Monday, February 11, 2019

McQ's Favorite Albums Of 2018

Okay, getting started with filling out our personal year-end rankings for 2018, another interesting year, but one completely lacking in elite albums.  First year in a long while where there wasn't at least one title that felt worthy of a highest recommend, but that is definitely the case for 2018. 

That said, a number of excellent strong recommends and very high end solids, so still an entertaining and music year overall.

We'll be adding 2-5 titles every couple of weeks to these ranking for the first half of 2019 until the summer release of of our best of 2018 mix collection, but as of now, here's where things stand.

Highest Recommends

1a. Wide Awake - Parquet Courts:

What It Is: If one includes their 2017 collaboration with Daniele Luppi Milano, then Wide Awake is the prolific New York-by-way-of-Texas-based Americana punk outfit's sixth proper release since their brilliant 2013 debut Light Up Gold. A whip-smart album that tackles pretty much all of America's contemporary political issues with tons of humor from a wise beyond-their-years, big picture geopolitical and multi-generational perspective, there has never been an album that presents the Baby-Boomer / Millennial schism as starkly and defiantly as this (its bleak central thesis - the world's major problems are almost entirely the boomer's fault, but nothing is going to get straightened out until their politically overwhelming numbers start dying off, and that can't happen soon enough).  Danger Mouse handles production duties for the first time for the band on this latest Rough Trade release which clocks in at 38:37.

What I Like Best: Where to start? In a soft year for exceptional albums, Parquet Courts' Wide Awake is one of 2018's clear standouts, and while it may not be as persuasively forceful a punk mantra as Idles' Joy As An Act Of Resistance, it is to my ears the smartest album of the year. It is also, with its vibrant mix of Minutemen, Beastie Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Pavement, and Black Keys influences, more fun than any 2018 album other than Confident Music For Confident People listed just below.  Danger Mouse continues his scorching-hot production streak of the last few years, opening up and expanding the Court's sound like never before, resulting in, if not their best album (my vote still goes to Light Up, Gold), their funkiest and without question their most sonically and stylistically adventurous.  Buoyed by fantastic rapid-fire lyricism, a marvelous, Paul's Boutique-styled lack of predictability, and some of the best shout-along rock choruses since Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial, this album should appeal to just about any fan of humor-laden art-rock / cowboy-punk, and captures the helter-skelter psychological chaos of the Trump Era better than any album I've heard to date. 
Intangibles: High

Cherry Picker's Best BetsTotal FootballViolenceBefore The Water Gets Too HighAlmost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of PatienceFreebird IINormalizationWide AwakeTenderness.

1b. Confident Music For Confident People - Confidence Man:

3. Double Negative - Low:

4. Joy As An Act Of Resistance - IDLES: England's most popular and critically hailed album of 2018 is in-your-face, old-fashioned punk of the highest order, and while the album may be a challenge for those who prefer their punk with a more melodic bent and a smidgen of instrumental variation,  there is simply no denying the forcefulness and impact of this album's aggressive, cathartic streamlined roar or the brilliance of its urgent, cutting lyrics. The specter of Brexit and micro-targeted  marketing hovers over the whole proceeding like an invading force that must be resisted, and resist, time and again, IDLES does. From punishing opener Colossus to the toxic masculinity bashing Samaritans to the diversity embracing Danny Nedelko to the fear of change trashing GreatJoy As An Act Of Resistance is a call to arms for anyone that refuses to let fear, prejudice, and bitterness be the ruling emotions of their life. The monochromatic tunelessness of the album's approach is the only factor preventing me from giving this album a highest recommend. Fantastic stuff and what will probably be viewed decades from now as the most important release of 2018.
Intangibles: High
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: ColossusDanny NedelkoSamaritansTelevisionGreat.

Strong Recommends

5. Persona - Rival Consoles: My favorite electronic release of 2018, Rival Consoles' Persona, inspired by the Igmar Bergman film of the same name, picks a fittingly icy palette located somewhere on the stylistic spectrum between Caribou's Swim and chill wave darling Memory Tapes' Seek Magic, and then works that chosen palette through 12 remarkably consistent, moving, and memorably melodic variations.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Persona, Sun's Abandon, Dreamer's Wake, Hidden.

