“Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” by the Firesign Theatre (1970)

The Firesign Theatre’s third album does feature some snatches of music, notably the faux hymn “The Rough-as-a-cob March” and the theme from “High School Madness.” But the vast majority is spoken word, and an incredibly effective approach, at that: The New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983) calls it “the greatest comedy album ever made.”

The four-member troupe – Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, David Ossman and Philip Proctor – began as live radio performers in Los Angeles and gained enough of a following to sign a contract with Columbia Records. Its first album, “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him” (1968), deviated from other comedy records of the time, which mainly documented comics’ live acts. Instead, “Electrician” presented four sketches satirizing such subjects as the Europeans’ conquest of Indians, the hippie subculture and paranoiac views of American society. A highlight is included as part of the title track, which takes up all of Side 2: “Beat the Reaper,” a mock game show in which the contestant is injected with a disease and must guess what it is in order to win the antidote.

The following year, the Firesign Theatre released “How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All,” famed for its cover that states, “All Hail Lennon and Marx,” with accompanying portraits of John and Groucho. The record is split into two sketches, one per side, with one offering a hilarious spoof of the detective story genre in “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger.”

In 1970 came “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers,” which spreads a single sketch over both sides of the record, providing the listener with approximately 43 minutes of sustained laughter. For a synopsis, here’s Mr. Austin in the liner notes for the 1987 Mobile Fidelity Sound CD release:

“Dwarf” is the story of the five ages of Man and, in particular, the five ages of George Leroy Tirebiter, a man named after a dog. (The dog, the immortal George Tirebiter, was the doughty unofficial mascot of USC athletic teams in earlier times, renowned for his devotion to attacking the spinning wheels of large American automobiles.) …

The five ages of George Leroy Tirebiter are these:

  • Tirebiter the Child, called Peorge or Peorgie
  • Tirebiter the College Student, called George Tirebiter Camden N200-R
  • Tirebiter the Soldier, called Lt. Tirebiter
  • Tirebiter the Actor, called Dave Casman
  • Tirebiter the Old Man, called George Leory Tirebiter

The fable begins with a religious service based on those basic needs, the need to eat and the need to expel waste material. A disgruntled young man, George Tirebiter Camden N200-R (Camden N200-R is a last name in this world of sectors and restrictions), is so hungry and so immobile at 4 in the morning that he must depend for sustenance on the television religion of Pastor Rod Flash and the offer of an electronic Sacrament, a steaming heap of commercially available chicken fingers, sheep dip pies and tubs of slaw to any devotee who will reach into the television set and partake of the glowing host. Tirebiter partakes and is plunged into his personal hour of reckoning.

He will see himself portrayed as Peorgie, the insipid young hero of a potboiler called “High School Madness” about communism and its assault on student life; as a vaguely political candidate who cannot confront either side in the mysterious battle between political forces; as a seasoned combat soldier who not only cannot give the order to kill but cannot even say the word; and as the actor who plays all these parts and can finally only walk out of his own business because of his inability to make up his mind about matters of conscience; and as the old director, pursued by the ghosts of the past, a past dominated by what he sees as his fatal mistake, that somehow he “sold out” the original comic genius which presumably gave him his start.

It is, finally, the selling out that is his key to this confusing world. Selling out is a theme that comes to predominate in the story. Adults sell out the kids at both Communist Martyrs Hi and Morse Science Hi. Gen. Klein sells out Lt. Tirebiter and the movie studio itself. George accuses himself of selling out, and through it all is the barrage of commercial advertisements whose simplest message is sell, sell, sell.

When Tirebiter discovers he got into this mess by selling out and that he can get out by selling out again, he does not find himself returned to his original self, but is left in the guise of the old man, pursued by the past, forever striving to become a little child again: an infantile figure forever chasing a receding ice cream wagon.

As confusing as that may seem, it’s an accurate summation from one of the creators. Take a listen, and you’ll start to understand.

And you’ll have plenty of laughs doing so.

“In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson” (1969)

In the late 1960s, Deram Records served as a designer label for British giant Decca, showcasing higher-fidelity stereo recordings. Among its early successful rock-oriented acts were the Moody Blues, who recorded their orchestral hybrid “Days of Future Passed” for Deram in 1967, and the likes of Procol Harum, the Move and Ten Years After.

One not-so-successful Deram band was Giles, Giles and Fripp, a trio from the seaside town of Bournemouth featuring brothers Michael on drums and Peter on bass, and Robert on guitar. Deram released “The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp” to sales of perhaps 500 copies, Fripp later calculated. The album serves as a charming artifact of Britain’s psychedelic era, featuring a variety of musical styles and spoken-word interludes in a manner that was meant to appeal to the relatively feel-good atmosphere of the era.

Later in 1968, the band was augmented by Ian McDonald, a keyboard and saxophone player, and briefly by Judy Dyble, who had preceded Sandy Denny as the female lead singer for Fairport Convention. Eventually, Peter Giles departed for a more financially secure career in computer programming, and he was replaced by guitarist Greg Lake, who switched to bass at Fripp’s request and took over as lead singer.

Meanwhile, McDonald recommended former bandmate Peter Sinfield as lyricist. One of his compositions was called “The Court of the Crimson King” and, with only one Giles now on board, the band was looking for a new moniker. And so King Crimson came to be.

