Buy Let It Be – The Beatles
*Album not available via Amazon
“Let It Be” was the last official studio album release by the most celebrated and in my opinion best band in the history of rock. Actually recorded in early 1969, before “Abbey Road”, the album was released after the official break-up of the band and feels slapped together, with some of the songs sounding unfinished. Producer Phil Spector, hired by John Lennon, after the initial recording, added often unnecessary strings and other embellishments in post-production. That said, the highs on the album deem it worthy of inclusion on this list. The hits are the great 1969 single “Get Back”, the syrupy and melodramatic “The Long and Winding Road” and the now-standard ballad “Let It Be”, one of the Beatles most popular songs. But John Lennon’s amazing “Across the Universe”, the soulful and wrenching “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Two Of Us”, which shows Lennon and McCartney working and singing together like old times, are even better. Not the best Beatles album for sure but a necessary one.
Buy Across the Universe – Let It Be
*Track not available via Amazon
Buy I’ve Got a Feeling – Let It Be
*Track not available via Amazon
After three very obscure albums, a left-field worldwide smash hit song “Autobahn” and its accompanying album, and then the follow-up “Radioactivity”, the German pre-techno group’s sixth album “Trans-Europe Express” was their most fully realized offering yet. Every track is excellent and the best two, “Europe Endless” and the title track are both a meditation on modern travel as well as the modern European state. Every House, Synth-Pop, Techno, Electro and many a hip-hop artist owes these guys a heavy debt of gratitude. No music exists completely in a vacuum but playing spot-the-influence with Kraftwerk is no easy task. Their music was almost without precedent, and like so much “weird music”, it took the listening public many years to catch up.
Suicide were another original and along with Kraftwerk, progenitors of the 80’s synth-pop. Their music was just as weird as Kraftwerk’s but far less accessible. Suicide brought a confrontational punk edge to their keyboard driven music and were very ahead of their time. This debut album stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the rest of the NYC Lower East Side punkers. The band was roundly booed during their live performances and this album sold next to nothing upon its release. The band’s music is harrowing, dissonant and at times downright mesmerizingly beautiful as with the track “Cheree”. Minimalist tracks like “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket U.S.A.” have become early alternative classics as time has shed increasing light on Suicide’s brilliance. The album’s centerpiece, the 10+ minute “Frankie Teardrop” about a Vietnam vet is one of the most tense, spooky and tough to listen to tracks I have ever heard. I still can’t decide if I even enjoy it but its impossible to ignore. Despite the albums lack of popularity it became a huge influence on artists as diverse as the Cars, Bruce Springsteen, Throbbing Gristle & Soft Cell. In time Suicide became recognized as one of punk’s pivotal players and their status seems to grow higher with each passing year.
“Loaded” was the fourth and last studio album by the great Velvet Underground. New bassist Doug Yule (who took over for John Cale on their last album) sings on four of the cuts and drummer Mo Tucker was absent for all of these recordings. Each of VU’s four albums are wildly different from another and “Loaded” is their album errr loaded with hits- relatively speaking of course. Though the Velvets didn’t exactly burn up the charts with this album, it was their highest seller and garnered the most attention from radio. Tracks “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll” deservedly became alternative rock/pre-punk standards and served as a launching pad for singer/guitarist Lou Reed’s solo career. The Yule sung “Who Loves the Sun” is another great one and features prominently in the movie “High Fidelity”- a love letter to music obsessives released early in the 00’s. The Velvets were always one of the more challenging and uncompromising bands and “Loaded” showed that the band was capable of a more mainstream, hit driven album as well. Four studio albums and a live album released during frontman Lou Reed’s original time in the band and they didn’t miss once.
Neil Young’s string of albums between 1969’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and “Tonight’s the Night” is one of the best album runs in rock. It’s up there with the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, Dylan & Springsteen. Though Young would continue to make some classic songs, some very good albums and even a few great ones, he was never again able to achieve such consistent mastery of the form as he had during those years. Picking “Tonight’s the Night” over its equally great predecessor 1974’s “On the Beach” was a pure toss-up- there are much more than a 100 great albums that came out in the 70’s so not all of them could make it. “Tonight’s” was actually recorded two years earlier, in 1973, during a particularly tough time for Young. Two close friends, one his roadie and the other a member of his band Crazy Horse, died within six months of each other, both of heroin overdoses. Young’s grief along with his frustration and exhaustion from the road and stardom in general show in the songs, like the brilliant title track (about the death of his roadie friend Bruce Berry) and others like “Tired Eyes” and “Roll Another Number (for the Road)”. Today “Tonight’s the Night” sounds like a final nail in the coffin of the hippie dream, helping to lay groundwork for the punk rock clearinghouse to come. It’s often name- checked as a favorite of Young’s albums of his younger (non baby boomer) generation of fans and enjoyed increased prominence after the alternative rock explosion in the early 90’s. The lack of hit songs means it’s for true fans and music geeks only.
