“The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” was the Bruce Springsteen’s second album, and his second released in 1973. His first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey”, while great sold extremely poorly. Springsteen built on the epic neo-Dylan-esque poetry of the debut by making a much more musically complex and expansive album. While “Greetings from Asbury Park” was hardly a stripped down all acoustic affair, even its lengthier songs were far more straight forward musically than his follow-up. He added jazz and even carnival music flourishes to “Innocent”, creating not just epic songs but song suites, giving the E street band plenty of room for jamming. The album is only seven songs and four of the seven are over seven minutes long. No other Springsteen boasts this many epic tracks and epic is usually one of the first words used to describe “The Boss”. The amusement park/boardwalk world of Asbury Park so well described by Springsteen on “Greetings”, feels less insular than before with much more at stake. Though “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” is at best a minor Springsteen cut, the 6th other tracks on the album are all winners. The shortest song on the album “The E Street Shuffle” sets the tone, followed by the beautiful “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” one of the Boss’s best and most underrated gems and a farewell kiss to the town that made him. “Kitty’s Back”, “Incident On 57th St.” and album closer “New York City Serenade” in their own way are as tasty as later lengthy Springsteen classics like “Jungleland” and “Backstreets” and their lack of prominence in his catalog make them to perfect deep cuts to go back to- Springsteen’s well of great tracks runs deep. And then there’s my favorite Springsteen cut after “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”. In fact it might just be my favorite song of all tim period. It’s pure exuberance. It make my feel. Every single time. “Rosalita” is Springsteen’s signature song from his early days and remains a permanent fixture for him live and on any hits package.
Though I’m hardly what could be considered a Deadhead, I am a Dead fan. I really am. They have had a tons of influence over the last fifty years, both culturally and politically as well as musically. They have a huge batch of great songs and their live performances and sense of improvisation helped expand the parameters of the rock format. That said, as good as the Dead’s official live albums are, I’m more a studio Dead fan. Blasphemy I know. Of the Dead’s 13 studio albums, I only consider two of them great- “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty”, both released in 1970. And of the two I think that “Beauty” is by far the superior. After going through roots rock and heavy psychedelic phases in the late sixties, the band stripped it down to the basics for both albums, focusing their attention on song writing, and playing the mostly acoustic songs with a country-rock twang while adding beautiful harmonies to the mix ala Crosby, Stills & Nash. The majority of the most well-known Dead songs are found on these two albums. “American Beauty” plays out like a Dead’s Greatest Hits boasting standouts like “Box of Rain”, “Sugar Magnolia”, “Ripple”, “Truckin’” and “Friend of the Devil”. The deeper cuts on the album are all solid as well All three main Dead songwriters (Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir & Phil Lesh) contribute at least one masterpiece each to “American Beauty”. Along with the first two Crosby, Still & Nash (and Young for the 2nd) albums “American Beauty” (and “Workingman’s Dead”) set the standard for late 60’s/early 70’s folk rock, one of the very defining sounds of the era.
Bob Marley had already been recording and releasing ska, rock steady and early reggae tracks in Jamaica, his home country, for the better part of a decade when he recorded “Catch a Fire”, his first U.S. album release. Though he was already a huge star in Jamaica, he was an absolute nobody outside of his home country. “Catch a Fire” and its fellow 1973 album follow-up “Burnin’” were Bob Marley & the Wailers first true band releases. In fact Bob Marley’s name was only added in front of the band to later reissues. In 1973 they were simply ‘The Wailers’ and every person in the band made major contributions to the group effort. Peter Tosh, later a solo reggae star in his own right) both wrote and sang on two of the tracks. Though only the sensual ballad “Stir It Up”, and to a lesser extent “No More Trouble” are known to Marley neophytes, every track on the album is amazing. The songs were either ultra political or pure sex. The two opening cuts, “Concrete Jungle” and “Slave Driver” are two of my favorites in Marley’s entire discography. But most of all, the entire album is even better than the sum of its parts. It’s my favorite reggae album of all time. And it’s still a bit unknown compared to some of his later albums like “Natty Dread” and Exodus” and especially “Legend”. Hear it!
