Category: Grade: A

ABC – The Lexicon of Love

ARTIST: ABC                                                ABC-Lexicon

TITLE: The Lexicon of Love

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION: #24 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Tears Are Not Enough (#19 UK), Poison Arrow (#25 US, #39 Dance, #6 UK), The Look of Love (#18 US, #1 Dance, #4 UK), All of My Heart (#5 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Show Me

LINEUP: Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton, David Palmer with Anne Dudley, Brad Lang, and others

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The ultimate sophisticated dance pop album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: ABC, arragner Anne Dudley and producer Trevor Horn constructed this witty, smart, and sophisticated album that somehow escapes pretention (for the most part) and whisks you into a world of love, loss, and wordplay.

Two tracks “Poison Arrow” and “The Look of Love” are well-known 80’s tracks, but the entire album is full of pop hooks, elegant arrangements, and witty lyrics. Even the requisite ballad “All of My Heart” isn’t just a weepy ballad – the arrangement is exquisite.

ABC wouldn’t scale these heights again, but this record cements their legacy.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They had a long form video called “Mantrap” directed by Julien Temple.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, versions with B-sides and dance mixes.

 GRADE A+: Best of the new-romantic class.

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

ARTIST: David Bowie                      220px-ZiggyStardust

TITLE: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #21 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Starman (#65 US, #10 UK), Rock and Roll Suicide (#22 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Lady Stardust, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City

LINEUP: David Bowie, Mick Robnson, Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey. Rick Wakeman played on a track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A cultural touchstone of the glam movement and an influence to punk and art-rock for 70’s kids in the UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Sure, a dystopian concept album had been done before, and an album where music was going to save the kids had been done before. Also, albums done as a ‘character’ had been done before. Why was this such a success?

In short, the music, lyrics, and total commitment by Bowie to the Ziggy Stardust persona and the theme, which was intentional, or perhaps serendipity. Ziggy also spoke to disaffected, questioning youth everywhere. His clothes, his sexuality, everything. It spoke to those kids.

This is Bowie maturing as a songwriter and hitting the right note with everything on the record. The riffs, tones, and arrangements are on point. Even the cover song, “It Ain’t Easy”, fit right in. Today, the record can still speak to everyone, and that in itself is remarkable.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was said that Ziggy was influenced by Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and some others, like Vince Taylor

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some outtakes and B-sides (like “Velvet Goldmine”) and a stand alone single “John, I’m Only Dancing (#12 UK)

 GRADE A+: It’s Bowie’s best and it still resonates.

Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul

RTIST: Aretha Franklin                     220px-ArethaFranklinLadySoul

TITLE: Lady Soul

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #1 R&B, #25 UK

SINGLES: (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (#8 US, #2 R&B, #79 UK), Chain of Fools (#2 US, #1 R&B, #37 UK), (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone (#5 US, #1 R&B, #47 UK), Ain’t No Way (#16 US, #9 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Covers some well known tracks too

LINEUP: Aretha Franklin, Roger Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Bobby Womack, Joe South, Jimmy Johnson, Tommy Cogbill, Spooner Oldham, King Curtis, Warren Smith, other horn players, Erma Franklin, Carolyn Franklin, Cissy Houston

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A classic record containing crucial hits and soulful interpretations, backed by a crack band. What’s not to love?

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Featuring tracks written especially for her, some originals written by her or her sister, and some nice covers, this album burned up radio and turntables in 1968.

Two singles released in 1967 paved the way, whetting everyone’s appetite for the album. The first three singles are signature tracks for her entire career (interesting that “Natural Woman” only hit #8 since that’s such an anthem). Aretha’s depth shows while giving performances of the covers like “People Get Ready”. She puts it all in those tracks as well instead of just quickly finishing them to make the numbers.

With such a packed record, it shouldn’t be a question what grade to give it. The question should be is it better than her first Atlantic record. Hmmm….

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Carolyn Franklin wrote “Ain’t No Way”, which charted as a B-side. It’s that good.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, single mixes and a long version of “Chain of Fools”

 GRADE A+: Another classic Aretha record.

John Prine – Diamonds in the Rough

ARTIST: John Prine                     DiamondsJohnPrine

TITLE: Diamonds in the Rough

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #148

SINGLES: Everybody

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Souvenirs, Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You, The Great Compromise

LINEUP: John Prine, Steve Goodman, David Bromberg, Dave Prine, Steve Burgh

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from this troubadour mines the same territory of his excellent debut, but this time the song depth isn’t quite there. That’s kind of a quibble.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Instead of front to back classics, the second album from John Prine merely has some classics interspersed through the record. Oh, darn.

“Souvenirs” and “The Great Compromise” are on most people’s list of Prine favorites. Not everyone can get allusions to the compromised history of the US and Vietnam into the same song.

But a few tracks are too much like each other or like those from his first album. Variety is a little short here. The songs are mostly fine, but for that, the album suffers a bit.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The album took three days and focused on bluegrass and other country idioms.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Not as rich as his debut, but it’s still a fine album.

