Category Archives: Which Album Is Best?

Greg Lake Calls Trilogy The Best Album By ELP

ELPTrilogyDoing my usual stumbling around on the internet, I ran across an article on SomethingElseReviews where Greg Lake calls Trilogy “their best album”.

This assessment by Greg Lake does not surprise me in the least. Trilogy was a point where the band were perhaps finding their real place in the world of Rock. With their previous albums increasingly huge sound efforts, Trilogy, offered up a few songs that were a step away from the usual fare of ELP. One of those songs is the  beautifully crafted, folk-tinged “From The Beginning”. It was given good company with other great compositions that still, to this day, stand apart from any other album that the band released.

I always find easy solace with the spinning of Trilogy, especially on my turntable, which provides me an immersive experience not afforded by the CD used in the car. I always want to let the music wash over me, take me to places that aren’t here. Places that previously only existed within the minds of the composers as they evolved the songs from infancy to completion.

With Trilogy, I’m always at ease. I’m pleased to find out that Greg Lake (and I hope Carl Palmer, and Keith Emerson reciprocate the feeling) loved Trilogy.

In the article, he talks about changes in the recording technologies, which allowed for extravagant use in the use of Trilogy. For me, it enhanced the album.

And although we have touched upon this issue before (and I may again), I find Trilogy an ignored classic that is overlooked in favor of (usually) Brain Salad Surgery.

I, for one, anxiously await the new remix of the great Emerson, Lake & Palmer classic.

The Best By Talking Heads?

Talkig Head Fear Of MusicYesterday, it was absolutely impossible to stop “Heaven” from playing over and over in that crazy jukebox I call a mind. And I have little control over what it decides to play as I don’t get to drop the quarters in. So, what the hell, I put Fear Of Music (actual LP) on and listened to it several times. That brings me to this:

“Heaven” by Talking Heads comes from one of the albums that I listen to perhaps more than any other by the band. Released in the summer of 1979, I bought my LP on the first day. I couldn’t even wait to get home to listen to it. I removed the plastic and played it on the turntable at Art’s Record Shop (God bless Jean!).  Jean had always been an important part of my growing musical years. And she tolerated my eclectic selections in the shop, especially if I needed to hear it right away.

Talking Heads, as far as I’m concerned, do not have a bad album in their history.  Every album was great first song to last. I’m not even sure I can call one a favorite over another. Still, if I have to pick one that I go to more than the rest, one that consistently plays back in my mind (whenever it feels like it), I’d have to mention Fear Of Music. And why not?

It’s home to one of Heads’ oft-repeated lines, “this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around” from “Life During Wartime”. It’s also home to the album’s World Music style explored more deeply on Remain In Light (1980) as heard on “I Zimbra”, Fear Of Music’s great opening track. Then there’s the mentioned “Heaven” (“Heaven, Heaven is a place, where nothing, nothing ever happens”), there’s “Air” (“what is happening to my skin? Where is that protection that I needed. Aiirrrrr! Some people say not to worry about the air. Some people never had experience with aiiiirrrrr”), and of course, “Electric Guitar” (“this is a crime against the state, this is the verdict they reach, never  listen to electric guitar”). And that very psychedelic “Drugs” tune!

Yes, I actually L-U-V every Talking Heads album, including the much underrated final stage, Naked (1988).

And you’re going to say?

Poll: Patti Smith – Which Album Is Best?

With an artist like Patti Smith, it is virtually impossible to decide which might be her classic.  Of course, most will sidle up near her debut, Horses.  But as perfect as that album is, it’s a shame to think her perfection stopped right at the beginning.  In fact, I refuse to say such a thing.  Her last, not counting her covers album, Twelve, from 2007, was Trampin’, released in 2004, and Banga in 2012.

I feel as strongly about Trampin’ as I did for Horses, which I loved.  But, I loved Radio Ethiopia even more.  When 1978 brought Easter, I was chomping at the bit to get a hold of a copy of it.  When the following year brought Wave, I was equally as ferocious in acquiring a copy.  But, as much as I loved those albums (I DID!), they were slightly too polished for me.  I still went to Radio Ethiopia as my go-to Patti Smith album, with Horses nipping at its heels.

