1001 Albums: Groovin’

#95

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Artist: The Young Rascals

Album: Groovin’

Year: 1967

Length: 34: 34

Genre: Rhythm and Blues / Blue-eyed Soul

“Whatcha tryin’ to do to my heart
Whatcha tryin’ to do to my heart
You go around, tellin’ lies, and now you wanna compromise
Whatcha tryin’ to do to my heart
You better run, you better hide, you better leave from my side, yeah”

Are the 60s over yet? Am I almost done? I don’t know how much more I can take especially when I encounter albums that are so very 60s sounding. How many more albums that delve into psychedlia can I take? Do we really need to hear every single band that decided to try their hand at Psychedelic music? Is it really necessery? WELL IS IT???

The Young Rascals are less Psychedelic and more radio friendly pop (or as the book would tell me one of the few white bands that can really deliver a soulful performance that stands against their African american counterparts… sure I guess). All I remember from The Young Rascals was their big hit Groovin’ playing on one of my dad’s old 60s compilation albums. Didn’t like it that much then and… I guess it’s grown on me a bit but is still skippable in my opinion. I find this album is emblematic of the sound of 60s pop music. All you need is to check this one out to get a good idea of the sort of music that was at the top of the charts. It’s easily digestible, a little cheesy and good, clean fun. Any goof who only listens to radio music sure would love this kind of stuff but if you’re looking for something with a little more depth to it than this is probably not for you.

I’m not saying it’s bad, not at all. It’s a decent album, the band clearly is skilled and the singer knows how to sing damn well but… come on… it’s pure 60s nostalgia music here at this point. I found myself at odds because there would be moments where I felt damn this band is doing something cool here and then moments where I’d groan because it was just another single. No joke, eight of these 11 songs were fucking singles. That’s what you get when you listen to an album by a band notorious for singles and patchy albums, an album where they at least try to give you something cool but still feels like a collection of singles. By the time I hit the final song that tried hard to at some psychedelic vibes to it with interesting experimentation, I just felt it wasn’t deserved at that point.

I’m actually at a loss of understanding as to why this was included on the 1001 albums list. I mean it seems to hold the great distinction that it holds a number 1 hit and the band tried something new… Ok? I feel the biggest distinction that this album can say for itself is that it’s included on this list because I honestly don’t see anything special about it. I mean, the tunes are good and I can see where the book says that they’re incredibly soulful white guys and do a good job at it but the entire run time I just felt like I was listening to some typical 60s music. Is that why it’s there because it’s a great time capsule to the 60s pop charts? Is that it??? What is it???

I mean… I liked some tunes. I remember enjoying a few very much… but… Jesus this album just feels a little forgettable. Not as forgettable as Fred Neil mind you, it at least has something to it, but I just don’t really see myself listening to it again. Maybe I just need to give it a second chance, maybe I went into it expecting it to be this way, maybe I had formed my opinion before I even listened to it because honestly it’s a pretty decent album…

I’m overthinking this. Maybe I’ll revisit it one day but for now it’s left a meh taste in my mouth (or ears) and I guess I can say it was pretty ok. That’s that. Like they had a song called Find Somebody which just felt like a slightly mediocre version of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love. Seriously the lyrics at some points are almost exactly the same.

Man, I’d love to listen to Somebody To Love again, just recently sang it at Karaoke. My friends wanted me to sing it like Jim Carrey did in The Cable Guy but I decided to just do it in my own way.

Why am I talking about Jefferson Airplane? What album is next? oh…. (nice sequeway…. :|…)

Song of Choice: You Better Run

-Bosco

 

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1001 Albums: Younger Than Yesterday

#94

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Artist: The Byrds

Album: Younger Than Yesterday

Year: 1967

Length: 29:11

Genre: Psychedelic Rock

“Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate, I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”

The Byrds are back and at it again. I honestly didn’t expect to see The Byrds appear so often on this list, but that’s mainly because I only knew two Byrds’ songs so I was kind of surprised to see how much influence and impact they made, especially in the 60s. Younger Than Yesterday doesn’t feel like anything spectacular or really new when it comes to the band. It’s exactly what you’d probably expect from The Byrds, I know it was for me. The minute the opening notes of the opening song started I knew I was in for a very straightforward Byrds album. Nothing more and nothing else.

That being said I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought this album was a blast. It was a ton of fun from beginning to end. It threw in some nice surprises once in awhile showing off the groups experimentation with psychedelic rock. A mix of reverse tapes, odd instruments and some mind-melting sections of their songs added some decent touches to the album that at least made it feel like a step forward from their previous efforts so it wasn’t 100% just more of the same. It honestly doesn’t disappoint as a Byrds album and it’s uniform enough to keep you engaged the whole way through, with some tunes slowing down to allow you to take a breath and others just being a ton of fun.

This album reminded me a lot of The Beatles’ Revolver in a lot of ways and for some reason I felt a sort of parrallel. If I was to make an analogy I would call this the Byrds’ Revolver, a maturing band trying new things but still keeping what made them them. But where I felt Revolver was a bit of a mess and felt more like a compilation than an album this one stands out as being incredibly cohesive and despite the different styles they do try out (folk and country being an example) it somehow still flows really well from one song to another and no song ever appears in a jarring way. There’s such a natural progression to the whole album that you don’t even feel the time pass. I remember checking to see which song I was at only to find I had two songs left. That’s always a good sign in my books. I honestly do feel like The Byrds were the American equivalent of The Beatles and although The Beatles had emerged as bigger and more mature by this point, especially musically, it does sound like The Byrds are working their way up to that point. That could just all be speculation since I’ve never heard any of their later albums, but they do have a few more yet to come on the list, so it’s very possible they could meet that expectation (although I read they sort of delve into country rock later on and seeing as I’m just not a fan of country music it’s possible I might either hate it or love the Byrds take on it… who knows).

