I've gotten to a point in this project where I feel a bit of fatigue. Focusing too hard on too many "great" albums in a row, perhaps? Before I get to that, I just finished the 33 1/3 book about Nick Drake's Pink Moon, available here. I love this series, and especially this volume. I, like many of you possibly, "discovered" Nick Drake after I heard the title track to his third record on a still-amazing VW Cabrio commercial in the early 2000's. I immediately devoured his three records, and put them on constant repeat. At that time, I read a biography about his life and too-early death. In the more than 10 years that have since passed, I haven't listened to his music again.
When I saw this book in our Jersey City book store, Word, I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about an old, neglected friend. Listening to the album again, I am struck by the sadness of it (and by extension, the sadness of my early twenties)...but mostly by how truly beautiful an album it is. Amazing that it's not on this Top 100 list (it's #320 on Rolling Stone's list, surprisingly with his debut album Five Leaves Left at #283 and his second album Bryter Layter at #245).
[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/BIOW9fLT9eY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]
Since there was no reading material for this week's albums, and no documentaries either, I was freed up to watch a documentary called Muscle Shoals, preview below. It turns out, Aretha Franklin worked on I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (and Lady Soul) with the musicians from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The film tells the story of the famous studios and musicians of that small town, and the incredibly tragic personal story of the founder Rick Hall.
[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/5rW_KbniNqs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]
Whoops! There actually is an Imagine documentary that I will now have to watch...I started one version of it, but it was just a glorified music video of the whole album. For the actual documentary, you can find it here if you're interested in viewing with me.
80: John Lennon -- Imagine (1971)
OK...Let's get to it. First off, I have to mention that this album is the first on the list NOT to be available on Spotify (hence, no links).
Imagine (the song) is one of those rare songs that I've heard literally hundreds of times, and yet I still love it dearly. Perhaps it's in part because I was told it was an evil song growing up (because of the lyrics "Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky." or his pleading to imagine there's "no religion too"). I get why this song would evoke that kind of resistance from the religious set, but how beautiful. How quietly hopeful and counter-cultural.
"Jealous Guy" is such an amazing song as well. I love the dry-reeded sax solo on "It's So Hard". His melodic groove on "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die" is one of the coolest things I've ever heard. It's like he's jumping the rope of the groove in slow motion with his vocal delivery...you can't focus on the rope, just close your eyes, jump in and keep it going--nice and smooth. "Oh My Love"--what can you even say. Just beautiful. "How?" is also a favorite.
I don't love "Gimme Some Truth" or "How Do You Sleep?". I've read that these songs fill out Lennon's persona, and present the more complex aspects of his psyche--but I would be fine without them. That probably says more about me, but there it is. I appreciate John Lennon The Balladeer and Songwriter more than John Lennon The Rocker resonates with me. But, the man had range. No doubt.
79: Led Zeppelin -- Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Prior to this record, I had very little exposure to Led Zeppelin. I know Robert Plant more because he's married to one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time--Patty Griffin. I don't mean to say that he's Mr. Griffin to me--I just haven't ever listened to his work, deeper than Raising Sand with Allison Krauss, which is a personal favorite.
This record is engineered by Eddie Kramer, who also engineered Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love. On the opening track, Whole Lotta Love, you can tell. The psychedelic studio tricks are here too, and equally effective. What Is And What Should Never Be, refers to a castle (a la Jimi again?) but is a super cool track moving between cool laid-back blues and strutting rock riffs. Robert Plant's scatting and improv at the end is noteworthy--ballsy and strange, and yet somehow cool.
The riffs are huge, if the lyrics are cryptic and just out of reach.
Ramble On is by far my favorite track on this album. I had heard it before, though it was never with my direct attention. The way the verse starts with this chill drumming (a very similar box-top-like drum sound to a Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away) and then kicks into that biting and intense chorus, with the alternating kick repeats and then snare repeats. And those haunting and simple doubled-guitar refrains.
This perfect song is followed by Moby Dick--which starts out cool. And then I find myself deep in a much-too-long drum solo. Is the drumming impressive? Yeah, John Bonham had serious chops. But if I wanted my least favorite part of any concert committed to tape, I would ask for it. Any momentum I got with Ramble On is lost with this...
I have to say, so far I don't get the allure. There are three more Led Zeppelin records on this list, and I'm open to being very, very wrong. In fact, I hope I am.
I loved several of the songs on Imagine--but for some reason was not pulled into the album as a whole.
I am deeply impressed with Ramble On, but could leave the rest of the Led Zeppelin II off of any future mix tape.
78: Otis Redding -- Otis Blue (1965) 77: AC/DC -- Back In Black (1980)