This is a difficult year to put into a best of order, there’s so much and, like a lot of music, what is a favourite today might be less so tomorrow. At the time of writing this is what I think but am always open to suggestions about where things appear and any omissions. So here we go, a subjective changeable top 30 of 1974’s album releases (And yes, the year of release is debatable at times but don’t worry about it).
Oh, and at the end there are the albums considered and not included, feel free to demand that they go in, but you have to also demand that an album is removed. So let us begin with the top album, just for a change:
1 Kraftwerk – Autobahn Not just the best album of 1974 but quite possibly the best album of the decade. You can trace genres back to this album, such as Eurotrance, dance, techno, hip-hop and house, even Disco owes a debt to the drum machine beat of Kraftwerk, their influence can be seen in much more than the aforementioned though.
Autobahn is really listenable and futuristic sounding even now, 44 years later, and I have repeatedly stated my love of repetition, which is apt, and this fits the bill very nicely thank you, with the title track clocking in at just under 23 minutes of travel, wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn. If you’ve heard the 7″ single then forget it, it doesn’t do the full length version justice, from the first slamming of car doors and the starting of the car Kraftwerk are taking the listener on journey, one that is too long for 45.
||“Kometenmelodie 1” (“Comet Melody 1”)
||“Kometenmelodie 2” (“Comet Melody 2”)
||“Morgenspaziergang” (“Morning Walk”)
2 Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic Well, let’s be honest, these guys have never made a bad album and this, like all the others, is jam packed with great songwriting and composition performed by an incredibly tight and precise band. Opening with Ricky Don’t Lose That Number and including Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Barrytown and With A Gun, it’s a wonderful listen from start to finish.
I’m not one to look behind I know that times must change
But over there in Barrytown they do things very strange
And though you’re not my enemy
I like things like they used to be
And though you’d like some company
I’m standing by myself
Go play with someone else
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown
Don’t believe I’m taken in by stories I have heard
I just read the Daily News and swear by every word
And don’t think that I’m out of line
For speaking out for what is mine
I’d like to see you do just fine
But look at what you wear
And the way you cut your hair
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown
In the beginning we recall that the word was hurled
Barrytown people got to be from another world
Leave me or I’ll be just like the others you will meet
They won’t act as kindly if they see you on the street
And don’t you scream or make a shout
It’s nothing you can do about
It was there where you came out
It’s a special lack of grace
I can see it in your face
I can see by what you carry that you come from Barrytown
3 Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway I listened to this again at the weekend and if you take it track by individual track I don’t think it deserves to be at number 3 in this list, but if you take it as a whole, complete with the accompanying story and factor into that how bloody much I loved it as a kid, then I have no choice but to bung it in the top 3. It is one of rock’s more elaborate, beguiling and strangely rewarding concept albums, it has Peter Gabriel as Rael, a Puerto Rican street punk who descends into the New York underground to experience a series of surreal adventures, including, if I’ve read it right, having his bollocks cut off and stolen and put in a tune, which is stolen by a Raven. Just another day at the office then.
4 Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark The sixth album from Joni Mitchell which was an immediate commercial and critical success, and is still her most successful album. it infuses her folk rock style with jazz inflections that would dominate her next release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. It’s one of my favourite Mitchell albums, with great tracks like Help Me and Free Man in Paris being surrounded by more of Mitchells great compositions and performances.
5 David Bowie – Diamond Dogs This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll, this is genocide Still in the Glam Rock period but post Ziggy Stardust this was a UK number one fuelled by the upbeat hit Rebel Rebel, but it’s actually a bloody depressing album at its heart. Tracks like We are the dead, 1984 & Big Brother are not exactly fun subjects but, even so, it makes foran interesting song collection, and it is Bowie after all. It’s also the album with the controversial album cover, the one where Bowies bottom half is a dog showing his bollocks, which was later changed.
6 Tom Waits – The Heart Of Saturday Night Recorded with jazz trio (drums, bass and tenor sax) and an orchestra here and there, this album is really solid for a second release from a relatively new artist at the time. The title track is in itself quite brilliant, and it contains some of my favourite lyrics:
Is this the crack of the pool balls, neon buzzin’?/Telephone’s ringin’, it’s your second cousin/And the barmaid is smilin’ from the corner of her eye/Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye
Added to this are Diamonds on my Windshield and a load of other great tracks and you have a great album.
7 Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom In 1974, ‘Rock Bottom’ won the French Grand Prix Charles Cros Record of the Year Award, I’ve no idea if that is important or not but it is a fact now shared. It also has Mike Oldfield on it, for one track, which some suggest was an effort to boost sales by association, but I suggest that this is bollocks.
8 Bob Marley – Natty Dread Here is an album that could be considered a failure have barely touched the charts upon its release, but for me it is still one of their best, although I could say his best as this was the first album where it wasn’t just the Wailers but became Bob Marley & the Wailers. The opening 3 tracks are worth buying it for alone, Lively Up Yourself, No Woman, No Cry and Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) and the rest of the tracks are brilliant as well.
