Monday, August 29, 2011

The Year That Was: Gas Tank Edition Part 3 - 1983

This one took awhile because in addition to my duties as a spouse, parent and working stiff, I realized I hadn’t listened to many of these albums in several years, so decided I should give them each a proper spin to make sure the way I once felt is how I still feel. That takes time, kids, but we got there, you and I, together…

So, 1983, with the wake of punk and post punk still chopping the waters as the New Wave began to peak, the Top 40 airwaves were definitely filled with a lot of interesting music, and loads of infamous one hit wonders were born, made their mark on the musical express and then faded into obscurity. And while a lot of that music was just weird, throwaway fun in a time of lip gloss, hairspray and cut up, layered t-shirts, there were still tons of artists putting out music that, while not always mainstream headliners, have withstood the test of time far better than, I dunno, Romeo Void?

And some went on to be super-duper-stars.

Let’s dive in…

Def Leppard

Def Leppard – Pyromania: Def Leppard doesn’t get enough cred as being a good band; a popular band, sure, but not a good one. Their first three efforts, before all that uber mainstream hysteria (ha, ha, get it?), were a steady progression of solid writing and stellar playing, delivering the hard rockin’ goods with a punk edge and tons of catchy hooks, memorable melodies and smokin’ solos. Pyromania is not only the zenith of these three albums, but arguably the best of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal because it incorporates not only the heavy riffs and gritty attitude of similar acts like Tygers of Pan Tang or Girlschool (who?), but also a flair of the more teen popular New Wave that was glamming up the charts at the same time. Yet instead of dulling the edge, this only hones it to perfection, which is apparent not only on the three classic hits from the album (Photograph, Rock of Ages, Foolin’) but on the album cuts as well (Too Late for Love, Die Hard the Hunter, etc). If your mom only lets you have one Def Leppard album, let it be this one (or On Through the Night).

Echo and the Bunnymen – Porcupine: EatB’s progression from dark post punk to dark pop was a bit of a slow one and Porcupine is the last that I would fit easily into the former category. While it contains an alt pop mainstay in The Cutter, that song is still several guitar slashes away from The Killing Moon, Bring on the Dancing Horses or Lips Like Sugar. Having heard those well known 120 Minutes staples first, I’m still amazed by the frenetic majesty of their early material, and if Crocodiles weren’t such a flat out unstoppable album, Porcupine might be the best thing they ever did. It’s brooding, cocky, emotive and beautiful in a very eclectic way. Ian McCulloch’s delivery is fierce as he snarls and sputters his way through The Back of Love and Heads Will Roll, to the point of almost feeling the spittle through the speakers. And the music is visceral, a bit frightening and so inspired that to dissect the parts making the whole, you almost wonder how they can come together into a cohesive song. Such is the brilliance.


U2 – War: Here is where U2 began their ascent to the stratosphere while still hovering within “alternative” circuits, and deservedly so with singles like New Years Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday. About half the album is just as good (Seconds, Like a Song). But side two wallows in sappy, derivative “songs o’ the times” that are little more than New Wave filler, and while more interesting than many contemporaries (hey The Alarm, you suck!), are far below U2 standards (well, at the time anyway). Having said that, this is the album that spawned the tour that gave us Live: Under a Blood Red Sky (the greatest live album of all time), so for that alone it’s worthy of a listen.

