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Please begin with an informative title:

The golden age of vinyl LPs has passed, and the silver age of CDs may well be passing. Yet there is a real and unique beauty in the LP: it looks better and often sounds better than any other music format. It feels more like a work of art and less like a generic product. In the late '60s and the '70s bands tried to live up to these possibilities, printing liner notes and lyrics, using gate-fold sleeves, and sometimes turning the fold-out album into a book, with pages of photos inside.

Nowadays most bands who record a CD feel a need to put more than an hour of music on it, even if the last 20 minutes suck. But 40 years ago, if you released a double album it was a manifesto, a kind of boast: "We had too many good songs, and one disc just wasn't big enough." Sometimes the boast was hollow, and many second-rate double albums could have been edited into superior single albums. But if you look back at the moments in their careers when bands released double albums, they usually came after a couple of groundbreaking LPs, at a time of confidence and experiment. Bands often saw this larger canvas as a challenge to prove their chops and diversity, to show all that they could accomplish. Some double albums push the envelope for miles, until it’s a hot-air balloon soaring above whole new musical landscapes.

Intro

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Right about now, if you have ADHD, or too little blood in your caffeine-stream, you'll be wanting to soar too, over the meadow of this diary, via a quick loop-de-loop of thinking, down to the poll below. For such bumblebees among you, a few lines below here is my list of 30 good double LPs. Here's a more comprehensive list, including some of doubtful virtue. Feel free to skip the rest of this (admittedly brilliant) diary, pick your favorite double LP in the poll below, and enjoy the rest of your buzzing Sunday.

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30 GOOD Double LPs:

At Fillmore East (Allman Brothers Band; July '71; 76:26)

The White Album (The Beatles; Nov. '68; 93:35)

Aerial (Kate Bush; Nov. '05; 80:04)

Tago Mago (Can; 1971; 73:15)

Trout Mask Replica (Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band; June ’69; 77:38)

London Calling (The Clash; Dec. '79; 65:13)

Wheels of Fire (Cream; July '68; 80:32)

Bitches Brew (Miles Davis; April ’70; 93:53)

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Derek and the Dominos; Nov. '70; 76:43)

Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan; May '66; 71:23)

The Basement Tapes (Dylan & the Band; June ’75; 76:41)

Tusk (Fleetwood Mac; Oct. ’79; 68:57)  

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Genesis; Nov. ’74; 95:17)

Electric Ladyland (Jimi Hendrix Experience; Sept. '68; 75:47)

Zen Arcade (Hüsker Dü; July ’84; 70:23)

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John; Oct. '73; 76:12)

Physical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin; Feb. '75; 82:15)

Double Nickels on the Dime (Minutemen; April ’84; 73:35)

The Wall (Pink Floyd; Nov. '79; 81:09)

Sign o’ the Times (Prince; March ’87; 80:06)

Metal Box (Public Image Ltd.; Nov. ’79; 60:29)

Exile on Main St. (Rolling Stones; May '72; 67:17)

Something/Anything? (Todd Rundgren; Feb. ’72; 86:15)

Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth; Oct. ’88; 70:47)

The River (Bruce Springsteen; Oct. ’80; 82:58)

Tommy (The Who; May '69; 74:00)

Quadrophenia (The Who; Oct. ’73; 81:33)

Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder; Sept. ’76; 105:04)

Tales from Topographic Oceans (Yes; Dec. '73; 81:15)

Freak Out! (Frank Zappa & the Mothers; June ’66; 60:55)

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TYPES of Double LPs

For those of us who can't see extreme shades of purple, here's more. Each of the double LPs I just mentioned rides an ambitious steed, but their ambitions are hunting in assorted directions. Allow me to assort them before you.

Some of them quest for diversity, proving their authors can write and play in a plethora of styles (e.g. The White Album; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; London Calling).

Others aim for unity, tying the songs together into a coherent story, usually including musical leitmotifs (e.g. Tommy; The Wall; The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - but in this one the story, though twice explained, remains incoherent).

Some bands or singers explore. They leave the beaten path for a congenial backwater that suits their mood - perhaps a French Chateau, a submarine dream-scape, or a second-hand Arcade - where they can stew in a style of their own (e.g. Exile on Main St.; Tales From Topographic Oceans; Double Nickels on the Dime).

Finally there are double LPs which launch themselves at the stratosphere, and invent brand new genres of rock (e.g. Trout Mask Replica; Bitches Brew; Metal Box).

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HISTORY of Double LPs

Where did the Double LP come from? A record pressing plant, duh. Okay, but historically speaking?

In the early '60s, LPs were often nothing but a hit single or two surrounded by filler. Dylan and the Beatles began by composing their own songs, and then progressed to creating whole LPs that held their own, with consistent song quality and sound development. Then everyone and their mother started playing catch up, trying to become the newest king/queen of Rock Mountain. I'll see your palette of Pet Sounds, and raise you cute cardboard cut-outs, visionary psychedelic experiments, and lyrics so good we had to print them on the back, says Sgt. Pepper's.

In July of 1965, Dylan (who was on a winning streak of sonic/stylistic envelope-pushing) burst the tape on single length with his marathon "Like a Rolling Stone". Just the year before, when Phil Spector had released "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", he'd listed its 3:50 running time as 3:05, because he feared otherwise DJs would fade it out before the end. The next summer, Dylan's audacious single was 6:09.

In May of '66, Dylan released the first double LP in rock. The next four were by (in order of release date) Zappa, Cream, Hendrix and the Beatles. The first double LP ever released was recorded in Jan. '38. The tapes vanished into a closet, and were serendipitously rediscovered twelve years later. Live at Carnegie Hall, which had 99:36 minutes of ambition, was released by Benny Goodman in 1950. Bob probably didn't listen to much Benny in the '60s, but he may have been inspired to complete a double LP by Johhny Cash, who'd released one in Sept. 1965.

1965 was about the year that Rock was born. Before that there were many neighboring roots: rockabilly, rock'n'roll, rhythm'n'blues, blues, jazz, gospel, soul, doo-wop, pop, folk, country and classical. After 1965, all of these things started to happen on the same LPs, and they named the mongrel pup Rock. During Rock's first decade, the rewards (commercial, critical, recreational) for achievement suddenly grew huge; furthermore, Rock had just erupted from deep creative magma, and the rules and crusts had not set into stone yet. This fresh Olympus attracted hordes of rebel artists with out-sized talents, hungers, and personalities.

The volcanic first decade of Rock (1965-74) produced 17 of the 30 double LPs listed above. 29 of them were made before the '90s. Which was the decade when the CD became the basic unit of music product, and where we saw the Double CD becoming the usual statement of creative ambition (e.g Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995), which was a double CD but, at 121:50, took up 3 vinyl LPs).

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GOOD vs. GREAT Double LPs

Personally, I am an omnivore of Rock. I hear greatness in almost every CD on the list above. However, I want to split these 30 down the middle, so that we can consider half of them this week, and the other half next week. If you will allow me to make like Humpty Dumpty, let's assume that all 30 of these Double LPs are Good, but only 15 are Great. Assume further that I decide which are which. I have done a bit of dusty research up that canyon (though, if you detour up that link, skip the first two redundant paragraphs).

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I listed 30 Double LPs. But, this week, we'll only discuss Double LPs 16-30; the ones I'm calling Good. Next week we'll consider my top 15 Double LPs, which I'm calling Great.

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This Week's 15 GOOD Double LPs

I will soon be asking you to pick a Double LP from among 15 listed in a poll. If you've only heard a couple of them before, you may choose to read these blurbs I've compiled, and sample a song from each Double LP, before picking your favorite.

First, though, a quick word about Double Live LPs. In the '70s, every band that ran out of cash and ideas at the same time turned to the classic career water-tread, the Double Live LP. Not that there weren't also good live double LPs; some even stand up as the greatest vinyl testament of a particular band's sound. But we will not be discussing double live LPs in this diary. We're looking instead for that mammoth ambition, which drives a singer or a band to pull out all their skills, and every stop in the studio, in order to invent/discover an original musical landscape.

