In hindsight, it seems that I’ve been a little too generous with certain artists, letting some slide with multiple albums when one would suffice.
At the same time, I’ve made some egregious oversights. For instance, the first three records by the Meters are Potential Must Hear Albums, but both me and Robert Dimery missed them the first time around; added embarrassment as we’re about to realize the emergence of funk rock, which doesn’t really happen without a Neville Brother or two in the mix.
Anyway, the Meters. I’m going with Look Ka Py Py (1970), but the eponymous debut (1969) has “Cissy Strut”; Struttin’ (1970) contains a fantastic cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” (and the retarded “Chicken Strut”). I’m not kidding. You could drop a dime on pretty much any Meters record, and it’s probably going to find a groove. Hopefully, the dime won’t land on side two of Garbage Alley (1972), cuz there’s a lot of jazzy bullshit on there.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated.
Al Green – Let’s Stay Together (1972)
Aside from Stevie Wonder, Prince, and an occasional bug-out on Sly and the Family Stone, I don’t listen to a whole bunch of funk/soul/R&B music on a regular basis. It’s not my go-to background music. To each his own. But every now and then, I get an urge to hear the first half of Let’s Stay Together. It’s kind of like going to church. The few times that I’ve made it to the cover of the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (track 7 of 11), I’m itching to get out of there. I’m at the “Let us now offer each other a sign of peace” moment in a Catholic mass, right before communion, when you know it’s all down hill. It takes about 10 minutes to dish out the wafers, and then the Old Pervert is going to wrap it up with, “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” and you’re out of there like Shazam!
Alice Cooper – School’s Out (1972)
School’s Out is not a five-star accomplishment; don’t let the title song fool you. The reason you didn’t hear anything else from this record on the radio is because there’s not much else on it—in terms of catchy material that leaves an impression. If only Alice had written ten versions of the title track, this wouldn’t be a contested effort. In fact, next year’s Billion Dollar Babies is much more fun. Anyway, there are some nifty moments here and there (“Blue Turk”, “Alma Mater” and parts of “The Gutter Cat vs. the Jets”), and some stinky-choogle (“Public Animal No. 9”), but I’ve already suggested Easy Action (1970), so we’ve probably had enough.
Let me clarify. If this afternoon, I heard School’s Out for the first time in my life, it woulda blown my head clean off my shoulders.
Yes, and hell yes! Both of these are on permanent heavy rotation.
Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey (1972)
You don’t need to hear this unless you absolutely adore reggae, in which case, you’ve already heard this. It’s not a bad introduction to early reggae, but it’s not the first record you should hear. Bob Marley and the Wailers are coming up very soon.
Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972)
I’m so tempted to say forget this record, ‘specially since you’re getting funk from the Meters, right? Before you spit coffee or beer or Skittles at your screen, Superfly is a fantastic soundtrack to yet another Blaxploitation film I haven’t seen in its entirety. I don’t believe I need to see the film to appreciate the soundtrack. I’ve never seen Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, but I love the soundtrack. However funky and groovy Superfly may be, there’s not a lot of excitement—it’s a soundtrack. But trust me, this is not a record you want to frame a cocaine binge, especially when the paranoia kicks in. Nothing’s funny about “Freddie’s Dead”.
As happens with many of these albums, I have to revisit them to refresh my memory; it’s not necessary to sit through the whole thing again. Most of the time it’s like yeah, this is what I remembered it to be. Superfly hasn’t been played on my personal radio station in at least 10 years, and I remember that night it wound up on the turntable. Anyway, tonight I was thinking about the second side of this album, and how the title track, one of the main reasons to hear this record in the first place, is the very last jam. And I’m not sure if that was a good decision. There’s not a whole lot of anything but wah-wah guitar and dramatic string sections between here and there, you know?
In the end, the late Curtis Mayfield is the reason you should listen to this album. He’s such a fine singer. Goodness.
