#256 – Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express

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The first and only listed album from German Electronic band Kraftwerk is their sixth studio album.  The 1977 release was not a huge success in the US only reaching #119 on the American Billboard charts.  It was #30 on our old friend The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll.

Sara

One minute into this my wife thought something was wrong with my computer because it was basically just beep-bop-booping.  To me, the nagging, monotonous repetitive intro to the first song sounded like something that would be playing in a slow-motion movie scene showing a track and field race.  I can see our main character quite a ways behind third, rounding the final turn, and just beginning to edge out competitors one by one until, at the finish line, he just inches past the leader to win the race.  Good soundtrack for that 30 second imagined scene. For all other circumstances this is so difficult to listen to that my fingers are shaking with anger as I type. 

In 2014, the LA Times said this album was ‘the most important album of the last 40 years.’ Fake News! SAD!!!  This is so terrible I don’t even know what to do with myself.  I think it’s even making my dog mad. 

I got through this the only way I know how—completely tuned out writing something else. I swear these guys are chanting ‘trans Europe Express’ throughout every song. I don’t even understand what is happening. The last song is called “Endless Endless” and this album will never end and nothing will end it and please end it end it end it I can’t go on……………

This sucked. Synthesizer hell. I never want to talk or think about this again. “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

 

Steve

What list of greatest music of all time would be complete without a some German Electric music!  Actually, I am not sure why this is on here.  The best I can say about it is that it is certainly interesting.  The most important lesson I learned from this album is that my daughter may have horrible taste in music.

Maddie has actually asked to listen to this several times since she heard it for the first time.  She calls it creepy Halloween music, and really enjoys it.  I am sure most of you can hear the exasperated sigh every time she asks.  I’d almost rather listen to The Trolls movie soundtrack for the millionth time.

For what it’s worth her favorite song is “Showroom Dummies,” which happens to be one of the two singles released from this one.  The German title is “Schaufensterpuppen” which is going to be the name of my band if I ever start one.  Not likely since all I can do is play bass badly, however, listening to some of these albums, I still have hope I can start a musical career without any talent.  I’m going with the German lyrics since they really don’t matter anyways:

Eins, zwei, drei, vier

Wir steh’n herum
Und stellen uns aus
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir werden beobachtet
Und wir spüren unsern Puls
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir blicken uns um
Und wechseln die Pose
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir bewegen uns
Und wir brechen das Glas
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir treten heraus
Und streifen durch die Stadt
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir gehen in den Club
Und wir fangen an zu Tanzen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen
Wir sind Schaufensterpuppen

One of the things I have learned through this experience is that I seldom agree with music critics.  This album for instance was not one I hated, but it was definitely something that I forced myself to get through.  Then I find out that in 2014, the LA Times called this “the most important pop album of the last 40 years.”  I’m so confused!  That sounds like something that would be in Weekly World News.  “Most Important Pop Album Ever Found Living in Dusseldorf!”

#257 – Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

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The first and only listed album from Whitney Houston is her debut album.  The album hit the shelves on Valentine’s Day in 1985 and sales were slow at first, but the album eventually topped the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks in 1986.  The album had three #1 singles, which was a first for a debut album, and also a first for a solo female artist.

Sara

Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. These are the two reasons I try to never miss an opportunity to see a performer that I love in concert and not procrastinate.  We never know when they’ll be taken from us.  If you’re in the habit of criticizing Whitney Houston, you’ll want to avoid listening to anything I have to say about her because I LOVE me some Whitney. Always have.  I grew up listening to her and Madonna and you won’t catch me saying a bad word about either one.

The keyboards and synthesizers are so money on this album it’s ridiculous. Top 3 songs, which are spread throughout the album are “Saving All My Love for You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love of All.” 

