Saturday, February 27, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part VI: The '00s

Busy season at work has been killing me, which is why I haven't posted in two weeks. I finally have a weekend where I didn't bring home too much work, so I can finish this thread up. In the interim, I've at long last finished with my Best of 2015 lists. (What was it that made me think I'd be done with them before the end of January? Somehow it never seems to work out that way.)

The beginning of the first decade of the new millennium seemed a little musically listless to me. By this time, I wasn't even enjoying what was being released as national indie rock anymore. Mainstream music was even worse -- it was all either hip-hop or American Idol dreck, or both. Most of what I was listening to was local Long Island music. Someday I'll write a whole post about the local music scene of the late '90s and early '00s, and what it meant to me.

There was one album released midway through the decade, though, that brought a huge smile to my face (and to Denise's), so I picked that for my Runner-up Best Album of the '00s.

2000s

Runner-up: Employment by The Kaiser Chiefs

I actually had a hard time with this pick. Truth be told, there are at least a dozen albums from the '70s that I would score higher than this, and if I really got into it, probably a few local albums from this time period also.

There were also some other bands who put out some good albums in this decade whose work I considered, notably The Killers, Metric and Bayside ( I gave some serious thought to Shudder).

In the end, what I really love about Employment is it's just a fun album. Even the darker songs have a sense of humanity to them.

The album also has a first-rate single in "I Predict a Riot", a song that gets you on your feet and keeps you there. I also love the casually sick view of mortality that "Time Honored Tradition" takes, and the sense of humor behind "Everyday I Love You Less and Less." And I have to admit that when I finally took that first trip to Europe at 50 years of age, the song that kept playing in my head was "Oh my God" ("Oh my God I can't believe it/I've never been this far away from home").

I've always been a little disappointed in The Kaiser Chiefs' output after this album. Employment was their first CD, and I thought they were going to become a really great band. But while they've definitely put out some good songs on subsequent albums, they've never really lived up to the promise I thought they showed. And clearly, this band isn't The Who. Then again, who is?

Taken for itself, though, Employment is fun and worthwhile, and in a somewhat flawed decade, it stands out among the best releases.


Best Album: Riot! by Paramore

I have to credit Paramore for reigniting my passion for music. By late in the decade, I was kind of burnt out musically. I had largely dropped out of the local music scene, except for the acoustic scene at the late, great Pisces Cafe in Babylon. Much of the excitement music-wise had started the drift from Long Island down to Brooklyn. And there wasn't much going on in the national scene that interested me at all.

That all changed with Riot! I wasn't even aware of the album, or of the band when it was first released, and consequently, it didn't make my "Best Of" list for 2007. And when I first did finally become aware of "Misery Business", I liked it enough to buy the CD, but it didn't really grab me right away.

I can't remember if it was when "Crushcrushcrush" started getting play as a single, or a few months later when Paramore's tracks on the soundtrack for the first Twilight movie started getting played, but at some point in 2008, I was inspired to go back to this album with fresh ears, and it blew me away.

It was a combination of 3 factors. The first was obviously Hayley Williams. Here was this little tiny girl with flaming orange hair with a voice that could knock down the walls. This is a girl whose voice scores high on both the power and beauty scales, who can hit you with a fast rock song like "Misery Business", or a ballad like "We Are Broken". But if you really want to hear the range of what she can do, listen to a song like "Hallelujah". That song still gives me chills down my spine.

The second factor is the quality of the songwriting. There were four songs released as singles from this CD, and of the remaining seven songs at least four more are very strong, and the other three are decent. When you combine songwriting like this with a charismatic and talented frontperson like Williams, you've got something special going on.

The third factor is the driving musicianship of the rest of the band. For two albums, Riot! and 2009's Brand New Eyes, this band was as perfect a rock music vehicle as you're ever going to find, in spite of the internal personality conflicts that were already eating at them. (And honestly, I could have easily named Brand New Eyes as my Runner-Up album of the decade). The band lost something when the Farro brothers left in 2010, and although the 2013 Paramore album was the band's first number one album sales-wise, the music and songwriting were both inferior to those of the previous two albums.

Sad as it is that the original Paramore lineup is no more, for me, Riot! will always stand frozen in time as an amazing achievement, an album every bit as good in its own way as those best albums of the '70s I love so much.

