Friday, September 04, 2009

Weekend Listomania (Special Great Thoughts of Western Man Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Fah Lo Suee and I are off to my old elementary school in Teaneck, New Jersey, which I will be encasing, a la Christo, in triple-ply tin foil to ward off President Scary Black Guy's brainwashing rays during Tuesday's Education speech.

Please -- can't we all just think of the children?

So posting by moi will more than likely be sporadic for a little while.

But in the meantime, here's another little project for us all:

Best or Worst Post-Elvis Rock or Pop Concept Album!!!

Self-explanatory, I think, but for purposes of clarity, when I use the term "concept album" I simply mean a record in which some overarching theme, however tenuous, is discernible. As a result no arbitrary rules this time, although I should think you'd be embarassed to nominate a generic greatest hits package.

And my totally top of my head Top Six is:

6. Marty Robbins -- Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

From 1959, a genuine crossover classic; "El Paso" (you can download the full-length version from the CD reissue at the link above) is the best known cut, but the whole album works. That's Robbins on the cover, BTW, and in case you didn't notice he's doing Richard Boone as Palladin from Have Gun, Will Travel.

5. The Turtles -- Present the Battle of the Bands

The concept here is that the Turtles play each cut in a different style, from surf to country to hard rock, in post Sgt. Pepper guise as other bands. It's not really pursued all that rigorously, but since it features "Elenore" and the above gorgeous take on the early Byrds outtake "You Showed Me," I've always cut them a little slack.

4. Godfrey Daniel -- Take a Sad Song

An absolutely astounding record, sung and played by two staff engineers at Atlantic in 1970 under the W.C. Fields-ian pseudonym. The concept: Then contemporary rock songs done in a variety of earlier styles, like a Billy Eckstein version of "Them Changes" or a doo-wop/Del Shannon "Woodstock." Hilarious, brilliant stuff, and alas not in print at the moment (I tried to find a downloadable version online to no avail). You can, however, listen to samples from all twelve cuts over here.

3. Garth Brooks -- the Life of Chris Gaines

Brooks in his bizarre incarnation as a supposedly legendary 90s alt-rocker. I don't care if the damn thing sold two million copies -- it's a prime contender for biggest What the Fuck Was He Thinking? album in music history.

2. Hal Wilner et al -- Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Vintage Disney Films

Click the link to hear (or download) Tom Waits doing the scariest version of "Heigh Ho" imaginable. My favorite cut from what remains my favorite of the several terrific theme albums masterminded by Wilner.

And the most memorable for whatever reason High Concept rock or pop album obviously is --

1. The Paragons and The Jesters -- The Paragons Meet the Jesters

The very first (after the fact) thematic rock compilation (1959), and thanks to the brilliantly art-directed leather bar juvenile delinquent cover photo -- let's face it, Lou Reed based an entire esthetic on it -- still one of the most iconic.

Alrighty then -- and who would your choices be?

[h/t Joy Brodsky Thurston]

(Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania -- theme: best screen performance by a an actual real (non-animated) animal -- is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you could see your way to going over there and leaving a snarky comment, I'd be your best friend.)


geor3ge said...

I vote for a trilogy. Tom Waits's post-beatnik, channeling-Kurt-Weill-with-a-brake-drum phase. Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years.

Brooklyn Girl said...

Well, the (perhaps too) obvious ones are "Sgt. Pepper" and "Tommy" ...

But I'm going with The Band's "Moondog Matinee."

cthulhu said...

well, there's the Who quartet: The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who's Next (the primary output of the aborted "Lifehouse" project), and Quadrophenia.

Warren Zevon, Transverse City: didn't really make much of a splash at the time, but has become one of my favorite WZ discs over the years. Random fave - check out the blistering slide guitar from David Lindley on the sly rocker "Down at the Mall".

Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm: the story of a failed relationship, told from both sides. Mann always has a way with lyrics (a sample: "where it's lit day for night / and the clocks / wear their faces bowed / where the hands and cuffs gleam white / as they hang on a nicotine cloud", from "Goodbye Caroline"), but the production (by Joe Henry) is more spare and rocking than usual; the guitars in particular have a gorgeous live sound to them. Heartbreakingly beautiful - "I Can't Help You Anymore" will bring grown men to tears.

Alex said...

