Rock

Stone Roses “Stone Roses” (1989)

It still amazes me to this day how four young lads from Manchester somehow managed to come together and make such a bold statement of an album, and bring a new movement kicking and screaming into the public consciousness. Enter The Stone Roses with their self-titled debut. It starts with some random industrial noises before suddenly, Mani comes in with a heavy, prolific baseline, John Squire provides an jangly intricate passage himself, as they build up to something monumental. Then suddenly those two drum beats from Reni hit. And that riff starts. You know you’re in for a ride from the beginning. “I Wanna Be Adored” is one hell of an opener to this statement.

One misgiving that many have with this band is the the gruff, out of tune voice of Ian Brown. Brown’s voice, while not technically perfect, embodies a cocky, swaggering personality and adds it over the album, which consists of 11 excellent jangly pop songs with influences from the 60’s. There are so many wonderful moments, the bassline of “She Bangs The Drums”, the jangly guitar line of “Waterfall” and the uplifting choruses of “(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister”, the intro to “Made Of Stone”, and the tempo change in “This Is The One”.

But the band save the best till last with the epic closer “I Am The Resurrection”, the song is effectively a two parter, the first part yet another excellent jangly pop song like the rest of the album, but just as the song is about to finish, Mani’s bass becomes just that little funkier, and suddenly a five minute dance jam proceeds between the three instrument playing members, which effectively signals the breakthrough of Madchester into the public consciousness and re-emergence of Manchester on the musical map after the breakup of The Smiths. It is the moment that cements this as one of the essential albums of the late 1980s. —Mouzone

Masters of Reality “Masters of Reality” (1988)

The self-titled debut from this New York group Masters of Reality (1988) traverses between Black Sabbath (hence the title), Cream and AC/DC with a touch of the Doors and Beatlesque wit. Produced by studio marvel Rick Rubin and some additional help from founder/vocalist/guitarist Chris Goss, this is one the most creative rock records of the eighties. While it garnered some success on college radio it never really rose above cult status. Three years prior to the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, bands like REM were already beginning to usher in a welcome change from the hair spray and glitter metal of the eighties with jangly guitars and folk sensitivity delivered with a punk rock aesthetic . Masters of Reality were responding to the bloated extravagance with a record full of bluesy psychedelic embellishments by crafting hefty guitar riffs, some refined piano/organ passages along with Goss’ sultry voice-who sounds like a cross between Jack Bruce and Jim Morrison.

The songs, all penned by Goss and guitarist Tim Harrington, contain varying subject matter ranging from hookers (The Candy Song) to hippy giddiness (Getting’ High) alongside the stream of conscious (Doraldina’s Prophecies). In addition to Goss/Harrington’s clever songwriting, they have a cohesive band

to set the words in motion. There’s the swampy steel string slide opening to the electro-folk anthem (John Brown), some fuzzy blues licks on another cut (Sleepwalkin’) and a jump blues acoustic number (Lookin’ Too Get Right). There’s also an ominous, almost doom metal guitar interlude tucked in the middle of the record (Theme for the Scientist of the Invisible). Another high point is the classical piano intro that leads into the heavy prog leanings of the album’s closer (Kill the King). There are plenty of other gems on this record as well; all mixed with quirky pop structures mingled with obscure lyrics and some serious rock-n-roll making this record a misplaced archetype. –ECM Tim

Country Joe & The Fish “Electric Music for the Mind & Body” (1967)

Electric Music is perhaps the greatest psychedelic album of all time. Different aspects of the psychedelic experience are represented here from the crazed caotic energy of “Superbird”, the deeply meditative and stoned “Bass Strings”, the soulfully flowing “Section 43”, to the sheer fun of this album. During a psychedelic experience, one is often able to percieve or rather hear colors in music. Electric music is replete with them and examples can be found on the organ solo of “Love” to Barry Melton’s guitar solo on “The Masked Marauder”. The mix of different tones on this album has been seldom paralled especially in the digital ninties. Chicken Hirsh’s resonant tom tom drums, Bruce Barthol’s rich bass, David Cohen milky organ and Barry Melton’s guitar provide a nice rich timbre palete throughout the album particular evident on the instrumentals “Section 43” and “The! Masked Marauder”. Barry Melton’s vocals on “Love” sound like Satchmo on acid and add to the fun of this masterpiece. Country Joe once told me that the songs were arranged so that you would forget the tune you just hear before the one you were hearing. He also said that the band “tested” the album out themselves. Now if that’s not quality control I don’t know what is. An analog masterpiece for those curious to know what music sounded like before the digital age. A high recommend! —AC

