1001 Albums: The United States of America

#121

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Artist: The United States of America

Album: The United States of America

Year: 1968

Length: 37:07

Genre: Art Rock / Psychedelic Rock

“We shall shortly institute
A syncopation of fear
While it’s painful, it will suit
Many customers whose appetites are queer

Or for those who wish to pay
There are children you can bleed
In a most peculiar way
We can give you all the instruments you’ll need

And the price is right
The cost of one admission is your mind”

I am back from another long hiatus. This seems to happen to me quite often, but can you blame me? I’m an adult with a busy schedule and sometime other things take priority in my life over writing this blog. Shame though, because I listened to this album three weeks ago and barely remember it coming to sit down and write about it. I mean, I could have always listened to it again but I already listened to it three times and I felt any more would just be overkill at this point. Plus, I’m about 5 albums ahead, I decided to just keep listening because… you know, fuck it, why not. Might as well crank this one out and just move on with it.

It’s a short lived band that only had one album and the band broke up immediately after because they all couldn’t get along. Seems to be pretty common amongst bands. I always wonder… how did they get together in the first place when there were so many tensions in the band? Were they great friends first and the battles commenced once production started? Were they individuals who all saw the talent within each other but didn’t realise they’d butt heads so much once they began? It’s such an interesting phenomenon to see groups that do work together but then you realise how much shit was happening behind the scenes. At least this one disbanded immediately, some groups stay together for years and years. I guess props to them for sticking it out so long for the sake of the music (and the fans I guess). It just seems no one could agree on which direction to take the band as individual members tried to pull it this way and that and others got fed up of certain members getting more attention than others… ego, that’s what’ll do it. Either way, they produced one album that basically sold poorly and disappeared from existence, yet somehow managed to keep a legacy and high critical acclaim. Is it really the gem it’s made out to be? (I’m honestly not the right person to answer this question but whatever, I’ll do what I do best… be irrelevant).

Originally I thought this band had a stupid name with a stupid album cover. Like come on, United States of America? Really? Either you are way beyond patriotic or you have a severe lack of originality. Like what are you supposed to evoke with this type of band name? Very American music? Didn’t sound that way, except for maybe excerpts here and there, but those were few and far between. That album cover too… just a circle with the bandmates… cool, a lot of thought went into that one. I especially like how the bassist looks like Rainn Wilson, that gave me a good laugh for five minutes. I’m being hyperbolic of course, I don’t find it that dumb, plus my friend Graham convinced me that it’s a pretty cool cover since we rarely get to see the band working behind the scenes. So basically this entire paragraph I just wrote is entirely useless and should be ignored.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have much to say about this album and I’m looking for anyway to fill up space. I mean, it’s an experimental art rock, psychedelic album. I’ve been over saturated with them and this is not much of an exception to what I’ve been hearing. To be fair, their sound is definitely unique to them and they were trying new things with the genre. The use of synthesizers makes a big debut in music here and they seemingly are one of the first bands to experiment with it’s sounds as a prominent feature in the music. Lacking is a guitarist, which I think is pretty cool. I would have never known if I hadn’t read about that. Guitars are a main focus in psychedelic rock and it’s complete absent here, so I have to give the band credit for experimenting with new things and creating an original piece of work. It’s evident there’s a lot of talent thrown into this album and it pays off in the end… if you like this sort of thing.

In a lot of ways I can see this as a hidden gem in music history but at the same time I can see people being turned off by it. Not everyone is into the sounds of art rock and experimentation and it does take a certain level of music appreciation to really appreciate what’s being done here. Personally, not my thing and would probably skip in the future but I wouldn’t pass it up as a recommendation for lovers of the genre. It would definitely be a new discovery beyond the usual psych stuff and a fun little obscure piece of music to keep in your back pocket to pull out when you want to sound pretentious.

At one point the band says “We’ll have a good time” and I ask myself the question, Did I have a good time?

…I guess.

