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Scott's favorite 20 Albums of 1973

1973 was the greatest year in the history of Rock and Roll

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    Joe Walsh / The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get : It can be argued that “Rocky Mountain Way” is the perfect rock song. Part anthem, part ballad, with a message of freedom and a hummable hook, it is one of the greatest guitar songs ever written. On the strength of hearing that one song, many (like me) took a chance and plunked down six bucks or so for a copy of the second album from a band called Barnstorm, featuring a lead singer and guitar slinger, a former member of the band James Gang named Joe Walsh. Joe Vitale and Kenny Passarelli share the load with Joe on this one. It’s unfortunate they could not make that lineup stick. Yes, they did record together (in many forms and combinations) in the years to come, but they were never better than on this, their second record together and last as Barnstorm. I’m out here in the meadows. Part of an old stone wall. Stand here because he said so. Waitin’ around to fall.
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    Lynyrd Skynyrd / Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd : An entire generation of boys who grew up listening to the Who and then were turned on by the sound of the Allman Brothers picked up guitars and started forming garage bands in the late 60’s. The songs they wrote and sang were about the places they lived. Lynyrd Skynyrd, formed by guitar players and Little League teammates Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, was named after a gym teacher that each hated. Anger, and its offspring, violent retribution, were the themes of many early Skynyrd songs. Along with Ed King, Collins and Rossington formed the most famous of the “Guitar Armies”. Ronnie Van Zant, his voice aged with Marlboros and whiskey, spoke directly to me. The Allmans are usually credited with starting Southern Rock, but “Freebird” was its anthem. Along with the ‘bird, the debut LP from Skynyrd gives us rock radio foundation music like “Gimme Three Steps”, “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man”. It wasn’t just a first album. It was the first shot across the bow.
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    Little Feat / Dixie Chicken : Lowell George had been around the California music scene for a decade by the time this collection of drinking songs and mournful ballads hit the record store shelves in ’73. Formed from the burned ashes of one of Frank Zappa’s many configurations of the Mothers of Invention, Little Feat was one of the first bands I heard that strayed from the conventions of rock music. What was that chord? How did they play that change? This was not a derivative of Chuck Berry. More than the music, George’s stories about bar room whores and speed-eating truckers hit home with a generation of teens eager to leave home and do a little living on the road. Thank you, Lowell. And all the boys around the bar began to sing a song…
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    John Lennon / Mind Games : In the on-going tit-for-tat competitive record releases by the ex-Beatles that dominated the charts of the early 70’s, John Lennon’s songs are generally looked at as serious, deep thinkers, while Paul McCartney is viewed as a pop writer. Neither of those two generalizations works entirely, but it’s hard to argue that Mr. Lennon was deep within himself when he released “Mind Games”. Featuring a cover adorned by the face of Yoko Ono and songs like “Meat City” and “Tight A$$” and an uncompromising, unapologetic attitude throughout, Mind Games clearly divided Beatle fans into two camps. These were not, as one ex-Beatle may have put it, Silly Love Songs.
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    Eagles / Desperado : The first two Eagles LPs, “Eagles” and “Desperados”, were a mix befitting the roots the band’s members represented, a mix of bluegrass, country-rock and the L.A. Canyon scene, comprised of James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. The foursome, lead by Glenn Frey and Don Henley and backed by Poco outcast Randy Meisner and banjo-dobro-guitarist Bernie Leadon headed into 1973 blazing the trail of blue jean rock. The last (and some would argue best) effort in this vein was “Desperado”, an enduring nod to cowboys, drinkers and those on the wrong side of the law. Years later, it is best remembered for the title track, with man astride horse, mending fences, but back in 1973, the tracks that really jumped from this vinyl were Frey’s drinking song “Out of Control” and “Doolin-Dalton” written by Frey, Henley, J.D. Souther and Browne.
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    Aerosmith / Aerosmith : The first album from Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer makes you want to go out. Out! Out of the house, down to the club, to see some live music! It sounds like a party. “Aerosmith” even goes as far as to feature a half-live-half-studio track, the band’s cover of Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”. Between these boys and J. Geils, it was quickly becoming apparent that Boston was the home of Rock and Roll (sorry, Cleveland).
