Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

Mention the San Francisco rock scene of the 1960s and most people think of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Company. But, for anyone who either took part in that scene or paid it any heed, a fourth name holds equal sway: Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Quicksilver Messenger Service never achieved the same level of fame as the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane, the definitive San Francisco bands, but their late-decade run is equally distinctive. The most lauded of the band’s three ’60s LPs is 1968’s ‘Happy Trails,’ which draws from heavy guitar jamming (25-minute opener “Who Do You Love Suite”), symphonic-scale psychedelia (“Calvary”) and atmospheric blues (“Mona”).

Like the Dead and the Airplane—and nearly a year before Janis joined her band Quicksilver devised a sound in late 1965 that established the new San Francisco esthetic. Anchored on guitar-driven jams, the San Francisco sound refracted blues, folk, and jazz through the trippy lens of psychedelia.

The abstraction, duration, and explorative nature of the music offered a kaleidoscopic soundtrack to a new culture—one which Quicksilver represented more purely than any band on the scene save The Dead. Quicksilver made instrumental work their raison d’etre. For them, playing was the thing, making them more a live band than a studio-driven one. If that focus gave them spontaneity and rarity, it also helps explain why they ended up the least commercially successful of the top San Francisco bands. They sold far fewer records, and had a much lower media profile than their peers, let alone that of the biggest Bay Area bands. Quicksilver never had a great singer, though they did manage to hire a divisive one, Dino Valenti. To make matters more challenging, they changed their line-up with the speed of their name-sake, losing key members, while gaining new ones who strongly affected their direction.

While all the band members boasted admirable chops, the most prized player had to be guitarist John Cipollina. He got a shivering, quavering sound out of his instrument that was wholly his own. To achieve it, he employed an eccentric arrangement of amplifiers and equipped his Gibson SG with special effects, allowing him to achieve a tremolo as singular as a human timbre. On the low end, he hammered his strings hard while, on the high, he could make them shudder or sting. Better, Cipollina found a powerful foil in Quicksilver’s other axe man, Gary Duncan. Their one-two punch paved the way for all the double lead guitar acts that came in their wake.

‘Quicksilver’

Despite Quicksilver’s instrumental concentration, they also crafted some important studio recordings, including FM staples like their bold cover of Hamilton Camp’s “Pride of Man,” Nicky Hopkins’ piano masterpiece “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder” and Dino Valenti’s political anthem, “What About Me” later covered, to perfection, by Richie Havens. To boot, they scored a pop hit with their stoner-anthem “Fresh Air” and finessed four of their albums into The American Billboard’s Top 30. Though Quicksilver hasn’t had the staying power in the public consciousness that they deserved, they had a strong impact on more progressive rock listeners of the day. And they were hugely respected within the San Francisco underground they helped found.
The group’s genesis began towards the end of 1965 with a casual conversation between Cipollina and Valenti (ne Chet Powers). The latter already had a career as a singer/songwriter on the Greenwich Village folk scene. An early song he wrote, “Get Together” was later recorded by everyone from The Kingston Trio and the Dave Clark Five to San Francisco acts like the Airplane and The Youngbloods, whose 1967 version became a classic.
Unfortunately, one day after Valenti and Cipollina talked about playing together, the singer was busted for marijuana possession, resulting in a two-year jail term. In the meantime, Cipollina started a band with bassist/singer David Freiberg (who previously played in a group with David Crosby and Paul Kantner), and guitarist Skip Spence (who would soon switch to drums and ditch the proto-Quicksilver configuration to join Kantner in the just forming Airplane). As a result, Cipollina and Freiberg hooked up with drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist Gary Duncan, who’d played together in a local group named The Brogues. Rounding out the first incarnation of Quicksilver was Jim Murray as third guitarist and singer.In their five-man incarnation Quicksilver became a regular draw at San Francisco’s hippest new venue, the Avalon Ballroom during 1966. Yet, by the next June, Murray quit, an unfortunate move considering the band had just played the history-making Monterey Pop Festival. (Luckily, Murray’s fleeting time with the group is captured for posterity in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary about the storied festival). Monterey energized the major labels to sign nearly anyone in the Bay Area with a guitar, but RCA beat everyone to the punch by inking the Airplane in the year before. By ’67, Warner Brothers signed The Dead and Big Brother made a rotten, though brief, pact with Mainstream Records. Inspired by the excitement at Monterey, Columbia Records swept in to give Janis’ band a far better deal, resulting in her stardom.

That left Quicksilver as the last major SF band to sign a contract, theirs with Capitol Records in 1968. That May, their self-titled debut appeared, by which time the Airplane had already released three albums, including their Top Five smash, ‘Surrealistic Pillow’. Quicksilver’s debut turned out to be a less commercial affair, though they did make some musical concessions. Taking their cue from main vocalist, Freiberg, they leaned towards folk-rock, most effectively in “Pride of Man,” an apocalyptic warning that culminated in an apt shiver on Cipollina’s guitar. Cipollina put his vibrato to even more poignant use in “Light Your Windows,” stitching fine pings around its graceful melody. Though Valenti was incarcerated at the time, he appeared by proxy in a cover of his sashaying piece “Dino’s Song.”

Another notable track, “Gold and Silver” borrowed its composition from Dave Brubeck, without credit. The song’s main riff translated Brubeck’s piano part in “Take 5” to electric guitars. Still, the purest representation of Quicksilver’s axe work came in “The Fool,” a twelve-minute instrumental epic. The guitars at the start imitated the quaver of a sitar, leading to a melody that showed-off Freiberg’s classical background via his august viola work. As the song progressed, the guitarists supported each other and sparred, culminating in a Cipollina solo so pure.

