Friday, December 30, 2011

245 Bryter Layter- Love the Drake





Album: Bryter Layter
Artist: Nick Drake
Genre: Folk
Year: 1970

Tracks



  1. Introduction
  2. Hazey Jane II
  3. At the Chime of a City Clock
  4. One of These Things First
  5. Hazey Jane I
  6. Bryter Layter
  7. Fly
  8. Poor Boy
  9. Northern Sky
  10. Sunday



At 245 we can all welcome the chance to enjoy another offering from Nick Drake, his second and his highest ranking on the countdown. Drake released three albums in his short and tragic life and every one of them is now regarded by Rolling Stone magazine as among the top 500 records ever made. Millions of records and CD's have been released in the history of recorded music but only 244 of them were considered by a panel of experts to be better than Bryter Later. And praise for this album isn't just a strange notion entertained by the writers of Rolling Stone. Q magazine ranked it 23 on the list of best British albums ever made, NME rated it the 14th best album of the seventies and I'm sure Mojo have it ranked on a list of "Best albums with a purple cover" or "Greatest CD's with deliberately mispelt titles", there's a list for pretty much everything nowadays.

While people are falling over themselves to praise it today, when it was released Bryter Later was a long way from a hit. In its year of release it sold less than 3,000 copies. If you do a google image search for the album title you will find 45,500 results. Forty years after its release the cover image is 15 times more popular on a search engine than the album was in the shops.

Bryter Layter features a more straight-forward pop sound than the albums before and after. Among the musicians turning Drake's compositions into band songs were members of Fairport Convention, The Beach Boys and John Cale from the Velvet Underground. The end result sounds slick and according to Drake himself "Too full, too elaborate". I'm inclined to agree. There are some beautiful songs and Nick's voice is a wonderful thing but there's too much going on that doesn't need to be there. I'd love to hear the demos he brought to the studio.

Ironically Drake's career was bound to become much Bryter Layter but he would never live to see it. I'm just glad the music public wised up and finally realised his music was worth hearing before it became lost entirely.

Influenced by: Bob Dylan and the English countryside.
Influenced: Pretty much nobody at the time but a lot of people since

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Poor Boy

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is so totaly relaxing that it takes actually a few listens to notice a few annoying things:
- Nick can only sing in one voice
- Nick can only write lyrics that convey one kind of feeling
- Nick can only play the guitar in one particular way, and in one (quite particular) tuning"


-Ouch. That's kind of harsh. 


So do you love the Drake? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

246. The Shape of Jazz to Come- I hope it's a rhombus.



Album: The Shape of Jazz to Come
Artist: Ornette Coleman
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1959


1. Lonely Woman
2. Eventually
3. Peace
4. Focus on Sanity
5. Congeniality
6. Chronology

If you can find it, I recommend you hunt down an excellent BBC documentary called 1959 The Year that Changed Jazz. It documents four albums that were all released in the last year of the fifties that changed the face of Jazz Music forever. When I saw this outstanding program a few years back I was familiar with Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), Time Out (Dave Brubeck) and Mingus Au Um (Charles Mingus), all of which I'd been enjoying for years. But Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come had never crossed my path.

Like any good doco, The Year that Changed Jazz made me keen to find out more about the subject matter. I wanted to hear Ornette Coleman's greatest work. Partly out of curiosity but mainly because of Lou Reed's passionate tribute. Reed loves The Shape of Jazz to Come and when he talks about it his affection is contagious. It made me need to hear what the fuss was about.

Initially, most of the attention was directed at Coleman's aversion to "chord based instruments" (pianos, guitars etc) that were traditionally used to anchor melodies in place. He discarded the idea of conventional song structures with solo spots and allowed the four musicians in the quartet (sax, cornet, bass and drums) to effectively solo constantly with the occasional return to a musical theme. The end result could be a total shambles but it works. It succeeds mainly because Coleman and his band aren't just capable of a great solo they're capable of listening to each other, giving each other space and picking up on what the rest of the band is doing.

There's no doubt The Shape of Jazz to Come isn't for everyone but it's not just for musical odd-bods like Lou Reed. If you're willing to take a chance with music that breaks some of the rules you never even knew your music was fixed into, The Shape of Jazz to Come might just be what you need.

Influenced by: A desire to rebel from established structures.
Influenced: Anyone who played Free Jazz and Lou Reed (which means by extension it influenced everyone who was influenced by the Velvet Underground which seems to be everyone)


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It sounds like a bunch of guys just honking there horns. lol. Im sorry its a free country you can honk ur horn but I thought I bought music. If you want to hear some real music check out Lady Gaga."

-Is this person really a Lady GaGa fan? Who knows. Did they say this in the hope that it would annoy jazz fans? Of course. And did it? Oh yes, yes it did.

So do you think Jazz is in good shape or not? Let me know below.

