Album Reviews

Funkadelic “Let’s Take it to the Stage” (1975)

Let’s Take it to the Stage is easily a top-3 Funkadelic album, maybe even the best. It opens with the rocking one-two punch of “Good to Your Earhole” and “Better by the Pound”. I’ve always considered Funkadelic a rock band that is extremely funky, not vice versa, and these two tracks add credence to that way of thinking. Next is “Be My Beach” which is one of the most unique, trippy songs they have ever made. Bootsy’s vocals are fantastic. Fourth is Clinton’s updated take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Jane is a Groupie”. “No Head, No Backstage Pass” is hilarious, sleazy, biting and to the point. It’s also on the verge of heavy metal, a concept that was being invented by Black Sabbath. Next is the title track which is the biggest “hit” off of the album. Memorable for the funk mob’s playful skewering of their contemporaries, this statement of dominance doesn’t hold up as well, to me, as the wonderfully crafted tunes that surround it. One track that holds up exceedingly well, however, is “Get Off You’re Ass and Jam”. Fueled by Michael Hampton’s frenzied guitar solos, this live staple practically assaults you when you listen to it. Hampton (along with his predecessor and inspiration, Eddie Hazel) still ranks among rock’s greatest guitarists, and his performance on this album is one of the reasons why.

While Let’s Take it to the Stage doesn’t get the recognition of Maggot Brain or One Nation Under a Groove, it is every bit as essential. Clinton and company were at a song-writing apex, giving us several 2-5 minute blasts of brilliance. The assertion that Funkadelic is the “black Beatles” is not far off base. Strip away the psychedelia, the dark humor, the monstrous bass of Bootsy and the general Funkadelic craziness, and you’ve got a perfectly crafted pop album. Of course, strip all of that away, and you don’t have Funkadelic. –Lucas

The Records “The Records” (1979)

Sure, their flawless, jet-setting single “Starry Eyes” is reason enough to pick up The Records’ debut, but the album as a whole is stuffed with more sugary goodness than your average box of Frosted Flakes. The first side is jam-packed with the restless “All Messed Up and Ready to Go,” adolescent buzz of “Teenarama,” minor key mood piece “Girls That Don’t Exist,” and choice deep cut in the lingering ballad “Up All Night,” while the remainder is highlighted by the punchy rock of “Girl,” nervous “Insomnia,” and jukebox hero tale, “Another Star.” With the requisite vocal harmonies and ringing guitars filled out with the occasional organ or synthesizer, The Records is steadfast in it’s delivery of classic power pop confection. –Ben

The Fall “Live at the Witch Trials” (1979)

They are the Fall. He is the Fall. I’m awfully glad someone is, because, pound for pound, album for album, song for song, no one would make such consistently exciting music between 1977 and about 1987. Their debut LP is just about as extraordinary as any of their other prime-period albums, as a young Mark E Smith rants over a busily neurotic minimalism that here sounds a lot like Public Image Ltd. but with more Can than dub in the mix. They also have more studio polish here than they would for several albums, even if it is an ultra-cheap studio sound with a slightly cheesy “punchy” drum sound and a rather drab mix that’s oddly glossy in comparison with, say, Grotesque or Hex Enduction Hour. And even if the infamous Fall sonic/conceptual vocabulary is only in its infancy on this one, this is light years ahead of its peers for morbidly funny, scathing misanthropic vitriol and irresistible two-note hooks. I shouldn’t say that. The Fall have always been peerless. Not a weak track on here; threatening, hilarious, creepy, that is the Fall. If you don’t like ’em, you deserve it. –Will

Oscar Toney, Jr. “For Your Precious Love” (1967)

Lordy, I’m a sucker for Deep Soul. You know the weepy, hollering gospel driven soul, which reaches through you and twists and pulls and pulls and twists on your heart till every last drop of feeling bad and blue, even if you have nothing feel bad about…spills over and drips down your face. Yeah…it is that feeling which Oscar nails! That said, Toney’s “Precious Love” LP is a solid chin wiggling and tear jerking event, but…there’s a song or two which crosses over into “classy pop”. But please don’t be afraid of strings, Toney is not given to schmaltzy “Warwick” pop/soul…oh, and there’s even, at least, one Northern mover…thankfully, which gives me time between weepers to dance over to a fresh box of tissues. –Nipper

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality” (1971)

The beautiful thing thing about the first few Black Sabbath records is that, although they’re the heaviest, darkest, and most extreme representations of electric guitar driven music at that time, it’s the kind of thing a five year old could get down to at first listen. Their undeniably satisfying grooves, hooks, and drive leave them sounding as easily digestible as Creedence Clearwater Revival, only dipped in wax and plugged through a marshall stack in the dark. Master Of Reality, Sabbath’s third testament, is probably their darkest. From the black haze of a cover and heaviest album title of all time, to guitar tone that sounds like the amps took bong rips, the record has enough vibe to spook a horse. The songs are laid back and seem to exercise groove endurance, giving the effect of psychedelia through hypnotism. Juxtaposing the fuzz are two short mellow instrumentals and the angelic “solitude,” which sounds like a candle glowing under the ocean. Art of the highest order and accessible to all walks. if you haven’t yet gotten down, I suggest getting down immediately. -Alex

Curtis Mayfield “Superfly” (1972)

