Sunday, July 25, 2010

April 30, 2010: Psychobabble’s Twenty Greatest Albums of 1970

From a Rock & Roll standpoint, the seventies began in a far neater manner than most other eras. The sixties didn’t really start until The Beatles became mega-stars three years after the decade’s calendar launch. It took the debut of MTV in 1981 to kick-off the eighties, and the first year of the nineties remained a wasteland of hair bands until “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but the seventies arrived without delay. December of 1969 was marked by Altamont, the event that many site as the official conclusion of the sixties. Just as the Stones’ doomed response to blissed-out Woodstock symbolized the death of sixties hippie idealism in a manner too neat for too many rock historians to resist, 1970 found the previous decade’s definitive band in ruins, and each ex-Beatle wasted no time in releasing his first solo record that year. The Stones and The Who would not break-up in ’70, but both were in the process of radically redefining their sounds, and they commemorated their metamorphoses with a pair of raw live albums. Punk, the single most earth-shaking Rock movement of the seventies, was already in the sites in the form of breathless new records by the MC5 and The Stooges, while their most significant predecessor, The Velvet Underground, released their final album (well, their final album with the last line-up that had any right to call themselves The Velvet Underground). Jimi and Janis died. Simon and Garfunkel finally admitted they hated each other’s guts and split. Even The Monkees broke up. Amidst all this flux were a lot of great albums. Here are twenty of the best.

20. Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out: The Rolling Stones in Concert by The Rolling Stones

Throughout the sixties, live albums tended to be little more than side roads in a band’s discography. Primitive stage technology and overzealous audiences made concerts difficult to capture. Even The Beatles played their historic gig at Shea Stadium through wimpy little Vox amps that were probably inaudible to them, let alone the screaming teenies in the nosebleed section. Records such as The Rolling Stones’ Got Live If You Want It were basically souvenirs of ineptly amplified groups struggling to out-shout their audiences. By the end of the sixties, advances in stage technology finally made the hi-fidelity live rock album possible, and The Rolling Stones erased the memory of an anemic earlier effort with a disc that conveyed the sloppy power of a Stones show really well. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out is also a great illustration of how live performance allows a group to reinvent their songs. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Sympathy for the Devil”, and “Street Fighting Man” shed the subtle colors of their recordings, leaving just their gnarly, snarly cores. Jagger pushes the outrageousness of “Stray Cat Blues” even further by making the object of his sleazy lust even younger and transforms “Midnight Rambler” into a piece of button-pushing rock theater. This kind of stuff would petrify into embarrassing poses as the seventies trudged on, but on Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out, Jagger’s nonsense was still thrilling and fun.

19. First Step by Faces

A lot of groups ended with the end of the sixties, but like The Beatles, The Yardbirds, and Cream, Small Faces found a way to continue. The departure of Steve Marriott, one of the great soul singers, was a tremendous loss. Rod Stewart and Ron Wood were pretty great too, though, and the guys found a very easy place in the combo rechristened as Faces (the new guys were too tall to justify keeping the old name anyway). A different singer, guitarist, and name weren’t the only things that had changed. Small Faces were a tight group. Faces were definitely, definitely not. Everything loosened up, from the song structures to Kenny Jones’s beats to their approach to record making. The three proper Small Faces albums are each very individual entities: the hard-mod R&B of the first disc, the more eccentric Swinging London vibe of the second, the gleefully British concepts of the third. Such consistency went in the loo as Faces started shuffling well-thought-out studio creations with rambling rockers, improvised instrumentals, willy-nilly covers, and even live tracks on their albums. Faces’ first disc doesn’t have any of the latter, but it has a nice assortment of the formers. There’s a bit of riffed-up Dylan (“Wicked Messenger”), a bit of spacey balladry (“Devotion”), a bit of crashing grooving (“Shake, Shudder, Shiver”), a bit of good-time boogie (“Three Button Hand Me Down”), a bit of honky tonk (“Stone”, which would reappear as “Evolution” on Pete Townshend’s Who Came First), a bit of slamming blues (“Around the Plynth”), a bit of wordless romping (“Pineapple and the Monkey”, “Looking out the Window”), and about two dozen pints of Southern Comfort. Some people laughed off First Step as a mess, but that probably didn’t bother a band that always wanted to bring a smile to your face.