Friday, December 23, 2011

247. Automatic for the People. Back when they were fab.



Album: Automatic for the People
Artist: REM
Genre: Rock
Year: 1992

Tracks

  1. Drive
  2. Try Not to Breathe
  3. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
  4. Everybody Hurts
  5. New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
  6. Sweetness Follows
  7. Monty Got a Raw Deal
  8. Ignoreland
  9. Star Me Kitten
  10. Man on the Moon
  11. Nightswimming
  12. Find the River

REM recently pulled up stumps on the career, shook hands with the umpires and walked off the world's stage claiming bad light stopped play. They decided their life as a rock band was over which caused a lot of people to say "I had no idea they were still together". There was a lot of love for the band but not much of it for their later career, most of the affection was reserved for the early days when they played the big rooms and albums like Automatic for the the People sold millions and made them rich.

If you're one of the people whose response to REM's break up was: "Who are REM?" then this album is probably the best introduction to a band who once rivaled U2 for popularity. Contained within Automatic's microscopic silver grooves is some of the best music from the early nineties, a time when "alternative rock" became mainstream and the name itself  became meaningless.

Everybody Hurts is probably the biggest hit. With its memorable video clip (and even more memorable D-Gen send up) it seemed to perfectly express a shared sense of communal existential angst. Stipe's voice could be genuinely beautiful when he had the right song and Everybody Hurts (along with Nightswimming and Drive) provided him the perfect outlet. His voice even sounds great in The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite which features the magnificent chorus "Call me when you try to wake her," at least that's what the lyric sheet says. In reality everyone on earth hears "Call me Jamaica Ha." I'd love it if there was a tradition in REM concerts to shout "Jamaica Ha!" at Stipe whenever he sings this line. Sadly I think REM fans take the band a bit too seriously for that to ever happen.

Automatic for the People's main flaw is the fairly flat middle section. Track 5 is a two minute instrumental. I don't know about you but when I see an instrumental in an album I consider it to be an admission from the artist that they haven't written enough to fill the running time. It's entitled New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 but it might as well be called Filling up Space. It's the album's low point and sadly it's followed by the rest of the dud tracks which are clumped together forming a large dead space. If it wasn't for the appearance of Man on the Moon at track 10 it might be tempting to stop the album early and put on something else.

REM- they were great once and music is better for their presence.

Highlight: Everybody Hurts
Lowlight: New Orleans Instrumental No 1

Influenced by: The Monkees apparently.
Influenced: Alternative rock (but don't hold that against it)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Save your money, or better yet, take the money you would have spent on this album and bet your friends that the members of REM end up homeless within the span of five years."

-Considering this was written in 2002 I think he reviewer might have lost himself a bet. I'm fairly sure the members of REM still had homes in 2007

So can you drive an automatic or do you prefer a manual? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

248. Reasonable Doubt. JayZ. The best businessman in Rap.



Album: Reasonable Doubt
Artist: Jay Z
Year: 1996
Genre: Rap

Tracks

  1. Can't Knock The Hustle
  2. Politics As Usual
  3. Brooklyn's Finest
  4. Dead Presidents II
  5. Feelin' It
  6. D'Evils
  7. 22 Two's
  8. Can I Live
  9. Ain't No Nigga
  10. Friend Or Foe
  11. Coming Of Age
  12. Cashmere Thoughts
  13. Bring It On
  14. Regrets

A criminal past definitely doesn't prevent a musician from forging a successful career. Just because you may have done some naughty things in your earlier life (drug dealing, murder, light treason etc) doesn't mean you can't rise above it and sell records. Of course the way you go about it depends on what genre you're moving into. If you're going to be a country artist then you have to use your shady background as a chance to show off your contrition and need for redemption, if you're going to go into pop then it's probably a good idea to hire a PR agent to try and keep it quiet but if you're trying to move rap records then your criminal past serves as inspiration and gives you some much needed street cred.

Jay-Z started life as a crack dealer in New Jersey, selling drugs on street corners and generally hustling. I'm sure he showed a genuine sense of dedication to his craft and was among the districts finest purveyors of illicit substances but I'd be surprised if anyone saw him selling crack and thought "One day that kid is going to own a clothing label, a series of sports bars and a percentage of Aresenal Footbal club". (In fact I'd be surprised if there was any kid growing up in America anywhere who was widely tipped to become a key investor in a UK soccer club). And yet JayZ has managed to turn a talent for saying things rhythmically into a massive global business empire worth millions of dollars. He's worth more than half a billion and is among the most powerful people in the music industry worldwide.

That's the power of Rap music that middle class white people like myself will never fully understand. Rap is about the American dream. It's about celebrating a downtrodden past and how music enables rappers to overcome poverty and become not just well off but absurdly and ridiculously wealthy. The most respected rappers in the world are the ones who go from literal rags to riches and it explains why someone like Tom Felton (Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy) could never be a rapping success with his home in Surrey and his background singing in choirs.

