Friday, May 30, 2014

Family Records: A Vinyl History Tour of My Youth (Part 2 of 2)


Carrying on, here's Part 2 of a trip down memory lane as I go through the records my parents had that I grew up listening to and absorbing. I got a fantastic response to Part 1 and it was great to open up conversations with friends and fellow music fans on various message boards and social networks as they shared their own memories. Some of them were the same age as me, some are my parents' age, some are older...many enjoyed the same records, many enjoyed completely different artists and genres, but one thing that seemed to be common amongst all of us was the powerful and joyful impact that music had, captivating us as children and developing into a lifelong passion that never waned, but instead intensified and grew as we all continue to get older. I was struck by how much commonality we all had with the simple question I posed, "which records did you grow up listening to?" For me, as fun as it was to take my own trip into the past, it was just as enjoyable to read everyone else's memories and engage in the discussion (if you'd like to read it, here's the main thread).

So here is Part 2!

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND

One of my favorite bands ever. My dad is a huge fan and that definitely rubbed off on me. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were and continue to be huge influences on my guitar playing and several of the cuts on these albums were among my favorites to suss out when I was learning to play. Later on, he (and later on, I) would have all of their classic albums on cassette and later on, CD, but when I was growing up it was just these two records. Luckily, they're two of the best.

At Fillmore East (released 1971)

There's not much that can be said about this album that hasn't already been written countless times before. It is one of the greatest live albums and finds the original band at the height of their powers...sadly, they wouldn't make it to the end of the year intact, losing founding brother and spiritual leader Duane Allman in a motorcycle crash late in '71. This is one of those albums that has been played so many times by both my dad and me that it's a wonder the records haven't split from overuse! One of my bibles for learning how to play guitar, and I always loved those smoky pictures of the band onstage in the gatefold, bathed in red light and looking so cool.






Brothers and Sisters (released 1973)

Probably their biggest album, commercially, and the first after Berry Oakley died only a year (almost to the day) after Duane did, in 1972 (although Berry appears on a few songs here). I remember hearing "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica" from this album on the radio a lot as a kid, and one of the bands that used to play at my high school used to jam on "Southbound." I always liked to spend some time as a kid trying to pick out the band members on the inner gatefold, and the insert with the dedication to Berry always struck me as a nice touch.







CREAM

Eric Clapton was, amongst all of my guitar heroes, the one who captivated me with his technique and tone just a little bit more than anyone else when I was a budding guitarist, while the sound Cream got with all three of them masters of their instruments, improvising over the loose framework of their songs just blew me away.  I remember hearing these albums (as well as their Wheels of Fire and Disraeli Gears albums on cassette) in my dad's office when he'd be listening to them and soon enough, I was listening to them on my own as well.

Fresh Cream (released 1966)

The debut album and a great (and underrated) slice of electric British blues. I remember having a hard time reconciling the fact that Eric on the front cover was the same guy I was hearing play all this cheesy radio stuff when I was a kid in the 1980s and 90s. Quite a few of these songs ended up being tried out in the bands I started playing in as a high schooler (ie "I'm So Glad," "Spoonful," etc).




Goodbye (released 1969)

Their final album and one of my favorites. I remember thinking the front and back covers were neat with the band in those silver suits with top hats and canes.  The inner gatefold was simultaneously ominous (and final) with all of those tombstones, yet bright and eye-popping with all of those colors. Musically, I did (and still do) love the juxtaposition of the three high-octane live cuts with the three strange and unique studio cuts.











Best of Cream (released 1969)

The first post-split compilation album. I've never understood what the vegetables had to do with Cream, but it's still an interesting album cover. I always liked the back photo with the band looking menacing at the height of their psychedelic look: long hair, mustaches, and Eric's necklace made out of what look to be tiger's teeth...not to mention that amazing wallpaper! This was a great album because it had some cuts that were on the UK version of Fresh Cream and hadn't been released in the US to that point.








CROSBY, STILLS, NASH, and YOUNG (and their assorted projects)

Even though I tend to favor much of the heavier rock from the 1960s and 70s, I also have a HUGE soft spot for gorgeous melodies, vocal harmonies, and well written and played songs. Since my parents did also, I've always loved CSNY and their pre-CSNY projects. My tastes when it comes to them tend to stop around 1974 but I love everything up to and including that year. As an avid singer, some of my favorite moments, now and then, involve singing along to these songs and trying a different harmony part each time.

