People here at Seymour Duncan are not just obsessive about tone, but also about music itself. After all, you have to love music to be able to make tools to make it. But the good thing is that everyone’s tastes are different. The end of the year is always a time for ‘best of” lists and Holiday Gift Guides. This article just represents this author’s opinion, and, isn’t meant to be some definitive list though. These are the releases I liked most this year, in no particular order. It reflects my strange hard rock/prog obsessions and the fact that when I like a band, I have to own everything they’ve released.
Rainbow was the band Ritchie Blackmore started while recording the Deep Purple album Stormbringer, but is probably known more for showcasing Ronnie James Dio (m/) to the masses. Yeah, Dio-ized Rainbow is my favorite, but there is great playing on every Rainbow album. Even the AOR Rainbow-that-tries-too-hard-to sound-like Foreigner mid-80’s version has some great guitar work. It proves that a Strat into a preamp-boosted Marshall is a thing of beauty, and despite The Tower of Hendrix, Ritchie’s tone is the one that moved me.
Most of these songs have been played to death on Classic Rock radio, so another reissue is usually not a big deal. But it is worth buying for the bonus disc alone. Here is a band that had everything to prove, including the fact that electric blues should be louder, rawer, and sexier than anything before. You can tell that Jimmy Page enjoyed showing this band off, and you were going to listen whether you liked it or not. They didn’t have a lot of songs written at this stage, so their live show was full of improvisation. Page’s Tele tone was never so warm, and the live tracks here spotlight why a reunion shouldn’t happen: It won’t sound like this.
In 1974, Yes recorded their classic album Relayer. They have always been known for long songs, and this album has 3 of ’em. Steven Wilson has been doing an excellent job of remastering older prog albums, and here he navigates the dense mix and lightning fast playing of Steve Howe & friends. Steve recorded much of this CD with a ’59 Tele featuring a PAF in the neck, through a fuzz and Echoplex into very clean, large Fender Dual Showman amps. His tone is so different than his 70’s contemporaries, with nary a blues influence…although you hear plenty of country, jazz and classical music in there. Proof that sometimes you need to do something different to find your own voice. This album was reissued on blu-ray as well as DVD-A with several outtakes, instrumental versions and vinyl needle-drops, but the remixed studio album is where it’s at.
Despite my prog and fusion leanings, I have always been a Dylanphile, so this 6-CD set is a look back to 1967, when Dylan & The Band holed up in a New York basement to record between 100-200 songs (138 appear here). It is thought they did this for publishers, so other artists could cover these songs, and admittedly, some are really rough. Some songs break out in laughing, some sound like a bunch of drunks around the fire, some are lyrical masterpieces. A lot has been written about Dylan’s voice, but hey, it is like smelly cheese: Once you get past the smell, it is the best cheese you will ever eat. Canadian Robbie Robertson plays his Tele like he grew up in Nashville.
This set contains every show Deep Purple performed on their 1972 Japanese tour, along with many extras. If you don’t know anything about Deep Purple, this is the place to start. Back then, the studio album was an excuse to play live shows, and none of the tracks here resemble the studio recordings at all. People came to a show expecting nothing but a killer live band, and everyone here is in top form. Ritchie Blackmore is so good here, and his psychic connection with organist Jon Lord is so tight, that oftentimes you can’t tell which is which. More Strat into a Marshall madness here, and the whole band is just as good as Ritchie. I am pretty sure when you put this in your CD player, it forces the volume all the way up. All you can do is submit.
OK, there is much debate about this one. This album was pieced together from 20 hours of late keyboardist Richard Wright’s sessions back in 1994. Since most of this music is older and unreleased, I included it in this list. But mainly, I really like it. We can debate if it is a real Pink Floyd album. I know this: If I heard it and wasn’t told who it was, within 20 seconds I would figure it out. It doesn’t sound to me like a solo Gilmour album. I can hear the Pink Floyd soul here, and that is good enough for me. He could have just thrown helicopter sounds over everything, or loud German screaming, but he didn’t. It sounds like a farewell to their friend and bandmate, and it is a good one at that. Gilmour resisted throwing vocals over everything and lets the music breathe. His tone is always beautiful, and when his Strat comes roaring in above the slow keyboard pads, I have to sit back and smile.
Another prog entry, but this a big one. A 27-CD box set comprising of many shows from the 1973 tour, the reason this much Crimson is needed is that they are never the same. A minute into the video above might hold a clue too: an endless stream of 16th notes in a whole tone scale. The whole-tone madness gets better from there. Fripp was a much different guitarist than the blues rock legends of the 70’s, and his vision of a band that improvises on a nightly basis is captured here so you can go on the journey with them. The 1973 King Crimson was an unusual one, with a violinist who also played Mellotron, and John Wetton playing a very distorted Precision Bass. Fripp used a black 3 pickup 1959 Les Paul Custom into a volume pedal, fuzz and wah sent to a clean Hiwatt amp. His incredible technique and unique sense of composition kept this band from sounding like anything like their contemporaries. They reformed again this year with 7 members: 2 guitarists, bassist and wind player in the back of the stage, and 3 drummers in the front. That’s brave.
What are your favorite releases this year? Do you have any gems that most ‘end of year’ lists missed?