Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In 1970 I turned 11 years old. By the end of that year I was already quite the little record collector geek. I spent every dollar I received in allowance toward records. I owned pretty much everything by the Beatles and the Stones, plus a couple of Joplin records, two by Hendrix, some Zepplin, several C.C.R. records, and one Crosby, Stills & Nash. I even owned a copy of the insane “Wedding Album” about which I could not make much sense. I remember one incident in 1970 that stands out involving another Lennon record. I was very excited about the new “Plastic Ono Band,” a record that turned out to be enormously influential. I knew it was out, somehow. After school I walked to Greenbriar Mall to pick up a copy. But when I got home with the record, purchased from Pennies (the Walmart of that era), my copy was badly warped and unplayable. I was very upset. When my dad came home from work, he decided to help. Together we went back to the discount store. Despite the fact I had no doubt lost my receipt, we got a replacement copy. My dad was a passionate Republican, a rarity among southern conservatives in those very different times, and I am certain he detested John Lennon. Yet, he was a good man. I was his son, and I wanted the record. He kindly helped me get a new, playable copy of this brilliant secularist, “leftist propaganda” record, a classic that remains my favorite of 1970, and one of my favorite records of any year.

Best LPs of 1970

1. John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (Apple)
2. The Stooges: Funhouse (Elektra)
3. Captain Beefheart: Lick My Decals Off Baby (Straight)
4. Leonard Cohen: Songs of Love and Hate (CBS)
5. David Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World (RCA)
6. The Beatles: Let It Be (Apple)
7. Miles Davis: Bitches Brew (CBS)
8. Peter Brotzmann: Balls (FMP)
9. The Velvet Underground: Loaded (Cotillion)
10. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Cosmos Factory (Fantasy)
11. The Beatles: Hey Jude (Apple)
12. Can: Soundtracks (Liberty)
13. Allman Brothers Band: Idlewind South (Capricorn)
14. Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead (Warner Brothers)
15. The Kinks: Lola Vs Powerman (Reprise)
16. Neil Young: After the Gold Rush (Reprise)
17. Alice Coltrane: Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse)
18. Van Morrison: Moondance (Warner Brothers)
19. Sun Ra: My Brother the Wind: Volume 1 (Saturn Research)
20. Sun Ra: The Night of the Purple Moon (Saturn Research)
21. Syd Barrett: Madcap Laughs (Harvest)
22. Syd Barrett: Syd Barrett (Harvest)
23. John Cale: Vintage Violence (CBS)
24. Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band (Apple)
25. Bob Segar: Mongrel (Capitol)
26. Phil Ochs: Greatest Hits (A&M)
27. Mott the Hoople: Mad Shadows (Atlantic)
28. The Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya’ Yas Out (London)
29. James Brown: Sex Machine (King)
30. Janis Joplin: Pearl (Columbia)
31. Nick Drake: Bryter Later (Hannibal)
32. AMM: Live Electronic Music Improvised (Mainstream)
33. Amon Duul: Amon Duul (Prophesy)
34. The Move: Shazam (Regal Zonophone, UK)
35. T. Rex: T. Rex (Fly)
36. Swamp Dog: Total Destruction to Your Mind (Canyon)
37. Steve Reich: Four Organs/Phase Patterns (Shandar)
38. Tim Buckley: Lorca (Elektra)
39. Al Green: Green Is Blues (Hi)
40. Paul McCartney: McCartney (Apple)
41. Bob Dylan: Self Portrait (CBS)
42. The Faces: First Step (Warner Brothers)
43. Traffic: John Barlycorn Must Die (United Artists)
44. Led Zepplin: 3 (Atlantic)
45. Rod Stewart: Gasoline Alley (Mercury)
46. Johnny Winter: Second Winter (CBS)
47. Grateful Dead: American Beauty (Reprise)
48. Cluster: Klopfzeichen (Schwann)
49. Black Sabbath: Paranoid (Warner Brothers)
50. Isaac Hayes: The Isaac Hayes Movement (Enterprise)
51. Rod Stewart: An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (Vertigo, UK)
52. Randy Newman: 12 Songs (Reprise)
53. George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (Apple)
54. The Temptations: Psychedelic Shack (Motown)
55. King Crimson: Lizards (Atlantic)
56. MC5: Back in the U.S.A. (Atlantic)
57. Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Waters (Columbia)
58. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willie & the Poor Boys (Fantasy)
59. Bob Dylan: New Morning (CBS)
60. Beach Boys: Sunflower (Capitol)
61. Crosby Stills Nash & Young: Déjà vu (Atlantic)
62. The Doors: Morrison Hotel (Elektra)
63. The Jackson Five: ABC (Motown)
64. Sly & the Family Stone: Whole New Thing (Epic)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The usual cliché ridden way of retelling the death of “the sixties” is to mention the murder at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. A man was murdered, as the Rolling Stones grooved on “Under My Thumb” but yards away and the movie cameras kept rolling. That was December 6th, 1969. A more politically minded historian will look elsewhere for a metaphoric decade death: to the National Convention of S.D.S. -- Students for a Democratic Society. The organization split into several smaller, more revolutionary pieces including what would become the Weather Underground. That was June 25th, 1969. Obviously, the sixties ended elsewhere, everywhere on December 31st. The next day was the seventies. However, one wants to tell this story, 1969 was not a time of love and happiness, much less peace. Nevertheless there was a great deal of wonderful music left behind for our listening pleasure all these years later. As thorough as I attempt to make my “best of” lists, I am bound to forget some things. I am simply ignorant of many other things, and despite their length, these lists really are what I consider to be the best music of a given year. I am leaving off records I like but cannot honestly claim are the best of anything. Regardless of all these records I claim to be leaving off, there are many I must include. Like the year before it and the year after, 1969 was very good year for music if not for the humanity.