Released at the tail end of the singer-songwriter era, Joni Mitchell’s 6th album “Court and Spark” was surprisingly her most commercially successful and actually boasted three charting singles. Her sound is both more jazzy and upbeat than her folky, more stripped down past offerings. Like much of her earlier material the focus on “Court and Spark” is on love and relationships but rather than writing from the first person, she concentrated on third person character studies which fleshed out her writing bringing it a new maturity. “Court and Spark” is one of Mitchell’s best and most popular albums, but ended Joni’s most commercially successful phase in her career. She followed “Court and Spark” by releasing increasingly difficult and esoteric music & delving deeper into jazz- far less accessible but not without their own pleasures.
Joe Jackson often gets lumped in with Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. All came out at a similar time, are British, talented & vitriolic singer-songwriters, indebted to punk but considered New Wave. “Look Sharp!” is Jackson’s debut album and may well be his best. Like his compadres Costello & Parker, Jackson and his great backing band were able to harness the ferocity and energy of punk, write with sardonic wit and craft great pop melodies. Jackson may have been even more accessible than his peers- “Look Sharp!” delivered the all time heartache classic “Is She Really Going Out with Him”, along with other biting but catchy numbers like “Fools in Love”, “Sunday Papers” and One More Time”. Jackson’s writing may be full of bile but it’s laugh out loud funny too. “Look Sharp!” is a blast from start to finish.
Costello’s third album in three years shows him moving away from the stripped down simplistic punk of his first two records and toward more detailed, though still hardly lavish, production. “Armed Forces” was more user-friendly and became a bit of a breakthrough at American college radio, building on the successes of his first two. The album title and nearly ever song on the album use politics and the military as metaphors for love relationships, exemplifying Costello’s brilliant and inventive lyrics. Three of Costello’s most enduring and well-known songs appear on “Armed Forces”- “Accidents Will Happen”, “Oliver’s Army” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”. If the rest of the songs of the album don’t quite reach these heights they are always consistently good. Though “Armed Forces” is my least favorite of Costello’s three 70’s album releases is still mighty damn good.
So tough to pick my favorite Roxy album! “For Your Pleasure”, their most experimental album and the highlight of the band’s time with Brian Eno, and 1975’s sleek and funky “Siren” narrowly missed this countdown and their self-titled debut and “Stranded” are both pretty great as well. It would be easier to lump the band’s five albums together and call it a day but rules are rules and I’ve got to pick one and “Country Life” is it. “Country Life” was Roxy Music’s fourth album and finds the band at the apex of its powers, combining glam, prog, experimental art rock and some early touches of the sensual adult-oriented pop of their future late 70’s/early 80’s albums like “Avalon”. The result was, in my opinion, their most consistently great album and the album that best encapsulates what this ever-changing band is all about. It may not contain a big single like “Virginia Plain”, “Do the Strand” or “Love Is the Drug”, but lengthier more intricate tracks like “Out Of the Blue” and “The Thrill Of It All” are just as good.
T. Rex was one of the biggest bands in the U.K. during the early part of the 1970’s and is almost completely unknown in America, apart from their one hit wonder track “Get It On (Bang A Gong)”. That is criminal and America is crazy! I came to T. Rex very late in the game myself- even all these years later Classic Rock stations don’t touch the band. It’s very difficult to understand. T. Rex has at least a dozen tracks that should be in rotation to this day. Singer/guitarist/leader Marc Bolan had changed the name of his band from Tyrannosaurus Rex to T. Rex for his 6th and breakthrough album (at least in the U.K.) “Electric Warrior”. Follow-up “The Slider” was nearly as good and appeared at the very pinnacle of the glam-rock movement. The album boasted two U.K. #1’s- “Telegram Sam” & “Metal Guru”, two of the best tracks in their discography. The amazing title cut is another standout and the album is filled with groovy, sexy, tripped out and ridiculous fun. It’s what rock n’ roll is all about!