Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1974

After about 1973, rock becomes less and less generalized and more and more genre-lized (see what I did there?). Of course, what you consider the “best” albums from any given year is always going to depend largely on which stylistic niche(s) you happen to prefer. But this tendency grows even more marked after ’73, as artists and listeners both retreat to their own preferred sub-genres. I like to think of myself as having pretty catholic tastes, ranging from Mendelssohn to Miles Davis to Mike Oldfield. But as the 70s continue, you can count on there an awful lot of progressive rock making it onto my lists. Just saying.

5. QUEEN II (Queen)

Queen II

Queen’s second finds them at their most theatrical and over-the-top – and that, my friends, is saying something. If the first side of the LP, written primarily by Brian May, is already big and über-dramatic, the suite-like second side, masterminded by Freddie Mercury, goes clean off the rails: “The March of the Black Queen” might just surpass “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the sheer level of histrionics involved. All of which might sound like a criticism, but it’s absolutely captivating – after all, as Dave Connolly of ProgArchives put it, “you can’t spell ‘grandiloquent’ without ‘grand’ and most of ‘eloquent.'”

4. TURN OF THE CARDS (Renaissance)

Turn of the Cards

Although bands like Yes or Gentle Giant transferred certain elements of the classical ethos into the world of popular music, no band fused Western art music and rock & roll as seamlessly as Renaissance, trading electric guitars for a full orchestra and the angelic voice of Annie Haslam. It’s tough for me to choose between Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories as the band’s highest high-water mark, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll simply observe that “Mother Russia” is a record of astonishing power.

3. RED QUEEN TO GRYPHON THREE (Gryphon)

Red Queen to Gryphon Three

Gryphon’s chess-themed instrumental masterwork is simultaneously some of the most complex and least pretentious music of prog’s heyday. Ironically, Gryphon much more closely approximate the music of the renaissance than do Renaissance; every instrument–whether bass, keys, or krumhorn–wends its own contrapuntal path, betraying the band’s roots as folksy medievalists. But in the end, the lines all converge to weave a tapestry of sound that’s totally unique and totally enchanting.

2. IT’S TOO LATE TO STOP NOW! (Van Morrison)

It's Too Late to Stop Now!

Van Morrison is a notoriously temperamental live performer. But when he’s firing on all cylinders–as he is on this classic set, backed by the 11-person Caledonia Soul Orchestra–he is without peer. This is nowhere better demonstrated than on his explosive reading of “Caravan.” On Moondance, the song’s repeated coda fades, “Hey Jude”-like, into the distance; here, it rises and falls, ebbs and flows, dies down to smoldering embers before bursting into flames.

1. MIRAGE (Camel)

Mirage

I know of few albums that conjure a more distinct atmosphere than Mirage, where Andy Latimer’s hypnotic guitar and flute interweave with Pete Bardens’ keys to produce what I can only describe as an aural dreamscape. Even when you reach the barnstorming climaxes of “Lady Fantasy” and “The White Rider,” the proceedings seem to be draped with a somnolent veil, like an oasis glimpsed, half-imagined, through the shimmering haze of a desert sunset.

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2 Responses to Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1974

  1. douglasharr says:

    Its not often you see a Gryphon album called out on list of best albums! While I might have included The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, I like this list and nice to see this curated.

  2. Pingback: A Lyrical Alphabet: Queen — Princes of the Universe | Rose B Fischer

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