Category: Grade: A

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

ARTIST: Joy Division Unknown_Pleasures_Joy_Division_LP_sleeve

TITLE: Unknown Pleasures

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION: #5 UK, #1 UK Indie (on rerelease)

SINGLES: None, “Transmission” was released about this same time.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Disorder, She’s Lost Control, Shadowplay

LINEUP: Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Iconic debut album from post-punk trailblazer.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This is an iconic release in many ways. It’s the debut LP from a band that launched 1,000,000 goth and post punk kids (many of which will say they’ve always been into Joy Division even though they were born 10-20 years after this was released). It established Martin Hannett as a producer that takes risks and pushes the sonic envelope with his artists. And third, the front cover has launched another 1,000,000 Hot Topic T-shirts.

The album itself features a powerful, almost angry, Ian Curtis’ brooding, at times monotone baritone over a band that was sparse and open in their arrangements, which belied a sophistication of approach (especially in Peter Hook’s bass work, check the work in “She’s Lost Control”). Hannett added a lot of effects and interesting recording approaches to add depth to the songs, but the main sound is the three musicians backing Curtis.

At first, this album didn’t break the bank, though that may be to Factory pressing up only 10,000 and selling out of 5,000 within a fortnight. After Curtis’ suicide, it raced up the charts.

While some may find the record too dour and moody, and at times repetitive or monotonous, for the most part it’s brilliant, with tracks such as “She’s Lost Control” (not the more familiar 12” version, but a spare and haunting track), “Disorder” and “Shadowplay” put it among the best post-punk ever had to offer.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They originally were named Warsaw, and their first release was titles “An Idea for Living”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a live show appended.

 GRADE A: While a couple of tracks linger on a bit long, there’s an argument that can be made this is the pinnacle post-punk album

The Embarassment – Heyday 1979-83

ARTIST: The Embarassment heyday

TITLE: Heyday 1979-83

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: Hahahahah, you’re joking right?

SINGLES: Sex Drive

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Well, those who know, know.

LINEUP: John Nichols, Ronnie Klaus, Brent Giessmann, Bill Goffrier

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Obscure Wichita (yep, Wichita) band recorded some great, literate, witty new wave-ish songs that trickled out enough that they developed a cult following.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A bunch of nerdy looking college kids from Wichita formed a band, wrote smart / smart ass lyrics and developed a small yet lovingly rabid following. They released material on singles and sent them to compilations (including two very early Sub Pop cassettes) that found its way to some influential critics and taste makers who loved their take on jangly guitar rock and bent lyrics.

Examples? “Sex Drive” – about guys that you knew in high school that cruised for chicks in their Trans Ams; “Patio Set” – a love song to lawn furniture; “Celebrity Art Party” – where Art Carney attended the ‘narcissistic party’; “Berliner’s Night Out” – which describers a German guy getting ready for a date; and “Lifespan”- giving a mathematical equation to living and saying “if you drive, don’t drive” then going somewhere else.

Not to say that everything is top-class or first-rate. This collects nearly everything they did in those years, and there were some songs that weren’t as well developed or documented for the sake of documentation, and not release. But for those “Hip and Well Read”, this is a nice treasure that still brings smiles to faces.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded an album in 1989 (also recording some of this material again), and have reunited periodically.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: It’s a big compilation that may be much for those who just want to dip their toes into them, but it’s well worth spinning at least once.

Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow

ARTIST: Phoebe Snow Phoebe_Snow_-_Phoebe_Snow

TITLE: Phoebe Snow

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION: #4

SINGLES: Poetry Man (#5), Harpo’s Blues

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Where Eagles Dare

LINEUP: Phoebe Snow and many sessioneers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut for jazz-pop-folk singer is her career highlight.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: In 1974, things were looking up for Phoebe Snow. Her acoustic based jazzy and folk inspired songs gained critical acclaim and a deserved hit for “Poetry Man”.

Her voice was unique; she had range and dynamics. The production and arrangements by Dino Airali and Phil Ramone complemented her songs and her voice well, staying out of the way of the songs yet enhancing them. Eight of the ten tracks were originals, and she showed promise as a songwriter.

For various reasons (most notably being a parent of a special needs child that she refused to institutionalize), her career never materialized into long lasting success. So this is probably the best thing to pick up if you heard “Poetry Man” and were intrigued.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She had record company issues as well (Shelter Records reared its head again – like it did for Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty). There are compilations that have bits and pieces of her other albums streaming, but this material is only streaming on the original album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with demos and B-sides.

