Thursday, March 1, 2001

SUNRISE - Elvis Presley (1999)

This is where it all started, the moment rock n' roll officially differentiated itself from Jazz, Blues, Country, and Big Band.

Elvis's original recordings for Sun Records had been released before, but never in their entirety, and never as logically sequenced as here.

Disc One is dedicated to all nineteen original takes, allowing you to hear all of Elvis's initial singles in one sitting.

Disc Two provides the completist's goodies, alternate takes, live recordings, and other demos.

For many, this is the moment rock n' roll truly came into absolutely essential album for any true blue rock n' roll fan.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: None, this is a historical compilation that should be heard in full.

Here's Mystery Train.

Likewise, no rankings on the tracks in the component breakdown.

Component Breakdown:
Disc One:
1. That's All Right
2. Blue Moon Of Kentucky
3. Good Rockin' Tonight
4. I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine
5. Milk Cow Blues Boogie
6. You're A Heartbreaker
7. Baby Let's Play House
8. I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone
9. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
10. Mystery Train
11. I Love You Because
12. Harbor Lights
13. Blue Moon
14. Tomorrow Night
15. I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')
16. Just Because
17. I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone
18. Trying To Get To You
19. When It Rains It Really Pours

Disc Two
1. My Happiness
2. That's When Your Heartaches Begin
3. I'll Never Stand In Your Way
4. It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You
5. I Love You Because
6. That's All Right
7. Blue Moon Of Kentucky
8. Blue Moon
9. I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')
10. I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine
11. I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone
12. Fool, Fool, Fool
13. Shake, Rattle and Roll
14. I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone
15. That's All Right
16. Money Honey
17. Tweedle Dee
18. I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine
19. Hearts Of Stone
Intangibles - Very High

To Listen, Download, or Buy a Vinyl or CD Hardcopy,
Click on the Widget Below.

ARE YOU EXPERIENCED - The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

Rock 'n' roll has never had a "Citizen Kane" album, a singular work that comes out of nowhere and in one fell swoop blows open the creative possibilities of near every discipline associated with the craft. 

But it did have a "Citizen Kane" year, 1967, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced, one of the two greatest debut albums in rock history, was THE primary contributor on the instrumental front.

In the years immediately prior to this album's release, musicians had begun to experiment with feedback (the opening moments to The Beatles I Feel Fine is a classic example), but that's all these initial efforts were...tentative, small scale experiments.

Then Hendrix arrived with this album...a fully formed, visionary master of guitar distortion...and the iconic sound of the psychedelic guitar was born.  

It was a staggering template for a new sonic order.  As Hendrix himself proclaimed to his mid-sixties listeners in Third Stone To The Sun, "And you will never hear surf music again."

From Foxey Lady's heavy metal surge to Purple Haze and Third Stone To The Sun's drugged-out sheen, Red House's over-cranked blues to Fire's braggadocio soul, May This Be Love's wilting, high-volume balladry to I Don't Live Today's extended use of noise and drones, each and every song on Are You Experienced seemed to open the door to a previously unimagined musical direction.

And while, forty-plus years removed, many younger guitarists have gone on to surpass Hendrix in terms of sheer playing speed and range of technique, I have yet to hear another guitarist (with the possible exceptions of obvious devotees Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Stone Roses John Squire) who could match the fluidity and hypnotic grace with which Hendrix could shift between rhythm and lead runs, as The Wind Cries Mary and May This Be Love put on perfect display.

In addition to Hendrix's legendary pyrotechnics, both bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell provide phenomenal support, Redding as the sole anchor of the rhythm section, Mitchell coloring in every hole left open in Hendrix's attack.  To this day, I still think Mitchell's frantic fills in Fire rank among the very best ever heard in a rock n' roll song.

But the thing that sticks with me most is that coming from an artist remembered for his flamboyant showmanship and extended jams...and one rarely celebrated as a singer or songwriter...Are You Experienced is one of the tightest and most jam-packed collections of A++ singles rock has ever produced...easily the equal of any album in the Beatle's or Stone's canon.

This is an album that should be a part of any serious listener's collection.

Initially released in significantly different forms in England and the U.S., Warners/Reprise did us all a favor a decade ago by combining the material from both releases, as well some B-sides, onto one CD.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Silly to cherry pick this album, which should be bought in full, but if forced to choose...Purple Haze, May This Be Love, I Don't Live Today, The Wind Cries Mary, Foxey Lady.

Here's a music only video for one of the least remembered but best tracks on album, May This Be Love.

Component Breakdown:
1. Purple Haze - 10
2. Manic Depression - 9
3. Hey Joe - 10
4. Love Or Confusion - 9
5. May This Be Love - 10
6. I Don't Live Today - 10
7. The Wind Cries Mary - 10
8. Fire - 10
9. Third Stone To The Sun - 8
10. Foxey Lady - 10
11. Are You Experienced? - 10
12. Stone Free - 10
13. 51st Anniversary - 6
14. Highway Chile - 6
15. Can You See Me - 8
16. Remember - 8
17. Red House - 9
Intangibles - Through The Roof.