“Greatest Love of All” is the unquestionable highlight of the album and it made me super nostalgic. I used to sing this song constantly as a kid. When it played this time, I went slightly overboard singing it and dancing around with my youngest, while my wife and other daughter just stood there surprised that I can belt out every nuance. I knew that Houston did not write her own music, but I did not know that this song wasn’t written for her. In fact, it was written years before Whitney hit the scene, in 1977, and originally recorded by George Benson. Benson’s version hit #2 on the R&B charts, which he was probably pretty psyched about until Whitney came along 8 years later and crushed it. It’s also been performed in parts by Eddie Murphy in both “Coming to America” and “Shrek,” in terms of idiots who’ve tried to capitalize on Whitney Houston’s fame.  Isn’t it so Eddie Murphy to do it in more than one movie? Man I can’t stand that guy. 

Now that I’m a mom and an adult, the message of empowerment resonates even more: 

I believe the children are our are future 
Teach them well and let them lead the way 
Show them all the beauty they possess inside 
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be 
Everybody searching for a hero 
People need someone to look up to 
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs 
A lonely place to be 
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows 
If I fail, if I succeed 
At least I’ll live as I believe 
No matter what they take from me 
They can’t take away my dignity 
Because the greatest love of all 
Is happening to me 
I found the greatest love of all 
Inside of me 
The greatest love of all 
Is easy to achieve 
Learning to love yourself 
It is the greatest love of all
 

I miss Whitney. She was in imperfect person, just like the rest of us, but her talent was unrivaled. It’s unfortunate that she passed away before we could enjoy more of her work.

Steve

Sadly, Whitney passed away three days shy of the 27th anniversary of this album’s release.  She is to this day the only artist to chart seven consecutive #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Whitney Houston is also the most awarded female act of all time.

Interesting side note, my friend Doug, an avid Buffalo Bills fan blames Whitney Houston for the Bills losing Super Bowl XXV to the New York Giants in 1991.  He says that Whitney facing the Giants while she sang one of the best renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner” ever performed gave them an emotional edge.  Maybe if she had been looking at Scott “Wide Right” Norwood, the game would have ended differently.  We will never know.

 

This album is really solid, especially for a debut.  If “Saving All My Love For You” was the first time you heard Whitney Houston sing, you wouldn’t soon forget it.  It is the perfect introduction to her amazing voice.  Hard to believe that this was the third single released from this album.  It is the best showcase of her tremendous pipes on this album.  No surprise this was her first #1 single.

A few stolen moments is all that we share 
You’ve got your family, and they need you there 
Though I’ve tried to resist, being last on your list 
But no other man’s gonna do
So I’m saving all my love for you

It’s not very easy living all alone 
My friends try and tell me find a man of my own 
But each time I try I just break down and cry 
‘Cause I’d rather be home feeling blue 
So I’m saving all my love for you 

You used to tell me we’d run away together 
Love gives you the right to be free 
You said, “Be patient, just wait a little longer.”
But that’s just an old fantasy 

I’ve got to get ready
Just a few minutes more 
Gonna get that old feeling
When you walk through that door 

‘Cause tonight is the night for a feeling alright 
We’ll be making love the whole night through 
So I’m saving all my love 
Yes, I’m saving all my love 
Yes, I’m saving all my love for you 

No other woman is gonna love you more 
‘Cause tonight is the night that I’m feeling alright
We’ll be making love the whole night through 
So I’m saving all my love 
Yeah, I’m saving all my loving
Yes, I’m saving all my love for you 
For you, for you

This album was the start of an amazing career by an amazing artist.  Whitney’s voice is one of the finest to ever grace our planet.  The world is a darker place since we lost her.

#258 – The Kinks – The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

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The second of three listed albums from The Kinks is the band’s sixth studio album.  The 1968 release was the band’s last produced with the original band members.  The album failed to chart, only selling about 100,000 copies.

Sara

This is a super interesting add to the list because although it was almost universally praised by critics, this album didn’t chart when released. The title track starts this one off and really sets the tone for the experience. It’s inspired by a longing for traditional England, and even led to the band’s slogan “God Save the Kinks.” It’s hard to believe this song didn’t’ chart, because for a 60s pop tune it seems to have it all: simple yet meaningful lyrics, a light, upbeat rhythm, strong harmonies, and shy of 3 minutes.