“Ziggy Stardust” was David Bowie’s fifth album. He had been kicking around since 1967, releasing a folk album in the vein of Bob Dylan, followed by “Space Oddity”, where he had a major hit with the title cut, the proto hard rock/heavy metal album “The Man Who Sold the World” and the phenomenal “Hunky Dory” which garnered him his second major hit, the career defining “Changes”. But “Ziggy” was the album that truly took Bowie into the stratosphere. Taking liberally from the glitter rock of T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior”, released the prior year, Bowie kept the heavy guitar rock template of “Man Who Sold the World” and created a new persona in Ziggy, a fey, alien rock star. The is David Bowie gay rumors flew around immediately and Bowie did nothing to quell them, ironically leaving more people to ‘wonder’ about Bowie than even Elton John at the time. America was much more homophobic than the U.K. in the early 70’s so the album wasn’t as big of a hit in America, but time has been very kind to it. It’s hard to find any major music fan who has not at least heard of “Ziggy”. The music on Ziggy” is stylish, epic and riff-tastic. Guitarist Mick Ronson is as prominent as Bowie himself laying down some of the most memorable guitar lines in classic rock with the title cut and “Sufragette City”. Though some of the album is very heavy rock, the ballads play as considerable a role- “Starman” was the big hit, but “Five Years” and the grandiose “Rock N’ Roll Suicide” are also two of Bowie’s best. Rockers “Hang On to Yourself” and “Moonage Daydream” are a pair of great album tracks as well. “Ziggy” is neither the best nor my favorite Bowie album, and he has had so many great and important ones- but in his long and storied career and it perhaps his most defining moment. Through all of his phases and different characters many times the first image in your head when you hear Bowie is Ziggy Stardust.
I will go to my death bed swearing that the great Lynyrd Skynyrd are unfairly maligned and underappreciated, particularly where I live in the northeast. They get tagged as stupid rednecks, or even worse, as ‘racists’, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Musically they are often lumped in with the current annoying ‘big hat’ cookie-cutter country music and defined by their two great but overplayed and omnipresent signature songs “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. After the death of three members of the band in 1977, including their great frontman and chief songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, in a plane crash, the band soldiers on to this day with a far more than bastardized version of the band that plays strictly to the red state, Nascar crowd, while tarnishing the band’s legacy. But here’s the deal. During Ronnie Van Zant’s stint with the band, Skynyrd released five studio albums. All five were great and three of them were southern rock classics. Their first album, “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-erd” was note perfect, every song memorable and at least half of them rock n’ roll classics. “Pronounced” defines southern rock as a genre, Lynyrd Skynyrd as a band, and is the best southern rock album ever recorded- and that includes the “Allman Brothers”. In addition to the still-great “Free Bird”, the album contains Skynyrd classics and classic rock radio staples, the boogie rave-up “Gimme Three Steps”, and the two gorgeous ballads “Simple Man” and “Tuesday’s Gone”. Lesser known “I Ain’t the One” and “Poison Whiskey” are two other standouts. Guitarists Allen Rossington and Gary Collins were also heavily involved in writing the album, at least from a musical standpoint and Skynyrd’s three electric guitar attack (along with third guitarist Ed King) gave them their signature sound, but Van Zant’s writing is sharp as a tack. He is one of the underrated writers, vocalists and frontman of the 70’s. His swagger and unique drawl set him apart. Skynyrd could never be the same without him. Despite their other artistic and commercial successes later in the decade, Skynyrd would never top their debut. They were already fully formed by the time of their debut album, and left the world too soon.
After 1975’s “Born to Run” made Springsteen a star and a household he did an about face with 1978’s “Darkness On the Edge of Town”. “Born to Run” found Springsteen’s characters on the precipice of adulthood, and wanting to break out of their home town, pining for freedom. “Darkness” shows them as full blown adults with all of the responsibilities that entails, resigned to their small towns and blue collar jobs. Though some of the tracks show a longing to escape the lower middle class dread, where “Born to Run” was exuberant, “Darkness” is dreary and pessimistic. That’s not to say that the album doesn’t also have hair raising anthems. “Badlands”, “Promised Land”, and “Prove It All Night” are catchy tracks that have all seen their time on the radio and “Candy’s Room” is one of my favorite Springsteen deep cuts. Centerpiece “Racing In the Street” as well as album tracks “Streets Of Fire” and “Factory” are all integral to the album as well. The only misstep for me is “Adam Raised A Cain” The album closing title track encapsulates the sense of dread that many lower middle class workers had just before the dawn of “Morning in America” which would make most of their situations even worse. It’s a cut that really defines the vibe of the whole “Darkness” album. Springsteen may just be the John Steinbeck of his generation- providing a window into the lives of society’s losers and malcontents and finding empathy in their everyday struggles.
Along with the Cars debut, and the first three Elvis Costello albums, Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” really defines late 70’s New Wave for me. Blondie was born out of the lower east side, CBGB’s punk scene. Though their first two albums had also combined punk, pop, girl-group and 50’s rock n’ roll, and they had some minor hits on each album, “Parallel Lines” is where their sound really came together. Established pop music producer Mike Chapman helped the band hone all of their great ideas into a perfect pop-punk package. Blondie image and attitude remained, but now their songs were polished enough for the radio, and with sex bomb Debbie Harry at lead vocals they were ready to take over the world. Songs like “One Way or Another”, “Sunday Girl” and their cover of the Nerves “Hanging On the Telephone” became instant New Wave classics, but some of the album cuts were just as good including “Picture This”, the kiss-off “Just Go Away”, and the hauntingly beautiful “Fade Away and Radiate”. But what really took the album over the top was the #1 disco hit “Heart of Glass”, which still sounds great today even after massive oversaturation. Blondie would go on to record great music, breaking ground with a reggae cover “The Tide is High” and becoming the first white group to have a hit with a rap song- “Rapture”, but they would never come close to reaching the quality of “Parallel Lines” again. It’s an album without a dull moment or misstep.