6. Dirty Computer - Janelle Monae: Though the #1 album of 2018 in most aggregate polls, Dirty Computer is not Monae's best work.  That honor still belongs to 2010's much more varied and higher peaked The Archandroid. What Dirty Computer is is a very effective shift away from the persona/science fictional story telling that has dominated Monae's work up to this point and into the world of personal confession and a Prince-scaled level of sexual frankness. In truth, from the similarity between the albums' titles, the black-and-white diamond lattice pattern that adorns both album covers, and the energy and vibe of the music itself, Prince's Dirty Mind informs and influences everything on Dirty Computer, and Dirty Computer is all the better for it. The album's first half is pretty much dynamite, the second half falls of so precipitously after Make Me Feel until closer Americans that it almost drives the album down into Solid Recommend territory. But in the end, the quality of its opening half, especially the gorgeous Brian Wilson-aided title track, the lively Zoe Kravitz-assisted Screwed, and the Prince-resurrecting Make Me Feel, is enough to earn the album a worthy strong recommend. More puritanical listeners may be put off by some of the album's sexual explicitness (though it's rarely as coarse you're run of the mill hip-hop album), but as a statement to freeing oneself through an honest acceptance of everything that makes one who they are (as opposed to just those aspects of our personalities we want the public to see), the album is fairly exceptional, and feels like the perfect cultural fit for these #metoo-dominated.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Dirty Computer, Screwed, Pynk, Make Me Feel.

Solid Recommends

7. Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves: The year's biggest cross-over country effort and Grammy winner for album of the year is as much contemporary pop as it is country,  and it isn't as loaded with elite-level songwriting efforts as the ubiquitous gushing reviews would have one believe, but a couple of off-the-charts-great songs, starting with Slow Burn (possibly the best mellow song of the 2018 in any genre), clarity of tone, and an amazingly glossy, gorgeous production sheen help elevate the album throughout to make it one of 2018's most consistently beautiful listens.
Intangibles: High (for the phenomenal production work)
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Slow Burn, Oh What A World, High Horse, Space Cowboy, Lonely Weekend.

8. Isolation - Kali Uchis: Even though I consider Isolation one of the year's best contemporary pop albums and it's got much of the same production gloss sheen that hallmarks other recent poptimist standouts like Lorde's Melodrama, SZA's CTRL, and Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour,  there is no question that the primary touchstones for most of Isolation's music goes a decade back to the excellent mid-aughts work of naught British retro-crooners like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. I found the whole breezy affair highly enjoyable, though I will say the standout tracks listened in the Cherry Picker's Best Bets are significantly stronger than most of the other material on the album.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Body Language, Miami, Dead To Me, Feel Like A Fool.

9. Be The Cowboy - Mitski: Though the more broadly popular Dirty Computer took the overall aggregate title in 2018, no album in 2018 landed more first place rankings in individual publication lists than this one.  And on one level, it's easy to see why! While very much rooted in the indie and contemporary pop sounds of its moment, on another level, Be The Cowboy feels like a genuine attempt to join the ranks of era-defining female Singer-Songwriter efforts like Tapestry, Blue, Court & Spark, To Bring You My Love, Exile In Guyville, and Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.  It's not quite as good as any of those albums, but the fact that it's fully worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as those albums is testament enough to just how high quality much of Be The Cowboy's material is. A much weaker final third and the few goofy, misguided arrangement choices that diminish a couple of otherwise strong songs are all the prevents me from moving this album into Strong Recommend territory
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Geyser, Lonesome Love, Me And My Husband, Nobody, Two Slow Dancers.

 10. Chris - Christine & The Queens:

11. Songs Of Praise - Shame:

12. Bark Your Head Off, Dog! - Hop Along:

13. Lush - Snail Mail:

14. Honey - Robyn:

15. Microshift - Hookworms: For its opening ten minutes, Leeds-based Hookworms' fourth release Microshift, which finds the hazy, organ-drenched psych rockers incorporating more pop and electronic elements this time out, plays like a best album of 2018 contender.  Opener Negative Space is probably the best psych-rock track of the year, even despite some plagiaristic design similarities to Tame Impala's Be Above It, and second track Static Resistance almost matches the opener in quality. Two more fine tracks Ullswater and the atmospheric The Soft Season follow that killer 1-2 punch, and then things then start going south quickly and keep descending until closer Shortcomings, which salvages the back half of the record a bit. Still, the first half of this album is so strong and so damn propulsive that that alone is enough to lift Microshift into the upper tier of our 2018 solid recommends. It's an album that could have been the band's commerical breakthrough, but very troubling midyear #metoo allegations against the band's lead singer led to the band's demise this year and torpedoed any chance of year end recognition
Intangibles: Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Negative Space, Static Resistance, Ullswater, The Soft Season.

