I actually did get some outside feedback on yesterday’s baseball card post (on Twitter, not on the blog), so I am emboldened to again solicit public comment. Feel free to jump in.
I weakened this weekend at the sight of the $4.99 CD bin at Barnes and Noble.
Apparently driven by some buried nostalgia for the fall of 1982, I picked up Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, thinking it looked intriguing and cool and eggheady and ripe for discovery.
(It was also $4.99. Did I mention that?)
I’ve been through it once-and-a-half, and it’s OK, maybe pretty good. Once it lands on the shelf it’ll get taken out a couple times a year, kinda like Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, another 1982 release with which it shares certain facile resemblances.
For tonight’s purposes, I am focused not on what’s on the record, but on what isn’t:
Night and Day, which hit No. 4 on the U.S. album chart, has to be one of the very few popular albums with no guitar at all.
There are no six-stringers credited in the liner notes. And my listening so far betrays no crunchy power chords, no sensitive acoustic arpeggios, no chimey Rickenbacker jangle, no Stratocaster quack, no moaning lap-steel blues cliches.
In short, no sign of pop music’s dominant instrument anywhere.
That can’t be that common … but this, reader, is where you come in.
How many popular or influential albums can you name that contain no guitar whatsoever?
I’m gonna rattle off some possibilities that come to mind. But those of you with broader tastes and wider knowledge, help me out in the Comments section.
Here are some other notable guitar-free albums — and some that didn’t quite make it — sorted by category:
Take five. Guitars are common in jazz, but not compulsory; and those jazz records that have crept into mainstream American popularity are as likely as not to be guitar-free.
You won’t hear any strumming, for example, on Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, which reached No. 2 on the album charts in that barren period after Chuck Berry and before the Beatles.
Skipping ahead a generation, fusion giants Weather Report didn’t employ a full-time guitarist either, and the band’s crossover successes Tale Spinnin’ (No. 31, 1975) and Black Market (No. 42, 1976) don’t include any guitar.
(Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, not known to me as a guitarist, apparently played the instrument on one track of the group’s best-known album, 1977’s Heavy Weather. The lure of the six-string is hard to resist.)
Finally, while most Joe Jackson records include guitar, the predecessor to Night and Day doesn’t — because it’s an album of ’40s jump-blues and jive covers.
Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive fell just shy of the U.S. Top 40; I would suggest it’s remembered more for its concept and its alliterative name than its music, but I could easily be wrong about that.
Synth wranglers. The solitary creative figure surrounded by keyboards is a classic (and quintessentially ’70s) pop image. Were any of them able to resist the siren cry of the guitar for the length of an entire album?
The classic Stevie Wonder albums come pretty close — often containing just one or two guitar-contaminated songs per LP — but Stevie was never quite able to stop himself from calling out the likes of Jeff Beck, Buzz Feiten and Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
Same thing with Gary Wright’s The Dream Weaver album. Wright, known for his spacey synthesized soundscapes, gave in and called Ronnie Montrose to contribute to one track.
Kraftwerk’s only U.S. Top 40 album, Autobahn, features the guitar of Klaus Roder. The group managed to go guitar-free on several other well-remembered albums from its classic period, including Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and Computer World.
Another who pulled off the feat was Gary Numan, whose The Pleasure Principle LP was untroubled by guitar … though a glance at his Wiki page shows him hoisting a cherryburst Les Paul, so his guitar-free stance seems to have been a passing phase.
And finally, let’s not forget that Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach, a Top 10 album in 1969, contains the Moog, the Moog and nothing but the Moog.
Solo serenaders. The flipside of the synth wrangler is the solo figure, alone at a grand piano, pouring out his or her soul.
Nothing but voice and piano is a little much to take over the course of an entire album, and I don’t know how many performers have gone that route.
But — especially in the ’90s, when the unplugged concept was at its peak — I have to imagine at least a couple of performers tried that.
So far, the only proper MTV Unplugged album I can find that’s guitar-free is Tony Bennett’s (see Jazz, above.) If anyone knows any non-MTV unplugged albums that fit the bill, let me know.
Ben Folds isn’t really a soul-pourer at heart, I don’t think — he’s more of a prankster, it seems — but I’d be remiss not to mention the Ben Folds Five and Whatever and Ever Amen albums in this essay someplace, and this is as good a place as any.
Demos. Finally, while it’s become common to issue demos and working versions years after the fact, I’m not sure any record of strictly piano-and-voice demos has ever really reached beyond an artist’s fanbase and achieved mass cultural penetration.
But I’ll end with two well-known examples, just to be perverse: Keith Richards’s Toronto, 1977 and Long View Farm. (Like many bootlegs, these have been released together, apart, and packaged with other material.)
Both recordings consist of Keef alone in a studio, armed only with a piano, a drink and a mental repertoire of standards. Both are soulful and charming.
And, in the years before Keith released a proper solo album, they were just about all the glimpse anyone had of Keith in the spotlight by himself, and thus cherished by Stones fans, even if they never troubled the chartkeeper.
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I ended up going down a lot more avenues than I thought I was going to. But I’m sure I’ve missed some. What are they?