Classic Album of the Week

Posted every other Tuesday evening BEFORE the show.

Only Classic Albums from the most recent three months are included on this page.

Older Classic Albums can be found on the original playlist pages, listed in alphabetical order here.

Click on LP covers for more info and reviews.

   

"Black Sea" by XTC (1980)
XTC "Black Sea"  1980 (UK) 
This group from Swindon, UK started in 1972 as a groovy proggy band called Star Park, but after main songwriter Andy Partridge heard the New York Dolls debut album, they turned into a punk band called Helium Kidz before finally settling on the name XTC upon signing a record deal in 1976; their debut album came out just a few months after the Sex Pistols. They charted several singles in Britain in the early New Wave days, but by the early 1980's their psych-prog roots began to reassert themselves until they started putting out full-on sixties-style psychedelic rock albums by the middle of the decade. Black Sea was arguably the beginning of this transition yet it is still a ROCK album that could kick the butt of more popular New Wave  bands like The Cars. In fact, when legendary producer Robert Stigwood (Clapton, Bee Gees) saw one of their concerts he said they were the most exciting live band he'd seen since The Who! Unfortunately, Partridge also suffered from serious nerves and stage fright, so the band stopped performing live in 1982 and became a legendary studio band in the vein of Steely Dan for the last 15 years or so of their career. More recently, there has been a "50% reunion" of the classic lineup, with bassist and second singer/songwriter Colin Moulding teaming up with original drummer Terry Chambers to create the new band "TC & I".
We've also got another J-pop block on the show this week, so here's some videos to go with that: Perfume's adorable "Mirai No Museum", Reol's "Give Me A Break Stop Now" (the blonde wig is her usual look, but she's all of the girls in that video), DAOKO's "Bang!", and the "office lady" rap duo Charisma.com's "Like It". One of the catchiest power pop rockers I've come across in recent years is "Shangri-la" by Wienners, a denpa-punk band whose songs and videos are usually a lot crazier than that one!
Which brings us to the otaku-idol group Dempagumi.inc. I have yet to find any footage of the group performing their first independently released (non-hit) single "Mirror Magic?" (2008) which we heard on the show this week, so instead here's their first music video "Future Diver" (2011), which was only a minor hit but has become a theme song for the group. This song highlights one of the three major themes running through their lyrics, which are "optimism for the future", "proud to be Japanese" and of course "have a good time, all the time!" For our second selection, we bookend their career to date with the most recent Dempagumi.inc single from August 2019, "Bon De Festa" (the non-Japanese title seems like a hash of French "Bon",  Spanish "de" and Italian "Festa" - which adds up to "Good Of The Party"). Over the years their music has grown much more complex, and they've developed from the standard teen idol look of "Future Diver" (matching dresses, animal ears, dancing in a classroom) into iconic cartoon characters of surrealist pop.
"New York Dolls" by New York Dolls (1973)
New York Dolls "New York Dolls"  1973 (USA) 
This remarkably crude-sounding example of "raunch and roll" only comes in second behind The Stooges' most gonzo album (released the same year) in terms of being a critical influence on the punk rock explosion of 1977. In fact, Sex Pistols manager and svengali Malcolm McLaren took over as the Dolls' manager in the waning years of their career after their record company dumped them; his not-so-brilliant idea was to update the band's "drag queens who can beat you up" look with red outfits and communist flags (as if boys in drag singing about sex and dope wasn't already shocking enough.) No doubt Lou Reed was a key influence, both for his gender-bending shtick in the early 70's and the notoroiously crude but heavy sounds of his old band The Velvet Underground. Which also makes NY Dolls the missing like between the Velvets and KISS, another band playing crude masculine glam rock in makeup and heels at the same time in the same city (though KISS has always claimed their only influences were British classic rock bands not any local groups, yeah right.) One more fun fact: the Dolls' debut album was produced by Todd Rundgren, at the very same time he was working on his masterpiece prog-pop album, which couldn't be more different from our CAOTW this week!
This week our jazz fusion hour of the program concludes with J-pop, because those two genres are more closely related than you think! Dempagumi.inc released a pair of decidedly jazzy singles last year: "Goodnight Polaris, Goodbye Parallel World" (cheezy scifi video) and "I Want To Do Something" (nostalgia, friendship, nature, fashionable clothes) - both composed by H ZETT M who also plays keyboards (I guess he's famous in Japan). These tunes feature the transitional 7-girl lineup of 2018: Moga quit two years ago ending the "classic lineup" (2012-2017) that took them from small clubs to the top of the charts, so they added new members Nagi and Rin. Even more recently, Nemu left the band following the release of their latest album at the beginning of 2019. Six minus one plus two minus one more equals back to six members now, and they've already released another pile of post-Nemu singles this summer . . . but that will be next week's segment of DMPA theatre!
"Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison (1968)
