90. STEELY DAN- AJA (1977)
Buy Aja – Steely Dan
Like Roxy Music above, targeting my favorite Steely Dan out of their impressive discography of very good to excellent (70’s) albums was a difficult task. Every one of their first six albums holds up as a fine collection and they all differ from one another enough that it’s almost apples and oranges. “Aja” their last album of the 70’s is my favorite by a hair- it represents both a commercial and a sonic breakthrough for the band as well as containing some of their best and most memorable songs like “Black Cow”, “Deacon Blues”, “Peg” and “Josie”. Coming at the end of a magnificent run beginning with their debut album, 1972’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, “Aja” can also be seen as a culmination of all that the band had achieved up to that time, while at the same time blazing a new trail for the band. Some people lament the Dan moving away from the earlier rock n’ roll edge- “Aja” is straight up jazz rock- it’s smooth, sophisticated & mellow, but like all of their albums, both the songwriting and the playing are magnificent. After “Aja” the Dan would only be good for one more noteworthy album, 1980’s “Gaucho” unless you count Donald Fagen’s solo album “The Nightfly” which was also quite good. “Aja” was also a huge commercial breakthrough for the band. Though they had hits and success previously, “Aja” was Steely Dan’s “Rumours” (coincidentally released the same year), where radio, sales and critical adulation all came together at once and it solidified the band’s status in rock’s great musical canon.
Buy Deacon BluesAmazon
Buy Peg – Aja
89. ELTON JOHN- GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (1973)
Buy Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
Buy Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Amazon
Like many extremely successful musicians with long careers, the majority of Elton John’s best work is concentrated within a clump of years- in Elton’s case, after a middling debut album, his next five years as a recording artist were his most prolific, artistically and commercially successful. Elton John was so ridiculously on fire from 1970-75 that he more than anyone else was considered the successor to the Beatles. And right smack dab in the middle of those years is the sprawling double album “Yellow Brick Road”, which is in my opinion the best album of his career. The album begins with 11 minute prog epic “Funeral for a Friend”, followed by Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle in the Wind”, glam-funk classic “Bennie & the Jets” and the lovely title track- one of Elton John’s very best ballads. Album cuts like the chacter sketch “The Ballad of Danny Bailey” and the riff-tastic Grey Seal and classic rock radio staple “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” as well as beautiful album ender “Harmony” are all classics as well. Like most double albums “Road” is a lot to take in at once but there is so much great material that it rewards the listener greatly over time.
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Buy Bennie And The JetsAmazon
88. RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON- I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT (1974)
Buy I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Remastered) – Richard & Linda Thompson
Buy I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight Amazon
While “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” was certainly critically acclaimed in its day, it remains relatively unknown and uncelebrated today even as singer/guitarist Richard Thompson continues to record and perform year in and year out to a small cult of adoring fans. Though this was Thompson’s debut album with his wife Linda, he had already recorded one solo album and was one of the founding members of the legendary British folk-rock group Fairport Convention who had recorded throughout the late sixties and early seventies. Linda’s beautiful vocals were on par with legendary Fairport vocalist Sandy Denny (also the background vocalist in “The Battle of Evermore” for all you Zep fans) which made her a perfect compliment to Richard’s voice. Thompson’s songwriting on the album could be dark and heartbreaking but is filled with empathy, humanity and even hopefulness at times. His long blistering guitar solos bring to mind a much more technically proficient Crazy Horse- Thompson is simply one of the best guitarists in the business. The Thompsons would go on to make 5 more studio albums together including their “breakup” album- 1982’s great “Shoot Out the Lights” but none were better than the original. “Bright Lights” stands up as a lost classic- many more people should hear it.
