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, February 22, 2010

 

In Memoriam: Dale Hawkins, 1936 - 2010

In case you missed the news, Louisiana rockabilly star Dale Hawkins died a week ago Saturday at 73. Often (and unjustifiably) labelled a "one hit wonder," Hawkins surely had one massively memorable hit: “Susie Q” from 1957, mostly because the Stones and Creedence covered it with great effect in the 70s (click here for Dale’s TV performance from 1958). But Hawkins’ repertoire of “swamp rock” tunes (a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, country twang and deep Louisiana blues) were a huge influence on early rockers, and he’s always been counted with Elvis, Buddy, Bill Haley and others among the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music.

Dale continued to record through the 60s, despite being cheated out of royalties for “Suzie Q.” He hosted a TV program and toured regularly in the 70s. And his work as a record producer is forever pressed in several classic 70s AM pop-rock gems he shepherded, including “Western Union” by the Five Americans, “Judy In Disguise” by John Fred & The Playboy Band, and “Do It Again – A Little Bit Slower” by Jon & Robin. After a lengthy 80s bout with prescription drugs and seclusion in Little Rock, AR where he founded and ran a rehab facility, Hawkins returned to recording in the late 90s with an album of new material - Wildcat Tamer – that received great reviews and sold modestly. Another comeback album was recorded after he contracted colon cancer in 2006.

(Incidentally, Dale’s cousin is Ronnie Hawkins, a stellar rockabilly artist in his own right and frontman for the 60s rock ‘n’ roll group The Hawks. The backing musicians in a mid-60s lineup of the band became known to the world as The Band in 1968.)

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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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