Albums that deserve a thorough listen

11 February 2011
Categories: Music appreciation

Some truly excellent record albums have spawned a hit single or two, but for the most part have been otherwise ignored. Here are seven examples that are essentials of my music collection.

MoontanGolden Earring, Moontan. “Radar Love” is an indispensable staple of Classic Rock radio. The four other tracks on this album: “Candy’s Going Bad,” “Vanilla Queen,” “Big Tree, Blue Sea,” and “Are You Receiving Me?” are each jazzy, dynamic, extended jams with solid hooks, and unique unto each other. Too bad they’re all too long for airplay—except for “Candy’s Going Bad,” which comes in just under the 6½ minutes of “Radar Love,” but whose subject matter is perhaps a bit too risqué for the radio. Apparently the same could be said for the original album cover: for its CD release MCA Records replaced the lovely, orgasm-faced, pastie-wearing burlesque dancer with a disturbingly close-up profile of an ear wearing—oh, how witty—a golden earring. And, in case that wasn’t obvious enough, the earring sports a tag stating “Golden Earring.” It is one of the worst fig-leaf album covers of all time.

IABDIt’s A Beautiful Day, It’s A Beautiful Day. “White Bird” is a strange beast, a slice of what might be deemed easy-listening psychedelia. The song is an anomaly, a red herring. So is that cover art: a wholesome young girl, standing on a windy precipice and gazing heavenward—combined with a dim, silhouetted gatefold photo of the band captioned “For those who love… time is an eternity”—can give the impression of a distinctly white-bread Christian record. Don’t be fooled. “Hot Summer Day” is like a fever dream, only far more pleasant, and the loosely melded suite of side 2 (“Bombay Calling” – “Bulgaria” – “Time Is”) surges with energy. Sure, some of the other tracks delve awfully deeply into the cheesiest tropes of acid rock—lyrics like “they told me that the sun turned green,” and pretty much all of “Girl With No Eyes.” No matter. Even with those oversteps, the record as a whole is one of the high points of the late-’60s San Francisco sound.

ChaseChase, Chase. Few have even heard of this early ’70s jazz-rock combo that, in terms of complex arrangements and virtuoso musicianship, gave both Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears a serious challenge—until a plane crash in 1974 took the lives of its namesake leader, Bill Chase, and much of the band. “Get It On” hits the airwaves occasionally, mostly on Deep Cuts weekends. Beyond that, radio listeners miss out on the album’s opener, the dense, cascading declaration-of-intent “Open Up Wide”; the eminently borrowable riffs of “Livin’ in Heat” and “Hello Groceries”; and a “Handbags and Gladrags” that stomps Rod Stewart’s 1972-charting rendition into lite-rock oblivion. Even the five-part suite “Invitation to a River” that closes the album is a worthy tour de force, studio tricks and all. (Link is to a two-disc collection of all three Chase albums. Totally worth it.)

Talk ShowThe Go-Go’s, Talk Show. Their third and final studio album before splitting up (not counting their middling 2001 reunion album) and, sadly, out of print. Sure, their debut Beauty and the Beat is the one that’s regarded as “one of the cornerstone albums of new wave,”* an accolade it deserves. Yet to me there’s something compelling about Talk Show’s high-aiming aspirations, the band finally shedding the last vestige of their punk roots—and outgrowing the bubble-gum tendencies of their sophomore effort, Vacation—and putting together something approaching a pop masterpiece. It’s not perfect, but it’s refreshingly low on filler, and surprisingly coherent given the ongoing tensions (and rampant drug abuse) within the group. Too bad “Head Over Heels” is about the only thing that has ever gotten airplay. Among that song’s many terrific companions on this album, the heartbreaking lament “Forget That Day” and the Cold War meditation “Beneath the Blue Sky” are gems.

BoomtownDavid & David, Boomtown. The lead track “Welcome to the Boomtown” hit the charts in 1986, but it’s just the opening salvo of a manifesto that skewers the excesses of the 1980s as soundly and completely as the Eagles’ Hotel California did to the 1970s. This is the only album David & David made—they kind of came out of nowhere, made this record, and departed for the obscurity of studio work on others’ projects (mostly; one of the pair seems to have had a solo career as well). Boomtown is an odd, troubling blend of dark topics and heavy lyrics atop well-crafted and often-upbeat pop melodies, with a sound that avoids the worst clichés of mid-’80s audio production. It’s one of the best records of the decade; too bad only wonky music critics ever give it its due.

Child is Father to the ManBlood, Sweat & Tears, Child is Father to the Man. With “I Can’t Quit Her” sounding vaguely like BS&T’s later hits (“And When I Die,” “Spinning Wheel,” “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”), it’s all too easy to dismiss this album as the group’s “no hit single” debut. But this original incarnation of the band is very different from the chart-topping (albeit short-lived) group that followed, and this album alone within the BS&T catalogue stands as a masterpiece of the post-Sgt. Pepper’s era. Al Kooper took a vision of jazz-rock fusion, added tasty morsels of R&B and soul, layered on some studio strings, mixed it with a dash of psychedelia, and came out with this daring assemblage. Along with several solid Kooper originals are neatly assimilated covers of Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, and Tim Buckley. It begins with an “overture” of overdub bedlam, and allows a Goffin/King pop tune to digress into the same tripped-out pandemonium for the closer. Would it be as unique a sound if the band had made a similar follow-up, rather than shattering and re-grouping sans Kooper? Definitely not. Which makes this album all the more special.

“But Seriously, Folks...”Joe Walsh, But Seriously, Folks. “Life’s Been Good,” with its tongue-in-cheek tale of a rock star’s wretched excess, is a Classic Rock staple—helped in part by its nine-minute length, making it popular among deejays as a smoke-break spin. But beyond that song, and despite reaching #8 on the Billboard charts, the album seemed to be swiftly ignored. When I sought out the LP record in the mid-’80s, it was hard to find and already relegated to the cut-out bin. It wasn’t remastered to CD until 1991, well after the initial spurt of “let’s put everything on CD as quickly as possible, audio quality be damned.” True, the album’s mellow, contemplative mood is belied by the guitar-rock sound of the hit single, making an unexpected juxtaposition. Too bad for us. “At the Station” and “Tomorrow” deserve routine airplay, and all the songs are catchy pop treats. The two instrumentals, easily dismissed as lead-in filler to the “Life’s Been Good” finale, are each atmospheric and evocative. All in all, it’s a witty, wistful collection.

  1. Mark Neese
    February 15th, 2011 at 13:08 | #1

    This is a great website, Kevin. I have been perusing it and discovered that you were on Jeopardy! Wow! I shouldn’t be surprised based on the sheer breadth of your interests.

    Anyway, I will soon be placing this site my list of “favorites”.

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