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.


Herbie Hancock "Head Hunters"  1973 (USA)
Miles Davis would have been 97 next week. He was the most important musician in the development of jazz fusion, and Herbie Hancock was right there with him bridging Miles' last acoustic period and early electronic era. Herbie left Miles to lead his own band around 1971, originally a very interesting group called Mwandishi which has already had a couple of classic albums. After Mwandishi's three albums, next came Head Hunters, and it was a very successful pop album and become one of the best-selling albums in the history of jazz. The secret was, of course, FUNK. It could also be compared to Miles' On The Corner album from the previous year, in that Head Hunters music is primarily textural and rhythmic with limited emphasis on melody and harmony. One of the notable tracks here is a remake of the song "Watermelon Man", which Herbie had written in the early 1960's and became a Top 40 pop hit around 1962 when recorded by Mongo Santamaria (Herbie was in Mongo's band for a brief period.) That was a groundbreaking latin jazz crossover hit, and the 1973 remake adds synths and African sounds to take it simultaneously further into the future and the past. The Sly Stone-inspired "Sly" and funky spic "Chameleon" are also fusion classics, and this album is rounded out by a spacy mood piece called "Vein Melter."
Tomita "The Bermuda Triangle"  1979 (Japan)
Isao Tomita (1932-2016) was one of the world's top electronic music auteurs during the period when electronic music became popular and widespread. As a recording artist, he was best known for a series of albums in the 1970's featuring synthesizer interpretations of classical music. (As a pop culture legend, in the 1980's he put on some  "Sound Cloud" outdoor concerts featuring bazillion-watt multispeaker sound systems and Tomita hovering over the audience in a glass pyramid!) His first album Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974) consisted of whimsical synth versions of Debussy's "tone poems" and was an unlikely hit record from the classical music world - probably because its "spacy" sound made it appealing to fans of Pink Floyd, ELP, and other "switched-on" rockers of the day. Tomita followed these up by giving the music of Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, and Holst the same treatment and these were also very popular for "classical" albums. The Holst album The Planets (1976) was particularly great and works as an instrumental concept album: he created "alien voices" and synthesized sound effects to help weave the pieces on the album into a larger narrative. His 1977 album Kosmos was a more eclectic grab-bag of pieces, the focus being Tomita's synth version of the theme from Star Wars (there were a whole lot of Star Wars-themed records that came out that year!!) Next up came his most ambitious recording, this week's Classic Album, which is mostly based on musical themes by the Russian composer Prokofiev. Tomita re-titles these pieces and weaves them together along with a few original tunes, a Sibelius piece, and John Williams' iconic Theme From Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  The result is a continuous suite of music nearly an hour long, which (according to the groovy cover art) is a story about the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, underwater civilizations, mermaids, and "love"!
Iggy Pop & James Williamson "Kill City"  rec. 1975, rel. 1977 (USA)
Iggy Pop turned 76 years old this week! He has been touring with a new album in 2023! (Also, Kosmik Radiation has been on the air for 18 years this week!) His legendary band The Stooges made three incredibly classic albums that defined punk rock in 1969 and 1970 (the original group) and 1973 after bassist Dave Alexander got fired, guitarist Ron Asheton was demoted to bass, and James Williamson took over as lead guitarist and became Iggy's songwriting partner. The Stooges continued to tour into 1974, and Iggy and James recorded demos for a fourth album in 1975. But The Stooges were never a commercial success and the pop scene was going disco, so nobody was interested in giving them a record deal. Then the Sex Pistols arrived in 1977, and instantly Stooge music (and Iggy's burgeoning solo career) went from uncool to cutting edge. Those demos got cleaned up and released on an indie label as Kill City. It's very low-fidelity compared to the earlier Stooge records, which were not exactly high-fidelity to begin with! But that seems like a perfect frame for Iggy's scathing lyrics about life on the mean streets. At the time he was writing and recording this, he was living in a drug rehab center after nearly killing himself with heroin. Lyrically, it is probably the "real-est" album of his entire career. Musically, it has a lot of the cool guitar riffs Williamson brought to Raw Power, some very catchy songs, and more musical variety than their earlier records. It's a very interesting record every Stooges and Iggy fan should know about.
Led Zeppelin "Physical Graffiti"  1975 (UK)
This is Classic Album #750, so it had to be something monumental! Led Zeppelin was the ultimate classic rock band: they were to the 1970's what the Beatles were to the 1960's. This was their only studio double album, consisting of about two-thirds new material (too much for a single album) "padded" with outtakes from their previous three albums for the remainder (of course their "outtakes" are better than most bands' hits). "Trampled Under Foot" was a Top 40 single in America (barely) and "Houses Of The Holy" (title track for their previous album which was not on that album) and "Kashmir" have gotten a lot of radio airplay over the years. But there's so much more great stuff here! "In My Time Of Dying" is one of their best blues performances (Bob Dylan also did this song on his debut album.) The country-esque "Down By The Seaside" sounds kind of like Neil Young and the catchy and funky "Night Flight" seems like it was inspired by Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight": both of those tracks are intriguing outtakes from Led Zeppelin IV. There's also folkie jams left over from the third album. But the most interesting tracks may be the new ones they recorded in 1974: they represent Zep at their most prog-tastic, particularly on the epics "Ten Years Gone", "In The Light" and of course "Kashmir."
