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Albums of the Year, 1978-2017

(An edited version of my original post that adds my 2017 pick.)

“Album of the Year” is an honorific I’ve bestowed on one album (sometimes two) every year since beginning my journey into music fandom. I started the practice one late-December evening in 1978 on a piece of looseleaf paper, selecting my favorite LP from the dozen or so LPs I owned. In time, I transferred the list to typing paper, entered it into our first computer, saved it to a floppy disc and, in the late 2000s, moved it to an external hard drive. I now have it stored in the Cloud along with all my Pages documents.

And, for the longest time, that’s all it was – a list that I returned to every year to add another line. Even when we had our Old Grey Cat website in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, I never wrote year-end summations of my favorites – I was too busy critiquing Neil Young bootlegs. It wasn’t until 2008 on Facebook that I posted my top picks for the year; and, on and off over the next few years, I followed with missives until launching this blog on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in 2012. (I’ve since moved to wordpress.com, obviously.)

I think I best explained the way I go about it in this 2010 post: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

That’s not to say that I still feel the same about each of my past selections as I did when I picked them. I was (and am) a major McCartney fan, but London Town and Back to the Egg weren’t his best, let alone the best of their respective years. I know that now, but at the time…I was a kid on a limited budget. More recently, I’d flip my top two picks in both 2010 and 2012 – in 2010, as I wrote at the time, I relegated Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul (one of my all-time favorites) to the second slot because it hadn’t been officially released in the U.S.; and, in 2012, I was simply smitten with Susanna Hoff’s perfect solo effort, Someday – I still am, but Neil’s Psychedelic Pill has received more play in the years since, as I explained in 2014 rumination I titled On Albums of the Year & the Pono Player.

But, in a way, that’s beside the point. The list, as I see it, is less a critical exercise and more a reflection of the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes. At Diane’s urging, I’m sharing it… (and, where possible, I’ve linked to past blog posts about each of the albums or artists).

2017 – Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (1); Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat (2)
2016 – Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook
2015 – The Staves – If I Was
2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III
2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2)
2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl
2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2)
2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt
2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away
2007 – Maria McKee – Late December
2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way
2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China
2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo
2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive
2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate?
2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland
2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature
1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert
1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon
1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie)
1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily
1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels
1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden
1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood
1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors
1989 – Neil Young – Freedom
1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe
1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2)
1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut; Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2)
1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2)
1983 – Neil Young – Trans
1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War
1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2)
1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg
1978 – Wings – London Town

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Today’s Top 3: Monterey Pop

June 16th, 1967 was a momentous day in the world of rock ’n’ roll: the three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival kicked off.

Wikipedia provides the specifics for the now-legendary event, so I’ll skip listing each and every act that partook in the weekend. Among them, however, were such stalwarts as Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Byrds, Laura Nyro, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Buffalo Springfield, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and the Mamas & the Papas.

(I say “stalwarts” but, of course, several of those acts wouldn’t have been described as such at the time. And no act was considered legendary. “Legendary” and “rock ‘n’ roll” weren’t believed to go together.)

In any event, D.A. Pennebacker filmed the festivities for what became the beloved Monterey Pop concert doc. Big Brother’s manager didn’t want the unknown group filmed without getting paid, so ordered the crew to turn off the cameras; Janis Joplin, their lead singer, so wowed the crowd on Saturday afternoon, however, that she and the group were talked into returning the next day and performing for the cameras.

It was also an inexpensive proposition. How much would a similar three-day fest set you back today? According to the Inflation Calculator, the top ticket ($6.50) should now cost $47.63 – but that’s before the Ticketmaster/Live Nation overlords, and unfettered greed, play their part. In reality, it’d likely set you back $150-$200 a night.

All in all, the weekend was – in a word – groovy; and in two words, really groovy. 

So, with that in mind, here’s today’s Top 3: Monterey Pop. As in, highlights from each of the three days…

1) Friday:

Eric Burdon and the Animals – “Paint It Black.” Burdon & Co. cover the Stones.

Simon & Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence.” Why this stupendous rendition of this timeless song wasn’t included in the movie proper, who knows? (It’s now a bonus on the DVD/blu-ray release.)

2) Saturday:

The Byrds – “He Was a Friend of Mine.” David Crosby’s impromptu rap in this clip supposedly ruffled the feathers of Mssrs. McGuinn and Hillman. And the set was the last time he performed with them…

Laura Nyro – “Wedding Bell Blues/Poverty Train.” The lore surrounding Laura Nyro’s appearance is that she was booed…but it was less being booed and more being ignored for reasons that had little to do with her. No one knew who she was, as was the case for other acts, but she was backed by a band she’d rehearsed with just once – and, as a result, her delicate music became something of a sludge hammer. That said, the bonus clips on the DVD/blu-ray are well worth watching – the camera picked up the magic that the audience missed.

Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love.” The Airplane was flying high this pre-summer’s night thanks to the success of this song, which soared to No. 5 on the charts this weekend.

Otis Redding – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Another timeless performance.

3) Sunday:

Big Brother and the Holding Company – “Ball & Chain.” Does it get any better than this? The band’s performance is raw and ragged, but backing that voice…as Mama Cass says at the end, “wow.”

Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth.” David Crosby substituted for an AWOL Neil Young in the Springfield’s set, which didn’t sit well with his fellow Byrds…

The Who – “My Generation.” So the Who and Jimi Hendrix flipped a coin to see who followed who… and the Who lost. The poor Grateful Dead were stuck between them – and made to seem all the more boring my comparison.

Jimi Hendrix – “Hey Joe.” Well…a full performance on YouTube of Hendrix’s infamous “Wild Thing,” which culminated with him lighting his guitar on fire, isn’t to be found. This incendiary rendition of “Hey Joe” is, however.

The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin’.” The Mamas & the Papas following Hendrix, the Dead and the Who just seems…weird in the context of what we now know. But at the time? They were the hippie kings and queens of the Monterey Pop castle to three acts few were aware of.