Close to the edge


As an admirer of Art Rock and an actual participant in the 70’s and beyond, I am often asked by students to compile a list of Essential Listening. (I’ve left off most of the obvious choices, preferring to concentrate on releases that influenced (not only my art), but art and artists in general). With that in mind I hereby present:

Essential Alternative Listening in the 1970’s

These are the discs I still listen to on a regular basis

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1969 – King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
In the Court of the Crimson King paved the way for 1970’s experimentation. In his 1997 book Rocking the Classics, critic and musicologist Edward Macan notes that In the Court of the Crimson King “may be the most influential progressive rock album ever released”.

Robert Fripp on Guitar and Greg Lake on vocals (prior to leaving the band to form Emerson Lake and Palmer). The early line-up of KC kept fragmenting, spawning Bad Company , UK, Asia and Foreigner in addition to ELP. They have been cited as an influence of bands such as Yes, Primus, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Tool, Genesis, Rush and Voivod.- Premier Track – 21st Century Schitzoid Man

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1970 The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Loaded is by far the most commercial work of The Velvet Underground, an avant guard group protogeed by Andy Warhol.

Brian Eno once said, “Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band”.- Premier Track – Rock & Roll

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1971 – David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World
The Man Who Sold the World was David Bowie‘s first dive into both Glam and heavy metal with new found Axeman Mick Ronson, this L.P. mixes science fiction, art and insanity in a non-stop thrill-ride. The album has been cited as influencing the goth rock, darkwave and science fiction elements of work by artists such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx & Nine Inch Nails.

First video is the song that inspired Starduster.

Now enjoy The Power of the Spiders From Mars, as they perform the opening track, The Width of a Circle from the 1973 film Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture.

Want more? Watch a 1979 performance of the title track (known among the young as a Nirvana cover) on SNL. Musicians include Jimi Destri (Blondie), Intergalactic Space Punk Opera singer Klaus Nomi and a last minute recruitment of Gilda Radner’s husband G.E. Smith. – Premier Track – The Saviour Machine

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1972 – Yes – Close to the Edge
Close to the Edge, the follow up to Fragile sees Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Chris Squire and keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman reach a creative peak. Progarchives.com voted it the greatest progressive album of all time in 2006.

The live version is visually oriented with artistic video, but Alan White replaces Bill Bruford on drums, as Bill departed early in the tour to join King Crimson. – Premier Track – Close to the EDGE

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1973 – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
The Pink Floyd (as proper Brits refer to the band) were always innovators who constantly strove to master their instruments and recording techniques, as well as explore new lyrical territory.

With an estimated 50 million copies sold, The Dark Side of the Moon is one of Pink Floyd’s most popular albums among fans and critics, and is frequently ranked as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, (remaining in the charts for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988, longer than any other album in history).

This seminal masterpiece has also been adapted to countless ballet interpretations including classical reworkings. – Premier Track – Money

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1974 – Lou Reed – Rock ‘N” Roll Animal
Lou Reed‘s masterpiece Berlin was supposed to be a full on theatrical spectacle (ala Diamond Dogs). Not only did the set get canceled, but the opus itself was edited by RCA from 2 L.P.’s to one. Producer Bob Ezrin lent Lou his heavy hitting axemen (before assigning them to Alice Cooper). On Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal, the twin sonic guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner perfectly frame the “shards of glass” vocal style of New York’s quirky street poet.

I’d like to quote part of a review by Keno: “Recorded at The Academy of Music in New York City in 1973, this is one of the better live rock albums released. Lou Reed let loose some mightily fine Glam Rock at this show, yet this is more a great guitar LP than perhaps anything else. Lou doesn’t even play his own guitar on these cuts, as he didn’t need to, he had the powerful double guitar attack of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner behind him. The album’s opening number, the classic “Sweet Jane”, from Lou’s Velvet Underground days, starts off with some of the best live guitar playing ever to land on any rock album, and once Lou joins in on vocals it just gets better. This is one of those songs that I rated a ten and wish I could rate even higher, as the guitars just explode, and live music just doesn’t get any better than what you hear on this cut, period.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Premier Track – Intro / Sweet Jane

1975 – Lou Reed – Lou Reed Live

Part 2 of one of the greatest concerts of all time! Premier Track – Satellite of Love

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1975 – David Bowie – David Live

David Live
is the definitive document of one of the most ambitious theatrical (Rock Theater) tours ever undertaken.

The Diamond Dogs tour was originally planned to be an adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. Several songs were written before the bad news that Orwell’s widow was not about to cough up the rights forced David to create his own vision of the apocalypse, Hunger City (inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis).