If you like The Byrds this is definitely one to check out. I feel it stands the test of time better than their previous albums. Their first albums feel sort of stuck in their time but this one comes across a little more timeless, even with the very obvious 60s vibe. Put it on today and it still feels a little fresh. But just a little. I guess I could say this is currently my favourite Byrds album but I’m not about to start ranking the albums of every band that has multiple albums on this list. So, I’ll just leave it at that, a fun and enjoyable Byrds album that I’ll probably take a listen to again at some point in my life… possibly.

Song of Choice: So You Want to be a Rock n’ Roll Star

-Bosco

1001 Albums: The Doors

#93

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Artist: The Doors

Album: The Doors

Year: 1967

Length: 44:48

Genre: Psychedelic/Acid Rock

“This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes, again”

I am both happy and sad a this moment. Happy because I absolutely love this album and I would easily rank it as one of the best albums of the sixties. Sad because for the first time in my blog I have not been able to meet something I wanted to do. You see, I wanted to play this fun game called Albums I Actually Own. It wasn’t really a game to be honest but the idea was everytime I encountered an album I own on Vinyl I was going to post a picture of myself holding it up. Yes it’s a little self-indulgent, but my vinyl collection is one of my most prized possessions and I’m really proud of it. We all have hobbies and things we love dearly, vinyl collecting just happens to be one of those things for me. Unfortunately since I moved to Toronto I had to stop with the vinyl purchases due to monetary issues (suddenly paying rent and bills and having a job that can only pay for that really makes it tough to spend on luxuries) so my collecting has halted until I start making enough to go back to it. Also unfortunately my entire collection is still back in Montreal meaning when it came to playing Albums I Actually Own I couldn’t get a snapshot of me holding it. Oh well…

But that being said, I won’t give up.

So the first album to appear on my very special edition of Albums I Own is in fact The Doors!

[insert photo one day]

Ok enough of that, let’s hit the album. Metaphorically of course, not… physically… that would be bad.

The Doors was another one of those bands for a long time I was kind of avoiding out of fear I’d be disappointed since I met so many people who considered them in high regard. I eventually caved in and discovered their debut and immediately fell in love with it. I’ll be honest I never really checked out their later albums and it’s really just this one I’m familiar with but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one hell of a fantastic album. I honestly could listen to this one on repeat and never get fed up of it. Everything about it just works so damn well and is easily one of the best debut albums out there. Top 10… if not at least Top 20… if not at least Top 50… definitely Top 100… or 200…

It really is a milestone in rock music and a step forward for the psychedelic genre. The Doors blasted onto the scene with their own style, their own music and tried things that hadn’t been seen before. With a mix of flamenco influenced guitar, jazz trained drumming and some of the best organ playing ever heard, it made for a unique blend that only heightened the song writing of the group. Throw in Jim Morrison’s incredibly theatrical style of performing and you get a band unlike any other at the time. There’s no denying that The Doors really stood out as being their own band and redefining what we knew about music at the time. It was unlike anything at the time and even today holds up incredibly well and still stands out as it’s own unique piece of rock music.

I want to talk about my favourite part of the group and that’s easily their strongest and best player: Mr. Ray Manzarek. Maybe it’s because I have a soft spot for keyboards and keyboardists and have high respect for them since for the most part they’re often overlooked as people scramble to talk about guitarists and drummers (sorry bassists) but Ray Manzarek is easily the superstar of this album. Without his incredible organ playing this album just would not be the same. From the opening chords of Soul Kitchen that just bring you in and to the crazy note playing and solo of Light My Fire, which is just a mind-bending crazy experience, there’s no way these songs would work if it wasn’t for Ray’s keyboard licks and riffs. And the crazy part? While he was doing this kick-ass organ playing, his left hand was also playing the bass notes of each song. Now that’s some serious skill that not every group has (The only other one I can think of off the top of my head was The B-52’s, but I’m sure there’s more). He’s definitely in my top 5 keyboardists of all time.

I don’t really know what else I could say about this album because it’s really an experience that you as a listener need to experience for yourself. Maybe it won’t do anything for you, but it definitely does a lot for me and this is one I love to always listen to again when I’m in the right mood. It never fails to make me happy, even the long depressing final song of The End manages to make me smile, not because of its themes but just how great the music is. And The End really ends (haha) the album in a great way. It’s consistent in sound and flows beautifully where it’s almost 45 minute run time doesn’t feel that long at all. You immerse yourself in the album and just have a great time the whole way through (and clearly the band is having a great time as well).

This is definitely one for the history books in terms of rock music and one that will continue to stand the test of time for years and decades and centuries to come.

Never forget.

Song of Choice: Light My Fire

-Bosco

 

 

1001 Albums: Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim

#92

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Artist: Frank Sinatra

Album: Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim

Year: 1967

Length: 28:05

Genre: Bossa Nova / Traditional Pop

“Quiet nights of quiet stars quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams quiet walks by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains and the sea, how lovely”

pffff… Well, I guess I need to speak about this album to some extent. It’s music alright and it’s pretty decent music. Hearing Frank Sinatra team up with Jobim to create a nice blend of Bossa Nova and traditional pop that Sinatra was famous for. Hearing Sinatra sing such classics as The Girl From Ipanema (which appeared on a previous Bossa Nova album on this list originally sung by Astrud Gilberto) was definitely quite a treat, but overall I didn’t feel it really captured my attention in any way as a whole.

