Saturday, September 23, 2017

Favorite Songs From My Childhood: A Musical Reverie

Many of you may have read previously that my first concert was Alice Cooper in 1972. I was twelve years old at the time, and was visiting my devious older cousins in Texas, who snuck me off to the show without parental approval (bless you, Stevie and Tommy!). Needless to say, a 12 year-old seeing Alice Cooper in 1972 was akin to Alice Liddel falling down the rabbit hole and entering a Wicked Wonderland. Feed your head, indeed! It was rather like: wait...you can do THAT on stage...and get paid for it? Holy fuck!

Upon returning home, I secretly sold my ten-speed bike (telling my parents it had been stolen by some stoner hoodlum), and with the ill-gotten proceeds -- a whole $35, if I recall -- I purchased a used Silvertone acoustic guitar with the action on the strings so high you could almost squeeze your hand between the fret board and strings. In hindsight, I perhaps had more zeal than business sense, but I learned to play the hard way (echoing the final shriek on "Helter Skelter", "I got blisters on my fingers!"), and I still play some 45 years later. All because of the exciting adolescent spectacle of Alice writhing with a boa constrictor on stage and later being hanged from a gallows during the playing of the song "Killer".

Naturally, my musical tastes changed dramatically and expanded rapidly during that musically eventful year of 1972, which, along with 1971 and 1973, can be considered the most remarkable three-year period in rock music history (because music does not exist in an annual bubble like it would on a movie soundtrack). From 1971 to 1973 you could hear any number of incredible new releases (on those great rebel FM radio stations of the time): Love It To Death, Killer, School's Out and Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper, Aqualung, Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play and Living in the Past by Jethro Tull, ZoSo (Volume IV) and Houses of the Holy from Led Zeppelin, The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge by Yes, Machine Head and Made in Japan from Deep Purple, Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery from ELP, Seventh Sojourn by The Moody Blues, Meddle, Obscured by Clouds and Dark Side of the Moon from Pink Floyd, Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony, Demons and Wizards and The Magician's Birthday by Uriah Heep, Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound by Genesis, Harvest by Neil Young, Smokin' from Humble Pie, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys by Traffic, The Grand Wazoo and Over-Nite Sensation by Frank Zappa, Master of Reality, Vol. 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath, At Fillmore East and Brothers and Sisters from the Allman Brothers, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane by David Bowie, Who's Next and Quadrophenia from The Who, There Goes Rhymin' Simon from Paul Simon, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. by The Rolling Stones....and on and on and on. The list of rock masterpieces from that three-year span is literally and aurally amazing, and, dare I say, eclipses the three-year period from 1967 through 1969 in sheer brilliance (even with The Beatles, Hendrix and The Doors).

But that isn't what I've come here to talk about.

Instead, I would like to refer back to the point in time where I was not musically informed (or tendentiously rabid). I was watching ancient reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show one evening recently, and, rapt as I was in a melodious reverie, I thought back to the period when I first became self-aware (let's say age three or four) up until the the moment Alice Cooper stole my musical virginity one steamy summer night in Texas in 1972. You may ask, what would a four year-old be listening to in 1964, or an eight year-old in 1968? Granted, the list would not be esoteric and arcane, limited as I was to AM radio and shows like Ed Sullivan, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, American Bandstand and Robin Seymour's Swingin' Town (a local Detroit version of Bandstand). So, no, I wasn't listening to The Mothers, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart or The United States of America's "American Metaphysical Circus", but I can recall quite vividly the songs I really loved from the era, and in many cases where I first heard them.

Looking back, one could say the song list is naive and innocent, and I suppose I was fairly shallow as a child; however, given the age of the Vietnam War, The Bay of Pigs. campus unrest, the Detroit Riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock and Altamont, I have no illusions regarding the sheltered life I lived in an all white, middle-class suburb of Detroit with block after block of brick bungalows and ranch-style homes, where no one locked their doors and kids could roam the neighborhood free and easy, at least, until the streetlights came on and your mother would start bellowing your name from the front porch. Or, if she were perturbed, your first and middle name. If she were really pissed off, it would be you first, middle and confirmation name (only you fellow former Catholics will know what I'm talking about).

And I believe, even as an adolescent back then, that kids had a more intimate grasp of music, because music, like reading actual books, was more omnipresent and central to our development than the modern multiverse of the internet, wi-fi, streaming, downloads, clouds and iPhones. We had six TV channels in Detroit: 2,4,7 and 9 (from Windsor, Canada), along with the UHF offerings channels 50 and 56 (PBS), and everything was in black-and-white (even Disney's The Wonderful World of Color), until we could afford the laughably small and incredibly expensive color TVs new to the market (often the console variety with TV below and turntable up top). But what could a poor boy do if it was raining outside and he was faced with an entire afternoon of soap operas and game shows? I could either read, or listen to music.

So, everyone had a portable, hand-held AM transistor radio. They were the "Walkmans" of the day. And when you weren't watching the scant offerings on TV, you'd scroll between the Tigers' game on WJR and music on CKLW or WKNR (Keener 13). It wasn't until the very late 60's when FM became readily available that you traded in your AM for one o' them thar high-fallootin' multi-band radios that offered AM, FM, Short Wave and Radio Guam (or at least scratchy Quebecois patois from somewhere in Canada).  But you dialed in because often there was nothing better to do. And the music, even for a nine year-old, was a revelation!

Therefore, and without further exposition, here is a list of songs I listened to and loved during the 1960s (and up to 1971). So, basically, up to the age of eleven. Here are over 60 for the 60s:

I Want To Hold Your Hand - The Beatles
I was still three years old on February 9, 1964, the date The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show (I hit the ripe old age of four on Feb. 25th). And to show you the power of The Beatles at the time, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was the first "real" song I learned to sing all the way through. More on The Beatles later.

The Battle of New Orleans - Johnny Horton
I heard this over a neighborhood kid's house. We'd sing this and Fess Parker's Ballad of Davy Crockett, as well as The Daniel Boone Theme. I even had a coonskin cap to go with my Daisy Ricochet air-rifle (not a real BB gun, we were too young for that, but you could could cock it, pack the muzzle with dirt and still shoot someone's eye out).

We're a Couple of Misfits - Hermey the Dentist and Rudolph
Bumbles bounce! I have memorized every word of Rankin-Bass' Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. I have dropped acid watching it in the 70's. I have watched it every year since it came out in 1964. And yes, I am obsessed.

Puff the Magic Dragon - Peter, Paul and Mary
No, we kids didn't not know about the alleged drug allusions in this song -- it came out in 1963 for Christ's sake! No one did drugs in 1963 but beatniks and jazz musicians, right? You might as well throw in Leaving on a Jet Plane and Stewball to the list because I actually received a copy of the album Peter, Paul and Mary: Ten Years Together on my birthday in 1970. I loved that album as a ten year old. I learned lyrical sarcasm from I Dig Rock and Roll Music.

The Adams Family Theme
Very early on, my mom wouldn't allow me to watch The Adams Family, because it was "too weird". But for whatever reason, The Munsters was okay to watch. Moms are weird.

Linus and Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Yes, this is the actual title of the Charlie Brown "Christmas Song" we've all come to know and love. This composition was actually part of an insidious 1965 government plot to force kids to love jazz through the medium of cartoons. Just like we learned to love sugar from the encrusted children's cereals of the time. I believe Calvin and Hobbes referred to one brand as "Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs".

I'm Henry the Eighth I am - Herman's Hermits
Again, never underestimate the reach of Ed Sullivan in the 1960's. If it were Sunday night, you were forced to sit through the god-awful Lawrence Welk Show (and even as a child I knew it was god-awful), and if you behaved, you were allowed to stay up and watch the British Invasion groups on Ed Sullivan. And, of course, Topo Gigio.

Heartful of Soul - The Yardbirds
I had no idea who Eric Clapton was, let alone Jeff Beck. But this was a cool tune that I well remember (even if I could not grasp the concept of Beck playing the guitar like a sitar).

The Sounds of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
The song deeply affected me when I was a kid. Surprisingly, I first heard it played by a socially-conscious nun in the Catholic grade school I attended. Thinking back, she was probably younger than I recall, but those black habits always added ten years on the sisters. I also recall loving Scarborough Fair/Canticle, which, the nun explained, was a traditional English ballad where a man sets his lover on completing impossible tasks juxtaposed onto an anti-war song. I don't believe she used the word "juxtaposed" to we 2nd graders, however.

Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds
The attack of the socially-conscious nuns returns! This time foisting Ecclesiastes on us impressionable children under the beguiling guise of rock music!

Batman Theme 
Everyone sang this song. The lyrics were incredibly easy to remember. Of course, there was also the great Spiderman Theme, the hilarious Hulk Theme, the Iron Man Theme, the Captain America Theme, the Submariner Theme and my favorite the Thor Theme. And lets not forget the coolest cartoon of the 1960s, Jonny Quest. Oh, and later, it was Scooby Doo! But I also forgot The Flintstones and The Jetsons. We were humming cartoon jingles all day.

Tomorrow Never Knows - The Beatles
The Beatles cartoon ran from 1965 to 1969. I watched it religiously every weekend. It's hilarious to think this song appeared on a children's cartoon (the episode appeared in 1967), but it was certainly cool and spooky, and I've always equated the birds/bats in the cartoon to the effects on the song.

