Saturday, July 19, 2014

34 Music from the Big Pink (1968) The Band



1. Tears of Rage
2. To Kingdom Come
3. In a Station
4. Caledonia Mission
5. The Weight
6. We Can Talk
7. Long Black Veil
8. Chest Fever
9. Lonesome Suzie
10. This Wheel's on Fire
11. I Shall Be Released

When you're trying to make it in the music business it helps to have friends in high places. Sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know. Captain Beefheart could well have languished in total obscurity if it wasn't for his friendship with Frank Zappa; Roy Harper managed to launch an entire career thanks to his friendship with Jimmy Page and Yoko Ono would never have been anything more than an irritating visual artist if it wasn't for her marriage to John Lennon.

Canadian Rockers The Band have definitely benefited from the friendship of Dylan but it would be doing them a huge injustice to claim their entire career is due to the fact that they can use the phrase "I was chatting with Bob the other day..." at parties. Bob may have given their career a huge boost but before it did, they had to win the great man's respect. They've benefited from Dylan's friendship but they had to earn it in the first place.

The Band started their life as the backing band for Canadian rock legend Ronnie "The Hawk" Hawkins but split with him when they decided they could be more successful and independent on their own. They performed for a while without much success until they were recommended to Dylan who at the time was looking for a backing band to help him turn into a rock and roll star. Impressing Bob is a notoriously difficult feat and getting on with him personally is fairly tricky as well so the Band deserve credit for being a bunch of guys that Dylan would be prepared to hang with him onstage and off.

After touring with Bob, the group practically moved in with him when he retired from music for a while thanks to a motorbike accident which left him injured and reluctant to return to the road. The Band moved into a large pink house with a big basement which Dylan visited almost daily for a while with his guitar and a desire to just play music for the heck of it.

The recordings made during those sessions have been partly released as The Basement Tapes but the sessions inspired The Band to continue song-writing and they learnt how to craft songs at the feet of the master.

So when they came to release a solo album, the Dylan connection helped them get a record deal and gain some publicity but the reason this album is revered so much isn't because we can enjoy listening to the album knowing that these guy used to hang with Bob. It's fantastic stuff.

The three Dylan compositions were all originally recorded by Bob and The Band during their Basement sessions but not released officially for several years so this was the first chance that most had to enjoy Tears of Rage, This Wheels on Fire and I shall be Released all three of which are brilliant songs. Dylan's recorded output does tend to fall away in the late sixties but these three tracks are proof that he was still writing incredible music. And The Band are the perfect interpreters of his work turning in brilliant versions which are verging on the definitive.

Hanging around with his Bobness clearly helped the members of the Band to develop their own songwriting skills. His influence rubbed off on them and produced the very Dylanish The Weight which managed to compete with the Bob tracks to be the album's highlight. The Weight is a perfect narrative song and like all good Band songs sounds so traditional and seeped in Americana that most people think it's a cover.  It's a song that lots of people have taken to a lot of different places but nobody has done it quite as well as the guys who first came up with it.

There's a lot more to like on Big Pink. Long Black Veil is a beautiful song and The Band sing it like they wrote it and understand it and there are lots of other indications that Robertson, Manuel and Danko might have gone into the basement as side men but they emerged as songwriters. There isn't a weak song here and I can't recommend it enough.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I purched this cd for a friend, actually; who requested The band's greatest Hits. When I received the CD, Cripple Creek was not on it. That was one of their biggest hits. I also have to admit, that I purchased 3 CDs at the time; and I may have the confused the song title with the right cD."

-Yeah, is your own stuff up really reason to give this CD one star?

So do you like your music big and pink? Let me know below.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Another 500 Horizons special announcement.

I've been looking around for a new project to write about for a while now and recently decided to blog about the songs included in a book entitled "1001 songs you must hear before you die". It's a brilliant list which is much more varied than this one. It's international, comprehensive and casts a much wider net without tedious repetition. 

I started writing posts a few months back but made it live two weeks ago after I was sure it was a project I would actually enjoy and could see myself continuing until the end. 

