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File-icon-gray Wed: 06-23-04
Top 100 Albums of the 1970s
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030: Miles Davis
On the Corner
[Columbia; 1972]

On the Corner is the sound of icy hot heroin coursing through the veins. Or so I've always imagined-- I've never sampled the stuff, but if I did, I'd want Miles' most controversial record spinning on the hi-fi. A more dense, hypnotic, surprising, sensual, down album I've yet to hear. They say Miles was looking to connect with kids on the streets. On the Corner blows past the kids and the streets-- this is the sound of longing, passion and rage milked from the primal source and heading into the dark beyond.

Of course, the band is incredible: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea on keys, John MacLaughlin on guitar, and Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Billy Hart and Mtumbe on drums and percussion. But one listen and you understand individual names aren't important-- song titles and run times seem irrelevant as well. An admittedly demanding listen, these 50 minutes of collective madness here are so unified and driven even the dude playing sleigh bells rocks as hard and heavy as Miles on diffused trumpet. It sounds impossible but it's absolutely true-- that's the ecstatic intensity captured on this session. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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029: Can
Tago Mago
[United Artists; 1971]

On the surface, Malcolm Mooney's departure from Can and return home to the States may have looked like a devastating blow, but when the band's remaining members found Damo Suzuki bussing tables at a restaurant and decided to make him their vocalist, it became a blessing. Suzuki jerked through the band's open-ended arrangements and lockstep grooves with manic intensity, and it didn't matter that you couldn't understand a thing he said (that is, when he was saying anything at all). Suzuki sounds like he's singing backwards on much of "Oh Yeah", as drummer Jaki Liebezeit pounds out a hypnotic groove and Michael Karoli flirts with blues-rock in his guitar interjections-- even as the torrid texture around him rejects it. Can were as much an expression of collective energy as a rock band, and the energy they released on Tago Mago was like no other-- simultaneously primal and intellectual, and utterly crucial. --Joe Tangari

 

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028: The Beatles
Let It Be
[Apple; 1970]

Often overlooked among the rest of the The Beatles discography, Let It Be rings with more than a handful of truly charming, memorable moments. Though recorded prior to Abbey Road, it was released a year later and could be considered a more fitting coda to The Beatles' long, winding road. Even as John and Paul were reportedly at each other's wing-collared throats during the recording sessions, they manage to sound positively infatuated on the tender, Dylan-esque "Two of Us" and the gutsy blues-rocker "I've Got a Feeling". But even though they're still jointly credited, it's their solo contributions that most stand out-- John's glistening, Eastern-accented "Across the Universe" and Paul's anthemic title track burned themselves into the collective unconscious on sheer songwriting muscle. Outside influences probably played a factor, but by the time Let It Be hit the racks, the Fab Four had little collective patience left. With their demise, the world lamented the true "end of the 60s," and Let It Be became a mantra for moving on. --Jonathan Zwickel

 

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027: Led Zeppelin
III
[Atlantic; 1970]

Ever since Coda plodded onto American shores, Led Zeppelin have been forcibly reduced to the sum of their merch: More an archetype (see the scrawny white kid kicking dirt off the high school steps, sporting black sneakers, black jeans, a three-hair mustache, and a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt) than an entity, Led Zeppelin were quickly swallowed up by their own dark mythology. Which makes the quiet grace of 1970's III all the more touching. Largely acoustic and presumably inspired by British folk contemporaries, III sees Led Zeppelin channeling their snarled, black-magic ferocity into sweet, vaguely melancholic bits. Without penning maudlin power ballads or mimicking folk sentimentality, III proved that Led Zeppelin were capable of far more than just their then-trademark raucous reinterpretation of American blues. --Amanda Petrusich

 

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026: Stevie Wonder
Innervisions
[Tamla/Motown; 1973]

Stevie Wonder sounds like an innocent. We know he's not, but how else do you face evil and so passionately forgive it? How do you delve so vividly into racial hatred and the failure of brother to live peacefully alongside brother, yet not give in to anger? When he persuades us so sweetly, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing," is he as much a huckster as the Richard Nixon that he pseudonymously lampoons? Is the joke on us that a blind man not only romps through visual metaphors, but makes an album more colorful than anything your eyes will get you-- funk, soul and Latin rhythms dancing with keyboards that are so bright and intense they'll never sound dated? Wonder's almost too good to be true here, but the love in his vocals won't lie: He cut a lot of classic albums in the '70s, but none hits as persuasively as Innervisions. --Chris Dahlen

 

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025: Neu!
Neu!
[Brain; 1972]

