My Essential Albums

By chrisherbig12
updated 2 months ago

I did not write the reviews for each of the albums listed. They were copied over from AllMusic.

  1. 22 For Sale from $8.50

    Jazz fusion/ Prog rock/ Experimental jazz (CBS: 1970)

    "Soft Machine plunged deeper into jazz and contemporary electronic music on this pivotal release, which incited The Village Voice to call it a milestone achievement when it was released. It's a double album of stunning music, with each side devoted to one composition -- two by Mike Ratledge, and one each by Hopper and Wyatt, with substantial help from a number of backup musicians, including Canterbury mainstays Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings. The Ratledge songs come closest to fusion jazz, although this is fusion laced with tape loop effects and hypnotic, repetitive keyboard patterns. Hugh Hopper's "Facelift" recalls "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, although it's more complex, with several quite dissimilar sections. The pulsing rhythms, chaotic horn and keyboard sounds, and dark drones on "Facelift" predate some of what Hopper did as a solo artist later. Not exactly rock, Third nonetheless pushed the boundaries of rock into areas previously unexplored, and it managed to do so without sounding self-indulgent. A better introduction to the group is either of the first two records, but once introduced, this is the place to go.

  2. 4 For Sale from $313.43

    Psychedelic rock/ Baroque pop (Columbia: 1968)

    "The Millennium's Begin is a bona fide lost classic. The brainchild of producers Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher, the group was formed out of the remnants of their previous studio project, Sagittarius -- which had been preceded by yet another aggregation, the Ballroom. On Begin, hard rock, breezy ballads, and psychedelia all merge into an absolutely air-tight concept album, easily on the level of other, more widely popular albums from the era such as The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which share not only Usher's production skills, but similarities in concept and construction. The songwriting -- mostly by Curt Boettcher, Michael Fennelly, and Joey Stec -- is sterling and innovative, never straying into the type of psychedelic overindulgence which marred so many records from this era. For example, "It's You," by Fennelly and Stec, is as powerful and fully realized as the era ever produced, easily on par with songs by the Beach Boys and the Byrds -- and, yes, even the Beatles. At the time the most expensive album Columbia ever produced (and it sounds like it), Begin is an absolute necessity for any fan of late-'60s psychedelia and a wonderful rediscovery; it sounds as vital today as it did the day it was released."

  3. 5 For Sale from $37.80

    Lo-fi/ experimental/ neo-psychedelic rock/ indie rock (Blue Rose Record Company: 1998)

    "If the preceding Dusk at Cubist Castle was the Olivia Tremor Control's very own White Album, then the labyrinthine Black Foliage is their SMiLE -- it's an imploding masterpiece, a work teetering on the cliff's edge between genius and madness. Torn at the seams between pop transcendence and noise radicalism, the group attempts to have it both ways, meaning teenage symphonies to God like "A New Day" rest uneasily alongside musique concrète-styled tape pastiches such as "Combinations" (which, along with the similarly styled, multi-part title track, is one of the many sonic motifs snaking its way throughout the record). There are at least enough ideas for five albums here, which is both Black Foliage's strength and its weakness -- it's impossible not to get lost inside of the OTC's swirling schizophrenia, and too often snatches of brilliance flash by too quickly to savor the moment. Moreover, with songs like "California Demise 3" continuing the oblique narrative running through previous OTC records, the artistic statement the record is making (and there undoubtedly is one) is impenetrable at best. Still, with each of the band's successive releases seeming like just part of a much bigger picture only now beginning to come into focus, maybe that's the point. Ultimately, Black Foliage just might be an end-of-the-millennium appeal that speaks directly and solely to the unconscious."

  4. 60 For Sale from $3.00

    Post Rock (Constellation: 2002)

    "Montreal politico-art/music terrorist unit Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been working on the material for Yanqui U.X.O. (unexploded ordnance-landmines) for the past four years. Some of the material predates Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and even Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada. Recorded with Steve Albini, the nonet that is Godspeed has issued its most mysterious recording yet. The sound over these three long cuts, like all of the band's recordings, develops slowly over time and creates layers of dynamic tension that expresses itself in waves and off-kilter, shimmering flows. Usually these elements resolve themselves in earth- and ear-shattering, dissonant intensity that leaves the listener emotionally drained -- especially live. But here, a more minimal and -- dare I say -- quiet approach is used. For over 75 minutes, no "found" voices are wafting through the mix like displaced ghosts at a musical inquiry into the nature of mass control and fascism. The ghosts here are not disembodied or free to roam; they are contained within the vibrational structures and harmonic encounters along the dynamic field itself. There is more melody, not less; there are more sections in each piece, complex parts of compositions that articulate themselves more slowly and pronouncedly. Above all, there is beauty, aching, anguished beauty created by dissonance between electric guitars, keyboards, and a string section propelled by a drum kit that is barely contained within the frame of the music. Tonal extensions of simple melodic structures create new melodic fragments that are incorporated into an already growing mass of tension that is alleviated not by force, but by engaging silence as a compositional and improvisational tool. This is evident in all three tunes, but particularly in the second section of "9-15-00," which begins by stepping out of a void into a fullness of color and texture that eventually raises the tension bar over 22 minutes without resolution. For the second section, spare fragments and chords are placed carefully next to the altar of silence and engage it in dialogue, in contradiction, and in echoing its own concerns at how it is possible in our world, very possible, that at the whim of some fool, all of this -- the music; it's haunted, hunted melody; the veritable grain of its voice; along with all life -- could enter into the silence forever. A close inspection of the record cover with its photograph of bombs in free-fall and its indicting chart shows concretely how the major record labels are all involved with the creators and purveyors of weapons of mass destruction. This may be melancholy music, but this is a dark time. At least it isn't music of mourning -- yet. And for the record, though the critical backlash against Godspeed You! Black Emperor has already begun, this is music for a different kind of engagement; one that sets its own agenda and pushes against its own history."

  5. 22 For Sale from $23.00

    Indie rock (Matador: 1995)

    "It's surprising what a difference it makes when a musician knows someone will actually be hearing his work. After 1994's charmingly sloppy Bee Thousand gained Guided By Voices a nationwide cult following (instead of the local cult following they were accustomed to), 1995's Alien Lanes found Robert Pollard and his partners in hard pop cleaning up their act a bit. For the most part, Alien Lanes isn't radically different from Bee Thousand -- it was primarily recorded on a four-track cassette machine (and sounds like it), and Guided By Voices was still a garage band with more in the way of inspiration than chops. But the musicians have put a bit more care and focus into their performance on this set; the playing is tighter and sharper, and the band plays toward their strengths, pushing their occasional sloppiness into a harder, more rock-oriented direction. And if Pollard and Tobin Sprout were still obsessed with tiny fragments of pop song wonderment, they also rounded up a more consistent collection of them; there aren't quite as many obvious masterpieces as on Bee Thousand, but also fewer obvious mistakes, and the sequencing gives the album a more consistent flow than before. Pollard also made genuine inroads into more lyrically cognizant material (though don't fret, "Auditorium" and "Blimps Go 90" are as cryptic as ever), and "Watch Me Jumpstart," "Striped White Jets," and "Motor Away" are simply superb pop/rock songs. (Sprout also gets a few shining moments on "A Good Flying Bird" and "Straw Dogs.") Both Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes sound like they were made by a band of inspired amateurs with great ideas; the difference is that Alien Lanes suggests that Guided By Voices wanted to prove that they could turn pro some day."

  6. Dark ambient (History Always Favors The Winners: 2019)

  7. 46 For Sale from $40.00

    Avant-garde classical/ Free jazz/ Prog rock (RCA Neon: 1971)

    "The initial tendency is to dismiss this recording as one of those failed experiments from the progressive-rock era, and the opening band on Disc One definitely invites that treatment with what appears to be an almost deliberately provocative aimlessness. parts of Disc Two, which seem buried in noise and masses of sound that don't go anywhere over many minutes, have similar problems. In between, however, are sublimely beautiful virtuoso passages for various soloists and small units within the orchestra. Alan Skidmore, Elton Dean et. al. get some great moments on the core of the first disc, which evolves out of the annoying big-band noodling of the opening into a swinging, big-band progressive-rock sound with elements of bop as well. There are vocal passages on this record, mostly built around Julie Tippett's gloomy, doom-laden Crimson-like words, and they're pretty but they're not a major part of "Septober Energy." Unfortunately, there is also more meandering, and just as it looks like the finale has pulled it together, with a very pretty and understated acoustic piano section featuring Keith Tippett solo, the piece loses it in an extended and very repetitive part for the full orchestra that goes nowhere and takes forever to fade. In fairness, the sound on the CD is excellent, and the second half of Disc One in particular is worth hearing, but there's too much here that isn't -- and too much that also sounds like those crashing sax-based sound explosions that puntuate King Crimson albums like Islands -- for anyone except hardcore fans of Soft Machine et al."