Best LPs of 1969

1. The Stooges: The Stooges (Elektra)
2. Captain Beefheart: Trout Mask Replica (Reprise)
3. Cecil Taylor: The Great Concert (Prestige)
4. The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed (London)
5. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (MGM)
6. Ornette Coleman: Ornette at 12 (Impulse)
7. Pharoah Sanders: Karma (Impulse)
8. Various: New Sounds In Electronic Music (Odssey)
9. Can: Monster Movie (United Artists)
10. The Kinks: Arthur or Decline of the British Empire (Reprise)
11. Allman Brothers Band: Allman Brothers Band (Capricorn)
12. Grachan Moncur III: New Africa (BYG)
13. The Band: The Band (Capitol)
14. Roland Kirk: Volunteered Slavery (Atlantic)
15. MC5: Kick Out the Jams (Elektra)
16. Mott the Hoople: Mott the Hoople (Atlantic)
17. Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (Impulse)
18. Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Reprise)
19. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River (Fantasy)
20. Led Zepplin: 2 (Atlantic)
21. Phil Ochs: Rehearsals for Retirement (A&M)
22. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (Fantasy)
23. Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left (Hannibal)
24. Neil Young: Neil Young (Reprise)
25. Janis Joplin: I Got Dem Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama (CBS)
26. Dusty Springfield: Dusty In Memphis (Atlantic)
27. Amon Duul: Phallus Dei (Liberty)
28. Elvis Presley: From Elvis In Memphis (RCA)
29. Elvis Presley: From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis (RCA)
30. Silver Apples: Contact (Kapp)
31. King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (Atlantic)
32. Skip Spence: Oar (CBS)
33. Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline (CBS)
34. Blind Faith: Blind Faith (Atco)
35. Traffic: Heaven Is In Your Mind (United Artists)
36. Sly & the Family Stone: Stand (Epic)
37. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy)
38. James Brown: Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud (King)
39. The Godz: The Third Testament (ESP)
40. Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul (Enterprise)
41. Crosby Stills & Nash (Atlantic)
42. Cromagnon: Orgasm (ESP)
43. Bob Segar: Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man (Capitol)
44. Etta James: Tell Mama (Chess)
45. Harry Nilsson: Harry (RCA)
46. Leo Kottke: 12 String Blues (Oblivion)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Procol Harum: Shine On Brightly (A&M, 1968); Procol Harum: Procol Harum (Deram, 1967) Let’s put this into the category of “one is never too old to learn a thing or three.” Thinking about sixties music, as I have been doing more than usual lately, I kept returning to that wonderful, over-played Procol Harum song “Whiter Shade of Pale,” off the band’s self titled first album from 1967. I once owned a copy of that L.P., but I had not heard it in years. I did not remember much about it, other than the one good single. So I figured Procol Harum was pretty much a one-shot band, despite the fact I knew they get much credit for inventing a certain subset of prog rock. Considering the fact these guys are credited with inspiring Electric Light Orchestra and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I figured I was not risking much not bothering to dig up their dusty old sides for a proper listen. Yet, there was a nagging doubt. Since posting my “best of” list for 1968, I have picked up used copies of Shine On Brightly and Procol Harum. Most of the music on the 2nd Procol Harum record is closer to Blond On Blonde or Music From Big Pink than dismal prog rock. Side one is terrific, by any reasonable standards: gritty, catchy, & simply good blues rock. Unfortunately, the 17 minute, “In Held Twas in I” that takes up most of side two is as preposterous as its name, despite some good bits. Overall the Procol Harum second is an album that deserves to be remembered, replayed, and included on stupid “best of ‘68” lists: word to the wise. Their first record is even better. “Whiter Shade of Pale” is not the centerpiece, but an after thought. The famous single with its Bach derived melody was recorded first, with a somewhat different lineup, and its placement at the beginning of the album was purely for commercial purposes. It even has one of those annoying top 40 fade-away endings, that leaves the listener wondering, what happened to the rest of the song. Afterwards, the album proper begins. And it is a stomping good blues bar band record. Many will be familiar with another Procol Harum hit included: “Conquistador,” but there is plenty that will be unfamiliar to most to recommend this record, with little prog rock pretentiousness to get in the way. Highway 61 Revisited seems to be the stepping off point for this band at this early stage in their career. These Brits manage to pull off some very American sounding rock with aplomb. Guitarist Robin Trower, and the double keyboards of Gary Brooker (piano) and Matthew Fisher (organ) ensure the music is always on target. If there is a weakness it is the meandering metaphysics of Keith Reid’s lyrics, but at this early stage Reid’s bag of gimmicks is still fresh enough to work, even 40 years later. Give Procol Harum a listen or re-listen. I did and was surprised.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

