Monday, October 19, 2009

In Pulp Fiction the Uma Thurman character, Mia Wallace says there are two kinds of people, Elvis people and Beatles people. She says you can like them both, but you cannot like them both equally. Your preference tells much about what sort of person you are. Obviously, Vincent Vega (Travolta) is an Elvis guy. But for me, the real question has always been: Beatles versus Rolling Stones. These days I think most people consider the Beatles the obvious, logical choice. The Beatles gave six years of brilliant music, 15 (or so) masterful LPs, and then had the good sense to break up and go away. The Rolling Stones stuck around grinding out ever-more forgettable and turgid copies of their gimmicky formula. About twice per decade they drag their frumpy withered, Norman Desmondesque-asses out on the road and crank out the hits one more time. They are an embarrassment of richness. But those gray freaks are not the Rolling Stones I care about. The real Rolling Stones existed for slightly longer the Beatles: England’s Newest Hit Makers (1964) through It’s Only Rock n Roll. (1974). In that brief span the band produced an extraordinary bunch of music that easily earned them the right to call themselves the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. After 1974, Mick Taylor departed and the Rolling Stones were never quite the Rolling Stones again. They certainly looked like the Rolling Stones. Ron Wood appeared the part of a Rolling Stone, as if picked by a very astute casting director, but the music was never very good again. Their transitional record, Black and Blue had its moments, and Some Girls convinced almost everyone the Rolling Stones were back and better than ever. Somehow, I was not convinced. There was something about Some Girls, forced and phony to my 19-year-old ears. I was drawn to “the new” sounds coming down from New York and across the water from London. Perhaps, it was inevitable I would move beyond the Rolling Stones. My taste shifted markedly at the time away from all the music that had carried me through adolescence. Emotional Rescue proved to be even more of a disappointment. I poured myself into the Ramones, the Clash, Wire, Pere Ubu and other bands that convinced a whole bunch of us there was nothing about the dinosaurs of sixties rock worth remembering. I never bought another new the Rolling Stones’ record. For me the “greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world” ceased to exist. Their hits became so much more background muzak, but I think I recognized the irony implicit in Johnny Rotten’s hand scrawled “I hate Pink Floyd” tee shirt. And I never completely abandoned my love for the decade of great Rolling Stones records. Album per album, those Rolling Stones easily stand up to their less threatening Liverpool cousins. If the “White Album” is height of the Beatles recording career, Exile On Main Street is the Stones’ counter offer. When I am preparing for my time on the deserted island, I will take Exile over The Beatles because obviously I remain a Rolling Stone guy.

BEST LPs of 1972

1. The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones)
2. Various Artists: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the first Psychedelic Era: 1965 to 1968 (Sire)
3. Roxy Music: Roxy Music (Island, UK)
4. Faust: Faust So Far (Recommended)
5. Peter Brotzmann: Machine Gun (FMP)
6. Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Blacknus (Atlantic)
7. Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Barry Altshul: Circle Paris Concert (ECM)
8. Miles Davis: Live Evil (CBS)
9. David Bowie: The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust (RCA)
10. Al Green: I’m Still In Love With You (Hi)
11. Captain Beefheart: Clear Spot (Reprise)
12. Neil Young: Harvest (Reprise)
13. Gato Barbieri: Last Tango In Paris (United Artists)
14. John Cale: Academy in Peril (Reprise)
15. Ornette Coleman: Skies of America (CBS)
16. Archie Shepp: Attica Blues (Impulse)
17. Neu: Neu! (United Artists)
18. Big Star: Record #1 (Ardent)
19. Al Green: Let’s Stay Together (Hi)
20. Mott the Hoople: All the Young Dudes (CBS)
21. T. Rex: Slider (EMI, UK)
22. Blue Oyster Cult: Blue Oyster Cult (CBS)
23. The Faces: A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse (Warner Brothers)
24. Steve Lacy: The Gap (America, France)
25. Jimmy Smith: Root Down (Verve)
26. Sun Ra: Astro Black (Impulse)
27. Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind (Motown)
28. Lou Reed: Transformer (RCA)
29. Nick Drake: Pink Moon (Hannibal)
30. Sonny Rollins: Next Album (Milestone)
31. Curtis Mayfield: Superfly (Buddah)
32. Stevie Wonder: Talking Book (Motown)
33. Van Morrison: Saint Dominic’s Preview (Warner Brothers)
34. Janis Joplin: In Concert (CBS)
35. Ann Peebles: Straight From the Heart (Hi)
36. Bobby Womack: Understanding (United Artists)
37. Peter Hammil: Fool’s Mate (Charisma)
38. Aretha Franklin: Young, Gifted & Black (Atlantic)
39. Rod Stewart: Never A Dull Moment (Mercury)
40. Can: Ege Bamyasi (United Artists)
41. Lou Reed: Lou Reed (RCA)
42. The Revolutionary Ensemble: Vietnam (ESP)
43. Van Dyke Parks: Discover America (Warner Brothers)
44. Kraftwerk: 2 (Phillips)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Let me take a moment to say Barack Obama deserves the peace award. Not for what he has accomplished. Heck, what has he had time to accomplish in 9 months faced with the worst economic disaster of a lifetime and a relentless onslaught from the Republican Gomorrah? (Thank you Max Blumenthal.) Obama deserves the award for that moment when he won his election, that moment when the sane half of our world was able – if for only an instance – able to sigh in relief, able for the first time in a decade to believe maybe things might turn out all right, able to have one second of peace. Then it was gone, but it was worth it. And for that moment, Obama deserves a thousand Nobel prizes.
The ‘70s get a bad rap in traditional rock music histories, with good reason. Likewise, I always considered mid-decade to be the nadir of the rock era. 1973 through 76 a malaise settled over the great music unhappily branded “classic rock.” Great artists/bands of the 60s were dead or broken up (Hendrix, Joplin, Beatles) or in a period of decline (Dylan, Stones, Beach Boys, Kinks). Yet, the decline of one thing leads to the rise of another. By decade’s end a renaissance in the form of punk/post punk arose putting classic rock to shame, in every way but sales. Even during those supposedly dark dull middle years the proto-punk sounds of Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, the New York Dolls, the Dictators and many others kept music exciting. Certainly as early as 1971 there were very few signs of any decline of the empire. In fact, 1971 is a strong year for pop music. Some details of these “best of” posts I should have explained from the beginning. Better now than never. As I have said before, the records are in order of preference. Almost all of my choices are studio albums, but I am including a few truly outstanding “live albums”. I do not intend to include “greatest hits” type records or other similar reissues. But I am including favorite compilation albums good enough to compete. All albums are listed on their original release year, though there is much disagreement in “the historical record” about many of these dates. When there is a discrepancy I am unable to settle, I rely upon memory, gods help us. Lastly, perhaps obviously, the parenthetical words at the end of each listing are the original U.S. label. If a record was not originally issued stateside, I use the original international label.