You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Thurl Ravenscroft
It's 1966, and every little kid in America is trying to sing bass. If you weren't aware, Mr. Ravenscroft was also the voice of Tony the Tiger on the Kellogg's Frosted Flakes commercials.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion - The Kinks
Sarcasm was Ray Davies' stock and trade. Even a kid could catch that.

They're Coming to Take Me Away - Napoleon XIV
It's 1966 and this was simply the most delightfully demented song ever written.

Lara's Theme - Maurice Jarre
I remember being taken to see Dr. Zhivago when I was little. I didn't really get much from the movie at the time (except remembering the blood on the snow -- seriously!), other than it was incredibly long. But I've always loved Jarre's soundtrack.

California Dreamin' - The Mamas and the Papas
What a melancholy kid I must have been!

Sloop John B - The Beach Boys
Hey, it was about a ship. And it seemed to be sailored by a collection of drunks and malcontents.

Jennifer Juniper - Donovan
Beautiful song I recall first hearing in one of those mini jukeboxes that was afixed to the wall of a booth at a diner (usually blocked by the catsup and mustard containers). You put in a dime and heard however many songs. Then, of course, my favorite Donovan song of all time came out on his next album, Atlantis.

Nights in White Satin - The Moody Blues
Another beautiful song that I thought was just as beautiful on AM radio. The problem is, I can't recall if I fell in love with this song when it was first released as a single in 1967, or when it was re-released and became a top ten hit again in 1972.

Green, Green Grass of Home - Tom Jones
Yes, as an adolescent I liked Tom Jones. I liked Delilah and She's a Lady as well. Must've been from his TV show or something.

Gentle on My Mind - Glen Campbell
Oh yeah, and Glen Campbell. I liked him too. By the Time I Get To Phoenix, for instance.

White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
I remember watching this on Ed Sullivan and it scared the shit out of me. It's probably the first song that had sort of effect on me. It did get me to read Alice in Wonderland, however.

For Pete's Sake - The Monkees
The Monkees were big back in the 60's, and no kid really cared if they could play their instruments, and their TV show was warped enough to keep you watching (I even remember Frank Zappa showing up on one episode), and the songs were decent, like I'm Not Your Stepping Stone.

Classical Gas - Mason Williams
I have loved this song from the first moment I heard it. I still love it.

Touch Me - The Doors
It was 1968 and my parents thought the Smothers Brothers were hilarious. I think they probably enjoyed Jim Morrison acting all Frank Sinatra-ish on "Touch Me". Of course, I never really asked them their opinion of the follow-up Wild Child, which is decidedly more subversive.

Time of the Season - The Zombies
"What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich? Is he rich like me?" I repeated that stanza over and over in menacing tones. Well, as menacing as an 8 year-old could get.

New York Mining Disaster 1941 - The Bee Gees
Yes, at one time I liked the Bee Gees, because they were basically a poor man's Beatles. My flirtation with their music ended with the end of the 1960s. I also loved Lonely Days.

Ode to Billy Joe - Bobbie Gentry
Whatever happened to Bobbie Gentry?

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
I learned to whistle with this song.

Coca-Cola Douche - The Fugs
But mom, it was the kids across the street that made me listen to it! Honestly, the family across the street had seven kids and one of the older ones left this on the turntable for the younger kids to listen to. I also remember that big hit Saran Wrap. Did I understand what the hell they were talking about? Not really, but we knew it was dirty as hell!

The Weight - The Band
Heh...they said "fanny". Loved the part about Crazy Chester.

A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash 
I have always loved Johnny Cash. Ever since I can remember. I don't know why. It's not like my parents were country-western fans (they were more partial to Tommy and Glenn Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Sinatra, Al Martino, Tony Bennet, Jerry Vale, Andy Williams, etc.). But a "Boy Named Sue" was just such a great story song. Also loved I Walk the Line and Ring of Fire.

Brand New Key - Melanie
Okay, I was ten or eleven. I have no other excuse.

Burning Bridges - The Mike Curb Congregation
I saw Kelly's Heroes at a drive-in when it came out in 1970. It is still one of my favorite war movies. What? What's a drive-in? Use Wikipedia to find out.

My Sweet Lord - George Harrison
George was my Beatle. You didn't have choice back then. It was either John, Paul, George or Ringo. That's it. Either or. Perhaps because we were both born on February 25th. Apple Scruffs from All Things Must Pass was also great at the time.

You are Everything - The Stylistics
Who knew guys were singing this song?

Day After Day - Badfinger
One of my all time favorites. Perhaps because it was so Beatles-esque.

Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma - The New Seekers
A lovely warped song. It's the violins, you see. I didn't know you were allowed to do that with violins. Some classical music rule or another.

Papa Was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
One of the coolest songs ever written.

Aqualung - Jethro Tull
Hey, that Jethro guy just said "Snot is running down his nose"! It was love at first listen.

Footstompin' Music - Grand Funk
Mark, Don and Mel! This was big in 1971, along with I'm Your Captain.

Hello, It's Me - Todd Rundgren
Todd was great back then. I could listen to anything of his. Something. Anything.

Bang a Gong - T. Rex
Because rebellion for pre-teens in 1971 meant Alice Cooper and Marc Bolan!

One Tin Soldier - Coven
Billy Jack will kick your ass.

Moonshadow - Cat Stevens
If there were a soundtrack for my life between the ages of eleven and fifteen, the Cat would be on it. Every bit of angst and worry could be assuaged by a Cat Stevens album. Somehow, he understood. Throw in Wild World and Father and Son.

Oompa Loompa Veruca Salt Song - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Every kid in America was singing this song. Twisted! And the Johnny Depp version sucks. Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka.

Yellow Submarine Movie - The Beatles 
I could've chosen 50 Beatles songs and that wouldn't adequately account for the effect the band had on me as a youngster. I won't list them all, because you've heard them all. But I'll leave you with a goodly number in this video compilation of the movie, which I probably saw in late 68 or early 69. The Blue Meanies have invaded Pepperland!



Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kings of the Sleaze: The Nastiest Rock Guitar Riffs, Licks and Leads of the 1960s and 1970s

It is fashionable on music forums, particularly those of a progressive ilk, to discuss guitar tone, and by proper tone the usual inference regards fluidity, harmonics, clean sound, and the appropriate amount of the appropriate pedals to enhance the performance, but not necessarily to overdrive or distort the proceedings. Hence, you get discussions that indicate Steve Howe or Steve Hackett or even Mike Oldfield are paragons of tone. Even David Gilmour gets the nod for his pedal-driven enhancements because they don't usually delve into the gross or fuzzy contortions (usually, but I have noted otherwise in a couple examples below).

Well, I won't won't be talking about clean notes in this article; on the contrary, I went looking for the dirtiest, nastiest, filthiest guitar licks from that greatest era of rock that straddled the 60's and the 70's. Some of these riffs have been known to induce convulsions in the timorous and weak. Nuns have become promiscuous and given up their calling, in essence kicking the habit, after hearing some of these songs. Upon hearing just one of these chord progressions, classically trained young musicians have been known to drop the bassoon, stop shaving and bathing, and end up living in dilapidated upper flats playing gnarly notes on scratched and abused Telecasters. One doesn't get that type of reaction with "clean tone".

But what exactly am I referring to when I say "dirtiest, nastiest, filthiest guitar licks?" And in answer to my internal monologue, I would reply, "Actually, my precious, I have an example...."

The example:

Funk #49 - The James Gang (Joe Walsh)
Perhaps the single, sleaziest riff ever concocted. You feel dirty just listening to it. It repeats at about 2:12 and is even sleazier than the intro, if that's possible.

So, using a riff from Joe Walsh, one of rock's unsung guitar heroes, as an exemplar of the sound I am seeking (I would also mention Walsh's filthy use of a talk box halfway through Rocky Mountain Way), let us peruse the 50 plus tunes I have compiled off the top of my head that fit the raison d'être of this musically naughty exposition. I am sure I have missed many lascivious licks, but drop a line and jar my memory. After all, I lost most of my mind in the 70's (the rest is pickled in a jar in the fridge). Oh, and the lead guitarist for each song is listed in parentheses.

THE 1960s

Voodoo Chile - Jimi Hendrix (Hendrix)
This is about as violent as you're going to get as far as 1960s guitar playing. Due to the Hendrix family keep such a tight lid on YouTube videos (which I don't think Hendrix himself would think much of), I can't really share some of the more incendiary tracks by Jimi, but Machine Gun gets quite dark in both content and ominous guitar licks as the song progresses.

Midnight Rambler - The Rolling Stones (Keith Richards)
The shambling, just-rolled-out-of-bed shuffle Keith Richards instigates is magnified on the Get Yer Ya Ya's Out live version with the addition of Mick Taylor on lead (the best guitarist the Stones ever had). The fuzzy, sloppy style is evident in nearly every great Stones tune, and is exemplified in the great guitar trade-offs between Richards and Taylor on Can't You Hear Me Knocking.

SWLABR - Cream (Eric Clapton)
Sure, the heaviest riff that critics will refer to regarding Cream is from Sunshine of Your Love, but the unpronounceably-titled song "SWLABR" (actually an acronym for "She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow" - yeah, don't do drugs and try to title songs) features the crazily processed guitar of Eric Clapton, run simultaneously through a wah-wah and fuzz-box so it almost sounds like a distorted kazoo.

