Friday, November 30, 2012

Van Morrison released Astral Weeks: November 1968

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Release date: November 1968
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Astral Weeks / Beside You / Sweet Thing (2/6/71, --) / Cyprus Avenue / The Way Young Lovers Do / Madame George / Ballerina / Slim Slow Slider

Sales (in millions): 0.5 US, -- UK, 0.5 world

Peak: -- US, -- UK


Review: Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history. For all that renown,” AMG “it is one of rock’s least-likely masterworks;” TL “in fact, it isn’t a rock & roll album at all,” AMG but “a jazz record disguised as a rock record.” JM It also draws from folk, blues, and classical. It has been described as “achingly beautiful,” EK “an emotional outpouring cast in delicate musical structures,” AMG “an ingenious orchestration of poetry and mysticism.” RV and “a languid, impressionistic, utterly gorgeous song cycle.” TL

This was Morrison’s first solo album. He’d “previously been the pint-sized head thug for the ruffian R&B combo Them” EK “which achieved immortality with the garage anthem ‘Gloria.’” TL This was “followed by an abortive stint as a top 40 pop singer” EK which produced “the irresistible singalong ‘Brown-Eyed Girl,’ but he dismissed the album that came from those sessions. Signing with Warner Bros. Records, Morrison then assembled a bunch of jazz-based players, took them into a New York studio, and emerged two days later with Astral Weeks.” TL

“Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Morrison sings in his elastic, bluesy voice, accompanied by a jazz rhythm section.” AMG Among the musicians are drummer Connie Kay, who played with the Modern Jazz Quartet; bassist Richard Davis, who worked on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch; and guitarist Jay Berliner, who worked with Charles Mingus and others. EK In addition, John Payne is on reeds, Warren Smith, Jr. on vibes, and a string quartet is overdubbed. AMG

It “sounded like nothing he had done previously — and really, nothing anyone had done previously.” TL Kay and Davis, “in particular push what are actually pretty simple songs with an empathy that’s seldom seen outside jazz.” EK “The leap from all that to a delicate, graceful musing on romanticism is basically unprecedented. It’s as if Lost in Translation had starred Tony Danza.” EK

Astral Weeks more or less sank without a trace upon its release. It’s mostly through the critical rehabilitation of guys like Lester Bangs that this album achieved its widespread standing.” EK The album isn’t without its detractors with comments like, this “is a rambling record with a heavy jazz influence, lyrics that rival beat poets, and the average track goes on for seven minutes. It’s no wonder no one cared when it came out.” JM

Astral Weeks

However, the Warner Bros. publicity department hyped it as “the closest rock music has ever gotten to literature.” EK Morrison “spouts stream of consciousness lyrics like the James Joyce of music.” RV “The title track finds Morrison at his most idyllic.” RV He “takes us from slipstreams and viaducts of your dreams to his lady-love doing her kid’s laundry, possibly while our hero is slumped on the couch watching Green Acres. Van has continued to do this throughout his career…but it’s never been quite as seamless” EK as it is here. The song “encompasses a lifetime in a mere five minutes, making the journey from innocence to experience with all of the heartache such a pilgrimage entails.” RV

Madame George

“Morrison sings of lost love, death, and nostalgia for childhood in the Celtic soul that would become his signature.” TL He crafts “stories about the people of Ireland, characters searching for the solace and companionship that eludes them. Madame George is an ode to an aging transvestite” RV which is “hypnotic and compelling instead of a three-chord drone.” EK Meanwhile Cyprus Avenue could serve as the theme song for obsessive romantics too nervous to speak to their muse.” RV

Cyprus Avenue

Astral Weeks’ “mystic poetry, spacious grooves, and romantic incantations still resonate in ways no other music can.” TL Morrison has created “a beautiful sonic painting.” RV “He never made another record quite like Astral Weeks again.” EW

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Love released Forever Changes: November 1967

Release date: November 1967
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Alone Again Or / A House Is Not a Motel / Andmoreagain / The Daily Planet / Old Man / The Red Telephone / Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale / Live and Let Live / The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This / Bummer in the Summer / You Set the Scene

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world

Peak: 154 US, 24 UK


Review: “Of the many lost classics produced during the creative explosion of the late ‘60s psychedelic heyday, the greatest may be the third album by the Los Angeles-based group Love.” JD It wasn’t a hit, but its regular appearance on critics’ best-of lists gave it “an enormously far-reaching and durable influence that went way beyond chart listings.” AMG It is “a stunning achievement in majestic folk-rock by Arthur Lee’s underacknowledged cult band.” UT

