Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2009/03/27
by Mike Gruenberg

Top 25 Influential Albums (To Me) Part 2

In My Life
Selecting a Top Anything is most difficult. Even in sports, the guy with the best batting average or the most touchdowns caught or the most free throws made may not appear to you as the best athlete in the category. Sure, he caught more touchdown passes than anyone else last year, but where did he land on your personal Top 10 list? Selecting the Top Anything is purely subjective, which is why its so much fun to do. Whats great to me may be mediocre to you.
Last month’s column elicited many responses. To my friend Iris, there will be no Frank Sinatra on my rock n roll list although I have a large collection of his records and he would place very prominently in an Easy Listening Top 25. To my old friend Felton, I am sorry you disagreed with my choice of Taxman as one of the top songs of all time. And to my friend Szymon, while I think Megadeth is a cool band, they wont be on my classic rock list. However, they can be on yours! Thats the beauty of a personal list. Everyone gets to pick their favorites
As a refresher, here are my 37 top album favorites since I couldnt possibly squeeze in 25.
1. Revolver – Beatles
2. Rubber Soul – Beatles
3. Crosby Stills & Nash – 1st album
4. _All Things Must Pass _ – George Harrison
5. Mad Dogs & Englishmen – Joe Cocker
6. _Doors _ – 1st Album
7. _Tarkus _ – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
8. _What’s Goin’ On? _ – Marvin Gaye
9. Elton John – 1st Album
10. At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers
11. Animal Tracks – Animals
12. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys (Brian Wilson)
13. Blow by Blow – Jeff Beck
14. Child Is Father To The Man – Blood, Sweat & Tears
15. Songs For A Tailor – Jack Bruce
16. Fresh Cream – Cream
17. Chicago II – Chicago
18. Turnstiles – Billy Joel
19. In the Court of The Crimson King – King Crimson
20. Something Else – Kinks
21. Days of Future Passed – Moody Blues
22. 12 X 5 – Rolling Stones
23. John B. Sebastian – John Sebastian
24. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel
25. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
26. Gasoline Alley – Rod Stewart
27. To A Blind Horse, A Wink Is As Good As a Nod Faces
28. _James Taylor _ – 1st Album (on Apple Records)
29. _Silk Degrees _ – Boz Scaggs
30. _Mr. Fantasy _ – Traffic
31. _Who’s Next _ – The Who
32. Harvest – Neil Young
33. Odyssey & Oracle – Zombies
34. Groovin’ – Young Rascals
35. _Introducing The Beau Brummels _ – Beau Brummels
Honorable Mention
_ Rod Stewart Album_ – Rod Stewart
_ Muswell Hillbillies_ – Kinks
Truly, every album listed has been reviewed and discussed by music aficionados for years. All I can add is my personal recollections and why these albums have significance for me.
Animal Tracks was the third album released by the Animals. The band from Newcastle England burst on to the music scene with a #1 hit, House of the Rising Sun. In this, their 3rd album, it contained such hits as We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood but most of all this offering presented the group as a much more polished act than their first two albums. It was widely known that there was considerable friction amongst the group members and pretty soon after this album came out, the original band broke up. Alan Price the keyboardist went on to a solo career. Chas Chandler the bass player left the group to discover and manage Jimi Hendrix. Eric Burdon stayed on as the single most visible remaining member of the group, but to me Animal Tracks was a fitting good-bye to great group. Really hoped that they would have stayed together.
Pet Sounds, released in 1966 marked the pinnacle of Brian Wilsons success as a musician, arranger and song writer. Paul McCartney has called this one his favorite albums and stated that Pet Sounds greatly influenced the Beatles in their creation of the Sergeant Pepper record. Although critically acclaimed, Pet Sounds did not go gold upon its release, a major disappointment to Brian. Since then it has been voted by most music experts as one of the greatest, if not the greatest record ever produced. I agree its one of the best.

