Photo: Jorge Quiñoa
Gary Louris Of The Jayhawks On Barely Listening To Roots Rock & His First Solo Album In 13 Years, 'Jump For Joy'
Gary Louris' songs for the Jayhawks are an intriguing mishmash of styles, including Americana, sunshine-pop and experimental rock. But on his new solo album, 'Jump For Joy,' those influences shine bolder and brighter—and reveal more jagged edges
Next time you watch an artist's press cycle roll out, know this: In many instances, they're sick of the record before it's time to promote it. "I certainly have gone through periods of 'I hate this. I don't even want to put it out,'" Gary Louris tells GRAMMY.com over the phone from Hamilton, Ontario. "Or, 'I absolutely love this.'" Back in 2020, with his band the Jayhawks' album XOXO taking priority, Louris waited—and waited—to put out his solo record, Jump for Joy, as well.
While this may seem like a recipe for hating your own creation, the 66-year-old kept Jump for Joy at something of a distance, not overthinking or smothering it. As a result, Louris is elated to put out a record that feels refreshingly weird and untouched yet with his fingerprints all over it. "In this case, it's worked because of COVID and I'm excited to have something I like coming out," he adds. "And I've also made the decision that I'm not going to wait for the record company anymore."
Jump for Joy, which arrived June 4 on Sham/Thirty Tigers, is Louris' first solo album in 13 years. (He last released Vagabonds in 2008.) But while enjoying the intimate, homespun pop songs within, like "New Normal," "Mr. Updike" and "Follow," know that you're not going to have to wait two-and-a-half presidential terms for the next one. A newlywed hitting a new seam of creativity, Louris plans to keep self-producing songs and putting out the results on his website and Bandcamp.
The new album isn't the only thing on Louris' docket: He's been covering the Beatles' White Album in full on his Patreon page; goofing off with his son, Henry, on his music-filled YouTube show, "The St Show"; and jamming wild prog records like Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans. The interior feeling of Jump for Joy sums him up right now: Touring and hitting the studio may not be big priorities, but he's got a wellspring of ideas percolating inside.
GRAMMY.com gave Gary Louris a ring to discuss the long gestation of Jump for Joy, why the next one won't take so long, and which song on the album stemmed from a rejected AT&T jingle.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Gary Louris | Photo: Tim Geaney
While listening to this album, I didn't have a single thought of, "That song sounds like Hollywood Town Hall" or "That part sounds like Tomorrow the Green Grass." I just thought, "That sounds like the Kinks. That sounds like Yes." Is there a faction of your fan base that just wants you to make those two records over and over?
There's definitely a schism we created when we did Smile, even Sound of Lies a little bit. Some people abandoned ship. They didn't like it. Bob Ezrin produced Smile, and I remember that he kept telling me, "Gary, you don't have to be reverential to your audience. Lead, don't follow them."
I grew up listening to pop music and prog rock. Everything English was what I listened to. I didn't grow up in South Carolina listening to Appalachian music. I didn't have brothers or parents who played Crosby, Stills and Nash records. I fell in love with British music. I wanted to be British. I wanted to be in the Who or the Kinks or the Beatles. And then prog rock, hard rock, English punk rock, everything.
I didn't really discover Americana until the '80s. I was like, "This is new, this is cool. I'm not British, and I can take certain things—the soulfulness of that." But underlying everything is always a big, heady dose of British music. English, Anglophile prog and pop, for me. That's what I listen to more than [anything]. I don't listen to roots rock much.
While watching your cover songs on "The St Show" and checking out your White Album project, I was thinking that you have a versatile voice, one that can handle all those different songbooks and canons. Where do you want to go with the canon in the future?
Well, it's funny. As you called, I was uploading my latest White Album song I did today to my Patreon page. I did "I'm So Tired."
Originally, I thought, "I want to do something where [it's not] my own music." So I picked the White Album because it's one of my favorites. I recently thought, "Why didn't I do something like Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans or something really bizarre?" I'll tell you why: Because people would think it's a pompous and difficult prog-rock album to play. But I love that kind of stuff.
My focus is always on writing my own music. However, during the pandemic, I just kind of embraced learning cover songs, which I never really did that much. It teaches you something. It inspires you. And if you're asking what I want to explore as far as covering?
I meant more along the lines of what might infect your own work. Like if you'll make your own super-prog album or British folk album someday.
This is kind of where I ended up, which is kind of prog with a sort of classic pop structure. It still has a sense of American folkiness, which I can't help because I'm American, I guess.
There's always some kind of weird mixture that makes me happy, that seems to balance what I do. And I can do things that I don't do with the Jayhawks, because not everybody likes exactly what I like in the band. I can't force people to play some synthesizers they don't feel like playing. So, I get to explore a little bit more on my own.
I know "New Normal" is an older recording, and the Jump for Joy press release says the songs span decades. I'm curious, though; do the recordings span decades as well?
That's the only one, although I have other recordings I'm finding. Honestly, I'm ashamed of how long it took me between solo records. Life happened and st happened and I still have a band going. I want to put out more, much more often if I'm able. But I'm finding other things I like from the old days. "New Normal" is the only one from 2009 or something like that.