All I can really say is that it’s very nice music. It felt like a good throwback to when I started the list, like listening to the albums from the 50s again. It was a nice feeling, gave me memories of the winter night when I listened to Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, waiting for my bus late at night. Times were very different then. I was working in Montreal at a film company, was still living with my parents, got to see Sandra on a regular basis (and our relationship was still relatively fresh at that time), I felt more confident and comfortable with my life having less responsibilities and getting the chance to relax in a very comfortable environment. Boy have things really changed since then. Am now living in Toronto and back in school, living on my own with basically all the responsibilities of a full-grown adult, still with Sandra and hitting close to a year and a half in our relationship, met new friends and lost old ones and am in a place where I just don’t feel as comfortable and relaxed (but that’s definitely the new responsibilities that have suddenly been thrust onto me). I’ve grown a lot since then and my Montreal days all feel like distant memories even though they weren’t that long ago. It’s funny how big changes in your life can do that.

As a whole the album was really just that, a nice album. I had it playing in the background as me and Sandra made some supper when she came up to visit and it really is the perfect music to just relax to. I always associate winter weather with this style of music, but that could really be because it was winter when I was making my way through the 50s and early 60s and it really felt like more peaceful times at the time. It was a nice break from all the 60s rock music I was going through and it felt good to get that throwback.

But with that finished it’s back to 60s rock music.

Song of Choice: The Girl From Ipanema

-Bosco

p.s What a terrible mouthful of a title for this album. Great creativity just naming it your very formal sounding versions of your names.

 

 

1001 Albums: The Velvet Underground & Nico

#91

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Artist: The Velvet Underground

Album: The Velvet Underground & Nico

Year: 1967

Length: 48:51

Genre: Art Rock

“Teenage Mary said to Uncle Dave
I sold my soul, must be saved
Gonna take a walk down to Union Square
You never know who you’re gonna find there
You gotta run, run, run, run, run”

Let’s add this album to the long list of famous albums that I just don’t really get. I was never a fan of the Velvet Underground and in the past I have tried to listen to this album with big failure. Part of me dreaded having to listen to it but part of me was intrigued because I never really did. It was a bag of mixed emotions going into it and that bag remained the same once it was done. I still have very mixed emotions about this album and honestly don’t know what to think of it.

It’s not my thing, that’s for sure. It’s not that I don’t like Art Rock or anything with experimentation, although I’m not a fan with some notable exceptions. There’s no denying these guys have talent and love to experiment in interesting ways. And I definitely will not deny the influence they’ve had on bands and how much skill went into creating this album. But it’s really an acquired taste, a difficult to swallow album that really isn’t for everyone. I get why some people love this album but I also get why people could be turned off by it. I’m unfortunately in the latter of this group, recognizing the achievement of the album but just not being into it.

One of my friend’s dared me to do a track by track review. which I thought was a terrible idea since I don’t like this album, but hey he dared me and that’s a challenge so why not. Let’s see a track by track review from the perspective of someone who isn’t a fan.

Sunday Morning:

Already a poor start for me. This feels beyond cheesy to me and if this is setting the mood for the rest of the album then we’re off to a bad start. Thankfully it’s apart stylistically and the rest of the album never returns to this cheese-fest. Please never let me endure this song again.

I’m Waiting For The Man:

Now this is what I’m talking about. Almost a proto-punk feel to it, hard guitars and a big beat. I was loving this song… until it just never ended. What the hell was going on… just the same repetitive thing over and over and over for almost 5 minutes. As much as I liked it, it just became dull after 2 minutes as I realised it just wasn’t gonna change at all.

Femme Fatale:

For those who have read my Nico review already know how I feel about this song. This would have been way better if I didn’t have to listen to Nico’s stupid voice. I hate her singing, sounds like she has a muffin stuffed in the back of her throat. I can see why the band and Andy Warhol like her being a bunch of underground pretentious arteeests, but honestly I just can’t stand it. Good song, better off with a different singer.

Venus in Furs:

Ugh. I guess this song is good, if you like high-pitched wailing sounds similar to bagpipes blaring in your ear. Big points for the whole art rock, experimental aspect, lose points because I found this obnoxious to my ears. Couldn’t wait for it to end and of course it was over 5 minutes long. Lucky me.

Run Run Run:

Solid tune. Really liked this one, probably my favourite. Nothing more to say, just really enjoyed it.

All Tomorrow’s Parties:

Snooze… another Nico song and of course this one is 6 minutes long. I was honestly just bored with this one and couldn’t grasp it at all. Maybe I just wanted to be over with this album by now but this song just didn’t do it for me. It’s one of my friend’s favourites… good for him I guess, maybe he’ll explain it to me one day.

Heroin:

Here is a great example when experimental music works very well. Dark subject matter mixed in with the instrumentation as a recreation of an experience. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and really liked what they set out to do. Thumbs up from me.

There She Goes Again:

Enjoyable. Sounds like they’re doing their best at a Bob Dylan impression, as tons of bands were doing at the time. Mostly just in the intonations of the vocals. Good stuff.

I’ll Be Your Mirror:

I honestly don’t remember this one and it seems to be the shortest of the album, so maybe that’s why. Need a quick re-listen to jog my memory. Give me a second…

Just as I suspected… another Nico song. I must have blocked it out of my memory and thanked god it was so short. Oh well, next.

