Sunday, January 23, 2011

Psychedelicide! The 69 Greatest Songs from the Psychedelic Age

"This is the best part of the trip...this is the trip...the best part...I really like!"

What exactly was Jim Morrison gibbering about in the song "The Soft Parade"? I can't rightly say with any certainty because, as you may or may not know, each 'trip' is its own special journey. But I have got a pretty damn good idea where The Doors were going, and it wasn't to London to visit the Queen -- save in a wholly illusory, extemperaneous sense.

I had originally set out to quantify the best psychedelic albums of all time, but the more I listened to each album that would qualify for such a list, I found that they weren't as good as I recalled back when I first heard them through the haze of a psilocybin stupor. Many of these albums are simply quaint reflections of a tempestuous and decidely odd epoch in human events.

For example, it may be heretical to say, but Pink Floyd's Pipers at the Gates of Dawn is the most overrated album in the whole Floyd catalog (not the worst, mind you, just the most overrated -- the worst is Atom Heart Mother). It is certainly tripped-out, but from the standpoint of song structure the album does not have the compositional strengths that later Floyd psychedelia contained. Likewise, albums such as Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica or Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing at Baxter's are barely listenable these days, and Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs is painful to hear, a sad expression of a promising performer who fell off the edge, and in his own words "was long, long gone."

Certainly, albums like Love's Forever Changes and The Doors Strange Days are exemplary examples of their trippy time, but another phenomenon I noticed is that many of the best psychedelic songs are not necessarily on releases that would be strictly regarded as psychedelic albums, which is the case for bands like Cream, The Beatles and Traffic, who experimented heavily within the genre but had a far greater palette with which to color their compositions. In addition, some bands simply had only one or two psychedelic masterpieces in them -- blowing their wad on a single far-out trip, as it were -- and the rest of their output amounts to half-mumbled, hallucinogenic musical drivel. And so, in concurrence with that inebriated satyr of Bacchanalian rock Jim Morrison, I am only looking for the best part of the trip here.

But what makes a song psychedelic and, furthermore, what makes a psychedelic song great? Our friends over at the lazy scholar's medium for Internet research, Wikipedia, defines psychedelic music as follows:
...a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.

A little dry perhaps, given the colorful and decidedly frenetic genre we are referring to, but I can live with that. Additionally our space cadet friends at Wiki add, and I paraphrase, that psychedelic music usually contains: exotic instruments (sitar and tabla drums, for instance), complex song structures, surreal or literarily allusive lyrics, lengthy leads, feedback and footpedals for the guitar, a strong emphasis on keyboards, synths and mellotron, backward taping, phasing, panning and vocal manipulation. I might add that the duration of a great psychedelic song is in direct proportion to the peak time of an acid or mescaline trip, in which case "the longer the better" certainly would be a proviso.

Also, pyschedelic music in the 60s and early 70s provided the first, great expansion of musical boundaries within rock structure: symphonic orchestras, strings, jazz, Indian music and instrumentation, dissonance, minimalism, modernist aesthetics in lyricism, improvisation -- an eclectic fusion of various influences and styles coalesced and hovered like a cloud of sandalwood incense over the patchouli candles, shag carpets and the ever-revolving turntables of old phonographs with inadequate speakers.

And so here, in no apparent order (as any symmetry or strict hierarchy would be anathema to the whole proposition), sixty-nine outlandish tunes for your halucinogenic edification...

Alright, for ease of reading, I will at least alphabetize the order of the bands. But that's it. Seriously. Ummm...what were we talking about again? And are you gonna eat that twinkie? Man, I got the munchies something serious.

Oh, by the way, here is the second installment (in case this first blast from the past wasn't enough): Son of Psychedelicide! 69 More Great Songs from the Psychedelic Age.

Journey to the Center of the Mind
Ted Nugent before he began eating animal carcasses and liberals.

I am the Walrus
The amazing string and horn sections, as well as Lennon's feverish vocals and slyly obtuse lyrics sets this song apart. Where else will you hear about "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye" and a rendition of Shakespeare's King Lear in one song?

