Category: Grade: A

The Impressions – People Get Ready: The Best of Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions

ARTIST: The Impressions

TITLE: People Get Ready: The Best of Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Top 20: Gypsy Woman (#20 US, #2 R&B), It’s All Right (#4 US, #1 R&B), I’m So Proud (#14 US, #14 R&B), Keep On Pushing (#10 US), You Must Believe Me (#15 US), Amen (#7 US), People Get Ready (#14 US, #3 R&B), Woman’s Got Soul (#29 US, #9 R&B), Meeting Over Yonder (#48 US, #12 R&B), Can’t Satisfy (#65 US, #12 R&B). You Always Hurt Me (#96 US, #20 R&B), We’re a Winner (#14 US, #1 R&B), We’re Rolling On (#59 US, #17 R&B), I Loved and I Lost (#61 US, #9 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really. It’s packed with B-sides and deep cuts too.

LINEUP: Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden, Fred Cash. Session musicians. Richard and Arthur Brooks sang with them early in their ABC career.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A great and deep collection of the ABC / Paramount years for the Impressions, when Curtis Mayfield masterminded the sound and style.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Surviving the loss of lead singer Jerry Butler and moving to Chicago to record for ABC / Paramount, Curtis Mayfield guided the Impressions through the 60’s.

Mayfield was the songwriter for the Impressions and also wrote solo hits for Butler, and using his songs and production by Johnny Pate the vocal trio (they lost the Brooks brothers after 1962) went from standard R&B towards more socially conscious and uplifting songs, and a more contemporary soul sound, Everyone now knows “People Get Ready”, but from the original “Gypsy Woman” through “We’re a Winner” the group evolved without losing quality.

This collection scoops up 40 tracks recorded for ABC / Paramount before they left for Mayfield’s own record company. Mostly a singles act until 1967, this is the best way to experience the Impressions mid 60’s era. It’s full of great songs you know and gems hidden away.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mayfield started to focus on albums with a message starting with We’re a Winner. The title of the album was also the motto for Curtom Records, Mayfield’s label

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: A: One of the keystone soul acts of the 60’s gets the collection they deserve.

The Spinners – The Very Best of the Spinners

ARTIST: The Spinners

TITLE: The Very Best of the Spinners

YEAR RELEASED: Compliation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: The whole album is packed with hits!

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The whole album is packed with hits!

LINEUP: Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith. Most of the hits were with Philippe Wynne, and later hits with John Edwards. MFSB did the backing, and the Sigma Sweethearts did backing vocals too.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Spinners were the kings of Thom Bell’s production line, and they had an impeccable chart run in the 70’s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Spinners had 16 Top 10 R&B hits between 1972 and 1980 and this collects 14 of them. (One track, the original A-side to “I’ll Be Around” charted at a measly #14). Backed by MFSB, they could do no wrong for about five years, and then made a comeback as the decade turned.

Their first album on Atlantic (which I reviewed) was excellent, but as time went on they went toward more hit-oriented records (and you really can’t out-do five excellent singles out of ten tracks), so this compilation seems more the way to go for the rest of the tracks.

While newcomer Philippe Wynne handled many of the lead vocals, they were spread around based on the song, and that kept the sound fresh and allowed Thom Bell to give them tracks that were varied since each singer could handle a lead.

No 70’s R&B or soul collection would be complete without some Spinners in it, and this is the best intro to that fantastic band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There was some controversy on “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play) as some said that Sigma Sweetheart Evette Benton did the high solo parts, while others say it was Henry Fambrough sped up a bit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: A: These songs hold up today as examples of the funky fresh 70’s.

Hanson – Middle of Everywhere: The Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Hanson

TITLE: Middle of Everywhere: The Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Charting: MMMBop (#1 US, #1 UK), Where’s the Love (#27 Airplay, #4 UK), I Will Come to You (#9 US, #5 UK), Weird (#19 UK), Thinking of You (#23 UK), This Time Around (#20 US), If Only (#15 UK), Penny & Me (#10 UK), Lost Without Each Other (#39 UK), Go (#44 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Thinkin’ Bout Something

LINEUP: Taylor Hanson, Isaac Hanson, Zack Hanson. Session musicians also helped but usually just on bass as time went on (and various percussion and horns).

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sometimes early success is good, since Hanson could eschew the hits and work on their own music thanks to their early hits and the bank that they made.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Hanson used to be a joke, since “MMMBop” was a goddamn ear worm (and it still brings a smile to my face), and they were so young. It was thought they were going to burn out and fade quickly as soon as the hits stopped coming.

Well, the hits stopped coming, but they went their own way. Starting with their third album, they set up their own record company, and moving away from the pop-music machine, they made well-crafted songs, while pop in nature, expressed their own musical ideas and maturity. Having wrote their songs for their entire career helped, and also having the security of tours and royalties also helped them in their musical independence.

Their music from 2003 onward is smart, full of hooks, and appeals to a broader audience than their hit phase. Instead of trying to re-capture the past, Hanson moves forward, does what they want, and has become a better band for it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Well, not everything they do is great. Being from Oklahoma, they’ve no doubt had a lot of conservative influence in their political views. And sure enough, at least two members have stepped in social media controversies around Covid and BLM, and they had concerts in January 2021 despite Covid.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but songs from their first two records aren’t streaming on this collection, but you can add them separately.