Misirlou - Dick Dale and the Dell Tones (Dick Dale)
My favorite Lebanese surf tune. Amazing stuff for 1964, even with the later filmic misfortune of John Travolta dancing to the song.

Interstellar Overdrive - Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett)
The only album you're going to get Syd Barrett with a semblance of full faculties, and a memorable trippy riff here. Really, this song one-ups nearly every other band in the psychedelic era, as well as influencing and informing later Floyd songs like Careful With that Axe Eugene and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, and additionally other acid rock; for instance, listen to Alice Cooper's early albums Pretties for You (Levity Ball) and particularly Easy Action (Lay Down and Die Goodbye).

The Pusher - Steppenwolf (Michael Monarch)
Prototypical heavy psychedelic guitar and subject matter for 60s outrage, emphasized by John Kay growling out "God damn the Pusher!" Interestingly enough, the song was written by Hoyt Axton, later known for being the dad/crazy inventor of smokeless ash trays in the movie Gremlins.

Highway 61 - Johnny Winter (Winter)
Winter's fiery slide version of this song pretty much erases all memory of the original Bob Dylan version. What were we talking about again?

You Really Got Me - The Kinks (Dave Davies)
There were no fancy guitar pedals back in 1964, no overdrives and distortion boxes. Dave Davies got the ragged, distorted sound he was looking for by slashing the cone of his amp speaker with a razor and picking holes in it with a pin. Kids, don't try this at home. Mom and dad won't buy you another amp.

Helter Skelter - The Beatles (McCartney, Harrison and Lennon)
One more can you say about a song so incendiary that it set Charles Manson off on the path of mass murder? This is as violent as McCartney ever got. Ever. The Beatles (White Album) was the revolt against the niceties of Sgt. Peppers. It is brimming with more organic, less produced, heavier material like the filthy, nasty guitar work on Happiness is a Warm Gun and Yer Blues. That's John Lennon on five string bass, by the way. And counter to the myth, Ringo is actually the one bellowing "I got blisters on my fingers!"

Eight Miles High - The Byrds (Roger McGuinn)
The song is not about drug use, the Byrd's band members maintained strenuously (while rolling their eyes and popping a few more pills). Ravi Shankar's influence is readily discernible in Roger McGuinns glimmering, droning 12 string guitar repeating riff and solo.

The Lemon Song - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
Yes, yes, yes...Whole Lotta Love has the dirty riff that made Zeppelin famous, but "The Lemon Song", also from Led Zeppelin II, has an actually filthier, slinkier progression that really fits the analogous obscenities filling that song ("Squeeze me babe, till the juice runs down my leg -- the way you squeeze my lemon, I'm gonna fall right out of bed"). There's also an extremely heavy riff on Moby Dick that people tend to forget about, considering it as just the basis for a John Bonham drum solo.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly (Erik Brann)
People are often apt to discuss the Phantom of the Opera organ intro, or the sinister bass line, but it's the acid guitar attack of Erik Brann droning on for 17 or 18 minutes that is the most memorable aspect of this epic bit of psychedelia.

I Ain't Superstitious - Jeff Beck
You forget this is a Howlin' Wolf Song. You forget this is 1968. You even forget that Rod Stewart is singing. When Beck's guitar starts wailing and shrieking and making tortured sounds that a wah-wah pedal was not designed for, you simply don't pay attention to anything else.

Spirit in the Sky - Norman Greenbaum (Greenbaum)
Greenbaum translated the success of this distorted single into a goat farm in Petaluma, California. He then retired from music for decades.

Moonlight on Vermont - Captain Beefheart (Bill Harkleroad and Jeff Cotton)
I'm not going to try to explain it. Yes, the vocals are demented, but so are the guitars. Which is the point, I suppose.

Pictures of Matchstick Men - Status Quo
A song guaranteed to drive adults crazy, with its repetitious, chiming single note progression.


THE 1970s

Cosmik Debris - Frank Zappa (Zappa)
There are any number of sleazy Zappa solos. I could point to the solo starting at around 1:13 of Dirty Love for instance, or any number off the fusion-rock album Hot Rats, but perhaps because "Cosmik Debris" is a fairly standard 4/4 blues composition (albeit with extremely warped lyrics and zany asides), the raunchiest blues lead ever starting at 2:03 packs such a gut punch.  In fact, the guitar work throughout the song is warped.

Going Down - The Jeff Beck Group (Beck)
Jeff Beck is on his own planet when discussing how he manages to warp the nature of a guitar into soundscapes that really no one else has managed to emit.

In My Time of Dying - Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page)
The sleazy slide Page offers on this song is amplified on the lead kicking in at 4:57. Physical Graffiti has always been my favorite Led Zep album, filled with gargantuan riffs like on The Rover and The Wanton Song.

One of these Days - Pink Floyd (David Gilmour)
For the uninitiated, the actual full line spoken by Nick Mason on this instrumental is "One of these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces," which is quite apt for the sinister quality of this piece. When the mayhem kicks in after a long Roger Waters bass intro, you get one of the craziest uses of a pedal steel guitar ever rendered, compliments of David Gilmour. The sounds Gilmour makes would give nightmares to any country-western practitioner of the pedal steel. For flagrant violation of  the ethical use of a talk box, listen to Pigs (Three Different Ones), in which Gilmour offers porcine torture on an epic scale.

Country Mile - Rory Gallagher (Gallagher)
There's always something about Rory and the slide guitar. The driving beat of this song is infectious.

Into the Void - Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi)
I remember being a teenager sitting around listening to the Master of Reality album. Naturally, we were all stoned out of our gourds, and I recall one of the wide-eyed (or perhaps dilated) girls in the group being aghast and saying, "This is the sound of sin." And I think that is the best description of one of the most evil chord progressions on record. There are so many monster Iommi riffs it would require a separate article unto itself, but listen in to The Thrill of It All at 1:02 or the start of Supernaut for a few slices of Devil's Food.

Birds of Fire - Mahavishu Orchestra (John McLaughlin)
And now, a moment of sophistication in our distortive deconstructions. Mahavishnu's album Birds of Fire is not necessarily categorized as fusion jazz; ergo, as many sites note its prog rock leanings,  we can add this incendiary bit of fusion rock into the mix. Get past the brief intro including Jan Hammer on keys, Billy Cobham on drums and Jerry Goodman on violin, John McLaughlin kicks in with some sick leads. This ain't your dad's jazz.

Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll - Blue Oyster Cult (Buck Dharma)
One of the great riffs in all rock and roll. Forget the rest of the song. The first 20 seconds is all you need to raise your blood pressure.

Speed King - Deep Purple (Ritchie Blackmore)
Hey, the 50 second intro is all you need to get the gist of Deep Purple's Blackmore at this point in the early '70s. Loved the sound of his guitar during that period.

Brighton Rock - Queen (Brian May)
A crazy clinic held by Brian May in which he coaxes the most demented sounds from his Red Special guitar (designed by May and his father in the 60s after seeing Jeff Beck doing obscene things with his guitar). This is one of the spaziest compositions Queen ever played, this side of Ogre Battle.

Pibroch (Cap in Hand) - Jethro Tull (Martin Barre)
So, your first listen to the album Songs from the Wood lulls you into a pastoral mood populated by forest scenes, country lanes and heather on the highlands, when all of a sudden Martin Barre slaps you upside the head with the monstrous intro "Pibroch". Where the hell did that come from? Anyway, there's even more weirdness with a backward tracked Barre lead (starting at about 2:20) on Play in Time from Benefit.

Cracked Actor - David Bowie (Mick Ronson)
I don't think Mick Ronson ever got his due as cutting-edge guitarist, and I think "cutting-edge" is the proper description for Ronson's style: cutting, sharp as a razor. Whether he was jamming with David Bowie or later with Ian Hunter, you always knew Ronson was on the recording. Listen to the outro of Panic in Detroit (about 3:37 onward) for a downright vicious lead.

Starless - King Crimson (Robert Fripp)
The song is 12:30 in length, and there is an extended soft intro. But don't let that fool you. At about 4:30 there is a bass-driven build-up where Robert Fripp's guitar becomes more and more intense with each passing moment and eventually sounds more like an electric drill biting through metal. Following a crazed sax solo by the great Mel Collins, It descends into utter chaos again. Post-metal's progenitor.

Hey Hey, My My (Out of the Black) - Neil Young and Crazy (Young)
The sound of impure, alduterated distortion. There is no tone, no grace, no airs of perfection, just high decibel feedback. Glorious!

Hocus Pocus - Focus (Jan Akkerman)
The sound an 8 ball of coke makes during inhalation. Or so I've heard. A few times.

Movin' Out - Aerosmith (Joe Perry)
I liked Aerosmith's first two albums. I really did. Then their next two albums were okay. I haven't listened to any of their albums since. I don't feel I'm missing anything. But Liv Tyler was hot. Which has nothing to do with the first few licks of "Movin' Out". Which brings us around to their first album again. I saw them in the civic hockey rink of my hometown in 1974 (which is hilarious if you knew the town). The album Get Your Wings had just come out. I think I paid $5.00 to see them. That cost me a month's worth of cigarettes back then. Damn that Aerosmith!

Bridge of Sighs - Robin Trower (Trower)
A masters course on the use of sustain, chorus, wah-wah and distortion. From what I've read, Trower's effects chain in the 1970s included a custom preamp and clean booster pedals, a Dan Armstrong Red Ranger treble booster, a Tychobrahe wah-wah, an octave/fuzz Fender Blender, a Uni-Vibe chorus/vibrato, Mutron II phase shifter, and two Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistresses fed through a pair of 100-watt Marshall JMP-100 Mark II heads. So you have some shopping to do to sound like that.

L.A. Blues - The Stooges (Ron Asheton)
Well, I am not necessarily sure you can actually categorize this as a song. Perhaps retitle it "Sax and Violence", because all you get are waves of aggression in the form of tortured feedback and distortion. There are two advantages to this sort of composition: 1) you don't need to tune your guitar, and 2) you needn't memorize lyrics.

Eruption - Van Halen (Eddie Van Halen)
I never really cared for Van Halen, but Eddie's hammer-on, two-handed tapping technique was unique for the time and instigated a herd of 80s big-haired geetar wannabes. It's still a damn good solo. For an acoustic version of this lead, you can always refer to Spanish Fly from VH's second album.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Era Enders: How the Psychedelic 60s Became the Hard Rock (or Punk Rock, Prog Rock, Country Rock, Soft Rock, etc.) of the 1970s

The year 1969 was a crossroads. The Beatles all but ceased to be a band on August 20, 1969, the last day of recording for Abbey Road (the four would never share the same studio again), and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones had died. Of course, the feeling of separation between the 60s and 70s would become more pronounced a year later when Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Duane Allman all died within the space of a few months, but there were palpable differences in mood even as 1970 approached; for instance, compare the hope and peaceful nature at Woodstock in August of 1969 compared to the tragedy that was Altamont in December of that same year.

The Vietnam War dragged on, and the Summer of Love was firmly in the rear-view mirror, now three years past. And the mainstay of rock for the last half of the decade, psychedelicism, was now so ingrained in the culture that it became commercialized and lampooned, a soundtrack for automobile ads and monetized as lamps and furnishings for the middle class. What was edgy, underground and subversive was now mainstream, with sophomoric releases by Tommy James and the Shondells (Crimson and Clover, over and over and over and over, ad nauseam), The Cowsills, The Brady Bunch and finally the Partridge Family.

Even so, the type of hippy/love/psychedelic nonsense Frank Zappa parodied in We're Only In It For The Money in 1967 still had its powerful adherents by the end of the decade. It must be remembered that some of the most outrageous psychedelic albums of the 60s, American Metaphysical Circus, The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett, The Soft Parade by The Doors, Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Umagumma by Pink Floyd and Barabajagal by Donovan were all released in 1969. It's not like the 60s suddenly became the 70s when the calendar hit January 1st, 1970.

But what songs broke the mold of encrusted patchouli oil resinating in sandalwood splendor over this dying decade of decadence? Where did the 60s end musically, and when exactly did the sound of 70s commence? Funny thing you should ask! These are, to me anyway, 1960s songs that sound like the 1970s. I didn't go out of my way to choose the biggest hits, unless absolutely necessary; rather, I selected songs that might have fit a specific 70s-style rock template, or those certain songs that sat on a hilltop and looked out over the dawning spark of high heeled boys in elephant bells, red-haired Anglo-Saxons sporting Afros, prog gods with capes and grown men with glitter mascara.

To limit the scope of this article, I am offering rock songs that were either released in 1969 or recorded in 1969 and released early in 1970. So too, I could spend hours pontificating on the rise of 70s soul and funk from the R&B of the 1960s (with progenitors like Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brother, Parliament (and Funkadelic), The Temptations and even Jimi Hendrix (who with The Band of Gypsys offered some full-blown funk at the Fillmore one New Year's Eve, but I've included him here as he was playing a funk-rock variant). But that could take days. Maybe even years. The discussion would become even broader still if I instigated a discussion on Miles Davis' releases In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew and the advent of fusion jazz.  Let's stick to rock. And the songs. In no specific order.

21st Century Schizoid Man - King Crimson
When people speak of a definitive beginning of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, they usually point to the milestone 1969 album In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. Arguably, one could point to earlier releases of the Nice, Moody Blues and Procol Harum, but these are inevitably closeted away in a genre know as "proto-prog" as if progressive rock sprang fully-formed out of the head of Robert Fripp like Athena in armor from the skull of her father, Zeus. It doesn't work that way, it's a process. Fripp often lauds The Beatles and the mellotron of the Moody Blues' Mike Pinder

But without argument or embellishment, no one heard anything like "21st Century Schizoid Man" when it was released in October 20, 1969 (unsurprisingly, the same day Frank Zappa's Hot Rats came out). Dark, discordant, violent -- a fusion of staccato jazz, noise and thundering pre-metal hard rock -- "21st Century Schizoid Man" sounded a death knell of the 60s (and Black Sabbath would pound the last nails in the coffin a few months later). Because of all sorts of record publishing prohibitions, the original is not available on YouTube, so here is an excellent live version from 1973. Just replace Greg Lake on vocals and bass with John Wetton, Mel Collins on sax with David Cross on violin, and Michael Giles on drums becomes Bill Bruford. Not a terrible trade-off.



Green Manalishi - Fleetwood Mac
The prevailing darkness at the end of the decade is best encapsulated by the psychoses of Peter Green, lead guitarist of Fleetwood Mac. Suffering from mental illness and fueled by LSD-induced dreams of a monstrous "green dog-demon" (green as in money, exemplified as the Devil in the song), Peter Green recorded this heavy, black dirge during the tail end of the Then Play On sessions in September, 1969 (released as a single May 15, 1970). Green left Fleetwood Mac five days after the single was released. "Green Manalishi" is the antithesis of Green's often joyous embrace of Elmore James, an exuberance for the blues found in such songs as "Shake Your Moneymaker", "Oh Well" and "Dust My Broom". The evil is palpable in Manalishi, and it is a precursor of much of the dark music found in the 70s and 80s (when the song was famously covered by Judas Priest).



Whipping Post - The Allman Brothers
The Allman Brothers were no ordinary group of good ol' Southern Boys from Georgia, as they counted as influences John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Little Milton, Chet Atkins and Hank Williams (how's that for an abstruse alchemical admixture?). I had considered both "Dreams" (which bassist Barry Oakley said was structured like Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" with lyrics),  and "Every Hungry Woman" (which has the riff trading of dueling solo guitars so omnipresent in later Southern rock), but I kept coming back to "Whipping Post", all three from the Allman Brother's excellent self-titled debut in 1969.

Why "Whipping Post"? Well, it's a blues tune with a prominent country twang, has Gregg Allman's southern growl (a necessity thereafter if you sang in a Southern rock band), and was composed in a crazy 11/4 time signature (Gregg Allman related: "My brother told me — I guess the day I wrote it — he said, 'That's good, man. I didn’t know you understood 11/4.' Of course I said something intelligent like, 'What's 11/4?' Duane just said, 'Okay, dumb-ass, I'll try to draw it up on paper for you.'"). It is one of the band's prominent live jam compositions (some versions reaching 23 minutes in length), so later jam bands like Phish, Wilco and Gov't Mule revere it, and it has the country-blues structure and duel guitar trade-offs of the Southern rock bands that followed: Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Molly Hatchett, Blackfoot, etc.



Matty Groves - Fairport Convention
For much of their early career, Fairport were Bob Dylan acolytes, even to the point of ethereal-voiced Sandy Denny singing Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" in French as"Si Tu Dois Partir", but another song from Unhalfbricking (released in 1969), a traditional 18th century British Broadside titled "A Sailor's Life", forever changed the British folk movement; whereas Dylan electrified American folk at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, nothing much was done with British folk on electrics prior to Fairport in 1969 (Brit-folk adherents like Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Roy Harper, John Renbourn and Martin Carthy remained in an acoustic mode for much of their careers).

But from that single electric folk tune on Unhalfbricking burgeoned one of the finest folk albums of all time (electric or otherwise), Liege and Lief (also released in 1969), and in its train a whole troop of electric minstrels like Steeleye Span, Comus, Horslips, and later Pentangle and Strawbs albums. Liege and Lief  has British Ballads "Reynardine" (Roud 397), "Tam Lin" (Child 39) and the song I selected, "Matty Groves", a border "murder ballad" (listed as Child Ballad 81) featuring the sultry vocals of Sandy Denny and the fabulous interplay of Richard Thompson's guitar and Dave Swarbick's fiddle. It is timeless and yet of the time.



Phallus Dei - Amon Düül II
Argue amongst yourselves if you consider Can's Monster Movie or Amon Düül II's Phallus Dei as the first proper and genuine Krautrock album, I had to go with the album title which translates from the Latin to God's Penis. It certainly could be listed as psychedelic (and I would suggest any album with a song titled "Freak Out Requiem" has elements of psychedelia), but like most later Krautrock, there is something going on here that is entirely not psychedelic. Listen to the 20+ minute-long title song and you'll hear snippets of American country, jazz, classical, church choir, Middle-eastern drone, Oriental, African rhythms and Dylanesque rhymes, all generously interspersed with psych guitars. Weird and strangely energizing, this is a progenitor of much of the wild and wonderful stuff from Krautrock bands like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Neu!, who eventually turned from the more organic sounds and instrumentation of early Amon Düül II to compositions more electronic in nature. And yet the weirdness remained.