What are your thoughts on Are You Experienced? Let readers know in the comments section below.


Let's set the record straight.

The Velvet Underground And Nico is not one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time.

It is THE greatest and most influential rock album of all time!. 

What Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and Sterling Morrison (with an assist from Andy Warhol and German model/actress-turned chanteuse Nico) created here with these eleven songs was, and continues to be, better, more exciting, and more singularly impactful than any single album in Bob Dylan's catalog, or the Beatles', or the Stones', or Springsteens', or Elvis's, or Chuck Berry's, or Marvin Gaye's, or Radiohead's, or The Clash's, or Aretha Franklin's, or Prince's, or Led Zeppelin's, or David Bowie's, or Bob Marley's, or any other single album by any other top tier rock 'n' roll or R&B or hip hop artist you can name.

From its "proof is in the pudding" assertion that limited instrumental talent was no barrier to artistic communication, to its never-been-bettered sequencing, from its introduction of taboo subject matter, a detached reportial narrator, intentional off-key singing, unadulterated noise, the avant-garde, and unaccented rhythms into the rock 'n' roll equation, to the daringly aggressive conceptual lengths the band went to to give a cinematic, almost physical shape to each of these songs (Heroin, for example, rhythmically simulates a junkie's rush/nod cycle, as well as implying his weakening life force through heartbeat-like drumming and a wavering but unbroken viola drone), no other album in rock's history blew open so many genre conventions so completely.  And even though hardly anyone listened to it at the time of its inital release in 1967, vast swaths of the last forty years of punk, goth, new wave, and gritty art-rock are simply unimaginable without it.

It's never been an album for everyone, dissonant and jarring and diving head first into dark, detached, non-judgmental portrayals of drug addiction, S&M, the decadent rich, street violence, and sexual abuse, but for the last forty-four years, it's proven to be the ongoing holy grail of inspiration for anyone with a questing artistic spirit, an appreciation for ruthless honesty, and the desire to create something truly original. 

Like other albums that make up my first brick for collectors, so much has already been written that I'll spare you any further commentary here.  Rolling Stone and the All Music Guide both have fantastic reviews that are just an internet click away.  But I will leave you with one final thought.

If you haven't purchased this album before...try to get the original mono mix.  Certain songs, particularly I'm Waiting For My Man, lost a lot of their punch when they were remastered in 1984.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Here's a video for the album's most traditional rocker, the drug-scoring anthem I'm Waiting For My Man, set to footage Andy Warhol shot while the band was rehearsing at The Factory.

Component Breakdown:
1. Sunday Morning - 10
2. I'm Waiting For My Man - 10
3. Femme Fatale - 9
4. Venus In Furs - 10
5. Run, Run, Run - 7
6. All Tomorrow's Parties - 9
7. Heroin - 10
8. There She Goes Again - 9
9. I'll Be Your Mirror - 10
10. Black Angel's Death Song - 10
11. European Son (To Delmore Schwartz) - 8
Intangibles - Through The Roof!

What are your thoughts on The Velvet Underground & Nico?  Let readers know!


For decades a consensus choice as the greatest rock album of all time, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has seen its reputation drop in recent years as other Beatles' releases, most notably Revolver and Rubber Soul, and to a lesser degree Abbey Road and The White Album, have proven more resilient to the ravages of time.

But no matter what one feels today about this album on a purely qualitative basis, it remains one the most influential and important landmarks in rock 'n' roll history, momentarily uniting the listening world like no other modern recording has in any genre before or since, and cementing a seismic shift in the music industry towards the full-length LP and away from the single as the primary method of distribution.

It also forever changed the way the world looked at rock albums.  Before Sgt. Pepper's, LP's were collections of singles and B-sides, after Sgt. Pepper's, they held the potential to be unified pieces of art. 

Many artists would soon follow down a similar path, but the "concept album" was not truly born until the day Sgt. Pepper's was released.  From its renowned collage cover to its interweaving strands of narrative, it took the idea of maintaining an album's thematic cohesion across all its component elements to a level not previously seen in the annals of rock.

At yet, despite all of these historic firsts, at that moment the album's most significant impact was probably in the stunning array of innovative production techniques it introduced. 

Fresh off a decision to stop touring, and madly impressed by (and envious of) what Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys had accomplished with Pet Sounds, The Beatles were determined to forge the next step forward, and top Pet Sounds, with their next release. 

Sgt. Pepper's would thus become The Beatles definitive studio album. 

Nearly every song on Sgt. Pepper's is awash in groundbreaking recording techniques, from the simple, like new mic positioning strategies or patching instruments directly into the mixing board, to the painstakingly complex, like the album's many dense tape loops and that cavernous multi-piano chord that concludes A Day In The Life.