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    Steely Dan / Countdown to Ecstasy : It took Steely Dan a long time to break up the band, but once they did, what a band they became… This is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s second album, following the smash “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. If the duo learned anything during their initial recording experience, it was to never, ever listen to the record company. It was ABC Records who, upon listening to Fagen’s vocals on the first Dan recordings, brought in another singer (David Palmer) to “flesh things out”. For the second go ‘round, Fagen and Becker took charge, dismissing Palmer, stepping behind the knobs and ushering some of the most interesting and insightful music to be called rock and roll. “Show Biz Kids”, “My Old School” and “Bodhissattva” should be enough, but five more tracks, each a story and adventure, round out one of my favorite albums of all time.
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    Doobie Brothers / The Captain and Me : There was no place to hide from the Doobie Brothers in the summer of 1973. Every jukebox, car radio and record player was spinning The Captain and Me. The album made it to “Double Platinum” (more than 2 million copies sold) thanks to radio hits like “China Grove” and “Long Train Runnin’”. The Doobies featured two accomplished rock singers (Tim Johnston and Pat Simmons) a killer slide guitar player (“Skunk” Baxter) and a funky rhythm section of John Hartman and Tiran Porter. They toured relentlessly, partied endlessly and, starting with “The Captain and Me” went on one of the most successful runs in the history of rock and roll.
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    Steve Miller / The Joker : Few worked harder than Steve Miller. 1973’s “The Joker” was Miller’s 8th LP and represents a simpler recording style for him. It paid off. The band skipped the psychedelic trappings of earlier works to concentrate on their specialty – the blues. I distinctly remember this one being one the first (and only) quadraphonic recordings I had (on 8-track, no less). Hearing the conversations that happen during “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ but Trash” coming at you from four different directions was enough to blow a 14-year old’s mind. It was on “The Joker” that Steve Miller finally balanced the artistic and commercial sides of his act, managing to garner a pop hit with the title track (#8 in the Top Forty) and an album staple with “Sugar Babe”.
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    Emerson, Lake and Palmer / Brain Salad Surgery : The “Prog-Rock” movement of the late sixties-early seventies featured long, meandering tales of middle ages and middle Earth, surrounded by long, meandering solos on strings and keyboards. What it failed to generate, prior to E,L,P’s “Brain Salad Surgery”, was a “radio friendly” song. All that changed with “Lucky Man”, a song about (you guessed it) the middle ages and a hero of that time. Backed with “Still… You Turn Me On”, it cemented Greg Lake as the voice of the Progs. The band visited Pittsburgh that fall and the concert featured a 20-minute drum solo from Carl Palmer and a flying piano solo from Keith Emerson. Yes, I said “flying”. The grand piano was raised into the air, Mr. Emerson seated at the bench, never missing a note as he and the Steinway twrled in mid-air.
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    Bruce Springsteen / The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle : Historically, a rock band’s first album is a recreation of their stage act at the time, made up of songs the band has been playing live, sometimes written years before recording. The second album, then, represents true studio work, songs crafted near the time of recording. “The Wild…” is Bruce Springsteen’s second album released and contains his first tries at “recording-while-writing” More importantly, it puts into place the players who will go on to make some of the most popular albums of all-time – the E Street Band. Of course, they did not yet have that name, but “Nick” Clemons (as Clarence was known then), Danny Federici and Garry Tallent forged a partnership with the Boss (as he would soon be known) that would last for four decades. The album also features a song that quickly became the closing number for Springsteen’s legendary marathon concerts – “Rosalita”. The song would remain at the end of the Boss’ set list for more than 15 years.
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    ZZ Top / Tres Hombres : “La Grange” is my favorite song about prostitution (and there are many). The first time I heard it on the radio I was hooked by Billy Gibbons’ growling vocal and that guitar. Tres Hombres, ZZ Top’s third album, is the record that converted many of us. Soon after its’ release, we were hearing the sounds of “Waitin’ for the Bus”, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” and “Move Me on Down the Line”. One of the hardest working bands in all of show business (a trend they continue today) ZZ Top visited Pittsburgh three times in 18 months while this album climbed the charts.
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    Stevie Wonder / Innervisions : In the summer of 1973 the rock world was in the midst of a love affair with the synthesizer. Stevie Wonder recorded much of “Innervisions” using an ARP synth as the basic instrument. In case you’re wondering (no pun intended) how an artist like Stevie Wonder makes it onto a list of “rock” records, consider that the first time many of us heard “Living for the City” or “Higher Ground”, the seminal tracks from this album, it was on WDVE. Yes, rock radio used to play Stevie Wonder. Just as the album was set to be released, Wonder was a passenger in a car that collided with a log truck while being driven from a gig in Durham, North Carolina, spent four days in a coma and nearly lost his life.