  8. 1 For Sale from $670.73

    Psychedelic rock/ Baroque pop (Pye: 1969)

    "Nirvana's third and final album for Island was extremely rare in its first 1969 LP issue, the U.K. release limited to a few hundred promo copies. The group's cutesiness was toned down considerably for this LP, though they were still offering the kind of light orchestrated pop-rock that they had on their previous Island records, with some jazz and classical influences. It's a more mature product than their first two albums, but a little tired-sounding, and lacking in the more psychedelic ambition that produced some of their best songs, like "Rainbow Chaser" and "I Believe in Magic." In fact they sometimes sound rather like film composers or pop-jazz-vocals singer/songwriters caught in a different era, what with the rather grandiose (and certainly grandiosely arranged) Euro-romantic sweep of most of their songs. Although the orchestration, often combining strings with harpsichord, is often sumptuous (if just short of cloying) and the melodies pleasant, not much of this sticks to the bones. The somewhat more soulful, straightforward rock of "Christopher Lucifer" and "It Happened Two Sundays Ago" provides some nice relief, if only because it's different from the wistful fantasy aura that predominated in Nirvana's world.

  9. Acid folk (Columbia: 1969)

    "No one except psychedelic Renaissance man Alexander "Skip" Spence could have created an album such as Oar. Alternately heralded as a "soundtrack to schizophrenia" and a "visionary solo effort," Oar became delegated to cut-out and bargain bins shortly after its release in the spring of 1969. However, those who did hear it were instantly drawn into Spence's inimitable sonic surrealism. As his illustrious past in the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape would suggest, this album is a warped blend of acid folk and far-out psychedelic rock. While these original compositions do draw heavily from those genres, each song has the individuality of a fingerprint, and Spence performed and produced every sound on the album himself at Columbia studios in Nashville in the space of less than two weeks. This burst of creativity was directly preceded by a six-month incarceration in New York City's Bellevue Hospital after chopping down a door at the Albert Hotel en route to do the same to fellow Moby Grape members Jerry Miller's and Don Stevenson's doors. A common motif to this album is the presence of saints and demons. Even the straightforward narratives such as the love ballads "Broken Heart" and "Cripple Creek" -- which feature vocal treatments reminiscent of folkie Fred Neil -- are bathed in unusual chord sequences and lyrical double-entendre. The majority of the sounds on this long player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity. Primary examples include "War in Peace," the epic "Grey/Afro," and the sound effect-laden "Books of Moses." Comparisons have been made to Syd Barrett, John Lennon, and Frank Zappa -- the latter especially for the intense sonic collage techniques displayed on albums such as Lumpy Gravy and Civilization Phase III."

  10. 20 For Sale from $18.00

    Psychedelic rock (London: 1967)

    "Without a doubt, no Rolling Stones album -- and, indeed, very few rock albums from any era -- split critical opinion as much as the Rolling Stones' psychedelic outing. Many dismiss the record as sub-Sgt. Pepper posturing; others confess, if only in private, to a fascination with the album's inventive arrangements, which incorporated some African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. What's clear is that never before or after did the Stones take so many chances in the studio. (Some critics and fans feel that the record has been unfairly undervalued, partly because purists expect the Stones to constantly champion a blues 'n' raunch worldview.) About half the material is very strong, particularly the glorious "She's a Rainbow," with its beautiful harmonies, piano, and strings; the riff-driven "Citadel"; the hazy, dreamlike "In Another Land," Bill Wyman's debut writing (and singing) credit on a Stones release; and the majestically dark and doomy cosmic rocker "2000 Light Years from Home," with some of the creepiest synthesizer effects (devised by Brian Jones) ever to grace a rock record. The downfall of the album was caused by some weak songwriting on the lesser tracks, particularly the interminable psychedelic jam "Sing This All Together (See What Happens)." It's a much better record than most people give it credit for being, though, with a strong current of creeping uneasiness that undercuts the gaudy psychedelic flourishes. In 1968, the Stones would go back to the basics, and never wander down these paths again, making this all the more of a fascinating anomaly in the group's discography."