David Ackles – American Gothic (1972)
A poor man’s Neil Diamond, not that Neil Diamond was exclusive purchase of the upper class. Neil Diamond, without the sequins and the hits; a cross between the theatrical camp of Liberace, and the everyman denim of Billy Joel. Not surprisingly (to me), Ackles never gained wide commercial success—it’s the first I’m hearing of the dude—but he was a huge influence on certain British singer-songwriters (by their own admission) such as Elvis Costello, Elton John and Phil Collins. I can think of a couple more cats who mighta borrowed a riff or two from Ackles’ shtick, particularly Meatloaf.
David Bowie – Hunky Dory (1972)
David Bowie – The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)
Hunky Dory was technically released in the U.K. in December 1971, but didn’t really find an audience until mid-1972. The album’s sweeping cinematic pop stands in contrast to the brash and sleazy rock n’ roll swagger of Ziggy Stardust.
Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972)
Gene Clark – White Light (1972)
Captain Beefheart – The Spotlight Kid (1972)
Frequent readers will recognize my personal distaste for anything “boogie-related.” Generally speaking, boogie makes me uncomfortable. And then one day I discovered Captain Beefheart, and I realized that I wasn’t wrong to hate boogie. Every other band had been doing boogie wrong. They’d been choogling. And there is only one guy who I willingly want to hear choogle: The Captain. There’s something about The Spotlight Kid that won’t let me turn it off. “Click Clack” may be my favorite blues rock song of all-time.
Hugh Masekela – Home Is Where The Music Is (1972)
Let’s say you’re on the 1001 Albums version of the game show Jeopardy. At some point, your knowledge of world music will be tested, and you should be familiar with this cat. You know this song, and now you know it’s Hugh Masekela’s biggest hit.
Sadly, “Grazing in the Grass” was released in 1968; hence, not on Home Is; nor is anything even remotely as catchy. But it’s probably not the least “Afrobeat” of Masekela’s albums, and it’s still far more jazz than Afrobeat.
John Prine – John Prine (1972)
Another album released in 1971, but winds up in ’72. Shrug.
On the whole, stand-alone singer-songwriters are terribly over-rated. There’s not a whole lot you can do with an acoustic guitar and a microphone, except sing a dozen different variations of the same song. In the biz, that’s called a “set list.” Nudge, wink, sniff. At this point in the game, everybody should have followed Bob Dylan’s lead and recognized the importance of a band, and the magical results of interaction between three or more musicians.
Of course, many Singular Joe singer-songwriters had back-up bands (at some point in their careers), which is quite different than being the lead guy in a band. For instance, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was a real band with TP as the grand poobah. Wilco is Jeff Tweedy and some other dudes who care a whole bunch. On the other hand, John Cougar Mellencamp had a band, but they never got co-billing on the marquee. You bought John Cougar records, not John Cougar and the Mellencamps records. So, the S-Joes are mainly dealing with hired guns as opposed to comrades-in-arms. Does that matter? I think so. Where is Evan Dando today?
Take David Bowie, for another example. He didn’t really start selling records until he formed the Spiders From Mars. His earlier records were fantastic, but the three Ziggy-Spiders era albums are better. [Pin Ups (1973) is not essential listening, but it is really fun hearing Bowie’s choice of cover songs.] Were the Spiders ever an actual band? Probably not. And granted, he went back to being a singular David Bowie, but every single record he made from there on out was heavily influenced by his collaborators. What would David Bowie be without Mick Ronson? Who knows? Maybe he’d have been a mime with fucked-up teeth and one dilated pupil.
John Prine was a songwriter’s songwriter, championed by a busload of folky-dokey artists including Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. I honestly don’t know what that says about him. There’s one truly amazing song on this record, “Angel From Montgomery”, and several other cuts in the meantime that have been covered by other artists. By far the best part of this album is the cover, which, as you can see, features Prine posed, uncomfortably bewildered, on bales of hay. Apparently, the P.R. department of Atlantic was run by blind squirrels, because they certainly found the nut on this record. Thus, my review of John Prine is complete.
