“I never much bought into all the death cult stuff, the young artists who were just too pure for the world, or whatever. I guess I feel it’s the living we should focus on, the ones still dealing with it (whatever it even is) rolling with it, not ending it, intentionally or otherwise. Or as a stoned friend once put it of Jimi Hendrix, I prefer the stuff he did before he died. Which gets us to the only Nick Drake selection on this list, the only one I heard before I had any idea of why he was so damned important. True he was already long dead when I first stumbled upon Northern Sky via the Great Antilles Sampler (the 1980s sometime), but I didn’t know that. I just liked the song and it how it served the album’s overall eclectic flow – from folk to pop to free jazz to full-on experimental avant-everything. Music worth living for, goddamit.” (Philip Random)
Two in a row from Nektar‘s 1971 conceptual spectacular Journey To The Centre Of The Eye, one of those albums that absolutely walks the line between so-called prog rock and so-called psychedelic rock, managing to be both mindblowing and reasonably precise. Frank Zappa was certainly impressed, so much so that he had plans to sign Nektar to his Discreet label, a plan that crumbled along with Zappa’s partnership with his manager (one of those long stories). Which perhaps explains why we never heard that much of Nektar over here in the Americas. Or maybe their first album was simply their best – an astonishing and ultimately harrowing voyage to the deep and high beyond within. In other words – an acid trip, the heroic kind, right through the centre of the eye to the dream nebula and beyond, all in the mind anyway.
“See Emily Play is one of those tracks that was a big hit in the UK, but missed pretty much completely in the Americas, the upside being, I never got overexposed. In fact, I never even heard it until at least 1980 when I stumbled across a cassette copy of Relics (a 1971 compilation). And fine it was. Because what better time and place than a bleak Canadian midwinter, almost thirteen years after the fact, to finally catch the peak of London’s psychedelic spring via Emily and the free games she dared playe? It still feels like sunshine, every time I hear it. Shine on, Mr. Barrett.” (Philip Random)
“The original version of Crosby Stills Nash + Young‘s Carry On is entirely okay. It makes its point. The revolution may have peaked but, man, we’re still on the edge something beautiful, man, so nothing else to do but carry on, man, to peace love and understanding, man. Live however, captured on 1971’s 4 Way Street, you actually believe it. Love is coming for us all. War shall be forever banned. Richard Nixon will not be re-elected in a year’s time by the single biggest landslide in history, America will not keep mucking around in Vietnam for four more bloody years. It’s the jamming, of course. Neil Young and Steve Stills facing off (with rhythm section Fuzzy Samuels and Johnny Barbata in strong support) riding the wave to heaven’s gate itself, leaving the original song far behind for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile in a hotel in Las Vegas, Hunter Thompson is glimpsing through ancient eyes what he’d come to call the high water mark. These things are not unconnected.” (Philip Random)
Second of two in a row from Side Two of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. “The best side, I think. Or certainly the one I’ve listened to most over the ages. Some call it the country side, but I think roots is better, because it’s not all twang. In the case of Loving Cup, that means a piano driven sort of gospel groove that can’t help but celebrate all manner of wasted pleasures, like one of those parties that’s still going strong come noon the following day. So why stop now? I’d say it captures the decadent spirit of what went down at the mansion in the south of France through 1971, the Stones year in exile, but it was actually recorded in L.A. after all that. So let’s just say the spirit of it was still with them, finding its way out into the world.” (Philip Random)
One of those comparatively early Alice Cooper cuts that puts the lie to it all being just kids’ comic book horror stuff, particularly the bit about being a killer, a clown, a priest who’s gone to town. That’s poetry. And all the more exquisite given the song that’s built around it, dark and moody, and more than just a little evil. From 1971’s Killer, the one that (back in the day) all the older kids said was Alice’s best album, way better than School’s Out. They were right.
As the story goes, David Crosby‘s girlfriend Christine Hinton had recently been killed in a car accident, and out of the haze of grief (and with a lot of help from his friends) came 1971’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, his first and best solo album, and one of the finest folk-based, free-form exploratory records of any era. Case in point, the mostly instrumental What Are Their Names? which just sort of creeps along at first but by the time it’s done, it’s delivered a defiant punch. Like hanging out with your friends, getting high, yet bemoaning the deep inequities of the world, how the rich keep on getting richer and the poor just keep getting eaten. And guess what? The masters of war behind it all live just over yonder hill. Perhaps we should go pay them a visit, do a little sharing.
“By 1971’s Islands, their fourth album in barely two years, the force of mind and nature known as King Crimson were not so much lost as just a very long way from shore. Down to only two of the original five members, and one of them (Pete Sinfield) had never provided much in the way of actual music, just “… words, sounds and visions, cover design and painting, production” (and in fact, he was on his way out, Islands would be his last Crimson involvement). Robert Fripp, on the other hand, was firmly ensconced on whisper-to-apocalyptic-howl guitar, with Sailor’s Tale a particularly powerful offering. Just wait until whatever high you’re riding is at its peak, then crank the sound system and wait for that sucker punch eruption at around the 4-and-a-half minute point. Not a sudden eruption from silence. No this is far trickier than that. Because the song’s already charging along at that point. It just suddenly goes way further. The earth shakes. The skies open. A gaping hole gets blown from the jigsaw of time.” (Philip Random)
“Alice Cooper and puberty found me at roughly the same moment, which means 1971’s Love it to Death was around at least a year old before I even heard about the freak named Alice who was not a she, and all the other rumoured atrocities. But the bigger shock, I guess, was just how strong the actual music was, and the band playing it. Yeah, it was all sick and evil, no question, but it was also dramatic, melodic, and come the bulk of side two, epic. Three songs all spilling into each other. First a little ditty about Jesus apparently, stuck in hell, then family man Dwight Fry’s widescreen descent into insanity and finally, incongruously, a heartfelt and hopeful closer which I’d eventually discover was a Rolf Harris original.” (Philip Random)