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.

   

The Beatles "Help!"  1965 (UK)
Sir Paul McCartney turns 79 years old this week, and your humble narrator Dave 3000 was born the day he turned 29 (do the math). Back in the sixties, Paul was in a band that was a pretty big deal. They recorded 12 albums which are all classics for one reason or another. In 1965, the Fab Four had already conquered Europe and America and were touring all over the globe, attaining new heights of pop superstardom which had barely been conceivable before they came along. Artistically, they were pretty much done with cover songs at this point as Lennon-McCartney were the hottest songwriters in the world, and they were branching beyond music with the release of their second motion picture film Help! Though their first film is the one most often mentioned by film critics, arguably Help! was even more groundbreaking. It is a goofy, loose spoof on spy films (James Bond was red hot at the time) with a lot of offbeat quips and non sequitor gags that basically make it the prototype of genre-based parodies like Airplane!, The Naked Gun, etc. But even more importantly (because it was the sixties maaan), 1965 was the year Bob Dylan introduced them to "the devil's lettuce" so a lot of The Beatles' antics on screen, as well as the sounds they were getting in the studio, were some of the earliest stirrings of psychedelic rock. The album yielded a batch of ultra-classic Beatle songs, including three international chart-topping hits: Lennon's "Help!" and "Ticket To Ride" and McCartney's "Yesterday".
Poppy "POPPY.COMPUTER"  2017 (USA)
For my self indulgent birthday special, we have a second bonus CAOTW. Poppy was the most interesting American pop music sensation of 2016-2018, and this is my favorite of her records (so far). I think the music is super-catchy electro-pop, her lyrics make me chuckle, and the singer's breathy-girly ASMR voice is hard to resist. It was Poppy who sent me down the rabbit hole of contemporary Japanese pop music (or "J-pop", which is a million times more interesting than "K-pop" which I promise you will never hear on Kosmik Radiation.) Basically, at this point in her career Poppy was taking most of her musical cues from Japanese pop (in particular the delightful Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) and adding a dose of good ole American irony and sarcasm. Poppy may be a parody of a pop star, but she is a genuine master of pop music as well. The "real person" who inhabits the Poppy persona, Moriah Pereira, co-writes every song on all her albums, so she is not the vacuous waif she pretends to be. In more recent years, she has dyed her hair back to it's natural dark color and added a lot of heavy metal to her sound - apparently she always wanted to be Marilyn Manson?! (Though at the time that happened I sussed that Poppy's true inspiration might be the J-pop metal band BABYMETAL.) But if the past is any indication, she'll probably change her style and do something new before long. I like to think someday she will do an acoustic country music album! (She was actually raised in Nashville, so I bet she's a natural.)
While we're on the subject of J-pop, as I mentioned last month Dempagumi.inc recently had their first concert as a 10-member group after they added 5 new girls earlier this year (actually it was a 9-girl gig since Mirin Furukawa is out on maternity leave). The first clip from that show has appeared online, and it's a brand new song called "1,000,000,000 Radio Wave Seat!" (the B-side of their recent single). It continues to give me the impression that they will be more of a Broadway-style musical theater group during this phase of their history. I can live with that (in fact the new songs' choreography is better than ever), but can't help feeling that their glory days as a prog-pop big band with six lead vocalists are over for good. So let's flash back with this emotional performance of "I'm Sure, I'm Sure" by the transitional 5-girl lineup of 2017.
Jethro Tull "Aqualung"  1971 (UK)
This week's show is a pledge drive special featuring vinyl albums of the year 1971. Aqualung is Jethro Tull's most well-known and popular album, and it's a pretty strange record. But then they are a pretty strange band. Originally a "progressive British blues band" much like Savoy Brown or early Fleetwood Mac, only just a little more eclectic: their leader played flute, not normally a rock instrument, and there were always touches of jazz and British folk music in their heavy blues sound. After original guitarist Mick Abrams left in the late sixties, Jethro Tulls' music became increasingly theatrical with high-falutin' concepts as the blues influences waned. Aqualung is an album with themes (mostly criticizing organized religion) thus was often mistaken for a "concept album" about a creepy guy named Aqualung. It wasn't that, but the misunderstanding inspired one of Tull's wackiest and most fun albums, their 1972 follow up being a sort of joke of a concept album consisting of one epic 40-minute song called Thick As A Brick (did they not have the zaniest titles in prog rock?)