We'll simplify our quest by skipping all double live LPs. Besides, if we're being frank, we all know in our hearts that a poll including double live LPs would be pointless, as more than half the votes would instantly go to Frampton Comes Alive! Also barred, for being a compilation, is Saturday Night Fever. It goes without saying that Triple LPs don't count as Double LPs. Finally, there are many double LPs which are good, but not quite Good enough to make this top 30, such as Chicago. In short, our one strict rule is No Double Live LPs or Compilations.

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At Fillmore East (Allman Brothers Band; July '71; 76:26)

Stepping right along, here's the exception to prove that rule. Producer Tom Dowd did a lot of post facto studio work on these concerts, sometimes condensing several performances into one track.

'Unbeatable testimony to the Allman Brothers' improvisational skills, it is also evidence of how they connected with the crowds at New York's Fillmore East, and how the reciprocal energy gave birth to rock's greatest live double LP...The guitar team of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts was at its hair-raising peak, fusing blues and jazz with emphatic force in "Whipping Post" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed"'. RS500 20 months and two unlucky accidents later, Duane and his bassist (Berry Oakley) lay dead.
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Aerial (Kate Bush; Nov. '05; 80:04)

'A finely constructed set of songs that engage without regard for anything else happening in the world of pop music.' AMG    'There's a hypnotic undertow running throughout the album, from the gentle reggae lilt of the single "King of the Mountain" and the organ pulses of "Pi" to the minimalist waves of piano and synth in "Prologue". Though oddly, for all its consistency of mood and tone, Aerial  is possibly Bush's most musically diverse album, with individual tracks involving, alongside the usual rock-band line-up, such curiosities as bowed viol and spinet, jazz bass, castanets, rhythmic cooing pigeons, and her bizarre attempt to achieve communion with the natural world by aping the dawn chorus.' Indpt.
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Tago Mago (Can; 1971; 73:15)

'Named after a sorcerer, Tago Mago contains Can's most disorienting, shamanistic work. Torn between two impulses - James Brownian motion and post-Floyd chromatic flux - the double album spans the polyrhythmic roil of "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah", "Aumgn"'s dub-reverberant catacombs, and the fractal sound-daubings and scat-gibberish of "Peking O" - a meisterwerk.' Spin   'Seven long, trippy pieces that were years ahead of their time. The vicious, stealthy crack of "Mushroom" became a standard at post-punk-era clubs; "Aumgn", an echo-crazed bad-trip showcase...sounded right at home in ambient chill-out rooms two decades later". RS4
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Trout Mask Replica (Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band; June ’69; 77:38)

Captain Beefheart spent eight months teaching the band how to play these weird and complex songs.      'An avant-gardist determined to annihilate all rhythmic and harmonic conventions, Captain Beefheart (born Don Van Vliet) achieved the apex of his bent ambitions on Trout Mask Replica, his fourth record. Produced by Frank Zappa, the album stands as a prodigious anthology of fractured song structures, demented blues fragments, cracked funk, squawking free jazz, Ginsberg-meets-Beckett poetry and surreal conversational bits worthy of Gertrude Stein. The likes of Devo, Public Image Ltd. and Jon Spencer have taken heart from these mad experiments.’ RS200   Here's a spell to shred some "Moonlight on Vermont".
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The Basement Tapes (Dylan & the Band; June ’75; 76:41)

These songs were recorded in 1967, but not released for eight years - excepting those which appeared on the first rock bootleg, and a double LP, Great White Wonder.      ‘The Basement Tapes was a rare, albeit low-fi, opportunity to hear some of Dylan’s best songs practically at the moment of their birth, midwifed by The Band – his most empathetic backing band ever – with a low-key but rock-hard assurance rooted in The Band's own intuitive assimilation of folk, country, blues and Sun Studio-boogie influences. This was...home music, barroom music played for pleasure and for the hell of it by and for musicians with a shared experience outsiders may not fully understand.’ RS100    Here are Bob and his buddies, "Goin' to Acapulco".
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Tusk (Fleetwood Mac; Oct. ’79; 68:57)