16. Heaven And Earth - Kamasi Washington:

17. Room 25 - Noname:

18. Twin Fantasy - Car Seat Headrest:

19. Hope Downs - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever:

20. Daytona - Pusha T:

20. Ruins - First Aid Kit:

21. Beyondless - Iceage:

22. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love - Deafheaven:

23. Transangelic Exodus - Ezra Furman:

Mild Recommends

24. Marble Skies - Django Django: Though everything about London art-rockers Django Django has always felt borrowed, their blend of new wave, Dick Dale surf rock, 60s garage-rock harmonies  (really great garage rock harmonies btw), and contemporary electronic dance influences has always merged into a sound uniquely and unquestionably their own.  And at times, when they nail it, their music is fantastic, but to date, they've always struck me as more of a singles act than album artists, delivering two or three standout tracks on records otherwise filled with so-so material. Latest release Marble Skies reverses this trend, upping that average quality quotient quite a bit while hitting a slightly more electronic overall feel, but as much as I appreciate the greater consistency, those awesome peaks are sorely missed, leading to what is overall a decent, likable front-to-back listen, but little more.  There are few minor standouts for sure worth hearing, especially the title track, Tic Tac Toe, and In The Beat, but nothing remotely in the ballpark of say the amazing Devo-ish Default from their self-titled debut. So a solid addition to their discography for fans, but for newcomers, check out the top rated songs from the earlier albums first. That's where gold really lies.
Intangibles: Average to Slightly Low
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Marble Skies, Tic Tac Toe, In Your Beat, Real Gone.

24. Clean - Soccer Mommy:

25. Sparkle Hard - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks:

24. American Utopia: David Byrne: Feeling in many ways like a lesser but far more positive spin on the musical ideas explored in the Talking Head's final album Blind, American Utopia offers up enough buoyant musical moments and classic David Byrne quirks to make the album well worth checking out if you're a fan, but some very clunky lyrics and the lack of any genuinely exceptional material marks the album as a warm but relatively minor work in Byrne discography overall. That said, I do like its closing two tracks (the joyous Everybody's Coming To My House and the contemplative stroll through the regions of the brain Here) quite a bit, and both were fantastic when I saw Byrne perform them live.
Intangibles: Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Gasoline And Dirty Sheets, It's Not Dark Up Here, Everybody's Coming To My House, Here.



Last Updated 01/12/2019

Thursday, December 27, 2018

McQ's #1 Album Of 2017 - AMERICAN DREAM - LCD Soundsystem

Seven years ago, on April 2nd, 2011, LCD Soundsystem called it a career in one of the most epic music farewells in recent memory - an expansive, five-set, four-hour-plus, Last Waltz-calibre show in Madison Square Garden that included performances of nearly every original song in their discography.

Tough to come back after a grand exit like that without catching some serious backlash.

But sure enough, two years ago, rumblings surfaced that LCD Soundsystem might have a lot more Michael Jordan in their DNA than Jim Brown, and by April, 2016, the band was back, headlining festivals around the world.

And now, we have the new album, and I for one, am not complaining.

Just like MJ, after a brief period working out the rust from their layoff, LCD Soundsystem has returned in top form - older, wiser, maybe now a step slower than those more-talented, actually really nice kids coming up from behind James Murphy worried so much about in 2002's Losing My Edge, but still the most dominant player in the dance-rock field.

By nearly every measure, LCD Soundsystem's American Dream is the equal of, heck maybe even the superior to, the band's essential trio (quartet if you count the excellent, Nike-sponsored 45:33) of pre-hiatus releases.  The songs themselves are straight-up awesome, flawlessly structured, brilliantly arranged with all manner of those skronky, Bowie/Eno/Fripper-esque sonics we've grown accustomed to in LCD's work, but with those sonics employed in a more organic, less referential manner this time out (except maybe on the blatant but killer Harry Nillson aping of emotional haircut).

To top it off, James Murphy's singing has never been better.

And then the mix comes into play, and screws everything up.

I'm can't say what it is exactly, maybe it's just my aging ears, but something with this mix just feels off.

Normally one of the most sure-eared producers in the industry, Murphy's production here just doesn't pop like on the previous releases - songs feel more chaotically and randomly balanced, vocals get buried, at times the analog synth pulses hit with an volume intensity that is almost physically painful - and the poorer quality of the mix really drops everything down a notch.  Only Change Yr Mind and Tonite feel properly balanced.  There's a part of me that suspects, given how precisely in control the band was in its first iteration, that this muddier, less appealing mix is fully, thematically intentional, but for me, regardless of intent, it remains an obstacle to be overcome as a listener, not a choice that adds value in an Exile On Main Street sort of way.

And yet, at the end of the day, American Dream is still absolutely worthy of a Highest Recommend and my favorite album of the year.