Van Morrison "Astral Weeks"  1968 (UK - Northern Ireland) 
Van Morrison turned 74 years old this week. I'm surprised I hadn't already inducted this Classic Album which is arguably one of the most singular records of the late 1960's. It's hard to see how this music could even be called "rock", but it's not exactly folk or jazz music either. Perhaps "mystical folk-jazz reveries" might be a good description. Astral Weeks was recorded over three days, with Van singing and playing acoustic guitar in a booth by himself while the rest of the band played in another room; the producer later added strings and horns against Morrison's wishes (something similar happened to Nico around the same time with her similarly "unclassifiable not-rock" debut album). The band (guitar, bass, drums & flute) included jazz-leaning session legends Jay Berliner and Connie Kay, and was led by Prof. Richard Davis (longtime Madison resident and member of Eric Dolphy's best band) whose acoustic bass provides the main instrumental counterpoint to Van's voice.
Meanwhile, from 21st century Japan - Mirin, Risa, Eimi, Nemu, Moga and "Pinky!" are the nerd-girl idol band Dempagumi.inc! (That was the classic lineup from 2012-2017 anyway; they've since replaced two members.) We end the show this week with a couple of their more melodic songs, including their biggest Japanese hit to date "Even If Tomorrow's Earth Becomes A Child" (with one of their least-wacky "normal girl" videos). Something I appreciate very much about Dempagumi.inc is that their records sound like they are played by actual musicians not just "computer beats": here's a fun concert clip showing off their high-energy choreography in front of a live band. On the utterly opposite end of the J-pop spectrum, the artsy punk poetry rapper Haru Nemuri just released an incredibly strange music video (a very strange remix of her 2018 single "Kick In The World"). Though she hasn't put out any new records yet in 2019, she has been playing a catchy new song called "Riot" at her concerts this year (this gig was recorded in Japan less than a week ago!)
"KISS" by KISS (1973)
KISS "KISS"  1974 (USA) 
Gene Simmons turns 70 years old this week, so our CAOTW is the debut album by his masculine glam kabuki clown b(r)and KISS. They didn't really become popular until their fourth album in 1975, the classic concert recording KISS Alive!, but they had their formula down from day one. Although they did stray from boot-stomping hard rock songs about sex from time to time (most notably on the proggy concept album (Music From) The Elder in 1981), overall KISS had a remarkably consistent career that has lasted more than 40 years (their most recent album came out in 2012). During 2019, they have been doing a 111-date "End Of The Road World Tour" which is scheduled to end in Japan in December (fittingly, since Japan loved them from the start, even before they made it in America). Will that be the end of KISS? In Paul Stanley's autobiography (I listened to the audio book he narrated himself; it's hilarious) he suggests that "The Starchild", "The Demon" and the rest of the band's personas are not unique to the members who created them and there's no reason KISS can't continue forever with new members! There is a bit of precedent in that for the last decade or more Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer have worn the "Cat Man" and "Space Ace" makeup originated by Peter Criss and Ace Frehley on their debut album way back in 1974.
Also on the show this week: new tunes from the forthcoming first solo album ever from Kim Gordon (ex-Sonic Youth), a new bubblegum metal jam from Poppy, and the cool Japanese dames of Tricot and Wednesday Campanella. And (oh lord help me) my latest J-Pop obessesion: the wacky denpa idol band Dempagumi.inc - here's two of their nationalist bubblegum anthems (most of their songs seem to reference "Japaneseness" in some way) from 2015 (both top 10 hits in Japan) - "Bari3 Republic" (no clue what that title means) is the sound of anime and video games while "Sakura Apparition" ("Cherry Blossom Apparition") is girly pink happy funtime music. And oh yeah by the way - did you know KISS did a collaboration with a J-Pop idol band in 2015?! (The imagery in their music video seems based on the Japan-themed cover of Hotter Than Hell).
"Musik Von Harmonia" by Harmonia (1974)
Harmonia "Musik Von Harmonia"  1974 (Germany) 
This week's CAOTW is the debut album by the kosmische supergroup featuring the two guys from Cluster with the guitarist from NEU! Both groups were still active when their members played hooky to record as Harmonia: Cluster released their classic Zuckerzeit album later the same year, and NEU! put out their last album the following year. Although not a popular group or record at the time, they did draw the attention of Brian Eno who recorded some sessions with them in 1976 that weren't released until the 1990's (as well as an album he recorded with Cluster-minus-Rother in 1977, called Cluster & Eno.) Many decades later, the Harmonia and Eno-collaboration albums are seen as landmarks in the development of "post rock" and the more meditative end of electronic music.
Also on the show this week: the latest King Gizzard album is thrash metal! And a modern heavy classic from Japanese power trio 88Kasyo Junrei: "Kingdom of the Brain".
"Hope" by Klaatu (1977)
Klaatu "Hope"  1977 (Canada) 
