Friday, June 1, 2012

My Take: The Top 50 Roots/Rock Albums of All Time (##21-30)



Here are numbers 21-30 in my countdown of the greatest rock and roots albums ever recorded.

30.  The Complete Recordings (Robert Johnson [1990 {1936-37}])

The significance of Robert Johnson's recorded legacy cannot be underestimated. Johnson's work is the distillation of delta blues tradition, and directly influenced Muddy Waters, whose earliest recordings in Chicago amount to an electrification of Johnson's sound. And a certain band from London took their name from a Waters song. That being said, Johnson's emotionally charged tenor and complex finger-picking guitar work elevate his magnificent original songs to essential status: "Sweet Home Chicago," "Dust My Broom" (made famous on electric slide by Elmore James), "Crossroads Blues" (made famous by Eric Clapton and Cream), "Hellhound on my Trail," and "Traveling Riverside Blues" (recorded later by Led Zeppelin).





29.  The Blasters (The Blasters [1981])

Brothers Phil (vocals) and Dave (guitar, songwriting) Alvin and their Downey, California pals emerged in the early '80s with a muscular updating of the sound that made Sun records famous in the 50s. From rock 'n roll ("Marie, Marie") to rockabilly ("No Other Girl") to R&B (a thrilling cover of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'") to traditional country (a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Never No More Blues," yodels and all) to hard Chicago blues ("Highway 61"), the Blasters were masters of all the roots genres. Dave Alvin had a knack for writing original, authentic, character-driven songs in traditional genres, and Phil Alvin could sing like no one else, but it was John Bazz (bass) and Bill Bateman (drums) who really set this band apart, providing the churning rhythmic maelstrom that propelled these songs.





28.  Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young with Crazy Horse [1979])

"It's better to burn out than to rust/fade away."  So sings Neil Young in tribute to Johnny Rotten and the punk ethos that here rejuvenated Young's career.  Like Dylan's classic "Bringing It All Back Home," this album has one side of acoustic tunes and a second side of electric rock. It is bookended by acoustic and electric versions of the same tune, differently titled ("My My, Hey Hey [Out of the Blue]" and "Hey Hey, My My [Into the Black]" with slightly altered lyrics). The latter best displays Young's distinctly grungy aesthetic to fine effect. In between are fine songs, both acoustic ("Thrasher," "Pocahontas"") and electric ("Powderfinger"). This remains the best introduction to Young's many-faceted oeuvre.








27.  Are You Experienced? (The Jimi Hendrix Experience [1967])

In late 1966 the Seattle-bred Hendrix left America for England and teamed up with Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums) to form a power trio to compete with the newly formed Cream.  The result was this, the greatest psychedelic album ever recorded.  No one had ever heard a guitar played like this, both virtuosic and original in its use of feedback and distortion to great effect. Classics abound on this remarkable debut, including such psychedelic hard rock staples as "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," and "The Wind Cries Mary," the blues-based hard rocker, "Hey Joe," and the straight 12-bar blues, "Red House."







26.  Beggar's Banquet  (The Rolling Stones [1968])

This album marks the Stones' return to their blues roots following their only partially successful 1967 foray into pychedelia. It is best known for two classic rock hits: "Street Fighting Man" (which rocks hard over an acoustic base and Brian Jones's sitar, and contains the classic line, "For summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street") and "Sympathy for the Devil" (a classic rumination on the evil that lurks within us all). But the real gems are found by those who dig a little deeper: the delta blues-inspired "No Expectations," the rustic country waltz, "Dear Doctor," and the acoustic and slide guitar blues, "Parachute Woman," in which Mick Jagger seems to be channeling his inner Muddy Waters.





25.  Swagger (Flogging Molly [2000])

If one wants to know what "Celtic rock" is, look no further. Irishman Dave King and Irishwoman, future Mrs. King, and multi-instrumentalist Bridget Regan (tin whistle, fiddle, pipes) formed this band in LA in the '90s. Traditional Irish instrumentation and melodies merge with punk-derived rock in this inspired and breathless set of songs. Standouts include "Black Friday Rule," "Devil's Dance Floor," "The Ol' Beggar's Bush," and "Worst Day Since Yesterday."  Early Flogging Molly made the Pogues sound like the Chieftains.







24.  Johnny Winter (Johnny Winter [1969])

The Beaumont, Texas native, albino Johnny Winter is, ironically, the greatest of all blues guitar players, and here is the place to look if you want to know what all the fuss was about in the late '60s.  He never achieved the mass stardom Columbia executives hoped for because of changing musical styles and his own personal demons that almost brought him down in the early '70s.  But this album, his major label debut, demonstrates Winter's prodigious gifts as clearly as one could hope for.  Highlights here include the slow blues "Be Careful with a Fool" and Winter's own acoustic "Dallas," played on a national steel guitar. His technical proficiency and endless inventiveness are stunning, to say the least.





23.  Led Zeppelin I (Led Zeppelin [1969])

This is a classic debut, with all the elements of their signature sound fully formed, courtesy of guitarist Jimmy Page, who had dubbed the band "The New Yardbirds." As might be expected, blues covers (Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby") play a major role.  But Page was developing his own brand of heavy blues with originals such as "How Many More Years," with its bolero-style riff, and the epic "Dazed and Confused," complete with a signature bowed guitar solo.  Zeppelin's range extended from the acoustic folk of "Black Mountain Side" to the proto-punk metal of "Communication Breakdown."  But the real highlight is the light and shade of Anne Bredon's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You." Vocalist Robert Plant was only 19 when the recording took place simply astonishing.






22.  Revolver (The Beatles [1966])

This, not its successor, Sgt. Pepper's, is the greatest Beatles album. In some ways it plays like an extension of its predecessor, the fine Rubber Soul, though with a harder rocking edge.  In other respects it is somewhat transitional, introducing the psychedelia that would dominate its successor with such tracks as the closer, "Tomorrow Never Knows," which, as Rolling Stone points out, is John Lennon's distillation of an acid trip. What sets this album apart is the songs. Standouts include George Harrison's opening rocker, "Taxman," Paul McCartney's lovely "Eleanor Rigby" — the best song he ever wrote, complete with a doubled string quartet — and Motown-inspired "Got to Get You into My Life," and Lennon's "Doctor Robert."






21.  Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd [1973])

This most famous of Pink Floyd albums is one of the high-water marks of 1970s British progressive rock, with Alan Parsons' innovative use of sound effects and production values setting new standards for popular music.  Yet what sets this set apart is the profound thematic coherence of the songs, all of which revolve around bassist Roger Waters's existential explorations of greed, consumerism, the passing of time, death, and mental illness.  Two of these songs stand out:  the hit "Money," with its unusual 7/4 time signature and funky Dick Parry sax solo, and the existential classic, "Time," with the famous line "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way" and a lethargic-yet-searing guitar solo from David Gilmour.


















 


























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