In this article, the second part of the Greatest Rock Albums of the 70s, I have decided that I won't be putting albums in any order of greatest to least greatest because, as I have already identified an album as being great, there is not much point in weighing the greatness of one album as opposed to another, but I prefer merely acknowledging that these are damn good albums worthy of being in any serious rock audiophile's collection.
Therefore, I have opted to list the albums in alphabetical order by band name or solo artist from Alice Cooper (Vincent Furnier did not legally change his name to Alice Cooper until 1974, prior to that it was the band's name) to Frank Zappa. As you can see, I've alphabetized solo artists by their surname (B for Bowie, for instance), and bands by the initial letter of their group moniker (P for Pink Floyd or L for Led Zeppelin). I am sure there are still a few folks out there who didn't get the joke on the Wish You Were Here album: "The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think. Oh, by the way, which one's Pink?"
I had originally considered including 35 albums on the list, as I did with The Greatest Rock Albums of the 1970s, Part I, and thus end up with 70 albums for the 1970s, but a funny thing happened along the way. Many bands had more than one album deserving to be on the list, in my estimation, and I didn't want to shortchange notable albums; likewise, many bands just had one great album in them, and so I am offering up 65 albums to bring the total to what I consider the greatest 100 albums of the 70s (plus an additional seven at the end of the article as a bonus).
As with most articles from the Dark Elf File, the usual caveats apply, such as only albums designated as "rock" or "rock and roll" are listed (no soul, country, jazz, klezmer or polka), and no greatest hits packages or compilations (so Dylan's Basement Tapes is not to be found herein), but I have deviated from my usual prohibition against live albums to include one concert offering that is listed for reasons I will make abundantly clear.
Alice Cooper - Love It to Death
Love It to Death was Alice Cooper's first masterpiece, almost dead even with Killer as far as their best album. "Ballad of Dwight Fry" (an allusion to the actor who played the insane Renfield in the original 'Dracula') is alone worth the price of admission, and no creepier tune has ever been written (although Alice has tried on several occasions). "Long Way to Go" ("What's keeping us apart isn't selfishness, what's holding us together isn't love" - great line), "Hallowed Be My Name", and "Second Coming" are all top notch tunes, and give the album its dark and eerie aura. Then there is "I'm Eighteen", the eternal teen tune of angst and self-loathing, which gave Alice Cooper the mega-hit they needed to reach the big time. Love It to Death and Killer, with the concert extravaganzas they spawned, are two of the most influential albums in all of rock music.
The Allman Brothers - Idlewild South
The great country blues song "Midnight Rider", with its mournful harmonies but bright guitars, is reason enough for blues enthusiasts to own this album, but the rollin' and tumblin' licks on Muddy Water's "(I'm Your) Hoochie Man" let everyone know where The Allman Brothers were coming from on their second album. From the sad and bluesy "Please Call Home" to the funky "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'" to the band defining sound of "Revival", The Allman Brothers defined Southern Blues, and no one that followed thereafter could Betts them. Ummm...I mean Best them. Of course, some of you might be aware of the creepy bit of trivia regarding the jam "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". On a stroll, Duane Allman saw a tombstone in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia with that epitaph on it, and decided to record an instrumental around it. Rose Hill Cemetery is also where both Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley were later buried. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
A step up from Paranoid on the road to Sabbathic Nirvana, with less repetition and more complex themes than its highly-lauded predecessor, Master of Reality is the next step in a logical progression to Sabbath's two most diverse and darkest albums Volume IV and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The standout pieces on this album are "Children of the Grave" (my personal favorite), "Lord of this World" and "Into the Void". This is the halfway point between the droning and dirge-like Paranoid to the albums that have more meat (raw and bloody, of course). But you've got to admit, if you need to hear a dirge, there are none better than Black Sabbath at hammering away at you until you are senseless. Face it, metal may be played faster nowadays, but there is an emotional intensity and cathartic brilliance in Sabbath that is unmatched.
Black Sabbath - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
If one looks at the progression of heavy metal into prog-metal, symphonic metal, math rock and other sub-headings of the genre, the inclination is to point to bands like King Crimson and Black Flag as influences, without noting the singular contribution of Sabbath to all versions of metal. And Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a singular album that offers many of the standard props of current metallic prog, such as extended jams with complex rhythms, dark images, synths, mellotrons and string arrangements. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Rick Wakeman of Yes stopped by to play keyboards on "Sabra Cadabra", but Ozzie, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler add mellotron and synth work throughout the album. Ozzie's epic shrieks on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" should be an unsubtle hint that modern growlers can sing intelligible lyrics and still be menacing and malevolent. "Killing Yourself to Live", "Fluff", "Spiral Architect" and "Who Are You?" all indicate a very progressive direction for Sabbath, and one that was readily incorporated into later prog-metal repertoires.
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
This album could have easily been titled "Everything and the Kitchen Sink" for the way Bowie effortlessly moves from one musical genre to another; in fact, the song "Changes" is really the anthemic thesis statement for the album as a whole. Hunky Dory is the album that laid the groundwork for Bowie's magnum opus Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, particularly the songs "Queen Bitch" (featuring Mick Ronson's wicked guitar lines) and the Nietzschean "Oh! You Pretty Things". Then, of course, there's Rick Wakeman's keyboard contributions on "Life on Mars" (not to mention his piano stylings on "Changes"), the near impenetrable lyrics that suffuse the album, particularly on "The Bewlay Brothers" and "Quicksand", and even Bowie's nod to Neil Young on "Kooks".
David Bowie - Aladdin Sane
Bowie's wildest album - and that's really saying something! Thank God for cocaine and paranoia! I just listen to Bowie's spastic version of The Stone's "Let's Spend the Night Together" and laugh myself silly! That one must have taken an eight-ball to record. Some of Bowie's best rock tunes are on this one, including the great "Panic in Detroit" and "The Jean Genie" (hats off to Mick Ronson's blistering guitar!), but it's the crazy piano runs and slightly askew renderings of "Aladdin Sane", "Lady Grinning Soul" and "Time" that act as foils for the harder rock and give the album balance. I cordially despise Bowie during his 'Berlin Trilogy' era, and I find those three releases infinitely tedious and overblown. I'll listen to Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs over that avant-garde, arty crap. Helluva lot more fun!
Can - Tago Mago
Imagine, if you will, a band from the late 1990s managing to take H.G. Wells' time machine and travelling back to 1971 to record an album. Is it any wonder Thom Yorke of Radiohead cites this album as an influence? Hell, he's lifted everything wholesale from this album! Although the guitarwork of Michael Karoli still reflects the strains of the 60s, it is more restrained, a neo-psychedelicism that branches off into jazzier areas, but it is the drumming of Jaki Liebezeit and the avant-garde lyricism and vocal-styling of Damo Suzuki that sets this experimental excursion into Krautrock apart from the rest. It is like nothing you've heard, particularly if you didn't know it was recorded in the early 70s.
