The pre-punk seventies take a lot of lumps from Rock critics, but just look at what an interesting year 1973 was. Many of the sixties’ biggest stars were still doing exceptional work. For some of them, it would be the last time that statement would hold true. A new ruckus was also rising in the more outré corners of the scene with incalculably influential artists such as The Stooges and New York Dolls giving come-hither glances to the ones who would revive Rock toward the end of the decade.
13. Preservation Act I by The Kinks
Or maybe you won’t. After all, Ray Davies’s whole Preservation saga doesn’t have the greatest of reputations. The Kinky visionary had been planning to turn his masterpiece, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, into a sprawling, ambitious production with a proper storyline from its inception back in 1968. In the mid-seventies he finally brought that dream into being, though there isn’t any discernable plot in Act I. The scene is set with the wordless “Morning Song,” which wanders into “Daylight.” OK, so we’re in the Village Green. Now let’s meet some of its locals, such as the unrequited love “Sweet Lady Genevieve” and Johnny Thunder, the Rock & Roll rebel without a cause of “One of the Survivors” (the one hold over from Village Green Preservation Society). “Here Comes Flash” introduces the villain of the piece while “Sitting in the Midday Sun” lets us spend some time with the contented tramp who’ll serve as our guide. By the time we get to “Demolition” we’re only beginning to get a taste of the municipal topics that will be the plot’s main idea. Then Act I is over. Because it’s all introduction and precious little plot, Preservation Act I can focus on the things we actually want to hear on a record: good songs. And contrary to popular opinion, most of the songs on this album are excellent. The same cannot be said of two LPs worth of Act II, which gets deeper into plot and largely abandons Ray Davies’s specialty of penning perfect, concise, stand-along pop songs (of course, there are still a few terrific tracks in “Artificial Man,” “Money Talks,” and “Mirror of Love”). The poor reputation of Act I seems to stem from its failure to deliver a proper plot and its link to an inferior second act. And yes, a couple of tracks are pretty weak (particularly “Money & Corruption/I Am Your Man,” tellingly one of the few pieces that gets a bit more into plot), but how anyone cannot be moved by such beauties as “Daylight,” “Sweet Lady Genevieve,” or “Where Are They Now?” is beyond me.
12. Grand Hotel by Procol Harum
Procol Harum had undergone a major change between 1971’s Broken Barricades and 1973’s Grand Hotel when Robin Trower went solo. Losing a key member can derail a band or it can give it a fresh lease. The latter seems to be the case for Procol Harum as Grand Hotel erases many of the previous album’s issues, which included meandering music and some of Keith Reid’s most impenetrably pretentious lyrics. For some fans that got off on Procol’s Goth poetry and persona, Grand Hotel may be a little too earth bound. Songs about breaking up with a girlfriend, eating dumplings, or getting an STD are beneath the band’s usual phantasmagoric bent. Nevertheless, the tracks are all very good and the production is majestic enough to elevate a song about how awesome it is to stay in a ritzy hotel above its stupid topic. In light of the success of Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Procol continue working orchestral and choral parts into their arrangements, which provide a grandeur that balances the mundane lyricism. Towards the end, Reid gets on more familiar ground with the chilling death tale “For Liquorice John,” the futile war song “Fires (Which Burn Bright)” (with its unexpected and haunting guest vocal from Christianne Legrand), and the pain-wracked “Robert’s Box.” Extra points for getting a choir to sing a line as goofy as “TV Caesar, Mighty Mouse, gets the vote in every house.”
11. Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings