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.

   

MF Doom "MM.. Food"  2004 (USA)
Often described as "your favorite rapper's favorite rapper", Metal Face Doom (Daniel Dumille) passed away in late 2020, though the news was just released this week. A resolutely underground oddball with an incredible ear for obscure samples, Doom was never pictured without his trademark metal face mask - for he was a "villain rapper." Villain rap was a satirical take on the "gangsta rap" style that blew up in the early 1990's - those other rappers acted baaad, but villains make plans to rule the world! This style arguably began in 1994 with the little-remembered supergroup Gravediggaz which included Prince Paul (De La Soul) and RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), but the breakout hit from the villain scene was Kool Keith's surrealistic alter ego Dr. Octagon. However, those guys only played cartoon bad guys some of the time, whereas MF Doom was never out of character. My favorite MF Doom record is this 2004 concept album about food (and taking over the world). Before he became Doom, Dumille was in a group called KMD where he used the name Zed Love X - here he is in 1988 without the mask on making a guest appearance with 3rd Bass (2:45 into the video).
Dempagumi.inc "Aiga Chikyu Sukuunsa! Datte Dempagumi.inc Wa FAMILY Desho"  2020 (Japan)
                             ("Love Will Save The Earth! Because Dempagumi.inc Is A FAMILY")
This week's show featured the Kosmik Radiation Top 25 Albums of 2020, and my favorite album of the year is our classic album of the week! I have written extensively about the quirky charms of this unique group before, but my main interest in them has always been the high quality of their music. I once came across a very early interview with the group where their leader Risa said their goal was "to create a new genre of music", and over the years they have realized that ambition. DG.inc is an "idol unit", of which there are thousands in Japan - it's been one of the most popular music scenes there for the last decade. But no other idol group has songs that can rival the "nearly prog rock" sound of their hyper-pop "Dempa" music, or covers as much stylistic ground (rap, country, jazz, techno, latin, you name it!) Aiga Chikyu Sukuunsa! is the group's sixth album and the first release by the current line-up (since Nemu Yumemi retired in 2019 to open a bookstore - what a nerd!) I think it ranks with their very best work, being a very enjoyable listen from beginning to end with no skippable tracks. 2020 was of course a brutal year, marked by social isolation and turmoil, and the earnest positivity this group exudes has also been a balm - like the album title says their love will save the world and they want you to join their family. The music industry has been affected more than most this year, and unsurprisingly Dempagumi's "2020 Family Tour" of Japan was cancelled and so instead they played a number of virtual gigs: here's an interesting "fake summer festival" TV performance, their weird but enjoyable "idol festival webstream from the basement" gig, and a clip from a slickly produced pay-per-view webstream concert featuring my favorite song of the year, a bit of "computer bebop" called "Moshi Moshi, Internet" ("Hello, Internet"). They also released a quarentine-themed single that was produced by remote teleworking, and the spinoff group Nemopero (Nagi Nemoto & Rin Kaname) released a slew of singles (most of which stunk, but I liked this "city pop" slow jam). They've also done a lot of "daily life" Youtube videos to fill the time and keep in touch with the fans (here's Mirin cooking ramen and playing with her new puppy.) More challenges lay ahead for the group in 2021: this November, Eimi Naruse announced that she will be retiring from the idol scene after 11 years on the team (to concentrate on her other career as an anime voice actor). They have replaced other members in the past, but Eimi (the wacky redhead) is one of their most iconic members and strongest vocalists - I'm both worried and excited about what will happen next. In related celebrity news, former member Moga Mogami (2011-2017) recently announced that she is pregnant but not going to get married - that's still kind of a big deal in Japan, and also totally "on brand" for Moga whose persona in the group was "the badass who doesn't follow the rules." BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE! As I was writing this week's CAOTW post, hot off the presses comes the news that Mirin Furukawa, the group's founder and the first married idol in Japanese pop history, is also pregnant! She still plans to be on stage singing and dancing at Eimi's farewell concert in February but it's hard to imagine her being very active with the group as a new mom. Could 2021 be the final year of Dempagumi.inc, or will they find a way to continue shattering the expectations for girls in idol groups? Don't count them out - the most controversial song on this week's classic album is called "Even If You Get Married And Become A Mama You Will Always Be My Idol", so they already let the fans know that this news was coming!!