Song of choice: Where is Yesterday

-Bosco

 

 

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1001 Albums: Cheap Thrills

#120

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Artist: Big Brother and the Holding Company

Album: Cheap Thrills

Year: 1968

Length: 37: 11

Genre: Blues Rock / Acid Rock

” Ah, I’m a mean, mean woman
And I don’t mean no one man, no good, no
I’m a mean, mean woman
I don’t mean no one man, no good
I just treats them like I wants to
I never treats them, honey like I should”

I’ve been an absolute busy bee. I listened to this album about two weeks ago and hadn’t found the time to actually sit down and crank one of these out. SO bear with me my memory might not be the greatest as I sit to write about Cheap Thrills right now. But to be fair, since I completed school I’ve been working full weeks, two days at an internship with a film company (doing photoshop… of course!) and three days teaching dance (yes dance) to elementary school students in the GTA (Grand Toronto Area). Full eight hour days don’t lend themselves to having much time to write and by the time I get home I’m burnt out and ready to sleep. But! In the best way possible because it’s a very satisfying burn out and not an anxiety burn out, which is great because that means my mood has turned around.

I have to say I loved this album much more than I expected. The only song I knew before listening was Ball and Chain, so I went in expecting a full album of that. It’s a great song but I didn’t expect the album to be as high energy as it was and as fantastic as it was. Ball and Chain was never a song I was really into, I recognized it as great but felt meh about it. I’m happy that listening to the album has turned it all around for me. This album was considered one of the heights of blues rock music and I can’t deny that at all. The entire band seems to come together seamlessly with Janis Joplin’s famous vocal stylings over the top of smooth instrumentals just makes the entire experience a great one.

What threw me off at first was the addition of crowd noises throughout the album. I was sure it wasn’t a live album and lo and behold it sounded like one. The crowd noises were added in post to give the illusion that it was a live album and I have to say they did a great job at incorporating those sounds perfectly because they sound like they’re performing for an audience. The goal of the album seemed to be to capture their energy from their on stage performances and if that’s the case than I have to say they definitely succeeded because it felt like a high-energy live performance as each and every member gave it their all throughout the entire album. There is nary a bad moment on this album and it’s solid from start to finish. I have heard people constantly talk about this album in the past and was always hesitant to give it a listen, expecting a psychedelic album I wouldn’t really enjoy, but now I wish I had heard it earlier because it truly is an amazing piece of work. And a breath of fresh air, after listening to way too many psychedelic albums it was nice to hear some blues rock again.

How can I go on without talking about the album cover? It’s one of the most iconic album covers in music history and designed by the most famous underground cartoonist ever: Robert Crumb. His dirty, raw drawing style lends itself so well to not only the aesthetic of the album but the ideas behind it. The album is called Cheap Thrills after all, only makes sense to get Robert Crumb to design some crude album cover for you. But the story behind the album cover doesn’t start there. Before getting the artwork of Mr. Crumb, the band wanted the cover to be them naked in a bed. Surprise, surprise, Columbia Records vetoed it. I always love reading about album cover controversies from the 60s, they seem so ridiculous especially when you fast-forward to the 80s and later and there’s some pretty ridiculous covers that were allowed to be released with zero controversy. It’s fascinating to see what the boards accepted and didn’t accept back in the days and seeing the differences of what was considered controversial. An album cover with a band naked in a bed today would go unnoticed easily. The funny thing is Robert Crumb even refused to be paid by Columbia Records for his artwork not wanting their “filthy Lucre”. A true underground artist if I’ve ever seen one. And continuing with the controversy, Columbia Records even refused the original album title which was going to be Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. Gee, I wonder why… to it’s credit though, Cheap Thrills is a much better sounding name and rolls off the tongue much quicker and because of the shortening it became a much more iconic album than it would have with the original name.

I believe at least…

This definitely ranks high in my favourite albums I’ve heard so far and I think a lot of that comes from how pleasantly surprised I was with the whole thing. I should have listened to all those people all those years ago and grabbed me a copy of Cheap Thrills when I had the chance. I wonder if this is the end of the Blues Rock era on this list. If it is than it definitely ended with a high and I wouldn’t be sad or disappointed to know this is the last (although chances are there is another one and it probably won’t be as good as this, but oh well).

