Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #500:
Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant
The second album from these New York underground rock legends blends the surreal guitar assault of Guided by Voices with more straightforwardly melodic British Invasion and punk sounds. It’s got creepy, intense stuff like Fade For Sunday – frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck sounding like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader imitation – along with the scathing Made for TV Murder, a Jon-Benet Ramsey narrative. Downsizer, the single, is even more timely in these depression days, with its bitter lyrics and catchy Stiff Little Fingers-inflected tune. The best of all of these is Susquehanna, a gorgeous, vengefully hallucinatory anthem setting layers of guitars over a swaying country backbeat. There’s also the squalling Love Rock & Roll, the Stoogoid Stop This Thing and Womankind, and Both Kinds, which sets an old 60s garage rock riff to 90s GBV crunch. A cult classic from 2005, it’s AWOL from the usual sources for free music – even Spotify doesn’t have it – but it’s still available from the band.
For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this list is all about – other than just plain fun – click here.
Albums #800-899 continue here.
Albums #700-799 continue here.
Albums #600-699 continue here.
Albums #500-599 continue here.
499. Erika Simonian – All the Plastic Animals
A cult classic from 2004. Simonian’s wryly literate lyrics range from sardonic to casually savage, set to precisely fingerpicked, austere melodies sung in a minutely nuanced voice that can be deadpan hilarious…or absolutely brutal. An air of disillusion and betrayal creeps in with the opening vignette, sarcastically titled Food From the Cow, followed by the even more sarcastic Pretty Good Wife; the cabaret-inflected Self Made Drama Machine, a kiss-off to a selfish bitch; and Mr. Wrong, an amusing pickup scenario predictably on its way to going awry. The most unforgettable song here is Bitter and Brittle, a vivid portrait of the edge of madness; the blackly humorous Eternal Spinsterhood is awfully good too. Surprisingly, this one is AWOL from the usual sources of free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby, where there are also clips from each song. Simonian continues as a member of lyrical indie rockers Little Silver and the entertaining, punkish Sprinkle Genies.
498. Ian Hunter – Rant
Ian Hunter may have played in a stadium rock band back in the 70s, but his best years were ahead of him, and that may still be true – and he’s no less vital today, now in his early 70s. It’s amazing how ten years ago, at practically age sixty, he came up with this bitter, ferociously angry requiem of sorts for the entire world. Taking care to kick off the album with persuasive proof that he’s undiminished by all this, he revisits his glam side with Still Love Rock N Roll before the apocalyptic Wash Us Away, the relentlessly ferocious Death of a Nation and Morons, the anti-yuppie diatribe Purgatory and the vitriolic American Spy, directed at sellout ex-punks. There’s also the Bowie-esque Britrock of Dead Man Walking; the sarcastic Good Samaritan; the defiant Soap N Water and Ripoff; the lush, beautiful janglerock of Knees of My Heart and the alienated angst of No One. Dark, lyrical four-on-the-floor rock doesn’t get any better than this. Here’s a random torrent via [not sure what this blog is called, but it’s really good].
497. Hank Mobley – Soul Station
This 1961 album is sort of a tenor sax response to Almost Blue, with a similarly beautiful nocturnal vibe. Which on one hand makes perfect sense since it has Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass, with drummer Art Blakey in almost shockingly cool mode. Mobley made a name for himself playing just a hair behind the beat for maximum swing impact (something that didn’t ingratiate him to his hard-bop contemporaries), and he does that tunefully and memorably here, on their remake of the Irving Berlin ballad Remember as well as originals like the wryly soulful This I Dig of You, Dig This, the aptly titled, somewhat ambiguous Split Feelin’ and the high point of the album, the title cut. It ends on a poignant note with If I Should Lose. Who says sidemen can’t make great albums as bandleaders? Here’s a random torrent via Jazz Is My Life.
496. Patti Rothberg – Between the 1 and the 9
Discovered busking in the New York City subway (the album title references the local train running between Harlem and the Battery), Rothberg debuted auspiciously with this in 1996 and has replicated its clever lyricism and catchy, smoldering rock sensibility several times since then. The sarcastic garage rock anthem Treat Me Like Dirt went to #1 in Europe, while the characteristically tongue-in-cheek Inside reached the American top 40; the rest of the album ranges from pensive, symbolically charged purist slightly new wave-flavored pop tunes like Flicker, Forgive Me and It’s Alright to the sarcastic powerpop Perfect Stranger, Change Your Ways and Out of My Mind as well as the coyly sultry This One’s Mine. Everything Rothberg has done subsequently, especially the 2007 album Double Standards, is worth hearing. The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.
495. Robert Sirota – Triptych – The Chiara String Quartet
Arguably the most powerful, intense musical response to the horror of 9/11, composer Sirota’s anguished, horror-stricken suite for string quartet draws on artist Deborah Patterson’s triptych depicting the detonation of one of the towers, the death of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge and the sky over the smoking hole at Ground Zero. The Chiaras premiered this at New York’s Trinity Church, barely two blocks away, in October, 2002. The frenzied horror of the first movement attempts to replicate sirens, a devil’s choir of car alarms and the chaos following the crash of the planes; the second is a grief-stricken lament; the third reaches for some sort of peace or closure. The only audio for this that seems to be on the web seems to be at cdbaby, where the album is still available, but terrific performances of this piece by the American String Quartet have made it to youtube in three segments, here, here, and here.
494. Buck Owens – On the Bandstand
Despite the title, this isn’t a live album, although it has the energy of one. Buck Owens began his career in the early 1950s as a highly sought-after lead guitarist known for his eclectic style, equally inspired by blues, Mexican music and what was becoming rock. By 1963, when this came out, he’d become a star as a frontman with his band the Buckaroos, including Tom Brumley on pedal steel and Don Rich on fiddle and lead guitar. Together they invented the “Bakersfield sound,” which is still about the hardest that country music has ever been. Some choice cuts: the sweetly twangy Sally Was a Good Girl, Kickin’ Our Hearts Around, One Way Love and Sweethearts in Heaven; a countryfied version of Leadbelly’s Cotton Fields; King of Fools, which foreshadows the buffoon character he’d play on Hee Haw; a boisterous Orange Blossom Special; and Diggy Diggy Lo, covered by many garage bands since then. Here’s a random torrent.
493. Carey Bell – Live at Bellinzona Piazza Blues Festival, 1999
The trouble with studio blues recordings is that labels didn’t stop exploiting the artists after Chess went under. As a result, even as late as the 90s, so many of those albums sound forced and furtive, everybody rushing to get their parts down before time ran out. This extremely obscure lo-fi live set recorded somewhere in Italy features the great Chicago blues harpist onstage, in his element, front and center over an anonymously competent band. Bell achieves his signature spooky, swirling, hauntingly watery sound by playing through a Leslie organ speaker. The set ranges from dark and ominous with Leaving in the Morning, Broken and Hungry, and Lonesome Stranger to the sly My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble and the big party favorite When I Get Drunk, along with a characteristically volcanic version of his big instrumental crowd-pleaser Jawbreaker. Some of this is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Renovcevic.
492. Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood
Garniez is unquestionably the most eclectic and quite possibly the best songwriter to emerge from the New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros. Serenade, her first album, is lushly pensive and unselfconsciously romantic, as you might expect from someone whose main axe is the accordion. This 2001 release, her second, was her quantum leap, where she established herself as a deviously witty master of every retro style ever invented, from the apocalyptic pop of Silly Me, the gorgeous Memphis soul of Odette and Mr. Lady, the sultry jazz ballad Swimming Pool Blue, the inscrutable psychedelia of Little Fish and Marie, the jaunty, tongue-in-cheek blues of New Dog, the blithe, meticulously arranged salsa of Regular Joe and the album’s chilling, intense tango centerpiece, Shadowland – which would become a tv show theme – and the anguished, Bessie Smith-tinged title track. Garniez’ multi-octave voice swoops and dips mischievously over a band of A-list downtown jazz types. She’d go on to even greater heights with 2003′s Luckyday and 2008′s Melusine Years, and has a new one coming out (the cd release show is November 11 at Dixon Place). Strangely AWOL from the usual sources of free music, it’s still available from Garniez herself as well as at cdbaby.
491. Magic Sam – West Side Soul
This 1967 release pretty much sums up the innovative Chicago bluesman’s career and offers more than just a cruel glimpse of where he might have gone had he lived. An energetic vocalist and talented guitarist, he very subtly and effectively brought elements of 60s soul, funk and rock into a straight-up blues format. Among blues fans, this album has iconic status, and has most of his best-known songs: That’s All I Need; the funky I Feel So Good; soulful, nocturnal versions of Otis Rush’s All Your Love and My Love Will Never Die, and B.B. King’s I Need You So Bad; a surprisingly original cover of Sweet Home Chicago; a plaintive version of J.B. Lenoir’s Mama Talk to Your Daughter; the propulsive Every Night and Every Day, the bitter I Don’t Want No Woman and the instrumental theme Lookin’ Good. Sam Maghett drank and drugged himself to death at 32. Here’s a random torrent.
