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.

   

Ozzy Osbourne "Blizzard Of Ozz"  1980 (UK)
Ozzy turned 72 years old this week! More review soon.
Sonic Youth "A Thousand Leaves"  1998 (USA)
Review Soon.
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 seriouslly in danger of losing his last shreds of rock credibility and possibly his major label record deal (his label actually sued him for "not making records that 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 a bit of 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!)
The Flaming Lips "The Soft Bulletin"  1999 (USA)
The Flaming Lips began in the indie punk era of the 1980's and were swept up in the major label frenzy for "grunge rock" following the success of Nirvana, but the thing that set them apart was their penchant for psychedelia (and that they come from Oklahoma, never a place known for rock of any variety.) Their popularity grew through the 90's (culminating in their legendary appearance on Beverly Hills 90210!) and by the end of that decade they had arguably become the most successful psych-rock band of their era. The Soft Bulletin was one of their most acclaimed albums from their peak period, and is our first CAOTW for this long-running band. They continue to make records to this day, including a lot of weird ones like the double album they recorded with Miley Cyrus(!) and a song-for-song remake of Pink Floyd's most popular record.
Public Enemy "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back"  1988 (USA)
This week we're featuring classic albums of the week from 1980-1996 for pledge drive! We complete our run of hip-hop CAOTWs for the summer of '20 with one of the most groundbreaking records of that genre. In its original form, rapping was basically DJs talking over disco records; they tended to wear flashy disco outfits and the lyrics were mostly about partying and how great the DJ was. Public Enemy was one of the groups that drove out that original imagery with their radical polemics and simple street clothes (enhanced by some classy accessories like the clock around Flavor Flav's neck). They also turned the boasting DJ trope into a statement of Black pride and heck, their music was not even particuarly danceable - instead of getting funky with it their stage show included a dance troupe doing paramilitary drills with rifles. But the most important thing about Public Enemy was of course their groundbreaking music. Early rap was very minimalist, not much more than a beat and a bassline. PE's production team known as The Bomb Squad created music so dense it was more like industrial free jazz. Their first album Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1987) had most of these radical new elements in place, but it was their second album Nation Of Millions that proved they were revolutionaries of music not just style and politics. And their next album after that was arguably even better. Here's a BBC documentary on the group.
Dempagumi.inc "World Wide Dempa"  2013 (Japan)
Mirin Furukawa, the senior member and "center" of iconic Otaku Idol Unit Dempagumi.inc, turns 34 years old this week. Idoling is a young girl's game: Mirin is probably the only Idol to have sustained a recording career for over a decade, and also stands alone as the only Japanese Idol in history to get married while still performing as an idol. World Wide Dempa was her group's second album but the first by the "classic" six-girl line up and their ticket to becoming the adorkable nerd superstars they are today. Compared to their (hitless) 2011 debut album, the music from this album onward would be far more progressive as well as aggressive (in a cute way). Highlights here include their first six Japanese hits whose chart positions tell the tale of their ascendency from cult heroes to the top 10: "Future Diver" #46, "DemParade Japan" #37, "Kira Kira Tune" #19, "Denden Passion" #6, and the self-referential mini-opera "W.W.D." #10 and its sequel "W.W.D. II" #8.
You know I can't resist the opportunity to throw some Dempa video at you: here's a cheap old music video from Mirin's short-lived attempt at a solo career from before Dempagumi.inc started releasing albums (2010). Next, DG in 2013 burning up the stage for their loyal, chanting fans with their signature song "Future Diver" and the sing-along concert staple "Orange Glowstick". And here's Mirin's "punk rock" solo number from the 2014 tour where she plays guitar (sort of!) Finally, since Mirin's birthday is the biggest Dempa holiday, the group is releasing a new single this week: "Zombie Land Dempa" is a collaboration with "Franchouchou" (a semi-fictional Idol group of characters from an animated TV show called Zombie Land Saga, though the voice actors from the show also perform concerts as Franchouchou). I haven't yet figured out why, but Dempagumi.inc songs have often referenced zombies (in particular the female version of the word, "Zombina") - I'm guessing it has a slang meaning for Japanese otaku?
Da Lench Mob "Guerillas In Tha Mist"  1992 (USA)
Gangster rap was such a hot trend in 1992 that this ultra-militant group's debut album scored a gold record. It was produced and promoted by Ice Cube, formerly the primary lyricist of the notorious hardcode group NWA, who became one of the biggest rap stars of the early 1990's cranking out multi-platinum albums full of songs that could never get played on the radio. Cube and Da Lench Mob's members all proclaimed their loyalty to Louis Farakhan's Nation of Islam movement, and if you're not familiar with NOI let's just say their views about racial politics are outside of the mainstream. But whether you share their philosohpy or not, you have to admire their unflinching devotion to expressing their first ammendment right to free speech. Musically, Cube created one of the heaviest rap albums of the era with densely layered production to rival the best work of standard bearers Public Enemy, only with even more funkier grooves.
     
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