Leon Russell – Carney

Unlike CDs, albums have two sides and must be flipped halfway through to listen to an entire album “Carney”, Leon Russell’s 1972 masterpiece takes full advantage of this. “Carney” really could be considered two half albums; one roots rock, the other psychedelic rock. Both of them showcasing Leon Russell at his best.

That’s not to say side two doesn’t still touch on the strong songwriting Russell was known for – Russell’s songs have been recorded by more than 200 other artists. The flip side even contains what is possibly his most recorded songs. “This Masquerade” has found its way on over 75 records by others, the best known version being George Benson’s breakout hit single in 1976.

Amazingly, Leon Russell never released “This Masquerade” as a single, at least not as the A-side of one. It wound up being the B-side to “Tightrope” which also kicks off side one of “Carney” and became Leon Russell’s first hit single.

The Velvet Underground & Nico

It was ignored by most rock critics when it was released in 1967. Its songs were near to never played on the radio. Its initial sales were next to dismal.

Yet…

By the 1990s it was regarded as one of the most influential rock records ever made. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #13 in its list of the greatest rock and roll records of all time. In 2006, it became one of only a handful of rock albums ever added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, recognized for being either culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Spoiler alert: It’s all three.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined to fail.

Yet…

The Velvet Underground & Nico was an album so far ahead of its time, it was destined for legendary success.

The Nice – Nice

“Won’t you welcome please, a most distinguished group from England: The Nice.”

And so begins side 2 of the third album by the band where Keith Emerson earned his reputation as one of the greatest keyboardists in rock and roll. At this early stage in his career, Emerson had yet to begin his pioneering work using the Moog synthesizer. That would come a couple of years later in the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer. So here, his talents are limited to just organ and piano. That is, if you could ever refer to Emerson’s playing as limited. Listening to “Nice” you can’t help but feel that it’s the instruments themselves that are limited in Emerson’s hands.

It’s easy to tell here how influential Keith Emerson was to ELP – and not just because both The Nice and ELP had keyboards as the main lead instrument. Like ELP, the songs on “Nice” integrate rock and roll with heavier doses of classical and jazz than do the psychedelic musings of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the dark, moody prog of King Crimson, Carl Palmer’s and Greg Lake’s respective bands prior to ELP.  Then there’s the many pieces of Nice songs that were incorporated into later ELP tracks.

The standout track however, at least to me, is the live track  “Rondo ’69”, which was based on the polyrhythmic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by jazz master Dave Brubeck, from his 1959 classic “Time Out“. “Rondo” became a keyboard showcase at Emerson Lake and Palmer concerts in the years to come.

I hate to admit it, but until the 1980s, when I started to expand my musical appreciations, I thought Rondo was an ELP original. Yeah, not even close. It’s pure Brubeck; the song is merely reinterpreted by Keith Emerson and the other members of The Nice. But I give them credit for the improvisational midsection. It was very…Nice.

Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! – Live! (Quadrophonic)

An amazing live performance by two legends. Recorded at what was probably the most incredible location to ever see a rock festival: inside the crater of the Diamondhead volcano in Honolulu Hawaii.

The Sunshine Festivals used to happen every year on New Year’s eve and day, and on the Fourth of July. The first festival was organized in 1970 and had about 12 thousand people in attendance. By 1979, it was attracting over 75 thousand people and had to be shut down due to concerns over the environmental concerns being caused by the huge crowds.

This blistering performance by Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles was recorded on New Year’s day in 1972.

Listening to this performance in quadrophonic (a 1970’s analog version of surround sound that preceded home theater systems) really adds to the listening experience of this record. Well, I guess technically, I’m not listening to it in quad, but I find Dolby Pro Logic surround sound (an analog surround sound from the 1990’s that predates Dolby Digital surround sound) brings out the same effect as quad. If it’s not the same, it’s darn close. (I’m thinking they didn’t try to totally reinvent the wheel for analog home theater surround sound). The ambience of the venue is capture perfectly here, with the rear speakers making me feel like I’m sitting right in the middle of the crowd.

I really need to look into picking up some more quad albums.

The Steve Miller Band – Children Of The Future

San Francisco, 1968. Psychedelic music is in full swing, and one of the groups at the forefront of it was The Steve Miller Band. It’s not the style one typically associates with The Steve Miller Band, which makes their debut album “Children of the Future” stand in sharp contrast to their later big hits.

Yet at the same time, it still sounds like The Steve Miller Band. It’s just more adventurous. It’s more jamming, It’s more bluesy. It’s more … more psychedelic.

Yeah, The Steve Miller Band was one of the best Psychedelic bands around in the late 1960s. It’s where they got their start. With the success they achieved in the ’70s and ’80s that’s sometimes forgotten about.

Not here. Not now.

Peace.

The Byrds – Greatest Hits

When The Byrds first started out in 1965, they took the sounds of the British invasion and combined it with American folk music made popular by Bob Dylan and others. Their sound was tailored strongly by the jangly tone of Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker which became a strong influence a decade later for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They were also known for their distinct vocal harmonies.