‘Happy Trails’

If “The Fool” captured Quicksilver instrumental focus, the band took that all the way on ‘Happy Trails’,” their second release. This time, jamming ruled, but with a purpose. Though the album cover promised a spontaneous document, “recorded live at the Fillmore East and West,” much of it was actually scripted and overhauled in the studio. That bait-and-switch approach mirrored a similar move by Big Brother on ‘Cheap Thrills’, which likewise claimed, erroneously, to be cut entirely in concert. Regardless, ‘Happy Trails’ nailed the verve of a live Quicksilver show, especially in the 25-minute take on Bo Diddley’s’ “Who Do You Love.” Divided into six parts, this side-long track featured showcases for each guitarist in separate sections, providing the ultimate game of compare and contrast. Duncan demonstrated his approach in a section titled “When You Love,” with a long, jazz-influenced lead as methodical as it was melodic.

For over five minutes, he wove a series of blues licks, jazz lilts, psychedelic filigrees and hard rocking riffs into a fluid story. Meanwhile, the “How You Love” section demonstrated the wilder style of Cipollina. Drawing on the highest end of his tremolo, his guitar sounded like a flock of mad birds cackling in air. Bassist Freiberg’s got his own, jaunty solo stint in “Which Do You Love,” while the “Where You Love” section operated as an abstract center piece, suggesting Quicksilver’s answer to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” Together, “Love” represented as potent an acid-rock document as The Dead’s “Dark Star,” though it never received parallel awe.

For another run at Bo Diddley, the band opened side two with a spacey cover of “Mona,” before moving into two instrumentals blended into a fifteen-minute suite. The first, “Maiden of the Cancer Moon” bounced Duncan’s trenchant fingerings off Cipollina’s cackling cries, while “Calvary” drew on everything from classical music to proto-metal to boleros, cementing a psychedelic classic. While ‘Happy Trails’ sold well, going gold.

‘Shady Grove’

Exhausted by the pressures of impending success, Duncan abruptly quit and, instead of hiring another guitarist to replace him, Quicksilver brought in celebrated piano wiz Nicky Hopkins, fresh from a stint in the Jeff Beck Group. The result radically altered the band’s direction, evidenced by their highly uneven third album, ‘Shady Grove’, which came out in 1969. It drew on more country music and psychedelic-pop, often unconvincingly. Freiberg struggled to sing the oddly conceived songs, leaving the album’s highlights in Cipollina’s all-too-brief guitar parts and Hopkins’ commanding piano. In places, it seemed like Quicksilver had become Hopkins‘ backing band, especially the title track, which was driven by his rippling keyboard, or the nine-minute showcase, “Edward.” A mix of classical, boogie-woogie, and psychedelia, “Edward” stands as one of most exciting, piano-led instrumentals in rock history.

‘Just For Love’

If the jarring shift in style threw some fans, they had to endure another big one in 1970. A newly sprung Valenti was finally free to join the band as frontman, changing their essential dynamic. The wayward Duncan also returned to the fold. Together, the moves definitely had some positive results. They restored the band’s double guitar draw and added a strong songwriter in Valenti, who wrote under the pseudonym Jessie Oris Farrow. At the same time, Valenti proved an eccentric, sometimes irritating, front-man, over-singing in many sections, an effect worsened by the heavy echo they threw around his voice. By all accounts, the sessions for the band’s next two albums, ‘Just for Love’ and ‘What About Me’, couldn’t have been less disciplined, with no firm producer in sight. The albums, both drawn from the same sessions, were released within six months of each other during the latter half of 1970.

But, despite their flaws, they make one very good album together. Stand outs from ‘Just for Love’ included the instrumentals, “Wolf Run,” which featured Valenti’s haunting flute, and “Cobra,” which boasted a fiery run from Cipollina. The album also featured “Fresh Air,” known for its invitation to “take another hit,” a druggy encouragement Quicksilver fans hardly needed.

Besides the killer melody, ”Air” introduced roiling Latin music to the band. Better, it featured stoked solos from both guitarists—a stuttering one from Duncan, and a high-flying one from Cipollina—with an extended piano break from Hopkins as a bridge between. The ‘What About Me’ album boasted its own striking instrumentals—Cipollina’s “Local Color,” which showcased his slide-guitar work for the first time, and Hopkins’ “Spindrifter,” as lovely a piano instrumental as rock has produced. Despite such draws, the band was already in the process of falling apart again. Hopkins left during the sessions, replaced by Marc Naftalin of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band on half the cuts, and Cipollina split soon after recording was completed to form his own group, Copperhead.

‘Quicksilver’

Given so much tumult, it’s remarkable how well the band rebounded for their next album, simply titled ‘Quicksilver’, in 1971. Their hardest rocking record to date, it boasted consistently catchy songs, mostly penned by Valenti. The frontman even managed to keep his undisciplined singing in check. Better, Duncan proved capable of handling all the guitar parts himself, offering sterling double leads on the folk-rock marvel “Hope,” and the country-blues-rocker “I Found Love.” Despite its many strengths, ‘Quicksilver’ was the band’s first release to miss the Top 30. The disappointment helped inspire another change for their follow-up album, ‘Comin’ Thru’, in ’72. It introduced a charging horn section, a la Blood, Sweat and Tears or the Electric Flag. An under-rated, and highly energetic, effort, ‘Comin’ Thru’ still failed to click with critics or fans, leading to an extended hiatus for the band.

‘Solid Silver’

It took a full three years for Quicksilver to return, but this time with an added draw. ‘Solid Silver’, released in 1975, reunited every one of the core members, including Cipollina, Duncan, Elmore, Freiberg, and Valenti. It even featured guest work from Hopkins. Ten years into their career, the reconstituted band sounded more in synch than they had since the start. Nearly all the members contributed to the singing and the writing. More, they added a soul element, amplified by the backup vocals of Kathi McDonald. Nearly all the songs were upbeat, from the R&B rocker “Gypsy Lights,” penned by Duncan, to Valenti’s county-tinged “Cowboy on The Run,” which sounded like a lost Gram Parsons song. A blues-rock barn-burner, “Worryin’ Shoes,” found both guitarists playing so swiftly, it suggested the Allman Brothers on speed. Sadly, the neo-psych-rock sound wasn’t a big commercial draw amid the soft-rock world of 1975, so the album tanked, taking the reunion with it.