Sweet Dream - Jethro Tull
1969 proved to be a turning point for Tull. Not only had they traded in blues guitarist Mick Abraham for the more rock-oriented Martin Barre, but their music literally exploded in directions far beyond their blues-rock beginnings. The superlative album Stand Up not only offered the Bach-cum-cocktail jazz stylings of "Bourée", the Middle-Eastern drone and mandolin blues of "Fat Man" and the sophisticated jazzy blues-rock of "Nothing Is Easy", but the incredibly fruitful Stand Up sessions also offered the hit single "Living in the Past" (with it's exotic and wholly non-poppy 5/4 time signature) and the song I've featured here "Sweet Dream"(a separate single also released in 1969).

If Stand Up was a radical departure from Tull's first album This Was, it still has several of the blues trappings found on their debut, albeit more classical, folkish and jazzy than the original. "Sweet Dream", however, is neither bluesy or jazzy, it is a mad orchestral march inside a wholly 70s hard rock format embellished with the Tull traits that mark the band's greatest 70s offerings, like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick: wild time signature changes, Martin Barre's heavy rock guitar interspersed with Ian Anderson's underrated acoustic passages, Ian's trilling flute, and the unheralded David (Dee) Palmer's grand orchestral arrangements which marked so many of Tull's best songs from the 70s. Hell, even a silly song like War Child's "Bungle in the Jungle" was transformed by Palmer's string arrangement. "Sweet Dream" is a prog tune from 1969 writ in miniature at four minutes. Three years later, they'd expand a single prog song to 44 minutes.



Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
Interestingly enough, just before Martin Barre joined Jethro Tull as lead guitarist full-time, Tony Iommi played with Tull for one gig (The Rolling Stone's Rock and Roll Circus). Tull and Iommi were on different planes musically, and he left amicably and formed Black Sabbath from the remnants of his earlier band Earth. The result was literally diabolical!

We can point to many songs that mark a decided turn away from the sounds of the 1960s, but none so much as Sabbath's "Black Sabbath". Please God help me! This is the primeval sound of metal, skipping 70s hard rock altogether. The direct references to Hell and Satan are gut-wrenching, and were absolutely frightening at the time of the album's release (recorded in October, 1969 but not released until February, 1970), and when the song kicks in at about 4:35 it is a heavy metal nightmare. Who knew a wah-wah could sound so inherently evil?

Amusingly, the album was almost universally panned by rock critics at the time: Lester Bangs referred to the self-titled album Black Sabbath as "just like Cream, but worse," and Robert Christgau wrote the album off as "bullshit necromancy". By the way, Christgau is the same asshole who gave the New York Dolls' first album 5 stars, and placed them among The Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry as one of rock's greats. So yeah, there's that for an utter lack of critical discernment.



Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin
Mixed in with Zeppelinesque electric ballads, Willie Dixon blues thumpers, and acoustic folk numbers is the true WTF? moment on Zeppelin's 1969 debut album (often referred to as I, followed by II, III and IV). The spastic "Communication Breakdown" is a sudden slap in the face more akin to Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" from 1970 than anything you'll hear from the 1960s. It is more punk than blues, a prehistoric rendering of 1980s power-pop tunes.

There is, of course, the juvenile enjoyment I remember clearly from the first time I heard it. Halfway through the song, everyone suddenly looked at each other in amazement and said in unison, "Did Robert Plant just scream, 'Suck it'?" Yes kids, this was before the internet and we had to find things like rock idols shrieking obscenities to amuse ourselves. And then there's one of the wilder Jimmy Page leads you'll ever hear, created by playing a Fender Telecaster through a fully closed Vox wah-wah pedal to create what Page called a "guitar in a shoebox". It is said that none other than Johnny Ramone patterned his downstroke guitar style from Page's frenetic riffs.



I Think I Understand - Joni Mitchell
While Janis Joplin was growling the blues, Joan Baez was warbling folk and Carole King was writing songs for other singers, Joni Mitchell dropped much of the folkie trappings from her first album and on Clouds offered songs of mature introspection, and became the first female exemplar of the singer/songwriter model so prevalent in the 1970s, a period that would include her greatest albums (like Blue and Court and Spark).

Her 1969 version of "Both Sides Now" is more melancholy than the snappier Judy Collins (a huge hit single for her, written by Joni before her debut release in 1968 -- side B of the Collin's single is "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" written by none other than Sandy Denny mentioned earlier), and "Chelsea Morning" was a hit for Gloria Loring. But "I Think I Understand" deals with mental illness in a way never really broached in pop music up to that time, and is representative of the psychological narratives of love and loss that mark her later, greater albums. A poet's words with an angel's voice.



Willie the Pimp - Frank Zappa
Released in October of 1969, the album Hot Rats saw Frank Zappa slip the congenial confines of The Mothers of Invention and their sometimes sophomoric lyrical snark for a more expansive venture into rock/jazz fusion. Of course, "Peaches En Regalia" is the fusion masterpiece of this release, but "Willie the Pimp" is the only rock song on a jazz album, and one that also has lyrics (sung by none other than Captain Beefheart) as the rest of the compositions are instrumentals. In addition, there is a sustained several minute wild lead by Zappa that bears no similarity to any other guitar lead you will hear anywhere in the 1960s. Love the biting violin work of Don "Sugarcane" Harris as well, fiddling with a discordant rhythm that was anything but classical.



Kick Out the Jams - MC5
Let's put things in context. It's 1969, the MC5 is well known around Detroit as incendiary and perhaps a bit insane (they purposely played in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention in hopes of starting a riot, were the house band for the subversive White Panther Party, and regularly kept assault rifles in the house they stayed in downtown). So, it's not surprising that the song I've chosen starts out with the immortal line bellowed by MC5 singer Rob Tyner, "It's time to...KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!" Again, please recall this was 1969. For years, they had to sanitize the opening salvo for radio play to "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters", but everyone knew what the hell had been said on the album, and everyone yelled out the correct lyrics, drowning out the radio edit with the appropriate obscenity

Like Iggy and the Stooges who played up the road in Ann Arbor, Detroit's MC5 were the equivalent of an industrial enema flushing the trappings of psychedelic peace and love from rock music. They were punk but louder, they were grunge in the truest sense of the word.



For Example - The Nice
Classically prog ELP-style organ, jazz horns and piano, Cream-style rock drums variating with a more fusion style, punk vocals with a 12 bar blues opening, a brief Gregorian chant and a nod to The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", all crammed into one song in 1969. That's all you have to know about this composition.



Hot Burrito #1 - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Ever wonder why The Eagles sounded like they did in the early 70s? Well, it certainly helped that the guitarist for the Flying Burrito Brothers second album Burrito Deluxe was Bernie Leadon, who eventually played guitar for The Eagles' first three albums. It also helped the Burrito Brothers' songwriting duo of Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons made up half of the Byrd's on their great country-rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), a release that proved influential to The Eagles style of songwriting (and every other country-rock band thereafter).

But the Flying Burrito Brothers' debut album The Gilded Palace of Sin was perhaps even more remarkable than Sweetheart of the Rodeo: less rock, more country, but with additional intonations of soul, folk, gospel and an occasional bit of psychedelia (listen to the demented pedal steel on "Christine's Tune"). It is converted country, a style that would become more pronounced as The Eagles, Jackson Browne and many country acts filtered it through the prism of the 1970s; in fact the entire alternative country movement can look back at this album and Sweetheart of the Rodeo as the reason every last damn country song recently is actually a rock song not-so-cleverly disguised with a twang, a cowboy hat and a pedal steel guitar.



Does Anybody Know What Time It Is - Chicago
The Chicago Transit Authority album is superb. Really, it is. But songs like the above mentioned "Does Anybody Know What Time It is" and "Beginnings" from that 1969 release were repeated on subsequent albums with such alarming regularity that they eventually eliminated all the hard rock and jazzy numbers, until it happened...Chicago invented 1970s soft rock. So every time you hear Air Supply, Toto, Seals and Crofts, The Atlanta Rhythm Section, Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross, Pablo Cruise or The Little River Band, remember, it was Chicago's fault.



Esther's Nose Job - The Soft Machine
Of course, Soft Machine's most recognized album is Third, but we're talking about pre-1970, and since I haven't mentioned the Canterbury Scene, that weirdly psychedelic and proggy mish-mash of bands huddled together around the Cathedral where Chaucer's pilgrims were heading for in the 14th century (and who have absolutely nothing to do with what I am talking about, really), I will have to say that the best of the very early Canterbury stuff is Soft Machine's Volume Two.

Featuring Robert Wyatt (originally of the Wilde Flowers, as was nearly everyone associated with the Canterbury Scene) on drums and lead vocals, with Mike Ratledge on keyboards and flute, Hugh Hopper on bass and acoustic guitars, and occasionally Hugh's brother Brian on sax, Soft Machine was on the British cusp of fusion jazz and progressive rock (which at the time was not mutually exclusive). This version of Zappa-esquely titled "Esther's Nose Job" (and I would suggest that Robert Wyatt's humor could be just as perverse as Zappa's) isn't from the original album, but good luck finding that on the internet. Quite swinging in any case.



Save the Country - Lauro Nyro
A contemporary patron saint of Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand and Carole King (who was probably convinced to cut her own records rather than write for other singers due to Nyro's success), and a huge influence to every female performer from Kate Bush to Suzanne Vega to Tori Amos. You could listen to any number of Nyro-performed songs and hear bits and pieces borrowed by each of the artists I've mentioned above. And she was equally acclaimed by male performers, like 70s stalwarts Elton John, Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren, who accounted Nyro as a major influence.