With the exception of Oh Baby - easily the weakest album opener in the LCD discography - and the title track, which are both just good, every other track on this album is fantastic. Yes, by now, the band's bag of tricks is pretty well established and several of the songs hit the same vibes as popular tracks from the other albums (Other Voices is the Us V Them/Pow Pow groover, Emotional Haircut the maximum overdrive Movement-styled freakout, Call The Police the stirring All My Friends-styled crescendoing anthem), but after a few listens that similarity in design with prior material ceases to be an issue as the new songs assert their own unique merits.

Additionally, there are a few tracks here that feel entirely new, particularly the low key close out black screen with its gorgeous final three minutes, and the hyper intense, Suicide-ish character assassination of Murphy's estranged, one-time DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy How Do You Sleep?.  Musically, Sleep is an amazing song, possibly the album's best track. Lyrically, the bile is almost hard to stomach.

And lyrically, this is the darkest album in LCD's catalog. Obsessed with aging, diminished social relevance, destroyed beyond repair-relationships, and recently lost heros (Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Alan Vega are all alluded to here in ways both big and small), American Dream is hardly a walk in the park for listeners who choose to take on its lyrics closely, but in the end, isn't that one of rock's greatest, most timeless tricks? To get us grooving and thinking deeply about life's harder aspects in one fell swoop?

I definitely thinks so, and it's one of the many reasons American Dream is McQ's top album of 2017.

Status: Highest Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: other voices, change yr mind, how do you sleep, tonite, call the police, emotional haircut.

Track Listing:
1. oh baby - 8
2. other voices - 9
3. i used to - 9
4. change yr mind - 9
5. how do you sleep - 9
6. tonite - 9
7. call the police - 9
8. american dream - 8
9. emotional haircut - 9
10. black screen - 9
Intangibles - Above Average (would be very high if not for the mix)

Here are the videos for the album's most heavily promoted songs tonite and call the police.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Mix Collection

Good Lord, 1977!

While it's not my absolute favorite rock year (1967 gets that nod), 1977 may have produced the  deepest batch of truly great rock albums of any year in the genre's history (with 1969, which we will revisit in 2020, seeming like the only genuine challenger)!

Not only that, it was also one of the 20th century's deepest years in the guilty pleasures department - producing as many albums and songs of dubious merit that were nonetheless endearing as any year I can remember.

So needless to say, there was a cornucopia's worth of material to pull from in our celebration of one of rock 'n' rolls most significant and dramatically transitional years.

For those of you with an interested in how we rank 1977's albums from a 2018 perspective, click here.

Otherwise, just dive in and enjoy the music on these fifteen mixes.

You can access all the Spotify links from this page, or if you want more info  on the artists and songs, click on mix title to get to each mixes detailed breakdown page.

As we usually do, starting out with McQ's mix of his very favorite singles (and representative cuts from his very favorite albums) of 1977.

And we follow that with Nancy's picks for her favorite 1977 songs.

The bulk of the UK side of 1977's punk explosion gets it's due here. 

Followed by the Yanks, early New Wavers, and pub rockers on both sides of the Atlantic that help make 1977 arguably the greatest year in punk history. 

1977, lead by by Bob Marley, Culture, The Heptones, The Congos, Peter Tosh, ubiquitous producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, and many others, was also one of classic reggae's greatest years, and much of that greatness is included here. 

Bowie, Iggy, Eno, Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre and a few other pioneering artists lead the way on this exploration of what was considered highly experimental in the day but now may be 1977's most enduring sonic legacy. 

1977's classic roadhouse and bar band numbers, as well as a few outstanding pub rockers, all get their moment here.

Oh, yeah, 1977 was disco's biggest year also.  This mix compiles most of the genre's most notable hits. 

And part 2 takes a look at the 1977 disco's best extended length tracks. 

'77 metal reveals itself in all it's inane glory here. 

Parliament, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodore, The O'Jays and others show us that while disco was king in 1977, Funk was still a player on the dance floor. 

We conclude with a three mix celebration of 1977's less reputable classics, starting with this mix here that focuses on the year's pop, cross-over country and sappy ballad hits.  

Then 1977's immensely popular album-oriented rockers make their mark in Volume 13. 

And finally, we close out this year's themed mixes with a celebration of some of 1977's best soft-rock classics. 

Volume 15 - The Next 100

Was your favorite song of 1977 left out?  It might be on this mix here. In no particular order, here are the next 100 tunes I was considering for these 1977 mixes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

McQ's Best Of 2017 Mix Collection

All right! 2017!

