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.

   

Miles Davis "Live-Evil"  1971 (USA)
For this week's pledge drive special, we are revisiting the 50th Anniversary of 1971 - one of the greatest years for music! A new thing exploding that year was "jazz fusion": jazz musicians playing loudly on amplified rock instruments. By my count, this was the fifth time in Miles Davis' legendary career that he was at the center of a major new innovation in jazz music - the previous instances were: 1) BeBop with Charlie Parker's band, followed by 2) "Cool" jazz in the late 1940's, 3) modal jazz in the 1950's (the template for psychedelic rock jamming), and 4) that quintet of his from the 1960's, a group so singular there isn't a name for their style because they were the only ones who could play it. Live-Evil has a lot of the epic, mystical qualities of his previous double elpee Bitches Brew, but a smaller funkier band (yet also "more space") and I think a lot of it was recorded live. Then masterfully edited into "progressive rock suites" by Teo Macero, the secret weapon behind many of Miles' many classic albums.
Budgie "Never Turn Your Back On A Friend"  1973 (UK-Wales)
The Welsh power trio Budgie's first four albums should be considered landmarks of early heavy metal; the other three have been classic albums already. Their first two were produced by Rodger Bain, in between his stints producing the earliest works of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest! Budgie also has a weird doppelganger relationship with Rush (another heavy power trio with a dorky singing bassist who sounds cool in spite of his weird high-pitched voice). Budgie owes a lot of their semi-popularity in recent decades to the fact that Metallica covered two of their most classic songs back in the 1980's, including the leadoff track of this week's CAOTW.
Stereolab "Mars Audiac Quintet"  1994 (UK/France)
Stereolab's music is so hip it hurts: retro-futuristic indie rock art pop that seems to reference the entire history of 20th century underground sounds: influences they wear on their sleeves would include NEU!, Serge Gainsbourg, The Free Design, Silver Apples, Perrey & Kingsley, Enoch Light, Rhys Chatham, Suicide, Faust, Spectrum, The Velvet Underground and Sun Ra. Yet despite that unbearably "hip" list of influences, their music has always been very catchy! Back in the 1990's, they had a string of classic albums from 1993 to 1999 where every album was a clear advance in sound and concept from the previous one. Looking back from the 21st century, Mars Audiac stands out as their most live-sounding and "rockin" record. Though they aimed for studio-perfect space age sounds on record, in concert they were always a loud, heavy rock band, driven by two ancient analog keyboards (Farfisa and Moog) and a throbbing guitar-bass-drum rhythm section.
Speaking of French-influenced retro/electronic pop, Yasutaka Nakata has recently dropped new singles for the two most popular artists he works with: Perfume's new song "Polygon Wave" (tre chic, mon ami!) is the new theme song for Japan's version of The Masked Singer which the trio will also appear on as judges. Meanwhile Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's latest is "Genten Kaihi" which means "Avoid Your Roots" (a pun on "Genten KaiKi" which means "get back to your roots") - the symbolism of the music video where she is being chased by a giant bow references her trying to escape her early 2010's "Harajuku Idol" image (oversized bow in her hair, false eyelashes and platform sneakers). I am hoping this means she has a new album on the way (and sounds like she may be planning to reinvent her image?)
Judas Priest "Stained Class"  1978 (UK)
Happy 70th birthday Rob Halford! A singer so legendary his nickname is "The Metal God", Halford has always been the most exceptional member of Judas Priest. Founded in Birmingham, England in the early 1970's, Priest arguably did more to define "heavy metal" than any other band, including even the mighty Black Sabbath (who are also from Birmingham). Sabbath may have invented the metal, but Priest added speed, precision, black leather, and outrageous operatic vocals courtesy of this week's birthday boy. Stained Class was their fourth album but the first where they finally shed the last vestiges of the early 70's prog and psych sounds you can find on their earlier records. From this album onward, Priest is all shredding and wailing and black leather, all the time. Also having a birthday today: Gene Simmons is 72!
ZZ Top "Tres Hombres"  1973 (USA)
Joe "Dusty" Hill, the bassist and second vocalist from America's longest running band, has passed away. ZZ Top released their debut album 50 years ago, and over all these years have not had a single change in membership: they were the longest lasting group since the dawn of pop music. The "tres hombres" (three men) were always Dusty, Frank (drums) & Billy (guitar and the main singer and songwriter). Although this isn't the end of the road - per Dusty's wishes, the band will continue with longtime roadie Elwood Francis taking over on bass (I hope he has a long beard). Probably inspired by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (but with a laser focus on The Blues), ZZ Top's breakout album was their third, this week's CAOTW, which includes ultra-classic rock tracks like "Waiting For The Bus", "Jesus Just Left Chicago", and their first big radio hit "La Grange".
Also on the show this week: "Flux", the title track from the forthcoming new album by Poppy.
Gal Costa "Gal"  1969 (Brazil)
Gal Costa (born Maria da Graça Costa Penna Burgos) is one of the top singers from the groovy Brazilian music scene of the late 1960's. She still has an active career, in fact she released a new album in 2021 at age 76! Costa debuted in the mid-sixties and appeared on a landmark 1968 compilation album called Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis which featured a who's-who of the leading Brazilian psychedelic (or "Tropicalia") artists, namely Tom Ze, Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso and Os Mutantes. Her second full-length solo album Gal is one of the most out-there experimental pop albums of the entire 1960's decade, sounding like a bossa nova mash-up of Barbra Streisand (soaring vocals) and Jimi Hendrix (everything swimming in a sea of fuzz guitar).
Also on the show this week, new underground rock from Japan: psych-punk power trio 88-Kasyo Junrei has a new album coming out later this month and art-punk poetry-rapper Haru Nemuri keeps releasing singles (and music videos).