9 Yes – Relayer Considered by some to be the best thing they ever did, me, I’m not so sure, but it is a fine album. It has three tracks, with side 1 being taken up by the 20 minute long ‘Gates of Delirium’ and side 2 has ‘Sound Chaser’ and ‘To Be Over’. The cover is certainly one I remember well even though I was only 7 when it the album was released, the Roger Dean covers were quite the thing for a good while with kids in art classes at school ripping them off left right and centre.
10 Stevie Wonder – Fulfilingness’ First Finale well it’s Stevie and this one is considered to be from his ‘Classic’ period. The brilliant No. 1 hit “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” launched a pointed criticism of the Nixon administration bolstered by clavinet, drum machine, and a Jackson 5 cameo. The album also won 3 Grammy’s, which is nice.
11 Gentle Giant – The Power And The Glory I have a great fondness for this album. I think one of Dave’s brothers had it and we did play it sometimes at Dave’s house. Everything about the music was all a bit odd to my ears, which were probably about 12 years old at the time, so 5 years after the album was released. I’m no Gentle Giant expert but from what I have heard, this was the pinnacle.
12 Rush – Rush It’s Rush, I grew up with them and this is their first album, certainly not their best but it was the first step for a lot of great albums that came later and it is actually very good in its own right. For some reason it does remind me of Led Zeppelin 1 though. This album was recorded before Neil Peart joined the group so who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t as he did become the main songwriter.
13 Tangerine Dream – Phaedra I’ve only been listening to Tangerine Dream for the last couple of years, perhaps because I couldn’t appreciate what they did before, but now am more open to different things. They’ve released a lot of albums over the years and many I’m not that keen on but this is a fabulous album. I used to be in a band and the Dad of the drummer had loads of Tangerine Dream albums, I discounted them out of hand, bad move by me.
14 King Crimson – Starless And Bible Black I’ve had this for years having bought my copy some time in the eighties, several years after its release but even then it was rather odd, both of its time and wildly futuristic. A couple of the tracks were recorded live and then overdubbed in the studio with the crowd noise being filtered out, so they were, essentially live improvisations that made it to a studio album. The musicians involved were so good that this was a perfectly acceptable method for them. The title track itself is like 6 different tracks that are melded together into a whole but possibly don’t belong together at all, yet it works.
15 Funkadelic – Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On This is the sixth studio album by Funkadelic on which the lyrics generally take a backseat to the music and the jamming. It is one of the most popular Funkadelic albums among fans apparently and considered an essential album for fans of lead guitarist Eddie Hazel who co-wrote all of the album’s songs. The title track is a banger and the performance below is odd and brilliant.
16 Bob Dylan – Planet Waves It’s Dylan, so there’s going to be some good tracks on it. I would put opener A Night Like This and Forever Young as a couple of Dylan classics but for an artist who has had a few suspect albums during his career this is a solid set. Many of the songs take on darker overtones, with lyrics suggesting “death (‘Dirge’), suicide (‘Going, Going, Gone,’ a song that doesn’t toy around with the idea), and the brick wall that love collides with when possessiveness curdles into obsession (the overstated contradictions of ‘Wedding Song’).
17 Status Quo – Quo This is not quite as obvious a choice as it might have been a couple of decades ago. There was a time when Quo were less pop and more rock and roll, and the whole three chords thing hadn’t arisen. They were a bloody good band, I even went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon and it was a great gig. This album doesn’t have recognisable singles on it but it opens with live show regular ‘Backwater’ and continues in a similar vein right through the album.
18 Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain I love this album and have love the title track since I was eight years old. It was on the radio a lot then and it became a firm favourite of mine which has not waned at all. The album is more than just that one song though, there’s the brilliant I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (Covered with chart success by Paul Young and a few others) and it is a really solid set of songs. It’s been on my want list for a while and I will find a copy eventually.
19 Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) I do love the work of Brian Eno, including now his contributions to early Roxy Music. This is an album I’d heard but was not really that familiar with, but listening to it again I think it is very much a grower and it has recently been re-issued so I may very well get my own copy, although the ones I saw a little while back may have been deluxe editions or somesuch as they were pretty expensive.
20 Roxy Music – Country Life I had never really liked Roxy Music until a couple of years ago, on a whim, I bought a job lot of 6 albums based solely on an Old Grey Whistle Test performance that had been repeated on BBC2. I’m glad I did though as I was completely wrong about them. The album that changed my mind was For Your Pleasure, which put me in the right frame of mind for this, their next release. I think I’d first really noticed them in the 80’s which was a bit lounge pop and not at all what they had originally been.
21 Mike Oldfield – Hergest Ridge I grew up with this album which was the difficult second album after the massive success of tubular bells and and album, by his own admission, that Oldfield sort of threw together as he was having difficulty with the success that his debut album had brought him. I listened to it a hell of a lot and loved it, along with Ommadawn which I may have actually worn out it got so many plays. I liked pretty much everything up to and including the live album Exposed released in 1979 but became a little more distant from it all when the tracks became shorter and things were coming out as singles. I’ve picked copies of a few albums up in recent years though and I was probably a bit hard on it originally.