Then Patti went on hiatus.  We had to kinda forget about her.

When Patti released her fifth album, Dream Of Life in 1988, I felt let down.  I consider it to be her weakest album.  But some eight years later, Patti Smith reached deeply into the pool of anger after losing everyone around her including her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, she released Gone Again.  Gone Again, is a powerful album, perhaps more powerful than anything she has recorded.  There was something primal going on in the title song.  It’s visceral.  Death was being confronted in ways I have never heard anyone do.

Since that album, Patti has released Peace and NoiseGung HoTrampin’, Banga, and her covers set, Twelve.

The Albums of Patti Smith

Horses (1975) –

From the opening slam of “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” to her epic 3-part, “Heroin”-like classic, “Land”, to the closing notes of “Elegie”, Horses was a strong album released during a time of music finding its way.  In between, those mentioned songs, Patti provided glistening pearls with the poetic perfection of “Kimberley”, “Birdland”, “Break It Up”, and the communally inspired, “Free Money”.  Horses has rightfully earned it designation as a (the) Patti Smith classic.

Radio Ethiopia (1976) –

When this album opened with “Ask the Angels”, I died!  With that kind of energy coming out of the speakers, who could refuse Patti Smith from here on out.  Who?  And yet, most everyone did.  The album sold poorly and everyone was sounding the death knell for the poetess who, in my estimation, was already walking on water.  ”Ain’t It Strange” followed the opener and gave me a wind of Horses.  It could have been an outtake from the Horses sessions.  I still say it was.  ”Poppies” speaks perfection in blends of styles; bluesy in a punkish way.  The mix of heady poetry with a grand musical contribution makes “Pissing In a River” a memorable song.  ”Pumping” is punk, “Distant Fingers” is mesmerizing, and “Radio Ethiopia” is f’ing epic and brilliant.  What was wrong with Radio Ethiopia.  Nothing!  Oh, did I forget “Abyssinia”?  I did!  It was every bit as potent as some of the songs fromHorses. Better.

Easter (1978) –

Easter is a great album.  We won’t make a mistake with that here.  But it represents a different Patti Smith.  You can hear it right away in “Till Victory”.  If I had to wince a bit, it has to be at the expense of produce Jimmy Iovine.  Horses was produced by the incomparable John Cale and the edginess shows.  Radio Ethiopia was produced by Jack Douglas, and the harsh brilliance shows.  Easter speaks of fame, which it got because it rose higher than even Horses did in the charts.  Patti is still in there though, even if she was “re-directed”.  Her cover of Springsteen’s “Because The Night” is the definitive version of that song even though you can hear Springsteen oozing from nearly every note of it.    I’m in love with the poetic all-to-brief “Babelogue”, with its “I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future” line. Patti gave plenty of goodness in Easter, but it is NOT my go-to album even though Patti Smith sought – and found – “the nerves under my skin”.

Wave (1979) –

The Todd Rundgren-produced Wave gave me reason to be more hopeful.  While it’s still too much polish for a rough and tumble Patti Smith (who could kick my ass because I’d let her), it spoke of a defiance.  ”Frederick”, the entrancing “Dancing Barefoot”, a cover of the Byrds’ classic, “So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star”, and the interesting, “Wave” were some of the best from this album.

Dream Of Life (1988) –

Jimmy Iovine came back to produce this album, and his obvious influence is felt here.  It’s very polished with a dated ’80s sound to it.  You don’t even have to go very far to hear it.  It shows up on the opening, “People Have The Power”.  I won’t deny that Patti didn’t have some fine moments on this album.  Song-wise, there is a lot to be interested in here.  I enjoyed “Going Under”, and “Paths that Cross”.  I just feel the album to be her weakest moment.  It’s as if she’s clearing the sleep from her head.  She was, after all, coming back from a long professional slumber.  Dream Of Life DID do something, however.  It re-established her into the arena she belonged in.  And then she disappeared…again.

