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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Musical Interlude: The Music of 1974

It was about two years ago when I realized that many of my favorite albums were released in 1974, the year I was born. King Crimson's best two albums, Brian Eno's first two solo albums, two of Queen's best albums, my favorite James Brown, Roxy Music and Herbie Hancock. The list goes on. Inspired to learn as much about the music of 1974 as I could. I foraged for months, turning up some wonderful rarities and overlooked classics. To share some of the fruits of that labor, I've compiled a list of notable albums (posted below).

(A live version of Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire," with Eno on vocals and synthesizer, John Cale on piano, Olie Halsall on guitar,
Kevin Ayers on bass, and Robert Wyatt on percussion.)

If 1974 was not quite the end of a musical era, it was a transformation, an explosion of vast and diverse areas of musical inspiration. Maybe people hadn't come down from the high of the '60s, the cultural victory of the Civil Rights movement and the rock n' roll revolution. The Vietnam War was coming to an end. Music wasn't quite as political or social as it had been in the late '60s, though sometimes there was a sociopolitical agenda, such as when James Brown made bladders splatter in Zaire (for the "Rumble In The Jungle," when Muhammad Ali splattered George Foreman).

For the most part, musicians weren't trying to change the world; they were trying to change music, and they succeeded in spades. Across genres, across the world, new forms of music were enjoyed solely for the pleasure of music, for aural inspiration and journey, for dance and play as well as revelation and innovation. Glam rock, progressive/art rock, experimental rock, electronica, funk, fusion, disco, heavy metal, and even rap . . . So many genres that define the history of late 20th century music had just been born and were still coming to fruition. Queen even planted the seeds for thrash metal with "Stone Cold Crazy." The Ramones and Talking Heads (then "The Artistics") started playing in New York City, establishing the foundations for the punk and new wave movements. Less monumental, though also interesting: 1974 is also the year Van Halen started performing in California.

Some of the most influential bands of the time did not release albums in 1974. Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath were touring after the 1973 releases of what are arguably their best albums (Dark Side of the Moon and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). The Who was also touring after 1973's Quadrophenia. Led Zeppelin had released Houses of the Holy in 1973, but instead of touring, spent '74 launching its own record label (Swan Song) and finishing Physical Graffiti, which would be the band's last legendary album.

There were also some great televised performances in 1974.  For example, 'The Midnight Special' featured great performances by Labelle, Marvin Gaye, Sly & The Family Stone, Aerosmith, and much more.

1974 also saw tragedy and loss. In May, Duke Ellington died at the age of 75. (Miles Davis' deep and introspective "He Loved Him Madly," from the 1974 album Get Up With It, is a 32-minute tribute to the lost legend.) In July, after two sold-out performances at the London Palladium, 'Mama' Cass Elliot died of a heart attack at the age of 32. In November, Nick Drake overdosed on antidepressants at the age of 26. Earlier in the year, Drake had cut four tracks for what would have been his fourth album.

Before I get to the list, here are a few notable singles from '74:

Just a couple more I gotta share, the first because it's easy to forget how amazing Al Green was, and the second because Tom Jones surprised me with this solid cover of "Right Place, Wrong Time" on the otherwise forgettable album, Somethin' 'Bout You Baby I Like.

And now for the list . . . These are my favorite albums originally released in 1974. The order only vaguely reflects my degree of appreciation for each album.

Top Albums of 1974

("Ctrl"+click to open links in a new tab.)

