Thursday, 30 May 2013


So Rolling Stone has its own list of 100 Greatest Debut Albums, proving once again that there is less room for controversy in a shorter list.  Here’s their top 10:

Beastie Boys – Licensed to Kill
The Ramones
Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
GNR – Appetite for Destruction
The Velvet Underground – and Nico
N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bolllocks
The Strokes – Is This It
The Band – Music From Big Pink
Patti Smith - Horses

A 40% overlap, but the gap is actually bigger than that.  Led Zeppelin I, for example, comes in at #72 on the RS list, despite the fact that they turned the world upside down, and as RS itself admits “the template was here.”

Just a little confused by RS’s logic.  They claim it’s about debuts “that gave you the thrill of an act arriving fully-formed, ready to reinvent the world in its own image.”  But they also said they deducted points if an act went on to far greater achievements.  OK.  No argument that Zep had many great albums after, but Zep I is arguably their best.  The impact was immediate, the excitement off the scale.  They certainly were “fully-formed.”

Similar gap with The Doors, by the way.

Scanning the longer list, one thing that strikes me is the number of times you could say, “they could have stopped there.”  This is acknowledged in a quote from Elliot Easton saying The Cars’ first album could have been called The Cars Greatest Hits.  You could say the same for The Band, Boston, Oasis, or even Hendrix.  They all went on to make some great music, but did they ever really match that first effort?

The impetus for both Gibson’s and Rolling Stone’s lists was the 50th anniversary of Please Please Me by The Beatles.  In this case, you gotta wonder if the album is on the list because subsequent masterpieces dictate the debut had to be included.  OK, forget I said that.  But it could be true for Pink Floyd. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Lovely Debutantes

Gibson’s list of 10 Great Debut Rock Albums makes the point that most bands need two or three records under their belt before the masterpieces show up, then provides a list of exceptions, which are:

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Hendrix – Are You Experienced?
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
The Doors – The Doors
The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
The Velvet Underground - … and Nico
The Clash – The Clash
The Beatles – Please Please Me
Led Zeppelin – I (as in the Roman numeral)

Oh, did the Sex Pistols actually make more than one album?

Gibson’s introductory argument stands up.  Most of these bands went on to create more enduring, influential records (incontestable in the case of The Beatles, arguable in the case of Hendrix, irrelevant in the case of Sabbath), but these albums definitely made their mark.

I remember how people went nuts over Led Zeppelin and Hendrix.  Based on the strength of those reactions, I would have included the debut albums from:  The Band, Chicago, The Police, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, and The Cars.  Everyone seemed to notice.  Your own list will no doubt differ.  You know, depending on your appetite, or experience.  Definitely, maybe.   Never mind; you don’t have to please me.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Shakey versus Bouncy

I recently read autobiographies by two rock giants, Pete Townshend and Neil Young.  The books make an interesting comparison, since their authors are both hugely influential.

They have a lot in common: age (more or less), creative parents, respect and scholarship for the music of both their progenitors and their peers, boats, cars, obsessiveness with the recording process and technology, and – how shall we put it – eccentricity?

Although both books tended to wander, and completely ignore any sense of chronology, both were interesting.  Lots of little anecdotes, some trivial, some meaningless, some cool.  Tons of name-dropping.  If you were around, some great memories and reminders.

In terms, of insight, though, I’d have to give the nod to Neil Young’s book.  Townshend might have shared what he saw, but Young let’s you see with his eyes.  He tells you much more about why he did things, how he was thinking, and what he was feeling.  His persona remains intact; the book confirms that he’s rather shy, somewhat aloof, kinda weird, and absolutely committed to whatever he happens to be doing at any given point in time.  But he explains himself along the way, and manages to become a sympathetic character with a sense of humour.

Townshend?  Well, I always knew he was an angry guy.  His book confirmed that, but I’m really not sure I understand what makes him that way.  He can see for miles, but he can’t explain.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Can’t Make You Think

Gibson’s 10 Great Concept Albums proves that the critics weren’t always right, and that the music wasn’t always pretentious.

OK, maybe that second bit is a stretch.