Gone Again (1996) –

Patti Smith has come back after Dream of Life and EIGHT years.  During that time, everyone around her crossed paths with death.  Patti was angry.  From the first song, “Gone Again”, Patti had reaffirmed her place that she left behind after Radio Ethiopia.  The same energy is there.  With the beginning track of the album, Gone Again is awash in shining brilliance.  ”Beneath The Southern Cross”,  the phenomenal “About A Boy”, and yes, every other song on this album are stunning tunes that put me back at the breasts of Patti Smith.  The Jeff Buckley assistance of the extended “Fireflies”is unreal.  (Buckley would die soon after this album’s release).  A classic!

Peace And Noise (1997) –

Patti Smith took the production reins for this album.  The songs are excellent but it’s no Gone Again.  What Peace And Noise is is a collection of songs that Patti felt comfortable in recording.  She had her own say.  It’s a personal album.  With an album cover almost as beautifully potent as Gone AgainPeace And Noise provided musical greatness with “Spell”, “Blue Poles”. and “Death Singing”, a fearful finger point at the specter that collects souls at whim.  Peace And Noise is Patti Smith‘s Bob Dylan album.  She needed to do this one; she deserved to do this one.

Gung Ho (2000) –

After a three year absence, Patti Smith returned with something more familiar.  Gung Ho explores stories, something that Patti has done all of the time, but less poetically then in the past.  On “Lo and Beholden”, one of the album’s better tracks, she tells a version of a biblical story, the story of Salome, whose dance led to the beheading of John The Baptist.  I loved “Strange Messengers”, probably because she opened it up more than she was willing to do for the rest of the album.  ”The Glitter In their Eyes” was nominated for a Grammy, although I can’t see why.  Gung Ho was a good album, not great.  Still, it was better than Dream Of Life.  Gung Ho was Patti Smith at her time and place.

Trampin’ (2004) –

Again, absent for a few years, she returned with one hell of an album, much closer to the Patti Smith of decades ago.  She opens with power on “Jubilee”, gives beauty on “Mother Rose” and “Peaceable Kingdom”,  sets fires with “Stride Of The Mind”, creates perfection with “Cartwheels”, and delivers two epics with “Gandhi”, and the unreal “Radio Baghdad”.  She easily proves that she can be the Patti Smith that we all know and love.  Is it a classic in the sense of Horses, and Radio Ethiopia?  It could be.  Brilliance that can raise your hairs on the back of your neck.

Twelve (2007) –

This was an indulgent release.  I understand her need to sing favorites in her own voice, but I still consider the album unnecessary.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like it.  Plenty did.  I just wasn’t thrilled with it.  Songs that I thought I might like, “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” just didn’t feel right.  Patti is best an engine when she’s revving on her own fuel.  When you put a substitute in the tank, well, the performance and mileage varies.  If you liked it, I have no problem with it.  I’ll say no more.

Banga (2012) –

Going back to originals, Patti Smith provided a New Millennium feel but maintaining a Patti Smith aura to her new album.  With eight years in between Trampin’ and this one, Patti turned in an acceptable album. It’s good. But it could have been better.

Foghat: Which Album Was Their Greatest?

Oh boy!  This will be quite interesting.  Why? Simply because there is a point where Foghat really did it right.  And while I’m afraid everyone will go for the hit, which was Fool For The City, I believe Foghat’s best lies elsewhere.

FoghatRockAndRollWhen the band emerged from the shadows of Savoy Brown, where all but Rod Price gave so much of themselves, they launched their own career with the release of their Bearsville classic, the self-titled Foghat.  That album gave a lot of fans of Savoy Brown immense joy that not only had they not lost the talented guys from Savoy Brown, they regained them in a an extraordinary way.

But, when Rock and Roll, their second album with the cover shot of a rock and a roll to ambiguously name the album, played, I was hooked in a big way.  Followed up by Energized, Rock and Roll Outlaws, and Fool For The City, Foghat claimed a headlining status that lasted for a while before their slide downward.