So precious, even its inner sleeves had inner sleeves. In its day Tusk was the most expensive album ever made. Maybe it was worth it - 4 out of 5 band members named this as their favorite Fleetwood Mac album.    ‘Tusk  reveals Buckingham’s secret fixation: to become Brian Wilson with a touch of Brian Eno thrown in. "Sara" maintains the band’s pop profile, but the bulk of Tusk sounds cold and fussy next to the emotional heat of Rumours.’ RS4    ‘In some ways even more impressive than Rumours, this is an ambitious effort full of unusual arrangements and striking instrumental passages, plus a wealth of topflight songwriting.’ AMG3
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Zen Arcade (Hüsker Dü; July ’84; 70:23)

‘With this landmark 1984 album, the Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü picked hardcore punk up out of its monotonous rut and drop-kicked it into the future. Structurally, Zen Arcade is defiantly anti-punk – a double album with an operatic narrative and unorthodox segments of acoustic folk, backward tape effects and psychedelicized guitar.’ RS80s   ‘Between the coldly acoustic "Never Talking to You Again", merciless "I’ll Never Forget You", flat-tire boogie "What’s Going On", piano moistened "Pink Turns to Blue", therapeutic "Whatever", and Clash-like "Turn on the news", Zen Arcade bulges with unleashed possibility.’ Spin   This and the next double LP get two links each, as their songs are all so short.
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Double Nickels on the Dime (Minutemen; April ’84; 73:35)

This was going to be a single LP - until the Minutemen heard that their label-mates, Hüsker Dü, were working on a double LP. They released their own double LP three months sooner, and wrote "Take that Hüskers!" in the liner notes.    ‘An astonishing record, Double Nickels remains the Minutemen’s finest moment. It was on this record that the music, political activism, and band chemistry coalesced into a forceful document of rage during the height of the Reagan administration’s marketable "me-first" jingoism. Boon’s guitar splutters, clanks, and cajoles, while Watt and Hurley explode in rhythmic splendor.’ AMG3   ‘The sardonic Californians serve up 43 diverse haiku of febrile ingenuity that sound like bare-bones rock essayed by funky free jazzers and read like entries in a political poet’s journal.’ RS200   First the Minutemen teach UCLA "The Glory of Man", then they learn for themselves that "This Ain't No Picnic".
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Sign o’ the Times (Prince; March ’87; 80:06)

‘Prince’s ninth and mightiest release is the last classic R&B album prior to hip-hop’s takeover of black music and the final four-sided blockbuster of the vinyl era. It’s also a one-stop superstore for the last two decades of pop: "The Cross" is as raw as the Pixies; no love rocker ever wrote anything more twee than "Starfish and Coffee"; and the spare weird grooves of "Ballad of Dorothy Parker" and "If I was Your Girlfriend" anticipate Tricky, DJ Shadow, and the artier end of house and techno.’ Spin100    'The electroblues title hit..."U Got the Look" is what funk metal might have sounded like if it weren't for slap-bass..."Housequake" is the quirkiest and funniest James Brown homage ever.' RS4
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Metal Box (Public Image Ltd.; Nov. ’79; 60:29)

‘Heralded by a remarkable single, "Death Disco," and originally released in a metal film canister, this remains an unearthly collection of songs. Lydon’s vocal was no longer the cocky punk sneer but a tormented moan amid a distressed landscape of bass detonations, bursts of manic keyboard and, most compellingly, clusters of fractured guitar...A sense of unlocatable disquiet permeated the whole album. On "Careering", a dub bassline struggled for life under an almost unbearable pile-up of electronic screams. "Radio 4" was like muzak from beyond the grave...this was a model for subsequent deconstructions of rock.’ RGR
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Something/Anything? (Todd Rundgren; Feb. ’72; 86:15)

‘Rundgren’s masterpiece, on three sides of which he played everything himself, recording the fourth with a studio group. This was Todd at the top of his game, taking on straight pop ("I Saw the Light", "It Wouldn’t Have Made any Difference"), psychedelic pop ("Couldn’t I Just Tell You"), pop parody ("Wolfman Jack"), oddball whimsy ("Song of the Viking"), hard rock ("Little Red Lights"), and balladry ("Torch Song", "Cold Morning Light") with equal aplomb...one of the greatest distillations of popular music ever recorded." RGR   Todd glammed up for all you pretty Kossacks, just to say "Hello It's Me".
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Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth; Oct. ’88; 70:47)