Tomorrow Never Knows
Backward dubbing? Check. Hypnotic drums? Check. Lyrics based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Check. Well, looks like we hit each item.

Strawberry Fields
Notable for the early use of the mellotron and a swarmandel (an Indian zither). I actually played a zither once, but I let it go. Not much of a market for zither music.

Love You To
The first rock song with an Indian motif and sitar running through the entire composition ("Norwegian Wood" had sitar only as an accompaniment). George Harrison's singular contribution to psychedelia, and a more spirited attempt at Indian music than "Within You Without You" from Sgt. Pepper's.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
The song has three different keys, two different beats, and Lennon's voice is sped up. And then of course, there is the LSD reference, which Lennon denied. But did anyone believe him? Cellophane flowers, tangerine skies, plasticine porters, kaleidescope eyes? The BBC didn't believe it. They banned the song.

Hot Smoke and Sasafrass
Smoke and Sassafrass: the arch-nemesis of Crimson and Clover. Over and over.

Acoustic psychedelia from another budding star clipped too soon.

Mr. Soul
Neil Young and Stephen Stills play the Rolling Stones on blotter.

Space Oddity
Space Oddity (film demo)
Ah, the places psychedelia may lead one! This song, from Bowie's 1969 album of the same name, broadly hints at the influential direction Bowie would turn in the early 70s. The second video, a funny clip from Bowie's promotional film Love You Till Tuesday shows the song in an earlier, rawer state (seduced by space sirens!).

Sky Pilot
I love the bagpipes and explosions.

A commercial advertisement for psychedelics.

Eight Miles High
The band claimed this song was about an airplane ride and not getting high. Right.

Turn! Turn! Turn!
Even the bible was not safe from psychedelia! Pete Seeger took credit for writing the song, but it was taken almost verbatim from the King James' version of Ecclesiastes (Seeger admitted to actually writing six words total).

Zig Zag Wanderer
If you must smoke pot, the original Zig-Zag whites are still the best for rolling. Or so I am told.

On the Road Again
A great bit of psychedelic blues. Love the tambura drone that...ummm...drones through the whole song.

Time Has Come Today
Hey, they're just a bunch of black guys making psychedelic music. They were sort of the 60s version of the 80s band Living Colour.

Psychotic Reaction
Perhaps they should've counted to ten.

Section 43
Sorry, I don't really care for Country Joe and the band -- too sloppy and sophomoric. But hey, this is a psychedelic tune with harmonica! Take that, Floyd! Yet they were one of the first psychedelic bands in 'Frisco, so they get their due.

One of my all-time favorites. You've got to love a guy who sets his head on fire.

In the White Room
Ginger Baker's drumming is amazing. It's like he's not even playing to the same song.

The rainbow has a beard? The picture has a moustache? Eric, man, what you been smoking?

Season of the Witch
You've got to pick up every stitch? The rabbit's running in the ditch? Well, obviously, must be the season of the witch.

When the Music's Over
A much better trip than the equally long "The End", and where else can one hear "the scream of the butterfly"?

The End
Mother...I want to...ummm...take you to Macy's for the lingerie sale.

The Soft Parade
The monk bought lunch.

Strange Days
Strangely enough, "Strange Days" is stranger than the song "When You're Strange". I just find that strange.

I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
I remember hearing this when I was really little. That's it. I just remember it.

Dark Star
It seems you can't get studio versions of the Dead on YouTube; therefore, this is all that you get. Which is probably just as well, because the vocals are uniformly dreadful and the Dead are hugely overrated. Not that Deadheads would know. I wonder if they're even aware Jerry Garcia is dead? Oh, sorry -- should've put a spoiler note up.

Some nice, trippy stuff from H.P. Lovecraft, whose song "Mountains of Madness" bears so little resemblance to Lovecraftian horror that I refuse to add it to the list.

Third Stone from the Sun
Often cited as one of the earliest examples of fusion, this song has been covered or excerpted by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Frank Marino, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Satriani, Pat Metheny and Dick Dale.

