The Who – Live at Leeds

ARTIST: The Who

TITLE: Live at Leeds

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION:  #4 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: Summertime Blues (#27 US, #38 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I mean, it’s a live Who album. You’re gonna know the songs.

LINEUP: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the best live albums of all time, and a showcase for the Who in their glory years.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The original Live at Leeds was just a teaser. Only six tracks, and it blazes in with “Young Man Blues’, their cover of Mose Allison. “Summertime Blues” rumbles in the middle, and their workout of “My Generation” dazzles everyne, and it’s over after six tracks.

Of course there was more to that concert, and twice, they’ve delivered more. First, they gave us all of the non-Tommy songs and slotted in two tracks from the live performance of the rock opera. Then, they released every track, putting Tommy on the second disc.

If any live album is worth your streams or CD purchase it’s this one. The Who do justice to their singles, covers album tracks, B-sides, and Tommy. Starting out with John Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell” is genius, as the song gets everyone’s attention even though it’s a B-side. The best track for me is their live version of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)”, which was a prelude to Tommy. Townshend’s introduction is genius, and Entwistle’s falsetto in the final part of the track is incredible.

 The power and performance and the songs are spot on. There hasn’t been many live albums to surpass this, as all of the elements that make a live performance worthwhile are captured.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: If you really want to be anal about it, you can program a play list with the actual running order by slotting the Tommy songs between “A Quick One” and “Summertime Blues”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: As listed above, and one of the versions has Live at Hull, recorded the next night. It’s a little more ragged than this performance, but still worth hearing.

 GRADE: A+: If anything should be played loud, this is it.

The Who – Tommy

ARTIST: The Who 

TITLE: Tommy

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION:  #4 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Pinball Wizard (#19 US, #4 UK), I’m Free (#37 US), See Me Feel Me (#12 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: We’re Not Gonna Take It (which also includes See Me Feel Me), The Acid Queen

LINEUP: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Not the first rock opera, but the first one people really noticed.

 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: For better or worse, the Who’s Tommy popularized the concept album and ‘rock opera’. Lauded by the press and fans, performed in whole (well…not exactly whole), staged, and filmed, Tommy mostly succeeds in long form storytelling. Even the cover of “Eyesight to the Blind” and two sinister John Entwistle tunes fold in seamlessly to the narrative.

The performances on the studio album are tight and among the Who’s best. The only real embellishment to the core quartet was Entwistle’s work on French horn, Datlrey’s harmonica, and some keyboards played by Townshend. The four of them collaborated and pulled this off, and then pulled it off on stage.

There are many classic songs on this, of course, and the climactic cut presages the anthems the Who would put forward in the early 70’s.

However…it’s not perfect. A few songs seem forced for length or shoehorned in to move the story, and “Underture” is probably filler to make up the sides. It’s long, unnecessary, and I exiled it. The drawback to many concept albums are making a cohesive narrative with no filler or padding and this is no different.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: For live performances, four tracks (“Cousin Kevin”, “Underture”, “Sensation”, and “Welcome”) were excluded. The more contemporary performances reinstate “Cousin Kevin” and “Sensation”.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes a couple of outtake tracks are on a couple of editions.

 GRADE: A-: Worthy of praise, worthy of its historical significance, but it has flaws.

The Breeders – Last Splash

ARTIST: The Breeders 

TITLE: Last Splash

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION:  #33 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Cannonball (#44 US, #2 Alternative, #32 Mainstream, #40 UK), Divine Hammer (#104 US, #28 Alternative, #59 UK), Saints (#109 US, #12 Alternative)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Do You Love Me Now

LINEUP: Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, Jim MacPherson.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An out-of-left field breakout hit that made the band bigger than Kim Deal’s former band, at least for a few years..

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Well, after years of hearing praises about her work for the Pixies, and the underground buzz from the Breeders first album, success came along without much warning for Kim Deal in 1993.

“Cannonball” was a goofy, funny, ever-changing song that wouldn’t have been a hit except during this time in the history of music, but here we are, and it’s beloved to this day. It overshadows the album a bit, which is a shame, since there are some decent tracks here that would startle the non-hip “Cannonball” listeners.