Lou Reed – Transformer (1972)
On one hand, Transformer is the quintessential or penultimate Lou Reed solo album. He really doesn’t ever get any better than this. On the other hand, Lou Reed solo albums are questionably important. As an artist, he hardly progressed from this point forward; he only changed costumes. And some critics suggest that he was merely a follower; that this record is simply Reed’s attempt to mount the glam rock bandwagon. The next decade of his career was one long question of “What the Fuck Is This Guy Doing?”
Having said all that, this was one of the first records I ever bought with my lawn mowing money, based solely on the strength of hearing “Walk on the Wild Side” on FM radio. I was probably eight or nine years old, and boy, was I disappointed by the rest of the album. And so, Lou Reed went on the Pay No Mind list, until some time in my early teens, when I heard the Velvet Underground, which brought me to the conclusion that all the Lou Reed you’ll ever need to hear is contained on one of VU’s first four or five albums, from the debut album to Loaded, approximately. Don’t even try and tell me that New York (1989) is a Must Hear. You would be insulting your intelligence.
Milton Nascimento & Lo Borges – Clube Da Esquina (1972)
They say there’s a time and a place for everything. The first thing that comes to mind is fisting etiquette. It wouldn’t be appropriate during a business meeting, but it might come in handy during sexy time with your significant other. I dunno. What I can tell you is that this is by far the most depressing album cover I’ve seen today.
Hey, I know it’s not Feliz Navidad, or the album with “Light My Fire”, but if you really must hear folk songs played on a nylon string guitar and sung in Spanish, this is the cat you call, not Milton Massey Mentos or whoever.
Neil Young – Harvest (1972)
Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1972)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1972)
Nope. The circle will remain intact.
Listen, country-folk-rock is a legitimate genre, and at various points along the way, you’ll pick up bits and pieces. We’re in banjo, harmonica and mandolin territory now, i.e. the Nashville sound. This album’s biggest selling point is the appearance of traditional country artists such as Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Merle Travis, and Jimmy Martin. And if you were to acquire and listen to this record, you would almost certainly find yourself skipping forward every so often, not because it’s boring or overbearing, but because it’s a triple-fucking LP. You remember what I said about George Harrison – All Things Must Pass?
Paul Simon – Paul Simon (1972)
I think you’ll find that I’m going to be exceedingly harsh on Paul Simon’s solo career, not only because I have always been an Artie vs. Paul guy. In my mind, for a big chunk of Simon’s post-Garfunkel career, up to One Trick Pony or so, he wasn’t doing anything he couldn’t have done with Simon & Garfunkel. When they spilt, Simon took the songs and Garfunkel left with the heavenly voice and redeeming qualities. This record is a Must Hear only because it absolutely justifies that last statement.
Critics thought highly of Paul Simon and his solo work, so I’ll have more time to cover this subject later.
Randy Newman – Sail Away (1972)
No. See #80.
Little Feat – Sailing Shoes (1972)
Badfinger – Straight Up (1972)
Roxy Music – Roxy Music (1972)
Slade – Slayed? (1972)
Slade is somewhat under-rated. These cats literally sold their souls for rock n’ roll, back when rock n’ roll meant something. You’re certainly not going to find a band with such focused aim on the lowest common denominator. These guys spelled stupid, s-t-o-o-p-i-d. They also had a bunch of good-time party jams, many of which all too often sound a lot like choogle. But I like ‘em. They appeal to my inner child. This record is the Saturday morning cartoon of rock music.
I just left the room to have a smoke on the balcony while Slayed? was lingering on the sound system. We were in the vicinity of Track 3. I came back to the room five minutes later to hear “I Won’t Let It Happen Again”, and the first thing that popped into my head was, “Oh, this bullshit is still on? Christ.”