The Cars - The Cars
The Cars were the new wave alternative for those who preferred less esoteric material than that offered by Talking Heads, but still appreciated tight musicianship and clever hooks. And there are more hooks on The Cars debut album than in a New England fishing village, and the music is tighter than Rick Santorum's bare bottom squeezing an aspirin between the cheeks. Ummm...sorry for the imagery. Anyway, The Cars album is a classic of the new wave/power pop style, probably the best example of the genre. There are certainly a number of hits "My Best Friend's Girl", "Just What I Needed", "Good Times Roll", "Bye Bye Love", etc., but my favorites are the jams: the thrumming bass of "Moving in Stereo" and the fuzz guitar of "You're All I've Got Tonight". Sure the keyboards are cheesy and there is a certain kitsch to the whole proceeding. But that's new wave.
The Clash - The Clash
From the opening rim shot on "Janie Jones" to the bullshit detectors and guttersnipes on the ending grunge of "Garageland", The Clash's thrumming, discordant debut album seethes with lower class discontent. The inchoate political manifesto "We're mad as hell but haven't got a clue what to do but get drunk and beat the hell out of you" rings through "Career Opportunities", "Police and Thieves" (a Dylanesque epic at 6:03), "White Riot" (a favorite), "London's Burning" (another favorite), and then there's the best song "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." The friendly rivalry between The Clash and Sex Pistols was over exaggerated into a feud by the press, but clearly The Clash developed far beyond the one-shot Sex Pistols.
Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
Like the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello somehow got caught in the new wave tide, an ill-fitting title hung clumsily on their music, as they were certainly not representative of the endless drek associated with the genre. One listen to the jazzy drums and bass on "Lipstick Vogue" should indicate that Elvis was not so easy to categorize - a hallmark of great rock music. Songs like the wistful "Little Triggers", the funky 60s style "Lip Service", and "Pump It Up" with its hockey arena organ and driving guitar line indicate the wide-variety of influences and interests of Declan Patrick MacManus, which would serve as the platform and starting point for his various forays into different forms of music (both good and terrible) he would later release.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Déjà Vu
The addition of "Y" to "CSN" not only added a sometime vowel to a series of consonants, but a different voice and compositional style to an already immensely talented group. Of course, along with immense talent comes immense egos, and the fistfights backstage at CSN&Y concerts were legendary (at least according to Frank Zappa), but that didn't stop them from recording the great Déjà Vu before they ended up killing each other. Each artist made wonderful acoustic contributions to the album: "Déjà Vu" (Crosby), "4+20" (Stills), "Teach Your Children" and "Our House" (Nash), and "Helpless" and "Country Girl" (Young).
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory
Creedence's last great album, and except for the stupid "Ooby Dooby", a greatest hits package containing the wild rave-up "Travelin' Band", the countrified "Lookin' Out My Back Door", "Run Through the Jungle" (a requisite song for every Viet Nam movie soundtrack ever made), "Up Around the Bend", "Who'll Stop the Rain" and a psychedelicized version of the Motown hit "I Heard It through the Grapevine" (a hit for Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye). Creedence has long carried the stigma of being a "singles band", but hey, if you can get 5 or 6 great singles out of one album's work, who the hell cares? Unfortunately, after a couple more so-so albums, Creedence broke up, and the band and John Fogerty never reconciled. The history of suits and countersuits between Fogerty and the band and Fogerty and their label, Fantasy Records, is legendary - in a pathetic sort of way for all concerned.
The Doors - Morrison Hotel
After critical attacks on their Soft Parade album (which shows that these critics should've gotten stoned more often), The Doors switched from experimentation and Jim Morrison's penchant for acidic poetry to a more straightforward rock and blues format on Morrison Hotel/Hard Rock Café (the actual title, Hard Rock Café being the header for side 1, and Morrison Hotel for side 2). The results actually did outshine Soft Parade and Waiting for the Sun (their previous two efforts), with some of The Doors heaviest work, like "Waiting for the Sun", "Peace Frog", "You Make Me Real" and "Roadhouse Blues" (featuring John Sebastian's great blues harp). But it is the darker material that really makes the album, the sly and evil insinuation of "The Spy" ("I know your deepest secret fear"), the gruff "Maggie M'Gill", and even "Blue Sunday" has such a sense of foreboding as sung by Morrison, it's tough to remember it's just a simple love song. Great album.
The Eagles - Hotel California
First of all, The Eagles stole the chord progression of the song "Hotel California" from Jethro Tull's "We Used to Know" (listen to them side by side, there is no doubt). With that out of the way, let's peruse the rest of the album. The Eagles wisely added Joe Walsh to the mix and gave the band some cahones that were sadly lacking. Walsh's dueling guitar with Don Felder on the title song, his wicked leads on "Life in the Fast Lane", "Victim of Love" and even his reflective tune "Pretty Maids in Row" mark an appreciable difference from their previous breezy California country-rock balladry. "The Last Resort" was probably the last Don Henley song I can tolerate in its entirety. "New Kid in Town" is the blueprint for the same sort of songs they would duplicate on their next album The Long Run. And no, I wasn't being complimentary. Hotel California reflects the shallow, drug-induced miasma of L.A. in the 70s, and therefore it is the perfect soundtrack for that city in that era.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery
It is very rare for a drummer to receive accolades for a rock album, but this is the highlight of Carl Palmer's storied career. Palmer's work with synthesized drums (not drum machines, mind you, he's actually playing) mark this album as innovative and not merely ELP churning out classical reproductions. "Toccata" is the best adaptation of a classical piece ELP ever attempted (the composer, Ginastera, complimented this eccentric version). Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression ranks as a progressive favorite, "Karn Evil: 2nd Impression" features brilliant drumming and bright piano, and who can't deny the balls it took to bring Wm. Blake's poetry to rock in "Jerusalem". Is it pretentious? God yes! But ELP was so ungodly talented, they couldn't help their pomposity. Revel in it for the fat content. Fuck dieting.
Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac
With the infusion of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, the beleaguered Mac found their way out of the desert of mid-tempo ballads and boring blandities that seemed to be their lot since Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer left the group. Nicks and Buckingham's impact was instant, and the best songs on the album, "Rhiannon" and "Landslide" (by Nicks), and "Monday Morning" and "World Turning" (by Buckingham) gave Fleetwood Mac a more vibrant, and in Nicks' case, a seductive and mystical voice. Christine McVie is at her ballady best with "Over My Head" and "Say You Love Me", but she had churned out such tunes on previous albums. The real life and energy came from the two Americans who popped in (after doing nothing of importance as a solo act). They were meant for each other, obviously.
Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel I (Car)
Departing from Genesis also gave Gabriel the opportunity to focus his considerable compositional skills. Gone are the excesses that made the second half of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway an existential mess; in its place are wonderfully eccentric tunes like "Moribund the Burgermeister" and the quirky "Excuse Me" (complete with barbershop quartet and tuba solo). But there is also the exquisite personal manifesto "Solsbury Hill", the symphonic exhilaration of "Down the Dolce Vita", and the brilliant apocalyptic opus "Here Comes the Flood". From the standpoint of compositional excellence, Gabriel's recording career eclipsed Genesis, particularly in the 1980s.