I made the decision to launch it on Quora, because I know it has an excellent music community and it's a good place to generate discussion. It's also more user friendly than blogger which means I can imbed youtube clips easily so readers can listen to the song while they're reading. 

In the few weeks that it's been active, it's already received a lot of fascinating comments from readers and acquired some dedicated followers. 

I'd love to invite all loyal 500 horizon fans to join me over at Quora to participate in  1001 Songs my new blog. Viewing the posts is available to anyone but you will need to create a Quora account if you want to comment. I'd highly recommend you do. It's free and Quora is an outstanding place to discuss music and pretty much everything else. 

I will continue to update 500 horizons every week until the full list has been completed early in 2015. Thanks again for reading and I hope you continue to enjoy discussing albums here and songs with me over at Quora. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

35 The Rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the spiders from Mars (1972) David Bowie



1. Five Years
2. Soul Love
3. Moonage Daydream
4. Starman
5. It Ain't Easy
6. Lady Stardust
7. Star
8. Hang On to Yourself
9. Ziggy Stardust
10. Suffragette City
11. Rock 'N' Roll Suicide

Hooray! As the list stumbles to its inevitable conclusion there are certain genres, artists and styles that I can tick off the list and never need to hear again. I've already heard my last hip hop album, my last Reggae release and my final Prince CD. Those are all behind me now and the less said about them the better.

Posting this entry means the door closes on two other problem areas that I've struggled with throughout this blog: David Bowie and concept albums.

I should clarify and make it clear that I quite like Bowie as a guy and even as a performer. I really like his voice, I like his style and I'm a big fan of his attitude. Bowie does what he wants when he wants and doesn't seem to care much what people say or do about him. That "Take me or leave me" attitude is very rock and roll. Lots of other artists come across as desperate for your love and attention, Bowie doesn't care. I respect Bowie but I can't really get into him as an artist. He has his moments (Life on Mars being the best of them) but on the whole his music doesn't really move me much.

Concept albums are another area that long-term readers (thanks for hanging in there by the way) would know I have a definite problem with. Concept albums tend to transform an album of songs into a pointlessly bloated entity which might seem deep and profound when the creator was coming up with the idea but quickly looks fairly foolish when you come to encounter it later.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has a story attached which, like all the best concept album stories is long, silly, pretentious and makes no sense. It's about a time in the future when a rock and roll star from another planet tries to save the earth but gets killed by people from another dimension, or his own fans, or something. It doesn't matter really its not a story that's going to move anyone any time soon.

Unlike other concept albums however, Bowie started to get wrapped up in his own concept. He started to perform concerts as Ziggy Stardust and called his band The Spiders from Mars. His shows started to turn into theatrical events with costumes and make up being as important as the music.

Ziggy Stardust is a glam rock concept album and it sounds to me like the songs from a musical than I have no desire to see. It's well written and well sung glam-rock nonsense which means if you're the kind of guy who likes glam it's probably just your cup of tea. Personally I've never thought rock and roll needed glamming. Songs like Starman are catchy but far too glam for my personal tastes.

I might be able to get more out of this album if there wasn't such a pretentious narrative attached. The storyline annoys me partly because it's full of space-wankery and cosmic nonsense but mainly because there seems to be a belief that it's actually important. It's not just a tale it's social commentary, but for me says nothing that I think is worth hearing. I've lately become more aware of things that pose genuine obstacles to my musical enjoyment. Pretension is definitely one of them and this album just strikes me as a bit pretentious, especially when I know it's backed up with a desire to actually adopt another persona onstage.

I've heard a lot of Bowie now and I definitely disagree that Ziggy is his finest hour. It's his most courageous and most celebrated but form a purely musical point of view, it's a long way from his best.

Still if you enjoy glam rock then this might well be for you, especially if you think the concept of alien rock stars trying to save the planet is your thing. As for me I'm a bit sad to come to the end of the list's Bowie output but thankful that the concept albums have finally run out... unless of course a certain Beatles album crops up later on. But what are the chances of that?