The new quartet decided to turn up the volume while continuing to explore a variety of styles. The results wowed audiences as soon as the band debuted in April 1969, and King Crimson put itself firmly on the British musical map with a stunning performance at the free concert at Hyde Park in July 1969 headlined by the Rolling Stones, in front of perhaps half a million people. A recording contract with Island Records followed, and the band went to work on its debut album.

What resulted stands as the apex of what came to be known as progressive rock. “In the Court of the Crimson King” contains five extended pieces displaying a tremendous amount of skill and versatility on the musicians’ part, while creating well-suited soundscapes for Sinfield’s fanciful lyrics.

The first sounds of the album are of a railroad whistle, quickly followed by a primeval blast of heavy metal with the opening notes of “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Lake’s distorted vocals carry Sinfield’s uneasy visions of the present and future:

Cat’s foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door
21st-century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Polititians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
21st-century schizoid man

Death seed, blind man’s greed
Poets starving, children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
21st-century schizoid man

The musical accompaniment, composed by the core quartet, was unlike anything heard in the ’60s and still sounds advanced, combining a series of differing time signatures played at ear-splitting volume in a prime display of instrumental prowess. The middle section, titled “Mirrors,” features Michael Giles’ polyrhythmic drumming and Lake’s fluid base supporting Fripp’s sustain-laden guitar solo, followed by McDonald’s multi-tracked saxophones playing at a frenetic pace.

“21st Century Schizoid Man” quickly became a major selling point for the album, which jumped all the way to No. 5 in the U.K., and still stands as King Crimson’s most popular composition. It has been covered by such acts as Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Canada’s April Wine and Voivod, and Ozzy Osbourne for his his 2005 album “Under Cover.”

On “In the Court of the Crimson King,” the pace slows down considerably for the second track, McDonald and Sinfield’s “I Talk to the Wind.” Rather than roaring guitars and saxophone, the featured instrument is McDonald’s flute, as he takes a lengthy, melodious solo in the middle, complemented by Giles’ creative percussion.

The lyrical themes of “Schizoid Man” return in “Epitaph,” which features McDonald playing Mellotron, an early version of the synthesizer, and Fripp’s acoustic guitar. Sinfield draws on concerns that still are pertinent today:

Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

The vinyl Side Two contains two extended pieces, although Fripp has done his best to abridge the first track, “Moonchild.” Rooted firmly in period psychedelia, the song starts as a relatively soft, melodic tale seemingly straight out of Tolkien:

Call her moonchild
Dancing in the shallows of a river
Lovely moonchild
Dreaming in the shadow of the willow
Talking to the trees of the cobweb strange
Sleeping on the steps of a fountain
Waving silver wands to the night bird’s song
Waiting for the sun on the mountain

Following the opening section is a lengthy free-form jam, lacking structure but notable for Giles’ use of alternation between his ride cymbals. At one point, Fripp quotes the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

At least, that’s what listeners of the original album hear. For the 1991 CD compilation “Frame by Frame,” Fripp jettisoned the entire free-form section, more than nine minutes’ worth. And in later reissues of “The Court of the Crimson King,” he eliminated about 2:30 of the jam. Today, the entire track can be heard as a bonus track on the album’s 40th-anniversary deluxe edition.

Closing the album is its title track, more or less, with McDonald’s signature Mellotron line carrying Sinfield’s lyrics about a mythical slice of royalty. “The Court of the Crimson King” actually was released as a two-sided single in the United States and reached No. 80 on the Billboard charts! Perhaps more improbably, the song was covered by “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen for his 1970 album “Doc Severinsen’s Closet.” No word on what Johnny Carson might have thought.

The album cover for “In the Court of the Crimson King” is one of the most distinctive of the rock era, a nightmarish vision of abject terror created by a computer programmer friend of the band named Barry Godber. Sadly, he wouldn’t know of his artwork’s iconic legacy, as he died of a heart attack at age 24 shortly after the LP’s release.

To promote “In the Court of the Crimson King” in the United States, the band embarked on a well-received tour. As it wound down in December 1969, McDonald and Giles announced they were leaving the band. Also, Lake had made friends with Keith Emerson – keyboard player for the Nice, which shared the bill with King Crimson on several U.S. dates – and the pair combined with Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer to write their own chapter in progressive rock history.

Fripp was left with King Crimson’s name but no band. Nevertheless, he went ahead with a followup album, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” which bears a stunning resemblance to the debut. Chipping in were both Giles brothers, with Lake providing vocals.

By the time of the band’s third album, “Lizard,” King Crimson had a completely different lineup. As it did for its fourth effort, “Islands.” And by the time of the fifth studio album, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic,” yet another group of musicians called itself King Crimson, with Fripp as the only constant.

He dissolved the band in 1974, then resurrected it in the early ’80s, and again in the mid-’90s. King Crimson was active as a four-piece into the 21st century.

But even Robert Fripp acknowledges that his favorite incarnation was the one that closed the ’60s.

“East-West” by the Butterfield Blues Band (1966)

David Crosby’s ramblings between songs during the Byrds’ set at the Monterey Pop Festival on June 17, 1967, have become the stuff of legend.

As bandmates Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke listened very bemusedly, Crosby talked into the microphone at length about such topics as sanctioned drug use and the John F. Kennedy assassination. Probably not coincidentally, Crosby was an ex-Byrd a couple of months later.