 

Low – Long Division

ARTIST: Low                                    220px-Low_Long_Division

TITLE: Long Division

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: Nope

SINGLES: Shame

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Ummm…no

LINEUP: Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker, Zak Sally

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sparse, slow, elegant.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Up there, I said sparse, slow, elegant to describe the album in an nutshell. I don’t think anything else can describe this album.

The second long-player from Low digs into the slowcore, with beauty in slowness, in space, in minor keys and harmonies. But it doesn’t seem depressing all the way through. It even sounds uplifiting at times when they move from a very quiet and spase arrangement to something more ‘lively’.

Tracks like “Violence”, “Caroline”, and others were a definite antidote to the post-grunge clatter that was happening. In its quiet, angst and hope are delivered without sound-alike noise.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: AllMusic lists a track as written by the guys in .38 Special. Though it shares a title, and Low has covered some oddball tracks outside of their idiom, this is not that .38 Special song.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: The more you listen, the more you’re enchanted by the slow elegance.

 

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III

ARTIST: Led Zeppelin               220px-Led_Zeppelin_-_Led_Zeppelin_III

TITLE: Led Zeppelin III

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: The Immigrant Song *(#16)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Tangerine, That’s the Way

LINEUP: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the least well-known records is amongst its strongest.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Thinking of what “Classic Rock” radio plays of Led Zeppelin III, and I come up with “The Immigrant Song”. That’s it – that’s the list. It’s their loss, really. 220px-Led_Zeppelin_III_volvelle_

This album is rather bifurcated – with Side 1 being heavy duty (“Celebration Day”, “Out on the Tiles”) and Side 2 being of acoustic flavor (not necessarily quiet thanks to “Gallows Pole”). You hear Jimmy Page on banjo and John Paul Jones on mandolin and they’re quite skilled.

The heavy songs crunch, but have more tricks than the band’s earlier heavy tracks. The acoustic songs are a revelation. Sure, Jimmy Page dazzled with a couple of acoustic solos before, but the whole band shows their versatility – even John Bonham dials back the drums somewhat. Somewhat.

Only the experimental last track falls short, a tribute to eccentric’s eccentric Roy Harper. That downgrades the record a tad – until then it as pert near perfect.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The joining of the tracks between “Friends” and “Celebration Day” was due to an engineer accidentally erasing the beginning of the latter. Ooopsy.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes – a second disc with different mixes and a couple of outtakes. One (“Jennings Farm Blues”) became “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” when done acoustically.

 GRADE A: Underrated by the masses, but it’s one of their best overall.

ABBA – The Essential Collection

ARTIST: ABBA                                      51shnmk3ERL._SX425_

TITLE: The Essential Collection

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 20: Waterloo (#6 US, #1 UK), I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do (#15 US, #38 UK), SOS (#15 US, #6 UK), Mamma Mia (#32 US, #1 UK), Fernando (#13 US, #1 UK), Dancing Queen (#1 US, #1 UK), Money Money Money (#56 US, #3 UK), Knowing Me Knowing You (#14 US, #1 UK), The Name of the Game (#12 US, #1 UK), Take a Chance on Me (#3 US, #1 UK), Chiquitita (#29 US, #2 UK), Summer Night City (#5 UK), Does Your Mother Know (#19 US, #4 UK), Voluez-Vouz (#80 US, #3 UK), Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (#3 UK), I Have a Dream (#2 UK), The Winner Takes It All (#8 US, #1 UK), Super Trouper (#45 US, #1 UK), Lay All Your Love On Me (#7 UK), One of Us (#107 US, #3 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Ring Ring, The Visitors

LINEUP: Agnetha Fältskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida), Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus. Session dudes, of course.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: It’s ABBA – the international pop music sensation that’s still a juggernaut today.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It’s almost like I don’t need to review this – you know most of the songs and the ones you don’t are just as memorable – probably.

Their regular albums were spotty (though “Hey Hey Helen” kicks it good), as they really focused on singles. The first four tracks here were from their debut (Ring Ring) and the rest follow from their Eurovision victory (“Waterloo”) and beyond. They started to slow down in the US (but not in the UK, really) when they called it quits

They’re pretty inescapable now, thanks to movies and musicals and what not. They constructed pretty much perfect pop singles – despite what you think of them you have to give them credit for that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were the first Eurovision winner to sing in a language other than their native country.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: It’s one of the best comps out there for ABBA.

 

Tommy Roe – The Original ABC Recordings

ARTIST: Tommy Roe                  R-3729532-1486769683-9449.jpeg

TITLE: Greatest Hits – The Original ABC Hit Recordings

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 40: Sheila (#1 US, #3 UK), The Folk Singer (#84 US, #4 UK), Everybody (#3 US, #9 UK), Come On (#36 US), Sweet Pea (#8 US), Hooray for Hazel (#6 US), It’s Now Winter’s Day (#23 US), Dizzy (#1 US, #1 UK), Heather Honey (#29 US, #24 UK), Jam Up and Jelly Tight (#8 US), Stagger Lee (#25 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah, the rest charted pretty low.