The Strawberry Alarm Clock "Incense And Peppermints"  1967 (USA)
Strawberry Alarm Clock is the grooviest, baby! They are best remembered for their #1 smash hit "Incense And Peppermints", though they are technically not a "one hit wonder" (their other Top 40 hit was a song called "Tomorrow" from their second album). The SAC was formed through the merger of two obscure LA groups, Thee Sixpence and "Waterfyrd Traene" (what a terrible name!) Thee Sixpence had already written the tune "Incense And Peppermints" but didn't like the original recording they had made, so somehow in the re-recording process they became "The Strawberry Alarm Clock" and the song also wound up being sung by a 16-year kid who wasn't even in the band (Greg Munford's only appearance with the group). After the song became a huge hit, the personnel solidified and they rushed out a debut album (this week's CAOTW) and then released three more albums before breaking up at the end of the decade. Their albums get weaker as they go, but there is plenty of classic California psychedelic rock on the first three in particular. Two other notable things about SAC: 1) they appeared in a pair of classic psychedelic movies in the 1960's: Psych-Out (1968) starring a very young Jack Nicholson, Dean Stockwell and Bruce Dern, and Russ Meyer's camp masterpiece Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970); and 2) believe it or not, their lead guitarist Ed King went on to be a founding member of Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd!
Funkadelic "Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On"  1974 (USA)
George Clinton, the founder and leader of Parliament-Funkadelic, turns 80 years old this week. This time we're inducting one of Funkadelic's classic guitar shredding funk albums into the hall of fame. All of the musicians in the original Funkadelic band were legendary, but lead guitarist Eddie Hazel has always gotten particular notice for being "the second-best Hendrix-style guitar player after Jimi Hendrix". However, Hazel quit the band around 1972 after feuding with Clinton over money. But then he returned in 1974 to record this week's CAOTW, which therefore naturally features heavy guitar more prominently than most of their albums (it's also the only Funkadelic album where Hazel co-wrote almost every song). In addition to the classic title track, this album also features a 12-minute guitar showcase called "Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts" which is a worthy successor to Hazel's earlier guitar epics like "Maggot Brain" and "Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow".
Fishbone "Fishbone" EP  1985 (USA)
In the late 80's, Fishbone seemed poised for greatness. But then "grunge rock" and hardcore rap took over the music scene and their sharp combination of punk, funk, ska, soul and metal didn't fit those molds. But then, they really didn't fit any mold in the first place which was one of their great strengths (though also a great weakness since major record labels are generally not good at promoting artists that can't be easily pigeonholed). Their other great strength is impeccable musicianship: started by band nerds in junior high school in the late 70's, the core members developed a remarkable chemistry because they literally grew up playing together. (Their band name reflects their band nerd roots: "Fish" for the Fisher brothers on bass and drums and "bone" because their keyboardist doubles on trombone). Only one of the seven full-length albums they released between 1986 and 2006 managed to scrape the bottom of the Top 50 on the American album charts, and they haven't had a major label record deal for more than 20 years now, but the group soldiers on to this day with 5 of 6 original members (and even had a full reunion of the original lineup in late 2020). But for all their legacy, I think their greatest moments on record can all be found on their debut, a nearly perfect 6-song EP which is our CAOTW this week.
The Chambers Brothers "Love, Peace And Happiness"  1969 (USA)
The Chambers Brothers were four brothers from Mississippi who wound up starting a folk and gospel singing group in Los Angeles in the 1950's. In 1965 they made a splash at the Newport Folk Festival at the same time Bob Dylan was electrifying and "inventing folk rock". Their biggest hit came a couple years later by which time they had become more of a psychedelic soul garage band: the original album version of "Time Has Come Today" was a masterful 11-minute psychedelic freakout which didn't make the charts until they chopped it down to a 4-minute single almost a year later. They never scored another hit anywhere near that big, but recorded plenty of great tracks in the late sixties. Their most ambitious release is this week's classic album: a double elpee with one live concert record and one studio record, half of which is the titular track which takes up a whole side of the record and is their longest epic (16 minutes of groovy psychedelic soul.)
Van der Graaf Generator "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other"  1970 (UK)
Van der Graaf Generator, a lesser-known British prog-rock band that has existed off and on since the late sixties, was planning to do a tour in 2020 and should be hitting the road later this year. This week's CAOTW was their first proper album, released more than 50 years ago. Following a debut album (The Aerosol Grey Machine 1969) which was really a solo project by the group's singer/songwriter Peter Hammill, the band's line-up solidified around Hammill, Hugh Banton (keyboards), Guy Evans (drums), David Jaxon (horns) and Nic Potter (bass). Although Hammill occasionally played guitar, their usual lack of that instrument was a distinctive ingredient in their sound (like the Canterbury band Egg only with horns). After their next album, the bassist left and then their music was arranged for the unusual combo of just keyboards, drums, horns and voice. The group broke up in 1971 (but not really; they still played with Hammill on his solo albums), but then regrouped in 1975 for a few more records before falling silent through the 80's and 90's. The classic quartet reformed again in the early 2000's, and have sporadically continued as a trio of Hammill-Banton-Evans after Jaxon left about a decade ago. Their most recent album came out in 2016, and happily I wouldn't be surprised if they still have one more in them.
     
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