Unlike their debut, this record has some lightness (“Divine Hammer”, “Drivin’ All Night”,), some rawk (“Saints”) and yet goes really dark and experimental at times (“Roi, “Mad Lucas”). Track-for-track it’s not as strong as Pod, as some of the experiments really don’t quite hit and a couple tracks do seem like filler. But, it’s still a fine record that people who bought it for the single may be surprised they like.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Do You Love Me Now” was also on Safari in a much less dark and distorted version.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a lot of demos, B-sides, and the Safari EP too.

 GRADE: A-: A hit, unexpectedly so, but deserved.

The Breeders – Pod

ARTIST: The Breeders 

TITLE: Pod

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION:  #22 UK

SINGLES: None. Hellbound was a video

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Happiness Is a Warm Gun

LINEUP: Kim Deal, Tanya Donelly, Josephine Wiggs, Brett Walford. Carrie Bradley and Michael Allen contributed on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two ‘second bananas’ from influential alt-rock groups form their own band and release a record that’s dark, twisted, and glorious.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Both Kim Deal (Pixies) and Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses) were frustrated by the lack of songwriting opportunities in their respective bands. They met and worked to from a band to release their creative energy. Grabbing Josephine Wiggs from Perfect Disaster and borrowing the drummer for Slint, they recorded Pod.

Due to contractual issues, the songs on this debut album were all from Kim Deal, and what songs they are. They explore the dark side of things – bad sex, bad families, and other pitfalls for women in the alt-rock scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Engineered by Steve Albini, the performances were raw and emotional, filled with excellent guitar work by Donelly , a solid rhythm section, and ragged yet spot on vocals from Deal.

At times, the bleakness is interrupted by poppy moments, like the melodies in “Doe”, “Hellbound:, and “Fortunately Gone”. The sparseness makes it hard to miss the blackness of the album, making it a direct artistic statement.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Brett Walford went by “Shannon Doughton” for the album and when they played gigs he played in drag.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, They released the Safari EP as a transition as Donnely was moving to form Belly. The title track is definitely worth having.

GRADE: A-: This isn’t the Breeders that casual listeners remember from the 90’s, but you can hear glimpses of the melodies of their hits. This still packs a wallop.

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

ARTIST: Genesis 

TITLE: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #41 US, #10 UK

SINGLES: Counting Out Time (#53 UK), The Carpet Crawlers (#54 UK),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

LINEUP: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Phil Collins

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Expansive rock-opera with a hard-to-follow and confusing storyline, and some ingenious music that expanded Genesis’ musical palette.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Despite the renown of this album, this is not the place to start to explore Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

The album shows Genesis at its most experimental, with some soundscapes, effects, and interesting noise. Working with the libretto and lyrics that Gabriel came up with was a challenge, and the band pulled together and made the record as concise and listenable as possible.

Yet, the story…my goodness gracious. The mid-70’s gave us a lot of impenetrable rock operas and storylines, and this one was right there with them. It’s not a story that you can get right away, or even after a few listens. It’s dense, and sometimes makes no sense. I don’t know what the hell Gabriel was trying to say. But he said it anyway. It probably could have been pared down a bit, especially on the back half. A good story editor could have done that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They toured this by just doing the entire album plus encores of a couple of their past epic songs. It lost money due to the production. Also, Brian Eno helped with production adding effects.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B: The music is good, but it’s too long and dense.

Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

ARTIST: Genesis

TITLE: Selling England by the Pound

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION:  #70 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (#21 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Dancing with the Moonlight Knight

LINEUP: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Phil Collins

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pop chart breakthrough for Genesis doesn’t mean they’ve gone pop.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After staging successful tours for Foxtrot in both the US and UK, and improved record sales, Genesis was ready to take the next step commercially. After a few months of working some ideas to death, they settled on the tracks and created this album, which contained longer suites with an actual honest-to-goodness pop song (well, proggy pop song).

“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was destined to be a hit in 1974, and it was deserving. It had enough progressive elements to keep fans from crying sellout, but had hooks enough for chart success. “Dancing with the Moonlight Knight” and “Firth of Fifth” are also strong instrumentally.

