The Roots – Illadelph Halflife

ARTIST: The Roots                           Illadelph

TITLE: Illadelph Halflife

YEAR RELEASED: 1996

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #4 R&B

SINGLES: Clones (#101 US, #62 R&B, #11 Rap), What They Do (#34 US, #21 R&B, #5 Rap, #49 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Black Thought, Kid Crumbs, Dice Raw, Rahzel, Hub Hubbard, Questlove, Kamal Gray with guests Bahamadia, Raphael Saadiq, Common, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Urusula Rucker, and Cassandra Wilson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Roots begin to become a force in the music community with their beats, raps, and inventive arrangements.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The sound of the Roots is like no other group, as they incorporate so many elements yet remain unique. That started here, with the production and direction of Questlove and other producers.

They were also quite anomalous for the time, as instead of acting hedonistically gangster, the Roots tackle several serious topics with street smarts still in place, but actual coherent political thought replacing mindless braggadocio.

The Roots started to get notice in the pop world as well, with a Top 40 single, and guests collaborating as equals to the band and not overwhelming them. A fantastic album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A few copies had the track list starting at #34, with their first two albums being tracks 1-33.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A: The Roots sound of today is here.

 

Advertisements

Spoon – A Series of Sneaks

ARTIST: Spoon                           220px-ASeriesOfSneaks

TITLE: A Series of Sneaks

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Car Radio

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lord, no

LINEUP: Britt Daniel, Joshua Zarbo, Jim Eno

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A major label move a few years too early – this album languished and was ignored for years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: With high hopes, Spoon signed to Elektra records, and soon after release, their A&R person left and the label dropped them, leaving this album out there with no support and a bitter, unsettled band.

This album is probably out of step with what was ‘popular’ in 1998, but it does deliver on the promise of their independent work. Catchy songs with enough off-kilter elements to keep you on your toes, and enough noise to keep the indie people satisfied.

Elektra messed up here, as Spoon has become reliably reliable in delivering well-made product to a growing fan base. Who knew then, but this album was decent enough to keep them signed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Spoon was so pissed off at their A&R guy that they recorded a single called “The Agony of Laffitte” about the experience

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. UK tracks, and that independent single. 

GRADE: B+: The quality tails off, but the first few tracks are strong.

Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

ARTIST: Mudhoney                        220px-Mudhoney_Every_Good_Boy_Deserves_Fudge

TITLE: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #34 UK

SINGLES: Let It Slide (#60 UK),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were a grunge head.

LINEUP: Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Matt Lukin, Dan Peters.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Perhaps Mudhoney’s finest album moment, when they wrote the most consistently without diverting into slovenly noisy weirdness.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Of any of the Sub Pop bands from the era, the word ‘grunge’ fits best with Mudhoney’s guitar sound in the early days, especially on “Let It Slide” from this album.

Here, Mudhoney focused on the album as a whole and wrote several tracks that are among the best of the era, with a track like “Into the Drink” featuring a great riff, the right attitude, and enough hooks to keep it in your mind.

Mark Arm’s vocals aren’t all just shouting here (he almost croons on “Good Enough”), and while there’s still some too-long meditations, overall it’s a punchy record that stands up even now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: EGBDF – the treble clef mnemonic – actually is “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, but I like fudge better.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: Probably the most consistent Mudhoney album, and one of the better grunge albums on Sub Pop.

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

ARTIST: The Beatles   Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

TITLE: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: None, really, but it didn’t matter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: A Day in the Life is probably the most famous song here, but you know most of the others.

LINEUP: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr with George Martin and Geoff Emerick putting together the soundscapes.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: At the time, supposedly revolutionary and the kickstarter to the ‘summer of love’, but in reality it was just a more focused version of psychedelic experiments the Beatles and others had been doing.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There have been books written about this record, and not just fluff pieces. It is probably the most known popular music album in history. Yet, it’s overrated as a whole yet parts of it are woefully underrated and ignored.

There’s fluff and saccharine (“She’s Leaving Home”, “When I’m 64”), and some of the songs aren’t as strong as others since they had constrained themselves to a concept of sorts. The pacing isn’t quite there thanks to those interruptions of treacle. Yet, some tracks are definitely brilliant, and others (“Within You, Without You”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) deserve more acclaim than they sometimes get.

While other bands had certainly attempted some of these ideas, themes, and sounds before, only the Beatles, with George Martin and Geoff Emerick, put together something as cohesive as they could. It definitely is a landmark in popular music – just not the best album of that year nor of the Beatles’ career.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It only hit #7 in France…what gives?