The Black Angel’s Death Song:

My friend wanted me to write a whole paragraph on this one. I really didn’t want to seeing as I am obviously not the right person to write a retrospective on this album or delve deep and go into analysis since I’m not a an at all. But a challenge is a challenge so I figure I can fill up space with nonsense just so I can fill up a paragraph’s worth of words. Another bag-pipe sounding song, but not nearly as annoying as the other one, here it’s way more enjoyable and pleasant. I wish I could break this one down more than currently am (which is barely anything to begin with so whatever) but who knows, I’ll let the fans break this one down and I’ll just move my way through, enjoying the experience and broadening my horizons in music knowledge. Is this enough words for a paragraph? I guess so, he better be happy.

European Son:

Longest song on the album but wholly deserving of it’s length. I was really quick to save this one to my playlist before it took a sudden turn into weird territory. The beginning is a little misleading for what’s to come in the rest of the song. Loved it then got caught off guard and then got lost in the wild experimentation that was this song. It was a brain-melting experience but I’ll give it to them it was one that was worth sitting through this entire album. Great ending to an otherwise meh experience.

 

So there you have it, my brief and underwhelming track by track review of this album. Funnily enough, when this album first came out it bombed completely being deemed a financial and critical failure, selling barely any copies and just not getting the reviews it probably, maybe deserved. It’s only until years later when musicians of those times started talking about this album and the part it played in influencing them that it started to get the recognition it deserved. So who knows, maybe history will repeat itself and years from now I’ll finally rediscover it as the masterpiece it is. Or maybe I’ll stay stuck in the 60s mindset and be like… meh.

We will see.

Song of Choice: Run Run Run

-Bosco

Worst to Best: Sparks Albums

For anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I am a big Sparks fan. They’re one of my all-time favourite bands and when I tell people, conversations usually go like this:

“One of my favourite bands is Sparks”

“who?”

“Sparks”

“Sparks?”

“Yes”

“Never heard of them”

I’m not surprised, unless you’re one of the lucky few who are part of the cult following that is the Sparks fandom chances are you’ve never heard of them. Which is really a shame because their one of the most diverse and talented bands out there. To call them underrated is a bit of an understatement and it’s a real testament to their skills that they’ve been making albums since the late 60s and are still producing music up to today.

That’s actually why I decided to write this Worst to Best. With the release of their newest album “Hippopotamus” that came out in September, I wanted to take a look back at their discography and rank their albums.

It should be noted that this is not a definitive ranking and can change in the future. i mean, they do have 22 albums. Their sound musically has changed drastically throughout their career, touching on glam rock, synth wave, disco, orchestral, orchestral rock and new wave and have been hugely influential for many, many bands. That being said every album has that Sparks flavour and they manage to still be themselves despite the stylistic shifts. With Russel Mael’s unique falsetto singing style and Ron Mael’s satirical and humourous lyrics, the Mael brothers managed to create a catalogue of truly unique music.

They have a very long history and I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to rank some albums. Having listened to their entire discography on four separate occasions I feel I have the capability of doing just that.

*It should be noted I stuck to their musical discography and did not include their newest album “Hippopotamus”, live albums, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman or their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand called FFS (which always makes me laugh because all I can think is “For Fuck’s Sake” when I see that name).

So here it goes, Sparks Albums ranked from Worst to Best (In my humble opinion of course):

21. Interior Design

15 interior design

I felt like this one was a no brainer, but I might be heavily biased too because I just plain don’t like this album. It’s the only Sparks album I cannot sit through and avoid every time. The funny thing is, it’s technically not a bad album… just in terms of a Sparks album it really falls flat. It sounds like they were experimenting with something new that just didn’t deliver, which would explain why they never went back to this sound. It was so disappointing they wouldn’t even produce a new album for another 6 years. For the most part I find this album to just be boring. That’s honestly what it is. It feels tedious to get through and is just a big snore fest (with the exception of Madonna, which is the standout tune). If you enjoy it, that’s great, but as far as Sparks albums go it just doesn’t hit the mark at all.

20. Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat

13 pulling rabbits out of a hat

This is such a strange Sparks album in the sense that it’s not bad but it’s incredibly underwhelming in terms of what you’d expect from Sparks. Other than the title song, which is actually fantastic, the rest of the album just never seems to hit that high and just feels disappointing. It’s almost as if Ron Mael wrote all the music in his sleep, as if he was on auto-pilot while writing it all. This is Sparks putting in the least amount of effort (which if anything is a testament to how good they are because it’s still good work, just not good Sparks work).

19. Plagiarism

17 Plagiarism

Sparks did an interesting thing with this album. Rather than recording new material, they decided to rework some of their old songs. It’s basically a Sparks cover album done by Sparks themselves (with some guest appearances by Erasure and Faith No More). It’s actually pretty great to hear new renditions of their songs and reimaginings but at the end of the day it’s still a heard that already situation and it doesn’t help that they put some songs on there more than once. So unless you want to hear two different versions of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” (which to be fair one of them is an extended version which is pretty cool) and “Something for the Girl with Everything” than I guess this is one to check out. Almost feels like a greatest hits of sorts. Interesting experiment but nothing new in material which is what puts it so low on the list.