I couldn’t hang too well with the ’80s version of the band.  I bought the albums but just couldn’t get onto them.  Soon, their demise left us with an empty spot in our collective hearts.

Foghat - Return Of The Boogie Men (1994)

In 1994, the original line up of Dave Peverett, Rod Price, Roger Earl, and Tone Stevens, reunited to record an extraordinary comeback album that equals some of their best music.  Return Of The Boogie Men is a powerhouse of an album.  They toured that set (I saw them frequently.  Not only at their peak, but also on the Return Of The Boogie Men support tour).

I don’t know how many of you are Foghat fans.  Perhaps none of you.  Maybe ALL of you.  And I don’t know which album of theirs did it for you.  Again, I’m afraid it will be a lot of Fool For The City (a good call to be sure).  Not knocking the album.  I love it.  But I’m curious of your choices.

For me, it is Rock and Roll.  Energized comes in second, followed by the first one.  I then go with Return Of The Boogie Men, then Rock and Roll Outlaws, Fool For  The  City, Stone Blue.  Then onward, not so much.

What about you?  (and if you did’n know that Return Of The Boogie Men was an option, then I highly recommend it to you.

Poll: Which Album Is Best? – Lou Reed

LouReedLou Reed doesn’t enjoy a large fan-base.  But what he has is worldwide, and ROCK SOLID.  After a legendary career, with beginnings rooted in The Velvet Underground, and a great (and greatly varied) solo outing that includes the ambiguous double LP, Metal Machine Music, Lou has done what few performers in his bracket can do.  And he’s come out alive.

Recently, he joined forces with Metallica that resulted not only in confused fans from both sides, but also an unusual album (Lulu), that is, at heart, a typical late-edition Lou Reed album backed by an unlikely source.  Its reception was mixed, and is still a bit of a controversy among fans of both side although Lou Reed fans are much more likely to embrace it than otherwise.

But what of his previous works?  Lou Reed has created such a wide body of albums, every one as strange and as distant from its predecessor and what came after.

From the difficult to acquire (physically) RCA self-titled debut, to the critically enjoyed followup, Transformer, to the brilliant and unsung Berlin, and the  remainder of the first-era RCA issues (including the troubled Metal Machine Music), Lou Reed has entertained.  Whether or not you stayed with him throughout tells a tale as much about you as it does the mind of Lou Reed.

Lou followed with a fairly impressive Arista collection of albums including the critically acclaimed Street Hassle.  Eventually, Lou Reed would land back in the stable of RCA Records, moving on to Sire Records for the safe to say what seems a conclusion of Lou Reed albums (other than 2011’s Lulu collaboration). His unappreciated and indulgent The Raven was released in 2003, ten long years ago.

With such a wide array of Lou Reed albums, many of them solid contenders for best of career assessment, I thought it a good time to inquire of fans which album they appreciated most.  Although I have a distinct feeling that Transformer might run away with it, I kind of hope not as I feel Lou was divergent enough to have more people battle for a favorite.  For this forum, I think it is safe to list a favored selection should you desire to do so.  There’s a lot of years, and a lot of albums to discuss.

What do you think?

Poll: Which Album Is Best? – Elton John

Not many performers have a rich career to draw from like Elton John has.  From his fairly unknown Empty Sky (1969) debut (released in the UK way before the US), and his first album that generated a hit (“Your Song”), Elton John (1970), to his best known Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), through his ambitious Blue Moves (1976), released on his newly formed Rocket Records, and his later years efforts, Elton John is one that can fill multiple legitimate ‘best of’ collections…and not repeat a single huge hit.

Through all of these rich periods, Elton kept a steady evolutionary path, a very satisfying path, that paid off handsomely for him.

Many have favorite EJ periods.  Some will point to the stunning perfection of Madman Across The Water (1971), with “Levon”, “Tiny Dancer”, and seven other indispensible gems.  It was followed up by my personal favorite, Honky Château (1971), which produced “Honky Cat”, and “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be a Long, Long Time)”.

