Classic Album of the Week

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.

   

John Coltrane "A Love Supreme"  1965 (USA)
This week's classic album is one that I don't have much original to say about, because so much has already been said about this classic album (universally acclaimed as one of the best jazz albums of all time.) Taking things from the Kosmik Radiation perspective, the arrangement and performance here was a seminal blueprint for the style of jamming that would become "psychedelic rock" a few years later - right around the time Coltrane died in 1967 (just imagine what kind of music he might have made had he been around for the funky fusion seventies!) His group here is small (four instruments) but everyone plays with such personality and force that it sounds as powerful as a much larger group. The music includes memorable melodic phrases and ideas that are developed, but in a free-flowing organic way. It is not tightly structured but the playing is tightly focused. It's also a nondenominational concept album about GOD, and a thus the turning point in Trane's journey from "modern jazz" into "music as a spiritual quest." This album's structure of an album-length suite in four sections also makes it a harbinger of prog rock.
The Jeff Beck Group "Truth"  1968 (UK)
This is probably not the best Jeff Beck album, but it was a milestone album that paved the way for Led Zeppelin (who came along the following year) and much classic rock of the 1970's. Beck was the second (and shreddiest) of the three legendary lead guitarists from The Yardbirds (the first was Clapton, the last was Jimmy Page). Jeff's "Group" on Truth, his first album after leaving The Yardbirds, included Rod Stewart (vocals) and Ron Wood (bass) who would both quit his band in 1969 to form The Faces along with former members of The Small Faces (until Rod's solo career eclipsed that band and Ron Wood got a gig playing guitar with the Rolling Stones!) Three notable guest stars also turn up on the instrumental "Beck's Bolero" on this album: Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (who were not Led Zeppelin yet) with special guest Keith Moon on the drums. After a second album with the original lineup, Jeff put together an entirely different "Jeff Beck Group" in the early 70's for a couple more (arguably better) albums before forming the unfortunate (but fortunately brief) supergroup "Beck, Bogert & Appice" (a Cream-like power trio with the rhythm section of the ponderous Vanilla Fudge, ugh!) After that he just started calling himself "Jeff Beck" and went in a jazz fusion direction (his mid-70's stuff was produced by George Martin), which is more or less where he stayed for the rest of his career. Though he didn't really write his own tunes (more of an interpreter of the work of others), as an instrumentalist I would have to rank Jeff Beck as the second-best guitar virtuoso of the 1960's (do I need to tell you who was #1?)
Also passing away recently: iconic hippie legend "The Croz" (David Crosby), who was a founder of The Byrds and CSN(Y). Here's a few classic album signposts from his career: Fifth Dimension (1966), Younger Than Yesterday (1967), Crosby Stills & Nash (1969), 4 Way Street (1971), and If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971).
Spacemen 3 "The Perfect Prescription"  1987 (UK)
Spacemen 3 was the group that originated "shoegazer" music: droney trippy songs with as few chords as possible (sometimes one chord is enough and NEVER more than three chords). The band's two leaders have gone on to even more acclaim since the Spacemen broke up: "J. Spaceman" (Jason Pierce) has led the popular psych-rock band Spiritualized for more than 30 years now, while "Sonic Boom" (Peter Kember) has produced and mixed countless cool underground bands (I recall Stereolab, Moon Duo, Animal Collective and MGMT) while also leading his own group Spectrum. Their most quintessential album together was The Perfect Prescription, a concept album about the highs and lows of a drug trip. However the title of a compilation of their early demos captures the aesthetic more succinctly: Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. Which in the midst of the Thatcher/Reagan 1980's actually made them more subversive and countercultural than they would have been had they been around in the 1960's. Their influence has been pretty massive considering how little-known they were at the time: the most notable record that comes straight from their playbook is probably My Bloody Valentine's highly acclaimed Loveless (1991), which was released the same year as Spacemen 3's final album.
black midi "Hellfire"  2022 (UK)
My favorite album of 2022 is our Classic Album this week, and I think it is the best rock album of the 21st century so far! It rivals Scott Walker's 21st century masterpieces as among the best albums of this century in any genre (in the realm of psychedelic, progressive, heavy and underground sounds, that is.) BM only released their debut album Schlagenheim in 2020, and it was #4 on my best of the year list - an auspicious debut! In their original incarnation they were a groovy "post-punk" band notable for shambolic jamming and cartoonish singing in a "regional dialect": if you know your BritRock, you should already be thinking of Mark E. Smith and The Fall (who need to have a classic album!) Their second album Cavalcade came out in 2021 and had some tightly structured songs that bordered on shredding prog rock ala The Mars Volta - a big artistic step forward! Though on the whole I didn't think the album was as good as the debut (thus was #12 on my best-of list): I thought at the time that a portion of the album consisted of "dull filler material." But bands' second albums are often "sophomore slumps" where they try to grow and don't totally get to where they intend to. So here we are with the third black midi album released in 2022, and every track is a doozy - even the "slow crooner ballad" songs are great! The more rockin' songs are intense and dramatic, and charmingly idiosyncratic in the way that freaky legends like Zappa and Beefheart used to be. The original trio has successfully fleshed out their sound with the addition of keyboards and sax (they tour as a five-piece). They haven't made 'em like this since the glorious 1970's maaaan. So what's next? A whole lot more we hope: this gang were only teenagers when they founded the band a mere five years ago!