The Mothers Of Invention "Freak Out!"  1966 (USA)
Frank Zappa was born 80 years ago this week. Arguably the most important record he ever made was his first album with The Mothers Of Invention, because it was the first truly WEIRD rock album ever released. Psychedelic rock was born in the year 1966, with notable releases including The Beatles' Revolver album, The Byrds "Eight Miles High" single, and the debut albums by The 13th Floor Elevators and Velvet Underground (recorded in 1966 but not released until 1967 due to legal battles over the album artwork). Those records all featured strange sounds created with cutting-edge studio techniques, but Freak Out! was not only sonically adventurous but also lyrically scathing in its satirical critique of straight culture on classic songs like "Hungry Freaks Daddy", "Trouble Coming Every Day", "Help I'm A Rock" and especially "Who Are The Brain Police?" which might be the single greatest track Zappa ever produced. Zappa's music would become a lot more polished and sophisticated in future years, but he never released another "brain bomb" as potent as this one.
Matmos "Supreme Balloon"  2008 (USA)
In the grand tradition of electronic music duos (Perrey & Kingsley, Margouleff & Cecil, Hütter & Schneider, Moebius & Roedelius), Matmos is Martin Schmidt & Drew Daniel, who are "partners in life" as well as music. They have been making interesting, often high-concept, electronic music for 25 years now. Some of their conceptual records include one that uses all sound samples from medical procedures, one that uses all sounds made by plastic items, one that uses only the sounds of the washing machine in their basement(!), and even an "Americana" album called The Civil War! The concept behind Supreme Balloon is old fashioned analog synthesizer sounds, making it sound like an avant-garde kosmische pop album from the 1970's.
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Rush "Fly By Night"  1975 (Canada)
Rush was founded in 1968 by Toronto teens Gary "Geddy Lee" Weinrib and Alexandar "Alex Lifeson" Živojinović and they recorded their debut album when they were just 20 years old. But their iconic period didn't begin until their second album when they brought in a new drummer: Neil Peart, who passed away at the beginning of 2020. That lineup of the band played together for 40 years and became one of the defining bands of progressive rock, and one of the most distinctive groups of all time. I think their secret ingredient could be how unabashedly NERDY they were: they dressed like characters from a cheap sci-fi TV show and sang songs about wizards, objectivism and particle physics. They also wrote absurdly complex music which they performed with virtuoso skill. This week's Classic Album is the first after Peart joined the band, and is one of my favorite Rush albums.
Ozzy Osbourne "Blizzard Of Ozz"  1980 (UK)
Ozzy turned 72 years old this week! I think back in the 1970's a trashy rock magazine did a reader poll asking the question "which rock star will die next?" The obvious winners would of course have been the notorious druggies Keith Richards, Lou Reed & Ozzy Osbourne. Amazingly, Reed lived to the age of 71 and Keith and Ozzy are still around and making music in 2020! Ozzy's most recent album Ordinary Man was released this year and made the Top 5 on album charts all over the world (it even includes a duet with Sir Elton John!) A shy, chubby stutterer with an impenetrable "brummie" accent, John Michael Osbourne is one of the unlikeliest rock superstars of all time. The most pivotal record in his 50-year career was this week's Classic Album: he got kicked out of his legendary band Black Sabbath at the end of the 1970's because of his erratic drug-fueled madness, but he managed to turn his weakness into a strength by becoming the "wildest bad boy in rock" and basically became the "Elvis of metal". Blizzard Of Ozz was his first solo album, and one of only two albums he made with guitarist Randy Rhoads before his tragic death in a plane crash. Blizzard established a new signature sound for Ozzy and 40 years later it is still his best-selling solo album. In fact, it has sold more copies than any Black Sabbath album! Though interesting footnote: the only chart-topping #1 album he's had in either the UK or USA was the final 2013 Sabbath reunion album (which was also the Kosmik Radiation #1 album of 2013).
