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Choosing Sides

October 20, 2015

            No, this post isn’t about what happened on the playground. (You were the one picked last, weren’t you?) It’s about the best, in my opinion, sides in rock and roll.

            Now, for some Gen Y/millennials who may have stumbled into this 20th Century cul de sac, there used to be these things called albums. Or 33 and 1/3 rpm, long-playing discs.

            And they had two sides, and you played one of them, then had to go flip the disc over and play the other. And if you had sampled enough of the herbal supplements, it was a nuisance.

            (Unless you had copied the LP on a reel-to-reel tape deck — or, later, a cassette machine. Or if, like my friend the Martyred St. Rufeo, you had one of those old turntables that played one side and then the other.

            (We reconfigured it one night so we could play “Revolution No. 9” backwards — herbal supplements, as best as I can recall, were involved — and find out if it did indeed say, “Turn me on dead man.” Which indeed it seemed to say. So the Walrus was Paul, the Queen knighted the wrong guy, yada yada yada.)

            So, an album side that hung together, with nary a weak song, was good stuff. And there were a number of those. I’m going to give the reader my top 10 countdown.

             (Full disclosure: this list is going to consist mostly of albums in my vinyl collection, because it’s unlikely that I would hear entire sides enough to make an impression or form an opinion. Obviously, because of the tendency noted above, there will be more side ones than side twos. Cuts that make up an entire side of an album aren’t included, even though there are several that I like a lot.)

            No. 10 — Side one, “Nazz Nazz,” Nazz. Full disclosure — this is one of the albums in the list that I didn’t have on vinyl. (I have it as part of a compilation CD.) But if I had had the LP, I would have listened to this side a lot. The Nazz was Todd Rundgren’s first group, and most of the side is raw, garage band rock, with a couple detours into the more melodic pop that he featured in his later manifestations.

            No. 9 — Side One, “Workingman's Dead,” Grateful Dead. This album came along when I was just getting to know the Dead — about the time I saw them live at the Sound Storm festival in April 1970, and after I had heard their earlier, psychedelic-style stuff on Radio Free Madison. “Workingman’s,” like “The Band,” showed a lot of roots music influence. Robert Hunter’s songwriting is one of the album’s strengths, particularly on this side one.

            No. 8 — Side two, “The Band,” the Band. This album just knocked me out when I first heard it — interesting, at a time when I was getting into psychedelia and harder blues-rock, considering the heavy American roots music influences. The album’s pretty much all good, but the second side has a nice mix of styles and tempos, and that nice American Gothic finish of “King Harvest.”

            No. 7 — Side One, “Sticky Fingers:” Rolling Stones. This one would rank higher if it didn’t start with “Brown Sugar,” a Top 40 single that sounds a bit mailed-in. After that, though, it’s one right after another, starting with “Sway” and ending with “You’ve Got to Move”; “Wild Horses” is one of my favorite Stones songs.

            No. 6 — Side two, “Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren,” Todd Rundgren. Someone once referred to this work as the best Paul McCartney album that McCartney never made, or something like that. That’s not a ringing endorsement in my book, considering my opinion of Sir Paul’s solo career. I did however, totally baffle some friends by playing it and challenging them to name the artist; their guesses were all over the map. The lone hard rocker on the side, “Parole,” feels a bit out of place, but it’s all good and otherwise hangs together.

            No. 5 — Side One, “Astral Weeks,” Van Morrison. Some consider his first real studio album to be The Man’s best, and a classic; I prefer “Moondance” overall, but the first side of “Astral Weeks” is outstanding; “The Way Young Lovers Do” kept me from flipping the disc and hearing “Madame George,” a fascinating piece, as much as I would have liked to.

            No. 4 — Side Two, “A Question of Balance,” Moody Blues. This LP has been described as a major change in approach for the group, an attempt to record an album that could more easily performed live, compared to the earlier concept albums. And it turned out to be more accessible, particularly the second side, which starts with the upbeat “It’s Up to You” and ends with “Balance,” the most palatable of Graeme Edge’s poetry; the three songs in between provide a nice balance, pardon the pun.

            No. 3 — Side one, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Both sides of this classic could be in my top 10, were it not for “Money” — see “Don’t Play It Again FM” in this blog’s archive for my take on that. DSotM, like a lot of Floyd’s work, was intended to be a concept, all-flows-together thing, and the first side pretty much nails it.

            No. 2 — Side one, Morrison’s “Moondance.” As noted above, Van’s “Astral Weeks” gets the critical raves, but I heard his second album first, and I think I would have preferred “Moondance” anyway. I like just about every song on the LP, but side one is near perfect.

            No. 1 — Side two, “Abbey Road,” the Beatles. It all flows together like it was written that way — but, interestingly, it wasn’t. Most of the side consists of a medley, made up of song fragments, over the objections of John Lennon, who would leave the group about the same time the album was released. The side is bookended by the shimmering “Here Comes the Sun” and the quirky “Her Majesty,” and also includes Lennon’s “Because.”

            Others I considered for my top 10 included sides from: “Abraxas,” Santana; “Bop Till You Drop,” Ry Cooder; “Bustin’ Out,” Pure Prairie League; “There Goes Rhymin' Simon,” Paul Simon; “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” Neil Young; “Diamantina Cocktail,” Little River Band; “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat; “Led Zeppelin I,” Led Zeppelin; “Late For The Sky,” Jackson Browne;  “It's A Beautiful Day,” It's A Beautiful Day; “Selling England By The Pound,” Genesis; “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention;  “Waiting for the Sun,” the Doors; and “Communiqué,” Dire Straits.

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