Trout Mask Replica


Album: Trout Mask Replica

Artist: Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band

Released: June 16th, 1969

Highlights: Frownland, Moonlight on Vermont, Pachuco Cadaver, When Big Joan Sets Up, Steal Softly Thru Snow, Veteran’s Day Poppy

Over the years that have passed since its release, much has been said and written about “Trout Mask Replica”. The truest of all assessments, however, came from the immortal John Peel. In general terms, the radio presenter claimed that within the pantheon of pop music – a realm which he knew better than pretty much everyone else – the third record by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band was the closet the medium had ever gotten to producing a work that could qualify as art in the sense that people involved in other artistic fields would see it and perceive it as such. And it is quite easy to visualize the accuracy that lies behind that claim, because unlike any other album save for, perhaps, Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, “Trout Mask Replica” is devoted to pushing the traditional musical format to its limit, with the difference between both works lying in how the former does it by breaking into sheer noise, while the latter – more interestingly – gets there by staying grounded in actual tunes.

Like the provocative piece of art that it is, “Trout Mask Replica” sits idly, stares into the eyes of its audience, and dares to be analyzed. Is it being serious? Is it mocking those that have stopped to look at it? Does it hide some sort of hidden message that can only be unlocked by one who goes through it multiple times? The answer is impossible to know. What is unavoidable, however, is that “Trout Mask Replica” holds the amusing ability of making anyone who decides to talk about it look absolutely silly. If hailed as a masterpiece, the evaluator will come off as a pretentious fool that is trying to look smart. If labeled as an utter disaster, the reviewer will be accused of being a contrarian seeking to stir some controversy. And if graded somewhere in the middle, that means “Trout Mask Replica” was treated just like any other album, which is a downright wrong way to approach it. It effectively unmasks the beholder, making any opinion concerning it reveal more about the individual that formulated the analysis than about the record itself.

In contemporary terms, therefore, “Trout Mask Replica” is the equivalent of an extremely skilled troll; engaging it is a no-win scenario. To create this monster, as it has often been related, Captain Beefheart went to absurd lengths, reportedly locking himself up alongside his band-mates inside a rented house for eight months in order to rehearse the compositions. By itself, that interval already seems sufficiently gruesome; it gains even darker contours, though, when one learns that period included financial trouble, with the group living on a subsistence diet; fourteen-hour workdays; a cult-like environment; as well as both physical and mental abuse, given Captain Beefheart was not shy to berate or assault his peers when they made mistakes or failed to perform up to his standards.

The attacks were, needless to say, totally unnecessary and deplorable. Yet, listening to “Trout Mask Replica” leads one to see some sense behind the insane intensity of the rehearsals, because it certainly takes a while for the mind of a musician – very much accustomed to a series of rules and structures related to the discipline – to be able to break away from those vices and access the musical madness achieved in the album. There is logic to “Trout Mask Replica”. similarly to its predecessors, it is firmly grounded in blues, filtering the genre through a considerably demented lens; likewise, the loose nature of its playing and singing nods to the improvisational characteristics of free jazz. It is right there, though, that any traces of reason cease to exist, for after using those two pillars as a form of propulsion, the album is left to glide through the unknown according to its own twisted whims.

“Trout Mask Replica” is dissonant, loud, and obnoxious. It does not attempt to harmonize. It rarely tries to create a piece that gets close to the widespread definition of what a song is. And it is generally unpleasant to listen to. As if to augment the potency of the instigation it blatantly aims for, it presents all of those characteristics through a running time (seventy-eight minutes) that is extreme and a number of tracks (twenty-eight) that is usually reserved for records that possess notable stylistic variety, like The Clash’s “Sandinista” or The Beatles’ “White Album”. Very differently from those, though, “Trout Mask Replica” could not care less about any sort of flexibility, because its concern is to blindly pound away with deformed blues licks, often built on top of each other, and simultaneous beats whose lack of uniformity create a cacophonous polyrhythmic mess.

It is so primal and chaotic that listeners unaware of the history behind the record’s production are likely to think of “Trout Mask Replica” as the output of sessions in which the musicians improvised irrationally and furiously. After all, no sane mind could possibly write these tunes intentionally and no rock band could practice enough to reproduce these songs like a well-oiled machine. But Captain Beefheart, in the numerous forms of art he used to express himself, never operated within normal standards; and his Magic Band were very proficient individuals that not only shared the wild artistic openness of their leader, but that were also molded into the unlikely creature that gives life to “Trout Mask Replica” through despicable tyrannical brutality.