‘Not Quite The End Live at the Winterland Ballroom – December 1, 1973’

If that failure brought the active era of Quicksilver to an end, Duncan took it upon himself to keep the name alive for decades after. He issued many albums under their banner, though they were, essentially, solo works. More encouragingly, he oversaw the release of scores of great live recordings from the vintage period. No fewer than twenty-two are currently available on streaming. Of those, three stand out most. The first, ‘Live at the Fillmore June 7th, 1968′ (cut one year after Monterey) captured the band in their ‘Happy Trails’ prime. It’s a pure live document of what ‘Happy Trails’ had earlier simulated. Cut two years later, the ‘Live at Winterland Ballroom 1970’ album captured the band’s rapport with Hopkins. It’s amazing how well his piano integrated with the two guitars. More, the set boasted a nearly half hour version of “Who Do You Love” that features guitar pyrotechnics from Cipollina right before he left the band for the first time. Even more exciting is “Live at Winterland December 1, 1973,” cut on a special night. Though Cipollina had left the group three years earlier, his band, Copperhead, were the opening act for that show, so he agreed to play with the mother act as well. Freiberg, who had left in ’71, came back for the ride too. By adding a Latin percussionist and a surging organ, Quicksilver ended up sounding a bit like their fellow SF band Santana. The feverish new arrangements put a fire behind the two guitarists, who avoided their most trippy forays to center on hardcore blues-rock. It’s an air-guitar player’s dream come true.

Over the years, documents like these have gained greater meaning for a sad reason: Most of the band’s key members have died. The losses began with Cipollina, in 1989 at just 45, followed by Hopkins and Valenti, both felled in 1994, and Duncan, just this past June. With their passing went a sound as fast, and uncontainable, as Quicksilver itself, leaving a legacy that richly deserves a fresh hit of attention.

John Cippolina was a founding member and the lead guitarist of this prominent San Francisco band Quicksilver Messenger Service. After leaving Quicksilver he formed the band Copperhead and then later played with numerous other bands, and is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco psychedelic rock sound. He had a unique guitar sound all his own, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. His one of a kind massive amplifier stack was loaned, along with one of his customized Gibson SG guitars, and effects pedals, for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995.

John Cippolina passed away on 29th of May 1989 the age of 45 after a career in music that spanned twenty five years. Quicksilver Messenger Service fans and countless friends paid tribute to him the following month in San Francisco at an all-star concert at the Fillmore Auditorium which featured Nicky Hopkins, David Freiberg, John’s brother Mario, and a host of others.

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In the winter of 2019, Bob Mould bucked the era’s despair with his most melodic, upbeat album in ages, Sunshine Rock. Cut to spring of 2020, and he has this to say: “We’re really in deep shit now.”

That sentiment informs the new full-length album, Blue Hearts, the raging-but-catchy yin to Sunshine Rock’s yang. Recorded at the famed Electrical Audio in Chicago with Sorenson engineering and Mould producing, Blue Hearts nods to Mould’s past while remaining firmly planted in the issues of the day. Acoustic opener Heart on My Sleeve catalogues the ravages of climate change. Next Generation worries for who comes next. American Crisis references “Evangelical ISIS” and features this dagger of a line: “Pro-life, pro-life until you make it in someone else’s wife.”

Leather Dreams, Password to My Soul, and The Ocean were composed during a writing binge before a January 2020 Solo Electric tour, when Mould stayed up for three straight days. That feels right for an explosive, hook-laden album like Blue Hearts. Only there’s nothing forgettable about it.

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Releases September 25th, 2020

Produced by Bob Mould
Recorded at Electrical Audio, Chicago IL
Additional Recording at Granary Music, San Francisco CA
The Band:
Bob Mould: Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion
Jason Narducy: Bass, Backing Vocals
Jon Wurster: Drums, Percussion

 

I’ve been giving my keyboard an extra thoughtful beating, now over 400 pages of and double spaced plus 8 hours ++ of audio versions posted up and available now. Master of maraca science. Writer at The New Cool School. Absurdist. Intoxicationist. Beatnik. Last of the bit time jingle janglers.

As the long term percussionist of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Joel Gion has helped pioneer the current Psychedelic Rock movement. Now as a songwriter, he steps up to the mic to deliver his own tunes

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Based in San Francisco, and active in the mid-to-late 1960s. The band gained interest after one of the Nuggets Vol 12, compilations in the 1980s, Their music was strongly influenced by Yardbirds and Rolling Stones. The Other Half were at their peak when the music scene was at its height in San Francisco and the Flower Power movement in full swing in Haight Ashbury. Their style changed from an earlier vocal based garage band, to the loudest big stage band sound of the time, taken in that direction by former Sons of Adam guitarist Randy Holden. Their sound has been compared to The Yardbirds, and contained elements of blues, hard rock, and Eastern melodic influences

‘Famous’ for their now legendary garage punk killer 45 ‘Mr. Pharmacist’,  later covered by The Fall, this album came a couple of years later in ’68 and shows the move towards psychedelia. Recorded ‘live’ in the studio to sound like a gig, the album showcases some tasty guitarwork from Randy Holden, soon to join heavy duty rockers Blue Cheer.
Also interesting on this mainly self-written album is their lone cover, namely ‘Feathered Fish’, written by Love kingpin Arthur Lee but rather bizarrely credited to Country Joe McDonald!

A collection of their recordings, titled Mr. Pharmacist was issued in 1982. This included their entire 1968 album and several tracks from singles.Two songs, “Bad Day” and “Oz Lee Eaves Drops” appear in the 1968 pilot episode of The Mod Squad.

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Joe Lewis Walker album

Blues favorite Joe Louis Walker releases the single “Old Time Used to Be” featuring Keb’ Mo, with John Sebastian on harmonica, ahead of his upcoming guest-filled album “Blues Comin’ On,” to be released June 5th on Cleopatra Blues.

Joe Louis Walker’s new Cleopatra Blues album “Blues Comin” On features Keb’ Mo’, John Sebastian, Jorma Kaukonen, Mitch Ryker, Lee Oskar, Albert Lee, Waddy Wachtel, Eric Gales and more special guests.