Frequently stricken by nostalgia, this one really resonated with me.  I tend to remember past things really fondly and conveniently leave out things that don’t fit the perfect image of the past I’m creating, and this song was kind of a funny reflection on that.  As a parent, I sure hope I reflect back on the days I’m in now (with 2 kids under 3) and remember all the laughs and silly times as opposed to the sleeplessness and poop-covered scenarios. And yes, of course part of me wants to preserve this time exactly as it is and just freeze things here with my perfect little babies. Ray Davies said later that the ‘Village Green’ is just a metaphor for that place we all go in our heads when we are overwhelmed.  Maybe it’s in the past, maybe it’s imagined for some, but we all have that ideal place we think about when we are longing for something different. 

We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society
God save Mrs. Mopp and good Old Mother Riley
We are the Custard Pie Appreciation Consortium
God save the George Cross and all those who were awarded them
We are the Sherlock Holmes English Speaking Vernacular
Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula
We are the Office Block Persecution Affinity
God save little shops, china cups and virginity
We are the Skyscraper condemnation Affiliate
God save tudor houses, antique tables and billiards
Preserving the old ways from being abused
Protecting the new ways for me and for you
What more can we do
God save the Village Green.

As I moved through the tracks, my affection for this album and the Kinks in general just skyrocketed. The Kinks have a cult following and I totally get it. They’re incredible.  I’d actually put this much higher on the list, in the 100s b/c it’s that good.  One of the coolest things about it is that, unlike many recent albums we’ve listened to, no one or two songs jump out as the winners. Every song is just solid and there’s just enough variety.

The bluesy “Last of the Steam Powered Trains” was a favorite of mine. It’s driven by a harmonica hook borrowed from Howlin Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” that evokes some serious head-bobbing and, although it starts off slow and straight bluesy, it speeds up midway and features some great bass work. It’s just a straight up cool song.

Some say it’s about the declining popularity of blues at the time, but it can be about anything that’s fading away. Instead of changing, sometimes we dig in and stand our ground, advocating for the old way that we are proud of.  I’m stubborn so I can relate, ha.  I’m also loving the theme of change that is incorporated into much of the album.

Like the last of the good ol’ puffer trains,
I’m the last of the blood and sweat brigade,
And I don’t know where I’m going, or why I came.
I’m the last of the good old fashioned steam-powered trains.

I’m the last of the good old renegades.
All my friends are all middle class and grey,
But I live in a museum, so I’m okay.
I’m the last of the good old fashioned steam-powered trains.

Like the last of the good ol’ choo-choo trains,
Huff and puff ’till I blow this world away,
And I’m gonna keep on rollin’ till my dying day.
I’m the last of the good old fashioned steam-powered trains
 

The other coolest song on this album is “Village Green,” which again covers change and longing for the past. The only critique I’d offer is that it should be the last song on the album because it ties  in so perfectly with the first. The album would truly be a start-to-finish experience if it came full circle in this way, but that’s not to slight it in the least—just a suggestion from this mere mortal.

The Kinks really delivered on this one and my instinct as it ended was to just play the whole thing again. I want to wake up to it. It’s a cool kids’ Sgt Pepper (Before the Beatles version of the Beygency starts coming for me, let me just say YES, I like Sgt Pepper for crying out loud, I’m just saying there’s a lot of other cool stuff out there that often gets overlooked because people focus way too much on the Beatles).

This one is going directly to my playlist and will be filed under the ‘I am so mad at myself for not already loving this’ category with my new boyfriend Tom Waits.

 

Steve

As I mentioned before I love The Kinks.  I had never listened to this album, but did know a few of the songs on it.  This was what exactly I expected, some really great music.  It is a shame that this album didn’t chart, because it is a very strong effort from the band.