This year for the Hippie Xmas bargain bin vinyl special I dug really deep for ultra-obscure albums of the classic rock era. The most famous artist being played on the show this week could be our CAOTW (or else it's probably Lalo Schifrin), though Klaatu was never more than a cult curiosity. Three anonymous studio musician/engineers from Toronto recorded five albums between 1976 and 1981 which show their love for Beatles-style psychedelic pop, Pink Floydian space epics and concept albums, and Moody Bluesoid narration and orchestration. There was a brief  "Beatles reunion rumour" attached to the release of their debut album, which made that their best-selling and most well-known album. Hope was their second record, and is much more ambitious - being a full-blown "sci fi rock opera" and including sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra - but it sold a lot less than the first one. Their third album was a return to the more pop-oriented (Beatles-like) debut album, and it's my favorite of all their records - though it sold even more poorly than the second album. You guessed it, albums #4 (tragically awful 80's lamestream Top 40 attempt) and #5 (back to Beatles sounds but on a limited budget and not released outside of Canada) continued the downward slide in record sales.
"Powerslave" by Iron Maiden (1984)
Iron Maiden "Powerslave"  1984 (UK)
Today is Bruce Dickinson's 60th birthday, so we induct our first Classic Album by one of the most popular metal bands of all time. Though personally they are not one of my favorite metal bands, there is no denying their iconic stature as one of "England's Loudest Bands." I do think their peak period was 1982-1985, when they made their first three studio albums and one double live album with Dickinson (there were also two albums before that with a different singer, which are pretty good but more typical of the NWOBHM style). Of that classic run of albums in the 1980's, Powerslave is the most ambitious and progariffic - at times it sounds like they hit the sweet spot in between Rush and Motorhead. There are several more legendary hard rock singers with birthdays this month: Robert Plant, Rob Halford, Ian Gillan, Gene Simmons and James Hetfield.
"Living The Blues" by Canned Heat (1968)
Canned Heat "Living The Blues"  1968 (USA)
The Grateful Dead became an enormous cultural phenomenon in the 1970's to 1990's (even during the grunge rock era they were one of the top-grossing touring bands in the world), so it is easy to forget that back in the 1960's they had many peers and in fact were not particularly popular compared to their competition. Take for example this week's classic band, Canned Heat: they made the American Top 40 three times between 1968 and 1970, and their albums sold much better than the Dead back in the 60's - in fact, this week's CAOTW even made it onto the R&B charts. Living The Blues is actually a pretty weird album, consisting of a half dozen of the trad blues numbers they were mostly known for ("Going Up The Country" was the hit), then a 20-minute psychedelic blues suite "Parthenogenesis", concluding with a jaw-dropping 41-minute concert recording "The Refried Boogie" taking up the last two sides of this double album (at the time and for many years after, the longest rock song released on a record). Although a version of the band still exists and tours today, with drummer Adolfo de la Parra being the only continuous member since way back in 1966(!), the original core trio who started the band all had tragic ends. Al Wilson, their main songwriter and the singer with the weird high-pitched voice died of a drug overdose a few weeks before Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin did the same, and in 1981 their other gruff-voiced lead singer Bob "The Bear" Hite also died of a drug overdose at one of their concerts. The brilliant and underappreciated lead guitarist Henry Vestine died of a heart attack on tour in 1997, though he had been in and out of the band numerous times over the decades - the first time he quit the band was the week before they played at the Woodstock festival! 
"Huevos" by Meat Puppets (1987)
Meat Puppets "Huevos"  1987 (USA)
Meat Puppets released an album this year (Dusty Notes) featuring all three original members for the first time since 1995. The band was founded in January 1980, meaning in a few months the group will have been around for 40 years - a rare feat for an American rock band. Huevos might be the most unsung record in their discography; after laboriously recording the sterile Mirage album earlier in 1987 (my least favorite of their records by far), they banged out a second album in a couple days using mostly first takes and the result is classic Mups. A large part of their appeal has always been a seat-of-the-pants, "this could fall apart at any moment" vibe stemming from their unique roots as a hardcore punk band made up of hippies: if there is any classic rock band they most resemble, believe it or not it's the Grateful Dead! Americana and country music bathed in psychedelic visions and yes they do jam out in concert, complete with their own version of the "Space --> Drums" staple from Dead concerts . . . only Meat Puppets play everything a whole lot faster!! Anyway, back to their new 2019 album: it's their most Americana-type album yet, and man they are really good at it by now. Here's a music video from the new record.
Here's a couple more new 2019 tracks played on the show this week: the latest from Japanese weird girl idol band Dempagumi.inc is uncharacteristically jazzy and cool! (Usually their songs and videos are hyper and wacky!) Also, here's a cute animated video for one of the best cuts on the new posthumous album from Prince (actually a songwriting demo recorded in 1985).
"Electric Bath" by The Don Ellis Orchestra
