Big Albums '74: Kiss, Eno, Big Star, Dolly and More

Notable albums released 50 years ago this month. Click the links to order from Amazon.

The band's debut album pretty much sets the template for all that follow: Loud crunchy guitars with wailing solos, solid bass and drums and horridly sexist lyrics. Still, it's hard to deny the swinging swagger of single "Strutter." Plus, Ace looks supercool on the cover here. No wonder I dressed up like him for Halloween, using cut-up pieces of aluminum foil for the his star eyes.

Dolly Parton - Jolene
Wearing nearly as much makeup as Kiss, Dolly delivers far better songs on this one, her 13th(!) solo LP, including two stone-cold classics — the title track, of course, and "I Will Always Love You." The latter tune sounds as it should here, stripped down and tender, not overwrought and bombastic, as on later cover versions. There's other good stuff, too, like "River of Happiness" and "Early Morning Breeze." A great album front to back.

Before he became a cranky, COVID-denying crackpot along with his racist friend Eric Clapton, Van the Man actually seemed to occasionally have fun, as on this cracking live album. He's lively and engaging and sounds great on stretched-out, horn- and string-backed renditions of solo hits such as "Into the Mystic," "Domino" and "Caravan," along with a couple of Them tunes ("Here Comes the Night" and " Gloria.') Get it ponder what went awry.

Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic
I've never been a Dan fan — too smooth and snarky for me. But if you like 'em, this is a classic. I do like "Rikki Don't Lose that Number," though, because it steals from Horace Silver's "Song for My Father," which I love. At least they had good taste.

Todd Rundgren - Todd
Todd trots out the synths for album number 5 and the overall effect is.... pretty annoying, actually. Many listeners and critics at the time agreed. Single "A Dream Goes on Forever" isn't terrible though. No link because the LP appears to be out of print. The only thing I could find on Amazon is to an overpriced "audiophile" version, and I couldn't in good conscience send anyone down that path.

Aretha Franklin -  Let Me in Your Life
Aretha's 12th LP is a lushly produced affair featuring backing from everyone from Stanley Clarke, Deodato and Bob James, to Donny Hathaway, Cissy Houston and Cornell Dupree. It's all a little too rich for my blood, overall, but Aretha's covers of "I'm in Love" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" are killer.

Big Star - Radio City
Sounds like now. Big Star's perfect power pop is music for the ages, with memorable melodies, hooks and harmonies and some superb, jangly guitar playing. Brilliant co-leader Chris Bell had gone by the time this one came out, but Alex Chilton and comrades amble ably on. None of the tunes hit the charts because the band never got the promotion they deserved, but the LP is full of should've been hits, including the classic "September Gurls," which was memorably covered by the Bangles a decade or so later.

Sounds like 2074. Brian Eno's solo debut carries on from his Roxy Music experiments and breaks new ground, hinting at things to come in his future solo work, his collaborations with Robert Fripp, and his production work for Bowie and Talking Heads. "Baby's On Fire" is catchy, menacing and super creepy. Lead track "Needles in the Camel's Eye," described by Eno as "an instrumental with words," is a number one record on a planet that's way cooler than ours.

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