One of his statements, though, resonated with many of those in attendance at the festival:

Man, if you didn’t hear Mike Bloomfield’s group, man, you are out of it, so far out of it.

The group in question, the Electric Flag, had performed earlier in the day, making its live debut, in fact. And much of the attention at Monterey was focused on Bloomfield, whose instrumental prowess had won him acclaim as perhaps the most highly regarded guitarist in rock music at the time.

Perhaps the performances of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend (and to some degree, Jerry Garcia) the following night opened some eyes to the next wave of guitar stars. But as of Crosby’s proclamation, Michael Bloomfield was at the top of the pyramid.

He continues to be widely respected decades after his death on Feb. 15, 1981. Rolling Stone has ranked him as high as No. 22 on its periodic, and extremely fluid, lists of all-time greatest guitarists.

But his impact in the pre-Hendrix days seems to be little remembered.

As a teenager, Bloomfield already showed enough talent – and balls! – to walk onstage and play with many of Chicago’s top blues acts. After recording some sessions for Columbia Records in 1964, he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was among the first American groups to combine the blues with the harder edge of rock. Butterfield and company, including second guitarist Elvin Bishop, quickly became a top national draw with its exhilarating live performances, and the band’s first album, “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band,” released in 1965, is considered a cornerstone of blues-rock.

Bloomfield, who’d grown up as a blues player, meanwhile was exploring other influences, including jazz and especially Eastern modal music. The latter – along with a dose of LSD, according to music critic and author Dave Marsh – inspired Bloomfield to compose what became the title track of the Butterfield Blues Band’s second album.

“East-West” is one of two instrumentals that take up roughly half the album’s playing time and went a long way toward establishing Butterfield and company as pioneers in exploring the possibilities of rock music. The rhythm section of bass player Jerome Arnold and Billy Davenport, the supporting instrumentation of keyboard player Mark Naftalin and guitarist Elvin Bishop, and Butterfield’s powerful, foghorn-like harmonica all build a solid foundation for extensive jamming. Then there’s Bloomfield’s guitar, which really carries the proceedings into previously uncharted territory.

The band’s cover of cornetist Nat Adderley’s “Work Song,” which wraps up Side One of the LP, represents an early foray into jazz-rock, for the most part following the standard hard-bop version until Bloomfield begins his solo, building the intensity as he shows off his fluid playing, transforming the easy-paced tune into a virtuoso guitar showcase.

Prior to the release of “East-West” in August 1966, few rock songs had ventured past the four-minute mark by anyone who was not Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa or the Rolling Stones. And none of their material sounded anything like “East-West,” the composition: 13 minutes of mind-melting intensity, courtesy of Mr. Bloomfield’s guitar. He set the stage for extended rock instrumentals, but few, if any, ever matched what he and the Butterfield band put on record.

“East-West” is built on a modal format, eschewing chord changes to give the soloists a platform for jamming, as grandly exhibited with Miles Davis’ landmark “Kind of Blue” and subsequent work by Davis’ tenor sax player at the time, John Coltrane. The theme is introduced by the band, with Bishop contributing a spirited guitar line to start proceedings, demonstrating him to be quite a capable instrumentalist, even as a bandmate of Bloomfield.

After about a minute and a half, Butterfield joins in on harmonica, doing a creditable job with his lung power of making his instrument the aural equivalent of an amplified electric guitar. The band chugs along behind him, bringing proceedings to a an early climax shortly before the 3-minute mark.

Then it’s Bloomfield’s turn. The title of “East-West” comes from his combining musical styles from different sides of the globe, and his “East” portion features a minor-scale counterpoint to the modal D, with Bishop eventually joining him as Butterfield and Naftalin help create a wall of sound leading up to an abrupt change in the action.

Nearing 7 minutes into the song, Bloomfield breaks into the melodic, relatively easygoing “West” section, switching to a more-recognizable major scale for his solo. Then, as David Dann writes in his essay “Beyond the Blues: A Critical Look at ‘East-West'”:

At 08:32 Bloomfield introduces the now-familiar Motive A, a four-note scaler run consisting of D-E-F-F#, and creates from it a marvelous compound phrase that twists and turns for a full 60 seconds, only resolving back to D some 40 bars later at 09:38. It’s no overstatement to assert that the coherence, clarity and Bach-like motion of this passage, “the 40-bar phrase,” establish Michael Bloomfield as one of rock’s greatest soloists. Certainly no one else before him had exhibited such musical virtuosity.

Bishop again helps provide a stunning dual-guitar attack as the song reaches its conclusion, the band breaking into a punctuated, bluesy rhythm that wraps up with an extended final note, with a quick Butterfield harp flourish serving as the final note.

Unfortunately, that also served as Bloomfield’s finale with Butterfield as far as studio recordings. He left the band the following spring to embark on the Electric Flag project, and later he worked on the well-regarded “Super Session” album.

After a so-so venture as one of Columbia Records’ featured solo artist and a brief Electric Flag reunion, Bloomfield released a number of uneven albums, the last being “Crusin’ For A Brusin’,” which came out on John Fahey’s Takoma label shortly before Bloomfield was found dead in his car in San Francisco.