Genesis - Trick of the Tail
It may be blasphemous to say, but this is a Genesis masterpiece, a statement the remaining members of Genesis felt they needed to make after Peter Gabriel left. For this album, Genesis did not need Gabriel, gaining a new sound and voice. The musicianship is especially tight, and more reflective compositions like "Entangled, 'Ripples' and 'Mad Man Moon' offer Phil Collins a chance to really showcase his voice. But jams like "Dance on a Volcano", "Squonk", and "Los Endos" are progressive rock at its best. Peter Gabriel cast a huge shadow over Genesis, but the album is extremely well done, and doesn't have the Gabrielesque excess in long, rambling compositions that mar some earlier albums. There is no silly "Battle of Epping Forest" here.
Gentle Giant - In a Glass House
Infuriatingly obscurant, Gentle Giant eschewed the limelight to follow its own eccentric path; but for all that, there is some brilliant medieval and baroque progressive rock here. "In a Glass House" is the most accessible and best song here, "An Inmate's Lullaby" is lyrically clever and gives early King Crimson a run for its money, "Experience" runs the gamut from Elizabethan to jazz to funk, and "Reunion" offers a Baroque string quartet and a more pleasant use of Gentle Giant's ofttime strident and over-the-top vocals.
Harmonium - Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison
Progressive Quebecois elevator muzak? Au contraire, mon frère! This progressive folk release is a pastoral water color of seasonal changes. Mellifluous and enchanting, "If We Needed a Fifth Season" (a translation of the title) has some beautiful acoustic music, such as "Histoire sans paroles (Part I)", "Vert", and "En Pleine Face". A progressive acoustic masterpiece, and the French vocals make it all the more seductive and serene. If you enjoyed this album, then definitely peruse L'Heptade, the double album follow-up, which expands on the sound of this release.
Roy Harper - Stormcock
Roy Harper? Isn't he the Brit whose claim to fame was being named in a Led Zeppelin song title ("Hats off to Roy Harper"), and as vocalist on "Have a Cigar" from Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here? Yes, he is that but much more. Stormcock is as spare as they come, and contains only four songs (ranging from seven to thirteen minutes long), but despite the sparsity of material and lack of musicians (there's only Harper, with appearances by Jimmy Page appearing incognito as "S. Flavius Mercurius", and David Bedford on organ, with occasional orchestral arrangements) this is an expansive listening experience. "The Same Old Rock", "One Man Rock and Roll Band", "Me and My Woman, Part 1" and "Hors D'oeuvres" are each a precious bit of progressive acoustic balladry. You think Nick Drake's albums are lost masterpieces"? Try Roy Harper!
George Harrison - All Things Must Pass
All Things Must Pass, along with John Lennon's Imagine' and Plastic Ono Band are the only post-Beatle solo efforts to actually warrant inclusion in the Beatles' canon. Talk about blowing your wad on one triple album (double CD)! Except for The Concert For Bangladesh and Living in the Material World (both of which I highly recommend), Harrison could not surpass or even come remotely close to this album ever again. "My Sweet Lord", "Wah-Wah", "Isn't it a Pity", "Beware of Darkness", "Apple Scruffs", "What is Life"...one wonders if perhaps Harrison should have offered two separate albums of material, and better cemented his post-Beatles legacy. I would have bought both of them. The only down note in this review is the "Apple Jam", which is fairly pedestrian fare that can be heard in any basement or garage. Like I said, Harrison could have ditched the "Apple Jam" filler, and still made two separate five-star albums. Nevertheless, All Things Must Pass is essential to any collection.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Even for someone like myself - a secular liberal atheist with conservative leanings -the album for the Rice/Webber Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar is fascinating. But not the movie. The movie was dreadful. Give me Ian Gillan as Jesus over Ted Neely and Murray Head as Judas over Carl Anderson any day of the week. Unlike most rock operas, which feature disjointed and tenuously plotted librettos (see Tommy or The Wall), JC Superstar offers a splendid adaptation of Christ's final days, culled from the Synoptic Gospels and the writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The album slyly insinuates modern political concepts and anachronisms like mass media and propaganda into the mix, while giving real depth to characters like Judas, Mary Magdalene and Pontius Pilate. Whether you're a Christian or a stepchild of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, one can appreciate the songs, my favorites being "This Jesus Must Die", "Simon Zealotes", "Herod's Song" (an incredibly funny take on the Gospel story), "Trial Before Pilate", and the anthem "Superstar". Of further note are the two songs sung by Yvonne Elliman ("Everything's Alright" and "I don't Know how to Love Him").
Jethro Tull - Minstrel in the Gallery
After a long, strange trip that took Tull on consecutive visits to the concept album trough (Thick as a Brick & A Passion Play) and the uneven and hastily released War Child, Minstrel in the Gallery finally offers a studio album that is cohesive, consistently excellent and not merely a single song stretched across one album. While Minstrel in the Gallery is a very underrated album, it contains some of the best lyrics Ian Anderson ever wrote. The song cycle "Baker St. Muse" is a deft masterpiece of poetics and musical chiaroscuro. "Cold Wind to Valhalla" and "Minstrel in the Gallery" stress the interplay of acoustic and hard rock, and "Black Satin Dancer" is a brilliant statement on the underrated abilities of guitarist Martin Barre. The most intimate of all Tull albums, and bordering on an Ian Anderson solo album. But I'm good with that.
Jethro Tull - Songs from the Wood
The last truly superb Tull album, Songs from the Wood is the cumulative apex of electrified British folk-rock pioneered by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. The musicianship is outstanding, particularly on "Velvet Green", "The Whistler" and the monstrous guitar riffs of "Pibroch" (or "Pee-break" for you Tull concert-goers). This album rocks and relaxes, sometimes in the same song. Also, the lyrics are very sly and witty (read the lyrics of "Hunting Girl" -- it has nothing to do with riding a horse, wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Contrary to popular critical sentiment, the punk mantra "keep it short, keep it simple, and spike your hair with snot and semen" is not what makes great rock music, and being able to play four chords with attitude is not the mark of great musicianship. Like Thick as a Brick, Songs from the Wood is a progressive album, but without the necessity of album length songs.
Janis Joplin - Pearl
Janis Joplin with actual, accomplished musicians! No more muddy and sloppy psychedelic meandering with Big Brother and the Holding Company or the Kozmic Blues Band, Janis finally gets the correct studio treatment and releases a superb album. From the first song on Pearl, the seductive "Move Over", Joplin is given a vehicle to really stretch her talents, while maintaining the funky 60s stylings, like on "Buried Alive in Blues". There is the reflective "A Woman Left Lonely", the playful "Mercedes Benz", and the full-tilt "Cry Baby". You've got R&B "Half Moon", and...ummmm...oh yeah, the mega-hit "Me and Bobby McGee".