18. After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

Neil Young exited the sixties thrashing through Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. His next album finds him waking up in a new decade, hung over, mellowed a bit, but still wary, his head still muddled. After the Gold Rush is full of questions and concerns, even as most of the music has settled into a rainy autumn hush. Young tends to pair his anguished lyricism with placid melodies, though “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” has the power to disturb with both its grotesque words and a creepy tune that he sings like a dying witch. The winds only really whip up on “Southern Man”, a righteously ugly portrait of Red State racism on which Young gives it to his Telecaster like he had on “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Toward the end of each side of the record, there are glimpses of sunlight through the storm clouds. “Till the Morning Comes”, “When You Dance I Can Really Love You”, “I Believe in You” and “Cripple Creek Ferry” lighten the mood, but they won’t really help you shake the uneasy feeling of After the Gold Rush. It wouldn’t be the powerful album it is if they did.

17. Magnetic South by Michael Nesmith and The First National Band

As poor Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones slogged to the bitter end with The Monkee’s contractual-obligation farewell, Changes, Mike Nesmith gladly bought himself out of his contract and made the kind of album that newly liberated artists make. As a Monkee, Nesmith always seemed torn between his Texan C&W roots and the psychedelic mood of the times (he was even present at a historic Sgt. Pepper’s session). On his first post-Monkees album, he hit on an ingenious way to structure his pure country within the kind of inventive framework Pepper’s made possible, so down-home tunes segue into each other, stray into picturesque sound effects, and swirl around imaginative lyrics. Over it all, Red Rhodes paints rainbow streaks with his pedal steal guitar that are as ear enchanting as any sitar or Mellotron. Magnetic South wanders through an assortment of tempos and moods—jittering into a daffy samba on “Calico Girlfriend”, chugging into a bluesy boogie on “Little Red Rider”, slowing to a streamside stroll on the surprise hit “Joanne”, zipping to the moon on the euphoric “Mama Nantucket”, floating through the void on “The One Rose (That’s Left in My Heart)”—but no matter the temper of each song, Magnetic South always sounds perfectly carefree. That’s probably exactly how Nes felt in 1970.

16. Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart

As Rod Stewart was settling into his new band (see #19 on this list), he was also settling into his solo career. He’d sketched the recipe for his distinctive cocktail of British folk and Chuck Berry R&R on his first album. On his second, he used finer ingredients. Gasoline Alley has some of Stewart’s best songs. The nostalgic, rustic title song is astonishingly beautiful and uplifting. “Lady Day” and “Jo’s Lament” are two more lovely acoustic ballads. Yet covers make up the bulk of Gasoline Alley and Stewart’s interpretations of Dylan, Elton John, and Small Faces are also enchanting; his remakes of songs made famous by the Stones and Eddie Cochran sound like parties none of the attending musicians want to leave. This is Rod’s first great album, and though he’d write some of his most famous songs for his next one, Every Picture Tells a Story isn’t necessarily any better, and because the tracks on Gasoline Alley haven’t been as overplayed as, say, “Maggie May” or “Reason to Believe”, it sounds like the fresher disc today.