All the rest were recorded in the last two and a half years, but they have been around and finished since 2003. The business being what it was, with the Jayhawks putting out a record, it felt it was better to just wait. And now, I'm kind of glad I did. I grumbled, going like, "I want my record out. It's been sitting here."
But now it's kind of new to me ... Because the Jayhawks aren't really getting together to write in the near future, it's like, "Wow, I have something coming out." I'm learning how to play them again. So, it turned out to be good timing. Almost all the songs were just recorded in a little room.
It's kind of stripped down with a lot of buzzy, fuzzy things going on. Were you inspired by the arrangement palette of any particular record from the past?
No, I just love electronica. If I listen to music, I prefer to listen to something electronic. I listen to a lot of things that are not as song-based as you would think because I'm not thinking about how somebody wrote a song. It's just repetitive, electronic stuff.
I knew I wanted to include that because it's very satisfying for me to program things and get them to be in sync with each other, because most of the music I've made with the band has a soulful sloppiness to it that's fun. But, sometimes, I want to go in the other direction.
Something about "Almost Home" makes me feel like it was plucked from your memories. What's going on in that song?
It started as a commercial and then evolved into another commercial. I'm not very good at this commercial work because I write too much of a song, where they really want [something smaller]. And I don't do it very often; it's not something I wholly seek out so much as it comes up once in a while. I think, "Well, nobody's buying records anymore anyway." If I have to write something for a commercial, I'm not going to apologize for it.
I did a song, I think, for AT&T. It was "Almost Home." It's about calling and being far away from home and hearing somebody's voice. I just had that little chorus, and they didn't use it. Years later, it sat around, and a friend of mine who worked for an agency said, "This other company's looking for something." I played him different things and he said, "I love that." I worked on it, and of course, too many people got involved and it got diluted and they didn't use it.
But it always stuck in my head: "This is a really catchy song. I should make it into a real song." Because it didn't have a verse; it was just a little riff-y thing. I decided to write something unusual for me, which is more of a story song—less imagery and muddled. It's an ode to my wife.
How about "Living in Between"?
I like songs that are really simple. I like both—I like songs with 20 parts, too—but writing a song with two or three chords with a verse and chorus that share the same progression, I always find that something to aspire to. There [are] a lot of songs I write that I notice are questioning—the meaning of life or what we're doing here or being in the moment.
That song is certainly a question of why I am the age I am and when somebody asks me what I believe, I'm not sure what I would say. I've been seeking and looking and I still don't know.
What can you tell me about "White Squirrel"?
"White Squirrel" is another song that's three chords, I think. Thematically, it's about people who don't fit in. I think it started when I read about a young trans person feeling trapped inside a body that wasn't their own—getting to know more about trans people and expanding to people who always feel out of place, out of sorts, out of sync, not really comfortable in this world.
I guess it's just saying, "You're not alone," and hoping that might help somebody.
In your public school days, did you feel like the odd man out?
Well, it was a private school. It was an all-male, Jesuit, coat-and-tie thing. I think I certainly had some of that in me, yeah. I think that's why people pick on musicians.
We already touched on "New Normal," and I feel like you've talked about that one a lot, so let's skip over to "Mr. Updike."
I'm just a fan [of John Updike]. He wrote about rich, quotidian events. Everyday, kind of small things. I just fell in love with his writing. I'm currently in touch with the family as I might make a video, which is my favorite thing to do now. I discovered iMovie, and my wife and I are making videos for all these songs.
It's just an ode to the writer's life. The thought that creating an idea from nothing and making it artistically happen makes a lot of things in life pale. It's like a high you chase because it gives you purpose and power and it's something unique you can keep going to.
What about the song "Follow"?
It's just a straight-up love song. It's become a song for my wife, but I originally wrote it for my niece and her husband as a kind of wedding gift. I played it at their wedding. Then, I rewrote it and it's kind of for my wife and I.
And how about "Too Late the Key"?
That one's a little older. Now, that one's a slightly older recording also. It's another questioning, longing song. "Have I made too many mistakes? Have I made too many wrong turns? Am I broken? Will I be able to walk through that door if it opens again? Or am I just too jaded and broken to be open anymore if there's something going on?"
You play a lot of guitar on "One Way Conversation"!
Yeah, I got a little Steely Dan thing in the little break in the middle. I don't remember the thematic [content]. That became more about production than, "I know what that song's about." I write things a lot where I don't know exactly what they mean.
What can you share about the title track, "Jump for Joy"?
Um … dark. It's got a weird, suicidal kind of [feel]. I like the play on words. Not that I was feeling suicidal, but it's got this juxtaposition of words and delivery, or multiple meanings. It's sung in a dark way, but I'm thinking of something ecstatic.
When you think of jumping for joy, you're all excited, but it's also a phrase, to me, that could allude to suicide. Jumping off a ledge to alleviate the pain and the resulting freedom. I certainly don't encourage that, but it's the hypnotic, underwater, dark beauty.
Then, finally, we have "Dead Man's Burden."