Blues Comin’ On features guest performances by fellow blues icons Keb’ Mo’, Eric Gales, and Albert Lee, plus Detroit hit singer Mitch Ryder, John Sebastian, formerly of The Lovin’ Spoonful, harmonica virtuoso Lee Oskar, known for his work with War, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, punk rock vocalist Charlie Harper, legendary session guitar player Waddy Wachtel, and many more. The album explodes with the passionate playing and soulful melodies that have made Joe Louis Walker a favorite among true blues aficionados including The Rolling Stones.

Originally from San Francisco, Joe, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and four-time Blues Music Award-winner, celebrates a career that exceeds a half century. His musical legacy as a prolific torchbearer for the blues is proven by his 26 albums. A true powerhouse guitar virtuoso, unique singer, and prolific songwriter, he has toured extensively throughout his career, performed at the world’s most renowned music festivals, and earned a legion of dedicated fans.

Joe says, “From the opening track to the final note, the guests and fellow musicians on this album made this one of the best musical journeys I’ve ever had, and I hope it is the same for you.”

“Blues Comin” Released on: 22nd April on the Cleopatra Blues label,

The mix dates for my upcoming solo record were among the many, too many cancellations of this unimaginable spring we’re sharing. But I wanted to go ahead and release one of the songs in progress—just case it could help to raise some funds for meals, shelter and support for some of my most vulnerable neighbors. This song is a mash of abstractions. But one verse was written back in 2016 to thank a friend who checked in on me when I was stuck alone at home, staying up all night watching Lifeboat and freaking out about the Brexit leave vote. I was afraid that it was a terrible sign that the old agreements and already inadequate standards about how we take care of each other each were up for grabs. It really helped to talk about it.

If, understandably, you’d rather see support stay closer to home, or you’re in a better position to help a friend, neighbor, yourself…it would all mean so much. Or maybe you’d just enjoy spacing out on some animation loops I made this weekend using a kid’s stop-motion program, subconsciously inspired by early Sesame Street and created while lying on the living room floor with all the blankets and pillows out.

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It’s been a long four years. But I’m thinking of everyone and dreaming of better signs and seeing you soon.

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Two veterans of those only-slightly-demeaning Best Albums of the year You May Have Missed lists, Field Medic and Great Grandpa vocalist Al Menne teamed up this month for a Run for Cover–released single that feels like a victory lap in the wake of their pair of Generally Best Albums released in 2019. The underproduced track is reduced to Kevin Patrick’s ramshackle guitar and distinct vocals, occasionally harmonizing with those of Menne.

“talkin johnny & june (your arms around me)” by Field Medic featuring Al from Great Grandpa out now via Run For Cover Records

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Deerhoof is a weapon loaded with the future.” – Agustín Fernández Mallo, Spanish physicist and writer

Normal is never coming back. Whether by a collective dismantling or sheer collapse, our old illusions are being hollowed out. Over the past couple of years, Deerhoof has been asking themselves if there was any music they could create that expressed how the rapidly changing future might actually feel. The finished product, Future Teenage Cave Artists, finds Deerhoof in a revolutionary mood, but also haunted by memories of a lost world and every failed attempt to save it. People already cut loose from the system, already surviving with new ways of life—these hopeful heroes are Deerhoof’s inspiration. These are the Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Faithful listeners will recognize a certain alienated but transformational figure who shows up in Deerhoof songs going back to their earliest days. Take the narrator of “The Perfect Me” from 2007’s Friend Opportunity: an orphaned but eager soul attempting to entice other wounded wanderers who might lack a home, a clan, a family, a history. But on Future Teenage Cave Artists our protagonist is threatened by terror lurking around every corner. Add to that the fact that our “cast-off queen,” our “maniac,” our “terrible daughter” are watching themselves get orphaned in real time by an older generation in power that would rather see life on Earth destroyed than give up archaic systems of capital.

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Like a lot of the inimitable music they have released over the last quarter-century, the Deerhoof of Future Teenage Cave Artists, Satomi Matsuzaki on bass and vocals, Ed Rodriguez and John Dieterich on guitars, and Greg Saunier on drums, vocals and piano) stitches together fragments of R&B and classic rock and transforms them into a new language of revolution, forgoing verse-chorus structures for dream logic and blind intuition. But what makes this album different is its intimacy—the blues riffs and slide guitars are joined by soft, rickety pianos and whispered three-part harmonies.

In this sense, FTCA inverts the formula of Deerhoof’s last album, Mountain Moves, which invited a wide community of collaborators to band together in an open celebration of solidarity. The new one, on the other hand, is borne of self-isolation and deprivation. It’s the sound of a sparkling, manic musical intelligence being disconnected from a nourishing public and devouring itself inside its own cocoon: a desperate lunge at metamorphosis.

At times FTCA indeed sounds as if the band has retreated to the caves, recording with unreliable electricity and insecure food supplies. Guitar pedals malfunction mid-take, reverbs chop off mid-tail, drum fills collapse mid-phrase. Some musical moments, as gorgeous and touching as anything Deerhoof has ever written, stop short for no apparent reason, giving way to queasy smudges of sound. Many of the instruments and voices were recorded with nothing more than the built-in mic of a laptop. Harsh splices make no effort to hide the seams. Hard panning leaves many of these imperfections weirdly naked in the mix.

In this way FTCA joins a storied lineage of pop records that expose the insular and reclusive nature of recording itself. Like Let It Be, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, or Sister Lovers, this record is its own “making-of.” Absence is a central character in the drama. For every heartwarming melody or pile-up of parade drums or shard of loopy guitar noise, there is musical acknowledgement of the toll that a constant threat of cataclysm takes on mental health. This is a sonic and lyric funeral for a way of life that is never coming back—an afterparty, back when the doomsday clock hit midnight. There are raucous toasts to the departed in high style, as sassy and spasmodic as anything they’ve done—see Side A; there are moments of profound sadness, maximally small, descending into madness, shrieking with loss—see Side B. All funerals remind us that life goes on, somehow.