Neu! “Neu!” (1972)

Rock as ambience, stripped of song but retaining the simplicity of a good hook, Neu! marks the meeting point of acid-dazed psychedelic improv and post-classical minimalist composition. “Hallogallo” and “Negativland” are this album’s supreme achievements: the former synonymous with the now oft-used rhythmic term motorik, the latter combining this metronomic minimalism with a jarring musique concrete that incorporates industrial noise, transforming the group’s dreamlike drone into something more tonally consistent with a nightmare and anticipating everything from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures to Scott Walker’s Tilt. In between these two highlights is the cymbal-drone experiment of “Sonderangebot,” the hazy, beautiful ballad-like “Weissensee” (which in a way anticipates the minimal, atmospheric post-punk of albums such as Seventeen Seconds by the Cure), and “Im Gluck,” whose studio-simulated rippling water is both restive and unsettling. The closing track, “Lieber Honig,” is an odd shift in tone that introduces fragile vocals and arguably constitutes the one misstep—though that depends on your mood. And mood is the crucial element to appreciating this album to its fullest. The group’s use of the studio to create a unique space in which to listen is what is most impressive about Neu! The spatial organization of the instruments gives breathing room in which the attention is allowed to drift from one part to another, actively constructing the sound of the whole and making for a different listening experience each time.

Obviously one of those proverbial albums that sold next to nothing but inspired those who heard it to make their own records, this also bears influence throughout the music since, its unique spell cast over just about everything good that followed it. —Will

The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (1988)

Very few “supergroups” live up to the lofty title accorded them. So it’s no surprise that one of the most beloved  high-profile collaborations in rock history was met with some skepticism shortly after its largely unannounced arrival almost a quarter of a century ago. Counting among its motley crew a Rock ‘n Roll Legend, a Beatle, a Spokesman of A Generation, and a ’70s and ’80s AOR icon (oh yeah, and also the guy from ELO), the very existence of The Traveling Wilburys seemed too good to be true. Yet the Wiburys’ debut defies all odds and exceeds all expectations for the simple fact that it doesn’t try to do either. Sure, one can admire the great playing and fine craftsmanship in every song, but at the end of the day Vol. 1 is just a bunch of goofballs–albeit monumentally talented ones–hanging out in the studio, smoking joints, playing music, and having a good time. The fact that this translates so well into catchy, ultra-durable, and sometimes even emotionally potent pop is the album’s most miraculous achievement.

Even after two decades, “Handle with Care” remains Vol. 1’s most popular track, and for good reason; despite its purported dashed-off, round-robin-style composition in George Harrison’s kitchen the night before it was recorded, it’s a surprisingly deep piece of songwriting. Given more gravity by Harrison’s lead vocals and the rest of the gang’s call and response choruses, it’s perhaps the most honest and accurate aging rock star confessional ever committed to tape.  Tom Petty’s presence  is mostly relegated to the background (which would not be the case on the Wiburys’ inferior, Roy Orbison-less follow-up, Vol. 3) but his turn on  “Last Night” provides the record’s quirkiest moment. But it’s Dylan who contributes the lion’s share of humor to an album already brimming with it. Has Aerosmith ever written a song more laden with outrageous innuendo than “Dirty World”? And even Weird Al would be hard-pressed to come up with a more devastating Bruce Springsteen  parody than “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”. From a career standpoint, the timing of Orbison’s sudden death just a few weeks after Vol. 1’s release could not have been worse, but his majestic crooning on “Not Alone Anymore” ensured that he’d at least leave this mortal coil on a high note. Even Jeff Lynn, a performer and producer not always known for his minimalism or restraint, contributes an uncharacteristically stripped-down rocker, “Rattled”; moreover, his bandmates help him keep his glitzier production flourishes in check, allowing Vol 1—some dated synths and occasionally intrusive horns aside–to still sound like the same homespun and unpretentious masterpiece that it did back in 1988.

