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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Top 100 Album Review: #6 – What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)

A Fascinating Album & Undefinable Genre

An album that faithfully conveys the feelings and spirit of the never named Vietnam veteran returning home with a varied collection of soul, gospel, funk, R&B, and pop that can only be categorized as Marvin Gaye. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #6/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Marvin Gaye had to fight for this one.

Tired of having Motown dictate his creative direction, Gaye wanted to create an album that was more personal and less hit-oriented. Barry Gordon wasn’t having it, but after threatening to never record again, Gordon allowed Gay to have full creative direction.

This is a masterpiece of an album: nine songs that freely float into one another, recall motifs of previous tracks, and the most interesting story arc in concept album story telling. Following an African-American, Vietnam veteran after his return from war, the subject matter risks being too preachy, but by having an actual character as the vessel to experience everything, the album becomes a prescient bit of social consciousness. Instead of being hung up on politics, we get to experience and FEEL this unnamed protagonist’s plight.

“Don’t punish me with brutality,
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on.”

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Top 100 Movie Review: #100 – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Somehow I Enjoyed a Musical 

I don’t know who I am anymore — enjoying a film based on theater and stage.

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James Cagney plays in this biographical movie about George Cohen, the man who ruled broadway and had his beginnings in vaudeville America.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #100/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, supporting actor etc. Won for Best Actor (James Cagney).
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

My dislike for theater runs deep and goes to my early days of college — VCU was home to a vibrant theater community, and early every morning they would flood the dining hall dressed in straight black forgetting that they weren’t on stage. It was kind of like a qualitative study where I got to see what the stress of performance did to one’s life first hand, not to mention the suspense of what Shafer Hall would do to my GI tract.

I set up my netflix cue with a bunch of random movies, so when Yankee Doodle Dandy arrived, I really had no idea what it was about. Once I read that summary on the DVD slip, I started to worry.

Somehow, I came out not only pleased, but ready to recommend this film to anyone who would listen to me Yammer about vaudeville, WWI and this “American as you get” film.

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Top 100 Album Review: #30 – Blue, Joni Mitchell (1971)

An Extremely Personal Expose About Relationships

Completely exposed, Joni Mitchell touches a nerve featuring all textures of a relationship. Her infatuation, longing, loneliness, and heartbreak is cracked open for all of us to see.

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

The first two CDs I ever owned were Lou Bega’s Mumbo Number 5 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. What do you want — I was a weird kid. Riding around on bus #22, I jammed out to the folk goodness of Joni Mitchell as we caravanned down cow-covered patches in western Hanover in Virginia.

I shouldn’t say I owned it; I overheard it being played by my sister and my mother, and after one of them left it in the CD drive, I got in the habit of listening to it while playing some of my favorite browser-based games (Archmage or Sissyfight anyone?). As a 13 year old, I did not exactly catch what all the lyrics were about. I much more appreciated the solid tunes and the earthy tones of the singer-song writer genre that was pretty absent from my 90s music diet.

Listening to this as a thirty year old is quite a different experience — past people and places bubbling to the surface with each track.

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Top 100 SNES Review: #19 – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest (1995)

A Platformer That Gives Reason to Replay

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Sydlexia’s Ranking: #19/100
Developer: Rare
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This has always been a down low favorite game of mine, and it has a lot to do with all the secrets that are so enticing to find. Diddy Kong’s Quest offered the original Xbox Achievements as each level is scattered with hidden DK coins and tokens. I feel like this was the first time that someone considered replay value beyond a stale rerun through the same levels.

DK2 has the usual quirkiness that the game traditionally brings: a little bit of culture, bizarre animal enemies, and adult Kongs that have their own unique angles. Cranky Kong is probably a favorite as he chastises the player for having it so much easier than earlier gamers (arcade and NES era) and breaks the fourth wall a little bit. This always gave the game a boost of flare and made it more rememberable.

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Top 100 Album Review: #91 – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)

Rip-Roaring Rock, Start to Finish

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Rollingstone Magazine’s ranking: #91/100
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I came of age in a post-album era. iTunes purchases were only .99 per song, and we picked apart an artist’s catalog like making our plates at a buffet.

I wonder what this has done to our musical palate: we don’t give ourselves time to give any songs a chance, never mind giving a whole album with a variety of lyrics and tunes an opportunity to impress us.

I only knew about Elton John via his greatest hits. But, that kind of leaves me with no idea of who Elton really was as an artist. I feel like it has been said that we get to know an artist through their “B-Side” (which is a reference to the other song that was sold with a single when it was a physical 45RPM vinyl disc), so I was blissfully unaware of anything beyond “Crocodile Rock” and such.

Elton John was born in 1947 and has had an illustrious career starting with his first album in 1969 (Empty Sky) culminating throughout the years to make him the 5th best selling artist of all-time, having 50 (FIFTY) top 40 hits and releasing 30 studio albums. So we know Elton can write a hit, and many of them, but how does his album work hold up?

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Top 100 Album Review: #100 – In the Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra (1955)

Like the Concept, Not the Execution

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Rating: smooth-starsmooth-star

I’ve always been a fan of Frank Sinatra. One of the first albums I ever owned was “Classic Sinatra – His Great Performances from 1953 to 1960.” Those 20 songs encapsulate so much of what is great about Sinatra: timeless voice, great instrumental backing, classic songs.

During college, I worked at a local YMCA that played awful radio music and during the holidays the station changed to Christmas music only. We literally listened to nonstop, Christmas music for 30 days — you try and deadlift to “Do You Hear What I Hear.” (Gentle reminder that this was before mp3 players).

I took over as part-time DJ during my shift to avoid from losing it, and I would occasionally sneak in upbeat Sinatra songs to cater to the “Open to All” mission statement but quickly learned how sensitive people were to music selection.

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