Album Reviews

Cheap Trick “Cheap Trick” (1977)

One of the best albums and greatest debuts of all time! “Cheap Trick” must have sounded light years ahead of its time when it arrived in 1977. Arena rock and power pop meet glam and punk with a trashy, live, unpolished sound. Too pop to be punk and too punk to be considered pop, the record tanked in ’77, but listening to it now it’s hard to imagine how this record wasn’t an instant hit. A few years later Cheap Trick would fill stadiums but musically they never topped this debut. Highlights include the glam “ELO Kiddies,” the dark and delightfully perverted “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School,” the catchiest song ever written about the IRS, “Taxman Mr Thief,” and the infectious “Oh Candy.” Power pop perfection! –David

Arthur Brown “The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown” (1968)

Occasionally, screaming out of two scant seconds of dead FM radio silence, would be “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE, and I give you FIRE!” Terrified, before the first phrase of the song’s riff was finished, I’d jump up and turn off the radio. Um, it WAS the mid ’70s and, being a kid easily creeped out, I truly believed Arthur Brown WAS the god of hell fire! He, and his big CREEPY voice… it’s possessing as it IS possessed…, was coming after ME! It haunted me, if ever I thought about evil things (um, clowns mostly) that song, that VOICE, provided the soundtrack. Eventually, I got over being honestly freaked out, it was just theatrics (RIGHT?!). Now “The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown” is one of my favorite ’60s albums. The A side is a wicked psychedelic concerto of swirling Hammond organ, thundering drums and Mr. Browns big BAD voice… which gives me shivers, still. –Nipper

Sly and the Family Stone “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” (1971)

The greatest funk album ever recorded, which puts it way up there for best album, period. It’s done more than any other single pop album to change the way I listen to music, and even two years after first hearing it (yeah, I came to the riot late), I’m in awe of how it works – after all, it really shouldn’t, it’s simply too fucked up. Insular, decadent to the death, angry to exhaustion, with a bass guitar so upfront it’s unlistenable for quite some time, until you realize this is part of the album’s statement of purpose: all the crap that comes out of suburban subwoofers owes a debt to the dank, dirty vibe of the bass on this album. –Will

X “Under The Big Black Sun” (1982)

A record that sums up Americana as well as any other. “Under The Big Black Sun” is proof that X was as good of a country band as they were a punk band. Rockin’, rollicking, dissonant and dizzying, this record is a forty-five minute bender. Bookended by “The Hungry Wolf” (an superblast of syncopated yell along) and “The Have Nots” (possibly the best drinking song ever), this is the soundtrack to an unencumbered night out. –Cameron

T. Rex “T. Rex” (1970)

First Tyrannosaurus Rex release featuring the shortened moniker, T. Rex balances Bolan’s brain-fried, hippie-folk mysticism with a pop sensibility that would explode in T-Rexstacy, once he figured out this stuff might sound better with bass and drums. Of course, Bolan could craft a killer hook in his sleep, and T. Rex is full of them, be it on tender numbers like “Diamond Meadows,” close encounter of “The Visit,” electric freak out “Jewel,” or glam boogie previews like “One Inch Rock,” many numbers benefiting especially well from added string accompaniment. Highly recommended to anyone wanting to dig deeper than “Electric Warrior.” –Ben

Ananda Shankar “Ananda Shankar And His Music” (1975)

A scorching soundclash that mixes western funk and fusion with traditional Indian music to stunning effect. The result is some of the funkiest and out-there music from the 70’s. Mad sitar playing, buzzing electronic effects and heavy use of percussion and a non-stop groove makes for some great listening. This is cross-cutural music of the highest order that pandered to no fashions and managed to avoid sounding contrived. High on energy and catchy riffs as well as a good insight into more traditional Indian sounds. –Jon

Ravi Shankar’s nephew, Ananda, fuses traditional Indian music with heavy psych-funk creating one of the best “Indo-fusion” albums of all time! –David

Hal Blaine & The Young Cougars “Deuces, T’s, Roadsters, & Drums” (1963)

For those who don’t know, Mr. Blaine was a session drummer, and, though you might not recognize his name, many drummers of the early ’60s, considered him their “Chet Atkins!” Well, with his solo LP he gets down on some heavy instrumental, Hot Rod heat. For me, this is one of the better, more inventive, Hot Rod records as DTR&D is royally executed by the top LA session fellas. The list of “Young Cougars” is as long as my right arm, and DTR&D is produced in bright, booming ’60’s “Soundtrack” clarity by Lee Hazelwood. Oh, there’s even a handy “hot rod” lexicon featured in the liner notes, now I know what “E.T.” really stands for! –Nipper

Blue Öyster Cult “Blue Öyster Cult” (1972)

Long before the mega-hits “Godzilla” and “(Dont Fear) The Reaper” roamed FM radio waves there lived a different kind of creature: “Blue Öyster Cult” the album. Everything about BÖC is unique: from their mysterious name, the umlaut over the Ö and the famous hook and cross logo to the cryptic lyrics and their instantly recognizable sound. Nowhere is their uniqueness more apparent than on this classic self-titled debut. The music lies somewhere between psychedelia and heavy metal and the cover features black and white op-art that perfectly captures the sci-fi and horror themes inside. My favorite tracks are the classic “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” the tripped out “Screams,” the even trippier “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” and the country-rock of “Redeemed” with it’s beautiful harmonies. All I can say is: “More Cowbell!” –David

Archie Shepp “Attica Blues” (1972)

Thunderous, joyous, angry, sad beautiful and swinging. All of this in forty minutes of music from Shepp. This is a remarkable record that has so many flavors. The free jazz of his earlier work is replaced by gospel, blues and R&B. The opener is an all out assault that literally screams from the speakers. The fact that his can be followed by a ballad of such tenderness as Steam shows the genius of Shepp. Human rights form a common theme throughout and may explain some of the energy within. Shepp himself sounds so much more fulfilling in a bluesy role. –Jon

Seriously funky! The title track makes Sly Stone look like Kenny Rogers. The rest reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron occasionally straying into freaky Melvin Van Peebles territory. Expecting jazz, this album really blew my mind the first time I heard it. –David

Guided by Voices “Bee Thousand” (1994)

Their best album, without question: an inspired amalgam of a particularly British rock history (Bob even puts on the accent, though with a charming lack of consistency that recalls Sir Alex Chilton rather than other lesser American poseurs): channelling Who mod aggression, late-60s Kinks nostalgia, Revolver’s kitchen-sink aesthetic, and post-punk collage sensibilities, this was the album that got GBV out of a Dayton, OH basement, and I bet it’s the one that’ll be played 20 years from now. I know, I know, Alien Lanes is arguably more varied and better paced. But Pollard never wrote a better set of lyrics than here (his random strings of sentiment pile up into something more significant here than they tend to do), and the hooks are seemingly effortless. The ultra lo-fi recording reveals layered detail, and the opening three tracks here qualify among the best sequences in pop history: “Hardcore UFOs” is one of the only rock anthems of the last 30 years that packs any emotional punch, while “Tractor Rape Chain” sounds like Neil Young & Crazy Horse in some parallel universe where they hailed from Leeds. And littered throughout this 20-song tunefest are many of their other best songs: “Gold Star for Robot Boy” is a mod anti-authority song for the slacker generation; the deranged but dead-on “Her Psychology Today” resurrects classic-rock misogyny for the era of the institutionalized sensitive male and the powerbook feminist; and “Kicker of Elves,” well, what the hell is “Kicker of Elves?” Pop bliss in a minute. God Bless Guided By Voices and the Lager-Soaked Four-Track They Sailed In On. –Will