  11. 39 For Sale from $24.39

    Prog rock (Virgin: 1974)

    "One of the Canterbury scene's most revered bands, Hatfield and the North made up for the brevity of their career with some fascinating music. Always adventurous, the quartet had the keen sense to realize that only the most hardened jazz fans respond to numerous key changes and exceedingly complex time signatures, and thus enlivened their live set with the odd gnome smashing, suggestive lyrics, and jokey song titles. It worked a charm, with the band quickly amassing a large, loyal following at home in Britain and across the continent. On their eponymous debut, Hatfield stunningly succeeded in translating both their sense of fun and their musical brilliance onto disc. After a bit of light humor, the band slide into "Going Up to People and Tinkling," which glides gloriously across the keys and rhythm shifts. Both "Calyx" and "Aigrette" experiment with vocals as an instrument, while the exuberant "Rifferama" is a master class on the use of riffs. However, it's the expansive "Son of 'There's No Place like Homerton'" that forms the album's centerpiece, a propulsive, keyboard driven piece that still awaits a modern dance troop's attention."

  12. 6 For Sale from $59.23

    Psychedelic rock (Brother Records: 1967)

    "After the much-discussed, uncompleted Smile project -- which was supposed to take the innovations of Pet Sounds to even grander heights -- collapsed, the Beach Boys released Smiley Smile in its place. (To clarify much confusion: Smiley Smile is an entirely different piece of work than Smile would have been, although some material that ended up on Smiley Smile would have most likely been used on Smile. Also, much of Smiley Smile was in fact recorded after the Smile sessions had ceased.) For fans expecting something along the lines of Sgt. Pepper's (and there were many of them), Smiley Smile was a major disappointment, replacing psychedelic experimentation with spare, eccentric miniatures. Heard now, outside of such unrealistic expectations, it's a rather nifty, if rather slight, effort that's plenty weird -- in fact, it's often downright goofy -- despite Brian Wilson's retreat from both avant pop and active leadership of the group. "Wind Chimes," "Wonderful," "Vegetables," and much of the rest is low-key psychedelic quirkiness, with abundant fine harmonies and unusual arrangements. The standouts, nonetheless, were two then-recent hit singles in which Brian Wilson's ambitions were still intact: the inscrutable mini-opera "Heroes and Villains," and the number one hit "Good Vibrations," one of the few occasions where the group managed to be recklessly experimental and massively commercial at the same time."

  13. 5 For Sale from $84.04

    Prog rock/ Acid folk/ Psychedelic rock (Durium: 1972)

    "Psychonaut is more relaxed and has far less electronic elements than either Brainticket's first record, Cottonwoodhill, or the album that followed, Celestial Ocean. Though the record is more straightforward and song-oriented, it still has progressive and experimental elements that keep it from sounding too much like anything else. If anything, the group is not quite focused on any one style on this record, throwing in everything from the ethnic-influenced folk of "Radagacuca" and "One Morning" to the more traditional strummy folk of "Feel the Wind Blow" to the percussion-heavy avant-funk instrumental "Cocò Mary" to the quirky rock assaults of "Watchin' You" and "Like a Place in the Sun." "Like a Place in the Sun" is particularly effective, with dark spoken word vocals alternating in contrast with the sung chorus of its title. Effects and electronics are used much more subtly (especially compared to the earlier record), but are still quite evident. Psychonaut may not be as cohesive as the other early Brainticket albums, but it is also not as chaotic either, and as such may be the group's most accessible record without sacrificing originality.

  14. 1 For Sale from $311.70

    Prog rock/ Experimental rock (Island: 1970)

    "Released in December 1970, King Crimson's third studio album, Lizard, is often viewed as an outlier in the pioneering British prog outfit's nearly half-century discography. It's not easily grouped with 1969's stunning In the Court of the Crimson King debut and 1970 follow-up In the Wake of Poseidon, and along with 1971's Islands it's considered a transitional release on the band's path toward the relative stability of the Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974), and Red (1974) trilogy. Plus, the Lizard sessions were difficult and the core group lineup acrimoniously collapsed immediately afterward, as bandleader/guitarist Robert Fripp, with lyricist Peter Sinfield, continued brave efforts to save King Crimson from disintegrating as the group's lengthy history was just getting underway. Even Fripp himself wasn't a big Lizard fan until he reportedly "heard the Music in the music" when listening to Steven Wilson's 2009 40th anniversary remix. Yet there are plenty of Crimson followers who place Lizard at the very apex of the group's recorded legacy -- and with good reason. Seamlessly blending rock, jazz, and classical in a way that few albums have successfully achieved, Lizard is epic, intimate, cacophonic, and subtle by turn -- and infused with the dark moods first heard when "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Epitaph" reached listeners' ears the previous year.

