2:30 p.m. - December 02, 2005
Well, worry no more. Since my writings about music have seemed to reach some of you folks out there in internet land, throughout December I’ll be listing the 150 (or so) albums in the rock / pop / soul / neo-country idiom in my personal collection that I think are worthy and that you should check out.
I know some of these records may be out of print, hard to find, even harder to get your ears around. I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.
I’ll list about 10 albums at a time, and post about three or four lists a week. And if this runs over Christmas, well, remember you can always buy stuff when you return that horrible looking sweater or your Ronco potato peeler.
The only other rule is that I’m going to choose actual albums over compilations, unless the compilation makes a statement more so than the original albums (or is about all there is in print).
And without further ado, away we go…
Summary: This one? Yes, this one. This is the last record that ZZ Top shows itself as a country-blues boogie band. After a three-year hiatus, they came out with Deguello, then altered their sound considerably. I was torn between this one, Rio Grande Mud or Tres Hombres but I think Tejas is stronger, track for track. That’s probably a minority view, but I don’t care.
Positives: Billy Gibbons’ guitar playing is a bit laid back and more country-fied than normal, on “It’s Only Love”, “She’s a Heartbreaker” and “El Diablo” but it still sizzles. “Arrested for Driving While Blind”, “Mr. Ten Dollar Man”, and “Enjoy and Get It On” smoke like ZZ Top always did back in the day.
Drawbacks: Do NOT, under any circumstances, buy the CD version, or download from it. The drums were re-done in the 80’s with the computerized crap that give each song a weird echo and lose their subtlety. The only pure place to find these songs is on their box set, however, this album is sorely unrepresented. Go borrow someone’s vinyl copy and digitize it!
Verdict: The boys from Texas get into a groove, and milk it for all it’s worth!
Random Trivia: Their beards were well trimmed during this time.
Kings of the Wild Frontier - Adam and the Ants
Summary: The only wall-to-wall good album Adam Ant ever released (he was more of a singles artist, truth be told). This is an almost perfect album, featuring high camp and low art at times. Most of the songs are catchy beyond belief, and the double Burundi drums really create a neat groove. Plus, the pirate costumes are to die for.
Positives: Marco Pirroni, the Ants’ guitarist, washes each song with a memorable riff. The CD has a bonus single, “Stand and Deliver” and “Beat My Guest”, which are two of their all-time classics.
Drawbacks: Some of the songs drag on a bit too long.
Verdict: It’s too bad the “Ants Invasion” never really reached the US. Everyone who has heard this album has loved it for many different reasons.
Random Trivia: Somehow, Adam got Gary Tibbs ex- Roxy Music, to be his bass player for a while.
Summary: Elegant dance pop from the UK that made a splash with two hit singles (“The Look of Love” and “Poison Arrow”) but unlike many albums of that time this record is filled with great tunes instead of filler. Martin Fry and ABC were never to reach this pinnacle again.
Positives: The witty, erudite lyrics are still fresh to this day. Songs like “Date Stamp” and “Show Me” provide a depth to the album. The arrangements and orchestration are lush, but not too syrupy.
Drawbacks: It’s too short! In its original form, it was just nine songs plus a reprise of “The Look of Love”. However, if that’s the only drawback…
Verdict: If you even THINK you like one of the hit singles, you’ll love this record.
Random Trivia: They totally changed direction on their next album, and it bombed.
Hell Bent for Leather - Judas Priest
Summary: Quite possibly the best heavy metal album ever. No doubt this is quintessential Priest, with massive guitar riffs, incredible solos from Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, and Rob Halford bansheeing all over the place.
Positives: “Delivering The Goods” and “Burning Up” set the tone for each side (yes, I’m showing my age). This is an album that is filled with anthemic metal, along with some “tender” moments (!) and a classy cover of Fleetwood Mac’s (original version) “Green Manalishi With the Two-Pronged Crown”.
Drawbacks: “Before the Dawn” drags the last part of the record down.
Verdict: While this doesn’t sound as heavy as Metallica, Slayer, or even Iron Maiden, it’s a fine, fine metal album that stands up to this day. All lovers of the riff should bow down before this album and salute it.
Random Trivia: This was known as “Killing Machine” in the UK.
Led Zeppelin III - Led Zeppelin
Summary: My favorite Zeppelin album. It’s split, really, with one side being classic heavy blues-based Zeppelin (except for “Friends”) and the other side shows a mellow, folky side to the band that wasn’t really apparent in their first two records.
Positives: Any record that starts out with “The Immigrant Song” is going to be good. “Out on the Tiles” and “Celebration Day” are unknown Zep classics, but it’s songs like “Tangerine”, “Gallows Pole” and “That’s the Way” that really cement the record’s status as THE elite Zep album.