Bold as Love
Why is this song on the list? Just ask the axis.

Burning of the Midnight Lamp
A master's class on the use of guitar effects. One of my favorite Hendrix tunes.

Are You Experienced?
Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.

A stoned slur of "In the Garden of Eden", it is the longest one-hit-wonder song in history. Maybe even eternity.

White Bird
Didn't Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Catherine O'Hara sing this in A Mighty Wind? Just kidding. I've always had a soft spot for this one.

White Rabbit
Grace Slick's vocal performance alone is worth praise in this clever song that manages to turn even the topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll on its head.

Grace Slick's homage to James Joyce's Ulysses. It's a perfect combination, really -- you have to be high to listen to the song or read the book.

Progressive minimalist psychedelia.

A House is not a Motel
Forever Changes is one of those albums that have been critically acclaimed as a truly great lost classic, and for once the critics are right.

The can't miss, critically acclaimed greatest band that never went anywhere after their first album, which just goes to show you that critics are usually wrong.

Visions of Paradise
One of the most beautiful bits of psychedelia ever recorded. Paradise, indeed.

Have You Heard?
I could just as easily added "Are You Sitting Comfortably" from the same album. A good buzz and a pair of headphones is all you need!

Legend of a Mind
Timothy Leary is dead, and The Moody Blues predicted it 30 years before it happened!

Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict
The greatest song title ever devised by man while in an irrational state. Roger Waters' broad Scots brogue is priceless.

Echoes, Part I
Echoes, Part II
Echoes, Part III
From a single, measured note rises an entire primeval symphony, a titanic and ageless tome that slinks from netherworldly, prehistoric slithering to the bright sunlight of a modern morn. The crowning achievement of Floyd psychedelia.

Astronomy Domine
Many critics prefer "Interstellar Overdrive" from Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, but I like the meter of the lyrics and the overall structure of "Astronomy Domine". Plus, there's a lot less aimless noodling about.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
The only song where all five Floyd members (including Syd Barrett) are included in one recording.

Private Sorrow/Balloon Burning/Death
Considered by many to be the first rock concept album, The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow never became a hit, because anyone that bought it during its first release committed suicide. I'm kidding. Sheesh.

Shine On Brightly
Harum was always too literary to be truly psychedelic. They nearly skipped psychedelia altogether and moved right into progressive music.

Sort of a showdown between Clint Eastwood and Cheech Marin at the Ok Corral and Hash Bar.

Paint it Black
The thing I remember most vividly about the Stones during this period were the bags under Brian Jones' eyes. Did that guy ever sleep?

2000 Light Years From Home
About as psychedelic as the Stones ever got.

Itchycoo Park
Steve Marriot before shrieking his lungs out in Humble Pie.

Pictures of Matchstick Men
It is the abrasive and strident electric guitar in this piece that makes it noteworthy. I haven't the slightest idea what matchstick men are, but it sounds cool.

The Pusher
Damn the Pushers! I hate them! Hey, would you pass me that joint?

A psychedelic history of America. No, I am serious! A truly great protest song.

Incense and Peppermints
The antidote for Hot Smoke and Sassafras.

(Roamin' Thru the Gloamin' with) 40,000 Headmen
A tall tale from Steve Winwood & Company. Either that, or an altered-state fantasy.

Dear Mr. Fantasy
Crosby, Stills & Nash had the effrontery to add two extra verses to this song when they covered it. Fortunately, Steve Winwood was so stoned at the time that he thought he wrote them, and so a good time was had by all.

The American Metaphysical Circus
One of the greatest examples of psychedelia ever created. The weirdness just keeps on building as the song progresses.

You Keep Me Hangin' On
Psychedelia hits Motown all because of the Vanilla Fudge. Next came the "Mudshark Episode" in which a sexual act was perpatrated with a fish on a groupie by members of the Fudge and Led Zeppelin, or that is what Frank Zappa alleges in his "Mud Shark" song.

The only Lou Reed song I can tolerate. Face it, the man sings worse than Bob Dylan.

