Rock

Ramones “ Pleasant Dreams” (Sire, 1981)

rrraaaThe years 1980-1983 were not kind to the Ramones. Struggling to find their niche in a sudden sea-change of musical direction known as New Wave, they tried to keep up without compromising themselves and the sound they were known for. Riding the high from their appearance in the film “Rock’n’Roll High School,” and the accompanying hit of the same title, they entered into an alliance with legendary producer Phil Spector. Bad move! The resulting album was a dud (though I personally like it well enough), and the next two Ramones efforts struggled to correct their blunder by gaining back the fan base that had eroded.

“Pleasant Dreams” was the first of these efforts (“Subterranean Jungle” is the other). Unfortunately, this is/was the most ignored of all Ramones albums, which is a shame considering just how tasty it really is. Unlike the following “Jungle,” which was dark and fierce, reflecting the Ramones’ growing frustration, “Pleasant Dreams” is mostly light and well-humored. The Ramones vent some frustration here too, on “We Want the Airwaves” and “This Business is Killing Me.” But on the whole, the album features some very mature, bubblegum rock. What I love most about “Pleasant Dreams” is its uniqueness. The album encompasses a style on to its own. —Mark

Rockpile “Seconds of Pleasure” (Columbia, 1980)

rockpileRockpile was formed as a backing band for Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds’ solo records and as an outlet for the two the hit the road and play live. Along with Billy Bremmer on guitar and Terry Williams on drums, the unit played on great albums like Lowe’s Jesus Of Cool & Labour Of Lust and Edmunds’ Tracks On Wax & Repeat When Necessary which were essentially Rockpile records. Seconds Of Pleasure is the only official release under the Rockpile moniker. The album kicks off with a great one-two punch. First is an ode to teenage lust “Teacher Teacher” and then moves into an old Joe Tex rave up “If Sugar Was As Sweet As You”. The third song is “Heart” which is probably more familiar in its later incarnation as a slowed down reggae song on Lowe’s Nick The Knife album. Here it is a fast paced pop tune, which I think is superior to the remake. Other standout cuts include “When I Write The Book”, “Play That Fast Thing”, “Now & Always” and the humorous “A Knife & A Fork”. The original album contained a bonus 45 with 4 Everly Brothers remakes and they are included as the last four tracks on the disk. The best of the four is “Crying In The Rain”. Unfortunately after this album and a supporting tour, Rockpile never recorded as a unit or play live again. They only sporadically worked on Lowe & Edmunds’ solo recording. Too bad we couldn’t have had a few more albums from this fine band. —P Magnum

World Party “Private Revolution” (Chrysalis, 1986)

Karl Wallinger’s quite the mini one-man-Travelling-Wilburys on his solo debut, with traces of Beatles, ELO and especially Dylan abounding. There are shades of Prince too but by and large he doesn’t wear his influences too much on his sleeve, coming up, in the main, with a highly attractive and varied set of songs.

His lyrics especially sound phoned in from Radio Bob but I mean that more as a compliment, while it’s on the musical side that he really shines, furnishing every track with a strong melody and clever production.

Highlights are the purplish pop-funk of the title track, a “Ship Of Fools” better than roughly contemporary songs of the same name by Robert Plant and Erasure and the McCartney-cribbed self-referencing “World Party” where he substitutes just one word in Macca’s “Birthday” for his chorus. The only mis-step is the unnecessary inclusion of a synth-backed over of Dylan’s lyrically dazzling but musically dreary “All I Really Want To Do”.

In truth though this is a richly varied set of catchy tunes, like watching a kaleidoscope open up through a pin-hole and great listening for any fan of good 60’s and 70’s music, which Wallinger’s himself undoubtedly is. –Jim

The Who “My Generation” (Decca, 1965)

If you put it down to a time, a band, an album… The Who’s MY GENERATION is the first punk album ever recorded: With heavy pounding on what had to be the most tortured drum kit at the time (on stage the group would shock audiences by smashing their instruments and demolishing amps and speakers), angry lyrics are screamed and stuttered over guitar feedback and power chords. Even the album’s cover, with the band’s four grim faces set in front of Big Ben rising into an overcast sky, leaves you with the impression that these guys are a cocky group of foul-mouthed wiseasses–especially the stiff-jawed blond one, who looks like he’d rather be shaking down a store owner for protection money, or simply just kicking someone’s teeth out (and, according to more than a few of the band’s biographers, Roger Daltrey often would use his fists to end differences, with Pete Townshend as well as others).