15. Live at Leeds by The Who

On February 14, 1970, The Who played a one-night stand at Leeds University that was most likely the best Valentine’s Day gift anyone in the audience ever received. White hot from near constant touring in support of their latest album, Tommy, The Who performed the Rock Opera, a selection of singles, a couple of stray album tracks, and a quartet of covers with incomparable fervor. They had long since earned their title as Rock & Roll’s most electrifying, most explosive, most deafening live band, but they were rarely this on. As fortune would have it, the gig was captured on tape for release as The Who’s very first live record the following May 23rd. Live at Leeds presents The Who as a much heavier group than they’d ever been on record. The only track that bore any similarity to The Who as they sounded on record in the sixties was a truncated rendition of “Substitute”, and even that was a lot weightier in its live setting. The rest of the LP was made up of extended versions of “My Generation” (which became a sort of free-floating medley incorporating bits of “See Me, Feel Me”, “Sparks”, and the seeds of “Naked Eye”) and “Magic Bus”, and a trio of oldies the band had recorded in the studio but hadn’t released. Live at Leeds has long been considered the greatest Rock & Roll live album, but its greatness wasn’t even fully realized until 1995 when the original eardrum-rending six-song sampler expanded to a dynamically-varied 14-track monster. Unlike so many “expanded” albums, Leeds just grew much more enjoyable with its twenty-fifth anniversary edition. Yet one cannot underestimate the important role the original version played in The Who’s evolution as a band and the live album’s evolution as a Rock & Roll commodity.

14. Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence always took their LP cues from early sixties acts, slapping together their latest singles with a few early Rock & Roll covers the way The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Kinks used to. As it was for groups with writers of the caliber of Lennon and McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Ray and Dave Davies, that formula was a limited one for John Fogerty, and it peaked with Cosmo’s Factory. Creedence’s versions of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me”, Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby”, Arthur Crudup’s “My Baby Left Me”, and Marvin Gaye’s “I Hear It Through the Grapevine” are all very well played, but a line up of electrifying originals such as the old-fashioned rocking “Travelin’ Band”, the new-fangled rocking “Up Around the Bend”, the grit-grinding “Run Through the Jungle”, and the incalculably soulful “Long As I Can See the Light” made old-timey covers seem kind of irrelevant, even when the band was stretching Marvin Gaye to Grateful Dead length. The one LP-only original, “Ramble Tamble”, was a much better use of CCR’s time, as it revved through a sweaty Rock & Roll dash and tripped through a hypnotizing psych interlude over seven dramatic minutes. On their next album, Creedence would embrace that kind of invention and give up the covers just as The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Kinks had back in 1966.

13. Tumbleweed Connection by Elton John

Elton John sold lots and lots of albums, but he was really a singles artist at heart, rarely able to fill two LP sides with consistently worthwhile material. Tumbleweed Connection is a big exception to that problem. Perhaps devising a loose old-west concept helped John and Bernie Taupin focus, because every track on the album is strong even though there isn’t a single A-side in the line up. The team channels The Band to bring their tales to life, both in the rollicking and rustic sound of the music and in the fact that Taupin was a foreigner visiting a key era in American history. Taupin does not attempt Robbie Robertson’s insights, but his words still snap a detailed portrait of gunslingers, confederates, country life, and riverboats. John animates those stories with complete commitment, playing the conflicted soldier of “My Father’s Gun” and the lustful, longing lad of “Amoreena” with the skills of a great actor. Marvelous arrangements that include prominent harp on “Come Down in Time” and a mind-warping leslied guitar on the atypically otherworldly “Where to Now, St. Peter” colorize these sepia images.

12. Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon

If one phrase sums up how John, Paul, George, and Ringo returned after The Beatles split up it must be “without compromise.” Paul made no effort to tidy up his farm-grown mess McCartney. George let his thoughts on God and religion hang out further than the great, bushy beard he sports on the cover of All Things Must Pass. Ringo thumbed his schnoz at the Rock & Roll world that made his career with a disc of ancient standards called Sentimental Journey. However, no former Beatle began his solo career as uncompromisingly as John Lennon. With John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he tossed a lit match on the life he’d lived up until that point, tearing into religion and former partner Paul, railing at the mother and father who’d abandoned him and the misogynist he’d been in his younger years, and declaring that all he needed now was himself, his wife, and maybe a little “Sesame Street” (“Cookie!”). Without a lick of the hominess of Paul’s debut, the spirituality of George’s, or the comfy familiarity of Ringo’s, John made a record that was devastating, honest, raw, and more than a little abrasive. In other words, John made a record that was very John.