Tears for Fears – The Hurting: What grabbed me about Tears for Fears when I revisited this album was really how different all of their albums are (you know, all six of them). Of course having said that, I’m not overly familiar with much after Big Chair until their comeback from a few years ago, but what I’ve heard makes me feel like my statement is reasonably valid. Anyway, The Hurting is very classic alternative in sound, even textbook so (however, TfF are writing the textbook, not studying from it), with all the essential elements of chiming guitars, big drums and impassioned vocals/lyrics. It’s a wonder that its cult standing is still limited even within nostalgic alt circles. There’s enough post punk to give it edge and enough gloss to make it late night dreamy (though not mainstream maudlin), but the real draw here is the vocal performances from Orzabal and Smith - especially the latter, who has always impressed me by how much emotion he puts into songs he didn’t write. And there is certainly some heavy subject matter within, namely the physical, emotional and psychological hardships that can be associated with childhood. And when hit with this understanding, songs like Pale Shelter, Watch Me Bleed and the title track suddenly drip with a new and devastating poignancy. To be honest, at times it’s a record that sounds a bit sterile thanks to telling 80s production, but the warmth of the vocal delivery draws you in with an apt sincerity that makes The Hurting sparkle like a much overlooked gem in the furor of New Wave (and yet it almost tanks in comparison to Big Chair, one of the top 10 albums of the 80s).

REM – Murmur: The greatest album ever. Go here for my rambling reasons why.

Minor Threat

Minor Threat – Out of Step: When I was 18, Minor Threat spoke to me and for me. You could put on one of their records, go berserk for five minutes (literally in some cases) and at the end feel better for it. Every kid I knew that was fed up with the “status quo” ideals from music to social norms found (and lost) themselves in a Minor Threat record. Their only proper album, Out of Step shows the group expanding their sound from the quick burst confines of minute long, thrashed out diatribes (no one on the planet can rant like Ian MacKaye), to an ever so slightly more “pop” convention. What hadn’t changed one bit, and what makes Out of Step as vital as all their material, is the fueled up on rage delivery, which doesn’t let up for a moment and, again, spoke to thousands of disaffected teenagers 30 years ago as it still does today.

The Church – Séance: I’ll just come out and say that, aside from the rather pointless covers album A Box of Birds, this is the weakest offering in the Church’s entire catalog. Why? Drum sound. Are they electronic? Are they so processed that they sound electronic? I dunno. I’m sure in 1983, and for a couple years after, they sounded fresh and appealing. Nearly 30 years on they’re almost embarrassing, with fills sounding more like machine gun or artillery fire than snares and toms, which would probably work great for a Nitzer Ebb song, but make these pop rock numbers sound stiff and dated. And that’s a shame because Séance offers a really strong set of songs, from the ominous openings of Fly to the wispy lullaby of it doesn’t change. Honestly, these tunes are good enough to get past the poor choice of drum production, and even if it’s a bit of a hiccup between the Blurred Crusade and Remote Luxury, it’s a pleasant one.

Big Country – The Crossing: Go here for my review on this album from a couple of years ago.

New Order

New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies: I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of New Order’s 80s albums, feeling they were more of a singles band, and especially so in their heyday. A big exception is Power, Corruption and Lies. For all intents and purposes this is “dance punk,” with the band finally beginning to shed the dark skin of Joy Division and step into the glimmering light of electronic and dance music, and yet approaching both with the same unconventional “our way” technique as their previous band (btw, Technique is the other fantastic 80s NO album). No other record sounds like PC&L, by them or anyone else, and its detached, cryptic and yet invigoratingly catchy attack essentially paved the way for literally hundreds, even thousands, of albums since, from Madonna to the Killers. Oh, and the US version has Blue Monday on it, so…how does that feel?

Police – Synchronicity: After the sterile bleh of Ghost in the Machine, what happened next with these guys could have been anything…and thankfully it was a great leap upward as Sting and Co produced arguably the greatest album of their career (and I’m not saying it is), pulling out all the stops with classic songs (both singles and album cuts) and a fantastic production that certainly sounds “with it” and yet in no way glossy, watered down or dated nearly 30 years after the fact. Given the volatile internal state of the band, this is likely the best they could have ever done without the music suffering, with just enough ego prodding and thumb flipping to push everyone to their maximum potential and produce one of the greatest swan songs in rock music. Still, one wonders what the songs from Dream of the Blue Turtles would have been like with Andy and Stewart on board…