  1. Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Brian Eno
  2. Starless and Bible Black, King Crimson
  3. Red, King Crimson
  4. Slaughter On 10th Avenue, Mick Ronson
  5. Here Come the Warm Jets, Brian Eno
  6. Thrust, Herbie Hancock
  7. Inspiration Information, Shuggie Otis
  8. Fulfillingness' First Finale, Stevie Wonder
  9. They Say I'm Different, Betty Davis
  10. Country Life, Roxy Music
  11. Sheer Heart Attack, Queen
  12. Apostrophe, Frank Zappa
  13. In For The Kill, Budgie
  14. La Finestra Dentro, Juri Camisasca
  15. Crime Of The Century, Supertramp
  16. Nightbirds, Labelle
  17. Expansions, Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes
  18. Walls And Bridges, John Lennon
  19. Rocka Rolla, Judas Priest
  20. One, Bob James
  21. You, Gong
  22. Rejuvenation, The Meters
  23. Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol, Os Mutantes
  24. Hell, James Brown
  25. Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley, Robert Palmer
  26. Burn, Deep Purple
  27. Phaedra, Tangerine Dream
  28. Blue Jeans & Moonbeams, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
  29. Yèkatit: Ethio Jazz, Mulatu Astatke
  30. Aerolit, Czeslaw Niemen
  31. Bridge Of Sighs, Robin Trower
  32. Unrest, Henry Cow
  33. Fly To The Rainbow, Scorpions
  34. Rock Bottom, Robert Wyatt
  35. Get Up With It, Miles Davis
  36. Desolation Boulevard, Sweet
  37. Autobahn, Kraftwerk
  38. New Skin For The Old Ceremony, Leonard Cohen
  39. Where Have I Known You Before, Return To Forever
  40. Alagbon Close, Fela Kuti
  41. Luiz Gonzaga, Jr., Gonzaguinha
  42. Queen II, Queen
  43. Clic, Franco Battiato
  44. Fear, John Cale
  45. Average White Band, Average White Band
  46. The Conversation Motion Picture Soundtrack, David Shire
  47. Skin Tight, Ohio Players
  48. The Psychomodo, Cockney Rebel
  49. The Civil Surface, Egg
  50. Death Wish Motion Picture Sountrack, Herbie Hancock
  51. Us, Maceo Parker
  52. Back To Oakland, Tower Of Power
  53. Seligpreisung, Popol Vuh
  54. Angelo Branduardi, Angelo Branduardi '74
  55. Cincinnato, Cincinnato
  56. Everyone Is Everybody Else, Barclay James Harvest
  57. Rags To Rufus, Rufus & Chaka Khan
  58. The Man In The Bowler Hat, Stackridge
  59. L'Incendie, Brigitte Fontaine & Areski
  60. Anima Latina, Lucio Battisti
  61. Live, April Wine
  62. The Colours of Chloe, Eberhard Weber
  63. Kwanza, Archie Shepp
  64. Caution! Radiation Area, Area
  65. Casablanca Moon, Slapp Happy
  66. The End, Nico
  67. Court And Spark, Joni Mitchell
  68. Now We Are Six, Steeleye Span
  69. Afro Blue, Dee Dee Bridgewater
  70. Meet The Residents, The Residents
  71. Apocalypse, Mahavishnu Orchestra
  72. On The Beach, Neil Young
  73. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Genesis
  74. Pick A Dub, Keith Hudson
  75. Hijack, Amon Düül II
  76. Relayer, Yes
  77. Body Heat, Quincy Jones
  78. Caught Up, Millie Jackson
  79. Cartola, Cartola
  80. Up For The Down Stroke, Parliament
  81. Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan
  82. Green, Steve Hillage
  83. The Power And The Glory, Gentle Giant
  84. Malicorne 1 ("Colin"), Malicorne
  85. Sama Layuca, McCoy Tyner
  86. The Blackbyrds, The Blackbyrds
  87. Gambler's Life, Johnny "Hammond" Smith
  88. Hero And Heroine, The Strawbs
  89. Mirage, Camel
  90. The Elements, Joe Henderson & Alice Coltrane
  91. Ptarmigan, Ptarmigan
  92. Amancio Prada, Vida E Morte
  93. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Motion Picture Sountrack, David Shire
  94. Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow - A Creamed Cage In August, Marc Bolan & T. Rex
  95. Invitation, Andrew Hill
  96. Zuckerzeit, Cluster
  97. Power Of Soul, Idris Muhammad
  98. Upon This Rock, Joe Farrell
  99. The Storm, The Storm
  100. Sun Supreme, Ibis
  101. Mourner's Rhapsody, Czeslaw Niemen
  102. Truck Turner Motion Picture Soundtrack, Isaac Hayes
  103. Power, Stanley Clarke
  104. Contrappunti, Le Orme
  105. Todd, Todd Rundgren
  106. Musik Von Harmonia, Harmonia
  107. Blackdance, Klaus Schulze
  108. Temporada de Verão, Gal Costa
  109. Desitively Bonnaroo, Dr. John
  110. Winter Light, Oregon
  111. Together Brothers Motion Picture Soundtrack, Barry White & Love Unlimited Orchestra
  112. The Loud Minority, Frank Foster
  113. Cosmic Vortex (Justice Divine), Weldon Irvine
  114. But Beautiful, Bill Evans Trio w/ Stan Getz
