2:15 p.m. - December 15, 2005
It’s that time again, time for another 10 of the 150 (or so) albums I dig the most. I do understand that some installments in this series have veered into Obscureland.
(Obscureland – Exit 5 off the Beltway, for all of your obscure needs.)
This installment may not be as obscure. Oh, sure, I’m going to bring the weird and the unheard, but a couple of these I bet your Mom has heard.
Summary: The Clash made perhaps the greatest album of the last 25 years. This is a rare double album that has every cut as vital and essential to the work as a whole. The totally break out of the restraints of punk rock and explore all sorts of genres and themes.
Positives: Tracks one through 19. Seriously, though, every track is a highlight.
Drawbacks: The music stops at some point, unless you have it on auto repeat. (But if I had to pick the weaker side, it would be original side 3)
Verdict: Buy this album NOW!
Random Trivia: “Train In Vain” was recorded at the very last minute, after the artwork for the cover had already been completed, thus it was never on the original track listing of the album.
Summary: A leap forward for Hendrix, both in terms of songwriting and in substance. He varies his sonic assault and shows depth and feeling, something that was lacking on his debut album.
Positives: “Spanish Castle Magic”, “Wait Until Tomorrow”, “If 6 Were 9”, “Little Wing”, “Castles Made Of Sand”, and “Bold As Love” just for starters.
Drawbacks: I really could do without the little intro skit.
Verdict: To me, this is the best Hendrix album, and the most underrated by some.
Random Trivia: Bassist Noel Redding wrote and sang “She’s So Fine”, and it’s a pretty good tune as well!
Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon
Summary: Lennon’s first true solo statement is a painful, yet powerful record resulting from his primal scream therapy. This is John, stripped naked to the world, announcing his feelings for all to hear.
Positives: The raw emotion shapes the songs – and it leaves a definite impact. There are no ‘hits’ – nor were there ever mean to be any hits. The sound that the trio makes (Ringo on drums) is spartan, and fits the songs well.
Drawbacks: This much emotion can wear one out after a while.
Verdict: John’s best solo album and truly, his only indespensible one.
Random Trivia: Klaus Voorman, the bassist on the album, painted the cover to Revolver. He was a friend of John’s from his days in Hamburg, Germany.
Doolittle - Pixies
Summary: A plethora of twisted songs from the mind of Black Francis (Frank Black as he’s known now) played with a sound a fury that can be matched by few, if any.
Positives: The first eleven songs just zoom by and you want to keep hitting repeat. Oh, and I find myself singing “Monkey Gone To Heaven” a lot. (Liz always says, “Yes, man is five, the devil is six and God is seven – I get it!”)
Drawbacks: I skip over “Silver” a lot. A lot meaning all of the time.
Verdict: When this first came out, it took me a while to ‘get it’ for some reason. Oh, I got it – I got it good! Without this album, there may not have been Nirvana.
Random Trivia: “Debaser” is based on the famous film “Un Chien Andalou”, where, if you recall, one sees an eyeball being sliced up. What? You don’t know your history of existentialistic cinema? Tsk.
Katy Lied - Steely Dan
Summary: After dropping the pretense that they were a touring band once and for all, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan make the studio their own little rock/jazz laboratory, and the result is this timeless album of sophisticated, yet twisted, tales.
Positives: “Doctor Wu”, “Bad Sneakers”, “Black Friday”, and “Rose Darling” make the first side of the album among the best ever.
Verdict: My favorite Steely Dan album, for the playing, and especially the creepy way Donald Fagan sings “Doctor Wu”. Listen closely to how he slobbers all over the word “piaster”.
Random Trivia: Michael McDonald, of Doobie Brothers fame, was a featured backing vocalist on this album. You can’t miss him.
Summary: This is not only a great summary of Cash’s sixties career, it also is a remarkable album. You can tell that Cash has great feeling for his audience, and gives it his all in his performance. (You wonder why some of the ‘gangsta’ rappers don’t try this, you know, to enhance their ‘cred’.)