Yaz(oo) – You and Me Both: The second and final album from this synth pop duo is more of the same from their debut, though sounds richer and fuller overall, and benefits from a warmer production. Splitting songwriting duties is a good guarantee that each tune will be top notch, and truthfully most all of them are, especially since Vince Clarke has managed to shed the Depeche Mode 2.0 feel that his contributions had on the debut. This is Casio pop, so naturally it’s a bit dated sounding, but the slower numbers and ballads still hold up rather well today (since retro 80s is still hanging on with the kids, some songs almost sound contemporary), yet one simply can’t deny the infectious shake of Sweet Thing or Walk Away from Love, even if the synth leads bring on a giggle. Of course the focal point to all of this is Alf’s voice, a “back then” version of Adele before she was even a glimmer, and about 100 times more expressive. Look no further than every song on this album for proof of that.

Brian Eno – Apollo: With “pop” music now several years behind him, Eno was further pioneering the ambient music for which he is most known and revered. Apollo originally began as a soundtrack to a film on the NASA program of the same name, and while that did come together to a certain extent, the songs work well as a proper album within their own context. Layered textures, subtle melodies, treated instruments that sound unlike themselves, or overblown versions of themselves, create a landscape that works like a concept album open to the imagination. Under the right setting - at night, still, no distractions - this music conveys a sensation of vibrant weightlessness, an opportunity for outer (and inner) discovery, where you take what you need and leave the rest behind. It’s a true classic of the genre, and an excellent starting place for anyone interested in exploring the invasive non-intrusion of ambient music.

Bauhaus – Burning from the Inside: The last Bauhaus record for over two decades is an uneven and yet ultimately rewarding affair. With the exception of their debut (which is almost completely unlistenable), all of their albums offer loads of tasty morsels with their quirky often morose take on post punk, by blending elements of rock, reggae, dub, jazz and even spoken word into a concoction that is immediately everything at once and yet consistently Bauhaus. With Burning from the Inside, much of the best bits of the past are brought to the fore, from the slinky bass of She’s in Parties to the acidic bite of Antonin Artraud. And yet from there things get both interesting and disjointed. With vocalist Peter Murphy out due to illness for much of the writing and recording, the threesome who would eventually become Love & Rockets guided the ship into territories that, while not wholly unfamiliar to Bauhaus, carry a uniqueness that is obviously more flavored by the individual writing any one particular song than a full band, democratic effort. And while everything here is enjoyable, much of it even vital, when all brought together, it makes for a rather hodgepodge batch of songs that do not flow as well as the dark pop of Mask or the thematic experimentation of The Sky’s Gone Out. Regardless, the merits outweigh the weaknesses, and Burning from the Inside remains a much overlooked classic in the alternative world.

Depeche Mode – Construction Time Again: Depeche Mode went through a lot of personnel changes early on, finally solidifying things for the next 15 years by Construction Time Again. This is the second album with Martin L. Gore firmly at the helm, guiding them further into the Casio gloom that truly began on A Broken Frame. But while that album was a minor masterpiece of understated synth pop held together with a brooding almost sinister atmosphere, Construction Time Again seems to lack any form of direction or cohesiveness, simply spinning as a collection of songs that are sometimes fantastic (Everything Counts) but more often forgettable. There are some nice moments, but it’s the least essential album pre-Violator, possibly of their entire career.

The Chameleons

The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge: No one else ever quite sounded like the Chameleons. This is another band that was so unbelievably important to me at one stage in my life, to the point that it’s hard for me to say…well, anything. Nearly a decade before shoegaze and in the midst of the angular irregularities of post punk, these guys were putting out melodic, sweeping guitar music that was both of its time and yet decidedly of itself; so delicately heavy, so joyfully morose, that it was a painful pleasure to listen to them (pun intended). Mark Burgess sings from the heart, baring his soul, making you feel it in the gut, but in a way that makes you feel like it’s all ok, just part of the big picture. And big is certainly the word, because the guitar-scapes painted by Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding are intricate and broad, tying everything together as it spreads wider and wider. But the real key here is top notch songwriting, with any one song as brilliant as any other, and when all ingredients are provided, it’s really a flawless album.

Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones: With 1980’s transitional Heartattack and Vine, Tom Waits discarded the final layers of his soulful, late night balladry and opened the door for his musical eccentricities to take root and run rampant. And that’s exactly what happened. As his next proper offering, Swordfishtrombones is considered by many to be the (and is certainly a) definitive Tom Waits (mach 2) album. Without a doubt it sets a precedent and standard against everything he’s released since, and while in his wild wanderings he’s hit the same heights, it would be a tough argument to say he’s overly surpassed the weird majesty of these 15 songs. Though the songwriting itself is fairly straightforward, even simplistic at times, it’s approached in a stripped down, unorthodox manner, with (for “rock music”) unconventional instruments taking the place of your normal guitar/bass/drums. And yet as out there as things can get, Swordfishtrombones is a highly approachable album. Tom’s characters are as real as ever and, as always, that distinct, gravely croon can produce some of the most haunting melodies you’d ever wish to hear again. As a starting point for all the hype and everything he’s been delivering for the past three decades, Swordfishtrombones is the one to pick up.

Duran Duran – Seven and the Ragged Tiger: Riding the crest of the new wave to its fullest potential, the last album from the classic line up (for over two decades at least) is a (somewhat) noticeably weaker effort than the debut and Rio, which has a little to do with the songs (not sure if I’m just tired of the Reflex or if it’s really not all that) but more to do with overproduction, as most of these numbers are rather mired in a swamp of telling 80s gloss. This is most evident on the singles, though New Moon on Monday shines anyway. This leaves a lot of pressure on the album tracks, which for the most part hold up admirably, especially Cracks in the Pavement, Shadows on Your Side (top 5 DD songs ever) and the “dual title track” The Seventh Stranger and Tiger Tiger. And this album is by no means a disappointment, it’s just not the debut or Rio, and you can’t hit a grand slam every time you get up to bat.

Metallica – Kill ‘Em All: Once upon a time Metallica was, well, worthy of their name. The proof is in their first three albums, the debut of which might be the best (really, it’s a toss up). The precedent for all things thrash, these guys took “classic” metal and punk and welded them together into something that was both heavy and fast. Tough and fearless, they played with a ferocity that was equally apparent in their lyrics, but not (necessarily) out of vindictiveness, spite or rage, but for the fun of it, because they could, and because the outcome was great. But it’s more than that. Kill ‘Em All is equally about precision, with calculated riffs, fills and solos that are more than just banging around, but sharpened to a razor’s edge, making them more accurate to the kill and truly something to marvel at. Plus, with titles like The Four Horsemen, No Remorse and Seek & Destroy, you know these guys aren’t playing around, and for anyone who enjoys fast, heavy music played well, this is your stop.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stains On a Decade '04

Well, looking back, 2004 was a pretty big year in music for me, from old favorites coming out with something new, to me branching out and trying something new to me. Here are some mentionable moments in no particular order.

John Frusciante – Shadows Collide with People: Upon hearing John F’s solo material, it’s pretty obvious to me that a big part of the hit formula for the Red Hot Chili Peppers the past decade or so as been his input. John has a way with a chord progression and a melody, and of all his albums (which are all worth checking out) this is where the rock, the pop and the soul mesh the finest. Tenderness, rage, regret and self-deprecation are just some of the lyrical and emotional traits found here…and then there are the solos.

Magnetic Fields – i: After the megalithic release of 69 Love Songs, it was only natural for Stephin Merritt and Co to scale things down; but this was only in song output, not in quality. The theme of “i” is the letter “i,” as all song titles start with this letter and most are in the first person. Per usual, the prevailing topic is relationships – good, bad and indifferent – and Merritt’s wit has never been sharper, his melodies more lovely or the instrumentation so satisfying; from baroque pop to synth dance, most all the bases are covered in the lo-fi pixie dust of the Magnetic Fields. It’s still their best effort to date.