The Don Ellis Orchestra "Electric Bath"  1967 (USA)
Don Ellis was at the forefront of "progressive jazz" and fusion in the late 1960's and early 1970's, but he died in 1978 when he was just 44 years old and seems to be largely forgotten today. Ellis was a pioneer in several ways: he wrote lots of songs in bizarre time signatures, played a "microtonal trumpet", utilized psychedlic electronic effects on his instrument (years before Miles did), and put together a unique "big band prog" orchestra which at various times included three drum kits (one drummer was Ralph Humphrey, later of a classic Zappa band) and a string quartet. Electric Bath won the Downbeat magazine reader's poll for album of the year and was nominated for a Grammy, though his commercial peak was scoring the hit film The French Connection in the early 1970's.
Meanwhile over in Japan, my latest fascinations are the crazy "denpa" style of the wacky pop idol band Dempagumi.inc and a charming rap duo of . . . office ladies, called . But the big news lately is BABYMETAL has announced that their next album Metal Galaxy is coming in October, and have been on tour in Europe playing some cool new songs.
"Blind Dog At St. Dunstans" by Caravan (1976)
Caravan "Blind Dog At St. Dunstans"  1976 (UK)
This week's CAOTW is an underappreciated gem of "Canterbury prog" by one of the cornerstone bands of the Canterbury scene (the other being The Soft Machine). None of the Canterbury groups broke through in America, and they were very much "underground popular" in their native Britain as well. Whereas Soft Machine was definitely "art rock" with all sorts of avant-garde, jazz and classical influences, Caravan was really the only "populist" of the Canterbury bands that could have potentially produced a pop hit. They were more melodic and groovin' than the rest, in fact by the time of this 1976 album they were pretty much a jamband - only more whimsical and Very British. Perhaps it was because two key members of the original band had left by this point to go play in artsier bands: Richard Sinclair (bass & vocals) left around 1972 to become a key member of Hatfield & The North, followed by his cousin Dave Sinclair (keyboards) who played with Matching Mole as well as Hatfield (he then returned to Caravan but left again before this album, then came back again in 1980! But before that happened Richard & Dave also played together for a couple years in another cult-favorite prog band of the day, Camel.)
"Abbey Road" by The Beatles (1969)
The Beatles "Abbey Road"  1969 (UK)
Sir James Paul McCartney is 77 years old this week, and he just played a huge concert at Lambeau Field in Green Bay WI this month. I'll take the somewhat controversial position that Paul was the coolest and most talented Beatle, but I may be biased due to the Kosmik link I share with him since we are both Gemini born on the same date. Although Sir Paul was arguably the main brain behind the Beatles' most significant album, and was definitely driving the bus for my favorite Beatle album (soundtrack to the terrible movie Paul was also mostly responsible for), his best work could be "The Medley" on side 2 of this week's CAOTW, which includes relatively unsung Beatles gems such a "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window." Abbey Road was also a super-important album because it achieved a new peak in high fidelity studio recording for the Fab Four and their producer Sir George Martin: believe it or not, all of their previous albums were recorded on 4-track tape! For this album they had a whopping 8 tracks to work with! This is also their only album with synthesizers: George bought him one of the first Moogs in 1968. Finally, this was the final album The Beatles recorded - there was just one track on their swansong Let It Be album that was recorded in early 1970 following the Abbey Road sessions (George's "I Me Mine", which Paul doesn't even play on). The rest of LIB had been recorded prior to AR as part of another "failed" movie project spearheaded by - you guessed it, Paul McCartney.
"Who's Next" by The Who (1971)
The Who "Who's Next"  1971 (UK)
When I do a "self indulgent birthday special" I like to treat myself and the listeners to a second bonus classic album. If you asked me what my 5 favorite albums were when I was in high school, I would have probably picked Abbey Road, Are You Experienced?, Dark Side Of The Moon, Never Mind The Bollocks and Who's Next. And if I had to narrow that list to just one bestest albums ever, it would have been The Who. If you like rock music, it's hard to deny the greatness of the musicianship in this band: their blueprint of everybody-plays-lead power trio lineup with powerhouse lion-maned, bare-chested lead singer was followed by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and so many other classic rock bands. Compared to a lot of their peers, The Who were not especially prolific in the studio, and their forays into orchestration and synthesizers and concept albums diluted their signature sound, always best experienced when the band played live. So among all of their studio albums, I think Who's Next is their most singluar achievement, featuring Pete Townshend's best song writing (also John Entwistle's most quintessentially dark "joke" song "My Wife"), and an amazingly well balanced blend of sounds that cover all bases: rocking out/ballads, heavy electric/ lovely acoustic, organic/sythesized futuristic. Plus, one of the funniest album covers in classic rock!
     
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.
          

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