1968 was a year of enormous upheaval and tragedy, a year that defined the “60s” as an idea, not simply as an historical moment. 1968 was also perhaps the most important year for 20th century popular music. Many of the great albums of this iconic year have “stood the test of time,” while resisting the corrupting influence of turning to muzak: a bland soundtrack for the sales pitch of soaps and automobiles. Unfortunately, most of the musicians fail miserably when tested by a taste of cash, and it is hard to fault them for wanting to continue to be compensated for their art, even at the risk of turning said art into the artifice of commerce. Those few musicians that have maintained integrity are that much more worthy of our honor. There was a series of car commercials a few years back that began with the words: “break through,” followed by a Zepplin tune. The obvious first choice was Jim Morrison singing: “break on through to the other side.” We were spared that disgrace through the dignity and integrity of Ray Manzarek and the surviving members of the Doors. Sadly the former Doors are a small minority. Yet much of the music of the 60s remains powerful, regardless of repetition and indignity.

Best LPs of 1968

1. The Velvet Underground: White Light/ White Heat (Verve)
2. The Band: Music From Big Pink (Capitol)
3. Nico: Marble Index (Elektra)
4. The Rolling Stones: Beggars Banquet (London)
5. The Kinks: Village Green Preservation Society (Reprise)
6. Miles Davis: Filles de Kilimanjaro (CBS)
7. Captain Beefheart: Strickly Personal (Blue Thumb)
8. Albert Ayler: In Greenwich Village (Impulse)
9. Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Brothers)
10. Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding (CBS)
11. Anthony Braxton: For Alto (Delmark)
12. Big Brother & Holding Company: Cheap Thrills (CBS)
13. Byrds: Notorious Byrd Brothers (CBS)
14. Phil Ochs: Tape From California (A&M)
15. Skip James: Devil Got My Woman (Vanguard)
16. Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle (Warner Brothers)
17. Cream: Wheels On Fire (Atco)
18. Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (CBS)
19. Albert King: Live Wire Blues Power (Stax)
20. Miles Davis: In the Sky (CBS)
21. The Beatles: The Beatles (Apple)
22. Led Zepplin: Led Zepplin (Atlantic)
23. Jeff Beck: Truth (Epic)
24. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (CBS)
25. Ornette Coleman: Love Call (Blue Note)
26. Otis Redding: The Dock of the Bay (Atco)
27. Pearls Before Swine: Balaklava (ESP)
28. Duke Ellington: And His Mother Called Him Bill (RCA)
29. The Move: The Move (Regal Zonophone, UK)
30. Harry Nilsson: Aerial Ballet (RCA)
31. Traffic: Traffic (United Artists)
32. Silver Apples: Silver Apples (Kapp)
33. The Who: Magic Bus (Decca)
34. The Doors: Waiting for the Sun (Elektra)
35. Sly & the Family Stone: Life (Epic)
36. Elmore James / John Brim: Tough (Blue Horizon)
37. Don Cherry: Eternal Rhythm (MPS)
38. Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions of New Jazz (Delmark)
39. Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now (Blue Note)
40. The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (Capitol)
41. Albert Ayler: New Grass (Impulse)
42. Pink Floyd: Saucerful of Secrets (Tower)
43. Byrds: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (CBS)
44. Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul (Atlantic)
45. Oscar Peterson: My Favorite Instrument (Verve)
46. Van der Graaf Generator: Aerosol Grey Machine
47. Terry Reid: Bang Bang Your’re Terry Reid (Epic)
48. John Fahey: Death Chants & Breakdowns (Takoma Records)
49. George Jones & Melba Montgomery: George Jones & Melba Montgomery
50. Albert Ayler: Love Cry (Impulse)
51. Nina Simone: ‘Nuff Said
52. The Seeds: Raw & Alive: In Concert At Merlin’s Music Box (GNP)
53. Sly & the Family Stone: Dance to the Music (Epic)
54. Laura Nyro: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (CBS)
55. Bonzo Dog Do Dah Band: Doughnuts In Granny’s Greenhouse (Liberty UK)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