Morrissey – You are the Quarry: Traditionally I’m not a Moz solo fan, though a couple of albums in the early 90s were (begrudging) favorites. That changed with the release of “comeback” single Irish Heart, English Blood, which I thought was catchy, muscular and worth picking up. I enjoyed the b-sides so much that I purchased the album too. At best, You are the Quarry is a return to form, hearkening the more straightforward “rockin’” of his heyday outings like Your Arsenal or Vauxhaul and I. At worst, there’s a bit of indulgence here, and pompous ego self-stroking, as if the world has been salivating for Moz’s return, and he’s finally condescending himself to do so. As I’ve said before, skip buttons are easy to press.

Regina Spektor – Soviet Kitsch: When I got into Regina’s breakthrough, Begin to Hope, it was only natural to go back and see what she had done before. Basically, Soviet Kitsch is a slightly less polished, more “punk” version of the same. The songs, most all simply her and her piano, are melodic, emotive, quirky and so brutally realistic, that you can easily laugh and then cry within the same three minutes. This is everything that’s great about Begin to Hope only much, much better.

Tears for Fears – Everybody Loves a Happy Ending: Proof that promotion pays off, my wife and I caught them on Letterman one night and bought the album the next day. The best thing about Everybody Loves a Happy Ending is great songwriting, crisp production and a conviction that TfF hadn’t had since Big Chair (not that it’s anything like that album). The worst is that it’s very busy, and sometimes that’s distracting, but in the best moments it only proves that big ambition can still produce great music.

Chris Isaak – Christmas: Eventually every singer/songwriter has to do an XXXmas album. Or so it seems. I really wish Chris Isaak hadn’t. His scatted, word-changing rendition of Rudolf just pisses me off, and it’s about the best thing on there.

Leonard Cohen – Dear Heather: A collection of, mostly, smooth jazz numbers, Cohen spends a lot of time reflecting on his life of love, friends and circumstances, with his nearly sonic I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-bass baritone pushing its way through tender nostalgia, sometimes nothing more than a faint breath while collaborators Anjani Thomas and Sharon Robinson carry the melody. A bit adult contemporary cheese at times, there’s still a lot of heart and the plain speak of Cohen’s earlier work, though without as much of the ironic imagery. It’s a fine latter day offering, one for sultry evenings with a good glass of your favorite bubbly.

Tom Waits – Real Gone: I’ve tried to convince myself in the past that I have to like, even love, every album by my favorite artists. Lately I’m not really buying that, and here is a case in point. While Real Gone’s approach is super great with the human beat box and all, and for that it gets full marks, there are really only a handful of good songs to go with the interesting production…most of which (Day After Tomorrow) don’t even use it. Ah well…

Brian Wilson – Smile: The scattered and various bootleg versions of this are so much better. Not worth the wait. I hated it and want my money back. There, I said it.

REM – Around the Sun: I figured this album would be the next logical step from Reveal, which is a wonderful effort in REM’s post Bill Berry world. Overall, it is. Unfortunately it didn’t work. Basically, the electro-drug had worn off, and while it’s a pleasant listen, Around the Sun is ultimately boring and forgettable.

Interpol – Antics: Another “sophomore slump” by critics’ pen that really isn’t one at all. If anything it’s a mature step forward as the band coalesced and solidified the raw power of the debut into something that is lethal. Evil alone will take your breath away.

PJ Harvey – Uh Huh Her: The follow up to the indie pop of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, this album scales things down to the barest essentials, often nothing more than a guitar, a beat and Polly’s voice. But instead of feeling like sketches or demos, all these songs are full, powerful and quite fulfilling in their minimalist approach. Polly is, as always, in strong voice and her characters are earthy, dark and starkly realistic.