In that time after the end times, it’s not only the food systems, energy systems, and political systems that will have to be rebuilt. Myths, stories, and rituals we use to make sense of the world are up for revision, too. Might not agile networks of mutual aid be our best example of civilization, and our makeshift DIY basement shows be the real high art? One answer might be found in the two-and-a-half decades that this improbable combination of personalities and backgrounds we call Deerhoof has spent on stage, cultivating quick-wittedness and improvisation. This is a record about resilience and the persistence of hope in a future beyond any reasonable justification for it. Like so many young people today, Deerhoof seems to be already living in that future.

Future Teenage Cave Artists

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San Francisco’s own It’s a Beautiful Day’s self-titled debut album in 1969 included its masterpiece “White Bird,” (written by David LaFlamme with his wife Linda) with the sublime vocal combination of LaFlamme and Pattie Santos. The song is emblematic of the era with it’s repeated refrain “White bird must fly/Or she will die.” Or as Jimi Hendrix sang: “Freedom, that’s what I want now/Freedom, that’s what I need now/Freedom to live/Freedom so I can give.” Or even earlier, Elvis put it very simply: “I want to be free/Like a bird in a tree.” It’s a Beautiful Day was active for seven years initially and enjoyed five hit albums, yet the band never attained the popularity of other San Francisco groups. Unfortunately it came under the management of Matthew Katz for the first few years who most people know hindered the career of Moby Grape. The band nearly made an appearance at Woodstock, but an unlucky flip of a coin to decide which of two groups got an invitation resulted in Santana making the trip instead. Nevertheless It’s a Beautiful Day is beloved in the Bay Area for “White Bird,” and their unique meld of many styles: Rock, Jazz, Classical, and Folk.

David and Linda wrote the song in Seattle, where they were living. Said David: “The song describes the picture Linda and I saw as we looked out this little window in this attic. We had a little Wurlitzer portable piano sitting right in the well of this window, and I’d sit and work on songs. When you hear lines like, ‘the leaves blow across the long black road to the darkened sky and its rage,’ it’s describing what I was seeing out the window. Where the ‘white bird’ thing came from: We were like caged birds in that attic. We had no money, no transportation, the weather was miserable. We were just barely getting by on a very small food allowance provided to us. It was quite an experience, but it was very creative in a way.”

David LaFlamme, was a former soloist with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, had previously been in the band Orkustra, and unusually, played a five-string violin. The other members were Linda LaFlamme (keyboards), Pattie Santos (vocals), Hal Wagenet (guitar), Mitchell Holman (bass) and Val Fuentes (drums). Although they were one of the earliest and most important San Francisco bands to emerge from 1967’s social phenomenon Summer of Love, the band never quite achieved the success of contemporaries such as Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana, with whom they had connections. The band created a unique blend of rock, jazz, folk, classical

Pattie Santos, the lead singer for It’s A Beautiful Day, died December 14th, 1989 in an automobile accident on Hwy. 128 in Mendocino County, California, White Bird? was the biggest hit from the groups first album, It’s A Beautiful Day, released in 1969. The album cover became famous. It depicted a bonneted girl in a long dress standing on a hill top and gazing into the blue sky with white clouds all around.

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Even though lots of people sell as many or more records as he does, Sly Stone is probably the most influential musician over the years. He changed the face of soul, and co-authored, with Jimi Hendrix, black psychedelic music, It is not only Sly’s string of hit singles, and the remarkable achievement of ‘Riot’, which confirms his musical genius.

Born in Texas, raised in the Bay Area, Sylvester Stewart was the second child of a religious family whose church encouraged music as a way to proclaim the Lord’s glory. No big surprise, then, that like so many other soul stars Sly started singing in church.

When he was eight, he cut his first record, with three of his siblings—all of whom would later start bands and then be members of the Family Stone. All of them were talented. But Sly was a prodigy, mastering keyboards, guitar, drums, and bass by the time he turned eleven.

It is sometimes difficult to see the extent of Sly’s genius. In June 1967, San Francisco’s counterculture dreams were peaking when a local music scenemaker named Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stewart led a motley-looking interracial, mixed-gender crew, half of whom were from his own family, into a recording session for Epic Records.

Over a few scattered hours, the group that became known as Sly and the Family Stone cut their debut in 1967, ‘A Whole New Thing” live in the four-track studio.  Led by singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, and included Stone’s brother and singer/guitarist Freddie Stone, sister and singer/keyboardist Rose Stone, trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, drummer Greg Errico, saxophonist Jerry Martini, and bassist Larry Graham. It was the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated, male and female lineup

In high school, though, he kept mostly to the guitar as he joined local groups. A doo-wop outfit called the Viscaynes featured him and a Filipino pal in a then-unusual interracial lineup. They even cut a few singles for the local market, like “Yellow Moon”.  Studying at Vallejo Junior College, Sly honed his skills, picked up the trumpet, and mastered composition and theory. The opening and closing of “Underdog”  on ‘A Whole New Thing’ archly reflects that: recasting the “Frère Jacques” melody as a horn riff in a minor key, Sly tips his hat to Gustav Mahler, whose First Symphony did the same thing repurposing the kids’ tune as…wait for it…a funeral march.

Around him, the San Francisco scene was already percolating to multicultural visions inherited from the largely white Beats and mostly black jazzers who’d made the City by the Bay their west coast capital. The eager young wannabe soon found a way in. A local radio station called KSOL was rapidly growing its predominantly black audience by playing rhythm and blues. When Sly started as a DJ there in the early 1960s, he commuted each day from his parents’ home all the way across town to Merchandise Mart on Market Street, where KSOL’s offices and studios and 250-watt transmitter were.

Young Sly had the patter and the fire to succeed as one of the DJs who redubbed their station K-SOUL. He stirred popular white bands into the mix he thought would fit because of their obvious R&B influences, like the Animals, the Stones, and the early Beatles. It’s almost like he was on a mission to enact the musical equivalent of racial integration, mutual acceptance and interplay. And it apparently worked: He upped white audience numbers without losing black listeners, Later, Sly would aim to emulate their feat with his own music and succeed brilliantly… for a while.