490. Merle Haggard – 20 Greatest Hits
One of the great transformation stories in musical history, a guy who (either despite or because of his criminal past) started out as a supporter of the extreme right, looked around and then realized that there was a better way, one that made sense given his populist background. This covers pretty much everything. It doesn’t have the honkytonk classic Swinging Doors but the 20 tracks here include most of the others: Mama Tried; Workingman’s Blues; Okie from Muskogee; Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down; the reworked Irish ballad Branded Man; and the Ford/Carter recession-era If We Make It Through December, a tribute to striking Detroit assembly line workers that’s as resonant today as it was thirty years ago. Here’s a random torrent via Kerala MV; if you’re here, and you like this kind of stuff, you might also enjoy Bryan & the Haggards’ twisted jazz instrumental cover album of Merle tunes.
489. Bee & Flower – What’s Mine Is Yours
The New York/Berlin band’s 2004 debut is a stark, often haunting mix of stately, slow-to-midtempo art-rock songs: some of them dirges, some more atmospheric, with slight variations on frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter’s various shades of grey. The catchy, relentless opening track I Know Your Name sets the tone, followed by the aptly titled, glimmering Twin Stars and the menacing funeral processional Wounded Walking. The pastoral Carpenter’s Fern is as light as it gets here; On the Mouth the most upbeat, which is not really a lot. There’s also the sardonic Let It Shine and then anthemic, Joy Division-tinged closing cut, This Time. Everything else the band has released since then is worth a listen; here’s a random torrent via My Melomania. The album is still available from the band.
488. Tammy Wynette – Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad
She’d have an entire hall of fame career in the wake of this 1967 debut, but she got off on the good foot – and the album also doesn’t have the odious Stand By Your Man. Instead, it’s a bunch of ripping honkytonk numbers like the title track and the classics Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind), I Wound Easy but I Heal Fast along with ballads like There Goes My Everything, Don’t Touch Me, Almost Persuaded and Walk Through This World With Me. The band of Nashville pros is on top of their game and so was Tammy – it would be awhile before the pills caught up with her. Here’s a random torrent via I Could Die Tomorrow.
487. Guided by Voices – Do the Collapse
A lot of you will be scratching your heads over this one: of all the GBV albums, the one that Rick Ocasek produced?!? Yup. By 2001, GBV was a well-oiled (pun intended) road machine, and Robert Pollard had his arguably most lyrical, most straightforward and catchiest bunch of songs yet, equal parts British Invasion, powerpop and the Minutemen but without the phony beat poetry. The real gem here is Teenage FBI – as a teacher, Pollard knew a little something about high school fascism. The sarcastic, fragmentary Wormhole is also choice, as are the chromatically-charged riff-rocker Zoo Pie, the mocking Dragons Awake!, along with the subtly funny Liquid Indian, Strumpet Eye, Picture Me Big Time and the brief, under two-minute An Unmarketed Product among the sixteen characteristically unpredictable tracks here. Here’s a random torrent.
486. Sibelius – Symphony #4 – The BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
This early 50s recording by one of the great late Romantic composer’s most forceful advocates captures all the brooding magnificence of this dark, stormy piece: the pensive first movement, with its vivid cello/bass figure; the more upbeat second movement, the big crescendoing third movement and its breakneck, anthemic conclusion. If you like this kind of stuff, the rest of his repertoire (especially if you can find Beecham recordings) is worth seeking out, including smaller-scale works like the Karelia suite. Here’s a random torrent via Vinyl Fatigue.
485. Eric Burdon & the Animals – Best of, 1966-68
This one is as good a mix of songs by the iconic white bluesman as there is. Some of this showcases him as a blues shouter, the rest as a surprisingly good hippie songwriter, without any of the Brill Building schlock other than Don’t Bring Me Down (a cursed title if there ever was one). There’s straight up blues with See See Rider, soul including Help Me Girl and a surprisingly strong River Deep, Mountain High; pensive, philosophical songwriting like Inside-Looking Out and Winds of Change; upbeat psychedelic pop period pieces including San Franciscan Nights and Monterey; and the real classic here, the swirling, phaser-driven Sky Pilot, one of the most potent antiwar anthems ever written. “You’ll never, never, never reach the sky!” If you like this stuff, the original albums, especially the 1968 Love Is album, are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.