 GRADE: A-: Yeah, their artistic evolution warrants this grade. Frankly, they’ve always been pretty good at the pop music thing.

The Jesus Lizard – Liar

ARTIST: The Jesus Lizard 

TITLE: Liar

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Puss (#12 UK, #2 UK Indie), Gladiator

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Boilermaker

LINEUP: David Dow, Duane Denison, David Wm Sims, Mac McNeilly

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Continuing their hot streak, Jesus Lizard creates another unholy racket and is helped by a split single with Nirvana.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Liar has probably the best known song in their catalog, mainly because it was the A-side of a split single with Nirvana. “Puss” was released with “Oh, the Guilt” by that other band as the B-side and the UK pushed it up the charts, and they got to play Reading thanks to it. Groovy!

This is rather much a continuation of the themes from Goat, except that the songs are moodier and creepier. “Zachariah” is a howling dirge that’s unsettling, “Boilermaker” jumps right in as the lead cut of the record with perhaps a veiled reference to heroin (“Dancing Naked Ladies” may be too, and “Gladiator” is just a loud festival of all that’s good about the Jesus Lizard.

Liar and Goat seem to be part of a set to my ears, with this one just a tad bit lesser. Still, it’s got some of their best work and you need to absolutely crank it (as usual).

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Puss” was about a guy David Yow wanted to beat the crap out of because he was violent and actually did throw a woman down the stairs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a add on single and demos

 GRADE: A-: Not everything in the alternative land that was great in 1992 was grunge. This still raises one’s blood pressure.

The Jesus Lizard – Goat

ARTIST: The Jesus Lizard 

TITLE: Goat

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Mouthbreather

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Then Comes Dudley, Nub

LINEUP: David Dow, Duane Denison, David Wm Sims, Mac McNeilly

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Texans transplanted to Chicago collaborate with Steve Albini on a loud and noisy magnum opus.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Careening out of the gate with the menacing “Then Comes Dudley” (whatever that’s about), the intricate “Mouthbreather” (about a friend of Albini’s who housesit), and the slide guitar opus “Nub” (about someone who lost an appendage while hanging out of the window of a car), Jesus Lizard’s second album is frenetic, loud, dark and brilliant.

Those three songs start the commotion, as it were. And it just goes from there: songs about prison love, a take on the Aristocrats, being locked up, and whatever the hell “Monkey Trick” is about (David Yow doesn’t know and he wrote the lyrics).

This album’s not for everyone. It’s not for many people, really. But If you can unlock it, you’ll dig it. Crank it!

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The house-sitting friend from “Mouthbreather” was Brett Walford, the drummer for Slint and the original drummer for the Breeders.

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

 GRADE: A: A tremendous record from 1991, showing that not all great alternative records were grungy.

Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations

ARTIST: Diamond Head 

TITLE: Lightning to the Nations (The White Album)

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Sweet and Innocent (#39 UK Indie)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Prince, Am I Evil?, It’s Electric, Helpless

LINEUP: Sean Harris, Brian Tatler, Colin Kimberly, Duncan Scott

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An album from a small band in the UK inspired many cover versions due to tape trading.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Diamon Head was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but unlike some bands they struggled to find a record company that would sign them. So they recorded their best songs, pressed them on their own label, and sold them at their shows.

The record got them noticed, and people traded tapes of the album and sent them all around the world. That’s how Metallica heard them and recorded some of their tracks as B-sides. This got them noticed, and soon enough they were signed.

The record definitely is worth the underground hype, and then some. The seven tracks feature riffs a plenty, fast tempos, intricate solos, and the swagger and heft that metal needs. 

One can hear how this record, little known at first and heard only on tapes made from tapes, inspired metal heads in the US to go faster and more intricate. It should be on any music fans list of records that inspired 80’s metal.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At first, 100 copies were pressed, then another 1,000. The cover was blank because their manager could print blank sleeves at no cost. The first pressing didn’t have song titles on the cover either, and Lightning for the Nations was chosen as the title by others since it was the first track.

The tapes were sent to Germany for a pressing, but never came back. Some faulty remixes were released on CD before they finally found the tapes again and that’s what’s streaming now. They also re-did the album in 2020 but you don’t need that.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a B-side and their singles that bridged to their second album. Those show why their career derailed quickly, as they tried to get more commercial, slicker and less metal. They also re-recorded songs from this record. Sigh.

GRADE: A: It fit right in there with Iron Maiden, and is still a classic of the NWOBHM.

Motorhead – Ace of Spades

ARTIST: Motorhead

TITLE: Ace of Spades

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  #201 US, #4 UK

SINGLES: Ace of Spades (#15 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Love Me Like a Reptile, (We Are) The Roadcrew, The Chase Is Better Than the Catch

LINEUP: Fast Eddie Clark, Lemmy Kilmesiter, Philthy Animal Taylor

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Landmark album from as Lemmy says, “a rock ‘n’ roll band”.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Every rock ‘n’ roll fan worth their salt knows “Ace of Spades”, right? How about 11 other tracks almost as good?  You got it here folks!

