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Crate Digging: My Album Recommendations

AKA: 7 records I’d kill to have in my collection.

Pictured: An overhead shot of my vintage fold-down record cabinet, decorated with a repurposed Rolling Stones vinyl coaster. I’ve never seen another cabinet like this – if you have one, let me know!

“The fun is in the hunt.”

That’s what collecting vinyl is all about. Descending into your favorite record store, maybe located in a basement – maybe smells like one too – and digging through their stacks for the newest additions to yours. Better yet is picking up the album your friend’s been going crazy over lately! Whether you’ll hand it over to them or keep it is up to you.

If you find any of the 7 records I describe here in the wild: a., I envy your luck, and b., keep them! I am that friend that goes crazy over these albums! And you will too. There’s a good chance that if we’ve interacted on the basis of music, I’ve pointed you towards one or more on this list. So here are the albums I recommend over and over – and I do it for a reason.

1. Jimi Hendrix – Blues

Above: From the Warner Bros. Archive Collection; Jimi Hendrix playing an acoustic “Hear My Train A-Comin’” (from the Jimi Hendrix documentary, 1973.)

I recommended this album to a commenter on my latest Vinyl Monday episode. For those who missed it, I covered the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut record, Are You Experienced. It set the bar for guitar playing and production alike; a landmark release of the ’60s through and through. When your average music listener hears the phrase “psychedelic rock,” they’d likely think Jimi Hendrix and “Purple Haze.” But he had so much more depth as a player than lighting guitars on fire!

When you peel back all the flashy stuff you’re left with Blues; a compilation of blues recordings released by the Hendrix estate in 1994. In my opinion, if you want to determine a guitarist’s skill, see how they handle blues. The ones who rely on pomp and circumstance will falter. The really good ones will leave their signature touch on the song, but won’t tread all over the bare bones. Striking that balance is much easier said than done.

A perfect example of this is Hendrix’s versions of “Hear My Train A-Comin’.” The version from the New Year’s Eve Fillmore show is a best-ever Hendrix moment; I love his playing here and I love the Band of Gypsys! Holding that rendition in such high regard, I was skeptical going into Blues. I was so pleasantly surprised to find none of the magic is lost on the acoustic version of “Hear My Train.” It’s still a “Hear My Train,” while still very much being his “Hear My Train.” The version of “Red House” on this album is a must-hear as well. We’re all so used to the psychedelic stuff that it’s honestly refreshing to hear him in a “back to basics” way. It makes me wonder what could’ve been. Take away the feathers and purple haze and you’re left with a brilliant guitarist. Jimi didn’t need pomp and circumstance to be a legend, his playing speaks for itself

2. Donovan – A Gift From A Flower To A Garden

For the vinyl collectors here, this one is technically 2 records: in the ’60s, it was sold as a double album with Wear Your Love Like Heaven. But I’m counting it as one here, as not all of my readers are vinyl collectors and most of you are likely to seek this stuff out on streaming services before you buy anyway. (At least I hope you would, what do I know about music?)

I think Donovan is at his best when he writes like a fairy tale. Now I do like his Bob Dylan period a lot, “Colours” is great. But after ’66, Donovan blossomed into a gorgeously multifaceted artist and songwriter. A Gift’s most well-known track is “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”; its video stars Donovan’s muse Jenny Boyd. (She, too, wears a cape. I made an identical one for myself. As for the dress, I’ve got my eye on it.) Donovan was smashing together influences from the folk tradition, psychedelia, medieval instrumentation, and god knows what else. He was frolicking around in velvet capes and kaftans with streamers and a Boyd sister in tow. The music matched.

Pictured: Donovan and Jenny Boyd, photographed by Karl Ferris (1967. Via the Morrison Hotel Gallery.)

All my favorites on A Gift read like nuggets from an old English storybook. “The Tinker and The Crab,” “The Mandolin Man and His Secret,” and “The Lullaby Of Spring” whisk you away. He even throws it back to the Dylan days with the pared-down “Epistle To Derroll.” The atmosphere is lush and pastoral. You can practically see the waves cresting on the castle rocks, the happy little crustaceans. It’s bright and beautiful. A Gift From A Flower To A Garden is fantasy bard Donovan at his height.

3. Sagittarius – Present Tense

Pictured: Present Tense by Sagittarius (1968, Columbia)

Present Tense is best album Brian Wilson never wrote! To understand what I mean by this, we have to cover the brief but fascinating history of Sagittarius. You’ve probably never heard of them, and there’s a reason why.They only ever released one album, never toured, and never even played a show!

Their first single, “My World Fell Down,” was originally performed by The Ivy League. Gary Usher, producer of Sagittarius, The Beach Boys, and Dick Dale, presented the demo to Columbia Records. The execs weren’t as convinced of its hit potential as he was; nevertheless, the song was recorded. When the Sagittarius version actually did chart, Columbia suddenly changed their tune; pressuring the group to tour.