I Can See For Miles
Never a band to delve too deeply into psychedelics, the Who released "I Can See For Miles" just to show they were still better than everyone else.

Heart Full of Soul (sitar demo)
Heart Full of Soul (single version)
In 1965, The Yardbirds wanted to release a sitar-driven song with psychedelic, "Eastern-exotic" overtones, but they decided the sitar sound was too thin and not powerful enough to drive the song. Thus, Jeff Beck mimicked the sitar with an electric guitar and an experimental fuzz box. The result, as they say, was history-in-the-making.

Trouble Every Day
A brilliant psychedelic-blues protest song from the Mothers' Freak Out album from 1966 (yes, 1966, far beyond its time). Allegedly, Freak Out was a major influence for Sgt. Pepper's.

Flower Punk
A scathing satire of the hippie scene from the Mothers' anti-psychedelic, anti-Beatles We're Only In It for the Money.

Willie the Pimp
Blues/Jazz-fusion psychedelia from Zappa's 1968 materpiece Hot Rats. That's Captain Beefheart singing, by the way.

Time of the Season
Hasn't everyone sang the "Who's yer daddy?" part of this song at one time or another? Love the funky keyboard.

They don't recite poetry on rock albums anymore, and rappers' turgid rhymes are altogether wretched. So here are some worthwhile pyschedelic odes:

Horse Latitudes -- THE DOORS
This is just plain eerie and disturbing.

Departure/Ride My See-Saw -- THE MOODY BLUES
The best poetically manic interlude of the whole psychedelic era is reason enough to put this song on the list. Add to that great harmonies and guitar by Justin Hayward, and dude, righteous!

Atlantis -- DONOVAN
Donovan recalls Atlantis so well, you actually wish it were real. Sort of like the Bible.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Music Review: Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live (Legacy Edition)

Full article first published as Music Review: Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live (Legacy Edition) on Blogcritics.

Here is a brief excerpt of the review:
Most of the blues greats are gone now or, like B.B. King, are so old they can barely stand (the venerable Pinetop Perkins is now a sprightly 97 years-old). Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert Collins, Willie Dixon, Albert King, Sonny Boy Williamson – they are all but faces on CD jewel cases, and their legacy is fading. After an inrush of reverential second-generation British and American bluesmen: Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Peter Green, Paul Butterfield, Rory Gallagher, and John Mayall – who were also great in their own right — the blues as an art form is dying. With the advent of rap, hip-hop, and electronica, there seems to be no apparent third or fourth generation musicians to take the place of the greats. I suppose it could be argued that there are less and less actual “musicians” of any stripe in the squalor and abject compositional poverty of the discordant wasteland that passes for music in the 21st century.

But before the blues passes into the realm of musical extinction, a dead 12-bar language phrased only by scholarly musicologists in the sterile confines of college conservatories, it would do us all well to savor the tart bite of albums such as Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live. And give your kids a guitar or harmonica rather than a PS3 or Wii for their birthdays. Who knows, they may catch a spark that will relight the musical darkness.

Please go to my home away from homepage for the rest. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Greatest Live Rock Albums of All Time, Part II

Due to the unprecedented and over overwhelming response to the first installment of this series The Greatest Live Rock Albums of All Time, Part I, I now offer you Part II. I wish to thank all three of you for your enthusiasm.

As with the previous slice of musical subjectivity, I offer up a few caveats and exclusions to narrow the focus of this list (or else I'll be cutting and pasting damn album covers from here to eternity):

1) These live albums are strictly from the rock genre and not a general overview of live recordings, which would include selections from blues, soul, jazz and other categories. Perhaps I'll add a more expansive list somewhere down the road.

2) I omitted live retrospectives such as Bruce Springsteen's Live/1975-85, concentrating instead on an artist's single performance, or at least performances within the same tour.

3) I didn't choose any recordings from this century, as I like to see how well music wears over time.

4) I did not include staged events like the stellar Eric Clapton Unplugged or Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special, as they present the artist in the best possible light and under controlled conditions.

