Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express “A Better Land” (1971)

It is a hallmark of a truly gifted artist to have even unknown works be of extremely high quality, as this exquisite album is. A perfect marriage of jazz, pop and rock, A Better Land never falters for an instant. It is a beautiful work, from beginning to end. Not one note is extraneous, or out of place. My favorite cut is “On Thinking It Over”, with its clever and sensitive use of the open-sounding suspended chords in the chorus. Auger’s vocals are touching and appropriate, with effective use of doubling. And what a gorgeous piano solo! “Marai’s Wedding” is bright & lively, delivered with a deft musical touch. “Women Of The Seasons” is gently hypnotic, and “Tomorrow City” is a melodically catchy, yet uncertain vision of the future.

The messages are ever-resonant. The musicianship is superb–The basslines are catchy & memorable as they run counterpoint to the vocal melodies. All the guitar work is snappy and resonant. Auger’s playing is melodic and expressive, and there is an undeniable chemistry between the musicians. This is an album with a good and gentle heart, even in the uptempo numbers, and that heart really shines through.

If I should ever run into Brian Auger, I will probably make a damn fool of myself gushing out my praise of this little-known masterpiece. I hope he’d understand. This album just does it for me. Always did. Always will. Give it a shot. It’s worthy. —D Lockman

Dire Straits “Making Movies” (1980)

Although it produced no hit singles, “Making Movies” is beyond question Dire Straits’ masterpiece. Mark Knopfler’s ripping guitar forms the backdrop for seven beautiful, haunting, fiercely personal cuts. Every song perfectly captures a deep human emotion, from the bitter heartache of “Romeo And Juliet” to the angry defiance of “Solid Rock” to the steamy lustfulness of “Expresso Love”. There are no weak songs, though the bouncy and playful “Les Boys”, which ends the album, seems a bit out of place compared to the six deadly earnest songs that precede it.

Yes, the album owes a heavy debt of gratitude to Springsteen, with many cuts building on the Boss’s signature guitar/organ/piano framework. But, Knopfler’s vocal delivery and deft guitar work, plus the band’s sparser and cleaner arrangements, never allow you to forget that you’re listening to Dire Straits.

One tip: this album must be heard in its entirety to be fully appreciated. It will take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotion, something that no greatest hits album can ever duplicate.

Kevin Ayers “Joy of a Toy” (1969)

This is a delightfully odd and whimsical album from a genuine English eccentric. It is also an album of rare beauty full of unexpected twists and turns. This is the sort of album we wish Syd Barrett had made after leaving Pink Floyd. From the opener, a cheerful hum-a-long version of Ayers’ Joy of a Toy (a radical reworking of the tune originally on the first Soft Machine album), we know this is not going to be typical rock fare. It does not however prepare us for the strange twiddly fragile gorgeousness of Town Feeling or Song For Insane Times, which must be up there in the top 20 most beautiful recordings ever. Then there is sonic locomotive trip of Stop This Train and the simply undefinable Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong…WOW. This is the sort of album you want to have in reserve incase you need just the thing to brighten up a dull and ordinary day at home. Magical.—Duglas

Donovan “Open Road” (1970)

This album was quite a departure for Donovan in one way. Prior to this, it was extremely difficult to find out who had played on any Donovan album; he had essentially used session musicians as necessary for each individual track. Here, he uses an actual band (and even features them on the cover). As a result, the album has an overall flow and feeling of wholeness that had been notably absent from his previous two LPs. That, combined with the fact that the songs are consistently appealing, makes this one of his strongest albums.

Side A has a bit of a country-folk sound, particularly on “Song for John” and “People Used To”. “Joe Bean’s Theme” is a bossa nova, and “Celtic Rock” is slightly goofy prog. Side two’s “Riki Tiki Tavi” is catchy silliness, somewhat similar to ‘Barabajagal”, but with a bit more of a message in the lyrics. “Clara Clairvoyant” gets a bit funky; “Roots of Oak” is mysterioso Celtic rock, somewhere between Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin. “Season of Farewell” is folky and serene; “Poke at the Pope” is, lyrically, a comical, rather interesting period piece. [In parts this record sounds remarkably like Led Zeppelin III; if you dig that album’s mix of Celtic folk and bone-crunching blues, you really should seek out Open Road.] —Christoper

Eurythmics “In the Garden” (1981)

Eurythmics 1981 album ‘In the Garden’ is a fascinating and generally forgotten record. Recorded with Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank and featuring Blondie’s Clem Burke and Can’s Holger Czukay ‘In the Garden’ was the first record they recorded after the demise of The Tourists and before they had major commercial success. ‘In the Garden’ failed to chart and, sadly, remains largely ignored to this day.