One of my favorites on this album was “Big Sky.”  Ray Davies, the Kinks founder, and primary songwriter, counts this as one of his favorite Kinks songs.  However he wasn’t happy with the band’s performance of the track.  He regrets that in his opinion the song wasn’t performed properly.

Big Sky looked down on all the people looking up at the Big Sky.
Everybody pushing one another around
Big Sky feels sad when he sees the children scream and cry
But the Big Sky’s too big to let it get him down.

Big Sky too big to cry
Big Sky too high to see
People like you and me

One day we’ll be free, we won’t care, just you see
‘Til that day can be, don’t let it get you down
When I feel that the world is too much for me
I think of the Big Sky, and nothing matters much to me.

Big Sky looked down on all the people who think they got problems
They get depressed and they hold their head in their hands and cry.
People lift up their hands and they look up to the Big Sky
But Big Sky is too big to sympathize

Big Sky’s too occupied
Though he would like to try
And he feels bad inside
Big Sky’s too big to cry

One day we’ll be free, we won’t care, just you wait and see
‘Til that day can be, don’t let it get you down.
When I feel that the world is too much for me
I think of the Big Sky, and nothing matters much to me.

The only single from this album that charted, well, kind of charted (in The Netherlands), was “Starstruck.”  The song is about getting caught up in a fast paced social scene and losing who you are.  It’s easy to get caught up in the fun side of life and get carried away.

Baby, you don’t know what you’re saying,
Because you’re a victim of bright city lights,
And your mind is not right.
You think the world’s at your feet.

‘Cause you’re starstruck, baby, starstruck.
Taken in by the lights,
Think you’ll never look back,
You know you’re starstruck on me.

Baby, you’re running around like you’re crazy.
You go to a party and dance through the night,
And you’ll drink ’till you’re tight,
And then you’re out on your feet.

‘Cause you’re starstruck, baby, starstruck.
Taken in by the lights,
Think you’ll never look back,
You know you’re starstruck on me.

Baby, watch out or else you’ll be ruined,
‘Cause once you’re addicted to wine and champagne,
It’s gonna drive you insane,
Because the world’s not so tame.

And you’re starstruck, baby, starstruck.
You’re taken in by the lights,
Think you’ll never look back,
You know you’re starstruck on me.
Don’t you know that you are,
Starstruck on me.
And you always will be,
Starstruck on me.
Starstruck on me.

Probably my favorite song lyrically on the album was “All of My Friends Were There.”  The song tells the story of a drunken performer of some sort who messes up a performance in front of all of his friends.  He is distraught and hides for a time until he gathers the strength to perform again and redeems himself.  Ray Davies wrote the song after he got drunk before a show and played awfully in front of all of his friends who were sitting in the front row.

My big day, it was the biggest day of my life.
It was the summit of my long career,
But I felt so down, and I drank too much beer,
The management said that I shouldn’t appear.
I walked out onto the stage and started to speak.
The first night I’ve missed for a couple of years,
I explained to the crowed and they started to jeer,
And just when I wanted no one to be there,
All of my friends were there.
Not just my friends, but their best friends too.
All of my friends were there to stand and stare,
Say what they may, all of their friends need not stay.
Those who laughed were not friends anyway.
All of my friends were there to stand and stare.

Days went by, I walked around dressed in a disguise.
I wore a mustache and I parted my hair,
And gave the impression that I did not care,
But oh, the embarrassment, oh, the dispair.
Came the day, helped with a few large glasses of gin,
I nervously mounted the stage once again,
Got through my performance and no one complained,
Thank God I can go back to normal again.
I went to that old cafe,
Where I had been in much happier days,
And all of my friends were there,
And no one cared.
Say what they may, all of my friends were there.
Not just my friends, but their best friends too.
All of my friends were there,
Now I don’t care.

This was a great album, from a great band.  I cannot wait to see what their final album has in store for us.