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Buy The End Of The RainbowAmazon
87. JOHN LENNON- IMAGINE (1971)
Buy Imagine (Remastered) – John Lennon
Buy Imagine [+Digital Booklet]Amazon
“Imagine” is the most well known solo album by my favorite musician in my favorite band of all time. The album itself is overshadowed by the still majestic title cut, possibly Lennon’s signature song and one of the most universally known and loved songs in the last half century of music. But “Imagine” has much more to offer. Coming in the middle of the singer-songwriter phenomenon and just after Lennon’s bold but stark “Plastic Ono Band” album, “Imagine” is both mellower and much more radio friendly than its predecessor, though it still can be challenging and even venomous at time like with the F.U. to Paul McCartney “How Do You Sleep”. “I Don’t Wanna be A Soldier (Mama I Don’t Want to Die)” didn’t win Lennon many establishment friends either. “Jealous Guy” and “Oh My Love” are two of Lennon’s most beautiful ballads. “Gimme Some Truth” to me stands as Lennon’s mantra as he was interested in nothing more than truth and authenticity. Though John would release albums sporadically throughout the 70’s and another with Yoko Ono right around his untimely death in 1980 none of those albums would come close to matching the quality of “Imagine.
Buy Imagine (2010 – Remaster)Amazon
Buy Gimme Some Truth (2010 – Remaster)Amazon
Yes Randy Newman- the same guy that seems to win an Oscar every year for scoring every animated movie ever made. Newman is a bit of a musical genius, a brilliant composer, arranger and lyricist capable of creating very elaborate orchestrations. But back in the early 70’s Newman was relatively unknown outside of a circle of American songwriters associations. By 1970 he had one solo album under his belt and had sold a number of his songs to other groups and artists like Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, Three Dog Night & Judy Collins. Like with fellow writer Carole King, the more authentic singer-songwriter era, less concerned about looks & image, proved the perfect era for a gifted but rather normal looking person like Newman to make his mark. Newman a few years earlier would have been relegated to the Brill Building factory of writers and would have been content to keep churning out hits for others. Though his first solo album was heavily orchestrated and produced like his more current film scores, for “12 Songs”, Newman decided to strip things down and play with a small combo which enabled his native New Orleans style R&B & Blues to shine through. Newman’s writing is filled with biting satire where he often takes the first person voice of characters he pities at best and despises at worst. His writing is sad, thought provoking and hilarious all at the same time. “12 Songs” in my opinion is his single best album to date though his two follow ups “1972’s “Sail Away” and 1974’s “Good Ole Boys” come very close and are also well worth checking out.
Mama Told Me Not To Come *Not available via iTunes or Amazon
Have You Seen My Baby? *Not available via iTunes or Amazon
85. PAUL MCCARTNEY & WINGS- BAND ON THE RUN (1973)
Buy Band On the Run (Remastered) – Paul McCartney & Wings
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Paul McCartney was almost undoubtedly THE musical genius of the Beatles, with the exception of producer George Martin. That said his solo career is rather spotty. Much of his earliest solo recordings are tossed off and unfinished and much of his later recordings are corny and cheeseball with the occasional great song thrown in for good measure. Though when McCartney is good he is GREAT and along with “Ram”, the “Band On the Run” album is to me his best album made outside of the Beatles. It’s a musically ambitious song cycle (ala side two of Abbey Road but without the song fragments) though the subject matter is light, nonsensical and fun. The title track and “Jet” have both become classic rock standards and “Helen Wheels” has received a fair share of airplay as well. “Bluebird” is one of McCartney’s prettiest acoustic songs and both “Mrs. Vanderbilt” and “Let Me Roll It” are also excellent. The album was a huge hit at the time and still sounds great over 30 years later.
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84. KRAFTWERK- THE MAN-MACHINE (1978)
Buy The Man Machine (Remastered) – Kraftwerk
Buy The Man Machine (2009 Digital Remaster)Amazon
Kraftwerk’s follow-up to “Trans Europe Express” does their breakout record even better. It’s their most consistent album- every song a standout. “The Model” is probably their best pure pop song, covered amazingly by industrial noise purveyors Big Black almost a decade later. Tracks like “The Robots”, “Spacelab” and the title cut became huge influences on early synth-pop like the Human League & Gary Numan as well as the electro hip hop of Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force. I actually remember the keyboard riff of title cut from an old 2 Live Crew song called “Put Her in the Buck”. You never know where you’ll find a Kraftwerk lick- their whole catalog was mined by many of the pioneering rap music producers. Kraftwerk originally appeared to be nothing more than a one hit wonder (after the worldwide hit “Autobahn” or an interesting gimmick, but in the long run ended up being one of the most influential bands of the last twenty years. “The Man Machine” states their case perfectly.
