Now that I’ve covered the 60s, I should take a moment to acknowledge important artists from the era whose albums didn’t make the cut.
The Who, while a great band, have made relatively few songs that really reach out and grab me. They’re somewhat less accessible than fellow 60s heavies despite their super-famous status. Alas, that status probably comes less from their actual musical merits and more from their sheer volume, instrument-smashing antics and wild, crazy behavior, especially of drummer Keith Moon. For his part, Moon was one of the most brilliant and innovative rock drummers to ever to bless this earth, but it seemed his flame just burned too brightly; it quickly burned out.
Pete Townshend, on the other hand (and I may get in trouble for this) is severely overrated. Sure, he’s written some great tunes; “Baba O’Reilly” is a great little slice of adolescent recklessness. But point me to even one Who song that displays guitar prowess that couldn’t be precisely duplicated by a 7th-grader
The Who’s boldest, most notable statement is Tommy, a two-disc rock opera which would work just as well as a Broadway musical as an album. Obviously I’m not the first to think so, since the musical theater version of it premiered in San Diego in 1992. It’s the story of a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, becomes deaf, blind and mute. He suffers abuse from various family members, including his sadistic cousin, moronically religious parents and pedophilic uncle. It’s eventually discovered that he has an affinity for pinball, and this (for some reason…) leads people to think he’s some sort of messiah. Honestly, that’s where the story loses me; that idea is too ridiculous for me to reconcile. The plot after this point becomes messy, undirected, and pretty stupid. Some of the music is pretty awesome, but for the most part, it’s pulled down by Tommy’s harebrained story.
I know the Who is one of the most touted rock bands ever, holds the record for loudest concert, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility; I know all that. But I listen to most of their music and just shrug. Most of it seems too dramatic, too forced, or too operatic.
Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton
I was 15 when I first started playing guitar, and that was when I was in the throes of Smashing Pumpkins fandom, among other modern rock interests. My dad cringed a little at my musical tastes, but his response was one of the most positive things possible: he pointed me towards “real” guitarists, and hoped that they would shape my guitar style rather than my more modern heroes. In part, it worked. I got a Cream greatest hits CD the same Christmas I got my first electric guitar. On the first spin of that album and the first time I heard “Sunshine of Your Love,” my ears pricked up in interest, which is what my dad thought would happen.
Cream’s biggest personality was Eric Clapton, though saying it was Clapton’s band is doing a grave disservice to the 2 other astounding musicians in that group. Jack Bruce pioneered the idea of bass guitar being used as the main rhythm method (no rhythm guitar). Then there’s Ginger Baker. He and Keith Moon serve as inspiration for Animal from The Muppet Show When I listen to the Wheels of Fire version of “Toad,” I can just see him going crazy on his kit. He must be using his head to crash the cymbals.
But the greatness and godhood of Clapton can’t be denied. He was the first guitar deity I ever prayed to, the first leader to win my allegiance. Though the height of his powers was the magical and heart-wrenching Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos, the genesis of his fame lies with Cream.
Even so, Cream had too short a history to make an album that was worth being on this list. If they hadn’t broken up when they did, the rock renaissance of the 70s would have lifted them up to the golden heights, and they may have brought a new definition to what rock music could be, could say, and could stand for. But as it stands, they’re an interesting footnote at best, with sadness at unfulfilled potential as their hallmark.
My entrance into college life was achingly stereotypical. I packed up all my stuff in my family’s SUV, and my dad drove with me and my mom the two hours east to Quincy, MA. They moved me in, they dropped me off, they gave me hugs, and they left. But during move-in, I met my first college roommate, named Colin. He had sideburns, a smile that said he was up to something, and wore a Blues Brothers style hat and sunglasses; he looked like John Belushi, only not as fat. We only lived together for about a week before I moved out due to irreconcilable differences, but he remains one of my friends.
Colin was a Doors fan, and before then, I hadn’t really been exposed. He insisted that the Doors were a blues band, pointing to “Roadhouse Blues” as a principle example. Blues they’re not, but what they are is one of the most psychedelic bands ever to walk/talk/tour. When you hear a Doors song, you know it, mostly because of Jim Morrison’s mix of southern drawl and screaming howl, or Ray Manzerek’s distinctive organ-playing.
Jim is one of the major members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who died at the age of 27. He’s the only member of the club whose death still remains a bit of a mystery. He was found by his longtime girlfriend in the bathtub, and no autopsy was performed. Alcohol or drugs or both are popularly thought to be a contributing factor, Jim’s history being what it was, but no one actually know save his girlfriend and the coroner who handled his body. Some even doubt he’s really dead….
I know, I know; Bob Dylan’s a legend. He’s a pioneer, he’s foundational, and about 90% of today’s musicians simply wouldn’t exist were it not for him. I know all that. But with the exception of 2 or 3 songs, I don’t like him. His voice sounds like a geriatric duck squawking while a pickup truck repeatedly runs it over. I fully recognize that he’s written some of the greatest songs that have ever existed. I wish by all that is holy that he would NOT try to sing them. Mr. Zimmerman, I’m not trying to malign you as a person, but for God’s sake take a vow of silence. Thank you.
The Mothers of Invention
Frank Zappa must have been an alien. That’s the only way to explain his totally original thinking, his utter lack of conformity, and his daring, nothing-is-sacred attitude about musical norms and styles. When my friend Mike played me to “Call Any Vegetable,” there are many words to describe my emotions: shocked, confused, irritated, intrigued, dismayed, amused, and weirded out start to cover it. The only thing I can say is that The Mothers of Invention (Frank’s band), are among the most – scratch that – THE most original band of the 60s – scratch that – of the 60s and 70s – scratch that – EVER. (Footnote: “original” doesn’t always equal “good”)
The Beach Boys
According to my parents and sister, I got would regularly get up on the coffee table when I was 3 and dance my heart out to the Beach Boys, sometimes pretending it was a surfboard. I question the veracity of these claims, but that is neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Beach Boys more than an early musical influence to me; they very well may have been the first music I ever heard.
However, they don’t make the cut. Their early output is just beach-oriented airwave filler, and I’m frustrated that, like early Beatles and Stones records, it takes them awhile to get the concept of a unified album. But more than those things, they simple aren’t people I look back on through the annuls of history and say, “I love those guys.” That, and I can’t stand “Kokomo;” every time I hear it I want to bludgeon someone to death.
Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite
A lot of people know the “Goin’ Up the Country” song, but have no idea who sang it. I’ll set the record straight; it was Canned Heat, a simple and no-frills blues and boogie outfit that saw its best days in the late 60s. It’s kind of a shame that “Goin’ Up the Country” is their most famous tune, since it’s most certainly not their best. It also doesn’t feature Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals, their main singer, a dynamic and charismatic frontman. The lead is instead sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the lead guitarist and sometime singer.
Where the Bear was rotund and a husky tenor, Blind Owl was pale and pretty, with a reedy alto voice. What could have made Canned Heat great was if they used the interplay between the two singers. I think it could have been very interesting had the Bear and Blind Owl taken duets or back and forth, but as it was, they just traded off songs; sad.
Alan Wilson is yet another member of the 27 Club, though far less well known. He died of a drug overdose in 1970. The reason he doesn’t get the play other Club members get is that he was an unobtrusive member of a semi-famous band; also sad.
Once again, Canned Heat could have been awesome had circumstance allowed them to continue unhindered, but God obviously had other plans for Blind Owl. For the Bear, as well; he died in 1981.
On Monday: A visit from the red guy with horns; he’s bringing his pitchfork.