The List

A number of you asked for the complete list of 5-star records, so here it is. A couple of notes:

1. I began this list to target genres, artists, and records I had not given proper attention to. I know punk, general 50s-80s rock and roll, blues, and jazz fairly well, so those genres are not well-represented here.

2. I can justify every 5-star rating on here, so just ask. I’d also be curious to hear what 5-star records you know about.

—-

Air
Moon Safari
1998
Al Green
Let’s Stay Together
1972
Al Green
I’m Still In Love With You
1972
Al Green
Gets Next To You
1971
Alan Price
This Price Is Right
1968
Alexander “Skip” Spence
Oar
1969
Bee Gees
Odessa
1969
Bee Gees
Trafalgar
1971
Bert Jansch
Bert Jansch
1965
Bill Withers
Still Bill
1972
Bill Withers
Just As I Am
1971
Brian Eno & David Byrne
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
1981
Buck Owens
Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard
1962
Buck Owens And His Buckaroos
I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail
1965
Curtis Mayfield
Curtis
1970
Curtis Mayfield
Super Fly
1972
Davy Graham
The Guitar Player
1963
Elvis
Elvis
1956
Faron Young
Live Fast, Love Hard: Original Capitol Recordings,1952-1962
1996
Frank Sinatra
In the Wee Small Hours
1955
Fred Neil
Fred Neil
1966
Gene Clark
White Light
1971
Gene Clark
Roadmaster
1972
George Jones
Country & Western #1 Male Singer
1964
Gram Parsons
Grievous Angel
1974
Harry Nilsson
Pandemonium Shadow Show
1967
Harry Nilsson
Nilsson Schmilsson
1971
Harry Nilsson
Son of Schmilsson
1972
Harry Nilsson
Nilsson Sings Newman
1970
Jerry Jeff Walker
Driftin’ Way of Life
1969
Jerry Lee Lewis
Taste Of Country
1970
Jerry Lee Lewis
She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye
1970
John Stewart
Willard
1970
Kris Kristofferson
The Silver Tongued Devil and I
1971
Louvin Brothers
Tragic Songs Of Life
1956
Louvin Brothers
Satan Is Real
1960
Marvin Gaye
Let’s Get It On
1973
Merle Haggard
Same Train, Different Time
1969
Merle Haggard
A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player
1970
Merle Haggard
Big City
1981
Mickey Newbury
‘Frisco Mabel Joy
1971
Nick Lowe
Labour Of Lust
1979
Norman Blake
Old And New
1975
Norman Blake
Whiskey Before Breakfast
1976
Os Mutantes
Os Mutantes
1968
Otis Redding
Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul
1966
Phil Ochs
Pleasures Of The Harbor
1967
Raphael Saadiq
Stone Rollin’
2011
Sam Cooke
Live At The Harlem Square Club 1963
1963
Sam Cooke
Night Beat
1963
The Byrds
The Notorious Byrd Brothers
1968
The Byrds
Younger Than Yesterday
1967
The Byrds
Turn! Turn! Turn!
1965
The Chi-Lites
A Lonely Man
1972
The Dillards
Wheatstraw Suite
1968
The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers
1958
The Impressions
This Is My Country
1968
The Impressions
The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story
1969
The International Submarine Band
Safe At Home
1968
The Kentucky Colonels
The Long Journey Home
1964
The Kinks
Something Else By The Kinks
1967
The Kinks
The Kinks Kontroversy
1965
The Kinks
The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
1968
The Lilly Brothers
Early Recordings
1971
The Lovin’ Spoonful
Do You Believe In Magic
1965
The Lovin’ Spoonful
Daydream
1966
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
1965
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
East West
1966
The Remains
The Remains
1966
The Stanley Brothers
The Complete Mercury Recordings
N/A
The Zombies
Odessey & Oracle
1969
Townes Van Zandt
Delta Momma Blues
1971
Waylon Jennings
Honky Tonk Heroes
1973
William Bell
The Soul Of A Bell
1967
Willie Nelson
Phases and Stages
1974
Willie Nelson
Shotgun Willie
1973

1001 Records and The Drive-By Truckers Syndrome

imagesAbout six months ago, a friend mentioned a book to me that it turns out I had bought some years ago and forgotten–one of the many annotated lists of must-hear records. While the book is heavily skewed toward British music, it knocked loose a revelation in me: I suffered from musical ADD and had been for some time, and it was music’s very availability that had fertilized this tendency.  At some point, I had stopped listening to albums and devolved into listening to songs and playlists exclusively, cherry picking tunes that already aligned to my calcifying tastes. Back in my teens, when I used to spend all my paper route money on records, I would memorize every part of an album, liner notes and all. Spotify, Pandora, mp3s, and increased disposible income had killed off this part of me.

