We’re bringin’ you back down home

Poor Poco.

When I mentioned to a few friends that I would be writing about Poco this week in memory of the passing of founding member Rusty Young last week, I was met with blank stares.

“Haven’t heard of them,” said one. “I know the name but don’t know a thing about them,” said another.

These were folks in their sixties, pretty music-savvy, and yet, they didn’t know Poco.

Poco, circa 1972: Rusty Young, George Grantham, Richie Furay, Timothy B. Schmit, Paul Cotton

The band that can rightfully claim the title as one of the pioneer groups of country rock had a strong pedigree, a devout following, recorded many albums, and toured relentlessly. But the commercial success they chased remained, for a long time, elusive. That’s a damn shame, for Poco’s catalog includes some truly memorable songs and impressive musicianship, and they were known for turning in some exhilarating performances in concert.

If you’re a fan of country rock, perhaps this piece will reaffirm your appreciation of a talented band. If you’re new to Poco, let this be an opportunity to learn about a group that’s more than worthy of your attention.

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Poco’s story begins among the ashes of the late, great Buffalo Springfield. Here was a Southern California band that played its rock and roll with more than a hint of country influence. Its members included Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay, all multi-talented singers/songwriters/guitarists who offered up a dizzying array of uptempo electric folk (“Rock and Roll Woman,” “Sit Down I Think I Love You”), harmony-rich ballads (“Sad Memory”), spirited hit-single anthems (“For What It’s Worth”), esoteric rockers (“Bluebird,” “Mr. Soul”) and country-pickin’ ditties (“Go and Say Goodbye,” “A Child’s Claim to Fame”) in a dazzling stew that filled two strong LPs in 1966 and 1967.

But all was not well. Neil Young was a difficult maverick who quit and rejoined the band and quit again, eager to blaze his own trail, and bassist Bruce Palmer was deported to his native Canada for marijuana possession. Stills grew frustrated by the band’s instability and found himself drawn to making music with ex-Byrd David Crosby.

Final lineup of Buffalo Springfield: drummer Dewey Martin,
Jim Messina, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Stephen Stills

The group’s third and final album, released to fulfill a contractual obligation even though the group had essentially disbanded, included only one song that featured the whole group. If not for the efforts of engineer Jim Messina, who became the group’s bass player in the waning days, the album might have never seen the light of day. Among the strong gems on this underrated LP (“Last Time Around”) is a wonderful country ballad by Furay called “Kind Woman,” which featured pedal steel guitar by contributing musician Rusty Young.

In late 1968, Furay and Messina decided they enjoyed each other’s company and musical leanings, and recruited multi-instrumentalist Young (pedal steel, banjo, dobro, guitar) to form a new band. Said Young, “It seemed natural to think, “What if we take this in a country direction? We’ll take rock and roll songs, but the palette that we’ll add to it will be with country instruments. We’ll be using traditionally country instruments to play rock and roll, and not playing the typical country thing.”

With the addition of Randy Meisner on bass and George Grantham on drums, Poco was born. Furay wrote virtually every song on the new group’s debut album, appropriately titled “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” (from the Springfield’s demise). Originally calling themselves Pogo, the band was faced with a cease-and-desist order from cartoonist Walt Kelly (creator of the comic strip “Pogo”), so they altered their name to Poco, just in time for their first concert at the famed Troubadour in Hollywood. Critical praise came immediately — “Poco is the next big thing,” said the L.A. Times — but on the charts, there were no singles and only a modest #63 peak for the album.

The original Poco: Randy Meisner, Rusty Young, Jim Messina, George Grantham and Richie Furay

While one critic called it “a great record, a landmark in country rock,” I tend to agree with The Village Voice‘s Robert Christgau, who wrote, “Nice and happy, but, considering the personnel, a disappointment.” To my ears, the production sounds thin, and many of the songs just don’t grab me, especially when compared to what Furay’s former band mates were releasing at about the same time in mid-1969 (the “Crosby, Stills and Nash” LP and Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”).

Meisner was unhappy with what he felt was Furay’s dictatorial manner and split Poco early, heading first for Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and eventually becoming a founding member of The Eagles, who had instant commercial and critical success with their 1972 country rock debut. Meisner’s replacement in Poco was Timothy B. Schmit, whose strong tenor voice bolstered the three-part harmonies that were so integral to Poco’s sound.