The Byrds Greatest Hits (released 1967) and Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield (released 1969)

I'm a huge Byrds fan, loving everything they did up to 1968 before they went full-blown country, which I don't care for. This greatest hits album collected everything up to what I consider to be their best album, 1967's Younger Than Yesterday (although the following album, 1968's The Notorious Byrd Brothers, is excellent as well). I always loved their jangly sound and the way they mixed the folk, rock, and pop elements with nice harmonies into a really unique sound. As for Buffalo Springfield, I was always fascinated by the dichotomy between Young and Stills in the band...both wrote great songs (Young's "Mr Soul" and "Rock and Roll Woman," Stills' "Bluebird" and "For What It's Worth," for example) that sounded like their writers, but still had the overall band sound.





Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (released 1969)

What a great album. Apart from a couple of weak songs, everything on this album is a classic and songs like "Cinnamon Girl" (that riff!), "Down By the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand" blew me away as a teenager and were three songs we definitely played a lot when I was in bands.




Crosby, Stills, and Nash (released 1969)

Now we get to when they all got together! For years, I always thought that the guy looking out the screen door on the back cover (not pictured) was Neil Young (it's not...it's their drummer Dallas Taylor). This album is just gorgeous and has some of my all-time favorite songs on it, like "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Wooden Ships," "Pre-Road Downs"...honestly, I don't think there's a bad track on here. The furry coats they're wearing in the gatefold picture always looked funny to me, but it's cool that it still has the fold-out lyric sheet with those quintessentially 1960s drawings on it.









Deja Vu (released 1970)

With Neil Young brought into the fold now, they release what I think is their best album. It features songs by all four of them and I'm not sure you can have a better opening track than "Carry On." The transition from the chugging acoustic to that grooving electric bit in the second half, all with fantastic vocal harmonies, is spine tingling even to this day. I always liked the photos inside this one, too, and I remember thinking it was pretty cool that Jerry Garcia and John Sebastian not only guested on a couple of tracks, but were pictured in the inner collage.




4-Way Street (released 1971)

A mammoth double live album that showcases both the acoustic singer/songwriter side and the full-band electric side of CSNY. Just great stuff on this one and I spent many hours as a teenager cruising around listening to this one once I got it on CD. Dad's vinyl copy still has the original lyric sheet.






DAVID BOWIE

I love Bowie, always have. I remember hearing loads of his tunes on the radio but, strangely enough, this was the only record of his I remember listening to as a kid!

Aladdin Sane (released 1973)

A bonafide classic and one of my favorite Bowie albums. Here, he's toughened up and dirtied the glam rock from the Ziggy days and released a really cohesive collection of songs. "Panic in Detroit," "The Jean Genie," "Cracked Actor," and "Watch That Man" were favorites as a kid. Later on, I realized that apart from his decent Stones cover ("Let's Spend the Night Together"), the entire album was great. The cover always weirded me out when I was younger, but the inner sleeve with the lightning bolt from his face emblazoned across it is a neat touch.



THE DOORS

The Doors (released 1967)

Again, I'm a big Doors fan, they were a band I remember hearing on the radio all of the time as a kid, but this was the only record of theirs I remember spinning as a kid.  The long organ and guitar solo in "Light My Fire" always mesmerized me and tunes like "Soul Kitchen," "20th Century Fox," "The Crystal Ship," and "The End" were pure psychedelia and really atmospheric pieces for a kid who grew up twenty years too late to have experienced it the first time around.



AEROSMITH

Aerosmith are huge here in New England since they're native sons, hailing from Boston (and in fact, a few of them grew up in my native New Hampshire). I've never held them in as high regard as a lot of people do, but their first three albums are excellent and I've always liked them. When I was growing up, I couldn't believe the same guys who kicked ass on these records were the ones peddling slick, lame AOR hit singles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Some of the riffs on these records are fantastic ("Walk This Way," anyone?) and I have all of these now on CD.

Aerosmith (released 1973), Get Your Wings (released 1974), Toys in the Attic (released 1975)



SIMON AND GARFUNKEL

I liked some of their songs from the radio but wasn't terribly into them. However, one of my childhood friends REALLY got into them when we hit high school, so I had a look through my folks' collection after he turned me on to them and found these albums. I remember really liking a lot of the lesser-known tracks and I still enjoy many of these songs.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (released 1966), Sounds of Silence (released 1966), Greatest Hits (released 1972)


JANIS JOPLIN

Joplin In Concert (released 1972)

What a voice! Again, always heard the songs on the radio but this was the only album my parents had on vinyl. Luckily, it's a blistering document of Joplin with three different incarnations of her band. The heavy and psychedelic sound of Big Brother and the Holding Company gives way to her jazzier Kozmic Blues Band before finishing up with the funkier Full Tilt Boogie Band she was using when she died.