Panic in Detroit (from Aladdin Sane) was left off the initial release of the concert to make way for Knock on Wood (as David was already morphing into his Plastic Soul period). It was only available as a single b-side or on bootlegs such as Baby Doll, or unofficial releases such as the Italian RARE. It has finally been released on the latest version. It contains one of the greatest lead guitar solos in the history of rock (Earl Slick). – Premier Track – Panic in Detroit

1976 – David Bowie – Station to Station box set
The beginning of his transition into Kraut influenced Art Rock Collaborations with Ambient music inventor Brian Eno (born in part by the rejection of his soundtrack recorded for the Man Who fell to Earth), Station to Station was an effort to marry American funk and rock with Germanic Electronic Expressionism. In 1999 Eno called it “one of the great records of all time”. The title track begins with a frantically (synthesized) moving train.The subsequent tour had no opening act, simply playing Un Chien Andalou, a 1929 silent surrealist short film by the Spanish director Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalí.The set was starkly lit, German Expressionist style.

This video (recorded live in Nassau Colosseum in New York featuring ex-Yes Keyboardist Tony Kaye and future Iggy Pop guitarist Stacey Heydon) was long only available as a bootleg. It flat out SMOKES!!!

Want more? Watch The Thin White Duke and his band Raw Moon perform Stay for Dinah Shore and The Fonz to promote both the ’76 tour and Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth on Dinah! – Premier Track – Stay

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1977 – Iggy Pop – TV EYE LIVE
David Bowie mixed Raw Power (an extremely influential pre punk masterpiece in 1973) and invited the Stooges to London to do 1 show. In the audience were Johnny Rotten and all the boys who would found the punk movement of the late 70’s.In 1977,David decided to once again promote Iggy Pop, using him as a sounding board to work out new musical ideas that begat LOW and ‘HEROES’.

The offerings included the release of a limited edition single that was an outtake from the Raw Power sessions (I got a right)

As always, references to Art were subliminally linked throughout these L.P.’s. The Idiot‘s title was inspired by Dostoyevsky, Lust for life by Irving Stone’s novel about the collaborative work of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Nightclubbing’s drums were sampled by Trent Reznor for his 1994 hit Closer.

T.V. EYE, The souvenir from the subsequent ’77 tour is a great place to preview all 3 of the ’70’s Bowie / Pop collaborations, while introducing you to the intensity of Iggy’s live performances. – Featured Track – Nightclubbing

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1978 Lou Reed – Street Hassle
Ever a champion of electronic evolution and experimentation (Metal Machine Music ET AL) Street Hassle is important because it was recorded in binaural sound, the precursor to today’s surround sound. The Manfred Schunke binaural system employed on this L.P. used microphones inserted in the head of a mannequin to record what we actually hear as humans (The fact that it could not be accurately enjoyed without headphones led to it’s discontinuation by Reed).

Recorded primarily in 1977 on the European tour, the addition of Stuart Heinrich (in studio, and subsequently on tour) on a second guitar took Reeds competent Everyman Jazz ensemble on the following gigs to a new plateau.

Glimpses of greatness can be heard on the followup Take no Prisoners (most of which is brilliant, though I am not a fan of his raps (rants) on Sweet Jane and Walk on the Wild Side, Superior versions are found on “Unofficial” FM recordings).

Young Lewis Reed (Factory Footage)

Young Lewis Reed (Factory Footage)


In fact, bootlegs of radio broadcasts from the post Street Hassle release are the ones to die for. This version of Street Hassle was left off the recent release of the show on the excellent “Hassled in April” recorded at Park West Chicago on 04/14/1978. In my opinion it is the definitive live version.

– Premier Track – Street Hassle The studio version contains an uncredited cameo by Bruce Springsteen. A 2003 re-mix has been offered, digitaly altering Reed’s voice to sound younger, accompanied by footage from Warhol’s factory “Living Portrait” shoots.

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1979 – Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principal
Beginning life as a guitar playing, singing, science fiction proto punk (Tubeway Army), Gary Numan discovered a minimoog synthesizer in the studio one day in the late 70’s and helped pioneer the sound of the decade to come. The Pleasure Principal was the followup to Replicas (which had unexpectedly spawned instant hits Are Friends Electric? & Me I Disconnect From You), and had a major impact on the industrial acts that came to prominence in the mid-nineties such as Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. (Both Manson and Foo Fighters released versions of “Down in the Park”, while both NIN and Afrika Bambaataa (who acknowledged the song “Films” as an important influence on the U.S. hip hop scene) covered Metal).

Both L.P.s went to number 1 in the United Kingdom (paving the way to chart success for a string of synthpop acts such as Ultravox, The Human League, Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).

I saw the subsequent Telekon tour and witnessed Gary dancing on a laser beam over the band while 2 of his musicians played with hologramic brains superimposed on their skulls! The fresh music AND the lavish stage shows made Gary Numan the first superstar of the 80’s. – Premier Track – Cars

So much for the 70’s. We’ll tackle subsequent decades at a later date.

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