11. Rides Again- James Gang

Joe Walsh is most famous for jokey solo hits like “Life’s Been Good” and his stint in the über-boring Eagles, but his best work was unquestionably with Cleveland power-trio James Gang. They only put out three records with the Walsh line-up, the first and third of which being worthwhile but hit-and-miss overall. Rides Again, James Gangs’ second LP, is a classic. A little Southern twang, a little Philly funk, a little British Rock ingenuity, Rides Again hangs together seamlessly even as it jumps genres jollily. The most well-known track is the percussive trampoline “Funk #49”— a terrific number, for sure— but there's also the glorious “Tend My Garden”, which sums up the breadth of The Beatles’ Abbey Road in one tidy six-minute package, the succinct country-pop songs “There I Go Again” and “Thanks”, and the brooding atmospherics of “Ashes, the Rain, and I”. “The Bomber” is a heavy rock epic that shows off Walsh’s ability to mimic Jeff Beck (even quoting “Beck’s Bolero” mid-song). The one misstep is “Woman”, which marries a dumb lyric to some so-so riffing, but the mass of Rides Again reveals a great band ripe for rediscovery.

10. Pendulum- Creedence Clearwater Revival

Confoundingly, Creedence Clearwater Revival once took a lot of heat from blinkered critics. They were without peer the greatest singles band of the ’69/’ ’70 season, but singles were pretty out of vogue with snobby hippies who saw more artistry in an interminable Grateful Dead jam than three minutes of CCR’s refreshing choogling. Pendulum was John Fogerty’s bid to prove he could keep up with his contemporaries by moving beyond the singles/covers format of their first five albums and embracing invention, and in at least one case, indulgence. Consequently, Pendulum has fewer recognizable Creedence classics than any of their previous albums, though this may also be because there is much less emphasis on the Fogerty brothers’ muscular guitars. Aside from “Pagan Baby”—a long jam that would have been dull in the hands of a band lacking CCR’s seething intensity—and the fabulously frothy “Hey Tonight”, there isn’t much in the way of electric guitar workouts here. Acoustics drive the album’s one hit, the brooding “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Doug Clifford and Stu Cook’s in-the-pocket rhythm section are the coal in the taut “Sailor’s Lament” and the terrific Otis Redding-tribute “Chameleon”. Funereal Procol-Harum organs are the main ingredient of the gut-wrenching “(Wish I Could) Hideaway” and the tensely beautiful “It’s Just a Thought”, while all these elements mingle brilliantly on “Born to Move”. The album is also rich in Stax-style sax arrangements, which John Fogerty overdubbed himself. His misplaced “artistry” results in one tremendous fumble—a go-nowhere collage of crescendos without climax called “Rude Awakening #2”—but Pendulum is otherwise proof that CCR could make far more meaningful music than their more pretentious peers.

9. Led Zeppelin III- Led Zeppelin

Having done things with traditional blues songs Howlin’ Wolf never intended on their first album and providing more of the same to lesser effect on their second, Led Zeppelin decided it was time they actually wrote some songs when they cut their third. I’m being flippant: I and II obviously had some phenomenal originals like “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Your Time Is Gonna Come”, and “Ramble On”, but neither record hosted as many great songs that didn’t turn out to have been written by Wolf or Willie Dixon as III did. Certainly no self-respecting bluesman would take credit for the mega-moronic mania of “Immigrant Song”, although the lengthy dirge “Since I’ve Been Loving You” might have made a few cats envious. The album’s greatest distinction is its wealth of acoustic numbers: some lovely (“Tangerine”, the ecology-minded “That’s the Way”), some rollicking (the funky country-honk of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, an ode to Robert Plant’s dog), some gleefully menacing (“Friends”). The heavy rockers deliver too, with the joyous “Out on the Tiles”, the slippery “Celebration Day”, and even the mega-moronic mania of “Immigrant Song” providing as much fun as anything in the Zep archives. The two trad covers— a galvanizing, banjo-stoked version of Leadbelly’s “Gallis Pole” slightly retitled “Gallow’s Pole” and a psychotic version of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” retitled “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”— judiciously credit the boys as arrangers rather than composers this time around. I guess Led Zeppelin was growing up.