BILLY JOEL

I consider Billy Joel a guilty pleasure of mine, although I don't really know why since he's got loads of huge songs and albums and is well-regarded in the music world. Maybe it's just because he doesn't jibe with the rest of what I listen to, so I feel like people are surprised when I reveal I'm a huge fan. I remember hearing tons of these songs on the radio as a kid, especially in the car with my mum since she's a big fan. Once I found out we had these records, I listened to them all the time. The Stranger (released 1977) is his greatest album, I think...it's certainly my favorite. 52nd Street (released 1978) is nearly as great. Later on in high school when my best friend revealed he was a huge fan, too, we shared a love for all of Billy's albums on CD, but these two were where I first started. I do have to say, also, that I vastly preferred his 70s sound to what he was putting out during my school years (ie Storm Front and River of Dreams, event though eventually I realized those were pretty good albums, too).



JEFFERSON AIRPLANE

The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (released 1970)

Another band that I really like, but mainly their singles I'd heard on the radio. Still a great collection of their best tunes on this album, and as a kid I always got a kick out of how they called their greatest hits album the "worst."



PAUL McCARTNEY

Obviously, as a huge Beatles fan, I also like their solo work, none more so than Paul's. This was the only record of his we had, Pipes of Peace (released 1983). It's not one of his best albums but there are a few decent tracks on it. I do remember wondering why it wasn't as good as his Beatles stuff and the Wings stuff I always heard on the radio!




GENESIS

A Trick of the Tail (released 1976)

I didn't become a fan of old school Genesis until later in life (in my 20s) because all I knew of them from a kid were the slick AOR songs they played on the radio in the 1980s. My mum was a huge fan of them and Phil Collins' stuff then as well, so I never got into this record until my dad played me the title track and I realized this was very different from what they later became. It's now one of my favorite albums of theirs. The artwork looks great, much better on a full-sized album than on the CD I now have.



PETER FRAMPTON

I always liked Frampton and I remember my dad had a copy of Frampton Comes Alive! that I used to hear him playing a lot (I couldn't find it when I was putting this piece together...I'll have to ask him where it is). This was one of Peter's albums that came before it, Wind of Change (released in 1972). I liked this record, especially "All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)," but I didn't really appreciate it (or the rest of his solo stuff) until I got older and realized how great a guitarist and writer he was.



That wraps up my journey back in time to when I was a kid learning all about music and soaking it all in, figuring out what I liked and, later on, how I could incorporate it into my own musical style. I hope you've all enjoyed it and that it's inspired take some time to look back on where you came from in terms of music and it's importance in your life. At the very least, I hope it inspires you to dig through your records and see what gems you may have forgotten about!

As always, please feel free to comment or share your own memories in the comments section below!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks

Regular readers of this site need no reminder of my love for the Kinks. Their unique sound and the genius songwriting of Ray Davies have stood the test of time since their emergence in 1964 and they continue to resonate as one of the Great Four bands of 1960s England.  Given my love for the band and the number of books I've reviewed on them, you may be asking yourself if there is a reason why I'm reviewing yet another? (And if you're asking yourself that, be forewarned that I still have three more on my pile to read and review in the future!).  I've already reviewed Ray's second book, a fantastic book detailing their entire day-to-day recording and performing history, and a new biography on the band that was released late last year. Given that, why am I then reviewing You Really Got Me? For one, it's never a bad thing to read multiple books on a subject to get different perspectives on matters; for another thing, there is often information in one book that might not be in others, and learning more about anything is never bad. Perhaps the biggest reason I was so interested to read this book was because I have read in multiple places where it's been compared to God Save the Kinks, with both books being praised and criticized. I wanted to read both, compare and contrast them, and decide for myself which one was better.

***special thanks to Charlie at Omnibus Press for sending me a copy of this book to review!***

One of the selling points for God Save the Kinks was that it contained new interviews with band members Mick Avory, John Gosling, and John Dalton, as well as David Quaife (brother of late original bassist Pete Quaife). You Really Got Me has something similar going for it in that author Nick Hasted draws upon new interviews with not only Mick Avory and David Quaife, but with Ray and Dave Davies, who are always at the core of the Kinks story. I don't intend for this review to be a point/counterpoint comparison of the two books...I'll save that for the end.


One thing I noticed right away during the short introduction to the book is that the author's style takes a little getting used to. In those few pages before getting to the beginning of the actual book, he came off obviously as a fan, but rather abrasive toward other bands and perhaps a bit overprotective of the Kinks. There were some snide comments toward contemporaries of the Kinks, most notably his labeling of The Who as "Kinks copyists" which I found a bit ridiculous. Yes, I'm also a massive Who fan, but to me this overstates the case. Pete Townshend has been an unabashed Ray/Kinks fan from the beginning and readily admitted that their debut single "I Can't Explain" was based on the Kinks' sound. But to suggest that anything that came after, or even the two band's approaches to records and live performances, were remotely similar enough that it warranted being painted with the broad brush accusation of being "copyists" seemed way off base. Similar swipes at the Beatles and Stones also seemed unnecessary and too broadly applied such that I immediately had my antennae up as I dug into the meat of the book.