Arcade Fire – Funeral: Like most alt-bands of the past decade, these guys hit hard when they make a connection, and fall far from the mark when they don’t. With Funeral, usually it’s the former, and these songs strike at a level that holds on strong, deep and personal, as the telling and forbidding title suggests. Tunnels is pretty much worth the price of the album, but there are plenty of other gems scattered throughout (until the girl takes lead…ugh). Meanwhile, the lo-fi production makes the power of this album less like a bomb blast and more like a slow wave gradually taking you down – in a good way.

Walkmen – Bows & Arrows: I can’t say I’m overly immersed in this album, but I will say that the Walkmen are about the best live band out there these days, especially for under an Andrew Jackson, and this is the one that pretty much put them on the radar. The Rat is the long-standing hit, and it rocks in a way that no other song has before or since…but then again that’s how these guys roll with every one of their tunes. Get this one first as a foundation, and then jump ahead to You and I. You’ll thank me later.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


JT pointed out earlier that today is Duran Duran Appreciation Day. How or why or wherefore is both unknown and irrelevant, I’m just glad it exists. I can’t express enough the MASSIVE influence of these guys on my childhood as well as my overall development/love for music, but I think it’s safe to say that without them I wouldn’t be where I am now (for better and worse).

I celebrated in my own way (ha, ha!!) with a remix EP of singles from Notorious, one of my favorite and their most underrated albums.

Also, check out a live version of Palomino, my favorite track from their popular (but equally underrated) Big Thing.

Dear U2...

...this is insanity.

But I'd be happy to own it if Bono will give it to me for Christmas.

With love for (most) everything you did pre-1998,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Not music related...

Remember how I plugged myself the other day? Yeah, I hated that too. What I don't hate is plugging someone else. In this case it's our good pal JT, who has recently started up a history blog, Visiting the Tennessee Governors (and Other Adventures).

LinkThere you'll read about his exploits paying respects the graves of all 50 (dead) governors of Tennessee (which isn't nearly as easy as it sounds, but definitely ten times as fun) as well as other outings to presidents' graves, Civil War battlefields and other such things. Since I'm a history dork on top of being a music geek, I'm bound to pop up from time to time, so go check it out and become a friend and a follower.

Monday, August 8, 2011

More Fun with Covers, Cutesy and Dark

I don’t think I’ve made as big of a deal about it here, but anyone who (unfortunately) follows my personal Twitter account gets a reasonably frequent dose concerning my affection for Black Sabbath. (e.g. I probably like Black Sabbath more than I like you.)

Now I am not a diehard fan, focusing pretty much on the Ozzy years and more recently Dio’s early 80s stint, but I’ve heard most of their stuff and found something to appreciate amidst some of the more questionable output. And being a fan of Sabbath, I’m naturally a reasonably big fan of both Ozzy and Dio solo, though again focusing primarily on early/classic output.

So there’s that.

Now I’m going to jump genre ships completely and bring up the Cardigans. Anyone who remembers them at all will likely only know the one song that made them one hit wonders in the mid 90s, Love Fool. And as much fun as that little slice of fluff pop is, it really in no way represents what the band was doing, especially early on. Their first three albums were basically what I would call “lounge punk,” combining elements of pop, jazz and metal into a laid back but engaging blend that sounds really like nothing else before or since (that I’ve heard anyway). The focal point for all of this was Nina Persson, whose cutesy voice and persona made the rather odd mix more immediately attractive; yet her presence was more than just a pretty face to look at, as she was equally part of the creative mystique that made their early albums so interesting.

You may or may not know that Sweden, where the Cardigans are from, is pretty immersed in metal – both dark and heavy. As much as I love Swedish bands of many types, their brand of metal is often way too black and foreboding for me. Anyway, having said that, it’s not really a surprise (at least I don’t think) that the Cardigans would pay tribute by covering some of the masters of metal not only live but on album. They are as follows:

Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Black Sabbath – Iron Man

Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley

So brilliant are the Cardigans with their interpretation of these songs that anyone not familiar with the originals would assume it was just another quirky and cool tune of their own. Likewise, those even well versed in these dark classics would have to catch the occasional vocal melody or guitar lead and say, “Oh, wait a minute…RAWK!!!” Iron Man especially, with that instantly recognizable riff, is so far removed from the Black Sabbath version that it’s almost a completely different song.