Riffs? Yeah, Fast Eddie has the riffs. Power? Yeah, Lemmy and Philthy Animal bring that? Swagger and attitude? In spades, as it were. Volume? The switch is broken – it’s full blast all the time.

Motorhead came into their own here, and it was due to producer Vic Maile that they harnessed their power. He was a no-nonsense producer that didn’t cotton to their outlandish behavior and arguments and got them to focus on the songs. He also mixed the album himself, making it clear and bright (well, as bright as Motorhead can be). The result? A rock ‘n’ roll classic.

Some of the songs may not be…um…suitable. But it was a rock ‘n’ roll album that celebrated the lifestyle of the 70’s. It also included a tribute to the road crew. I fully believe Lemmy and Motorhead lived this album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Lemmy summed up this album: “We only thought of ourselves as a good time rock ‘n’ roll band, really… But we weren’t trying to get a message across, apart from have a good time, you know: get pissed, get stoned, and fuck a chick. And that’ll do.”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, their EP with Girlschool is appended.

 

GRADE: A+: You gotta crank this record, if only to piss off the right people.

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester – Farewell Aldebaran

ARTIST: Judy Henske & Jerry Yester

TITLE: Farewell Aldebaran

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Snowblind

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh…no. Not at all

LINEUP: Judy Henske and Jerry Yester with help from Zal Yanovsky and a bunch of studio players.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Married couple fuse their talents together to make a fascinating album that was lost to the public.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Judy Henske was a rising star in folk before she made some poor decisions about material (cabaret?) and Jerry Yester was a long-time producer, writer, and former member of the Lovin’ Spoonful. They had been married for a few years but never really collaborated until a suggestion from her manager that they combine forces to record an album.

Henske wrote lyrics and Yester put them to music and arranged the songs. And the result was an album that explored genres and instruments. From baroque pop to shanties to hard rock and space rock explorations, this album has it all. Yester adds in harmonium, an early Moog synthesizer, mellotron, and instruments such as the marxophone, a hammered dulcimer, a Chamberlain keyboard (on the choral setting), and a toy zither to the mix.

Henske’s voice was adroit enough to handle all of the changes. She can belt out a rock song, yet has a gentle quality that fits with the sunshine pop aspects of the tracks.

The eclectic nature of the album probably prevented it from being a hit, but this really should have found a home with sophisticated listeners. Alas, as sunshine pop and baroque psychedelia was on the way out, it didn’t find traction. It’s definitely something to explore in detail.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yester and Henske then formed a band called Rosebud, which released one album that was conventional soft-country rock, then they split as a couple.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A+: It probably could only be recorded in 1969 or so, but it sounds timeless and really sucks you in with the arrangements and production. The more you listen, the more it opens up to you.

Dead Confederate – Sugar

ARTIST: Dead Confederate

TITLE: Sugar

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Run from the Gun, Giving It All Away

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Hardy Morris, Bradley Senn, Walter Howle, John Watkins, Jason Scarboro. Ben Wigler, J. Mascis, and Heidi Vandertee make appearances.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from the moody Southern-psych-alt band tightens up their meanderings while not sacrificing the moodiness of the songs.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dead Confederate still sounds like a soundtrack to a Southern Gothic dramatic film., but their second album is an improvement over their debut.

While they’re still full of angst, minor riffs, and moody arrangements, they’ve shed all of their former jam band proclivities and tightened up their arrangements so that the songs get from A to B without being stuck in the mire.

This album is good mood music for dark, dreary, thunderstormy, humid days. The kind that you find in the South in the summer. It’s also apt to give you some interesting dreams if you fall asleep to it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this record, their drummer, Jason Scarboro, left to start a family. They went through scads of drummers before settling on one for their next recordings.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A-: A leap forward for a band that should have gotten more ink and play.

ZZ Top – Deguello

ARTIST: ZZ Top

TITLE: Deguello

YEAR RELEASED: 1979

CHART ACTION:  #24

SINGLES: I Thank You (#34), Cheap Sunglasses (#89)(!)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I’m Bad I’m Nationwide, Manic Mechanic, Dust My Broom

LINEUP: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A long rest and an absorption of new musical influences revitalized the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a short break turned into a long break, where the three members went their separate ways to separate countries, ZZ Top got back together and started their revitalization with new approaches and ideas.

They dug into the blues, soul, a little funk, and even some new wave. The band learned how to play saxes, added keyboards and electronic effects. The end result was a glorious mix of styles, and all with an attitude and style epitomized by “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”, and “Cheap Sunglasses”

This is ZZ Top at its freshest and most exciting. Every track seems well thought out and not just filler. For some reason it didn’t sell right away, but FM radio started to pick this up and it went platinum.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One – this isn’t streaming, but you can put it all together except for the last track (“Esther Be the One” – which is a fine song). Two – they asked the Phil Donahue show for the technology that they used to mask and distort voices, and they used it on “Manic Mechanic”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A-: A rest refreshed the band and they came through with one of their best