As the group bangs and organically adds shifts to the grooves of the album, Captain Beefheart, like a shaman urging spirits of the other world to appear with more intensity, throws fuel into the fire with his howling voice and manic woodwind playing. In both cases, the dissonance arising from what the band is playing and what Don Van Vliet is doing is blatant; it is as if the singing and multiple saxophone solos that appear through “Trout Mask Replica” were edited from other songs and carelessly pasted over the base of the tracks. That effect is especially notable in relation to the vocals, which are mixed way louder than the instruments, a calculated move that strongly highlights the incompatibility of the elements, partially clouds the absurd complexity of what the band is playing, and sheds a strong light on the bizarre nature of Captain Beefheart’s lyrics, which tread a unique line of complex imagery, psychedelia, and – of course – tongue-in-cheek humor.

There is a lot going on in “Trout Mask Replica”, and almost none of it can be traced to what came before Captain Beefheart’s most notable album. Simultaneously, and as the greatest statement regarding its uniqueness, it is equally nigh impossible to link the record to any music that has followed it, in spite of how many artists point to it as a source of either inspiration or admiration. The greatest gift “Trout Mask Replica” gave the world was radically questioning the formats and thresholds that are applied to popular music; it pushed those boundaries so considerably that the wildest  instances of experimentation can be safely conducted with a lot of room to spare. And amidst its sheer weirdness – one filled with spoken-passages, sound collages, random screams, absurd wordplay, and a lot of calculated blues-based banging – the album walks through the amusing and the annoying; the thrilling and the dull; and the satisfying and the puzzling. It is, concomitantly, a steaming pile of trash and a transcendental experience: there is a lot of space in-between, but it is awfully hard to fit “Trout Mask Replica” in it. Unless, of course, you have no idea what to do with it.

White Light/White Heat


Album: White Light/White Heat

Artist: The Velvet Underground

Released: January 30th, 1968

Highlights: White Light/White Heat, Here She Comes Now, I Heard Her Call My Name, Sister Ray

Given its indisputable status as one of the greatest albums of all time, it is hard to say there is one particular variable that made “The Velvet Underground & Nico” be so remarkable. Yet, much of its irresistible, dangerous, dark, and subversive aura stemmed from the balance of forces that existed within the group; more specifically, the one that consisted of the dirty street-smart rock and roll power of Lou Reed, and the avant-garde spirit of John Cale. Although much of the writing was done by the former, which kept the songs firmly grounded on the format and hooks expected out of pop music, the latter’s desire to experiment with sounds, arrangements, and multiple sorts of atmospheric elements was passed onto the band members themselves, including Reed, and – consequently – leaked into the fabric of the tracks that were cut.

It was a harmony so perfectly adjusted that in the spectrum that denotes the gap between pure rock and roll energy and inscrutable artistic delusion, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” stood precisely in the middle of that range; achieving a hard-to-match stability that allowed its most significant tunes, like the plodding menace of “Venus in Furs”, to be fierce but mysterious; violent but elegant. As the second, and final, album recorded while Cale was in the band, “White Light/White Heat” exhibits that very same battle between opposing forces; however, in its case, the result of the struggle is clearly askew, because the musical chaos it contains could not possibly be the product of a finely tuned and perfectly stabilized balance.

It is, though, not the case where one side has obviously come out on top. As such, claiming “White Light/White Heat” was birthed by the submission of rock to avant-garde aspirations is somewhat off. The album exists as it is because the chemical reaction between guitar music and weird noise, which was quite well-managed in “The Velvet Underground & Nico”, has suddenly gone out of control. And in the wake of the explosion caused by the accident, the creature that was once capable of restraint has been transformed into a berserk entity that lives in loudness, thrives in destruction, and indulges in disturbing forms of sentimental expression.

“White Light/White Heat” is not rock brutally murdered by rabid art: it is music corrupted by insanity; it is sound affected by odd creative whims. Because, when it is all said and done, amidst the overwhelming noise, the unstoppable desire to wreck, and the relentless attempts at reaching for all that is ugly, the album rarely loses its ability to please, be it by unearthing the occasional beautiful melody, landing on the always desired musical hooks, and bringing forth those grand moments of release. There is method to the madness of “White Light/White Heat”, and that gives a purpose to the sonic assault it presents through most of its duration other than producing shock and confronting audiences, as it is also able to entertain almost thoroughly.

Its opening track, which lends its name to the album, is surf rock on amphetamines not just because its lyrics deal with the effects of the drug, but also thanks to how its music might as well have been made while the band was high on them. Propelled by a pounding piano, it has a call-and-response structure that includes harmonies that nod to The Beach Boys, only the neat California lads were hallucinating so much they mistook a dirty bathroom for a clean studio and failed to keep it all together for too long, as the whole performance deteriorates into mindless banging as it reaches the two-minute mark.