    Opener "Cirkus" is a cavalcade of menace, with vocalist Gordon Haskell intoning or declaiming Sinfield's phantasmagorical words over a kaleidoscopic musical backdrop, the song's ripping buzzsaw refrain alternating with warped funhouse jazz prominently featuring keyboardist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Mel Collins. "Indoor Games" is comparatively whimsical, with Collins' blurty sax almost comically up-front in the mix and crisp ensemble interplay in the middle section, while the singsongy "Happy Family" finds Sinfield's lyrics obliquely addressing the Beatles' breakup and "Lady of the Dancing Water" revisits the gentle terrain of "I Talk to the Wind" and "Cadence and Cascade." But the side-long multi-part title suite astounds the most. Guest Jon Anderson's choirboy vocals open "Lizard" with a feint toward the light and airy, but Haskell's brassy chorus suggests ritualistic precursors to dark goings-on. The suite then enters its "Bolero" movement, marked by Robin Miller's beautiful oboe and Fripp's swelling Mellotron, with a jazz interlude showcasing Collins, cornetist Mark Charig, trombonist Nick Evans, and a jagged and explosive Tippett, collectively free and even ebullient in their interplay but never fully breaking away from drummer Andy McCulloch's background rat-a-tat snare that foreshadows the howling maelstrom of "The Battle of Glass Tears." After the smoke clears, Fripp's sustained guitar notes cut through the funereal aftermath, dissolving into silence before the swirling "Big Top" coda brings the album full circle, suggesting Lizard's dark journey on an endless loop accelerating into the future. In 2016, lineup changes made it possible to include selections from this album in King Crimson's career-spanning live concerts, and with all the spectacular music on display, more than one audience member could be heard saying, "I came for Lizard."

  15. 7 For Sale from $89.99

    Experimental rock/ Psychedelic rock (International Artists: 1968)

    "Having made their debut with one of the most aggressively eccentric albums of the 1960s (a fairly remarkable achievement given the competition), Mayo Thompson and his partners in the Red Krayola (changed from the Red Crayola after a threatened lawsuit from Binney & Smith) took a very different approach on their second album. The group had been experimenting with improvisational noise pieces using found objects and feedback alongside conventional instruments following the release of The Parable of Arable Land, a logical extension of the "Familiar Ugly" pieces on the album, but God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail with It found the band taking up the conventional rock format of guitar, bass, and drums. However, if God Bless the Red Krayola is a formally more conventional and less alienating work than their first album, it's still a long, long way from what anyone was doing in the rock mainstream in 1968; the melodies are usually jagged and often veer into atonality, the songs stubbornly avoid typical "verse chorus verse" structures and sometimes appear to be improvised on the spot, drummer Tommy Smith enjoys throwing himself onto a different rhythmic path than his bandmates, Mayo Thompson's guitar lines run the gamut from fluid to jagged, and for all the noisy chaos of Parable, God Bless the Red Krayola is full of open space and significant, sometimes disquieting silences. However, not everything on the album is off-putting; "Victory Garden" could pass for something like conventional psychedelia, "Ravi Shankar: Parachutist" is lovely and haunting, "Sheriff Jack" starts out as something like blues before Smith's rhythms take a left turn, and "Leejol," "Dirth of Tilth," and "Dairymaid's Lament" confirm this band could play a fractured but enthusiastic version of rock & roll, even if it wasn't likely to please the average visitor to a psychedelic ballroom. Overall, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail with It bears precious little resemblance to anything else that appeared at the time; it would take a few decades of post-punk experimentalism before Mayo Thompson's vision would have a truly suitable context, though the album's playful undercurrent goes a long way toward making these tiny shards of sound go down easily for the musically open-minded."

  16. 6 For Sale from $26.60

    Psychedelic rock/ Proto-punk (Verve: 1966)