In 1970, the band’s second effort, entitled simply “Poco,” should’ve been the one that made them stars. Messina’s spunky “You Better Think Twice,” which stiffed at #72 on US pop charts, was one of the great shoulda-been hits of that era. “These songs represent Poco’s blend of country and rock at its finest and brightest,” said Allmusic critic Bruce Eder, “with the happy harmonies of ‘Hurry Up’ and ‘Keep on Believin” totally irresistible.” Most notable to me is the startling 18-minute “El Tonto de Nadie, Regresa,” a top-notch instrumental jam featuring Rusty Young’s unparalleled pedal steel guitar, played through a Leslie speaker to make it sound more like an organ.

But the album managed only #58, while Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were topping the charts with their “Deja Vu” album featuring Nash’s sweet countryish hit “Teach Your Children.” This gnawed at Furay and made him unpleasant to deal with, according to Messina. “With Poco, Richie wanted to be as big as Crosby, Stills & Nash. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but there were, and are, no guarantees in the music business. To think that way was a sabotage of every aspect of what we were trying to do.”

The radio stations said they weren’t sure about Poco. “Too country for rock stations, too rock for country stations” was the knock on Poco that seemed to limit airplay. Although the live album “Deliverin'” in 1971 broke the Top 40 and reached #26, Furay’s expectations continued to place a strain on the band, Messina said.

“I became frustrated because Richie was frustrated. This was the guy in the band who I loved and I still do love, who I looked up to and admired, and I just could not understand his behavior. It scared me, and I had to get out of the way.” And with that, Messina was gone, returning to producing, eventually partnering with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins as Loggins and Messina for a successful run (1971-1977).

Cotton, Grantham, Furay, Schmit,
and Young (seated)

Taking over lead and rhythm guitar duties was Paul Cotton, a strong singer and songwriter as well, who became a mainstay in the group’s lineup pretty much ever since. His song “Bad Weather” was one of the highlights of the next LP, “From the Inside,” which, along with Furay’s pretty “What If I Should Say I Love You,” showed a lighter, more reflective approach. Still, the album peaked in the mid-50s on the charts, and again, no single.

Ardent fans, sometimes known as “Poconuts,” argued, “Who cares if there’s no single? We love Poco’s albums, all of them, every track.” But the bitter fact of the music business is you need a hit single to earn your keep, sell more albums and tickets, and survive.

Furay, growing more and more disconsolate, stuck around for two more albums (1972’s “A Good Feeling to Know” and 1973’s “Crazy Eyes”) but their inability to improve the band’s standings in the charts were the last straw. Poco would have to soldier on without him, for he had agreed to mogul David Geffen’s offer to sign him to a new trio called Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with songwriter John David Souther and ex-Byrd Chris Hillman. (That outfit lasted only two modestly successful albums, during which Furay converted to evangelical Christianity and essentially quit the music business.)

I first saw Poco in concert right after Furay left, in 1974. Admittedly, I’d gone to see fellow country rockers Pure Prairie League, who were the warmup act, but I left with a solid appreciation for Poco’s musicianship. I saw them a second time in 1976 when they were the warmup for the fleeting project known as Stills-Young Band. Neil Young was in an ornery mood and Stills seemed out of it, which meant Poco pretty much stole the show that night.

Grantham, Schmit, Cotton and Young in 1975

Poco was now Rusty Young’s and Paul Cotton’s band, with Schmit and Grantham as the rhythm section and on backing vocals, and this quartet lineup made some of the best music in Poco’s catalog. “When Richie exited the group, it left room for another songwriter,” said Young. “I had always been just an instrumentalist, but I really thought I could write songs too, so I started writing then. Paul and Timothy were better at it, I think, but I enjoyed it, and a few of mine made it onto those Poco albums, which I’m proud of.”

They still struggled in the singles market, and the albums never fared better than the mid-40s, but the songs were getting more interesting, more accomplished instrumentally, more melodious, more richly produced. Listen to the warm feeling of Schmit’s “Find Out in Time,” or Cotton’s acoustic guitar-driven “Too Many Nights Too Long,” or two of Young’s first attempts at songwriting, “Sagebrush Serenade” and “Rose of Cimarron.” Really great stuff.