Blow by Blow You gotta love Jeff Beck. Some do and some dont. The former Yardbirds guitarist is usually mentioned with the same reverence as Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Blow by Blow is a jazz fusion instrumental record. I cannot recall the names of any of the songs, but I can recall blasting the speakers at full volume and being mesmerized by the music created by Jeff. To lend even more credence to this record, it was produced by George Martin. A unique record way ahead of its time.
Child Is Father To The Man was the first Blood, Sweat & Tears record. A fairly bizarre cover picture did not foretell the brilliance of the record inside that married rock to jazz to an amazing horn section. Since I have always been and still am an Al Kooper fan and since this was Als first and last appearance in a BS&T lineup, I feel that his influence made this the best BS&T album. To me, its one of the best records ever made. Without this record, there would have been no rock groups with horn sections.
_Songs For A Tailor _ When Cream was formed as the premier super group from England, everyone raved about Clapton and Baker. Oh yeah, Jack Bruce played bass with Eric and Ginger. When the group disbanded, everyone followed Clapton and forgot about Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Not so fast.While he was with Cream, Jack recorded a jazz oriented album called Things we Like. Using much the same lineup of musicians, he released the Songs For A Tailor album in 1969. Produced by Felix Pappalardi, it is complex and unique and can only be described as jazz fusion rock .The name of the first song on this record is Never Tell Your Mother Shes Out of Tune. I always took that as wise advice. I have been a Jack Bruce fan ever since I heard him on Cream and this record. I would have been a fan of Jacks sooner, but I didnt know he played with Manfred Mann on Pretty Flamingo a number 1 hit. And oh yeah, Jack wrote White Room, Sunshine of Your Love and I Feel Free. Not bad for the guy who played in the same band as Eric and Ginger.
Fresh Cream was a landmark album. It was Creams first record. The rest is history. My LP copy of Fresh Cream is in Monaural, not in Stereo but I believe it sounds better than the stereo version.
Chicago II My friends and I always considered Chicago a poor mans BS&T. Shows how much we knew. Chicago is still making records today and still with the original horn section! I first heard 25 or 6 to 4 driving home to New York from skiing in Vermont in my Datsun 1600 sports car. Ive been a fan of the group ever since that fateful Sunday morning somewhere between Vermont and Massachusetts on I-91 when I heard that song and I still dont know what the title means.

Turnstiles First saw Billy Joel on Long Island when he was a member of The Hassles, an ill fated group that made a few albums of non-remembrance. Billy went out on his own and became a mega superstar. As a former long-time resident of Long Island and the New York area, seeing Billy always elicited a certain home-town pride in the guy from Hicksville who achieved incredible fame and deserved success. Turnstiles Im sure was not one of his best selling albums, but its my favorite Billy Joel record. The album cover is photographed in a New York City subway station and it shows Billy surrounded by the usual array of strange people you could meet on a subway in New York. It was recorded in the now defunct Ultra Sonic Studios on Long Island and every song is brilliant. The Billy Joel masterpiece, Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) is still my pick as the best song Billy ever wrote. Heres a local guy recording music at a local studio with an album theme characterizing New York. All you need is a pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie Deli to eat while listening to this album.
In The Court of the Crimson King King Crimson could be known as the founding fathers of progressive rock. If you are a prog rock fan, and if this album isnt in your collection, you dont know prog rock. Were it not for these guys, there would be no Rush, Dream Theater, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Thats how important this album is.

Something Else by the Kinks is perhaps their finest record. Rolling Stone magazine, profiled The 40 Essential Albums of 1967 and this album is included in that list. Released in September, 1967 it contained Waterloo Sunset, David Watts and Death of A Clown which have all become Kinks Klassics. Sadly, the album was a commercial failure which means you probably havent heard it. Its now out on CD and is well worth the effort to listen to. Ray Davies and his brother Dave were not known to get along, but on vinyl they were incredible together. This album is pure Kinks and indicative of their distinctive style while still on their original label, Reprise Records. They subsequently signed with RCA Records and then Arista Records, but somehow never captured the magic of their tenure on Reprise.
Day of Future Passed by the Moody Blues is another album listed as one of the 40 Essential Albums of 1967 by Rolling Stone in their 40th anniversary issue. According to the magazine, the group was asked by the record company to record an adaptation of Dvoraks Ninth Symphony as a stereo demonstration record. The band elaborated on this request and with the London Philharmonic created this masterpiece. The blending of rock music and classical music was extraordinary and has yet to be duplicated by any band.

