written by Craig O’Connor
I got such a good response from my last list of ten unjustifiably ignored albums that expanding the list was the obvious next step. So, without further procrastination, here are ten more great albums that should be playing on your turntable/boombox/iPod but probably aren’t. P.S. – It was not my intention to choose so many albums that were released in 1968; it was just a good year for music, I guess.
#1 – Truth (Jeff Beck, 1968) – Casual fans of this album can be excused their confusion for imagining that this is a Rod Stewart album: Stewart is the lead singer, using his voice to fill in the gaps for the man who expressed himself with six strings rather than two vocal cords, Jeff Beck. Beck spent the bulk of the 1960s making the Yardbirds exciting – his stint with the band was sandwiched between those of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – and like his two famous friends, he eventually wanted to call his own shots. So, Truth was released, but first he needed a singer to help move the album along, which is fine; Clapton needed Jack Bruce (for a while) and Page needed Robert Plant, but those two guys were in groups and Beck was striking out as a solo artist (he wasn’t even billing this album under “The Jeff Beck Group” yet). The album soars with the type of electric white-blues that Led Zeppelin would be using to set the world on fire just one year later. He opens with a new, incredible version of “Shapes Of Things,” an earlier hit for the Yardbirds, reimagines folk songs like “Morning Dew,” blasts away with “You Shook Me” (which Zeppelin would do equally well on their debut) and even gives Stewart’s voice a rest with the monumental instrumental “Beck’s Bolero.” The album was great for Rod Stewart’s career; he would soon join the Faces and then leap into a successful solo career. Things were more subdued for Beck, but he would continue throughout his career to put out good albums. This one was one of the best.
#2 – The Papas & The Mamas (The Mamas & The Papas, 1968) – Most fans of 1960s pop will have a Mamas & Papas compilation somewhere in their collection. Fewer will have one of the group’s actual studio albums and the ones that do will have either If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears or The Mamas & The Papas. Those two albums are good, but they are just collections of songs, just hits and filler. The Papas & The Mamas also has hits and filler, but the filler has a late 1960s/psychedelic groove that the M’s and the P’s had never attempted before and, for the most part, the album scores points simply for being so different from its siblings. Sure, you might feel silly listening to Mama Michelle open the album by reciting a verse from Shirley Temple’s “The Right Somebody To Love,” but there’s nothing silly about the song that follows, “Safe In My Garden.” As usual, Cass and Michelle belt out their lyrics with gusto and the arrangement sweeps around them like a choir, but Papa John’s lyrics are more thought-provoking: “Cops out with the megaphones… telling people stay inside their homes… Man, can’t they see the world’s on fire.” Song after song gives us another, different feeling. There are hits, such as Mama Cass’s show stopper “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” and the haunting “Twelve-Thirty,” but there’s also the psychedelia of “Gemini Child,” the old-time warmth of “Nothing’s Too Good For My Little Girl” and even a peek into the studio mid-song in “Midnight Voyage.” There’s even a “fun” cover that has the M’s and P’s using die cuts to change faces (a gimmick that John Lennon would use for his album Walls And Bridges a few years later). Sadly, they would soon breakup, contractually reunite, and then break for good. The sound of the Mama’s and The Papas was always sweet, but this album saw them trying something new and, with songs and voices this good, that can’t be bad.
#3 – S.F. Sorrow (The Pretty Things, 1968) – Let’s get one thing clear: before there was Tommy, there was S.F. Sorrow. Who the Hell is S.F. Sorrow, I hear you cry. Well, he wasn’t deaf, dumb and blind and he didn’t play pinball, but Sebastian Sorrow was the subject of the first rock opera. He wasn’t all that special: he was born, grew up, fought in the war, moved to America, watched his girlfriend burn to death, met a Voodoo man, went on a life-changing journey, tried and failed to get other people interested, got old and died. But what is special is that the group that gave him life was a blues band that spent their career always running second to the Rolling Stones (even lead guitarist Dick Taylor had been a member of the Stones, but left before they became famous). They did two good blues albums, tried their hand at an orchestral album (years before The Moody Blues Days Of Future Passed) and then came S.F. Sorrow. The finished album is fantastic from start to finish, but it was gestated in turmoil (drummer Skip Allen quit mid-way through and Twink was given a lion’s share of the royalties to finish the album up) and no one was quite ready for the life story of a man called Sorrow. This is a shame because the album is an incredible panorama of 1960s styles: psychedelia (The Journey, I See You), hard rock (She Says Good Morning, Balloon Burning), Eastern (Death featuring George Harrison’s sitar stolen from his EMI locker), progressive rock (Private Sorrow, anticipating the sound of Jethro Tull), and folk (Loneliest Person). The only reason why this album didn’t sell is because music-buyers didn’t know it existed (which is the same reason why it doesn’t sell today). If you’ve never heard it, buy it. If you own it, put it on again: Sebastian needs you.