Drawbacks: I could really live without hearing “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” again.
Verdict: Each Zep album has some clunker cuts. This has one, but it’s the last song so you can easily skip it without altering the continuity. All of the songs are a tolerable length as well.
Random Trivia: They had to merge “Friends” and “Celebration Day” because one of the engineers accidentally deleted the opening five seconds of the latter song. Oopsy!
Lick My Decals Off, Baby - Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Summary: This is probably a better representation of the total avant-garde Beefheart than the more famous Trout Mask Replica. Is more compact, and there’s no wasted space or slack cuts.
Positives: A marimba! A marimba! Seriously, Beefheart’s use of the marimba is genius and gives depth to these maddening songs. If you’re looking for straightforward songs, forget this one. However, if you’re looking to explore and expand the definitions of rock and of music in general, then this is a great place to end up. “Doctor Dark” and “Woe-Is-Uh-Me Bop” are two of his best-ever songs.
Drawbacks: Beginners to Beefheart may want to skip this one for a while. Oh, and I think this is out of print (AGAIN!) Those not used to insane time signatures or polyrhythms may want to sit this one out as well. (Weenies!)
Verdict: The best batch of Beefheart. Though, again, I’d probably start with “Clear Spot” or “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)” if you are a neophyte.
Random Trivia: They actually filmed TV commercials for use in promotion the album. You can view them at the great site The Captain Beefheart Radar Station.
Chronicle , Chronicle, Volume 2 - Creedence Clearwater Revivial
Summary: These two compilations are all you really need of CCR. They released a lot of fine albums in their relatively brief career, but these two collections hit all of the high spots. Chronicle are the hits, but Volume 2 has the album cuts and is deeper and more satisfying, in the end.
Positives: Both of them are full of nuggets. You know all the songs on the first volume, but classics like “Walking On the Water”, “It’s Just a Thought”. “The Midnight Special” and “It Came Out of the Sky” are on the second volume, which is full of their album tracks.
Drawbacks: Neither volume has the complete “Suzie Q”. Each one has a half of the song.
Verdict: The Dude would be a happy man if he got his paws on these volumes.
Random Trivia: When they were known as The Golliwogs, it was TOM Fogarty that was the ostensible leader, not John.
Band On the Run - Wings
Summary: After a lousy album, Paul McCartney needed a good one to salvage his new band’s career. Even though two members of the band split at the last minute, McCartney comes through and releases what is arguably his ONLY great solo album.
Positives: From the title track to the end, almost every cut is stellar. And even though a couple of the songs (the title track and “Picasso’s Last Words”) are medleys, at least all of the songs sound finished, which is quite unusual for Mr. McCartney’s solo stuff. Oh, and “Mrs. Vanderbilt” may be a bit corny, but I love it.
Drawbacks: “Bluebird” would cause almost anyone to become a diabetic.
Verdict: Realistically, it’s the only McCartney / Wings solo album that’s worth having (not counting compilations).
Random Trivia: For some reason, the brilliant “Helen Wheels” was not on the UK version of the album. Sometimes, I don’t know about the Brits and their obsession for keeping singles off of albums.
Summary: It didn’t quite make them starts (yet) but this second album from the Midwestern rockers is a gem, filled with hooky, catchy songs. The only song that really was a hit, though, wasn’t a hit until their live album.
Positives: “Big Eyes”, “Oh! Caroline!”, “Come On, Come On”, “Downed”…need I say more?
Drawbacks: “I Want You to Want Me” sounds weird in this studio version, because I miss the Japanese girls going “crying crying crying.”
Verdict: If you only own one Cheap Trick studio album, this is the one to own.
Random Trivia: The reason those Japanese girls shouted that in “I Want You to Want Me” was because in the studio version, there’s an echo after each line of the chorus.
Meddle - Pink Floyd
Summary: This is the album that set the stage for Dark Side of the Moon. One side has some interesting songs, and side two is all “Echoes”, which may be the best long-form song in rock history.
Positives: “Echoes” is a tour-de-force, even with that weird part in the middle that sounds like a bunch of seagulls mating. David Gilmour and Richard Wright are the vocalists, which means that the songs aren’t sung in an infernally nasal way.
Drawbacks: “Seamus” is a waste, really. And say what you want about Roger Waters, he’s not really THAT interesting of a lyricist.
Verdict: You must have “Echoes” in your collection for those moments when you just want to be taken somewhere and brought back 22 minutes later.
Random Trivia: Between this album and “Dark Side”, they released the soundtrack album to “Obscured by Clouds” – one of those maddening, meaningless French movies about the meaning of life and all that rot.