Best LPs of 1971

1. Sly & the Family Stone: There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic)
2. Charles Mingus: Let My Children Hear Music (CBS)
3. David Bowie: Hunky Dory (RCA)
4. Pharoah Sanders: Black Unity (Impulse)
5. Ornette Coleman: Science Fiction (CBS)
6. Can: Tago Mago (United Artist)
7. Derek Bailey: Solo Guitar (Incus)
8. Mott the Hoople: Brain Capers (Atlantic)
9. Nico: Desertshore (Reprise)
10. Miles Davis: Tribute to Jack Johnson (CBS)
11. The Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies (RCA)
12. Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (Motown)
13. John Cale & Terry Riley: Church of Anthrax (CBS)
14. T. Rex: Electric Warrior (Reprise)
15. The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (Rolling Stones)
16. Led Zepplin: 4 (Atlantic)
17. The Doors: LA Woman (Elektra)
18. Steve Lacy: Wordless (Futura, France)
19. Ornette Coleman: Twins (Atlantic)
20. Allman Brothers: At Fillmore East (Capricorn)
21. Derek & The Dominoes: Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (Atco)
22. Pharoah Sanders: Live At the East (Impulse)
23. John Lennon: Imagine (Apple)
24. Joni Mitchell: Blue (Reprise)
25. Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells A Story (Mercury)
26. Hampton Greese Band: Music To Eat (CBS)
27. Sam Rivers: Hues (Impulse)
28. Michael Hurley & Pals: Armchair Boogie (Warner Brothers)
29. Kevin Ayers: Shooting At the Moon (Harvest)
30. John Prine: John Prine (Atlantic)
31. Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson (RCA)
32. Al Green: Get Next to You (Hi)
33. The Who: Who’s Next (Decca)
34. Mott the Hoople: Wild Life (Atlantic)
35. The Move: Message From the Contry (Capitol)
36. Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey (Warner Brothers)
37. Faust: Faust (Recommended)
38. The Faces: Long Player (Warner Brothers)
39. Amon Duul II: Tanz der Lemminge (United Artists)
40. Bonnie Rait: Bonnie Rait (Warner Brothers)
41. Isaac Hayes: Shaft (Enterprise)
42. The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin: The Inner Mounting Flame (CBS)
43. Soft Machine: 4th (CBS)
44. Leo Kottke: 6 and 12 String (Takoma)
45. Traffic: Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Island)
46. Van Der Graaf Generator: Pawn Hearts (Charisma)
47. John Fahey: America (Takoma)
48. Captain Beefheart: Spotlight Kid (Reprise)
49. Bobby Womack: Communication (United Artists)
50. David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (Atlantic)
51. Anne Peebles: Part Time Love (Hi)
52. The Move: Message From the Country (Harvest)
53. Black Sabbath: Masters of Reality (Warner Brothers)
54. Alice Cooper: Killer (Warner Brothers)
55. Alice Cooper: Love it to Death (Warner Brothers)
56. Funkadelic: Maggot Brain (Westbound)
57. Pink Floyd: Meddle (Harvest)
58. Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners (Atlantic)
59. Kraftwerk: Kraftwerk 1 (Phillips)