As “one of rock’s most organic, flowing masterpieces” AMG Forever Changes is “the best fusion of folk-rock and psychedelia.” AMG “Love…displayed a heaping dose of the Beatles circa Rubber Soul, folk-rock via L.A. compatriots the Byrds, …and the lush, orchestrated soundscapes of Hollywood film scores.” JD

Lee, the band’s chief singer and songwriter, was “strongly influenced by Mick Jagger; he presented what pioneering rock critic Lillian Roxon called ‘an amusing paradox,’ an African-American singing like a white Englishman singing like an old African-American.” JD He “was raised in L.A.’s tough Crenshaw ghetto” JD and “never subscribed to the flower children’s sunny visions.” JD Upon the making of this album “his band neared dissolution, critics said they should have been called Hate, drugs flowed through his body, the hippie dream was crashing, and he was convinced he was going to die.” RV “The world that he chronicled was no utopia, but a dark and sinister place where the occasional ray of light nonetheless managed to penetrate the gloom.” JD He “turned his demons into one of the defining masterpiece of 1967.” RV

“In contrast, Lee’s partner Bryan MacLean was the son of a Hollywood architect who grew up swimming in his neighbor Elizabeth Taylor’s pool. His first girlfriend was Liza Minnelli, and he was raised on classical music and Broadway standards.” JD “Lee originally linked up with MacLean because MacLean was a Byrds roadie and Lee thought he was likely to draw their crowd.” JD

“The group recorded acoustically, sitting in a circle as if jamming in the living room. The tracks were augmented later with tasteful orchestrations evoking the varied sounds of life in L.A., from spicy mariachi horns to lulling strings to dissonant guitars that bring to mind the strangling and ever-present traffic.” JD

Critic Ben Edmonds wrote, “While the music of Forever Changes flows with an almost narcotic consistency and deceptive prettiness, the words can be like an itch that you can never quite put your finger on…The combination is thoroughly captivating and slightly unsettling – psychedelic in the truest sense.’” JD “Every song has a lingering, shimmering beauty” AMG which “features Lee’s trembling vocals, beautiful melodies, haunting orchestral arrangements, and inscrutable but poetic lyrics, all of which sound nearly as fresh and intriguing upon repeated plays.” AMG

Alone Again Or

The album’s most celebrated song, Alone Again Or, “is a tribute to [MacLean’s] mother’s flamenco dancing, punctuated by a trumpet solo that brings to mind the Tijuana Brass (producer Bruce Botnick was also working with Herb Alpert at the time). At first blush, the driving and catchy number seems to be a love song, but the narrator scoffs at the hippie notion that he ‘could be in love with almost everyone.’” JD The “unconventional use of horns, strings and guitars manage to engulf the psychedelic experience of the ‘60s, while laying the groundwork for punk.” RV

The Red Telephone is the album’s “most striking studio creation.” JD It “builds from a quiet ballad to an otherworldly and somewhat paranoid nursery rhyme about an Orwellian world where unnamed forces stamp out any trace of individualism.” JD In essence, “freedom is diminished into a sad joke.” RV The title is taken from the alleged nuclear hotline between Moscow and Washington, D.C. JD

Lee “lampoons the psychedelic culture by chronicling its ugly realities (Live and Let Live opens with the line, ‘Oh, the snot has caked against my pants,’ which Lee wrote about waking up after a night zonked out on drugs)…the propulsive A House Is Not a Motel contemplates an unspecified holocaust.” JD It “says goodbye to naïveté with ferocity even as Mariachi guitars strum in the background.” RV

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rolling Stones released Let It Bleed: November 28, 1969

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Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Gimme Shelter (11/28/98; #29 AR) / Love in Vain / Country Honk / Live with Me / Let It Bleed / Midnight Rambler / You Got the Silver / Monkey Man / You Can’t Always Get What You Want (7/19/69; #42 US)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US, 0.3 UK, 6.0 world

Peak: 3 US, 1 1 UK


Review: The Rolling Stones were in turmoil when they recorded Let It Bleed. Brian Jones, the guitarist who originally lead the group, was booted during the sessions for his serious drug problem. He died less than a month later. His final work appears on two tracks on the album. As such, Let It Bleed “finds the band, for perhaps the first time, accurately reflecting the spirit of its age. [They] now found themselves firmly in the center of the social and political post-‘68 whirlwind, and faced up to the challenge magnificently.” CDU

The Stones had already launched a “confident climb to its artistic peak” CDU with 1968’s Beggars Banquet, but this was “a quantum leap even from that musical milestone” CDU extending “the rock & blues feel of Beggar’s Banquet into slightly harder-rocking, more demonically sexual territory.” AMG Let It Bleed is “a motley compound of country, blues and gospel fire [which] rattles and burns with apocalyptic cohesion.” RS500 It “is less of an homage than its predecessor, as the songs begin to reflect the personalities that drive them.” IB The album also showcases “every role the Stones have ever played…swaggering studs, evil demons, harem keepers and fast life riders” RS – while also signaling the beginning of the ‘70s.