King Crimson - Starless and Bible Black
The companion piece of the album Red (released later in the same year), shares many characteristics of its twin separated at birth: discordant and violent guitars, ambient minimalism, thoughtful lyrics, and unexpected turns. The Dylan Thomas-inspired "Starless and Bible Black" is an eccentric improvisational piece and, according to Robert Fripp, "Fracture" was the most difficult piece he ever played. But the real stunning moment on the album is "The Night Watch" an ode to a Rembrandt painting, which is the best John Wetton vocal and most intricate lyricism Crimson ever offered (composed by Richard Palmer, formerly of Supertramp). Also, "Great Deceiver" is a devilish roller-coaster ride, and "Lament is a surprisingly un-Crimsonlike reverie in spots.
King Crimson - Red
Red is an album that literally seethes with frustration, so much so that it brought about the demise of King Crimson (and it wasn't to be revived until 7 years later). Discordant, ferocious and maddening, the album hits you with the malice of a sledgehammer-wielding lunatic. The best song, "Starless" was supposed to appear on Starless and Bible Black, but Fripp didn't like it until he added a lengthy instrumental that sounds like a nest of angry wasps. other standout tunes are the violent instrumental piece "Red", the surprisingly wistful and jazzy (in spots, anyway) "Fallen Angel", and "One More Red Nightmare", propelled by the drumming of Bill Bruford.
Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III
"Unledded" Zeppelin. Both Plant and Page shake their heads to this day over the critical attacks on this album. It seems the critics expected "Whole Lotta Love, Part II" and when they got an acoustic album instead, they attacked Zeppelin as "imitating the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young" (which is funnier than hell!). So much for creativity and eschewing formulaic hit-making. In any case, there is a wide range of great acoustic material here: "Gallows’ Pole", "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp", "Friends", "That's the Way", "Tangerine", and "Hats Off to Roy Harper". Then there's the electric stomp of "Immigrant Song", "Celebration Day" and the great blues tune "Since I've Been Loving You". The infuriating thing is that the wonderful "Hey What Can I Do", which was recorded during the same sessions, only appears as a single and not on the album itself.
Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy
Aside from "The Crunge" and "D'yer Mak'er" - two songs I thoroughly despise - this is a very solid, if not exemplary, effort from Led Zep. I mean, really, what can one do to follow up a monster like Vol. IV (ZoSo), release "Stairway to Heaven, Part II"? "Over the Hills and Far Away" is my personal favorite on this album, but the progressive "No Quarter", the pastoral "The Rain Song" and the rockers "The Ocean", "Dancing Days" and "The Song Remains the Same" are all incredibly listenable. I may not get very worked up for this album as I would for the quirky charms of Vol. III, but it's eons better than In Through the Out Door, if that is any consolation. Led Zep's 5th or 6th best album, depending on how I feel that day.
John Lennon - Imagine
Imagine is a fine album, perhaps not on the level of Plastic Ono Band as far as immediacy and import, but the title song has touched so many lives and means so much to so many people, that it has had a more lasting cultural effect than a more strident song like "God" on Plastic Ono. Beyond the title track, there are two outstanding love songs "Jealous Guy" (brilliant lyrics) and "Oh My Love", as well as one of the most scathing attacks upon an ex-bandmate in the history of rock: "How Do You Sleep?" Referencing Paul McCartney, Lennon spews the biting lines "The sound you make is muzak to my ears" which speaks volumes to the attitude Lennon had for much of McCartney's work, and particularly to what Lennon referred to as "granny songs" (like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "When I'm Sixty-four"). The only real misstep on the album is "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier", which rambles on entirely too long.
Lynyrd Skynyrd - (Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
Not since The Allman Brothers had a southern rock band made such an important and impressive debut album as Lynyrd Skynyrd. There is no fluff or filler, just redneck rock and roll straight from Jacksonville, where they went to school at Robert E. Lee High (where else would they have gone?), and had an obnoxious gym teacher named Leonard Skinner. There is the Hendrixian overtones of "Tuesday's Gone", the roadhouse boogie of "Gimme Three Steps", the towering "Simple Man", the bayou bluster of "Things Goin' On", and the anthem for every trailer park in the U.S. of A., "Free Bird". For south of the Mason-Dixon line, it don't get no better'n this.
Joni Mitchell - Blue
One of the greatest recording by a female singer/songwriter ever (right up there with Carole King's Tapestry and Mitchell's own Court and Spark), Blue was a landmark recording for both lyrical innovation (a stream of internal monologues, dialogues of lovers and autobiographical revelations), as well as the use of jazz-inflected vocal intonations in a folk rock format, and the title song Blue itself highlights the characteristics of the album. Song composition like that found in "A Case of You" or "The Last Time I Saw Richard" was unheard of when Blue was released in 1971: confessional lyrics and sparse instrumentation highlighting the main instrument on this album, Joni Mitchell's four octave voice. With limited accompaniment, multi-instrumentalist Mitchell breezes through her songs using an acoustic guitar, piano or Appalachian dulcimer. Other songs of note are "Little Green" and "River", about a miserable break-up just before Christmas (ho-ho-no!).
The Moody Blues - Seventh Sojourn
A remarkable album, the last of The Moody Blues' classic era, and an appropriate bookend to the Moody orchestral masterpiece Days of Future Passed. Sojourn (their 7th album) is the most cohesive and consistently good album since Threshold of a Dream, and the songwriting is strong from each of the Moody's composers Hayward, Lodge, Pinder and Thomas. Every song is beautiful and powerful, whether the ominous "Lost in a Lost World", the strident "You and Me" (both full of political allusions regarding hatred, revolution, the Vietnam War and the Arab-Israeli conflict), the charming little sea chantey "For My Lady", or the refreshing "Land of Make Believe", or the rousing, bass-driven "I'm Just a Singer(in a Rock and Roll Band)". Throw in "New Horizons" and "Isn't Life Strange", and you have a splendid listening experience. From a technical standpoint, The Moodys used both the mellotron and the newer type keyboard the chamberlin on this album. One of the three or four essential albums from the Moody Blues' discography.
Van Morrison - Moondance
Like Cat Stevens, Van Morrison followed-up a masterpiece with another and even bigger hit. After Morrison released the critically acclaimed Astral Weeks, his next album in 1970, Moondance (the title song, mystifyingly, was not released as a single until 1977), continued Morrison's unique compositional style, albeit with a more pastoral flair. The rustic appeal of And "It Stoned Me", the rousing "Caravan", and the timeless "Into the Mystic" all reflect a gypsy-like return to the land. Other notable tracks are "Crazy Love" and "These Dreams of You".
The Alan Parsons Project - I Robot
I Robot is perhaps the most commercially accessible concept album ever created. Nearly every song seems tailor-made for late 70's MOR rock stations. Nearly every song has catchy hooks certain to snag the average listener. The lyrics are not offensive. The music is neither too heavy nor so pop that it would drive away hard rock fans. It has elements of prog-rock, funk, jazz, disco and early techno -- a bit of everything to pique the interest of a very wide, almost disparate, demographic. It doesn't sound like I'm being very complimentary, does it? On the contrary, it is a brilliant conception by Alan Parsons (sound engineer for both the Beatles and Pink Floyd) and Eric Woolfson. The album's song list reads like a greatest hits package: "I wouldn't Want to Be Like You", "Some Other Time", "Breakdown", "Don't Let It Show", "The Voice" and the instrumental "I Robot". Splendid!