And then the jam faded out. Can you guess what happened next?
“Move Over”. Whoa! I forgot about this jam. This is the best Janis Joplin song I’ve ever heard! Except it’s not Janis Joplin. What a relief!
Please note that the above video clip is from their Live at the BBC Sessions, and as good if not better than the album version, but I’m listening to the rest of Slayed? You’re welcome to join me.
Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972)
Not yet. Steely Dan is an acquired taste. Can’t Buy a Thrill is just OK. Things get cooking next year on Countdown to Ecstasy. Of course, “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Dirty Work” are this record; so are “Do It Again” and “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again.” This is Steely Dan Jr.
Relax, you’re going to hear capital P-plenty of Steely Dan.
The Eagles’ debut album featured three Top 40 singles with “Take it Easy”, “Witchy Woman” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, which are now inescapable from pop culture. The album played a major role in popularizing the southern California country rock sound. Cunts.
I know it’s been cool to hate the Eagles since The Big Lebowski achieved cult status, but I’ll have you know that I have always hated the Eagles, from the opening guitar riff of “Take It Easy” through Hotel California and on to wherever these clowns wound up.
If, in 1976, you had asked my eight-year-old smart ass to name the worst band in rock, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say the Eagles. Of course, I hadn’t heard Dire Straits or U2, and at the time I thought “Smoke on the Water” and “Woman From Tokyo” were hot jams, so I was onboard with Deep Purple. Nowadays, there are certain aspects of the Eagles which I admire. None of which I’m going to reveal at this time.
If there’s anything worse than “Peaceful Easy Feeling” on this record, there are two things for certain. (1) It was written (and sung) by Glenn Frey. (2) It’s called “Chug All Night” and repulsively, it’s not about drinkin’ beer and shootin’ at possums in the woods out back; it’s about Glenn Frey’s sweaty, fermenting paunch, repeatedly slamming against the tramp stamp of some unfortunate, camel-backed woman he met at a Weight Watchers seminar.
Anything. Any fucking record you can find.
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street (1972)
Everybody says this is THE Must Hear Stones album, and I say it’s just another victim of the Double LP Syndrome. There is one album of good jams on this record. They are:
“Rip This Joint”
“Torn and Frayed”
“All Down the Line”
“Shine A Light”
“Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)”
“Dancing in the Light”
That said, Exile is still kind of a Must Hear whether I like it or not.
The Temptations – All Directions (1972)
I’m not fucking stoopid. Even though the Temps were at the forefront of so-called psychedelic soul, there’s no way in hell this is essential listening. You know what is Must Hear shit? About five minutes of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, which clocks in at 11:45 total running time.
I feel bad for these cats. They got jammed into the psychedelic soul trope by Motown. They were better than that.
This is not even a suggested alternative. This is a dead-center Must Hear if there is one.
Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything? (1972)
War – The World Is A Ghetto (1972)
Yes, but…no. But yes. Let’s stick with yes.
Yes – Close To The Edge (1972)
This is the last Must Hear album in the Yes catalog. Enjoy all five thousand and twenty-three minutes of it.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Catch A Fire (1973)
Can – Future Days (1973)
David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973)
Man, I’ll tell you what. These four records make the perfect Saturday night. Maybe throw in one more album from further down the list, and you can keep that starting five in rotation until the wee hours of the morning.
Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1973)
We haven’t listed a double live rock album so far, and Made In Japan, in terms of its audiophile, actually sounds really damn good. For a live album, it sounds like Deep Purple is right there your living room. They had their own private jet, for shitsakes. They ruled the world in 1973. So even though I absolutely hate this band, it wouldn’t kill you to hear what all the hype was about. And be disappointed they aren’t Led Zeppelin.
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
This is the only Must Hear album from Elton John, and I apologize for its length, but it’s about as good as any other double LP released in 1973. And it’s impossible to overstate the importance of Elton John in 1970s. He had seven consecutive #1 albums (including a greatest hits collection that has since sold 16 million copies), and charted 20 Billboard Top 40 singles (six songs hit #1) in the period from 1971-1976. For that five-year period, Elton was one of the kings of the world.