“Rose of Cimarron,” 1975

“Indian Summer,” 1977

Epic Records had dropped the group in 1975, and ABC-Dunhill stepped in to keep Poco afloat through this period. Then fate intervened in 1977 when, following the release of the fine “Indian Summer” album, Schmit announced he had accepted an offer to join The Eagles, coincidentally replacing Meisner again. Poco decided the time was right to take a break, with Young and Cotton choosing to collaborate as a duo called the Cotton-Young Band. Once the material was written and recorded, however, ABC execs changed their minds and insisted the album be released as the latest Poco album, entitled “Legend.”

Lo and behold, ten years after Poco’s formation, they finally had a hit single with “Crazy Love,” written and sung by Young. “When Timothy left to join The Eagles, it left room for me to also sing the songs I was writing. So the funny thing is when we started the band, I didn’t sing and I didn’t write, and we never had a hit, but by 1978, it was a song I wrote and sang that became a hit. Unbelievable.”

“Crazy Love” reached #17 on the pop charts, and also was #1 for five straight weeks on the new Adult Contemporary chart, which helped push the album into the Top 20, peaking at #14. A follow-up single — Cotton’s tribute to New Orleans, “Heart of the Night” — also cracked the Top 20. Poco had arrived.

As Young put it 30 years later to an interviewer, “The only reason you and I are talking now is ‘Crazy Love.’ It’s a classic, and it still pays the mortgage.”

Young added, “At first, Poco always wanted to take the idea of country rock further, and for a while, we were popular on FM radio, but we didn’t cross over to AM with hit singles like The Eagles did. They were a lot smarter, writing songs tailored for that market. They really captured the country rock sound. ‘Crazy Love’ finally gave us a hit, but it was more light pop rock than country rock.” Indeed, how strange that Young’s tasty pedal steel guitar, a trademark of Poco’s sound through the years, is glaringly absent from their biggest hit.

The 1980 follow-up LP, “Under the Gun,” cracked the Top 50, as did two Cotton-written singles, the sweet “Midnight Rain” and the rockified title track, but from there, each album performed more poorly than its predecessor. Cotton and Young remained in charge, but the rest of the lineup changed several times, as did their record label. By 1982’s “Ghost Town” and 1984’s “Inamorata,” the band was using synthesizers and drum machines, which were in vogue at the time but a million miles from the traditional Poco sound. They still toured, but the venues were smaller and the gigs fewer.

“Legacy,” 1989

In 1989, backed by RCA Records, the original lineup of Poco (Messina, Furay, Young, Meisner and Grantham) reunited for “Legacy,” a welcome surprise that reached #40 on album charts, thanks to the #18 hit single “Call It Love,” with Young again on lead vocals. The leadoff track, “When It All Began,” was a nostalgic look back at the band’s genesis, with these lyrics by Furay: “I remember the feeling, not so long ago, /The kids came dancin’, their hearts were romancin’, and the music was live Poco, /Some called it country, some called it rock and roll, /But whatever the sound, it was sure to be found with a heart, rhythm and soul…”

The reunion turned out to be only a short-lived phase, with Furay, Messina and Meisner all returning to their individual careers again.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Young kept the Poco name out there by assembling various touring configurations that included Cotton and guitarist Jack Sundrud, among many others. Furay and/or Messina would occasionally join them for one-off concerts. Young finally chose to retire in 2013, bringing the Poco story to an end.

Furay, Schmit, Messina and Cotton
(with Young off camera) at a 2002 show

Poco may not be inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the band is prominently featured in an historical country rock exhibit in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

Young’s death last week brought Poco back into the public eye, giving me the opportunity to tell their tale, and Young’s memories of how his pioneering pedal steel guitar playing evolved.

Rusty Young

“In a music store in Denver in the mid-’60s, I met a guy named Donny Buzzard, who was my hero,” Young recalled. “He was a brilliant musician, and he introduced me to all kinds of stuff. He said, ‘You can try playing the steel with a comb, and it will sound like a tack piano.’ Or ‘You can run it through a fuzz tone and listen to what that sounds like.’ Or ‘Run it through a Leslie speaker.’ He just opened my eyes to the fact that the pedal steel is an instrument that can do anything, and it shouldn’t be limited to just country and western music. So I decided to take off with what Donny had showed me, and the rest is history.”

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Here’s a playlist I assembled of three dozen songs from throughout Poco’s admirable career. Give it a listen!

When I was 16, it was a very good year

Fifty years ago, I was fortunate enough to be coming of age at a time when the quality and diversity of popular music was figuratively off the charts and literally dominating the charts.

A convincing claim can be made that 1971 was the peak year for rock album releases.

It was the first year that Americans bought more albums than singles. I was thrilled by this development, because it seemed to indicate that, like me, more and more people were interested in hearing artists’ complete artistic statements instead of just the one hit that Top 40 radio stations were playing (ad nauseam).

Rock ‘n roll wasn’t universally loved when it arrived on the charts in 1955, not by a long shot, but over the next 15 years, it grew exponentially in popularity as the music and its audience matured.  It grew like a massive oak, branching out into multiple mini-genres – folk rock, acid rock, R&B and soul, bubblegum, country rock, electric blues, even (already?) roots rock.  Quite the cornucopia of styles.

By 1971, the table was set with a sumptuous buffet of musical options from which to choose.  The Stones and The Who were at their creative peaks.  The Beatles may have split, but there were some mighty fine solo albums to savor. San Francisco jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Santana honed their psychedelic/Latino improvisations, and hard rock bands like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper offered up hefty slabs of power chords.  

The progressive rock coming from England – Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis – was pushing boundaries and challenging listeners to really listen, and the ever-evolving rhythm-and-blues scene kept people dancing as Motown and Memphis branched out into funk and Philly soul.  Dozens of confessional singer-songwriters emanating from Laurel Canyon in California added emotional depth and warm melodies, and the Southern rock of The Allman Brothers Band laid the foundation for their many imitators to come.

The glam rock of David Bowie made its showy entrance, and artists such as Poco and Commander Cody kept the burgeoning country rock genre cooking. Elton John released three albums in less than 12 months, and bands like Badfinger and Three Dog Night represented the pleasant middle ground. And, as always, there was bland pablum for the unhip.

It was all there, from Bloodrock to the Osmonds.

In all, there were more than 500 rock-related albums released in 1971, in excess of 40 per month, and from that plentiful list, I have identified 35 that rocked my world (and maybe yours) at the time. Some of them are relatively obscure choices, while others continue to be named among the finest albums of all time. It was crazy difficult, but I somehow managed to whittle down those 35 LPs to my Top 15, with the other 20 relegated to my “honorable mentions” category. No doubt your list might be different. A Spotify playlist at the end features four tracks from each of the Top 15, and a second playlist offers two tracks from each of the honorable mentions.

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What a year it was 50 years ago! Here they are, in no particular order:

“Blue,” Joni Mitchell

When Rolling Stone assembled a new “Top 500 Albums of All Time” list last year, updating its 2002 rankings, I found it very revealing that this record jumped from an already impressive #30 all the way to #3, proof positive of Mitchell’s enormous influence on artists in the ensuing decades since its release. Her deepest confessional songs are here, performed with relatively simple arrangements featuring Joni on guitar, piano or dulcimer. “Carey” was a modestly successful single, but several other tracks have made greater impact, including “Little Green,” about the daughter she gave up for adoption; “A Case of You,” about her adoration of fellow poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen; and “River,” which has become a Yuletide standard covered by dozens of artists. A brilliant, brilliant album.

“Who’s Next,” The Who

Who woulda thunk that a failed film project and a nervous breakdown would have ended up resulting in such a monumental album? Following “Tommy” turned out to be an agonizing ordeal for Pete Townshend. He envisioned an existential rock opera in which “one perfect universal note” would metaphorically bring each audience together in a “celestial community.” It almost drove Townshend crazy trying to translate his ideas into reality, but along the way, he wrote some of The Who’s most memorable music: “Baba O’Riley,” “The Song is Over,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and more. Roger Daltrey’s vocals were in tip-top form, and producer Glyn Johns gets loads of credit for making The Who sound better than they ever did before or after.

“Imagine,” John Lennon

The harrowing, bare-bones tracks found on his soul-baring “Plastic Ono Band” solo debut in 1970 won praise from critics, but some fans found them difficult to swallow. Lennon decided the follow-up would be “more sugar-coated” so it would be more commercially successful. He found just the right balance of vitriol and love, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr sitting in, and Phil Spector manning the boards. The title track has taken its place as a utopian anthem of the last half century, while “Gimme Some Truth” aims darts at the hypocrisy and corruption of political leaders. Lennon really let Paul McCartney have it with both barrels on “How Do You Sleep?”, then showed his gentle nature on “Oh My Love” and “Oh Yoko.”

