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.

   

Jane's Addiction "Nothing's Shocking"  1988 (USA) 
The 1980's were a very lame decade for mainstream music, but one of the greatest eras ever for "the underground scene." More review soon.
Neil Young "Tonight's The Night"  1975 (Canada) 
Neil Young turned 74 years old this week. Believe it or not, after 600 CAOTWs there are still some incredibly classic albums yet to be inducted and this is one of them! Neil Young has always been famous for being the master of "bummer vibes" - very few in the history of music have been as good at making listeners happy by expressing sadness. Tonight's The Night is Neil's biggest bummer of them all, the final installment of the so-called "ditch trilogy" of cathartically depressing masterpieces he made in reaction to becoming a superstar in the early 70's with CSNY and his big hit album Harvest (1972). The songs here were inspired by specific dreadful events, including the overdose deaths of Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten and CSNY roadie Bruce Berry (memorialized in the title track) plus a gruesome drug deal murder that shook the gentle hippiefolk of Laurel Canyon where Neil lived at the time. But "critics say" it all adds up to the ultimate statement about the dissolution of hippie idealism in the increasingly cynical 1970's. Musically, it's probably the greatest "drunk rock" album of all time: Neil and his band (Ralph & Billy from the defunct-at-the-time Crazy Horse plus Ben Keith on pedal steel and Nils Lofgren on lead guitar while Neil mostly plays piano) sound totalllly waaaaysted on every song, which you can think of as brilliant method acting for an album whose main theme is basically drug addiction. I can't think of any other album by anyone that really compares to this one. Like the author himself, Tonight's The Night is unique.
Charles Mingus "Ah Um"  1959 (USA) 
Joni Mitchell turns 76 years old this week, and 40 years ago she released an album called Mingus. Joni was a folk music singer-songwriter of the Bob Dylan variety back in the 1960's, but in the 1970's her music turned into jazz-rock fusion and her bands and records included big names from the jazz scene like Jaco Pastorious, Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter. Somewhere along the way she became pals with Charles Mingus, a legend from the post-bop "modern jazz" scene of the 1950's and early 60's. Joni's Mingus album was released after Charles died, but most of the tunes are written by Mingus with words by Mitchell, including a remake of one of the most famous Mingus tunes "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" with new Joni lyrics. The original Mingus version of that tune is from this week's classic album, which is probably the most acclaimed of Mingus' records, though he made a lot of good ones so check him out if you're interested in groovy old jazz!
In new music news, Ariel Pink has a new video for his latest collection of old tape music and I just found out about a new abum from Aussie heavy psych band ORB (released in the spring).
Slayer "South Of Heaven"  1988 (USA) 
Happy Halloween! Kosmik Radiation likes to play some metal around Halloween, because obviously. When I think of scary Halloweeny metal, there is one band that always rises to the top: the eeeevilll "satanic" thrash metal icons SLAYER. South of Heaven was the first of their albums I ever heard, around the time it was released when the metalhead down the hall bought their latest cassette (80's tech!) Though not a huge fan of metal at the time, I immediately recognized the over-the-top gusto of these legendary metallions. After catching up on the rest of their discography (before seeing them in concert for the first time in 1991), I concluded that this is one of their finest albums for its almost-progressive sense of moods and dynamics. Why, they even have a sort-of ballad song with non-distorted guitar (called "Spill The Blood" because they are still eeeevilll!) They also pay tribute to their great forefathers Judas Priest with a cover of "Dissident Aggressor" which is actually beter than the original.
The Replacements "Let It Be"  1984 (USA) 
The Replacements were a unique and legendary band from the 80's American underground scene, but I think the reason they haven't had a CAOTW yet is that they never really made a "classic" album. The Mats were a notoriously inebriated and unreliable group whose motto was "all for nothing, nothing for all." They made a ton of great songs, but also recorded their share of lazy punk rock bar band tunes: "Gary's Got A Boner" is probably the biggest dud on Let It Be. The other mediocrity "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" at least has funny lyrics and is performed with plenty of drunk rock energy (and their version of KISS's "Black Diamond" is actually awesome!) That's as good a ratio as you'll get from this band, and the "hits" on this record include some of Paul Westerberg's greatest compositions like "Sixteen Blue", "Unsatisfied", and his near-solo performances of "Androgynous" and "Answering Machine". Back in the 1980's Bruce Springsteen was seen as the "people's poet" who portrayed the "realistic" hopes and dreams of the Working Man in America, but really his songs are second-rate Woody Guthrie wannabe BS (the working class romanticized from a distance by a multimillionaire). Westerberg sounds more like the real deal: a lonely drunk on a barstool wondering where the hell it all went wrong, and with a voice that sounds like that's all he would have ever been if he didn't have a knack for classic songwriting.