#259 – Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

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The second and final Janet Jackson appearance is her sixth studio album.  The 1997 release was heavily influenced by her emotional breakdown.  The album topped the Billboard 200 chart and was Jackson’s fourth album in a row to do so.  Jackson became the only female artist to release 18 top ten hits in a row with “I Get Lonely.”

 

Sara

It’s my first time listening to this in its entirety and I’m pumped to get more into Janet.  What jumps out right away is that this is a super-sexual punch to the face, with some brash and innovative sounds. Janet recorded this over two years and it’s deeply personal.  It follows an emotional breakdown triggered from issues that began in childhood.  She had hit rock bottom with addiction, body dysmorphia, an abusive marriage, bulimia, and even self-harm. She would regularly cancel recording sessions, sometimes for days at a time, as she struggled.

Here’s what Ms. Jackson-if-you’re-nasty had to say about ‘The Velvet Rope:

           Velvet Rope” is both the highest and lowest point. On a personal level, it was a low point, because I was going through a depression. That was a difficult time for me. At the same time it was my highest point, because I overcame the depression by talking about the crossroads I was at. There were so many things resurfacing that I’d suppressed: stuff from my childhood, stuff from all over the place. I was crazed trying to figure out where it was all coming from and how to deal with it. I could have made a wrong turn and tried to drink and drug it away. But drinking and drugs never appealed to me. I wanted it to stop. Talking it out and creating such an introspective work as “Velvet Rope” helped me do that.”[ 

If you spent the first three quarters of the 90s constantly wondering if and when Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell would team up (I mean, who didn’t?), your prayers were answered with 1997’s ‘Got Til It’s Gone.’ All kidding aside, Janet Jackson noted that what the two have in common is both being great poets, and this is why the song works. It’s much more alternative-sounding than the complex-yet-very-polished sound we often expect from Janet Jackson, and the rawness goes perfectly with the Mitchell samples. The video is also excellent, and was made way back when we loved music videos. It takes place in South Africa during apartheid and Jackson is a lounge singer. We see some of her amazing dance moves, but again, in a grittier, less choreographed presentation than what I’ve grown accustomed to from this artist. It’s a brilliant collaboration and listening while watching the video makes it feel like you’re watching some really talented friends play an open mic night.

 

If I could turn back
The hands of time I’d make you
Fall in love
In love with me again

So would you give me
Another chance to love
To love you
In the right way no games

Got ’til it’s gone

Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–, Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–

Here we go again…

Got ’til it’s gone

Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–, Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–

Joni Mitchell never lies

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s

Gone

If I’m being honest, this wasn’t my favorite of Janet’s work. I think Rhythm Nation is far superior, but the hits on this album certainly have merit. My personal favorite is ‘Go Deep’ b/c it’s catchy as all get out. What it lacks in actual depth (it’s basically about hitting the club, picking up a dude, and bagging him) it makes up for with an infectious dance-friendly feel. Check out the remixes with Missy Elliott and Timbaland too. The non-hits didn’t get it done for me on this one. I was hoping to be a lot more impressed. Maybe I would have been if I wasn’t still rocking out to Rhythm Nation just a few albums ago.  A resounding ‘meh’ from me.

 

Steve

I actually preferred the other Janet Jackson album to this one.  There were some pretty good songs, but they were surrounded by a lot of garbage time.

“Together Again” is one of the biggest selling singles globally of all time.  You know this song.  Everyone knows this song.  It’s probably one of the most recognizable songs from the 90’s.  This is definitely not my kind of music but I love the song.  I did not know that the song was written as a tribute to one of her friends who succumbed to AIDS.