This was 1965 and very few then would’ve had the courage or the foresight to put this kind of sound to wax. Sure, the Kinks also got together with producer Shel Talmy a year before to pioneer a heavier “rock” sound with “You Really Got Me,” but they weren’t taking it any further; it was easy confusing that song with its followup, “All Day and All of the Night,” because they were basically the same thing with different lyrics. And as is always the case, it’s the total package of talent with promotion, image with attitude.

It also took real guts for a rising pop group in 1965 to make an album–let alone a debut album!–where 3/4 of the tracks are original compositions. Except for Dylan and the Beatles, nobody at the time was able to get away with doing this. The original UK album version contains three covers, James Brown’s “I Don’t Mind,” and “Please, Please, Please,” as well as Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man;” the US version dropped “I’m a Man” for the proto-psychedelic “Instant Party (Circles)”–yet another original! Pete Townshend was taking a big gamble with this record.

In addition to the awesome title track, MY GENERATION also includes “The Kids Are Alright.” Somewhat defining the group’s early sound, “The Kids Are Alright” bacame a staple number on the Who’s numerous compilations, and would provide the title to Jeff Stein’s 1979 documentary on the band.

Of the other numbers here, things start off with “Out In the Streets,” a weird hybrid of R&B styles with droning guitar feedback. Meanwhile, both “The Good’s Gone” and “Much Too Much” sound as if Keith Moon is barely able to control himself with the drumsticks as Townshend displays his prowess with power chords. Daltrey, naturally, just seems pissed off.

Two other notable tracks are “La La La Lies” and “The Ox.” The former obviously owing much to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ “Heatwave” (a song the Who covered on their next album, A QUICK ONE), while the latter is a sort of group effort instrumental composition, written by Townshend, Moon and Entwistle with famous session man Nicky Hopkins.

A brilliant and exceptionally aggressive album that layed the foundations for most things coming to rock music. —Caeser

The Jesus and Mary Chain “Psychocandy” (1985)

In many ways, Psychocandy is the purest example of noise-pop that exists. Noise-pop, that wonderful concept of combining sweet melody and bitter sound to produce the aural equivalent of either very aggressive sex or being beaten up in slow motion, depending on the band. The Jesus And Mary Chain are definitely of the former school.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the effortless, effortless cool that this band exudes. What is remarkable is that their whole Lou Reed-sunglasses-leather-Jack Daniels image is so contrived, and yet you can’t imagine that the Reid brothers could ever sing anything else when they drawl “I get ahead on my motorbike, I feel so quick in my leather boots.”

_Psychocandy_ isn’t heavy – the opposite in fact, in terms of sound. The noise, though cavernous thanks to recorded-in-a-cave levels of reverb, is trebly and harsh, putting off many of the Nirvana fans who come across the album – there’s no precedent here apart from among the avant-garde. The noise here has little to do with punk; the album sparks with energy, but it isn’t jump-up-and-down energy, it’s simply a deep, forboding sense of joy/hatred (and isn’t the confusion between joy and hatred the central tenet of all good music? Yes.) To cap it all off, Gillespie’s style on the kit here has accurately been described as “hit the drums then hit them again”, retard-caveman beats that go perfectly with the Velvet Underground/Beach Boys tunes.

Barbed wire kisses indeed. —Ignorantium

Flying Saucer Attack “Chorus” (1996)

A singles collection, issued in 1996 compiling many of this British bands tough to find 45’s.
Founded in ’92, this band took “shoegaze” and bought it to such an extreme that you were no longer looking at your shoes in bliss, you were staring clean through your shoes, through the floor, through warm soil, into the molten/frozen core of the Earth. Sheet after sheet after sheet after blanket after pillow of feedback, with the most beautiful, elegantly sung/whispered vocals I have ever heard in my life. Every track swells, crests and recedes in a seemingly endless haze of soft white glows. When I was first exposed to this band in high school, the extremity of the basement production quality, coupled with my ear searching for debris to hang onto as the onslaught of noise cascaded out was comparable to the first times I heard Napalm Death’s “Scum” or the brutal intensity of Siege. The power of these recordings is unparalleled. I have owned this record for over 10 years, and with each listen, I detect a swirling, massive beehive texture, stinging and surging that I missed last time around. And the time before. Since those high school days, I have heard this band under the influence of more drugs than I care to mention in a work related review, but I will say this: They re-create the feeling of tripping more than ANY group from the 60’s I am aware of. Now will someone sell me a copy of their s/t LP sometimes called ‘Rural Psychedelia’ that I still cannot track down a copy of? –Richard

Pink Fairies “Kings of Oblivion” (1973)

