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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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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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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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

 

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


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

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

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

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Monday, January 4, 2010

 

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

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

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

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

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Monday, 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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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

 

Album of the Day: Genesis (11/18/74) 35 Years!


Genesis was one of the few British rock bands that successfully made the transition from meddling 60s folk-pop-rock through late-60s psychedelic rock to 80s pop-rock superstardom.  Their November 18, 1974 concept album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, was major point along that road and a huge FM radio hit (I remember playing it daily on my radio show at the time).  While well received on air, in the critics’ circles and in stores, The Lamb… unfortunately became the last Genesis album on which Peter Gabriel appeared. Gabriel was the lead vocalist, chief songwriter and stage frontman for the band (he wrote all of the material on The Lamb…).  His departure could have spelled doom, but remaining members Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett moved on to greater things, including a string of nine straight U.K. Top 10 albums (8 in the U.S.) before they called it quits in 1992.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is available as a CD and DRM-free mp3 files on Amazon (click here).

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