22 Stanley Clarke – Stanley Clarke One of my favourite Stanley Clarke albums, this and School Days I should think are my top two. Clarke is an amzing bass player but alos a composer and the quality of the playing on this album is right up there with the very best. A particular favourite of mine sees out side 2 of the album, the 4 part Life Suite, have a listen, it’s really very good.
23 Average White band – AWB An album that I do actually own, and a bit of a classic really. They are a Scottish funk and R&B band that had a series of soul and disco hits, mainly between 1974 and 1980. They are most likely best known for their million-selling instrumental track “Pick Up the Pieces”, and this album in particular. They have been sampled by various musicians including the Beastie Boys, TLC, The Beatnuts, Too Short, Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest, Christina Milian, as well as Arrested Development– making them the 15th most sampled act in history.
24 Hatfield And The North – Hatfield And The North I’d heard of them and heard a track on Radio 6 several months ago but I only recently listened to this album in full and really rather liked it, it’s prog and they are one of the Canterbury bands along with Soft Machine, Caravan, Gong and a few others, so perhaps it is an acquired taste or maybe it would have been necessary to grow up with this sort of music. In case you were wondering, the band name is taken from a road sign that used to be on the A1 out of London.
26 Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard I’m not a big fan of Clapton, I just don’t get it at all. I appreciate that he’s a good guitarist but a lot of what I’ve listened to over the years sounds somewhat sterile to me, including one of the tracks on this album, the Bob Marley cover, I Shot The Sheriff, play the original and then the cover and I think that explains what I mean. It’s here in this chart because we had it at home when I was a kid, it may have been mine, or maybe I borrowed it but I played it a lot and really liked it at the time and there are some really good tracks on it, just not the Marley cover.
26 Toots & The Maytals – In The Dark Probably best known for tracks such as Pressure Drop and Monkey Man, the latter of which I think I first heard when it was covered by The Specials, but they turned out great track after great track and this album is just wonderful. It includes a cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads and it’s brilliant, as well as 54-46 was my number which is also brilliant. Another album now on my wantlist, which is an ever growing beast!
27 King Crimson – Red There isn’t much that King Crimson have released that I haven’t mostly liked, or at least there’s something on every album for me to like. This is one of the albums I don’t actually own, (I just checked, I have eight) so have never given it a good listen and I wasn’t disappointed. The album opens with the title track, which you can listen to below, and is a driving, hard rock instrumental featuring multiple time signatures including 5/8, 7/8 and 4/4. Its polyrhythmic melodies use octatonic and whole tone scales. That almost makes me sound as though I know what I am talking about (Don’t be fooled, I don’t)
28 Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information Another album that I knew nothing about but damn, it is so good, even on the first listen and another that I just must get a copy of. Inspiration Information gained a huge cult following during the 1990s with the emergence of rare groove and acid jazz. It was lauded by such musicians as Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Due in part to this regained interest, the album was re-released on April 3, 2001, by David Byrne’s independent label Luaka Bop Records.
29 Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Alagbon Close When putting this top 30 together I listened to loads of albums, and this was one that I’d never heard of before. I was absolutely blown away by what I was listening to and this is definitely an album that I will be looking out for in the future. Fela Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, human rights activist, and political maverick. He has been called “superstar, singer, musician, Panafricanist, polygamist, mystic, legend.” During the height of his popularity, he was often hailed as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers.”
30 Kiss – Kiss There was a period in the early eighties where I was absolutely fascinated with Kiss. I had Alive II I think, no idea whatsoever what happened to it, and at some point I had Unmasked, it’s whereabouts are also a mystery. I don’t think I ever saw anything of them and only had the album covers to go by although I seem to recall seeing Kiss in an episode of Scooby Doo. I think I would almost certainly buy a copy of Alive II again if I saw it. I may even have a little look on Ebay or something to see if I can pick it up cheap.
And these were the ones that didn’t quite make it in, although any of them could have, on another day:
Neil Young – On The Beach
Supertramp – Crime Of The Century
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack
Queen – Queen II
Big Star – Radio City
Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece
Frank Zappa – Apostrophe
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight – Richard & Linda Thompson
Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado
Sparks – Kimono My House
Deep Purple – Burn
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping
Lou Reed – Rock N Roll Animal
10CC – Sheet Music
The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll
Leonard Cohen – New Skin For The Old Ceremony
John Lennon – Walls And Bridges
Sparks – Propaganda
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
Miles Davis – Get Up With It
Cluster – Zuckerzeit
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Herbie Hancock – Thrust
New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon
Harmonium – Harmonium
The Beach Boys – Endless Summer
The Meters – Rejuvination
Can – Soon Over Babaluma
Gil Scott-Heron / Brian Jackson – Winter In America
Abba – Waterloo
Slade – Slade In Flame
Eagles – On The Border
Renaissance – Turn Of The Cards
Harmonia – Musik Von Harmonia
J. J. Cale – Okie
Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky