Saturday, July 28, 2012

Top 10 Records of 1974

Wow, from just the '70s, I've done 1972, then 1973, and now 1974... Randomly!

Honestly. I'm following a pre-ordained path of randomized years, cycling through the last four decades of the 20th century. It's all for fun.

The Mars Hotel
All during the writing of this post (below), many of the rankings shifted up and down and sideways around. I don't think any of the original 10 albums were replaced, but some tectonic movements certainly did occur. What follows is a snapshot in time - 1974 certainly, but more importantly: right NOW.

#10 Diamond Dogs - David Bowie

Diamond Dogs
Full album on YouTube
"Rebel Rebel" from Diamond Dogs (1974)

Genre - Glam Rock
Official -
Myspace -
Location - The U.K.

Review - Stylus Magazine
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - non-30th edition

I think this could be said for a large majority of this year's list, but Diamond Dogs takes some time & patience & effort to love. Obviously you have the hit single and the title track. But there's a lot of dark works going on - like with too much drugs, despair and the dying of Ziggy. "1984" definitely looks forward, but maybe not quite 10 years - did you know this was an Orwellian dystopia concept album? Definitely worth getting if you already like 4 or 5 other Bowie albums.

But you're probably better off starting with Ziggy itself (#6, 1972).

#9 Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel
and Compliments of Garcia - Jerry Garcia

From the Mars Hotel
"Scarlet Begonias" from From The Mars Hotel (1974)
"Let It Rock" from Compliments (1974)

Genre - Proto-Jamband U.S. Rock 'n' Roll
Official -
Location - San Francisco, CA

Review - The Rising Storm
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - from the band

Not a patch on 3xLP Europe '72 (#1, 1972), but one of the Dead's top-tier studio albums. Maybe not so obviously, "Scarlet Begonias" became the classic tune and live staple, with certain lyrics almost defining the Deadhead subculture ("strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand"). From the Mars Hotel has quite a few moments that could be charitably called 'cornball,' but all in a (generally) genial spirit of fun. Phil Lesh's songs are practically standouts: both "Unbroken Chain" and "Pride of Cucamonga." And Garcia contributes two more boogie-woogie numbers, and two top-notch "Jerry weepers" – as my brother & I called them all those years ago.

Compliments of... features loose and groovy covers of Chuck Berry (above), The Marvelettes (Smokey Robinson), Little Milton, Irving Berlin, Albert Washington, Van Morrison, Dr. John, The Rolling Stones, Seatrain (Peter Rowan of Old & In The Way)... and one original, "Midnight Town," which was written by Garcia's buddy John Kahn and Dead lyricist Robert Hunter – and apparently the B-side to the "Let It Rock" single.

#8 Autobahn - Kraftwerk

Full album on YouTube
"Kometenmelodie 2" from Autobahn (1974)

Genre - Motorik Experimental Synth Pop-Musik
Official -
Location - Düsseldorf, Westphalia, FRG

Review - The Quietus
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

Possibly a little overrated – but it's definitely early and influential. The side-long title track still stands out as a unique & special snowflake, especially for a 1974 hit song. The rest continues to work out the possibilities of that German brand of experimental ambient synthesizer music. Both "Kometenmelodie 1" and "Mitternacht" are creepy horrorshow soundscapes – the former airy and tense, the latter just plain doomy. "Morgenspaziergang" is something completely different, with nature sounds and an almost hippie lilt.

p.s. Comet melody, Midnight, Morning walk...

#7 Dark Magus: Live at Carnegie Hall - Miles Davis

Dark Magus
"Moja (Part 1)" from Dark Magus (1974)
"Nne (Part 2)" from Dark Magus (1974)

Genre - Hard Jazz Explorations
Official -
Location - currently The Bronx

Review - Magnet Magazine
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

No hippie lilt here – the dream is over. Here is some dark, dense, heavy noise-jazz. Sure, it jams – but it's really more relentless than pleasing, even when it gets quieter (not often). As mentioned for most of this year's list, this is not where almost anyone should start listening to Miles Davis. Dark Magus kinda forms a triptych of Miles' mid-'70s rock- & funk-inspired live jazz explorations, along with Agharta and Pangaea (both 1975)... although less fun. The four songs/sides are named for the Bantu-Swahili numbers 1-4: Moja, Wili, Tatu, Nne [tano, sita, saba, nane, tisa, kumi]...

Big year for Miles - with the outtakes collection Big Fun and the early-'70s catch-up Get Up with It (get up with that cover photo!), neither of which have I yet gotten around to.

#6 You - Gong

"Master Builder" from You (1974)
"The Isle of Everywhere" from You (1974)

Genre - Narrative Psych-Prog Jams
Official -
Location - France

Review - Ground and Sky
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

I like this guy's re-programming suggestion. Because as much as I really dig the extended psych-outs from Gong, I couldn't care less about their interplanetary pixie mythology silliness. Fortunately, the jams here are long & great, and the story-telling is kept brief (this is the last in a concept trilogy of albums). Check out the two linked above and "A Sprinkling of Clouds" for sure!

I made a pretty decent post about Gong a couple of years ago.