Though not an elite music year by any stretch, when looked at from the standpoint of the year's best 100 albums, not just it's top 10, 2017 proved to be one of the richest, most varied, and deepest music years of this decade - hence the super expensive size of this year's collection.

For those with an interest on how McQ rated 2017's albums, click here.

Otherwise, enjoy these mixes, and know that clicking on the individual mix titles will take you to a detail page that really gets into the specifics of each song we've included here in this celebration of the best of 2017.

McQ's choices for the very best singles and top tracks from the most significant albums of 2017.

2017's most intimate female sing-songwriter, folk, alt-country, and indie fare are presented here on McQ's personal favorite mix of the entire 2017 collection.

So many of last decade's top indie acts were back with a vengeance in 2017.  This mix focuses on those veteran indie superstars with a rock lean to their sound. 

2017's best funk, jazz, and international music get their due here! 

Returning to those indie veterans of 2017, this mix celebrates those awesome lifers, and a few younger guns, with an electronic lean to their rock. 

2017's best straight-forward, no frills rock and hard rock efforts are the emphasis here. 

This mix combines songs from some of the best undercard acts Nancy and I caught at the 2017 and 2018 Coachella festivals.

Our first ever all ambient mix highlights a few of the most notable tracks in a rich year for the genre. 

Shoegaze, Industrial, Pysch Rock - the best 2017 efforts from rock acts that like to bury their melodies in layer after layer after layer of instrumentation, feedback, and noise are featured here 

2017's best Rap and Grime efforts (as McQ sees it, not the critics or general public) are featured here. 

Most of 2017's sharpest political songwriting is featured here on this post-punk centered mix. 

The lighter, easy listening counterpart to Vol 9 - Thick and Fuzzy features 2017's best efforts in the dream pop, slack rock, and bedroom pop genres.  

Some of 2017's best Post-Rock and Experimental Rock and Electronica get their due here. 

McQ's favorite 2017 Pop and R&B chart toppers are highlighted here. 

2017's strongest Country, Alt-Country, Roots-Rock and Indie-Folk efforts all get their moment here. 

Some of 2017's most interesting efforts from the electronic genre's more cerebral, less dance-oriented artists are spotlighted here.   

2017's best, super bouncy Punk Pop and Eno lead the way here in a mix designed to play like the soundtrack to a fictional High School Musical/Rock And Roll High School movie. 

Volume 18 - Nancy's Favorites!

Always a fan favorite, Nancy reveals those 2017 tunes that appealed to her most.

Bonus Mix - The Next 100

Was your favorite song of 2017 left out?  It might be on this mix here. In no particular order, here are the next 100 tunes I was considering for these mixes

Thursday, November 22, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 14 - Soft Rock Nights (The Be(wor)st of WLS Pt 3)

Continuing our look at some of 1977's most nostalgia triggering tracks as filtered through the programming sensibilities of Chicago AM giant WLS, we conclude the three part series (as well as our entire 77 mix collection), with Soft Rock Nights.

If WLS mornings were for the moms, and WLS afternoons were for the boys, WLS nights were for couples. The music got softer, the music got more sophisticated, and the music got better, as the radio station tried to hook in young lovers going about their evening plans.

Not surprisingly, this is probably the smoothest listen of all our 1977 mixes.

Here's the link...

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac: Hitting two more tracks from Rumours on this mix, giving them seven tracks in this collection (second behind only Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced for the most songs we've ever included from one album).  This track, probably Rumours' most instrumentally sophisticated, is a perfect tone setter for what's coming in this mix.

2. Deacon Blues - Steely Dan: Finally, we get to Steely Dan's Aja, the last genuinely great album to be profiled in our '77 collection. And while I've always preferred the songs on the band's singles-oriented debut Can't Buy A Thrill and '75's Katy Lied a little more, there's no denying that on certain evenings, no album other than this one-of-a-kind, jammy, Eros-driven masterwork will do. Deacon Blues has always been my favorite from this one.

3. Just The Way You Are - Billy Joel: Joel's first top-ten hit of his career almost didn't see the light of day.  According to Joel, neither he or his band cared for the song after laying it down, and weren't going to include it on The Stranger, but at the urging of Linda Rondstadt and Phoebe Snow who were both recording in the same building at the time, Joel acquiesced. Joel's producer Phil Ramone had a different take on the issue, stating no matter how hesitant Joel and the band were about the song, or how much Rondstadt and Snow loved it, Joel hadn't written enough material for the album to ever consider cutting it. Either way, I came back to this song for this first time in years expecting to dislike it, but was actually surprised at how well it has held up.