It turns out I needn't have worried as overall the book is a joyful read, even if some of the uncomfortable periods in Kinks history Hasted discusses aren't. Beginning with their youth and the formation of the band, Hasted gets into all sorts of detail with regards to the inner workings of the band and the terrible contracts and management situation they were in from the very beginning. Here, and throughout the rest of the book is where evidence that this book is slightly superior to God Save the Kinks comes through. The recent interviews with the Davies and Avory, all conducted between 2002 and 2012, shed so much new and interesting light onto the entire Kinks career at each era. Of particular note was the revelations of just how violent life in the Kinks was. While there are numerous well known incidents of the Davies brothers feuding and coming to blows that have been documented, as well as Avory's famous onstage assault on Dave during a gig in Cardiff in 1965, this book sheds new light on Pete Quaife's long and drawn out decision to leave the band, which began in 1966 and culminated in his departure early in 1969. In addition to his well known feelings of marginalization as Ray Davies began to exert more control over the band by the late 1960s, it was the stress and violence within the band that finally precipitated his departure. In particular, his brother David's corroboration that the broken wrist he played with through the latter part of 1968 being caused by an attack from Dave, which was new information to me, seemed to be the last straw for Pete. However, his leaving was a traumatic emotional blow to the rest of the band and one they never seemed to ever get over, as numerous attempts to get Pete back into the band, including in the late 1970s and post-split in 1996, attest to. (These failures to reunite had more to do with Dave refusing to be on board if Mick was, which was a major sticking point since Mick and Ray were and still are great friends). As for a criticism, there's perhaps an unnecessary (and sometimes lengthy) focus on some of the more peripheral people involved with the band (in particular, I'm thinking of the interviews with some of Ray's playwright friends with whom he collaborated with in the past) although even these tend to give additional perspective on Ray's personality outside of his persona as chief Kink. Thus, there's still a kernel of information to be gleaned from these otherwise superfluous interviews.

Where this book really excels, though, is in its discussion of each era of the band's career, and in particular, the insight into each album and important single. Hasted does a great job with his analyses and walks the fine line between being a dedicated fan and acolyte, while not overdoing the heavy handed analysis that tends to bog down similar books. The best part of each of these sections, however, is the insight shared by Ray, Dave, and Mick into the making of the songs and, in the case of Ray, what his mindset and meaning were when he wrote and recorded each one. The candor with which it's all discussed, and in particular the more troublesome moments detailing Ray and Dave's various mental breakdowns, physical health scares, and personal problems (ie divorces, lawsuits, etc) is refreshing and really allows the reader inside the minds of each man.  Another nice thing about Hasted's book is that he doesn't give short shrift to the latter period of the Kinks' career, giving the albums and tours of the 1980s and 1990s as much focus as the earlier material. While I disagree with his pronouncements on a few things (for instance, I think UK Jive is a pretty good album, while he savages it), overall I think he's spot on when he says that the Kinks were still putting out quality music into the 1990s, but their time had simply passed.  An interesting side discussion of the BritPop movement in the 1990s and Ray's elevation to revered Godfather of British music, as well as his dismissal of the movement and its differences from the 1960s is both fascinating and accurate. As a devoted fan of BritPop and 1990s British rock myself, I enjoyed this section.

By this point in the story, however, the disputes between the Davies brothers became for the most part intractable and the numerous interviews with them conducted within the past ten years are revealing. It seems to be mostly sadness and a little bitterness on Dave's side with regards to the impasse he's reached with his brother.  Ray, on the other hand, seems sad at the loss of the relationship with his brothers and wistful for how it used to be, but at the same time completely oblivious to the hurt he's caused in the past and how some of his behavior may have come across to Dave over the years. As anyone with siblings (myself included) can tell you, family relationships are hard and being in a band can be stressful: adding the brother dynamic to an already crazy atmosphere is almost always a recipe for disaster. For every example of a band with brothers being able to exist productively and peacefully (ie The Black Crowes, Radiohead, the Allman Brothers Band to name a few), there are many more that eventually end in disaster and estrangement (ie Oasis, CCR, etc). The Kinks walked the tightrope in between, carving out a successful and long career where Ray and Dave cared for each other musically as well as personally (the stories of Dave nursing Ray out of his depressions or convalescences are quite touching) while allowing festering resentments to build up and simmer until they finally exploded when the band broke up. However, even their dual health scares in 2004 (Dave's stroke, Ray's gunshot) brought the brothers together, albeit in their own unique way. It seems, however, that it wasn't enough to allow them to paper over the bad feelings that continue to exist...they haven't seen each other since 2008 (according to Dave).