Lauro Nyro is unique among the female artists of the time because she did not arrive at her her singing and compositional style through folk music; rather, her palette was more R&B, soul and gospel (Leontyne Price and Billie Holiday being early influences). The song "Save the Country" is from her biggest selling album, New York Tendaberry. The song itself encapsulates much of the vocal stylings and piano passages one would find in releases of her acolytes in the 1970s.
rite martian. How can he not be? He seems equally loved by folkies, metalheads, punks and country fans.



1969 - The Stooges
"1969", how appropriate! Listen to the urgency of the distorted guitar as it slices through the song, the sloppy wah-wah lead, the listless, shuffling drums, off-kilter hand claps and the sinister but nihilistic overtones of Iggy Pop, and hear the birth of punk rock. It's garage rock without the garage. Throw in "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and is there any doubt that Iggy would just kick Joey Ramone's scrawny New York ass? Boo-hoo!



The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
Songs are often referred to as timeless. You can try to pin down the period or the era, but the song defies an epoch, and sometimes defies categorization. The Band had that ability. Many of their songs didn't sound like they came from the 1960s, and they didn't sound like they came from a previous generation either. I could point to songs like "The Weight", "Chest Fever", "Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as examples.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is equal parts rock, folk and country with a century old storyline from the Civil War. The Band so influenced artists like George Harrison and Eric Clapton in their 1970s albums, that Clapton at one time wanted to join the band (or The Band, rather), but they also influenced disparate groups and performers like Bruce Springsteen (who commercialized  The Band's brand of Americana and sold it to the masses), Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, and later The Black Crows, Phish, The Driveby Truckers and My Morning Jacket. It's that enigmatic aura that entrances each generation. Rest in peace, Levon.



Child in Time - Deep Purple
The sessions for Deep Purple in Rock started in October, 1969 (it was eventually released in June, 1970). Just prior to the sessions, on September 24, 1969 to be exact, Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Purple organist Jon Lord's three-movement Concerto for Group and Orchestra before a live audience at the Royal Albert Hall (it was eventually released on album that December). I would like to think the classical aura from the Albert Hall recording reverberated through the In Rock sessions where Deep Purple produced what many consider the group's most progressive composition, "Child in Time".

It really isn't that progressive -- most of the song consists of repeating three power chords followed by a three chord turnaround and back to the original three chords -- but for whatever reason the 10 minute-long presentation, Ian Gillan's incredibly high-pitched shrieks, the occasional drumming march, a really excellent 2 minute-long Ritchie Blackmore solo, and Jon Lord's omnipresent Hammond organ, the sum of its parts gives an impression of majesty and depth. Every hard rock band in the world would emulate that sound (Uriah Heep often being accused of being Deep Purple copy-cats).



After the Flood - Van der Graaf Generator
Adding tremolo and distortion boxes to Peter Hammill's already idiosyncratic vocals seems like overkill, but hey, it's an exotic early piece of apocalyptic VdGG progressivity (from The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other, recorded in December, 1969 and released in February of the following year). Featuring the crazed Rahsaan Roland Kirk-ish double alto and tenor saxes of David Jackson, limited electric guitar (in fact, most of it was overdubbed in afterthought), and an exuberance of Farfisa organ. Way before it's time. If it had a time to begin with.



Fire and Rain - James Taylor
James Taylor's self-titled debut album was quite well-received by critics, and there are a few absolutely beautiful songs on his first release ("Carolina in My Mind" and "Something in the Way She Moves" being two), but critical favor didn't translate into box office profit, and one helluva drug addiction at the time limited his efforts to promote the album. Needless to say, at the time he was about to release his second album, the landmark "Sweet Baby James" (recorded in  December, 1969, released in  February, 1970), Taylor was homeless, crashing anywhere he could, usually on a sofa at guitarist Danny Kortchmar's house.

But lo and behold! Taylor scored a major hit with the starkly beautiful but hopelessly melancholy "Fire and Rain" which for all intents and purposes began the 1970s love affair with the Singer/Songwriter category of performers that included Jackson Browne, Jim Croce, Warren Zevon, Gordon Lightfoot, and from across the pond Elton John and Cat Stevens. Pretty soon, singer/songwriters were falling out of the woodwork, not to be abated until MTV basically ended the genre.



Space Oddity - David Bowie
If you look at various rock music sites they often refer to this song as "psychedelic", which I think is a misnomer. Certainly, it has mellotron (thank you, young Mr. Rick Wakeman, later of Yes), and spacey guitars, but the point is an aural rendition of space travel, and the ethereal feel of the song, particularly the barely audible, bass heavy build-up during the intro, is a nod to Also Sprach Zarathustra, which in turn is an allusion (as is the song title) to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a very popular film in theaters the year previously. Also, the song was timely in regards to its release during the Apollo 11 moon mission (the BBC refused to play the song until the astronauts returned to earth orbit safely).

And the story of our intrepid astronaut, Major Tom, who loses touch with ground control and his wife back on earth, mirrors in some aspects the character David Bowman of A Space Odyssey, who becomes dissociative from reality after disconnecting the computer HAL and coming in contact with the mysterious black monolith. Of course, Bowie himself revised the meaning behind Major Tom in a later song "Ashes to Ashes": "Ashes to ashes / Funk to funky/ We know Major Tom's a junkie / Strung out in heaven's high / Hitting an all-time low." So, whether Tom was drug-addled or simply spaced is up for conjecture. Whichever the case, "Space Oddity" is Bowie's first foray into what was later termed "art-rock", and the song itself was an extraterrestrial touchstone that Bowie returned to quite often in the 70s, with songs like "Life on Mars" and the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.



Mississippi Queen - Mountain
The advent of cowbell in 1970s rock. Recorded in late 1969 and released as both a single and part of the album Climbing in March, 1970, "Mississippi Queen" is the quintessential rock song of the era, one that was emulated by other hard rock bands like Foghat, Nazareth and Montrose. And Blue Öyster Cult borrowed the cow bell, of course. The "Great Fatsby" Leslie West laid down the heaviest 1970s riff ever.



McGoohan's Blues - Roy Harper
You know what they say about folk guitar: if it's Baroque, don't fix it. Poor Roy Harper! Known and loved by a large circle of Brit musicians like Jimmy Page, Ian Anderson, Kate Bush, Pete Townshend, Al Stewart and Pink Floyd, but virtually unknown by the population at large. Even his greatest albums, particularly 1971's Stormcock, were hailed as sublime acoustic prog-folk but which couldn't sell with substantial rebates and a free Frisbee.

Perhaps it's because many of his songs, like this composition "McGoohan's Blues" from Harper's 1969 release Folkjokeopus, clocks in at nearly 18 minutes. He never had a hit single, never had a gold album. Just one of those musicians who influenced a whole herd of influencers.



Pale Blue Eyes -- Velvet Underground
How can a band that profoundly influenced rock music from the late 60s and beyond sound so bad? Ladies and gentleman, I have seen the future and it sucks. I am revulsed every time I hear Lou Reed sing. Banal lyrics, sloppy musicianship, and Nico as the fuzzy maraschino cherry on top -- but I cannot deny the crazy amount of bands and performers who consider Reed and Underground their muse...from Bowie to Bono, from Roxy Music to REM, from the Sex Pistols to Sonic Youth. Some critics insist he invented post-punk before punk was even a thing. I prefer John Cale's solo stuff, personally.

Anyway, here's "Pale Blue Eyes" from the 1969 release The Velvet Underground. The kinder, gentler Velvet Underground. Lou Reed as a minstrel. Breathe in the profundity and be influenced.



Down by the River - Neil Young and Crazy Horse
"Down by the river, I shot my baby -- dead." Yeah, there was a reason that Neil Young didn't get along with Crosby, Stills and Nash, managing to squeeze out only one studio album and a live album in between fist fights. Neil was on his own trip, one that would wind its strange way through the 1970s from the apocalyptic After the Gold Rush to the punk distortion of Rust Never Sleeps. And this alien force infused in Young's repertoire is on full display on 1969's sublime Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

The first thing you notice is the addition of distortion, quite apparent in the hit "Cinnamon Girl" and extended, epic jams like "Cowgirl in the Sand", but evident even in relatively quiet songs like "Down by the River". Then you notice Young's single note leads, full of sustain and distortion, never virtuosic, but compelling and memorable nonetheless. And then you suddenly realize you're signing along to Neil murdering his girlfriend down by the river. And you don't care, because the death is oddly satisfying. You don't know how you got there, but you are now an accomplice in Neil Young's inherent weirdness. The 70s were like that with Neil.



Power of Soul - Band of Gypsys
Had he lived, who knows where Jimi Hendrix's guitar would have taken him?  Driven by the incredibly funk-heavy bass line of Billy Cox, Hendrix overlays the beat with hard rock, funk and blues guitar riffs in an improvisational tour de force. How improvisational? Please note the above recording is from the second of four shows at the Fillmore East held on December 31, 1969 and January 1, 1970, and the song is titled "Power of Soul". The live album Band of Gypsys features the same song but played on New Year's Day, and the title of the song changed to "Power to Love". It was sensibly changed back to the original title "Power of Soul" on later releases. During the live recordings of other songs during the New Year's Eve sets, Hendrix admitted the lyrics were being made up as they went along.

