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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ten Decidedly Non-Classical Albums....

that I really like. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from the cover of Relayer by Yes because it's a cool album cover.
Painting by Roger Dean. Album art © 1974 the artist/Atlantic Records.
I was working on an article on my ten favorite symphonic/orchestral recordings but got stuck on it. So to shake the cobwebs and freshen up the blog, I thought I'd share with you a list of my ten favorite rock, hard rock and progressive rock albums. This list is always subject to change and is presented in chronological order. And it's not an all-time "top ten" or anything, just some recommended listening for when you need a break from Beethoven and Shostakovich.


The Beatles: Abbey Road (1969, Apple Records)
I did not "get into" the Beatles until college when a floor-mate made me two two-hour mix tapes of their music. But it was Abbey Road and particularly the Side 2 "suite" that spoke to me with its mix of psychedelia, whimsical lyric, blazing hard rock and the sound of the sun setting on the band's empire. I still love this whole record.

Pink Floyd: Meddle (1971, Atlantic Records)
The last gulp of air before Floyd plunged into The Dark Side of the Moon and superstardom. An inconsistent, flawed record with three masterpieces ("One of These Days", "Fearless", "Echoes" and three throwaway tracks, it is the flawed "mixed bag" that gels into a fascinating listen. "Echoes" is the epic: an entire album side built around a descending bass riff. Stravinsky would be proud.



Yes: Relayer (1974, Atlantic Records)
Majestic depictions of battle based on Leo Tolstoy? Check. Weird synthesized sounds including the "electric slinky?" Check. Backwards drum parts? Musique-concrete? It's all on the side one epic "The Gates of Delerium." Side two has just two epic tracks: the complicated "Sound Chaser" and the slow, contemplative "To Be Over," with one of Steve Howe's most beautiful guitar parts. A difficult Yes album and not for the faint of heart.

Jethro Tull: Songs From The Wood (1977, Chrysalis)
Ian Anderson and company in pastoral mode as the Tull play penny whistle and orchestral timpani in a folk-rock tribute to Elizabethan England and British folklore. Contains the achingly beautiful "Jack in the Green," and the decidedly salacious "Hunting Girl" and "Velvet Green." One of their best efforts.

Led Zeppelin: Presence (1977, Swan Song Records)
Zeppelin's angriest album, banged out in three weeks in a Berlin studio while Jimmy Page was strung out on drugs and Robert Plant was stuck in a wheelchair. After the epic opener "Achilles' Last Stand," Presence crackles with raw energy and despair. Just listen to the drum track on "Nobody's Fault But Mine." The lost gem of this band's ten-album catalogue.

Rush: Moving Pictures (1981, Mercury Records)
Canadian progressive power trio shortens its songs, masters the synthesizer and learns how to write concise, brilliant songs that are still epic. The first side (featuring "Tom Sawyer" and the revved-up "Red Barchetta") remains the band's finest work.

Midnight Oil: Blue Sky Mining (1988, CBS)
"The Oils" as they're known to their fans, were Australia's socially conscious rockers. On Blue Sky Mining the band alternated hard-driving hits ("Forgotten Years", "King of the Mountain") with atmospheric tracks ("Bedlam Bridge," "River Runs Red") evoking a love of their natural environment. I've never had wallaby stew, but listening to "Stars of Warburton" makes me think I've actually been to the exotic locales mentioned in the song.

King's X: faith hope love by king's x (1991, Megaforce/Atlantic)
This Texas power trio combines ultra-heavy Black Sabbath style riffs with vocal harmonies that recall the Beatles. Swirling, heavy, psychedelic and uplifting, with some stunning instrumental playing. And influential on every so-called "alternative" band that followed in the 1990s, whether those bands acknowledge it or not.

U2: Zooropa (1993, Island Records)
Still my favorite U2 album--the band exploring ambient sound, electronics, and experimenting with songwriting and song structures. Some of the songs here are very deep cuts indeed ("Dirty Day", "Some Days Are Better Than Others") but the hits ("Numb", "Lemon") are just as weird. Plus the last track ("The Wanderer") has guest vocals by none other than Mr. Johnny Cash.

Porcupine Tree: Stupid Dream (1999, KScope/Snapper)
Steven Wilson started "Porcupine Tree" in his bedroom, but by the time of this record (the fifth under this name) it was an actual band, with Richard Barbieri (ex-Japan) playing keyboards and the jazz bass of Colin Edwin driving the sound. A great album of short, vaguely psychedelic songs that gets tastier with repeated listening.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.