Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1970

The end of the 60s; the end of the Beatles; the end of Jimi and of Janis; four dead in Ohio. Could anybody have put it better than John Lennon did?

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
Yesterday
I was the dream weaver
But now I’m reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I’m John
And so dear friends
You just have to carry on
The dream is over

And carry on we did, even if the future seemed uncertain. In retrospect, we can be sure of at least one thing: the attempt to come to terms with that fading dream produced some remarkable music.

5. CHICAGO [II] (Chicago)

Chicago II

Chicago dropped the “Transit Authority,” reined in the improvisational excesses of their debut, and kicked the songwriting up a notch for their finest hour. Despite the fact that one rarely includes Chicago under the “prog” banner, the band’s art-rock ambitions are in full flower on tracks like “Fancy Colours” or the mournful “Memories of Love” suite, culminating in the magnificent, twelve-minute “Ballet for a Girl in Buchanon.”

4. A QUESTION OF BALANCE (The Moody Blues)

A Question of Balance

Albums that start and end strong often give the impression of being better than they actually are. A Question of Balance manages both to hit hard at both ends (“Question,” “The Balance”) and to fill out the middle ground with some of the best songs the Moodies ever performed (“Dawning Is the Day,” “It’s Up to You,” “Minstrel’s Song”).

3. LET IT BE (The Beatles)

Let It Be

Many regard Let It Be as one of the Beatles’ lesser albums. It was never released in the form that the band originally intended, if such a thing could be said to exist, given how fractured the band had become by the time of recording and ESPECIALLY by the time of release. My take is that, for all its Phil Spector-isms, an album that not only features three classic #1 hits (including the title track) but also “Two of Us,” “Across the Universe,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” can’t be anything but great.

1b. MOONDANCE (Van Morrison)

Moondance

Every other year so far, even if it’s been tough to leave certain albums out, I’ve not had any real difficulty choosing my #1. 1970 is different. And since it’s my list, I reserve the right to name two #1’s, since I can’t in good conscience rank one behind the other.

So, Moondance. It takes the soulful Celtic mysticism of Astral Weeks and distills it into proper songs with verses and choruses and bridges and killer horn charts. The result is very likely Van Morrison’s best album – for me, only 1979’s Into the Music can match it, and that record even takes its title from this one’s key track. Why, you ask? Just check the track names: “Glad Tidings,” “Come Running,” “Brand New Day,” “Crazy Love.” It’s all about the joy, the joy, the joy.

1a. BRYTER LAYTER (Nick Drake)

Bryter Layter

Devotees often point to the gorgeous Five Leaves Left or the stark Pink Moon as Nick Drake’s best work. I’ll take the chamber-folk flute of “Sunday,” the lonesome saxophone of “At the Chime of a City Clock,” the glockenspiel of “Northern Sky.” When I first fell under Bryter Layter’s spell in 2007, I tried to get my thoughts down in the form of a review. I stand by what I wrote then:

I’m a musical adventurer. I love to discover new artists and new albums and new sounds. But the best music, the stuff that really sticks with you, is familiar. Not samey or derivative, but familiar – comforting. So when you listen to it, even though you’ve never heard it before, you have heard it before. Like meeting an old friend for the first time. Like Bryter Layter.

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2 Responses to Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1970

  1. marshallgu says:

    Pretty lame year for music in comparison to the goodies in 1967-9 and 1971-2, but personally I think Loaded (Velvet Underground) and Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunk) would’ve been on my own.

    • Tom Emanuel says:

      I appreciate why many people love, and love a lot of bands (e.g., the Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, David Bowie) who owe a lot to Reed & Co, but I’ve never been able to get into the VU myself apart from a handful of songs. Bridge Over Troubled Water’s a great record though.

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