Album: Parallel Lines
Released: September 1st 1978
Highlights: Hanging on the Telephone, Picture This, Sunday Girl, Heart of Glass
The Stooges, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Ramones created and nurtured an ugly dirty rebellious baby called punk rock; Blondie gave it a good shower, dressed it up, and took it to the ball. "Parallel Lines" is the peak of that surprising experience. The calls of insurgency are obviously nowhere to be found, replaced by lyrics generally concerned with relationship anguish; however, part of the tough attitude still remains, as the group naturally grew up surrounded by the force of the movement, but wisely decided to create their own sound, as the punk rock boat was on its way to the bottom of the ocean. With the use of keyboards, to give the short songs a lot of volume, and a huge load of pop hooks on both the verses and the choruses, "Parallel Lines" is easy to listen, and easier to fall in love with.
It is an album with no weak links whatsoever, starting with the energetic "Hanging on the Telephone" and ending with "Just Go Away". Along the way, Deborah Harry shows why she is one of the greatest rock singers of all time, as she perfectly interprets a variety of moods - ranging from rough punk girl to thoughtful or vulnerable - and shows the sheer power of her voice, especially in "11:59", "Pretty Baby" and "Fade Away and Radiate", where she promptly puts the song on the shoulders of her interpretation and carries it straight into greatness. Her bandmates do not go unnoticed either. Destris keyboards provide an essential landscape to most of the songs, Stein and Infante lay down wonderful guitar riffs, while Blurke and Harrison provide precise pacing to the songs progression.
Album: Raw Power
Artist: The Stooges
Released: February 7th, 1973
Highlights: Search and Destroy, Gimme Danger, Raw Power, Death Trip
Fittingly, as the band mostly responsible for the birth of the punk rock spirit, The Stooges crashed and burned spectacularly through the course of six years filled with energetic and bizarre live performances. Trying to translate the sheer force of their shows into record was like capturing lightning in a bottle, and though none of their three albums managed to achieve that feat, their body of work is able to give us a glimpse into the workings of this rock n roll machine. Their self-titled debut, despite the classics contained within, was as inconsistent as a record that features three songs written overnight can be; their sophomore effort, "Funhouse", was the one that came the closest to nailing precisely what was The Stooges playing live; however, "Raw Power", their David Bowie-produced final album is the one that offers the best songwriting.
What starts with the intentionally poorly mixed "Search and Destroy", which became a punk rock anthem due to its lyrics and garage-like sound, the album holds a few nice surprises along the way, such as the ballads "Gimme Danger", where Iggy Pop sings about his attraction towards dangerous women; and "I Need Somebody", which is titles like a sweet love song but that features images of lust and sex. Sex, which, by the way, is a common topic to the band, reappearing in songs like "Penetration" and "Shake Appeal". The message, however, was never a vital part of the music by a band whose lyrics often border in incomprehensible. Power, energy and an unshakable wish to shock the world are quite important, though, and in "Raw Power" they appear on each and every one of the eight songs of the album, and those three qualities resounded so loudly that the world still feels the ripples of its effects forty years later.
Album: Axis: Bold as Love
Artist: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Released: December 1st, 1967
Highlights: Spanish Castle Magic, Little Wing, Castles Made of Sand, Bold as Love
In "Are You Experienced", Jimi Hendrix and his skilled pair of supporting musicians built the bridge between blues and modern rock music. While Hendrix astonished the world with his guitar skills, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding showed almost equal virtuosity in the groups rhythmic section. "Axis: Bold as Love" is more than a continuation of that work; it is a huge jump forward, even if it was recorded only a few months after their debut. Not many records out there show such a natural collaboration between sweet melodies, psychedelic music and messages of love and peace. As a consequence, "Axis: Bold as Love" is the album that best summarizes the soul of the youth of the 60s, and Hendrix shows unimaginable sensitivity in being able to capture it all in simple tunes backed by ambitious production.