 GRADE A: A very pleasant record. Her songs are well written and evocative, and the arrangements fit them well.

Silversun Pickups – Swoon

ARTIST: Silversun Pickups SilversunpickupsSWOON

TITLE: Swoon

YEAR RELEASED: 2009

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #1 US Indy, #107 UK

SINGLES: Panic Switch (#92 US, #1 Alternative, #4 Mainstream), Substitution (#17 Alternative, #26 Mainstream), The Royal We (#5 Alternative, #21 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Chris Guanlao, Joe Lester

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A more atmospheric album than their debut, adding layers of textures and sonic ephemera to build the songs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not contend to reproduce their debut, the Silverun Pickups went into the studio with a collection of more mature songs that they then built into layered, moody tracks that enhanced their basic sound.

Brian Aubert’s voice is perfectly suited for this – his whispery, gentle tenor lies above the texture yet not overpowering it. His guitar work is still solid – using the Billy Corgan setting many times on his axe. The rest of the band settles in and knows their place, though the studio musicians, strings, and other production sometimes limits their effectiveness.

The record does have tracks that seem to run out of steam, and with all tracks between 4:40 and 5:54 in length there’s a tendency for them to run together. But this record shows the band moving forward, enhancing their sound without falling into formula.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had a song on The Vampire Diaries soundtrack and released a three-son outtakes EP in 2010.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-. This build on their success and enhanced their sound with little problem

The Temptations – Psychedelic Soul

ARTIST: The Temptations psychedelic soul

TITLE: Psychedelic Soul

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Cloud Nine (#6 US, #2 R&B), Runaway Child, Running Wild (#6 US, #1 R&B), Don’t Let the Jones Get You Down (#20 US, #2 R&B), I Can’t Get Next to You (#1 US, #1 R&B, #13 UK), Psychedelic Shack (#7 US, #2 R&B, #33 UK), Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) (#3 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK), Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World) (#33 US, #8 R&B), Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (#1 US, #1 R&B, #8 UK), Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Ar) (#18 US, #8 R&B, #32 UK), Papa Was a Rolling Stone (#1 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), Masterpiece (#7 US, #1 R&B), Plastic Man (#40 US, #8 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They did versions of War, Friendship Train and Smiling Faces Sometimes

LINEUP: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendrick and David Edwards were the ‘classic five’. Richard Street replaced Paul Williams in 1970.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Norman Whitfield era of the Temptations features multi-lead vocals, and funky, funky grooves from the Funk Brothers, who were allowed to jam on the album cuts.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The music world was changing, while the Motown Sound was stagnant. The Temptations were one of the first Motown acts to ‘modernize’, as they chose producer Norman Whitfield, who along with Barrett Strong wrote some great socially conscious songs, and Whitfield used the Funk Brothers to jam like crazy as well.

This collection grabs the album cuts, which can range up to over 12 minutes long (that’s one way to fill out an album side!), and while it is jamming it’s the Funk Brothers, so it’s not pointless noodling. They also did a few tracks made famous by other Motown artists to put the Psychedelic Soul spin on them. (“Friendship Train” just cooks.)

This era of the Temptations did have a few ballads (“Just My Imagination”) but most of it was funky, funky music. Those tracks allowed each of the Temps to shine as soloists in songs, and gave them a unique sound in soul and funk.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Temps revolted a bit in 1973 due to the long, long tracks that Whitfield kept recording. He was let go, and starting in 1974 they went back to shorter tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A+ Even with the long tracks, there’s no filler. Can you dig it?

The Temptations – Gold

ARTIST: The Temptations R-980461-1422001297-1914.jpeg

TITLE: Gold (Originally Released as My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations)

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: #167

SINGLES: Top 10 Pop: My Girl (#1 US, #1 R&B, #43 UK), Beauty Is Only Skin Deep (#3 US, #1 R&B, #18 UK), (I Know) I’m Losing You (#8 US, #1 R&B, #19 UK), All I Need (#8 US, #2 R&B), You’re My Everything (#6 US, #3 R&B). I Wish It Would Rain (#4 US, #1 R&B, #45 UK), Cloud Nine (#6 US, #2 R&B), I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (#2 US, #2 R&B, #3 UK), Runaway Child, Running Wild (#6 US, #1 R&B), I Can’t Get Next to You (#1 US, #1 R&B, #13 UK), Psychedelic Shack (#7 US, #2 R&B, #33 UK), Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) (#3 US, #2 R&B, #7 UK), Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) (#1 US, #1 R&B, #8 UK), Papa Was a Rolling Stone (#1 US, #5 R&B, #14 UK), Masterpiece (#7 US, #1 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Way You Do The Things You Do, Get Ready, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg

LINEUP: Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin were the ‘classic five’. Al Bryant was in the group very early on. Dennis Edwards replaced Ruffin. Richard Street replaced Paul Williams. Damon Harris replaced Kendrick. Others filtered in and out. Otis Williams is the only consistent member.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The commercial gold standard of Motown vocal groups rolled with changes in producers and styles (sometimes not too quietly) and dominated charts for over a decade.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s not the songs you know and hear all of the time. It’s tracks like “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”, “Get Ready”, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are”), and “Shakey Ground” that makes the Temptations one of the most popular vocal groups of all time.

