Jimi Hendrix only released
three solo albums before dying in 1970 at the age of 27. Everybody
always talks about his groundbreaking debut, Are
you Experienced, featuring such seminal works as "Purple Haze,"
"Foxy Lady," and "Third Stone from the Sun." Then, there was Electric
Ladyland the experimental jammy double album featuring "All Along
the Watchtower." Sandwiched in between,
there was this masterpiece showcasing Hendrix' unsung and perhaps greatest
talent, his songwriting. The simple and psychedelic "Little Wing"
along with the thoughtful lyrics and mournful melody of "Castles Made of
Sand" rank among the most beautiful and haunting songs of the era.
The final track, "Bold As Love" is one of the most fitting closers to an
album that I've ever come across. The first time I heard the flanged drum
solo leading into the ecstatic coda, I almost lost it. Be warned,
the first track, EXP is a bit freaky; from that point forward, sit back
and enjoy an incredible ride with this 1997 reissue of one of the all-time
3) Ok Computer: Radiohead
I don't know what else you can say about this critically
acclaimed and Grammy nominated masterpiece from neo-prog Brit-Rockers,
Radiohead. Now, when I first heard that this was a concept album
about computers running amok, my mind conjured up visions of Styx's Kilroy
was Here, (domo origato, mister roboto) , and "Video Killed the Radio
Star" era Buggles. Well, Dennis DeYoung and Trevor Horn fans, this
album puts them to shame. This was easily the best record of 1997.
Ok Computer is a rarity for the 90's, a bold, adventurous, and challenging
work that offers more on every listen. Thom Yorke's frighteningly
powerful falsetto is unrivaled, complemented perfectly by richly textured
guitars and a dynamic rhythm section. This record is so original,
it's almost scary. As such, it's not for everybody, this ain't no
Matchbox 20, this ain't no Jewel. Ok Computer sounds a bit
like Pink Floyd in its creative peak updated with 90s technology after
a meeting of the minds with XTC and maybe George Martin. In other
words, this record has set the standard in intelligent, creative music
that all British bands that follow will be hard pressed to equal.
Hear that Gallagher brothers?
4) Songs in the Key of Life: Stevie Wonder
morn or evening friends, here's your friendly announcer. I have serious
news to pass to everybody. What I'm about to say, could mean the
world's disaster; could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain."
With this pronouncement, Songs in the Key of Life is underway.
This album, recorded for Motown in 1976 represents Stevie at his peak.
Songs is full of so many of the elements that make great music and
great drama. At its core, this album is a profound political statement,
reflecting on the Black Power movement , urban blight and injustice.
Some of the lyrics are far from optimistic, in "Village Ghetto Land," Wonder
sings, "Broken glass is everywhere, it's a bloody scene. Killing
plagues the citizens unless they own police." "Pastime Paradise"
sampled in Coolio's megahit, "Gangsta Paradise" indicts those who waste
their time "Glorifying days long gone behind."
That said, Songs in the Key of Life is also uplifting, joyous and spiritual. There is a ton of love here. I generally am not a connoisseur of 'chansons d'amour,' but I tell you songs like "Knocks Me Off My Feet" just do it for me. Some final thoughts, this is a double album; the middle of the first CD features classic tunes, "I Wish" and "Sir Duke" back-to-back. If you ever want to start a party, put those 2 tracks on repeat. It's almost unfair that two such killer tracks should be on the same album much less back-to-back. Finally, did you know that the lead guitarist on these sessions was Michael "She's a Maniac" Sembello?
5) Flood: They Might Be Giants
In a weird sort of way,
this is a classic album to us Gen X types. Success for albums and
bands like this, just doesn't come around that often. Brilliant songs
like "Birdhouse in Your Soul," classic novelty tunes like "Particle Man"
and "Istanbul," what can you say? This is a great record, very creative
and a whole lot of fun. Many of you probably made this one of your
first CD purchases, the rest of you probably borrowed your friends' CD
boomboxes to record it onto tape to pop into your Sony Walkman while your
stupid roommate blasted "Pour Some Sugar on Me" five times every freakin'
hour! Buy it again, for the first time.