A monument of 70’s soul music that totally eclipsed the film it scores and for good reason as an average film continues to get a lot of attention on the back of this record. While the film seemed to glamorize drug dealing in the black community Curtis told the real and much less appealing truth about his communities struggle against its evils. In doing so he produced a record of real power and one with a bittersweet feel as serious and depressing subject matter is delivered by the delicate almost angelic falsetto. It is up there with the great soul concept LP’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Donny Hathaway’s “Extension of a Man” that signaled a major shift in the power of soul and black music in general. –Jon

Buckner & Garcia “Pac-Man Fever” (1982)

It all started with the video junkie smash single, “Pac-Man Fever,” probably the most stirring celebration of hitting rock bottom since the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” and blossomed into this full length cash in. You can take Pac-Man Fever as mere novelty, or read between the 8-bit lines for the real story. Check out the chilling “to a Centipede,” as the protagonist’s emotionless voice warns “don’t try hiding behind the mushrooms… I see you” like a calculating serial-killer, the shell-shocked pilot in a kill or be killed battle at the heart of “Defender,” or last humanoid on Earth “Goin’ Berzerk” as an ever-increasing wave of robots and Evil Otto close in. All the pressure comes to a boil in the complex set of dance floor directives, “Do the Donkey Kong,” one unrelenting amphetamine rush of a track. Pac-Man Fever stands as a one of a kind archive of a long lost age that will never return, as wood-paneled consoles rot in the back of pizza parlors while the youth of today live out their homicidal fantasies at home, their hot-pocket stained faces permanently glued to X-Boxes and Wiis. –Ben

Kiss “Hotter Than Hell” (1977)

Even though I was an impressionable kid smack dab in the middle of the ’70s I was a late comer to Kiss. It’s long, dumb story, but when I finally did come around it was Kiss’ second album, “Hotter Than Hell,” that turned me on. Specifically, the track “Parasite.” It completely did me in… it’s start/stop sing-a-long lurch… yeah, just my style. The genius, beyond “Hotter Than Hell” obviously being Kiss, is the entire record is solid American mid ’70s Rock and Roll, a bit sing-a-long glam and a little stoned… yep, just right… and that ’70s rock record production, was it engineered (is it the compression?) to feel a tad quiet so you had to turn it up way too loud? –Nipper

Booker T & The MG’s “McLemore Avenue” (1970)

Likely my favorite of the “Abbey Road” concept cover albums, this is a crisp, tight and funky interpretation of all the classics we know and love, with perfect bubbly organ and bright guitar tone. Booker T and the band actually seem to hold back a bit on most of the numbers, arranging nearly all of the “Abbey Road” songs into three medleys, and one version of Harrison’s “Something”, really only breaking out the dirty soul for moments of “The End” and “Come Together”. And being that this was recorded in 1970, they had to test out some of the new technology and record a Moog for the intro of “Here Comes The Sun”. So what makes this any better than the glut of Beatles covers that ran rampant then and now? Well, for one thing, Booker T & the MG’s are one of America’s most famous “backing bands”, and this time, since there’s no vocalist to feature, the songs can really stand on their own. No wankery solos or bombast are needed to create attention, this is a soulful and understated interpretation. Steve Cropper can say more with three notes than most can with thirty, and on songs like those found on “Abbey Road”, he can say what he means effortlessly, and engagingly. There’s a lot of space in between the notes, and when you’re as tight as these guys, you get to hear it and appreciate it all. –Cameron

Zapp “Zapp” (1980)

While this artist and LP have a definate P-Funk influence, Roger Troutman is no less a brilliant musician himself. The same way James Brown took the African-American experience (like Hendrix, Sly Stone & others) to a different level, so did Roger & Zapp with “More Bounce To The Ounce.” It was, and is, like nothing ever heard before. Just like Larry Graham’s bass changed the face of R/B and funk, so did “More Bounce.” The whole nine minutes of the song is irresistable. It opened the door for street funk, which gave way to another type of “funk”: Hip-Hop and Rap. This LP is a defining moment in Black music. Not only is Roger a master at the “talk box,” his deep blues committments come shining through. Per groove, Zapp offers the most bounce to the ounce!

Crazy Horse “Crazy Horse” (1971)

An oft-forgotten little gem of the early 70s, this album is in some respects better than you’d expect a Crazy Horse album to be; but in hindsight, a really strong album by Crazy Horse without Neil Young makes sense. They had all the ingredients necessary for a great band, which is why Young’s albums with them rarely relegate them simply to backing status. The songs are solid, the performances predictably lazy without sounding lifeless, and the group shows a surprising amount of variety both in terms of style and in terms of dynamics. You may be surprised by the number of songs on here that you’ve already heard covered with varying levels of success. Highly recommended to those who own the Neil Young albums, and heartily recommended to fans of early 70s rock in general. –Will

Flamin’ Groovies “Flamingo” (1970)

We all know progressive rock. But who among us knows of the superior pleasures of regressive rock? Only those who listen to the likes of the Flamin’ Groovies, a cult band in the truest sense, who sound out of time and place whenever they’re played, because they’re both backward and forward looking, trapped in a netherworld of bandwagon jumping and hipster snobbery. Yet sometimes they seem to nail the world down in just the right place with their no-frills garage rock and oddly innocent decadence. Flamingo is the one that does it for me. More consistent than Teenage Head (their other near-masterpiece), this one is an almost relentless 10-track barnburner. It’s a drunkard’s record. A brawler’s record. The record waiting for that summer’s night cruise in the Dodge Challenger. In a just world, “Second Cousin” and “She’s Falling Apart” would be classics. “Road House” sounds like The Who in ’65 crossed with The Gun Club in ’80. Join the cult. Go on, drink it, it’s good for you. –Will