The pair of “Here She Comes Now” and “I Heard Her Call My Name”, meanwhile, stand on opposite sides of the aesthetic scale. Although the band sounds absolutely aloof through it, the first is a beautiful and melodic interlude whose ambiguous lyrics, which leave the door open for one to question whether Lou is talking about his guitar or a woman, are at the same time underlined by gentle instrumental work by both Reed and Morrison as well as, in true avant-garde fashion, partially demolished by a repetitive pattern that goes nowhere. Contrarily, the second, which also bets on a circular format, is ugly, visceral, energetic, and delightfully grating. In it, Morrison, Cale, and Tucker stay locked into a demented pulse; simultaneously, Reed’s guitar – mixed as loudly as possible – spirals away madly, spitting venom into the ears of listeners, who are greeted by one of rock’s most wicked solos while the singer rants as if possessed and the rest of the group occasionally repeats the song’s title.

And then there is “Sister Ray”. Relating a story that involves transvestites, an orgy, as well as a heroin deal that goes wrong and ends up in murder, it is a seventeen-minute jam put to tape in one take that begins with a simple guitar riff and slowly mutates into a monstrous cacophony. As legend tells it, the session’s recording engineer refused to sit around and listen to what the band was about to perform, choosing instead to simply press the button and walk out. Exaggerated tale or not, “Sister Ray” puts together quite a case for it being true, for it speeds up and slows down wildly and features all four members of the band competing to be the one playing the loudest instrument in the room, as Reed vies for that spot with blistering guitar solos but is ultimately outdone by Cale, who causes an absolutely glorious racket with an organ whose volume would probably get him arrested for attempted manslaughter in any civilized country.

Even though often thrilling to the greatest degree, the wildness of “White Light/White Heat” does not always click, as it generates a couple of lesser moments. “The Gift” is an eight-minute spoken-word track with vocals and instruments mixed to separate channels that, despite featuring a fantastic jam, gets boring after one has listened to its disturbing tale once; and “Lady Godiva’s Operation” is just interesting, with a lot of that value emerging thanks to how its music and sound effects work together to bring to life the messed up lobotomy of a transsexual woman. But given how much of an effort the record puts towards pushing the lines of what is musically and thematically acceptable, missteps are nothing but utterly natural. After all, the process of challenging norms and breaking rules is bound to give one a few bruises; these, however, turn out to be more than worthy if the subversiveness yields a few good results. And in the case of “White Light/White Heat”, The Velvet Underground sure uncover some precious music that would not have been found out if nobody was willing to take the mad leap.

Black Monk Time


Album: Black Monk Time

Artist: The Monks

Released: March 1st, 1966

Highlights: Monk Time, Shut Up, I Hate You, Complication

For quite a while, The Monks have been baffling those that are interested enough in rock to be willing to take a look at the oddest and most obscure corners of the genre. Formed by five soldiers of the United States’ army who were stationed in a small town in West Germany, the band was one of those musical sparks that, rather than going through the process of fading away, burned out quickly, coming together, playing some concerts without ever having the chance to step in their home country as a group, recording an album, and disbanding in slightly more than four years.

And, truth be told, the footprint left by these fine gentlemen – who, sticking closely to the name they went by, wore black habits and shaved tonsures – would not be so notable had they, time and time again, not been mentioned as some sort of weird atemporal phenomenon that somehow anticipated trends that would only show up much later in the annals of music. As most critics and historians have it, The Monks – during the twenty-nine minutes of their one and only album – tease: with their experimentation, the avant-garde tendencies of rock that would only emerge in 1967 through The Velvet Underground; with their stripped-down production, the basic nature of the garage rock style, which would find its defining moment a few years later via The Stooges; and with their careless and wild playing, the roughness of the punk movement, which was one decade away.

It is a lot to pack into such a small amount of time, and it is a junction of branches so unexpected in both temporal and geographical terms that “Black Monk Time” may initially be seen as a product that is almost from another world; and, indeed, back in 1966, West Germany probably felt like a different planet to those in England and in the United States, the centers in which rock was developing. There are, however, method and sources for the strangeness of the record, two factors that make it slightly more earthly. For starters, as mad as all the tunes contained in it might seem, they are usually firmly grounded in the beats of rockabilly, meaning that they come in fast, bouncy, playful, and packed with short driving riffs; moreover, there is a lot of doo-wop and surf music influences that emerge when the whole band harmonizes in velvety, but mildly twisted, vocalizations.

And these are a pair of flavors that would not be hard to find in many groups of the era. It is undeniable, though, that the crazy far outweighs the typical. Larry Clark plays a searing and untamed organ whose prominence in The Monks’ music, especially when it goes into short frantic improvisations, at times recalls the work of The Doors; Dave Day uses a banjo more frequently than he employs a guitar, giving the brief pounding riffs a folk-country edge that feels amusingly out of place within the confines of what the group is doing; and Roger Johnston delivers unusual drum patterns whose speed and chaotic heart serve to enhance the spiraling insanity of the tracks.

