I was in Indy last spring for a wedding with some people associated with my wife. Some were friends, some were relatives, but the line was sort of blurry. Well, everything was sort of blurry that weekend. The wedding was a hippy-esque affair, performed outside, which I considered dicey in the Indy springtime. It was one of the few receptions where a “pub crawl” was part of the plan. As the drunken brawl raged on that March Saturday, I reached out to another friend of mine, B.J. He lives in Indy and I’d always promised if I was in town I’d give him a call. I never dreamed he’d actually join us at the bar at 10 pm on a Saturday night, but sure as I was (barely) standing there, in he walked a few minutes after I’d texted him. B.J. is a tea-totaller (and there’s nothing wrong with that…) and the crowd I was with was a rather rough and tumble herd. I think one of the guys might have been a biker (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I had been quietly cultivating that relationship all day. You never know when shit is going to break out on a pub crawl.
B.J. is an extraordinarily smart guy. One of the most erudite, well-read, well-traveled guys I’ve ever met. He strolled in and immediately I felt the fear rise up in my chest. He had those leather patches on the elbows of his cable sweater. He looked like a college professor who’d taken a wrong turn and had inadvertently walked into the seedy bar we were in to ask directions to the nearest coffee house, “uh, I’m late for a poetry reading”. I kept thinking, “Well, this will be fine, I’ll just keep myself between B.J. and the drunks… I’ll be the Chinese wall…” Almost immediately after his arrival, since he’s a very gregarious guy, he turned and started to introduce himself to the crowd arrayed around the bar table we’d commandeered. With his hands folded in front of him, like he was praying, he turned to address the entire table, “Well, I have to tell you folks, my wife and I were on the verge of finishing our binge-watching of “Downtown Abbey” when Ken contacted me. It was hard to pull away from that upstairs/downstairs drama, but here I am.” You could have heard a pin drop. I figured no one at that table had ever heard of “Downtown Abbey”. It was then that the biker looked up at B.J. and said, “Oh, I love that show. Don’t say anything, I’m still in season 2.” Turns out he was an architect. You just never know what’s going to happen in a bar.
My buddy B.J. loves rock and roll “lists”. “Ken, who are the best rock drummers, from American based bands, from the 70’s?” Uh, I don’t know. Over the past few months, the wife has decided we were going to sell the house and “downsize”. So I’ve been going through the process of moving which always includes throwing stuff out. Books, clothes, furniture, nothing is sacred from my wife’s pruning. Well, nothing except my albums. I spent the weekend gingerly packing my vinyl LPs into plastic, waterproof boxes, surrounded by egg crate stuffing and styrofoam peanuts. You’d think I was transporting an organ, I’ve taken so much care with these things. Mind you, I’ve endured the glaring stares of my wife during this entire process. However, I managed to stay firm. You have to draw a line in marriage or you’ll end up moving and “downsizing” before you’re ready… Hey, wait a minute.
As I began to look at these albums, I found myself pausing over the heavier, double albums I had purchased back in the day. Man, a double album meant commitment. When I first started buying albums from my meager busboy wages, a single record was $5.99 but a double album, that was over 12 bucks. So a double album had to be by an artist you trusted and had to be a major statement. With the advent of the CD the double album went the way of the Dodo. Ah, I still love to hold the album sleeve, typically a gatefold, where the herbal enthusiasts amongst us used to clean their pot. So, for my friend B.J., who loves rock and roll lists, here is the BourbonAndVinyl list of essential double-albums, that every music enthusiast needs to own. I’m not a completist, but you really should own each of these records as a start. Underscore the word, “records”, i.e. vinyl. These are in no particular order except perhaps the order I put them in the hermetically sealed moving package….I only included double studio albums. Live albums are not included, nor are albums that are a blend of live/studio stuff like “Eat a Peach” or “Rattle and Hum”.
- The Beatles – “The Beatles” (aka The White Album) – The Beatles came out of their psychedelic period and released this amazing, tour-de-force double album. What don’t they do here. George Harrison’s songs are some of his finest, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Piggies”. As has oft been written, this was a sound of four musicians growing apart rather than the broad artistic statement it was treated as upon it’s release. John had started bringing Yoko into the sessions. It’s easy to blame Yoko for the Beatles’ break up, but let’s remember, it’s guy code – the gang before the chicks…
- Bob Dylan – “Blonde On Blonde” – His magnum opus. Shortly after this album Dylan (purportedly) had a motor cycle accident and disappeared. What I love about this album is how bluesy it is. Dylan never gets credit for his wonderful blues. Lyrically and musically Dylan would never be stronger, with the possible exception of “Blood on the Tracks”.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Electricladyland” – I loved “Are You Experienced” but I thought “Axis: Bold As Love” suffered from the usual sophomore issues… recorded too quickly after the first album etc. Don’t get me wrong, “Axis” is amazing but “Electricladyland” is Hendrix’s Sistine Chapel. The 15 minute “Voodoo Child” is his most masterful blues tune and boasts organ by Steve Winwood.