Gimme Shelter “came to symbolize not only the catastrophe of the Stones’ free show at Altamont but the death of the utopian spirit of the 1960s.” RS500 The song “is the sound of a frantically braking freight train about to crush the ‘60s under its wheels” IB as it “leads us decisively out of Flower Power and into a world where rape and murder are ‘just a shot away.’” CDU The song “builds on the dark beauty of the finest melody Mick [Jagger] and Keith have ever written,” RS “slowly adding instruments and sounds until an explosively full presence of bass and drums rides…into the howls of Mick and…Mary Clayton.” RS “The Stones have never done anything better.” RS

Gimme Shelter

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, with its “epic moralism…honky-tonk piano and massed vocal chorus” RS500 “is one of the most outrageous productions ever staged by a rock and roll band.” RS It “was the Stones’ ‘Hey Jude’ of sorts, with its epic structure, horns, philosophical lyrics, and swelling choral vocals.” AMG “Every note…works to perfection.” RS

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Songs like that, Monkey Man, and Let It Bleed, with its “druggy party ambience,” AMG “cast a sharp writer’s eye on the decay seeping into the Stones’ camp, proving that Mick had become more than a pair of lips and hips.” IB Elsewhere there’s the “menacing Midnight RamblerAZ in which Jagger sounds like a bloodthirsty stalker and “the spare country settings of Country Honk,” IB “the two-stepping alter ego of ‘Honky-Tonk Women.’” AZ The Stones also do a “brilliant revival of Robert Johnson’s exquisite Love in Vain.” RS

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

W.C. Handy charted with "St. Louis Blues": November 24, 1923

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Not only is this the most recorded blues song of all time JA and maybe the most recorded American song of all time, PM but is has been called “the most important blues song ever written.” LW William Christopher Handy, who became known as “The Father of the Blues,” was a bandleader who performed to mixed race audiences throughout the southern United States. As jug bands gained in popularity, he was driven to compose music in a similar style, LW most notably with “St. Louis Blues,” a lyric he claims he was inspired to write after hearing a St. Louis woman complaining about her cheating husband. LW

He wrote the song in 1914, a time when the popular songs of Tin Pan Alley began fusing “with folklore to explore the blues, the form that led to the full-fledged birth of American jazz.” NPR Handy tapped into Afro-Spanish rhythms he picked up on trips to Cuba LW and mixed “the ‘humour of a coon’ song, the syncopation of ragtime, and the spirit of a Negro spiritual, and call[ed] it the blues.” RCG The great theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld credited Handy with putting black bands on the previously all-white map of Broadway in New York. RCG

15 versions of the song charted over the next forty years PM generating $25,000 a year, which by today’s standards would make Handy a billionaire. LW Sophie Tucker first sang it in vaudeville RCG and Prince’s Orchestra first hit with it in 1916 (#4), but Marion Harris had the greatest success with it in 1920 (#1). PM “The 1921 recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band sold more than any other. JA In 1925, Bessie Smith’s version with Louis Armstrong hit #3 and it is the highest ranked version according to Dave’s Music Database. The Mills Brothers hit #2 in 1932. PM Among others to record it were Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Johnny Mercer, and Pearl Bailey. RCG The song has been featured in more than 25 Hollywood films, including the 1958 biopic St. Louis Blues, in which Nat “King” Cole plays Handy and sings his signature song. RCG

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Beatles released The White Album: November 22, 1968

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Release date: 22 November 1968
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Disc 1: Back in the U.S.S.R. (7/10/76, #19 UK) / Dear Prudence / Glass Onion / Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (11/20/76, #49 US, #39 AC) / Wild Honey Pie / The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill / While My Guitar Gently Weeps / Happiness Is a Warm Gun / Martha My Dear / I’m So Tired / Blackbird / Piggies / Rocky Raccoon / Don’t Pass Me By / Why Don't We Do It in the Road? / I Will / Julia

Disc 1: Birthday (live version by Paul McCartney: 10/20/90, #90 UK, #35 AR) / Yer Blues / Mother Nature's Son / Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey / Sexy Sadie / Helter Skelter / Long, Long, Long / Revolution 1 / Honey Pie / Savoy Truffle / Cry Baby Cry / Revolution 9 / Good Night

Sales (in millions): 9.5 * US, 0.3 UK, 21.5 world (includes US and UK)

Peak: 19 US, 19 UK


* Officially certified in the U.S. for sales of 19 million because it is a double album.

