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 Strawberry Alarm Clock "Incense And Peppermints"  1967 (USA)
Review soon.
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. More review soon.
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.
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 proper albums (and a couple movie soundtracks) 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 pseudo-classical ballad "Yesterday" (a precursor of progressive rock?)
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 her electro-pop music is super-catchy, 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 when she began to "go metal" I sussed that Poppy's true inspiration might be the very popular 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 raised in Nashville, so I bet she would be a natural.)
While we're on the subject of J-pop, here's a couple new items of interest: First, Yasutaka Nakata's longest-running project CAPSULE released their first new song in about 6 years this week, "Disco Of Light". Secondly, 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 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 6 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 late 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.
     
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