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Michael Jackson had released a handful of solo albums throughout the seventies along tons of material with his brothers in the Jackson 5- later called the Jacksons, but 1979’s “Off the Wall” was his first truly noteworthy solo album and it turned Jackson from a well-known entertainer into a full blown superstar. Though 1982’s “Thriller” is the better selling and more well known album, I actually think “Off the Wall” is better. It may just be the first post-disco album. Though nearly every song on the album could fit right into a disco playlist, the music on the album seems beyond the format, and did a good deal to help bring dance music into the new decade. Jackson and producer Quincy Jones combine disco’s dancebeats with lite-funk, soft rock and smooth soul ballads- all later predominant sounds in early 80’s R&B. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, “Off the Wall” and “Rock With You” are the classic cuts but “Working Day & Night”, “Get On the Floor” and “She’s Out Of My Life” are dark horses as well. Put this album on at a party and there will be no one left on the couch- it’s the best dance music Jackson ever made.
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79. BRIAN ENO- HERE COME THE WARM JETS (1974)
Buy Here Come the Warm Jets – Brian Eno
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“Here Come the Warm Jets” is Brian Eno’s first solo album after his brief stint in the progressive glam-rock band Roxy Music. “Jets” still carries a fair bit of a glam hangover and it’s the most unabashed Pop album that Eno has ever made (as an artist, not counting as a producer). But Eno being Eno his ‘pop’ is more experimental that most other bands get in their lifetime If you are new to Eno’s music the vast variety of material in his catalog can be overwhelming, therefore “Here Come the Warm Jets” is a great entry point as it is still mostly steeped in pop & rock music. Album opener “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” is an adrenaline rush and was even used in promos for the 90’s film “The Velvet Goldmine”, a fictional look at the U.K. Glam Rock scene in the 70’s. Along with the amazing title cut and the poppy “Baby’s On Fire” you have three of the best tracks Eno ever recorded. Brian Eno would go on to produce albums by Devo, Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2, Coldplay & the “No New York” compilation just to name a few and it’s strange to think that in 1974 he was still relatively unknown. If you take his work in Roxy Music, his solo work, all of his productions & later collaborations with David Byrne of the Talking Heads you could argue that he is the most important and prolific contributor to popular music of the last 40 years.
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78. DAVID BOWIE- LOW (1977)
Buy Low (Remastered) – David Bowie
“Low” is the first and I’d say best of Bowie’s “Berlin” trilogy- a series of albums produced by Brian Eno that he recorded in Berlin, Germany while living with Iggy Pop. All three of those artists rubbed off on one another. Bowie experimented more than ever before, delving into the ambient sounds that Eno was currently exploring as well as German Krautrock groups like Can & Faust and the pre-techno music of fellow Germans Kraftwerk. In turn Bowie brought Brian Eno’s wildly experimental music more mainstream exposure and commercial acceptance. Bowie would end up producing Iggy’s best two solo albums “Lust for Life” & “The Idiot”- both albums just narrowly missed placing on this list. “Low” is divided into two parts. The first side is made up of short vocal tracks, angular in composition and heavily influenced by punk, but in attitude more than actual sound. The second half is even more Eno-inspired consisting of long instrumental tracks, less intense and more ambient than the first songs with only a limited connection to rock music whatsoever. It was a bold move even for Bowie who was never afraid to bend the rules. It is not too much an overstatement to call “Low” (released in January of ’77) the first post-punk record paving the way for other bands to move away from the hard driving, fast and loud punk to dynamic and atmospheric sounds. Though you’ll find neither on “ChangesOneBowie”, Bowie’s oft played greatest hits album, tracks like “Sound & Vision” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car” are two of the very best in his catalog.