Mostly, I would think that the average, reasonable music appreciationist has a love/hate relationship with Sir Elton.
Faust – Faust IV (1973)
Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (1973)
Krautrock 303 and British Prog 454, respectively. You’ll need both courses to graduate.
Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel (1973)
Holy shit, this is complete nonsense if that’s not Emmylou Harris. You should listen to (some) of this LP. That way you can formulate your own opinion of Gram Parsons and his talent (or lack thereof).
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
Hawkwind – Space Ritual (1973)
Iggy & The Stooges – Raw Power (1973)
Granted, this is caveman-type shit. I believe at one point, I called it “knuckle-dragging.” Over time, Raw Power has grown on me.
Iggy Pop on Raw Power:
To the best of my recollection it was done in a day. I don’t think it was two days. On a very, very old board, I mean this board was old! An Elvis type of board, old-tech, low-tech, in a poorly lit, cheap old studio with very little time. To David’s credit, he listened with his ear to each thing and talked it out with me, I gave him what I thought it should have, he put that in its perspective, added some touches. He’s always liked the most recent technology, so there was something called a Time Cube you could feed a signal into—it looked like a bong, a big plastic tube with a couple of bends in it—and when the sound came out the other end, it sort of shot at you like an echo effect. He used that on the guitar in “Gimme Danger”, a beautiful guitar echo overload that’s absolutely beautiful; and on the drums in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell”. His concept was, “You’re so primitive, your drummer should sound like he’s beating a log!” It’s not a bad job that he did…I’m very proud of the eccentric, odd little record that came out.
Bowie later recalled:
The most absurd situation I encountered was the first time I worked with Iggy Pop. He wanted me to mix Raw Power, so he brought the 24-track tape in, and he put it up. He had the band on one track, lead guitar on another and him on a third. Out of 24 tracks there were just three tracks that were used. He said ‘see what you can do with this’. I said, ‘Jim, there’s nothing to mix’. So we just pushed the vocal up and down a lot. On at least four or five songs that was the situation, including “Search and Destroy.” That’s got such a peculiar sound because all we did was occasionally bring the lead guitar up and take it out. 
John Cale – Paris 1919 (1973)
John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
Here’s what you should know about John Martyn: He was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist. Over a 40-year career, he released 21 studio albums, working with artists such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Phil Collins. He was described by The Times as “an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues.” Zzzz. Zzzz. The title track of Solid Air is supposedly dedicated his friend Nick Drake, who died 18 months later in 1974. Martyn passed away in 2009 following a battle with double pneumonia.
He’s the reason people tolerate Dave Matthews and his band. Cunts.
Little Feat – Dixie Chicken (1973)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues In Aspic (1973)
Lou Reed – Berlin (1973)
Tom Waits – Closing Time (1973)
Hey! Didn’t Marvin Gaye already make this record in 1971? Yeah, he kinda did. That was What’s Going On, which is essentially the (musical) blueprint for Let’s Get It On. Where the former had socially conscious lyrics and a vaguely political agenda, the latter addresses (in a way) a different type of movement, the sexual revolution, for lack of a better term. So what’s going on is that we’re going to get it on.
Barry White – I’ve Got So Much to Give (1973)
Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (1973)
This fucking record appears on every Best Albums list, and I just want to scream at somebody. The use of the opening theme in the film The Exorcist gained the record considerable publicity and introduced the work to a broader audience. It is by far the most maddening, hateful, irredeemable piece of music released in 1973, including the stuff I haven’t had to sit through.
Brian Eno and Robert Fripp – No Pussyfooting (1973)
Mott The Hoople – Mott (1973)
Exceedingly debatable album. If your membership in Bob and Ron’s Record Club is up for renewal, then by all means, get this fucker on the turntable, now. If not, we’ve already heard sparkling examples of glam rock, and the N.Y. Dolls are up next.