8. Loaded- The Velvet Underground

It follows a perverse logic that The Velvet Underground—a group that mastered drugged-out noise rock on their first two albums and aching folk dirges on their third—would fall apart while making their poppiest, happiest platter. There’s no trace of the rotted-out junkie poetry that made their previous albums so grimly compelling on Loaded, which makes the album feel comparatively lightweight on first listen. All that fades when the infectiousness takes over. “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll” are two of The Velvet’s most enduring songs for good reason: they are both mind-bogglingly catchy celebrations of Rock music that get under the skin like Lou Reed’s needles. “Cool It Down” and “Head Held High” don’t have the legs the aforementioned tunes do, but they’re nearly as thrilling. Even down-tempo tracks like “I Found a Reason”, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”, and the novelistic “New Age” possess a sweetness missing from earlier Velvet songs. “Who Loves the Sun” could pass for the latest Monkees single. All of this may not sound terribly appealing to the sometimes cynical Velvet Underground cult, but for anyone hankering for groovy pop and Rock tunes, Loaded is loaded with them.

7. Moondance- Van Morrison

Astral Weeks was Van Morrison’s masterpiece, a work of unimaginable depth and feeling recorded by a mere 23-year old. It’s also an undeniably insular record and the most un-Rock record to often be lumped among the greatest Rock records. Moondance is not a work of art on the level of Astral Weeks, but it opened Morrison’s sound considerably, making it accessible to listeners unaccustomed to lengthy, modal jazz excursions without sacrificing the intense soulfulness at the heart of Astral Weeks. The drums are more upfront, the bass is electric, and backing singers are employed to provide counterpoint to Morrison’s wailing, rumbling, and mumbling. “And It Stoned Me” and the swinging “Into the Mystic” are evocative and personal but also universal in their nostalgia and good-humored soul searching. “Caravan” is an aural party with Morrison multi-tracked endlessly to play the radio-loving revelers. The title song is jazz by way of Sinatra rather than Coltrane, and “Crazy Love” is a beautiful tribute to Curtis Mayfield’s falsetto. These are all Van Morrison standards, but the pumping soul of “Glad Tidings”, the baroque pop of “Everyone”, and the tripping-over-its-own-feet rhythms of “Come Running” are also tremendous. Moondance proved that Morrison could get back in the Top 40 without losing his distinctive brand of Celtic soul; it’s just a little less enigmatic this time.

6. Back in the U.S.A.- MC5
Powerful as it may be, MC5’s live debut, Kick Out the Jams, is a murky record full of songs more intent on jamming than kicking. Back in the U.S.A. bounces so far across the spectrum that it sounds like a different band recorded it. The lowdown murk of the former album has been replaced by tinny, harsh production, and lengthy jams are passed over for tight, three-minute rockers. While the thin sound does Back in the U.S.A. no favors, the band’s enthusiasm and the songs’ retro simplicity produce total excitement. The band’s politics are limited to two tracks, “The Human Being Lawnmower”, a simple anti-war statement, and “The American Ruse”, which puts the shoddiness of capitalism in terms Carl Perkins could dig (“Phony stars, oh no! Crummy cars, oh no! Cheap guitars, oh no!”). The rest of the record does most of its thinking below the belt. That it’s bookended by classics from Little Richard and Chuck Berry reveals the LP’s true agenda: this is an old-fashioned, sex-crazed, party album that gets its paws dirty in go-go grooves (“Teenage Lust”; “High School”, which rewrites The Capitol’s “Cool Jerk”), slow-grind soul (“Let Me Try”), cro-mag garage rock (“Call Me Animal”; “Looking at You”), and funky R&B (the incredible “Shakin’ Street”). Awesome.