"pom pom" by Ariel Pink (2014)
Ariel Pink "pom pom"  2014 (USA) 
Ariel Pink is a crucial figure in early 21st century underground music, so it's time to finally add one of his albums to the CAOTW roster. At the end of the analog era (1996-2003), Ariel Rosenberg recorded hours of original music on old-fashioned lo-fi cassettes in his parents basement and an ashram in L.A. where he lived for several years! These started to get released on indie label Paw Tracks in 2004 under the moniker "Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti" and his legend began to grow (living in the ashram is the tip of the iceberg as far as his notoriouly eccentric LA slacker lifestyle.) His ultra-indie analog aesthetic became a major influence on the "hypnagogic/chillwave" fad in underground music at the end of the twenty-aughties (whatever you call that decade ending in 2009). In 2010, he signed with "big indie" label 4AD and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (now an actual band) released Before Today, his first album of songs that were written with the intention of actually being heard by an audience! This was followed by the even better Mature Themes in 2012, then this week's classic album in 2014 which was technically his first solo album since those early analog days (his notorious eccentricities include fighting with his band and firing them all). pom pom is his best-produced album, and also features some of his nuttiest song writing. The Cure and Michael Jackson (80's pop in general) were two of his earliest influences and are present here, but with odd song structures achieved through clever editing and studio trickery and an attention to conceptual continuity (and juvenille/clinical fascination with the sociology of sex) that is very reminiscent of fellow LA weirdo studio freak Frank Zappa.
"Wild Thing" by The Troggs (1966)
The Troggs "Wild Thing"  1966 (UK) 
It was tough to find an album to induct as Classic Album of the Week #600: I wanted something that was both influential and "unsung." I finally settled on the debut album by an underappreciated but singular sixties band who were an important precursor to punk and metal. Of course everyone knows the title track from this album, which was by far their biggest hit in America, though they had several more hits in their native Britain and if you delve into their discography a little deeper they were the all-time masters of lascivious caveman rock. "Trogg" is short for troglodyte, a term which is usually prejorative when you're talking about music, but The Troggs really own their primitive stomp and dumb/horny teenage lyrics. Which I think already makes them the punkest rock band around way back in 1966! The idiot savant distorted guitar riff of "Wild Thing" (which is exactly the same as "Louie Louie", the ultimate stupid rock song) is also as heavy as anything you'd hear on the radio in the pre-metal years. And if you think "Wild Thing" was a masterpiece of stoopid heaviness, most of their songs are like that, in fact "Wild Thing" might not even make a list of their ten best songs! Though to be fair, they did occasionaly sink into bubblegum cheese (punk and bubblegum have always been more musically similar than either would admit), and even worse are the Troggs' sappy ballads (including their second-biggest hit "Love Is All Around" which has exactly the same chords as "Wild Thing" only played slower!)
"Giant Steps" by John Coltrane (1960)
John Coltrane "Giant Steps"  1960 (USA) 
John Coltrane's 93rd birthday was this week. When I first began to listen to jazz music, there were two artists who served as my portal to entry: one was Thelonious Monk, whose songs and piano style are so bizarre, yet utterly musical, that it was hard not to recognize his genius. The other was John Coltrane, in particular this week's CAOTW. I got into Miles via Coltrane too, since Trane played with Miles in the 50's. For those who lived through the real world chronology, of course it went the other way: people found out about Trane because he was Miles' #1 sideman during one of his most brilliant and popular periods. Though Coltrane had released a handful of records under his own name in the 1950's, Giant Steps was the record where he went from being a famous sideman to a giant in his own right. He wrote all the songs on this album, and they are a remarkable collection of tunes. If you want to get into the technical aspects of his music, it's -- well, extremely technical. In terms of his saxophone playing, I think of Trane as being very much the Jimi Hendrix of his day (and he was probably one of Jimi's main inspirations). Just as Hendrix became famous for using volume effects and feedback to extend the range of musical sounds an electric guitar can make, Coltrane did the same at the beginning of the decade by taking Charlie Parker's innovations and extending the range of his instrument through overblowing and harmonics to make the horn honk and squeal in ways the inventor of the instrument never intended. As the sixties went on, Trane's music kept getting farther and farther out until his untimely death in 1967.
Also - this week I saw BABYMETAL on their Metal Galaxy World Tour!
"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 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 that video seems based on the Japan-themed album 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".
     
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