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Concepts like this should be done with a flourish, with a smile, with a lightness of touch. Laugh-a-minute-Dave uses a mallet."

-To be honest I don't think the concept of this album is going to be saved simply by smiling. It's definitely a mallet concept.

So which one had you cheering more: the rise or the fall? Let me know below.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

36 Tapestry (1971) Carol King




  1. I Feel the Earth Move
  2. So Far Away
  3. It's Too Late
  4. Home Again
  5. Beautiful
  6. Way Over Yonder
  7. You've Got a Friend
  8. Where You Lead
  9. Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
  10. Smackwater Jack
  11. Tapestry
  12. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

There aren't too many artists who can boast a career like Carol King. Before she ever stepped up to a microphone and started her solo career, she was already a music legend thank to her incredible string of hits as a songwriter composing tracks for other artists. She had a long list of No 1's to her name that she co-wrote with her husband and was a big name in the music business.

From all reports King was a reluctant performer who had to be coaxed into the studio and practically chained to a microphone in order to actually put something down on vinyl. She relented and the result is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It spent an incredible number of weeks on the charts and was one of the albums to own in the early seventies. King proved she was more than just a writer for other people.

There are lots of artists on this list who haven't really aged all that well. They were big in the sixties and seventies but their voices have shown the ravages of time, cigarettes and alcohol and left them a shadow of their former selves. There are people who are currently touring the world on the strength of the talents and abilities that they had forty years ago and lost some time in the eighties. Carol King is like this only in reverse. As a performer she has grown in confidence and ability over time and come to appreciate her talents and limitations while growing into her voice.

When I hear Tapestry it does sound to me like a singer who isn't entirely confident in their own abilities. You can almost see her looking towards the control booth and mouthing "should I really be doing this" to her producer. She sounds like a woman that's entirely conscious of the fact that she's singing songs that had previously been made a hit by Aretha Franklin. Nobody should be compared to Aretha, not even the person who wrote the song in the first place.

Tapestry was such a huge seller so there was no way she was ever going to be able to get away from the material, and to Carol's credit she's never seen the need. These songs have been a huge part of her concert repertoire for decades which gives listeners the chance to hear and appreciate them as her voice, abilities and confidence and have grown into the material. She's become a performer worthy of the material she's capable of writing.

I don't really enjoy Tapestry all that much. The songs are fantastic and proof that King really is one of the great songwriters of the last 50 years, but the performances aren't nearly as good as they could be or half as good as they would become. The recent re-release of this album included a live disc with every song but one recorded onstage two years later. King is already growing in confidence and her singing makes the live disc much better than the original version. Later live performances were even better.

Tapestry is great but for me celebrates King as a songwriter and potentially a great talent.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If you don't own this then it means you have no regard for our musical culture, our heritage, or even for music itself."

-I love musical overstatements and this one might well the biggest of them all. Do  you own this album? If not then you have no regard for music and a total disregard for America's heritage. Shame on you.

So is this a Tapestry you can admire or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

37 Hotel California (1976) The Eagles




1. Hotel California
2. New Kid in Town
3. Life in the Fast Lane
4. Wasted Time
5. Wasted Time (Reprise)
6. Victim of Love
7. Pretty Maids All in a Row
8. Try and Love Again
9. The Last Resort

As I type this the Eagles are on the road somewhere. They're engaging on a massive concert tour which they anticipate taking several years to complete. They'll tromp around the world playing to hordes of fans all of whom are over 50 and capable of paying $400 for the privilege. Somewhere you can imagine the following conversation taking place...

Hey we've got a spare ticket to see The Eagles.

Welcome to The Hotel California! Such a lovely place!

Yeah that's them.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Are you interested?

Yeah I'd love to see Hotel California performed live. That song is an absolute classic. It gets stuck in your head like nothing else. Hell yeah I'd love to see that.

Of course they won't perform it first, you'd probably have to wait for the encore. They'll do other stuff first.

Life in the fast lane! I love that song. I love the way it goes Life in the fast lane... and then Life in the fast lane and... how else does it go?