    "One would be hard-pressed to name a rock album whose influence has been as broad and pervasive as The Velvet Underground & Nico. While it reportedly took over a decade for the album's sales to crack six figures, glam, punk, new wave, goth, noise, and nearly every other left-of-center rock movement owes an audible debt to this set. While The Velvet Underground had as distinctive a sound as any band, what's most surprising about this album is its diversity. Here, the Velvets dipped their toes into dreamy pop ("Sunday Morning"), tough garage rock ("Waiting for the Man"), stripped-down R&B ("There She Goes Again"), and understated love songs ("I'll Be Your Mirror") when they weren't busy creating sounds without pop precedent. Lou Reed's lyrical exploration of drugs and kinky sex (then risky stuff in film and literature, let alone "teen music") always received the most press attention, but the music Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker played was as radical as the words they accompanied. The bracing discord of "European Son," the troubling beauty of "All Tomorrow's Parties," and the expressive dynamics of "Heroin" all remain as compelling as the day they were recorded. While the significance of Nico's contributions have been debated over the years, she meshes with the band's outlook in that she hardly sounds like a typical rock vocalist, and if Andy Warhol's presence as producer was primarily a matter of signing the checks, his notoriety allowed The Velvet Underground to record their material without compromise, which would have been impossible under most other circumstances. Few rock albums are as important as The Velvet Underground & Nico, and fewer still have lost so little of their power to surprise and intrigue more 50 years after first hitting the racks."

  17. 10 For Sale from $30.00

    Psychedelic rock (Reprise: 1968)

    "The band's third album for Reprise has its advocates among psychedelic cultists, but it really is a letdown when stacked against their previous two Reprise LPs, even if those LPs (particularly the second) were haphazard in their psychedelic-pop-folk-rock admixtures. When they play it straight, the songs are often average or even unmemorable, easy-going late-1960s L.A. rock. When they are obviously trying to be strange, as on the title cut, it sounds contrived, and if you've heard the previous Reprise LPs already, Bob Markley's occasional deranged rants will be old hat. The minute-and-a-half "Anniversary of World War III" is entirely silent: a radical notion for a rock album of the time, perhaps, but something that had already been done by John Cage. There are some pleasing moments here and there, like the melancholy folk-rock ballad "Eighteen Is Over the Hill," which has some exquisite pop harmonies, and there are the usual disturbing and dark undercurrents in Markley's lyrics if you listen closely. "

  18. 33 For Sale from $7.30

    Folk prog (Dandelion: 1970)

    "Once the darlings of British DJ John Peel, who first released these two albums on his Dandelion label, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre epitomized the English intellectual take on music. Comprised of students at Exeter University, the 15-strong troupe was a multimedia event, with music, dancing, and a light show -- everything a bunch of young hippies could want, really. However, they were very much of their time, as the music hasn't aged too well. Certainly the word "pretentious" springs to mind with titles like "Enigmatic Insomniac Machine," "Pinky -- A Mystery Cycle," and "Weirdsong of Breaking Through at Last," while the use of ethereal female voices (mostly Vivienne McAuliffe), recorders, and plenty of acoustic guitars offers a medieval feel -- "Third Sonnet to Sundry Notes of Music," which is Shakespeare set to music, runs from plainsong, to an Elizabethan dance, to portentous early English opera, before heading into electric boogie territory -- all in just the first minute of a 13-minute song. It's all completely over the top, full of its own cleverness, and trying to be thoroughly portentous. By the time of The Asmoto Running Band in 1970, they'd cut down the song times a little, and producer Nick Mason from Pink Floyd focused them a bit more. But it's still music with a heavy emphasis on art for art's sake, and ambition that far surpasses technique (especially in the case of guitarist Root Cartwright). It's impossible not to find some degree of warmth for what's essentially an artifact of a time long past, especially if you ever saw them play live. However, sitting through the whole thing for sheer pleasure is impossible. "

  19. 8 For Sale from $30.00

    Classic rock (Apple: 1968)

    "Each song on the sprawling double album The Beatles is an entity to itself, as the band touches on anything and everything it can. This makes for a frustratingly scattershot record or a singularly gripping musical experience, depending on your view, but what makes the so-called White Album interesting is its mess. Never before had a rock record been so self-reflective, or so ironic; the Beach Boys send-up "Back in the U.S.S.R." and the British blooze parody "Yer Blues" are delivered straight-faced, so it's never clear if these are affectionate tributes or wicked satires. Lennon turns in two of his best ballads with "Dear Prudence" and "Julia"; scours the Abbey Road vaults for the musique concrète collage "Revolution 9"; pours on the schmaltz for Ringo's closing number, "Good Night"; celebrates the Beatles cult with "Glass Onion"; and, with "Cry Baby Cry," rivals Syd Barrett. McCartney doesn't reach quite as far, yet his songs are stunning -- the music hall romp "Honey Pie," the mock country of "Rocky Raccoon," the ska-inflected "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," and the proto-metal roar of "Helter Skelter." Clearly, the Beatles' two main songwriting forces were no longer on the same page, but neither were George and Ringo. Harrison still had just two songs per LP, but it's clear from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the canned soul of "Savoy Truffle," the haunting "Long, Long, Long," and even the silly "Piggies" that he had developed into a songwriter who deserved wider exposure. And Ringo turns in a delight with his first original, the lumbering country-carnival stomp "Don't Pass Me By." None of it sounds like it was meant to share album space together, but somehow The Beatles creates its own style and sound through its mess."