There are times
When I look above
And beyond
There are times when I feel your love
Around me baby
I’ll never forget my baby
(I’ll never forget you)

There are times when I look above and beyond
There are times when I feel your love around me baby
I’ll never forget my baby

When I feel that I don’t belong
Draw my strength
From the words when you said
Hey it’s about you baby
Look deeper inside you baby

[BRIDGE]
Dream about us together again
What I want us together again baby
I know we’ll be together again cuz

[CHORUS:]
Everywhere I go
Every smile I see
I know you are there
Smilin back at me
Dancin in moonlight
I know you are free
Cuz I can see your star
Shinin down on me

(together again, ooh)
Good times we’ll share again
(together again, ooh)
Makes me wanna dance
(together again, ooh)
Say it loud and proud
(together again, ooh)
All my love’s for you

Always been a true angel to me
Now above
I can’t wait for you to wrap your wings around me baby
Oooh wrap them around me baby

Sometimes hear you whisperin
No more pain
No worries will you ever see now baby
I’m so happy for my baby

[BRIDGE]

[CHORUS]

(together again, ooh)
Good times we’ll share again
(together again, ooh)
Ooh it makes me wanna dance
(together again, ooh)
Say it loud and proud
(together again, ooh)
All my love’s for you

There are times when I look above and beyond
There are times when I feel you smile upon me baby
I’ll never forget my baby

What I’d give just to hold you close
As on earth
In heaven we will be together baby
Together again my baby

Another guilty pleasure song is “I Get Lonely.”  This is a bit more subdued than most of the album, and less of a dance song.  The song is about being lonely and missing an old lover.

I get so lonely
Can’t let just anybody hold me
You are the one that lives in me, my dear
Want no one but you

Sittin here with my tears
All alone with my fears
I’m wonderin if I have to do
Withoutcha
But there’s no reason why

I feel asleep late last night
Cryin like a newborn child
Holdin myself close
Pretendin my arms are yours
I want no one but you

[CHORUS (2x)]

I still remember to the day
In fact is was a 3rd Monday
You came along to be the one for me
Now I’m alone

Sittin here by the phone
Call and say that you’re okay
So that I’ll have the chance
To beg you to stay
I want no one but you

[CHORUS (4x)]

Gonna break it down
Break it down, break it down
Gotta break it down
Break it down, break it down
Whoa

You know
That I know
That I get so lonely thinking of you
Oh-hooh
Noowhoahooo. . .

 

These two songs alone were enough to land this album on this list.  The rest of the album is pretty unimpressive.  This one seems a bit to highly ranked in my opinion, but that seems to be a theme with these middle albums.

#260 – Willie Nelson – Stardust

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The first of two listed albums from Willie Nelson is his 23 (of 68) studio albums.  The “Red Headed Stranger” sure was awfully busy for a stoner.  The 1978 release topped the Billboard Country charts, and made it to 30 on the Billboard 200.  Apparently Canada has its own charts and the album did well there too, but honestly, who cares.

Sara

I don’t know much about Willie Nelson except that he’s at times homeless and seems to smoke copious amounts of weed. I see now that the album is all covers, so is he a homeless pothead who doesn’t write his own music? He reminds me of someone who’s worked at his same job for 10 years and constantly complains about his boss and all his coworkers, but does nothing to change his situation. Most of the praise of this album has come as a result of the very wide mix of genres Nelson covers, demonstrating how a true musician can present a variety of songs and make them appealing in their own way. I think it’s crap, but hey, what does he care?

The butchering of ‘Unchained Melody’ was particularly unsettling, as I love that song. Over 1500 recordings by over 670 artists are out there, but the Righteous Brothers version is the most well-known, especially because it is the theme song for the timeless film Ghost. Vito & The Salutations released a doo-wop version that was featured in the soundtrack of another amazing movie, Goodfellas. With so many great renditions out there, little Willie’s efforts fall somewhere between ‘nobody cares’ and ‘please stop talking to me’ on my ratings system.

For the sake of being nice, I’ll say that it was great to hear two classics at the end, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Etta James has versions of both that put Willie’s to shame, along with many others, but it was cool to hear other versions.

Overall this was pretty sucky for being given a spot practically in the top half.  