More highlights of 2022: retro-punk band OFF! (with singer Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks) got a new rhythm section and released a nutty and kinda brilliant concept album called Free LSD - which they are also turning into a movie! Over in Japan, weird idol group Dempagumi.inc released their 7th album DEMPARK!!! and also a high concept 5-song EP Dempakashic Records about how their legend will live on forever through their cybernetic fans in virtual reality (or something like that.) The Mars Volta returned after a 10 year absence to release a surprisingly concise POP album!? King Gizzard released five studio albums again this year, my favorites were the two double-albums (one full of funky improvised jams and the other more eclectic sorta prog rock.)
Here's the full list of Kosmik Radiation's Top 25 albums of 2022!
The Mothers Of Invention "Weasels Ripped My Flesh"  1970 (USA)
Today is Frank Zappa's 82nd birthday! One of the first things I learned about Zappa was that his albums tended to have really strange titles like Uncle Meat, Hot Rats, and Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but none of his album titles is weirder than Weasels Ripped My Flesh! And the proto-punk album cover actually lives up to that title! Musically, this album also contains some of FZ's "weirdest" and most "difficult" pieces. The story behind this album is that in 1969, Zappa fired the entire band (then proceeded to rehire Ian Underwood and Don Preston for his next group rechristened simply "The Mothers"). But the original MOI had tons of unreleased material from as far back as 1967 which filled the gap in 1970 with the release of the final "posthumous" Mothers of Invention albums Weasels and Weeny. These are important albums in that it was the first time Zappa began to freely weave together live and studio recordings by entirely different groups to create "fantasy orchestras playing music that transcends time" (well OK, the earlier albums Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat had a bit of that going on as well.) This practice continued for the rest of Zappa's career, arguably reaching it's pinnacle with the 12 CD set of live albums that intermingled and mashed together dozens of bands recorded over four decades.
Betty Davis "Betty Davis"  1973 (USA)
Betty Davis was a legendary singer and songwriter who passed away this year. The review you can read by clicking the album cover on the left pretty much gives the standard story: ex-wife of Miles Davis overshadowed by her famous ex-husband, underappreciated funk pioneer, sexual liberation, blah blah yada yada. My personal take on her music is: this gal is intense! Her raunchy growling and the band's relentless nearly-metal brand of funk makes for an overpowering listening experience. You would not listen to this as background music, Betty commands your attention. I can see why her records weren't that popular when they were released: her attitude and delivery would have fit in much better with punk and new wave a few years later. Musically, this record and the follow up They Say I'm Different (1974) are not as hooky as Parliament/Funkadelic, but they are just as heavy. I checked the liner notes expecting to find some P-Funk members, but this was recorded in San Francsico by Greg Errico, formerly the drummer from Sly & The Family Stone, and includes musicans like Jerry Garcia's pal Merle Saunders!
Plus some new sounds from Japan on the show this week: Dempagumi.inc released a new "hardcore Dempa" 5-song EP today, here's their new song "Augmented Grandpa" (I think it's about how the group's devoted fans are destined to become elderly cyborgs dancing to Dempagumi songs eternally in virtual reality - what a futuristic concept!) Also check out former Dempagumi member Nagi Nemoto's new tune "Thoughts On Lavendar Milk" which was written by the very interesting teenage(!) songwriter who goes by the name "Yukichi Yoshisaku / MEN" (she writes very sophisticated "jazzy" electronic pop tunes). And one more bit of news, hot off the presses: Kozue Aikawa is leaving Dempagumi.inc at the end of this month after a tenure of less than 2 years with the group (I had noticed she was skipping a lot of their live performances this year) - so if you are keeping score, since 2021 they've gone from 6 members to 10 to 9 to 8 to 9 and now back to 8 (such drama!)
Can "Future Days"  1973 (Germany/Japan)
Future Days was the final release from Can's second great era, the years 1970 to 1973 when Damo Suzuki was their improvising lead singer. You can also hear indications of their next direction (the mid-1970's "instrumental German quartet") on this album: Damo isn't as prominent as he was on the previous records, and the music was drifting away from "rock" toward spacy and funky grooves (though let's face it, they were always one of the funkiest European bands thanks to drum whiz Jaki Liebezeit).
