Musically, 1973 was a strange and prolific year. Many great artists released records – although some of them were not appreciated until later. As popular music expanded and diversified, progressive rock exploded and the first seeds of punk were being sown. Here are seven examples of legendary albums that were released 50 years ago.
Rory Gallagher, ‘Tattoo’
Who is he? Rory Gallagher was an anti-star. This is the only possible explanation for him not being on the lists of the best rock guitarists of all time, among – at least – the top 10 players. However, it is never too late to set things right.
Why is Tattoo so good? This Irish guitarist released six astonishing albums between 1971 and 1974. In Tattoo, he departs from the trio formation that created so many good songs and incorporates a keyboard player. It is a record composed of long songs (none under four minutes) where he offers a combination of blues, rock and roll, folk, improvisation and more, always with feeling and strength. Despite the fact that the pieces were never able to convey their power in concert, Tattoo comes very close to those passionate live shows.
Iggy and the Stooges, ‘Raw Power’
Who are they? By the time they released Raw Power, their third album, The Stooges were feeling at a loss. Their career still hadn’t quite taken off after two records, and they were disoriented by their drug addictions. And things never picked up: the commercial failure of this album would lead to the dissolution of the band. However, over the years – who knew? – The Stooges went on to become legendary, and their legacy has allowed Iggy Pop to continue to exploit these songs today.
Why is Raw Power so good? A key figure on this album is guitarist James Williamson, the partner Iggy Pop sought to revive his career. The Asheton brothers are present too, as in the first two Stooges albums. Beyond it being considered a pioneering work in punk and its enormous influence (Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, to name a few) the most valuable thing about Raw Power is how it still sounds intimidating today.
The Who, ‘Quadrophenia’
Who are they? The same guy who used to smash guitars and amplifiers onstage in monumental fits of rage was also capable of composing an album as complex and sensitive as Quadrophenia. Pete Townshend’s artistic ambition gave the world rock symphonies as important as Tommy and Quadrophenia.
Why is Quadrophenia so good? This album, a sort of musical version of A Clockwork Orange, tells the story of Jimmy, who could be any young man in 1970s England, through loud rock. The drugs, the gang, the precarious job and the broken dreams; they are all part of his world, masterfully depicted with orchestrations and synthesizers – the works.
Paco de Lucía, ‘Fuente y Caudal’
Who is he? Paco de Lucía, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, was at a turning point in his career in 1973: this album would bring him into the sales charts thanks to Entre dos aguas, which became his most famous song. If you happen to visit a street market in Madrid, you will still hear this song being played somewhere; you can even buy the album in cassette form.
Why is Fuente y Caudal so good? Paco de Lucía explained that he came up with the flamenco rumba Entre dos aguas while contemplating the waters of Algeciras, Spain, where he was born. Entre dos aguas is the triumphant opening of a flamenco guitar album, the guitarist’s masterpiece, both interpretive and compositional.
New York Dolls, ‘New York Dolls’
Who are they? The New York Dolls hated what was being done at their time: long songs and fancy instrumentations. They were direct, explosive and sexy; such a volcanic eruption that it could not last long. Their philosophy was to live without restraint and then go up in flames. Which they did, rekindling rock’s spirit of rowdiness in the process.
Why is New York Dolls so good? They appeared on the cover wearing their best drag clothes from New York thrift stores, and they sounded exactly as one would imagine: messy, sexual rock and roll. Producer Todd Rundgren tried to bring order to that chaos until he realized that it was precisely this wild attitude what the album had to offer. Songs like Personality Crisis, Trash, Bad Girl and Jet Boy sound like they were made by a bunch of enraged Rolling Stones trying to sound as dirty as possible.
Mike Oldfield, ‘Tubular Bells’
Who is he? Mike Oldfield was 19 years old when he recorded this album, in which he plays all the instruments. You need a lot of self-confidence to face such an ambitious and complex work at that age, but he came out triumphant: the record made him a billionaire, along with Richard Branson, who was starting his career as a record executive at the helm of Virgin.
Why is Tubular Bells so good? Two songs, about 20 minutes long each, with a blend of classical, folk, rock and more. The music of Tubular Bells is the only outlet that a young Oldfield found to appease the angst he carried after a lonely childhood marked by his mother’s alcoholism and mental illness. The album became a huge and unusual artistic event: rarely has such a noncommercial work sold so many copies.
David Bowie, ‘Aladdin Sane’
Who is he? By the time he has 26, David Bowie had already released six albums. Aladdin Sane was his first recording after becoming a star with the release and tour of Ziggy Stardust. Stars of the moment like Mick Jagger, John Lennon or Elton John attended his concerts, as well as people like Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Truman Capote, who sat in the box seats of shows that were half rock and roll, half social party of modernity. The photographers climbed trees to get a view of his hotel room windows; his fans yearned to have his signature stamped on the covers of his records.
Why is Aladdin Sane so good? The image on the cover, a lightning bolt crossing Bowie’s face, is a symbolic image of pop culture. Aladdin Sane was an extension of the character that the artist had developed on his previous album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and Bowie described it as “Ziggy Stardust in America.” The album itself focuses on schizophrenia: that of his brother Terry, and that of a United States that fascinated and horrified the artist at the same time. Aladdin Sane is a play on the words “a lad insane,” a clear reference to his brother’s mental health. Musically, it offers a mix between power rock and glam rock. Its most enduring track was The Jean Genie, and it also includes an eccentric version of Let’s Spend the Night Together by the Rolling Stones.
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