[Proudly, brightly] "Dead Man's Burden" is one of my favorite things I've ever written, and I don't know if anybody else will ever like it. My wife loves it. Not too many people have heard it yet. It's stream of consciousness. I could never write anything like it again. It's the bookend. It's the opposite of what I was talking about earlier—two or three chords. The song has about eight parts and maybe one repeats.
And yet, when I tried to edit it and make it more concise, it didn't work at all. It was like a house of cards. You take one card out and the whole thing falls apart. So, I embraced it, and [it's] just an epic—for me—production with strings. It's got multiple movements. I love it. I have no idea if anyone else will, but it's like, "How did I write that?"
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Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
10 College Courses Dedicated To Pop Stars And Music: Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny & Hip-Hop
In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, check out nine college-level music courses that dissect punk and EDM, global hip-hop culture and the discographies and careers of superstar acts like the Beatles and Harry Styles.
There’s never been a better time to be a music-loving college student.
Beginning in the mid to late aughts, an increasing number of academic institutions have begun offering courses dedicated to major music acts. In the late aughts, rap maverick Jay-Z made headlines after becoming the subject of a Georgetown University course taught by Michael Eric Dyson, a sociologist and best-selling author of Jay-Z: Made in America. In the Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z, students analyzed Hova's life, socio-cultural significance and body of work.
It's easy to see why students would be attracted to these courses — which fill up quickly and are often one-time-only offerings. The intertwining of celebrity and sociology present such fertile grounds to explore, and often make for buzzy social media posts that can be a boon to enrollment numbers. For instance, Beyhivers attending the University of Texas at San Antonio were offered the opportunity to study the Black feminism foundations of Beyoncé's Lemonade in 2016. Meanwhile, Rutgers offered a course dedicated to dissecting the spiritual themes and imagery in Bruce Springsteen's catalog.
Luckily for students clamoring to get a seat in these highly sought-after courses, institutions across the country are constantly launching new seminars and classes about famous pop stars and beloved musical genres. From Bad Bunny to Harry Styles, the following list of popular music courses features a little something for every college-going music fan.
Bad Bunny's Impact On Media
From his chart-topping hits to his advocacy work, Bad Bunny has made waves on and off stage since rising to fame in 2016. Now graduate students at San Diego State University can explore the global superstar's cultural impact in an upcoming 2023 course.
"He speaks out about Puerto Rico; he speaks out about the Uvalde shooting victims and uses his platform to raise money and help them," said Dr. Nate Rodriguez, SDSU Associate Professor of Digital Media Studies. "How does he speak out against transphobia? Support the LGBTQ community? How does all of that happen? So yes, it’s very much relevant to journalism and media studies and cultural studies. It’s all of that mixed into one."
A Deep Dive Into Taylor Swift's Lyrics
Analyzing Taylor Swift's lyrics is a favorite pastime among Swifties, so it's fitting that her work and its feminist themes have been the focus of a string of university courses over the years.
In spring 2022, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University launched an offering focused on the "Anti-Hero" singer's evolution as an entrepreneur, race and female adolescence. The waitlisted course — the first-ever for the institution — drew loads of media attention and Swift received an honorary degree from NYU in 2022.
In spring 2023, honors students at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas can analyze the 12-time GRAMMY winner's music and career in a seminar titled Culture and Society- Taylor Swift.
Kendrick Lamar's Storytelling & The Power Of Hip-Hop
Since dropping good kid, m.A.A.d. City in 2012, Kendrick Lamar has inspired a slew of academics to develop classes and seminars around his lyrical content and storytelling, including an English class that juxtaposed his work with that of James Baldwin and James Joyce.
More recently, Concordia University announced that the 16-time GRAMMY winner will be the focus of The Power of Hip Hop, It’s Bigger Than Us, a course examining the lyrical themes of Lamar’s works, such as loyalty, fatherhood, class and racial injustice.
"No artist speaks to this ethos louder and more intricately than King Kunta, the prince of Compton, Kendrick Lamar, 10 years after good kid, m.A.A.d. City dropped," said Yassin "Narcy" Alsalman, the Montreal hip-hop artist and Concordia Professor who developed the class which launches in winter 2023. “He showed us it was okay to work on yourself in front of the world and find yourself internally, that family always comes first, that community and collective missions are central to growth and that sometimes, you have to break free."
EDM Production, Techniques, and Applications
If you dream of hearing your own EDM tracks played at a massive music festival à la Marshmello, Steve Aoki and Skrillex, this all-in-one course at Boston's Berklee College of Music has you covered. Learn about the cultural origins of the various EDM styles — like techno, trance, drum and bass and more — and the techniques that artists use to achieve these sounds.
In between thought-provoking cultural seminars, students will receive lessons on how to operate the technologies necessary to create their own EDM masterpieces, including synths, digital audio workstations (DAW) and samplers.
Harry Styles And The Cult Of Celebrity
While many celebrity-focused courses center around sociology, the Harry’s House singer/songwriter has inspired his own digital history course at Texas State University in San Marcos: Harry Styles and the Cult of Celebrity: Identity, the Internet and European Pop Culture.