600full-ive-got-a-tiger-by-the-tail-cover So I decided to make my own list, and installed a few rules for self discipline: 1. I must listen to a record in its entirety, and could not skip songs, no matter how wretched; 2. I had to rate each record from 1 to 5; and, 3. I had to write a few notes about my experience with the record. The result is a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet (numbering some 800 records and growing) and a revitalized obsession with the vinyl album as an art form. Some days I will listen to 8 records a day, sometimes none, and I am now on a first-name basis with my town’s record store owners.  Among the many surprises: 1960s Bakersfield Country, the also-rans of the classic Psych period, the many branches of the Byrds family tree, and Curtis Mayfield’s late-60s/early-70s work with The Impressions.

I also discovered something I call The Drive-By Truckers Syndrome, which is making a record simply because it is time to make a record. In these cases, the artist seemingly appears in the studio with a clutch of songs to record regardless of whether or not the material itself actually constitutes an album. For instance, we consider London Calling, Odessey & Oracle (sic), and Astral Weeks albums, not just song collections.  In many cases, records suffering from DBTS are fine and inoffensive, but often indistinguishable from any other record in the artist’s oeuvre. The various configurations of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young made DBTS a cottage industry in the 70s, and even the great Van Morrison has endured periods when he had more songs than inspiration.

DriveBIG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a sampling of some of the records I rated as “5 stars”—each one a revelation:

  • Willie Nelson, “Phases and Stages” (1974)
  • Os Mutantes, “Os Mutantes” (1968)
  • Alexander “Skip” Spence, “Oar” (1969)
  • Gene Clark, “White Light” (1971)
  • Buck Owens And His Buckaroos, “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (1965)
  • Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’” (2011)
  • The Kentucky Colonels, “The Long Journey Home” (1964)
  • Mickey Newbury, “‘Frisco Mabel Joy” (1971)
  • Air, “Moon Safari” (1998)

The Power Of Pop

I’ve had a Pop fetish that dates from the time I heard the first “woo!” (at :08) in the Jackson 5′s “The Love You Save” on the bus in first grade. It likely started earlier, but that is the first historical evidence I have. I may have been a solitary, frightened, stripe-trousered, snaggle-toothed kid, but I knew a good hook when I heard one. I’ve been chasing that first potent bolus of Pop energy ever since. Admitting this ain’t easy.

You see, Pop has a philosophical problem, especially with the music intelligensia (self-appointed and otherwise), and that problem is right there in the name. The equation goes like this: Pop = popular = the unschooled hordes = immediately suspect. It’s the old Bread & Circuses conundrum. Complicating matters is 50 years of wretched pop music, and of songs lazily called Pop that actually aren’t. For instance, Michael Jackson will never be the King Of Pop, because he didn’t make pop music as Michael Jackson…but he sure as hell did with the Jackson 5.

So what’s the difference? I suspect–though have never verified–that it could be proven scientifically that certain chord progressions and melodies hit that sweet spot in the Western brain. For want of a better word, let’s call them “hooks,” since everyone else does. I am a hook junkie and the best Pop artists manipulate them to their advantage. ABBA, for instance, leads with the hook in “Dancing Queen” (an undebatably brilliant Pop song…just ask Jeff Tweedy). In “Go All The Way,” the Raspberries get to the hook in short order and drive it home no less than 6 times in 3 minutes and 25 seconds. Hooks don’t have to slap you upside the head like these, but there they must be! Listen to Pernice Brothers, Big Star, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Lambchop for just how sophisticated and infectious these can be.

Out of sheer laziness, I will say that Pop is ultimately undefinable or, at least, is best served through examples. I will have at least 30 of these at your disposal this Sunday from 1 to 3 on Left Of The Dial, only on Grow Radio!