If you are curious about inspired Motorhead’s unique sound, and have already explored MC5, The Stooges, Hawkwind and The Groundhogs, then go no further than this album. Larry Wallis and Duncan Sanderson later appeared on Motorhead recordings and the song “City Kids”, debuting here, is also featured on Motorhead’s 1979 LP On Parole. “City Kids” here is more stark than Lemmy’s amphetamine-enriched version, but no less powerful. ‘I wish I was a Girl” is a track worthy of the Groundhogs “Split” album in its inventiveness – but the raw power is undiminished. Sure it lacks a little something due to recording techniques in those days – a clear sense of perspective is needed, as this is music of its time and yet way ahead of it. “When’s the Fun Begin” is not one to listen to if you’re verging on a depression, but provides a nice contrast to the driving “Chromium Plating” and “Raceway.” Something about these tracks actually seems to contain the acrid smell and excitement of motor racing in a far less clinical way than say, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” “Chambermaid” is quirky and may require several listens to pick up on the humour, and “Street Urchin” is the track that leaves you wanting more.

Kings of Oblivion is one of the best-kept secrets of hard rock – and an important part of its history. If you like your rock and roll “real,” it doesn’t get much more real than this. Just don’t go expecting Judas Priest, AC/DC or Black Sabbath; This is high-energy rock that truly belongs on the streets, and a landmark album in its genre. Truly a classic. —Fuuhq

Golden Earring “Moontan” (1973)

This 1973 outing is the album that raised Golden Earring to an international level of popularity, primarily on the strength of the hit single and enduring radio favorite “Radar Love.” However, there is much more to this album than just that hit.

It starts with a bang thanks to “Candy’s Going Bad,” a piece that starts off as a thunderous, pounding rocker but transforms midway into a bluesy instrumental mood piece. Other highlights include the hit single “Radar Love,” a relentless rock tune with a left-field instrumental break in which tribal drums duel with a big band-style horn section, and “Just Like Vince Taylor,” a guitar-slinging slice of boogie rock that pays tribute to the fallen rock idol of the title. The album also includes what may be the group’s finest prog effort in “Vanilla Queen”: this classic builds from pulsating, ominous verses dominated by synthesizer into a hard-rocking chorus and also throws in a stark acoustic guitar midsection before climaxing in a frantic band jam augmented by blaring horns and an ever-spiraling string section. Despite the album’s overall strength, not every song reaches these heights: “Are You Receiving Me?” recycles some hooks from the group’s past classic “She Flies on Strange Wings,” and the twangy country-pop of “Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock)” is a little too poppy to gel with the rest of the album. However, even these tunes benefit from tight arrangements and a spirited, totally committed performance from the group.

The result is an album that retains its power today. In the end, Moontan is a necessity for Golden Earring fans, and a worthwhile listen for anyone interested in 1970s rock at its most adventurous. —Donald

The Rolling Stones “Sticky Fingers” (1971)

The first album released by the Stones in the 1970s, it’s an album drenched in a sheen of perspiration. Many of the tracks were conceived in the late 60s (Wild Horses, Brown Sugar) and as such, would fit right in on the previous Stones’ album, Let It Bleed. While that album oozed menace, this album seems to be mired in a drug-induced haze. Known for its hits, the real gems are hidden like a junkie’s last healthy vein.

The album kicks off with Brown Sugar, a song about interracial sex and cheap dope. A classic, it captures the initial surge of energy that propels the Stones into the 70s. Bobby Keys’s sax adds an extra touch of raunchy sex appeal. “Sway” is a yearning tune full of resignation to an inevitable descent into depression. “Wild Horses” is cut from the same thematic cloth though it is far more famous. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is a seven minute-plus song, a showcase for MIck Taylor’s virtuoso guitar. Keith Richards has stated that Ron Wood is his favorite co-guitarist but Taylor is the better musician. The majority of the song is a jam between dueling guitars, two brothers of diverse personalities trying to outdo each other in front of the audience. “You Gotta Move” is a nod to the blues masters the Stones revered (and from whom they pinched a tune or two… or three… or…). “Bitch” opens Side B. It’s pace is quicker than Brown Sugar but while a good tune it lacks that extra bit of edge and bite that the album opener has. “I Got the Blues” is a retreat back into that dark cave of weariness. The lyrics express hope that one’s former flame is now happy but Jagger’s voice betrays this as a lie; he misses her and what he would do do have her back. “Sister Morphine” is the bottom of the drug induced state; the singer’s waiting for Death. “Dead Flowers” is the hidden jewel of this album. The lyrics reveal shame, an attempt to run from the light that would reveal the singer’s addiction. Hidden from daylight, from prying eyes of the upper crust of society, one can indulge in that blissful euphoria that the drug of choice provides. There’s a promise that the singer will outlive others and will be sure to be at their graves long after they’re gone. As melancholy as “Moonlight MIle” is, there’s a glimmer of hope in it. The lyrics indicate an partial emergence from the haze and at least offer the possibility that things will be better, if not then, than someday.