The Who "Quadrophenia"  1973 (UK)
The Who created the first "rock opera" in late 1966, in the form of a 10-minute long multi-sectioned song called "A Quick One (While He's Away)" from their second album. Their third album The Who Sell Out was not an "opera" but it was one of the earliest "concept albums": it is meant to sound like a radio station, with jingles and announcements in between songs that parody teen culture. The Big One came in 1969, with their most famous rock opera Tommy, an ambitious double-album which tells the story of a deaf, dumb and blind pinball player who becomes a messiah. That one was such a success, naturally there was pressure to follow it up with another "rock opera": this coincided with The Who substantially reducing their output from a couple albums every year to one every two or three years, probably because long-form works like that take a long time to write, arrange, and record. The rock opera Lifehouse never got completed, instead the best bits from that wound up on the classic album Who's Next (1971). A couple years later, the group finally released what is arguably their magnum opus: Quadrophenia, a loose but highly emotional story that relates directly to the roots of the guys in the band, and features a truly orchestral and cinematic sound (they didn't have the budget for an orchestra on Tommy, which is why that album sounds a lot thinner than this one.) Audience response seems like it was mixed at the time: the silly pinball story from their last rock opera was a lot easier to understand, and the music they were doing in 1973 is a lot more introspective than their sixties hits. It was not one of their more successful tours. After this, The Who retreated and never attempted another conceptual record while the original members were still alive (though Pete Townshend has written a few more "rock operas" since then.) Quadrophenia got a second wind at the end of the seventies when it was turned into a movie that was pretty good: rather than the over-the-top fantasy of the jukebox musical movie version of Tommy, Quadro: The Motion Picture is a realistic film about troubled youth that is not really a musical at all. The members of The Who did not even appear in the film (like they did in Tommy), though the musician Sting has a small role (as an actor not a singer). For The Who's 1979 tour, they brought back a lot of the material from this album and it worked better the second time around after fans had a chance to see the film. The surviving members have dusted it off a few more times since then, and they play about half of Quadrophenia on their latest record The Who With Orchestra Live At Wembley (recordings from a 2019 concert just released on album a couple weeks ago).
Spiritualized "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space"  1997 (UK)
A few months ago we finally added a Spacemen 3 album to the hall of Classics, so here's one of the groovy successor bands to that influential group. Spacemen 3 was led by two singer/songwriter guitarists: Sonic Boom (Peter Kember) and J. Spaceman (Jason Pierce). When S3 split up, Kember created a project called Spectrum which is heavy on drones and electronics (like krautrock) while Pierce called his new group "Spirtualized" probably because he was the one who brought the blues, garage rock, and even gospel elements to the Spacemen 3 sound. In addition to the shoegazer aesthetic (long songs with few chords), Spiritualized also maintained the drug references from the earlier band, though with a twist. While Spacemen 3 recalled the sixties "street drug" scene (acid, speed, smack), Spiritualized imagery more often references prescription pharmaceuticals. I think "where there's so much smoke there must be some fire" as far as all the drug references in this music, but it also seems clear that pharmaceutical nirvana is being used as a metaphor throughout these songs. They are romantic, soulful, earnest, and so full of pain - the singer seeks a chemical escape from all that pain because he feels too much (click the album cover for a review with some of the gritty details behind this particular record). Spiritualized albums have continued in this vein up to the present day (most recent LP was 2022), but I feel that their third album Ladies And Gents is their most potent dose of ecstasy and woe.
Jethro Tull "Thick As A Brick"  1972 (UK)
When it comes to The Greatest Progressive Rock Concept Album Of All Time, this week's classic album is a strong contender. The album consists of a single multi-sectioned 43 minute song called "Thick As A Brick" which is split into two halves for the original vinyl LP release. It's a completely integrated piece, with musical motiffs that repeat and develop over the course of the thing, and a storyline in the lyrics. The instrumental arrangement includes lots of "tricky bits" with weird scales and difficult time signatures (sooo prog). But I think what really makes it is that this record doesn't take itself very seriously - composer Ian Anderson always maintained Monty Python's Flying Circus was a major influence on Brick and that it was intended to be a parody of a prog-rock concept album. The inspiration for doing so was critics and fans incorrectly deducing that the band's previous album Aqualung was a concept album with a story, when it was not - listeners assumed this based on enigmatic album art and song titles combined with the unifying quirkiness of Anderson's song writing. This album is also a subtle dig at the audience in a couple ways: the "plot" of TATB involves an artistic young man being shunned by society for using rude words (the masses are mindless nagscolds with vapid imaginations) and of course that title: "Thick As A Brick" as in, "you stupid people." Despite being the snottiest wankers in prog, Jethro Tull was massively popular all over the world in the early seventies, particularly in the USA - where this record went straight to #1 on the album charts!