Photographer-filmmaker Deborah Chesher recently compiled her work of deceased musicians into a fascinating volume called “Everybody I Shot Is Dead.” The first chapter is on Michael Bloomfield, whose death probably touched her the most among the dozens of subjects in the book. She wraps up the chapter with:

If you’ve never heard him play, find his CDs and listen. Michael Bloomfield was an exceptional musician. He was also intelligent, mischievous, curious, crazy and a whole lot of sweetness. I was lucky to know him.

The other half of the “East-West” album contains more stellar examples of the Butterfield band’s groundbreaking forays into blues-rock, including a definitive reading of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues” and a cover of Michael Nesmith’s “Mary Mary,” before he did his own version with the Monkees. Also featured is Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman,” which the band had issued as its debut single the previous year.

The songs with vocals make for good listening, certainly. But if you enjoy rock instrumentals, “East-West” is a must.

Well, it’s been over a year, with some long delays between posts. But we’re heading into the home stretch.

To repeat my disclaimer: The rankings are purely subjective, based on my respect for an album’s merits and how much I enjoy listening to it. Plus I’m striving to include a large variety of artists, meaning some would seem to get shortchanged in a way. For example, as I’ve noted, a great majority of Beatles albums deserve to be on any “top 100” list, but I wanted to acknowledge the Mans and Loves of the musical world, too!

Of the final 20 albums, many will have you nodding in agreement; others will have you scratching your heads. I will say that I pretty much formulated my opinions on these recordings decades ago, and if that makes me a “dinosaur” … hey, proud of it!

Here’s what we have so far:

100. “6 and 12 String Guitar” by Leo Kottke
99. “A Picture of Nectar” by Phish
98. “Mass in F Minor” by the Electric Prunes
97. “Back Into the Future” by Man
96. “Brave New World” by the Steve Miller Band
95. “Bridge of Sighs” by Robin Trower
94. “Dual Mono” by the Greenhornes
93. “Live” by Golden Earring
92. “New Riders of the Purple Sage” by New Riders of the Purple Sage
91. “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King
90. “Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult
89. “Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman
88. “Mothership Connection” by Parliament
87. “Smash Your Head Against the Wall” by John Entwistle
86. “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper
85. “Blues Helping” by Love Sculpture
84. “Stratosfear” by Tangerine Dream
83. “New Dark Ages” by the Radiators
82. “High Time” by the MC5
81. “Third” by Soft Machine
80. “Blues for Allah” by the Grateful Dead
79. “Nazz Nazz” by the Nazz
78. “Fun House” by the Stooges
77. “Elephant” by the White Stripes
76. “Marquee Moon” by Television
75. “After Bathing at Baxter’s” by Jefferson Airplane
74. “Forever Changes” by Love
73. “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground
72. “Fear of Music” by Talking Heads
71. “Spectrum” by Billy Cobham
70. “Garcia” by Jerry Garcia
69. “London Calling” by the Clash
68. “Procol Harum” by Procol Harum
67. “Blue Train” by John Coltrane
66. “Physical Graffiti” by Led Zeppelin
65. “Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer
64. “Made in Japan” by Deep Purple
63. “Yer’ Album” by the James Gang
62. “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Brothers
61. “The Who Sell Out” by The Who
60. “re-ac-tor” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
59. “Truth” by Jeff Beck
58. “Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
57. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd
56. “#1 Record” by Big Star
55. “Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part 1” by the Kinks
54. “Head Hunters” by Herbie Hancock
53. “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” by Spirit
52. “Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones
51. “The Inner Mounting Flame” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra
50. “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band
49. “Band of Gypsys” by Jimi Hendrix
48. “Animals” by Pink Floyd
47. “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” by the Small Faces
46. “American Beauty” by the Grateful Dead
45. “Exodus” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
44. “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos
43. “Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane
42. “The Band” by the Band
41. “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis
40. “The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators” by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators
39. “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” by John Mayall
38. “Anthem of the Sun” by the Grateful Dead
37. “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles
36. “At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band
35. “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd
34. “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane
33. “On the Beach” by Neil Young
32. “Spirit” by Spirit
31. “Led Zeppelin II” by Led Zeppelin
30. “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds
29. “Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones
28. “Bringing It All Back Home” by Bob Dylan
27. “Hot Rats” by Frank Zappa
26. “Roger the Engineer” by the Yardbirds
25. “The Basement Tapes” by Bob Dylan & The Band
24. “Revolver” by the Beatles
23. “Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
22. “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
21. “The Doors” by the Doors

“The Doors” by the Doors (1967)

In the summer of 1966, John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison entered Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood to record their first album as the Doors.

They’d been together a bit over a year by that point, but had wowed audiences in the hippest of Los Angeles nightclubs to the point where they were offered a contract by Columbia Records. That didn’t work out, but Elektra Records founder Jac Holtzman saw something he liked and signed the band. He’d also signed fellow LA band Love, which had some chart success in 1966 with its cover of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book.”

The Doors’ stated intention at one point was to be “as big as Love,” so they welcomed the opportunity to record for the same label. The equipment at Sunset sound was standard for the time but seems thoroughly archaic today: a four-track tape machine, onto which went the rhythm section on one track, guitar and keyboards on a second, and Morrison’s voice on a third. The fourth was to be used for overdubs. And that was that.

The sessions lasted only a week, wrapping up on Aug. 31, two days after the Beatles played their final public concert up the Pacific in San Francisco. The Doors then went back to concentrating on live performances, waiting for the album’s release.