484. Jazz at the Philharmonic 1949
These concerts were parties, not sedate mellow jazz, and the crowd got passionately involved. For that reason (and because the recordings tended to be noisy as a result), there is a jazz element that has looked down on this annual series of recordings that went on through the 1950s. This one is probably the wildest: after promoter Norman Granz’s interminable band intros, it’s got the landmark moment where Lester Young famously leaps in during Charlie Parker’s Leap Here. There’s also Coleman Hawkins wailing on Rifftide, chilling out on Sophisticated Lady and the whole crew (especially trumpeter Fats Navarro) getting involved on The Things We Did Last Summer along with bluesy, Bird-driven versions of Lover Come Back to Me and Back Home Again in Indiana. And where can you grab a download? Nowhere! Blame the snobs, not us.
483. The Maddox Brothers & Rose – On the Air
Some of this is corny but a lot of it is hilarious, and you get the picture that even when the band is being serious that they’re secretly laughing at you. Fred, Cal, Cliff and Don along with sister Rose, the star of the show are represented here by their very first radio broadcast, from 1940, plus another one from 1945 which on one hand is something else entirely, but also shows how well they had their act together when they first began. Their best stuff, the “hillbilly boogies,” foreshadows rock music, with its shuffle rhythm and lyrical innuendo: Hold That Critter Down, Small Town Mama, If You Ain’t Got The Do-Re-Mi, The Gold Rush Is Over and Too Old to Cut the Mustard among the best of them. There’s also rustic stuff like I’ve Rambled Around, bluesy stuff like Meanest Man in Town and Fried Potatoes and some requisite country gospel – Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet – and cowboy songs among the 40 tracks here. If you like this you might also like the 1961 compilation The World’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band, Vol. 2. Here’s a random torrent via the always rocking Rockin Gipsy.
482. Charles Brown – Driftin’ Blues: The Best of Charles Brown
This suave, impeccably tasteful blues pianist/crooner was sort of the missing link between Nat King Cole and Jimmy Reed – outside of the church, this is where soul music got its start. This 20-track reissue from the mid-90s collects sides from 1945 through 1956. Ironically, Brown remains best-known for a cheesy Xmas song, Merry Christmas Baby. But this also has his first big hit, Driftin’ Blues along with the aptly nocturnal In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down and a killler version of Get Yourself Another Fool. There’s also the surprisingly subtle Trouble Blues, the brooding Black Night, Seven Long Days, and Evening Shadows along with somewhat more upbeat stuff like Please Don’t Drive Me Away and Count Basie’s I’ll Always Be in Love With You. Brown gets extra props for being a major influence on both Elvis Costello and LJ Murphy. Here’s a random torrent via Rukus Juice.
481. Danny & Dusty – The Lost Weekend
This semi-legendary 1985 collaboration among several Paisley Underground types from the Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and Long Ryders has the feeling of an album made in a single afternoon fueled by a lot of alcohol, a story that Steve Wynn AKA Dusty has confirmed. Danny here is Dan Stuart of Green on Red. Most of the songs are about drinking, Wynn’s set in a typically surreal LA noir milieu. The Word Is Out focuses on a character who suddenly finds that he’s paying for everything he used to get for free; Song for the Dreamers and Miracle Mile are a memorable grab bag of boozers and losers, an idea they take to its logical extreme on King of the Losers. The best of the bunch is Wynn’s deliriously gospel-fueled Baby We All Gotta Go Down; there’s also the proto alt-country Send Me a Postcard and the creepy Down to the Bone, all of this good enough to make you forget about the pointless Dylan and Donovan covers at the end. Long out of print; here’s a random torrent. If you like this you may also like Danny & Dusty’s 2007 follow-up, still available at Wynn’s site.
480. Little Walter – The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection
Walter Jacobs defined blues harp. His eerie, reverb-drenched, overtone-packed lines have a signature sound that’s often imitated but never duplicated. He wasn’t a bad singer, either, with an amazing, Willie Dixon-led band behind him. This is as good a mix of his own stuff as there is out there – and don’t forget that he also played with Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf and other giants of the era as well. It’s got his big first hit, the 1955 shuffle tune My Babe, as well as hot juke-joint instrumentals like Juke, Roller Coaster, Mellow Down Easy, the jazzy Last Night and the creepy Sad Hours. There are also inspired takes on classics like Key to the Highway as well as originals like the cosmopolitan Boom Boom Out Goes the Light, the stomping, blustery Off the Wall and the tensely exuberant Just Your Fool among the 20 choice tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via KNK Music Blog.
479. Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori
This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.
478. Miles Davis – Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud
Hope it’s ok with you if we stick with the creepy stuff two days in a row. Davis came up with the soundtrack to this 1958 Louis Malle noir flick in two days in a Paris studio with a pickup band, much in the same way he did Kind of Blue: it’s a masterpiece of modal jazz, arguably as good or better than that album. The central, recurring theme is Nuit Sur Les Champs Elysees (represented by several takes, most notably the first and second). There are also two versions of Le Petit Bal (A Little Party), a murder scene, a car chase, an elevator scene, some tense moments at a motel, another chase scene and a couple of surprisingly calm vignettes that seem tacked on at the end for good measure: they’re pretty, although they don’t match the noir vibe of the rest of the soundtrack. Here’s a random torrent.
477. Orquesta Harlow – La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite
This is Fania Records’ All-Star pianist Larry Harlow’s 1977 attempt to capsulize the entire history of latin music in a six-part suite. As history, there are secret corners it misses – lots of them; as music, it’s a titanic, slinky blast of horns, percussion and orchestra. Nestor Sanchez sings the classic salsa of the title track, followed by the percussion-centric Africa; the Afro-Cuban Caribbean and Caribbean Pt. 2, which blends in soca and Puerto Rican sabor; the deliciously gritty New York 1950s and 1960s and the whirlwind Futuro which blends Mingus bustle with late 70s latin disco! Too surreal to imagine, you just have to hear it…and dance to it. Here’s a random torrent.
476. Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire
Here’s the creepiest and possibly least listenable album on this list so far, a 1940 recording with the composer himself conducting an insane clown posse with Erika Steidry-Wagner on vocals. The group – piano, violin, cello, flute and clarinets – do a chilly, methodical job with this four-part suite’s creepy atonalities, many of which you may recognize since they’ve been used over and over again in many horror movies. Catchy, singalong material? Hardly. But it’ll wake you up – and maybe keep you up. You can stream the whole thing and also download it free from archive.org. Those preferring a more up-to-date, slightly more polished (but less crazy) version might want to investigate the 1998 recording by Ensemble Intercontemporain with Pierre Boulez on piano and Christine Schafer singing, all up on youtube here, here, here and here. If you want to download the album, it’s here.
475. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading
The 1967 debut by this vastly underrated, eclectic psychedelic pop band combines the surreal folk-pop of early Jefferson Airplane with snarling garage rock and ornate chamber pop. Frontwoman Sandi Robinson’s vox are sort of a cross between Judy Collins and Grace Slick; the song arrangements are complex and sometimes haunting. The big innuendo-driven stoner-pop hits are Why Did I Get So High and You Took Too Much, both ostensibly love songs – back then, you couldn’t get on the radio if you sang about getting high on anything other than booze. There’s also the gorgeous chamber-rock of Then Came Love; the acid folk hit It’s a Happening Thing; the fuzztone-driven Twice Is Life; the punchy You Can’t Be Found, with its Leslie speaker guitar; and the intense, scampering Dark on You Now among the eleven tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Hippy DJ Kit. The album was reissued in the early zeros as a twofer with the band’s second, more erratic one The Great Conspiracy, which you can get via Acid at Home.
474. The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso
The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.
473. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black
The iconic conscious hip-hop group followed up the erratic Fear of a Black Planet with this erudite, entertaining, snarling, politically-charged 1991 lyrical masterpiece. Although many of the references here are necessarily of its Bush I/first Gulf War era time, the criticism is timeless: the anti-racist tirade A Letter to the NY Post; the haunting, murderous By the Time I Get to Arizona (directed at then-governor Fyfe Symington, who abolished the MLK holiday there), the equally ferocious How to Kill a Radio Consultant; the cynical More News at 11; the bitter, eerie outsider anthem Get the Fuck Out of Dodge; and an antidrug/antibooze tirade, 1 Million Bottlebags. But there’s plenty of upbeat stuff too: anthems like Nighttrain, Can’t Truss It, Flava Flav’s unusually pissed-off I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga, the deliriously powerful Shut Em Down and an early rap-metal number, the band’s remake of the classic Bring Tha Noise, recorded with Brooklyn nu-metalheads Anthrax. Here’s a random torrent.