4. Just A Song Before I Go - Crosby, Stills & Nash: Surprisingly, given all the other classic rock staples in their catalog, Graham Nash's parting words for his family and friends, written on a bet in 20 minutes before heading back out on another tour, is taken from the band's 1977 release CSN, and was the biggest hit of the their career!

5. Takin' The Time To Find - Dave Mason: Definitely felt we needed another number from Dave Mason's '77 guest-star-loaded release Let It Flow, but with Nancy already thieving the album's title track for her Favorites mix, I went with this rocking, AWBish number here over the album's biggest hit We Just Disagree.

6. Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue - Crystal Gayle: Originally released on Gayle's fourth studio album We Must Believe In Magic, the country singer's signature hit would end up the #71 selling single of 1978.  I considered it for Lujack Mornings, but there's just a touch more late-night sophistication to this number that suggested it was a better fit here.

7. Dreamer - Dennis Wilson: Though it wasn't one of the two singles issued from Dennis Wilson's '77 solo debut Pacific Ocean Blue, it was this surprisingly gruff, bluesy number built around a super cool bass harmonica passage that has, over time, emerged as the album's most popular song.

8. April Sun In Cuba - Dragon: One of New Zealand's biggest rock acts during the mid-to-late 70s, Dragon's April Sun In Cuba, from their fourth studio release Running Free, was one of the band's biggest chart successes in the United States.

9. Baltimore - Randy Newman: While Short People got most of the airplay and attention, the best song on Randy Newman's Little Criminals was its oft-covered, bleak portrait of a dying city Baltimore which, like most of Little Criminals, featured members of the Eagles (in this case Glen Frey and Joe Walsh) in instrumental support.

10. Lovely Day - Bill Withers: From the bleak to the buoyant. Released in December, 1977, the lead single for American soul singer Bill Wither's sixth studio release Menagerie also owns the distinction of holding one of the longest-sustained vocal notes ever put down in recording history, with one of Wither's final "days," clocking in at eighteen seconds.

11. Handy Man - James Taylor: Though the seventies singer-songwriter movement was already in decline, genre-icon James Taylor enjoyed his most successful year in 1977 powered by his eighth studio album JT, which in addition to being the best-selling album of his career, also featured two of his biggest charting hits.  Handy Man here, and Your Smiling Face, which Nancy has already featured on her Favorites mix!

12. Smiling Stranger - John Martyn: While not a huge name here in the states, British singer/songwriter/badass guitarist John Martyn had a prominent five-decade career overseas from the late sixties until his death in 2009, and his daring, idiosyncratic combination of blues, reggae, jazz, and folk and have led many to dub him the father of 90s trip-hop. His 1977 seventh studio release One World is one the most popular of the 22 studio albums he left us, and contains two of him most famous songs in the title track and the Lee "Scratch" Perry collaboration Big Muff. But as cool as those songs are, I found Smiling Stranger to be even cooler. So all you Portishead / Massive Attack fans, this is where some of it started.

13. Slip Slidin' Away - Paul Simon: After deciding not to include Slip Slidin' Away on 1975's Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon decided to include it two years later on his 1977 greatest hits collection Greatest Hits, Etc. to give that album a lead single. The ploy worked, as Slip Sliding' Away ended up as the #48 single of 1978.

14. Like A Hurricane - Neil Young: Though not horrible in its own right, when compared to the spectacular quality level of most of his 70s output, Neil Young's 1977 studio release American Stars N' Bars is a straight-up dud... until one gets to this song towards the end of side two, a contender for the title of the greatest song in Young's entire, mind-bogglingly prolific career.

15. Songbird - Fleetwood Mac: Like Dreams, I thought Nancy would claim Christine McVie's best Rumours' song Songbird for her mix, but she did not, giving this mix one last gorgeous come down before its big closing stretch.

16. Peg - Steely Dan: One more from Steely Dan's all-time best seller and audiophile sacred cow Aja.

17. & 18. The Load Out / Stay - Jackson Browne: Following the tremendous success of 1976's labored-over The Pretender, Jackson Browne chose to lighten things up in 1977 with his fifth album Running On Empty. A record about life on the road recorded on the road (either live, or on the tour bus, or in hotel rooms, etc.) it's not one of Browne's most accomplished works, but it does possess a killer set of bookends in the opening title track (already featured on Vol 2 - Nancy's Favorites) and the closing tandem of The Load Out / Stay included here, which just felt, not like the perfect ending for this mix, but this entire 1977 collection as well.  Hope you enjoyed it all. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 13 - AOR Afternoons (The Be(wor)st Of WLS Pt 2)

Continuing our three-part look back at some of 1977's most beloved guilty pleasures...