The star of the show, though, is Gary Burger. With his loud, piercing, and feedback-laden guitar, he brings forth not just noise, but also utterly reckless mini-solos of delightful spontaneity; and with his rather elastic voice, he talks energetically, he screams in excitement, he shouts in blatant threat, he preaches in lunacy, and he appears to try a little bit of yodeling at some point. His is the perfect unhinged facade of a quintet of folks that sound absolutely demented. It is in that psychosis and in their annoyance at the restrictions of rock music, which reportedly frustrated them, that The Monks find their identity; and, much to the pleasure of listeners, “Black Monk Time” – as idiosyncratic as it may be – contains plenty of hooks and great moments, even if they are dressed in too much madness for the general population to warm up to them.

In “Monk Time”, while the band pounds relentlessly, Burger – like a cleric – spreads the word on the harms of the Vietnam War and also finds the time to introduce the members of the group; in “Shut Up”, The Monks repeatedly build up to the glorious, menacing, and violent moment when they shout the catchy four-word chorus in unison; in “Higgle-Dy-Piggle-Dy”, a basic repetitive beat is the platform for the vocalist to spout gibberish and for him as well as Clark to go crazy with their respective instruments; in “I Hate You”, whilst Burger goes on a shrill rampage of rage, the other monks counter humorously with a deadpan harmonization; and a similar kind of vocal interplay, but leaning towards the angry, is what carries the beautiful hurricane of insanity that is “Complication”.

The value of “Black Monk Time” might be inflated by those who see it as the point of origin for all kinds of rock that are wild, spontaneous, unfiltered, bold, or downright crazy. Certainly, these are all adjectives that apply to the music of The Monks, and surely there are bridges, some clearer than others, between what they built here and a lot of what was to come later, even if – at the same time – “Black Monk Time” is perhaps too far apart from the sounds of punk and garage rock to be seen as the ancestor of those genres. More relevant than discussions on historical relevance, though, is the fact that the album is highly original and fun.

Nobody sounded like The Monks back when they were active, and it is likely – amidst the mountains of songs that are produced every year – that no one has ever come close to playing like they did. Their uncontrolled brand of rockabilly has a loose, unpretentious, and rowdy vibe that is invariably endearing, punctually hilarious, and weirdly infectious.

“Black Monk Time” does lose some of its initial steam as it approaches its end, for the three tunes that close it out – despite the funny “That’s My Girl” – lack the strong ideas that abound in the first half of the record; moreover, thanks to the repetitive nature of their music, a few tracks – regardless of their brevity – may annoy some due to how they keep beating listeners over the head with the central hook over and over again. Even with those problems, however, “Black Monk Time” is a unique blast; an album that may not be as otherworldly or as important as advertised, but that has the potential to be more entertaining than anticipated.

Os Mutantes


Album: Os Mutantes

Artist: Os Mutantes

Released: June 1st, 1968

Highlights: Panis et Circenses, A Minha Menina, Baby, Bat Macumba

In 1922, a one-week event in São Paulo’s municipal theater gathered Brazilian artists from different parts of the country with the goal of launching the nation’s culture towards Modernism. Out of the many artistic lines of thought exposed during those seven days, one in particular is highly important for the understanding of “Os Mutantes”, a psychedelic rock album that would emerge from the same country and city more than four decades later. And that is because poet Mario de Andrade, seeking to establish a local artistic expression that would simultaneously be distinctively Brazilian but also ready for global exportation, inadvertently set in stone the foundation behind the record when he presented what he would dub the Anthropophagic Movement.

According to Andrade, Brazilian artists were not meant to ignore the cultural production of prominent regions such as Europe and the United States; they were actually meant to eat and digest those influences throughly. However, as they did so, in order to preserve the Brazilian character of their own output, they also had to swallow the culture of the groups that had been an integral part of Brazil’s formation; namely, the Portuguese, the indigenous peoples that had ruled the land before the arrival of European colonizers, and the Africans that had mostly stepped into the country as slaves. And it was through the ingestion of these external and internal currents that local artists would be able to spit out works of worldwide relevance with a unique Brazilian twist.

“Os Mutantes” fits into that context because, either purposely or unconsciously, Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista, and Sérgio Dias followed that exact recipe in the building of their very quirky psychedelic trip. From outside Brazil, they feed on the dark wackiness of Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and eat the colorful instrumentation, pop sensibilities, and acid-fueled circus vibe of The Rolling Stones’ “Their Satanic Majesties Request” and, especially, The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, all released in the previous year. Meanwhile, from within their South American borders, their nourishment comes from the musicians involved in the Tropicália movement, such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Jorge Ben Jor.

