Influenced by the music of others, my journey as a musician has taken many interesting turns. As a young child, my earliest influences were French musicians like Sacha Distel, Georges Brassens and the amazing Django Reinhardt. I was also exposed to Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.
When I started playing the guitar, I was learning to strum songs by The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Three Dog Night, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel and Tom Rush.
Then came the 70s and everything changed. During those years, I was exposed to and developed a love for progressive rock and eventually fusion. I started listening to bands like Gentle Giant, The Strawbs, Supertramp, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and Yes. There was also Elton John, Cat Stevens, Spooky Tooth, Manfred Man, King Crimson … I could go on and on.
Recently, I was thinking about which of these had the greatest impact on my guitar playing, song writing and vocal style. I thought I’d take a stab at a top 10 list. I decided this list should not just be the bands or individual musicians, but specific records that had the greatest impact on me. Let me assure you, it was no easy task. The 70s was an amazing time for music that featured a great many ground breaking albums showcasing new forms of musical expression. Growing up in Montreal was great in this regard. Progressive rock bands were constantly coming to town so I had the opportunity to see many excellent concerts.
So … with all of that said, in no particular order, here is my top ten list from the 70s. Many of you will recognize some of these albums. Life long friends of mine may be surprised at some albums I have omitted. Like I say, it was no easy task but it was very enlightening.
Yes – The Yes Album
Released February 1971 By Atlantic
The Yes Album was one of my first introductions to progressive rock. As a guitar player, Steve Howe’s amazing and unique playing had a huge impact on me. As a writer, the band inspired me and does to this day. For me, this still remains one of the best progressive rock albums ever produced. It was difficult to pick this particular one as their following 2 albums, ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close To The Edge’ are also perennial favorites of mine.
Yes epitomized to me the definition of a great band. Tight and flawless execution of some very challenging music. I spent countless hours playing along with this album learning every lick that Steve Howe played. Doing so helped me to develop good technique and a much better ear! Through the 70s, along with Genesis, Yes was my favorite band.
Steely Dan – Aja
Released September 1977 by ABC
Sonic perfection! Aja is a blend of superb engineering and masterful musicianship. Like most Steely Dan albums, every song is tastefully executed, tight rhythmically, lyrically interesting and very strong melodically. And WHO is that guitar player? This album introduced me to Larry Carlton who I will mention a little bit later.
So well produced was Aja that it was a goto album when I worked in the stereo industry and wanted to demonstrate high-end systems. Do you remember McIntosh amplifiers, Linn Sondek turntables, Dayton Wright speakers? Aja sounded incredible on those systems. All these years later, this album is as musically relevant as it was the first time I heard it.
King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King
Released October 1969 By Atlantic
Considered one of the most influential albums in the history of progressive rock, this album, along with ‘The Yes Album’ and Emerson Lake & Palmer’s first album ‘Emerson Lake & Palmer’ was lent to me by a senior student (thank you Andrianna Santini) on the way home from school on the bus one day. It was the first of the three I listened to and I immediately liked it. Pete Townshend (The Who) was quoted as calling the album “an uncanny masterpiece”. Greg Lake who would later join Emerson Lake & Palmer was the singer and Robert Fripp the guitar player.
Robert Fripp had a huge influence on me in the 70s especially his work in ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’ and ‘Starless and Bible Black’. However, this album remained my favorite King Crimson effort of that era. I can still sit and get lost in its haunting melodies and great lyrics.
Emerson Lake & Palmer – Trilogy
Released July 1972 By Island (UK) and Atlantic (US)
Has there ever been a better 3 piece progressive rock band? With all due respect to Rick Wakeman, is there a better prog rock keyboard player out there than Keith Emerson? And what about Carl Palmer’s drumming? This band was quite simply awesome. I saw them live and they were ‘note for note’ with the recordings. One of the most commercially successful progressive rock bands ever, ELP focused on combining classical pieces with rock music.
Trilogy was and still is an incredible work of art. Greg Lake’s lyrics and singing style had a significant impact on my writing and approach to vocals.
Pink Floyd – Meddle
Released October 1971 By Harvest/EMI
From Wikipedia – With no material to work with and no clear idea of the album’s direction, the band devised a series of novel experiments which eventually inspired the album’s signature track, “Echoes”.
With a running time of 23:31 and taking up the whole second side of the album, Echoes features long instrumental passages, great sound effects, and creative improvisation. This song could literally take me on a journey every time I listened to it.