Song of Choice: Combination of the Two

-Bosco

 

 

 

 

1001 Albums: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

#119

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Artist: The Byrds

Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Year: 1968

Length: 28: 28

Genre: Psychedelic/ Folk / Country Rock

“No I’d rather go and journey
Where the diamond crescent’s glowing
And run across the valley
Beneath the sacred mountain
And wander through the forest
Where the trees have leaves of prisms
And break the light in colors
That no one know the names of”

It’s a plane! It’s Superman! It’s a Lead Zeppelin! No, It’s The BYRDS!!!! Again. It’s one of the few bands that I always sort of anticipate will show up once again in my playlist but I always sort of forget about at the same time. I’m actually quite surprised at how extensive their catalogue is having only known their early sixties hippie-dippie sounding tunes and never knew they had this sort of impact and growth and evolution within the music world. If you asked me if I ever thought The Byrds would be considered a band that left a mark on history I probably would have said no. But I didn’t know any better at the time having known absolutely nothing about The Byrds. Discovering their evolution has been quite the journey and that journey isn’t done yet with at least one more album to come on this list.

Ok, so what can I say about this album? According to reviews this is considered their greatest piece of work, their debatable masterpiece, the album that would leave the biggest legacy for them. It was The Byrds at their most experimental, utilizing all sorts of studio techniques and psychedelic cliches to their best. This was also their transitional album into their eventual Country Rock days but was used very subtly here with a nice blend of genres from psychedelic, folk, baroque pop and jazz. They were at the height of their songwriting bringing in everything they had t create a massively cohesive album with nary a bad moment. All this despite the many issues they had behind the scenes, from tension with David Crosby, who would be fired halfway through the session, and their drummer leaving as well. Gene Clark would return but it is uncertain what he actually provided for the album in terms of songwriting. All these issues and they still managed to release what’s considered their greatest album of all time (and sometimes even appears on top 100 albums lists).

If this is the case, then why was it so forgettable for me? No joke, I can’t remember anything of this album. it’s as if once it was completed my mind just swiped the memory of this album away form me completely. I remember the style that played throughout and the vibe I got form it for the most part, but it’s just a vague idea of the thing as a whole and I can’t go into specifics at all. Nothing from this album stuck with me in any way, shape or form. There were even times when I’d check the playlist and notice I had missed a song completely, not even knowing I had listened to it. I had to go back several time to relisten to songs to make sure Spotify didn’t just skip it, which is how I felt it was. Maybe the songs just blended in together a little too much (which is a credit to the album’s cohesiveness I guess), but I just can’t tell you about any songs in particular because I honestly don’t remember any of it.

Maybe this will go into the pile of albums I’ll revisit one day because if it really is considered their greatest work then there’s got to be something there I obviously missed (which seems to be the whole thing). Almost as if it sort of passed by me and I didn’t even notice it go. I find it such an interesting phenomenon how some albums can stick with us and others just don’t. Especially when it’s a highly valued album, you’d figure it would stick with you in some way or another, but this one just didn’t at all and I have no idea why.

That being said, there’s not much else I can really say about it. Took me doing extensive research to get to know anything about this album so I could at least talk about something related to it, but I’ve reached my capacity to say anything about it. Sorry to disappoint but sometimes that’s how it is and with 1001 albums on this list I’m bound to hit a ton that just don’t resonate with me in one way or another and I have nothing to say about. Can’t like everything and can’t connect with everything. That’s the sad truth. I really do try to at least have something to say about every album I listen to and try my best to form an opinion of sorts and to go into it a little, but I’ll have to face the facts that sometimes I just can’t do it and will be faced with an album that I just have nothing to say about. I do feel bad because it is The Byrds and I was getting into their evolution as a whole and even though I recognised it as I was listening to it and felt “man this isn’t The Byrds we started with, cool, good for them” that was as far as my feelings went for it. Hopefully I’ll have more to say for their next one which is full-on Country Rock, so there’s a good chance I might.

