Status Quo “Piledriver” (1972)

The no-frills cover shot of the heads-down Status Quo frontline on Piledriver tells the story via the show-of-force image and the big, bold group logo in bright red. With no-holds-barred aggression, the major label debut from the boys in blue is a steamrollin’ onslaught of early seventies three chord boogie, blooze and rawk. Recorded live in the studio, the aptly titled Piledriver rolls into action behind the chuggin’ combo platter of “Don’t Waste My Time” and “Oh Baby”, while adding the five-minute slow ridin’ “Unspoken Words”, the chucky drive of “Big Fat Mama”, the short “Paper Plane”, and the lengthy closing cover jam of “Roadhouse Blues”. Pile on! —Jon

Laura Nyro “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession” (1968)

In the spring of 1968, Laura Nyro’s Columbia Records debut Eli and the Thirteenth Confession unleashed something very unique and beautiful onto the scene. Unfortunately, the album fell on mostly deaf ears, peaking at #189 on the Billboard 200. Nearly thirty years later, Laura Nyro is still woefully unknown to the public, although the potency of her music remains.

While the instrumentation and influences evident in Eli and the Thirteenth Confession are mostly familiar, new perspectives and directions make the album into the radical experience that it is. Reviewers commonly refer to the music as an amalgamation of Soul, Pop, Jazz, Broadway, and whatever else, but these styles are so expertly fused into something wonderfully new, that naming the possible components just isn’t worthwhile. “Sweet Blindness” may sound age-old, but there’s never been another drinking song remotely like it. “Poverty Train” goes to more places, and back again, than any of Bob Dylan and company’s “protest” songs. Sexual revolutions and all, a woman ending her album by screaming “love my lovething” had to have been something original. Throughout the record, Laura’s voice, piano, and guitars careen and writhe all over, tempos and chord structures being swept to and fro at her pleasing. But originality is only half of the story. The energy and sincerity of Laura’s songs is at once confounding and life-affirming. If we’d like to use the term, Laura Nyro had a hell of a lot of soul. Her voice alone creates much of the appeal of the record, at times sorrowful, grumbling, at times joyful and chirping, but at all times infinitely human.

This is a definition of a master in one space in time, and a model for the kind of innovations that can be borne of Popular music. Maybe in another thirty years Laura will have the audience she always deserved. —Matthew

Jefferson Airplane “Bark” (1971)

It is hard to believe that upon its release in 1971, Bark was poorly reviewed. In retrospect, its musical closeness to Jefferson Airplane’s earlier work, especially 1969’s Volunteers, is striking. “When the Earth Moves Again” is a collective, anthemic song in the same mould and of the same quality as “We Can Be Together,” and “Crazy Miranda” is clearly by the author of “rejoyce.” What makes Bark special is the move of Slick and the astonishingly under-valued Jorma Kaukonen to the foreground and the new casual, almost frayed approach to performing and recording. Also new is a shift away from the already-qualified counter-culture sentiments of Volunteers towards a more resigned, knowing worldview: “Third Week in the Chelsea” is painful in its directness, but gorgeous in its craftsmanship and execution; Slick’s “Law Man” projects a tired, slightly annoyed, spirit that Slick could tap into so well. New to the band was the funky and sensual punch of tunes like “Feel So Good” and “Pretty As You Feel,” which project a randy-to-sultry adult sexuality absent from their more whimsical “love” songs of the ’60s. Confirms that the early ’70s were the high water mark for the extended Airplane family. —Toolshed4

Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy” (1973)

Houses of the Holy finds Led Zeppelin happily accepting their status as king of the mountain rock gods, operating on a level far above and beyond the bluesy cock-rock of their contemporaries. A grander Zeppelin is on display from the get go, with Page’s swooping battalion of guitars and Plant’s sped up elfin vocals sending “The Song Remains the Same” on a whirlwind tour of the stars, while epic entries like the lush, mellotron orchestrated “The Rain Song” and eerie creeper “No Quarter” prowl similarly heady terrain. The acoustic ditty turned bruiser “Over the Hills and Far Away,” Bonham stomp of “The Ocean,” and summer nights hippie haze of “Dancing Days” provide more folds to the Zeppelin mystique, while tongue in cheek offerings like the reggae meets 50’s doo-wop of “D’yer Mak’er” and funky filler “The Crunge” find the band working well outside the box. Factor in the album’s beefy, yet crystalline production job, and their most bizarre album graphics yet, and Houses of the Holy solidifies Zeppelin’s lofty stature. —Ben

Atomic Rooster “Death Walks Behind You” (1970)

I find it utterly astonishing that, even based purely on the strength of this album, Atomic Rooster are not hailed as Gods of 70s hard rock. Now, I really enjoyed their debut, a prog rock classic, but Death Walks Behind You is fucking phenomenal! Seriously, any fan of hard/psych rock needs to hear this one right now. Where the debut was mostly a prog album with heavy leanings, light on guitar, but employing King Crimson-esque melancholy in the songwriting & structure, this album just goes all out, with the late great John DuCann firing out blazing riffs & solos that rival many of his contemporaries in the likes of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and so on.