If, in 1977, WLS mornings were programmed for the moms, afternoons were definitely targeted at the boys, all those tween and teen coming home for school and young adult males commuting home from work.

And the catnip of choice for capturing this crew: AOR - Album Oriented Rock.

Though these starkly middle-of-the-road rock and prog-rock acts didn't do nearly as much damage on the singles charts as their counterparts featured on Vol 12 - Lujack Mornings, they would prove as a group to be even more enduringly popular... with most, in some bastardized form or another, still active on the nostalgia circuit today and still omnipresent on classic rock radio playlists.

And while I poke fun at some of these bands in write-up as I now view them from a much older perspective, let the record show that there is no overstating how much joy they brought me back in the day.

Here's the link to the mix...

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. Feels Like the First Time - Foreigner:  When word broke that Ian McDonald, the multi-instrumental genius responsible for all those crazy sounds one hears on the King Crimson's 1968 prog-classic In The Court Of The Crimson King, was leaving Crimson to form his own band, expectations ran high as to just how great the new act would be.  What no one anticipated was that McDonald was about to go full-on Greg Rollie/Neil Schon - leaving a popular cutting-edge act to create something as middle-of-the-road-safe and mass-marketable as music comes.  And like many of the songs on this mix, middle-of-the-road mass marketable with a heavy prog accent is exactly what Foreigner's eponymous debut turned out to be. But that doesn't mean it wasn't fun, and the masses ate it up, making Feels Like The First Time - one of three top-20 hits from the album - the band's highest charter in the weeklies, peaking out at #4.

2. Point Of Know Return - Kansas: Following the huge success of the single Carry On Wayward Son from their multi-platinum-selling '76 release Leftoverture, the midwest's biggest prog-rock act ever hurried back even stronger in '77 with Point Of Know Return, which in addition to doing even better sales than Leftoverture, included two of the band's greatest songs (starting with the title track here), and is now almost universally regarded as Kansas's best album (though, let's be honest, that's not saying a ton). And while this band's pretensions have proved as enduringly entertaining in a campy nostalgic sense as those of their midwest prog-rock counterparts we'll get to in a moment, this track still brings up a lot of warm memories.

3 & 4. We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions - Queen: If you caught Bohemian Rhapsody the move, you know this pair of songs from their '77 release News Of The World  were written in an effort to increase audience participation at their shows Mission accomplished.

5. The Grand Illusion - Styx: Wow. Styx. The Grand Illusion. Combine Kubrick-level pretension with Ed Wood-level insight, and this is what you get. Though on an instrumental level they could clearly hold their own, few bands have ever strived for deep meaning harder and missed the mark more consistently than Roseland, Illinois's um..., finest? But whatever their lyrical ineptitude (and it could get comically bad), they could find their way around a riff and a hook, making the one of the most appealing and greatest of the 70's "bad" bands. We'll be hitting not one, not two, but three tracks from the band's '77 breakout album here on this mix, starting with the album's magnum opus (a least until Mr. Roboto) opening track here.

6. Jungle Love - Steve Miller Band: As middle-of-the-road-safe as The Steve Miller Band was (and let's be clear, they don't come more middle-of-the-road safe than The Steve Miller Band), I have nothing but good things to say about Miller's hits-packed '77 release Book Of Dreams. It may not challenge its listeners, but it remains a super fun listen. So we kick off our Book Of Dreams appreciation fest with Jungle Love here, a song originally written for Dave Mason.

7. I'm In You - Peter Frampton: The title track to Frampton's Comes Alive '77 followup, I'm In You the song had the distinction, in addition to being the year's #42 song, of drawing the mocking ire of Frank Zappa, who annoyed by Frampton's shift in direction from a respectable if earnest rocker to blatant teen idol chart climber, rerecorded his version of the song as I Have Been In You.

8. Black Betty - Ram Jam: Flirted with putting this one-hit-wonder from Ram Jam's full-length debut on Lujack Mornings, but the harder-rocking vibe of the New York-based act's cover of the ages-old prison work song that had been recorded many times since the 1930s (most notably by bluesman Leadbelly) suggested it go here. And a little trivia, though Ram Jam's version of the song did cause a minor stir with the NAACP (who felt Ram Jam's version presented a negative portrait of African-American women), most interpretations of the song suggest that Black Betty of the title is actually not a woman, but a reference to one of many objects associated through the years with African American oppression - a prison guard whip, an eighteenth century musket, a paddy wagon, a nasty bottle of home-brewed alcohol.