5. Home- Procol Harum

Matthew Fisher, who helped define the Procol Harum sound with his majestic organ lines on “Whiter Shade of Pale”, quit the band after recording their masterpiece, 1969’s A Salty Dog. Because of Fisher’s absence and the greater reliance on Robin Trower’s eclectic guitar work, many critics would have you believe that Home is a radical shift from Procol’s previous work. Aside from “Whiskey Train”, the fire-snorting blues that opens the album, Home actually has far more in common with the proto-Goth creepiness of the band’s debut album than Salty Dog did. Lyricist Keith Reid’s running obsession here is death, and he imaginatively handles the subject in a variety of ways. “Whiskey Train” deals with slow-suicide via the bottle. “The Dead Man’s Dream” is cartoonier, with its grotesque Poe-inspired lyric (“And the corpses were rotten, yet each one living/ Their eyes were alive with maggots crawling”) and a backing track that sounds like it was yanked from black mass sequence in a Hammer horror movie. “Still There’ll Be More” hilariously matches roiling Rock & Roll with Reid’s first-person account of serial-killing (“I’ll blacken your Christmas and piss on your door/ You’ll cry out for mercy, still there’ll be more”). “Nothing That I Didn’t Know” is a moving elegy performed in the chantey style of Salty Dog. “About to Die” is written from the perspective of Jesus’s killers, and Trower’s purposeful, ultra-phased guitar sets a grim tone. The album’s masterpiece is “Whaling Stories”, an epic, multi-sectioned ode to the apocalypse, and one of the few Procol Harum songs that makes good on the band’s mostly erroneous reputation for being a prog group. Through all this chilling stuff Gary Brooker belts like the intense R&B crooner he is; these guys were always way too soulful to really be prog-rockers.

4. Bryter Layter- Nick Drake

Much like Moondance was for Van Morrison, Bryter Layter was an attempt to draw Nick Drake out of isolation. Unlike Moondance, all the horns, backing singers, and electric guitars in the world couldn’t mask Nick Drake’s remoteness. Even when the band cooks with as much sunniness as it does on “Hazy Jane II”, Drake still sounds like he’s singing into his lap, and the words he sings are anything but a call to frolic (“And what will happen in the evening in the forest with the weasel with the teeth that bite so sharp when you’re not looking in the evening”). Producer Joe Boyd (with a lot of help from members of Fairport Convention and John Cale) made Bryter Layter with the intention of scoring some hits for Drake, but the singer/writer/expert-finger-picker doesn’t seem too interested in all that. At the same time, he delivers his most instantly pleasurable selection of songs. “Hazy Jane II”, the smoky “At the Chime of the City Clock”, the spacious “Hazy Jane I”, and the soulful “Poor Boy” are superb pop songs. “One of These Things First” is Drake’s best song, with its whirling, autumnal guitar/piano interplay and message of either reincarnation or opportunities missed. “Fly” is his most deeply aching. The instrumental Muzak interludes strewn throughout the record are less essential but keep the tracks linked together nicely. Each of the three albums Nick Drake recorded during his brief life are exceptional, but Bryter Layter is his most completely satisfying.

3. Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round- The Kinks

Since cutting Village Green Preservation Society in 1968, The Kinks were Rock’s most committed storytellers. They would spend the following decade recording a string of concept albums, the most commercially successful being Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round. The Kinks hadn’t had a major hit at home or in the U.S. in years, but “Lola”, a clangy number about a rube’s encounter with a cosmopolitan transvestite, changed that. The album from which “Lola” was pulled recounts a young Rock & Roll band’s rise to success and dealings with a variety of unscrupulous music publishers, agents, journalists, and T.V. presenters. In other words, it’s The Kinks telling the story of The Kinks, and they do so with all the bitterness, humanity, sensitivity, humor, and melodiousness for which they are adored. While Ray Davies’s signature music-hall variations are present on “Denmark Street” and “The Moneygoround”, and his mastery of the delicate ballad informs “Get Back in Line”, “This Time Tomorrow”, and “A Long Way From Home”. The band also rocks harder here than they had since their power-chord heyday, Dave Davies’s massive guitars tearing through “Lola”, “Top of the Pops”, “Powerman”, and “Rats”. Dave also gets off two of his best compositions with the screaming “Rats” and the mysterious “Strangers”. Much of The Kinks’ seventies records followed the Lola Versus Powerman formula closely, but none replicated its power, beauty, or grasp of narrative.