It is a cultural tug of war, one that sometimes gets more strongly pulled towards one of its extremes, as it happens in the vaudevillian “Senhor F” and in the excellent foreign pop covers of “Le Premier Bonheur du Jour” and “Once Was a Time I Thought”. In the end, though, it remains thoroughly balanced through most of the album’s running time, creating a brand of psychedelic rock that albeit being one year late to the drug-influenced party of 1967 still arrives timely enough to have an impact. More importantly, even if by its release psychedelic rock had already been tackled quite extensively by both its creators and those who jumped aboard the train after it left the station, the special mixture behind “Os Mutantes” guarantees the originality of its content.

What is found here cannot be had anywhere else, because it could only have been produced by a Brazilian band mutually aware of the relevant musical exploits happening in its country and of the British and American fads that dominated rock music at the time. “Os Mutantes” is, therefore, either Tropicália on acid or tropicalist psychedelic rock and most of its eleven tracks are bent on joining these two sides. In “A Minha Menina”, written by Jorge Ben Jor, the trio takes a samba tune, keeps its signature percussive elements, but drowns everything in studio trickery and a wicked fuzzy guitar. In “Adeus Maria Fulô”, they dabble into baião (a popular rhythm from Brazil’s northeast), and although the instrumentation of the tune is sober and closer to what is traditional, the production makes it sound loose and trippy.

In “Bat Macumba”, one of the two songs in the record composed by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, where a single verse is humorously repeated over and over again first by removing a syllable at each passage and then by adding them back one by one until the verse is complete once more, they dive into the rhythms of African-Brazilian religions with an added Beatlesque beat. And in both “Panis et Circenses” and “Baby” the band does Tropicália drenched in odd effects and unpredictable arrangements.

“Os Mutantes” is not, however, an uniform bliss of accessible psychedelia, pop, and Tropicália, for it does contain a trio of moments when the band veers into wilder territory. Not coincidentally, those tend to come up when the band itself is left on their own to come up with material, and the irregular quality of these tracks reveals not only an inclination by Arnaldo and Sérgio to be highly experimental (a nature that would emerge further down the line) but also that the trio had yet to mature into solid songwriters. “O Relógio”, despite its interesting dynamics, lacks melodically; “Trem Fantasma”, where the group cleverly harmonizes in a way that imitates the whistle of a train, has nice instrumentation but an absence of notable hooks; and closer “Ave Gengis Khan” feels a whole lot like filler.

These tracks stop “Os Mutantes” from being the masterpiece its stylistic originality signals it could have turned out to be. Still, these songs are not entirely problematic, as they do carry some redeeming features. Furthermore, they also add to the general strangeness of the record. And like so, they indicate that the cultural anthropophagy idealized by Mario de Andrade in 1922 and executed by Os Mutantes in the gestation period of the album generated a very Brazilian acid trip with exquisite moments of brilliancy and a couple of occasions when the chemicals get in the way.

Beggars Banquet


Album: Beggars Banquet

Artist: The Rolling Stones

Released: December 6th, 1968

Highlights: Sympathy for the Devil, No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle, Street Fighting Man

When 1968 came around, The Rolling Stones were going through a bit of a personality crisis. Instead of further exploring the blues-inspired songwriting that had emerged on “Out of Our Heads” and “Aftermath”, the band had – with a certain degree of success – ventured into Beatlesque pop with “Between the Buttons” and surfed the psychedelic waves that were sweeping through the world in “Their Satanic Majesties Request”. “Beggars Banquet”, then, was a return to the roots of American music, a realm the band had thrived in ever since their early days of records filled with reinterpretations of remarkable R&B numbers. The year-long hiatus from their favorite universe, though, seemed to serve both to increase the band’s thirst to produce songs based on rhythms from across the pond and also to give them a much higher level of musical maturity, for not only is “Beggars Banquet” utterly masterful, it also marks the beginning of the most mesmerizing five-year music-producing run any band has ever put together.

“Sympathy for the Devil”, the classic opener, might deceive most listeners into thinking “Beggars Banquet” will be yet another highly experimental venture, but under the dancy samba groove summoned by its percussion and piano, sit the foundations of a rock track, which surface when Richards, after Jagger has narrated how the Devil had worked as an active agent in many of mankind’s worst moments, breaks into a bitting blues solo. The album’s flawless first side is complemented by four numbers blatantly based on traditional American styles: “No Expectations” is a painful acoustic blues track where Jagger mourns over lost love; “Dear Doctor” is humorous, and borderline mocking, take on country – including Richards’ signature out-of-key backing vocals – sang by a man who is relieved to have been left at the altar; “Parachute Woman” is finely played blues where Richards’ tasteful guitar and Brian Jones’ omnipresent harmonica shine; and “Jigsaw Puzzle” has Dylanesque lyrics that depict a surreal scenario and an arrangement that follows a crescendo throughout the song, reaching its peak when Richards’ slide guitar comes into play.