Many of these breakthroughs sound ordinary today following decades of imitation, but there is no overstating how radical they were at the time.

Where some opinions of Sgt. Pepper's, including mine, have fallen in recent years is ironically with regard to the band's greatest craft.

Sgt. Pepper's, quite simply, is far from the strongest collection of Beatles' songs.

The album is bookended beautifully, with the rocking title track and its reprise, joyous sing-a-long With A Little Help From My Friends, acid-drenched Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and closer A Day In The Life all standing with the best tracks the band has ever laid to vinyl.

But in between those high peaks is a vast mid-section of songs the impact of that landmark production has lost its original luster...have come to feel like some of the most mediocre works of the entire Beatles' canon. 

Granted, we're talking about The Beatles here, so none of these songs, with the possible exception of Mr. Kite, plain suck, and some (She's Leaving Home, Good Morning, Good Morning, the intro to Lovely Rita) are still impressive.

But is there one song in this long stretch from Getting Better through Good Morning that could qualify as anything but the worst track on Rubber Soul or Revolver?

I'm not so sure.

To me, Fixing A Hole and When I'm Sixty-Four rank amongst the most saccharine and least engagingly melodic of McCartney's dance-hall ballads, ominously signaling to the safer, sweeter tone that would dominate his far less impressive solo career.  Within You, Without You is easily the least interesting (not to mention most long-winded) of George Harrison's Beatles-era sitar explorations, and Lennon's experimental Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, has just never, ever done it for me.  Despite it's ambition, and sonic and thematic integrity, it's just a flat-out annoying song.

But again, my less-than-enthusiastic opinion of these individual tracks should in no way diminish the overall historic or cultural significance of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

It may no longer be considered The Beatles' best album...but it remains, and will always remain, their most important.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, With A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, A Day In The Life.

Here's a video of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds as later employed in the movie Yellow Submarine.

Component Breakdown:
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 10
2. With A Little Help From My Friends - 10
3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - 10
4. Getting Better - 8
5. Fixing A Hole - 7
6. She's Leaving Home - 8
7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! - 5
8. Within You Without You - 7
9. When I'm Sixty-Four - 7
10. Lovely Rita - 8
11. Good Morning, Good Morning - 9
12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) - 10
13. A Day In The Life - 10
Intangibles - Average

What are your thoughts on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?  Let readers know with a comment.

PET SOUNDS - The Beach Boys (1966)

Born of Brian Wilson's never ending desire to one up the Beatles following their release of Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds is now widely regarded as The Beach Boy's crowning achievement and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, albums of all time (it presently holds the number one position at, the best "best of" list aggregator on the Internet). 

Personally, I challenge that status a tiny bit.

I've never felt it's as strong an album as some of the other all-time classics - put it head to head, track by track, against Highway 61 Revisited, Revolver, Are You ExperiencedThe Velvet Underground and Nico, Astral Weeks, The Stooges, Born To Run, London Calling, OK Computer, etc., and it just doesn't feel cut of quite the same stuff.

But there's no denying its status, like Love's Forever Changes or Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On, as one of the all-time great mood albums, its broad influence (Sgt. Peppers and recent classics like Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, and Fleet Foxes are unimaginable without it), or most significantly, what a landmark it was in the advancement of recording technique.

Taking Phil Spector's wall of sound concept to new limits, and adding in all manner of "non-instrumental" sounds as well (the "pet sounds" of the album's title),Wilson layered track upon track upon track to attain a level of instrumental depth, precision, and clarity never before heard.  It all added up to a gorgeous, fragile, melancholy sound the perfectly mirrored the album's bittersweet, coming-of-age lyrics, and made Pet Sounds the de facto gold standard for studio production until Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band wrested that distinction away a year down the line.

And while I stick to my assertion that most of its songs are more of the very good, not great, variety, Pet Sounds's best tracks (Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, Caroline No, and especially the beyond perfect ballad God Only Knows) rank with the best pop music by any artist in any era...and that great production and those phenomenal signature Beach Boy harmonies elevate everything on this album into a wonderfully cohesive whole.

Now offered on a digitally remastered CD with both the full set of mono and stereo mixes, as well as a few alternate takes, I recommend this album to absolutely every reader who hasn't already made Pet Sounds a part of their permanent collection.

It truly is one of the definitive touchstones of contemporary music.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Wouldn't It Be Nice, Sloop John B, God Only Knows, Caroline No.

Here's the video for an early lip-synced performance of God Only Knows.

Component Breakdown (of original release)
7. Sloop John B - 10
10. Here Today - 8
12. Pet Sounds - 9
13. Caroline No - 9
Intangibles - Very High

To Listen, Download, or Buy a CD or Vinyl Hardcopy
Click on the Widget Below.