Hey Folks, and welcome to part four of our countdown of the 100 best albums of the Seventies (you probably inferred that from the headline, but we all need reminders!) After this installment, there’ll be 60 more to go. As our typical style is to take weekends off, that’s what we’ll be doing with this list. You will find out what the #60 title is on Monday afternoon! Will the anticipation kill you over the weekend? Eh, probably not. But I like to think that there’s some gnashing of teeth and biting of nails about what comes next.
70. Bat Out of Hell (Meat Loaf, 1977)
As common criticisms of classic albums go, Bat Out Of Hell‘s reputation as overly bombastic, dramatic, and cheesy is as misguided as it is frequently trotted out. I mean, yes: to a certain degree, Meat Loaf’s breakthrough record is all those things, although I refuse to use those adjectives as pejoratives. Rather, Meat’s sledgehammer-subtle slab of thunderous, operatic, Motown-and-pheremone-infused rock is precisely as overblown as it intends to be. Even taken out of context — these songs sound like a rock opera because songwriter Jim Steinman wrote them as such, eventually abandoning the project and stitching the tunes together as a Meat Loaf record — Bat reads as an exuberant ode to adolescent… not lust, necessarily, although lust is an absolutely essential part of the equation. But the sex songs are as sweaty, randy, and anticipatory as actual fumbling backseat encounters; the ballads feel heightened, as if Meat is feeling a lot more than he should be feeling; the music is frenetic, driving, anxious, swaggering, layered with pianos and saxophones and squealing guitar trills. Bat careens through every emotion adolescents feel, and amps them up to an appropriately theatrical crescendo. And yet, it’s to Meat and Steinman’s credit that this never comes across as cloying or overly exhausting; rather, Bat Out Of Hell is fun, fun, fun, fun. It’s breathless, unapologetic entertainment; “You Took the Words Right Out Of My Mouth” and its wall of cooing background vocals, “For Crying Out Loud” (key lyric: “for crying out loud, you know that I love you”) somehow, impossibly, earning the orchestral breakdown that it inevitably builds to (not in the least due to Meat’s vocal, which absolutely slays here), and of course, the title track — a movement all unto itself, full of rebellion and flowery prose and every instrument in the rock lexicon colliding at once. Bombastic, theatrical, dramatic? As long as you mean all those things as synonyms for AWESOME, then yes, you’re correct. (Drew)
69. Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1979)
The 1970s was a tumultuous and productive decade for Neil Young, who careened from quiet acoustic folk and country-influenced sounds to heavy, distorted guitar rock. On 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, Young and his erstwhile backing band Crazy Horse tackle both sides of the coin. The album was recorded mostly live on the Rust Never Sleeps tour in 1978, with some earlier studio recordings included as well. Side one is mostly solo acoustic, kicking off with“My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and quiet songs like “Thrasher,” “Ride My Llama” and “Pocahontas.” The side closes with the plaintive “Sail Away,”featuring Nicolette Larson on backing vocals. Crazy Horse shows up on Side 2, launching into the epic “Powderfinger” and the rockers “Welfare Mothers” and “Sedan Delivery.” Album closer “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” is the heavily distorted version of the song that opened the record, delivering Young’s response to punk rock and name-checking Johnny Rotten. The song’s line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” has been oft-quoted over the years, most famously in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. A paean to the need for musical reinvention, it paved the way for an even more off-the-rails decade in which Young would head off in all sorts of experimental and strange directions with little success for the most part until 1989’s Freedom, which echoed the approach he took a decade earlier with Rust Never Sleeps. (Jay)
68. Fun House (The Stooges, 1970)
Were it possible to take the id – the unbridled, instinctual part of Freud’s psychic apparatus – and synthesize it into musical form, I’m pretty sure it would sound like Fun House. More specifically, the id would be “L.A. Blues.”
Picture the Elektra record exec who was tasked with listening to the first acetate pressing of Fun House just prior to its 1970 release. By the time the needle was about to hit the first grooves of “L.A. Blues,” this poor guy had already suffered through more than 30 minutes of attempting to keep an open mind while simultaneously trying to avoid having his mellow harshed. He felt a little uncomfortable with the thinly veiled reference to smack use in “Loose,” but hey, that’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? He physically winced at the a cappella scream that kicked off “T.V. Eye,” but he got through it. By the time Ron Asheton’s wah-wah guitar and Steve MacKay’s freakout sax started fighting each other through separate stereo channels on the title track, he felt he might be going insane.
But now came the prospect of something far more dank: “L.A. Blues.” “I love the Blues,” our enterprising young record exec thought, scratching his beard. “Hell, I signed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band!” It was finally time for this otherwise abrasive, adrenaline-riddled LP to close out with some 12-bar goodness.