Doc Watson And My Grandfather

When my grandfather came back from WW2, he bought a Gibson L-7 and became the best Travis-Atkins style guitarist I have ever seen. In a series of events that would claim a blog post of its own, that guitar now sits in my closet, dried rattlesnake rattles resting against the unparalleled Gibson craftsmanship inside its hollow body. The best part of our regular visits to South Carolina farm country involved all of us sitting around to watch him play this guitar. On a good day, my great grandmother would  accompany him on autoharp and the rest of the family would kick in with improvised vocal harmonies. For me, this was the musical equivalent of writing in wet cement, and goes a long way toward explaining my obsession with music.

The incomparable Doc Watson passed this week. Blind, both proud and humble, he was the best flatpicking guitarist ANYONE has ever seen. Doc was rooted firmly in the hills of North Carolina, not too far from where my grandfather, his contemporary, plied his skills on the local gospel circuit. So this music (Doc, Earl, Merle, Chet, Bill) has always felt like home to me, because in my small way I participated in it. About 5 years ago, I found a number of acetates my grandfather made in the 1940s and 50s. The lacquer was peeling off and many were unplayable. On them I found full and partial songs, radio takes, and the sound of my family years before I was born singing and playing together. What I did manage to salvage, I recorded, cleaned up, and dubbed onto CDs.

Like Doc Watson, everyone on those CDs is now gone and, honestly, I don’t know if our generations have come anywhere close to carrying on their legacy. I do know that since my grandfather died in 1997, the only family gatherings we have had are funerals and, although my brother and I consider ourselves musicians, neither of us have ever played with the younger generations at our feet, freshly bathed and sitting transfixed in their pajamas

Please join me tomorrow for “Left Of The Dial” from 1 to 3 Eastern on Grow Radio as I honor the music of Doc Watson and others.

1979

…was the year I learned to hate Disco, a fortunately short-lived phase that I now know to be the result of cultural trends having their way with me without any critical thinking on my part. As soon as I saw my first “Disco Sucks” t-shirt in Creem magazine, I knew that the disco 12-inchers and 45s had taken their last spin on my Panasonic turntable…or so I thought.

See, like any year (arbitrary time markers, at best), 1979 was a pivotal one. Disco and funk were trending down, and punk and New Wave were trending way up in the US, while punk itself had already reached its sell-by date in the UK. Yet 1979 was THE year for Post-Punk in the UK. See how that works? Mark any date and any given cultural trend is either ascendant or descendant. That’s why it is so much bullshit to say “Music sucked in the 70s.” Because it did not suck, not by a long shot.

1979 was the most important year in my musical life. I was playing the guitar at least 4-5 hours a day, learning every Stones lick (incorrectly, I later found out), and buying more records than I ever had before or ever have since. I had discovered the Clash, the Ramones, Graham Parker, had seen the B-52′s, the Who, and the Ramones live…at the same time that I was still nursing a heavy metal jones that was, for the most part, misguided.

Help me revisit this crucial year tomorrow (Sunday, 2-26) on my show, “Left Of The Dial” from 1-3 Eastern on http://www.growradio.org.

Columbia House

My jones for more, more, more music was lit early and has yet to wane. It started with a Kool And The Gang 45 when I was nine, picked up ferocious speed the day I got my paper route at 13, and has totally overwhelmed me in the digital age. If I use drug metaphors to describe my relationship with acquiring music, that is because what I am describing is addiction. I am not alone.

At least that’s what Columbia House Record Club bet the farm on way back when. Anyone close to my age knows exactly what Columbia House was. In the 70s and 80s the magazine ads were ubiquitous: “12 Records Free” and then something about how you need do nothing else…but let the (wretched) Album Of The Month arrive at retail + $5, and some other fine print that read like a mortgage document.

The Columbia House business model took a page from the anti-drug speeches we listened to in school. They would “front” you the free stuff up front, and then slam you with outrageous commitments you had no idea you signed up for. As far as I know, there was no age limitation for sign up either. Practically every parent who raised a child in the 60s, 70, or 80s has penned an irate letter to Columbia House. I remember at least three times I re-uped with them, defaulting on my obligation each time.

The result is that I have a huge number of Greatest Hits compilations in my vinyl collection, many of which I would never have purchased had I been paying “real” money. They never had the good stuff at Columbia House, for some reason. It was always the Dylan album that sucked from 1972 or a perfectly awful Aerosmith live record. What it did do is obvious to anyone who has taken a look at the shelves in my living room, or at the external hard drive(s) I cart around: it made my appetite for more music, more tweaks to my dopamine receptors, insatiable. So, thank you, Columbia House, I guess.

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