  115. Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On, Funkadelic
  116. Discipline 27-II, Sun Ra
  117. Dark Magus, Miles Davis
  118. Jaco, Jaco Pastorius / Pat Metheny / Bruce Ditmas / Paul Bley
  119. The Cosmic Jokers, The Cosmic Jokers
  120. Hatfield & The North, Hatfield & The North
  121. Feel, George Duke
  122. Point Of No Return, Funkees
  123. Galactic Supermarket, The Cosmic Jokers
  124. The Silent Corner & The Empty Stage, Peter Hammill
  125. Crystals, Sam Rivers
  126. Virtues & Sins, Kin Ping Meh
  127. Elis & Tom, Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim
  128. The Giants, Oscar Peterson / Joe Pass / Ray Brown
  129. I'm In Need Of Love, Lou Courtney
  130. Visions Of The Emerald Beyond, Mahavishnu Orchestra
  131. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Rick Wakeman
  132. Sally Can't Dance, Lou Reed
  133. Sweet Bitter Love, Marcia Griffiths
  134. Flying Start, The Blackbyrds
  135. Total Eclipse, Billy Cobham
  136. Damn Right I Am Somebody, Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s
  137. Rocking Time, Burning Spear
  138. Paradise And Lunch, Ry Cooder
  139. Aqua, Edgar Froese
  140. The Jewel In The Lotus, Bennie Maupin
  141. Einsjäger & Siebenjäger, Popol Vuh
  142. Big Fun, Miles Davis
  143. Burglar, Freddie King
  144. Palle, Squallor
  145. Belonging, Keith Jarrett with Jan Garbarek
  146. Loki?, Arnaldo Baptista
  147. Phases & Stages, Willie Nelson
  148. It Is Finished, Nina Simone
  149. Sweet Exorcist, Curtis Mayfield
  150. Al Green Explores Your Mind, Al Green
  151. From The Album Of The Same Name, Pilot
  152. Prelusion, Patrice Rushen
  153. Dreams, Toad
  154. Okie, JJ Cale
  155. Not Fragile, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
  156. Eléctronique Guérilla, Heldon
  157. Fare Forward Voyagers, John Fahey
  158. Seasons In The Sun, Terry Jacks
  159. Kimono My House, Sparks
  160. Radio City, Big Star
  161. From The Mars Hotel, Grateful Dead
  162. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Richard & Linda Thompson
  163. Hamburger Concerto, Focus
  164. Kansas, Kansas
  165. Plume Pou Digne, Plume Latraverse
  166. Rush, Rush
  167. A Tabúa de Esmeralda, Jorge Ben
  168. Breakaway, Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge
  169. Green Mango, Tommy McCook & Bobby Ellis
  170. Twet, Tomasz Stanko
  171. In The Beginning, Roy Buchanan
  172. First Of The Big Bands, Ashton & Lord
  173. Mo' Roots, Taj Mahal
  174. In Camera, Peter Hammill
  175. Perfect Angel, Minnie Ripperton
  176. Light Of Worlds, Kool & The Gang
  177. Preservation Act 2, The Kinks
  178. Bad Company, Bad Company
  179. The Hall Of The Mountain Grill, Hawkwind
  180. Too Much Too Soon, New York Dolls
  181. The Heart of Saturday Night, Tom Waits
  182. Soon Over Babaluma, Can
  183. Rambler, Gabor Szabo
  184. Symbiosis, Bill Evans
  185. Natty Dread, Bob Marley & The Wailers
  186. 461 Ocean Boulevard, Eric Clapton
  187. Waterloo, ABBA
  188. Captain Lockheed & The Starfighters, Robert Calvert
  189. The Butterfly Ball & The Grasshopper Feast, Roger Glover
  190. Goodbye, Gene Ammons
  191. Cup Full Of Dreams, Don "Sugarcane" Harris
Note:  Not all of the music on this list was recorded in 1974, and lots of music recorded in 1974 is not considered here.  This is because I'm not including albums with pre-released material or any albums released after 1974 but which happened to be recorded (either live or in the studio) in 1974.  Also, there are a number of albums from 1974 which I haven't been able to find and others which I haven't gotten around to looking for yet.

By way of contrast, I rather dislike these notable albums from 1974:
  • David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
  • Aerosmith - Get Your Wings
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping
  • Jackson Browne - Late for the Sky
  • Kiss - Kiss
  • Randy Newman - Good Old Boys
  • Carly Simon - Hotcakes
  • The Bee Gees - Mr. Natural
  • Billy Joel - Streetlife Serenade
  • Elton John - Caribou
  • The Eagles - On The Border
  • Damião Experiencia - Planeta Lamma
  • Dr. Feelgood - Down by the Jetty
  • Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece
  • Graham Parsons - Grievous Angel
  • Raspberries - Starting Over
  • Father Yod and the Spirit of '76 - Expansion
  • Father Yod and the Spirit of '76 - Contraction
  • Yahowa 13- Savage Sons of Yahowa 13