But enough of my nostalgic magic carpet ride through the decades of my younger years. In the next post, I'll (finally) bring things back to the (nearly) present.

Next Post: The Best of 2015 Part 1



Monday, February 15, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part V: The '90s

The '90s started off well enough. Nirvana and the grunge movement hit early on, and at first, it looked as if this might be the new decade's answer to the '80s' New Wave. Then Kurt Cobain killed himself, and grunge petered out as a national movement. For a year or so after that, it seemed like alternative rock would be the next big thing, as bands like The Flaming Lips were pushed by the record companies.

But alternative didn't bring in the big bucks they were hoping for, so while alternative kept going with a relatively small and loyal audience, the music industry started looking for the next big thing.

Then it all went wrong.

Like someone who's been traumatized in a war, my memory might be a little off. But in my recollection, 2 things happened at relatively the same time, both horrible, and both somewhat akin to Skynet going online in the Terminator movies.

The first was the creation, and success, of The Spice Girls in Britain. Prefabricated bands had been tried before. As I confessed in an earlier post, one such band, The Monkees was an early favorite of mine. The Spice Girls were supposedly "involved" in writing their own music. I suspect that that involvement was of the nature of 1. A record company exec played them a song written by a professional songwriter, and 2. Spice Girls said "Ooh, that sounds niiiiice. OK, we'll sing it." In any event, their first album sold over 30 million copies worldwide. And record company executives worldwide said "Ooooooo!"

At just about the same time, a little show named American Idol hit the U.S. airwaves. Based on a British show, this little gem showed that what record-buying Americans really wanted was a bunch of pretty faces with strong voices who had nothing of their own to say but who could sing other people's songs. Preferably with about 20 notes for every syllable.

Before long, we had Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson. And pop was demolishing rock in record sales.

At this point, which was about the middle of the decade, I retreated to indie rock. It was either that, or puncture my ear drums with a screwdriver. There was still good music out there, but I had to work a lot harder to find it. So here's what I found:

1990s

Runner-up: Nevermind by Nirvana

To realize just how good Nirvana was, think about this: Dave Grohl, who fronts and writes the music for The Foo Fighters, one of the best straight-up rock bands of the last two decades, was just the drummer/backup singer for Nirvana.

Nevermind was one of the few "perfect albums" of the '90s. A dark classic, it featured not only a ridiculously popular hit that kids today still recognize in "Smells Like Teen Spirit", but also a strong second single in "Come as You Are", and a song that should be assigned to all students of criminal psychology, "Polly".

I remember hearing a live radio concert during the Nevermind tour, and being blown away. I imagined this must have been what early fans of The Who felt like.

Twenty-plus years later, I've often wondered what Nirvana's catalog would look like today if Cobain had lived. Maybe not much different. Maybe Grohl would have had to have busted out on his own. Maybe Cobain would have just burned out creatively.

Or maybe it would have been amazing.

In any event, it sucks that Nirvana only made 3 studio abums. But then again, at least we have Nevermind to remember them by.


Best Album: Memories of Love by Future Bible Heroes

I stumbled across this band by accident. I went into Manhattan one summer evening to catch the band Betty Serveert at a showcase for the CMJ Music Festival, and Future Bible Heroes were one of four opening acts.

I know many of you have never heard of this band. They're one of about four projects of Stephin Merritt, who is best know for his main project, The Magnetic Fields, and their 3-CD set, 69 Love Songs.

But make no mistake about it, this is Merritt's best album. With alternating lead vocals between Merritt and his best friend/manager/drummer Claudia Gonson, this is beyond a "perfect album".

The songs are clever and well-written, and the sound is sprinkled throughout with the electronic weirdness of keyboardist Chris Ewen.

Consider the following lyrics of "She-Devils of the Deep": "Look in their amphibious eyes/You'll be sorry/Everybody hypnotized/Winds up splattered everywhere." Or these, from "But You're So Beautiful": "One day you burned down all your dreams/With one lit match and gasoline/How did you get so old and lonely at 17?"

The songs are songs of despair, but with a sense of humor.

I've never turned anybody on to this album (or this band) who didn't thank me for it.  If you at all like '80s music and music with a sense of humor, check this album out. Future Bible Heroes are the '80s logical successors.

Next Post: The '00s


Friday, February 12, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part IV: The '80s

Even though my wife Denise is the same age as I am, the musical decade she most identifies with is the '80s.

I can understand why. The '80s was the decade where she came of age. She was a young woman in her 20s, going to clubs like Malibu, dancing all night and listening to WLIR during the day. It was a fun time in her life, and '80s music was the soundtrack to that time.

For me, as much as I love the music of the '70s, I enjoy '80s music too. I like the pop hooks, and I like the frequent emphasis on keyboards and synthesizers. I miss some of the ambition and complexity of '70s progressive rock, but it's a little like ice cream -- chocolate might be my favorite, but sometimes mocha really hits the spot too.

I also feel like female lead singers came more into their own in the '80s. The '60s and '70s had their share of female singers, but most of them scored a little higher on the vocal power spectrum than on the vocal beauty scale.  Singers like Grace Slick, Ann Wilson and even Patti Smith could blast it pretty good, but many of the most beautiful voices of these decades, such as those of Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins, were more folkie than rocker. (I'm not sure how I'd characterize Stevie Nicks -- her voice is very beautiful to me, but I can't deny it's also pretty raspy).

In the '80s, though, it seemed like female lead singers and even all-grrl bands became more prevalent, as bands like Blondie, The Go-Go's, The Bangles, and 'Til Tuesday elbowed their way onto the charts.

For years, my Runner-up album of the decade was U2's The Unforgettable Fire. Even though The Joshua Tree was the band's first Number One album in most countries, I find the heights of Unforgettable Fire to be much greater than those of any of the several singles produced by Joshua Tree. I'm particularly partial to "A Sort of Homecoming" -- I love the way the song builds. And I'm also fond of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," which is certainly one of U2's most powerful singles.

In recent years, though, I've come to consider Unforgettable Fire as an "Honorable Mention" (which really only means I consider it my third favorite record of the '80s), as another album has wormed its way up in my heart to the second position.

1980s

Runner-up: Synchronicity by The Police

I liked The Police from "Roxanne" on, but for years I would have told you Zenyatta Mondatta was my favorite Police album.  Only with the passage of time have I been able to see Synchronicity for what it was -- a "perfect album" by a band at the height of their powers.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It might have been that I was in shock when I realized that Synchronicity was the last album they'd ever make together. More probably, it was because the first single and the big commercial hit from the record was "Every Breath You Take," which I consider to be a fine example of stalker song but just a so-so single.

It was only later, in looking back on the band's career that I fully realized that Synchronicity was their masterpiece, and I was able to look past "Every Breath" to appreciate that any album that included three songs such as "King of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger" and "Synchronicity II" and topped them off with some quirky treats like "Tea in the Sahara" and "Murder by Numbers," was an extraordinary record.

It's a shame that The Police never made another album together. But at least they went out at the top of their game.


Best Album: Talk Show by The Go-Go's.

From a subtle album like Synchronicity which blended songs from a variety of different styles, we move to some good driving pop-punk, and here's where I think probably people are scratching their heads and saying "Really?" (Or they would be if I anyone actually read my blog. Oh well, maybe someday...)

Talk Show wasn't a huge commercial success. I remember reading somewhere that the band found it a difficult album to make (much like Pink Floyd did with Wish You Were Here), which is maybe why they didn't make another one for 17 years. Wikipedia even points out that after the band got back together in the '90s, they never bothered to play many of the songs from this record in concert.

Well screw you, Wikipedia!

All I can tell you is that the first time I listened to Talk Show, it put a big smile on my face, and it still does.  "Head Over Heels" is my favorite Go-Go's song, even though it was never as big a hit as "We've Got the Beat" or "Vacation." It has a driving quality that gets you going right away, which I imagine is why the band used it as the opening number of their concerts so often. And "I'm With You" features what is perhaps Belinda Carlisle's best throaty vocal.

Obviously, I think Talk Show is a way underrated record. And even if no one else on the planet, maybe even including the band themselves, thinks it's the album of the decade, too bad! It's my list, after all.

Next Post: The '90s





Sunday, February 7, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part III: The '70s

When I look back on my life, I consider myself more a child of the '70s than of any other decade. My high school years were in the '70s, as well as those of my first attempt at college (I attended for 2-1/2 years, then dropped out for a decade before going back to finish up). And most of my favorite bands came into their own in the '70s as well.

And as far as music goes, the '70s had one other thing going for them: The perfect album.

Before the '60s, and well into them, it was all about the hit single. Then, somewhere midway through the decade, as artists began to write their own music instead of relying on the talents of outside songwriters, they started to realize they could make more of a statement with their music than 3 minutes worth of pop song. Albums began to be viewed as possible cohesive units of music, as bands like The Beatles moved from releasing collections of singles and throwaway tracks to releasing records that formed a more complete whole, such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

At the same time, the growth of FM radio stations in the U.S. and pirate radio in England provided outlets for music that didn't fall into the category of the 3-minute single to receive airplay. Track's like Iron Butterfly's 17-minute long "In-a gadda-da vida" could reach audiences they never could have in the past.

In the '70s, the album came into its own. Singles still prospered, as they do today, but FM radio and LP albums were where the action was at.

To me, the "perfect album" is exactly what it sounds like: an album where pretty much every track is at least good, and a few are great. And pound for pound, I'd have to say that there were more "perfect" albums in the '70s than in any other decade. Go up on Amazon.com, and you'll find a whole bunch of DVDs devoted to the making of various classic albums. Most of these are albums from the '70s.

I won't even try to name them all, but here are some of my favorites: Who's Next by The Who, Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen, Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf, Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan and Tasty by Long Island local favorites The Good Rats all come to mind. Note the variety of genres, from harder rock to pop rock to folk. Even a band like Blondie that is usually associated more with '80s music had their "perfect" album hit in the late '70s, Parallel Lines.

Consequently, picking a Best Album and Runner-Up for the strongest rock decade ever isn't easy. Nevertheless, once again I've picked two albums that I don't think someone could seriously argue with. You may have different picks yourself, but you have to admit that these are highly credible choices for the very best albums of the decade.

1970s

Runner-up: Quadrophenia by The Who

For the second time in two decades, The Who come in with an entry that isn't a "perfect" album, but is ambitious and high-soaring enough to come up as one of my top two albums of the decade. Yet another rock opera, this one is even less stageable than Tommy. But oh my god, the highs!

Once again, Pete Townshend the songwriter hits on all cylinders, providing driving rock anthems like "The Punk Meets the Godfather," comic classics like "Bell Boy" and beautiful ballads like "Sea and Sand." Then he takes us to entirely new heights, opening the album with what is essentially an amazing overture, "I Am the Sea," and closing with a number that taps into something akin to Star Wars' force, something spiritual and deep, "Love, Reign O'er Me." The combination of the whirling synthesizers and Roger Daltrey's most powerful vocal ever on this last number takes rock music to an entirely new place.

I'm sure this album is considered the best album of the decade by many, even though Who fans have the luxury of arguing over whether it's even The Who's best album, or is it surpassed by Tommy or Who's Next. Someone once wrote that a thousand Def Leppard's will come and go, but there will only ever be one Who. No disrespect meant to Def Leppard fans, but I agree. Living here in the 2010s and looking back, The Who were in the very top echelon of bands in a decade of amazing bands and musicians.


Best Album (and Best Album of All Time): Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Sales figures and popular sentiment may hold that Dark Side of the Moon was Pink Floyd's best album, and some might even argue for The Wall.

But to my mind, no album reaches the heights of Wish You Were Here.

Now, to be fair, I have a couple of memories that give me a sentimental attachment to this album beyond my objective judgment.

The first was Mike's poker game.  I spent many a happy night in my twenties playing nickel ante poker with my friends at the apartment of my high school friend Mike's. Mike had a great record collection, and for years before I actually owned this album myself, whenever it was my turn to pick the music, I always included Wish You Were Here in the mix. You could always buy another dollar's worth of chips at Mike's, and do it while sucking down your favorite adult beverage (or maybe partaking in some slightly less legal fare). And Mike's music was always the best.

The second memory was the Christmas season I spent as an assistant manager at the Consumer's Distributors store in Forest Hills. Since the whole crew was young, including the manager, we allocated some funds to buy four 8-track tapes to keep the music rocking while we worked. Two I don't remember (I think one of these might have been the 8-track for Saturday Night Fever, but it was a long time ago), but the two I loved best were Jethro Tull's Songs From the Wood, and, of course, Wish You Were Here.

Happy memories aside, though, Wish You Were Here is ridiculously good by any objective standard. Clocking in at a tight 5 tracks total, the weakest song on the album is probably "Have a Cigar," which has garnered a ton of radio airplay over the years. (Not exactly a weak sister, eh?). This song also has the classic line, supposedly sung by a sleazy record company executive, "The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think/By the way, which one's Pink?"