That came on Jan. 4, one of the first albums to hit the shelves in 1967, which turned out to be a watershed year in music history, with much of the material that constitutes the backbone of Classic Rock arriving to enthusiastic audiences.

“The Doors” certainly helped set the stage. With “Light My Fire” topping the singles charts and the LP reaching No. 2, Morrison and company went from being local Los Angeles heroes to among the best-known bands in the United States and beyond, a status that, of course, continues to this day.

Although some of the album’s tracks are heavily rooted in the blues, stylistically “The Doors” bears little resemblance to most of the rock music being released at the time. The featured instrument, for example, was Manzarek’s Vox Continental keyboard, which he often played in a lively manner that evoked carnival music. His intro to “Light My Fire” is a prime example and helped define the band’s sound as it became a radio staple during the summer of ’67. Because the band lacked a bass player, Manzarek took care of the low notes, too, gaining him much acclaim among fans for his versatility and virtuosity.

Actually, the first single to be released from “The Doors” was the opening track, “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” which peaked at No. 126. It also was subject to the first instance of censorship involving the doors: Morrison’s original line “she get high” was altered to exclude the last word.

The song, itself, is prescient in the impact that the Doors and other bands that were gaining popularity at the time would have on the progression of rock music. Suddenly it was gaining a more “modern” sound that, looking past the recording limitations of the time, still sound contemporary today. The lyrics exemplify the sense of mysticism that would become one of Morrison’s trademarks:

You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

“Soul Kitchen” was a tribute to a Venice Beach restaurant where Morrison used to hang out to the point of being told, perhaps not so politely, to leave. The Doors often closed their concerts with the tune, its lyrics serving as a poignant way to say goodbye: “Well the clock says it’s time to close, now/I know I have to go, now/I really want to stay here
all night, all night, all night.”

The lighter side of the Doors comes shimmering through on “The Crystal Ship,” which plenty of fans got to know as the B-side to “Light My Fire.” Manzarek’s delicately played piano carries Morrison’s ethereal vocal as he sings what appears to be a love song, albeit kind of a twisted one, as the opening lyric might suggest: “Before you slip into unconsciousness.”

“Twentieth Century Fox” is a fun song, helping to propagate musically a popular term for a good-looking woman, along with Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” of the same year. Morrison suggests an easy-to-behold visual of the tune’s subject as he weighs her pros and cons:

Well, she’s fashionably lean
And she’s fashionably late
She’ll never wreck a scene
She’ll never break a date
But she’s no drag
Just watch the way she walks

She’s a Twentieth Century Fox
She’s a Twentieth Century Fox
No tears, no fears
No ruined years, no clocks
She’s a Twentieth Century Fox

For the album’s first cover version, the band performs a spirited, somewhat campy rendition of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar),” was originally was published in Bertolt Brecht’s “Hauspostille” in 1927 and set to music the same year by Kurt Weill in Weimar Germany. A musical cross between a foxtrot and blues, the song appears in the opera “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” as a discourse between prostitues.

The song that opened the door for the Doors began life as a relatively straightforward composition by Krieger. The distinctive intro was added by Manzarek, and his keyboard solo and Krieger’s guitar solo helped stretch the finished version of “Light My Fire” to nearly seven minutes. The edition that appeared on 45 was around three minutes, keeping all of Morrison’s vocals intact. The song continued to be a staple of the Doors’ live sets through the end of 1970, often clocking in at upwards of 20 minutes.

If “Light My Fire” presents Morrison’s voice at its most radio-friendly, Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man” amply demonstrates his lascivious side, his whoops and yells leading in to his boasts about visiting married women: “Hey, all you people that tryin’ to sleep/I’m out to make it with my midnight creep.” Of course, the sexual innuendo has been misinterpreted over the years; then again, with everything we’ve come to know about Jim Morrison, who’s to say what he was thinking?

“The Doors” starts to wind down with three decent enough tracks: “I Looked at You,” the ethereal “End of the Night” and the hard-rocking “Take It as It Comes,” featuring a particularly dextrous Manzarek solo and Morrison’s exhortation to “specialize in having fun.” The song concludes abruptly with him shouting, “moving much too fast,” which serves as an appropriate counterpoint to what follows.

Radio listeners who bought “The Doors” expecting a bunch of “Light My Fire”-like ditties must have been taken aback by the album’s final track.

A strain of loose instrumentation opens “The End” on a suitably eerie tone, as do Krieger’s spare, minor-key guitar lines. Morrison sings what he originally intended as a song about his breakup with onetime girlfriend Mary Werbelow:

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free?
Desperately in need of some stranger’s hand
In a desperate land

Simple and eloquent, the opening verses soon give way to the musings of Jim Morrison, Poet, who takes the listener on a mystic journey that culminates in a stunningly graphic Oedipal scenario, even though the version on record is whitewashed, with Morrison screaming instead of uttering the two key words that follow “Mother I want to …” He wasn’t shy about completing the thought in performance, though, getting the Doors banned from the Sunset Strip’s Whisky a Go Go after owner Elmer Valentine (1923-2008) took offense.

The Doors released five more studio albums before Morrison’s death on July 3, 1971. But although they all have their moments, particularly the finale “L.A. Woman,” the band never could match the creativity and impact of its debut.

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd (1975)

That Pink Floyd was able to soldier on after Syd Barrett’s breakdown and subsequent departure surprised many people who had followed the band in its formative years, including its management agency, which cast its lot with Barrett in 1968.