9. Sweet Talkin' Woman - Electric Light Orchestra: I've never been a big ELO fan (or a fan of any Jeff Lynne-led project through the years, from The Move all the way to those god awful Traveling Wilburys). I always felt, too often, Lynne stole everything he could from the Beatles - except what worked. But as sappy as the band's full-length albums like '77 double Out Of The Blue (the second best-selling soft-rock album of 1977 after Rumours) could be, the band definitely delivered a some priceless hits. We're including two of Out Of The Blue's big three (sorry Mr. Blue Sky) on this mix, starting with Sweet Talkin' Woman here.

10. Long, Long Way From Home - Foreigner: God, it doesn't say much for my youthful tastes, but I ate this song up in junior high. It hasn't aged as well as Feels or Cold As Ice, but it would be the third and final single cut from Foreigner's debut to make the charts, peaking at #20 on the Billboard weeklies.

11. You Too the Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) - Meatloaf: One last cut from Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell. It's not as good a song as the album's title track, but I couldn't leave this one off, the spoken-word intro by songwriter Jin Steinman is just too priceless.

12. Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) - Styx: "Relax... Take it easy..." The Grand Illusion, in addition to being the band's breakout album, was also the band's first album to fully integrate new member, singer/songwriter/guitarist Tommy Shaw.  In addition to bequeathing upon Styx the most generic blond-haired / blue-eyed pretty-boy rocker of all-time, Shaw was also about to deliver a number of huge hits, starting with these oh-so-cheesy words of encouragement for bandmate Dennis DeYoung, whom Shaw felt was wound tighter than a clock and overreacted to every little setback.

13. Give A Little Bit - Supertramp: Apologies to Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, and Jethro Tull, classic prog-acts who all released significant albums in 1977 but that I chose not to profile because they just didn't fit with the more mainstream-oriented feel of this mix. But Supertramp's Give A Little Bit, which, as the lead single from the band's fifth studio effort Even In The Quietest Moments, was the band's breakout hit in the states, did.

14. Swingtown - Steve Miller Band: Though the final single released from Book Of Dreams, the light, breezy Swingtown would perform better than Jungle Love on the charts, peaking at #17 on the Billboard weeklies.

15. Dust In The Wind - Kansas: For all of Point Of Know Return's over-heated Kings-and-Queens-and-Fairies prog ramblings, it would be the album's simplest track that left the biggest mark. And for as much as I've been poking fun at the songs on this mix, and despite the doom-and-gloom fatalism of this song's lyrics, there's really not much to make fun of here.  Dust In The Wind is just a well executed, well produced, Brit-styled folk-ballad, anchored around one of the most iconic finger-picked riffs of all time.

16. She's Not There - Santana: I don't know about you, but I've always loved Santana's jammy '77 cover of the 1964 Zombies classic.  The public did, too, turning the cover version into a UK and US smash, and turning the album on which it appeared, '77 double-album Moonflower, into Santana's first gold record since 1972.

17. Turn To Stone - Electric Light Orchestra: Turn To Stone was the first of four singles released from ELO's ten-times-platinum Out Of The Blue. It would end up the worst performing single from the album, but no matter, it's always been my all-time favorite song from the band.

18. Cold As Ice - Foreigner: Though it wasn't the band's highest weekly charter from their self-titled debut, Cold As Ice would go on to be the best selling single from the album, finishing as 1977's #68 song, and in the process would become the band's most well known song.

19. Jet Airliner - Steve Miller Band: Book Of Dreams biggest hit had actually been first written and recorded by blind bluesman Paul Pena in 1973, but conflicts between Pena and his label would prevent his version from being released for another twenty-seven years In the interim, Ben Sidram, who had produced Pena's album and had also previously been a member of The Steve Miller Band, brought the song to Miller, who tweaked it and made it (along with Threshold, the synth-intro that usually accompanies it in tandem but is not included here) Book Of Dream's opening track. Miller's version would peak at #8 on the Billboard charts.

20. Come Sail Away - Styx: Ranking right their with Lady and Renegade as Styx's greatest guilty pleasure track, Come Sail Away would be a monster hit for the band, peaking at #8 in the weeklies, and along with The Grand Illusion, launch Styx on a half-decade ride as one of America's top-earning acts.

21. Pigs On The Wing 2 - Pink Floyd: So yeah, Floyd and Animals are awesome, and even though a prog band, are of such higher quality level than the other acts they probably shouldn't be here. But I had two minutes of space remaining on this mix, and I do love those short Animals bookends, so Pigs On The Wing 2 gets to close things out.