But there are so, so many Elton John classics, albums and songs, that represent not only the man (and his songwriter – let’s not forget Taupin), but nearly every musical change that Rock and Roll has endured, the last decade excepted.

With so many hits and excellent albums available to Elton John fans, it stands to reason that there will be solid favorites.  I wonder just how many fans from the beginning were able to follow EJ all the way to his current status.  For me, I count “Crocodile Rock” as one of the great pop songs in our  long history.  But then, Elton John could entertain me with many of his songs.  Not all…but many.

I’m quite interested in what you may consider the best album from Elton John’s catalog.  I’m also interested in which song you might feel is Elton’s best.

Poll: Al Stewart – Exempting Year Of The Cat, Which Album Is Best?

There is no disputing the richness of Year of the Cat, that wonderful breakthrough album from Al Stewart. Put a needle down anywhere (figure of speech) and wherever that needle lands, it’s playing a great song. Yeah, I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and say that the Year of the Cat is Stewart’s best album. Period.

From it’s opening song, “Lord Grenville” through the title tune closer, you’re breathing rarified air from an artist, who before Year of the Cat, was putting together some rather brilliant albums. Stewart even followed up Year of the Cat with more goodness heard on Time Passages, with “Song on the Radio”, the title cut, “Time Passages”, and that album’s scattered pleasant tunes.

I do my best to not get crazy by slipping into the all too easy mistake of calling a pre- (or post) YotC album Stewart’s best. And if I do, one listen to the album brings me back from the many ethereal Stewart-crafted worlds that I’ve become temporarily trapped in.

But to be honest, Year of the Cat was not my first Al Stewart love. That came several years earlier with Past, Present & Future. I first heard “Nostradamus” on FM radio, and became intrigued enough to check out the album. I loved the cover and so found myself with a copy of the album. I enjoyed the music. However, it was his next album, Modern Times (1975) that captured me. I had enjoyed the previous album enough to have my ears perk up when the radio played “Modern Times”, which I fell in love with immediately.

Modern Times did more to make me an avid Al Stewart fan than the earlier album. Not a bad song on the set. The music had taken a pronounced turn from Past, Present & Future making me a hunter of all things Al. But the love I had with the title track still carries deeply with me today. “Modern Times” tells a story of friendship in a better time. But as the story progresses, it becomes evident that the memories had soured for the found again friend in a bar. It is a resonating tune that holds fond memories dear to the heart. But not everybody. The song is magic if not a bit sad.

After Stewart’s fame with Year of the Cat, he released the popular Time Passages and still climbed the charts. “Time Passages” with its stunning saxophone throughout, was as good a song as anything on Year of the Cat. But, while the album is definitely great, it’s no YotC. And neither is 24 Carrots despite its brilliant craft of more than a few of the album’s tunes including “Midnight Rocks”.

As Stewart’s recording career moved on, many fans did not follow although that might be thought of as a loss for those that didn’t stick with the Scotsman. Subsequent albums include Russians and Americans (1984), Last Days of the Century (1988), A Beach Full of Shells (2005), and Sparks of Ancient Light (2008), to name a few. All have their merit. All have their gold.

If I were to pose such a question as which is Al Stewart’s undeniable classic album, the response is very likely to be 99% Year of the Cat. And yes, you’d be right. So let’s approach the albums of Al Stewart from another corner. Instead, let’s exempt Year of the Cat from the poll, although you can give it all the love and praise that you want, if you want. Instead, let’s poll and find the second best Al Stewart album.

I’m guessing that folks that became fans because of Year of the Cat will fall in with Time Passages, while those that discovered Al Stewart a bit earlier, may very will provide the accolades for one of the pre-Year of the Cat discs.

While I have great love for many Al Stewart tunes after YotC, I have a greater love for Modern Times (the entire album). It’s an album I return to quite frequently. In fact, it’s something that I have been playing quite a bit in the past week along with Year of the Cat, and Time Passages.

