Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1973

For many Americans, 1973 is remembered as the year that Watergate broke. In my home state of South Dakota, it’s remembered as the year that American Indian Movement activists faced off against federal marshals at Wounded Knee II. These two events don’t have a whole lot do with my Top 5 Albums of 1973. But I bring them up because politics always impacts music, sometimes in unexpected ways – for instance, the Arab Oil Embargo led to a vinyl shortage over the 1973 holiday season. While there may have been a shortage of raw materials to physically make records, however, there was no shortage of incredible records being made. Because–and I know I already said this about 1969 AND 1971, I promise this’ll be the last time that I say it–1973 might just be rock’s greatest year.

5. QUADROPHENIA (The Who)

Quadrophenia

Tommy didn’t let you forget for a moment that it was a rock opera, filled with fragmentary links and explicitly narrative songs. Quadrophenia definitely has a sense of conceptual continuity, especially in the recurring themes that reflect the four sides of protagonist Jimmy’s personality (and, by extension, the four members of the Who). But if you didn’t check the liner notes, you might not realize it was anything more or less than seventeen of the most thunderously great songs Pete Townshend ever wrote.

4. BAND ON THE RUN (Paul McCartney & Wings)

Band on the Run

If Ram is the sound of Paul McCartney’s genius unleashed, Band on the Run is the sound of his genius contained and channeled, making for a very different but equally great listen. He still gets a little wacky here and there (e.g., the cubist mini-suite “Picasso’s Last Words”). But where the rest of Wings’ albums are half brilliance and half filler, BOTR is all brilliance: polished but never slick, sophisticated but never insular, richly imagined but never overwrought, relentlessly melodic but never cloying.

3. SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (Genesis)

Selling England By the Pound

From Peter Gabriel’s histrionics on “The Battle of Epping Forest” to one of the greatest guitar solos ever played (Steve Hackett’s spine-tingling turn on “Firth of Fifth”) to Phil Collins’ gentle vocals on “More Fool Me” to Tony Banks’ immortal synth lead on “The Cinema Show,” Selling England by the Pound is a classic among classics. Some may prefer to feast on “Supper’s Ready” or The Lamb, but this is Genesis’ real main course.

2. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (Pink Floyd)

Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd had made great music before Dark Side of the Moon—“Echoes,” “Atom Heart Mother”—but this is where they make the leap from talented-but-obscure space rockers to one of the biggest bands on the planet. And no wonder: there’s a reason some albums become legendary. (A word about “space rock”: no other band of the era was more successful at using open space as a compositional element. Listen to the tick-tock opening on “Time” or the languid saxophone solo on “Us & Them” and you’ll hear exactly what I mean.)

1. THE WILD, THE INNOCENT, & THE E STREET SHUFFLE (Bruce Springsteen)

The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle

Some love Bruce’s “heartland rock” sound (e.g., Born in the U.S.A.) or his acoustic story-songs (Nebraska). I like both. A lot. But for me, that’s not why he’s the Boss. He’s the Boss because of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town and The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle. There’s concert footage from 1978 in which two adoring female fans storm the stage during the final moments of “Rosalita.” I know why, and it’s not because 1970s Bruce Springsteen is gorgeous (even though he kind of is). It’s because when you hit that incandescent climax, you want to do big things, stupid things, jump and dance and scream and sob and go absolutely crazy.

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