A mixture of punk rock, UK pub rock, and New Wave, “My Aim Is True” is a genius debut- one of the best debut albums in rock history. It’s much more musically varied than most of the punk music of the time, owing as much to fifties rock n’ roll and to folk-rock music as it does to punk or New Wave. But even in the acoustic songs Costello’s snarl and acerbic wit were pure punk rock attitude. “My Aim is True” sounds very different from the rest of Costello’s 70’s and early 80’s output, as he was backed by the band Clover (which later became Huey Lewis and the News) rather than the great Attractions as with most of his later albums. Clover does a more than credible job even if they aren’t quite able to reach the heights of his later band. Costello’s signature song “Alison” is here, along with other classics like “Watching the Detectives”, “Less Than Zero”, “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” and “Welcome to the Working Week”. Though Costello would get much more musically sophisticated with later release, dabbling in just about every genre of music even indirectly related to rock, his talent and vision were quite apparent from the get go. “My Aim Is True” is still one of his best albums and one of the best and most important debuts in rock and punk history.
The Stooges only released three proper studio albums during the first life of the band. 1969’s self-titled debut was very possibly the first true punk rock record ever released. 1973’s great “Raw Power” was a huge influence on both the nascent NYC CBGB’s scene and the U.K. scene started by the Damned, Clash & Sex Pistols, but it was an almost entirely different band from the original. “Funhouse”, the Stooges 2nd album, was where they got everything pretty much perfect. The shoddily recorded garage rock of the debut was beefed up considerably for “Funhouse”. While the debut had its share of classic tunes, “Funhouse” is much more consistent. Even its sprawling free jazz noise experiment “L.A. Blues” serves a purpose, unlike the debut’s aimless and pointless 10+ minute “We Will Fall”. The Stooges were fronted by the immortal Iggy Pop (then Iggy Stooge)- Iggy was pure angst and nihilism, completely raw and intense. He railed against the straights & the hippies in almost equal measure and set the prototype for all punk, hardcore & grunge that came after him. As rudimentary as the band’s musicianship was, the Stooges possessed sex, swagger & swing and absolutely obliterated their instruments onstage and in the studio. They were never boring and certainly not for the faint of heart. “Down In the Street”, “Loose”, “TV Eye” and “1970” still sound dangerous today and are all proto-punk classics. Before the Ramones, the Stooges were the band who made music so dumb that it was smart. But where the Ramones came off as cartoony, the Stooges sounded like a pack of drugged-out cavemen who were coming to take your daughter. The rock n’ roll your grandparents warned your parents about.
*Album not available via iTunes
In my opinion the birth of Heavy Metal was Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut album, but “Paranoid”, their 2nd album released later the same year is where Sabbath perfected it. Much fuss has been made about who released the first Metal song/or album. Was it Steppenwolf? Vanilla Fudge? Blue Cheer? Led Zeppelin? All of them and more released songs that could be metal prototypes, but no one but Sabbath captured it all- the cryptic lyrics, the spooky, bottom-heavy bass, the desperate, overdramatic wailing of singer Ozzy Osbourne, and the satanic imagery- all would set the template for the genre. “Paranoid” was not only their best, but their best selling and most popular album. Their two signature songs “Iron Man” and “Paranoid” are here, as is the great “War Pigs”,- just these three tracks alone encompass some of the most recognizable riffs in metal history. The freaky, bugged out psychedelic ballad “Planet Caravan” rounds out the first side. Side two is one long, scary ass, brilliant song suite- “Electric Funeral” into “Hand Of Doom” into “Rat Salad” into “Fairies Wear Boots”. Heavy Metal’s answer to Side 2 of “Abbey Road”. Sabbath’s concerns about war, hard drugs and the squelching of the masses by the politically powerful are overlooked in favor of their demonic imagery. This was a band that despite their critical lambasting at the time, had something to say. Their gloomy outlook meshed perfectly with the pounding bass and metallic crunch of their music and was tailor-made for a group of pissed off, dispossessed group of rock fans who were sick to death of listening to hippie-dippy crap.
Buy Paranoid – Dazed and Confused (Motion Picture Soundtrack)
*Track not available via Amazon
Hand Of Doom
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