Positives: The title track, of course, but “Cocaine Blues”, “25 Minutes To Go”, and “I Still Miss Someone” are tremendous.
Drawbacks: A couple of the tracks are definitely weaker, but there are so many great ones here you don’t notice them. Oh, and you have to feel for the guys who were called away during the concert, for visitors. “Ah, ma, I’m missin’ the Johnny Cash show…”
Random Trivia: The Statler Brothers were backing vocalists.
Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) - Captain Beefheart
Summary: I’ll call it a comeback, because it was. After a couple of desultory albums, and a couple of years of silence, Beefheart reconstitutes the Magic Band and releases a surprisingly straightforward (for him) album. Sure it’s got some wild stuff, but it’s a great place to start your Beefheart education.
Positives: “Tropical Hot Dog Night” will have you looking for the striped light. “Bat Chain Puller” is ‘interesting’ and “Ice Rose” is a great instrumental that gives insight to the whole ‘Beefheart’ thing.
Drawbacks: “Love Lies” is just kinda dead for me. Nothing is perfect, I suppose.
Verdict: The place to start, and if you get songs like “Bat Chain Puller” and “Owed T’Alex” then you’re ready for more.
Random Trivia: There’s allegedly a version of this album, with some different tracks, cut two years before that Frank Zappa’s estate owns the rights to.
Summary: Helmet was a tightly wound band that showcased massive stacatto riffs with crunching rhythms and growling vocals. Hard to believe (after hearing Strap It On) that they were signed to a major label, as their work really couldn’t have been that commercial in the beginning, but here they definitely could have been. This album softened their sound without diminishing their fury, and it showed growth artistically.
Positives: “Wilma’s Rainbow” and “Milquetoast” should have been all over the radio. Alas, not to be. “Biscuits for Smut” shows the growth in the Helmet sound, almost being funky while still packing its punch.
Drawbacks: The second half of the album has some tracks that just seem to be written on auto-pilot, and some of the experiments fall a bit flat.
Verdict: This album shows Helmet as contenders in the “could have been huge, but weren’t” category.
Random Trivia: Page Hamilton was originally a jazz guitarist.
15 Greatest Hits - The James Gang
Summary: Where did Joe Walsh come from? Right here. People know them as a hard-riffing power trio, but many of their songs showcase versatility, and thoughtful lyrics, a far cry from Walsh’s later ‘comedic’ persona.
Positives: Tunes like “The Bomber”, “Funk #48” and “Funk #49” are for the rockers, while deep songs like “Collage”, “Tend My Garden” and “Take A Look Around” demonstrate that Walsh, et. al. weren’t always about being the next Cream.
Drawbacks: “Stop” should have stopped about seven minutes ago.
Verdict: The original albums are ok, but this is the best will and testament for an underrated band.
Random Trivia: Walsh was a replacement for the original guitarist of the group. Glenn Schwartz thought that Pacific Gas and Electric would be bigger – and they did have a solid hit single in “Are You Ready?” but after that no one remembers them or him. Oh, and Kenny Loggins definitely copped “Footloose” from “Funk #49”’s riff. Alas, you can’t copyright a riff.
8-Way Santa - Tad
Summary: Forget Nirvana, THIS is grunge. This is ugly, in your face, pseudo metal, delivered with a snarl and a growl.
Positives: The riffs are as big and unholy as Tad Doyle is (over 400 lbs.), and Doyle has an odd sense of humor as he polishes his backwoods lumberjack image. Songs like “Jinx”, “Delinquent” and “Jack Pepsi” should belong in any discussion of the best songs of the Seattle ‘scene’.
Drawbacks: There’s not a lot of variety on the record, and by the end that gets a bit wearing.
Verdict: Put on your flannel shirt and work boots and crank this mother up!
Random Trivia: They got into trouble, big time, twice, with this record. They released this album with a cover photo that the band bought at a garage sale (who sells their family photos at a garage sale, anyway?) and somehow one of the people in the photo found out and sued them. The second incident was the sleeve for the 45 of “Jack Pepsi”, where they misappropriated the Pepsi logo. Oopsy!