As with any book about the Kinks, the Davies brothers and their complicated relationship are at the heart of the story. Hasted does a great job, however, of keeping this central to the book without crowding out the other, equally important members of the Kinks. In addition, it's obvious he loves the band as much as anyone who is reading the book does, but he's able to keep an objective perspective and where his opinion comes into play, it's done in an appropriate manner (the introduction aside). I've purposely decided to focus this review more on the style and substance of the book as it reflects on the individual members rather than on the story of the Kinks' musical journey; it's been described wonderfully in this book but has also been discussed elsewhere, both by me and others, and it would be redundant to rehash here it yet again. However, I do think that between this book and God Save the Kinks, this is the more satisfying of the two. That's not to say that I wouldn't recommend the other book...in fact, for any serious Kinks fans, I would highly recommend both. But You Really Got Me has more insight and heart and, due to the participation of the major principles in the story (Ray, Dave, Mick, and Pete via his brother David), is probably the closest we will ever get to an authorized band biography now that the entire story can be told (I'm aware of the authorized biography from the early 1980s but they still had another twelve years to go in their career when that was published). With that fact and the benefit of the perspective afforded of the Kinks growing older and (perhaps) wiser, You Really Got Me is probably the best biography written on the Kinks and one which I highly recommend to any fan.

MY RATING: 9.5/10

Friday, May 23, 2014

Family Records: A Vinyl History Tour of My Youth (Part 1 of 2)



I've made no secret of the fond memories I have of listening to all of the great music from my parents' era when I was growing up. It started when I was very little and just heard whatever they were listening to in the background, whether it was on the home stereo, in the car, or on the radio. Eventually I got old enough to be curious about who and what I was listening to and gravitated to certain bands and musicians, and eventually after that, I was old enough to start listening on my own. In a way, you could say that these formative musical experiences were my "gateway" to a lifetime of musical obsession, both as a listener and collector of music as well as a guitarist and songwriter.

Besides what was in the grooves, what enchanted me as much in the 1980s and 90s as it entranced music fans years before me was the complete package that a vinyl record offered.  The square foot of real estate offered by the sleeve gave rise to some truly spectacular cover artwork, both front and back. And if you had an album that had a gatefold and/or some special inserts, well, it was like exploring a book about the music while you were listening to the music. I remember spending many hours poring over the artwork and packaging as a kid, both while I had the records playing as well as at random times when I just wanted to look at them again. These moments were usually snatched when my dad was at work (since the records and stereo system were in his home office) or when my parents weren't home and I could really crank up the volume. A little later, I had a record player in my room as part of a component stereo system (does anyone under thirty know what I'm talking about here?) and could bring albums up to listen to. Beyond that, I made cassette copies of them to use in my Walkman (again, anyone under thirty?) when I was in the car on family trips and later on, school field trips or away baseball and basketball games. Eventually, of course, CDs came along and while I still buy physical releases by all of my favorites, there is something about the size and tactility of a vinyl record that, despite some great examples, CDs can't quite match.

This post isn't meant to sound like I'm some audiophile or hipster snob extolling the virtues of vinyl at the expense of every other format...rather it's a celebration and fond look back at the vinyl records I listened to as a kid and as a teenager, which is doubly cool (at least to me) since they're also the very same records my parents listened to when they were growing up. For a reference point, my parents were born in the early-to-mid 1950s, so they would have been anywhere from 13 to 30 when they were buying and listening to these (depending on which year they were released).

So here we go...

(and when you're ready, here's PART 2)

THE WHO:

Anyone who has read my site knows that I am a massive fan of The Who...simply, they're one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, these albums were my introduction to this great, great band.

Tommy (released 1969)

One of the great albums of the 1960s and of all time, groundbreaking as the first full-blown "rock opera" and an album near and dear to my heart. This is not only because of the great music contained within the grooves, but because of the overall presentation. The cover is a striking work of art that folds out into a triptych, mysterious and fascinating. Why are The Who waving their hands inside the giant sphere? The flying birds and the starry-gloved fist bursting out of the cover, pointing at you...what does it all mean? These are the questions that I asked myself over and over when I would sit and listen to this record.


Front Cover

Rear Cover


One flap opened...

Even better, there was a triptych inside, and a libretto with additional pictures describing the story alongside the lyrics. This was (and still is) an album you can lose yourself in for hours, and lest we forget, musically it still sounds great.