Meanwhile, the record’s second side features its two most aggressive tunes, the politically charged “Street Fighting Man” and the politically incorrect “Stray Cat Blues”, in which The Rolling Stones turn their blues influences into a powerful rock sound; and the acoustic trio of “Prodigal Son” – a Biblical blues cover, “Factory Girl” – another country number, albeit one that is approached more seriously than “Dear Doctor”, and “Salt of the Earth” – a gospel ode to the working man that serves as a great album closer and whose style would later be replicated in the often misinterpreted hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Stylistically, the band had already touched upon every stone they turn in “Beggars Banquet”; country, blues, R&B, folk, and gospel were always close friends to the boys from London, especially of Jagger and Richards. However, up until that point, never had these traditional genres been handled with such magnificence by any of the British youngsters that had been inspired by American music in the early 60s to assemble their own rock bands. With “Beggars Banquet”, The Rolling Stones transformed from a band that paid homage to those icons into one that moved the legacy of those men forward.

Electric Ladyland


Album: Electric Ladyland

Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Released: October 16th, 1968

Highlights: Crosstown Traffic, 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be), All Along the Watchtower, Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

An eighty-two-second track that uses a myriad of special effects to produce the sound of what seems to be a landing spaceship; that sketch, boldly titled “… And the Gods Made Love”, is what opens up “Electric Ladyland”. If aiming for the previously unheard sounds that heavenly entities emit was Hendrix’s blueprint when heading into the studio, then “Electric Ladyland” is by all means an undeniable success. It is a legendary trip through sounds that, instead of resonating, paint; and the images they create are gorgeous moving watercolors of feelings, life, and energy. Where “Axis: Bold as Love” had surfed the peaceful waves of 1967’s Summer of Love to define, along a handful of other records, the psychedelic music that marked a generation, “Electric Ladyland” was – more than its most perfect and ambitious point – its elevation to a new musical level.

As a masterfully done sixteen-track record, the album finds plenty of room to explore all of the facets of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. On its more orthodox side, which is conventional only within the unique standards set by the Experience, Jimi is captured at the height of his songwriting powers: “Crosstown Traffic”, with its bluesy rhythms and infectious backing vocals, is absolutely thrilling; “Long Hot Summer Night” locks into one of those mellow hypnotic grooves that serve as a trampoline for Hendrix’s exquisite playing and for the unraveling of a smooth melody; “Come On” and “All Along the Watchtower”, covers of Earl King and Bob Dylan respectively, tower above the originals thanks to spectacular guitar arrangements and Jimi’s soulful vocal interpretations; “Gypsy Eyes” is a flashy blues number; and “House Burning Down” finds the Experience playing with the same reckless energy displayed on their debut.

And then, there are the downright trippy songs in which Hendrix stretches out his magic to unforeseen dimensions, which – in the end – are the core of what makes “Electric Ladyland” so remarkable. “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” invents, within three minutes, soul music dressed up in psychedelic mannerisms; the fifteen-minute live improvisation “Voodoo Chile”, which merges science fiction with blues, and its studio-recorded Siamese twin “Voodoo Child” project a showy Hendrix exploring the full extent of his talent as a guitarrist; “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” is a stunningly beautiful song hidden beneath layers of effects; “Rainy Day, Dream Away” has the band tackling a drug-infused jazz jam; and the thirteen-minute “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” might qualify, thanks to its iconic guitar riff and lyrics depicting an underwater world, as Jimi’s most comely work.

Despite Noel Redding’s poor “Little Miss Strange”, “Electric Ladyland” rises – within the three studio records Hendrix put out during his lifetime – as his magnum opus. More than being a highlight inside the confines of his works, though, the record is an absolute landmark in rock history as well, for it redefined, with its lengthy numbers and multisection songs, the boundaries of what an LP could represent and contain. Its greatest quality, however, is how, as a hugely ambitious project, it hits pretty much all the marks it aims for. “Electric Ladyland” is an unmatchable display of technical fireworks, but – in the end – its most important legacy is how it serves as the most direct and accurate window into the universe that existed inside the mind of a genius.