#4 – Shot Of Love (Bob Dylan, 1981) – Dylan had been consulting the Bible since the recording of John Wesley Harding in 1968, but he proclaimed himself a born-again Christian with the release of Slow Train Coming in 1979. Unfortunately, God wasn’t inspiring him that much when released Saved a year later. So when Shot Of Love came along, Dylan’s audience wasn’t willing to trust the nasal voice crying out in the wilderness. That was too bad because Shot Of Love, even with its silly cartoon cover, was Dylan’s best album since Desire. Dylan exhibited a powerful kick with the title track; when he sang he needed a shot of love, you believed it. The album is filled to the teeth with hard chords and groovy rhythms like “Watered Down Love” and the incredible hook that is “Dead Man” (“Oooh I can’t stand it, I can’t stand it…”). The CD release adds the hard rocking single “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar” to the mix. He’s even got a song called “Lenny Bruce,” a piano-based tune that touches with its simple pronouncements of Lenny’s life (“He’s on some foreign shore… He didn’t want to live anymore…”). But Dylan didn’t abandon God just yet, and our reward is the album’s final track, “Every Grain Of Sand.” Dylan’s devotional songs never got better than “Every Grain Of Sand,” a solemn yet uplifting tune with heartfelt lyrics that could make an atheist cry. It’s a great ending to a great album – don’t be afraid of the devotional songs or Dylan’s voice; just listen to it.
#5 – Sheik Yerbouti (Frank Zappa, 1979) – I’m kind of cheating with one because as incredible as Frank Zappa was, he was so esoteric that it is a given that very few of his albums are listened to these days. I could have easily have chosen Zoot Allures or We’re Only In It For The Money (those will probably turn up in the next series), but the one that stands out is Sheik Yerbouti, the live album that doesn’t sound like it could possibly be a live album until the end when Zappa announces the band members and says his goodnights. For seventy-two minutes, we nearly thought we were listening to a studio recording; could a live band really play like that? Of course, Zappa always augmented his live recording with studio edits and overdubs, but no one can built a castle on a foundation of quicksand; the live performances had to be perfect for him to build upon them. But that was no problem because Zappa demanded and got the best from his band of trained professionals. And these masters played behind Zappa as he bemoaned the existence of flakes, Jewish princesses, dancing fools and assholes with broken hearts. The album is not only one of Zappa’s most musically tightest but also his funniest; his philosophy of the world could possibly be boiled down into the lyrics of “Bobby Brown Goes Down,” the midpoint and highpoint of the album (“Hey there people, I’m Bobby Brown… I am the cutest boy in town… my car is fast, my teeth so shiny… I tell all the girls that they can kiss my heinie…”). The dynamics of this album are so wide that it is difficult to believe that the bulk of it was recorded in front of an audience. But that’s the magic of Zappa; what’s live and what was created in the studio? In the end, it doesn’t matter; this is an album that is meant to be listened to, laughed at, and grooved to. It’s wild and crazy, and we should give thanks every day that someone like Zappa thought enough of us to give us a gift like this.
#6 – Magnetic South (Michael Nesmith, 1970) – A transitional album, for both the artist and the reviewer: Mike Nesmith bought himself out of his contract with the Monkees to make this album, I bought this album in 1998 just as I was leaving Miami to start a new life in Los Angeles and didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I had settled there. The first thing I did upon setting up my new home was to unpack the album that traveled 3,000 miles with me just to be heard. This album was either stalking me or it had something to say. Once freed of Mickey, Peter and Davey, Mike indulged his country/rock roots to the hilt and scored a massive goal with this album. Later Rhino Records compilations of Monkee rare tracks revealed that Nesmith had been working on these tunes just before he left the group: “Calico Dancer,” “Nine Times Blue,” “Little Red Rider,” “The Crippled Lion” and “Hollywood” all appeared on these CDs. That was probably how most music-buyers heard them, because Mike Nesmith’s name, despite being connected to a series of hit records and television episodes, just didn’t carry as far as it should have. But anyone who wants to find out how the tall Texan Monkee made out after the 1960s ended should use this album as a steppin’ stone (yeah, I know) and bask in its glory. “Joanne” is the great love ballad that never was a hit but should’ve been and “Mama Nantucket” moves at such a pace that it’s impossible not to be smiling by the time it ends. Then there’s “Hollywood,” which tells us every reason why someone would want to move away from Tinseltown. This is a great album and, if you don’t agree with me, go write your own damned article.
#7 – Flaming Pie (Paul McCartney, 1997) – You’ve got to give McCartney some credit: he’d been doing quite well (after a bit of a dry spell) since releasing Flowers In The Dirt in 1989 and had been keeping his head above water with Off The Ground and The Beatles Anthology project. Once all that was over, he realized that a new album was well overdue and he attacked it like it was 1970. Instead of calling up the band that had been serving him well since the late 1980s, McCartney recorded many of the tracks either alone or with only a few friends (Jeff Lynne, Steve Miller, Ringo Starr). This was McCartney reinventing himself for the new millennium , trying new songs, exploring dark songs in minor keys like “The World Tonight,” while reestablishing his reputation as a tunesmith with songs like “Young Boy” and “Beautiful Night” (which is just as good as “Hey Jude,” if you ask me). There are great rockers like “Flaming Pie” and sweet ballads like “Calico Skies (his last great love song to Linda). True-blood McCartney fans recognize his experimental side with songs like “I Used To Be Bad” with Steve Miller and “Really Love You,” co-written with Ringo. Some of the album is meticulously structured while other parts are obviously improvised; all of it works. Flaming Pie is McCartney’s last great album of the 20th century and, for that alone, it deserves a listen.
