Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Under-Appreciated Albums, Part 1: The '70s

Many of my favorite albums are universally loved. Few will argue that classics like OK Computer, Abbey Road, and Closer haven't gotten their just due from the music press and from listeners. But many of the rest of my favorite albums are either ignored, mocked, or forgotten by the press, the blogosphere, and even my like-minded friends. Starting today, I'm going to talk about those albums, grouped by release decade. These are albums that I love and that have, for one reason or another, fallen by the wayside. Maybe I'm wrong and the album actually objectively sucks; maybe the band in question has released a few crap follow-ups that make people forget that they were once good; maybe the album is universally well regarded and I'm missing something. But I love these albums, and I hope that whoever reads this will give them another shot or listen to them for the first time. Today, four albums from the '70s.

Jethro Tull - Aqualung (1971)

The worst thing that ever happened to Tull was winning that Grammy because it turned them from a band into a punch line. All of their classic-period output was immediately changed from respectable classic rock to those songs by that band who won a heavy-metal Grammy over Metallica by playing a flute. Aqualung is a concept album to the bone (the concept basically being "fuck religion"), from album art to production values to lyrics, and from beginning to end. It begins with that classic six-note riff of the title track and charges through harder, radio friendly songs ("Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath") dotted with brief, intimate cuts ("Wond'ring Aloud", "Cheap Day Return", "Slipstream") that are, in many ways, the heart of the album. And, yes, there might be a three-minute flute solo during "My God", but it's the best three minute flute solo you ever heard. This is one of the first albums I listened to growing up that made me realize that an album was an Album, and not just a collection of songs. I honestly believe it's one of the best albums of that late '60s / early '70s classic rock period, and one that I would have a hard time not including in a short list of my favorite albums ever.

Can - Soon Over Babaluma (1974)

This album gets overlooked because it's the first Can album since Monster Movie that doesn't include the vocal freak outs of music critic idol Damo Suzuki (vocals on Soon Over Babaluma by Schmidt and Karoli). Suzuki is certainly an interesting character, and his presence is essential on the adored triptych of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days, but his absence in Soon Over Babaluma forces the focus back on the music and Can's four incredible musicians. Can's brand of Krautrock always bordered on ambient, and this album is the bridge between their earlier music with vocals and their later music without. Opener "Dizzy Dizzy" is a great pop song and the original side-B of the LP consisting of "Chain Reaction" and "Quantum Physics" is among the best pieces of music the band ever recorded. If you don't like Can you probably won't like this, but if you like their earlier output and haven't heard this for whatever reason, give it a try.

Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram (1971)

Some of the stuff on Ram is just as good as any of Paul's non-second-half-of-Abbey Road Beatles output. A lot of the commentary regarding this album focuses on the shots that Paul takes at John and Yoko, but it's a better album if those shots can be ignored. I love the hell out of "Dear Boy", especially the layering at the end. "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" is pretty much a classic, and "The Back Seat of My Car" is a great closer. I think people pay less attention to this album because it gets overshadowed by Band on the Run and McCartney (not to mention All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band), because Paul is less "cool" than John and George, and because of its stupid album art, but this is my favorite post-Beatles solo record.

The Jam - All Mod Cons (1978)

This is directed at NQL's stateside audience, as the UK seems to love this album unconditionally. Actually, most of the critical U.S. loves this album too. How The Jam are basically ignored by the listening public here is beyond me, but All Mod Cons should be lumped with Pink Flag, Singles Going Steady, etc. as a late '70s masterpiece. I actually know very little about The Jam. I know that Paul Weller is their guitarist and that I always see him in the pages of Mojo and Q, and I know that they informed a lot of the new British bands that all of the kids are listening to. I also know that All Mod Cons is superb-- the lyrics are sharp and the songs are catchy as hell. The album just sounds like England, kind of like how Parklife did in the '90s.

--Jim Powers

2 comments:

Bill V said...

For sure the Jam was under-appreciated in the states. As a whole catalog theirs was right up there with the Clash.

Brian said...

Good show, Jim Powers. Ram is the bomb, and Paul Weller's solo work is pretty solid. I've been meaning to check out Style Council for a while, too.

 
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