The inner triptych


The libretto is at far right next to the second record


Live at Leeds (released 1970)

If Tommy was The Who beginning to become masters of the studio with dense, layered, and cerebral rock, then Live at Leeds was the other side of the band as a loud, hard rocking, take-no-prisoners live act that was rightly called the greatest live band of all time. As an answer to the elaborate packaging of Tommy, Live at Leeds instead came in a nondescript plain brown cover with the title stamped on the front like some random parcel sitting on a loading dock somewhere. (This juxtaposition of packaging between the previous album and this one echoes what the Beatles did with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 and the White Album in 1968; the same can be said for the change in sound from an ornate studio production to a stripped down, heavier approach). But even if the plain cover fooled you, what was on the record would shake your senses rather quickly, as this is some of the finest, heaviest, and greatest live music ever recorded. I can still remember how blown away I felt when I first heard this record, two songs in particular: Young Man Blues, which to this day has some of the heaviest riffing I've ever heard, and Substitute, which is pure power pop perfection and has "that drum fill" (any Who fan will know what I mean). Contained inside are numerous facsimile documents and photos, including a band photo from 1965 (which I remember sneaking to school so I could photocopy it in order to hang it in my high school locker), and a reproduction of the famous "Maximum R&B" poster (which I was able to find a copy of to hang in my college dorm room). The label on the record famously lets the listener know that the "crackling noises are OK!" and this is one album that, even now, needs to be played at nothing less than maximum volume. I spent a lot of time reading all of the inserts over and over, and later on I was able to play the entire album note-for-note on guitar...the band I had in high school and college (with my brother on bass) used to play the entire thing when we'd jam. What a record!



Front cover


Opened up: inserts on left, record on right



The poster included in the album

Who's Next (released 1971)

Tommy found the Who entering the peak phase of their career, both live and in the studio, and the absolute peak of their non-concept albums is Who's Next (ironically, it arose from the ashes of the aborted concept album Lifehouse that Pete Townshend had written for the band in 1970). This is a no-frills nine-track album that stands as one of the great records in rock history. The vibrant cover is one of the most famous of all time and looks great in the larger size afforded by vinyl. The back cover is a backstage shot with Keith Moon being his usual crazy self and it told me, even as a young kid, that the superb drummer was also quite the character (which I'd learn about in more detail years later!).

Front cover


Rear cover

Quadrophenia (released 1973)

Of all of the Who albums, this one has always been my favorite and to this day, it remains one of my top three favorite albums of all time. I am not exaggerating when I say that this album helped me out immensely when I was a teenager and saved my life (and my sanity) on more than one occasion. Absolutely everything about, from the great music to the incredible packaging, marks this as one of the masterpieces of the rock era and certainly the pinnacle of the Who's career (even Pete Townshend himself has been quoted as saying he'll never write anything better than this). I spent hours and days with this album, listening to it, memorizing every lyric and musical nuance, and studying the cover and the gorgeous libretto, to the point that it's in my DNA. The book allows you to follow the story of the album in real time as you listen to it, and the overall gray coloration of the entire package, plus its strong connection to ocean and water themes (which, as someone who has a deep love for the ocean, is yet another way in which it resonates with me on multiple levels) and this is probably THE perfect album for me and my life.  I remember buying this on CD in the early 1990s and being so disappointed at the packaging; I was thrilled when it was finally released in 1996 with the original libretto included...smaller, yes, but at least it was intact and it was THERE.



Front cover, complete with price tag of $4.99 in the upper righthand corner


Rear cover


Inner gatefold with story on the left, credits on the right




The libretto

Libretto

Who Are You (released 1978)

The final Who album with Keith Moon and, in my opinion, the final Who album, period. Another no-frills album with no elaborate packaging, but a great collection of songs. As a kid, I only knew the growling title-track from the radio and the rest of the album confused me until I was old enough to appreciate what Pete was doing with his writing by this stage in the band's career. I still think it's a great, underrated, and unique Who album. The artwork is great, with all of the tangled leads and cables and the vibrant colors. The band still look badass on the cover...weary and intense, but still great (Keith's weight gain notwithstanding). The eerie message on Keith's chair got to me even back then.





JOHNNY WINTER

As I've written about before, when my dad would listen to Johnny, I was enthralled with his playing and voice and thought he must be a really flamboyant black guy who had the blues in his DNA. Imagine my surprise a little bit later when I found that I was right in every way but one, and that not only was he white but that he was albino! Such things didn't matter then and they don't now, but I do remember my surprise when the image in my mind didn't match the guy on the album cover!


Johnny Winter And/Live (released 1970/71)

This is a weird one, as it's a two-record set that combines his 1970 studio album And with his 1971 live album And Live. Both are great, however...some weak tracks on the studio side but the live album is blistering!

Front cover


Rear cover


Captured Live! (released 1976)

This one is just incendiary. I remember this being one of the ones where the guitar playing just made my jaw drop when I first heard it and I really listened to it intently for many years. I still love cranking this one up. This one has a no-frills sleeve with a shot of the massive crowd on the back cover, but every song is just a tour-de-force of guitar, not to mention the great band Johnny had behind him.