This is seriously a wonderful mingling of traditionally opposing genres and, most importantly, what doing a cover should encompass; that is taking the song and completely making it your own. So thanks for this, Cardigans. Or as you would say in Swedish, “Tack!” And look out, kids…Mr. Crowley is done live and a cappella. I KNOW!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shame, shame, shame...

I sorta hate this sort of plug, but my wife suggested I create a Twitter account, so I have. She'll help me with how to code a link from here later (I can barely do this blog, so that type of coding is not happening), but for now you can do a search for gwilt73 and join my legions (lesions) of followers.

Some of you folks whom I know personally I've already started following in hopes of a follow back, but apparently there have been issues with the notifications, so if you're interested, just look me up. And if not that's cool, you're just dead to me. I'm kidding (sorta).

I'll mainly be tweeting my latest posts, but also hope to do an album of the day and maybe a couple of other things, but I promise not to overload your feed with stuff...that's what my personal Twitter account is for. Right, Paul? Paul?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Music

Well, Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, is back again, if briefly, with a new track for the Adult Swim singles series, Weather of a Killing Kind. As many of you know, I pretty much think Matsson is a godsend to contemporary music (with an old school twist) and this offering is just more proof of his worth. Enjoy it again and again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Year That Was: Gas Tank Edition Part 2 - 1976

In 1976 punk was rearing its snarling head, but had yet to make an official release (well, the Damned did with New Rose later in the year), so the worn out heroes that movement was scoffing were still dominating the charts and the airwaves, and in several cases deservedly so. Here are a few...

Bob Dylan – Desire: You can reference my May 24 Dylan post for additional thoughts, but I will add that this is one of Dylan’s strongest and yet most aloof albums of the 70s, and certainly his last “masterpiece” for a good 10+ years. Again, it’s all about album cohesion, and Desire just doesn’t have it. But what it does have is a batch of good songs. Approach it as such and you’ll be fine.

David Bowie – Station to Station: Not so much the “return” as the introduction of the Thin White Duke motif, this is Bowie at his most chic and debonair as he transitions from the white funk and blue eyed soul of Young Americans and begins to incorporate the Kraut Rock influences that would dominate most of his next three albums. It’s smooth, it’s sultry, it’s seductive, it’s definitely one of the five Bowie albums you need.

David Bowie via The Thin White Duke

Heart – Dreamboat Annie: Heart’s debut is a strong one. A fine set of roots-heavy rockers and troubadour folk ballads, the latter generously shows off the acoustic guitar talents of Nancy Wilson, while the whole lot is a backdrop for Ann’s drop dead vocals. But there’s also a concept feel, with songs flowing in and out like little miniature suites and the recurring theme of the title track. And since 2/3 of the “classic rock” radio staples are found here (you’ll know ‘em), this is a good place to start for more of the same, with Sing Child about stealing the whole show.


Kiss – Destroyer: Most any Kiss album from the 70s is worth picking up, but Destroyer might be 1) the one to have (if you only have one*) and 2) the logical place to start for the curious beyond the hits. Why? Well, again, that’s all up to the listener, but song for song you’ve got the best of the singles (Shout It Out Loud, Detroit Rock City) and album tracks (King of the Night Time World, God of Thunder), showcasing everything that is right (and yet wrong) about Kiss, from womanizing to self-posturing, all encased in 3-4 minute fist-raising, sing-along arena anthems.

*Ace Frehley is actually my favorite “Kiss album,” but it’s in fact a solo album and so while it counts, it really doesn’t.

Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny: I respect Priest more than like them, but I really do enjoy their sophomore effort. I think what does it for me is not only the beginnings of the classic Priest sound that gave us metal standards like Hell Bent for Leather and Breaking the Law, but a very prog rock approach with extended instrumental pieces and more theatrical lyrics. Oh, and it’s got The Ripper, JP’s best song ever. EV-ER!!!