- The Rolling Stones – “Exile On Main Street” – The product of the famous recording session in Keith’s mansion Nellcote on the French Riviera. There have so many albums after this one, based on the Stones template. It’s my favorite album and my favorite band. This was the final album in what was considered their “golden”, Mick Taylor period.
- The Who – “Tommy” – Pete Townshend’s first rock opera. I’m always surprised that it wasn’t until “Tommy” that the Who broke in America. Their first three albums were all amazing. They had a virtuoso bass player, drummer and guitarist. No one paints a soundscape the way Pete Townshend does with his guitar. If you listen to “The Who Sell Out” you knew Pete was into the concept album. Who knew he’d take it to an art form with “Tommy”?
- Derek and the Dominos – “Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs” – Eric Clapton, desperately in love with his best friend’s wife… Oh, and his best friend is Beatle George Harrison. Fiction writers can’t come up with stuff like this. This is one of the consummate blues-rock albums of all time. “Key to the Highway”, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Tell the Truth” are some of Clapton’s most inspired performances. Just to up the ante, he brought in Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers to play co-lead. Guitar heaven.
- Manassas (Stephen Stills) – “Manassas” – Bill Wyman, bassist for the Rolling Stones flew out to join the recording sessions for this one-off supergroup recording and was reported to have said, something like, “if I was going to quit the Stones it’d be to join Manassas”. Clapton once claimed he wanted to join the Band, so who knows. Each side is dedicated to a different type of sound, rock/blues/country/folk. There are Latin rhythms all over this thing. This is a must have for CSNY fans.
- George Harrison – “All Things Must Pass” – After years of his output being suppressed by John & Paul, George released not a double album, but a triple album. Though to be fair, side four is all jam sessions. He brought in Phil Specter to produce and the musicians that eventually became Derek & The Dominos as his backing band. His version of Dylan’s “If Not For You” is definitve.
- Miles Davis – “Bitches Brew” – I know this is a jazz album and not a rock album. I also know that I am not smart enough for jazz. But this album, only six tunes in length is amazing. Apparently influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Miles brought a bunch of musicians in and said, “Let’s jam”. This guy is on a whole other level.
- The Who – “Quadrophenia” – The second rock opera from Townshend. I actually like this album better than “Tommy”. It simply rocks harder. “The Real Me”, “Love Reign O’er Me”, and “5:15” are all part of rock’s canon now. The concept may be vague to US audiences, but let’s face it, all rock opera storylines are… odd.
- Stevie Wonder – “Songs In the Key of Life” – This album is the final record in what can only be described as Stevie’s greatest creative period, ’72-76. There isn’t a bad song on this album. Its political but soulful enough to dance to. “Sir Duke” for Duke Ellington is a definite highlight.
- Led Zeppelin – “Physical Graffiti” – Zeppelin’s entry into the “great bands do double albums” category. “Kashmir”, “Ten Years Gone” and “Trampled Under Foot”. What couldn’t these guys do. One of my favs from Zep.
- Elton John – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – I saw Elton in ’82 and he opened with “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding” and I couldn’t help but wish, please just keep playing all of “Yellow Brick Road”. A sprawling, brilliant masterpiece.
- The Clash – “London Calling” – I heard Elvis Costello once say, “The Clash were different on the first two or three records, but after that it was just Joe Strummer’s record collection.” Well, if he meant “London Calling”, Joe had quite a record collection. The only hit was a song they almost left off the album, “Train In Vain”. That’s how strong this album is, they almost left the single off.
- Fleetwood Mac – “Tusk” – This album always got panned as a disappointment because it only sold 4 million copies vs Rumors 20 million. What are you gonna do? Heavily influenced by the punk movement Lindsey took the band on a huge left turn. This is still one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac albums.
- Bruce Springsteen – “The River” – the first Springsteen album I ever bought. I was nervous when I bought it as I only knew a hand full of singles from the Boss… This album did not disappoint me. Like all double albums it was a bit of a mess but all the songs here are great. “Point Blank”, “You Can Look But You Better Not Touch” and “Ramrod” are all great album cuts. After spending so much time in legal limbo after “Born to Run” Springsteen and a glut of material and thankfully he withdrew the single album version of this record and came out with a double album. The title track was his most political to date – he was able to communicate politically by making the song so personal.
- Pink Floyd – “The Wall” – Roger Waters’ masterpiece. Although he owns the rights to “The Wall” and was the principal creative force behind the stage show, it never would have gotten off the ground without the soaring guitar of David Gimour. I spent hours of my high school years listening to this. I always thought the line, “you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat” was “you don’t get any pussy if you don’t beat your meat” which was music to a high schooler’s ears.
- Prince – “1999” – Forget about the hits, “1999”, “Delirious” and “Little Red Corvette” this is an awesome album start to finish. This album has that Hendrix-y guitar married to funk that is mind blowing. There would be no “Purple Rain” without “1999”. I defy you to put on “D.M.S.R” and not dance around the room.
There you go folks. Head out to a record store and start collecting… Enjoy and as always, Cheers!