We have already suggested a number of movies and series to help you pass the time during the pandemic. But what about some of that ole devil’s music?
We include the below albums on the list either because they are underappreciated, obscure, monumental, all of the above — or just because we fancy so. Our goal is to provide you with escapism and spread the word for the below inclusions. A caveat: We are talking sweat, spit, and misplayed notes here. So only rock and roll — whatever that means.
FACE TO FACE – THE KINKS (1966)
The Kinks are nowadays mostly known for their early 60s maverick hit-single punches You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night. Yet, towards the end of the 60s, their albums blazed a wide artistic trail and it was Face to Face that lit the first conflagration.
The public scorned it and, besides its lead single Sunny Afternoon, it failed to create any waves. Nevertheless, Face to Face presents a richness of expression and variety that no other contemporary band, besides the Beatles, could muster. The feat becomes all the more impressive since most of the album’s songs were written by one person, lead singer and chief disdainer Ray Davies.
The album waltzes effortlessly through social satire, nostalgia, and rural England, while berating taxation (of course) and frowning upon modernity and globalism.
In ’66, the music world was looking outwards and forward. The Kinks in looking inwards and backward produced a masterpiece. Albion, your progeny didn’t fail you. If you want to understand Brexit you should start here.
ODYSSEY AND ORACLE – THE ZOMBIES (1968)
These guys were probably the biggest nerds in Rock’N’Roll. Sporting looks and backgrounds more appropriate to a high school locker’s interior than to the cut-throat music scene of late 60s Britain, they nevertheless recorded one of the most representative albums of the era.
Odyssey and Oracle is sparse. Instrumentation and vocals are present only as necessary (obviously Oasis never listened to it.) This gives it a wistful feeling anticipating the approaching end of the 60s’ innocence.
Also, the album portrays flower pop without indulging itself: many a band would never be able to achieve such a balance. It is mellow and relaxing, thus working perfectly as a Xanax substitute, (plus it only requires a prescription from Dr. Knox making it much easier to obtain).
The Zombies would disband shortly after the album’s release. Yet, they left us with this little jewel. Don’t be as dumb as the buying public of the time: add it to your collection.
THE MODERN LOVERS – THE MODERN LOVERS (1976)
Ah, the first American band on the list!
If punk was a family, the Modern Lovers would be the forgotten uncle that never receives the party invitations. Boasting a typical “wasted potential story” the Modern Lovers are nigh-forgotten nowadays. But with their eponymous debut album, they helped bridge the gap between the Velvet Underground and the first punk cohort. (The album was recorded in ’71 and played live extensively before that, but only released in’76.)
Johnny Rotten when asked what music he listens to replied, “I hate all music, but the Modern Lovers.” (But it’s unsure whether the band would take that as a compliment.)
The Modern Lovers were an anomaly in the late 60s and early 70s: At a time when youth was still high on flower-power and its products, the Lovers’ album lauds the pleasures of conservatism, straightness, and old age. And it does so, for the most part, unpretentiously. Its sound is lax and effortless, and Jonathan Rickmann’s vocals are more of a bored squawk than a series of notes — and the album is all the better for it.
The band is also quintessentially Bostonian, name-checking the MFA, BU, I-93 — hell, if you aren’t careful while listening to it you will end up washed ashore the Charles.
LEAVE HOME – THE RAMONES (1977)
The retardos nonpareil themselves! They need no introductory remarks, so let’s jump straight to the album.
Leave Home is the Ramones’ second album and their least well-known from their Sire years. This is baffling as it’s the best record of their career.
Sure, it doesn’t contain any major trademark songs. But it is more melodic than their groundbreaking debut while maintaining the latter’s rawness and economy, which started dissipating in their following releases.
Leave Home is the musical pair to any self-respecting B-movie: Babysitters, soda machines, 7-11s, glue in the nostrils, burgers on the boardwalk, and killer monsters in the basement all have their shining moments here.
So, grab your record player, bang yourself twice in the head, and buckle up for a truly memorable music trip. Destination: yourself 15 IQ points dumber… and happier for it — an excellent combo for surviving the coronavirus pandemic.
LONDON CALLING – THE CLASH (1979)
London Calling is universally praised and frequently included in “Best Of” and “Critics’ Choices” lists. So, why include it here, too? Maybe to show that we have a measure of conformism in us — but most probably to reach this article’s word limit.
The Clash always had an expansive vision; London Calling finds them expanding also their musical repertoire to fully match, and ultimately achieve, that vision.
A double album, London Calling incorporates most of the band’s influences to great effect: rockabilly, ska, reggae, lounge, and more. It then bathes them all in a careful dose of punk rock.
But it’s not just the music. From the poetic Spanish Bombs to the mythological Wrong’em Boyo, from the salacious Lover’s Rock, all the way to the [(insert adjective here) and (insert song title here)], Joe Strummer and co. are at their most eloquent.
At the 100 Club’s floor and Shea Stadium’s bleachers. From the Hundred Years War to the Crimea with a lance, and a musket, and a Roman spear, the Clash raised their flag on the highest hill.
This is where rock and roll will forever make a stand.
The best rock and roll album ever recorded.
AM – ARCTIC MONKEYS (2013)
Rock and roll is slipping to the sidelines; its erstwhile mainstream popularity has been overtaken by other genres.
The genre is also ossifying. Yet, expect it from the British to once again try and salvage it. And this is what Sheffield’s premier group may have done.
AM achieved global mainstream success with its two massive singles R U Mine and Do I Wanna Know. But look past its gloss and you will see innovation. The band used RnB recording and mixing approaches on rock tunes: The instruments are separated widely. The vocals pop in and out of the forefront. Tension and release are used expertly. And frontman Alex Turner does an excellent job singing with a panache that is both vulnerable and confident — a perfect complement to the album’s nighttime mood.
Initially, AM may appear monochromatic, but give it a couple of listens and its charms will start revealing themselves.
But will the branch that the Arctic Monkeys sprang bear any flowers?
This article was originally published in March 2020. It has been edited for republication.