Going from a typical Motown sound towards the “Psychedelic Soul” era without a hitch (except internally) showed their versatility. They took the losses of personnel without much of an issue. The backing of the Motown session musicians also was top notch, and the songs were memorable. You know this, no doubt, but the deeper cuts are where you realize that behind the Miracles, the Temptations ruled the Motown era (no dis to the Four Tops…or anyone else).

This collection storms through the big singles from 1962 through their last Motown hits in the 90’s, including a memorable side with Rick James. But their last singles aren’t as memorable, as the 90’s production doesn’t suit them. That’s the only blip here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There’s another Temptations compilation that has the long (and I mean long) cuts from their Psychedelic Soul era, and I’m going to review that one too.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There’s been larger comps, but this pretty much hits everything.

GRADE A: A few of the later cuts are disposable, but most of this stuff is essential.

The Creation – Our Music Is Red – With Purple Flashes

ARTIST: The Creation creation

TITLE: Our Music Is Red – With Purple Flashes

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Making Time (#49 UK), Painter Man (#36 UK), Cool Jerk, If I Stay Too Long, Life Is Just Beginning, How Does It Feel to Feel, Midway Down, Bony Moronie, For All That I Am

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Biff Bang Pow

LINEUP: Kenny Pickett, Eddie Phillips, Bob Garner, Jack Jones. Kim Gardner replaced Pickett (Bob Garner went to vocals). Then, after a hiatus, Pickett, Gardner, Jones, and Ron Wood (!) resumed their career for a few months.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Garage / psychedelic UK rock band influenced a smattering of musicians, and introduced Jimmy Page to the idea of playing a guitar with a bow. .

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The song “Making Time” alone, with that fantastic opening guitar riff, is enough to warrant the Creation a mention in rock and roll annals. The fact that Eddie Phillips played the guitar solo with a bow makes it legendarily influential. “Painter Man”, another great single, followed, and the Creation were on their way…to oblivion.

First, they replaced Kenny Pickett as vocalist with  bassist Bob Garner, and brought Kim Gardner as bassist. They then covered a couple of American hits instead of focusing on their originals, and lost momentum, even with originals like “I Am the Walker” and “How Does It Feel to Feel” (here in two versions as they released different mixes for the US and UK). The US version of the latter song has great feedback (ala the Who), while the UK version is heavier on the drums.

By 1968, they were no more after a breakup, a rebirth (for the European market) and a final death (with Ron Wood on guitar as he was part of the Birds with Kim Gardner). However, they influenced Page, Paul Weller, Pete Townshend, and various punk and shoegaze bands. That’s why a collection like this is so necessary – to explore the roots of music we all know.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The label Creation Records was named in honor of them.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yeah, there are different mixes on a new version of this comp.

 GRADE A-: Yeah, there are a few covers I threw out, but this is vital stuff. It’s rawness paved the way for bands to eschew polish and blast it out.

Carly Simon – Anthology

ARTIST: Carly Simon 220px-CarlySimonAnthologyAlbum

TITLE: Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 20: That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be (#10 US), Anticipation (#13 US), You’re So Vain (#1 US, #3 UK), The Right Thing to Do (#17 US, #17 UK), Mockingbird (#5 US, #34 UK), Haven’t Got Time for the Pain (#14 US), Nobody Does It Better (#2 US, #7 UK), You Belong to Me (#6 US), Jesse (#11 US), Coming Around Again (318 US, #10 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah, unless you are a big fan.

LINEUP: Carly Simon and session players, sometimes she sang with her ex-husband James Taylor.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pretty complete overview of the highlights of Simon’s career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: She came out of privilege in New York (Simon & Schuster? Yeah, Simon’s her dad), yet she connected easily with audiences since she sang about love, loss, and family (functional and dysfunctional).