JETHRO TULL

Tull is a band I've always been a big fan of, but only their earlier material...after their Thick as a Brick album from 1972, I don't care for their stuff. Luckily, the records my dad had of theirs were from their classic earlier period and the combination of their very British heavy-guitar sound with their more acoustic folk pieces, not to mention the bizarre addition of Ian Anderson on lead flute (which somehow worked!) was totally unique. I loved these guys and still do.


Benefit (released 1970)

Tull's third album and probably the one where their mix of English psychedelia, folk, and electric blues came together in its most perfect form. I spent a lot of time listening to this one and...


Aqualung (released 1971)

What a great album, and rightly considered one of the greatest of all time. The title track, "Cross Eyed Mary," and "Locomotive Breath" were favorites as a kid and I spent a lot of time trying to suss those out on guitar. The entire album is great from start to finish, though.


TRAFFIC

Traffic are another band that may not be as well known now as they should be, but they were/are a favorite of my dad's, and a band that I love as well. Led by the brilliant Steve Winwood, their blend of English psychedelia, folk, jazz, and R&B was really unique, and the sheer number of great songs and albums they had speak volumes about their place in rock history.


Best of Traffic (released 1969)

A compilation of their earlier hits and album tracks, there's some great stuff on here...mainly their 1960s non-album singles, which were especially difficult to get in the US as I believe most of them were only ever released in the UK.


John Barleycorn Must Die (released 1970)

One of my favorite albums and one of the band's best. The opening salvo of Glad/Freedom Rider is just fantastic and there isn't a duff track over the course of the entire album. Pretty minimalist packaging in terms of coloration but the burlap-sack texture on the sleeve and the woodcut image on the front totally fit with the theme of the album.


The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (released 1971)

Another great album, especially the long title track, and this one is interesting because the outer cardboard record sleeve has the corners cut off in order to create the 3D cube effect (although when the record and inner sleeve are inserted, the corners stick out.


SANTANA

Santana (released 1969, left) and Abraxas (released 1970, right)
Another great guitarist, although I'm only like the first three albums he and his band did. These are the first two, and have typically ornate and cool-looking late 1960s/early 1970s artwork. Even better, the original full-size poster that came with Abraxas is still in my dad's copy!


Poster included in Abraxas

LED ZEPPELIN

What can be said about the mighty Led Zep that hasn't already been said by so many others, including me? Yes, they "borrowed" heavily from their sources, but it can't be denied that they were incredibly talented and creative and remain one of the greatest bands in the history of rock. Jimmy Page was and still is one of my biggest guitar influences and their sonic assault, contrasted with their use of loud/soft dynamics and acoustic instrumentation knocked me out as a kid and still thrills with each listen.

Led Zeppelin II (released 1969)

I spent a LOT of time with this record, playing air guitar to Page's solo spot in "Whole Lotte Love" and later on, studying it and using it to learn how to play each and every one of its songs. It has a pretty cool gatefold (not shown) of a giant blimp flying through spotlights that my oldest daughter liked when I took the picture below.


Led Zeppelin IV (released 1971)

Along with 1975's Physical Graffiti, their high-water mark. Just a flawless album from start to finish. Add to that some truly cryptic artwork with nary a mention of the band's name anywhere on the outside, and the presence of those runes inside (as well as on the record label) and the air of mystery was palpable to a young boy. The gatefold picture of "The Hermit" and the ancient font used to write the lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven" on the inner sleeve only complete the whole package.




In Through the Out Door (released 1979)

The final album, a transitional one that sadly ended up being their last since John Bonham tragically died in late 1980. I've always liked this record, even though it's not their best and many Zeppelin fans loathe it. Besides the music, the packaging was great and a perfect example of vinyl's superiority over other formats. The front and back covers are different character's perspectives from within the photo and a total of *six* different sleeves ensured that there was a lot of variability as to what record you got when you bought this (mainly because it was shrink wrapped in a plain brown wrapper so you didn't know which one you got until you bought it!). The inner sleeve also has a secret...wet it with some water and a note in the ashtray appears with a message. Neither my dad nor I ever did that so the sleeve is intact, as seen below. Still, pretty cool!






Front of inner sleeve



Back of inner sleeve


JIMI HENDRIX

Again, nothing needs to be said about Jimi; quite simply, one of the greatest, most influential and groundbreaking guitarists of all time. My dad once told me that hearing Hendrix for the first time in late 1966/early 1967 was like hearing something from another planet...it was that unique. I will admit that Jimi is an influence on my playing in terms of my having learned to play many of his songs and using some of his riffs as jumping off points for my own playing, but to say I can even come close to approaching him would be ludicrous. I spent MANY hours listening to these records...it's just great music, and like most of the great frontmen, he had a top-notch band behind him.