18. Music That You Can Dance To

14 music that you can dance to

I want to say that starting at this album, every Sparks album is pretty damn good. This might be a biased opinion on my part because I love the band so much, but they’re discography really is full of incredibly strong material. You might experience some Sparks albums that you’re not crazy about because they do touch on so many different styles and one of those style just might not be your thing and that’s ok, but there’s no denying they managed to creat some damn good music. So why is this one considered the worst of all the good? Mainly because it’s half great and half forgettable. In a lot of ways it sort of feels the same way as Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat but actual effort was put into this one. Other than the title track, Change and Let’s Get Funky, the rest do sort of feel like Sparks going through the motions but unlike Rabbits this one actually has personality. To add to their humour they would eventually re-release this album as “The Best of Sparks” confusing their fans who expected a best of compilation and were just met with this exact same album.

17. Balls

18 Balls

A great album with a title that always makes you double-take that unfortunately just did not have the impact it should have. Continuing the evolution of their sound from Gratuitous Sax they manage to create such a great atmosphere with this album with many highs and rarely any lows. However, that being said, this is one of those albums you need to listen to a bunch of times before realising it’s true worth. As great as it is it doesn’t leave a first impression and you might immediately forget about it after listening to it once (which is what happened to me), it was only after the songs came up on shuffle on my Ipod and I stopped to listen did I discover how great the tunes were. It’s definitely an experience as far as Sparks albums go and is one worth checking out.

16. In Outer Space

12 in outer space

Sparks step into the synth pop world is one that’s just a ton of fun. It’s hard not to have a blast listening to this one as you feel the dance beats carry you away and the poppy synth notes tickle your ears. As I go through this list part of me feels I should have placed this album a little higher. Looking back on the tunes this album contains some of my favourite Sparks songs, All You Ever Think About Is Sex and Rockin’ Girls. Ron’s humour is at a high on this album with endlessly hilarious lyrics and we even get a great guest appearance from Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s on Cool Places. Even Russel gives a great deadpan performance on the song Popularity giving the impression of a hollow shell of a human left over from their glowing days of being so popular. Ok so there isn’t much in terms of depth on the album, it’s a lot of what you hear is what you get, but what you get is a ton of fun.

15. Introducing

7 Introducing

Introducing is a bit of a mess of an album, it sounded like they were trying a lot of things which resulted in great tunes but a slightly uncohesive album. It doesn’t flow as well as it should but it still provides the listener with great tunes such as Occupation, Forever Young, Over the Summer and my personal favourite Goofing Off, which borrows it’s style from a russian waltz of sorts and has a kick-ass guitar solo that you don’t see (or hear…) coming at all. It’s a bit of a forgotten album that gets lost amongst the great ones that came out around it (70s was a good time for Sparks). It was easily overshadowed and although doesn’t compare to some of the others that came out around the same time, it still holds it’s own.

14. Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins

16 gratuitous sax and senseless violins

After the very disappointing Interior Design and a six-year break, Sparks came back with this one and boy did they make a comeback. New sound, new ideas and a brand new album that surprised everyone. With their singles, When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”, When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie Parker) and Now That I Own The BBC managed to put them back on the Top 40 charts across Europe since their single Beat The Clock in 1979. Deservedly so, the songs on this album succeed in sticking with you and leaving an impression long after the album has finished. Only problem is that there are a few meh songs that just don’t seem to have the same effect and the album does sort of blend together, with some songs becoming difficult to differentiate from one another, but the high notes are really high and leave this album with a strong impression.

13. Exotic Creatures of the Deep

21 exotic creatures of the deep

What do you get when you mix Ron Mael’s writing abilities, Russel Mael’s Falsetto voice, violins and other orchestral type instruments and some pounding hard rock guitars? You get the sound of Exotic Creatures. Every-time you hear sweeping violins and organ you know the rockin’ sounds of that hard hitting guitar is right around the corner creating a truly unique album in the orchestral rock genre. It truly is it’s own album and doesn’t fail to leave you both entertained and amused especially with songs like Lighten Up, Morrissey, Good Morning and I Can’t Believe You Would Fall For the Crap in this Song. They even tackle modern day ideas such as Photoshop and poke fun at the modern day technology boom with This is the Renaissance. This album would also launch their most ambitious tour to date, where they performed every single one of their albums from front to back live. 21 nights, one entire album every night. Quite the feat which required relearning a ton of songs they probably had never even played live before. Kudos to them.

12. Hello Young Lovers

20 hello young lovers

Continuing with the sound they started to develop in Gratuitous Sax but also predicting the sound they would eventually create in Exotic Creatures, this album sort of acts as a transitional piece between the two and where most transitional albums of artists stuck between two sounds in development, this one hits the mark very well. Even though every song has that unique brand of Sparks quality to it, with humour and enough absurdity to leave you wondering what they were on when they wrote this, this album also has the distinction of having one of their greatest songs of all time: Dick Around. A masterpiece of Sparks that lasts for almost seven minutes but keeps you engaged the entire time as it sweeps and changes, adding layers upon layers of music throughout the running time and keeping to form with it’s theme of just dicking around. It had become a big fan favourite and remains a highlight of their entire career (and probably the biggest reason why this album is ranked this high). It does overshadow the rest of the album, especially since it is the opener, but it leaves you so pumped that you just need to stick the rest of the way through and it delivers, maybe with a few valleys here and there, but enough that when As I Sit Down To Play The Organ At The Notre Dame Cathedral (a personal favourite) comes on, you’re more than satisfied.