The Who "Tommy"  1969 (UK)
Peter Townshend is 76 years old today. Back in the sixties, he wrote the world's first "Rock Opera" - which was not Tommy, it was a nine minute multi-sectioned song called "A Quick One, While He's Away" from The Who's second album released at the end of 1966. But this week's classic album is of course Townshend's most famous Rock Opera and a far more ambitious affair. It solidified The Who as rock superstars at the forefront of British Classic Rock but unfortunately, as an album, it was recorded on the cheap under intense pressure from the record label and really did not turn out as well as it could have. But then The Who is one of those bands where the concert performances were the real deal and their studio recordings were often on the disappointing side. Pete has written a few more Rock Operas since the sixties; The Who's next studio album was originally intended to be a rock opera called Lifehouse and the one after that Quadrophenia is probably Pete's best effort at the long form rock concepts. Most recently he wrote a mini-opera called "Wire & Glass" that came out in 2006. So how great are Rock Operas? Maybe not that great, but the idea of theatrical rock music with overarching concepts and stories was a huge influence on seventies progressive rock from Jethro Tull to Styx.
In Japanese theatrical rock news, today Dempagumi.inc is releasing their first single of 2021, which is also the first release since Eitaso retired in February and they unveiled FIVE new members to fill her spot. The new song "Dempa Princess Power! Shine On!" is mainly a vehicle to introduce the new gals but also twists princess metaphors through their cheery girl power vibe (turn on closed captioning for the English lyric translation: since Prince Charming is an illusion "our princess alliance will build our own castle"). So far I have mixed feelings about the new lineup: with 10 members they definitely seem more like a Broadway dance troupe than a singing group now, which is not out of line since choreography is such a large part of what they do, but I feel it could lead to a "dilution of awesomeness". Pinky is one of their best singers, she's been with the group nearly 10 years, and she only gets two solo lines to sing in this song (poor Rin only gets one line!?) It will also be "interesting" to see how they reconfigure classic songs from the six-girl systems of the past for a much larger group - the five new girls can't just share Eitaso's old lines, so I guess they're going to reassign solo parts from the veteran members? Or sometimes the new girls will only sing on the choruses and not get solo lines?  So far they have only performed two songs as a ten-piece (for the encore of their February concert, and only one of those has been released online). Dempagumi's first full concert with the new lineup happens in Tokyo next week, so we'll find out soon enough.
The Police "Synchronicity"  1983 (UK/USA)
We return to our April theme featuring classic albums of the new wave era which are also listener requests. Back in 1983, this was my favorite album, and it was a lot of people's favorite that summer as this record duked it out with Michael Jackson's legendary Thriller for the top spot on album charts all around the world. It also turned out to be the swansong for The Police, who were probably the most interesting of the popular groups of the new wave era. Their dirty little secret is the members played at being punk rockers, but their previous bands were a legendary prog band of the 70's (Stewart Copeland played drums for the last few albums by Curved Air), a legendary psychedelic band of the 60's (Andy Summers was the lead guitarist for the final lineup of Eric Burdon & The Animals), and a regional jazz fusion band (Sting played bass in a group called Last Exit, NOT the group of the same name with Sonny Sharrock). So these cats could REALLY play their instruments and had a lot of experience and diverse musical ideas to bring to the group. However, they also didn't get along too well and the ego clashes between Copeland (technically the founder of the group) and Sting (who wrote all the hits) were legendary. By the time of  recording Synchronicity, the three played in separate rooms in the studio and followed a rule that only one member at a time would be present for overdubs. Somehow, this weird lack of communication seems to have helped the album: there is a sparseness to the arrangements that really highlights what great players they were, as all three contribute great parts to every track. Also, Sting outdid himself writing the tunes for this album: "Every Breath You Take" was a monster song that won a couple Grammys, and "King Of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" were also huge hits. But most interesting of all, the heavy centerpiece of the album "Synchronicity II" also managed to become a Top 40 hit in spite of having obtuse lyrics and weird chord modulations - it was one of the most unusual hits of the entire decade. And listening to this album again all these years later, there really isn't a weak track on this classic album.
Santana "Lotus"  1974 (USA/Mexico)
Feliz Cinco de Mayo! This week's classic album is one of the great live albums of all time, a triple album originally released only in Japan. Santana was one of the great San Francisco jam bands of the psychedelic era, beginning in the Frisco ballrooms of the sixties as The Santana Blues Band, led as always by the group's namesake, legendary guitar hero Carlos Santana. The two things Santana added to the jam band formula were latin grooves (of course, what they were famous for) and also they were big proponents of the electric jazz fusion style ala Miles Davis. The band was on fire for this particular gig, seamlessly weaving from one theme to the next in a funky stew of high-volume improvisation.
Captain Beyond "Sufficiently Breathless"  1973 (USA)
This week we celebrate 16 years since the Kosmik Radiation show debuted on the radio with our 700th episode! So we're doing a klassik Kosmik Radiation show, mostly from vinyl albums of the 60's and 70's. Captain Beyond is a somewhat ridiculous trippy/proggy/heavy supergroup of the early 70's formed by former members of semi-popular 60's bands: Rod Evans the original singer of Deep Purple, a couple guys from Iron Butterfly, and great unsung drummer Bobby Caldwell on their excellent debut album. They made two more albums with diminishing returns and different lineups each time. For their second, Sufficiently Breathless features mostly songs written by bassist Lee Dorman (ex-Iron Butterfly) and a surprising amount of latin percussion to give it a distinctly Santana-ish vibe. Plus an insanely groovy psychedelic gatefold album cover! Records like this are why I collect old 70's LPs maaan!