Also, I love how there’s a horse in that fourth window on the cover. Gives me the impression that a horse was part of the band and played on this album. Don’t know about you, but the image of a horse in a recording studio playing an instrument makes me giggle.

Song of Choice: Old John Robertson

-Bosco

 

1001 Albums: Vincebus Eruptum

#118

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Artist: Blue Cheer

Album: Vincebus Eruptum

Year: 1968

Length: 32:08

Genre: Hard Rock / Proto-Metal

“Well my mom and papa told me son you gotta make some money
Well if you wanna use the car to go a ridin’ next sunday
Oh, Lord, I didn’t go to work I told the boss I was sick, said

Sometimes, I wonder what I’m gonna do
Lord, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues”

Goddamn this album was loud. Like really loud. It’s the loudest album I’ve ever heard in my life. And I listen to music loudly, extremely loudly and nothing has ever coming close to the loudness of this album. It was so loud my speakers in my car almost couldn’t handle the sheer loudness that was coming through it. I thought they were going to blow at any second. I actually had to turn the volume down because it felt too loud, which is a first for me. The songs just boomed through, rumbling and shaking the entire car and especially my eardrums. The low frequencies were incredibly prominent on this album, which is a staple of this band’s sound it seems (based on an interview I read where they try really hard to make sure all the lows of the rhythm section are there and loud). This band was notorious for being so goddamn loud that I think I even read somewhere that they burst an amp playing at their volume (but I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on that). Never before has a band played as loudly as this band played and with that they paved the way for new horizons in music.

It’s shocking that an album that is probably not very known at all (my only exposure to Blue Cheer was their hit Summertime Blues from a Rock N’ Roll History music course) was such a ground breaking album for a variety of reasons. It’s officially the first album on the list to be considered Hard Rock, and although it may not be the first band to develop a hard rock sound (we’ve definitely heard some bands on this list already to do that) they were definitely one of the first to wear the term on their sleeves like a badge of honour. ¬†They were the band that inspired the term Power Trio, which means way before Rush was considered the Holy Trinity, these guys were rocking it out as the first Power Trio. They also were one of the founding movements of Heavy Metal. The history of Heavy Metal can probably be tracked all the way to these guys as the starting point of the genre. So, if you are a love of Heavy Metal, you have these guys to thank for paving the way for the creation of the genre. So many firsts for a lesser known album.

All that being said, despite being the perfect recipe of music for me, I was simply ok with the whole thing. As a whole it was great to see the beginnings of metal and hard rock coming to fruition and I could definitely feel the obscene loudness shien through into my eardrums and rattle my brain, which is always great, but the songs themselves didn’t really have much else to them. Other than Summertime Blues, which is a fantastic cover, the rest of the songs felt mostly forgettable with the memory of the sound being what really sticks to you. I can go on and on about the sound of this album but wouldn’t be able to tell you much about the individual songs. I mean, one song was a drug anthem about how much he loves drugs… I guess that’s something to be proud about. I don’t know I should have loved this album, and there’s definitely a lot of moments throughout that I did love, but that’s the thing, it was always moments. Moments of solos or banging drums that appeared within the songs, but never the full songs themselves. I still really liked the album but it just didn’t connect with me and left me feeling like there was something missing deep down under all the loudness and guitar sounds that were plugged through multiple amps. There was a lack of structure throughout which caused for some unexpected shifts within the songs themselves that almost felt like a change of song occurred, even though it didn’t. Interesting choice but a little jarring nonetheless.

I guess what I’m saying is that there was a shallowness to the music here, but then again, nothing wrong with that. Blue Cheer’s goal was to create an album of music that was just beyond loud and would burst your eardrums and they succeeded in doing that! And despite my feelings towards it, I wouldn’t ask for any less from this album. It did what it aimed to do and I will admire it for that.

