As the Holiday season arrives, sometimes we just need a little music to distract us from all the madness. Days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and items like shopping lists, the actual shopping and the worst traffic of the year can drive one mad. It’s at times like this many of us wished we lived in Antarctica. And speaking of Antarctica, did you realize It’s coming up on early summer down at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It’s the only place on the whole continent, with about 1500 or so scientists and others there to experiment and dabble in who knows what. At the moment they are experiencing sunlight twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Not a good situation for Christmas lights, I guess. But if your stuck on line in a mall for hours you’re probably going to wish you were there instead.
However, back here in reality, for us more commercialized types, nerves will be shot. We’ll be with the kids for three or so weeks who are all more anxious about their Christmas than anything else. Some of you will have your usual radios on in the car with Christmas carols, hundreds of versions of “White Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” etc. and if your patience like mine is finite, there must be some sort of music to take you away at least on the way home from the Best Buy’s and Targets of the world.
I was a postman for 32+ years prior to retiring, and believe me, you don’t know Christmas like your letter carriers, and other delivery service folks. This time of year is brutal. Be sure to thank them for their hard work, won’t you? And if you can’t decide what might get Christmas mania out of your head for just a few minutes, and I’m not knocking Christmas, just the madhouse that comes before, try a few of these tunes or albums on for size.
13) High Tide: Sea Shanties
Who? No, it’s not songs about whaling. I just discovered this band about two weeks ago from 1969 and I was amazed that given how good this Scottish band was, that I had never heard of them. Although, there are tons of great bands and musicians who never got that break. This would appeal to those fans of late ’60’s – early ’70’s heavy music, where metal was just getting started, and progressive was raising its head as some bands were getting pretty good and didn’t feel like just doing blues licks at extreme volumes.
It’s the reason Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, and The Blue Oyster Cult among others survived. Anyway, this band released two albums, and this was their debut. Imagine if you will, jams that remind you of Frank Zappa in his Hot Rats era, a touch of Jethro Tull, the singer guitarist who sounded eerily like Jim Morrison but played wild heavy guitar that could have given all the mainstays some serious trouble had High Tide made it, and early Blue Oyster Cult in their musicianship. Yes, in other words, it was that good, and it’s one case where most of us can buy a real genuine late ’60’s heavy rock album that hasn’t been heard 3006 times just last month on classic rock radio.
12) Sonic Youth: Evol
Fans of Sonic Youth love them for their incredible array of bizarrely tuned guitars that produced sounds and chords, if you can call them that that somehow had a bizarre and unsettling vibe and ethereal quality on their more quiet numbers. This album is both. There is scarcely a normal tone anywhere. One song deals with the description of a car wreck. But it’s not gory, just creepy. A quiet piano piece sounds more frightening than Halloween‘s theme ever did. It is not music for the faint of heart, but it does take you far far away from the madhouse of the malls, shopping centers, and anywhere sanity might threaten to appear. And the point of this article is escape. This is probably at the end of that road.
11) Grant Green Idle Moments
This treasure from the mid-60’s featured the understated and underrated Grant Green playing at his most melodic, and the songs are just beautiful. “Idle Moments” alone is worth the price of admission, its quiet deliberate gait just barely fast enough to register a tempo, but oh so right. The chord work, Green’s sensitive guitar lines all combine to make one of jazz’ most relaxing albums that anybody could really like.
10) Discharge: Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
This band was one of the most important, depending on your point of view punky bands who knew their instruments and were into metal of the most noxious kinds, like Venom, Motorhead, and others that also blended punk ferocity with metal ability, a thick hammering rhythm guitar, real lead, and vocals that could be understood. These bands were referred to as “cross over” and Discharge was one of the best. Ramones on loads of steroids who learned how to play heavy and do scorching lead work too. This is one great album for that perfectly rotten day at work on your way home or turn up so you can’t hear your kids arguing in the back.
9) Devo Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Weird beyond description and absolutely genius. This band was a brave venture into what pop radio would tolerate, and upset the consumer musical status quo in the process, but still manage to make their songs somehow full of very weird hooks, synthesizer bleeps and bloops, and a guitar duo who could play like machines themselves but were very good under the potato head hats. This music makes it almost impossible to focus on anything else and will lighten your mood. The greatest Devo track “Jocko Homo” is a must.
8) The Church Priest = Aura
Maybe it’s self-hypnosis that’s more your vibe. This album from one of the longest lived and still active Australian bands ever, is regarded by most Church fans as their masterpiece. I love it although picking an absolute favorite is hard because they have such a great catalogue. But for calming your nerves, first, if you’re tired don’t drive. But if, after you get home after shopping in a snowstorm, pick up to go food for the family, all of whom are out doing school activities and your spouse is late from their job, before you implode, get into your jacuzzi or a nice hot bath, weld the door shut, and cue up this beautiful album. Steve Kilbey’s voice is languid, soft, and just what you need, and shimmering gorgeous guitars melt together and caress you for over an hour before the instrumental “Film” closes the album. Don’t let your head go under while you veg to this or just about any Church album.