Five years later, Pink Floyd released “The Dark Side of the Moon,” which managed to stay on the charts for the remainder of the LP era.

Barrett, though, continued to influence the band during the interim, with many of its lyrical themes drawing on those established by Syd’s tenuous grasp on reality. Roger Waters’ lyrics for “The Dark Side of the Moon,” in fact, represent a song cycle about the various facets of life that can prompt the onset of insanity: “Time,” “Money,” “Us and Them” and the like. Not to mention the rampant paranoia roiling through the VCS3 synthesizers and sound effects of “On the Run.”

On the heels of the album’s success, Pink Floyd signed a mammoth contract with Columbia Records and, as such, the pressure was on to keep momentum going with the followup. Having scrapped a project called “Household Objects” – literally, songs played on stuff like hand mixers, wine glasses and rubber bands stretched between two tables – the band embarked on a series of compositions based on the brief show-business career of one Roger “Syd” Barrett.

When it emerged in September 1975, “Wish You Were Here” probably exceeded the expectations of many fans and most critics, arriving as a more cohesive, melodic work than its landmark predecessor. While the allusions to Barrett are thinly veiled, the songs stand on their own as musical statements without the necessary back story; indeed, listeners completely unaware of Syd’s travails are able to enjoy the album just the same.

At the heart of “Wish You Were Here” and taking up a majority of the album’s playing time is “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” the nine-part suite that both opens and closes proceedings. The opening is based on a sustained G minor synthesizer chord with a series of subtle embellishments, including a bit of wine-glass sound from “Household Objects.” Eventually, David Gilmour comes in with his signature Bb-F-G-E progression, then the rest of the band joins in, Gilmour playing an understated but tremendously effective lead until Waters delivers his lead vocal:

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky
Shine on you crazy diamond
You were caught on the cross fire of childhood and stardom,
Blown on the steel breeze
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger,
You legend, you martyr, and shine!

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon
Shine on you crazy diamond
Treatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision,
Rode on the steel breeze
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter,
You piper, you prisoner, and shine!

Although the band hadn’t begun the song with Barrett in mind, the lyrics read like a biography: his descent from one of England’s brightest young musical stars to a drug-addled mess, complete with references to his best work (Pink Floyd’s debut album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” and his own solo debut, “The Madcap Laughs”).

“Shine On” extends through further musical themes, employing saxophonist Dick Parry to great effect, before segueing into the sounds of mechanical equipment that introduce the second track, “Welcome to the Machine.” Waters’ lyrics combine Barrett’s predicament with disdain for the purely economic motifs of the music industry:

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been
You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and scouting for boys
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you know you’re nobody’s fool,
So welcome to the machine

If “Welcome to the Machine” seems to bite the hand that fed Pink Floyd, the next track’s theme is so vitriolic that an outsider ended up singing the version that appeared on the album.

The final track of “Led Zeppelin III” is a bizarre stab at the blues titled “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.” Few of the fans who propelled the album to the top of the charts in 1970 probably understood the reference, as musician Roy Harper hardly was a household name at the time. Yet his freeform style of performing had won a couple of fans in Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who decided to immortalize him.

Harper had made the acquaintance of the members of Pink Floyd through their mutual management and record label. The band and the singer happened to be at Abbey Road at the same time in 1975, recording their respective latest albums.

In his book “Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey,” the late Nicholas Schaffner wrote that “when it came time to record ‘Have a Cigar,’ Roger’s admittedly limited voice was in shreds from his struggles with the ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ lead vocal.” After Gilmour declined, the band drafted Harper, “whose hippie credentials (and subterranean sales figures) had never been overly compromised by the rock machine.”

“Have a Cigar,” one of the harder-rocking songs in the Pink Floyd catalogue, savages the music-business type who cares only about making money off the artists, and by extension, what young Syd Barrett faced:

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar, you’re gonna go far
You’re gonna fly high, you’re never gonna die, you’re gonna make it if you try, they’re gonna love you
Well I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think
Oh by the way, which one’s Pink?
And did we tell you the name of the game, boy
we call it riding the gravy train

The “which one’s Pink?” line is derived from an actual question asked of the band, and, of course, gained further notoriety when “Pink” appeared as the central character Waters’ “The Wall.”

The segue between “Have a Cigar” and the album’s title track confused many listeners who first heard it on the radio, myself included. The production, indeed, consigns the end of the former song to a tinny, mono sound before an unseen hand turns a transistor dial to a couple of stations, a short burst of classical music pouring forth before it settles on a guitar riff.

Shortly after, the sonic clarity is fully restored for the memorable chord structure and acoustic lead of “Wish You Were Here,” the subject of which turns sharply from criticism of the music industry to a heartfelt plea. The song is a Waters poem set to music by Gilmour, and it works as either a love song or a message to Barrett:

So, so you think you can tell, Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found? The same old fears
Wish you were here

The song’s fadeout is overtaken by the resumption of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” with Richard Wright’s synthesizer flourishes dominating a darkly toned section before Water delivers the final verse:

Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far
Shine on you crazy diamond
Pile on many more layers, and I’ll be joining you there
Shine on you crazy diamond
And we’ll bask in the shadow of yesterday’s triumph,
And sail on the steel breeze
Come on you boy child, you winner and loser
Come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!