According to standard retellings of the history of pop music, 1967 is a pivotal year. To my ears it is pivotal more for the years that spin around it, than for its music. The two years before and three years that follow are the truly great years of modern rock and jazz. It seems too obvious to say out loud that the other great period of rock redemption is 1977 through ‘82. More on that topic will follow. None of which is to say that ‘67 did not produce some of the greatest music of any era. It was the year of Sgt Peppers, an important record that changed the way others thought about music more than any other rock record. Yet Sgt Peppers changed music in many ways that were not good, and the vast majority of its imitators were awful. In retrospect Sgt Peppers sounds like one of the weakest of the Beatles’ remarkable catalogue. On a very different hand, ’67 was the year of another trendsetter: The Velvet Underground & Nico, a record that sounds contemporary and forward reaching 40 plus years after its release. And it is a record that continues to produce stylish imitators. My favorite records of 2009 include several VU sound-a-likes. No one with ears should describe as “dated” the 21st century sound of Brian Jonestown Massacre; yet B.J.M. is drenched in the sounds of the Velvet Underground. Full disclosure: the music of Brian Jonestown Massacre is likewise influenced by Sgt Peppers and more particularly by the Rolling Stones response: Their Satanic Majesties Request. And I can hear keys clicking from those aching to post a comments describing B.J.M. as “dated” and worse. I said you had to have ears.

Best Lps of 1967

1. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve)
2. AMM: Ammmusic (Elektra)
3. Love: Forever Changes (Elektra)
4. The Kinks: Something Else (Reprise)
5. The Beach Boys: Smiley Smile (Capitol)
6. Buffalo Springfield: Again (Atco)
7. Miles Davis: Miles Smiles (CBS)
8. Jimi Hendrix: Axis Bold As Love (Reprise)
9. Roland Kirk: The Inflated Tear (Atlantic)
10. Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield (Atco)
11. Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced (Reprise)
12. John Fahey: The Transformation of Blind Joe Death (Takoma)
13. Captain Beefheart: Safe As Milk (Buddah)
14. Nico: Chelsea Girls (MGM, UK)
15. The Doors: The Doors (Elektra)
16. Tim Buckley: Tim Buckley (Elektra)
17. James Brown: Cold Sweat (King)
18. Pink Floyd: Pipers At the Gates of Dawn (Tower)
19. Sun Ra: Atlantis (Saturn)
20. James Brown: Sings Raw Soul (King)
21. Tim Buckley: Goodbye & Hello (Elektra)
22. The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons (London)
23. The Who: Sell Out (Decca)
24. The Byrds: Younger than Yesterday (CBS)
25. Miles Davis: Sorcerer (CBS)
26. Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (Blue Note)
27. Jackie McLean: Demon’s Dance (Blue Note)
28. Holy Modal Rounders: Indian War Hoop (ESP)
29. The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request (London)
30. Pearls Before Swine: One Nation Underground (ESP)
31. Love: Da Capo (Elektra)
32. Phil Ochs: Pleasure of the Harbour (A&M)
33. The Godz: 2 (ESP)
34. Booker T. & the MG’s: Back To Back (Stax)
35. The Amboy Dukes: Amboy Dukes (Repertoire)
36. John Fahey: Requia & Other Compositions for Solo Guitar (Vanguard)
37. The Beatles: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol)
38. Small Faces: Odgens Nut Gone Flake (Immediate)
39. Traffic: Mr Fantasy (United Artists)
40. Bonzo Dog Band: Gorilla (Liberty, UK)
41. Ten Years After: Ten Years After (Deram)
42. Red Crayola: Parable of Arable Lands (International Artists)
43. Shadows of Knight: Back Door Man (Dunwich)