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    Paul McCartney and Wings / Band on the Run : First and foremost is the fact that there is no such thing as “Wings” – at least, not on this album. “Band on the Run” is Paul McCartney playing just about every instrument, with help from Denny Laine, a few studio guests and, yes, wife Linda. Three years removed from being a member of the Beatles, Sir Paul traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to record. The place was inhospitable, even hostile at times. The recording sessions were marred by violence outside the building and illness within. And yet, after five months, McCartney emerged with his best work, post-Fab Four. “Helen Wheels”, “Jet”, “Band on the Run”, “Live and Let Die” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” all hit the charts. The LP made it to #1 in both the US and UK.
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    Rolling Stones / Goats Head Soup : The cover features only Mick Jagger’s face. That should tell you the direction the Stones were taking in the Spring of 1973. This LP is one of Jagger’s brightest moments as a singer. It is the last album the band recorded featuring what many consider their greatest lineup, with Mick Taylor and Keith Richards on guitars and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman providing the rhythm. Recorded in Jamaica, it gave the world “Angie”, “Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” and dark moments like “Dancin’ with Mr. D” and “Star Star”. Outtakes from the “Goats Head Soup” sessions resurfaced on the LP “Tattoo You”, including the hit “Waiting on a Friend”.
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    Elton John / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road : There was no bigger or more popular recording artist on the planet in 1973 than Elton John. Early that year he released “Don’t Shoot Me I’m the Piano Player”, a huge success. As the group toured to support that effort, Elton and Bernie Taupin wrote new tunes. During a break in the tour, they stepped into the studio and recorded basic tracks for “Yellow Brick Road” that included pop hits (“Bennie and the Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”) country-tinged ballads (“Danny Bailey”, “Roy Rogers”, “Social Disease”) and songs that quickly became mainstays of Album Rock Radio stations like ‘DVE (“Grey Seal”, “Love Lies Bleeding”, “Candle in the Wind”).
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    Allman Brothers / Brothers and Sisters : The first recording done by the Allman Brothers Band after Duane Allman and Berry Oakley’s deaths, “Brothers and Sisters” represents a leap forward as Gregg and Dickie Betts employ keyboardist Chuck Leavell to “fill in the gaps”. He does more than that. “Jessica”, “Come and Go Blues”, and “Wasted Words” have become part of the Allmans’ concert catalogue, but the most important track on the album is their first radio hit “Ramblin’ Man” which introduced the Allman Brothers to a much wider audience.
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    Led Zeppelin / Houses of the Holy : By the time Led Zeppelin got to their fifth album, they were studio experts. It shows in this recording. Their most ambitious yet, “Houses of the Holy” features all the trademarks of a great Zep effort – quiet, insightful numbers (“The Rain Song”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “No Quarter”), head banging rock and roll (“Rock and Roll”, “The Song Remains the Same”, “The Ocean”) and even ventures into previously unknown territories with a reggae song (“D’yer Maker”) and a James Brown rip-off (“The Crunge”). Even the album cover is renowned, having been nominated for a Grammy for “Best LP Packaging”
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    The Who / Quadrophenia : A commercial failure, this four-part Pete Townshend story gained strength slowly. Even die-hard Who fans found trouble connecting the dots. So complex was the storyline that the band stopped playing “Quadrophenia” live after just one short tour. The best things are worth the wait. Years later, this album is considered by most to be the band’s best. “5:15”, “Bell Boy”, “The Real Me” and “Love, Reign O’er Me” help tell the story of Jimmy, a Who fan pulled in four directions by the band’s four distinct personalities.
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    MY NUMBER ONE PICK: Pink Floyd / Dark Side of the Moon : With 50 million copies now in the hands of Floyd fans, Dark Side of the Moon ranks as one of the greatest selling rock records, all-time. It entered the charts in March of 1973 and stayed there for 741 consecutive weeks, an all-time record. “Money”, “Time” and “Us and Them” each became rock radio staples and sales of “Dark Side of the Moon” made the four members of Pink Floyd – Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright – household names and very wealthy men (a topic Waters would revisit in subsequent releases).