The album is sandwiched by the two parts of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", Parts I-V at the beginning, and Parts VI-IX at the end. Yes, I know I said I don't have the patience for instrumentals, but the slow build up here is something completely different. Gilmour's slow guitar is at its best here, just rolling over you in waves. It's like the buildup to a slow and explosive orgasm/

The other two tracks, "Welcome to the Machine" and "Wish You Were Here" are two of the best songs in all of rock music. "Welcome to the Machine" is what I always thought music would become in the future, maybe after Skynet became self aware. And "Wish You Were Here" is simply stark and beautiful, with some of Waters' best lyrics ("We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl/Year after year).

I never get tired of this album, and I don't think I ever will.

Next Post: The '80s

Friday, February 5, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part II: The '60s

The first records I ever owned that weren't "Alvin and the Chipmunks" or "A Three Stooges Christmas" were the 45 rpm single of "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees (with "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone on the B Side), and the 45 of "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" by The Royal Guardsmen. They were a gift from my best friend Bob, who had grown tired of them (or maybe he just saw how much I wanted them). "I'm a Believer" was #1 in the charts at the time on Cousin Brucie's 77 WABC radio station, and "Snoopy" was #3. "Georgy Girl" by The Seekers was #2, but I passed on that one. I wore the other two out.

Not having a lot of money in those days (some things never change), I mostly bought singles to add to my collection. I remember having the singles for "Incense and Peppermints" by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, which was delightfully psychedelic, and The Beatles "Hello Goodbye," whose B Side, "I Am the Walrus" was even more so.

I think my first adult album was The Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, which was soon followed Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road before the great Beatles embargo, which caused constant arguments in my house. I don't remember if it was Lennon's "The Beatles are bigger than God!" declaration, or some of his and Yoko's nude antics (album covers, department store windows, seems like they were always showing off their junk), but at some point, I was forbidden to bring other Beatles music into the house.

It sucked, but as the '60s came to a close, there were so many amazing things happening musically that I pretty much spent every week's allowance money on records.

So I start my Best Albums of the Decades list in the '60s, because that's when I first became musically aware.

I can't claim my knowledge of the decade's music is all-encompassing. I came of age late in the decade, and caught up on the early part for artists like Dylan and The Beach Boys with greatest hits albums. To this day, I don't think I've ever heard Blonde on Blonde or Pet Sounds as complete musical pieces. Hmm. Maybe I should go back and do that some day, huh?. And my first experience with Woodstock was as a 12-year-old running into all the hippies on the rest stops of the New York State Turnpike in 1969 as they made their way back from the festival while my family was returning from a 2-week vacation in the Catskills. (My parents were less than impressed). It was only years later I learned about it as an iconic music event.

Nevertheless, I feel pretty comfortable with my "Best of choices". Unlike my picks for some of the later decades, there is nothing obscure about these two albums, and while other people may have their own picks, I don't think anyone can make a serious argument against mine. So without further fanfare, here's an in-depth look at my Best Albums of the previous 5 Decades:

1960s

Runner-up: Are You Experienced -- The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix was another artist whose records I was banned from buying. My mother used to work for an insurance company, and at some point, she got a look at some info on Hendrix because of a life insurance policy he was buying. She didn't like what she saw. She never went into depth about it. She just told me that he "lived like an animal," and she was not going to have a dollar of her hard-earned money spent on supporting his lifestyle. And since my allowance was made up of those hard-earned dollars, well, you can see her logic.

Luckily, I wasn't banned from bringing his records into the house. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think I found a copy of Are You Experienced in someone's garbage. I remember my copy of it had a whole bunch of scratches, and if I'd been allowed, I would have replaced it with a new one. And if my uncle had had tits, he'd have been my aunt. Both moot points, except that my uncle had a better chance of filling out that wonder bra than I did of being allowed to actually buy a Hendrix album.

I was excited to even have the copy I did. I remember that the cool kids in my grammar school (of which I was decidedly not one) were going crazy for "Foxy Lady," which they played repeatedly anytime there was a party at school. At the time, I was still listening mostly to AM radio, but also just starting to get into Procol Harum and King Crimson, and I didn't get what all the fuss was about. Then I finally got hold of my own sad, battered copy of the album, and suddenly I understood.

