My Top 10 Rock Albums
My 18 year-old has turned out just like her mom and dad: another music lover with an eclectic taste for most everything from Frank Sinatra to Mozart to classic rock. Number one on her Christmas list this past year was a Jensen turntable from Urban Outfitters. Of course, we wanted to make her happy, but we also longed for that stroll down memory lane with visions of the reincarnation of our hundreds of favorite LPs.
On a recent foray to Amoeba Music in Hollywood, the world's largest independent music store, she and I flipped through a vast treasure trove of vintage vinyl with a discipline that would have awed the saints. So many memories of my college years came flooding back as I saw the Flock from 1969 which featured Jerry Goodman on electric violin, the Youngbloods' Elephant Mountain with Jesse Collin Young, Fred Neil, Blind Faith, and Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks among others. It inspired me to compile a list of my top 10 LPs . It was really tough to narrow the choices, as favorite music often comes with an emotional attachment. I had to think what I would pick if I could only keep 10 of my favorite albums. This is not about the critic's list, and there is no order of preference.
Arthur Lee & Love
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and the local music scene of the late 60s featured bands like the Doors, the Byrds, the Seeds, the Turtles, the Grassroots, Buffalo Springfield, Music Machine, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Love. I wasn't allowed in clubs on the Sunset Strip, but I did go regularly to one not far away called the Hullabaloo, formerly the Moulin Rouge and the Earl Carroll Theater. It was here that I saw all on the famous revolving stage that brought one act after another! Arthur Lee and his band Love were at the top of the L.A. music hierarchy- in fact, it was Lee who helped get the Doors their contract w/ Elecktra Records. Jim Morrison once said that he hoped the Doors could be as big as Arthur Lee and Love. Love's style was R&B mixed with garage band. Influenced further by the local folk-rock scene and psychedelia, the playlist featured more melodic numbers with flute and other woodwinds. Their third album, Forever Changes,released in 1967 just before the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed was way ahead of its time with symphonic additions and its innovative complexity. Some critics will cry foul about rips offs from contemporaries; however, I see it as the musical equivalent to a beautifully multi-layered abstract painting.
Performed Live in London
In 2003, the late Arthur Lee, without his original band members, performed Forever Changes in its entirety at London's Royal Festival Hall. It is available on DVD with some bonus documentary footage. This is definitely worth watching even though the first 5 min. has an A/V sync glitch.
The folk-rock scene was really big in L.A. in the mid- to-late 60s when bands played a local club called The Troubadour. The Byrds defined the style. It was here that David Crosby got together with Roger (Jim) McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark. When Bob Dylan first heard their rendition of "Mr. Tambourine Man", he said, "Wow, Man! You can dance to that!" It was the acquisition of the 12- string Rickenbacker, influenced by the Beatles' Hard Day's Night, that really defined the Byrd's classic sound. The release of Mr. Tambourine Man in 1965 featured mainly Bob Dylan songs and original compositions from the prolific band member, Gene Clark. Ironically, the title track featured only one member of the band. McGuinn was backed by the session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Producer Terry Melcher and the execs at Columbia Records had little faith in the band's new line-up with Mike Clark on drums. In Los Angeles, the Byrds were the featured act at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip, but they also played other local venues including the Hullabaloo Club. This very listenable folk-rock LP is so good that it's always over too soon!
For any Dylan fan narrowing the choice to one album is very hard. I lean toward his earlier works when his songs were full of protest and compassion like The Free-Wheelin' Bob Dylan but, then again, the electric back-up that outraged his folk-purist fans at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 added more depth to the music. Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are both fantastic! Vocally, Dylan is at his best on Nashville Skyline and the lesser known New Morning both of which came out in near back to back releases-1969/1970 after his complete recovery from his 1966 motorcycle accident. I think New Morning is one of Dylan's best, and I am surprised by the number of people who have never heard it. All things considered, his 1975 release, Blood on the Tracks, makes the rank of my Top 10 because it combines many elements by being introspective, having an engaging story-telling quality, and reverting back to his early acoustic style. It features "Tangled Up In Blue", "Shelter From the Storm", and "Buckets of Rain", a personal favorite.There isn't a cut on it that I don't like.
I could listen to Van Morrison's records for hours, and it would still be fresh. He is so versatile and engaging in whatever genre he records. He can belt out solid rockers like "Gloria" and "Here Comes the Night" from his days with Them then turn to his introspective and vulnerable side as he did with Astral Weeks, his most critically acclaimed recording. Whether he's delivering R&B, Celtic folk with the Chieftains, jazz- swing fusion with Georgie Fame, ballads, or beautiful gospel as expressed in his soulful version of the classic hymn "Be Thou My Vision", there is an undeniable passion.
Moondance, Morrison's 1970 release, makes my cut because of its range in style, and soulfulness while being upbeat. The playlist includes "Into the Mystic" as well as the title track "Moondance" and "Crazy Love." Tupelo Honey from 1971 and St. Dominic's Preview, released in 1972, are close contenders.
