Treble’s Best Albums of the 70s: Part One

Treble staff
Treble's Best Albums of the 70s: Part One

1974

Randy Newman - Good Old Boys10. Randy Newman — Good Old Boys (Reprise)

Randy Newman has one of those voices that you either love or hate, and usually takes offense to cracks about his vocal style. Considering the adoration of such original voices as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, I don’t blame him. Now more famous for film scores, he is also one of the most gifted and imaginative singer / songwriters around. In a time when Billy Joel and Elton John ruled the piano pop charts, Newman snuck in the back door with his smart New Orleans style songwriting of the early seventies. Nowhere were these styles so potent or Newman’s wit so scathing, than on his fourth proper album, Good Old Boys . Neil Young may have started the South bashing, but Newman took it to the next level by singing the over-the-top rednecks in the first person. “We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks, we don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground / we’re rednecks, we’re rednecks, and we’re keeping the niggers down.” This and other lyrics about southerners being dumb (even when they come out of LSU, he sings) and outright racist caused quite a stir, as people didn’t take it for parody. Newman varies between funny, biting and touching on the album, the latter in the form of the wonderful “Louisiana 1927,” about the devastating flood that hit the state in August of that year. This song is worth the price of the album alone. — Terrance Terich
Kraftwerk - Autobahn9. Kraftwerk — Autobahn (Philips)

Kraftwerk’s influence on the latter half the music of the Twentieth Century is staggering. Their use of synthesizers is as important as the day Les Paul decided it would be pretty cool to plug his guitar into an amplifier. Listen to a rather current song that uses electronics, if even in the slightest degree, and remove them and you are left with the dreary world of music that would not exist without Kraftwerk. — Molly B. Eichel

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John Cale - Fear8.John Cale — Fear (Island)

As a member of the Velvet Underground, John Cale played up the avant garde, utilizing his classical training to deconstruct a more traditional norm. As a solo performer, however, his music was decidedly more straightforward. Or was it? Listening to Cale, one can dissect the hooks, make out a structure, even sing along. But normal? Hardly. John Cale could turn “Louie, Louie” into a work of abstraction, and on Fear, he did the impossible: take three chord songs and turn them into something much more complex, artful and strikingly original. — Jeff Terich

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Brian Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy7. Brian Eno — Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (EG)

It may appear that David Bowie would have the most appearances on this list. And technically, that’s not incorrect if you count the small parts he played on Raw Power and Transformer. But he’s tied with Eno, who is credited as a performer, songwriter or producer on at least ten of our Best Albums of the ’70s. And looking back at Taking Tiger Mountain, his second solo pop album, it’s no wonder. Brilliantly skewed hooks, odd effects, ominous themes and playful experimentation all contributed to this album’s greatness. And if there truly was one artist that owned the ’70s, it was Eno. — Jeff Terich

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Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night6. Tom Waits — The Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum)

The Heart of Saturday Night saw Tom Waits take the smoky balladry of debut Closing Time and polish it into a refined, slightly offbeat singer-songwriter offering. Equal parts jazz-pop, shadowy construct, and beat caricature, this record fills my headphones like a dense broom cupboard of sound. Waits’ delivery occupies it well, too. His voice echoed a richer, tuneful Nashville Skyline-era Dylan more than a demonic woodsman, and it’s the perfect tool for the post-bar, post-adolescence nocturnal stories featured here. — Tom Lee

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Big Star - Radio City5. Big Star — Radio City (Stax)

In part two of the Big Star trilogy, we find Chris Bell leaving the band, asking for his name not to be included on the recordings that became Radio City. Alex Chilton would develop a nasty drug habit, and the band would eventually lose their label. And what’s more, hardly anybody was buying their records. And yet, the rockin’, yet strangely tense pop on Radio City seemed destined for fame. It eventually did become legendary, much later on, after the band had long since called it quits, but at the time, nobody could have possibly fathomed the impact that this second, transitional and then-obscure album would have. — Jeff Terich

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David Bowie - Diamond Dogs4. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (RCA)

He’s a bad motha… / Shut your mouth! / I’m just talking ’bout Ziggy / Then we can dig it / He’s a complicated man and no one understands him but George Orwell.” Isn’t it crazy how David Bowie’s “1984” from the album Diamond Dogs sounds like Isaac Hayes’ Shaft theme song? Maybe that’s just me, but the song was one of a few from a possible stage play based on the classic Orwell book, which later became the album that spawned “Rebel, Rebel.” — Terrance Terich

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3. Roxy Music — Country Life (Atco)

Brian Eno may have left Roxy Music after finishing For Your Pleasure, but that was far from the end of the band’s growth. Though not as wildly experimental as that record, Country Life was a new journey for the band, equally artsy, but more cohesive in terms of a solidly written rock album. Starting with the monumental “The Thrill of It All,” the album twists and turns into Weill-ian cabaret (“Bitter-Sweet”), wild slide guitar work (“Prairie Rose”), stomping glam rock (“All I Want is You”) and hypnotic psychedelia (“Out of the Blue”). I find myself going back and forth between this record and For Your Pleasure as the band’s best, but they should really be held up as two separately great entries. That record was the pinnacle of the band’s Eno-era. This was the album that proved that they were just as much of a rock `n’ roll powerhouse without him. — Jeff Terich

Neil Young - On the Beach2. Neil Young — On the Beach (Reprise)

A disillusioned Neil sits on the bottom of a well and muses on the wreckage of the ’60s and the downside to being Los Angeles rock ‘n’ roll royalty. From time to time the sun passes overhead and he understands that scars, while they may leave a mark, will hurt less and less with the passage of time until you all but forget them. Now and again he even climbs out and takes a quick look around. Oh, and with a rotating cast of, to say the least, apt, characters filing in musically, this album contains some of the best music that Shakey ever released. — Tyler Parks

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Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets1. Brian Eno — Here Come the Warm Jets (EG)

As a founding member of Roxy Music, Brian Eno took a backseat to the spotlight hogging vocals of Bryan Ferry. As a producer of such bands as U2 and David Bowie, Eno purposefully stayed in the shadows, letting the artist take the kudos. In between, there was Eno’s solo work. Here Come the Warm Jets was Eno’s first solo album, now legendary, and one of only a few early Eno albums that could still be called `rock.’ In this review, I had to admit my previous transgression of being oblivious to Eno, and the further transgression of thinking him better than my `hero,’ David Bowie. – Terrance Terich

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