Top 100 Album Review: #56 – Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

Stevie’s Magnus Opus

While a bit self-indulgent, this double-LP contains so much good material it’s impossible to listen to it all in one sitting. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #56/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I had a three hour drive ahead of me, and I thought I would be able to get through all of “Songs in the Key of Life,” but halfway through the album I was exhausted. It is a pit of endless material.

If I had to register a minor compliant — some of these songs are just too long, which contributes to the exhaustion level. But hey, if I put together a 21 track album, some of which would live on forever as a quintessential-American soundtrack, I might do whatever I want, too.

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Top 100 Album Review: #65 – Moondance, Van Morrison (1970)

Brass Folk

Morrison mixes folksy guitar work with some brass backing to make a unique sound.

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #65/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I put on this album before I started a 5 mile run. Reaching the crest of a hill with the sun peaking out on the horizon, “Into the Mystic” began to play. It made me reach a spatially different mindset where time seemed to neither move nor matter. I had moved into some alternative space where my run was effortless and my thoughts easy.

The entire Moondance album has an otherworldly feel: it slowly hypnotizes you with easy guitar, folky lyrics, and soft brass bands interspersed through the music. The style becomes repetitive though, with not all the songs making an impact.

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Top 100 Album Review: #72 – Purple Rain, Prince (1984)

Weird at Times

But fantastically so, with the hits far outweighing the strange.

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #72/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I’m a Prince fan, but I know some of his stuff can get down right weird. Part of that is him, willing to take chances and do whatever the hell he wants. The other part is a product of the time of his ascent — the 80s — where you could get away with all sorts of synth wailing. I found Purple Rain a complete listen, even if there are some treks across uncharted, psychedelic lands.

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Top 100 Album Review: #83 – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love you, Aretha Franklin (1967)

It Took a Few Listens

But I finally came to appreciate the down-tempo album and majestic voice of Arethra Franklin.

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #83/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

I remember when I found out Prince died: I was at my house and saw it on facebook. I hadn’t listened to my regular music in years, preferring chill/new age stuff while writing, reading, or studying. The last year was nothing but school, so my Amazon Music Library was the equivalent of cobwebs. I pulled up his discography and immediately started crying. Each song reminded me of something. 

I didn’t necessarily have the same relationship with Aretha, but her recent passing still had impact: songs that instantly transported me to another time. Memories. Experiences. I had just turned 21. Returning after drinking at a bar for the first time (legally, I should add), I listened to all of her greatest hits, soaking it up.

I’ve been listening to this album for weeks, way before news of her illness was made known. Her passing made it even more poignant. While I made my mind up about the rating and what songs to highlight a while ago, I was reminded that these greats won’t be around forever.

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Top 100 Album Review: #67 – The Stranger, Billy Joel (1977)

The Piano Man’s Reigning Achievement.

One of those rare albums where almost every track is a triumph of song writing perfection. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #67/100
Grammy: Song and Record of the Year for “Just the Way You Are.”
My Rating:cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

Billy Joel intertwines with my coming of age. I found a 2-disc greatest hit collection in the streets of Richmond, VA when I just got my permit to drive — it didn’t leave my driving music rotation for years, and Goodnight Saigon become an anthem between my friends.

When I saw this track listing, I new most of the material with 6 out of the 9 songs being “Greatest Hits” material. Seeing the songs in their natural habitat on “The Stranger” along with the other solid material is almost unthinkable: how did someone come out with this much good material at once?

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Top 100 Album Review: #40 – Forever Changes, Love (1967)

Hippie Odds and Ends

A college apartment personified, Forever Changes is a collection of scattered furniture and decorative knickknacks that coalesce into an uneven presentation punctuated by occasional gem. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #30/100
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

If you never knew what being a hippie was like, I’m assuming this is it: disjointed, psychedelic, sometimes smart, drug inspired, bizarre. If I have to give Love some credit, it would have to be in the style. It’s a unique mix of guitar riffs, mariachi horns and lyrical content that suites the hippie era.

While sometimes this all comes together to be brilliant (Such as in ‘Alone Again, Or’ and ‘A House is Not a Hotel’), more often than not I feel like I’m listening to the generic, hippie scrawl that regulates itself to weird background noise.

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Top 100 Album Review: #36 – Tapestry, Carol King (1971)

The Song Writer’s Breakout

Tapestry, a sprawling epic including hit after hit, was a chance for Carol King to show off her own material.

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Carol King with her cat Telemachus, named after the son of Odysseus from the Greek Mythology story the Odyssey.

Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #36
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

If you are over 50 or like any type of old music, you’ve heard Carol King’s work.

Between her writing career and people doing covers of her songs, King has given hit singles to several other well-known artists, including James Taylor, Quincy Jones, The Animals, The Drifters, Roberta Flack, and more. Known as a prolific song writer in the 60s with her then husband Gerry Goffin, King didn’t have any platform of her own as her pervious band “The City” was disbanded between label switches and her debut album “Writer” did not make much movement on the Billboard charts.

Then Tapestry released. Carol King was launched into another stratosphere as one of the most successful, solo-female acts.

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