#8 – Who Knows Where The Time Goes (Judy Collins, 1968) – For years, I only knew Judy Collins as that lovely voice that sang Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” on a 45 rpm record. Then came a record that was her crowning achievement: Who Knows Where The Time Goes. This is a special album, one that must be listened to with rapt attention. Not that this is a difficult thing to achieve: just put the needle on the first groove and hear the guitar quickly strumming to the first song, the aptly titled “Hello, Hooray.” Not since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has an album greeted its listeners so warmly: “Hello, Hooray… let the show begin… I’m ready…” So are we, especially after the opening track that celebrates everything that lovely about Collins’ voice and the rock arrangement surrounding her. As the album goes on, Judy uses her voice to expound the wisdom of Leonard Cohen (“Song Of Issac”), the yearning of Ian Tyson (“Someday Soon”), and the majesty of Sandy Denny with the title track. The album has a country-ish feel but also dips into a mysterious folky groove during the closing track of “Pretty Polly,” an old folk ballad of the traditional taste that, as usual, concerns a love-struck man murdering his beloved. If you want to know what the album is really about, get a copy of the original vinyl copy and look at the back cover to see Judy Collins looking forlorn in a floppy hat and bare feet. Listen to this album and you’ll want to do nothing else but hug that lovely young lady.
#9 – Boogie With Canned Heat (Canned Heat, 1968) – The great thing about the blues is that it doesn’t have to be neat; it can be played by hairy, sloppy guys who smell so bad that they can’t get close to a record executive to sign a deal. Canned Heat was just that kind of band: they played at both the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock and produced a country/blues hit, “Going Up The Country,” that guaranteed their immortality. But Canned Heat was an American blues band coming into their own when Hendrix psychedelia was capturing the few young hippies who could afford to buy records. They put out a slew of records over the years with their ever-changing line-up, but their best album – with their most memorable line-up – came out in 1968 and was called Boogie With Canned Heat. The band chugs through the album like a well-oiled steam engine, opening with the simmering “Evil Woman” and closing with a titanic jam that features solos from all the members, “Fried Hockey Boogie.” Along the way, we get a couple of songs sung by Al Wilson in his strange, distinctive voice (“An Owl Song” and the ethereal “On The Road Again”) and we get some dark humor in the story of the demise of “Amphetamine Annie” (where the band continually warns that “Speed Kills!”). And on top of it all is Bob Hite, the band’s rotund front man, singing his guts out and making it sound good. “Aren’t ya’ glad you listened to all that boogie,” he asks as the record winds to a close. Yes, we are.
#10 – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (The Byrds, 1968) – If all you knew of the Byrds was their chart success, then they were doing just fine in late-1960s. Backstage was a different story; Roger McGuinn and David Crosby were at their wits end with each other and the whole situation snapped during the recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Crosby was given his walking papers and, if that weren’t bad enough, session drummers were sitting in for Michael Clarke, who often couldn’t handle the new complex songs that the others were turning up to the studio with. But sometimes turmoil can be a good thing; even though it did not see the type of success that their earlier albums had, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is the band’s best album and, out of their entire catalog, has aged the best. Unlike their first three albums, which had great hits mixed in with forgettable filler, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is great all the way through (as was their last album, Younger Than Yesterday, but the songwriting is stronger here). The album kicks off with the brass-driven speed-anthem “Artificial Energy” and then settles into the sweet tones of Goffin and King’s “Goin’ Back” (the song that Crosby hated and the catalyst of his ouster ). As we get further into the album, we hear new and complex tunes from McGuinn, Hillman and even Crosby (whose songs didn’t follow him out the door); no wonder Clarke had such a tough time keeping the beat on songs like “Natural Harmony” and “Dolphin Smile.” The sweet tune “I Wasn’t Born To Follow,” later heard on the soundtrack of Easy Rider, makes its debut here. The album also has the first real brush the band would have with country music, a style that would soon dominate their albums, in songs like “Change Is Now” and “Old John Robinson.” And McGuinn’s love of science fiction rears its head again in the album’s closing track, “Space Odyssey, its lyrics re-telling the plot line of Arthur C. Clarke’s short story (McGuinn hoped to get the song into Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Clarke’s story, not realizing that Kubrick would be choosing music of a very different groove). The only problem with The Notorious Byrd Brothers is that it’s too short, but that’s the secret of good entertainment; always leave them wanting more.