“(Untitled)/IV,” Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page said he knew while writing “Stairway to Heaven” that it was going to be a massive rock song for the ages, but its impact still managed to exceed all expectations, as did the album as a whole. Robert Plant’s vocals were at their very best on these tracks, from the crazy time signatures of “Black Dog” to the stunning Joni Mitchell tribute, “Going to California.” Page and John Paul Jones dueling on acoustic guitar and mandolin gave “The Battle of Evermore” an eerie Middle Eastern feel, and John Bonham’s always thunderous drumming achieved new heights on their cover of the 1920s blues tune “When the Levee Breaks.” This album, official untitled but referred to as “IV,” never fails to disappoint, even after hundreds of listenings.

“Tapestry,” Carole King

One of the most prolific hitmakers of the Sixties, writing perfect pop songs for others to make famous, King needed to be coaxed to finally become a recording artist in her own right in the Seventies. After a tentative first album, she collaborated with lyricist Toni Stern to compose an outstanding batch of tunes for her second effort, “Tapestry,” which went on to become one of the best selling and most widely praised albums of all time. In addition to covering two of her earlier songs — The Shirrelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” — King and top-flight L.A. session musicians recorded such gems as “I Feel the Earth Move,” “Beautiful,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and the #1 hit “It’s Too Late.”

“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye

Gaye had been one of the elite acts in Berry Gordy’s Motown stable since the early ’60s, but he grew restless by 1970, eager to sing weightier material about the troubled world around him. “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” he asked. He fashioned a song cycle that matched edgy lyrics with a delicious urban groove and, despite Gordy’s protestations that it wouldn’t sell, it became one of the most popular albums of the ’70s. “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” “What’s Happening Brother” and the iconic title track are the highlights of this pivotal album. Much of the LP was used in the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 2020 Vietnam vet film “Da 5 Bloods,” proof of its enduring impact.

“Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon,” James Taylor

Fine songs and sincere performances made Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” LP one of the real treats of 1970. Some artists stumble when following up a hugely successful record, but Taylor found a way to up his game with the down-home appeal of “Mud Slide Slim,” recorded with many of the same people who were working on Carole King’s “Tapestry” album down the hall in the same L.A. studio. James had the biggest hit single of his long career with her tender “You’ve Got a Friend,” and surrounded it with more autobiographical beauties like “Long Ago and Far Away,” “You Can Close Your Eyes,” “Places in My Past” and the melancholy “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On the Jukebox.” This album takes me right back to 1971 more than any other on this list.

“Aqualung,” Jethro Tull

This was the album that quickly took Tull from warm-up act to headliner. Of all the British “prog rock” bands, Tull has always been the most diverse, offering hard rock and delicate acoustic tunes with equal assurance. “Aqualung,” in fact, offers both in the same song. Some labeled this LP a concept album because of three rockers that disparage organized religion (“My God,” “Hymn 43” and “Wind Up”), but the rest of the tunes focus on other matters, including overpopulation (“Locomotive Breath”), homelessness (the title track) and selfless love (“Wond’ring Aloud”). Ian Anderson’s phenomenal flute work and distinctive singing, and Martin Barre’s electric guitar, really shine throughout this album, setting the stage for a string of Top Ten albums over the next five years.

“At Fillmore East,” The Allman Brothers Band

In 1969, guitar ace Duane Allman put together a powerhouse band steeped mostly in blues and jazz influences, featuring two lead guitarists, two drummers and younger brother Gregg on organ and vocals. Their first two studio albums were brimming with great originals and covers, but this was a group that seemed to do their best work on stage, so they recorded shows in New York in March 1971 and released the best tracks as a double live album that still ranks as one of the very best concert LPs ever released. “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post,” “Stormy Monday” and especially “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” positively crackle with intensity and immediacy. This package continues to send chills up and down my back every time I hear it.

“Madman Across the Water,” Elton John

In many ways, 1971 belonged to Elton John. His gorgeous debut single “Your Song” was a big hit in February, and his first two albums (“Elton John” and “Tumbleweed Connection”), although both released in 1970, got a lot of exposure throughout 1971. Add to that a soundtrack to a little-known French film (“Friends”) released in March and a vibrant live record (“11-17-70”) released in April, and you’ve got a veritable feast of Elton’s wondrous music, but he wasn’t done yet. In November came “Madman Across the Water,” a classic LP if only because it featured three of his very best songs: “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon” and the dramatic title cut. I played this album incessantly and have returned to it dozens of times through the decades.

