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1974 Albums

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War Child > Jethro Tull

October, 1974
United States
Chrysalis
3.57143
War Child was nearly an orphan. Originally meant as a soundtrack to a film (something about a child's adventures in the afterlife), Ian Anderson's unwillingness to relinquish artistic control killed the project. Jethro Tull recovered, and instead put together a collection of (previously written) songs, giving it the distinction of being their first album since Benefit to avoid an epic construct. The album though is rich in arrangement, with David Palmer's orchestrations playing a central role. Anderson adds as much sax as flute; while it seems like John Evan must have recently picked up an accordion, as it features prominently on many tracks! Although the songs are shorter, Anderson did not do away with any of his quirky signatures, nor the typical density in his compositions. In fact, the album serves as a blueprint for what Jethro Tull would produce for the remainder of the decade. Highlights are, undoubtedly, the playful "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day" and the radio-friendly "Bungle in the Jungle"—though both were leftovers from the aborted 1972 Château d'Hérouville sessions. The latter track would reach No. 12 on the US single charts; and the album was particularly well received in the US, where it reached No. 2. In the UK, however, it would have to settle at No. 14.

Red > King Crimson

October, 1974
United States
Atlantic
4.785715
By the time the reinvigorated King Crimson recorded this third offering, the band was down to Robert Fripp and the rhythm section of Bill Bruford and John Wetton. Though it wasn't known at the time, Red would be their swansong, and an album on which Fripp could proudly wrap up the Crim saga. Oddly though, Fripp invited two former members to the recording, Ian McDonald and Mel Collins; while David Cross's part came from a previously recorded improvisation. The album opens with the angular guitar riff of the title track, one certainly as memorable as "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two." Both "Fallen Angel" and "One More Red Nightmare" follow: two of the most cohesive and well-developed songs the band would ever produce. In fact, this side of the album presents King Crimson at their most accessible, if not their most electric. The second side, however, dives right back into improvisation. "Providence" packs just about everything improv-related from the last two albums into its short eight minutes, before the album ends with the epic "Starless." But unlike its bleak title, the song is autobiographical, incorporating many elements of each different incarnation of King Crimson throughout before ending in one last glorious refrain. But as glorious as it seemed, Fripp had enough of the music industry, touring, etc., and in September announced the band had "ceased to exist." He entered semi-retirement, only to come out of it as a "small mobile intelligent unit" towards the end of the decade. The album charted in both the UK and US (No. 45 and No. 66, respectively), as did both other studio albums from this lineup. A posthumous live document, USA, recorded on their June US tour, would see release in early 1975. Bruford and Wetton would later turn up in the prog rock supergroup U.K. with Eddie Jobson, who also contributed overdubs to the live album.

Illusions On A Double Dimple > Triumvirat

October, 1974
United States
Harvest
5
Triumvirat hailed from Cologne, but offered a style of music that was pure British progressive rock. Their debut album Mediterranean Tales was recorded and released in 1972, with two Hans, Pape on bass and vocal, and Bathelt on drums, plus Jürgen Fritz on keyboards. Anchored by the classically-trained keyboards of the latter, the album sat firmly in Emerson, Lake and Palmer tradition, but contained enough originality to hold its own. Released by Capitol Records, the follow-up Illusions On A Double Dimple was the band's first in a run of albums to have chart success in the US. No doubt Triumvirat filled the void an inactive ELP had left; they sound exactly the same! The difference, then, lay not in the technically perfect execution, but in the bite-sized songs that comprise their concept albums. Bassist Helmet Köllen, a fine English-language vocalist, replaced Pape mid-album. Triumvirat then fortuitously toured the US in support of Fleetwood Mac, and the following year they released Spartacus to even further success. Musically identical, the album breached the US Top 30, and after further touring, the band opted to remain in Los Angeles. Köllen then left and was replaced by bassist Dick Frangenberg and UK vocalist Barry Palmer for the 1976 album Old Loves Die Hard, the band's last to chart. Triumvirat would continue until the end of the decade, changing lineups with every album, and yet always to diminishing returns.