Meanwhile, the local rock scene was probing exciting new shapes and sounds, the first waves of psychedelia. It was largely white kids, but that didn’t bother Sly, who was voraciously absorbing everything he heard and encountered.

In retrospect, it looks like Sylvester Stewart was training himself in nearly every aspect of the music business. Besides DJing, he produced records, wrote songs, and backed up touring stars. A tiny San Francisco label called Autumn Records, run by another local DJ and concert promoter named Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue (he’d coin the term “underground radio”), hired the young man with big ears as its principal producer.

Donahue, an ambitious giant of a man, first heard the teen at a Vallejo sock hop, then hired him to ramrod the house band at his big concerts, like the 1962 Chubby Checker “Twist Party” that landed at the humongous Cow Palace, usually the venue for (what else) livestock shows. That night it held 17,000 fans, making it the first big-time rock concert in Bay Area history.

Sly was quickly slotted in as Donahue’s go-to guy on stage and in the studio. He was getting a musical education that filled his toolbox with versatile skills he’d soon use for himself. Since the music biz’s earliest days, songs pushing new dances had been a reliable way for black artists to get to mainstream white audiences. No doubt young Mr. Stewart filed that knowledge to tap into for “Dance to the Music”

But he also produced an eclectic batch of Bay Area faves. like The Great Society which features Grace Slick unspooling an obbligato line of raga-ish vocalese; he also apparently ran the sessions for “Someone to Love” Both cuts make clear why Slick would jump ship and join Jefferson Airplane; as she once put it, “They had a real rhythm section.” Sly watched drummer/singer Jan Errico with real interest: there were very few females playing instruments in rock bands, never mind drums, and singing too. As it happened, she had a brother-drummer named Gregg, who would join the Family Stone.

In keyboard player Billy Preston, Sly found a soul brother. Another Texas-born child prodigy, Preston started backing gospel and soul stars from Mahalia Jackson to Sam Cooke when he was ten. The keyboard wizard was barely 20 when he and Sly co-wrote three tunes. that appear on 1966’s Billy’s album ‘Wildest Organ in Town!. Sly arranged. The album also boasted songs by the Beatles, Stones, James Brown, and Wilson Pickett—an integrated music love fest very like Sly’s playlists had been at KSOL.

Preston’s year-long gig on the TV show Shindig!, which introduced him to a huge audience, had just ended when the record was released on a major label. It didn’t exactly burn up the charts, but the pair continued to collaborate, For years they’d grace each other’s records with guest shots, refusing to be hemmed in by musical styles and expectations,

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Once Sly merged his band (Sly and the Stoners) with his brother Freddie’s (Freddie and the Stone Souls), the Family Stone was born.

They found a home base to hone their music in Redwood City, a club called (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) Winchester Cathedral. A few months of that, and they’d forged a unique sound and a phenomenal stage show. Not surprisingly, Sly used down time at Autumn’s studios to record the band. And so the 24 cuts compiled on ‘Sly and the Family Stone offer tantalizing insights into how the band evolved.

A rousing early iteration of “Dance to the Music” pumped by Graham’s already-distinctive bass and a blistering guitar solo. But the hard-driving soul of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” their first official single, got them the ear of an Epic employee, who tipped Dave Kapralik, head of A&R. They were so engulfing and powerful onstage that he signed them immediately, then became their manager. And into Epic’s studio they went. The album flopped. But their manager and label head pressed Sly to write hit singles—the ingredient they were sure was lacking on their first album. So he did: ‘Dance to the Music” and ever since, ‘A Whole New Thing’ has been dissed or ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A Whole New Thing’ (1967)

It’s ear-opening to check out how far they’d developed their winning combo of musical sophistication, wry humor, and gutsy immediacy on ‘A Whole New Thing’. It may have been a four-track recording done live, but the stereo image bursts at the seams with richly layered sonics, showcasing Sly’s adept production skills as well.

It kicks things off with a protest song that doesn’t just nod toward Mahler but pumps its anti-racism message up with Larry Graham’s burbling bass and Greg Errico’s funky drumming, sharp-creased horns, and vocals worthy of Motown—which duly took lessons from it. The album heralds the sound of the Family Stone’s future funk with Graham’s near-solo spot and the ba-boom-boom scatting following the tongue-in-cheek TV Indian theme from the horns. “Run, Run, Run” opening with surprising melodica and xylophone, finds Sly refracting the hippie vs square world through his black eyes and inventive twists: the middle vocal section riffs off the Turtles, and listen for the Mothers of Invention touches.

The track has an astounding horn opening, with a sour horn flourish cuing you that something’s gonna go wrong in this deep Stax-style soul ballad about honesty between lovers. But even here there’s playfulness: write me a letter to tell me if you’re cheating, the singer pleads. Really?! The odd-meter tumbling horn riff that opens and punctuates  boldfaces the experimental mindset underlying so much of this underappreciated disc’s twists and turns. The quavery group YAAHHH will become a Family Stone hallmark, and that deep tremolo keyboard solo still sounds unique. The foregrounds the unexpected twists of psychedelicized soul, as does the angular spaciness and wit of “I Hate to Love Her” Its is rife with swampy guitars and Staples-inflected vocals.

The killer track , though, is “Only One Way Out of This Mess” with its off-kilter, almost snarky horns, rumbling bass, and driving beat. It was the band’s tour-de-force onstage; between its inventive sound and anthemic lyrics, it’s clearly of a piece with their future hits. But it was cut a few weeks after the other tracks, and for some reason—probably the usual rush during that frenetic time to put the album out—Epic didn’t release it until 1995.

It’s worth wondering how music history might’ve changed if they’d tried it as a single. After all, “Like a Rolling Stone’ had busted AM radio open two-plus years earlier. Then came smart, successful, but uneven albums like ‘Life and ‘Stand! ‘ that finessed their modern funk, influencing giants like James Brown, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Prince. Of course, by then hard drugs, changing racial politics, and his own boundless drive to do and have it all had turned Sly into a withdrawn, toxic version of his former self. In fact, ‘A Whole New Thing’ has successfully refracted the wildly disparate elements of Sylvester Stewart’s musical experience into a psychedelic blend of soul, rock, jazz, and funk that’s seriously adventurous fun full of vibrant playfulness and open-eared inventions. And at least it could be Sylvester Stewart’s best and most underrated album. Here’s the incredible story of how that undersung album came to be.

