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.

   

Scott Walker "Bish Bosch"  2012 (USA/UK)
This is classic album of the week #700! More review soon.
Esperanza Spalding "Songwrights Apothecary Lab"  2021 (USA)
In keeping with tradition, my choice for #1 bestest album on my best of the year list automatically becomes a classic album of the week. It seems to me 2021 was an even odder year for music than pandemic-disrupted 2020. Without much touring (or any kind of social contact) going on, I guess artists are turning inward and taking inspiration from all the weird feelings going around these days. Esperanza Spalding's "COVID record" is a concept album about healing, or as she puts it: "Half songwrighting workshop, and half guided-research practice, the Songwrights’ Apothecary Lab (S.A.L.), seeks to develop a structure for the collaborative development of new compositions designed to offer enhanced salutary benefit to listeners. The course is rooted in a transdisciplinary station, orienting itself towards archives and literature that study healing strategies drawn from a diverse range of music-based creative and therapeutic practices. All Formwelas (songs) from the S.A.L. are created through our research, divination, intuition, musicianship, taste, inspiration, and collaborative effort to design songs that enhance a specific salutary effect. The formwelas offered here are not presented as potential “solutions.” Rather, they are responses to the ongoing question guiding the beings collaborating within the Songwrights Apothecary Lab." Musically, Esperanza is an accomplished bassist (the big upright acoustic kind) who has already won several Grammy awards in the jazz field, though she is also an evocative, boundary-less singer and songwriter (or rather "songwright") in the tradition of Joni Mitchell (she's even got Wayne Shorter collaborating on this album; he played with Joni back in the 70's). I think this is Spalding's most magical music yet and look forward to more projects from her Lab.
Some other notable albums this year would include Tom Jones' Surrounded By Time, which is a powerful meditation on aging and the most eclectic album of his nearly 60-year career: Tom was 80 years old when he recorded it! The other ancient geezer scoring high of the Kosmik charts this year (with another COVID-themed album) is Van der Graaf Generator leader Peter Hammill, who spent over a year recording a tremendous prog rock album In Disequilibrium with Swedish band Isildurs Bane. Among artists that originated in this century, modern day punkified Frisco jam band Osees released two monster live albums, their Aussie rivals King Gizzard released their third microtonal album and also a synth-prog-pop album, and weird girls Poppy and Kyary both released 90's-retro-themed albums.
The Mothers (Frank Zappa) "Over-Nite Sensation"  1973 (USA)
December 21 would have been Frank Zappa's 81st birthday, so as usual we end the year with one of his classic albums. Over-Nite Sensation was one of the most pivotal Zappa albums, marking the beginning of his most popular period. His previous album released under the group name The Mothers was basically an instrumental jazz fusion album; during 1972 he had been in a wheelchair recovering from the near-fatal accident he suffered in 1971 which ended the previous version of the group, so "comedy and rock and roll" were not on his menu that year. But in 1973 he began to assemble his best band ever, most notably adding prog-jazz-funk drummer Chester Thompson, keyboard wizard (and damn fine singer) George Duke, and percussion goddess Ruth Underwood on vibes and marimbas and such; her contributions arguably define Zappa's sound during this period. The group still didn't have the dynamic male vocalist he was looking for (Napoleon Murphy Brock would join the following year), so Frank does a lot more singing than usual on this record (but also it features uncredited backup vocals by Tina Turner and the Ikettes!) Highlights include two of his signature songs "I'm The Slime" (about shitty TV) and "Montana" (about the dream of living the independent life of a "dental floss tycoon.") It became his first certified "gold record", and paved the way for the success of his next album which also went gold and was his only Top 10 seller.
Also, Dempagumi.inc have given us an early Chistmas present! Here's the video for their latest single "Kokan Daybook" (TMI idol drama footnote: I was shocked when I saw that only 8 of the 10 members perform on this song and video; of course Mirin Furukawa is still on maternity leave, but Nagi Nemoto has also been missing in action for several months now, with an unspecified "health issue." According to the band's official website, Nagi and Mirin are both scheduled to return for Dempagumi's March 2022 tour of Japan, but who knows what will happen next year.)
Digital Underground "Sex Packets"  1990 (USA)
Greg Jacobs, AKA "Shock G", "Humpty Hump" and "Piano Man" from the pioneering rap group Digital Underground, was one of several great musicians who passed away this year. He was a unique figure during the "golden age of rap" (1986-1994) when artists were playing with song and album structures much like rockers had done in the late 1960's. An almost ridiculously gifted individual, Greg Jacobs was two of the three lead rappers in this group, as well as the main songwriter, producer, keyboard player, and he even did the artwork for a couple of their album covers. DU added their own characters and stories to the funk mythology begun by George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic 20 years earlier and dialed up the ridiculousness and satire. This week's classic album was the group's debut and biggest seller, including the classic hit singles "Doowutchyalike" and "The Humpty Dance" starring Jacob's unforgettable alterego Humpty Hump (a character reminisecent of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk and Urkel). This album is also something of a "sci fi concept album" featuring a 15-minute suite of songs about virtual reality sex drugs ("Sex Packets") which might be even more ahead of its time than it seems. Their second album was musically even better and basically a salute to the P-Funk (it also included a new member who would go on to great fame as a solo artist: Tupac Shakur, whose debut album was also co-produced by Jacobs). The third record was also a forgotten classic centered around another heavy concept: The Body-Hat Syndrome (1993) is about condoms that are large enough to protect your entire body (and brain) from all the "viruses" going around (once again, very ahead of it's time!) However, each Digital Underground album sold less then the previous one and their last three albums (1996-2008) were released on indie labels and barely charted. Digital Underground disbanded in 2008 and Greg Jacobs died of a drug overdose in 2021.