Bobby Conn & The Glass Gypsies "The Homeland"  2004 (USA)
On Bobby Conn's 1997 debut album, he claimed to be the antichrist who would bring about The Armageddon and the downfall of capitalism when Y2K struck. That didn't happen, so on his records from the early 2000's he upped the decadence and his persona shifted toward that of a spoiled, coked-out glam rock huckster. Really, it was all (fun) shtick from the start. "Bobby Conn" is an over-the-top character, sort of like an underground punk version of  Ziggy Stardust. But with a much higher level of musicianship that you might expect, with albums produced by fellow Chicago legends like Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth) and John McEntire (Tortoise). The Homeland is perhaps his best album: a song cycle of paranoia inspired by the zeitgeist of the Bush War On Terror years.
Black Dice "Creature Comforts"  2004 (USA)
This week we have a 21st century musical group to induct into the CAOTW hall of fame. Black Dice is the trio of Eric Copeland, Bjorn Copeland, and Aaron Warren. I'm not exactly sure how to even describe their sound: "electronic" and "avant-garde" are the two things I think of first, but there are actually guitars in their music too and originally I understand they were a "punk" band with all the usual instruments including a singer and live drummer. But this electronic music is not for dancing - a lot of it doesn't even have a discernable beat. There is definitely a "junkyard band" quality to their lo-fi sound, but it isn't "noise" or "industrial" either. Wikipedia describes them as "experimental" (the ultimate cop-out record critic weasel-word). But even though most of their albums sound different, somehow there is a "Black Dice aesthetic" that is very distinctive. As I mentioned on the show, when the 2022 debut album by a new group called Flaccid Mojo turned up in ye olde Kosmik Radiation mailbag last week it immediately reminded me of Black Dice. Later I looked it up, and whadayaknow Flaccid Mojo is a duo consisting of Aaron and Bjorn from Black Dice! It is hard to pick a definitive "best" album by a group whose albums all have their own character, so I chose their second full-length LP Creature Comforts because it is as psychedelic and weird as anything they've done. The group has been less active in recent years, with their 2021 album Mod Prog Sic having been their first afer about a decade of no new music. Eric Copeland has released a lot of solo music in the meantime, including the 2008 classic Alien In A Garbage Dump which is a pretty good description of the Black Dice sound!
Larry Coryell "Spaces"  1970 (USA)
Electric guitarist Larry Coryell was an important figure in the early days of "jazz fusion" who released many acclaimed and popular albums at the end of the 1960's and beginning of the 1970's. In 1969 he played on a groundbreaking funk-fusion album by Herbie Mann and recorded the sessions for this week's CAOTW. The rest of his band on this album are second guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Billy Cobham (future founders of Mahavishnu Orchestra), future Weather Report bassist Miroslav Vitous, plus Chick Corea (future founder of Return To Forever) playing electric keyboards on one track. Coryell himself would also start a fusion group later in the 1970's called The Eleventh House, though they were never as big as Mahavishnu/Forever/Report. But Spaces was recorded before any of these guys were very famous: in 1969 McLaughlin, Cobham, and Corea were still sidemen in the Miles Davis band recording albums like Bitches Brew! So the Miles influence is pretty thick on this album "conceptually" (use of space, modes, and rhythms), but not in terms of "how it sounds": this is a "jazz" band with no horns and two shredding electric guitars, which I think was unheard of at that time. Coryell continued making great electric guitar jazz up until his passing in 2017.
Nico "Desertshore"  1970 (Germany)
Along with Scott Walker and Kate Bush, Nico is one of the most singular artists in the last century of Western music. I was tempted to say "in popular music" except her music has never been popular! It's a testament to her uniqueness that her legend looms so large considering she recorded very little music in her lifetime (five solo albums in 15 years) and never had a hit song anywhere. She sang three songs on the first Velvet Underground album, but was never really a rock artist. Her solo debut Chelsea Girl was kind of like folk music and had contributions by Tim Hardin, Jackson Browne, and even Bob Dylan himself, though she was never a folkie (or at least her idea of Volkmusik is quite different from that of a native English speaker's). Her peak period was the three albums arranged and produced by her former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale. The Marble Index (1969) and Desertshore in particular create their own musical world: a baroque/gothic cathedral of sound mostly created by layers of Cale's viola and Nico's harmonium, framing the bottomless Teutonic sadness of Nico's voice (I may have paraphrased Lester Bangs in that last sentence!) This sure isn't rock and roll, and not the kind of thing most people would want to listen to very often, but if you seek to hear a challenging art music statement, then this is the album for you.
     
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