Developed by Dr. Louie Dean Valencia during lockdown, the class will cover Styles’ music along with topics like gender, sexual identity and class — but the singer-songwriter’s personal life is off limits. Stylers who are lucky enough to grab a spot in this first-ever university course dedicated to their fave can expect to revisit One Direction’s catalog for homework.
"I’ve always wanted to teach a history class that is both fun, but also covers a period that students have lived through and relate to," Dr. Valencia wrote in a Twitter post. "By studying the art, activism, consumerism and fandom around Harry Styles, I think we’ll be able to get to some very relevant contemporary issues. I think it’s so important for young people to see what is important to them reflected in their curriculum."
Global Hip Hop Culture(s): Hip Hop, Race, and Social Justice from South Central to South Africa
Since its inception, hip-hop has left a lasting mark on the world, influencing language, fashion, storytelling and beyond. At the University of California Los Angeles, students can learn about how the art form has shaped young minds as they analyze the various hip-hop scenes worldwide.
As part of a mission to establish the university as a leading center for hip-hop studies, UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies launched a hip-hop initiative featuring an artist-in-residence program, digital archives, and a series of postdoctoral fellowships. Chuck D, the founder of the barrier-breaking hip-hop group Public Enemy, was selected as the first artist-in-residence.
"As we celebrate 50 years of hip-hop music and cultural history, the rigorous study of the culture offers us a wealth of intellectual insight into the massive social and political impact of Black music, Black history and Black people on global culture — from language, dance, visual art and fashion to electoral politics, political activism and more," said associate director H. Samy Alim, who is leading the initiative.
The Music Of The Beatles
With their catchy two-minute pop hits, artsy record covers, headline-making fashions and groundbreaking use of studio tech, the Fab Five are among the most influential acts in music history. It’s no surprise, then, that they are the subjects of courses in a number of colleges and universities.
Boston’s Berklee College of Music offers The Music of Beatles, which digs into the group’s body of work as well as the music they penned for other acts. Alternatively, if you’re more interested in their post-breakup works, The Solo Careers of the Beatles dives into those efforts. Meanwhile, the University of Southern California takes a look at their music, careers and impact in The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times.
Symbolic Sisters: Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu
Whether you want to learn about craft, management, building a career, or marketing your work, the Clive Davis Institute at NYU offers an impressive curriculum for musicians and artists. With seminars focusing on the works of Prince, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and J. Dilla, a unique duo stands out: Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse.
Framing the pair as "symbolic sisters," this two-credit seminar explores and compares how each songstress fused different genres and styles to forge a magnetic sound of their own. Winehouse rose to prominence for her retro spin on the sounds of Motown and Phil Spector and rebellious styling. A decade before "Back to Black" singer hit the mainstream, Badu — who is recognized as one of Winehouse's influences — rose to stardom thanks to her seamless blend of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop and captivating urban-bohemian style, creating a template for singers like SZA and Ari Lennox.
Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience
From ascending to the top of the male-dominated Tejano genre to helping introduce Latin music to the mainstream, Selena Quintanilla's impact continues to be felt decades after her untimely death. Artists including Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Victoria "La Mala" Ortiz, Becky G and Beyoncé cite the GRAMMY-winning "Queen of Tejano" as an influence.
Throughout the years, her legacy and cultural impact have been the focus of dozens of college courses. In 2023, Duke University continues this tradition with Selena: Music, Media and the Mexican American Experience. The course will explore the life, career and cultural impact of the beloved Tejano singer.
The Art of Punk: Sound, Aesthetics and Performance
Since emerging in the 1970s, punk rock has been viewed as a divisive, politically charged music genre. Its unique visual style — which can include leather jackets, tattoos, chunky boots and colorful hair — was absorbed into the mainstream in the '90s, where it continues to thrive (to the chagrin of hardcore punks everywhere). Over the decades, dozens of subgenres have cropped up and taken the spotlight — including riot grrrl and pop-punk — but very few have left the impact of the classic punk sound from the '70s and its anti-establishment themes.
If you're interested in learning more about the genre that inspired bands like Nirvana, check out Stanford University's The Art of Punk seminar, which explores the genre's visual and sonic origins, as well as its evolution and connections to race, class, and gender.
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How 1973 Shaped Classic Rock: 10 Essential Albums From British Artists
Fifty years ago, there was a creative apex in what we now call classic rock. However, the sounds of '73 were wildly progressive and diverse, with influences that ranged from blues and baroque, to free jazz and acid-folk.
Fifty years ago, a young generation of British rock 'n' rollers were ready to show the world that the lessons learned from the Beatles were not lost on them. If the kaleidoscopic Sgt. Pepper’s had proven that pop music could be anything you wanted it to be, the artists that followed took those radical ideas to a new level.
United by the vague, umbrella-like term of progressive rock, bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Queen and King Crimson expanded the lexicon of rock with influences that ranged from classical and baroque to free jazz and acid-folk; blues to reggae and music hall. Today, these records define the sound of classic rock.