#5 Before the Flood - Bob Dylan/The Band

Before the Flood
"Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" [live] from Before the Flood (1974)
"Like a Rolling Stone" [live] from Before the Flood (1974)

Genre - Americana Folk-Rock
Official -
Location - New York State

Review - Rolling Stone, 1974
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

I've liked this album about as long as I've been into Bob Dylan – strangely enough, not really all that long. Reading around recently has led to a greater understanding of the moment. Dylan going through his first major falter, The Band's separate successes drying up, the novelty of the arrangements for well-known and long-standing tunes growing out of resentment at being reduced to a touring old-times revue. I guess because I was 5 years old and not really paying attention. It's a double-live with Bobby D & The Band, c'mon! Dylan's first live album and maybe only (?) really excellent one... although the MTV Unplugged DVD (1995) and many of the Bootleg Series are well worth owning.

Planet Waves was released this same year, a studio album recorded with The Band - but I've never owned it.

#4 Phaedra - Tangerine Dream

Full album on YouTube
"Sequent C" from (1974)

Genre - Space Krautronics
Official -
Location - West Berlin, West Germany

Review - Rock on Vinyl
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

Almost exactly like Kraftwerk's Autobahn, this record left behind the early trials and kicked off Tangerine Dream's most fertile period of the next 5 years or so. Similarly, it's the opening title cut that blows minds for a living. Major-label debut, really? I never would have guessed. Even features a Mellotron lullaby oddy named "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares." Quite superb album of space-synth-sequencer-abstract-ambient-electro-Kraut.

#3 1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed

1969: VU Live
"Sweet Jane" from 1969: Velvet Underground Live (1974)
"Rock and Roll" from 1969: Velvet Underground Live (1974)
"What Goes On" from 1969: Velvet Underground Live (1974)

Genre - Rock and Roll
Wikipedia - wiki/Velvet_underground
Location - New York City, NY

Review - Creem, 1974 (Patti Smith)
Download - Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (Amazon) - Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (iTunes)
Purchase - Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (CD)

This 2-disc live set was not included in the VU discography post, because they only included contemporaneous releases. Lou's talking intro about the Cowboys-Eagles game is because some of these recordings come from Dallas, literally 11 days before I was born (down the road a bit)...

O yeah, the music! It's mandatory. Mostly longer, slower versions, but sometimes stepping up the energy - the experimental-songwriting axis provides the foundation for a confident, engaging live band. Once you've got all 4 of the studio albums, I'd definitely get this next - this and/or Bootleg Series, Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (2001, MP3) from the same year.

#2 Soon Over Babaluma - Can

Soon Over Babaluma
"Dizzy Dizzy" from Soon Over Babaluma (1974)
"Chain Reaction" from Soon Over Babaluma (1974)

Genre - Quasi-Ambient Trance-Jam
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Köln, Deutschland

Review - Treble Zine
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Amazon

One might think that I enjoy the music of Can (#1, 1973 and #4, 1972), and who am I to dissuade one or all? Second non-German singer Damo Suzuki leaves the band, which could have been a serious condition. But without missing a beat, or replacing him, Can continued to twist and turn music into their own image.

What is "Dizzy Dizzy" (v. Michael Karoli) - Teutonic fiddle hyper-dub? How about "Come sta, La Luna" (v. Irmin Schmidt) - Rachmaninoff robot-prog Exotica? "Splash" is definitely proto-Zornian speed-Jazzcore lite (I think). Side 2 is massive. "Chain Reaction" floors me with its sustained burbling intensity, along with the inverted mix - wailing solo guitar backing up the foregrounded rhythm and accompaniment. I always forget to expect Karoli's wedged-in vocal bridge section, although I guess technically that's the 'hook.' What makes "Quantum Physics" post-rock? Their most free and formless since certain jams on Tago Mago (1971).

An absolute wonder to hear, this whole album!

#1 Radio City - Big Star

Radio City
"September Gurls" from Radio City (1974)
"Back of a Car" from Radio City (1974)

Genre - Power-Pop
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Memphis, TN

Review - Stylus Magazine
Download - Amazon, iTunes (both w/ #1)
Purchase - Amazon (also w/ #1 Record)

I've definitely covered some Big Star (#2, 1972) in my day - going so far as to include as a full discography that I love. Chris Bell is out after #1 Record, so it's mainly just Alex Chilton songs from here on out.

Just listen to those two songs linked above, the major ones that everyone talks about... & rightly so. Big Star was a guitar-pop band, and both are stellar pop tunes! The record kicks off with one of my all-timers: the loopy, ramshackle, staggering funk of "O My Soul." I'll have to restrain myself, because they all seem pretty indispensible to me. Most excellent rockers include "She's A Mover" and "Mod Lang." Slow down easy with "Daisy Glaze," "What's Going Ahn" and "I'm in Love with a Girl." There's such a feel to the whole album, a high-wire balancing act between pretty popcraft and edgy rock-n-roll. That would topple before their next (last) record, but for now the equilibrium is damn near perfect.

A 33⅓ audio book, what?! "For rock snobs, the more obscure your favorite band, the better..." Okay, sure. Big Star is nowhere near as obscure as they used to be, nor as well-known as they should be. I'd be very happy if they switched cultural prominence with say, ELO.

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