Released on this day in 1991! The Low End Theory ~ A Tribe Called Quest

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While most of the players in the jazz-rap movement never quite escaped the pasted-on qualities of their vintage samples, with The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest created one of the closest and most brilliant fusions of jazz atmosphere and hip-hop attitude ever recorded. The rapping by Q-Tip and Phife Dawg could be the smoothest of any rap record ever heard; the pair are so in tune with each other, they sound like flip sides of the same personality, fluidly trading off on rhymes, with the former earning his nickname (the Abstract) and Phife concerning himself with the more concrete issues of being young, gifted, and black. The trio also takes on the rap game with a pair of hard-hitting tracks: “Rap Promoter” and “Show Business,” the latter a lyrical soundclash with Q-Tip and Phife plus Brand Nubian’s Diamond D, Lord Jamar, and Sadat X. The woman problem gets investigated as well, on two realistic yet sensitive tracks, “Butter” and “The Infamous Date Rape.” The productions behind these tracks aren’t quite skeletal, but they’re certainly not complex. Instead, Tribe weaves little more than a stand-up bass (sampled or, on one track, jazz luminary Ron Carter) and crisp, live-sounding drum programs with a few deftly placed samples or electric keyboards. It’s a tribute to their unerring production sense that, with just those few tools, Tribe produced one of the best hip-hop albums in history, a record that sounds better with each listen. The Low End Theory is an unqualified success, the perfect marriage of intelligent, flowing raps to nuanced, groove-centered productions.

Released on this day in 1975! Caress of Steel ~ Rush

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When Rush finished their third album, Caress of Steel, the trio was assured that they had created their breakthrough masterpiece. But when the album dropped off the charts soon after its release, it proved otherwise. While it was Rush’s first release that fully explored their prog rock side, it did not contain the catchy and more traditional elements of their future popular work — it’s quite often too indulgent and pretentious for a mainstream rock audience to latch onto. And while Rush would eventually excel in composing lengthy songs, the album’s two extended tracks — the 12½-minute “The Necromancer” and the nearly 20-minute “The Fountain of Lamneth” — show that the band was still far from mastering the format. The first side contains two strong and more succinct tracks, the raging opener, “Bastille Day,” and the more laid-back “Lakeside Park,” both of which would become standards for their live show in the ’70s. But the ill-advised “I Think I’m Going Bald” (which lyrically deals with growing old) borders on the ridiculous, which confirms that Caress of Steel is one of Rush’s more unfocused albums.

Happy Birthday Marc Bolan!

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Singer/songwriter/guitarist Marc Bolan was one of the major glam rock figures of the early ’70s, especially in England. After releasing his debut solo single, “The Wizard,” and its follow-ups, “The Third Degree” and “Hippy Gumbo,” on Decca Records in the U.K. in 1965-1966, he joined the band John’s Children in 1967. The same year, he and percussionist Steve Peregine Took formed Tyrannosaurus Rex, an acoustic duo. They made three albums, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair but Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), Prophets, Seers and Sages, the Angels of the Ages (1968), and Unicorn (1969), then split, with Bolan retaining the band name and teaming up with Mickey Finn on the electric Beard of Stars (1970).
By the end of 1970, with the name abbreviated to T. Rex, Bolan and Finn scored a U.K. hit with “Ride a White Swan,” the first of ten straight Top Ten hits, and the album T. Rex. Adding bass player Steve Curry and drummer Bill Fifield, T. Rex expanded into a full-fledged rock & roll band, and scored a number one hit with “Hot Love” and another with “Get It On.” (Under the title “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” the song became T. Rex’s only substantial U.S. hit, making the Top Ten in 1972.) This was followed by the landmark album Electric Warrior (1971), which topped the U.K. charts and included the single “Jeepster.” Then came “Telegram Sam,” T. Rex’s third U.K. number one. “Metal Guru” became T. Rex’s fourth number one in May 1972. (During this period, with T.Rextasy hitting Britain, numerous reissues also charted.) The next new T. Rex album, The Slider, became a Top Ten hit in July 1972. T. Rex’s seventh straight Top Ten single, “Children of the Revolution,” peaked in the charts in September, followed by “Solid Gold Easy Action” in December. In March 1973 came “Twentieth Century Boy,” the ninth T. Rex Top Ten single, and the Top Ten album Tanx. In June, “The Groover” became the band’s tenth and final Top Ten single.
In August, Bolan tested the waters for using his own name on records, issuing the non-charting “Blackjack” single credited to Marc Bolan with Big Carrot, but then he retreated to the T. Rex rubric, though the original group was fragmenting. Bolan and T. Rex’s commercial and critical fortunes declined afterwards, as they released Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974), Bolan’s Zip Gun (1975), Futuristic Dragon (1976), and Dandy in the Underworld (1977). Bolan died in an automobile accident in 1977, and his work has been reissued frequently in the U.K.

