Again? Yes, again … my personal top releases for …
1990 - THE YEAR OF THE BOX SET
As usual, keep in mind that these are based on albums I have purchased. Then again, Would I think something was "Top 10" material, and then not buy a copy? Come on.
The Year of The Box Set? In 1990, there have been box set releases of The Bee Gees, The Byrds, Bo Diddley, Derek And The Dominos' recording sessions for the classic Layla album, Electric Light Orchestra, Elton John, Robert Johnson, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, The Who's '89 Tour, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, amongst others.
Anyway, Honorable Mention, in alphabetical order by artist …
The Church - Gold Afternoon Fix
The Church got some attention with their Starfish album back in '88. Two years later, we finally get a followup. It was worth the wait. The Church has refined the sound, and the results are wonderful. Highlight include the poppy "Metropolis", the epic "Grind", the moody "Pharoah" and the rocker "Russian Autumn Heart". Check it out.
Dread Zeppelin - Un-led-Ed
Admit it. You love Led Zeppelin, Elvis impersonators, and reggae music but you figured there was no way to get all three at once. Well, that's been corrected. We now have Dread Zeppelin, the first reggae all-Led Zep cover band fronted by an Elvis impersonator. Weird? Yes. Funny? Yes. Worth buying? Depends on how weird your sense of humor runs. Highlights include "Black Dog" (intercut with "Custard Pie" and "Hound Dog"), "Heartbreaker (At The End Of Lonely Street)", and their must-hear version of "Whole Lotta Love". Put your skepticism aside and you'll find that strangely enough, the combination works. "Listen to me man, Dread is the band, all across the land … "
Electric Light Orchestra - Afterglow
Afterglow is a three-CD box set compilation of E.L.O.'s best work, along with eight rare tracks. Jeff Lynne had some input on the choices, and it shows. All the hits are here, along with some choice non-hits. A fine overview of E.L.O.'s best work.
Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers (Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc)
Twenty-one years after it's original release, the best Jefferson Airplane album finally has decent sound. The original was loaded with hiss on every track. The Ultradisc release has corrected this, thank goodness. This album is a killer, from the opening power of "We Can Be Together", to Jorma Kaukonen's lethal guitar on "Good Shepherd", to the epic "Wooden Ships" and the rousing closer, "Volunteers". Forget the banalities of Starship, and the sub-par Airplane reunion album, Volunteers is what Jefferson Airplane was really like.
Robert Johnson - The Complete Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson is the quintessential mysterious performer. He died in the late 30's from poisoned liquor, allegedly due to an enraged husband. Until recently, there were no known photographs of him. He only recorded 29 songs, but they've had a massive impact on the blues (and rock as well) since. All of the material on The Complete Robert Johnson is over 50 years old, but this may be the most important release of the year. "Complete" is quite correct; this double-CD has all 41 known takes of Johnson's 29 songs, many of which are now blues standards, for instance "Cross Road Blues" (that Cream covered as "Crossroads"), "Sweet Home Chicago", "Love In Vain", and "Traveling Riverside Blues". When you listen, keep in mind that these are all recordings of just Johnson playing guitar and singing, with no overdubs. You'll swear you hear two guitarists, but you'll be wrong. Highly recommended, and an absolute must for any serious blues fan.
Paul McCartney - Tripping The Live Fantastic
Despite the problems with McCartney's recent (read: post 70's) solo work, he delivers a killer double-live set from his '89-'90 world tour. Songs that sounded listless on Flowers In The Dirt come to life here, and his live takes on some Beatle gems are simply wonderful, including a powerful version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", a rocking "Get Back", and a superb version of "Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End", complete with three-part guitar solo.