It's always worth the double-take to remember that Neu! founders Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger were early fixtures of Kraftwerk. What Kraftwerk lost with the duo's departure was a nebulous but undeniably deep emotional core, however much Neu! initially shared in their drone-heavy compositional style. Here, Rother and Dinger-- both rhythm instrumentalists by trade-- were heavy on the groove and light on the melody, which is instantly made clear on opening track "Hallo Gallo": With grand, trance-friendly synth figures and an Autobahn rhythmic pulse that doesn't give up, the song established a distinctly Kraut, distinctly Neu! sound. The rest of the debut follows course with equal success, later turning its focus to ambitious experiments in ambient noise. There's a curious delicacy with which these experiments are arranged, a disarming, intangible quality at work-- I don't know what it is exactly, but to this day it has guarded Neu!'s debut album remarkably well against the perils of time and countless acts of feckless mimicry. --Nick Sylvester

 

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024: Brian Eno
Here Come the Warm Jets
[Island; 1974]

Clearly, the 70s was Eno's decade. With at least four jaw-dropping albums in just a 10-year span, his records split votes faster than Ralph Nader. Don't be fooled by that "#24" you see up there-- Here Come the Warm Jets is his mesmerizing solo debut, a landmark in his career, and arguably his greatest album. Out from under Bryan Ferry's chart-seeking shackles, Eno-- here joined by the rest of Roxy Music and guitar-wizard Robert Fripp-- celebrates his departure with all the joy and irreverence of a newly freed man. A master sound manipulator, he indulges all of his just-skewed pop theories and techniques, creating not only vibrant, unique songs, but some beautiful sounds besides. His methods and results are more polished elsewhere, but with Eno's biting wit and singular innovation at an all-time high, this album is simply too purely enjoyable to ignore. --Eric Carr

 

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023: Ramones
Ramones
[Sire; 1976]

If you want to understand how important this album was in 1976, pull out The Clash's debut and listen to their Junior Murvin cover, "Police and Thieves". The first words Joe Strummer sings are, "They're goin' through a tight wind," from "Blitzkrieg Bop".

Most know by now that The Ramones was the guidebook for punk rock-- the bible U.K. punks bought on import-- but Seymour Stein, the man who signed the Ramones to Sire, had them clocked from day one, likening them to the Beach Boys at 45RPM. Stein would reap commercial rewards as the band tightened up-- check the ripping '79 concert LP It's Alive!, a perfect end to their decade-- but The Ramones' debut is often more adorable than energizing, especially on the tender "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World" (to say nothing of "Beat on the Brat", which somehow balances humor and glamour without succumbing to either). Rock 'n' roll excess and political protest weren't anything new, but the basement tape production and barking choruses of "53rd and 3rd" and "Havana Affair" were shock treatment in the mid-70s. The Ramones rescued rock from stasis by mining its roots, invoking the sock-hop classic "Let's Dance" and ordering us back out onto the floor with the timeless call to arms, "Hey-ho, let's go." --Chris Ott

 

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022: Wire
Pink Flag
[Harvest; 1977]

Pink Flag is one of the strangest British punk albums, a mantle that Wire seem to have willfully embraced. The Sex Pistols embodied the controversy of punk rock; The Damned were the fuck-all abandon; The Clash were righteousness incarnate. But in that rarified pantheon, only Wire truly embodied the brilliant, fiery economy of music and language. On Pink Flag, not a single guttural bark is wasted; not one jagged chord is played in excess when less will suffice. Even when Wire's blistering anthems are tempered into languid, pop/punk trysts, each track flashes a startling singularity of purpose; every song is a mission, a lone idea to be fully expressed. Wire breathlessly tear through songs as infectious as they are simplistic, aggressive and focused, taking the "cartoon simple" aesthetic of the Ramones to a louder, nastier extreme. Such economy is impressive in theory but on Pink Flag, it's even more stunning in its execution. I could go on, but it'd be a waste; the album speaks-- just enough-- for itself. --Eric Carr

 

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021: Serge Gainsbourg
Histoire de Melody Nelson
[Philips; 1971]

Histoire de Melody Nelson feels like some sort of ridiculous culmination of popular music, the moment the world had dreaded: a grooving rock-opera paean to statutory rape. The charming fable begins with Serge orchestrating a collision between his 260-horsepower Rolls and a cooing nymphet's bicycle. Gainsbourg's voice smacks of ennui and seduction; he sounds like either a middle-school principal or a whore. While he's humming along over stalking, gangly basslines and purring guitars, Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's real-life lover) is so coy in the titular role that she can barely sing her Lolita-like name without breaking into tears-- until she begins howling orgiastic tickle-squeals.

For some, Histoire's delirious provocation is the definition of 1970s excess and execration. For others, it redefined the role of pop orchestration, swelling with the sparkling flares of a showtune and turning the most surreally lascivious lyric into a sophisticated epic. And despite the obvious shock value, the album flirts with enough pathos to go through mournful, self-despising moments that challenge the album's perverse glory. Everyone who listened to The Velvet Underground may have started a band; everyone who listened to Histoire started a Pedophiles Anonymous chapter. --Alex Linhardt

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