Released on this day in 1978! Parallel Lines ~ Blondie

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Blondie turned to British pop producer Mike Chapman for their third album, on which they abandoned any pretensions to new wave legitimacy (just in time, given the decline of the new wave) and emerged as a pure pop band. But it wasn’t just Chapman that made Parallel Lines Blondie’s best album; it was the band’s own songwriting, including Deborah Harry, Chris Stein, and James Destri’s “Picture This,” and Harry and Stein’s “Heart of Glass,” and Harry and new bass player Nigel Harrison’s “One Way or Another,” plus two contributions from nonbandmember Jack Lee, “Will Anything Happen?” and “Hanging on the Telephone.” That was enough to give Blondie a number one on both sides of the Atlantic with “Heart of Glass” and three more U.K. hits, but what impresses is the album’s depth and consistency — album tracks like “Fade Away and Radiate” and “Just Go Away” are as impressive as the songs pulled for singles. The result is state-of-the-art pop/rock circa 1978, with Harry’s tough-girl glamour setting the pattern that would be exploited over the next decade by a host of successors led by Madonna.

Happy Birthday Jerry Lee Lewis!

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Jerry Lee Lewis (born September 29, 1935) is an American rock and roll and country music singer-songwriter and pianist. He is known by the nickname “The Killer” and is often viewed as “rock & roll’s first great wild man”. An early pioneer of rock and roll music, in 1956 Lewis made his first recordings at Sun Records. “Crazy Arms” sold 300,000 copies in the South, but it was his 1957 hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” that shot Lewis to fame worldwide. Lewis followed this when he recorded songs such as “Great Balls of Fire”, “Breathless” and “High School Confidential”. However, Lewis’s rock and roll career faltered in the wake of his marriage to his young cousin. He had little success in the charts following the scandal and his popularity quickly faded. His live performance fees plummeted from $10,000 per night to $250. In the meantime he was determined to gain back some of his popularity. During the early 1960s he didn’t have much chart success with few exceptions such as “What’d I Say”. His live performances at this time were increasingly wild and energetic. His album Live at the Star Club, Hamburg from 1964 is often regarded by many music journalists and fans as one of the wildest and greatest rock and roll concert albums ever. After recording songs such as “I’m on Fire” for several years with little success, in 1968 Lewis made a transition into country music and had hits with songs such as “Another Place, Another Time”. This reignited his career and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s he regularly topped the country-western charts. His No. 1 country hits included “To Make Love Sweeter For You”, “There Must Be More to Love Than This”, “Would You Take Another Chance on Me” and “Me And Bobby McGee”. Lewis’s successes continued throughout the decade and he embraced his rock and roll past with songs such as a cover of the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” and “Rockin’ My Life Away”. In the 21st century Lewis continues to tour to audiences around the world and still releases new albums. One such album, titled Last Man Standing, is his best selling to date at over a million copies sold worldwide. This was followed by Mean Old Man, which has received some of the best sales of Lewis’s career. Lewis has had a dozen gold records in both rock and country, won several Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1989, his life was chronicled in the movie Great Balls of Fire, starring Dennis Quaid. In 2003, Rolling Stone listed his box set All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology number 242 on their list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.[1] In 2004, they ranked him number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[2] Lewis is the last surviving member of Sun Records’ Million Dollar Quartet and the Class of ’55 album, which also included Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley.