Category: Grade: A

Adam & the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier

ARTIST: Adam & the Ants            220px-Adam&theAntsKingsoftheWildFrontier

TITLE: Kings of the Wild Frontier

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #44 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Kings of the Wild Frontier (#19 Dance, #2 UK), Dog Eat Dog (#19 Dance, #15 Mainstream, #4 UK), Antmusic (#19 Dance, #14 Mainstream, #2 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Physical (You’re So) (US Version)

LINEUP: Adam Ant, Marco Pirroni, Kevin Mooney, Chris Hughes (Merrick), Terry Lee Miall

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A swaggering, brazen, spirited record where things come together for Adam Ant and his Ants like lightning in a bottle.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Malcolm McLaren stole the Ants and the “Burundi Beat” for Bow Wow Wow, but Adam Ant joined up with Marco Pirroni, found other Ants (including two drummers), and released an outstanding group of tracks expounding on his “Antmusic” philosophy (whatever that was).

There are swipes at the press, braggadocio about the band, tributes to Native Americans, pirates, and spaghetti westerns, and a couple tracks that could be themes to horror movies (especially “Ants Invasion”).

Any one within earshot of this album in the early 80’s was drawn to it. When MTV came on board, Adam Ant was one of the early stars because of his visual sense and themes as much as his music. It’s a unique album by a unique band for a unique time.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Released in 1980, this was the best selling album in the UK in 1981.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. In the US, the vinyl dropped a cut and added two B-sides (including the sublime “Physical (You’re So)”. The cassette and CD originally had the great B-side “Beat My Guest” and the next single “Stand and Deliver”. The deluxe CD drops those two, adds another B-side, an outtake, and a live show and restores the missing UK track. Whew.

 GRADE: A+: The early 80’s wouldn’t be the same without this record.

Madonna – Like a Prayer

ARTIST: Madonna                        220px-Madonna_-_Like_a_Prayer_album

TITLE: Like a Prayer

YEAR RELEASED: 1989

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Like a Prayer (#1 US, #1 Dance, #1 UK), Express Yourself (#2 US, #1 Dance, #5 UK), Cherish (#2 US, #3 UK), Oh Father (#20 US, #16 UK), Dear Jessie (#5 UK), Keep it Together (#8 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No, since six of the 11 songs are there. Ok, maybe Act of Contrition.

LINEUP: Madonna and all of the hot shot studio musicians of the time, and Prince

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Not missing a beat, Madonna dives into controversy with her image and videos, while not sacrificing the music.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The commercial, the videos, the song “Justify My Love” (not on the album, but the B-side was), and the uproar. IT would be definitely easy for this record by Madonna to be ignored, or just glossed over.

It’s a pretty darn remarkable record.

Madonna’s not just trying for easy peasy pop hits and filler. “Love Song”, a duet with Prince that was co-written and produced with the Purple One, is deliciously weird. The vocal effect in “Express Yourself”, where Madonna sounds like she’s underwater with a synthesizer, is innovative. The lyrics move away from boy-girl stuff toward more spiritual and feminist issues.

It’s an undeniable electropop dance record that addresses many themes and motifs. She moved to being a full-on phenomenon, and an artist worthy of her accolades.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Between True Blue and Like a Prayer, the Who’s That Girl soundtrack was released with four Madonna tracks and a dance remix record was also put out.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A: Definitely a fun album and a touchstone of the era.

Freezepop – Freezepop Forever

ARTIST: Freezepop                                                      220px-Freezepop-Forever

TITLE: Freezepop Forever

YEAR RELEASED: 2000

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None, but they did a remix EP

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Science Genius Girl, Get Ready 2 Rock, Freezepop Forever

LINEUP: Justine Gamache (Liz Enthusiasm), Kasson Crooker (The Duke of Candied Apples), Sean T. Drinkwater

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Boston based synthpop bands combines simple sounding synth lines and melodies with some lush backing. There’s more than meets the eye here. 220px-Freezepop_forever_elefant_release

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: At first, Freezepop sounds simple, a lark, with some silly songs about getting ready to rock and nerdy girls, and other such things. However, their melodies, while catchy and hooky, aren’t so straight forward and the vocals by Justine Gamache, while deadpan, have some depth to them, especially when overdubbed and vocoded.

The complexity shows in that many songs by them are used in Harmonix games (since Crooker is an engineer at Harmonix, they get an easy entrée there) and they’re pretty difficult to master.

You have to be ready for some twee, non serious tracks here and self references. But they’re pretty serious about their electronic craft.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band started in 1999 in Boston and is big amongst the college students there.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: They had a release on Elefant records with some extra tracks and videos.

 GRADE: A- : First their fun, second they’re pretty accomplished, and third, they’re fun.

Danny Brown – The Hybrid

ARTIST: Danny Brown               220px-Danny_Brown_The_Hybrid

TITLE: The Hybrid

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Underground hip hop fans only

LINEUP: Danny Brown with producers Quelle, Mainframe, Nick Speed, Danny!, Chuck Inglish, Denmark Vessey, 14KT, Frank Dukes, Slopfunkdust

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Non-commercial rapper releases first record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: He’s had no hit singles. He’s only had two charting albums. Yet Danny Brown is one of the most critically respected hip-hop artists going today.

He doesn’t sugar coat himself to go to radio. On repeated listens, this debut album takes you in. Using a variety of producers, Brown keeps his beats and backing fresh, and his flow and rhymes are strong and in your face. When he uses effects and tricks, you notice since it’s for embellishment.

This record didn’t get a lot of attention except for some deep hip-hop fans, but it’s solid and undeniably unique.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He used to be in a group called Rese’vor Dogs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few extra tracks

 GRADE: A- –  It’s easy to see why this got him some attention.

The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic

ARTIST: The New Pornographers             220px-Mass_romantic (1)

TITLE:  Mass Romantic

YEAR RELEASED: 2000

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Letter from an Occupant (#139 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Mass Romantic

LINEUP: Dan Bejar, Neko Case, John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Carl Newman, Fisher Rose, Blaine Thurier

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Alternative pop / rock ‘supergroup’ of sorts coalesces together for a first album full of fun twists and turns.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Grafting together members from Zumpano, Destroyer, Limblifer, and the Eavporators, along with Neko Case and filmmaker Blaine Thurier, The New Pornographers were a definite power-pop / indie rock Canadian supergroup.

Unlike other supergroups, the band members didn’t just give the band leftovers. From the beginning they collaborated and constructed a unique sound that identifies them even if you’ve heard the voices on other records. Their guitars and synths, and intros and rhythms are fairly unique to the band.

AC “Carl” Newman is the ringleader of this bunch, and he organized the production of the record over three long years. But this is worth the wait – the New Pornographers’ debut established them as truly greater than the sum of their parts (even with Neko Case along!)

The album also sounds fun. Even if it took a while the band sounds like they’re enjoying themselves and love playing with each other. This kicked off their career and they’re now an important part of the indie rock landscape.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band knew each other from the Vancouver music scene.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A Japanese version with two extra songs.

 GRADE: A-: A witty power pop record that started the band and its members on their ride.

Dada – Puzzle

ARTIST: Dada                                         220px-DPuzzle

TITLE:  Puzzle

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION: #111, #2 Heatskeers

SINGLES: Dizz Knee Land (#5 Alternative, #27 Mainstream), Dim (#24 Alternative), Dog, Dorina, Here Today – Gone Tomorrow

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: That was probably all that was released to radio unless you had a deep deep cut station around.

LINEUP: Michael Gurley, Joie Calio, Phil Leavitt

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album for jammy alternative rock trip scored a video and radio hit, and the album is deeper and varied than that song.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Dada’s vocal style is based around harmonic duets between Michael Gurley and Joie Calio. At times, their harmonies emulate the style and structure of the Beach Boys (though not as deep and rich with only two – the influence is there though). Musically, the trio is definitely into jam band territory at times with Gurley’s excursions, riffs, and solos.

This album is varied, and shows the versatility and inventiveness of the band, along with some humor as in “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”. They can also tell a sad story like “Timothy”. But the hit “Dizz Knee Land” followed them in the 90’s thanks to MTV and radio.

There aren’t many missteps here, and it’s well worth your while to dig past the hit and dive in.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They opened for Sting, Crowded House, and …Izzy Stradlin.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A version with some B-sides

 GRADE: A: This was a better record than I remember. Well worth your effort to stream.

The Chi-Lites – 20 Greatest Hits

ARTIST: The Chi-Lites                        612mBXog7mL._SX355_

TITLE:  20 Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: Give It Away (#88 US, #10 R&B), Are You My Woman (Tell Me So) (#72 US, #8 R&B), (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People (#26 US, #4 R&B, #32 UK), Have You Seen Her (#3 US, #1 R&B, #3 UK), Oh Girl (#1 US, #1 R&B, #14 UK), The Coldest Days of My Life (#47 US, #8 R&B), A Letter to Myself (#33 US, #3 R&B), Stoned Out of My Mind (#30 US, #2 R&B), Homely Girl (#54 US, #3 R&B, #5 UK), There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is at the Conference Table) (#63 US, #8 R&B), Too Good to Be Forgotten (#10 UK), Toby / That’s How Long (#78 US, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: That’s about everything right there.

LINEUP: Marshall Thompson, Robert ‘Squirrell’ Lester, Eugene Record, Creadel ‘Red’ Jones.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Outstanding early 70’s soul vocal group was almost equal to the Temptations of the time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: While each hit by the Chi-Lites falls into pretty distinct categories (funky, pleading, socially aware) and each category has a similar sound (especially when “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl” hit it big), the Chi-Lites Brunswick singles catalog is deep and mighty.

Eugene Record was the mastermind behind most of the hits – writing and producing the tracks sometimes with help by Barbara Acklin. The sound was great with Red Jones with the bass lines, and Record with the soaring tenor and funky backing musicians from Chicago. During their heyday they were snappy dressers with matching suits and afros. They had it all – for a while.

Their later hits featured some missteps, and thankfully this ends after they started to shed members due to Brunswick’s trouble. This is a good collection for those who dig the early 70’s soul sounds.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Marshall Thompson still has a version of the group going.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: A-: A couple of meh tracks, but when they were on top of their game they were great.

Mason Proffit – Come & Gone

ARTIST: Mason Proffit R-7850770-1450137577-4685.jpeg

TITLE:  Come & Gone

YEAR RELEASED: 1973 – rerelease of Wanted (1969) and Movin’ Toward Happiness (1971)

CHART ACTION: #203, Movin’ Toward Happiness charted at #177

SINGLES: Two Hangmen

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah

LINEUP: Terry Talbot, John Michael Talbot, Tim Ayers, Ron Schuetter, Art Nash

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Country rock quintet released two albums before singing with Warner’s. This is a re-release of those two records. R-7483761-1442442370-6840.jpeg

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Led by the Talbot brothers, Mason Proffit had a well-received five year career that was marked by incessant touring and limited sales. The main reason that their blend of country, rock, and politics was a niche that didn’t fit on radio at the time.

 

They were too country and bluegrass for rock, too rock for country, and their politics were in support of the Native Americans and brotherhood was more subtle than some of the bombastic political statements of the time. They also added some subtle Christian elements to their songs.

Musically, they were excellent. John Michael Talbot is an ace banjo player, and they definitely have the right sounding mix of all of their elements. There’s not really a bad cut here, and songs like “Hard Luck Woman” or “Sweet Lady Love” could have been hits on some chart at a different time. R-5956623-1407368731-6919.jpeg

NOTES & MINUTIAE: John Michael Talbot founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, a Catholic monastic community.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. These individual albums aren’t streaming, so this is a value.

 GRADE: A-: Sometimes a bit too earnest, but they make a nice country-rock noise. Both albums would get this grade separately. This is a good find for those who like country rock and influences of bands like the Eagles.

Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore

ARTIST: Phil Ochs           I_Ain't_Marching_Anymore_(Phil_Ochs_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE:  I Ain’t Marching Anymore

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None from here, but the title track was a 1966 single with an electric version.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Draft Dodger Rag, Links on the Chain, Here’s to the State of Mississippi

LINEUP: Phil Ochs

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Phil Ochs takes the protest singer crown away from Bob Dylan with biting songs about Vietnam, the draft, civil rights, President Kennedy, liberal complacency, and interpretations of poetry he found compelling.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: With a clear voice, and a sense of righteous purpose, Phil Ochs’ second album is an indictment of the state of the world in 1965. Vietnam, the draft, civil rights, and even suburban liberals are all targets for his work. He sang loud and clear and rallied the protest community behind him as Dylan was moving more towards rock and enigmatic visions.

Ochs was not afraid to challenge his listeners, as he wasn’t as doctrinaire as some on the left wanted him to be. In this, he had some realistic expectations of what could and couldn’t be accomplished, but he still was an idealist and sang about the injustices of the 60’s, which were myriad and deep.

Ochs was now the leader of the protest-folk movement, especially with songs like “HEre’s to the State of Mississippi”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “That Was the President” was about Kennedy, and it infuriated some Marxists and Socialists in his audience. Ochs didn’t care, really.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, the ‘electric’ version of “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”. It’s not as successful as it could have been.

 GRADE: A+: Probably the best protest album of the 60’s outside of Dylan, and maybe right alongside Dylan’s best.

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Good Health

ARTIST: Pretty Girls Make Graves           220px-Good-health-by-pretty-girls-make-graves

TITLE:  Good Health

YEAR RELEASED: 2002

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Speakers Push the Air, Sad Girls Por Vida, By the Throat

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh nope

LINEUP: Andrea Zollo, Nick Dewitt, Derek Fudesco, J. Clark, Nathan Thelen

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: It’s a retro blast of post-punk / early 90’s punk.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: A Seattle band that looks to the past for inspiration? Say it isn’t so! But this quintet leaps back to the raucous side of post punk and the early Chapel Hill sound, with some Drive Like Jehu thrown in for good measure.

Translation: it’s loud, angular, feisty, intense, and something that shook up the underground a bit in 2001. PGMG-Ep

Their 2001 EP definitely set the stage for this album, which rolls along with the same fury and clang as that EP (it’s appended here). The band is tight and on top of their game. The final song, “By the Throat” caps the record off and makes you want more.

At times, it may be a bit repetitive, especially with the EP thrown in there at the end. Still, it’s righteous noise and fury, and that’s OK by me.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: When Matador re-released this in 2003, they added the EP they put out in 2001.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: See above

 GRADE: A: Quite a discovery for me. Just a great record that gives you the fire and energy you require.