The key to the musical success of the album is how Hendrixs guitar is clearly brought to the spotlight by the mixing, further highlighting his unbelievable skills, which are often displayed in either small solos infused with a lot of emotion and energy, or simply by the way he plays the guitar as if it were an extension of his body. In spite of its heart and brilliancy, "Axis: Bold as Love" occasionally suffers from the same core issue that kept its predecessor away from being truly flawless, which is inconsistent songwriting. The album alternates moments of excellence - "Spanish Castle Magic", "Little Wing", "You Got Me Floatin" and others - which compose most of the album, with a couple of tunes that feel either unfinished or lazily put together - "Wait Until Tomorrow" and "Up From the Skies". Still, it is hard not to feel blessed when listening to "Axis: Bold as Love"; one of the few gems that Hendrix could share with the world before leaving us.
Album: De Stijl
Artist: The White Stripes
Released: June 20th, 2000
Highlights: You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl), Hello Operator, Truth Doesn't Make a Noise, Your Southern Can Is Mine
The White Stripes self-titled debut album was pure, honest and simply produced garage rock. Its follow-up, however, kept the stripped down production, but embraced blues as its core influence and what we got was a work that, after many dry decades, brought an outpour of absolutely fantastic blues tunes. The fact that those songs were written by a skinny white boy from Detroit and played in conjunction with his unskilled, but efficient, drummer-ex-wife, was a delightful bonus in the weirdness category. "Youre Pretty Good Looking", the spiritual prequel to "Fell in Love With a Girl", opens up the album by showing that the band had a lot of potential for a commercial breakthrough, but before things get too pop, Jack jumps straight into "Hello Operator" and "Little Bird", where blues, with an echoing harmonica included, meets the modern music world.
From that point on, Jack White has a lot of fun playing his two favorite characters: the menacing bluesman with his loud, dirty, screaming guitar - as seen in the cover "Death Letter" - and the naive young boy that is often portrayed in his mellow ballads where he finds himself concerned with family and young love while carrying around an unshakable fear of being hurt by someone he cares for, something that can be noticed in "Apple Blossom" and "I am Bound to Pack it Up". When he is not in one of those moods, he is engaged in mixing both of them up, giving us the fantastic gift of listening to very melodic blues songs, giving a breath of modernity to his take on the genre. That approach is validated by the astonishing trio of "Sister, Do You Know My Name?", "Truth Doesnt Make a Noise" and "A Boys Best Friend". The duo still finds time to go back to mindless garage rock for a couple of songs, before wrapping up this masterpiece with the teasing twisted cover of "Your Southern Can is Mine", which purposely acquires a whole layer of awkwardness as it is being played by a former couple.
Album: Rubber Soul
Artist: The Beatles
Released: December 3rd, 1965
Highlights: Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, I'm Looking Through You, In My Life
No band, in the history of recorded music, went through such a violent growth as The Beatles. By 1964, all McCartney and Lennon could pen were silly pop songs that fed an audience of hysterical girls. But as the year turned, and the band found themselves tired of the fame and exposition, they made the decision that would change the world of music forever: they chose to lock themselves up in the studio, and by doing so, they pushed the rock boundaries to places nobody had even imagined could be found. "Rubber Soul" was the very first fruit of that sonic adventure, and though it features a few moments where the band still shows a certain level of innocence, it is the first step The Beatles would take towards both musical maturity and turning into the most important band in the history of rock.
Out were rock 'n roll infused dance songs, and in came more laid back introspective songs that walked in new terrain both in production and instrumentation. The fact that the band could sit and think about their compositions, instead of being pressured by executives to put out songs as quickly as possible allowed McCartney and Lennon to develop into two incredible and distinct songwriters and the results are everywhere. The harmonies are smoother and highlighted by the more melodic nature of the songs, the themes thankfully branch to areas beyond romantic teenage love, hits that wore down quickly were replaced by timeless music that transcended generations, and McCartney and Lennon showed that crafting easy-to-digest pop songs filled with great quality and hooks came very naturally to them.