So the next time you’re scratching your head, figuring out what you want to listen to because you think you are sick of everything you own, give this oldie-but-goody a whirl. Dust off the battered CD (the one in the case with the broken hinges) and crank it up, or… dig the cassette out of the box in the attic (you know the one) and pop it in the still-functioning boom box in the garage, or… if you were lucky enough to pick this up on vinyl during its first (and only) pressing, slap it on the turntable, lower the needle, bathe yourself in the charm and bonhomie of this unrepeatable musical moment in time, and be reminded of a fact you have long forgotten: You love this record! – Richard P

Rush “Rush” (1974)

Rush’s debut is a ’74 Camaro, black, with purple and white racing stripes, 8-track blaring, one guy in a Sabbath t-shirt, the other dressed like Robert Plant in The Song Remains the Same … and not a girl in sight.

An album that carries a lot of nostalgic weight among rockheaded people like myself — the band still play a couple of these tracks on tour — this sums up the mid-70s rock and roll like few other albums, an innocent time when the guitar riff was king. Rush-haters might even find a lot to like about this roughshod bit of Zeppelinesque riffage. Certainly Alex Lifeson’s guitar tosses off riffs and solos that are preternaturally awesome. But Geddy’s knack for a lyric hook is evident as well. And even if they do sound like a cover band (mostly playing cuts from Led Zeppelin II and III), they’re a killer one, and this is one of the most energetic releases of ’74, and, speaking as a Rush fan, this one nearly 40 years on is freighted with a bit of melancholy, making it one of my favorites from the period. —Will

Neil Young “Trans” (1982)

It’s a shame the fanbases of Kraftwerk and Neil Young don’t overlap enough for this to be respected as I think it should. Sure, any canon-digging muso will have the best albums of Young and Kraftwerk in their collections, but why can’t we all agree this hybrid of the two aesthetics is actually really good? I don’t know, and I doubt I will any time soon. I’ve been listening to this album for a decade, and never skip a track. Maybe it doesn’t get the spins that After the Gold Rush and Tonight’s the Night do, but I can tell you right now I’d listen to this (and about fifteen other Young lps) before subjecting myself to Harvest again. Not to mention, the use of synths and vocoders isn’t as pervasive as the haters would have you believe, most of the songs are written in the normal Shakey style, with “Like an Inca” sounding as it’d have fit on almost any of his late 70s lps. The synth pop stuff is actually really good too, “Hold on to Your Love” is one of the very finest tunes the guy ever wrote. Honest.

This is one of Neil’s best albums for me, and I gladly recommend it, vocoders and all. —Cletus

Mick Ronson “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” (1974)

Slaughter on 10th Avenue isn’t the kind of solo effort you’d expect from [David Bowie’s] lead guitarist striking out on his own for the first time; rather, it attempts to present Ronson as a viable pop star in his own right, instead of merely giving him a forum to lay down impressive guitar solos. This is evident from the first song, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” which starts out reverentially enough, but soon converts this gentle (or sappy depending on your taste) chestnut into an over-the-top Glam-Rock power ballad, complete with Ronson’s histrionic Bowie-esque vocals and dramatic Ziggy-style guitar work. It really should be a mess, but the song is so lovingly executed and sumptuously recorded that it simply works, and works well. Things get even more interesting on the Bowie & Ronson penned “Growing Up and I’m Fine,” which listeners will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for (or love of) Glam-Rock excess. A fey take-off on Springsteen, it’s the kind of song Bowie excelled at on albums such as Aladdin Sane, and though Ronson does a credible job on vocals, it’s impossible not to wonder what Bowie might have done with the song; nonetheless, it’s a great, glittery three-minute ride. And then there is “Music Is Lethal,” another Bowie-penned tune that starts out sounding a little like “The Port of Amsterdam,” but soon develops into a full-fledged Jacques Brel meets Scott Walker meets Bowie Glam-opera.

Overall, the production on Slaughter on 10th Avenue is consistently gorgeous and Ronno’s guitar-work is spectacular (as usual), and while this is indeed a strange album that ultimately pales in comparison to the Bowie albums it, in many ways, tries to mimic, it still manages to feel like an essential document of a brief but inspired moment when pop hooks and high art could be taken in a single dose. —LaLuna

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