20 VAROUS—Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack & More
It is sprawling, patchy, frustrating, and incomplete yet the soundtrack to the film of the event of the decade (the 60s, that is) is essential. Held in August 1969 on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm just outside of the small town of Woodstock, the actual name of the three day festival was ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’. Some 32 acts performed for an estimated 400,000 people, there were births, deaths, marriages, and a generally high level of chaos yet the event captures the spirt of the age. Most will be happy enough with the 3 LP (2CD) set with the optional extra of Woodstock Two, but if you have very (and I do mean very) deep pockets, Rhino produced a lavish 38 CD set for the fiftieth anniversary.
19 GROUNDHOGS—Thank Christ For The Bomb
Tony McPhee’s trio really branched out from their blues roots with their first LP of the new decade (the 70s, that is). Thank Christ For The Bomb is a powerful, rocking, sometimes intimidating work that is an early example of how popular music was progressing in a taut, focussed way. The short songs serve a story/concept that is still just a little spine tingling in its anti-war message, mainly because (after a somewhat dramatic beginning) the songs work well individually. If you are unfamiliar with this one, check it out. The CD re-issue has three live bonus tracks.
18 KING CRIMSON—Lizard
As transitional albums go, Lizard—the third KC album, marking the end of their first phase—is a ripper. If you wanted to demonstrate to a prog-sceptic how classical, jazz and rock elements can be effectively integrated, this LP does it. Boasting one of the most beautiful album covers ever (by Gini Barris, a recent graduate from London’s Central School of Art and Design), Lizard often gets overlooked, even by fans of Robert Fripp’s band. But it shouldn’t. It’s really excellent.
17 AMON DUUL II—Yeti
It being only a short time (in VC terms) since we lavished praise on this sprawling double LP opus by Germany’s space-acid-prog-experimental-wigout unit, adding the link will suffice. (If you checked it out after the post, do share your response in Comments).
16 VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR—H To He Who Am The Only One
With a title as enigmatic and, to be honest, as wanky as this one, you’d better back it up with something special, eh? Well Peter Hammill and the lads do, with a dense, dark record that wraps its lyrical challenges in a powerful instrumental overcoat. Here’s a verse* from opener ‘Killer’:
On a black day in a black month
At the black bottom of the sea
Your mother gave birth to you and died immediately
‘Cos you can’t have two killers living in the same pad.
And when your mother knew that her time had come
She was really rather glad.
15 PETE BROWN AND PIBLOKTO!—Thousands On A Raft
Poet Pete Brown is best known in rock circles as the co-writer, with Jack Bruce, of several of Cream’s most memorable songs (‘I feel free’, ‘SWLABR’, ‘White Room’) as well as lyricist on many of Bruce’s solo albums. His own discography is eccentric, exciting, touching, punchy and sometimes indulgent. All of those could be applied to his 1970 LP. Personally, I love it. Here’s the lyric for the first song, ‘Aeroplane Head Woman’. The many could really write.
She stands on the clifftop with tears in her eyes
She longs for the moon to wash flames from the skies
She doesn’t look for the thrill of a kill
There was only one, he came from the Sun
Pilot of her dreams rides her searchlight beams
She sits in the city with wings on her mind
She waits for the birdman who left her behind
He had to fly almost straight into hate
There is only one though the race is run
Pilot of her love feels him far above
She waits at the airport with hope in her heart
She listens for Spitfires’ engines to start
She hopes that he’s near though it’s been 30 years
She’s got a photograph taken for a laugh
All the boys in blue hope their aim was true
14 LED ZEPPELIN—III
The first interesting Led Zeppelin album. Moving beyond a blues-rock foundation (enlivened by excellent playing and singing), Zepp’s third album took folk influences, Plant’s storytelling prowess and Page’s versatile and electrifying guitar playing and spun out something new and exciting that was powerfully supported by the rhythm section of JP Jones and J Bonham. Brilliant cover too.
13 DEREK & THE DOMINOS—Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
Talking of electrifying guitarists, here we have Eric Clapton running away from Blind Faith (and England) to join forces with Duane Allman and a band pinched from Delaney and Bonnie. The result is a sprawling (the word most often attached to studio double albums) work of great richness that continues to reward after five decades. If, like me, you would be undismayed by never hearing ‘Layla’ again, fret not. There is plenty across the four sides of vinyl to enjoy… charging soul-blues in ‘Tell the truth’, an insightful cover of Hendrix’ ‘Little Wing’, the daftly titled but moving ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and of course ‘Have you ever loved a woman’.
12 JOHN LENNON / PLASTIC ONO BAND
Following three experimental albums with Yoko Ono and the uneven Live Peace in Toronto 1969, John went into the studio to record what is essentially his first solo album. It is a powerful LP, scarifying in its relentless exposure; John was undertaking Primal Therapy at the time. The famous Annie Leibovitz photo of a naked John curled around Yoko (taken for the cover of Rolling Stone, published January 1981) captures the feel of the 1970 album perfectly. Lyrical themes are both excruciatingly personal and universal, perhaps explaining why, to this day, many consider this John’s finest album.
11 CAT STEVENS—Tea For The Tillerman
Three classic albums in 15 months is an extraordinary hit rate in anyone’s language. For the fella born Steven Georgiou (aka Cat Stevens, aka Yusef Islam) it signalled the peak of his pop stardom. All three from 1970-71 are excellent. With a delicate intensity, Stevens explores love, life, and relationships (not just the lovey kind, mind) amidst timeless melodies and enough oomph to keep you from drifting off into acoustic hippieland. For me, Tillerman‘s ‘Wild World’ and ‘Where do the children play?’ edge out ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Moonshadow’ (Teaser and the Firecat), making this middle child my favourite. But I wouldn’t argue with you if you went for Mona Bone Jakon or Teaser.
* Yes, I know no-one wants to read song lyrics in a post, but this and the next one are worth the effort.
Next stop: The Top Ten
Any comments/favourites/outrage regarding this penultimate collection?