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77. PINK FLOYD- ANIMALS (1977)
Buy Animals (Remastered) – Pink Floyd
I remember playing this album for a friend in high school late at night and it scared the crap out of him. Out of all of Floyd’s seventies album, “Animals” is their least accessible and downright strangest album. All three songs over ten minutes with the exception of the brief intro and outro and none come close to resembling the structure of a pop song. Inspired by the novel “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, Pink Floyd bassist and writer Roger Waters broke human society down into three groups- pigs, dogs and sheep- the aristocracy who rule over the masses, the law enforcement who carry out the dirty work for the aristocracy, and the masses who blindly follow the aristocracy’s leadership and rules. The music is dark and foreboding and the lyrics are as eye opening as they are depressing- much like Orwell’s novels. In many ways “Animals” is a perfect record, just not an easy one to get into. If you already love “Dark Side of the Moon”, “The Wall” and “Wish You Were Here” and want to dig a bit deeper, by all means do. “Animals” is an album which surprises and rewards in spades and you will never be bored with it. That said it is anything but an ideal entry point for Floyd neophytes. Newbies should start with one of the aforementioned album and make their way through all of them first. “Animals” would likely be found too inscrutable without the proper context of the band’s more popular work.
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76. GEORGE HARRISON- ALL THINGS MUST PASS (1970)
Buy All Things Must Pass (30th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] – George Harrison
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George Harrison was insanely talented. He just happened to be in the same band as two of the most talented writers of the twentieth century who had already formed a writing partnership before Harrison had even joined the band. Despite Harrison’s 3rd guy status in the Beatles he managed to come up with enduring Beatles classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Here Comes the Sun”, “Something” and lesser known but still amazing cuts like “If I Needed Someone”, “Savoy Truffle”, “Love You Too” and “I Want to Tell You”. Bottom line is that if Harrison could write those songs, he must have had a stockpile of other great tracks in his cupboard just waiting to be heard. His first solo album after the breakup of the Beatles “All Things Must Pass”, released in late 1970 is proof positive that was indeed the case. “Pass” is a sprawling double album. The first three (album) sides are filled songs of intense beauty. The final side is kind of a dud- it consists of long jams with famous musician friends of Harrison’s like Eric Clapton and various members of Delaney & Bonnie. “My Sweet Lord” was the big radio hit, but other tracks like “What Is Life” (used to great effect in the movie “Goodfellas”), “I’d Have You Anytime” and “Isn’t It a Pity” are so good that they rank up there with the Beatles best work. Distancing Harrison from his former bandmates allows one to see his greatness. Besides the wonderful songwriting, Harrison has a signature guitar sound. Though he is often left out of the “World’s Greatest Guitarists of all time” discussions, when I hear his guitar I know it’s him before the words ever start. It’s almost unbelievable that a Beatle could be called underrated. But I think Harrison is. This album is exhibit A.
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A true shining light in experimental and avant garde music, Germany’s Can released a series of albums beginning with 1969’s “Monster Movie” and ending at least with 1974’s “Future Days” which would create and help define the German Krautrock movement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krautrock). Though they would release many more albums past ’74, their first albums are widely regarded as their best and most important and their 1972 album “Ege Bamyasi”- right in the middle of that run was the best of the lot. The tracks on “Ege” are both more spare and funkier than on their previous releases, even though their are still two tracks over ten minutes. That’s just how Can rolls. Can was so eclectic and far reaching that they would go on to influence groups as disparate as the early synth-punk of Suicide, the worldbeat, indie-prog of Public Image Limited, the space-age bachelor bad music of Stereolab and the thudding post-punk of the Fall among many more. Other Kraut bands like Neu and Faust are also very worthy of your listening but Can still towers above the scene and “Ege Bamyasi” is a great entry point for anyone who wants to hear what they are all about.