Big Daddy -- Big Daddy aka What Really Happened to the Band of '59

The concept: a 1950s rock group on the verge of stardom goes on a USO tour in Vietnam and are kidnapped by Laotian guerillas and not rescued until 1983, when their record company insists they deliver an album to fulfill their contract. So they cover '70s & '80s songs ("Super Freak," "Betty Davis Eyes," "Hotel California") in various very distinct 1950s styles. The result is amazing, wonderful, and more than a little strange (Highlight is "Ebony and Ivory" as a Little Richard-style rave-up

Mister Pleasant said...

Alex's choice - which I am dying to hear - reminded me of Roy Wood/Wizzard's brilliant Introducing Eddy & The Falcons from 1974. The concept being that each song is in a different pre-Beatles rock style. The amazing thing is that each vocal is a loving tribute to a 50s artist different from that of the song itself. So it becomes a fun game to guess his inspirations. The killer track This is the Story of My Love is pure Spector/Ronnettes but with a Four Seasons vocal.

Dave said...

I managed to live a long life without ever hearing of "Take a Sad Song." My loss.

Three of my all-time favorite albums are arguably concept albums.

Take out the Capitol-imposed "Sloop John B" and the two instrumentals (I always took the title of "Let's Go Away for Awhile" as an acknowledgment that "Sloop" doesn't belong on the album), and you've got a linear story about the rise and fall of a couple. The bookend songs, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Caroline No" have much more meaning when seen as the eginning and end of the same story.

Laura Nyro's "Eli and the 13th Confession" is elusive but of a piece, and remarkably consistent in quality.

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." Nothing like it before or since.

I had strong feelings about the Mothers of Invention's "We're Only in It for the Money" (positive) and Dylan's "Self-Portrait" (negative) at the time they were released, but I've let both strong emotions go.

And I've always had affection for Art Laboe's "Oldies But Goodies" collections. What could be a better concept than a "rocking side" and a "dreamy side?"

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I'm sorry, but Blood on the Tracks rules them all. P.S.: I'm right and you're wrong. :-)

TJWood said...

Surprisingly, no mention yet of Village Green Preservation Society. Actually, for quite a while the Kinks were all about concept albums, and I couldn't get enough of the Preservation through Schoolboys In Disgrace period. Haven't had an urge to listen to any of those in decades, however.

Then there was that album of "Stairway to Heaven" covers with the song being done in every conceivable style possible. Of recent vintage, there's the last two Green Day albums. I've only heard the newer one, 21st Century Breakdown, in its entirety, but they're the only things from the band I'm not embarrassed to listen to to, even if concept-wise, I can't make much sense out of them.

steve simels said...

What -- nobody's nominated the most high concept high concept of them all?

"Exile in Guyville"?

By the way, that Big Daddy album Alex mentioned is great -- I gotta go see if it's still in print -- but they totally stole the concept from Godfrey Daniel.

NYMary said...

Hands down, the best is XTC's Skylarking--a parade through the stages of human life. Partridge hated it at the time, but has come to admit that Rundgren helped the band create something wonderful. It takes a great man to admit he's wrong.

But most people seem to be in a different category, so I'll just drop the name of Paul Anka's Rock Swings and then run away, fast.

Gummo said...

John Lennon's Rock and Roll. (Not that it's very good, mind you, but it is a concept.)

Ringo Starr's Sentimental Journey (Better than it's given credit for), and Beaucoups of Blues (Not bad, could have been a home run with stronger songs.)

The Beatles' Christmas Album (the 1970 collection of th Beatles' annual fan-club Christmas records).

Bob Dylan's Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong (during a fallow writing period, Dylan goes back to his folk roots with gorgeous results).

David said...

Zen Arcade--Husker Du
Ogden's Nut Gone Flake: The Faces
The Dukes of Stratosphear LPs
and Steve, didn't know you were a Teaneck boy. I grew up in Tenafly....

David said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve simels said...

Born and bred, Dave.

Graduated from Teaneck High in the same class as Randy Edelman -- who married Jackie DeShannon and wrote some crappy Barry Manilow hit in the 70s before becoming a big deal movie composer.

Leonard Maltin was two years behind in my brother's class. As was Alan Silvestri, the drummer in my first band, who's now an Oscar winning composer.

Can I do any more name dropping or has it become totally sickening?

