Playing the memory game is kind of fun. Who doesn't like to stroll down memory lane and remember a time that is now safely in the past and can no longer hurt us? There's no uncertainty here. 1974 is OVER. Anything you worried about back then is done. Unless you have some sort of lingering malady that's hung in there for 35 years. To which I'd suggest that's not a problem, that's you.
If you read the music press you'll be quick to learn that 1974 was a terrible year for music. It was sorta like the 2009 of its day. Except looking at this list, it doesn't look all that bad. Not great. No 1979, that's for sure. But not the travesty that supposedly made the punk revolution so necessary. Then again, I'm not plugged into a radio that's playing what was actually was popular. I'm pretty sure that The Residents, Kraftwerk, John Cale and Big Star were not getting the spins they deserved. Just as the 1980s had a lot less Husker Du and Butthole Surfers than Whitney Houston.
But it's time to take a stroll down memory lane. And pretend that everything was equally great all the time.
And you know why I left Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks off this list? Right brain consult left brain for a meeting in the central hemisphere, pronto!
New York Dolls--Too Much Too Soon: When people wonder why certain bands weren't more popular, it sometimes seems pretty obvious. These guys didn't come across as being particularly reliable. They were New York City tough and that's not always what management is looking for. They look for guys who want to "play ball" not to knee you in the groin when you're not looking.
24) Kiss--Kiss / Hotter Than Hell: Kiss were nothing if not persistent, releasing two moderately unsuccessful albums in one year. Most other bands would've taken the hint and tried something new. But Kiss were determined and the very next year, they struck with another unsuccessful studio album before finally getting their point across with a double-LP live album. Imagine if the New York Dolls had this kind of output in them. They'd be #24 on this list!
Procol Harum--Exotic Birds And Fruit: Procol Harum mania never really reached the heights initially expected like when they had that hit with "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Any band that names their album Exotic Birds And Fruit is obviously looking to sell less. Or they're being managed by people with no idea of what would appeal to teenagers with 8-track players in their hatchbacks.
22) ABBA--Waterloo: The beginning of Swedish dominance that does not persist to this day unless the Cardigans count and last I checked they really didn't. Maybe it's a trade embargo. I don't know, but there was a time when ABBA were allowed to be very successful in this country.
Black Oak Arkansas--Street Party: BOA singer Jim "Dandy" Mangrum is a personal fave of this blog even though I rarely (never) listen to him. Sometimes it's just the idea of someone that makes it all worthwhile. Some people even think he came back as David Lee Roth just a few short years later. Could be.
20) Gram Parsons--Grievous Angel: For some he created "country rock" but it's always felt more like he uncovered it. Like it was sitting there just waiting to happen. Because you didn't have to do all that much to it to make it happen. You just took country music and made sure to lose most of the corny back-up singing and strings that Nashville had started adding to it. Basically, you returned the music to its roots and in turn were given your just reward. Or in Parsons' case, you OD'ed in a motel in the desert and had your roadie steal your body and burn it at Joshua Tree. Why isn't there a movie already?
Lynyrd Skynyrd--Second Helping: Southern Rock is more "country rock" than much of what officially gets the attention because if you listen even casually to Skynyrd, you'll realize they rock. In a very southern way. They played loud and tough and still sneak a ballad in there to make the little girls cry. Sounds like country music to me, the way Hank Williams might've planned it.
18) RUSH--RUSH: This album hardly sounds like the Rush the world came to know. Their "real" drummer, Neil Peart, wasn't even on board yet. So no Ayn Rand theories. No concept album material. Just some guy named John Rutsey playing in a hard rock band from Canada. Contractual obligations require me to mention these guys far more often than seems plausible or logical. Wait till we get to remembering 1959.
Randy Newman--Good Old Boys: Another one of my contractual obligations. I'm still hoping Randy will adopt me as the son he never wanted. This album was a concept album about the South that takes a rather "unusual" approach. We'll leave it at that. I mean, you try singing the chorus to "Rednecks" in public and see how long you live. Irony or not.
16) Joni Mitchell--Court And Spark: Her most popular album because it was time. She'd made better ones but sometimes it takes time to catch up. Besides, radio has to decide it likes you as well.