Meddle was my first introduction to David Gilmour. In my opinion, he is one of the most creative and complete guitar players and he continues to influence me to this day. Whereas Steve Howe inspired me to better my technique and dig into some theory, David Gilmour’s playing taught me the importance of the spaces between the notes.
Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
Released October 1973 By Charisma, Atlantic
As I write this piece on my top 10 influential albums, I find myself unable to briefly say just how much Genesis meant to me. Music as art! Amazing story telling. Sweeping melodies. Masterful execution. This album, and it’s predecessor ‘Foxtrot’ are perhaps the most influential albums on my musical journey through the 70s.
Every member of the band was an inspiration to me. Steve Hackett’s melodic approach turned solos into stories. Peter Gabriel’s superb vocals and story telling. Great drumming by Phil Collins. The fabulous keyboard work of Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford’s tasteful bass playing and acoustic guitar work. All of them weaving this album into a musical tapestry to delight the ears.
As far as performance goes, the best concert I have ever seen (hands down) was the ‘Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, another great album which was released in 1974.
Elton John – Elton John
Released April 1970 (UK By DJM) and July 1970 (US By Uni)
While Sir Elton John has certainly cranked out many hit albums, this one remains my favorite. Nominated for a Grammy Award in 1971, this album features great lyrics by Bernie Taupin and moving renditions of each song by Elton John. The album featured no less than 26 fine musicians each contributing their gifts to its great success.
If you have never heard this album, do so. ‘The King Must Die’ and ‘Sixty Years On’ are songs that spoke very deeply to me. This album not only impacted my musical journey, it also had an impact on my thinking processes at the time.
Gentle Giant – In A Glass House
Released September 1973 (UK only release) By Vertigo/WWA
Gentle Giant was by far the most interesting and fun band I listened to in the 70s. Amazing musicians experimenting where no one else would dare venture.
From Wikipedia – Gentle Giant’s music was considered complex even by progressive rock standards, drawing on a broad swathe of music including folk, soul, jazz, and classical music. Unlike many of their progressive rock contemporaries, their “classical” influences ranged beyond the Romantic and incorporated mediaeval, baroque, and modernist chamber music elements. The band also had a taste for broad themes for their lyrics, drawing inspiration not only from personal events but from philosophy and the works of both François Rabelais and R. D. Laing.
I am still grateful to my best friend at the time (Richard Edwardes) for getting me a copy of this record. Their label, Columbia Records rejected the album as uncommercial for the US market. The upside was that I got the imported copy which was a sonic masterpiece. In A Glass House and ‘Octopus’ before it, really opened my mind up to new musical possibilities and gave me a new appreciation for other styles of music that I had never really explored. ( Hi Kevin Feres … AKA Robert! )
Jeff Beck – Blow By Blow
Releases March 1975 By Epic
By now, you have probably noticed that I had not included any ‘rock’ or ‘blues’ bands. Well ok, I did mention Steely Dan. The truth is, until Blow By Blow, I really was not into those genres. Then along comes this album introduced to me by Mark Delahanty, a great friend I use to jam with for hours.
Jeff Beck is regarded as one of the most innovative guitar players of all time. He has received the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance … six times! Blow By Blow totally opened my mind up to rock, blues and fusion. A door that was once firmly closed, was suddenly wide open. While I did not bother trying to emulate his style (only Jeff Beck can play that way), I did learn a few of the songs because they were so much fun to jam with.
Blow By Blow is also the first totally instrumental album I ever owned. While I have not recorded them (yet), I have written 3 instrumental songs that were inspired by this album.
Larry Carlton – Larry Carlton
Released 1978 By Warner Brothers
And then, there’s Larry.
An American jazz, fusion and rock guitarist, Larry Carlton has produced many solo recordings and worked as a session player with many well-known bands, like Steely Dan for example. Over his career, he has won four Grammy Awards for his performances and compositions. While I have been influenced by many guitar players, this album raised the bar … a few notches! Not only is Larry Carlton a great player in every sense of the word, he is the definition of ‘tasty’.
Featuring some great musicians to back him up, Larry Carlton plays what I consider some of the best extended guitar solos ever recorded. I can listen to them over and over and hear new things all the time. His sense of timing, his technique and mostly, his command of dynamics make him one of my 2 favorite guitar players of all time. I’ll introduce you to the other one when I follow-up with my post 70s piece.
Larry Carlton had a huge influence on my instrumental CD, Old Dog New Tricks.
I’d love to hear from you if any of these albums spoke as much to you as they did to me. If not, which albums had the greatest impact on you?
All Images From Wikipedia Or Scanned By Gil