Review: “Some records have legend written all over them; this is one.” AZ “Beyond its stylish minimalism, the essentially blank cover of The Beatles, better known as the White Album, served a symbolic purpose. The band could find no honest way to visually represent itself as a coherent unit.” RS500 They “were now a tense alliance of daunting individual talents.” RS500 “The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was dead and…in the middle of these sessions, Ringo was the first Beatle to temporarily quit the band.” TL “Each of the three main songwriters was pursuing his own vision, with the other members, however reluctantly, serving as backup musicians.” RS500 The four “were seldom all in the studio at the same time.” TL

As a result, “each song on the sprawling double album The Beatles is an entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything they can.” AMG This “became a double album in part because John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison all insisted that their favorite songs be included.” RS500 The result is “brilliant and amazingly eclectic, but long-winded.” JA “None of it sounds like it was meant to share album space together, but somehow The Beatles creates its own style and sound through its mess.” AMG It is “an exhilarating sprawl – some of the Beatles’ most daring and delicate work.” RS500 “Not all of its parts make perfect sense,” AD but “the cumulative effect of everything that’s here does create a masterpiece.” AD As Paul McCartney said, “I think it was a very good album…but it wasn’t a pleasant one to make.’” RS500

“This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view, but what makes the White Album interesting is its mess.” AMG “Producer George Martin fought hard to edit the project down to a consistent single album, but the Beatles were right to keep the scraps, experiments, and jokes – the tension and confusion of the time became central to The Beatles (which was originally called A Doll’s House, a fitting title for its odds-and-ends feel.” TL

Back in the U.S.S.R.

“Never before had a rock record been so self-reflective, or so ironic; the Beach Boys send-up Back in the U.S.S.R. and the British blooze parody Yer Blues are delivered straight-faced, so it’s never clear if these are affectionate tributes or wicked satires.” AMG

“Clearly, the Beatles’ two main songwriting forces were no longer on the same page,” AMG but “Lennon and McCartney were still at the height of their powers, with Lennon in particular growing into one of rock’s towering figures.” AZ “Lennon turns in two of his best ballads with Dear Prudence and Julia.” AMG The former sports “harmonic experiments that put the Byrds to shame.” JA

Glass Onion

He also “pours on the schmaltz for Ringo’s closing number, Good Night; celebrates the Beatles cult with Glass Onion; and, with Cry Baby Cry, rivals Syd Barrett.” AMG

He also delivers what has often been called “the worst thing The Beatles ever did.” AD Indeed, “the musique concrete collage Revolution 9AMG was the Beatles at their “weirdest.” TL It was one of the few remnants of the studio experimentation which marked the Beatles’ studio work a year before.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

“McCartney doesn’t reach quite as far” AMG but “his songs are stunning – the music-hall romp Honey Pie, the mock country of Rocky Raccoon, [and] the ska-inflected Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” AMG

He also proved he “could still rock.” AZ When he kicks off the album with the “exuberance” RS500 of “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, it is clear that “the production is much more ‘live’ here than either the Revolver or Sgt. Peppers’ recordings.” AD There’s also Birthday and “the proto-metal roar of Helter Skelter,” AMG which “reveals the Beatles at their hardest.” TL

Helter Skelter

“Harrison still had just two songs per LP, but it’s clear…that he had developed into a songwriter who deserved wider exposure.” AMG On While My Guitar Gently Weeps, “Eric Clapton drops by to deliver a blistering guitar solo.” JA On “the haunting Long Long Long,” AMG George delivers “a mellow number in the style that would dominate his ‘70s work.” DBW He also offers “the canned soul” AMG of “the horn-powered rocker Savoy TruffleDBW and “the silly Piggies.” AMG

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

“Ringo turns in a delight with his first original, the lumbering country-carnival stomp Don't Pass Me By.” AMG “It’s such a simple song yet the bass lines and whole execution sounds so truly ludicrous that it works as a piece of entertainment.” AD

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