*Track not available via Amazon
Sing Swan Sung *track not available via iTunes or Amazon
74. MARVIN GAYE- LET’S GET IT ON (1973)
Buy Let’s Get It On (Deluxe Edition) – Marvin Gaye
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Even more than anything by Barry White or Al Green, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” is the ultimate sex album. After completely changing the soul music landscape and the way the entire Motown label marketed its music with 1971’s “What’s Going On”- one of the ultimate political albums of all time, for his follow-up Gaye turned his subjects toward matters of the heart and bedroom. Everyone knows the title cut, though overplayed for sure, it’s still one of the most enduring tracks in Gaye’s discography and in the canon of soul music at large. Other than “Let’s Get It On” the hits on the album are few and far between. It’s an album made up of slow jams filled with sexual innuendo, come-ons and pleading- a mixture of both love and lust which mirrors the best human relationships. Though several tracks can surely stand on their own the album is best listened to as a whole. At night. In bed. Not alone.
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73. THE TALKING HEADS- MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD (1978)
Buy More Songs About Buildings and Food (Remastered) – Talking Heads
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“More Songs” was the follow-up album to the Talking Heads brilliant debut album “77”- a nod and a wink to all of those second albums made up of song scraps from the first. But unlike the first album, “More” was produced by wunderkind Brian Eno who streamlined the group’s sound, focusing more on the bands rhythm that the song writing. As a result the flows better and is much more cohesive than the debut even if fewer songs stand out. That said tracks like “Warning Sign”, “I’m Not In Love”, the Al Green cover “Take Me To The River” and especially the profound “The Big Country” are some of the best Talking Heads songs ever, which shows how great the debut was to have even more. The first five Talking Heads albums are all fantastic (not even counting their two great live albums) and “More Songs” brought the band one more step away from their minimalist punk-ish beginnings at CBGB and toward the afro-pop influenced, funkier and more danceable later albums.
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72. PATTI SMITH- HORSES (1975)
Buy Horses (Legacy Edition) – Patti Smith
Though Patti Smith was very much a part of the CBGB’s early punk scene, she (and especially her first album “Horses”) also seems to exist in a vacuum. “Horses” was released in 1975, before nearly all of the other CB’s artists first albums. Even before the Ramones debut which was released a year later. The music on “Horses” was played in the amateurish Nuggets style of 60’s garage rock but it sounded absolutely nothing like the metallic crunch of most other early punk. Many of the songs were epic jams rather than short blasts of fury. Patti herself was pretty much unprecedented in the music industry. Though she had her own singular style she was nowhere close to the standard definition of pretty or feminine and her vocals were just as off the beaten path. She was a poet who fashioned her writing after 60’s rocker Jim Morrison as well as French symbolists like Rimbaud. She would go on to have a long, interesting career and would release other important and excellent albums and songs- most of them during the latter part of the seventies- but “Horses” still reigns supreme over the rest of her work. Patti and “Horses” itself would go on to influence countless feminist artists in the ensuing decades no one would ever sound like her. “Horses” is a true original.
Buy Gloria – Horses
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Rod the Mod had been kicking around since the mid to late sixties. He had sung lead vocals on the Jeff Beck album “Truth”, had two very good but under-heard solo albums under his belt and was currently the lead singer in the band the Faces, a Stonesy, bluesy, loose band made of pure rock n’ roll fun . Rod had already built a nice resume for himself, but in 1971 Stewart’s ship truly came in with the “Every Picture Tells a Story” album (*not to mention the Faces best album “A Nod Is As Good as a Wink to a Horse” was also released the same year). “Picture” was a phenomenon and would make Stewart one of the biggest stars in rock n’ roll. The now standard, and huge pop hit “Maggie May” was the biggest reason for the album’s success but every track on the album is a gem. The Tim Hardin cover “Reason to Believe” and Stewart’s own “Mandolin Wind” were two other lovely ballads and the Temptations cover “( I Know) I’m Losing You rocks the house down as much as any Faces cut. The un-politically correct title track is 6 minutes of loose, fun story-song and to me encapsulates the very essence of rock n’ roll music. It may just be my favorite Rod Stewart recording. Stewart would go on to even more commercial success throughout the seventies but his material became less and less rewarding with each passing year. He would get even cheesier in the eighties only to move into the seemingly inevitable big band covers albums in the last decade. A true fall from grace from a past legend. If you only know him from his later stuff you must check out the original.
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