Todd Rundgren's Utopia > Utopia

October, 1974
United States
Bearsville
4.5
Hailing from Pennsylvania, Todd Rundgren was first heard in Nazz, a band whose 60s-garage rock styling was released to no particular acclaim. In 1970, he formed Runt with Hunt and Tony Sales, and scored a hit with the blue-eyed soul of "We Gotta Get You a Woman." In 1972, Rundgren released the double-album Something/Anything? It provided another couple of hits: "I Saw the Light" managed to chart on both sides of the Atlantic, while a re-recording of Nazz's "Hello It's Me" entered the US Top 5. After a few more artistically successful solo records, he formed Utopia in 1974. The band had a massive lineup, featuring no less than three keyboardists. Rundgren, on guitar and vocals, was joined by Mark "Moogy" Klingman, Jean-Yves "M. Frog" Labat and Ralph Schuckett, with Kevin Ellman on drums and John Siegler on bass. Their debut, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, kicks off straight into high gear; after a bombastic introduction, the title track reveals an awesome guitar hook and one highly-charged band. Utopia's interplay straddles fusion, but there's nothing jazzy about the music; typical of Rundgren's song style, it's over the top pop (a good thing here). The diverse arrangement of "Freak Parade" gets a little funky, though Rundgren's "Freedom Fighters" is emblematic of his anthem rock. The second side, however, encompassed by "The Ikon," is the tour de force. Containing the best and worst of Utopia with equal aplomb, the track alternates between brazen prog rock, fiery fusion and luscious vocal sections—all perfectly arranged, including the big finale. The album reached No. 34 on the US charts. Rundgren's next release, Initiation, was an instrumental album that featured the synthesized experimentation of the side-long track "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire," which he recorded entirely by himself. Utopia was back on deck with Another Live Utopia record in 1975. Rundgren then reshuffled the Utopia lineup to its most classic iteration: Roger Powell on keyboards, Kasim Sulton on bass and John Wilcox on drums. The ensuing album Ra continued in the progressive vein, even reaching No. 27 in the UK charts. Rundgren would then dive head first into the pop world, alternating solo releases with Utopia albums; his moderate chart success would only survive through the early 80s.

Crac! > Area

November, 1974
United States
Cramps Records
4.75
Area was another of Italy's finest exports, albeit rooted in fusion rather than progressive rock. The band was formed by Greek singer and organist Demetrio Stratos in 1972 and included main composer Patrizio Fariselli on keyboards, Paolo Tofani on guitar and Giulio Capiozzo on percussion. The bassist at this point was Patrick Djivas, who would later end up in PFM, while Eddie Busnello added saxophone. Their debut album Arbeit Macht Frei was released on the Cramps label in 1973. Taking the title from a Nazi slogan, the album combined excellent fusion tinged with world influences and a politically-charged message; all of this from the self-proclaimed "International POPular Group." Since it was all sung in Italian though, the politics were essentially lost in translation. However, the voice of Stratos truly transcends language; distinctive, ballsy and aggressive, it's an instrument in and of itself (and something Stratos would explore with composer John Cage a few years later). With Ares Tavolazzi now on bass, the band's second album, Caution Radiation Area, continued in the same fashion, although augmented by more electronic weirdness. Crac!, however, is generally regarded as Area's finest hour. On the opening "L'Elefante Bianco," the power of Stratos's voice is instantly apparent; while "La Mela di Odessa (1920)" continues the band's instrumental fire, until its funky breakdown. Though it takes a while to get there, "Megalopoli" reveals the band's often-missed melodic sense. Next, "Nervi Scoperti" takes flight with a hyper-kinetic fusion gone sideways, while "Implosion" lends a nod to British exports Nucleus or Soft Machine. Italy would serve up a good deal of jazz fusion over the next several years; but Area would remain the benchmark to which it all would be judged. The following year, the band released the live album Are(A)zione, which gives a good approximation of how complex this dual keyboard band was; though 1976's Maledetti was their most avant-garde. Sadly, Stratos would succumb to leukemia in 1979. The remaining members would release another couple of albums before folding in 1980.