The Who Sell Out


Album: The Who Sell Out

Artist: The Who

Released: December 15th, 1967

Highlights: Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand, I Can See For Miles, Can’t Reach You, Sunrise

“My Generation” introduced to the world Pete Townshend’s songwriting talent and The Who’s ability to play loudly vicious rock music. “A Quick One”, particularly its closing nine-minute attempt at a mini rock opera, hinted that a great deal of thematic ambition hid behind the group’s pop rock sensibilities. “The Who Sell Out”, the group’s third record, is the joining of both of those worlds; it combines the compositional prowess of the debut – albeit in a more refined and adventurous state, with the wish to produce a set of songs that comes together into a uniform package of images and ideas that was present in the sophomore effort. The result is simple: one of the greatest albums of the 60s .

From its opening thirty-second snippet that leads the way into the aggressive and purposely oddly mixed “Armenia City in the Sky”, whose progression is punctuated by out-of-place background noises that rise and vanish, “The Who Sell Out” nods at its goal: to feel like a transmission from a British pirate radio station. The Who supports that concept by filling the intermissions between tracks with either real-life jingles or short musical segments produced by the band itself, which ends up lending the album a uniform levity and lightheartedness that is mostly unparalleled in the rock realm even nearly fifty years after the album’s release.

Delightfully so, the theme contaminates some of the record’s songs themselves. John Entwistle, who would in later works prove to be a very good and funny – yet not very prolific – composer, turns in two original musical commercials in the hilarious “Heinz Baked Beans” and “Medac”, an anti-pimple cream that saves the young Henry, who had a face like “a currant bun”; and also contributes with the whimsical but sinister “Silas Stingy”. Townshend, meanwhile, delivers the full-fledged “Odorono”, about a girl who loses a job opportunity because of an ineffective deodorant brand; “Odorono”, he claims, would have been the right choice. The greatness of “The Who Sell Out”, though, does not lie exclusively in wackiness, humor, and satire, for it is packed with impressive numbers that make up the core of the record.

“Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand” is a catchy folk ballad with psychedelic undertones about a girl who was rather popular with the boys; “Tattoo” has a bit of an operatic multi-phased structure compressed in its three-minute length, and it is filled with remarkable melodic lines; the classic “I Can See For Miles” is noisy, chaotic, energetic, anthemic, and explosive; “Our Love Was”, “I Can’t Reach You”, and “Sunrise” are three of the most heartfelt, simple, and honest love songs Townshend – one of rock’s best composers – has ever written; and both “Relax” and “Rael” also rank highly within the group’s catalog, with the latter being a simple hypnotic number and the latter a mini opera. By packing such a colorful palette inside thirty-eight minutes of music, “The Who Sell Out” is easily one of the standout works of the band’s discography and one of the wildest and most amusing musical journeys available out there.



Album: Revolver

Artist: The Beatles

Released: August 6th, 1966

Highlights: Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There and Everywhere, For No One

If “Rubber Soul” showed The Beatles maturing past the silly lyrics of their first five records, retaining the themes of love and relationships but doing so with far more insight and thoughtfulness; and moving away from the standard rock and roll energy of their early compositions while walking towards more varied musical grounds. “Revolver”, then, is the natural progression of that process, as the group tackles new themes and simultaneously takes unique sonic trips that lead the quartet to untraveled paths within the realm of popular music.

Starting with Harrison’s “Taxman”, a riff-centered lighthearted mockery of the exaggerated British taxes; and ending with Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”, an Indian-inspired atmospheric marvel ridden with brilliant studio trickeries that attempts to conjure in sound the effects and feelings of meditation, “Revolver” is nothing short of  a landmark. In addition to “Taxman”, Harrison emerges as a solid songwriter on the sitar-based “Love You To”, a psychedelic oeuvre that goes along nicely with “Tomorrow Never Knows”; and “I Want to Tell You”, which falls right on the range of the band’s standard infectious pop-rock tunes.

Meanwhile, McCartney and Lennon keep solidifying their respective positions among the world’s best composers. The former starts to display his love for Vaudeville through “Good Day Sunshine”; pays a homeage to Motown with “Got to Get You into My Life”;  turns in the record’s most gorgeous melodies on the ballads “Here, There and Everywhere” and “For No One”; and delivers “Eleanor Rigby”, which – guided by a double string quartet and depicting the lonesome lives of numerous characters – is one of the album’s finest studio experiments. At the same time, John, showing an ability that rivals that of Paul in the writing of straight catchy tunes, but with a far rockier punch, with the likes of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said She Said”, keeps being The Beatles’ quirkiest and boldest musician.

His are the trippy and beautiful “I’m Only Sleeping”; the intenionally childish “Yellow Submarine”, which gains an even stronger whimsical air thanks to Ringo’s singing; the surrealistic ode to his drug provider “Doctor Robert”, which might be the LP’s weakest cut but that stands as a commendable experiment; and the closing epic “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Ultimately, what makes “Revolver” so masterful is that every single member was willing to push themselves to new places and explore untouched musical terrain while keeping their sights tightly focused on delivering strong melodies. For that reason, “Revolver” finds and makes the tiny intersection between experimentation, innovation, and accessibility the home from which it towers over most of the world’s musical output, serving as a guiding light to musicians of all ages and backgrounds.