Robert Wyatt--Rock Bottom: Though tragedy surrounds this album--Wyatt fell out a window and lost the use of his legs, effectively ending his drumming duties--much of the album had been written before the accident. Only in the limited confines of rock n' roll could this be heard as a "jazz" album but then anything with "weird" chords or unorthodox melodies is immediately labeled "jazz" or "avant-garde." It's just the way things are. You can't change them. So enjoy this jazz album from this, the only jazz blog that matters!
14) Lou Reed--Rock N' Roll Animal: It's amazing that Lou Reed didn't do this sooner. He sure has done it a lot since. That is, fall back on his Velvet Underground days and let people hear the songs they really want to hear. Sure, he can write about anything and explore new territory all he wants, but in the end people want to hear "Sweet Jane" as loudly as possible.
Mott The Hoople--The Hoople: Ian Hunter just released another solo album at the age of 70, which means he was already 35 when this album came out. Which back then was considered really old. Rock 'n' roll people have had to do a lot of revisionist math these days.
12) The Residents--Meet The Residents: With an album cover that parodied the Beatles and music that sounded very different from the Fab Four, the Residents looked to overthrow the government or at least the established order somewhere with this "avant-garde" showing. Art students the world over knew they, too, could succeed in music without knowing what they were doing. Except these guys actually did know what they were doing. They just let us think they didn't. Sneaky bastards, really.
Jackson Browne--Late For The Sky: The poster child for the sensitive singer-songwriter gets picked on for being sensitive, which is kind of like complaining about a punk band for playing too loud. That's the whole point. This might be the best album he ever made, which came after already making two really good ones. It just proves some people were afraid of quality.
10) Kraftwerk--Autobahn: The 22-minute title track was edited down to three minutes for the single. That's quite an edit. Few people realized at the time how much they'd be revolutionizing music. How they'd be taking it out of the hands of musicians and placing it in the hands (?) of machines. This album also makes people drive illegally fast. You can be arrested for listening to this album in some states.
John Cale--Fear: Any album that includes a song called "The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy" automatically makes this list. It also features members of Roxy Music and suggested at the time it would be John Cale who would be the most important member to leave the Velvet Underground and not that Lou Reed guy.
8) Big Star--Radio City: Tons of conspiracy theories remain over why Big Star were never hugely popular the first time around. But they were on a pretty small label. They didn't tour. They were difficult. See New York Dolls. Then see how cooperative the Raspberries were.
Steely Dan--Pretzel Logic: Look everyone it's another "jazz" band. Yep, another band playing chords clearly outside the protocols of rock n' roll. Who wrote the manual on this stuff? It's as if someone was against people turning right on red or something!
6) Robin Trower--Bridge Of Sighs: Every time I interview a veteran electric guitar player--and for awhile I was averaging one a month--they bring up the name Robin Trower and this album in particular. It's a heavy one. Lots of riffs that sounds as if they were discovered under a mound of Quaaludes.
Gene Clark--No Other: The weird member of the Byrds--the guy who wrote the songs and left first--made the most rewarding solo albums. This one used to be rare but then like everything else it got reissued and showed up on the Internet like everything else and now it doesn't have to be a big secret anymore. It can be famous!
4) King Crimson--Starless And Bible Black, Red: Two albums in one year seems a bit ridiculous, especially considering the complexity we're listening to here. Guitarist Robert Fripp was said to be going through a crisis of meaning at this point, which suggests crisis looks good on him. Again, you can file this one under "jazz" since it has fancy chords and long songs.
Neil Young--On The Beach: Now, here's an album with long songs that no one's going to be filing under "jazz." A couple of the tunes even use the word "blues" in their titles and yet don't sound like "blues" songs, but long, meandering folk songs that get written when people do heavy drugs and think their every utterance carries cosmic significance. Which, in the case of this album, might be true.
2) Brian Eno--Here Come The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy): By now, you can pretty much assume that 1974 was one weird year for music. Or it could be if you decided like me to look in the corners rather than the middle of the room. Brian Eno has since gone on to produce U2, so even people who don't follow music often recognize his name. These would be two good starting points.
Van Morrison--It's Too Late To Stop Now, Veedon Fleece: If you know this blog, you might have seen this coming. One's a double live album and the other may be the best album the man ever made. Some will forever pick Astral Weeks and you'll get not argument from me. But if you've ever purchased a Veedon Fleece--no other fleece will simply do.