Musiciens - Magiciens > Atoll

November, 1974
France
Eurodisc
5
Forming in 1972, Atoll hailed from Metz, France, and was built around the trio of guitarist Luc Serra, bassist Jean-Luc Thillot and drummer Alain Gozzo. One of France's early proponents of rock progressif, Atoll's debut single from late 1973, "Je T'Aime Quand Je Te Vois" b/w "Change Ta Vie" sold quite well; and after a few changes in personnel, they released Musiciens-Magiciens in late 1974. With André Balzer on vocals, Michel Taillet on keyboards and Laurent Gianesini guesting on sax and flute, Atoll present a fully-realized progressive rock album, albeit one influenced by their British counterparts—still, quite an achievement for their debut. The harmonies on the opening "L'Hymne Medieval" shine, and also reveal a strong French-language vocalist in Balzer. "Le Baladin du Temps" highlights the songwriting skills of the band, as the track shifts from theme to theme with relative ease and continuity. The short title track hosts a great solo from Taillet, while "Au-Delà Des Ecrans De Cristal" rocks under Serra's guitar work. The closer, "Je Suis D'Ailleurs," begins with an amazing groove, dives for a fortunately quick and rather uninspired drum solo, and then recovers, reprising some main themes from the album. Released in 1974 on the Ariola imprint Eurodisc, the album saw release in Canada on Gamma Records; lest we forget, Quebec is a French-speaking province! A second album, L'Araignée-Mal, came out the following year, again on the Eurodisc label—with Christian Béya replacing Serra on guitar, and the additions of Richard Aubert on violin and Bruno Géhin, a second keyboardist. To wit, it's one of Atoll's finest records. By their third album, Tertio, in 1977, a back-to-a-five-piece Atoll had caught the fusion bug; or, at least, far slicker production. The album even saw some vocal contributions from Stella Vander and Lisa Deluxe. But the oddest twist to the Atoll story came in 1980, after their fourth and final album, when journeyman John Wetton recorded with the band shortly before he formed Asia.

Star's End > Bedford, David

November, 1974
United States
Virgin
3.5
David Bedford's classical credentials included study at London's Royal Academy of Music and tutelage under Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono. He crossed over into the rock world as the keyboard player for Kevin Ayers and the Whole World in 1969. In 1970, that band performed Bedford's The Garden of Love, written—in true avant-garde form—for "pop group." This association led to further collaboration with guitarist Mike Oldfield and others on the Virgin roster. Bedford's first "solo" album, Nurse Song With Elephant, was a purely experimental effort, and released on John Peel's Dandelion label in 1972. Bedford then signed to Virgin Records and set to record his Star's End composition. Featuring the talents of Oldfield and Henry Cow's Chris Cutler on percussion, it is performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. While Oldfield's guitar is a tie-in to the progressive audience, it's an album of symphonic music. Taken in proper context, the album is more than a curiosity; it encircles the non-traditions of modern composers, of which Bedford was a part of. He would next orchestrate Oldfield's Tubular Bells in 1975; a great success, the album reached No. 20 in the UK. Bedford would provide similar services to a variety of artists over the decade, in addition to recording three additional albums for Virgin. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner was a somber keyboard composition, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's work of the same name. In some ways, it echoed Rick Wakeman's then-current works, but with far greater humility. Both The Odyssey in 1976 and Instructions For Angels in 1977 were more accessible progressive music albums, performed mainly on keyboard and synthesizer, and bordered on new age music. Following a final album in 1985, Bedford would continue to create a sizable body of work outside of the "rock" arena.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway > Genesis

November, 1974
United States
ATCO Records
4.5
If one had to pick an album to define progressive rock, it would be a double; and more often than not, Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway would top the list. The sprawling double-album revolves around Peter Gabriel's story of a NYC street kid, Rael; that it roughly approximates every boy's journey out of adolescence is more than likely what gives the album its universal appeal. The anthem of "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" begins with Tony Banks's rolling piano giving away to Mike Rutherford's monster bass line. Immediately, this isn't the bucolic or quirky Genesis of albums past. The production is thick, loud and upfront; and above all, appropriate. The Mellotron on "Fly on a Windshield" lends a menacing edge, while the playful melody of "Cuckoo Cocoon" provides the album's single. "In the Cage" reignites the proceedings, with Banks offering some huge synthesizer lines. One can feel the testosterone in "Back in NYC;" with Gabriel's lyrics direct and his delivery forceful, it's totally in your face. "Counting Out Time" is similarly immediate—sexual initiation laid out in numbers. The melodic emotion of "The Carpet Crawlers" points to the future, as does "The Chamber Of 32 Doors." After the roar of "Lillywhite Lilith," the third side meanders until the elegant "The Lamia" slithers in, one of the strongest melodies on the album. Steve Hackett, who's also taken a step up in the mix, provides one his most elegant guitar solos on record. With a rollicking organ line, "The Colony of Slipperman" then hastens the pace. "The Light Lies Down on Broadway" reprises the journey so far, and the transition from here to the end of the record is as smooth as the first side. "In the Rapids" is a kind of emotional finale to the work and finally, Gabriel leaves us with the moral of the story, something Monty Python's Knights of Ni would certainly not want to hear! Put it all in a first-class Hipgnosis gatefold jacket and it's not hard to see why this became Genesis' bestselling album to date. Massive and sprawling, the album is nonpareil; the band is inventive, profound and, at times, timeless. Genesis embarked on a world tour from late 1974 until mid-75 in support of the album, performing the epic Lamb—costume changes and all—in its entirety for each show (none were filmed). The tour also proved to be one of the catalysts for Gabriel's departure from the band. The remaining four members would regroup in July 1975; but that of course, is another story.

