Just about there...
At this point on the list when you see a single album from a group it’s pretty much just holding the spot for their collected works. For most of the artists now it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to a single album. For the purpose of this exercise I’ll just pick one that stands out more often than not and let it go at that.
11. Northern Lights, Southern Cross - Band
11. Northern Lights, Southern Cross - Band
Also, as I look at the remaining titles I should point out that everything from about fifteen to number one have topped this list at some point in my life. So don’t take the remaining rankings as gospel, take them as guidelines. As for this album I’ve already discussed it inside a previous post and you can follow this link to my thoughts on it.
12. London Calling - ClashThis album closed out the seventies in grand fashion. I personally never cared for their first two albums. I know many others who swear by them, but they still don’t connect with me even after all these years. This one however endures and is probably the hardest rocking thing you’ll find around my disc player these days.
Nothing from the first two albums prepared me for this one. Punk was about dead at this point. The initial burst was flaming out and the groups were faced with the same things as groups in other genres: they had to continue to make new music. Most of the bands were running on fumes and trying to keep it alive anyway they could. This band decided to re-invent themselves as a more broad based band and began to explore other styles of music. Their marriage of rock and reggae is hinted at here and would burst into full bloom on their next album “Sandinista.” They also tackled rockabilly, R&B, some soul, ska and just plain old roots based rock.
With Guy Stevens producing they offered up one of the few double albums that you wouldn’t want to have one less song on. They hit the ground running on the opening cut and never let up. It’s not a concept album or broken down by sides, they simply careen all over the road on their way to musical history. The best way I know to get back in touch with your inner rocker.
13. Tumbleweed Connection - Elton JohnLyricist Bernie Taupin has never hidden the fact that this album was inspired by the music that The Band was making at the time. If you were into music at that time and interested in it at its most organic then you too would have been inspired by what The Band was doing. What Taupin and John did that was so magical though is that they just let it serve as their inspiration and didn’t try to replicate the sound of The Band. They instead had their own unique spin on what Americana meant to them and came up with a flawless album.
This is one of those albums where I could make a case for every single song, but I won’t because anyone reading this is probably in step with this one. Thirty some years later this one still unfolds like a dusty collection of short stories that you’d find in an old shop. Songs of place and home told in an uncluttered fashion that makes them powerful still today. I often wonder how many successful songwriters wish they would have written “Country Comforts.” Remembrance of years gone by has rarely been stated so eloquently in song.
Like any great album you can start with the cover and the original packaging and almost sense the type of songs waiting inside. Even the color tinting and the texturing of the paper has an old west look and feel to it. They knew that had created something special.
14. From Elvis In Memphis - Elvis PresleyFor an artist with so many recordings it’s amazing how few really complete albums Presley released. When you take away the soundtracks, live albums, holiday music, and gospel sides all you’re really left with are his first couple of long players. This 1969 album is one of the few exceptions. Over the course of his career he had sung gospel, rock, country, ditties for soundtracks and MOR covers, so it was a bit of a surprise when he emerged from American studios under the guidance of Chips Moman as a blue eyed soul singer.
This was no lark, he nearly reinvented the genre with these recordings. If you live long enough (and I hope you all do) you will hear just about everything you can imagine said about him. One thing you’ll never hear though is someone saying they don’t like his voice. If there’s a male singer anywhere out there who wouldn’t trade their voice for his don’t trust them on anything.
These Memphis sessions had yielded a parcel of new singles that the public was gladly devouring and at thirty four he was on a roll. There are several disc collections that collect all of the songs from these sessions, but back in the day this album was all there was. Combining country and soul covers Moman and Presley found a groove that must be heard to be believed. This album doesn’t have one track that you would program around today, or a side that you would have played less than the other back in 1969.
Using the risky strategy of mainly recording songs that were identified with other artists Presley all of a sudden had some well known acts see their signature tunes all but taken away from them. Check out his take on “Gentle On My Mind” and you’ll see how glad Glen Campbell must have been to see him cover so many others. He takes a fine country tune and gives it a Southern spin and delivers one of his best vocals. His live (in the studio), with false starts, cover of the Eddy Arnold standard “I’ll Hold You In My Heart” may be his finest and most raw vocal though. Unadorned by strings or any real production he takes the song from a crooning lament to the depths of the blues. I can’t help but feel this is a demo that they couldn’t improve on and just let it be. A gutsy call considering how he had been handled over the years. Nearly every song here has it’s own unique story.
The one nod to the past was that RCA was still not including most of his singles on albums. You had to make separate purchases to keep pace. Thinking back if this album would have included “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain” it might have never left the charts. They almost did us a favor by not including them. We wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I know at thirteen I couldn’t have. Over the next few years he would continue to release worthwhile material, but this album will settle any arguments as to whether he still had it or not.
15. Romeo’s Escape - Dave AlvinFor a few years after its release this was my top album. As a die hard Blasters fan this was one of the most anticipated albums in years for me. It had even more raw energy than the Blasters albums. Dave was the songwriter and guitarist of the band. His brother Phil has an amazing voice. What Dave lacked in polish he made up for with emotion.
For this album he even went back and gave us his take on some of the Blasters material. I’ll take his versions over the ones by the band for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. This album also debuted his first (of many) non Blasters classics, “4th Of July.” In that single song he offers everything that was great about the roots rock sound that was beginning to gain favor.
Unlike a lot of artists who debut with an album this strong this was not the end of the creative road for him. It was more of a warning shot to everyone else that there was a new kid on the block and he was going to be a permanent resident for many more years.