11. Lil’ Beethoven

19 lil beethoven

I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of this album at all. It’s one of the few I have a hard time sitting through and if it was up to me (which technically it is, I am writing this) it would be much lower on the list. However, it is widely considered by many fans and even some critics as being one of their best. So I compromised and put it about halfway up the list to make everyone happy. Despite not liking it, I do see why it’s hailed as the supposed masterpiece it is. Ron manages to write 9 “Classical pieces” in the only way Sparks can. Considered their career-defining Opus, they have moved to a purely orchestral sounding… sound and have decided to take on classic music influences to create this album. The end result is a wildly debated masterpiece of sorts that has people divided. It seems on both sides of the same coin, the exact same arguments can be used to why they like or dislike this album. My biggest issue is how repetitive it is. Every song, despite being their own unique song, feels long as hell because it’s so damn repetitive the whole way through, with most songs just have the title repeated over and over and over and over. And while most people would be turned off by this… others realise… well, that was the point. Sparks purposefully made every song incredibly repetitive and even threw in some humour (Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold comes to mind). This is one of those albums where you have to listen for yourself and make your own opinion, but there’s no doubt that they were definitely on top of their game when creating it.

10. Whomp That Sucker

10 Whomp That Sucker

I’m about to have a fanboy moment here because (bias alert) this is my favourite Sparks album. I’ve listened to this album more times than I can count and I believe it was the album that solidified my love for Sparks. Understanding my bias I put it lower than I normally would have to at least be fair, but goddamn is this album such a fun ride. It’s full-energy from start to finish, Ron’s sense of humour shines throughout and the whole band just sounds like they’re having a blast. There’s a reason it’s called Whomp That Sucker because I honestly feel like I’ve been whomped by the end of it. SIde A of this album whch includes the ever funny Tips For Teens (what teens are asking you for tips exactly Mael brothers?), Funny Face (about a good looking model who just wants to look ugly), the ever catchy and engaging Where’s My Girl (which has one of my favourite guitar solos, it’s truly mesmerizing), The high-energy Upstairs (which is my all-time favourite Sparks song) and I Married a Martian (which concludes Side A in such a pleasing way) is one of the best Side A’s I’ve heard and is one I constantly replay all the time. Taking advantage of the New Wave sound that was becoming quickly popular in the early 80’s. they jumped onto the high-pitched synths, obnoxious music (That’s Not Nastassia ends in the most deliciously annoying way that you’ll want to close the song) and danceable beats (David Kendrick just wails on his drum). *Side Note: I actually put this album on as I wrote this*

9. Terminal Jive

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Continuing to work with Giorgio Moroder after No. 1 in Heaven, they decided to leave the pure synth disco sound and create a more disco-rock album. Smart choice as the disco sound probably would have overstayed it’s welcome and the infusion of rock guitars really makes the album sound fresh for a Sparks Album. As a whole the album has an endless supply of great tunes, with Stereo and The Greatest Show on Earth (which has some of the funniest deadpan lyrics) being standout songs. They even poke fun at their new sound with the song Rock n Roll People in a Disco World. The only fault this album has is a repeat of their opener When I’m With You at the end of Side A in instrumental format, which is honestly just useless filler for absolutely no reason. No idea what they were thinking when they added it. But if you’re able to look past that, the rest of the album is incredibly solid, leaving you with catchy tunes and fun riffs. Their song Stereo even experiments with the stereo format, having sounds jumping back and forth from left to right on your speakers, playing into the theme and subject of the song in a very clever way.

8. Big Beat

6 Big Beat

Sparks at their most Rock n Roll. Stripping away their synthesizer and piano (although it does make appearances throughout) guitars and bass take the stage and dominate this album unlike any other they’ve done. True to the name of their album, he drums bang away loudly and proudly and you’re left with no choice, you have to bang your head. With Big Beat they don’t leave any man behind, even giving the bassist some sick riffs to play with (Throw Her Away and Get a New One,  hilarious song that at live shows Ron has to state to the audience that their songs should not be taken literally). Russel is in full form here, giving all his energy and sweating like a madman as he makes his way through every song. Fill-er-up, Confusion, Screwed Up, Everybody’s Stupid and the aforementioned song above are highlights of this album which never gives up and makes sure you the listener are having a blast of a time. This also remains one of Sparks most accessible albums (which is truly a feat for them to do) and can have anyone listen to it and enjoy it.

7. Angst in my Pants

11 Angst in my pants

I half-lied when I talked about Whomp That Sucker. It’s not my favourite album exactly. It’s in a tie with this one. But whereas Whomp That Sucker can be a little alienating at points for people who know nothing about Sparks, Angst in My Pants is usually a great place for newcomers to start. It has a perfect blend of accessibility and Sparks flavour, remaining both unique to the Sparks sound and sensibilities yet still managing to create something digestible for new listeners. I had shown this album to a friend who had never heard Sparks and he really enjoyed it, he even pointed out that this was definitely a concept album. I never thought of it that way and it’s something I’ll have to look into for sure, but it would definitely give this album a whole new perspective if that’s the case. What’s great about this album is that you can go into in-depth analysis of every song. Ron Mael really shows his skills with lyrical and thematic content here and plays up the satire and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour of the band, almost peaking with it. With Angst in my Pants describing the difficulty of dealing with ones sexual urges, I Predict giving off incredibly obvious predictions in a way that’s supposed to be considered incredible (with one of the funniest endings to a song, where the singer predicts the song will fade out and it never does), Nicotina describing love as an addiction to cigarettes, and The Decline and Fall of Me as a satirical look at the band itself, just to name a few. It’s quite an experience from start to end.

