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 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 time and key changes - 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.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti "Mature Themes"  2012 (USA)
This week we're playing all groovy records of the 21st century, for pledge drive! I think one of the more notable musicians of this young century has been the recusive weirdo Ariel Pink (real name: Ariel Rosenberg), who obsessively recorded many lo-fi albums on his own starting in the late 1990's, eventually releasing indie records in the mid-2000's and finally signing a "real record deal" in 2010. His second "major indie" release was Mature Themes, which is one of the best "pop" records of the last 20 years, though in our weird micro-niche interweb era great pop music seems to be just another type of underground sound. Pink's music has a retro "new wave" 80's-ish vibe that conjures nostalgic feelings even for those who don't remember the 80's: he seems to be one of those artists creating music from a "future of the past that never came to be" (kind of like Stereolab's neo/retro 60's/70's vibes from the 90's). But also, he's pretty weird and has a taste for the absurd and the obscene, linking him to the previous generation's most legendary compulsive studio nerd from L.A., Frank Zappa.
Alice Coltrane "Universal Consciousness"  1971 (USA)
This week's classic album comes from one of the most unique jazz artists of the 1970's. John Coltrane's widow Alice played keyboards as well as an instrument not often heard in jazz: the harp. Furthermore, she was a spiritualist as her late husband was, and like a lot of musicians of that era (and I suspect John had he lived), Alice followed a guru: she eventually left jazz to adopt a sanskrit name (Turiyasangitananda) and become the swami of her own ashram. Universal Consciousness is one of her most musically diverse and innovative albums; I believe it's the first record she played electric keyboards on as well as her usual piano and harp.
Ice-T "Power"  1988 (USA)
The notorious rapper Ice-T, born Tracy Lauren Marrow, turned 63 years old this week. Known for the last few decades primarily as an actor who specializes in cop roles, once upon a time he was one of the pioneers of rap music. He was the first rap star to come from the west coast, and one of the founders of the controversial "gangster" style that California became known for (though the very first gangster rapper was actually Philladelphia's Schooly D). The first Ice-T album Rhyme Pays (1987) was notable for its streetwise hardcore lyrics, but musically the samples and drum machine beats already sounded dated when it came out. So it was the second album, this week's CAOTW, that put Ice on the map artistically: the music is heavier, the lyrics smarter, and Ice's flow was as sharp as anybody on the scene at the time. The third and fourth albums continued his artistic incline, but things went astray in 1992. He started a "ghetto metal band" called Bodycount, which is not a bad idea in theory: grunge (Nirvana) and thrash metal (Metallica) were huge at the time, and rock/rap hybrids seemed like a natural progression. But in practice, with the shift to metal music, Ice's vocal style began to drift away from lightning-tongued rhyming to simplistic yelling and sloganeering. Also, Bodycount was the center of a huge culture war controversy over their song "Cop Killer" which is a graphic song about murdering policemen. That kind of shock rock actually challenges the estabishment, so while corny stuff like Marilyn Manson got huge, Ice-T's music career quickly petered out and he concentrated on his Hollywood gigs.
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.

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