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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