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Bloated excess? Too much Roger Waters under the bridge? Bizarre and oddly fascist in some instances? Certainly. But for all the critical attacks, one must look at The Wall in its entirety to appreciate the work. There are so many great songs and stunning moments on The Wall that I rate it as essential to anyone's album collection: "Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. 3)", "Mother' (a personal favorite)", "Goodbye Blue Sky", "Young Lust", "Hey You", "Nobody Home" (complete 'with the 'obligatory Hendrix perm' and 'the inevitable pinhole burns'), and "Run Like Hell" (another favorite). And then there is "Comfortably Numb". Is there any other song besides "Stairway to Heaven", "Layla" or "Aqualung" as epic? It is the sum total of a rock masterpiece.
Pink Floyd - Animals
Animals is a wonderfully flawed Orwellian magnum opus. My greatest knock against it? It is too short! It seems to me that the album is one animal short of a masterpiece. Something is missing: a goat, a cow, a cat? Come on Pink, you couldn't find one more beast to bitch about? Jesus, go to the zoo and harangue the monkeys! But Animals is one bitter album. Roger Waters is literally spitting nails, particularly in "Pigs", where the target is Mary Whitehouse, an insufferable moral prig who campaigned for decency in British society (a Puritan four centuries too late). "Sheep", with its sly version of Psalm 23, is a phenomenal progressive composition, and "Dogs" is one of the shining moments of David Gilmour's career.
Queen - Queen II
A Night at the Opera may be more polished, with several hit tunes, but it will never have "Ogre Battles". Put simply, Queen II is progressive madness, from an impression of a painting in the Tate Gallery "The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke" to the pre-Bohemian Rhapsody jewel in Queen's crown "March of the Black Queen", the album is overrun with manic time changes, soaring vocals, biting guitar, and arppegiated piano runs. No band can duplicate that sound -- not with a roomful of synths and a choir. On the quieter side, there's the haunting "White Queen", and the moving "Father to Son". What the hell, I'll also mention "The Seven Seas of Rhye".
The Ramones - Ramones
The sad thing about punk rock is that it often reiterates the same themes and repeats itself into self-mockery. Case in point: The Ramones. What was clever, high energy and decidedly against-the-grain in 1976, the year The Ramones release their eponymous debut album, had run its course by their third album, Rocket to Russia in 1977. Thereafter, everything was wash-rinse-repeat, except for a few amusing songs like "I Wanna Be Sedated" and Psycho Therapy". So revel in the short-lived luster of a band at the cutting edge of rock nihilism before they released the same damn album another 13 times.
Renaissance - Scheherazade & Other Stories
No, this album is not based on Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, but the intent to mirror and draw inspiration from it are evident on the intro to "A Trip to the Fair". Like Fairport's Sandy Denny, Renaissance's Annie Haslam is, unfortunately, a nightingale in shadow, obscured by the shallow record industry marketing machinations. A beautiful song like "Ocean Gypsy" is simply to good for radio airplay. Renaissance's magnum opus, the 24 minute "Song of Scheherazade", is sublime, and John Tout's keyboards are top notch. Scheherazade & Other Stories is a timeless piece of 1970s progressive music that is as astounding today as back in 1975, a splendid song cycle that more listeners should experience. It was an ambitious undertaking, and one that few "rock bands" could attempt, even if they had the talent.
The Rolling Stones - Some Girls
To be honest, I never cared for this album; however, in the interests of faint subjectivity, I offer it here because Some Girls was an album The Stones had to make or else end up on the slag heap of rock detritus. Face it, after they made the stellar Exile on Main Street, The Stones released three consecutive sub-par albums and were headed for irrelevancy. But at least the time Mick Jagger spent wanking in Studio 54 wasn't completely wasted. With an odd admixture of punk and disco, Some Girls gave The Stones a new direction and a new audience. They definitely are a reinvigorated group on this album, centered around Mick's up-and-mostly-down relationship with his soon to be ex-wife, Bianca. Highlights include the stellar harmonica of Sugar Blue on several tracks, the punkish "Respectable", and the travelogue of seedy New York "Shattered".
Roxie Music - For Your Pleasure
Weirdly wonderful and seductively strange, For Your Pleasure presents Roxie Music at their avant-garde best, before Brian Eno left earth to do further experimentation in ambient music solo, and share his "Enossification" with such luminaries as Genesis (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) and Bowie (the Berlin Trilogy). There are several stellar songs here, but my favorites are "Do the Strand" and "Editions of You", but the album is suffused with off-kilter music and vocals (the song "For Your Pleasure", for instance) and odd obsessions ("In every Dream Home a Heartache" is a Bryan Ferry ballad to a blow-up doll). Whether you consider this glam, art rock or progressive, For Your Pleasure is at the cutting edge of...ummm...one of those.
Roxy Music - Country Life
My favorite Roxy Music album. Perhaps it's because Country Life maintains the experimental qualities of great albums like For Your Pleasure and their debut album (both with Brian Eno), while offering a heavier edge and more bite to the guitar. There is certainly a preponderance of their best songs here: "Out of the Blue" (Eddie Jobson on violin), "Prairie Rose", "The Thrill of It All" and "All I Want is You", but also a warped Gregorian hymnal like "Triptych", the bluesy romp "If It takes all Night" and the funkified glam of "Casanova". And Brian Ferry, half spy, half vampire and half Gestapo officer, is at his idiosyncratic best.
Todd Rundgren - Something, Anything
Allegedly stoked and speeding on Ritalin (although I've always preferred Dexedrine - much cleaner), Todd Rundgren recorded a remarkable double album of pop rock, although a three-letter word like "pop" does not do justice to the veritable cornucopia of catchy tunes here - they're literally piled on the vinyl platter and tumbling off the sides. I could rattle off ten songs right now that are clever, extremely listenable and incredibly well crafted. Don't believe me? Here goes: "I Saw the Light", "Hello It's Me", "Wolfman Jack", "Couldn't I Just Tell You", "Sweeter Memories", "The Night the Carousel Burnt Down", "Black Maria", "Torch Song", "Dust in the Wind" (no, not that one), "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me", and "Cold Morning Light". Hey, that's eleven! There are still several more tunes, including a great mock garage band operetta of roots tunes, "Money (that's what I want)"/"Messin' with the Kid". Too bad Todd's songwriting brilliance didn't span more albums with any consistency.