‘In the Garden’ is new wave, no wave, psychedelic, experimental and pop, if pop comes from outer space (and it’s good when it does). Themes include dreamy reverie (English Summer), Kraftwerkian love songs (Take Me To Your Heart), desperate housewives who behave like calculators (She’s Invisible Now), female body image (Caveman Head), and, that’s just for starters. Annie sings in French on the bizarre and catchy ‘Sing Sing’ and most tracks are punctuated with all manner of sound effects, animal impersonations, trains, crickets and sirens. Vocals are processed, mixed up, mixed down, sound like they were recorded underwater, surrounded by cushions, or beamed in from another galaxy, or era, or mental state.

‘In the Garden’ is a great example of the sound of a band experimenting with an Everest of ideas. They wisely stop short of overloading the album though, as it could have been a complete mess. I’ve been finding new things in this album every time I hear it, and that is an awful lot of times. From here came Sweet Dreams and later, it must be said, a general move away from experimental pop towards a generally more commercial direction (which is where I become a little less excited about their music). —Wayne

T. Rex “Electric Warrior” (1971)

On the shortlist of records that are so disarmingly likable that they make me temporarily forget how awful the world can be. What does the line “The President’s weird, he’s got a burgundy beard!” mean? I don’t know, but I’ve never been able to forget it.

This is probably the most stoned-sounding of the old glitter rock classics. Over half of the album is thoroughly chilled-out and spacey, mellow enough for the 4 AM drive home after a long night out. Along with that, Marc Bolan’s lyrics are some of rock’s greatest sexually charged nonsense. I can never tell if Bolan worked hard on these lyrics or if he just tossed ’em off (I like to think he tossed ’em off, too cool to care) and, really, that’s exactly what rock lyrics should be like—funny, mysterious, and beamed in from another dimension. —Jason

The Masked Marauders (1969)

An album that caused much curiosity as well as controversy when it was released late in 1969. The entire concept and mystique of The Masked Marauders (many would call it a hoax) was the brainchild of a then-staff writer at Rolling Stone magazine. From the beginning, the writer only intended it to be a joke, and pushed it to the extreme by printing a phony article about the band in Rolling Stone, as well as touting the upcoming release of the album. The joke obviously worked from the writer’s point of view, but apparently, the record-buying public didn’t get it.

The Masked Marauders were rumored to consist of Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, all of whom supposedly performed on the record anonymously and without photos to preserve the “secrecy” (hence the group’s name). This caused the rumor mill to churn, and public anticipation of the album was so high that people lined up in droves at record shops to buy it on the day it was released. But as it turned out, the Masked Marauders were indeed not the “supergroup” everyone thought them to be, but actually a group of struggling studio musicians calling themselves “The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band”. Confused? Don’t feel bad, everyone else was, too!

The album’s hilarious liner notes alone showed that it totally reeked of farce, with the aforementioned Rolling Stone writer composing them under the pseudonym “T.M. Christian”. For those of you who don’t understand what that means, “T.M. Christian” is a play on words for a Peter Sellers movie from that same period called “The Magic Christian”, which also featured Ringo Starr. That probably explains why Ringo didn’t have time to appear on the Masked Marauders album (tongue firmly in cheek there!) The best bits of the liner notes are, and I quote: “leading experts now estimate that the music industry is 90% hype and 10% bullshit”; and “in a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article” (are you getting the picture now?)

Now if all of THAT wasn’t enough to send you into hysterics, here’s the lowdown on the music: many of the songs on the album are every bit as tongue-in-cheek and performed the same way. For example, the lead track “I Can’t Get No Nookie” comes complete with a nearly dead-on vocal impersonation of Mick Jagger, and the classic “Duke Of Earl” is given another hilariously accurate impersonation, this time of Bob Dylan. Also included is a 10 minute-plus version of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”. This could qualify as the only “serious” track on the album, and it’s actually performed quite well; one of the best versions I’ve heard next to the one on the album “Super Session” by Mike Bloomfield, Stephen Stills & Al Kooper (yes, they were a REAL supergroup!)

If you got the “joke”, then get the album; for what it is, you’ll enjoy it! —Chuck

John Cale “Paris 1919” (1973)

It’s telling that Warner Brothers tags John Cale’s Paris 1919 as ‘classical’ music. While most would consider it rock or pop, it certainly is a genre defying album. With assistance from the UCLA symphony orchestra, Paris 1919 is heavy on strings juxtaposed with piano and guitar. Though, no particular instrument dominates the proceedings. In fact, all nine tracks are seamless, which is a small miracle anytime rock musicians recruit orchestras. The lyrics, seemingly about Western European aristocrats, are deeply impressionistic. Rarely is a clear story told, but the imagery is vivid.  The tone of the entire album – excepting the rocker “MacBeth” – is melancholic, as Cale is an observer of these characters milling about and passing through his sights. However, Cale doesn’t seem to have a favorable view of the upper crust of Western European society. I like to think “Half Past France,” the second to last track, represents Cale’s exit from this society, though it’s not clear who Cale thinks is after him (“If they’re alive then I am dead.”). The last song, “Antartica Starts Here,” which Cale whispers, seemingly is about a woman’s fading appeal, perhaps a metaphor for a stagnant and dying culture, or maybe just another composite sketch, part of the greater whole. —m patton