Red Queen To Gryphon Three > Gryphon

November, 1974
United States
Bell Records
5
Gryphon wasn't initially a rock band, but a folk band, and one playing medieval and Renaissance music at that; their first two albums were acoustic affairs recorded for the Transatlantic label. Richard Harvey and Brian Gulland, both Royal College of Music graduates, formed the band in 1971, and later added guitarist Graeme Taylor and drummer David Oberlé. Bassist Phil Nestor jumped aboard for their second album, Midnight Mushrumps, which featured the lengthy track of the same name. Their unique music earned them the distinction of being the only band to be played on all four BBC radio stations in the course of a week. However, influenced by the burgeoning progressive scene, Gryphon switched to electric instruments and rocked things up considerably for Red Queen To Gryphon Three. Offering four tracks of instrumental progressive rock, the band's Renaissance-era influences are perfectly complicated, if not lively. Harvey's use of keyboards is extensive, while Gulland takes some sort of honor in being the only bassoon and crumhorn player in a rock context. Serendipitously, the band landed the opening spot on a couple of Yes' 1974 tours, exposing their unique music to a much wider audience. The album enjoyed some success, and a US release on Bell Records (a label not known for prog rock). The band's next record, Raindance, was released the following year and continued in the same vein, though now with the addition of vocals on a few tracks. After a series of personnel changes, the band released one final album in 1977 before splitting up.

Autobahn > Kraftwerk

November, 1974
United States
Vertigo
5
That Kraftwerk ventured into pop territory isn't that far of a stretch; they'd always had a way with melody, and the whole krautrock trip was getting a little passé by now. The journey down side one of Autobahn is just like a Sunday afternoon cruise on the freeway: scenic, ambling with the windows down. Driven by a cheery, pulsing beat, "Autobahn" shifts between reoccurring themes throughout, the destination being as irrelevant as the location—once aboard, you just enjoy the ride. And yes, unbelievably, an edited version of the song made the Top 40 singles charts in both the UK and US, propelling the album to No. 4 and No. 5 on the charts, respectively. The second side's "Kometenmelodie 1" is veritable krautrock, while "Kometenmelodie 2" offers more of the band's easy melodies. For most Brits and Americans, Kraftwerk was undoubtedly their introduction to German rock; the band toured North America and the UK for the first time in 1975, with Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos in tow. There was considerable hype around the "electronic" nature of the album upon release, but their use of synthesizers and programmed rhythms here was just a start. Kraftwerk would further innovate into "dance" areas, exuding greater influence with each successive release as they perfected their electro-pop in their Kling Klang Studio. Few bands in the timeline can truly be called ahead of their time, but Kraftwerk was a rare exception.

Relayer > Yes

November, 1974
United States
Atlantic
4.727275
Following Rick Wakeman's abrupt departure, Yes set out to find a replacement for him. Short-listed was Nick Glennie-Smith (Wally), Jean Roussel (Cat Stevens) and Greek keyboard wizard Vangelis, but the band accepted Swiss-born Patrick Moraz instead. The classically-trained Moraz had been in Mainhorse in the early 70s; and more recently, played in Refugee. The band retired to bassist Chris Squire's home, where he had recently finished building a recording studio. The result, in some ways, was Yes' most un-Yes like recording to date. If Tales From Topographic Oceans suffered from sprawl, Relayer is the exact opposite. The album is dense and more complex; and, courtesy of Moraz's various keyboards, offers a new tonality from the band's previous works. The album's centerpiece, "The Gates of Delirium," is another epic from Jon Anderson, this time inspired by Tolstoy's War and Peace. GoD packs in enough drama for an entire album; but sensibly, Yes attempt to cut it down to size—to half the record, that is. The track opens meekly; but once things get started, the Squire and Alan White rhythm team switch into overdrive, providing one heavy foundation throughout. Halfway through the track, the band explodes into an instrumental foray that owes more to fusion than to prog rock. But true to form, the track resolves into Anderson's gentle ballad "Soon," a song he would reprise for decades. One gets the feeling that "Sound Chaser" is going to be another new monster piece of Yes music, but it's mostly a showcase for Steve Howe's prowess on the Telecaster. "To Be Over," however, is the album's gem. As the playful counterpoint gently unfolds into the main theme, Howe's guitar once again leads the song through its powerful symphonic refrain. The album fared well on the charts, breaking the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. After a tour of the US in support of the record, Yes splintered and, in perhaps their most pretentious act, each individual member went on to record a solo album. The band reconvened in 1976 for further stadium-filling tours; however, by the end of the year, they were in Switzerland, ready to record a new album.

Electronique Guerilla > Heldon

December, 1974
France
Urus Records
3
The debut album from Heldon introduces French electronic rock pioneer Richard Pinhas and the larger Parisian counter-culture he piloted. Though he left his teaching post at the Sorbonne, Pinhas never left his philosophy behind. His work would always remain left of center, as the title Electronique Guerilla attests; and the spirit of the May 1968 student revolt remained the key to both his musical invention and dedication to his uncompromising spirit—Heldon sound like little before it. Pinhas relies on unpolished improvisation here: "Zind" opens with huge pulses from an AKS synthesizer and nothing else. "Back To Heldon" adds a looping sequence and another of Pinhas's trademarks: the heavily-sustained tone of his Les Paul guitar—an acknowledged influence of Robert Fripp. It's these two instruments, the synthesizer and the heavily-sustained guitar, that dominate Pinhas's music. Under a repetitive guitar line, the more contemplative "Northernland Lady" features several layers of sonic texture; there's not a lot of composition in the motionless piece, though it's full of atmosphere. "Ouais Marchais, Mieux Qu'en 68" is a group effort; Coco Roussel handles drums with brother Pierrot on bass, while philosopher Gilles Deleuze provides the spoken words of Friedrich Nietzsche. The final two tracks offer more synthesizer/guitar explorations; however, there's absolutely nothing cosmic or academic here, just raw extracts of sound from Pinhas's hands. In 1975, Pinhas would release two albums: Allez Teia was a mostly somnambulant record of guitar and Mellotron drones, while the double-album It's Always Rock ‘N' Roll, a play on The Rolling Stones' record issued the same year, offered a wider variety of Pinhas and friends' sonic inventions. All were recorded at his Schizo Studios and released on his own Disjuncta/Urus label. The label released many like-minded albums from others in the Parisian counter-culture, as did the Cobra and Pôle labels—and each was as uniquely progressive as it was unique.

Illusion > Isotope

December, 1974
US
Gull
4.5
Born in Bihar, India, guitarist Gary Boyle moved to England in his childhood. He then spent the early 60s in Hamburg before returning to the UK and session work, most notably with Dusty Springfield. He teamed with Brian Auger and the Trinity, and contributed to their 1970 album Befour. The early 70s saw more session work with Auger, Keith Tippett, Stomu Yamash'ta and others. In 1973, Boyle formed Isotope with ex-Nucleus bassist Jeff Clyne, drummer Nigel Morris and keyboardist Brian Miller, with the latter writing much of the band's material. Their debut album Isotope saw release in 1974, with typical comparisons to other British fusion groups of the day (more jazz than rock). However, Isotope would never be known for their stability; and soon after the album's release, keyboardist Laurence Scott and ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper came aboard. The band toured extensively, breaking only to record their second album, Illusion, with Family's Poli Palmer. Hopper's fuzz bass kicks off the title track, always a good sign. "Rangoon Creeper" slinks along over a funky clavinet, before switching gears towards more typical fusion and one of Boyle's typically awesome guitar solos; fast and fluid, he certainly can lay down the notes. Hopper's "Sliding Dogs/Lion Sandwich" takes a break from the expected fusion for a wilder approach to jazz-rock, while his "Golden Section" is indeed golden. Returning from a US tour (the album released by Motown), change beset the band once again; and save Morris, a new lineup joined Robin Lumley to record a final album, Deep End. Another attempt to reactivate Isotope (notably with future Buggle Geoff Downes) only amounted to BBC sessions, and Boyle then turned to a solo career. Produced again by Lumley, his 1977 album The Dancer earned the Jazz/Pop award at the annual Montreux International Jazz Festival.