Gummo said...

How could I leave out Dylan's Nashville Skyline?

And Skylarking and Dukes of Stratosphear are excellent choices, too. Skylarking may be THE best album of the 80s (I think it came out in '89?)

Then there's Patti Smith's quite pretty recent album of cover songs (I'm too tired this morning to look up the title.....)

The Kenosha Kid said...

Don't overlook the obvious:

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust

Kid Charlemagne said...

Tons I like:

Pretty Things - S.F. Sorrow

Coolies - Doug

Wizzard - Eddie and the Falcons

Captain Sensible - The Universe of Geoffrey Brown

Fire - Magic Shoemaker

Feral said...

Joe Jackson has several concept/themed albums, some which have worked better than others ("Heaven and Hell", meh). I rather like "Jumpin' Jive", although the originals are better.

And dare I mention Jethro Tull?

Anonymous said...

I'll second TJ on The Kinks - a local troupe staged "Preservation" a few years back, and it was wonderful.

Does anyone listen to "S.F. Sorrow" by the Pretty Things anymore? An early "concept record," and for the life of me I can't recall if it's any good.

Willie Nelson - "Red Headed Stranger." Masterpiece. "Phases and Stages" ain't bad, either...

Drive-By Truckers - "Southern Rock Opera."
Marvin Gaye - "Here, My Dear" - (Two-handed "fuck you" to his label and former missus.)

Frank Zappa - "Cruisin' With Ruben & The Jets"
Neil Young - "Tonight's The Night" and "Greendale." ("Greendale" was lots of fun live...)

And are none of you hippies hep to "The Plan" by The Osmonds? Don't laugh! An ENDLESS source of amusement as casa Buckner.
-bill buckner

steve simels said...


Is that Captain Sensible album really good?

I just saw it on a free download site somewhere and I was pondering...

Kid Charlemagne said...


It's pretty good and done in the same spirit as the Dukes of Stratosphear.

David said...

Since we're name-dropping, famous Tenafly residents include Ed Harris and Leslie Gore, along with Bob Guccione Jr, not to mention Jon-Erik Hexum, whose brief career as a heartthrob was halted when he killed himself with a prop gun while shooting the TV show Cover-Up, with Jennifer O'Neil. He lived around the corner from me, and was simply known as Jack. Weird and sad...

steve simels said...


Ms Gore lived in Teaneck before she got famous. Across the street from my friend Bruce Siegel.

I went to the same swim club as her....

Also -- from Teaneck: Linda Scott, of "I've Told Every Little Star" and WHERE THE ACTION IS fame....

David said...

And don't forget the Isley Bros. and T-Neck Records.

Noam Sane said...

That Chris Gaines album also came with a VH1 "Behind the Music" special that was just amazingly, beautifully stupid...if I could find a copy of that, it would immediately become one of my prized possessions. I remember the high point: "Chris" discussing his battle with sexual addiction.

But I digress.

In between production assignments for incredibly important rock stars, Don Was did a record called "Forever's A Long, Long Time" credited to Orquestra Was...Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sheila E, Merle Haggard, Terence Blanchard, and Herbie Hancock all appear. It's a bunch of Hank Williams songs done in an R&B bag, and it works better than you could imagine. There is some weirdness, as you might expect, but overall a it's a great listen.

Pretty much ignored at the time, and since. You can pick up a used copy on Amazon for 74 cents. Behooves behearing.

TMink said...

First off, the intro and tin foil remark was high comedy! Thank you, for deflating that piece of conservative paranoia. Really and truly funny.

I have enjoyed the Smithereens doing Tommy recently. I downloaded it from hdtracks at higher than normal bit rate, and I really enjoy it! The band also did a couple of Beatle covers records that I need to hear.

Zappa's Thing Fish was too weird to deal with. I love Frank, and his stuff alternately amuses and amazes me, but Thing Fish was just odd. And I liked the recording he did where he put a mike in a piano with the sustain pedal pressed down and had people talk into the piano.

Timothy Leary did a record with Hendrix playing bass, Stills on guitar, and Buddy Miles playing Drums. It is written that listening to the recordinf is the sonic equivalent of tripping.

Not so much.

A lousy concept album that I would like to appreciate but cannot.