Rock Spectacle - Barenaked Ladies
I've seen BNL live several times in Detroit, as the Toronto-based band made the Motor City a home away from home for many years. If you've missed seeing them in concert, let me tell you, you missed a real treat -- Barenaked Ladies put on some of the most fun and enjoyable shows ever. Unfortunately, lead singer and composer Steven Page left the band in 2009 for a solo career, and I just can't bring myself around to listening to them without his distinctive voice and the rambling, comedic repartee he had with cofounder Ed Robertson. Rock Spectacle is an excellent approximation of their concerts and the sound is dynamic.

Worth the price of admission: Great renditions of "Brian Wilson", "Jane", "Hello City" and "The Old Apartment".

Rock of Ages - The Band
Yes, yes, yes -- I know many critics laud the elaborate Martin Scorsese-directed juggernaut The Last Waltz as a fine example of The Band's live performance, while others swear by Before the Flood; the fundamental problem I have with both is that Bob Dylan appears on them. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Dylan, but I could live without ever hearing his voice on anything live past 1970. Although it would be hilarious to record Stevie Nicks and Bob Dylan singing a duet of "Bah-bah Black Sheep". In any case, Rock of Ages is nothing but unadulterated Band music with sterling accompaniment by an Alan Toussaint-arranged five-man horn section. The results are fantastic.

Worth the price of admission: "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "The Weight", "Rag Mama Rag", "Chest Fever", et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

Live - Robin Trower
The most laughable aspect of the critical panning of Robin Trower is the enduring claim that he is a "Hendrix Wannabe". If that is the case, the same can be said for Stevie Ray Vaughan, merely proving that most critics have their heads up their asses (which explains their inability to discern good from bad music). Live by Robin Trower (1976) clearly exhibits the sustain and distortion mastery of Trower, erstwhile lead guitarist of Procol Harum (and the way he jams, one can easily understand why he left the keyboard-based Harum). The trio of performers -- Trower on guitar, James Dewar on bass and vocals, and Bill Lordan on drums -- are unbelievably tight, and James Dewar's deep baritone voice is singular in the rock idiom, at times growling and feverish, at others subdued and introspective. The recording simply rocks.

Worth the price of admission: A strong version of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby", "Too Rolling Stoned" is a seven-minute blues landslide, "Daydream" is a 'headphones only' treat, and "A Little Bit of Sympathy" is a heart stopping show-closer.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars: The Motion Picture Soundtrack - David Bowie
Let's get the bad aspect of this release out of the way first: The movie itself is horribly clumsy. Imagine, if you will, a concert filmed as if it were emulating The Blair Witch Project. The cameras bounce about and are unfocused half the time. Simply dreadful -- almost unwatchable. Now, just listen to the music: it is ferocious and explosive, propelled by the savage strumming of Mick Ronson (who Bowie should have handcuffed himself to and never let go -- I am sure Iman would've gotten used to him eventually). This is the final show Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders ever did, and presents Bowie at his loudest, his most outrageous and his best. My suggestion: find the CD, forget the DVD.

Worth the price of admission: The 15 minute rock extravaganza "Width of a Circle", the show-ending "Rock and Roll Suicide", a rollicking and frenetic version of the Stone's "Let's Spend the Night Together", and Bowie's searing rendition of "White Light/White Heat", which makes the original by The Velvet Underground sound like the Bay City Rollers (or the Jonas Brothers).

Live in Concert With Edmonton Symphony Orchestra - Procol Harum
This is Procol Harum presented in the perfect context for their musical aims and objectives. Prog-rock, symphonic rock -- name the band's milieu, and it is here, with a symphony orchestra, that the band's musical roots are highlighted in all its classical glory. There have been many abortive attempts at fusing rock and classical music in a live venue, but most have failed (think Deep Purple and Metallica), yet here Procol Harum succeeds brilliantly, as their music was already scored for an orchestra. Procol Harum's studio recordings are hit-and-miss affairs, sometimes achieving near-greatness (A Salty Dog and Shine on Brightly) and at others floundering (Broken Barricades and Exotic Birds and Fruit), but Live in Concert With Edmonton Symphony Orchestra hits on all cylinders.