  20. 4 For Sale from $47.99

    Prog rock/ jazz fusion (Bizarre: 1969)

    "Aside from the experimental side project Lumpy Gravy, Hot Rats was the first album Frank Zappa recorded as a solo artist sans the Mothers, though he continued to employ previous musical collaborators, most notably multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood. Other than another side project -- the doo wop tribute Cruising With Ruben and the Jets -- Hot Rats was also the first time Zappa focused his efforts in one general area, namely jazz-rock. The result is a classic of the genre. Hot Rats' genius lies in the way it fuses the compositional sophistication of jazz with rock's down-and-dirty attitude -- there's a real looseness and grit to the three lengthy jams, and a surprising, wry elegance to the three shorter, tightly arranged numbers (particularly the sumptuous "Peaches en Regalia"). Perhaps the biggest revelation isn't the straightforward presentation, or the intricately shifting instrumental voices in Zappa's arrangements -- it's his own virtuosity on the electric guitar, recorded during extended improvisational workouts for the first time here. His wonderfully scuzzy, distorted tone is an especially good fit on "Willie the Pimp," with its greasy blues riffs and guest vocalist Captain Beefheart's Howlin' Wolf theatrics. Elsewhere, his skill as a melodist was in full flower, whether dominating an entire piece or providing a memorable theme as a jumping-off point. In addition to Underwood, the backing band featured contributions from Jean-Luc Ponty, Lowell George, and Don "Sugarcane" Harris, among others; still, Zappa is unquestionably the star of the show. Hot Rats still sizzles; few albums originating on the rock side of jazz-rock fusion flowed so freely between both sides of the equation, or achieved such unwavering excitement and energy."

  21. 114 For Sale from $7.20

    Prog rock (Atlantic: 1971)

    "On Yes' first two albums, Yes (1969) and Time and a Word (1970), the quintet was mostly searching for a sound on which they could build, losing one of their original members -- guitarist Peter Banks -- in the process. Their third time out proved the charm -- The Yes Album constituted a de facto second debut, introducing the sound that would carry them forward across the next decade or more. Gone are any covers of outside material, the group now working off of its own music from the ground up. A lot of the new material was actually simpler -- in linear structure, at least -- than some of what had appeared on their previous albums, but the internal dynamics of their playing had also altered radically, and much of the empty space that had been present in their earlier recordings was also filled up here -- suddenly, between new member Steve Howe's odd mix of country- and folk-based progressive guitar and the suddenly liberated bass work and drumming of Chris Squire and Bill Bruford, respectively, the group's music became extremely busy. And lead singer Jon Anderson, supported by Squire and Howe, filled whatever was left almost to overflowing. Anderson's soaring falsetto and the accompanying harmonies, attached to haunting melodies drawn from folk tunes as often as rock, applied to words seemingly derived from science fiction, and all delivered with the bravura of an operatic performance -- by the band as well as the singer -- proved a compelling mix. What's more, despite the busy-ness of their new sound, the group wasn't afraid to prove that less could sometimes be more: three of the high points were the acoustic-driven "Your Move" and "The Clap" (a superb showcase for Howe on solo acoustic guitar), and the relatively low-key "A Venture" (oddly enough, the latter was the one cut here that didn't last in the group's repertory; most of the rest, despite the competition from their subsequent work, remained in their concert set for years to come). The Yes Album did what it had to do, outselling the group's first two long-players and making the group an established presence in America where, for the first time, they began getting regular exposure on FM radio. Sad to say, the only aspect of The Yes Album that didn't last much longer was Tony Kaye on keyboards: his Hammond organ holds its own in the group's newly energized sound, and is augmented by piano and other instruments when needed, but he resisted the idea of adding the Moog synthesizer, that hot instrument of the moment, to his repertory. The band was looking for a bolder sound than the Hammond could generate, and after some initial rehearsals of material that ended up on their next album, he was dropped from the lineup, to be replaced by Rick Wakeman."