One line of that wasn’t quite true. The band members knew exactly where Barrett was, if for just a short period. On June 5, 1975, Gilmour and his girlfriend, Philadelphia-born Virginia “Ginger” Hasenbein, were planning to get married the day before the band left for an American tour, and the band was working on wrapping up “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” As Schaffner wrote:

With the voices of Roger and Dave summoning the spirit of Syd Barrett from the studio monitors, who should lurch in but an obese man with shaven head and eyebrows, wearing a white trench coat and white shoes and clutching a white plastic bag. Gilmour was the first to notice him sniffing around the Floyd’s equipment; but, preoccupied with other matters, he figured that the odd-looking character was some EMI (recording studio) minion.

“He came into the studio,” recalls Rick Wright, “and no one recognized this person. I remember going in, and Roger was already in the studio working. I came in and sat next to Roger. After 10 minutes, Roger said to me, ‘Do you know who that guy is?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. I assumed it was a friend of yours.’ He said, ‘Think. THINK.’ And I kept looking at him. And suddenly I realized it was Syd!” Roger Waters, by his own account, was “in fucking tears” upon divining the identity of “this great, fat, bald, mad person.”

As his ex-colleagues applied themselves to the onerous task of of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” replaying it over and over, Syd fell silent, giving no sign of understanding he was the hero of this stirring tribute. Finally, when they asked for the track to be played yet another time, he interrupted: “Why bother? You’ve heard it once already.”

Barrett subsequently joined the others at the EMI canteen for the Gilmours’ wedding reception. After unnerving unsuspecting guests – some of which took him for a Hare Krishna fanatic – with his maniacal laughter and penetrating stares, Syd vanished into the night without saying goodbye.

The following day, the Floyd left for America without him. None of them has ever seen him since.

That held true up to Roger Keith Barrett’s death on July 7, 2006.

“Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)

In the summer of 1966, Jimi Hendrix was going by the stage name of Jimmy James and playing in New York City bars with a band called the Blue Flame.

Less than a year later, his Jimi Hendrix Experience had three hit singles to its credit in his new base of the United Kingdom, and the band was about to release its first album to an eagerly anticipating audience.

“Are You Experienced?” hit the British shelves on May 12, 1967, a few weeks before the Beatles’ latest long-player, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Both represented how far rock music had come in the dozen or so years it had been in existence, and particularly in the short time even since the Blue Flame days.

It took another three months, though, for “Are You Experienced?” to be released in Hendrix’s native United States. The Experience had made its American live debut with its stunning appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, a set that filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker caught for posterity. The Monkees subsequently invited the Experience to open for their summer concerts, but that experiment didn’t last too long.

So Hendrix still was relatively unknown in the United States when “Are You Experienced?” came out, but that didn’t stop it from selling strongly, reaching No. 5 and establishing Jimi as … well, Jimi Hendrix.

The U.K. and U.S. releases of “Are You Experienced?” are substantially different. The British version does not include any of the hit singles – “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” – which, of course, represented some of the strongest tracks on the American issue. On the other hand, “Can You See Me,” “Remember” and “Red House” were removed from the U.S. version, the latter against Hendrix’s wishes.

In 1993, MCA rectified the situation on compact disc, including all the songs from both releases, plus the B-sides of the British singles: “Stone Free,” “51st Anniversary” and “Highway Chile.”

For the sake of this discussion, let’s go with the American version. It’s difficult to think about “Are You Experienced?” without hearing the opening notes of “Purple Haze” blasting out from the grooves of the first song on Side One!

Few, if any, chord progressions and guitar leads are more recognizable than the start of “Purple Haze,” and calling the song a musical landmark almost seems like an understatement. At once we have the full bloom of psychedelia and nascent hard rock – it even might represent the birth of what became heavy metal – into a sound that still seems to be on the cutting edge 46 years later, and perhaps always will.

The lyrics have been a source of discussion for four and a half decades, especially the line “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky,” which often are misinterpreted, usually for comedic purposes. Jimi claimed the finished product was boiled down from a much longer science-fiction epic. He also disavowed the seemingly obvious drug references.

“I dream a lot and I put a lot of my dreams down as songs,” Hendrix said in a 1969 interview with the New Musical Express. “I wrote one called ‘First Around the Corner’ and another called ‘The Purple Haze’, which was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”

Whatever it is, that song serves as a defining moment in the history of popular music. It scored the Experience another bit hit in Britain, hitting No. 3, and also was the band’s first charting single in the United States, peaking at No. 65.

The theme of “Manic Depression,” the second track on the American version of “Are You Experienced?”, is summarized on Hendrix’s introduction to the song during a performance at San Francisco’s Winterland in October 1968: “a story about a cat wishing he could make love to music, instead of the same old everyday woman.” The composition is in a 3/4 time signature, somewhat unusual for rock music at the time.

One of the most-covered rock songs of the ’60s remains “Hey Joe,” which was written by – or at least, it was copyrighted by – a South Carolina-born musician named William Moses Roberts Jr. In 1965, the Los Angeles band the Leaves had a regional hit with the song, and they re-recorded it the following year, putting it on the national charts. Other artists to cut versions around the same time include the Standells, the Surfaris, Love, the Music Machine and the Byrds.