Worth the price of admission: The fantastic versions of "A Salty Dog", "Whaling Stories" and "'Twas Teatime at the Circus", and the sublime "Conquistador", complete with Spanish horns and fiery guitar work, that is far better than the original version on Procol Harum's first album, even without Robin Trower on guitar.

Live - Foghat
No pretensions. No putting on airs. No bombastic laser-light extravaganzas. This is a workingman's band for Bud-swilling, football-watching, head-bobbing, barroom-brawling rock fans. There will neither be a doctoral thesis regarding the musical profundities of Foghat Live, nor any critical acclaim from the music establishment for this band. All I can say is, I saw Foghat live in 1976 in a mega-concert that also featured Ted Nugent, the Outlaws, and Aerosmith as the headliner, and Foghat simply blew the other bands away with their intensity and the fun they had just jamming. Sometimes profundity merely bollixes up a good time. Unfortunately for Foghat, by purchasing their fiery live album you render the rest of their record catalog unnecessary.

Worth the price of admission: Exceptional versions of "Honey Hush" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You", and the quintessential barn-burning eight-minute version of "Slow Ride."

Under a Blood Red Sky - U2
This is a case where a live album helped propel a rising band to the upper strata of superstardom. It is also on Under a Blood Red Sky where the actual sound of U2 was showcased in a better context than in the studio, particularly the Edge's distinctively chiming guitar work, which seemed more muted in the band's earlier releases. Here as well do we hear Bono's ability to whip a crowd into an adoring frenzy and, like at LiveAid, through sheer force of will turn a U2 concert into an unforgettable event. U2 is one of those rare bands where their live performances nearly always outstrip their studio recordings.

Worth the price of admission: The landmark performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (who the hell even remembers the original studio version?), a rousing "Gloria", and the explosive "40".

It's Too Late to Stop Now - Van Morrison
I know it is incredibly pretentious to say, but you either get Van Morrison, or you don't. I suppose it is equally correct to add you either like Van or you don't, but I suppose that goes for every performer; yet, it seems feelings are more heightened for the leprechaun-sized Irish crooner and his scatting vocal interpretations. Also, one runs the risk of missing the point during the hot-and-cold cycles of Morrison's long performing career (where at times he was so drunk that he fell off the stage). But if I were to suggest a good primer for getting to the crux of Van Morrison's mystical journey through Celtic music and the blues, it would be It's Too Late to Stop Now, a truly remarkable album that captures Van the Man at his vocal best.

Worth the price of admission: Revelatory versions of "Listen to the Lion", "Caravan", "Into the Mystic" and "St. Dominic's Preview", and an exceptional cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me" (the 2008 CD reissue also includes a fun rendition of "Brown Eyed Girl").

Live in Detroit - The Doors
Recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit on May 8, 1970, this is perhaps the most complete, if not the longest, Doors concert ever recorded. The encore alone was an hour long, ignoring a union curfew and city ordinances, but then the Doors never really followed rules, laws or conventions of any sort (which makes them all the more loveable, in a psychedelic, rebellious, rock-and-roll manner). Forget the bland release Absolutely Live, which merely offers a cut-and-paste pastiche of a Door's concert -- a hobbled rendering cobbled together by nearsighted record label marketing types -- Live in Detroit offers the Lizard King in fine form, with his rambling Baudelairian poetry kept to a minimum and his unforgettable growl and saturnine aura front and center. And the sound quality is phenomenal, given the constraints of recording equipment of the era.