The acetate record revolved through the space between the grooves. The needle caught the opening groove of “L.A. Blues.” And then… (Michael Cunningham)
67. My Aim is True (Elvis Costello, 1977)
At the dawn of punk rock Elvis Costello crafted songs with perfect melodies and a backbeat. My Aim Is True is a study of every era of American pop and rock n’ roll music through the lens of a gifted, hyper-lyrical young songwriter. It was Costello’s sharp, cynical songs & sneering swagger that tied him to the punk movement but one listen to “Alison” or “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” reveals an artists with serious pop ambitions. My Aim Is True remains one of the most listenable yet edgy records of all time. (Luc)
66. Hunky Dory (David Bowie, 1971)
Divorced from lofty concepts, Hunky Dory – arguably the unassailable Bowie’s earliest essential record, although there would be many more to come – is simply left to thrive on the strength of its material. And what a set of songs it is: opener “Changes” is a masterwork unto itself, teasing a groove in its earliest moments before pulling back, abandoning it for a piano-led torch song, punching back into a groovy pop-rocker in its refrain… this subversion of expectations coupled with dynamically melodic accessibility may be the essential crash course for Bowie neophytes. And Hunky Dory just trots this sense of compelling pop music out song after song – “Oh! You Pretty Things” is the kind of refrain every songwriter dreams of, “Life on Mars?” boasts a terrific build to an appropriately ecstatic climax, “Kooks”, “Andy Warhol”… Hunky Dory is a Bowie Beginners’ Guide (hell, side one alone is), and if you can listen to it and not be entranced and intrigued and thirsty for more, you’re a.) never going to understand Bowie and b.) dead inside. (Drew)
65. Led Zeppelin III (Led Zeppelin, 1970)
II was a beast of an album that simply couldn’t be followed up in the traditional sense. Even the mighty Led Zeppelin would have fallen flat on its face trying to go bigger, louder, and faster. So they didn’t bother. Instead of trying to expand their sound, they holed up in a shack in the wilderness and created some of the most intimate, peaceful songs of their career. “Tangerine” is a Zeppelin classic, featuring one of Robert Plant’s sweetest vocal melodies and a lovely, restrained electric guitar solo from Jimmy Page. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” sounds like a tribute to both “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “She’s So Heavy”. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, named for the Welsh cottage where so many of these songs were conceived, is the best kind of campfire get-down. Part of the charm of the album is hearing just how huge a sound Page can give to an acoustic guitar, famous as he is for his electrics.
None of this is to say that Zeppelin doesn’t bust out the proto-metal stylings they’re known for every so often; opener “Immigrant Song” features one of Plant’s most identifiable wails, and you can hear the beginnings of the drum sounds that were perfected on “When the Levee Breaks” in the utterly propulsive “Out of the Tiles”. III is often seen as a departure, the album they had to make in order to clear their heads enough to come up with the utter genius that would follow. The benefit of hindsight, however, allows us to see what a fantastic and well-rounded album it happens to be in its own right. (Mike Schiller)
64. Let’s Stay Together (Al Green, 1972)
63. Harvest (Neil Young, 1972)
An album practically made for the hiss and pop of vinyl listening, Neil Young’s Harvest almost single-handedly absolves all latter-day musical sins perpetrated by the artist; one of a handful of Young’s accepted classics, Harvest traffics most perfunctorily in atmospheric folk-rock (emphasis on the folk), with a few production curveballs thrown in there for good measure. As with any singer-songwriter worth his salt, the album lives and dies by the strength of its songs. And they’re uniformly great, a wistful, autumnal collection with a steady hand that never raises its voice; acoustic guitars and harmonicas interplay, and Neil’s reedy whine envelops the tracks like a wool glove. When other flourishes raise their heads – the swooning orchestra on “A Man Needs A Maid”, for example – they’re interesting footholds for the song at large; when Neil deploys things like background vocalists – the Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor harmonies that soar over the “Heart of Gold” chorus, for example – they’re used sparingly, and perfectly. And then, of course, there’s “The Needle and the Damage Done”, a brief, wrenching example of Neil’s exquisite songwriting prowess and the deep vein of heartache that he can mine when he’s in the zone. As prolific an artist as Neil is, an album like Harvest often gets shunted to the side in favor of something like After the Gold Rush or Tonight’s the Night, but for my money, this is Young’s finest hour. (Drew)
62. Raw Power (The Stooges, 1973)
Rarely has an album title so accurately described the music contained therein. Raw Power is a full on assault. It’s loud, fast, aggressive, provocative. There was a great deal of shuffling around following 1970’s Fun House. Bassist Dave Alexander was out of the group, guitarist Ron Asheton was repurposed as a bassist, and James Williamson was brought in to assume guitar duties. The result sounds markedly different from the previous Stooges records. In a word, it sounds raw.
Certainly, there are plenty of unapologetically loud, in the red rock tracks – “Search and Destroy,” “Raw Power,” “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” among them. While these are the tracks most identified with Raw Power, the album sneaks in a few menacing, slinky, street-strutting midtempo cuts that stand out amid all of the ear-bleeding distortion (“I Need Somebody,” “Penetration,” “Gimme Danger”).
There’s been much debate over the years regarding the album’s production. Many panned Bowie’s original mix, leading to a remix by Iggy Pop in 1997. Since the 1997 reissue, the debate has only increased, now fixated on whether Bowie or Iggy had the superior mix. A 2012 reissue packages both mixes, allowing fans to make their own verdict. [I prefer the Iggy mix!] (Dr. Gonzo)
61. #1 Record (Big Star, 1972)
Big Star was certainly a band whose fame did not coincide with their brief tenure. Like many folks my age, it was Paul Westerberg’s hero worship of Alex Chilton that drew me to Big Star’s music. While all three of the group’s original albums are great, their debut remains the popular favorite. The album delicately balances an adventurous spirit with exercising retraint. Big Star covers a good deal of stylistic ground, but never veers to far astray, giving the album a consistent and cohesive sound.
#1 Record contains what is likely Big Star’s best known song, even if most people don’t know it’s a Big Star song (a cover of “In the Street” served as the theme for “That ‘70s Show”). There are plenty of similarly great glammy/power pop rockers: opener “Feel,” the floor stomping “Don’t Lie to Me,” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.” For all of the rollicking flash of these tunes however, it is the softer sides of #1 Record that are perhaps the most memorable. The pleading “Give Me Another Chance,” the adolescent romance of “Thirteen,” and the self-affirmation of “Try Again.” But of the 12 tracks on #1 Record, “The Ballad of El Goodo” rises to the top as the standout, a stunningly beautiful tune that champions individual perseverance and integrity in the face of life’s many pressures. (Dr. Gonzo)
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