12 X 5 Maybe because I was younger at the time or maybe because I grew up listening to every Rolling Stones record, I am partial to their early material. During their formative years, there was a certain edginess and roughness to their songs. There was a swagger and a bad boy edge to their 60s songs that is not as present anymore. While I really like Ron Wood and liked Mick Taylor, neither one compares to the late Brian Jones. The cover art on this album shows five young men ready to take on the music world which was clearly accomplished when you listen to the album.
John Sebastian is one of those guys that I had the pleasure to see on many occasions. For whatever reason, whenever I had nothing to do and wanted to go to a local concert, I would somehow wind up seeing John Sebastian either in Greenwich Village or on Long Island. Maybe it was because he was such a local fixture in the NY area or maybe because I was easily able to get into concerts at C.W. Post College on short notice where he often appeared due to some good friends there. Or maybe it was because I liked his music and made the effort to see him, John Sebastian has always been a favorite. He always put on an entertaining show whether he was solo or with a band. The John B. Sebastian album has the rare distinction of being released simultaneously on two different labels. It has a special place for my memories.
Simon & Garfunkel grew up in the same neighborhood as I did. They were a few years older than me, but their exploits and successes were very well known to all of us teenagers in the Forest Hills/Kew Gardens area of Queens. Bookends has always been the one S&G album that resonated the most with me. Much like the Davies brothers, Arthur and Paul had their personality differences, but together on vinyl, their harmonies were incredible. Also, I loved the poster that was included in the album showing S&G and the 59th Street Bridge. Hard to get the same type of poster today in a CD that was included in an LP. And as for the music, every song is not only great, they are classics. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? and Coo coo ca choo, Mr. Robinson are musical phrases we all know.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd If given a choice as to the five albums I would be allowed to take with me on a desert island, this would be the one of those. While King Crimson invented prog rock, Pink Floyd defined it.
Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart is Rod at his solo best. What can I say? Early Rod Stewart as a soloist and with The Faces is pure music magic. Gasoline Alley is a gem of a record. With his band mates from The Faces, as the musicians on this album, Rod never sounded better.
The Faces were the ultimate garage band. Rough and tumble, sometimes missing a beat and definitely having fun. Here is Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagen at their garage band best. In the 70s, if you were having a party, a Faces album or two was a prerequisite to be played for your guests.
James Taylor – When the Beatles formed Apple Records, the first act that was signed to the label was James Taylor. The record was produced by Peter Asher, the brother of Jane Asher. She was dating Paul McCartney at the time. Peter Asher was also the other half of the duo Peter & Gordon who recorded a number of hits. What do these facts mean in relation to the record? Nothing. The first James Taylor record is simple, honest and beautiful. There is a wonderful clarity to his voice and honest meaning to his lyrics. James still has that great voice. This record is the entry point for one of the great musical talents of our time.
Boz Scaggs is one of those guys I followed for many years prior to his smash hit album Silk Degrees. He first achieved success when he played with the Steve Miller Band. The guys who formed the group, Toto are the key musicians used for Silk Degrees. Slim, as he is known has created one of those rare perfect albums in Silk Degrees which charted at #2 when it was released in 1976.
Traffic was one of those groups that had it all. On my first trip to England as a teenager, I turned on the radio and heard Steve Winwood singing the # 1 hit, Gimme Some Lovin for the Spencer Davis Group I only found out later that he was younger than me and he had a hit record. At sixteen years of age, this guy was a rock star. Naturally, I followed his exploits which led me to the group Traffic. In my opinion, Steves best work was with Traffic and Mr. Fantasy was the beginning of a great run of incredible albums.
Who Whos Next. Every time I watch CSI on television and hear the opening power chords for I Wont Get Fooled Again I think of this record. Another perfect album from the original group. Keith Moon carries the group through nine of the best Who songs ever recorded. And what about that album cover? Priceless.
Neil Young Harvest. I must admit, I am not a Neil Young fan. Although I liked CSNY, I loved CSN. That being said, when Neil is on his game, there are no equals. Harvest is one of those records that need to be in the collection of every rock n roll fan in the world. Its that good. Heart of Gold and Old Man are some of the commercial highlights, but the entire album makes you realize what a remarkable talent Neil is. Whats more the cast of supporting musicians on the record such as David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, James Taylor, and Linda Ronstadt along with arranger extraordinaire, Jack Nitzsche makes this a true favorite of mine.
The Zombies Odessy & Oracle (yes, Odessy is spelled incorrectly) is one those records that came to life after the group broke up. It was recorded at a time when there was unrest in the band. They broke up even though they had to deliver one more album to the record company. Al Kooper, working as an A&R man for Columbia heard the record while in England and brought it back to the U.S. He then convinced Clive Davis, President of the label to release the album in America. It became a hit, but the group did not get back together.

Young Rascals Music in New York in the 60s was a cornucopia of new sounds. It seemed like every day a new band showed up for our pleasure. The Young Rascals (later called The Rascals because I guess they got too old to be called young) were a staple of the NY music scene. I saw them perform at a club in the Hamptons called The Barge. Also saw them countless times in the city. Whatever the venue, wherever the place, these guys rocked the house. To me, Groovin was their best album. Each member of this four person group contributed to the writing, playing and/or singing of such classics as Groovin, A Girl Like You, How Can I Be Sure? and You Better Run.
Beau Brummels I didnt only listen to groups from New York or England even though it seems that way. The San Francisco based group signed to a small label had two huge hits in Laugh Laugh and Just A Little. Produced by Sly Stone who went on to his own fame, the group moved to Warner Brothers Records with big hopes, but somehow the label mismanaged them and sadly, the Beau Brummels disappeared. Tough story, but a great album.
I added the two Honorable Mention candidates because I could. Both are great albums and could be added to the above list. Anyway, these are my favorite albums and the reasons why I feel that way.

Show 0 Comments