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.


David Bowie "Heroes"  1977 (UK)
The Kosmik Radiation show is coming to a close, and we're going out with the best of the best. Next week we'll do legendary groups of the groovy era (the 1970's and earlier), and this week we're focusing on individuals or "solo artists", if you will. And I can't think of a more singular individual in the modern music world than the iconic and enigmatic Mr. David Bowie. All of his albums are "at least interesting" (even the twee 1967 debut and the slick 1980's pop), and no two Bowie albums are alike. He's been accused of many things, but sounding like anybody other than himself is not one of them. His early 1970's take on glam rock is rightly heralded as among the most creative rock of it's day, and heck he even got Lou Reed into the American Top 10! (Iggy didn't quite get that far, but Bowie kept his career aftloat until the punk era came along as well.) Bowie's commercial peak could have been the 1980's, and he did very original albums during the 1990's (Earthling) and into the 21st century (The Next Day, blackstar). But in between the glam and the pop, he spent the end of the 1970's in Berlin making futuristic records with Brian Eno that prefigured (i.e. heavily influenced) the way popular music sounded in the 1980's. "Heroes" was the second of his so-called "Berlin trilogy" of albums, and was a pretty popular record considering how uncommercial and weird it is! (Like, a "disco" record with Fripp & Eno -- and side two is mostly instrumental!) In fact, this album was a big influence on Scott Walker when he decided to "get weird." A nice irony, since Walker was clearly one of Bowie's biggest influences as a singer back in the 1960's when he was getting started.
Jeff Parker "The New Breed"  2016 (USA)
Jazz is still alive! Jeff Parker is a guitar player whose most famous gig was playing in the popular "post-rock" band Tortoise in the 90's-00's, and around then he also had another underground jazz-rock thing going called Isotope 217 along with trumpeter Rob Mazurek. By the 2010's, he had carved his own musical path. The New Breed is a modern jazz masterpiece. His current group (also called The New Breed) has a sound that strongly echoes 1970's jazz fusion and groovy progressive soul (the sound of Jeff's childhood, and "his Dad's music" - the album cover is an old polaroid of his dad.) So there is a clear nostalgia factor, but also the music is composed and performed in a chopped-up, nearly cubist style, that recalls modern hip-hop techniques. Though it is definitely not anything like a rap album either. Since Mr. Parker was in a "post-rock" band, maybe this very original music should be called "post-jazz"?
Dr. Patrick Gleeson "Patrick Gleeson's Star Wars"  1977 (USA)
There were three huge "cultural event" blockbuster films I recall from the end of the 1970s: Smokey & The Bandit (#2 at the box office in 1977), Saturday Night Fever (1978), and Star Wars (#1 at the box office in 1977; the film later rebranded as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). Even it you hadn't seen these films, references to them were everywhere. Smokey was a sexy "red state" comedy with a Country Music soundtrack (sooo dumb but kind of fun) and of course everyone knows about the legendary Bee Gees disco hits from Fever (which is a 5-star classic film about blue collar urban youth, in case you haven't seen it). The third of those films needs no introduction, and anyway I want to focus on what the deal was in 1977 when the first film in that ever-expanding fungus-franchise came out. Internet-driven "fandoms" did not exist yet (there were a few Trekkies around, but everyone thought they were the biggest dorks in the world.) Franchising, merchandising, sequelizing, monetizing, and all that corporate jazz was not really a thing yet, but it was about to be in large part due to the explosion of Star Wars mania. Every conceivable thing about Star Wars appeared on store shelves and in TV commercials: I recall eating "C-3PO's" breakfast cereal and washing my hair with Darth Vader shampoo when I was a kid! So naturally, there would be "Star Wars music albums" to be sold. I think there must have been changes in how studios deal with music liscensing, because there were a ton of "not music from the actual movie" Star Wars "inspired" albums based on John Williams' classic score for the film (including the inevitable disco version). I own two "electronic" Star Wars albums - the one by Electric Moog Orchestra Music From Star Wars (also 1977) is very mid, but Dr. Patrick Gleeson's take on it is so original that he put his own name before the movie in the title of his album (and maybe also had to do that for legal reasons? None of the album artwork refers to intellectual properties of 20th Century Fox pictures in any way of course! That's why there's a giant skull shooting pinballs at moons on the front cover!) Gleeson's previous works include an electronic version of Holst's famous classical suite The Planets (which is not as good as Tomita's version of the same piece that came out the same year). But more importantly he was a founder of Different Fur Studios in San Francisco where he worked as the "synthesizer technician" on some of the grooviest Herbie Hancock albums of the 1970's and eventually joined Herb's touring band. In subsequent years, he co-produced a couple tracks on Devo's debut album (1978; Brian Eno and Conny Plank also worked on that one!) and the very cool My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981) was recorded at his studio!
Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra "Lightning Dreamers"  2023 (USA)
This was a pretty weird year for music, by which I mean there wasn't a lot of notable "psychedelic and progressive rock" which is the main vein of this show. So this year, we have a bunch of pop, electronic, and even country music in my Top 25 of 2023, and our top album of 2023 is a "psychedelic jazz" album. Rob Mazurek is a trumpeter, and some of the key members of the ESO include trippy vocalist Damon Locks and brilliant guitarist Jeff Parker (who will get his own classic album in the coming weeks!) This week's classic album is the eighth release by ESO, though Mazurek has been releasing albums for nearly 30 years; his previous projects include the band Isotope 217 (also with Jeff Parker) and he was a founding member of the Chicago Underground Collective (who released nearly 20 albums in the 1990's, and most recently put out a record in 2020). He also spent several years living in Brazil, adding another dimension to his musical influences. This album was released on the Chicago label International Anthem which has been releasing some of the best jazz of recent years, including the #4 album on my best of the year list, the posthumous final album from another trumpeter, Jaimie Branch.
Parquet Courts "Wide Awake!"  2018 (USA)
This week is the 800th episode of this show, so we're looking back on some of the great artists of the Kosmik Radiation Era (2005-2024) and inducting some modern classics into the hall of fame. Parquet Courts are an indie rock band from Noo Yawk Citay formed around 2010. They remind me of a few classic punk/new wave bands from that area, particularly Talking Heads, and of course every white group from NYC has been influenced by Lou Reed. The early records were lo-fi and quirky, on the last couple albums their production values and sonic palette have expanded notably. Wide Awake! is my favorite by Parkay Quartz so far, and it was in the running for my best album of 2018.
Charles Bradley "Victim Of Love"  2013 (USA)
Charles Bradley released his first record (a 7" single) in 2002 when he was 54 years old. Prior to that, his main claim to fame was performing in bars and small clubs doing James Brown impersonations under the name "Black Velvet." He didn't really begin his ascent until he started working with Menahan Street Band in 2007, and his debut album came out in 2011 when he was 63 years old! I saw him three times in Madison during the 2010's, and those shows progressed from half-full to overflow crowds; later he headlined a local festival with thousands of attendees which I did not see. His concerts were old-school SOUL exravaganzas with a hot band and Charles even did the splits on stage! It was almost impossible not to fall in love with the guy upon encountering him: in fact, he would literally say "I LOVE YOU" to the crowd about a hundred times at every show (even more than Ozzy says it!) One time I even saw him hanging out by the door after his gig to personally thank the audience as they were leaving and he gave hugs to anyone who wanted one! It was very clear how grateful he was to finally be living his dream as a SOUL SINGER. Artistically, he was a bridge to the greats of the past. His main influences were James Brown (on the uptempo numbers) and Otis Redding (on the ballads). Sadly, he died of cancer in 2017 and only left us four albums, including one that was posthumously released. Victim Of Love was his second album and is my favorite of the bunch. I should also mention that in addition to his great original songs, he also did some incredible covers: "Changes" by Black Sabbath was the titular track of his third album (and easily surpasses any previous version of that song), and his soulful funky versions of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" (an early B-side included on his final album) and The Grateful Dead's "Cumberland Blues" (from a tribute album) are also amazing!
The Black Angels "Directions To See A Ghost"  2008 (USA)
For our third classic album this week, here's one that is just straight-up old fashioned GROOVY PSYCHEDELIC ROCK. The Black Angels were the hot neo-psych band of the late 00's and early 10's, though they have been less prolific in recent years and somewhat supplanted by the Aussie psych rock boom. I think they are also still involved with the Austin Psych Fest which they began and has been going on for about 15 years now. Angels are a Texican band in the grand tradition of 13th Floor Elevators and have performed gigs as Roky Erikson's backup band. If you like tribal rock beats, heavy drones, gobs of reverb, and strobe lights, this is yer band maaan! I think their best album could be their second one Directions To See A Ghost.
Pavement "Slanted And Enchanted"  1992 (USA)
Pavement was an emblematic band of what I like to snidely call "the nineties Alternapalooza": not exactly grunge rock, more like snarky slackers who appealed to the college kidz that this band resembled. Pavement lasted barely a decade and released five proper albums, the first four of which are all Classic Albums. Slanted is unique among them, in that this is the original trio version of the group: "SM" (Stephen Malkmus) and "Spiral Stairs" (Scott Kannberg) both on vocals and guitars and Gary Young on the drums (originally with no regular bassist). Steve and Scott were twenty-something GenX college hipster buddies, Gary was some local Boomer hippie who had a recording studio where they could record cheaply. The unlikely combo makes this Pavement's most sloptastic record and in retrospect seems like an attempt to create an American version of The Fall (Malkmus' quirky-wordy vocals over a loosely grinding garage groove). It was a sensation when released a few months after Nirvana blew up the 80's music industry status quo with Smells Like Nevermind. As Pavement began to get notice and major opportunities, Young was deemed too erratic to work with and the group expanded to a quintet without him which is the group that recorded all of their subsequent albums. The band broke up in 1999 and Malkmus launched a fabulous solo career (Kannberg's solo career has not been so fabulous; bassist Mark Ibold joined Sonic Youth during their last years so Kim could play guitar full time.) Although Malkmus made much more sophisticated music later on, this was the album that started it all and it does have a unique sound that remains charming and quirky-cool.