1973 signified an absolute apex — the sweetest moment in time when everything seemed possible and each new album gleamed with the joy of innovation. Here are 10 records from British artists that marked a before and after for classic rock.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Years of psychedelic wanderings and space-rock exploration — not to mention the trauma of losing a beloved bandmate to drugs — crystallized into Pink Floyd’s unequivocal masterpiece. An album so sublime, it makes the seven LPs that preceded it sound like rough sketches in comparison.
The lyrics are wicked in their cynicism and existential malaise, and the band finally sounds tight and economical. But Dark Side's greatest virtue here is the sheer beauty of the melodies, one gauzy song leading into the other with effortless grace. "Money" was the hit single and "Time" redrew the boundaries of rock through immersive sound effects. But "The Great Gig in the Sky," with its wordless female vocals and achingly nostalgic chords, showed that the Floydian mystique was as soulful as the blues.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery
Trilogy, the dreamy 1972 album by mad keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer, had been constructed in the studio with layers and layers of overdubs. As a natural reaction, the trio decided their next effort should be the kind of record they could play in a live setting.
Sporting an ominous cover by Alien visual artist H. R. Giger, Brain Salad Surgery is, strangely enough, the antithesis of prog-rock pomp. Behind the epic length of multi-part symphony "Karn Evil 9" lurk visceral touches of dissonance and noise, nocturnal piano harmonics and a goofy sense of humor. At the time, ELP was vilified for its pretension to merge rock with classical. Half a century later, they deserve praise for letting their collective imagination run wild.
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
Led with unspoken dictatorial fire by acerbic guitar mastermind Robert Fripp, the mid-‘70s incarnation of the ever-evolving King Crimson played abstract heavy metal for the soul. All hell breaks loose when the freeform improvisation of "The Talking Drum" gives way to the demonic groove of "Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Part II)," enhanced by the pristine clang-clang finesse of Bill Bruford, the most intellectual drummer of his generation.
All Crimson albums drown their sorrows in an unexpected moment of pastoral bliss, and "Book of Saturday" doesn’t disappoint, the lament of vocalist John Wetton framed by Fripp’s avant-pop guitar — a song so quiet and beautiful, it almost hurts.
Camel – Camel
There was a pervasive sweetness of spirit, a caramel tint to Camel’s nimble instrumental workouts and monotone vocals. Their soundscapes were a tad too delicate and whimsical to match the imposing scale of ‘70s heavyweights like Genesis and Floyd.
In retrospect, Camel stands as the most criminally underrated band of the classic prog movement. This full-bodied debut is jazzy and psychedelic, showcasing the wide-eyed melodic sense of guitarist Andy Latimer and keyboardist Pete Bardens. Camel proved that you don’t need a powerful vocalist to make the music soar.
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
A doorway into an enchanted world of sumptuous keyboard solos, 12-string guitars and rambunctious drum fills (hello, Phil Collins), Genesis’ fifth studio album has mystified and enthralled generations of art-rock lovers. The sonic manifesto of five young musicians at the top of their game (all of whom would eventually enjoy success as solo artists), Selling combines a wacky, quintessential British eccentricity with sweeping melodies, social satire and the surreal imagery of singer/lyricist Peter Gabriel.
Keyboardist Tony Banks found inspiration in Rachmaninoff for the majestic intro to "Firth of Fifth," while "The Cinema Show" namedrops T.S. Eliot. "The Battle of Epping Forest" turns a gang massacre over urban boundaries into a delirious mini-opera. An album of limitless imagination, it has aged remarkably well.
Queen – Queen I
Many fans prefer Queen’s early, heavier glam-rock albums over the polished commercial blockbusters that followed — and they have a point. An exhilarating debut, Queen I is deliciously rough around the edges, but at the same time brims with the grandeur and melodic genius that characterized the London quartet from its inception. "Liar" boasts the singalong melodrama that would explode in A Night at the Opera, while guitarist Brian May’s "The Night Comes Down" hums with folk-rock longing. Funky and defiant, opening cut "Keep Yourself Alive" unlocks the hit-making blueprint of a band poised to conquer the world.
Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
At the time of its release, Yes’ sprawling double album based on four separate volumes of ancient Hindu scriptures appeared to encapsulate the excesses of ‘70s rock — and why the punk movement would aim to counteract and destroy rock. Tales even motivated keyboardist Rick Wakeman to leave the band, claiming that he couldn’t play music that he didn’t comprehend (no worries, he would return to the fold several times.)
Five decades later, it can be appreciated for what it really is: An ambitious sonic adventure that is in no rush whatsoever to take you to the bridge. Its four, 20 minute-long "songs" are cohesive, ethereal and filled with lovely moments, from the gentle meditation of "The Remembering" to the percussion freakout that brings "Ritual" to a feverish climax. Not for everyone’s taste, sure enough, but as dense and rewarding as a Gustav Mahler symphony.
Roxy Music – Street Life
"Here as I sit at this empty café, thinking of you," croons a mournful Bryan Ferry on "A Song for Europe." As the six-minute track meanders on – torrid sax lines, grandiloquent piano, lyrics in Latin and French — the Roxy Music aesthetic blooms, fully formed.