On a happier note, here's music videos from the new J-pop heard on the show this week: Yasutaka Nakata's been active with his usual projects -- the duo Capsule put out several singles in 2021 (here's "Future Wave") and my guess is they have a new album on the way soon (their last one was 2015), while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu released her fifth album which includes the 2020 single "Kamaitachi". The happiest jam of the year could be "Love Supreme!", Fhana's theme song for the long-awaited second season of the anime show Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid.
Rush "Hemispheres"  1978 (Canada)
A few years back, Rush was in the running to be the longest-lasting band from the classic rock era, but the death of Neil Peart in 2020 put an end to the group (and ZZ Top won the longetivity race by default: they made it 50 years with no membership changes compared to merely 45 years of the classic Rush lineup). I think you might split this band's career into about four stages: 1) early 70's Zeppelin wannabes (their first two albums), 2) mid-to-late 70's "second wave of classic prog rock" (concept albums maaan), 3) 80's synths and new wave reggae beats (surviving in the era when most prog bands vanished), and 4) 90's and beyond "iconic cult hero status". Hemispheres was the final album of their second phase, and their highest peak in terms of stunning prog-rock virtuosity. They spent more time in the studio on this record than any of their others, and (perfectionists that they were) were ultimately not completely satisfied with their ability to perfectly execute this music, which is so re-goddamn-diculously complicated that no human being could! But ironically it would be their next phase (the 1980's) when they would reach their peak of popularity - but that is a tale for future classic albums.
Jaco Pastorius "Holiday For Pans"  rec. 1980-82, rel. 1993 (USA)
This is a peculiar CAOTW for many reasons. The legend is that Jaco recorded this album with his pal Othello Molineux (a Trinidadian "steel pan" player) in the early 1980's, and wanted his record company to release it as his third solo album, but they refused. Then around 1985, he did more mixing work on it and tried shopping it around some more, but again nobody wanted to release it. By the mid-80's, his drug and mental health issues were overwhelming him and he had developed a reputation for being extremely unreliable (missing gigs, showing up wasted and playing terrible). A couple years after that, he was basically a homeless person living in the park and he got killed in a bar fight! About 5 years after his death, some guy sold the tapes of Holiday For Pans to an overseas record label that finally released the album (though Jaco's estate fought it in court). But it gets weirder: there is a persistent rumour that Jaco doesn't actually play on this album, and the guy who sold the tapes hired an imitator to play bass on it! I think there could be a little truth to that (maybe some instruments were added to unfinished tracks), but I say it's mostly bunk because Jaco's attempts to get this album released under his own name are well documented (also, his estate eventually acknowledged this album as part of Jaco's official discography).
So who was Jaco Pastorius? His rise to fame began when he played on Pat Metheny's early breakout albums in the mid-70's, and was solidified when he joined the popular fusion band Weather Report and did tours and albums with Joni Mitchell. They called him "the Hendrix of electric bass" because of his stunning virtuosity and outrageous showmanship (a beach bum "Florida man" by upbringing, he often performed barefoot and shirtless and did tricks with his bass - pretty unusual in the stuffy world of jazz performance!) He only released two albums as a leader during his short life (more Hendrix parallels).
And why is this album interesting? The description alone lets you know this is going to unlike anything you've heard before: it's jazz fusion featuring the unusual combination of steel pans and electric bass! Pans (often called "steel drums") were pretty much unheard in jazz before Jaco brought his pal Molineux into the studio (he played pans on every Jaco album). The pans are really the star of the show here (hence the title, a play on an old standard called "Holiday For Strings" which they cover on Pans). Jaco's electrified fretless bass recalls the atmospheric vibes of his work with Metheny and Mitchell, and some heavy drumming and dashes of synthesizer give it a futuristic edge as well. But words can only say so much when writing about what music sounds like: Holiday For Pans is a relaxing, mystical soundscape of psychedelicized Carribean sunshine that barely counts as "jazz" but is a "fusion" in the truest sense. It's the most interesting and unique album that this interesting and unique musician ever made, and I sense Jaco was trying so hard to get it released because it was the truest reflection of his Florida roots and who he was as a musician. I think the music contained here meant a lot to him.