But here’s the thing – there wasn’t ever a group! Sagittarius was in fact the studio project of Gary Usher himself. It was all Usher and some of his associates from the music industry. Touring Beach Boys members Glen Campbell and Bruce Johnson, and producer Terry Melcher, all did vocals on the track. When it was revealed that Sagittarius was, in a sense, a “fake” band, Columbia urged Usher to instead make an album. This became the only Sagittarius album: Present Tense.

I feel like producers and audio engineers get lost in the shuffle while us music fans talk about what makes our favorite stuff so good. The truth is all our favorite records wouldn’t sound the way they do without all the hard work put in behind the scenes! Gary Usher makes Present Tense is ’60s California bubblegum pop gold. “I’m Not Living Here” sounds like a lost Mamas and The Papas tune. With slightly different instrumentation, “Another Time” would fit right in on a 1967 Smile. At its high points, Present Tense is a display of musical auteurism: the author being the artist. In this case, Gary Usher acts as an author of the ’60s American pop sound.

If you dig “Heroes and Villains” or the more psychedelic spots on Their Satanic Majesties Request, seek out the extended cut of “My World Fell Down” single on YouTube. You’ll be all about the full version with the wacky interlude.

4. Screaming Lord Sutch – Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends

Now here’s where I cheat on this list! I haven’t gotten to recommend this album to anybody yet. But it was recommended to me by my very own Victor Haydon-incarnate Trevin, and he owns a copy of this album! He knows an awful lot more about it than I do, so I’ll just quote from our messages about Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends:

“As for (Screaming) Lord Sutch, the guy was insane but brilliant.”

(To which I said: yeah that tracks.)

Pictured: Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends self-titled (1970, Cotillion.)

“It’s wild stuff. His band The Savages had people like Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple) and Jimmy Page.” (More on that later!) “By ’68 he (Sutch) was in the States and met up with Page asking him for help on an album...(it) was a massive flop…but I think people don’t understand it. I think it’s Pop Freakbeat with an insane lineup. A lot of the music is kinda silly but it’s still heavy and pure rock-n-roll with a little acid haze on it.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So you might’ve recognized some names mentioned alongside Sutch. I promise it gets crazier than that. Buckle up, the Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends lineup was as follows: Jeff Beck of The Yardbirds, Noel Redding of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jimmy Page and John Bonham of Led Bloody Zeppelin! And they’re all backed by legendary session player Nicky Hopkins.

London was a pretty small town in the ’60s; people forget all these guys were friends, or at the very least they knew each other. (Which is a miracle in and of itself, seeing how much they stole each other’s girlfriends. See Jimmy stealing Charlotte Martin from Clapton.) It’s hilarious to me that all these heavy-hitters not only ended up on an album together, but that the album they all played on was TRASHED by critics! Really! Upon its release, Heavy Friends was panned as “the worst album ever made.”

Is it the worst album ever?? No, that’s way harsh! But it is odd. Our dear Sutch’s vocals are admittedly...rough. He was clearly inspired by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – that's in the name – and he didn’t quite hit that mark. That won’t be for everyone. He predates Alice Cooper by a few years, but I think they have a similar vibe. They’re both proud, unabashed freaks. And at times, Heavy Friends sounds like an early stab at proto-punk. It’s clunky and unrefined, but it works! If you want to take your magnifying glass to what is surely an odd chapter in your favorite guitar heroes’ histories, check out Lord Sutch & Heavy Friends. If anything, it’s fun to hear what happens when you put too many cooks in the kitchen. Trevin and I agree, it is delightfully bizarre.

5. Power of Zeus – The Gospel According to Zeus

It’s a damn shame The Gospel According to Zeus isn’t on streaming services! If it were, its opening track “It Couldn’t Be Me” would be on just about every playlist I’ve made. That 4 seconds of silence on the physical record, before you hear the ghost of what will soon be the organ, is just enough time to ask, “How do you know when it’s kicked in?” Then, BOOM! The guitar riff breaks down your door. That’s how you know when it’s kicked in, dear reader.

Above: “It Couldn’t Be Me" and "In The Night," from The Gospel According To Zeus by Power of Zeus (1970, Rare Earth Records.)

It totally makes sense that I’m a Power of Zeus fan; they were from Detroit after all. As the story goes, the band was scouted at their regular venue the Wooden Nickel. They were offered a record deal on one condition: the group changed changed their name.

What was their name? Gangrene. Yeah...maybe it’s best they changed it. A little too '80s metal for 1970.

Everyone needs to know about this band: ’60s garage band fans, Animals fans, Deep Purple fans, especially Led Zeppelin fans. I find they’re like a lost link between Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Heavier than the former, but not quite as heavy as the latter. The Gospel According to Zeus is Power of Zeus’s only album; released on R&B titans Rare Earth’s label. Ultimately, they fell victim to an R&B label not really knowing how to market a rock act.