Opening with the dark, doom-laden title track, with it’s clever blend of rockin’ riff & crazy hammond organ, it should have you hooked. But it only gets better from there. Moving on to the crazy Jethro Tull style instrumental “VUG”, this should please anyone who thought AR had left their prog roots behind. “Tomorrow Night” should be farmiliar to some rock fans, and is a cheery, superbly infectious tune withc a catchy piano track. “7 Streets” is another melancholy hard prog track in the vein of the title track, with a superb dirty rock riff to lead in atop the creepy organ. My personal favourite is the seriously amazing “Sleeping For Years”, easily one of the most epic 70s rock anthems I’ve ever heard, with a brilliantly air-guitar riff, catchy vocals and a lurching psychedelic freakout in the middle, it should be hailed as a legendary track for all to here. “I Can’t Take No More” sounds almost like AR were jamming with The Stooges, very gritty, garage-esque street rock. “Nobody Else” is another piano driven tune, and is haunting and marvellous. Ending with the Crimsonian “Gershatzer” instrumental, which is a prog classic, meandering mechanically like the best math-rockers of the time.

All in all, this album should be preserved as a lost treasure, and deserves to be heard and worshipped at the altar of rock for all of time. Go out there and get listening!! —MetroidVania

Van der Graaf Generator “Pawn Hearts” (1971)

Here’s a band operating on their own plateau, located in the center of a triangle formed by King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and the sacrificial altar of Crom, Pawn Hearts is not so much three distinct tracks as one elongated inner monologue of madness courtesy of Peter Hammill and company. While there’s those who would portray dementia through scatterbrained ramblings, Pawn Hearts is all the more harrowing and impressive in it’s focus and lucidity, it’s makeup of dense keyboards and saxophone sounding both ancient and timeless, with Hammill’s overwrought expression giving the proceedings an air of theatricality without resorting to parody. If at times the journey through these catacombs winds up at a dead end, particularly during moments of the side-long “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” there are too many glorious moments here to ignore, and the lack of reliance on stock progisims set this one apart. —Ben

Pink Floyd “Relics” (1971)

“Relics” is a collection of very early Pink Floyd singles and rare tracks, covering the band’s first couple of years from 1967 to 1969. Consider it “Pink Floyd: The Early Years,” if you like. Five tracks come from the group’s first three albums: the classic, trippy instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” and the half children’s song/half freak-out number, “Bike” (both from “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”), the breezy “Remember A Day” (from “A Saucerful Of Secrets”), and a pair of tunes from the “More” movie soundtrack: the eerie “Cirrus Minor,” and the thunderous rocker, “The Nile Song.”

All superb stuff, but the main selling point of “Relics” are the six rare Floyd tracks that make up the remainder, such as the classic early singles “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” both great little blasts of late-60’s psychedelic pop, the jaunty “Paintbox,” and the lovely, mysterious atmosphere of “Julia Dream.” Also included is the original studio version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene,” an outstanding Floyd instrumental that’s probably more famous in it’s live version from the “Ummagumma” album. Although the live version of “Eugene” IS more monstrous and powerful, as the Floyd were able to slowly build it up and expand on it in concert, the slightly-faster studio version is nothing to sneeze at either, and the band give it a studio performance that’s very impressive, skillful, and passionate. And finally, there is what is quite possibly the happiest, most upbeat song in the entire Pink Floyd catalog, “Biding My Time.” Although the song starts out softly, before long the band turn it into a full-throttle jazz-rock rave-up, complete with horn section! Sounds to me like the Floyd had a grand ol’ time in the studio when they recorded this number, and it shows. Love it!

Pink Floyd’s “Relics” may indeed be, as the album cover says, “a bizarre collection of antiques & curios,” but oh, is it good. Floyd fans everywhere should definitely add this album to their collection. —Alan

Gregg Allman “Laid Back” (1973)

With The Allman Brothers Band tearing up the charts, it was probably only natural that Gregg Allman would have wanted to test his own capabilities by taking a stab at a solo career. Though he’d apparently started recording the album shortly after brother Duane’s death, it took more than two years for Allman to complete the effort. Produced by Johnny Sandlin, musically 1973’s “Laid Back” was a modest surprise in that it showcased a set that was far more diverse than his blues-rock repertoire with The Allman Brothers. In fact, anyone expecting to hear blistering, twin lead guitar Southern rock was going to be left scratching their heads. Mind you, Allman’s voice remained instantly recognizable, though his patented Hammond B3 organ was largely absent from the proceedings. And that’s where the similarities ended. While you couldn’t label this a pop album, it’s hard to imagine the Allman Brothers recording anything with intricate orchestral arrangements like ‘Multi-Colored Lady’ or ‘All My Friends’. Similarly, the upbeat cover of Oliver Sain’s ‘Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing’ was a far cry from The Allman Brothers patented driving rock genre. One other comment, with the exception of the Oliver Sain cover, virtually the entire set was soaked in a sense of loss and sadness.

