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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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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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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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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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

 

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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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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Saturday, November 14, 2009

 

Album of the Day: The Monkees (11/14/67) 42 Years!

51VWJVXQG1L._SL160_The Monkees’ fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd., was released on November 14, 1967. It’s one of the best pop-rock albums of the 60s. But mention the Monkees and most people think of the wacky TV show, the “band” manufactured specifically to star in the show, and the string of mid-60s upbeat, pop-rock tunes that were credited to the Monkees but on which none of the band’s members supposedly played any instruments. That’s only partially true, but the depth of the contributions by Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Peter Tork is always lost amidst the derision from many critics and purists to the “Pre-Fab Four.” Yes, they had little artistic control and musical effort in their first two albums, but they demanded and one freedom for their third release, Headquarters, in May 1967, writing half the songs and playing all the music themselves. And on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. they were so confident that they featured mostly covers on the album’s 13 original cuts and actually invited studio musicians to supplement their own musicianship.

Never sell the Monkees short. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is a great album with a mix of styles (reflecting the disparate musical interests of the individuals). It was the fourth #1 album in less than 14 months for the band, and represents the only time in music history that all of any band’s first four albums went #1. Not even the real Fab Four can say that. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is available as download tracks from iTunes (click here) and as a CD from Amazon (click here).

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