The third of eight exquisite albums that make up the Roxy canon, Street Life betrays Ferry’s fine arts studies at Newcastle with its combination of garish pop spectacle, avant-garde esoterics and a perverse obsession with the beauty of everything — from the group’s legendary LP covers to the ornate hooks and the aural architecture of it all. And the bridge, it sighs.
Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
Wunderkind Mike Oldfield was only 19 when he recorded the majority of this remarkable debut, performing every instrument himself. Inspired by the mystical sweep of English folk and drawn to minimalism and multi-tracking, the guitarist was in tune with the progressive trends of the time, but his long form pieces are stubbornly idiosyncratic.
Tubular’s opening theme was used in the horror movie hit The Exorcist and Oldfield became an instant rock star. Still, this album is only an intriguing opening statement for the many masterpieces that followed – most notably, Ommadawn (1975) and Incantations (1978.)
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
Having cemented the bulldozer-like propulsion of its hard-rock creed, Led Zeppelin spent most of 1972 making an album that reflected the current times: expansive, stylistically omnivorous, preoccupied with grander themes. Seeped in haunting Mellotron textures, "The Rain Song" is the quartet’s proggiest moment, and "D’yer Mak’er" goes reggae-rock with impeccable taste. Conservative Zep fans found solace in the rollicking opener "The Song Remains the Same," proving that hardrock still enjoyed a creative peak in 1973. They had a dream, oh yeah, a crazy dream, and we’re still grooving along.
20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More
20 Albums Turning 50 In 2023: 'Innervisions,' 'Dark Side Of The Moon' 'Catch A Fire' & More
1973 saw a slew of influential records released across genres — many of which broke barriers and set standards for music to come. GRAMMY.com reflects on 20 albums that, despite being released 50 years ago, continue to resonate with listeners today.
Fifty years ago, a record-breaking 600,000 people gathered to see the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers Band and the Band play Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. This is just one of many significant historical events that happened in 1973 — a year that changed the way music was seen, heard and experienced.
Ongoing advancements in music-making tech expanded the sound of popular and underground music. New multi-track technology was now standard in recording studios from Los Angeles to London. Artists from a variety of genres experimented with new synthesizers, gadgets like the Mu-Tron III pedal and the Heil Talk Box, and techniques like the use of found sounds.
1973 was also a year of new notables, where now-household names made their debuts. Among these auspicious entries: a blue-collar songwriter from the Jersey Shore, hard-working southern rockers from Jacksonville, Fla. and a sister group from California oozing soul.
Along a well-established format, '73 saw the release of several revolutionary concept records. The Eagles’ Desperado, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Lou Reed’s Berlin and the Who’s Quadrophenia are just a few examples that illustrate how artists used narrative techniques to explore broader themes and make bigger statements on social, political and economic issues — of which there were many.
On the domestic front, 1973 began with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. Internationally, the Paris Peace Accords were signed — starting the long process to end the Vietnam War. An Oil crisis caused fuel prices to skyrocket in North America. Richard Nixon started his short-lived second term as president, which was marked by the Watergate scandal.
Politics aside, the third year of the '70s had it all: from classic- and southern-rock to reggae; punk to jazz; soul and R&B to country. Read on for 20 masterful albums with something to say that celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2023.
Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
Laid down at EMI’s studio in Lagos, Nigeria and released in December 1973, the third studio record by Paul Mcartney & Wings is McCartney’s most successful post-Beatles album. Its hit singles "Jet" and the title cut "Band on the Run" helped make the record the biggest-selling in 1974 in both Australia and Canada.
Band on the Run won a pair of GRAMMYS the following year: Best Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical. McCartney added a third golden gramophone for this record at the 54th awards celebration when it won Best Historical Album for the 2010 reissue. In 2013, Band on the Run was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.
Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock
Released Oct. 13, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters was recorded in just one week; its
four songs clock in at just over 40 minutes. That the album was not nominated in the jazz category, but instead Best Pop Instrumental Performance, demonstrates how Hancock was shifting gears.
Head Hunters showed Hancock moving away from traditional instrumentation and playing around with new synthesizer technology — especially the clavinet — and putting together a new band: the Headhunters. Improvisation marks this as a jazz record, but the phrasing, rhythms and dynamics of Hancock’s new quintet makes it equal parts soul and R&B with sprinkles of rock 'n' roll.
The album represented a commercial and artistic breakthrough for Hancock, going gold within months of its release. "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon," which was nominated for a Best Instrumental GRAMMY Award in 1974, were later both frequently sampled by hip-hop artists in the 1990s.
Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. - Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen, 22, was the new kid in town in 1973. This debut was met with tepid reviews. Still, Greetings introduced Springsteen’s talent to craft stories in song and includes many characters The Boss would return to repeatedly in his career. The album kicks off with the singalong "Blinded by the Light," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 four years later via a cover done by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This was the first of two records Springsteen released in 1973; The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle arrived before the end of the year — officially introducing the E Street Band.
Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
This Stevie Wonder masterpiece shows an artist, in his early 20s, experimenting with new instrumentation such as TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) — the world’s largest synth — and playing all instruments on the now-anthemic "Higher Ground."