7) Exodus Bonded By Blood
Okay, this is the ultimate example of a great early thrash record that will punch every button you’ve got and get you a sizable speeding ticket as well. Were you a Metallica fan from the early days? Well, Exodus and Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett were as one, until Hammett was invited to join Metallica. Fact is Exodus was first, and today after much debate, despite the “Big Four” bands’ debuts, those “Big Four” bands being Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, Bonded By Blood is considered, and I concur, the best debut thrash album from the Bay Area.
Some think there should have been a “Big Five”, but since the term was used only to illuminate sales, it is a pointless list anyway. Personally, if I had to vote, it would be Exodus, Testament, Metallica and Slayer on the West Coast, and Overkill, Kreator, Sodom, and Whiplash on the East/Europe side. But while I must headbang in my head, which is dangerous, now that I think about it, I still get the same thrill and good time I had when I was a teenager and early 20’s with so much great punk and metal to enjoy.
6) Leonard Cohen
Practically anything this great man ever recorded, but I’ll limit it to his last two albums, You Want It Darker and the posthumous Thanks For The Dance. This is probably a second mention, but these two albums are fairly short, and easily digestible in an hours’ time. Cohen, as fans attest, was probably the greatest lyricist/poet in the popular music world, and as he aged his music took on a world weariness that was tangible. And his stories were so captivating, his use of the language so unadulterated genius and beautiful that it is almost impossible to think of anything else when listening to this great musician. Which is the focus of this article, where some of us like it hard and heavy to unwind, and others prefer the mellow route.
5) Albert Collins: Cold Snap
A blues album? You better believe it, mister. Thing is, Albert Collins was a huge fan of Chicago jump blues, and always had a very decisive and extremely groovy soul sound that always, as the style suggests, jumped, had a furiously funky feel and in his last several albums a band that was just outstanding. Albert Collins was more familiar with folks on the West Coast for some reason, his being from Texas, but he rocked and rolled as well, and with his Telecaster and capo, whupped (Texas – you don’t “whip out” leads – you “whup out” leads) out leads with his icy tone but still friendly and always a great time despite his “freezing” gimmick.
He usually included some humor as well, and this great album includes “I Ain’t Drunk”, and “Too Many Dirty Dishes”, about coming home and finding all this good food his woman never cooked for him and making his guitar sound like it was running water and scrubbing chili pots with a steel wool pad. Collins was a huge influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan as well, and this is about as fun and enjoyable to me blues can get. But don’t forget any of his albums, including one, Showtime, where he gathered up Johnny Copeland, another Texas guitar slinger and Robert Cray for a steaming set of blues that earned them a Grammy.
4) Motorhead No Sleep ’til Hammersmith
The live album that followed the legendary Ace Of Spades was a huge hit in Britain, and has always been regarded as one of the best live rock and roll albums of all time. Nowadays, with computers doing most of the work, I must admit I would be very suspicious of most live albums, but this ain’t one of ’em. Your drive to the shopping center will be much more enjoyable as you enter the lot, roll your window down and let Lemmy Kilmister, Fast Eddie Clarke and Phil (Philthy Animal Taylor) blow “No Class” out your window. Let those other people know you are not afraid to take that parking space! Motorhead were as heavy and raw as real rock and roll was ever made, and it’s sad the classic line-up, like The Ramones, has passed away.
3) Jim Hall Concierto
This is a three album set, and just beautiful from start to finish. Hall was one of jazz guitar’s most delicate players, supremely gifted, especially in chord and theory knowledge, and had a feel and sound that was so soft, so mellow you’d think each note was strummed with a feather. It is another for relaxing to, again not recommended if you’re drowsy, but even non jazz guitar fans will find this to be a great way to chill.
2) The Rolling Stones: Goats Head Soup
Some people are not particularly fond of this album. I disagree. It is an essential piece of the set of albums that began with Beggars Banquet, and included Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. This album is a rocker and that infamous crunch will keep you on your toes, especially with “Dancin’ With Mr. D”, “Heartbreaker”, and “Star” to close out a rollicking set. It’s in a 50 year set now, too.
1) The Sea And Cake Oui
Why I keep forgetting this incredibly beautiful jazz style band out of Chicago is a mystery because they are never far from my stereo. These guys are so mellow you can melt rocks and make frosting out of them while you listen, because even the rocks just want to chill. Musically, if you’re a Steely Dan fan, and like the idea of really smooth breathy vocals courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Sam Prekop, and the jazzy yet contemporary oh-so-tasteful songs and hooks, this band cannot fail you. Oui is my favorite, but One Bedroom, Everybody, and Car Alarm are superior albums, as, well, all their albums are. This music will mellow you out, your cats will sing along, badly, but you’ll love this amazing band.
He knew I’d picked it for him and myself although we never told anybody. It was a special bond that could and will never be broken, and because my wife was part of it, she makes up the third person of that triumvirate.This means no matter what nasty crap is going on outside, the massive crowds inside, and traffic, when you pick that special song, one that is all yours, and frankly to hell with those who disagree and tell you so, have a little wine or brandy when you get out of the snow and ice, peel off those wet socks, draw a nice hot bath and play that song or CD, nobody can invade your innermost space.
Classic Rock To Distract You From The Holiday Madness article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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