Buffalo Springfield


Album: Buffalo Springfield

Artist: Buffalo Springfield

Released: March 6th, 1967

Highlights: For What It’s Worth, Go and Say Goodbye, Flying on the Ground Is Wrong, Pay the Price

Much like The Yardbirds, whose ever-shifting lineups included three man who would go on to become guitar Gods (Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck), Buffalo Springfield was, unbeknown to themselves and to the rest of the world, a supergroup, for it featured two musicians who would become legends down the line: Neil Young and Stephen Stills. Naturally, with such immense talents in play, the group’s entire output would be polarized by the pair, and their first record is a blatant display of the enormous creativity these twenty-year-olds had in store.

“Buffalo Springfield” is neither one of the world’s most polished records, nor is it wonderfully produced; in both areas, the album sounds undercooked and somewhat immature in spite of the occasionally insightful lyrical contents. However, the strong songwriting that permeates the entire product makes it easy to hold it in high regard as one of the earliest and purest exponents of rock and roll transitioning into a modern format. As a work with such qualities, it borrows a lot from The Beatles: tight harmonies are everywhere, the songs are short, the hooks irresistible, and the structures as straightforward as possible.

The biggest difference in relation to the Fab Four, and it is quite a big one, is that Buffalo Springfield is far more grounded in folk music. “For What It’s Worth”, the best cut on the record, is a quiet ballad on the protests by LA youngsters against an early curfew that had been approved. Meanwhile, the Young-penned “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is almost psychedelic in soundscape and irremediably trippy on the imagery its complex words paint. As a display of other varied influences, “Go and Say Goodbye” is a great example of how a remarkable country melody can be turned into an electrical treasure, “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” could have appeared on any The Beatles record before “Rubber Soul” without seeming out-of-place, and “Hot Dusty Roads” has verses drenched in blues.

The group can even rock out nicely, and it does so in Young’s “Burned” and Still’s “Leave” and “Pay the Price”. However, those rougher songs reveal that the production lacks the punch to make the recording more dynamic and lively, something the band was unhappy with at the time of the album’s release. Yet, in spite of sonic shortcomings and a few songs that could have been more polished, “Buffalo Springfield” is a worthy debut for a group that would soon blow up due to the immeasurable talents it housed.

Surrealistic Pillow


Album: Surrealistic Pillow

Artist: Jefferson Airplane

Released: February 1st, 1967

Highlights: She Has Funny Cars, Somebody to Love, My Best Friend, White Rabbit

“Surrealistic Pillow” is one of those sophomore efforts that, while not being a huge departure from its predecessor, displays an astounding level of growth. For starters, whereas most tunes inserted on “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off” were the brainchild of guitarist and singer Marty Balin, hence being joined at the hip by an encompassing folk-rock aura that had already been far better explored by groups such as The Byrds, “Surrealistic Pillow” sees other musicians of the group contributing as well, with a whopping five members chipping in with tunes of their own.

The result is obvious: “Surrealistic Pillow” embraces a wide palette of styles and is able to join them with a good degree of homogeneity and coherence on the same record. “She Has Funny Cars” moves forward with a traditional rock and roll beat that turns to weird terrain when the chorus, where Balin and newly added member Grace Slick sing partially disjointed and partially harmonized vocals, kicks in; “Comin’ Back To Me” is a haunting ballad accompanied by a woodwind that lends it an ancient folky grace; “3-5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” rocks with loud ferocity; and the sublime “Today” paints a lush landscape with its wide mix and numerous instrumental and vocal tracks.

The greatest prowess of the band’s second work, though, is not its variety, but the fact that – with it – Jefferson Airplane found a musical niche to call their own; one where folky tunes meet restrained psychedelia. The songs are short and melodically simple, even if sometimes they present some significant shifts in tonality, and the album exhales a distinctively psychedelic soul, whether it is on its occasionally laid back and floaty vibe or on lyrics riddled with references to drugs, counterculture, and sensitivity that transcends of an average sober human.

The peak of that web, and the point where all of those elements are clearly brought together, comes with “White Rabbit”, a song which would – naturally – go on to become the ultimate symbol of the band’s first phase. By referencing “Alice in Wonderland”, Grace Slick builds a growing and increasingly maddening crescendo that starts out monotonous until it explodes on a blatant, and loud, display of vocal talent. In a way, “Surrealistic Pillow” is a lot like that fictional world: it is hard to know what is coming next, but one thing is for sure, it will entertain through obvious insanity, low-key tripiness, or odd peace of mind.