Actually I think that's it. I think that's kind of all it does.

Oh. Well they must have lots of other great songs as well.

Oh yeah. Heaps of them. Like....

Um....

Oh they have New Kid in Town. That's another one.

Isn't that the one that's kind of dull and feels like it goes on forever?

Yeah. Now you mention it that kind of sums it up.

But for memory it's not as bad as the one that follows that has the overblown strings and then feels the need to reprise itself.

Knowing them they'll have a string section with them as well. So they'll have a chance to be kind of overblown onstage.

And they'll play The Last Resort, that song goes on forever. It just doesn't stop.

Actually now you mention it I'm kind of luke warm about the whole idea myself.

They will play those short guitar solos exactly the way they play them on the album.

And there's always the chance they'll descend into a fight onstage because they really, really hate each other.

Basically what you're asking is: do I want to pay a lot of money to see a bunch of old guys recreate songs that they're bored to tears with in a live setting?

Yes. Yes I am.

But ...Hotel California.

Yeah... Hotel California.

What the hell, just let me go mortgage my house.


All over the world there are people who have paid good money to sit in an auditorium and patiently wait for some of the people who recorded Hotel California to play it for them. That's their right but I don't think many of them have gone away thinking they've got their money's worth.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This Album is why I started listening to Punk."

-To be honest, this album is a big part of why you have punk to listen to.

So did you enjoy your stay at Hotel California? Let me know below.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

38 The Muddy Waters Anthology (2001) Muddy Waters



Disc one


  1. Gypsy Woman
  2. I Can't Be Satisfied
  3. I Feel Like Going Home
  4. Train Fare Home Blues
  5. Mean Red Spider
  6. Standin' Here Tremblin'
  7. You Gonna Need My Help
  8. Little Geneva
  9. Rollin' and Tumblin' Part One
  10. Rollin' Stone
  11. Walkin' Blues
  12. Louisiana Blues
  13. Long Distance Call
  14. Honey Bee
  15. Country Boy
  16. She Moves Me
  17. Still a Fool
  18. Stuff You Gotta Watch
  19. Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I'm Gone?
  20. Standin' Around Cryin'
  21. Baby Please Don't Go
  22. Hoochie Coochie Man
  23. I Just Want to Make Love to You
  24. I'm Ready
  25. Young Fashioned Ways
  26. I Want to Be Loved


Disc two


  1. My Eyes (Keep Me in Trouble)
  2. Mannish Boy
  3. Sugar Sweet
  4. Trouble No More
  5. Forty Days and Forty Nights
  6. Just to Be with You
  7. Don't Go No Farther
  8. Diamonds at Your Feet
  9. I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love
  10. Got My Mojo Working
  11. Rock Me
  12. Look What You've Done
  13. She's Nineteen Years Old
  14. Close to You
  15. Walking Thru the Park
  16. Take the Bitter with the Sweet
  17. I Feel So Good 
  18. You Shook Me
  19. My Home is in the Delta
  20. Good Morning Little School Girl
  21. The Same Thing
  22. You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had
  23. All Aboard (Fathers & Sons)
  24. Can't Get No Grindin'


All hail Muddy Waters, the most complete blues package to ever walk the earth. There has never been, and there never will be, a man who is so completely and utterly Blues as Muddy Waters.

The Voice.

Muddy's voice is a beautiful thing. It's deep and expressive and it sounds like it's had pain. It speaks truth. The problem with a lot of white boy blues artists is that when they sing they don't sound convincing. They can talk about how their woman left them with nothing and they're starving, lonely and sad but their voice sounds like they're rich, happy and a few minutes away from stepping into a room full of groupies. Muddy sounds like he has the blues. He sings like a man who has never had a happy relationship  and staggers through life relying on cheap booze to get him from gig to gig. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Muddy sounds great when accompanied by himself on a guitar or when he's fronting a big band. He only needs six strings to accompany his music but even if you throw in drums, bass, piano and horns, his voice is still the most powerful instrument in the room. When Rolling Stone made a list of their top vocalists of all time, Muddy came in at number 53, personally I would have put him higher.

