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, 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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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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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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Monday, November 2, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Cream (11/2/67) 42 years!

61doh+b0SML._SL160_Supergroup Cream recorded their second album, Disraeli Gears at Atlantic Studios in New York during May 1967. Following a short but very successful U.S. tour during August, the band released the LP on November 2, 1967, and it immediately shot up to the Top 5 in both the U.S. and Britain. And for good reason. Disraeli Gears is a perfect blend of British psychedelic rock and American blues-rock, delivered by the leading power trio of the day, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Cream brought in Felix Pappalardi to produce Disraeli Gears, which tightened up their sound following loose collection of mostly blues covers from their debut, Fresh Cream (1966). Pappalardi would eventually go on the form Cream-influenced, power rock Mountain with Leslie West in the 70s, but his work with Clapton, Bruce and Baker resulted in a terrific collection of sometimes spacey, but always dead-on interpretations of blues-rock from a Brit’s viewpoint. Included on Disraeli Gears are some of Cream’s best known and enduring songs, “Sunshine Of Your Love” (#5 in the U.S. in early 1968), “Strange Brew” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” as well as the wailing, psych-rocker “Swablr.”

Disraeli Gears ranks #9 on my list of the Top 25 albums for 1967 and #112 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It 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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