But Hendrix's new direction included leaving his original band The Experience, and jamming instead with his old army buddy Billy Cox and former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles. The funk is as heavy as the rock in these sessions, and Jimi's willingness to improvise and share the stage as "Band of Gypsys" instead of "Jimi Hendrix and Generic Band" is a departure from his previous modus operandi. This also included sharing lead vocals with Buddy Miles.

He was also intending to branch out into jazz. Hendrix played a few sessions in 1969 with Jazz/R&B sax player King Curtis, and Jimi had discussed a session with orchestra leader Gil Evans before he died (in Jimi's honor, Evans ended up conducting an all-Jimi Hendrix jazz concert at Carnegie Hall). Alas, we can only wistfully surmise the exotic rock-funk-jazz variations he would have released in the 1970s. Hendrix had already drastically altered the assumptions regarding what could be done with the guitar in the 60s, he could certainly have thrown those assumptions ass-over-apple cart in the following decade. How much funk was in Jimi? Noted funk-master George Clinton once noted the sudden assimilation of hot funk into the late 60s musical stew by saying: "Me and Sun Ra and Jimi Hendrix, we were eating at the same lunch counter [laughs]".




Cold Turkey - John Lennon
This is not your older brother's Beatles. This is primal and incessantly violent, lacking any of Paul McCartney's melodicism or restraint (it was pitched as a Beatles single after Abbey Road, but Paul turned it down). Depending on which story you wish to believe, this is either the aural experience of Lennon kicking the heroin addiction he acquired at the tail-end of his Beatles career, or the tale of severe food poisoning Lennon and Yoko Ono suffered after eating Christmas leftovers "cold turkey". Given the harrowing ending with Lennon's shrieks and growls, I'd tend to believe the former rather than the latter.

In any case, 1969's "Cold Turkey" single was the direct musical predecessor to Lennon's solo masterpiece John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released a year later in 1970. Like that album, the song is raw and psychologically riveting, with minimal arrangements, no superfluous instrumentation and without effervescent harmonies. Lennon would say "I don't believe in Beatles" and "The dream is over"on the Plastic Ono Band''s final song "God", which effectively told the world in 1970 that an era was at an end, but a year previous "Cold Turkey" was the actual metal musical stake to the heart of the Fab Four and the 60s. Oh, by the way, that's Eric Clapton sharing guitar shredding with Lennon.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Twenty-Five Essential Blues Albums - A Primer For Budding Blues Fans On A Budget

Let's say you just started listening to blues music, and you enjoy the genre, but you're not quite sure where to turn next. Maybe you are acquainted with the blues well enough to know that the first two Led Zeppelin albums were basically written by Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf, but you'd like a taste of the original versions of the songs. Or, perhaps you are blooming blues aficionado and you've heard a song or two from a certain artist but you don't want to fork out $30 or $40 for some four CD set that might include three or four versions of the same song lifted off scratchy 78 rpm recordings from different sessions in the 1930s. With so many questionable compilations and egregious greatest hits packages that have proliferated over the years, who will help you navigate the Amazonian jungle of releases? What to do, my dears, what to do?

Well, in my own inimitable way, I've made it easy on you and compiled 25 essential albums that are representative of a wide range of the blues for your aural edification. They are mostly single CD releases (many of which can be purchased for under $5 on certain well-known online sites that I will not shill for, as I refuse to clutter my site with ads), but a few are double CD sets because they were originally released that way, or no release exists in a single CD that has the songs I find essential ( in any case, I have always included the least costly CD release). If you enjoy the single CDs but want to venture further, then by all means go out and get the extravagant archival boxed sets, just get an aggregate score review-wise from fairly reputable sites like rateyourmusic.com or allmusic.com.

Another thing I've tried to do in compiling this list is to remain in historical context whenever possible, meaning, I have tried to stay away from greatest hits packages that throw together random songs from throughout an artist's career; instead, I have made a concerted effort to offer actual albums with songs released in the space of a single session or a great live performance from one hot night so you can hear the performers in specific eras of their careers (most often in their prime). Unfortunately, that isn't always possible, particularly with great blues artists from the early 20th century whose songs are now only available in collections.

And if I've skewed this list to acknowledge some very early artists (Mississippi John Hurt, Lead Belly, Memphis Minnie, Skip James, Robert Johnson, etc.), I consider this an education or indoctrination or maybe even a proselytization of the blues. To know the roots of the rhythm affords one the opportunity of seeing how the blues spread in many directions and settled in so many styles. I also know 25 albums in no way gives one a true perspective of the blues, but it's a good place to start.

And so here's 25 essential blues albums in no particular order:

                                                                                   
Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign
Hey, any guy with fervent acolytes like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton is a worthwhile listen on this, one of the great blues album. Of course, it helps when your supporting band members on the album feature Steve Cropper, Booker T. Jones, Isaac Hayes, Wayne Jackson and Duck Dunn. Outstanding tracks include the title number, "The Hunter"(of Led Zep fame), "As the Years Go Passing By", and the elegant "The Very Thought of You".



Mississippi John Hurt - Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John puts me in a good mood even when he's talking about killing his old lady (murder being a feature on many of his songs). But his style is so upbeat and he sings so sweetly that I don't think a jury would find him guilty of the crimes he sings about. His melodious finger-picking style of Delta blues and his conversational method of storytelling makes you want to go back to Avalon, Mississippi and sit on a porch with some moonshine and listen to the man play. The recordings are scratchy at times, but that only adds to the authenticity of the songs, like Nobody's Dirty Business (a personal favorite), Stack O' Lee, Spike Driver Blues and Frankie (a good girl whose man done her wrong, and so she shoots him).




Muddy Waters - Muddy Waters at Newport 1960
So many great Muddy Waters albums, so little time. But we are on a budget, after all, so this live album from 1960 packs a punch and offers up many of Muddy's greatest song played in his prime. The album itself has been praised as one of the greatest live blues albums ever, and I heartily agree. The real treats of the show, other than Muddy's low down growl, of course, is James Cotton's blues harp and the piano of Otis Spann, delivering show-stopping performances. "Hoochie-Coochie Man" and "Baby, Please Don't Go" are the big hits on this album, but I've heard that "Got My Mojo Working" actually got the crowd at Newport dancing in the aisles. If you have some expendable income, I suggest you also take a look at the superb remastered double CD set Muddy "Mississippi Waters Live: Legacy Edition featuring Johnny Winter on guitar and the ageless Pinetop Perkins on piano.



 Willie Dixon - I Am The Blues
Purists and anal critics often deride this album as second-hand and only an echo of the originals. Certainly, Willie Dixon wrote these songs as a producer and staff songwriter at Chess Records, and they were then originally performed and made famous by the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters, but that does not minimize the excellence of I Am The Blues, nor does it take away anything from how Willie sang his own damn songs, which was great. I consider this album the blues equivalent of Carole King's Tapestry, in which the songwriter took back their songs and made them their own again. The song list is monumental, including "Back Door Man", "Spoonful", "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Can't Quit You Babe" and "I Ain't Superstitious", and Willie's band (featuring Dixon on bass, Walter Horton on blues harp and Sunnyland Slim on piano) is top-notch. This is literally an historical document of blues songwriting.




Blind Willie Johnson - The Complete Blind Willie Johnson
There is another album Praise God I'm Satisfied that is more concise and offers up 14 essential songs from Blind Willie, but I checked the 'net and the price is off-the-charts for some reason (most likely out of print or import-only). This compilation offers twice as many songs (a double CD) but the price is still reasonable. In any case, Blind Willie is as spiritual as you are going to get and still remain with the blues and not slip off into gospel music. And that voice! Good Lord, did that man have a set of growling pipes! Listening to "Nobody's Fault But Mine" is a religious experience in itself with that voice and glorious slide guitar. Led Zeppelin would reuse the song as well as "In My Time of Dying", but Robert Plant's absconding of Blind Willie's overtly spiritual lyrics are rather ironic. Eric Clapton would also borrow "Motherless Children".



Hound Dog Taylor - Beware of the Dog
The fuzzy, fucked-up guitar of Hound Dog is infectious, and this posthumous live recording of Taylor burning down a Cleveland bar is one of the little joys of life. The banter of Hound Dog with a cigarette dangling from his lip, the sleazy slide on a cheap Teisco guitar played through a blown Silvertone amp (all bought at department stores!), and the gritty vocal barrage is wonderful! Listen to "Give Me Back My Wig", "Let's Get Funky" ("Looky here -- yeah, it's five minutes to two..."), a vicious version of "Dust My Broom",  or "Freddy's Blues" and try not to crack a smile. I guarantee you'll wish you had been knocking back Buds at the bar during this performance of grungy house rocking blues.



Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers
At around $7.00, this perhaps the best Johnson compilation, and better than the Complete Recordings version that offers many takes of individual songs, some without enough variation to make it worthwhile, save for completionists. King of the Delta Blues Singers has nearly every great song Robert Johnson recorded, and its release in 1961 is considered a pivotal moment in the rebirth of the blues. "Cross Road Blues", "Traveling Riverside Blues", "Walkin' Blues", "Kind Hearted Woman Blues", "Hellhound on My Trail" -- it's a history of the blues in and of itself.




Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' in the Moonlight (1959) and Howlin' Wolf (1962)
Both albums are five-star rated in my book, and both are essential, and they are available in a one CD compilation (only $5.99 online -- I checked!). So these two count as one. That voice! Listen to "Smokestack Lightnin'", the mischievous "Back Door Man" or the malevolent "Spoonful" and be amazed.







Elmore James - Shake Your Moneymaker: The Best of the Fire Recordings
At under $7.00 this is a worthwhile compilation, and for a few dollars more The Ultimate Collection is even better if you find you need more Elmore. If you want to see where Jeremy Spence and Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac got their influence, listen to a near note-for-note version of Elmore's "Dust My Broom". "Rolling and Tumbling", "The Sky Is Crying" and "Shake Your Moneymaker" are all blueprints for British Invasion Blues of the 1960s.



T-Bone Walker - T-Bone Blues
A basket of blues recorded in the mid-50s, T-Bones bright and brilliant jazzy lines flow effortlessly from song to song, and for under $5.00, you can't go wrong, particularly with Junior Wells and Jimmy Rogers sitting in on a couple songs ("Play On Little Girl" and "T-Bone Blues Special"). Of course, there is the standard "Mean Old World", and the great T-Bone version of "Stormy Monday" where Walker's precision note-for-note is on display.




Skip James - Complete 1931 Recordings in Chronological Order
If you are interested in acoustic Delta blues, or guitar picking perfection at all, then you do yourself a disservice not listening to this album. James was noted for both unconventional chording structures and ethereal falsetto voicing, and that unorthodox nature drifts just as surely through his piano-playing as his picking (listen to the piano on "If You Haven't Any Hay Get on Down the Road" or "How Long Buck" -- they are fascinating).Devil Got My Woman", "Cypress Grove Blues", "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" and "I'm So Glad" (famously adapted by Cream) are all essential blues tunes, and even currently popular musicians like Hozier revere Skip James (great version of "Illinois Blues").



Little Walter - The Best of Little Walter
You can't play blues harp without having listened to Little Walter (and having listened to him, realize you don't know what the fuck you are doing). And for $5.99 it's like a Mel Bay book for the blues harp. Listen to the sustain and quiver on "Sad Hours", "Mean Old World", and the mournful "Blues With a Feeling". It is truly sad that his great version of "Rollin' and Tumblin' is not available on this or His Best: Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, but the jumping "My Babe" almost makes up for it.





Memphis Minnie - Essential Recordings
An essential album containing her best songs (this is a 2 CD import, but I found it online for $8.99). Sad that her main claim to fame is for receiving writing credit on Led Zeppelin's Volume IV, and that otherwise she is relatively unknown outside of blues circles. But Minnie was a guitar-picker extraordinaire, and along with her husband "Kansas Joe" McCoy churned out some remarkable blues: "Bumble Bee", "When the Levee Breaks" (the Led Zep version mentioned previously), "Black Cat Blues" and "I'm a Bad Luck Woman".





B.B. King - Live In Cook County Jail (1971) and Live at the Regal (1965)
Like Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, jail seemed to bring out the best performance from B.B. King. He explodes on stage, and having seen the dear departed B.B. four times myself I can say that is a very cool thing. Like many great performers, B.B. King is at his best live, and his studio recordings are great but don't do the performances justice. The jail session is raw and biting, and King is at his growling, gritty best. However, some would argue that King's Live at the Regal is his best concert album, and I won't debate the point (hence, I've included both here). It is sonically better sounding and a far jazzier blues set. Great horns.



Bessie Smith - The Essential Bessie Smith
One of the original and best blues belters, and just as musically important for her work with Louis Armstrong and Bennie Goodman. Listening to "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out", "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do" or "St. Louis Blues" transports one back to the Roaring Twenties, and Bessie brief recording career between 1923-1933.






John Lee Hooker - I'm John Lee Hooker
John Lee was prolific and his career was incredibly long, so it's hard to nail him down to one album or one compilation. But I'm John Lee Hooker  is as good as it gets, even though it may be more costly than the other albums I have referred. The nineteen songs on this compilation are the best cross-section of Hooker I have heard. From the immortal intro riff of "Dimples" to backstreet crawl of "Boogie Chillun" (and his reference to Hastings Street in Detroit's old "Black Bottom") to the malicious "Crawlin' King Snake" (which Jim Morrison so famously borrowed), John Lee's jangley rhythms and downright dirty leads are beloved by guitarists.



Hudie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter - The Definitive Lead Belly
It isn't often that the words legendary and mythical are used in the proper context for musicians, but I can only think of one other blues musician, Robert Johnson, who has as many myths and legends surrounding him as does Lead Belly. From questionable birth records to barroom brawls and prison knifings to his time on the chain gang to how he got his nickname, Lead Belly is an exemplar of the Old Blues Tradition, and this 3 CD anthology (for a paltry $12.99!) is more than the blues but a historic artifact of Americana: "House of the Rising Sun", "Goodnight Irene", "Cotton Fields", "Gallis Pole" (or "Gallows Pole"), and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (that caused Nirvana's Kurt Cobain to go out on a search to find and buy Lead Belly's guitar).




Memphis Slim & Buddy Guy - Southside Reunion
One of the coolest things about the blues is to blindly stumble upon an absolutely amazing album , and that's what happened with this one (bought at a flea market for a buck!). Since I haven't touched on boogie-woogie piano blues yet, I can't think of a better release than this one, even though most blues lists aren't even aware of it. The sound is stellar (a key here, since really good early albums from Pinetop Smith are scratchy as hell and Pinetop Perkins is best heard jamming alongside Muddy Waters), Buddy and Memphis are incredibly in sync (the clarity of piano and guitar are out of this world, really), Junior Wells lends a stellar set of lungs on the blues harp, and the backing band is out of this world. Listen to the interplay between Slim and Guy on "You Call Me A", the delightful barrelhouse of "When Buddy Comes to Town", the most laid-back version of "Rolling and Tumbling" I've ever heard, and "Jamming at the Castle" featuring a boogie-woogie barn burning with everyone lighting it up.



Junior Wells' Chicago Blues Band - Hoodoo Man Blues
Hey, would you look at that: I was just speaking of Junior Wells and Buddy Guy! Imagine that? This is as Southside Chicago as you are going to get. And although this isn't a live recording, you can smell the moldy odor of stale beer emanating from the floorboards above your torn Naugahyde bar stool, and lit cigarettes perched in ashtrays piled high with butts -- it's the type of performance one can only pray for in a bar...in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, or wherever you drink your beer. Personal favorites are "Hey, Lawdy Mama", "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", "We're Ready", "You Don't Love Me, Baby" and the best version of "Hound Dog" this side of Elvis.



Albert Collins - Ice Pickin'
Of course, everyone remembers Albert's immortal line from Adventures in Babysitting: "Ain't nobody leaves this place without singing the blues", and Albert could say the same for this stellar excursion into blues guitar. It's the sort of album that made John Lee Hooker sit back and say, "I'm an Albert Collins freak!" The banter on "Snowed In" as he bitches about his truck being stalled in winter and proceeds to use his guitar to mimic a wheezing engine is worth the price of admission. Collin's perceptions of the inner city soon makes you realize this is as urban as blues gets, From "When the Welfare Turns It's Back On You" to "Master Charge", it's lively, witty and the guitar is an ice cold pick to the heart.




Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley (1958) and GO Bo Diddley (1959)
This compilation features the 1958 Chess release Bo Diddley and the 1959 Checker release Go Bo Diddley, and covers just about everything you need for an exploration of the "Bo Diddley beat" and its extrapolation into what we now term "rock 'n' roll". This double CD was $8.00 online, so affordable and rocking at the same time! And the players on these albums! Willie Dixon on bass, Otis Spann on piano and Little Walter on harmonica among them, and the songs are like a play list from many early rockers: "I'm a Man", "Before You Accuse Me", "Who Do You Love",  "Bo Diddley" and "Little Girl".




Son House - Original Delta Blues
I found this online for a mere $4.99, and a damned delight it is for under five bucks! The slide stings and buzzes like a hive of hornets, and a Capellas like "John the Revelator" or "Grinnin' in Your Face" are just as spellbinding with Son's whoops and claps. If you're looking for authenticity in blues, start here. It's front porch of a shotgun shack-style deep Delta stuff, like "Levee Camp Moan" or "Pearline", and the soul-rending sadness of "Death Letter" will teach you how to weep and moan (I don't know why, but even Jack White covered that song).



Sonny Boy Williamson II - His Best
This a 20 song compilation from Chess Records (at only $4.99 online!) that will give one a great overview of the man who became know as Sonny Boy Williamson II (as opposed to Sonny Boy Williamson I who was another bluesman altogether). Many of my favorite blues harp tunes inhabit this album: "Help Me" (with the murky Wurlitzer in the background), "One Way Out" (co-written by Williamson and Elmore James, and made famous by the Allman Brothers), and if you listen to "Bring It On Home" you will hear Robert Plant's nearly note-for-note copy from Led Zeppelin II. Almost as notable are the guitarists who recorded along with Sonny Boy: Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Lockwood, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page.



Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - The Essential Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
My first album suggestion would have been Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee at the 2nd Fret due to the hilarious repartee and asides from these twin sons of different mothers, but for whatever reason the CD is ridiculously priced ($17.25 and up on several sites). Not much of a deal for ten songs. In any case, The Essential release gives you forty songs to listen to (available for as low as $8.42 to boot!).