Santana - Abraxas
Progressive sambas? Prog-rock mambas? Latin jazz/blues/rock? Yes, all of this and more suffuses Abraxas, a remarkable album from Santana prior to the jazz-fusion (and not prog-rock) of Caravanserai. The seductive "Samba Pa Ti", the Allman Brothers-turned-jazzy Brazilians sound of "Incident at Neshabur", and "Singing Winds/Crying Beasts/Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" which features the Latinization of Fleetwod Mac's blues opus (Peter Green's Version), all reflect a progression and innovation in sound that was unique for the time period.
Santana - Santana III
Latin-progressive-rock-jazz (how's that for a title). Featuring lengthier instrumental passages than the more commercially accessible Abraxas, Santana III is the last Santana release of the early 70s to maintain a semblance of rock form before Carlos ventured off fulltime into jazz-fusion. The mind-melting mamba of "Toussaint L'Overture", the Allman Brothers-tinged "Jungle Strut", the fiery "Batuka", the rousing horns of "Everybody's Everything", and the Latin boogie "Guajira", present Santana as one of the most innovative and devilishly seductive bands of all time.
Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols
From the malign laugh at the very beginning of "Anarchy in the U.K.", you pretty well know that Never Mind the Bollocks" will not contain profound poeticism or any great musicianship. It is what it is: a seething bundle of rage, strident staccato guitars buzzing like psychopathic wasps, fumbling drums, and a nihilistic manifesto from a band whose major accomplishment was to rhyme anarchist with antichrist by adding extra vowels. But one cannot escape this album's influence. Any number of punk bands revere it like a fundamentalist worships the bible (namely, not understanding a word of it). Johnny Rotten was clever enough to know how to manipulate the disaffected, and there are certainly larger truths in the album (equating the queen with tourism on "God Save the Queen", for instance). Steve Jones' vicious guitarwork is notable on songs like "Holidays in the Sun", "Pretty Vacant" and "Liar". Not as funny as The Ramones, not as diverse as The Clash, but when you think of pure punk, you think Sex Pistols. And I've got to hand it to the band for declining an invite to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, rightly calling it a "piss stain". Long live rock and roll!
Steely Dan - Aja
I've always loved individual Steely Dan songs: "Reelin' in the Years" from Can't Buy a Thrill, "Bodhisattva" and "My Old School" from Countdown to Ecstasy, "Rikki Don't Lose that Number" from Pretzel Logic, etc., but I've never been enamored enough of Steely Dan to really give a damn about them. If you owned a greatest hits package, well that was good enough. That is, until Aja, which is a consistently superior album. Aja certainly isn't an album for all occasions, it never rises past mid-tempo, and is certainly not an album to "drink scotch whiskey all night long" with because you are guaranteed to "die behind the wheel" sound asleep. But the jazz-inflected, easy mood of the piece is certainly a charmer and the musicianship is (as usual on a Steely Dan release) superb, with the likes of Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton making appearances (the only downer is Michael McDonald sings - I can't stand his voice). The title song, "Josie", "Home at Last" and "Deacon Blue" are stellar.
Cat Stevens - Teaser and the Firecat
How did Cat Stevens follow-up his masterpiece Tea for the Tillerman? By releasing another masterpiece, of course. Teaser and the Firecat offers memorable hits like "Peace Train", "Moonshadow", and "Morning Has Broken", but it's the other songs on the album that leave an indelible mark: "The Wind", "Tuesday's Dead", "Changes IV", and the infinitely sad "How Can I Tell You". The height of the singer/songwriter movement in the 1970s, and an amazing artifact of a time when one could write beautifully sensitive songs of social import and inner meaning and still have a mega-hit. Too bad Stevens adopted a woodenheaded and ironically violent form of conservative Islam that eradicated all the goodwill he had built up.
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
Yes, Rod Stewart dropped off into musical inanity (like any number of artists, such as Elton John and Billy Joel, who devolved into warbling pop absurdities as well), but Stewart's work with Jeff Beck, The Faces and here on Every Picture Tells a Story was stellar. Rod's gritty growl drove the songs on this album, resulting in the best album of his career. Besides the megahit "Maggie May" and the beautiful "Mandolin Wind" and "Reason to Believe", the highlight of the album is "Every Picture Tells a Story" with the incredible backing vocals of Maggie Bell, and the Motown rave-up "(I Know) I'm Losing You". The musicians, led by Ronnie Wood and other members of the Faces, are very tight, and Ravishing Rod even manages to pull off a good version of "Amazing Grace" (although it is tough keeping a straight face when he sings the line "that saved a wretch like me" - sure, Rod).
Supertramp - Crime of the Century
I don't believe Supertramp got their due as a superlative progressive rock band. Perhaps its because prog-rock fans are suspicious of any band that can rattle off a mega-platinum album with three hit singles like Breakfast in America, and still be considered subversive enough for their eccentric tastes. I merely point to Crime of the Century as progressive affirmation. With stunning compositions like "Rudy, "Crime of the Century", and "Asylum", one wonders why there was ever a question as to their progressivity? Add in the sing-along "Bloody Well Right" and the anti-authoritarian "School", and you have one of the best albums of the 70s.
The Stooges - Fun House
Dissonant, distorted and dangerous, the only way to describe Funhouse is garage band proto-punk jazz psychedelia. Or musical rape. Either or. This was in 1970, okay? They didn't record things like "L.A. Blues" in 1970. They wouldn't allow things like that on the Tonight Show or the Mike Douglas Show. Old ladies might get throbbing anginas. Listen to wicked guitar line on "T.V. Eye" or the sound barrage of "Loose" or the insinuating and slinky "Dirt". The Punk Revolution didn't start in New York with the Ramones or in London with the Sex Pistols, it began in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Iggy and the Stooges. But the jazz-inflected song "Funhouse" with Steve Mackay's shrieking sax is the crowning achievement of the album. Fun House is a bucket of sweat dumped on a fuse box.
Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food
Isn't it interesting how Brian Eno insinuates himself into so many good albums? Well, here he is again, putting Talking Heads through their paces on one of their two or three best albums. The big hit here is Al Green's "Take Me to the River", but like many great performers (Joe Cocker and Hendrix come to mind) The Heads take a cover and make it there own. And although "Take Me to the River" is the most recognizable tune on the album, it's not the best. More Songs About Buildings and Food is an odd concoction of punk, country, funk, reggae, and pop junk. I suppose it's even danceable, if that so moves you. But the album really centers around David Byrne's sly and skewed sense of proportion (or disproportion perhaps). "Found a Job" and "I'm Not in Love" come to mind as perfect examples of Byrne's quirky lyricism. "Stay Hungry" and "The Big Country" are personal favorites.
James Taylor - Sweet Baby James
James Taylor is another tightfisted artist who, along with his nearsighted record company, refuses to allow studio versions of his songs on YouTube (based on the mistaken assumption that showcasing songs on such a venue would reduce their record sales). Whatever. So, having seen Mr. Taylor on several occasions (and thoroughly enjoying the show each time), you might as well listen to live versions of these songs on YouTube, as they are just as good: "Sweet Baby James", "Country Road", "Steamroller", and the great "Fire and Rain", which is based on the suicide of a friend and the resultant depression over her death, his drug addiction and the dismal failure of his first band "Flying Machines", which caused him to stay at a mental institution for a while. "Fire" refers to shock therapy, and "Rain" references the cold shower afterwards.
Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
It's a toss-up for me between this album and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys as to which is Traffic's best recording, but it really doesn't matter: I'll take both, thank you very much. Anyway, it's quite ballsy for a rock band like Traffic to title their album and include a 6.5 minute long version of a 16th century song "John Barleycorn", an allegory on the cultivation of barley and it alcoholic after-effects. Yet, it works. But the album is far more jazzier than folksy, a compliment to the diversity of Traffic. "Glad" is exactly what its title implies: a joyous and jazzy romp with one of the nicest piano sequences in rock 'n' roll. "Glad" segues seamlessly into "Freedom Rider" another bit of jazz fusion, and "Empty Pages" presents Traffic at its most...ummm...'Trafficesque'.
Traffic - Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Simply one of the best albums for headphone use ever created. There is a tranquilly pastoral nature to compositions such as "Hidden Treasure" and "Rainmaker" that relieve stress almost as well as a Korean masseuse (except for maybe 'the finish'). The mesmeric and jazz-tinged "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" is a grand progressive journey, while more up-tempo songs like "Rock & Roll Stew" and "Light Up or Leave Me Alone" are infinitely satisfying tracks. Putting the record and sleeve back into ingenious album cover was a true test of whether you were really stoned or not.
T. Rex - Electric Warrior
Protopunk Glam rock from Marc Bolan and the guy with the bongos. T. Rex's biggest hits "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" and "Jeepster" are here, but there's a slew of other songs of interest also, and some of the oddest backing musicians you'll ever find on an album like this (Flo and Eddy of The Mothers, Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Ian McDonald of King Crimson). Give a listen to "Mambo Sun", "Rip Off", "Monolith" (with the weird guitar riff) and "Planet Queen", and you'll drift back to 1971 with the distinctive Electric Warrior album cover lying next to Love It to Death, Aqualung and Zeppelin IV covers sprawled out on the floor. Ummm...what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, Electric Warrior. Simple album. Simply brilliant.
Robin Trower - Bridge of Sighs
Listening to Bridge of Sighs, one can well understand why Robin Trower left Procol Harum. Simply put, Procol Harum's neo-classical compositions did not give Trower enough room to jam. One gets hints of his virtuosity on songs like "Simple Sister" and "Whiskey Train". But the Harum sound is primarily keyboard driven, and Trower had to take a back seat. Not so on Trower's second solo effort, which is a masterful reinvention of the blues. The title song "Bridge of Sighs" is just such a chilling and ethereal walk along the borders of blues innovation. The shimmering percussion of Reg Isidore, the mournful baritone of bassist James Dewar and Trower's effects-drenched guitar meld into a sorrowful and brilliantly executed tone poem. "Too Rolling Stoned" and "Little Bit of Sympathy" are also notable and powerful explosions of blues variation. Throw in "The Fool and Me" and "In This Place" and you get one of the most underappreciated albums of the 70s.
The Who - Live at Leeds
The Who's 1970 album Live at Leeds, although it received near planetary praise when it was first released, always seemed ridiculously short to me. What, did a blotto Keith Moon run a tour bus through the hall halfway through the concert, causing preemption and near-fatal deaths? Well, the fortunate thing is that the 1995 reissue of the album on CD contains twice as much material, and a 2010 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collector's Edition (how's that title for recording industry overkill?) has double the content of the 1995 reissue, adding, in addition to the Leeds' concerts, another full set from Hull (which, if it were released separately, might be titled 'Half at Hull'). In any case, the whole damn thing is great, and captures the boisterous Who at their booming best. Like the famous black and white Who concert poster trumpets: "Maximum R&B". Turn it up. Worth the price of admission: John Entwhistle's ominous parental growl on "Summertime Blues", and great covers of "Young Man Blues" and "Shakin' All Over".
Yes - The Yes Album
Isn't it amazing how the change of a guitarist can either damn a band or bring it to unparalleled greatness? The addition of Steve Howe brought just such a wondrous change to Yes. This is the departure point for Yes's golden age. More accessible than the stubbornly obscurantist King Crimson, less eccentric than the flighty Gabrielesque Genesis, on this album Yes presented compositions that one could hear on FM stations that were in essence too damn good to be heard on radio. "Yours is no Disgrace", "Starship Trooper" and "I've Seen All Good People" are all classics of the genre, and "The Clap" is a damned good acoustic guitar jam (I know, I learned to play it over a couple decades, but still haven't got all the nuances down).
Yes - Fragile
Sandwiched between two greater albums (The Yes Album & Close to the Edge) is not to say that Fragile is without its spectacular moments, it's just that this album is not as consistently brilliant as the others. "Cans and Brahms" (a very drab recital), "We Have Heaven" (which could be titled "Wash, Rinse, Repeat") and "Five Percent for Nothing" (retitled as "50% less would be twice as good") are fair Yes tunes, but let's concentrate on the remarkable: "Long Distance Runaround", "Mood for a Day", "Roundabout", and "Heart of the Sunrise" (one of the greatest bass-driven tunes of all time). The triumvirate of Yes releases mentioned above rival anything in the progressive rock canon as far as a consecutive span of three great and landmark albums.
Neil Young - Harvest
One more Neil Young album savaged by critics when it was first released, but later hailed as a masterpiece. Make up your damn minds or, better yet, shut the hell up! Harvest is and always was an acoustic gem. Two of my Young favorites, the poignant "Old Man" and the haunting "Needle and the Damage Done", are on this album, as is the fan favorite "Harvest", and the international hit "Heart of Gold". There is also the beautiful but decidedly warped "A Man Needs a Maid" featuring the London Symphony Orchestra. What Neil Young was doing hanging out with the LSO, I have no idea - an odd mismatch that somehow worked. Oh, and let's not forget two more great tunes "Alabama" and "Words". Neil is my favorite Martian.
Neil Young - Tonight's the Night
"Bruce Ferry was a workin' man, he used to load that Econoline van...", and so starts the ferocious song "Tonight's the Night" chronicling the death of Young's roadie of a heroin overdose, mentioned in the lines, "When I picked up the telephone, and heard that he died - out on the mainline". This, on the heels of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten's drug overdose cast Young into a deep, almost suicidal, depression, and the album is a reflection of that despondency (and in honor of Whitten, Young features his song "Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown" here). As Neil himself would say "please take my advice" and listen to a warped tune about a drug deal gone bad, "Tired Eyes". It is jagged and discordant, more of a discussion in a bar. This material isn't the ethereal and tuneful stuff found on Harvest or After the Gold Rush. There are no radio "hits" here. The album is about death. Unapologetic and unremitting and raw. It's purposefully sloppy and almost drunken, particularly "Roll Another Number (for the Road)". Some great tunes are "Borrowed Tune" and "World on a String".