Before I go, let me pay homage to Petra Haden for her version of The Who Sell Out. It may not be a concept album per se, but it is an amazing concept!


Anonymous said...

Blows Against the Empire
- Jefferson Starship

The Pilgrim - Marty Stuart

The Ship

Gonna Take a Miracle - Laura Nyro

Anonymous said...

The Who - Tommy
David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Moody Blues - Days of Future Past

Gummo said...

Metal Machine Music - Lou Reed

Hank Wilson's Back Vol. 1 - Leon Russell does a really nice country covers album in the early 70s

American Idiot - Green Day

Jeff said...

Having been a big Yes fan in my early teens, I choose two solo LPs which irrevocably knocked them off their pedestal (decades passed before I could listen to them again):

Jon Anderson - Olias of Sunhillow. Something about fleeing a homeland which eventually bursts into "billions of tiny tears." I thought it hilariously tacky and bad, but some people love it (it gets four stars on All Music).

Rick Wakeman - Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Reviews at the time remarked on its "complexity"; I thought it was just kinda nothing.

Mr. Simels: Did you not write an article on prog for a magazine called Sounds, sometime in the early '70s? I seem to remember some bit about Yes maybe being the "Marcel Prousts of rock" (something to do with their manner of composing).

Feral said...

Let me add a few more:

Utopia - Deface the Music

Prog is a virtual gold mine(field) for concept albums

Yes - Tales of Topographic Oceans
ELP - Tarkus
Triumvirate - Spartacus
Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

steves said...

Just a quick drive-by to get in one of my favorites:

Randy Newman's Good Ol' Boys

Actually, Mr. Newman has several contenders in this category worthy of mention, but I'll let it go at that.

steve simels said...

Jeff: Never wrote for Sounds, on Yes or anything.

And I'll second Trey's recommendation of Petra Haden's "The Who Sell Out."

Hell of a concept, brilliantly done....

Noam Sane said...

Speaking of The Who, "Endless Wire" was a far better record than anyone could have expected, and features a song about both God and Marty Robbins!

As the saying goes, it's a small world, but don't ask me to paint it.

Dave said...

The poor Four Seasons. "The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette" was actually a pretty good album, but it seemed a desperate stab to be "relevant" at the time.

Unknown said...

Alex mentioned Big Daddy's concept album. I haven't heard that, but there is The Best Of Big Daddy. It's not a concept album, but it's hilarious and, in the case of the Beatles covers, wonderfully sacrilegious.

Track listing:

1. Dancing In The Dark
2. Help Me Make It Through The Night
3. Super Freak
4. Little Red Corvette
5. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
6. Once In A Lifetime
7. Whip It
8. My Heart Will Go On
9. Eye Of The Tiger
10. Every Breath You Take
11. Sukiyaki
12. Money For Nothing
13. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
14. With A Little Help From My Friends
15. When I'm Sixty-Four
16. A Day In The Life

It's worth hearing just for "My Heart Will Go On" alone.

MBowen said...

A rarity: Ashley Hutchings, the founder of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and the Albion Band, put together a batch of British folk-rockers for a CD called "Twangin' n' A-Traddin'" (yeah, I know). The concept is that instead of waiting for 1969, the British folk/rock fusion took place ten years earlier. It features a lovely, slowed-down 6/8 version of "Telstar" (with Richard Thompson on pennywhistle!), "Walk, Don't Run", and a Duane Eddy medley, along with several instrumental pastiches. Enjoyable but certainly not essential.

steve simels said...

I'm posting a great Big Daddy track on Monday.

NOT one of the ones on the comp Peter mentioned, BTW...

cthulhu said...

Big Daddy is teh awesum. "It Was 20 Years Ago Today" fits the category; you ain't heard nothin' until you've heard "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" done Jerry Lee Lewis style.

Neil Young's "Trans" - as our host said in his review in SR, "electro-bozo". The basis for the 1983 concert video "Berlin", with the Trans band; available on DVD from Rhino and highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

When I saw the above post, I said, "Of course...Lou Reed's 'Berlin'!

Then I realized he was still talking about Neil Young. So, now I'm saying: Lou Reed's Berlin. The world's most depressing concept album. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Richard Thompson - Mock Tudor
Peter Himmelman - Skin
North Mississippi All Stars - Electric Blue Watermelon

and to get some R&B into the mix

Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back