Don Ellis "At Fillmore"  1970 (USA)
This week we feature another double-live jazz fusion album. Don Ellis was a jazz trumpeter who got his first notable gig playing in the band of influential composer George Russell in the early 1960's. By the end of that decade, he had assembled "The Don Ellis Orchestra" and recorded some cutting-edge jazz albums with rock overtones. In 1970, Columbia released double live At Fillmore albums for two artists on that label, this week's CAOTW and one by that other notable fusion trumpeter Miles Davis. Don's orchestra on this album is a band of no less than 20 musicians, including future Zappa drummer Ralph Humphrey. Two of Ellis' signature moves are on display here: playing his trumpet through electronic effects (which he started doing before Miles) and writing songs with complex polymeter rhythms (like prog rock dude).
Joni Mitchell "Shadows And Light"  1980 (Canada)
Happy 78th birthday Joni! Roberta Joan Anderson was one of the great songwriters of the sixties, basically Bob Dylan's feminine equal. But her music covered more ground than Bob's and was far more sophisticated. She moved on from folky music in the early 70's, scoring her biggest hit album in 1974 with Court & Spark which features cats like Larry Carlton (lead guitarist on Steely Dan records) and the rhythm section from Zappa's Hot Rats! By the end of the decade she basically became a jazz musician and composer: she made records with heavyweights like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and wrote tunes with Charles Mingus. This week's classic album was arguably the peak of Joni's "jazz period", a live recording featuring a touring band that included fusion legends Pat Metheny on lead guitar and Jaco Pastorius on bass. (Also released as a classic home video which you can watch online!) But throughout her stylistic twists and turns, her songwriting voice always remained uniquely her own.
Meanwhile in Japan . . . Kyary's 5th album Candy Racer was just released; here's the Halloween-themed music video for the titular track.
Throbbing Gristle "CD1"  rec. 1979, rel. 1986 (UK)
Our creepy Halloween week CAOTW is by "industrial music" pioneers Throbbing Gristle. Industrial is a style of music that was groundbreaking at the time, but seems so obvious in retrospect: grinding, dissonant soundscapes that reflect the grit and decay of life in a big city in the late 20th century. The freaky foursome of Genesis, Cosey, Chris & Sleazy were dropouts who left school to crash at art communes founded by sixties radicals and hippies. When punk rock exploded in England in 1977, these weirdos and their "unlistenable noise" fit right in (or arguably, were far scarier than their punk "peers"!) One of my favorite TG records is their first compact disc release from 1986, which doesn't really have a title but the catalog number "CD1" will do. It consists of a single, untitled, 42-minute long track; just some brilliant noise they jammed out in their studio back in 1979. 
Meanwhile in Japan, as I suspected Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has a new album coming out - and she does, this week! Her fifth album is entitled Candy Racer - here's the video for a new tune I played the other week from the new album.
Motörhead "No Sleep 'til Hammersmith"  1981 (UK)
Motörhead was one of the most iconic and important heavy metal bands, and provide evidence for the dictum that sometimes the most classic ideas are the simplest. Motörhead was the loudest, fastest, ugliest, most overpowering band of all time. "Wall of sound" doesn't begin to capture the intensity they managed to get from just three instruments. But on the other hand, their songbook is like that of The Ramones: they wrote the same song over and over again. They were more about the overall sound and attitude - who needs "artistic growth" when your frontman is a wart-encrusted giant playing the loudest bass in the world like a machine gunner in a war zone? Therefore I nominate the group's first live album as the greatest Motörhead album: it has all the best songs from their most innovative early albums, played even faster with more distortion accompanied by an ecstatic audience of headbangers roaring their approval. It was also Motörhead's most successful album, going to #1 on the British album charts at a time when "new romantic" synth pop was the hot sound. I would be remiss to not recount a few historical facts about the band: iconic leader Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister was the bassist for Hawkwind during the period when they were making their best albums (and was even the lead singer on their biggest hit single "Silver Machine"). Also, the original guitarist of Motörhead was Larry Wallis from the final line-up of The Pink Fairies - though he quit before Motörhead recorded their 1977 debut album.
Butthole Surfers "Psychic...Powerless...Another Man's Sac"  1984 (USA)
I was looking for "creepy" classic albums for this month of October, and this deeply strange underground band sort-of fits the bill. The Buttholes were founded in the early 1980's in San Antonio, Texas by two weirdo druggy college students (guitarist Paul Leary and singer Gibson J. "Gibby" Haynes) and quickly became the most extreme and outlandish band on the indie rock scene (c'mon man, they called their band BUTTHOLE SURFERS, what did you expect?) Like a lot of their "80's post-punk" peers (Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma, Hüsker Dü, etc.), Butthole Surfers' music had a lot of references to classic rock and psychedelia. But also, their obscene and scatological in(s)anity fit right in with the nasty "pigfucker" bands of the 80's like Big Black and Killdozer (who were both on the same label as the Buttholes, Touch & Go records). Psychic was their full-length debut album, preceded by a pair of EPs, and is one of da Butt's best records, including about equal parts psychedelia and punk rock, plus some eerie atmospheres and funny jokes.
     
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