Sonic Youth "A Thousand Leaves"  1998 (USA)
Jimi Hendrix was born 78 years ago this week. He reimagined the sounds an electric guitar could make, and was basically the most influential musician ever on his instrument. For my money, only one group has taken Jimi's feedback and extended techniques further in the 50 years since he passed away. Sonic Youth was a NYC "art punk" band born at the dawn of the 1980's who broke up at the beginning of the 2010's. Their first batch of records defined the "indie rock 80's", and they nearly rode the "grunge" wave to mainstream popularity in the early 90's. However, although their 1990-1995 albums adopted classic rock song structures (hooks and choruses etc.), a band that includes dissonance as a major part of their signature sound is never going to get much airplay in the USA. Probably realizing this themselves, in 1997 they started releasing more experimental, improvised music on their own indie label (SYR = Sonic Youth Records, of course). The next "major label rock" album they released in 1998 continued the return to their noisy artsy roots and is one of their loosest, and best, records. I've long been one who appreciated the joke that "Sonic Youth is the Grateful Dead of punk rock", and A Thousand Leaves tracks like "Karen Koltrane", "Wildflower Soul" and especially "Hits Of Sunshine" really make that case.
Pink Floyd "Obscurred By Clouds"  1972 (UK)
Pink Floyd was one of the most legendary British bands of the golden age of classic rock, and they recorded many classic albums that were top-selling radio hits. But this week's CAOTW came out right before their massive success began. Originally, they were a very psychedelic pop group under the leadership of founding member Syd Barrett, but he left before their second album came out. For their next phase, they became a progressive space rock band that attracted a cult audience, mostly on college campuses (half of their 1969 album was recorded live at a college gig). They also did several movie soundtracks during this period, the last of which was for Barbet Schroeder's film La Vallée, released as the album Obscurred By Clouds. Although there were a couple "radio-friendly rock songs" on their previous record Meddle, OBC is chock full of well-crafted tunes that coulda been hits and is perhaps the most overlooked Pink Floyd album.
Neil Young "Freedom"  1989 (Canada)
Neil Young is 75 years old this week! He made his professional debut on record with Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and had a legendary run as an iconoclastic singer-songwriter in the 1970's. But a lot of hippie stars struggled through the changing styles of the 1980's, and Neil suffered this syndrome more than most. Which was worse, his awkward 50's rockabilly album Everybody's Rockin' (1983; made much worse by being recorded with primitive digital equipment which sounds exactly like the opposite of 50's rockabilly) . . . or the paint-by-numbers Nashville studio hackery of Old Ways (1985) . . . or the weirdly slick "Glenn Frey on Miami Vice" sounds of Landing On Water (1986)? You probably don't want to listen to those albums to find out; even the album he made with Crazy Horse during this period (Life 1987) is the most lifeless record he ever made with his greatest band. By the time the first George Bush was elected, Neil was seriously in danger of losing his last shreds of rock credibility and possibly his major label record deal (his label actually sued him for "making records that don't sound like Neil Young"!) Things began to turn around in 1988 when he did a "big band blues" tour and album that was less terrible than the previous 5 years' worth of records. But 1989 was the pivotal year that saved Neil's career: that spring he released a sloppy heavy rock EP called Eldorado . . . but only in Japan and Australia! That was the prelude to Freedom, the comeback album which has an 80's sound but the songs and performances recall the weird, raw vibe of Neil's classic work from the 60's and 70's. He even scored his biggest hit single since 1972 with the memorable "Rockin' In The Free World". A lot of Neil-heads would consider the 90's "godfather of grunge" decade that followed one of his greatest periods, and he continues to do great albums to this day . . . but also quite a few mediocre ones; inconsistency has long been his trademark.