Van Morrison - The Best Of Van Morrison
Van finally sanctions an official best-of. The choices are excellent. The big hits ("Gloria", "Moondance", "Brown Eyed Girl", "Domino", "Wild Night") are here, as well as some lesser known gems like "Sweet Thing" and the gorgeous "Have I Told You Lately". Apart from "Gloria", two other Them staples are here ("Baby Please Don't Go" and "Here Comes The Night"). Any minuses? Well, yes. Only one song was taken from the classic "Astral Weeks" album and, unforgivably, the censored version of "Brown Eyed Girl" was used instead of the original version. The minuses are more than outweighed by the plusses, however. A must purchase.
The Who - From Lifehouse To Leeds
ICE Magazine called this CD "possibly the best sounding bootleg ever". They're right. From Lifehouse To Leeds is a compilation of six outtakes from Who's Next and four from Live At Leeds. The Who's Next cuts are finished takes by the whole band, not demos, just earlier forms of the cuts you already know. There's new takes of "Pure and Easy", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Love Ain't For Keeping" (with Pete Townshend on lead vocals, and a killer reprise), a ferocious "Behind Blue Eyes", a studio cut of "Baby Don't You Do It", and "Getting In Tune". All six are perfect sound quality. As good as the official CD of Who's Next. The Leeds cuts are of lesser sound quality, but not by much. Here we have the full, unedited versions of "Young Man Blues" (longer guitar solo) and "Shakin' All Over", which now includes a snatch of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful". Also, there are two live cuts which didn't appear on the album at all, "Happy Jack" and "I'm A Boy". Essential listening for any Who fan.
The Who - Join Together
A fine live document of the 1989 "Kids Are Alright" Tour. There are some tradeoffs here. Pete Townshend plays very little electric guitar; however, Steve Bolton's work is fine, and Pete's acoustic guitar fleshes out the Tommy material quite nicely. There's a brass section that is occasionally overused; however, Simon Phillips drums are exemplary. Certain classics are omitted ("Baba O'Riley", "Who Are You"); however, a searing rendition of the full rock opera "Tommy" is here as are several superb Townshend solo numbers ("A Little Is Enough", "Rough Boys"). Other welcome suprises are John Entwistle's "Trick Of The Light", the long-ignored "I Can See For Miles" and the oft-overlooked gem "Join Together". The Who hasn't been the same since Keith Moon died, but this is the best they've sounded in that time.
THE TOP TEN FOR 1990
(Presented in reverse order, as usual)
10) Traveling Wilburys - Vol. 3
OK, so Vol. 3 is the Wilburys' second album. Roy Orbison is gone, the pseudonyms are different, but the feel and the fun are still there. The Wilburys sound more like a cohesive unit this time out, and they still have a great time doing it. This is great album, from the rocking opener "She's My Baby" to the satiric finish "Wilbury Twist". Check it out.
9) Jeff Lynne - Armchair Theatre
After working as part of The Traveling Wilburys and producing George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, and Tom Petty, Lynne finally releases his first solo album since the demise of E.L.O. in 1986. The sound on Armchair Theatre is reminiscent of E.L.O., with definite influence from his recent cohorts. Lynne plays most of the instruments, with notable help from George Harrison on slide guitar. Highlights include the Indian-flavored "Now You're Gone", the poppy "Every Little Thing" and "Lift Me Up", plus faithful covers of "September Song" and "Stormy Weather".
8) Robyn Hitchcock - Eye
Someone at A&M is going to have to explain this one to me. Hitchcock delivers Eye, his third album for A&M, and they refuse to release it. Lucky for us, A&M allows Robyn to find another label for the album, so it ends up on Twin/Tone records, distributed by Rough Trade, by permission of A&M. Confused? Eye is Hitchcock's second all-acoustic solo album, the first being 1984's I Often Dream Of Trains. Surely A&M was familiar with Hitchcock's catalog. Why all the hassle? Regardless, Eye is a gorgeous album of Hitchcock's eerie but pretty songs, complemented by his piano and guitar work. It's stark, funny, haunting, and beautiful.