U2 "Achtung Baby"  1991 (Ireland)
Once upon a time, U2 was the most popular rock band in the world, and Achtung Baby was their most singular record. They began at the dawn of the 1980's as one of many post-punk guitar bands. But by their third album War (1983), their combination of epic guitarscapes, soulful vocals, and political-yet-human lyrics were actually starting to make them popular. They then teamed up with legendary producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for their next album The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and scored an American hit single with "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", a moving tribute to MLK jr. Then the floodgates really burst open: The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum (which was also a movie) sold gazillions and turned them into global superstars and icons of "meaningful rock". But inevitably, the backlash began: the downside of their vibe is they could come off as self-righteous, sanctimonious pricks who didn't really rock that hard (all their lazy guitarist does is play with delay pedals!) So for their next move, they went to Germany to record a gritty "experimental" album inspired by psychedelia and dance music (in particular Sly & The Family Stone, believe it or not). But even more importantly, they grew a sense of humour and irony by embracing the ridiculousness of "superstardom". It did the trick, and Achtung Baby was another big commercial as well as critical hit, even during the tumultous early 90's when grunge, thrash metal and rap were wiping away the last vestiges of 80's rock. Their next couple albums were similar but less impactful, so Achtung Baby was arguably their high water mark. (This week's classic album was by listener request.)
Joy Division "Closer"  1980 (UK)
Ian Curtis was the Jim Morrison of new wave rock. I don't just mean that he died young, he also sang "dark poetry" in a sultry baritone and was an icon of his time for rock authenticity. Joy Division only released two albums, and the second one (this week's CAOTW) came out a few weeks after Ian hanged himself (with the unintentional ironies of the title "Closer", as in this is their last album, and the photo of a grave on the cover). Both of their albums have a totally unique sound: like a goth funk band playing in a cavern, as if early Hawkwind turned into disco vampires, plus a hint of krautrock in the machine-like precision of their grooves (the surviving members changed their name to New Order and became a popular "alternative dance" band). And while there is certainly plenty of melancholy in their songs, there is also something life-affirming about them, which I think is the real key to their enduring legacy as one of the most important groups of their era. (This week's classic album was by listener request.)
The B-52's "The B-52's"  1979 (USA)
The B-52's may be the weirdest popular group in the history of American music. At the height of punk and new wave, their aesthetic of beehive hairdos, surf music, dance crazes and cheesy B-movie sci-fi riffs was already 20 years out of date. Their three singers include two weird girls (Kate & Cindy) wailing like aliens (and sometimes like Yoko Ono) and the utterly unique Fred Schneider who "raps" goofy "poetry" in his charming southern accent. Their guitarist Ricky orignally wrote the tunes; he didn't really know how to play guitar so took a few strings off and invented his own tuning for the rest. After Ricky died in 1985, Keith the drummer took over the music end and amazingly that lineup produced their biggest hit album (Cosmic Thing 1989). Sometime in the early 21st century they changed their name to "The B-52s" (without the apostrophe) and Keith retired from touring, while the three singers continue to rock their lobsters on tour to this day. Personally, I like all of their classic run of albums from 1979-1989, but the self-titled debut laid down the blueprint and includes their greatest song.
Thin Lizzy "Black Rose: A Rock Legend"  1979 (Ireland/UK/USA)
Happy St. Patrick's Day! This week's classic album is a high-water mark for one of Ireland's greatest bands, the terminally underappreciated Thin Lizzy. Originally a power trio from Dublin, the constant members of this group were the rhythm section of Brian Downey on drums and Phil Lynott on bass. Lynott was one of the great rock songwriters of all time, as well as a soulful vocalist and all-around very cool cat. The group began to break out internationally in the early 1970's when they expanded the group to a quartet with dueling lead guitars. For the classic line-up, the guitarists were the diminutive Scotsman Brian Robertson and American Scott Gorham (who had some of the prettiest hair in rock at the time.) But Robertson was a notoriously tempestuous type and didn't last very long. For their 1979 album, he was replaced by Gary Moore (from Belfast, Northern Ireland), who had done some touring with Thin Lizzy but they had not previously managed to recruit him into the band full time despite trying for years. The highlight of this album is the semi-titular track "Roisin Dubh (Black Rose: A Rock Legend)" which is actually a medley of traditional Irish jigs played in Lizzy's trademak shredding harmonized double-lead guitar style, with Phil's poetic lyrics about Irish legends and legendary Irishmen.
     
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