The star of this record to my ears is guitarist Steve Hackett, whose inventive use of distortion and tapping added some fire to the somewhat placid epics and his instrumental piece is top notch. Tony Banks’ keyboards overwhelm some of the songs at times, and the two longer songs on the second side are just overly complicated lyrically.

Overall, except for the pop success, this doesn’t break new ground. Good enough for prog fans.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Phil Collins sang “More Fool Me”, which hearkens to the softness of his solo career a decade later.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+: A great first three tracks, and some interesting bits and pieces later on.

The Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

ARTIST: The Beastie Boys 

TITLE: Check Your Head

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION:  #10 US, #106 UK

SINGLES: Pass the Mic (#47 UK), So Whatcha Want (#93 US, #21 Alternative, #122 R&B), Jimmy James (#55 UK), Gratitude, Professor Booty, Something’s Got to Give

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Funky Boss, The Maestro

LINEUP: King Ad-Rock, MCA, Mike D, Money Mark Nishita. Mario Caldato produced. Biz Markie did a vocal, and various percussionists helped.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Beasties evolve again, adding their own instruments into their highly-sampled tracks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Beastie Boys started as a punk band, back in the day, and even after they moved to hip-hop they still had a punk ethos. So after playing their own backing for a couple of tracks on Paul’s Boutique, they created more songs that utilized their own instruments on bass, guitar and drums. (MCA a/k/a Adam Yauch really loves to use pedal effects on his bass). Augmented by keyboardist Mark Nishita and other percussionists (congas and what not), the Beasties add a bit funk and Latin rhythms into their songs.

Meanwhile, they continued to experiment with sounds and samples, and while they weren’t as snotty and misanthropic as before, tracks like “So Whatcha Want” and “Pass the Mic” had plenty of their old attitude. And then, as the album winds down, “Namaste” shines a light on MCA’s journey to Buddhism and peace.

This is an ambitious project and encompasses quite a bit of musical territory. The number of instrumentals really shows the Beasties as serious about their musical chops. It’s not as fantastic as Paul’s Boutique but is impressive just the same.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Caldato was the third producer in three albums for the Beasties, though he did engineer quite a bit of Paul’s Boutique

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a Japanese version and then a big Deluxe version.

 GRADE: A: It’s not Paul’s Boutique, but it’s still pretty fantastic.

Love – Da Capo

ARTIST: Love 

TITLE: Da Capo

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION:  #80

SINGLES: 7 and 7 Is (#33), She Comes in Colors, Que Vida

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Orange Skies

LINEUP: Arthur Lee, Brian MacLean, Johnny Echols, Ken Forssi, Snoopy Pfisterer, Tjay Cantrelli, Michael Stuart

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from LA scensters reveals a lot about themselves and their eclecticism.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The second album from Love shows a band that was confident in many motifs. The big single (“7 and 7 Is”) was hard rock for 1966, “Que Vida” was an amalgam of styles, and “Orange Skies” and “She Comes in Colors” were brilliant sunshine pop.

The first side was a brilliant 1967 psychedelic pop-rock record. I’d maybe resequence it, but that’s a quibble. Then there’s the second side.

“Revelations” was the only cut on side two. Dylan and Zappa had done in 1966, but those were on double albums. Here, Love devoted an entire side to a rambling, long, jam that started out with Bach, and then incorporated Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. It had everything a 60’s psychedelic band threw at their audiences – drum solos, woodwind excursions, harmonicas, guitar solos, meandering jams. The works.

After such a brilliant side one, it was such a come down to flip the record over. That wouldn’t be a problem on their next album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Snoopy Pfisterer moved to harpsichord and keyboards for this album from drums, instruments he was much more comfortable in playing.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A reissue with mono and stereo mixes.

GRADE: B: Six fantastic tracks on side one (even if the sequencing is a bit off for me), then that jam on side two.

Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness

ARTIST: Smashing Pumpkins

TITLE: Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness 

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION:  US #1, UK #4

SINGLES: Bullet with Butterfly Wings (#22 US, #2 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #20 UK), 1979 (#12 US, #1 Alternative, #1 Mainstream, #16 UK), Zero (#49 Airplay, #9 Alternative, #15 Mainstream), Tonight Tonight (#36 US, #5 Alternative, #4 Mainstream, #7 UK), Thirty-Three (#39 US, #2 Alternative, #18 Mainstream, #21 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: X.Y.U., Muzzle

LINEUP: Billy Corgan, D’Arcy Wretzsky, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain. Greg Leisz played pedal steel.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A L-O-N-G record with some masterful songs, and some songs that needed pruning.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You talk about bloat? You thought the Smashing Pumpkins last album was too long and hard to get through at once? Well, you ain’t heard nothing yet.

This double CD (28 tracks, originally thought of 32 early on out of 56 they considered after recording about 70 or so, and 30 on the original vinyl version) has a wide array of tracks in both length and motif.

This is where Billy Corgan and his mates break out of their alt-rock motif and dabble in chamber pop, acoustic folky songs, prog rock epics, and guitar freakouts. Many of the songs are classics – touchstones of the mid-90’s. The deep cuts were interesting and revelatory. They were all over radio and MTV.

Yet, for all the accolades and sales, this record could use a good whacking at times. A lot of the songs go about a minute too long, sometimes two minutes. The quieter tracks aren’t sequenced in a way where they would be most effective – they get lost in the noise. I don’t know if I’d trim a track myself but a couple could go missing without being a big loss.

Corgan thought of this as a concept record about a teenage day in the life, and despite this being his concept for once the entire band contributed arrangements, solos, and played their instruments. It does sound like more collaboration instead of being a one man gang, for sure. 

But this is an album that is tough to listen to all at once, simply because it’s just way too long. The extended endings on many songs make one say ‘get ON with it’.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: One of the outtakes was a pastiche of about 70 songs that they demoed and / or considered for the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, of course. The original vinyl version had two extra tracks. They released another version with lots of extras and demos and a live DVD.

 GRADE: A-: I don’t know if it deserves to be cut down to a single album, because of the breadth, but an editor was really needed on some tracks for it to earn an A.

Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

ARTIST: Smashing Pumpkins 

TITLE: Siamese Dream

YEAR RELEASED: 1993

CHART ACTION:  US #10, UK #4

SINGLES: Cherub Rock (#7 Alternative, #23 Mainstream, #31 UK), Today (#103 US, #4 Alternative, #28 Mainstream, #44 UK), Disarm (#48 Airplay, #8 Alternative, #5 Mainstream, #11 UK, Rocket (#28 Mainstream. #89 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Starboy, Mayonaise

LINEUP: Billy Corgan, D’Arcy Wretzsky, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain. Mike Mills played piano on a track. Eric Remschneider and David Ragsdale played the string parts.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The album that put the Pumpkins on the map, and still a favorite of Generation X today.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first thing you notice about Siamese Dream is the guitar sound. THE guitar sound that made Billy Corgan famous. Yes it was all over Gish, but here, it’s layered and layered to an inch of its life. Producer Butch Vig and Corgan constructed a monolith of sound. There are pages on the ‘net and videos about that tone

Then there’s the songs. Here’s where Billy and the Pumpkins perfect (or steal) the famous Pixies Loud-Soft-Loud (or Soft-Loud-Soft, depending). The songs here are long, sprawling discourses – mostly on mental health and other assorted issues. There’s some dialing back of the alt-rock pummeling, with two tracks (famously “Disarm”) being string-driven, and songs like “Today” which crank down the urgency to bring some emotional heft.

Most of the songs are very familiar to the Gen X Alt-Rock masses, but before writing this review I had to wonder when I played the whole thing through. It just seems like it goes on forever, with many tracks (five) over five minutes long, and others just seem long. Some of those long cuts seem a bit ponderous and momentum-stalling.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This took a long time and was way over budget. There are conflicting reports on how much James Iha and D’Arcy actually played on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with lots of bonus tracks and demos.

GRADE: A-: It’s an alt-rock touchstone, but it’s got its flaws and needed some pruning.