The song reached No.1 on the U.S. Hot R&B Singles Chart, and Innervisions peaked at No. 4. The album won three GRAMMYS the following year, including Album Of The Year. Wonder was the first Black artist to win this coveted golden gramophone. In 1989, Red Hot Chili Peppers kept the original funk, but injected the song with a lot of rock on their cover — the lead single from Mother’s Milk.
The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
Critics perennially place this Pink Floyd album, the band's eighth studio record, as one of the greatest of all-time. The Dark Side of the Moon hit No.1 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 63 weeks.
A sonic masterpiece marked by loops, synths, found sounds, and David Gilmour’s guitar bends, Dark Side of the Moon is also a concept record that explores themes of excessive greed on tracks like "Money." Ironically, an album lambasting consumerism was the top-selling record of the year and has eclipsed 45 million sales worldwide since its release. The album’s cover has also become one of the most recognized in the history of popular music.
Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd - Lynyrd Skynyrd
This debut release features several of the northern Florida rockers' most beloved songs: "Gimme Three Steps," "Tuesday’s Gone" and "Simple Man." The record, which has since reached two-times platinum status with sales of more than two million, also includes the anthemic "Free Bird," which catapulted them to stardom. The song with its slow-build and definitive guitar solo and jam in the middle became Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song that ended all their shows; it also became a piece of pop culture with people screaming for this song during concerts by other artists.
Houses Of The Holy - Led Zeppelin
The first Led Zeppelin record of all originals — and the first without a Roman numeral for a title — Houses of the Holy shows a new side of these British hardrockers. Straying from the blues and hard rock of previous records, Houses of the Holy features funk (“The Ocean” and “The Crunge”) and even hints of reggae (“D’Yer Mak’er”). This fifth studio offering from Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham also includes one of this writer’s personal Zeppelin favorites — "Over the Hills and Far Away.” The song was released as the album’s first U.S. single and reached No. 51 on the Billboard charts. Despite mixed reviews from critics, Houses of the Holy eventually achieved Diamond status for sales of more than 10 million. Interesting fact: the song “Houses of the Holy” actually appears on the band’s next record (Physical Graffiti).
Quadrophenia - The Who
The double-album rock opera followed the critical success of Tommy and Who’s Next. Pete Townshend composed all songs on this opus, which was later adapted into a movie. And, in 2015, classically-scored by Townshend’s partner Rachel Fuller for a new generation via a symphonic version (“Classic Quadrophenia”). The story chronicles the life of a young mod named Jimmy who lives in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Jimmy searches for meaning in a life devoid of significance — taking uppers, downers and guzzling gin only to discover nothing fixes his malaise. With sharp-witted songs, Townshend also tackles classicism. His band of musical brothers: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon provide some of their finest recorded performances. The album reached second spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.
Berlin - Lou Reed
Produced by Bob Ezrin, Berlin is a metaphor. The divided walled city represents the divisive relationships and the two sides of Reed — on stage and off. The 10 track concept record chronicles a couple’s struggles with drug addiction, meditating on themes of domestic abuse and neglect. As a parent, try to listen to "The Kids" without shedding a tear. While the couple on the record are named Caroline and Jim, those who knew Reed’s volatile nature and drug dependency saw the parallels between this fictionalized narrative and the songwriter’s life.
Catch A Fire - Bob Marley & the Wailers
The original cover was enclosed in a sleeve resembling a Zippo lighter. Only 20,000 of this version were pressed. Even though it was creative and cool, cost-effective it was not — each individual cover had to be hand-riveted. The replacement, which most people know today, introduces reggae poet and prophet Robert Nesta Marley to the world. With a pensive stare and a large spliff in hand, Marley tells you to mellow out and listen to the tough sounds of his island home.
While Bob and his Wailers had been making music for nearly a decade and released several records in Jamaica, Catch a Fire was their coming out party outside the Caribbean. Released in April on Island Records, the feel-good reggae rhythms and Marley’s messages of emancipation resonated with a global audience. A mix of songs of protest ("Slave Driver," "400 years") and love ("Kinky Reggae"), Catch A Fire is also notable for "Stir it Up," a song American singer-songwriter Johnny Nash had made a Top 15 hit the previous year.
The New York Dolls - The New York Dolls
The New York Dolls burst on the club scene in the Big Apple, building a cult following with their frenetic and unpredictable live shows. The Dolls' hard rock sound and f-you attitude waved the punk banner before the genre was coined, and influenced the sound of punk rock for generations. (Bands like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and KISS, cite the New York Dolls as mentors.) Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren — who found time to release A Wizard, A True Star this same year — produced this tour de force. From the opening "Personality Crisis," this five-piece beckons you to join this out-of-control train.
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
This David Bowie record followed the commercial success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars. Many critics unfairly compare the two. A career chameleon, with Aladdin Sane, Bowie shed the Ziggy persona and adopted another alter-ego. The title is a pun that means: "A Lad Insane." For the songwriter, this record represented an attempt to break free from the crazed fandom Ziggy Stardust had created.