Here’s the list:
 1. The Who - Tommy
 2. Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick
 3. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera
 4. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s
 5. Green Day – American Idiot
 6. Alice Cooper – Welcome to My Nightmare
 7. Dream Theatre – Metropolis Pt. 2 …
 8. Bowie – Ziggy Stardust
 9. Rush - 2112
10. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

All in all, a predictable list, though if the article had made a hard distinction between a concept album and a rock opera, it might have been more interesting.
Then again, in terms of success – not to mention astonishment that the band could actually perform it live – you can’t really ignore Tommy.  Or Thick as a Brick, or …

There’s a pretty broad spectrum here in terms of adherence to a “concept.”  At one end you’ve got a tightly knit story (Tommy) – or a single song, actually (Thick as a Brick).  At the other end you’ve got a loose collection of songs that, according to John Lennon, worked as a concept “because we said it worked.”

Anyway, it’s a fine list of masterpieces.  Pretentious?  Maybe.  But isn’t music a form of story telling, and if the story is a long one …

Monday, 13 May 2013

Excitement At Your Feet

I watched a concert of The Who Live in Texas in 1975 the other night, and couldn’t help thinking this is why I wasn’t big into recordings of live music back then.

I mean, the energy was great, but the lighting was terrible, the sound was lousy, and the band was wasted so they didn’t really play that well.  It kinda says something that The Who were regarded by many as the best touring band for a long time, and this is the best they could do?

Oh, excuse me.  Must run.  God appears to be throwing lightning bolts at my house.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Listen Up

There is no better way to get your attention than to kick off a song with a killer riff, as illustrated in Gibson's 10 of Rock's Greatest Guitar Intros. 

Something new, something clever, something loud, usually something simple.

Hey!  Over here!  Pay attention.  Stop what you’re doing.  You’re gonna dig this.

It’s arguably part of the formula for a great rock song.  As hinted by the carefully worded title, these are 10 of rock’s greatest intros, not rock’s 10 greatest intros.  The comments below the posting really drive this home.  No end of worthy candidates.

Though, really, is there anything better than I Feel Fine?  No wait!  Layla.  No, Start Me Up.  No, no, no!  Blackdog.  Wait! …

Monday, 6 May 2013

If I Only Had a Song

Confession:  I detest musicals.  I think they are silly.  Pretentious.  Illogical.  They aim low.  They bore.  The dancing is just dumb.

If you’re offended, maybe I can redeem myself by admitting that I like some musicals very much, one of which is The Wizard of Oz.

Maybe it’s the familiarity.  Or it just stuck with me as a big deal since childhood. But I like the story.  The music is not nauseating.  Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a powerful, emotional song.  I enjoy the movie whenever I see it, and I loved a stage production I saw about 20 years ago.

Not so, however, this new production with new songs by Webber and Rice.  They aren’t needed.  They don’t add a thing.  They don’t fit.  They should just go away.

This new material proves that Webber’s best before date was a while back.  But you knew that.  There have been some big flops.  Really big.  And now, rather than coming up with a new clunker of his own, he has ridden the coattails of a timeless classic and managed to drag it down to the level of just another dumb musical, i.e. a waste of time.  Like the Wizard, he should be ashamed.

New tunes and lyrics and jokes, oh my.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Oh, Just Nevermind

Well, they say your musical tastes are pretty much chiseled in stone by the age of 16, so no big surprise that I only knew the names of 27 of Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the 90's, the decade when I left my 30’s – still kicking – and entered my 40’s, more or less screaming, I guess.

I mean, I probably recognize 80 or so of the artists by name, but the actual album names?  A paltry 27.  And that’s based on, you know, name recognition on the radio (possibly before I changed the station) or browsing for CD’s in the record store.

Remember CD’s?  In stores?

27.  Recognized.  By name.  Ownership?  Well, less than that.  A lot less.  And I bought a ton of CD’s in the 90’s.  A boatload.

Look:  I wasn’t entirely out of it.  I had some Nirvana, Petty, Oasis, Neil Young, REM, U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers.  That’s not so bad, right?  And, you know, I kinda liked Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Radiohead and Metallica.  That’s good, isn’t it?

And of course I love Dylan and Springsteen and The Stones, and they’re on the list (although come one, RS, Bridges To Babylon and not Voodoo Lounge?  Really?) – so, I was, like, not in a cave or anything.

But 27% sort of makes it official: I had given up.  I had grown old.  My score on the Top 10 (60%) is cold comfort.  Crap.

I always knew that rock/pop is for young people, but retreating to “well the music was better in the 60’s (or 70’s (for the most part), or the 80’s (at least for a time)) – even though it was – is, is, is oh nevermind.

No point in raging against the machine.  I’m not ready to die and I know I’m not out of time.   OK Computer, how we gonna handle this?