Hendrix’s version represents his first recording as a bandleader, at the urging of manager Chas Chandler, who actually had been looking for an artist to record the song. Folk singer Tim Rose had performed “Hey Joe” at a slowed-down tempo, and Hendrix’s arrangement appears to have been based on that. Adding backing vocals are a vocal trio called the Breakaways, three ladies named Jean Hawker, Margot Newman and Vicki Brown (in case it ever comes up in a trivia contest).

“Hey Joe” was released in the U.K. on Dec. 16, 1966, quickly vaulting up to No. 6 on the charts and establishing the Jimi Hendrix Experience as one of the hottest acts in a nation that had an unparalleled abundance of quality rock groups at the time. The band’s live debut of the song was at Monterey, and Jimi closed his set – and the entire Woodstock Music and Arts Festival – with “Hey Joe” on the morning of Aug. 18, 1969.

“Love or Confusion” is one of the more sonically affected songs on “Are You Experienced?”, its musical overtones enhancing the uncertainty expressed in Hendrix’s heartfelt lyrics:

My head is poundin’, poundin’
Goin’ ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round
Must there always be these colours?
Without names, without sounds
My heart burns with feeling, but,
My mind, it’s cold and reeling
Is this love baby,
Or is it just confusion?
You tell me baby, is this
Love or confusion?

“May This Be Love” is a true gem of psychedelia, as Hendrix takes the listener on a journey to a world where all is well, all is ideal: “Some people say day-dreaming’s for the lazy minded fools with nothing else to do/So let them laugh, so just as long as I have you to see me through.”

Featuring one of Hendrix’s many eminently memorable guitar riffs, “I Don’t Live Today” examines the mundane side of life, perhaps with Jimi ruminating about his days as a struggling musician and the tremendous disappointment therein. The key line: “It’s such a shame to waste your time away like this, existing.” The song evolves into a jam featuring a prototypical example of Hendrix’s guitar awash in studio effects, panning back and forth between channels and giving listeners at the time a taste of something they’d never heard before, from anyone.

In the U.K., Track Records issued “The Wind Cries Mary” as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s third single, and it became another No. 6 hit. The languidly paced love song is one of Hendrix’s enduring classics, and deservedly so. The Curtis Mayfield-derived riff evokes the melancholy of the subject, a lament for lost love put forth in an eloquent manner that establishes Jimi’s genius as a lyricist:

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary

The Experience often opened its shows with “Fire,” a tremendous showcase for Hendrix’s riffing that, as with many of his earliest songs, still sounds fresh and invigorating today. According to an article in Record Collector, the song’s genesis is from when Jimi asked bass player Noel Redding’s mother if he could stand next to her fireplace to warm himself. She agreed, but her great dane was in the way: “Aw, move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over.”

In an album full of tracks that built the foundation of Classic Rock, “Third Stone from the Sun” stands out for its influence what would become jazz-rock fusion. The signature melody has been dropped into many a guitar solo over the years, with the teenage Ted Nugent quoting it during his flashy run on the Amboy Dukes’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” later in 1967, and the Allman Brothers often including it in “Mountain Jam.”

Thematically, the song draws from jazz great Sun Ra’s vision of worlds beyond ours, with Hendrix employing dialogue at varying speeds to portray an extraterrestrial being’s description of the earth to his control center (pre-Major Tom). In 2000, Experience Hendrix released “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” boxed set, which includes the uncut dialogue between Jimi and producer Chas Chandler. Much of it goes somewhat like this:

Starfleet to scoutship, please give your position, over.
I’m in orbit around the third planet from the star called the sun. Over.
You mean it’s the earth? Over.
Positive. It is known to have some form of intelligent species. Over. I think we should take a look.
Strange beautiful grass of green, with your majestic silver seas, your mysterious mountains.
I wish to see closer. May I land my kinky machine?
Although your world wonders me, with your majestic and superior cackling hen, your people I do not understand.
So to you I shall put an end. And you’ll never hear surf music again.

The “surf music” line has been a source of conjecture for decades. Guitarist Dick Dale wrote in his autobiography that the comment was Hendrix’s reaction upon hearing that Dale was battling a possibly terminal case of colon cancer. Dale recovered, and he later covered “Third Stone.” And Frank Zappa often quoted the line in concert to introduce the suf music-inspired “Theme from Lumpy Gravy.”

The British “Are You Experienced?” opened with the faded-in burst of guitar feedback that erupts into “Foxy Lady,” another song that certainly has stood the test of time with its distinctive octave-leap riff and sexually charged lyrics. The liner notes of the 1992 CD reissue quote Jimi as saying he was relatively shy and never would approach women in the way the song suggests. Nonetheless, from every available report, Mr. Hendrix did quite well with the ladies, indeed.

Both versions of “Are You Experienced?” close with the title track, a monumental piece of audio experimentation that serves as a grand summation of everything Hendrix brought to the table on his debut album. Much of the instrumentation is recorded backwards, extending the possibilities of what the Beatles had introduced in such psychedelic staples as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Rain.” Jimi’s lyrics explore a theme he’d revisit often, of entering a brave, new world, so to speak:

I know, I know you probably scream and cry
That your little world won’t let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you trying to prove that
You’re made out of gold and, eh, can’t be sold

So, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

So has anyone who appreciates the “Are You Experienced?” album for what it is: a true cornerstone of Classic Rock, this by a man who had been playing to audiences of a perhaps a dozen just nine months before its release.