Are You Experienced? (released 1967)

One of the greatest debut albums of all time and a real blast to listen to...this is, as I read years ago, "the blues by way of Venus." It blew minds in the 1960s and it blew my mind twenty years later. Pretty minimalist packaging, but a great fish-eye lens photo of the band (with a really groovy jacket Jimi has on...the eyes on his shoulders used to weird me out as a kid!).








Electric Ladyland (released 1968)

Jimi's magnum opus. I also think it's one of the greatest albums by anyone, any time, period. Four sides of incredible music running the gamut from hard rock, blues, jazz, psychedelia, R&B, and everything in between. No two songs sound the same on this album and the level of musicianship is awe-inspiring, although Jimi's perfectionism and attention to detail are what led Noel Redding to leave the band the following year. The packaging is befitting a work such as this, with the instantly recognizable cover, a great group shot on the rear, and loads of other pictures in the gatefold.







Band of Gypsys (released 1970)

The last album Jimi would released in his lifetime.  What was initially a way to get out of a lawsuit due to a bad pre-fame contract he'd signed ended up resulting in one of the great live albums and a wholly unique entry in his catalog. The nascent funk and soul beats found on this record would transcend rock music into the next decade and beyond, and the level of Jimi's playing on these new songs was absolutely staggering: one only has to listen to "Machine Gun" and "Power of Soul" to realize this was a guy who was on another level from any other great guitarist who's ever lived. The album cover is striking and one of my favorites.










The Cry of Love (released 1971)

Released a year after his death and compiled by his longtime engineer Eddie Kramer and his drummer Mitch Mitchell, this collected the most complete tracks intended for his fourth studio album at the time of his death. All of this material has been subsequently released by the Hendrix family on the excellent releases First Rays of the New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta in the 1990s, but forty-five years ago, this was the only way to hear these new Hendrix songs. A great album cover, some interesting pictures in the gatefold (including Jimi leaning out of a window with a rifle!) and this was one that fascinated me once I dug deeper into it after absorbing the releases he put out when he was alive.






CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL

Having just reviewed a biography on the band, I was reminded yet again about something pertaining to CCR that always had me shaking my head in awe: these guys put out a TON of great records and songs in such a short span of time! In three and a half years, they released seven studio albums (including three in 1969!) and a bunch of great singles. Forty-five years on and the music still sounds as fresh and vibrant as it did back then. I've always loved CCR and they were a great way to learn guitar...the songs sound fairly complicated and well-put together but are deceptively simple when you break them down. That's the hallmark of a great writer, which John Fogerty certainly was, but you can't overlook the fact that the band as a whole was what made these tunes so magical.

Creedence Gold (released 1972)

Oh man, do I love this record. Not only is it a great collection of songs, but the packaging is really neat. The front has die cut silhouettes of each band member, and when you turn each flap, there's a picture of them. The back cover has a great group shot, and the inner sleeve has photos of each of their album releases. I spent a lot time playing guitar along to these songs and it served as my springboard to discover the rest of their great music.





STEELY DAN

I've always been a big Steely Dan fan...it stemmed mainly from hearing their songs on the radio. I've always liked their catchy songs, Donald Fagen's really weird voice (but it works!) and their amalgam of rock, soul, and jazz. My parents had every album on vinyl except for their final (before their 1990s reunion) release, 1980's Gaucho. I spent a lot of time listening to these records and discovering the numerous deeper album cuts that you never hear on the radio.





THE BEATLES

Well, of course! Last but certainly not least, as you know, the Beatles are my favorite band of all time and their music has been with me as long as I can ever remember, from birth (and before, probably!). Growing up, I heard them all the time on the radio and on these records...it wasn't until later on in the late 1980s when the entire UK discography was released on CD that I absorbed everything they had ever released, but even so, I played, played, and played some more these two albums. They are of course...

The Red Album (1962-1966) and The Blue Album (1967-70) (both released 1973)

These are two examples of how great compilations can be if enough time, care, and attention to detail is taken when putting them together.  They contain a perfect mix of singles, B-sides, and album tracks and offer what's probably the best comprehensive cross-section of the band's entire career (although of course, I would direct EVERYONE to simply buy all of their albums...they're essential). I loved the striking contrast between what they looked like in 1963 on the cover of Red and what they looked like in 1969 on the cover of Blue...same pose, same building, but they looked so different and it blew my childhood mind that it was only a span of six years (it still boggles my mind when I think about it). The inner gatefold is a cool picture from the famous "Mad Day Out" photo session of July 1968, which is one of my favorite sets of photos of the band (one of my favorite posters I had when growing up is from that photo shoot). The A- and B-side Apple labels were always cool, and still are.  Just great, fond memories of these records as a kid.


















That's it for Part 1! I hope you've enjoyed it, and feel free to share any of your memories of these records (or others) in the comments section below. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll go through the rest of the records that I grew up with!