New York Dolls – New York Dolls (1973)
Lance Bass and the Folsom Street Band. “Vietnamese Baby” is probably the most unsavory song in existence. This is one of those records that makes me say, “Wow. Just wow. These fucking guys are out of their minds.”
Paul McCartney & Wings – Band On The Run (1973)
This is it, the end of the Beatles. Band On The Run is a eulogy. Lennon’s solo career is essentially over. Harrison would continue to make unremarkable records. Ringo Starr was more of a sideshow than a solo artist, and now, McCartney is officially out of good ideas, and a member of Wings. RIP.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Yeah, you gotta.
Steely Dan – Countdown To Ecstasy (1973)
Stephen Stills – Manassas (1973)
Goddamn, I’m sorry. But Stephen Stills did not have such an influence on popular music that we have to keep getting jammed with his solo albums. It’s getting really irritating. The guy was a great guitarist and wrote some good jams. And that’s it. His work with Manassas is lackluster at best. I’m not even going to make a joke out of their name, either.
Anyway, this entry is super-confusing because (A) the record in question was released in 1972; (B) the title is also the name of the band; and (C) the record that was released in 1973 (Down the Road), is in no way, shape or form, a Must Hear record.
Critics panned it, but I love this record. “The Ocean” single-handedly taught me how to count 7/8 vs. 4/4 time. Second favorite Zeppelin album after Presence. So good. “Over the Hills and Far Away”, ‘The Song Remains the Same”. The opening riff of “Dancing Days”. The fuckin’ drums on “D’yer Mak’er”. You get it now.
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)
The Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (1973)
There can never be a Must Hear album from a band with bongo in its name, unless it’s former President of Gabon, Omar Bongo, and even then, he’d have to essentially remake Led Zeppelin IV in his own likeness for it to be essential listening. That’s a whole bunch of contingencies piled up in one spot, kids. Omar died in 2009.
Sweet – The Sweet (1973)
The Isley Brothers – 3+3 (1973)
Oh man, do I hate this fucking album. It was on the jukebox at my steady local for five long years. Every single night, someone would play “That Lady” or “Listen to the Music”. Maybe a year into my residence at the bar, we discovered the cover of “Summer Breeze” (Track 8), and all of a sudden, 3+3 was my favorite record in the jukebox.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Next … (1973)
Man, I can’t get over how much fun this Slade record is. There is a very serious party atmosphere at BSM HQ. After all, glam rock is one of the more light-hearted types of fare available. I suppose nobody wants to be thinking about existential angst when shaking their ass. If “Cum On Feel The Noize” was on this record, I might call it one of the best of all-time.
Waylon Jennings – Honky Tonk Heroes (1973)
ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973)
This is your second and last Todd Rundgren album, and A Wizard is definitely my choice of the two records.
Honky Tonk Heroes is considered a seminal touchstone in the development of the outlaw subgenre in country music, as it helped resuscitate the Nashville honky tonk sound by injecting a rock and roll attitude. In other words, fuck the Byrds and Gram Parsons. Jennings was making true country rock. He wasn’t playing dress up. And so we must listen.
Bonus Year: 1974*
10cc – Sheet Music (1974)
10cc is terribly under-rated and sadly pigeonholed by the soft-rock stylings of their biggest hit “I’m Not in Love”, which is not on Sheet Music, a delightfully adventurous work of pop genius, and one of the records that makes 1974 such a unique year in music.
Bad Company – Bad Company (1974)
Bad Company had a couple of solid jams, didn’t they? Remind me. They were a good-to-very good band that stayed within the narrow confines of underachieving hard rock. Some people say Paul Rodgers is one of the all-time great rock vocalists.