Blue Öyster Cult "Cultösaurus Erectus"  1980 (USA)
BÖC is a great, original, and unique American rock band. They started on the Long Island scene in the late sixties as "Soft White Underbelly", moved to California to record an album that wasn't released, changed their name to "The Stalk-Forrest Group" and recorded ANOTHER album that wasn't released, before returning home to New York and finding a name that finally stuck and recording a debut album in 1972 that DID get released! Calling themselves a "cult" was very fitting because of the mysterious aura they have always projected in their lyrics and album covers and the fact that they seem to have a loyal core following but are not exactly household names or "pop stars" (they did score about three radio hits, the most memorable being the creepy classic "Don't Fear The Reaper"). Though not exactly a "metal" band, they do have a spooky vibe (which works nicely for Halloween) and were an important influence on metal in several ways - beginning with the umlaut in the band's name! The group struggled a bit in the late 1970's but wound down their career in the early 1980's with a pair of classic albums: Fire Of Unknown Origin (1982) was the bigger seller of the two (due to the hit "Burnin' For You") but I think the undiscovered gem in their discography is this week's classic album Cultösaurus Erectus. None of the songs were hits, but it might be the most consistently interesting batch of songs they ever released. Earlier this year, the Cult put out their first studio album in decades The Symbol Remains (2020; here's the video for a brand new song). The last two remaining original members are the two most important ones: singing guitarists Eric Bloom and Donald "Buck Dharma" Roesser, who - according to their band motto - are "still on tour forever" after 50 years!
Van Halen "Van Halen"  1978 (USA/Netherlands)
E.V.H. R.I.P. Dutch-born Edward Lodewijk "Eddie" Van Halen was one of the most innovative guitarists of the rock era, arguably second only to Jimi Hendrix himself. The band he started with his drummer/brother Alex was one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time: like Led Zeppelin, they were a group where every member of the quartet was an iconic musician. Their first six albums with frontman David Lee Roth were superlative hard rock records sweetened but not softened by a pop sheen (they are a rare metal band that sings a lot of harmony vocals). Their biggest record was the synth-laden 1984, released the same year (1983) that Eddie made one of the great cameos in pop playing the guitar solo on Michael Jackson's enormous hit "Beat It". After that, DLR "quit or was fired" and the polarising "Van Hagar" era began (but hey, those records are still better than the "Van Halen III" period with Gary Cherone.) The most important record of their career was arguably the 1978 debut album. At a time when punk was raging and the heavy metal underground was beginning to heat up, classic 70's-style hard rock was already facing plenty of challenges. After the blazing Van Halen came out, those old groups had to step aside or step up their game (as Judas Priest did in the 80's, and Ozzy Osbourne after he left Black Sabbath to make solo albums with Vanhalenesque guitarist Randy Rhoads). Ironically, in the early 90's Van Halen faced a similar challenge as the grunge era quickly killed off the "hair metal" style that they were the primary progenitors of.
Wishbone Ash "Argus"  1972 (UK)
This was one of the most popular albums of the classic rock era . . . in Britain, though Wishbone Ash was never more than a cult favorite in the USA. The group gets high marks for having an original sound: twin-lead guitar hard rock that was nothing like metal, musically complex but not really prog rock, improvising a lot but not a jam band, plus add to that a lot of mythological lyrics and British folk music touches. Argus was their third album and best seller, though the first two albums have a lot of the same appeal. In 1974 they moved to America where they recorded albums with Tom Dowd (whose other rock credits include Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas) - they softened their sound and added keyboards and totally failed to catch on. They continued to make records into the 80's as members came and went (John Wetton was in the band for a time in between his stints with King Crimson, Uriah Heep and Asia), but they really had no place in a music scene dominated by punk, new wave and hair metal. The original lineup reunited for the first time in 1988 and several times subsequently, and though they never recaptured the aura of their early period a version of the band with only one original member (guitarist Andy Powell) continues to tour and record (their latest album came out in 2020!)
     
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