Song of Choice: Second Time Around

-Bosco

1001 Albums: Lady Soul

#117

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Artist: Aretha Franklin

Album: Lady Soul

Year: 1968

Length: 28:41

Genre: RnB / Soul / Memphis Soul / Southern Soul

“For five long years
I thought you were my man
But I found out, I’m just a link in your chain
Oh, you got me where you want me
I ain’t nothin’ but your fool
Ya treated me mean
Oh you treated me cruel”

Oh Aretha Franklin, you big, beautiful woman. I don’t think there is anyone out there quite like her. The pipes on this women are absolutely extraordinary and she sings with so much soul and heart, there is no way anyone could not love Aretha Franklin. She is a delight and an all-around amazing woman. If I was twenty years younger… wait, scratch that because twenty years younger would make me 5 years old and that would be weird. If I was my age in the 1960’s, I’d 100% be an Aretha Franklin groupie. I’d be all over her. The second she opens her mouth to sing every guy in the room just melts. If Elvis Presley was making girls cream their panties then Aretha Franklin was the female equivalent, making guys cream their pants. There’s no way as a guy you couldn’t be turned on by this woman, especially when she’s singing about wanting a man who treats her right. You sit there going, I’ll be that man who will treat you right! I would 100% have slept with Aretha Franklin. Could you imagine the orgasms on this woman? “YEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH” (credit goes to my friend Graham for that last part).

In all seriousness (even though I was relatively serious in that last paragraph about what I said), this album is fantastic. It’s a nice step up from the last one I heard (I Never Loved a Man as Much as I Love You, in case you didn’t know), which was already a tough act to follow. Aretha really brings it here better than before, singing every note with as much passion as she could muster from deep within her core. There is nary a second you don’t believe what she’s singing and she belts out tune after tune, note after note, with such force that it resonates past your ear drums and deep into your brain. This album is perfectly titled. Lady Soul is exactly what’s going on throughout the entire run time as Aretha sings about heart ache, bad men who have treated her wrong and even men who have treated her well. It’s all the soul and passion from the perspective of a woman that I can guarantee every woman would relate to or at least stand behind. Even as a dude (which I am) I could relate to the emotions she was going through (Especially Chain of Fools, having dealt with not only manipulative women in my past, but manipulative friends as well). The emotions come from a real place of womanhood but also come from a place of honesty that allow for any listener to relate to, even if they aren’t a heterosexual black woman.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this album. I even found some songs to be too short, feeling like they just suddenly ended. Especially the first batch of songs off the album, I sat there wanting more each time and was taken aback when it would just suddenly end and move on to the next song. But wait song… you aren’t finished yet… come baaaaaack! More Aretha Franklin is never a bad thing.

The one thing I may not have enjoyed so much were the final two songs, which almost felt apart from the rest of the album. They didn’t really feel like they fit that well and I almost thought I was listening to an extended version with bonus tracks and these two were those bonus tracks (alas they were not). I did not need to hear a cover of the Young Rascals “Groovin'”, I had enough of that song from their album of the same name. Actually that was enough Young Rascals for me forever, so it just felt like an unnecessary addition to the album,e specially since it didn’t really fit the themes that made the album whole and cohesive to begin with. Especially since it seemed like there was a nice little story going on. She started the album talking about a shitty man that hurt her and ended up at “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” where she finally met a man who treated her properly. There was a nice arc going on there that kept me invested and by that song you feel really happy for her.

I don’t think I have any other words to describe how amazing Aretha Franklin is. She is the Queen of Soul no doubt about it and no one can take that title away from her.

YOU GO GIRL!