Having made several long-distance road trips with exactly three cassettes in the car and a tape deck that didn’t have auto-reverse, I can think of a bunch of circumstances where Bad Company might be one of the only albums you have on hand, and thus, you’d almost be forced to listen to it all the way through. Otherwise, just tune into the local classic rock radio station and wait for “Can’t Get Enough” to come on, and keep stuffing that Carl’s Jr. double cheeseburger into your face.
Rush – Rush (1974)
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974)
[EXTRA-CURRICULAR EDIT: Thinking in terms of economy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t comment on suggested alternatives, but I can’t help myself in this case. Desolation Boulevard is a fantastic and delightful slice of hard-ass rock and power pop layer cake, which I would recommend on the basis of the drums alone – both in terms of performance and production. Now, you have to be careful on this one: there are two separate releases (U.K. and U.S. – the latter didn’t hit the shelves until 1975), and four different reissue packages, the latest coming in 2005. That’s the one you want, since it contains bonus tracks including one of the greatest songs nobody ever heard for some unknown reason, “Teenage Rampage”. Seriously, every time I listen to it, I think, “How was this not bigger than ‘Ballroom Blitz’?”]
Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks (1974)
There are four Must Hear Bob Dylan albums on the list preceding Blood on the Tracks, so you’ve already heard the best this of what this cat has to offer. To my ears, BOTT is one tedious, 51-minute song. Enjoy the first two or three choruses of “Tangled Up in Blue” and get this fucker off the turntable.
[Note: It’s been brought to my attention that BOTT wasn’t released until January 1975. Editor replies: … .]
Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)
I’m not one of those cats who think Brian Eno is King Midas. He has produced both U2 and Coldplay. Obviously, he has flaws and questionable judgment. But Eno’s first three solo records are albums you must hear before you die if there’s ever been such a thing. Run, don’t walk to iTunes and download Here Come the Warm Jets, now.
Wait a minute, you know what else was released in 1974 but didn’t make the list? Eno’s second solo LP, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), regarded by some critics and enthusiasts as the superior effort.
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1974)
The only reason this record might be heard in its entirety is to make sure you didn’t miss out on any type of musical genius. You didn’t. Though it has garnered a certain cult appreciation among Beach Boy fans and neo-hipster vinyl nerds, Pacific Ocean Blue has few highlights, despite contributions from James Jamerson on bass, Hal Blaine on drums, and Robert Lamm (Chicago) on backing vocals. You can take a turd to the beach, but you can’t make it surf.
Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Blvd (1974)
Did you know that Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “I Shot the Sheriff” is his only #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100? Nearly a decade later, “Tears in Heaven” went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, but stalled at #2 on the Hot 100. Anyway, “Sheriff” and “Motherless Children” are the only two jams on 461 worth repeated spins. Clapton never should have quit heroin, not that he was anything special as junkie.
Gene Clark – No Other (1974)
Meanwhile, Gene Clark was probably the best songwriter in the Byrds (“I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Eight Miles High”), but his solo stuff is tiresome, especially this cardboard pastiche of country, gospel, and half-hearted boogie. Therefore, I’ve listened to No Other so you don’t have to. According to Pitchfork, in 2013 the album was performed live, note-for-note by a “supergroup” featuring: Beach House, plus members of Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and the Walkmen. Enough said.
Genesis – Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)
The main reason we don’t have time for the likes of Clapton and Clark is that we’re going to be lost in this double-disc concept album for the next six months.
George Jones – The Grand Tour (1974)
Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Winter In America (1974)
Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1974)
Come on, seriously? Who has time for George Jones or Gil-Scott Heron in 1974? Honky-tonk bartenders and finger-snapping poets in red berets, that’s who. Herbie Hancock is a phenomenal musician, but the only Herbie anybody needs in their life is the 1969 soundtrack for the Bill Cosby animated children’s television show Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. And “Rockit” wouldn’t come out for another decade or so. Hancock’s Head Hunters marks the spot where jazz-funk fusion bands started recognizing themselves in the mirror, and didn’t like what they saw.
Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark (1974)
Kraftwerk – Autobahn (1974)
Neil Young – On the Beach (1974)
Queen – Queen II (1974)
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
The preceding are all albums you should hear more than once, and I don’t even like Joni Mitchell, or Neil Young’s On the Beach, which has three songs with “Blues” in the title, a massive boner-kill as far as I’m concerned.
Here’s something mildly interesting about 1974; a bunch of major artists released two studio albums during the calendar year: Brian Eno, Queen, King Crimson, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Sweet, Miles Davis, and Harry Nilsson all doubled-up, and several others (Elton John, David Bowie, etc.) released one studio album and one live and/or best of collection.
Randy Newman – Good Old Boys (1974)
Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom (1974)
If not for consideration of the reader, all three records should be cut. You could essentially pick any Randy Newman album and give it a spin. This cat has one gear: Randy. Everything he does, from “Rednecks” to “Short People” to “I Love L.A.” is Randy. I don’t need that much Randy in my life.
Critics adore Richard & Linda Thompson records. I think their music sucks, hard. The only reason I want you to listen to Bright Lights Tonight is so you can see just how fucking obtuse music critics can be. They love this album. Let’s see if you can figure out why. I sure can’t.
Wyatt’s Rock Bottom has a fairly interesting back-story. While in preparation for recording the album, an inebriated Wyatt fell from a third-floor window and was paralyzed from the waist down, a condition persisting to this day. Nevertheless, within six months, Wyatt was back in the recording studio, making Rock Bottom one of the first known rock records to have been primarily recorded by an artist in a wheelchair.
Sparks – Kimono My House (1974)
Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)
Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (1974)
These are all standard slam-dunks, with Kimono My House being the ultra-sleeper of the lot. Plus, get Crime of the Century under your belt and you’re done with Supertramp.
Tangerine Dream – Phaedra (1974)
Tangerine Dream is the musical equivalent of watching ice cubes melt in a glass of cold water.
King Crimson – Red
Van Morrison – It’s Too Late to Stop Now (1974)
Albums are like vocabulary words. Once you’ve learned ‘em by heart, you can use ‘em in ways to express yourself in myriad situations. Right, so: Aging sucks, man. Whenever I find myself in a spot where Older Me is struggling with something Younger Me could do on two hours of sleep and three hits of acid, for instance, running 5K at a leisurely pace, I think to myself, “Jesus, I’ve got less in the tank than Van Morrison in ‘74.”
It’s Too Late to Stop Now is frequently named one of the “best live albums ever recorded,” and I’m here to tell you that’s complete nonsense. If, in fact, Morrison was at the so-called height of his powers as a live performer, I’d have hated to seen him on an “off” night. In reality, what you’re hearing is the sound of a guy who was done.
And so we’re done. Rock on, 1974, thanks for playing the game. We’ve managed to pare nine albums from our total, added one Must Hear, and suggested four alternatives. But there’s something missing. There is at least one album that absolutely must be on this list. No, it’s not Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe – a great record for sure, but not essential. What could it be?
Big Star – Radio City (1974)
Conceived by the U.S. Administration during the Cold War, the domino theory speculated that if one state in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect. Wikipedia couldn’t make it any simpler for us.
The domino theory is frequently applied to music when people argue about who’s the best so-n-so. At some point in the conversation, somebody will kick over the first domino. “You know, if there was no Little Richard, there would be no Beatles.” Etcetera.
One thing is for certain. There are fewer than a dozen bands like the Velvet Underground who “spawned more bands than they sold records,” and Big Star is at least partially responsible for any band that falls within a mile-radius of power pop. Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Wilco, The Replacements and Afghan Whigs collectively owe a massive debt of gratitude to Big Star. Radio City, like their other two records, is chock full of moments where I say to myself, “Oh, so that’s where _________ got that riff. He swiped it from Alex Chilton.”