 

Steve

I tend to agree with Sara when it comes to covers.  Most of the time they just aren’t worth doing.  This album was kind of pointless.  There is not a single song on this album that hasn’t been done better by someone else.  Don’t get me wrong, it was not awful by any means.  Willie Nelson is a very talented guy, but this was just kind of a waste of time.  Hard to believe that in the 66 other albums he has produced there wasn’t another one better than this.

#261 – Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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The third of four Grateful Dead albums is the band’s sixth studio release.  The 1970 album reached #30 on the Billboard 200 charts.  The album continued the more Americana style the band adopted on Workingman’s Dead, although used even more folk harmonies and melodies.

Sara

You know when you run into an old friend that you haven’t talked to in years, have an amazingly good time, and leave thinking “man, how did we lose touch?!” That’s the feeling I had listening to this old pal. As I mentioned on our last Dead album, I listened to this album all the time in the 90s. The whole album is great, but I’m a fan of the more upbeat tunes “Friend of the Devil” and the closer “Truckin.’” 

‘Friend of the Devil’ has long been my favorite of their work, which is cliché but you’ll just have to live with it. Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics to Garcia’s music on this one, described it as “the closest we’ve come to what may be a classic song.” It’s widely covered, having been performed or recorded by such artists as Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, and even Ministry. It also includes the use of a mandolin, which we don’t hear very often.

The lyrics can at times be interpreted to be about religion or the law. It was written about Rock Scully, who was manager of The Grateful Dead, as well as playing several other key roles with the band over the twenty years he was with them. In those years, he also found several opportunities to have run-ins with the law, not to mention becoming addicted to drugs and being blamed for enabling Jerry Garcia’s addiction to cocaine and heroin. Scully was eventually fired for stealing money from the Garcia Band, which likely had to do with his addictions. Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow eulogized Scully after his death in 2014 by saying “though occasionally fraudulent, you were always the real thing.” Scully did, after struggling, find his way to sobriety and a positive relationship with the band before his death from lung cancer.          

Got two reasons why I cry 
away each lonely night 
First one’s named sweet Ann Marie 
and she’s my heart’s delight 
Second one is prison, baby 
the sheriff’s on my trail 
And if he catches up with me 
I’ll spend my life in jail

Got a wife in Cheno, babe 
And one in Cherokee 
First one says she’s got my child 
But it don’t look like me

You can borrow from the Devil 
You can borrow from a friend 
But the Devil will give you twenty 
When your friend only got ten

 The spread of talent on the Dead is amazing.   Lesh, Weir and Garcia in particular combine for a remarkable amount of skill packed into one band. Each takes turns singing lead, delivering masterful guitar solos, and backing up. On ‘Truckin,’ Bob Weir’s vocals lead, with Garcia and Lesh backing. This one is so good that it was literally deemed a national treasure by the Library of Congress in 1997. I think a big part of its success is due to the fact that it exemplifies the level of collaboration this band used. Another part is the distinct blues feel including an organ that just sticks in your brain. Here’s how Phil Lesh described the creative process that led to ‘Trucking:’ we took our experiences on the road and made it poetry. The last chorus defines the band itself.

“Truckin’” also birthed a single line that came to refer to an entire subculture for decades: What a long, strange trip it’s been.  That one’s probably a senior quote in every yearbook every year.

This album could be twice as long and I’d still love it. It leaves you wanting more, but in a good way.           

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn’t the same
Livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is ain’t it a shame?

Truckin’, up to Buffalo. Been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin’ on

Sittin’ and starin’ out of the hotel window
Got a tip they’re gonna kick the door in again
I’d like to get some sleep before I travel
But if you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in

Busted, down on Bourbon Street, set up, like a bowlin’ pin
Knocked down, it get’s to wearin’ thin. They just won’t let you be

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’
Get out of the door and light out and look all around

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on

I’ll miss this old friend until we meet again.

Steve

What an amazing album to listen to.  In addition to the two songs Sara discusses, two of the band’s best in both our opinions, there are several lesser known gems.  This is the kind of album you can start playing and just forget to stop it…ever.

