Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 1975

After all this talk of other years being Rock’s Greatest Year Ever, 1975 actually ends up contributing more albums to my theoretical Top 25 Albums of All Time list than any other. I think ’71 or ’69 were still stronger overall, but the fact of the matter is that 1975 is a year in which I couldn’t find space for Wish You Were Here or Physical Graffiti. I don’t even know how that’s possible.

5. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

A Night at the Opera

The fact that Queen’s breakthrough contains the word “opera” in its very title, in the context of a reference to the Marx Brothers, tells you a lot. “Seaside Rendezvous” and “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” play up the music-hall, exceptionally gay (in the best way possible) side of the band’s personality; “The Prophet’s Song” nails the rock opera bombast. And as for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it’s the kind of song where nobody you know would call it their all-time favorite, and yet whenever it plays over the radio, they’ll be right there with you, belting out every word and mimicking every silly voice.

4. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC & THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY (Elton John)

Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Elton John was a powerhouse during the first half of the 70s – eleven studio albums between 1969-1976 (including two double LPs). But Captain Fantastic tops them all, largely because it peels back Bernie Taupin’s sometimes strained character-sketching and lyrical obfuscation in order to mythologize the duo’s “starving artist” days. The resultantly heartfelt, confessional lyrics soar atop the greatest melodies Elton ever sang – it’s as if their whole career had been leading up to this transcendent moment. You can keep your “Candle in the Wind,” I’ll take “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

3. BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (Bob Dylan)

Blood on the Tracks

Artists often make their greatest work in the midst of personal struggles. That’s certainly the case for Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks was conceived and created in the midst of his separation from his wife Sara, and it finds him subordinating his wild, surreal poetry to the task of making what might be the greatest breakup album ever recorded. But it’s more than that, Dylan’s return to form after the better part of a decade “in the wilderness,” a timeless statement of heartbreak and confusion. Dylan made more influential, more earth-shaking albums, but he never made a better.

2. THE SNOW GOOSE (Camel)

The Snow Goose

Funny thing about Camel: I discovered them on my own during my teenage prog rock phase. Then, one day, I was listening to a track on YouTube when my mother interjected, “Is that The Snow Goose?” Turns out she’d been a huge fan in the 70s, but had never gotten round to replacing her old LPs. Well, between us we now own the complete Camelogue; but you don’t need to share my genetics to appreciate the staggering beauty of the band’s magnum opus. Totally self-contained and self-consistent, The Snow Goose is as warm, as touching, as timeless as Paul Gallico’s eponymous novella.

1. BORN TO RUN (Bruce Springsteen)

Born to Run

If you put a gun to my head and demanded that I name the greatest rock & roll album of all time… you’d have to be insane, because the question is ridiculous even without the gun. But to save my life, I could say Born to Run and not regret it. It’s the Great American Album, the place where the hunger of youth, the lure of the open road, the dream of a better life somewhere beyond the horizon, all the anguish and passion and promise of a final, desperate night, explode into glorious, all-consuming flame. Quite simply, this is what it’s all about.

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