Rush – 2112: For Rush as a band, this was the make or break effort after three albums that did little to bring them any success. So why not go out guns blazing with a side one consisting of a 20+ minute, multi-part saga about a futuristic, universal war where the prevailing parties dictate everything citizens do, and the one dreamy-eyed lonely heart who attempts to dissuade them? A real snoozer, right? Wrong. It rules. There’s a reason it’s one of the 1001 albums you must hear before you die, because not only is the title track a masterpiece of epic progressive rock, but side two boasts five tunes that further develop the “standard” rock they initially delivered, yet in a way that is decidedly, distinctively Rush. Basically, 2112 introduced the Rush that became huge, though obscurely so.

Rush (I know, yikes...)

Aerosmith – Rocks: The magic of Toys in the Attic is still potent here, with sleaze-cheese rockers and amped up boogie woogie blues, this is their heaviest album and the one that sticks to your guts. There are a couple of well known hits (Back in the Saddle, Last Child), but the cream of this harvest is the album tracks, most notably Rats in the Cellar, which is about as balls out as you can get, and Sick as a Dog, quite possibly my all time favorite A’smith track. For folks more familiar with their 90s 'wink, wink' posturing, this stuff will make you throw Pump in the trash by the solo for Combination.

AC/DC – Dirty Deeds: As with several of the artists here, picking up any album from the 70s will be a good move. The thing about AC/DC is that they’ve done very little to change their sound in the past 40 years, with each release offering more high energy, blues charged riff rock, full of catchy hooks, amazing solos and sordid lyrics that are more to wink at than to take seriously (sorta). If this is your bag, then you already know what I’m talking about. I waffle back and forth between this one and Highway to Hell (oh, and High Voltage) as a personal favorite (of the Bon Scott era anyway), and really it’s a matter of the collected songs. But aside from the iconic title track and the ever pleasing Big Balls, there are several “lesser known” cuts like Love at First Feel, Problem Child and the borderline apocalyptic Ride On to show that these guys can produce more than just a handful of classic radio anthems.

Tom Waits – Small Change: Waits’ fourth album is the first where he trades his already gravelly croon for the Captain Beefheart turned up to 11 howl/moan that has become one of his distinguishing musical trademarks, as well as one of the most expressive voices in modern music. Small Change is the logical follow up to Nighthawks at the Diner, continuing to incorporate free jazz and skat into his then-signature balladry, and acts as a blueprint for the rest of his 70s output. Darker and more cynical, with themes of isolation, alcoholism and seedy living prevalent, Waits can still be witty with wordplay and tender with matters of the heart, keeping things starkly real and intimate, even at a safe distance from your speakers. Aside from Closing Time, this is the one to have pre-Heartattack and Vine.

Tom Waits

Queen – A Day at the Races: The logical follow up and counterpoint to the wildly successful A Night at the Opera, ADatR proves that Queen still had plenty of campy, theatrical epics in their arsenal, capable of rocking with reckless abandon (Tie Your Mother Down) or tugging your heartstrings until they drip blood (You Take My Breath Away). Of course a good portion of that is Freddie’s voice, but it would only be pleasing and not majestic without some top notch songs to give it range and freedom. Somebody to Love certainly ties it all together, and while White Man and Teo Torriatte can get a bit trite (Brian May, I still love you), You and I and Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’s open spiritedness just make you feel…good.

Scorpions – Virgin Killer: Highly repulsive (original) album cover aside, this is a great record. Though not as commercially familiar or radio long lasting as later hits like Love Drive or Blackout, this is the solidification of the classic Scorpions sound, where the tongue in cheek is clever and not cheesed out and the riffs, hooks and solos sound fresh and inspired even if you hear them after their watered down 80s counterparts. A big part of this is due to lead guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who incorporates a virtuoso ingenuity that, while mimicked following his departure, was never quite the same after.