#20 FUNKADELIC — Maggot Brain
One listen to the brief opening monologue and you know you are entering a different world… “I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe…”
One look at the cover and you know you are not dealing with production line funk here. Still confronting half a century on, the cover holds an album of potency and variety. Funkadelic really did combine funk/soul grooves with a psychedelic rock sensibility. As it is illegal to review “Maggot Brain” without mentioning the guitar solo in the title track, I’ll simply observe that Eddie Hazel delivered an absolute stunner. But there is plenty more to enjoy here… Highlights: “Hit It And Quit It”; “Maggot Brain”. [Released July 1971]
#19 JOHN FAHEY — America
When I stumbled across John Fahey’s America sometime in the early 1980s, the only thing I recognised was the label, Takoma. I had the debut Leo Kottke album on that label and wondered about this strange LP with the slightly disturbing illustrations and the big chunky American cardboard sleeve. I suspect I bought it for the package, and with some idea that there might be a relationship between Kottke and Fahey.
Turns out I was right. John Fahey was one of the great acoustic guitarists. Full stop, no qualifications. Truly innovative, technically brilliant, conceptually unique, Fahey was one of a kind. Not many people can sound like an orchestra, an eco-system, a swampland choir all at the same time and all on one guitar.
The story of America is pretty interesting too. The guitarist envisaged a double album where he presented many different styles of guitar playing, from Skip James blues to Dvorak arranged for six strings. I went it and recorded some eighty minutes worth of music on 31st January 1971 and probably went home and had a beer, thinking that it wasn’t a half bad day’s work.
The record company, however, baulked at a double album. Too expensive, they said. (Yet they funded the lavish cover art; go figure). So a single LP was released, with a shorter track and a long one on each side. The rest was shelved and forgotten until the tapes were discovered and a CD re-issue came out (1998). The single album is fantastic, but the whole work is simply amazing. Transporting, transcendental, timeless.
#18 JANIS JOPLIN — Pearl
Janis’s final album was also her most accomplished. Pearl opens with the sassy swagger of “Move over”, progressing through blues belters, a radio-friendly ballad (“Me and Bobby McGee”) and even humour (the a cappella “Mercedes Benz”) to the heartfelt instruction—or perhaps, plea—of “Get it while you can”. A true tour de force from a force of nature who died way too young. Highlights: “Half moon”; “Cry baby”. [Released January 1971]
#17 CAN — Tago Mago
Sometimes sounding like a bunch of pissed panel beaters inventing punk in a Köln Bierkeller, other times like a shell-shocked beat group staggering out of a smoking bomb crater, Tago Mago is a sprawling, hypnotic, Aufbau of an album, full of trademark motorik beats and epic grooves that unfold like landscapes from a post-apocalyptic dream. Highlights: “Hallelujah”; “Mushroom”. [Released August 1971]
#16 HARRY NILSSON — Nilsson Schmilsson
From the jaunty “Gotta get up” through to the pathos of closing song “I’ll never leave you”, Harry Nilsson’s 1971 album is a variety pack of delights. Along the way, there is emotional angst (the brass-driven “Down”), yearning (Badfinger’s “Without you”) a party (“Let the good times roll”), “Coconut” whimsy, and the scream of existential agony that is “Jump into the fire”. It’s like the scrapbook of humanity has been thrown into a whirlwind yet somehow it coalesces into a deeply satisfying whole, in no small part thanks to sympathetic playing from the likes of Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner and Chris Spedding. Highlights: “The moonbeam song”; “Jump into the fire”. [Released November 1971]
This is, by any standards, a diverse group of albums. It is also that rare thing, an entire post where I’d heartily recommend each and every album, all for different reasons. Sure some are instantly accessible (Nilsson) while other will stretch the mind (Can), but all are truly brilliant and worthwhile records. Do share your opinions on those you know, or wonderings about the unfamiliar.
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