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, they have now released a remastered version with some outtakes that are familiar to those who have other Beatles anthology collections. 

GRADE: A: There are a couple songs I loathe, and I think the conceit of the concept doesn’t work as well in terms of flow. Quibbles, I suppose, when all is said and done.

The Beach Boys – Summer Days (And Summer Nights)

ARTIST: The Beach Boys                     SummerDaysandSummerNights.album.cover

TITLE: Summer Days (And Summer Nights)

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Help Me Rhonda (#1 US, #27 UK), California Girls (#3 US, #26 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Let Him Run Wild, You’re So Good to Me, Girl Don’t Tell Me

LINEUP: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and The Wrecking Crew

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A backslide in quality, as Capitol wanted a less complicated, hit friendly record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s a definite rushed atmosphere here. Brian Wilson was off the road, but Capitol Records wanted more hits, less melancholy. So, Brian cranked out some fluff, re-did one song for a single (now Rhonda had an H and a shorter arrangement), and a couple pieces of the usual filler.

That was about half of the record – the other half was marvelous, with deep tracks “Girl Don’t Tell Me” (a Carl Wilson solo vocal that’s so so so good), “Let Him Run Wild”, and “You’re So Good To Me”, and a great cover of “Then I Kissed Her” offsetting the two hit singles, which were brilliant Brian Wilson joints.

I’m exiling the fluff, as usual, since when the Beach Boys get fluffy, they really sink low. If only Brian was able to do a whole album like “Let Him Run Wild”. Sigh.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Bruce Johnston was officially the bassist and Brian’s stand-in vocalist on stage, and he joined the band in their recording sessions from now until he left in 1973.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Alternate takes and a B-side 

GRADE: B-: I’m probably downgrading this a bit much, but it’s such a disappointment from their last album. Record companies….

The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can

ARTIST: The Pointer Sisters                          yeswecancan

TITLE: Yes We Can Can

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Yes We Can Can (#11, #12 R&B), Wang Dang Doodle (#61, #24 R&B), Fairytale (#13, #37 Country), How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side) (#20, #1 R&B), Going Down Slowly (#61, #16 R&B), You Gotta Believe (#103, #14 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah

LINEUP: Anita Pointer, Ruth Pointer, Bonnie Pointer, June Pointer with Gaylord Birch, Tom Salisbury, Ron McClure, John Neumann, Chris Michie, and other session men taking their spots.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Compilation of their Blue Thumb era as a quarter, where they mixed funk and forties harmonies.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Pointer Sisters first incarnation was a mix of funk, soul, and the forties. They produced four studio and one live record in this era, and the highlights are here.

There’s some hot blues and funk backing the sisters, who really match well in their 40s-style four-part harmony.  Some of the tracks hearken back to the 40’s with arrangements and production, and those maybe aren’t as successful as the others – it seemed they were trying to fit into the genre and that constricted them a bit.

This era of the Pointer Sisters also showcased their songwriters, as they usually wrote about half the songs on their records, including the big hit “How Long” and the country song “Fairytale”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: June Pointer was on one track only in their final album, and after that album she came back but sister Bonnie left for a solo career, and the Pointer Sisters became a trio for the rest of their heyday.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B+: Some of their 40’s tribute songs don’t quite work. Points for using the long versions of the songs so you can appreciate the funk.

Talking Heads – Fear of Music

ARTIST: Talking Heads                            Talking_Heads-Fear_of_Music

TITLE: Fear of Music

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #33 UK

SINGLES: I Zimbra (#28 Dance), Cities, Life During Wartime (#80 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Memories Can Wait, Heaven

LINEUP: David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz with help from Brian Eno

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Another big leap forward, as the Talking Heads play with rhythms and sounds from outside the normal rock element.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Talking Heads could have recorded variations of their first two albums and gone along quite nicely, thank you, but David Byrne was always wanting to expand his sonic palette and utilize sounds and rhythms not usually associated with popular music.

Mostly it’s successful, with songs about cities, heaven, newspapers, nuclear war, electric guitars, crimes against the state, and a Dada tone poem. The band, along with Brian Eno, follows along with an expanded range of sounds, funky rhythms, and experiments. Even with the melancholy nature of the lyrics, the playing is joyous and light, except when it needs to be heavy and foreboding (as in “Memories Can Wait”).

There’s only one track that doesn’t work – the album closer “Drugs”, though I get what they were after. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Talking Heads album closer misfired.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The basic tracks were recorded in two days in Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s loft.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, an outtake and some alternate versions of tracks. 

GRADE: A: Another masterwork by the Talking Heads, who were just on top of their game.

Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis

ARTIST: Dusty Springfield     Dusty_Springfield,_Dusty_in_Memphis_(1969)

TITLE: Dusty in Memphis

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #99

SINGLES: Son of a Preacher Man (#10 US, #9 UK), Don’t Forget About Me (#64 US), The Windmills of Your Mind (#31 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt it.

LINEUP: Dusty Springfield. Reggie Young, Tommy Cogbill, Bobby Emmons, Bobby Wood, Gene Chrisman, The Sweet Inspirations.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Springfield goes to Memphis to boost her career, and while the commercial results weren’t there, the arrangements and production by Jerry Wexler, Arif Martin, and Tom Dowd, along with Springfield’s sublime vocals, made for a classic.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s hard for an artist to realize that they need to move in another direction to kick-start a career, but Springfield took a chance by signing with Atlantic Records and recording this album in the same place where so many Atlantic soul hits were recorded. Dusty_Springfield_-_Dusty_In_Memphis_(UK)

This is string heavy vocal pop with a soul music underpinning. Springfield’s delivery fits right in with the backing from the Sweet Inspirations and the crack session musicians, and the string arrangements add the right amount of depth without going to schmaltz.

The material is from A-listers as well (Goffin / King, Mann / Weil, Randy Newman, Bacharach / David among others). From material to production to performance, this is aces all the way.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Springfield was nervous about recording in Memphis with these players, and her nerves made for a difficult session. Her vocals were ultimately recorded in NY.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, packed with B-sides, singles, and other unreleased tracks from Springfield’s Atlantic era, including the fantabulous “Live Here with You” 

GRADE: A+: I was skeptical about giving this my highest grade, since it’s been such a hyped record by critics, but in breaking it down, it’s pert near perfect for any listener.

 

The Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street

ARTIST: The Doobie Brothers                The_Doobie_Brothers_-_Toulouse_Street

TITLE: Toulouse Street

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #21

SINGLES: Listen to the Music (#11 US, #29 UK), Jesus Is Just Alright (#35 US), Rockin’ Down the Highway

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The deep cuts got buried

LINEUP: Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, Tiran Porter, John Hartman, Michael Hossack. Bill Payne helped on keyboards. Dave Shogren contributed to two cuts before he left.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Finding a sweet spot with semi-rockin’, semi-country, laid-back tunes, the Doobie’s second album is better, and more popular.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Changing bassists, adding a second drummer, and polishing up their songwriting helped the Doobie Brothers break through on this album. Not that it’s a world beater, but it’s better than their first by leaps and bounds.

The sound still isn’t that adventurous, though befitting the name of the album they add horns and try to invoke a New Orleans groove to a few tracks, and also throw some gospel with a cover of the Byrds arrangement of “Jesus Is Just Alright”. There’s some tracks that are primarly acoustic tracks, and a couple that could be off-ramps to concert jams. All in all, a definite mainstream 1972 record.

The penultimate cut “Disciple” shows what the Doobies could be if they wanted to rock all the time. Alas, no.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Hossack left the band because of disagreements with producer Ted Templeman.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B: I don’t have bad things to say about this. It’s standard and mainstream, with decent deep cuts. They could rock out if they wanted to.

Love – Love

ARTIST: Love                    220px-Love_Album_Cover

TITLE: Love

YEAR RELEASED: 2011

CHART ACTION: #57

SINGLES: My Little Red Book (#52)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, no.

LINEUP: Arthur Lee, Johnny Echols, Bryan MacLean, Ken Forssi, Snoopy Pfisterer. Maybe John Fleckenstein and Don Conka instead of Forssi and Pfisterer.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sunset Strip stars’ first album creates some buzz, but doesn’t resonate with the general public despite its quality.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Maybe it was the fact that they were too LA, didn’t like to tour, too oblique at times, too complicated at times, or even the fact they were a mixed-race band, but for whatever reason Arthur Lee and Love never clicked in the general marketplace.

Psychedelic sounds were slowly becoming mainstream, but Love’s combination of psychedelia, sunshine pop, and garage sound was an elevation of style over what was the mainstream. The Sunset Strip crowd loved them, and bands covered them, but those cats didn’t drive sales.

Still, it’s a fascinating album of a band straddling several musical camps. Lee and Bryan MacLean’s songs are strong, and the eclecticism is a positive.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: John Fleckenstein and Don Conka left the band (Conka was sadly let go due to drugs, and Lee’s “Signed DC” is a tribute to his friend) before recording this, and two songs may have them on it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. A B-side and mono mixes. 

GRADE: A-: A great debut of the time that could have been a big hit in different circumstances.