Whether they meant to or not, Power of Zeus championed quality over quantity. Gospel is heavily psychedelic all the way through. “The Death Trip”’s pacing is great; it keeps that momentum going from the opener I play the hell out of. I love when a band’s wheels come off partway through a song. I love it more when they fix them back on, power through, and come apart again for real at the very end. I’ll keep riding with Gospel until the wheels fall off. And I’ll wait patiently for the streaming service gods to put this one on Spotify!

6. Zen Guerrilla – Shadows On the Sun

I’m a simple woman. I see a band with a frontman with an afro? I am interested. Zen Guerrilla had just that: Marcus Durant, the fucking enigma. He’s 6 foot 7, and I don’t think that’s counting the hair! What a treat it would be to see him command the stage. I discovered Zen Guerrilla by way of – let’s all say it together because you should all know what band it’ll be – MC5. So if you want a recommendation from another band I don’t shut up about, well, here you go.

Durant was the frontman of Wayne Kramer’s 2018-19 Kick Out The Jams anniversary tour under the MC5 name. Sadly I wasn’t a fan yet at this time so I couldn’t see them live. But I did see their recorded performance for KEXP...more on that later.

From there I had to seek out Zen Guerrilla. Before long I sank into the depths of their discography. I loved their refusal to categorize their music. Their eclectic influences made them a group that fit right in with my taste: punk, soul, psych, gospel, blues. Shadows On the Sun was the final album they released before disbanding some time in the 2000s. I really and truly thought I'd sworn allegiance to their more popular record Trance States In Tongues – the one with the “Moonage Daydream” cover – until I got to Shadows On the Sun. My reaction to first hearing “Smoke Rings” was much like that KEXP appearance viewing.

Durant’s presence and booming vocals have me hooked every time. The appeal is almost...werewolf-like? There’s a feeling of metamorphosis; like you won’t know when slow and lumbering will turn ferocious. Definitely some Screamin’ Jay influence there as well. It’s imposing. Intimidating for sure. I didn’t dare divert my attention for the whole 40 minutes.

No lie, I was so mesmerized I accidentally swallowed my gum!!

Like “Smoke Rings,” Shadows On the Sun is relentless the whole way through. It really drives, and it doesn’t give you the chance to sit back and ask “what the fuck did I just listen to?” unless you pause it on your own accord. I find myself worn out by the end. It’s beautiful, glorious mayhem. Shadows will stun you stupid. Chew gum at your own risk.

7. The Flaming Sideburns – Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Rollah

Pictured: Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Rollah by The Flaming Sideburns (2001, Bad Afro.)

I stumbled on The Flaming Sideburns during one of my legendary clothesmaking trances: where I put my headphones on and let Spotify take me on a journey as I sew for about 6 hours straight. I was hammering away at a pair of shorts when I heard a nice, remastered deep cut by The Sonics. Or at least, I totally thought it was The Sonics! This guy had Gerry Roslie’s “WAAAAOH!” just right.

Instead I was hearing Finnish-Argentinian group The Flaming Sideburns’ “Street Survivor,” off Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Rollah. This record is full of riffs that will get stuck in your head all day – I can confirm! “Street Survivor” quickly made its way into the daily rotation; you’ll definitely be hearing it on my July favorites playlist at the end of the month. Aside from the obvious Sonics influence, The Flaming Sideburns have an early Strokes feel on tracks like “Flowers.” It totally makes sense, seeing as Rock ‘n’ Rollah and Is This It? were released the same year. (It’s a shame people count out 2001, it was a great year for modern rock-and-roll.)

“Blow The Roof” is a testament to the power of music transcending language. You really don’t have to know the language to dig it. For this reason, I recommend this record to all the Måneskin fans I meet. I'll admit, I'm not crazy about them. But if you can get over that self-imposed mental blockade some unfortunately have surrounding lyrics that aren’t in English, you’ll appreciate The Flaming Sideburns even more.

Here’s the link to Chaputa Records’s Bandcamp page, they have a sweet colored vinyl run of this one! Might have to grab a copy for myself...

I really hope you like some of these picks! It’s always cool to put people onto something they don’t know about but would totally love. If you give any of these albums a try, let me know what you think!

I bring this one to you on my vacation...which hasn't really been a vacation because I came WAY too close to needing stitches, have been going on aforementioned 6-hour clothesmaking spells, and dealt with the Vinyl Monday Fiasco on Sunday night. If you follow my Instagram you’ll know what I’m talking about! I’ll be sure to tell you about that on the next Vinyl Monday.

But for now here’s last week’s full-length Vinyl Monday on Are You Experienced. How I settled on this album was a story in and of itself – watch to find out!

Above: My thoughts on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Are You Experienced (1967,) from my YouTube channel!


- Layla

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1 Comment

Jul 08, 2022

So yeah, I actually had that Lord Sutch album. Picked it up in the dollar bin at Sears along with Blue Cheer - New! Improved!, The Four Seasons - The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette and John Paul Jones - A pre-Led Zeppelin album that apparently never existed but that I clearly remember; but for the life of me can't remember the name of. Can you say Mandella Effect?

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