Looking back now, after all these years, it seems to me that ‘A Whole New Thing’, an entire album stuffed with brazenly cutting-edge music, was arguably Sly and the Family Stone’s most seminal, soulful, and sustained achievement.

“Dance to the Music’ (1968)

“Dance to the Music’ made Sly and the Family Stone stars. And it created the rush toward psychedelic soul by Motown acts from the Temptations to the Jackson 5. But it’s worth remembering that, compared to ‘A Whole New Thing’, the band saw the hit and most of the second album as a necessary compromise, using formulas that Sly worked out to showcase individual band members and make them more audience-friendly.

What makes Sly different is the consistency of his growth, and his ability to consolidate that growth into a sort of power which few rock stars have ever approached. Hendrix, however great his genius, was erratic in a way that Sly’s self-consciousness would never allow, a primitive savage to Sly’s urban sophisticate. Nor was Jimi ever quite so arrogant as Sly. At least, he didn’t flaunt the fact of his arrogance so broadly,

Sly was able to get away not only with the arrogance of the no-show performer but also with the knife-twisting viciousness of parts of ‘Riot’ . Hendrix couldn’t have gotten away with it, because he was playing music which, in form, was white rock. Sly and the Family Stone are a soul band. When Hendrix put together an all black band, and put together an album the live Band of Gypsys set he was attacked not much for putting out a bad record — he made worse — as for the audacity of the conception.

An introduction to Sly and the Family Stone in 10 records - The ...

“Life”  (1968)

Unlike its predecessor, Dance to the Music, Life was not a commercial success, although it has received mostly positive reviews from music critics over the years. Many of its songs, including “M’Lady”, “Fun”, “Love City”, as well as the title track, became popular staples in The Family Stone’s live show. A middle ground between the fiery A Whole New Thing and the more commercial Dance to the Music, “Life” features very little use of studio effects, and is instead more driven by frontman Sly Stone’s compositions. Topics for the album’s songs include the dating scene “Dynamite!”, “Chicken”, “M’Lady”, groupies “Jane is a Groupee”, and “plastic” or “fake” people on the Beatlesque “Plastic Jim”. Of particular note is that the Family Stone’s main themes of unity and integration are explored here in several songs “Fun”, “Harmony”, “Life”, and “Love City”. The next Family Stone LP, Stand!, would focus almost exclusively on these topics.

Much of Life has been heavily sampled for hip hop and electronica recordings, particularly Gregg Errico’s drum solo on “Love City”. The opening riff on “Into My Own Thing” was sampled for Fatboy Slim’s 2001 hit “Weapon of Choice”.

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“Stand” (1969)

The 50th anniversary reissue of ‘Stand!’ by Sly & The Family Stone. The group’s fourth album is undeniably one of their best, with unforgettable jams.

In late 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released the single “Everyday People”, which became their first No. 1 hit.“Everyday People” was a protest against prejudice of all kinds Sly and the Family Stone and popularized the catchphrase “different strokes for different folks”. With its B-side “Sing a Simple Song”, it served as the lead single for the band’s fourth album, “Stand!”, which was released on May 3rd, 1969. “The Stand!” album eventually sold more than three million copies; its title track peaked at No. 22 in the U.S.

“Stand!” is considered one of the artistic high points of the band’s career. It contained the above three tracks as well as the songs “I Want to Take You Higher” (which was the B-side of the “Stand!” single), “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”, “Sex Machine”, and “You Can Make It If You Try”.

The success of Stand! secured Sly and the Family Stone a performance slot at the landmark Woodstock Music and Art Festival. They performed their set during the early-morning hours of August 17th, 1969; their performance was said to be one of the highlights show of the festival.

Tattoo You – Snakes in the Grass

There’s a Riot Goin’ On (1971)

In 1971, Sly and the Family Stone returned with a new single, “Family Affair”, which became a number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. “Family Affair” was the lead single from the band’s long-awaited There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

Instead of the optimistic, rock-laced soul that had characterized the Family Stone’s 1960s output, There’s a Riot Goin’ On was pure urban blues, filled with dark instrumentation, filtered drum machine tracks, and plaintive vocals representing the hopelessness Sly and many other people were feeling in the early 1970s.  The album is characterized by a significant amount of tape hiss – the result of Sly’s extensive re-recording and overdubbing during production. Allegedly, most of the album’s instrumentation is performed by Sly alone, who enlisted the Family Stone for some of the additional instrumental parts and friends such as Billy Preston, Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack for others. “(You Caught Me) Smilin'” and “Runnin’ Away” were also released as singles, and performed well on the charts.

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After the release of Riot, additional lineup changes took place. In early 1972, reacting to Jerry Martini’s probing about his share of the band’s earnings, Sly hired saxophonist Pat Rizzo as a potential replacement though both ended up remaining in the band. Later that year, the tension between Sly Stone and Larry Graham reached its peak. A post-concert brawl broke out between the Graham and Sly entourages; Bubba Banks and Eddie Chin, having heard that Larry had hired a hit man to kill Sly, Sly assaulted Graham’s associates. Graham and his wife climbed out of a hotel window to escape, and Pat Rizzo gave them a ride to safety. Unable to continue working with Sly, Graham immediately quit The Family Stone and went on to start Graham Central Station, a successful band in the same vein as Sly and the Family Stone. Graham was replaced in the interim by Bobby Womack, and then by nineteen-year-old Rusty Allen.

I think it is fairly self-evident that ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ was a semi-deliberate attempt to alienate Sly’s white audience. That isn’t all it was, nor did Sly really want to alienate his audience, but the idea of such a record could not help but be interpreted as a threat to the white audience. Sly must have known this but ‘Riot’ went gold, anyway, pushed along by a great single, “Family Affair” .