One of my long time favorites is “Sugar Magnolia.”  The song was written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir about Weir’s long time girlfriend Frankie Azzara.  The track is a really well written expression of love.  When the Dead played the song live, they often split it into two sections, returning to the Sunshine Daydream coda at a later point in the show.  After a friend of the band Bill Graham died, the band actually split the two sections for an entire week, resuming at a later show.

Sugar magnolia, blossoms blooming, heads all empty and I don’t care,
Saw my baby down by the river, knew she’d have to come up soon for air.

Sweet blossom come on, under the willow, we can have high times if you’ll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside.

She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need,
Takes the wheel when I’m seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed

She comes skimmin’ through rays of violet, she can wade in a drop of dew,
She don’t come and I don’t follow, waits backstage while I sing to you.

Well, she can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a willys in four wheel drive.
She’s a summer love for spring, fall and winter. She can make happy any man alive.

Sugar magnolia, ringing that bluebell, caught up in sunlight, come on out singing
I’ll walk you in the sunshine, come on honey, come along with me.

She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need,
A breeze in the pines and the sun and bright moonlight, lazing in the sunshine yes
indeed.

Sometimes when the cuckoo’s crying, when the moon is half way down,
Sometimes when the night is dying, I take me out and I wander around, I wander
’round.

Sunshine, daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely,
Ride our singin’, I’ll walk you in the morning sunshine
Sunshine, daydream. Sunshine, daydream. Walking in the sunshine.

Another song I have always enjoyed is “Ripple.”  The song was the B-side for “Truckin’.” Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to this song on the same day that he wrote “Brokedown Palace” and “To Lay Me Down.”  Apparently drinking Greek pine resin wine is a really good boost to the old creative juices.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

If you have never listened to this album, take 42 minutes and do it.  It is a truly memorable experience.

#262 – Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash

0262

Next we have the debut of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  The 1969 release hit #6 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, with two top thirty charting singles.  The album also won the band the Best New Artist Grammy Award fro 1970.

Sara

I listened to this one with Athena and she told me to just put that this album was boring and move on. It’s not a bad suggestion, really. The only song I was remotely interested in on this album is the first track, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” It’s a play on words and it worked on me—I’ve always thought it was “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.” It was written about Stephen Stills’ girlfriend Judy Collins, who is an activist and singer known for the very annoying “Send In The Clowns.” 

 
It’s getting to the point 
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt 
About each other
Oh babe, have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming.
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Tearing yourself away from me now
You are free and I am crying
This does not mean I don’t love you
I do, that’s forever, yes and for always
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Something inside is telling me that 
I’ve got your secret. Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock, and laughter the key to your heart
And I love you.
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
And you make it hard,
And you make it hard
 

This album really didn’t do it for me. The best song was fine, but the rest was pretty boring. Since it’s the debut and brought the band to fame and success, I take partial responsibility for not being enamored with it, as I was not giving this pass my all, but at the same time it didn’t really keep my attention. The vocals were the most impressive thing and I’d listen again, but wouldn’t seek it out.

Steve

This was certainly a tale of a two-sided album.  The first half of the album was decent.  “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a great song, and I was looking forward to the rest of this album.  The only other song I had heard before was “Marrakesh Express.”  Marrakesh is the second single released from the album, and reached #28 on the Billboard charts.

Graham Nash wrote “Marrakesh Express” while he was still a member of The Hollies.  Nash had traveled to Morocco and took a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh.  The song describes his experiences when he decided to leave the “boring” first class cabin and experience how the real people traveled.

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they’ve led
Listen not to what’s been said to you

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh
All aboard the train, all aboard the train

I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth
Colored cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home Well, let me hear you now

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh
All on board the train, all on board the train
All on board

 

The next three songs are decent, but nothing special.  The second side of this album was a complete snoozefest.  Thank god I had coffee with me while I was driving and listening to this, because it instantly made me tired.  It was twenty minutes of bizarre lullabies that ran together and were frankly awful.

This album peaked after two songs, and I really expected better.