A majority of the songs were written the previous year while Bowie toured the United States in support of Ziggy. Journal in hand, the artist traveled from city to city in America and the songs materialized. Most paid homage to what this “insane lad” observed and heard: from debauchery and societal decay ("Cracked Actor") to politics ("Panic in Detroit") to punk music ("Watch That Man"). Top singles on Aladdin Sane were: "The Jean Genie" and "Drive-In Saturday." Both topped the U.K. charts.
Faust IV -Faust
This fourth studio album — and the final release in this incarnation by this experimental avant-garde German ambient band — remains a cult classic. Recorded at the Manor House in Oxfordshire, England (Richard Branson’s new Virgin Records studio and the locale where Mike Oldfield crafted his famous debut Tubular Bells, also released in 1973), Faust IV opens with the epic 11-minute instrumental "Krautrock" — a song that features drones, clusters of tones and sustained notes to create a trance-like vibe. Drums do not appear in the song until after the seven minute mark.
The song is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the genre British journalists coined to describe bands like Faust, which musicians largely did not embrace. The rest of Faust IV is a sonic exploration worthy of repeated listens and a great place to start if you’ve ever wondered what the heck Krautrock is.
Brothers & Sisters - the Allman Brothers Band
Great art is often born from grief, and Brothers & Sisters is exemplary in this way. Founding member Duanne Allman died in 1971 and bassist Berry Oakley followed his bandmate to the grave a year later; he was killed in a motorcycle accident in November 1972. Following this pair of tragedies, the band carried on the only way they knew how: by making music.
With new members hired, Brothers & Sisters was recorded with guitarist Dicky Betts as the new de facto band leader. The Allman Brothers Band’s most commercially successful record leans into country territory from the southern rock of previous releases and features two of the band’s most popular songs: "Ramblin’ Man" and "Jessica." The album went gold within 48 hours of shipping and since has sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
Call Me - Al Green
Call Me is considered one of the greatest soul records of the 20th century and Green’s pièce de résistance. The fact this Al Green album features three Top 10 Billboard singles — "You Ought to Be With Me," "Here I Am" and the title track — helps explain why it remains a masterpiece. Beyond the trio of hits, the soul king shows his versatility by reworking a pair of country songs: Hank Williams’ "I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry," and Willie Nelson’s "Funny How Time Slips Away."
Killing Me Softly - Roberta Flack
This Roberta Flack album was nominated for three GRAMMY Awards and won two: Record Of The Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance at the 1974 GRAMMYs (it lost in the Album of the Year category to Innervisions). With equal parts soul and passion, Flack interprets beloved ballads that showcase her talent of taking others’ songs and reinventing them. Producer Joel Dorn assembled the right mix of players to back up Flack — adding to the album’s polished sound. Killing Me Softly has sold more than two million copies and, in 2020, Roberta Flack received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.
The album's title cut became a No.1 hit in three countries and, in 1996, the Fugees prominently featured Lauryn Hill on a version that surpassed the original: landing the No.1 spot in 21 countries. The album also includes a pair of well-loved covers: Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne" and Janis Ian’s wistful "Jesse," which reached No. 30.
Bette Midler - Bette Middler
Co-produced by Arif Mardin and Barry Manilow, the self-titled second studio album by Bette Midler was an easy- listening experience featuring interpretations of both standards and popular songs. Whispers of gospel are mixed with R&B and some boogie-woogie piano, though Midler’s voice is always the star. The record opens with a nod to the Great American Songbook with a reworking of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael’s "Skylark." The 10-song collection also features a take on Glenn Miller’s "In the Mood," and a divine cover of Bob Dylan’s "I Shall be Released." The record peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. charts.
Imagination - Gladys Knight & the Pips
Released in October, Imagination was Gladys Knight & the Pips' first album with Buddha Records after leaving Motown, and features the group’s only No. 1 Billboard hit: "Midnight Train to Georgia." The oft-covered tune, which won a GRAMMY the following year, and became the band’s signature, helped the record eclipse a million in sales, but it was not the only single to resonate. Other timeless, chart-topping songs from Imagination include "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," and "I’ve Got to Use My Imagination."
The Pointer Sisters - The Pointer Sisters
The three-time GRAMMY-winning Pointer Sisters arrived on the scene in 1973 with this critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Then a quartet, the group of sisters from Oakland, California made listeners want to shake a tail feather with 10 songs that ranged from boogie-woogie to bebop. Their sisterly harmonies are backed up by the San Francisco blues-funk band the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils. The record opens with "Yes We Can," a hypnotic groove of a song written by Allen Toussaint which was a Top 15 hit alongside another cover, Willie Dixon’s "Wang Dang Doodle."
Behind Closed Doors - Charlie Rich
This pop-leaning country record of orchestral ballads, produced by Billy Sherrill, made Rich rich. The album has surpassed four million in sales and remains one of the genre’s best-loved classics. The album won Charlie Rich a GRAMMY the following year for Best Country Vocal Performance Male and added four Country Music Awards. Behind Closed Doors had several hits, but the title track made the most impact. The song written by Kenny O’Dell, and whose title was inspired by the Watergate scandal, was the first No.1 hit for Rich. It topped the country charts where it spent 20 weeks in 1973. It was also a Billboard crossover hit — reaching No. 15 on the Top 100 and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary charts.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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