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.


Far East Family Band "Parallel World"  1976 (Japan)
It's always tempting when describing foreign scenes to use simple metaphors from your own culture. Thus it could be said that "Flower Travellin' Band was Japan's Led Zeppelin" and "Far East Family Band was Japan's Pink Floyd." I've already written about the roots of FEFB when enshrining their previous classic albums Far Out (1973), The Cave Down To The Earth (1975) and Nipponjin (1975). But the group's magnum opus was probably their 1976 album Parallel World, which includes a monumental slab of kosmische proto-newage prog in the 30-minute long title track. The album cover captures the vibe pretty well: a bunch of longhairs sailing through spaaaace, maaaan. In later years, one of their synthesizer players would become a leading proponent of "New Age music" under the name Kitaro, and you can definitely hear the roots of the Kitaro sound on Parallel World. I also wonder if FEFB were aware of the British group Jade Warrior, who had a similar "proto-newage" sound as well as a taste for East Asian (particularly Japanese) album art and song titles.
Joni Mitchell "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"  1977 (Canada)
Joni Mitchell turned 80 years old this month -- this week's classic album is a listener request from months ago that I was saving up for her birthday. I think a lot of Joni's fans are probably mostly into her early folky classics and her two most commercially successful "singer-songwriter" albums Court And Spark and the double live Miles Of Aisles (both released in 1974 and quite great). But my favorite Joni is her "jazz" period: I think the first "jazzy stuff" was maybe on For The Roses (1972), and it was very much present on those 1974 albums which include musicians who played on Steely Dan records. But from 1975 to 1980, she eschewed folk and pop to make records and tour pretty much exclusively with jazz musicians, including heavyweights like Hancock, Metheny, Pastorious, Shorter, and even the legendary Mingus. The Daughter album has it's share of hardcore jazziness, including a core trio of Joni on guitar and singing accompanied by the great Jaco on bass and John Guerin on drums (Joni's boyfriend for a few years who played drums on Hot Rats!) But also it's a double album with the 16-minute epic "Paprika Plains" which features JM on piano with an entire orchestra, and another track is an Afro/Latin percussion jam with chanting. She was near the end of her record contract, so was feeling like she could do "whatever" at this point. Though there may not be a lot of classic "songs" on this one, the performances and sound are emblematic of her boundless imagination. The album cover is also kind of a classic (and a relic of the freaky 70's): that Black dude on the left? It's Joni in drag (and um, blackface) as her alter-ego "Art Nouveu, the jazz man." (If you don't believe me, just compare "his" teeth to the Joni in the middle of the picture!)
The Shaggs "Philosophy Of The World"  1969 (USA)
This could be the most unique Classic Album ever on this show (and arguably also THE WORST!) The Shaggs were three awkward sisters (Dot, Betty & Helen Wiggin) from a small town in New Hampshire whose father insisted that they would become a "famous music group." And the crazy part is, he was kind of right - though it took decades, and their "fame" is limited to hardcore music nerds. Who knows if these girls took lessons of any kind - Helen the drummer keeps a mostly steady beat, but she usually isn't playing with anyone else in the group. Dot and Betty both play guitar and sing - and they can do neither of those things IN TUNE! I don't think they understood that guitars even need to be tuned! So basically, in their cloistered environment, they invented their own "style" of music complete with naive teenage lyrics about parents, holidays, pets, and Jesus. This is of course what is usually termed "outsider music", and The Shaggs really were one of the greatest examples of the rock era. Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) may have been an idiot-savant who didn't really know what he was doing on any technical level, but the rest of his Magic Band were tremendously disciplined musicians. I guess the key thing was their dear old dad's insane belief in The Shaggs' talent, which led to them recording and releasing an album (like professionally, in a real studio!) After their dad died in his mid-40's around 1975, the band broke up and the girls got jobs and families and wanted nothing more to do with music. The story about how The Shaggs eventually became sort of famous includes NRBQ discovering their obscure album and getting it re-released on an indie label, Frank Zappa heralding it as an undiscovered classic, and eventually a stage musical based on the Wiggin's weird band and family life. Dot (the main brain and lead singer) even returned to the music scene for a 2013 album by her own group (The Dot Wiggin Band), though a handful of reunion concerts by Dot and Betty with backup musicians seem to have not gone off so well: reportedly, Betty was bewildered that anyone would care about her embarassing terrible band and was only doing it for the money (does that make her a "sellout"? Haha!)
The Fall "Hex Enduction Hour"  1982 (UK)
The Fall was a band that existed for over 40 years with only one constant member, the "drunken poet" frontman Mark E. Smith. Although there were relatively stable lineups in the 1980's and 2000's, the groups' history is also full of incidents in which the entire band quit or got fired, often while they were on tour overseas. But as M.E.S. once famously said, "if it's just me and your granny on bongos, then it's The Fall." So what was his musical vision exactly? Drunken rants in an impenetrable (but oddly charming) thick Mancunian accent, accompanied by a garage band vamping on a riff like their lives depended on it. It sounds pretty simple, maybe even downright stupid, yet The Fall perservered and eventually became the greatest of the British "post-punk" bands. By the 1990's their weird albums were making the Top 10 on the British charts and M.E.S. became something of a British institution (much like the equally ranty John Lydon or equally drunken Shane McGowan). M.E.S. succumbed to cancer in 2018 which ended the band. In retrospect, their discography is quite daunting (31 studio albums and over 100 live and compilation albums!) but I have to say I've never heard a "bad" record by The Fall, and except for some late-80's albums with a dated sound, I have "liked" everything I've heard from them, up to and including their final recordings. For their first entry in the CAOTW hall of fame, I could have easily chosen a recentish album like the excellent Reformation Post TLC (2007), but decided to go with one of the earlier albums.