This is the Stones album you play when you’re hanging on your back porch with your one or two friends or your lover, a beer or a glass of wine in your hand; the one you play as you drive down dark lonely roads as you travel through middle America; the one makes your pause and think about that girl that got away when you hear it in a pub on Thursday evening. It’s the one that lets you know that you’ve crawled through a mile of sewage and came out on the other side; dirty, sweaty, smelly, scarred. But alive. —Neunzehn

Squeeze “Cool for Cats” (1979)

Squeeze’s first three albums trace the startling transformation of a band evolving from a diamond-in-the-rough punk band with an unmistakable pop sensibility, to a polished new-wave outfit that seems to effortlessly crank out an unending stream of catchy masterpieces. “Cool For Cats” is the second album, and the sound is squarely in the middle between the stumbling debut, “UK Squeeze”, and the fully-developed third album, “Argybargy”, a true classic of Beatlesque pop-rock. The distinctive vocal sound of early Squeeze comes from the unusual gimmick of having both Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford singing the lead together, with Tilbrook an octave higher than Difford. But it wasn’t long before they moved away from that sound, with the sweeter-voiced Tilbrook gradually taking over most of the lead vocal chores from the courser Difford. At the same time, the punk-ish energy of the earlier material gave way to the slower tempos and polished professionalism that has characterized the band for most of their long career. This evolution was dramatic and unmistakable from the debut, to “Cool For Cats”, to “Argybargy”, by which time the transformation was almost complete. “Cool For Cats” highlights are many, starting with the lead track, “Slap And Tickle”, which is very reminiscent of the debut. The album then hits a lull, with the next 5 tracks not making much of an impression, but it finishes with 6 straight winners, starting with the high-energy pop of “Hop Skip And Jump”. The next track is the stunning “Up The Junction”, with Difford’s lyrics telling a woeful tale of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl because of his heavy boozing. Practically a short story set to music. The booze theme is repeated 2 songs later on the irresistibly catchy “Slightly Drunk”. In fact, excessive drinking would become a recurring theme for lyricist Difford for many years to come. The next track, “Goodbye Girl” is a Tilbrook-sung ballad with a lovely melody, the type of song that would become Squeeze’s trademark. The album comes to a close with the delightful, punky title track. All in all, a stellar effort by one of the greatest pop-rock bands ever. —Eric

Camel “I Can See Your House From Here” (1979)

While prog-purists might frown at I Can See Your House From Here, which watches Camel trod closer to the middle of the road, anyone who’s been seduced by the easy-going charm that is the band’s calling card will find it well worth their time. Confusing lineup changes continue to hallmark the second phase of Camel’s career, which here features two keyboardists in Kit Watkins (Happy The Man) and Jan Schelhaas (Caravan), plus Colin Bass on his namesake and some lead vocals. Continuing to feel pressure from their label for some kind of chart action, Camel offer up straightforward pop-inclined material in the tense “Wait,” easy going melodies of “Your Love Is Stranger Than Mine,” and tough-guy tale “Neon Magic,” while “Remote Romance” is an odd stab at synth pop. Sandwiched between these tracks are the very Happy The Man-ish instrumental “Eye of the Storm,” and some excellent blends of prog and pop on “Who We Are” and “Hymn to Her,” before the cold vastness of space is explored via an extended guitar and synthesizer showcase in “Ice.” Despite it’s commercial leanings and continued shuffling of the band’s lineup, I Can See Your House From Here still delivers the Camel-essence. —Ben

Faces “First Step” (1970)

First Step establishes the revamped Faces’ change of direction with a set of woozy, laid back blues rock highlighted in swinging boogie numbers like “Shake, Shudder, Shiver,” “Three Button Hand Me Down” and the Delta flavored “Around the Plynth” (resurrected from Stewart and Wood’s tenure in The Jeff Beck Group), a stomping reading of Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger,” and the stately, powerful “Flying.” Elsewhere, the eminently affable Ronnie Lane checks in with a signature back country ballad in “Stone.” Fleshed out with two instrumentals, First Step ends up a little underwritten and jammy, but is ripe with the band’s signature brand of disheveled rock. —Ben