Derek and the Dominoes gave this one a run for the money, but I place Clapton's 1989 release Journeyman in my Top 10 because it flows so beautifully from one great song to the next. Clapton collaborates with other long-time friends and musician peers on this R&B/rock solo album, the 2nd release since overcoming his addiction to heroin and alcohol. His guitar work is brilliant but understated. The vocals are soulful and feature the beautiful harmony of his female back-ups who really deliver on "Pretending". Long- time friend George Harrison plays slide guitar on his original composition "Run So Far". I actually prefer this version! Ray Cooper's percussion artistry throughout gives it an irresistible groove. The entire album is laid-back and satisfying. I never make a road trip without it!
Unlike the other albums on my list, I have no nostalgic attachment to The Joshua Tree. A roommate of mine, considerably younger, had this in her collection, and I was immediately taken by Bono's mesmerizing vocal and the band's powerful delivery. This 1987 release, U2's fifth recording, is said to reflect more of the Irish folk roots influence that Bono was encouraged to explore by Dylan, Van Morrison, and Keith Richards. To this day Bono ranks up there with Jim Morrison of the Doors, and Roger Daltry of the Who in my top 3 as a rock vocalist. This album, which features "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Where the Streets Have No Name," and the seductive "With or Without You," is simply brilliant!
Abbey Road, the Beatles' final studio album, although released in 1969 before Let It Be, makes the cut because it is so well produced and has an exceptionally creative flow, especially the medley on the B side which goes into a playful jam where they trade off guitar leads. I consider it an understated piece of art. It doesn't shout like the critically acclaimed Sergeant Pepper, but it stands out just the same. This is a feel good compilation that begs a sing-along which is quite ironic when one considers that the band was barely holding it together. George Martin really had his work cut out for him! Rubber Soul, their 1965 release, was a close runner-up and contains the cut "In My Life" which I consider to be the best of all Beatle songs and one of my top 10 overall.
The Rolling Stones
Let It Bleed, the Rolling Stones 1969 release, signaled the end of the one phase and the beginning of another for the band. I always preferred the early Stones whose sound was heavily influenced by the R&B greats. Brian Jones, an incredibly versatile musician, infused many creative elements into their sound such as the harpsichord on "You've Got the Silver", a cut from this album, dulcimer on "Lady Jane" from Aftermath, and sitar on "Paint It Black" from the same. Both his drug addiction and untimely death during the recording of this material limited his involvement to only two cuts. Mick Taylor, recruited from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as Brian's replacement, took over on the remaining tracks. After Brian's death, I feel that Keith really emerged into the limelight and perfected his signature style which was especially evident here and on into Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. From then on, the Stones continued to grow in popularity with mainstream hits, but I always felt the sound, post Brian Jones, became homogeneous. This album echoes the tragedy of Altamont and represents the numbing reality that peace and love comes with naivete. At this time too, Mick was using cocaine, and his stage presence took on the personification of the darker lyrics of "Midnight Rambler" and "Sympathy for the Devil". Still, it is a superb and transitional album in which the band has found a real cohesiveness that was lacking in its days with Brian Jones.
This 1971 album from the Who was the easiest selection to make. Who's Next, with its classic "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" is critically acclaimed as one of the best rock albums ever! After the success of the rock opera Tommy, plans were in the works for another concept album called Lifehouse. The idea was scrapped, and most of the songs ended up on this album. Some remaining cuts ended up on Odds N Sods. The Who went on to record Quadrophenia in 1973. It was another very successful concept album dealing with the English Mods vs the Rockers, and each band member had a distinct "personality." A film of the same title was released shortly thereafter. Quadrophenia is an outstanding concept album in every way. It has such passion and power! It's no wonder that bassist John Entwhistle, drummer Keith Moon, lead vocalist Roger Daltry, and guitarist/ conceptual artist Pete Townshend are at the top of their respective categories. It could have made my list but for the studio overproduction. I prefer the purity of Who's Next and consider the powerful vocals of Roger Daltry on this LP to be his best.
I could have easily picked Led Zeppelin's first or second album for my Top 10 because I love every song. I chose their fourth release from 1971, Led Zeppelin IV or ZoSo, which includes the popular cut "Stairway to Heaven". Both the popular song and the LP in its entirety blend hard driving rock with melodic acoustic guitar. "Going to California" could have been left over from their 3rd LP since it is reminiscent of their transition to acoustic with Plant's raw vocals. I like the mix of style including the Celtic influence of "The Battle of Evermore.". After a lukewarm reception of their heavily acoustic 3rd LP, this album was purposefully untitled with no hint of content. This was a gutsy move. Jimmy Page, in my mind, is one of the greatest guitarists in history and certainly one of the most influential.
Now that I've chosen my Top 10, I'm already thinking of my Top 20! The simple truth is that there is just too much GREAT music out there in so many different genres. When I pass by my daughter's room and hear that Jensen with its built in radio and turntable, I am reminded of my own teen years before really good sound systems. The output from hers would make an audiophile cringe, but her enjoyment is complete. In her mind, nothing could be better than a live concert. For me it was an SAE amp, a Denon turntable, Infinity speakers, and Koss headphones that delivered a mind-blowing experience. In the end, it is all about the music, its content, and the memories. Rock on!
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© 2013 Catherine Tally