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” Traffic

At only 15, Steve Winwood first made a splash as lead singer and keyboardist for the Spencer Davis Group, and then formed Traffic two years later. The band offered a wonderful mix of folk, rock and jazz elements that brought them much success in England but not as much here. By 1970, their LP “John Barleycorn Must Die” reached #5 on US album charts and was a favorite of FM radio DJs coast to coast. For me, though, it was the brilliant “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” album that sealed the deal. Winwood’s vocals and keyboards were augmented by new percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah on an enticing, eclectic batch of songs like “Many a Mile to Freedom,” “Rock and Roll Stew,” “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” and particularly the mesmerizing, 12-minute title track.

“Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones

1969’s “Let It Bleed” may be my favorite Stones album, but “Sticky Fingers” is a very close second. This was the era when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were writing their best songs and the band was making their best recordings, with new guitarist Mick Taylor adding cool professionalism to the Stones’ muscular mix. “Brown Sugar,” with its instantly identifiable riff and controversial lyrics about slavery, oral sex and rape, might just be the quintessential Stones song, but there’s so much more. “Bitch,” the country-tinged “Wild Horses,” the acoustic drug tracks “Sister Morphine” and “Moonlight Mile,” the mind-blowing “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” — they all add up to a salacious package of some of the biggest, baddest, bawdiest Stones music ever made.

“Off the Shelf,” Batdorf and Rodney

This amazingly talented duo never got the exposure they deserved, and I’m not sure why. Insufficient promotion by Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records? Maybe. Indifferent radio program directors? Could be. All I know is this debut album (they made two more before breaking up in 1975) is one of my Top 25 favorite albums of all time. The vocal harmonies and the guitar stylings of John Batdorf and Mark Rodney are simply spectacular, as good as or better than any of the singer-songwriter artists of that era. Batdorf wrote some wonderfully buoyant songs, full of sunny optimism: “Oh My Surprise,” “One Day,” “You Are the One” and especially the incredible “Can You See Him.” If you’re not yet familiar with this record, by all means, get moving!

“The Yes Album,” Yes

By 1973, when Yes went off the rails with a self-indulgent double album comprised of four dense 20-minute songs, this talented band of Brits epitomized the excess that helped doom progressive rock as a genre. Before that, though, they were an absolutely astonishing group that found the perfect balance between complex arrangements and catchy hooks on three back-to-back-to-back LPs in 1971-72. Many people prefer “Fragile” or “Close to the Edge,” but I am partial to “The Yes Album,” which introduced me to the ethereal voice of Jon Anderson and the amazing guitar-keyboards-bass-drums interplay of Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire and Bill Bruford. Listen to “Yours is No Disgrace,” “Starship Trooper,” “Perpetual Change” and the single “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Superb!

“4-Way Street,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The “Crosby, Stills and Nash” debut in 1969 and CSN&Y’s amazing “Deja vu” 1970 follow-up are both pretty much perfect records in my book. An excess of talent and ego tore the group apart too soon, and they went their separate ways to make some pretty decent albums on their own (see the honorable mentions below). Fortunately, they recorded a few of their concerts from their 1970 tour and assembled 16 tracks for this glorious, sometimes ragged, often exhilarating double live LP. You get a liberal dose of acoustic songs (“Nash’s “Right Between the Eyes” and “Chicago,” Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Crosby’s “Triad” and “The Lee Shore”) and strong renditions of electric tunes (“Southern Man,” “Carry On,” “Ohio”). What a spread!

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Here are the 20 honorable mentions, some of which may very well have made your Top 15 list:

“Hunky Dory, David Bowie
“Teaser and the Firecat,” Cat Stevens
“L.A. Woman,” The Doors
“Songs For Beginners,” Graham Nash
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” The Moody Blues
Ram,” Paul McCartney
“Tupelo Honey,” Van Morrison
“Every Picture Tells a Story,” Rod Stewart
“If I Could Only Remember My Name,” David Crosby
“American Pie,” Don McLean
“Nilsson Schmilsson,” Harry Nilsson
“Killer,” Alice Cooper
“Future Games,” Fleetwood Mac
“Meddle,” Pink Floyd
“5th,” Lee Michaels
“Santana III,” Santana
“Deliverin’,” Poco
“Leon Russell and the Shelter People”
“Surf’s Up,” The Beach Boys
“Anticipation,” Carly Simon

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