6) Superfly: Curtis Mayfield
Anybody who's been in my apartment has surely seen the large poster above my sofa proclaiming "Never a dude like this one, he's got a plan to stick it to the man!" Indeedy, Superfly is one of my favorite movies, also, the poster does a pretty good job of carbon dating my sofa. Anybody who's had the pleasure of seeing this film on a big screen would know, Superfly is almost a musical. The classic funky/soul soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield directly responds to and foreshadows the onscreen events. As such, original prints of the movie feature the soundtrack prominently in the audio mix. Whether or not you've ever seen the movie, the album is still an undeniable classic featuring the oft-covered in jam format by college bands, "Freddy's Dead," "Pusherman" and the title track. This entire album is perfect for a night of sweet love-making and or outrunning the fuzz on the interstate in a big-ass pimpmobile. Note, for a long time this CD was out of print, it has since been reissued in honor of the 25th anniversary in a reasonably priced double album. Check it out, or your lady will be walking the street tonight!
Alas, few dinosaur acts know when to give up the road. Death and deafness have been unable to stop the loudest and probably best live act of all time, causing them to suffer acute "Moody Blues-itis," constant touring without any new material to support. HOWEVER---the Who was undeniably one of the most important bands of the classic rock era. Pete Townshend's frantic guitar and enlightened songwriting, Keith Moon's even more frantic drumming, John Entwistle, as important to young bass players as Neil Pert of Rush is to drummers, and the long haired dude on vocals. The Who would be, and have been the first to admit that their strength wasn't making records, it was their live show. Never was this more apparent than on this 1970 recording. The Who was in amazing form, playing with the kind of raw aggression that made them famous. The first time I heard "Young Man Blues" I was 12 years old; I don't care what the teacher said about hormones, that experience changed me. This album is also significant for it's early versions of some songs from "Tommy," and the extended version of "Magic Bus" featured in the opening sequence of "Jerry Maguire." If, like me, you were too young to see the Who in their prime, this seriously heavy, newly remastered and expanded edition of Live at Leeds is a must for your collection.
On the local tip, here's the latest release from Philly hip-hoppy-funky-jazzy 8-piece juggernaut, fathead. One of the premiere live acts on the scene, this live album is notable for its energy and complex orchestration. fathead earned themselves a spot on the prestigious Horde festival where they were surely able to convert yet new legions to their family of fans. fathead is young, talented, and poised for a charge at stardom, check them out while they're still around.
The year was 1986, Bon Jovi releases Slippery When Wet which goes on to sell 12 million records in the US ushering in the regrettable era of cheese metal and hair bands. And in this corner, a classic album, perhaps the swan song of New Wave and the birth of alternative music. Skylarking is a remarkable collection of songs and moods from the most influential band you've never heard of. Along with New Order, XTC virtually defined a sound that found mainstream acceptance in acts like Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. No matter what you think of the other acts, this is a magnificent album, named as one of the top 50 of all time by radio station WXPN. Like many great albums, Skylarking is best appreciated in its entirely; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The chilling and heretical, "Dear God" is perhaps the most unforgettable track, but brilliant compositions appear throughout.
Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Finally, I'm not normally one to promote Greatest Hit albums. I usually prefer to listen to albums put together in the way the artist intended. However, this is just too strong to leave off. Elvis Costello is a brilliant songwriter and musician and this record reflects his genius well as well as that of producer Nick Lowe. Most all of the classics of the Rykodisk era are included here, "Allison," "What's so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding" "Oliver's Army," "Everyday I Write the Book" and many, many more. My personal favorite is the funky and lyrically ambiguous, "Chelsea (I don't want to go)". Not all of the albums on the above list are for everybody's taste, this one is pretty damn close.