Side one’s biggest surprise came in the form of Allman’s bouncy cover of Sain’s ‘Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing’. I’d be hard pressed to pick another song where he sounded as happy and pleased with himself. It would have made a great single.

The thought of Allman doing a Jackson Browne cover set off alarm bells in my head (damaged Southern rocker covers damaged West Coast singer/songwriter), but the concerns were unwarranted given Allman turned in a cover of These Days that was beautiful and aching and mournful slice of self-doubt and regret. The performance stood as a highlight across Allman’s entire career and simply beat the crap out of Browne’s own version.

Backed my strong reviews and an extensive American tour (documented for his next release), the album sold well, peaking at # 14 on the US charts. All told, probably still my favorite Allman solo venture. —Scott

Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane “Rough Mix” (1977)

This would be ex-Faces Ronnie Lane’s next-to-last record. (He would release only one more solo album, 1979’s See Me, before multiple sclerosis no longer permitted him to record.) Together with Pete Townshend they create a memorable album.

Rough Mix kicks off with the most Who-like of the albums tracks–“My Baby Gives It Away,” which is propelled by the drumming of Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. Townshend’s vocal performance is fine, but he doesn’t have the instensity that Roger Daltry could have added to the song. Only two other tracks rock as hard as the opening track. The instrumental “Rough Mix,” which features Eric Clapton’s lead guitar and the organ work of John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who would go on to tour with the Who in 1979. The other is Ronnie Lane’s “Catmelody,” a jumping number featuring Stones sideman Ian Stewart on piano.

The rest of the album is a mostly accoustic affair. One of the album’s many standout tracks is Lane’s absolutely gorgeous “Annie,” which features his former Slim Chance members Graham Lyle on guitar and Benny Gallagher on accordian. Equally lovely is Lane’s “April Fool” with Clapton on Dobro. Townshend also turns in one of his prettiest melodies and excellent acoustic guitar playing with “Keep Me Turning.” The album closes with the melancholy “Heart to Hang on To” with Lane and Townshend sharing vocal chores, and the Don Williams country classic “Till the Rivers All Run Dry.”

This is one of Townsend’s strongest non-Who projects and Lane’s contributions are stunning. If you enjoy either of these artists you will enjoy this collaboration. Highly Recommended! —Steve

Deep Purple “Come Taste the Band” (1975)

With Blackmore off chasing Rainbows, Deep Purple finally get a grip on this whole hard-funkin’ thing that had been brewing since Burn. Unlike the past two MKIII efforts, every track on Come Taste the Band (save for the snowblind ballad “This Time Around”) is seriously steeped in heavy groove, and it’s this consistency that makes the album work. There are no throwaways, every song purposefully jammin’ up a storm, the road weary “Comin’ Home,” high-rollin’ duo of “Lady Luck” and “Dealer,” and Hughes led party rocker “Gettin’ Tighter,” all notables. Personal favorite here though is the monolithic “Love Child,” with it’s syrupy, leaden riff, it’s a devastating highlight. Heck, even new kid Tommy Bolin serves up a cool instrumental cut in “Owed to ‘G’,” his adventurous Strat-strangulation and deft slide work a perfect fit for this one-off album. Come Taste the Band just oozes power and life start to finish, and shouldn’t be written off due to it’s distance from the classic Deep Purple sound. —Ben

Camel “Moonmadness” (1976)

After something of a detour in the all-instrumental Snow Goose, with Moonmadness Camel deliver a song oriented but no less progressive album that houses a faultless set exhibiting their impossibly relaxed and warm sound operating at a peak, as in the dual nature of “Song Within A Song” or the floating “Air Born,” songs which are comfortable, focused, and confident in their identity. Andy Latimer really steps to the front with a zen-like, effortlessly expressive guitar style that melts stone with it’s sheer beauty, fingers connected to the heart as well as the head, be it on softer passages such as in “Chord Change” or the full-bodied howling that closes “Another Night,” while the instrumental finale “Lunar Sea” simply blows the doors down with it’s twisting interplay and powerful lead work. One cannot discount the contribution of the rest of the band as well, Bardens with his most colorful pallet of synthesizer sounds, Ferguson and Ward totally in tandem, laying down syncopated grooves that help drive this one to the top of the heap. Moonmadness is an ideal place to start a Camel journey, not just in the merit of the individual songs but in the fact that Camel’s essence is so tangible here, looking forward or backward in their discography there’s a bit of Moonmadness everywhere. —Ben

John Entwistle “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” (1971)

John Entwistle’s first solo project away from The Who, “Smash Your Head Against the Wall,” comes as a revelation of sorts; while his songs had been sporadically featured on Who albums up until its release, Entwistle wasn’t quite given the songwriting kudos he deserved (his bass playing certainly wasn’t an issue!) This album changed THAT notion, for sure..;) It’s 100% solid, and a lot darker than the contemporary “Who’s Next;” in fact, just imagine 9 songs of the general spirit of “My Wife,” and you’ve got yourself an idea of what this album contains subject-wise.h