If you read what I wrote about how I listen to music, you might think Hendrix was a weird fit with my taste. And to a certain extent you'd be right. When I listen to much of Hendrix's later music, and especially to most of the stuff they released after his death, I recognize he's a guitar genius, but it means nothing to me. A lot of it is just a bunch of noise to my ears.

But Are You Experienced is amazing. The songwriting is first-rate. Hell, "Foxy Lady" is my least favorite track on the album. "Manic Depression", "Hey Joe," "The Wind Cries Mary"and the album-closing title track -- every one is a winner. "Third Stone from the Sun" is a breathtakingly beautiful instrumental, and I'm not normally into instrumentals. (They usually sound like songs that were never finished to me).

Honestly, I feel my words are failing me about why this is such a great album.  (Actually, I'm finding a lot of the musical descriptions I'm posting on this blog are reminding me uncomfortably of Christian Bale's pretentious ramblings on the genius of Phil Collins in American Psycho, but whatever). Part of it is the perfect mix of driving rock songs like "Purple Haze" with ballads like "The Wind Cries Mary." And part of it is that you still have Jimi doing his outrageous guitar effects, but the quality of the songs themselves force him to kind of reign the effects in a little, and to focus them. (Listen to what he does on "Third Rock From the Sun," and how the effects kind of circle around the main musical theme).

One caveat: less is more. The CD they sell nowadays has 17 tracks on it, but the extra 6 tracks just water down the genius. Your best bet is look up the original order of the LP and make yourself a playlist of those 11 tracks. Otherwise, you just don't get the full effect.


Best Album: Tommy -- The Who

I know the term "genius" is thrown around too much. Hell, I already used it once in this post to describe Hendrix's guitar playing. But for my money, Pete Townshend is the number one genius in rock history. If anything, I think his biggest weakness is that he's got so much going on in his head that even he can't keep up with it. Hence his "failed" Lifehouse project, which only went on to become one of the most successful rock albums ever, Who's Next.

When I write about the '70s, I'm going to write a lot about what I call "perfect" albums, albums where every single track is a good one. By this definition, Are You Experienced is a perfect album. Tommy isn't. I don't love tracks like "The Hawker" or "Christmas," even though they're vital parts of the story.

Described as a rock opera, it also doesn't fully work as either an opera, or as a musical. I saw the mostly frightening Ken Russell, and I've heard the Broadway cast album and various other versions, and none of the them work as well as the original with The Who doing all of the singing.

But there are a couple of factors that make Tommy my album of the decade. One is the breathtaking ambition, just the sheer balls of the idea of making it a "rock opera." By the time Tommy was released, there were examples of extended suites of rock music, like The Who's own "A Quick One While He's Away" or Procol Harum's "In Held 'Twas in I." There were also concept albums, where there was overall theme or idea uniting most or all of the tracks, like Sgt. Pepper or King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King."

But to the best of my knowledge, Tommy was the first album that told a complete story, and it did so in a double album -- it was a pretty damned long story! Here was this genre, rock, that was often looked down on as being low-brow entertainment, a type of music that was blamed by moralists of the time of corrupting children and making them stupid. And here's Pete Townshend, who says "Fuck that! Rock can be whatever we want it to be." It can be musically complicated, it can be about complex ideas. It can make you think.

And then there were the songs. If they didn't all work, many of the ones that did worked spectacularly.  Not only "Pinball Wizard," with that sublime guitar-strumming intro that can still send a chill up your leg that Chris Matthews could only dream about, but listen to "Amazing Journey". Hell, even the opening chords of the "Overture" still give me a jolt every time. Yes indeed, not every song is a winner, but the winners far outnumbered the losers, and they're of such high quality that they blow every other album of the decade away.

Add all of that to the incredible instrumentality of The Who, and you have one of rock's all-time classics. Townshend's guitar work, madman Moon's drumming (listen to some of what he's got going on in the "Underture" -- it's crazy!), Entwistle's overpowering bass and his French horn. And Roger Daltry, really coming fully into his own as a singer for the first time and owning the character of Tommy, singing with, yes, power and beauty.

There was a period in my teens when I listened Tommy from beginning to end almost every night, and twice a night several times a week. It still moves me today. It brought a decade where rock music came into its own to an explosive climax. Thank you, Pete Townshend!

Next Post: The '70s