‘After years of obsessing over death, art noise, and urban decay, Sonic Youth were reborn with Daydream Nation...the album’s secret power lies in its sonic forward motion, from the stutter-stops of "Candle" to the heaven-sent harmonics of "Hey Joni" to the super-charged "Silver Rocket". "It was a sprawling container for all our band contained," Renaldo says." Spin 100   ‘Kim Gordon’s bounding bass holds aloft intricate skeins of aggressive guitar, a sound so widely imitated that it defined an entire school of noise-loving modern rock.’ RS200   Kim plays fine and mighty as the band stirs up a "Teen Age Riot".
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The River (Bruce Springsteen; Oct. ’80; 82:58)

The River is Springsteen’s most generous album...what comes through is assurance: the E Streeters sound lean and relaxed, Springsteen’s voice is strong but unstrained. And the songs – dazzling variations, mainly, on fundamental three-chord rock – are more efficient than anything he’d done before. "Cadillac Ranch" swaggers like Duane Eddy; "I Want to Marry You" is soulfully direct; "Wreck on the Highway" is a chilling snapshot; "The Ties that Bind" speaks with a new, unforced seriousness. "Hungry Heart" is the crowd pleaser, and it worked - The River made Springsteen a household name.’ RS3
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Tales from Topographic Oceans (Yes; Dec. '73; 81:15)

'Depending on your point of view, Tales From Topographic Oceans is either prog rock's absolute nadir or its dreamy masterpiece.' RS4   This Double LP is trying to be a symphony. Based on Shastric scriptures, each side explores one word: respectively, Truth, Knowledge, Culture, and Freedom. "Side one was the commercial or easy-listening side of Topographic Oceans, side two was a much lighter, folky side of Yes, side three was electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity, and side four was us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie." - Steve Howe.   Here for your psychedelectation are the first ten minutes.
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Freak Out! (Frank Zappa & the Mothers; June ’66; 60:55)

The second double LP in Rock, coming a mere month after the first, this was Frank's ambitious debut.    ‘With a riff aping the Stones’ "Satisfaction," "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" provided the anthemic intro to Freak Out!. Lyrically, the record’s anti-love songs and daft non-sequitors raised the rebel flag for the misfit clowns and underdogs Zappa and his first band, the Mothers of Invention, would henceforth champion; the music was both a triumph and mockery of psychedelia, folk rock, blooze, and doo-wop.’ RS4   ‘The lyrics in songs like "Who are the Brain Police?" and "Trouble Every Day" mark composer Frank Zappa as having a social conscience and a wickedly satiric sense of humor.’ AMG3

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The quotes above come from many of my record guides and magazines with "best album" lists. Here is a key to the abbreviations: RGR (Rough Guide to Rock); AMG3 (American Music Guide, 3rd Ed.); Spin (Spin Alternative Record Guide); Spin100 (Spin Magazine, 100 Greatest Albums ’85-’05); RS3 (Rolling Stone Album Guide, 3rd Ed.); RS4 (RS Album Guide, 4th Ed.); RS100 (RS Mag. 100 Best Albums ’67-’87); RS200 (RS Mag. 200 Best Albums, ’97); RS500 (RS Mag. 500 Greatest Albums ‘03); RS80s (RS Mag. 100 Best Albums of the 80s); Indpt. (The Independent). That’s a lot of sources, I know, but I really wanted to find quotes that gave you a sense of the specific flavors of the different double albums.

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You're welcome to Tune in Next Friday, if you'd like to discuss the 15 Double LPs which I consider to be the Greatest in all of Rock.

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Before you buzz along, please Pick

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Brecht on Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 07:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Electronic America: Progressives Film, music & Arts Group.

Poll

Which of these 15 Good Double LPs is your favorite?

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| 72 votes | Vote | Results

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