LINEUP: Tommy Roe and various sessioneers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A compilation of the 60’s pop singer who survived through the many changes of the pop scene and kept having hits every couple of years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: One thing that strikes you about Tommy Roe’s career is that there were three phases of his success. First it was 1963-64, then a comeback in 1966-67, then a final comeback in 1969 to 1970. Each time the style was a bit different, but they were all Tommy Roe composed and all fit in with the pop vernacular at the time.

The other striking thing is that as lightweight as the songs seem to be, they keep coming back as samples (the drum breaks, especially, and the organ sound). Then, the complexity of the songs will surprise you (“Dizzy” has 11 key changes and is in four keys overall).

These 18 tracks really do give an overview of pure AM radio pop in the 60’s and is surprising durable. Roe was never an album artist, but pumped out four or so singles a year, and when one hit, then they collected up an album from sessions.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This compilation goes through 1971, but he kept cranking out singles for a few years after with little success.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: A load of earworms here.

Slade – Greatest Hits

ARTIST: Slade               slade

TITLE: Greatest Hits

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: All of em: Of Note: Coz I Luv You (#1 UK), Look Wot You Done (#4 UK), Take Me Back ‘Ome (*97 US, #1 UK), Mama Weer All Crazee Now (#76 US, #1 UK), Gudbuy T’Jane (#68 US, #2 UK), Cum On Feel the Noize (#98 US, #1 UK), Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me (#1 UK), My Friend Stan (#2 UK), Merry Xmas Everybody (#1 UK), Everyday (#3 UK), The Bangin’ Man (#3 UK), Far Far Away (#2 UK), My Oh My (#37 US, #3 UK), Run Runaway (#20 US, #7 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were in the UK and were a Slade-head

LINEUP: Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, Don Powell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Glam rockers, huge in the UK, barely made a ripple in the states until Quiet Riot covered them, and then they got their deserved hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Glam rock barely caused a fuss over here, except on rare occasions when singles by some artists hit the airwaves (Mott the Hoople, Sweet). No band was unjustly denied their rightful place over here more than Slade.

From mid 1971 through 1974, they released 12 singles in the UK, and every one of them hit #4 or higher, including six #1 singles. And they weren’t just copy cat hits (they did change it up a bit, honestly), they were solid songs like “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” (on a K-Tel record, even) and Gudbuy T’Jane. They ran out steam and by the punk era they were off the charts.

But they had more life in the early 80’s, as two singles hit the Top 10 again n the UK and gave the band their much deserved Top 40 hits in the US.

Sure, it’s kind of simple – memorable guitar riffs, Noddy Holder shouting about something, and the band chanting and stomping all around. What’s not to like?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Originally, they felt the title they gave their first self-written single didn’t fit with the sound, and thus they named it “Coz I Luv You”. A career of spelling errors ensued.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: I may have bumped this up a bit…but I mean, this is just packed with memorable shouters and bangers. What’s not to love?

 

Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell

ARTIST: Ryan Adams                               220px-Love_Is_Hell

TITLE: Love Is Hell

YEAR RELEASED: 2003 / 2004

CHART ACTION: #68 UK. Pt. 1 EP #78 US, #62 UK. Pt. 2 EP #114 EP

SINGLES: Wonderwall (#27 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Love Is Hell

LINEUP: Ryan Adams. He used two bands – one for NYC sessions the other for sessions in New Orleans. They included Greg Leisz, Ricky Fataar, and Ian McLagan, among others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Forced to release this set as two Eps at first, Ryan Adams creates a downer masterwork. RyanAdamsLoveIsHellpt1

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The record company said it wasn’t a commercially viable product, but they did allow Adams to release this work as two EPs. When they sold well, Lost Highway reconsidered, and released it as one unit, with the addition of one track from his prior album, although in an unexpurgated version. (There’s more to the story, I’m sure. Whenever they write a Ryan Adams book, the damn things going to be 1,000 pages due to all the stories and myths).

“Political Science” isn’t the most upbeat album opener, and throughout most of the record Adams stays pretty true to the title of his work. The title track is one of his most realized and complete songs he’s ever written, and his cover of “Wonderwall” strikes a right note.

As the music moves on, Adams tries to pull everyone out of his dolorious state, with a couple of more upbeat tracks, including “Hotel Chelsea Nights”. It’s a fine capper to a fine record that shouldn’t have been shelved in the first place. RyanAdamsLoveIsHellpt2

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Adams wrote “Shadowlands” before a concert in Belfast, and opened his show with it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Japan, of course, yet again, got bonus tracks on each EP and on the full length. Dang it.

GRADE A: He’s better when he’s contrary and bucking the system, like this.