7) Adrian Belew - Young Lions
Adrian Belew runs the gamut on Young Lions, from a Traveling Wilburys cover ("Not Alone Anymore") to a remake of "Heartbeat", a song Belew recorded with King Crimson. David Bowie has a solo lead vocal and a duet vocal. "I Am What I Am" features a spoken piece by The Prophet Omega. However, this is still very much Belew's album. Belew is a good songwriter, and a stunning guitarist. This is Adrian's most accessible album so far, but he hasn't lost any of his quirkiness. Give it a listen.
6) The Waterboys - Room To Roam
Room To Roam is a wonderful blend of the Irish folk influences from their last album Fisherman's Blues with the original Waterboys' sound. The result is magnificent, coupling Mike Scott's powerful originals with traditional Irish folk numbers. Highlights include the epic "Life Of Sundays", the lovely "A Man In Love", and the Irish romp "Raggle Taggle Gypsy".
5) Bob Mould - Black Sheets Of Rain
In my opinion, Mould's Workbook was the album of 1989. Black Sheets Of Rain is a powerful followup. The cellist and percussionist are gone; this time out Bob is backed only by the same rhythm section (Tony Maimone and Anton Fier) he used on Workbook. The songs are a more pointed, more intense, but not muddy. This is clear power. A superb followup to a superb debut.
4) French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson - Invisible Means
Invisible Means is a diverse, brilliant, funny album that defies easy categorization. John French, Fred Frith, Henry Kaiser and Richard Thompson explore folk ("Begging Bowl"), folk-rock (a supercharged version of "Loch Lomond"), blues ("Invisible Means"), R&B ("The Evening News"), pop ("To The Rain"), avante-garde music ("The Book Of Lost Dreams", "The Nearsighted Heron"), and rock & roll ("Peppermint Rock"). The musicianship is inspired, with guitarists Kaiser and Thompson playing up a storm. There is also a strong sense of humor here, with Thompson's comic opera "March Of The Cosmetic Surgeons", Kasier's soap opera parody "Days Of Our Lives" and French's cynical "Now That I Am Dead". Wonderful.
3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Ragged Glory
Young turned the amps up a bit on his last album, Freedom. On his Japan-only EP, Eldorado, he cranked it up a bit more. On Ragged Glory, Young and Crazy Horse finish the job, turning the power up to full blast. Ragged Glory is a powerful guitar album, screaming with feedback on every track. Highlights include the first single, "Mansion On The Hill", the overkill stomp "F#*!in' Up", and the hymn-meets-Hendrix "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)". Buy it, turn your stereo way up, and let Ragged Glory rip.
2) Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mining
1988's Diesel and Dust almost broke Midnight Oil in the U.S. Blue Sky Mining may be the album that finishes the job. The Oils have refined their sound, but the lyrics still sting with full power. There's a mix of flat-out rockers ("Blue Sky Mine", "Forgotten Years", "King Of The Mountain"), haunting ballads ("Antarctica", "One Country"), and little of each in between. A stunning album.
1) Lou Reed/John Cale - Songs For Drella
In 1967, Andy Warhol produced and designed the cover for the Velvet Underground's classic debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Andy was the Velvet Underground's "patron saint", helping them get their record deal, taking them on the road as part of his "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" show. 23 years later, two of the original Velvets, Lou Reed and John Cale, have paid Andy back with "a brief musical tribute" to their late patron. The result is a brilliant album full of memorable songs, co-written and co-produced by Reed and Cale. They are the only musicians on the album; Reed plays a biting electric guitar, Cale plays keyboards and viola, and they share the vocals. The songs cover Warhol's youth, his work, his views and the attempt on his life by Valerie Solanis. How direct is the album? In "I Believe", Reed sings about Solanis: "I believe that something's wrong if she's alive right now … I believe I would have pulled the switch on her myself". The most haunting track on the album is "A Dream". On this one, Cale, using Warhol's diaries as a loose script, thinks out loud in a style reminicent of the Velvets' "The Gift". Songs For Drella is direct, powerful, stark, and a fitting tribute. Andy would have been proud.