Frank Zappa - Over-Nite Sensation
The Grand Wazoo is Zappa's best album from the 70s, but I am not dealing with jazz/jazz-fusion here, so let's talk instead about Over-Nite Sensation, a devilishly funny and musically adept rock album from 1973. Lost to many who think of Zappa as merely a purveyor of puns and novelty songs is that a song like "Montana", replete with dental floss, pygmy ponies and zircon-encrusted tweezers, is a phenomenal jam as well (the lead from 1:58 to 3:27, for example). There's a "method to the madness", and the stellar playing on the songs "Zomby Woof" and "Fifty-Fifty" ("I figure the odds be fifty-fifty I just might have something to say"), mix well with the heavy funk of "Dirty Love" and the sexually explicit "Dinah-Moe Hum" for an immensely entertaining album. From a social point of view, Zappa's take on the dangers of watching TV on "I'm the Slime" are as true today as they were 40 years ago. If you can find the Rykodisc CD that contains the albums Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe, snap it up! They fit together like a rancid poncho and a Mendocino beano!
A HALF-DOZEN +1 HARD ROCK & HEAVY METAL HEADBANGERS
Here are seven searing 70s selections to lick light sockets by. They may not be artsy-fartsy or deep, but goddamn if you won't have a helluva time putting the albums on your BIC-Venturi turntable, cranking your Marantz stereo up to eleven and pressing the KLH Loudspeakers to your ears. If you don't have tinnitus, you didn't listen to hard rock in the 1970s.
Montrose - Montrose
An excellent debut album. Based on the strength of the monstrous triple-play of "Rock the Nation", "Bad Motor Scooter" and "Space Station #5" that starts off the album, 'Montrose' deserves a listen for any hard rock fan who knows the difference between a Gibson and a Fender. The rest of the album is pretty much pedestrian but very tightly played 1970's rock; nevertheless, the three songs that kick off the set will have you deaf in no time, so it really doesn't matter what the rest of the album sounds like. I'm sorry, what did you just say?
Worth the price of admission: Rock the Nation, Bad Motor Scooter, Space Station #5.
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush - Live
Yes, Frank Marino believed he was the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. Yes, his songs are derivative more than influenced by Hendrix and other late 60s/early 70s guitar giants. Yes, the sound of the band is so embedded into the 70s hard rock style that you couldn't pry it loose with a jackhammer. Yes, Mahogany Rush borders on parody. But I'll be damned if you can find a more enjoyable hard rock experience than listening to Frank and Mahogany Rush on this 1977 live album. The tracks are blistering, and the covers ("Purple Haze", "I’m a King Bee", "Back Door Man", "Who Do you Love", "Johnny B. Goode") are electrifying and exhilarating. "Electric Reflections of War" and "The World Anthem" are nearly lifted in their entirety from the Hendrix catalog, but again, the end result is awesome. This is a guilty pleasure you can force the neighbors down the block to hear.
Worth the price of admission: Purple Haze, Johnny B. Goode, Talkin' 'Bout a Feelin'/Who do Ya Love/Electric Reflections of War.
Nazareth - Hair of the Dog
A consistently fine album, and one of the reasons the 70's was a great decade for rock 'n' roll. I had to deduct points for "Love Hurts", because I'd rather stick a rusted fork in my eye than listen to it, and also 'Please Don't Judas Me' drones on a good five minutes too long for its own good (sorry, repeating a chorus over and over ad nauseam is not clever or cool). Otherwise, Hair of the Dog is absolutely stellar, and one of those 70's albums (like Montrose's first, Deep Purple's Made in Japan, Robin Trower's Bridge of Sighs and Foghat Live) where you really only need to buy one of the band's albums and that's good enough for getting the best possible take of their music. The song "Hair of the Dog" is priceless. Hearing "Now you're messing with a son of a bitch!" on the radio for the first time was revelatory. Add in "Miss Misery", "Changin' Times", "Beggars Day" and "Whiskey Drinkin' Woman", and you've got a smokin' slab of hard rock heaven.
Worth the price of admission: Miss Misery, Changing Times, Beggar's Day.
Rainbow - Rainbow Rising
I never suggest buying an album based on the strength of one song, but a "A Light in the Black" is one of the greatest hard rock/heavy metal jams of all time, so I am tempted. The musicianship on this album, with the likes of Ritchie Blackmore, Cozy Powell and Tony Carey, is superb; however, it's Ronnie James Dio that bothers me. It wasn't his voice, which was powerful and well-suited for the music, nor was it his insistence on being called 'Ronnie James', which is annoying but not deal breaker. Rather, it is his penchant to rhyme clichéd occult lyrics to the point of absurdity: night/white, back/black, seems/dreams, etc., over and over, with the same tired cadence, no matter what band he is in. One of the worst lyricists in rock. But the jams here are solid, and some even great. The Rainbow version of "Kashmir" is called "Stargazer".
Worth the price of admission: A Light in the Black, Stargazer, Tarot Woman.
Black Sabbath - Sabotage
Sabotage is the last Sabbath album (forget the 20 or 30 that followed, those aren't really Sabbath). Side one is the hardest rocking slab of Sabbath ever recorded: "Hole in the Sky", "Symptom of the Universe", and I still get chills listening to "Megalomania". Then there's... ummm...side two. I don't know what happened in the studio, but obviously the band was stoned, decided to go out for tea and forgot to follow up the amazing job on side one. Did I mention I really like side one? You can get facial bruising just by standing too close to the speakers.
Worth the price of admission: Hole in the Sky, Symptom of the Universe, Megalomania.
Ted Nugent - Ted Nugent
Before he became a gun-toting, Right Wing asshat hunting elk, lions and liberals, Ted Nugent was actually a damn good musician. There were hints of his metal mania during his stay with the Amboy Dukes (particularly on the interesting Tooth, Fang and Claw album), but this fully flowered on his eponymous debut release. Eventually, he became muddled with stardom and sophomoric wang-dang-poontangery, but for this album, at least, he offered straight ahead Detroit City rock and roll. In fact, the best song on the album is the frenetic "Motor City Madhouse". Throw in "Stranglehold", "Stormtroopin'", "Hey Baby" and "Just What the Doctor Ordered", and you've got an album that, ironically, would never be played at the Republican National Convention.
Worth the price of admission: Motor City Madhouse, Stormtroopin', Stranglehold.
Blue Öyster Cult - Blue Öyster Cult
I had to throw this album in because I know several Cult fans who would seek me out and try to kick my ass if I omitted it. Well, you really didn't have to twist my arm. This album has long been known as "Heavy metal for people who hate heavy metal", and I think that title suits Blue Öyster Cult's debut album just fine. It is about as refined as you are going to get for the genre. Of course, there are some warped selections that are more early psychedelic Alice Cooper (circa Easy Action) than metal, like "Workshop of the Telescopes", but the album rocks along just fine. Of note are "Cities on Flame" (my favorite), "She's as Beautiful as a Foot" and "Transmaniacon MC".
Worth the price of admission: Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll, I'm on the Lamb But I aint no Sheep,Transmaniacon MC.