Song of Choice: Money Won’t Change You

-Bosco

 

 

1001 Albums: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

#116

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Artist: Laura Nyro

Album: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession

Year: 1968

Length: 46:15

Genre: Pop

“No one knows the blues like lonely women do
No one knows the blues like lonely women, yeah
Blues that make the walls rush in
Walls that tell you where you’ve been
And you’ve been to the hollow
Lonely women yeah”

I am going to do my best to never judge an album by it’s cover. I went into this expecting to be completely underwhelmed and bored but was instead pleasantly surprised by what I experienced. I did not expect to enjoy this album at all. I thought it was going to be a series of sad, melodramatic songs that feel more boring than anything, but instead I got a series of happy-go-lucky songs straight out of a romantic comedy montage sequence and some fine jazzy pop tunes. Even the slower songs were pretty good. Sometimes it’s hard not to set expectations for an album before you listen to it, but I’m going to do my best to enter them with a complete blank slate and no thoughts whatsoever (which will be more difficult with bands I’m already familiar with (I’m looking at you Led Zeppelin)).

It doesn’t help that in the actual book they didn’t sell me on this album very much. It almost sounded like the reviewers weren’t sure why this album was on the list and made focus to the fact that her two live performances at the Monterey Pop festival were disastrous and she was booed off stage (which apparently is a myth). But obviously when the very book that’s suggesting me the album gives me a very lackluster blurb a bout it, it doesn’t make me very excited to listen to it. They should probably rewrite it and at least make it sound mroe inspired.

And inspiring Laura Nyro apparently was. It’s astonishing how many musicians talk about her as an influence on their work. Musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Elton John, Bette Midler, Cindi Lauper, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Elvis Costello, Alice Cooper and Paul Stanley are just a few who have cited her as a big influence on her work or even as one of their favourite songwriters. Elton John was even quoted as saying that she was one of the great performer/songwriters who have been largely ignored. It’s crazy to think someone who had this much impact on music could fall through the cracks that easily. I certainly never heard of her and neither has anyone that I talked to, even my friends who are musical buffs. Especially the fact that she wrote all the music on this album herself is a real testament to her talent and how remarkable she really is (especially since most pop songs were written for the singers rather than by the singers).

To be honest though, I am a bit at odds with this album. As much as I did enjoy it, I am still wondering why it is on this list because it didn’t really feel like there was anything special to it. It felt like a nice throwback to old jazz singing like Sarah Vaughan but doesn’t really feel like anything new or substantial especially in the time frame that it’s in in 1968. I understand the history of it and her influence on many musicians and do feel knowing her as a songwriter is important, but the album itself, like I said, feels very standard. Enjoyable, yes, but nothing really more than that.

I will say that it was a wise decision to change her name to Laura Nyro from Laura Nigro, I think we can all deduce why. Plus Laura Nyro has a nice ring to it and sounds like a much better stage name than her original. Probably was taken more seriously with that name too. Unfortunately she is no longer with us, but her legacy does live on as samples on various hip hop songs, which is pretty cool. She may not be known by many but at least she was highly well respected in the community, and I personally would take respect over fame any day of the week.

Song of Choice: Eli’s Coming

-Bosco

1001 Albums: At Folsom Prison

#115

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Artist: Johnny Cash

Album: At Folsom Prison

Year: 1968

Length: 45:05

Genre: Outlaw Country / Live

Inside the walls of prison my body may be

But my Lord has set my soul free

There’s a greystone chapel here at Folsom
A house of worship in this den of sin
You wouldn’t think that God had a place here at Folsom
But he saved the souls of many lost men
Now there’s greystone chapel here at Folsom
Stands a hundred years old made of granite rock
It takes a ring of keys to move here at Folsom
But the door to the House of God is never locked
Inside the walls of prison my body may be
But my Lord has set my soul free”

I’m becoming a big lover of live albums. Something about a Live album that delivers a sort of quality to the music that the studio albums don’t. Obviously not all live performances quite set the standard of what the studio album promised (some bands are just shit live and are purely meant to be heard on their albums). But a great band not only can play their songs live but can actually sound better when they do. Something about hearing the songs live, removing the sterilization of the studio, that adds that extra texture to not only their sound but their performance as well. I love listening to live performances to see how bands are able to recreate their tunes on their pure playing skills alone and I’m especially amazed when I see them able to perform a rather difficult song live (not necessarily musically but emotionally as well for the singer).

