Thursday, June 9, 2011

50 Favorite Classic Rock Albums, Part 1

A few months ago, a local classic rock radio station did a countdown of the 100 Greatest Albums as voted on by their listeners. While there were several great choices on it, their list was, for the most part, total crap. (Meatloaf?? Seriously???) So I decided to show them how it's done and make my own list.

Now, you may recall that, over a year ago, I attempted to do something similar by placing all the studio-released albums I own in a list by order of preference. However, that list was hastily (drunkenly) made. This time, I have taken months of careful, painstaking consideration to compile my list. Either that, or I slapped it together ages ago and have just been too lazy to write up this blog. Whichever you want to believe.

All kidding aside, though, I have actually made this list carefully. I did, generally, rank albums by order of preference (hence the use of “favorite” instead of “greatest”), but I also took into account other things such as quality, critical/popular acclaim, and cultural importance. Otherwise, there probably wouldn’t be many other artists besides the Beatles, Dylan, and David Bowie on the list. (Not that there are that many others….) And I came up with some parameters for the list. (Note: these are broken up into sections of 1,000 words or less, so they won't be in pretty blocks of 5 or 10. And probably won't be posted daily. Believe it or not, there is a lot of work that has to go into rock criticism.)
  • The same definition of classic rock as the radio station itself (and not the results of their poll) suggested. So the mid-ish 60s to whenever people for the most part stopped buying records on vinyl (late 80s).
  • No compilation albums. No bootlegs. Live albums only if they were released within a reasonable period from their recording--Frampton Comes Alive, for example.
  • I have to have heard the entire album. No, “well, Side 3 really speaks for the whole thing.” And I have to have actually sat down at some point and listened to the whole thing. For an unfortunate example, even though I’ve heard every song on Are You Experienced?, I’ve never actually listened to it as an album, so it didn’t make the cut.
50. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), David Bowie, 1980
Many critics consider Scary Monsters to be Bowie’s last great masterpiece. I disagree (with the “last” bit anyway), though in a way they do have a point. Scary Monsters could very well be considered the calumniation of a decade’s worth of work. It comes after a three album period of intense experimentation with Brian Eno. Bowie took the innovative techniques they had employed on Low and “Heroes” and here applied them to songs in a more conventional way. Well, as conventional as a New Waver could be, that is. The album also refers back to the past ten years of Bowie’s career—most notably in the song “Ashes to Ashes” which asks us to recall Major Tom, who, still drifting in space, we are informed has become a junkie. No need to guess what he’s on. The album is best known for the ground-breaking (in style as well as technology) music videos for “Ashes” and “Fashion,” but there are also some lovely little gems among the deep cuts, such as “Up the Hill Backwards” and “Teenage Wildlife.”

49. A Hard Day’s Night [UK version], The Beatles, 1964
In 1964 there was nothing, nothing, on earth bigger than The Beatles. So, naturally, they were offered a movie deal. And a movie would mean they needed new songs. Lennon and McCartney wrote so many songs for A Hard Day’s Night that, in the UK at least, the tie-in album was released not as a soundtrack, but as a proper album. A Hard Day's Night is the first Beatles album to feature all songs written by the band. This means that, unlike their previous two releases, there were no cover songs, nor, sadly, were there any George Harrison compositions. At lot of people look down on the early Beatles records because they’re not as sophisticated as the later ones. Granted, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” might not have the complexity of, say, “A Day in the Life,” but let’s not forget that when The Beatles wanted to do rock and roll, they could really do rock and roll. The early songs may be simple, but they were damned good songs, and here, on A Hard Day’s Night, Lennon and McCartney were at the peak of their early songwriting days. The songs from the film, of course, are the most well-remembered, “A Hard Day’s Night” in the iconic opening sequence, and “Can’t Buy Me Love” as the “first” modern music video. The second side is comprised mostly of songs not associated with the film. Particular strong points here include “Things We Said Today,” and “I’ll Be Back.”

48. Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969
Take a guy from The Byrds, a guy from Buffalo Springfield, and a guy from The Hollies, and what do you get? A band so big that there can be no name appropriate other than their own: Crosby, Stills, and Nash. And for their debut album, no title would do save for those three names. They bring together some of the best sounds of the 60s—a little folk rock, a little British invasion, a little psychedelic—into a sound that is uniquely their own. And just as well as their different musical styles blend, so too do their voices. Some of the best three-part harmony in rock can be heard on the album opener “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” But for as much as they work so well together, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash each put their individual stamp on the album. From Stills there is the rolling consonance of “Helplessly Hoping,” from Nash the bouncy “Marrakesh Express,” and from Crosby the harder-rocking, timely “Long Time Gone.” Crosby, Stills & Nash would provide the closing notes of the 60s and at the same time offer a glimpse of the singer-songwriter decade to come.

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