The Byrds would later add Eastern world, psychedelic, and country music influences to their sound. These changes caused creative differences within the band leading to David Crosby eventually leaving the group and forming Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young). Numerous other lineup changes would happen down the line, with Roger McGuinn remaining the only consistent member. They eventually disbanded in 1973.

Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure

The second Roxy Music album.

I remember the first time I heard Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure”. Even more so, I remember hearing Brian Ferry’s ode to an inflatable doll, “In Every Home a Heartache”. I was not even a teenager at the time, so I’m not even sure if I entirely knew what the song was about, but its eerie feel and wicked psychedelic Phil Manzanera guitar solo at the end was all I needed to know the topic was rather offbeat – and I loved it, along with the rest of the record.

Actually, “For Your Pleasure” was the first time I had heard Roxy Music at all. I remember the radio station playing the album in its entirety because it had just been released and it was unlike anything I had ever heard at the time. It blew my mind every bit as much as what Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” had just a few weeks earlier, but in a totally different way. “For Your Pleasure” was more of an in-your-face experimental adventure, due mainly to Brian Eno’s creative genius on keyboards and his use of tape loops added to Chris Thomas’s edgy production. (as I would read the credits in the liner notes to numerous albums in the years following, I found Chris Thomas to be one of my all-time favorite producers).

Along with Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” dramatically shifted my musical listening habits from the pop songs being played on the local AM stations to the album oriented rock (AOR) on the FM dial; music that defined the most influential years of my life.

Pink Floyd – Live in NYC 1977

On July 7, 1977, Pink Floyd performed live at Madison Square Garden and somehow, someone in the audience was able to sneak in a good quality tape recorder to capture part of the show as it happened.

Maybe they had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. Maybe they gave a copy of the recording to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who gave a copy to a friend who had connections to someone at a record cutting facility. The exact details will never be known.

The bottom line is that an unofficial (bootleg) recording of the concert was unofficially released on Pass to Dust, an Italian record label (unofficial releases are almost always released on Italian record labels). The recording is an amazing document of what an unbelievable live act Pink Floyd was at the time. “Live in NYC 1977″ captures Floyd performing their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here” live, in its entirety as the second half of their show that evening. Typical for Floyd, the first half of the night would have been their most recent album, “Animals” in its entirety, and the evening would have closed focusing on songs from Floyd’s masterpiece “The Dark Side Of the Moon”.

Is this a live recording to the standard of what an official Pink Floyd release would be? Hell no! This is from some dude who snuck a tape recorder into a Pink Floyd concert. But what it lacks in sound quality, it more than makes up for in content. Pink Floyd’s performance here is relentless and near flawless.

I wish I had an official recording of this performance but I honestly don’t know if one will ever exist, so I’ll take what I can get.

The Frost – Rock And Roll Music

Of all the Detroit bands that were ever poised to hit the national spotlight but remained hidden in the shadows from fame, The Frost were grandest.

Back in the ’60s through the ’90s, before the age of streaming, making it in the music industry meant signing a deal with a record label. More importantly, it meant signing a record deal with the right record label. Unfortunately, for The Frost, Vanguard was not the right label. Vanguard abandoned them with virtually no promotion for their albums. While their Detroit contemporaries at the time like Bob Seger, The MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, gained national fame, The Frost achieved a legendary status in Detroit and throughout Michigan, but remained relatively unknown anywhere else.

Except for Dick Wagner.

Dick Wagner was the lead guitarist, vocalist, and one of the chief songwriters for The Frost. He went on to work with Kiss, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and many others in rock and roll in the 1970s and ’80s. Dick Wagner’s influence has become legendary far beyond Detroit.

“Rock and Roll Music” encapsulates what The Frost’s music was all about. Hard rock, psychedelia, and blues. Half of the album was recorded in Vanguard’s studios in New York, and half was recorded live at the legendary Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The studio material is good, but it’s the live performances here that really make this album stand out. The Frost were first and foremost, a live band.

Even though The Frost never saw the national fame of their contemporaries, that didn’t stop them from becoming highly influential to many national acts that came after them. Today, “Rock and Roll Music” is highly sought by record collectors across the U.S. and even overseas.

The Amboy Dukes – Journeys And Migrations

Before Ted Nugent, there was The Amboy Dukes.

Ted Nugent is probably known as much for his right-wing political activism and outspoken nature, especially when it comes to his support of the 2nd amendment to the U.S constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) as he is for his guitar playing. Whether or not you agree with Ted Nugent’s political views or like his in your face, sometimes brash nature, you can’t deny he is one of the best rock guitarists ever. It’s that incredible guitar playing that really makes “Journeys and Migrations” the great compilation that it is.

The album gets it title from The Amboy Dukes’ early albums “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Migration”. The Amboy Dukes only had one big hit in their existence from 1968 to 1965. “Journey to the Center of the Mind” from the album of the same name, pretty much represents the psychedelic sound of most of the songs featured here, although the band does occasionally wander into jazz, doo-wop, and hard rock territory.

In order to release their records in Great Britain, The Amboy Dukes had to change their name, since there was already a band performing there under the same name. Appropriately, they chose to call themselves The American Amboy Dukes.