Creating a good live album though is a feat on it’s own. Not any live show can be produced into a successful live album and I am starting to understand why live albums are being included on this list. The live album is just as significant as it’s studio brothers, especially when it’s done properly. Creating a set list is just like creating a studio album, you have to find the right flow from one song to another and it all has to wok together to make a cohesive whole. What the Live album has though that the studio doesn’t is the added layer of an audience watching and interacting with the performance. The set list not only has to work as a whole but has to work in keeping the audience engaged, pumping them up at the right moment and capturing their attention. The order of your set list can make or break your show and knowing which songs to play when is incredibly important.

I feel At Folsom Prison is a perfect example of the live album done properly. Johnny Cash doesn’t just give a top-notch performance but he also forms a relation with the audience, interacting with them, laughing with them and getting them pumped up. He smartly forms his set list to cater to these prison inmates, starting with songs he knows they’ll relate to and get them riled up so when he stops to sit and sing some ballads they’re 100% invested in his performance and like putty in his hands. It helps that he empathises with them and cracks jokes for their sake against the wardens. These inmates go absolutely insane for his performance, hooting and cheering throughout, with their intensity building up all the way through where it feels like a possible riot might break out at any minute. The energy that the audience gives back to Cash resonates through the music and affects you as a listener to. You’re not only invested in his performance but the audience’s energy as well.

There’s a great moment right in the second song where he stops singing to tell the inmates to stop laughing as he’s performing and at the end of the song gives them a speech about how it’s being recorded and they can’t shout out words like ass and shit, with the second being bleeped out, which adds to Johnny Cash’s sense of camaraderie with the inmates he’s performing for. They laugh and hoot and holler at everything he says, that even when he’s doing something mundane like asking for a drink of water and commenting about the quality of the water offered, the inmates are engaged like children watching a storyteller. It also helps that a lot of the songs Cash sings relates to murdering and crimes, that I am sure the inmates absolutely loved to hear. Folsom Prison Blues starts with how he shot a man, and Cocaine Blues sings about how he snorted some coke, shot his wife and then was on the run from the police (an absolutely insane song). Add relevant songs like 25 minutes to go, a story of a man waiting to be hung, and Greystone Chapel, which was written by a Folsom Prison inmate, and you have one hell of a well-thought out setlist. It’s sprinkled with some of his other work to add some beef to it, but it’s really the outlaw related songs that standout as a whole.

Apparently, this was the album that got Johnny Cash’s career back on track. He was struggling with drugs (because of course he was) and was basically falling off the radar. The prison inmates had been sending him letters for a long time asking him to come perform for them. I think it helped that he had made that connection with them. After watching a movie about Folsom Prison, he was inspired to write the song Folsom Prison Blues, which was definitely what helped get him that extra pull that he needed to revitalise his career. Johnny Cash really delivers on this album and you can tell he performs with tons of heart and soul as he makes his way through each song with a sense of calm and cool that only Cash himself can do.

I’ve said it many times that I do not like Country music, but for the first time I can say I have found a Country album that I absolutely love. I never once felt like I was listening to a country album and instead just felt like I was listening to a great album. It was really refreshing for me to not be bogged down by any of the country cliches I always hated and was able to finally enjoy a country album for what it really was (but the fact that it was also a live album really helped with the experience). It may not have the high-powered rage energy of Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, or the sexiness of Sam Cooke’s Live at The Harlem Square Club, but it definitely stands up to par with these other two live albums as being as historically important and as strong in it’s own way. It’s definitely one of the best live albums out there and a must for anyone interested in listening.

Johnny Cash seems to have made a career performing at prisons, with another live prison album of his appearing on this list a little later on and you really have to give him praise for holding the attention and respect of rowdy inmates for a full show. Johnny Cash is one hell of a cool dude and he proves it here. I’m happy to see he was turning his life around at this point and having a second resurgence of his career because if it didn’t happen we wouldn’t have had the joy of listening to At Folsom Prison.

Song of Choice: 25 Minutes to Go

-Bosco