Worth the price of admission: The apocalyptic "When the Music's Over", "Roadhouse Blues" (and the accompanying "Roadhouse Vamp" which segues into "Break On Through"), "You Make Me Real", the biting blues of "Been Down So Long", and perhaps the best version of "Light My Fire" anywhere.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966 - Bob Dylan
In retrospect, it seems utterly ridiculous that a crowd should howl with derision and shout "Judas!" and "Traitor!" simply because a performer strapped on an electric guitar. But in 1966, fans at the Royal Albert Hall in Manchester, England (and elsewhere during the same period at the Newport Folk Festival) were hopping mad that Bob Dylan -- the patron saint, messiah and critical darling of the acoustic folk movement -- should dare to play electric rock music. Obviously, Dylan's intent was to drag these musical zealots, kicking and screaming if necessary, into a radical new direction. He does so quite matter-of-factly, telling his band The Hawks (which would later be called The Band) in an audible aside, "Play fucking loud!" In these more enlightened days, when no one seems to give a damn about anything (and particularly not musical integrity), it is much ado about nothing. But in between the booing and catcalls is some of the greatest work Dylan has ever done.

Worth the price of admission: The entire acoustic half of the concert is noteworthy (how he could remember all those lyrical passages from his labyrinthine compositions is remarkable in itself), and "I Don't Believe You", "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" and a towering "Like a Rolling Stone" from the electric set.


Road Rage - Great Big Sea
Who knew a mix of Newfoundland folk songs, sea chanteys and pop-rock ballads could be such fun? My favorite Newfies, Great Big Sea, are one of Canada's best-kept secrets. Or maybe Americans are just too slow on the uptake to catch a really good band with some fine compositional skills. Hell, my ten year-old daughter sings along with their songs. Notable tunes from Road Rage are "When I'm Up", "Consequence Free", "Boston and St. John's", "Mari-Mac" and "Donkey Riding" (no, I'm serious, donkey riding).

Recorded Live (1973) - Ten Years After
Alvin Lee has always been underappreciated -- a second-tier British rock deity. But if you like rock-and-blues, this is one great album, and I think better than their Live at the Fillmore album (and far less expensive). Simply awesome versions of "Help Me", "I Can't Keep From Crying", "Choo Choo Mama", and the best version ever of "I'm Goin' Home" (certainly better than the sloppy Woodstock take).

Alive, Alive'o - The Young Dubliners
Perhaps one of the best examples of the melding of Irish traditional and hard rock music, The Young Dubs give a powerful performance on Alive, Alive'o (not to be confused with an album of the same name by the Irish folk band The Dubliners, to whom the Young Dubliners give a reverential nod). Some exceptional songs by the band include "One and Only", "Rising/Change The World" and Blink", along with the traditional "Follow Me Up to Carlow" and the Waterboy's "Fisherman's Blues".

Irish Tour - Rory Gallagher
Ah, what could have been with Rory Gallagher! He died way too early and never got his due in America as a great guitarist. Nevertheless, Gallagher's Gaelic blues was never so well represented as on his Irish Tour compilation. This blistering set of blues includes "Walk on Hot Coals", "A Million Miles Away" and "As the Crow Flies".

Captured Alive! - Johnny Winter
First of all, Winter's live version of "Highway 61" makes Dylan's original version sound anemic and in need of an ER transfusion. If you crave heavy-duty slide guitar, look no further than this heroin-shootin', tattoo-scrawled, Texas albino blues master. In addition to the monumental "Highway 61", there are frenetic versions of "Bonie Maronie" and "It's All Over Now". Not for the faint of heart or those seeking a pleasant vocal performance.

Miles of Aisles - Joni Mitchell
This is an exceptional compilation of Joni Mitchell songs and she is in fine voice; unfortunately, Tom Scott and the LA Express sound like they are primed to give Muzak a run for its money in the elevator music trade. But Joni's acoustics are grand and songs like "Blue", "Big Yellow Taxi", "The Last Time I Saw Richard", "Circle Game" and "Both Sides Now" prove she is one of the most important composers of her generation.

Time Fades Away - Neil Young
The CD Neil Young will supposedly never release. Available only on LP and out of print for years, Young claims he didn't like the recording because of money hassles, a poor mix, he was at odds with his band, or some combination of the three. I have the record, and I think it is very good, particularly since it covers many songs that are not available on other Neil Young live albums like "Yonder Comes the Sinner", "Don't Be Denied" and "Journey Through the Past". I don't get it, Neil, can you explain it to me again?