  22. 5 For Sale from $10.64

    Prog rock (Transatlantic: 1975)

    "The group's fourth album is more electronic than folk, and, indeed, the electronics are dominated by Richard Harvey's electronic keyboards. The lineup here is Harvey (keyboards, krumhorns, recorders), Graeme Taylor (guitars, backing vocals), Brian Gulland (bassoon, backing vocals), Malcolm Bennett (bass, flute), and David Oberle (drums, vocals). The sound is surprisingly new age-ish, especially the title track, which, like most of this album, seems rather cold and mechanical. The exceptions are a cover of the Beatles' "Mother Nature's Son," which doesn't seem to have much point or purpose in these surroundings, and Graeme Taylor's aimless, folkish "Fontinental Version" and insultingly slight throwaway rock number "Don't Say Go." Most of the rest is hardly memorable, especially the meandering keyboard instrumental "Wallbanger," which sounds like a leftover from the Red Queen to Gryphon Three album, which does, indeed, date from a year earlier than most of the rest of this. A 16-minute instrumental called "(Ein Klein) Heldenleben" is better than anything else here, a bracing and exciting piece of music whose pyrotechnics seem to reflect the group's contact with Yes as an opening act on the latter's tour, but all in all hardly a track to justify this album -- everything it has to say that was special to Gryphon was said better on the Red Queen album, although anyone who absolutely needs more of what was there could do worse than purchasing this disc, at least for this and "Wallbanger."

  23. 3 For Sale from $292.55

    Experimental rock/ Prog rock/ Psychedelic rock (Vertigo: 1972)

    "An amazingly bombastic concept album about the Apocalypse of St. John seen as a rock spectacle. Demis Roussos wails the lyrics in a frantically operatic falsetto, while the band pound fiercely through Vangelis' furiously complex music. It certainly has its moments, but the entire set eventually becomes too overwhelming to sit through."

  24. 14 For Sale from $79.00

    Classic rock (Atlantic: 1971)

    "Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of '70s hard rock. Expanding on the breakthroughs of III, Zeppelin fuse their majestic hard rock with a mystical, rural English folk that gives the record an epic scope. Even at its most basic -- the muscular, traditionalist "Rock and Roll" -- the album has a grand sense of drama, which is only deepened by Robert Plant's burgeoning obsession with mythology, religion, and the occult. Plant's mysticism comes to a head on the eerie folk ballad "The Battle of Evermore," a mandolin-driven song with haunting vocals from Sandy Denny, and on the epic "Stairway to Heaven." Of all of Zeppelin's songs, "Stairway to Heaven" is the most famous, and not unjustly. Building from a simple fingerpicked acoustic guitar to a storming torrent of guitar riffs and solos, it encapsulates the entire album in one song. Which, of course, isn't discounting the rest of the album. "Going to California" is the group's best folk song, and the rockers are endlessly inventive, whether it's the complex, multi-layered "Black Dog," the pounding hippie satire "Misty Mountain Hop," or the funky riffs of "Four Sticks." But the closer, "When the Levee Breaks," is the one song truly equal to "Stairway," helping give IV the feeling of an epic. An apocalyptic slice of urban blues, "When the Levee Breaks" is as forceful and frightening as Zeppelin ever got, and its seismic rhythms and layered dynamics illustrate why none of their imitators could ever equal them."

  25. 44 For Sale from $9.95

    Prog rock (Deram: 1971)

    "In the Land of Grey and Pink is considered by many to be a pinnacle release from Caravan. The album contains an undeniable and decidedly European sense of humor and charm. In addition, this would mark the end of the band's premiere lineup. Co-founder David Sinclair would leave Caravan to form Matching Mole with Soft Machine drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt in August of 1971. As a group effort, In the Land of Grey and Pink displays all the ethereal brilliance Caravan created on their previous pair of 12" outings. Their blending of jazz and folk instrumentation and improvisational styles hints at Traffic and Family, as displayed on "Winter Wine," as well as the organ and sax driven instrumental introduction to "Nine Feet Underground." These contrast the decidedly aggressive sounds concurrent with albums from King Crimson or Soft Machine. In fact, beginning with the album's title, there seems to be pastoral qualities and motifs throughout. Another reason enthusiasts rank this album among their favorites is the group dynamic which has rarely sounded more singular or cohesive. David Sinclair's lyrics are of particular note, especially the middle-earth imagery used on "Winter Wine" or the enduring whimsy of "Golf Girl."