472. Jenifer Jackson – Slowly Bright
This 1999 release was Jackson’s quantum leap: it established her as one of the world’s most astonishingly diverse, intelligent songwriters. Her vocals here are memorably hushed and gentle: since then, she’s diversified as a singer as well. The songwriting blends Beatlesque psychedelia with bossa nova, with the occasional hint of trip-hop or ambient music. Every track here is solid; the real stunner that resonates after all these years is When You Looked At Me, with its understated Ticket to Ride beat, swirling atmospherics and crescendoing chorus where Jackson goes way, way up to the top of her range. The title track, Anything Can Happen and the vividly imagistic Yesterday My Heart Was Free have a psychedelic tropicalia feel; Whole Wide World, Burned Down Summer and I’ll Be Back Soon are gorgeous janglerock hits; So Hard to Believe balances tenderness against dread. The catchiest track here may be the unexpectedly optimistic, soul-infused Look Down; the album closes with the lush, hypnotic, blithely swaying Dream. And believe it or not, this classic is nowhere to be found in the blogosphere or the other usual sources for music, although it’s still available from cdbaby. Her forthcoming one, The Day Happiness Found Me is every bit as good, maybe better; it comes out in December.
471. Sielun Veljet – Live
Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.
470. Howlin’ Wolf – The London Sessions
Reputedly the Wolf was hungover when he did this impromptu two-day 1970 session of remakes of many of his classic blues hits with an adoring band of British rock stars whom he’d influenced enormously. Ringo drums on one track; otherwise, the swinging rhythm section is usually Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (whose bass work on Sittin on Top of the World is pure genius). And believe it or not, Eric Clapton stays within himself and plays the hell out of possibly the best version ever of I Ain’t Superstitious, along with Built for Comfort, Who’s Been Talking, and Red Rooster. And he leaves plenty of room to the great Hubert Sumlin, whose guitar slashes as judiciously and unpredictably as always on Rockin Daddy, Worried About My Baby, and a quick run through Do the Do. At the end, the Wolf relents and even sounds inspired on Wang Dang Doodle, a song he absolutely despised. It’s a study in contrasts: the sly, low-key Wolf and a bunch of guys getting to play with their idol, well. Here’s a random torrent.
469. Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub
After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.
468. Leila Mourad – Sanatain: Arabian Masters
A star of stage and screen in Egypt in the 1930s and 40s, her career ground to a standstill after the Nasser revolution: Mourad being Jewish probably didn’t help. With expansive, powerful, soulful voice that these remastered 78s doesn’t adequately capture – like the rest of her contemporaries, she could jam vocalese for hours sometimes – she’s still fondly remembered in the Arab world. This sometimes lushly, sometimes starkly orchestrated compilation is hardly an adequate representation of her career, but her recordings are hard to find outside of the Middle East. This one has the hypnotic, chillingly insistent title track and seven other cuts, most of them clocking in at around three minutes. Because many of these are taken from musicals, there are occasional breaks that only make sense if you speak Arabic and know the source. If you run across anything by her, it’s probably worth owning. Here’s a random torrent.
467. Cannonball Adderley – Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at the Club
More than virtually any other artist, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley successfully bridged the gap between R&B and jazz: he was terrifically popular in the urban juke joint scene, and did his best work live. This 1966 album with a kick-ass band including brother Nate on cornet and a young Joe Zawinul on piano gets the nod because it doesn’t have any of the schlock he occasionally tried to jazz up, like stuff from Fiddler on the Roof. Right off the bat, he spirals all over the place on the opening theme, aptly titled Fun, followed by the swinging proto-funk of Games, the title track (a surprise top 20 hit), the fiery Sticks, Zawinul’s Hippodelphia and a killer, eleven-minute version of Adderley’s own Sack O’Woe, taking the set out on an exhilarating note. If you like this stuff, get to know his other 60s material: it’s pretty much all great. As Joe Strummer said, only half-sarcastically, “Don’t step on my Cannonball Adderley lp’s or cds.” Here’s a random torrent.
466. Message – From Books and Dreams
A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.