2. Parachute- The Pretty Things

The most obscure album on this list was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as “Album of the Year” in 1971 (it appeared in the U.S. a year after its original UK release). That’s quite an honor considering the class of ’71 included such monuments as Who’s Next, Sticky Fingers, and Led Zeppelin IV, but one listen to Parachute is enough to explain Rolling Stone’s decision. The Pretty Things were on a creative roll begun with the pioneering, pre-Tommy Rock Opera S.F. Sorrow when they made Parachute. Like its predecessor, there’s supposedly a loose concept here (Side A focuses on the city; Side B on the country), but there’s not much of a story. That deflects no power from the songs or the Pretties’ exemplary playing and singing. Their choral harmonies on “Rain”, “What’s the Use”, and the title track are staggering, easily in the league of any similar efforts by The Beach Boys, The Who, or The Beatles. Side A sports a mini-medley obviously inspired by side B of Abbey Road, but the transitions between sections are more fluid than those of The Beatles, so the side plays more like a complex suite. The medley then gives way to a brilliant parade of stand-alone tracks: the searing rocker “Miss Fay Regrets”, the ominous “Cries From the Midnight Circus”, the brooding but engrossing “Grass”, the funky “Sickle Clowns”, the stately “She’s a Lover”, and the hymn-like pair of songs that close the record, “What’s the Use” and “Parachute”. Unfortunately, Parachute was The Pretty Things’ last great record. They spent the remainder of the seventies churning out successively more conventional Rock records, but if that was because they expended so much of their inspiration reserves on Parachute, it was well worth it.

1. All Things Must Pass- George Harrison

It’s a sprawling boxed-set of three LPs, one of which is barely listenable. It’s a solo debut overflowing with religious dogma. It’s the best album of 1970, the best album by an ex-Beatle, and the best album of the 1970s. Lennon and McCartney maintained such a stranglehold over the Beatles’ LPs that George Harrison was able to amass a truly astounding backlog of great songs. By some accounts, “The Art of Dying” dates back to 1966, which is funny since it’s the most seventies-sounding track on the album, with its heavily wah-wah-ed guitars and blaxploitation horn section (one can only guess how it would have been arranged if included on Revolver). The prevalent sounds of All Things Must Pass, though, are Harrison’s dulcet, expressive voice and fluid slide-guitar, chiming masses of acoustic guitars, ethereal organs, and tasteful but powerful string and horn embellishments. Phil Spector’s production is full-bodied but more delicate and expansive than his classic records with the Wrecking Crew. The band is top-notch, with Badfinger supplying rhythm guitars, Billy Preston and Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker on organs, Stones sidemen Bobby Keys and Jim Price on brass, the Plastic Ono Band’s Klaus Voormann on bass, and old-pal Ringo Starr behind the kit. That band as realized by Spector sounds magnificent, whether slow-burning through “Isn’t It a Pity”, wailing on “Hear Me Lord”, rocking out on “Wah-Wah” and “What a Life”, partying on “Awaiting on You All”, drifting into the cosmos on “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” and “Beware of Darkness”, or doing all of the above on “Let It Down”. But none of this would matter if Harrison didn’t deliver the songs, and these are some of the greatest he ever wrote. That Harrison chiefly used All Things Must Pass to advertise his sundry religious beliefs sounds a lot more off-putting than it actually is because these songs are so uniformly beautiful and because he gets off at least one good zinger at the expense of the pope along the way. Some have docked All Things Must Pass a point or two because its third LP is a completely superfluous collection of meandering jams, but that would be like criticizing the record because you don’t like the album cover (which is a totally hilarious shot of Harrison hanging out with some garden gnomes while wearing huge rubber boots). Toss the jam album in the bin and take in the bounty of brilliance on the other two records for an endlessly rewarding experience.

Twelve More Great Albums from 1970
Barrett by Syd Barrett
The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett
Sunflower by The Beach Boys
Let It Be by The Beatles
Crosby, Stills, and Nash by Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Morrison Hotel by The Doors
 ‘Shazam’ by The Move
Looking On by The Move
Fun House by The Stooges
A Beard of Stars by T. Rex
T. Rex by T. Rex
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