Pop Matters called “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” a challenging listen, at times rambling, incoherent, dissonant, and just plain uncomfortable” with “some episodic moments of pop greatness to be found” and viewed it as a radical departure from the band’s previous work:

“Fresh” (1973)

Sly doesn’t really want to lose that audience. He had to justify, to himself and perhaps to others, the ease with which he had been accepted in the white marketplace, and ‘Riot’ did that. In one sense, then, Fresh is an attempt to regain portions of the audience which have been lost, and in another, it is an explanation of the weirdness which produced ‘Riot’.

Had Sly not done ‘Riot’, he might seem to us now to be little more than a younger, hipper version of the Staple Singers. There is a certain point at which songs like Everyday People, as great as they are, begin to seem frivolous and frustratingly naive. With the Higher! craze which the Woodstock movie inspired, There have been few albums as rich as this one released in 1973, if there have been any, but that doesn’t mean that ‘Fresh’ will automatically make it. At any rate, when Sly Stone, as opposed to almost any other rock star, assures me that he will try, I want to believe him. If he’s earned our trust, and I think that he has, the weight of his stardom may begin to lessen, at least a little. Let’s hope so, for his sake, and ultimately, our own.

‘Fresh’ is Sly coming to terms with himself as a rock star. It asks the same question Sly has always asked—”who cares?”—but the tone with which the question is asked turns the problem around. Initially, this group’s answer to “who cares” was, “We care.” On ‘Riot’, the reply was “I don’t know if anyone does.”

‘Fresh’ stands between. Sly is confident enough to say “I do,” quite straightforwardly in If It Were Left Up to Me. But in other places, he doesn’t seem so certain. The inclusion of Que Sera Sera, which is at one level a joke, is also a trap for the unwary listener. “Que sera sera/Whatever will be will be/The future’s not ours, to see/Que sera sera,” is one way of stating the Woodstock philosophy. Because the song has such a fey history, it is hard to see how anyone could get to that, but Sly has done it.

Sly almost nods in agreement when he sings “Whatever will be, will be” but the growl in his voice, and the rumble in the music raises a larger question. If the future’s not ours, then whose is it? .

Sly doesn’t, probably because he can’t. It is not surprising that the only song on ‘Fresh’ which reflects an attitude of acceptance is called Skin I’m In. Still, even though he has accepted the terms of his blackness, Sly has not accepted his role as a star. Not completely, anyway.

“Now I know what to do,” he sings, “No more selling me to you. Buyin’—that’s a no no no.”

Sly’s dilemma is as old as rock, the problem of the artist in the marketplace. How much of yourself can you sell, even on record, and retain your sanity, your sensibility, and, finally, your ability to produce? Every rock artist has had to deal with this problem, and there are a maze of methodologies within which one can work. Elvis chose to ignore the problem altogether, though when the pinch came, in the late ’60s, he threw his hand in once more, if only for an hour on television and a couple of live shows. Dylan retired, then, when people started to forget about him, decided he was really just a session-man like everyone else. Paul Simon stretches himself thin, trying to become bland enough to satisfy all eight million purchasers of Bridge Over Troubled Water once more.

Sly’s answer could only come from Sly. My terms, he says, or forget it.  only to be dragged back down by ‘Riot’. It’s Sly’s personal Catch-22.

The transition isn’t accomplished awkwardly, however. The catch is in the voice, often as not, or perhaps the rhythm section remembers, and sometimes it is just a realization on the part of the listener that what he is hearing sung is not altogether what it sounds like.

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“Live At The Fillmore East” 

“Live At The Fillmore East”, October 4th and 5th, 1968′ is the first official live album from Sly & The Family Stone, and a reminder of how they still make us dance to the music. “These sets are the epitome of what Sly & The Family Stone was about,” says drummer Greg Errico. “When we lift off, we’re like a 747 and you ain’t pulling us down. That’s what I remember. “Live At The Fillmore East 1968’ features four never-before-released live concerts. This four-disc set captures several shows by Sly and the Family Stone at New York’s Fillmore East. It is the document we’ve been missing of the onstage Family Stone of legend: the tightly knit extended family that sang and played together, the group that magically united black and white audiences.

“St. James Infirmary,” heard on ‘Live At The Fillmore East, October 4th and 5th, 1968,’ is an English folk-based blues song, covered by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The White Stripes. This relaxed rendition of (Louis Armstrong’s version of) “St. James Infirmary”, a show-ending flourish called “The Riffs”, a version of “M’Lady” that detours into a long, spectacular vocal breakdown. It’s fun to hear how different the band’s performances could be from show to show

When Sly and the Family Stone recorded these gigs at the Fillmore East in New York City, they were one of America’s best live bands, but they were also a one-hit wonder. They’d had a Top 10 single in 1967 with “Dance to the Music”, but their follow-up, “Life”, and the album of the same title, had both stiffed. The plan, apparently, was to release an album of the Fillmore gigs to show off what the Family Stone could do on stage—and, perhaps, get some traction with the free-form FM radio stations that were popping up all over.

A few months after the shows, “Everyday People” became the massive hit the band needed—a song that echoed their own racial and sexual integration—and the live album was set aside. Stand!, released in May, 1969, didn’t include any of the new songs played at the Fillmore East gigs.) Somehow, the Fillmore tapes were never edited down to an album until a vinyl-only double-LP, sequenced by the Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas, appeared .

This wider-scale release, though, isn’t that selection: it’s a four-disc set of all four Fillmore sets in their entirety. That means we get multiple renditions of the long, jammy pieces that would have been the spine of a late-’60s Fillmore East album: “Are You Ready” and “Music Lover” (both, in their way, prototypes of “I Want to Take You Higher”), a cover of “Won’t Be Long” (from Aretha Franklin’s second album) sung by keyboardist Rose Stone, an extended version of the Dance to the Music album’s “Color Me True”, and a frenetic medley of A Whole New Thing’s “Turn Me Loose” with Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose”.

Sly and the Family Stone Albums Ranked Worst to Best