465. Ella Fitzgerald – Twelve Nights in Hollywood
The “great American songbook” was the elevator music of its era – 99.99% of it is garbage. But when jazz musicians got ahold of it, magic could happen. This 2009 four-cd box set of previously unreleased 1961 and 1962 small club dates is notable for being Ella backed by a small combo – just understated piano, bass and drums – which gives her the advantage of not having to belt over the roar of a big band. So as with Sarah Vaughan (see #611 on this list), this gets the nod over the rest of her exhaustive catalog because she really gets to take it deep into the shadows. To be truthful, there is some schlock among the 77 tracks here, but there are also innumerable wee-hours gems, notably the original jazz and blues songs: Billie Holiday’s Lover Come Back to Me; Ellington’s Caravan and Squeeze Me; Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Him So; Monk’s Round Midnight and Les Paul’s How High the Moon. There are also expansive versions of One for My Baby, The Lady Is a Tramp, Anything Goes, All of Me, Love For Sale (where she leaves no doubt that it’s about a hooker) and the famous moment where she decides to be a rock singer for thirty seconds before jumping back into Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot. Here’s a random torrent.
464. Gerry Mulligan – The Concert Jazz Band at Newport 1960
This one of those recordings that went unreleased for decades, most likely because the sonics aren’t quite up to cd quality. But in the age of the mp3, it’s not as if most people can tell the difference. And the versatile, nonconformist baritone saxophonist/composer’s big band is absolutely smoking, snaking their way up Kai Winding’s Broadway, taking the Theme from I Want to Live deep into noir territory, going Out of This World and then to gypsyland with Manoir de Mes Reves. They go swinging into the blues with the Johnny Hodges homage Carrots for Rabbit, then expansive versions of Sweet and Slow, I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ and go out on a high note with Blueport. There are also a couple of bonus tracks from European shows around the same time. Here’s a random torrent via Moha Offbeat.
463. The Shivvers – Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop 1979-82
Every day, there seems to be yet another rediscovery of a great band from decades ago that never “made it,” at least in the old mass-media sense. And more and more frequently,it’s becoming clear that those “unknown” bands were usually way better than what was on the radio at the time. This 2006 reissue includes most of this extraordinary group’s studio recordings as well as a surprisingly snarling, intense live set. In the studio, keyboardist/frontwoman Jill Kossoris’ vocals were quirky and detached, notably on the closest thing they had to a radio hit, the chirpy but cynical anticonformist anthem Teenline. But live, she was a powerhouse, most notably on the second version of You’re So Sure here, which sounds like the early Go Go’s. There’s also No Substitute, like the Raspberries with a girl singer; the scurrying new wavey/Beatlesque Please Stand By; the rich, ELO-inflected Remember Tonight; the punchy garage pop of My Association (“There’s a place I can go where I don’t have to be an outcast”); the George Harrison-esque Hold On; the absolutely gorgeous Life Without You; the Orbisonesque Nashville noir of It Hurts Too Much and Blue in Heaven, their offhandedly attempt at a big artsy (6 minute) synth/guitar anthem…sung by a dead girl! The whole thing is streaming at yucky myspace; here’s a random torrent.
462. Jazz on a Summer’s Day
This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.
461. Rasputina – Oh Perilous World
The original cello rockers, Rasputina have been putting out great albums for almost 20 years, frontwoman Melora Creager backed by an increasingly shifting cast of characters. This is her finest hour, from 2007: she’s always been a great lyricist as well as a composer, but she really took it to the next level with these torrentially metaphorical songs that deliver a very subtle but absolutely brutal critique of the Bush regime’s reign of terror and the paranoia they spread in the wake of 9/11. All this takes place against a backdrop of global warming (1816 the Year Without a Summer), basic human rights taking a beating (Choose Me for a Champion), and anthrax scares engineered from inside the government (Incident in a Medical Clinic). Only in Draconian Crackdown does she let down her guard and blast the traitors of 9/11 for their cowardice. Otherwise, the journey from Child Soldier Rebellion to Bring Back the Egg Unbroken to Old Yellowcake (weapons of mass destruction – get it?) is a treacherous and grotesquely graphic one, and Creager leaves no stone unturned. A courageous and mighty blow for democracy whose time may not have come yet. Here’s a random torrent.
460. The Million Dollar Quartet
As portrayed in the film Walk the Line, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were all drinking buddies who’d frequently hang out and jam. This informal 1956 acoustic session was assuredly never intended for release, although it might have been an attempt to get some decent quality demos down, considering who was involved (some sources say that Cash wasn’t, since he doesn’t sing on it). Other uncredited Sun Records session guys may have been in on it as well. Obviously fueled by a little hooch and who knows what else, the low-key confidence of this band, whoever all of them were, is irresistible. Most of the songs clock in at less than a minute, among them Elvis’s Don’t Be Cruel and Reconsider Baby, Jerry Lee’s Rip It Up and a bunch of gospel numbers. While it’s a little incongruous to hear Jerry Lee Lewis on a Chuck Berry song, it just goes to show you never can tell who’s cross-pollinating with whom. Here’s a random torrent.