6. Halfnelson

1 Sparks Halfnelson.jpg

Well, here we are. Sparks debut album. Before becoming the duo of the Mael Brothers, Sparks was a full band that shared writing credits amongst it’s members. This debut album stands apart from the rest of the discography mostly in sound and lyrical content. The humour is sort of there, but not fully. The sound can be heard, but not quite. Here we have Sparks as a pretty straightforward Glam Rock band, but what sets them apart from most is that they actually experimented with their sound and tried to create unique sounding pieces for the time. Sure they weren’t noticed, except for their single Wonder Girl, which was a small hit, and they didn’t really make an impact, but Halfnelson is truly a hidden gem in their entire catalogue. For a debut album it’s incredibly strong and solid the whole way through and has it’s place as one of the best Sparks albums.

5. A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing

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Continuing from their debut, Sparks had just gone up instead of down. The sound from their debut leaking onto this one, the band was tighter and better and managed to make even stronger material. It’s not much different from their debut and sounds like extra songs that didn’t make it onto the first album, but it feels like they saved the better music for the follow-up, which leaves Woofer on par with their debut with a slight edge to it putting it a little higher. There isn’t much else that can be said about this album that wasn’t said about their debut other than it’s the band getting together one last time before the Mael brothers would move to England and creating an incredibly strong album that proved their musicianship as a band. They may not have garnered any attention or major success but remains a treasure hidden deep in the music of the early 70s.

4. No. 1 in Heaven

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Sparks and Girogio Moroder got together and made one of the greatest Disco albums of all time, that is disco from the warped perceptions and minds of the Mael brothers. Mixing Girogio’s production was a nice touch for Sparks and really creates a completely unique album that mixes Sparks sensibilities with an almost dying genre. They take a completely fresh take on the disco genre, turning what was once shallow into an art project. With the ever amazing Tryouts for the Human Race, Fast dancing Academy Award Performance, Mesmerizing La Dolce Vita, the dance club hit Beat the Clock, the artistic endeavours of My Other Voice which sued syntheziser and voice modulation beautifully as part of the song that actually makes sense and the eponymous Number 1 Song in Heaven that ends the whole thing beautifully, leaving the listener beyond satisfied with what they’ve just heard. It is as much music as it is an experience. Sparks and Moroder make the perfect combination on this album, constantly being on the same page of where to go and supporting each other musically so well. There’s nothing quite like this album and it definitely sets it’s mark in the Sparks discography.

3. Kimono My House

3 Kimono My House

The seminal Sparks album. The widely considered Sparks-defining album. The everyone must listen to this Sparks album Sparks album. The Sparks album that is part of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The Sparks album that finally got the band noticed and garnering success. Their career launching album. It has a lot of distinctions and there’s no surprise why, it’s fucking great. This was the first Sparks album I ever heard and I remember sitting there and being completely blown away by it to the point I just had to get this album right away. I didn’t but I eventually did, brand-spanking-new… which sucked because the remaster is awful sounding, but that doesn’t take away from how great the album is. The album starts with the ever famous This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a song so confusing lyrically that it just captures your attention so well and sticks with you forever and ever (and still remains one of my all-time favourites). You could go on and on about this album and how great it is with Amateur Hour, Talent is an Asset, Thank God It’s Not Christmas, Falling in Love with Myself Again, Here in Heaven, Equator, etc. SO many people have talked in depth about it so I won’t waste my time repeating what has already been said but this album flows amazingly from one song to another and has such a unifying sound throughout that you never have a moment that takes you out of it. There’s no way that anyone could listen to this album and not enjoy it, it just doesn’t seem possible (but as usual, I could just be biased). After leaving the rest of their band behind, moving to the UK and becoming a duo, this album truly showed the musicianship of the Mael brothers and is the defining Sparks album.

2. Propaganda

4 Propaganda

How do you top an album like Kimono My House? How about proving how good you are by releasing an album in the exact same year with all new material that still manages to be an incredibly strong album. The only reason this album tops Kimono is because of the work and effort that had to be put in the create this album to have it released the exact same year of their monster hit and to still manage to be a solid and strong album. That takes a lot and is one hell of a feat that they succeeded in doing and as a whole it still manages to be it’s own album with it’s own sound and it’s own flavour. When the acapella Propaganda opens the album, you already know what you’re in for and how it just blends and transitions so well into At Home, At Work, At Play, it’s guaranteed the album will be great and it delivers and doesn’t disappoint. It might be a little more alienating than Kimono but truly is for the hardcore fans and has it’s place at number 2.

That being said, if their two best albums are at the number 2 and 3 place, then what could possibly take number 1? (for those who know their discography you already know what it is and it might be a bit of a shock for most) but here it is… the best Sparks album…

 

1. Indiscreet

5 Indiscreet

Indiscreet? Really? I know a lot of you may not agree with this and it makes sense. It followed the behemoth shadow of Kimono and Propaganda and was doomed to be overshadowed by both and fall into relative obscurity. No matter how hard it tried it wouldn’t have been as well received because the two previous albums were just way to good that they had nowhere to go but down. When the bar is set so high, there’s no way to pass it. That’s what happened with Indiscreet. They continued to improve their sound and sense of humour and created something that was even more alienating than Propaganda, which obviously turned people off to it. In retrospect, it holds up and is truly a Sparks masterpiece. Here they try their hand at so many different styles and themes and ideas and manage to make it flow super well. It’s not super showy and over the top and Sparks takes a much more mellow mood compared to to their previous efforts which just creates such an atmosphere throughout the album that most f their other albums would not be able to recreate. The opener Hospitality on Parade sets the mood up perfectly of what’s to be expected and stands as one of their greatest songs, remaining simplistic but eerily layered. We bust into a classic Sparks sounding song with Happy Hunting Grounds, that takes from the page of Propaganda and then follow up with Without Using Hands, that is funnily enough more literal than expected. Three songs in, three different styles and it doesn’t stop there as we go through Get in the Swing, Under the Table with Her and How Are You Getting Home? All different and yet somehow it all works so perfectly together. (Let’s not forget the ever hilarious Tits and one of my personal favourites In The Future which is just a high energy song that predicts some of their future sounds they would work with). Sparks were trying a lot of new things with this album and they managed to put it altogether in a cohesive sounding album that in retrospect deserves way more credit and praise than it has. It might be a bit of an acquired taste, but so is good wine and like wine it has aged fantastically.