Speaking of quirky-cool: "ano" (she likes to spell her name lowercase) seems to be the hot new "it girl" on the Japanese pop scene. She was in a cool "new wave indie rock" Idol group called You'll Melt More when she was a teenager and has blown up as a solo artist in the last year or so. Her debut album came out this month - here's the song "Cat Vomit Bliss Dance" we heard on the show this week and her big breakout hit "Kiss, Vomiting" (a song from the popular anime Chainsaw Man, which explains why ano is chainsawing people, er mice, in the video.) Vomit is one of her "shocking" themes, along with sticking her tongue out, throwing up middle fingers, and shrill screaming - coz she's a "punk" idol! (Ain't J-pop fun?)
The Turtles "Present The Battle Of The Bands"  1968 (USA)
The greatest American "comedy rock bands" of the sixties were probably The Monkees, The Mothers of Invention, and The Turtles. The Monkees were, of course, a manufactured "fake group" whose TV comedy hijinks made them superstars for about 18 months, but the hit songs they cranked out were as "serious" as any teeny bopper material of the day (by which I mean, their hits weren't "funny"). The Turtles actually debuted a year ahead of Monkees and Mothers, jumping on the folk-rock boom with a bunch of Bob Dylan covers in 1965. But The Turtles were a lot like Zappa's group in inportant ways: both groups were goofballs with a taste for satire who were also older (and uglier) than most of their rocknroll peers. Though unlike The Mothers, Turtles managed to land a boatload of hit songs on Top 40 radio (no wonder really: Zappa was a first class social provacateur, while Turtles clowned around in sweater vests and sang teenage love songs). Much like The Monkees, around 1968 The Turtles rebelled against their strict pop-conscious management and the use of outside songwriters in order to become an artistically self-sufficient group (you know, like The Beatles). The result is Battle Of The Bands, a concept album where the concept is that they are a different band playing a different style on each track. Two of them became actual hits: "You Showed Me" was a great cover of an obscure early song from The Byrds (so many animal name groups!) But the big one was "Elenore": their final Top 10 hit which was clearly a parody of their earlier feelgood pop songs (especially the #1 smash "Happy Together"), but so slick and catchy it was a hit anyway (most radio listeners didn't get the joke in corny lyrics like "Elenore, gee I think you're swell" and that dumb "groovy / movie" rhyme). Among the deeper cuts on this record, take note of the heavy fuzz bass on "Buzzsaw" and funky drummin' on "I'm King Kamanawanaleia (We're The Royal Macadamia Nuts)" which were sampled in the hiphop era by Cypress Hill and De La Soul and probably others. Because these guys were pretty damn good musicians! So it was a natural fit for Frank Zappa to hire 60% of the lineup of this album (the two co-lead vocalists Howie & Mark AKA Flo & Eddie plus bassist Jim Pons). Thus "The Mothers mark II" Zappa bands of 1970-71 were really a merger of 3 Turtles and 3 Mothers (FZ only kept Don Preston and Ian Underwood from his 60's band) plus hotshot British drummer Aynsley Dunbar (Black Sabbath covered one of his songs!) This group never lived up to their potential due to twin disasters on their 1971 European tour: first, that casino in Montreaux burned down (as in the Deep Purple song) which destroyed all the band's equipment (and meant the tour would lose a lot of money). Worse, a week or so later in London a "crazed fan" ran up on stage and shoved Zappa into the orchestra pit, which left him in a wheelchair for 6 months. That was the end of that group! Most of the ex-Mothers then recorded The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie album in 1972, launching the next phase of Mark & Howie's career as "Flo & Eddie" which lasted into the 80's and added several more quality "comedy rock" records to their discography. And hey, I found this rare video of the 1972 Flo & Eddie band (with 5 ex-Mothers)! The duo also did session work as backup vocalists on some big songs including "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" by T-Rex and "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen! Final footnote: Turtles drummer John Barbata wound up in Jefferson Airplane and stuck around through most of their subsequent "Jefferson Starship" era. Coincidentally, in 1979 Jefferson Starship replaced Barbata with . . . Aynsley Dunbar, the drummer from the "Flo & Eddie Mothers" band !
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.

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