Musically, her songs have twists and turns, changing from minor to major keys with ease. Her voice is well-matched for her material and great for show tunes and standards. The one downgrade is that after the 70’s, she seemed to chase trends in production on her mainstream albums, and her genre-themed albums didn’t quite have the song selection or originality she once exhibited.

This collection hits all of the 70’s high points and does a pretty decent job of picking through her 80’s and 90’s material, and for non-rabid fans it’s well worth the streams.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This isn’t streaming but you can put it together, since the other compilations miss some key tracks. Though three soundtrack cuts aren’t streaming on any platform. She also suffers from stage fright – so much so she pre-taped her one SNL performance.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A-: Listening this made me realize the depth of her career and how much more she was to pop culture than “You’re So Vain”.

John Lennon – John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band

ARTIST: John Lennon         220px-JLPOBCover

TITLE: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #6 US, #8 UK

SINGLES: Mother (#43 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Hold On, Working Class Hero, God

LINEUP: John Lennon, Klaus Voorman, Ringo Starr. Phil Spector and Billy Preston each played piano on a track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First true solo album by Lennon is influenced by Yoko and their Primal Scream therapy. It’s a brilliant but draining album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Music is supposed to affect ones emotions. The first real solo album by John Lennon is full of songs that make you feel exactly what he’s feeling – even after all of these years the songs are powerful, chilling, and poignant.

There’s gentle tracks about love (“Hold On” – with its silly Cookie Monster aside, “Love”) and some gut wrenchers (“Mother”, “Isolation”, “Well Well Well”) where you can tell he poured out his heart into those songs. Lennon can still rock with the best of them (“I Found Out”) and can proselytize his world view effectively (“Working Class Hero”, “God”). What this record doesn’t have is filler.

John and Yoko had just finished Primal Scream therapy and all of those feelings and emotions and grief just poured out of him. His vocal on “Mother” shows the effect of the therapy as his voice is ragged and hoarse at the end.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There was no track listing on the back, nor title on the front.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with two non-LP singles.

 GRADE A+: Powerful and evocative today – as it was at the time.

Incubus – The Essential Incubus

ARTIST: Incubus                 incubus

TITLE: The Essential Incubus

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting Top 10: Pardon Me (#102 US, #3 Alternative, #7 Mainstream, #61 UK), Stellar (#107 US, #2 Alternative, #17 Mainstream), Drive (#9 US, #1 Alternative, #8 Mainstream, #40 UK), Wish You Were Here (#60 US, #2 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #27 UK), Nice to Know You (#105 US, #9 Alternative, #9 Mainstream), Warning (#104 US, #3 Alternative, #27 UK), Megalomaniac (#55 US, #1 Alternative, #2 Mainstream, #23 UK), Talk Shows on Mute (#116 US, #3 Alternative, #18 Mainstream, #43 UK), Anna-Molly (#66 US, #1 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #109 UK), Dig (#94 US, #4 Alternative, #17 UK), Oil and Water (#8 Alternative, #38 Mainstream), Love Hurts (#113 US, #1 Alternative, #40 Mainstream), Black Heart Inertia (#7 Alternative, #34 Mainstream), Adolescents (#3 Alternative, #28 Mainstram)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: If you know more, you really don’t need this collection

LINEUP: Brandon Boyd, Mike Einziger, Jose Pasillas II. Alex Katunich was replaced by Ben Kenney in 2003. Gavin Koppell was replaced by Chris Kilmore in 1998

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: What are they? Nu Metal? Hard Rock? Funk Metal? Alternative? This long standing band falls into the cracks, which may explain their longevity and their decline as well.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Incubus was signed as part of the stampede to sign nu-metal bands after Korn hit it big, but unlike some of their genre bretheren, they have a more expansive sound and sometimes defy pigeonholing.

They’ve had a scratching / hip-hop element from very early in their career, used funk bass lines, and after being mostly a nu-metal band they branched into a bit of a softer version of themselves with acoustic elements (“Drive” got to the Top 10 thanks to this). That seemed to be the key to success on the radio, with play by alternative and rock stations. But as time went on, they didn’t change and pop radio did, as did rock radio. So they’re getting less and less airplay.

Incubus seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep at times. Their tracks don’t stick in your ear, and many seem to be variations on the same musical motif that had been established earlier in their career. Basically, they’re good at what they do, and after all this time they haven’t really changed up much of their routine. You know what you’re getting.

 

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their original turntablist (Gavin Koppell) has a restraining order against him from being near their current DJ (Chris Kilmore). Drama

 

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 

GRADE B: This is more than enough Incubus, but it’s good to have a comprehensive look instead of a small, shoddy collection.