Buy The Model (2009 Digital Remaster) Amazon
Buy The Robots (2009 Digital Remaster)Amazon
83. STEVIE WONDER- TALKING BOOK (1972)
Buy Talking Book (Reissue) – Stevie Wonder
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The album “Music Of My Mind”, release earlier in 1972, marked a huge turning point in Stevie Wonder’s career. In the sixties he was “Little Stevie Wonder” a child and then teen prodigy but very much part of the Motown factory. When he released “Mind”, he was 21 with a brand new contract from Motown giving him much more artistic control and the result was his most unified and musically impressive statement to date. While “Mind” was pretty great, Wonder’s “Talking Book” released in late 1972 was even better and made him a superstar, beginning one of the most impressive 4 album runs of the last 50 years which ended with 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life”. Taking a page from Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Wonder began to comment much more on society as in the track “Big Brother” and his love songs became deeper and more nuanced. “Talking Book” contains two of Wonder’s most well known songs- the beautiful standard ballad “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and the deeply funky “Superstition”.
82. NILSSON- NILSSON SCHMILSSON (1971)
Buy Nilsson Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson
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Up until “Nilsson Schmilsson”, Harry Nilsson, like Randy Newman, was a quirky, little known singer songwriter with a golden voice despite him already having a Grammy (for “Everybody’s Talking” from the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack) and the respect of many of his musical peers including the Beatles. Nilsson always marched to the beat of his own drummer, flying all over the musical map and often drinking and drugging to excess. Though “Schmilsson” was still as musically eclectic as his earlier work, it was his most mainstream oriented effort to date- focusing his talents around crafting songs out of the many different forms of pop music. He plucked the ballad “Without You” from the power pop group Badfinger and it became an enormous hit and has been covered countless times since- including an extremely icky version by Mariah Carey which was an even bigger hit than Nilsson’s version. “Jump In the Fire” embraced hard rock and was stretched out to over seven minutes- a nod to the progressive rock de rigueur at the time. One of the best party/hangover songs ever “Coconut” was also a big pop hit and heard famously years later in the movie “Reservoir Dogs”. The gorgeous “The Moonbeam Song” was perfectly off kilter and “Gotta Get Up” about forcing yourself out of bed in the morning works as Nilsson’s theme song. I can imagine “Gotta Get Up” playing during the opening credits of his life story. I was for the most part unaware of “Nilsson Schmilsson” and Nilsson in general until about five years ago. I look forward to delving into his catalog further in the future.
Buy Gotta Get Up (Remastered 2004)Amazon
Buy Coconut (Remastered 2004) Amazon
81. AL GREEN- CALL ME (1973)
Buy Call Me – Al Green
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This is some of the best bedtime music ever made. Al Green’s voice is silky smooth & sexy as hell. He was a new kind of singer for a new decade in that he brought the raw soul music of the deep south and wedded it to the more urbane, sophisticated soul music heard in cities like New York, Chicago & Philadelphia in the seventies. Green’s albums in the from 1970-76 are all great and contain some of the best soul songs ever like “Tired of Being Alone”, his cover of Temptations classic “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “I’m Still in love with You” and his signature song “Let’s Stay Together”. “Call Me” doesn’t have any of those tracks but it is still his artistic peak & best album from start to finish. The irony is that this loverman music is filled with heartbreak rather than sexual come-ons. Tracks like “Call Me (Come Back Home)”, “You Ought to be with Me” & “Have You Been Making Out OK” will tear your heart to pieces as you turn the lights down low.
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Buy Have You Been Making Out OKAmazon