459. The Jazz Combo From I Want to Live
Noir jazz doesn’t get any more lurid, or any better, than this smoldering, haunted 1958 session featuring variations on Johnny Mandel’s theme from the docudrama about executed convict Barbara Graham, the last woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, who may well have been innocent. The band, led by Gerry Mulligan and featuring Shelly Manne on piano, Art Farmer on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax, is first-rate. The album actually starts with the downright sexy, tiptoeing Black Nightgown before the brooding, doomed main title theme; the suspenseful Night Watch; the jaunty San Francisco nightclub scene where all the accomplices think they’ll get away with murder (they didn’t); the offhandedly wrenching, pleading Barbara’s Theme and a cruelly ironic Life’s a Funny Thing to end it. Here’s a random torrent via Groove Depository. Big shout-out to Nellie McKay for inspiring this pick – and for writing her own musical about this sad chapter in American “justice.”
458. Robert Nighthawk – Live on Maxwell Street
Here in the 21st century, we can record every concert we go to with our phones…but busking with electric instruments is usually against the law. Back in 1964 at Chicago’s Maxwell Street outdoor market, buskers congregated on every corner: it was like La Fete de la Musique every weekend. But if you wanted to get one of those shows on tape, you had to bring a bulky tape recorder…and that’s what one fan would do every weekend, eventually compiling a substantial private archive. A few of them have been released over the years, this one by Delmark in 1980, thirteen years after guitarist/singer Nighthawk’s death. The raw spontaneity of this impromptu jam is electric in every sense of the word. Nighthawk growls, takes his time and then works his way up to an erudite, jazz-infused style that won him the admiration of musicians from his circle who were far more popular. A lot of these performances had the feel of a cutting contest, especially the Maxwell Street Medley where Nighthawk jumps from one tune to another and whoever happened to be sitting in would try to leap along with him. There’s also his local hit Goin’ Down to Eli’s, instrumentals like Mr. Bell’s Shuffle and Yakity Yak, along with hard-edged stuff like Take It Easy Baby and I Need Your Love So Bad. Be aware that there are many versions of this floating around the web – if you like this one you might want to peek around other downloads. Here’s a random torrent via Way to Your Soul.
457. Neil Young – Living with War
From 2006, this is his best album. A ferocious, electric response to the criminality and genocide of the Bush regime, it’s political rock at its most insightful and tuneful. After the Garden coldly and cynically sets the stage for the sarcastic title track, and the equally scathing The Restless Consumer. Shock and Awe and Flags of Freedom call bullshit on the regime’s endless lies, while Families looks sympathetically at those left behind when Cheney sent the troops off to Iraq, from where 55% of the survivors would come home to disability pensions, unable to work because they’d been poisoned by depleted uranium. Let’s Impeach the President is a classic – and maybe the most intelligent song about an American President ever written. Looking for a Leader suggests that “maybe it’s Colin Powell, to atone for what he’s done;” Roger and Out looks back to Helpless, an enlisted grunt grudgingly admitting “that’s when we needed the hippie highway.” The closing cover of America the Beautiful is pretty pointless, but after all that, it doesn’t matter. The album itself is hard to find online, but the dvd with all the songs isn’t; here’s a random torrent via Three Times J.
456. Mos Generator – The Late Great Planet Earth
The artsy metal trio’s 2005 quantum leap, ironically, remains their mellowest album. Their earlier stuff is solid, but here they take their sound to the next level: this is a lush, atmospheric, genuinely haunting concept album about the apocalypse. The foreboding On the Eve kicks it off, followed by the epic dirge Crematorium; the rhythmically dizzying, manic depressive Six Billion People Dead; the aptly titled Opium Skies; The Myopic and its understated bitterness; the morbid Closed Casket; and the plaintive, Pink Floyd-ish Fall of Megiddo. Frontman/guitarist Tony Reed continued to assert himself as one of the underrated guitar heroes of the past couple of decades, while adding layer after layer of keyboards to the mix (which dominate as the album winds out, hypnotically). It winds up on a crushingly ironic, cynical note with the surprisingly funky title track and a mini-suite with a centerpiece titled Exit the Atomic Age. Long overdue for a reissue, the band is still selling it at cdbaby; if you’re looking for a torrent, try this random one.