 

So there you have it, Sparks from Worst to Best. Do you agree with it? What are your opinions? How would you rank them? Do you even like Sparks? Let me know, I’d like to hear what you think.

Oh what’s that? What did I think of Hippopotamus? Where would I rank it?

Briefly, Hippopotamus feels like a Sparks album. If you know Sparks and their sound and brand of humour, this album is exactly what you’d expect. Nothing new, nothing crazy, but nothing disappointing either. It’s exactly what you’d expect and it pleases and amuses you enough to be satisfied with a new Sparks album (heck they have a song called So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play? which is hilarious and shows that the Mael brothers are still packing a punch with their sense of humour). If I’d rank it it would probably be around 10 – 12, in that area. Its a stripped down Sparks, simplified yet still doing what they do best.

That’s it. I’m done. Bye.

 

1001 Albums: Piper at the Gates of Dawn

#89

Album_89_Original

Artist: Pink Floyd

Album: Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Year: 1967

Length: 41:51

Genre: Psychedelic Rock / Experimental Rock

Why’d’ya have to leave me there
Hanging in my infant air
Waiting?
You only have to read the lines
They’re scribbly black and everything shines

And it happened. I was wondering when I’d get to Pink Floyd. I knew they would come around eventually, I mean obviously they would be on the list… how could they not? They’re one of those bands, you know? The kind that evveryyoooone talks about as being soooooo amazingly amazing that they’re amazingness cannot be topped by how amazingly amazing they are? Also, I knew because I’ve already looked at the list and know they have at least three more albums on it… so… yeah….

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to listening to this album… or any Pink Floyd album really. If you didn’t catch on my sarcasm in the last paragraph… I’m not a fan at all. I had the pleasure/displeasure (depending how you look at it) of listening to their entire discography a little over a year ago. Boy was I met with such a mixed bag of feelings and had no idea how I felt about them at all. To this day I still don’t know how to feel about them. All I know is that, I’m not crazy about them and you won’t find me seeking out to listen to their work or buy their albums, however… I can see why people would love them.

And I mean normal music-loving people and not pretentious stoner dudes who think getting high and listening to Dark Side of the Moon somehow elevates them to a transcendent state of mind that is awe-inspiring and mind-blowing, because seriously if you need drugs to enjoy something… that’s not a good sign. I hate those people. But… I do have good friends who re level-headed and grounded who love Pink Floyd and I can see their point-of-view.

This really is something different and unique. To call this psychedelic music is a little bit of an understatement. This takes the idea of psychedelia and turns it up to 11. If you told me Syd Barrett was high on LSD (which he was) then I would not be surprised. I’m actually more surprised that the rest of the band were pretty much sober. Only the whacked out mind of a man whose mind was slowly deteriorating would be able to come up with something like this. Which, sad story, actually happened to Syd Barrett. There’s a really heart breaking story where Pink Floyd were recording an album and some fat kinda sad dude walked in and it took them a long time before they realised it was their old friend Syd. They mentioned it as one of the saddest moments they ever experienced in their life. Even around this time, Syd would sometimes be so far gone, they’d have to drag him on stage and he’d just stand there with his arms hanging down. The crowd went nuts anyway because they just loved Syd, for better or worse. Syd seemed to have that kind of power over people and I think this debut album perfectly encapsulates everything that Syd Barret was, from the mind-warping to the insanely genius.

Every song is a little bit of him. You could get a straight-forward psych song such as Lucifer Sam and then have to sit through 9 minutes of almost hard-bop style jazz (Interstellar Overdrive). There’s even songs that trick you, starting off as a straight-forward song only to switch over and take you on a mind-bending trip (Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk). Anyone whose really into this style would easily put this at the top of their lists, and as much as I recognize all this… it still wasn’t for me.

No matter what anyone tells me and no matter how much I see it, I’ll never be into Pink Floyd. I just don’t get it, I guess. First time I heard this album a little over a year ago, it actually gave me a massive headache. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing in retrospect, but headaches are never a good thing for me. I wish I could love them. I wish I could see what dorm room stoners see when they put a Pink Floyd album on. But I just don’t… maybe my personal tastes in music just suck, or maybe their just different, or maybe I’m counter-counter-culture and like just being against the norm… who knows?

Pink Floyd will always be one of those bands that left a mark on music history, alongside The Beatles and Led Zeppelin of every cliched top 10 list. But looking past my personal feelings… I guess I can see it and I guess that’s all that matters… I guess.

Well, I might be slowing down with the albums again for the next week or so. One of my favourite bands just released a new song and I have plans to write a separate article ranking their albums from worst to best. They have roughly 23 albums… so that might take awhile to plan out. But I’ll still try my best to get an album on the list checked off once in awhile.

Song of Choice: Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk

-Bosco