Genesis "Foxtrot"  1972 (UK)
Prog rock had its roots in the 1967 Summer of Love led by The Beatles, and "progressive touches" began appearing in all sorts of records over the next couple years (for example The Moody Blues and The Doors). When King Crimson's debut album came along in 1969, they were officially deemed the first "progressive rock band" and prog rock became a subgenre in its own right. But it was the year 1972 when the floodgates burst and prog became the hot new thing on the rock scene. Yes broke out big time, Jethro Tull topped the charts in America with a concept album, and the very peculiar English band Genesis also began their rise to becoming unlikely superstars throughout the 1970's, 80's, and even well into the 90's. Genesis had released three albums prior to this one, each representing a major step forward: their 1969 debut is twee and very boring; the second album Trespass (1970) is mostly second-rate (and also pretty boring), though on the third Nursery Cryme (1971) they began to realize their potential. This was probably due to new members joining in 1971: Steve Hackett on guitar and Phillip David Charles "Sue Sue Sudio" Collins on drums and backup vocals, who completed the classic lineup of the group. The three main brains since the beginning were Peter Gabriel (man of a thousand voices) along with Mike Rutherford (bass) and Tony Banks (keyboards). Foxtrot was the breakout album, though the next one from 1973 is my favorite Genesis album, and Gabriel's last with the group The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974) is one of the weirdest double albums ever made - and weirder still was their most successful record until Phil took over and by the early 1980's turned the group into a Top 40 hit-making machine.
Shocking Blue "At Home"  1969 (Netherlands)
Here's another classic album that has been on my list for a long time -the breakout album by Holland's top rock band of the groovy era, Shocking Blue. At Home was actually their second album, but it was the first with lead singer Mariska Veres who put them on the map with her powerful voice (often compared to Grace Slick) and stunning looks (achieved in part through the use of fabulous wigs!) The other crucial member was Robbie Van Leeuwen, the eclectic songwriter in the group, who dabbled in lots of styles but seemed particularly fond of CCR-style chooglin' Americana rock. He wrote the group's international hit "Venus" - a Creedence boogie with country guitar licks, a cheesy keyboard riff, an intro borrowed from "Pinball Wizard", all topped off with sultry Mariska ensuring you that "she's got it, yeah baby she's got it!" It went to #1 in at least a dozen countries including the USA, where Shocking Blue is considered a "one hit wonder." But there's lots more to discover, like the sitar-driven rocker "Love Buzz" (also on At Home) which worked surprisingly well when Nirvana covered it (literally sounds like a song Kurt could have written). I also especially love their 1968 non-album single "Send Me A Postcard", a tremendous hard rock "nugget" of the era which was the group's first Top 10 hit in their native country. You can also find psychedelia, soul, country, blues, gospel, and more in the pop music stew this group created. Their appetite for diverse Anglo-American styles remind me of another internationally popular chameleon band of the same era: Canada's The Guess Who, another group with a lot of great songs but no signature style to call their own. One more fun fact: all of Shocking Blue's lyrics are in English, yet Mariska could not speak a word of that language so she learned all the lyrics phonetically!
The Rascals "Peaceful World"  1971 (USA)
The Rascals were one of the biggest hit-making groups in America during the mid-sixties, when they were known as "The Young Rascals" - I'm sure you know their #1 smash "Good Lovin'" (good gawd, their drummer was a MONSTER!) By the end of the decade, they dropped "Young" from the group name, got very psychedelic and spiritual, and as they entered the 1970's went one further and ditched "rock and roll" completely to become a guru-inspired soul-jazz fusion project. Only two members of the group remained by this point: singer, songwriter & keyboardist Felix Cavaliere along with that beast drummer Dino Danelli. So the "group" was augmented by a monster lineup of jazz talent including Ron Carter, Alice Coltrane, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, and many more. I personally think their final "jazz period" was The Rascals' most interesting, and the double album Peaceful World is their masterpiece (the other two albums they made in this style during 1971-72 were Search And Nearness and their final album The Island Of Real). Though the preceeding "psychedelic pop" albums Once Upon A Dream, Freedom Suite, and See (1968-69) have their share of underappreciated groovy tunes as well (and of course their earliest albums are the ones with all the Top 10 singles). Of all the popular groups of the golden sixties era, I can't think of any others that went in such a singular direction after the sixties ended. The closest thing could be Steely Dan (who debuted the same year Rascals broke up), though they were "more rock than soul" and waaaayy more misanthropic than the "peaceful" Rascals.
Blues Magoos "Psychedelic Lollipop"  1966 (USA)
The psychedelic rock era exploded in 1966, led by landmark albums from The Beatles, The Byrds, and The Mothers of Invention. There were also three records released that year with the buzzword "psychedelic" in the album title: the ones by 13th Floor Elevators and The Deep have already been CAOTWs, so this week we add the best-selling of that trio, the debut by NYC band Blues Magoos. In spite of another buzzword "Blues" in the band's name, they were not particularly bluesy and were really more of a garage band that successfully climbed on the acid rock bandwagon. Magoos are remembered as a one-hit wonder, and their one hit "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" can be found on this album. Their second and third albums (Electric Comic Book and Basic Blues Magoos) are also full of sixties "nuggets" - on the whole their career was comparable to a group like The Strawberry Alarm Clock: never first-tier, but they made more groovy music than you might have expected.
Meanwhile, the summer of 2023 is turning out to be a renaissance for J-pop Metal: BABYMETAL's new single is their first with new member Momometal (finally replacing Yuimetal who left in 2018), who sings the weird bridge in this song - a collab with Tom Morello which is better than anything on the album they released last spring! Even more exciting, the iconic supergroup Maximum The Hormone released their first new song in about 5 years!
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.

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