Sly & The Family Stone "Life"  1968 (USA)
Today is the 79th birthday of Sylvester Stewart a.k.a. Sly Stone! His classic run of albums began with his 1967 debut and lasted until the mercurial and underrated 1973 album Fresh. He made about four more albums after that, each with fewer and fewer members of the original Family Stone (which had included his brother Freddie, sister Rose, cousin Larry, and eventual baby-mama Cynthia). By the 1980's his career was washed up, and the long-promised comeback never really happened (in the 2000's he did short tours of Japan and Europe with members of the original Family and made a weird and brief appearance at the Grammys one year.) The last I heard was that he won a lawsuit over embezzled royalties and was to receive a pile of money (a few years before that it was reported that he was living in a van.) Anyway, all of the classic Sly albums were already inducted into the Weekly hall of fame except this one - last to join is the third album Life, which is the odd one out among his classic albums. It includes no big hits (like the album that preceded it), and compared to the first two albums the songs are much shorter and tighter while the psychedelic studio tricks have been replaced by intricately arranged grooves and vocal interplay. The themes of the lyrics are moving away from Black pride / soul power topics to more universal flower-powery hippie concerns, which would reach their pinnacle on the best-selling Woodstock-era follow-up Stand! (1969). After that, the music got darker and the early seventies were probably the heighth of his genius - but also the beginning of escalating personal problems (drugs, marriage and divorce, and not having money because of the drugs and divorce.)
De La Soul "3 Feet High And Rising"  1989 (USA)
We recently lost a hip-hop pioneer and underground music legend: David J. Jolicoeur, better known as "Trugoy The Dove", "Plug Two", or simply "Dave" from De La Soul has passed away. Though their debut is not my favorite De La Soul album, it truly was the most groundbreaking rap album of 1989. After years of track suits, gold chains, and boasting over disco beats, in 1988 Public Enemy had just blown everybody's minds by taking rap in a revolutionary direction nusically and politically. Then here comes De La Soul, surreal "hippies" from the suburbs (Long Island) giving expression to a facet of the Black experience not often heard from (nerdy stoners). Although their pals Jungle Brothers actually beat them out of the gate by a year (and A Tribe Called Quest would surpass them in popularity), it was De La Soul's debut album that made "alternative rap" into a thing. Of the two main rappers in De La, Kelvin Mercer a/k/a "Posdnous" always got the most attention (he was "Plug One" after all), and he is a brilliant, charismatic rapper - but "Dave" was the one who always grabbed my attention for his weirder rhymes and laid back vibes. "Plug Three" is P.A. Mase aka Maseo (Vincent Mason) the DJ, who also raps and sings with the group more often than most DJ's do. The "fourth De La" on their early albums was their brilliant producer Prince Paul (Hudson), who made sampling psychedelic. Unfortunately, 21st century corporate media monopolization has made the sampling techniques Paul used virtually impossible today - De La Soul's albums were unavailable on digital streaming services until very recently because of all the copyright claims (and the band probably won't get much if any money from their music because of all those sampling royalties). At least you've got the Kosmik Radiation show whose DJ curator still has original copies of their classic albums to play for you!
Lou Reed "Transformer"  1972 (USA)
Hot on the heels of his breakout album, David Bowie and his guitar player Mick Ronson produced this classic record which resurrected the career of the founder of The Velvet Underground. In fact, it propelled Lou Reed to unimaginable heights: not only was it a "gold record", one of the songs "Walk On The Wild Side" became an unlikely Top 20 hit in America, receiving substantial radio airplay even though it has uncensored super-gay lyrics. The song is about some of the characters from Andy Warhol's "Factory", all of whom were gay and/or trans - as in Transformer, the name of the album! (The photos on the back of the record make this point obvious.) So needless to say this record was a milestone in popuar culture. But it is also musically timeless, and quite unlike any other popular records of it's era (except for Bowie's, but I think that's mostly because Bowie produced this one and used some of the same musicians - the two have very different styles of singing and songwriting). Transformer is much more "cabaret" than the Velvets music (though several of the tunes are recycled VU outtakes), and I think a big part of its popularity is due to Reed's vocal performance on the album. Never a "singer's singer" (to put it mildly), Lou's charm and warmth really shine through in his hipster crooning here (yes, I actually used the words "charm and warmth" to describe the notorious Lou Reed!)
Click here for classic albums from more than three months ago.

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