So, I turn to over to you. Which Al Stewart album, excepting Year of the Cat, is Stewart’s most representational album? I go for Modern Times.

“On a morning from a Bogart movie, in a country where they turn back time…”

Poll: Grand Funk Railroad – Which Album Is Best?

From Grand Funk Railroad’s first album, I’ve been a fan.  After hearing “Time Machine” on FM radio, and the occasional playback of “T.N.U.C.”, and “Heartbreaker”, I was a solidly hooked fan of this three-piece powerhouse.  Then it got better.  Almost immediately, they released their second album.  I picked it and enjoyed the phenomenal cover of “Inside Looking Out”, and “Paranoid”, “Mr Limousine Driver”, and “In Need”.

With their creativity on fire, they issued their third, Closer To Home.  On that album, they introduced their classic track, “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”, a song that I still listen to frequently.

I have to confess, however, that while I adore many of their albums up through We’re An American Band (I could never get into their later years singles tunes), it was Survival that I appreciated most…and still do.  There isn’t a bad song on this album, in my estimation.  It’s one that I can listen to in it’s entirety at almost any time.  And more than once.  In fact, I listened to it no less than three times today alone.  I may listen to it again tomorrow.

E Pluribus Funk, Phoenix, We’re An American Band, and their MCA debut produced by Frank Zappa, Good Singin’ Good Playin’, a sort of return to FM rock, round out my love for this band. While their three unmentioned albums find little play (I don’t even own them), I do enjoy “Bad Time”.

That’s my story.  I do recognize that many people do not enjoy Grand Funk as I do.  However, I find it too difficult to not put this out as a poll question in the hopes that I’ll be surprised.

As an aside, if Mark Farner were to reunite with his original bandmates, I have more than a few bucks to buy a ticket to that show.

So…surprise me.

Poll: Best Steely Dan Album

Since the release of Can’t Buy A Thrill in 1972, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker has represented Steely Dan as the band’s chief components. After the all too brief tenure of Steely Dan, which effectively ended in 2003 with the issuance of Everything Must Go, only Fagen and Becker have recorded and individually at that.

Can’t Buy A Thrill provided the he wonderful “Reeling In The Years” (loved by me to this day), and the equally excellent “Do It Again“. The following albums, Countdown To Ecstasy (1973); Pretzel Logic (1974); Katy Lied (1975); The Royal Scam (1976); Aja (1977); Gaucho (1980); and the rejoined Two Against Nature (2000), and the previously mentioned shop-closer, Everything Must Go, were , for the most part, great works from a great set of songwriters and performers.

What remains of Steely Dan are warm memories, and a grand selection that is revered by many fans today. Which brings us to the inevitable TAP tradition of polling to find the great representing album that says Steely Dan in completeness.

 

Poll: Which Album Is Best? – Frank Zappa

Over a short period, speculation has run rampant on the reissue status of Frank Zappa’s catalog.  Once unofficially announced, then silently retracted, then announced yet again, many have weighed in on their own thoughts of whether or not The Zappa Trust will do right by the new re-releases.

Obviously, that’s something only time will reveal.  But anything by Frank Zappa is always welcomed, if you’re a fan.

While we’re waiting, it’s a great time for us to say what our favorite Frank Zappa favorites are.  For me, and I have many Zappa loves, it has to be Zoot Allures.

I can’t explain it, but that album just seems to hit the right combination of Zappa craziness, and Zappa musical goodness for me.  Now, when I think Zappa, the Zoot Allures album pops into my head, songs, cover, and all.

There is the single-intended “Wind Up Workin’ In A Gas Station”, the wonderful nine-plus minutes of jazzy horror tune, “The Torture Never Stops”,  the notable “Black Napkins”, and “Find Her Finer”.  Then of course there’s the remaining tracks that does not disappoint (“Disco Boy”, :”Wonderful Wino”, “Friendly Little Finger”, “Ms Pinky”, and the title track, “Zoot Allures”).

I’d sure be interested in your choices.  Hit the comments.