Warren Zevon “Warren Zevon” (1976)

You all know him as the “Werewolf in London”, but beyond that infectious radio hit, Warren Zevon has always been an ‘if you know you know’ kind of artist. The shadow cast between Zevon’s work and public appeal is no mystery. The guy doesn’t really look cool or attractive, he’s not edgy in any kind of an outsider way, and he doesn’t seem to have an angle. Yet, all these things seem to contribute to the charm once you’re in on it. Sort of cheesy arrangements placed over very well crafted, very mainstream LA sounding songs drenched in black humor. Almost lounge-y style of vocal delivery, which only seems to fit because he was such a known porn-addict/party dog that even when the songs are sad you kind of chuckle. He spent years as a loved session musician before calling on his friends to return the favor, so this album is loaded with guest appearances including some of the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Brown (also the producer), Bobby keys, Bonnie Rait, and many more, all lending some talent to this wonderful, and wonderfully overlooked record. —Alex

Nick Mason “Fictitious Sports” (1981)

One of the best Pink Floyd solo albums, but it’s not really fair to characterize it as such as it’s really a Carla Bley album that Mason agreed to put his name on in the hope of shifting more copies. (We can see how well that worked! Maybe if they had thrown a flying pig on…)

Anyway, it’s a superb record, and considering Wyatt was in sort of semi-retirement at the time this was recorded (he did very, very little between the ’75 Henry Cow gigs and the Rough Trade singles that formed the basis of “Nothing Can Stop Us”) it’s a great pleasure to hear his voice on the majority of the album. “I’m A Mineralist”, a simultaneous parody of sexual perversion and Philip Glass, is often cited as the highlight and indeed it is a very good song, but there’s honestly not anything bad on tap anywhere. Recommended to Wyatt and Bley fans. For anyone buying this hoping to hear some of the excitement and thrills of “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party”… WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? —David

Moby Grape “20 Granite Creek” (1971)

I’ve come to realize two things about Moby Grape: one is that they are very much the sum of five very different songwriters, preventing a certain cohesiveness to their records.  The other is that their good songs are so good that they make having every record worth it just to use as mix tape secret weapons. “20 granite creek” was recorded after the bands first split as sort of a last attempt to mend the original Grape during that era, and it’s certainly the most solid album since their classic self-tiled debut. Most people (record nerds I mean) will jump straight to Skip Spence when referring to Moby Grape’s music of deeper conscience. This is understandable since he’s kind of the U.S. version of Syd Barrett; your classic “acid casualty” who split from the Grape due to insanity, relocating from groovy california to nutty Bellevue Hospital in New York for a stint, followed by the classic head-damaged solo album “OAR”. But even after a resume like that, Spence’s contributions of dark emotion fall flat to the songs of over-looked member Peter Lewis. where Lewis gets his muse is beyond me. He seems far more boring of a 60’s dude than Skip, however, his songs, “Apocalypse” and “Horse out in the Rain” are not only the best of “20 Granite Creek” but the best Moby Grape songs period. Apocalyspe is sort of a Byrds or Neil Young like tune, in which its very rocking and electric guitar based, but with a mellowness in the vocals that spans across the paced hook of the drums. The last track on the record “Horse” is something else all together. A short dark little folk tune laced in echo and reverb string arrangements. Very, very haunting.  And the rest of this rockin’ little record is pretty good too, especially with aid of doobie smoke or incense to paint the mood. But again those two afore mentioned songs are more than worth what modest amount this LP costs, because both possess that rare, magical thing that the best psychedelic music of late 60’s/early 70’s possesses: a timeless quality. —Alex

Patti Smith “Horses” (1975)

During the late 1990’s, in my young teenage years, I fell deeply into your standard “punk” phase. Naturally I was well aware from day one that “Horses” stood as some sort of ultimate classic among the genre’s first outpour. Teachers would tell you this, parents, Rolling Stone magazine. As a young idiot, i would agree. Maybe out of guilt for not “getting it”. I realize now that that’s total bullshit. “Horses” is not a great punk album. Not anymore. Not to a kid. It is, however, one of the finest rock albums ever crafted. Perfect 70’s, in-the-pocket, electric guitar music stretched across unchained, stream of conscience song writing. It’s so genius in the way that Patti Smith seems to understand that the groove of rudimentary rock music is in itself high art. No need to delude it with prog timing or bloated arrangements. Yet as organic as the record sounds, it still comes across like some wild audio painting with no concrete rules or limits. The way that the band speeds up and slows down through tracks like “free money” or the title track, is so natural, so jammin’, that i find myself uncontrollably shaking my hips with every listen, including right now behind the counter at Jive Time. Now that’s a true monument to American culture, counter or otherwise. For fans of The Stones, The Velvets, or American high art in general. Not for punks. —Alex