His guitar

There aren't too many artists who make Rolling Stone's top vocalists list and at the same time earn a place on their list of top guitarists. Muddy Waters is one, coming in at 53 on the first and 49 on the second. While this chronological release starts off with his earlier low key blues outings it moves into his band era which provides an opportunity to showcase his stinging lead guitar work.

His Songwriting

Waters wasn't just a guy who recorded the blues, he helped to shape it. His songwriting ability has provided us with some of the most recognised and remembered Blues staples. Rolling Stone, Rolling and Tumblin, Trouble no More, Honey Bee, Got my Mojo working,  and many others are great Blues tracks which have inspired generations. There may be those who want to quibble and claim they're based on earlier songs but then so is every damn blues song anyone ever wrote. That's what the Blues was.

His Band.

Muddy Waters was enough of a talent in his own right but he had an ability to gather great musicians around him and bring out their best. The anthology features the guitar talents of Jimmy Rogers and Buddy Guy, the piano of Otis Spann and the harmonica of Little Walter and Junior Wells. It's also got the bass of Willie Dixon but more importantly features a lot of Dixon's songwriting skills. Willie gave us Hoochie Coochie Man, I just want to make love to you, You Shook Me and dozens of other great blues tracks.

His Life.

Nobody knows how old Muddy Waters was when he died. He grew up not knowing his birthdate and how many years he'd been on the planet. That's very blues. That's authentic blues right there. If you want my respect then tell me you don't know how old you are and you don't care and your woman left you and you've got no money so birthday's don't matter much no how.

His name.

Muddy Waters. The guy's name is Muddy Waters. Obviously it's not but that doesn't matter it will always be how we know him and it's perfect.

Muddy Waters had a long and distinguished career as a blues pioneer, innovator and all around genius. There are a million compilations out there but this one is easily the best. It showcases all his greatest moments in two discs. If you want to hear the music that influenced Led Zeppelin (You shook me), The Grateful Dead (Good morning little schoolgirl), The Rolling Stones (I Just want to make love to you), Bob Dylan (Rolling and Tumblin), Elvis Presley (Got my Mojo Working), The Allman Brothers Band (Hoochie Coochie Man), Aerosmith (I'm ready) and thousands of others then this is the place to start. It's blues and it's the real deal.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "McKinley Morganfield - a.k.a. Muddy Waters - started out playing acoustic Delta blues in Mississippi. But when he moved to Chicago in 1943, he started with an electric guitar."

-That's the entire review. Not so much a review as a factoid.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

39. Please Please Me (1963) The Beatles




After several years of trying, John, George, Paul and Ringo were let into a recording studio in 1963 to record a full length LP. It was something they'd dreamed about for years and when they finally had the chance they not only had access to a great recording studio but were also lucky enough to have an understanding genius as producer and mentor. The pain of the failed Decca audition and the many rejection letters was finally erased as they spent a day in the studio running through selected highlights from their repertoire. A few weeks later the album was quickly rushed out to the British public who lapped it up and demanded more. The rest of the world followed suit except for the US who took a lot longer to realise they had something worth enjoying on their hands.

Rolling Stone magazine rates this album as the greatest of their original "Beatlemania period," which I'm not sure I'd agree with, but it's hard to argue that it's still a joyous musical moment and 50 years after it was released it still holds up.

Track by Track...

I Saw Her Standing There

Standing is just perfect. From its raucous opening to "Well my heart went boom" and everything else in between. It's just joyous and it sounds great on a crap old radio or a shiny new system or headphones or even in your own voice in the shower.

Misery

Not the dynamic duo's finest songwriting hour and nobody's favourite Beatles song. It probably doesn't help that the Beatles don't actually sound miserable. You could change the opening line to "The World is treating me grand, Happiness" and they wouldn't sing it any differently. They sound like a band who are just delighted to be in a recording studio.

(Anna) Go to Him

One of the criticisms levelled at the early Beatles was that they took the music of black artists and made it white and acceptable for white audiences. Anna was the first time anyone heard this trick pulled off and you can kind of see why some people were annoyed. It does sound awfully white. I've got no doubt John listened to enough Black music to understand it but he sounds very white while he does it. There must have been people with the original Alexander Armstrong version in their record collection wondering why they needed to hear the song being performed by white kids. As the first cover on a Beatles album it's not an especially auspicious start. Anna is one of the songs that makes Please Please Me one of their lesser early albums and not one of the great ones.

Chains

George Harrison takes the lead vocals in their second cover. The Beatles didn't just record cover versions of songs by blues and soul singers, they took the unusual step of recording music by girl groups. They took songs originally written for female groups and made them rock and roll hits. It was a rich vein of songwriting that not many of their contemporaries were tapping into and made a welcome addition to their repertoire. Their ability to harmonize perfectly suited a lot of girl pop ballads.

Boys.

Another girl group hit only this time with lyrics that were slightly harder to make gender neutral. Not that anyone really cared at the time. Ringo takes his turn at vocals and does a great job of nailing this Shiralees track. Ringo had a limited range and wasn't the world's best vocalist but the band and Martin knew how to get the most out of it. His track on every Beatles album is always a treat but never enough to make you wish he had more.

Ask Me Why

One of those great little Beatles tracks which shows off their ability to harmonise, rock and just add a touch of joyous to any room they're playing in. It's a neat little gem tucked away on their first album and totally overlooked by anyone who doesn't actually listen to Beatles albums in their entirety. It's reason enough to give this album a listen if you've only heard the Fab Four on the radio or on compilations.

Please Please Me.

This is the track that everyone points to whenever anyone asks how much of a contribution George Martin made to the Beatles legacy. Apparently PPM was originally a slow, croony ballad written in a Roy Orbison style. George told the band to speed it up and their first number one hit was born. George really was the perfect fit for The Beatles. All hail George.

Love Me Do.

The Beatles first single and definitely their most boring. Love Me Do is a slow dirgy plod that sounded a bit like a breath of fresh air when it was first released by quickly became turgid compared to what followed.

PS I Love You

An early McCartney ballad and a very pretty one. It's proof that Paul could write a genuinely effective love song that didn't descend into mawkish. In his later years he would mawk a lot more easily but early on he was capable of being comparatively mawk free.

Baby It's You

One of those early Beatles songs which was more Brian Epstein's idea than the Beatles. Brian didn't really know how to market the Beatles at first because they were breaking new territory. He was keen for them to try and straddle both worlds and do rock and adult numbers from musicals. Baby It's You is a Bacharach number and while I'm sure there are people who like the original it's nobody's favourite Beatles song.

Do You Want to Know a Secret

At this stage in their career everyone was applauding George just for trying. Well done George you wrote a song! Good for you. It would be a few years before he was churning out great material but when he did it was definitely worth hearing.

A Taste of Honey

Another song that Brian wanted them to record. Apparently John hated this song so much he used to change the words to "A Waste of Money" when he sang it live. He certainly sings it without any kind of conviction on the record.

There's a Place

Anyone who disregards the Beatles as bubblebum pop obsessed with hand-holding and dances needs to sit down and listen to this track. It's mature song writing about a mature subject matter and is a genuinely grown up song. They didn't need to wait to get long hair and a psychadelic wardrobe to start being introspective. It was all there on their first album.

Twist and Shout 

I've heard dozens of versions of this song and nobody had managed to do it this well. Twist and Shout is simply fantastic and some of the best flat-out rock and roll anyone recorded in 1963. People forget that while the Beatles might have been novices when it came to a recording studio, they were seasoned pros when it came to playing the music they loved. They'd been doing it for years and despite a drummer change, were a tight unit when George Martin came to finally record them.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is monkee music. Don't listen to it. The Beatles were only good after 1965 with HELP! and RUBBER SOUL. After that they had talent."

-Quiet! Silly person.

So does this please you? Let me know below.