Reasonable Doubt might provide you with an opportunity to celebrate the idea of the drug dealer made good. The kid from the streets who could barely afford clothes who went on to own a clothing company. Or it might just be another rap album you don't need to hear. It depends on which narrative you want to enjoy.

Highlight: Dead Presidents II
Lowlight: Regrets

Influenced by: Old school rap and a need to rise up from the streets.
Influenced: Some white middle class boys.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "People should just accept the fact that hip hop is headed to the grave and heavy metal will once again rule the world.HEAVY METAL RULES FOREVER!!!"

-I'm sorry was there a time when Heavy Metal ruled the world? I think I slept in that day and missed it.

So is this album guilty of brilliance or is there some reasonable doubt? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

264- Child is the Father to the Man. Blood, Sweat, Tears and Nuts.



Album: Child is the Father to the Man
Artist: Blood Sweat and Tears
Year: 1968
Genre: Almost all of them.

Tracks

  1. Overture
  2. I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know
  3. Morning Glory
  4. My Days Are Numbered
  5. Without Her
  6. Just One Smile
  7. I Can't Quit Her
  8. Meagan's Gypsy Eyes
  9. Somethin' Goin' On
  10. House in the Country
  11. The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes and Freud
  12. So Much Love/Underture

(Apologies to all. This post should have appeared last month but was overlooked. Sorry if you were waiting for it)

Child is the Father to the Man begins with an overture: a 93 second piece arranged for strings which perfectly introduces the album. Not only does it feature the main refrain of most of the songs that follow, it's also overdubbed with manic and demented laughter. That's Blood Sweat and Tears for you: music with catchy tunes created by mad people.

Blood Sweat and Tears bubbled out of the crazy mind of Al Kooper, who is often the crankiest and weirdest person in any documentary about Bob Dylan (he played on Like a Rolling Stone and as he's told inquisitive interviewers on camera, is bored of talking about it). He started the band with a view to combining musical genres into a new musical form. The end result is a series of pop songs with blues affectations, or blues songs with strings, or rock with horns, or jazz with catchy vocals all blended together with a few covers and a divergence into hippie waffle. It's like nothing you've ever heard and at times it's brilliant and at others it's just dreadful.

The highlights all belong to Kooper: I love you more than you'll ever know, I can't Quit Her and Something's Going On are fantastic blues tracks with wailing horns and a great beat. If it was all this good I'd love it to shreds.

Sadly the rest of the album brings the whole thing down a few notches. Meagan's Gypsy Eyes is a pointless acid-soaked hippy trip that sounds like one of those songs which really spoke to people wearing joss-stink reeking tie-dye in the sixties but is sadly inadequate when listened to outside it's own era. Morning Glory is a really embarrassing attempt to patronize the homeless as a kitsch ballad dedicated to a hobo. It sounds dated now but then it probably sounded passe the second it limped out of the studio. Listening to it I was instantly transported to a B-grade sixties movie- suddenly my life was full of badly focused psychedelic colours and wood paneled rooms. I had to suppress a mad urge to grow sideburns and a moustache.

Child is the Father to The Man makes you appreciate that Al Kooper was more than just a regular contributer to Dylan's recorded and stage work. He was also a great writer and band leader. It's a shame he left BS&T after this and never really matched his efforts here.

Highlight: I can't Quit Her.
Lowlight: Meagan's Gypsy Eyes.

Influenced by: Everything going.
Influenced: The rest of the band's career, which never came close.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "You can't qualify 'coolness'. You can't take an empirical measure of it but you know it when it is there. Bands like The Beatles had it, Traffic had it, Jimi Hendrix positively oozed it. But Blood, Sweat and Tears seem to be just short of the mark, like the potentially good looking kid at school that always wore the hand-made, woolen sweaters his grand mother knitted him. "

-Anyone else describe music in relation to knitwear? I think the practice should be a lot more widespread.

So is this album in your blood or does it make you shed tears of rage? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

249. Low- and behold it's more Bowie.



Album: Low
Artist: David Bowie
Genre: Pop
Year: 1977

Tracks

  1. Speed of Life
  2. Breaking Glass
  3. What in the World
  4. Sound and Vision
  5. Always Crashing in the Same Car
  6. Be My Wife
  7. A New Career in a New Town
  8. Warszawa
  9. Art Decade
  10. Weeping Wall
  11. Subterraneans

Following up a huge name whose music I have trouble getting into (Springsteen) comes... another huge name whose music I struggle to appreciate. David Bowie has appeared on the countdown several times before and every time has left me underwhelmed in no uncertain terms. As I've said before- I respect the guy but I have no desire to listen to his music.

Low is another step in Bowie's long term journey of reinvention. This time he's incorporated the Kraftwerk inspired noises of Station to Station and added some more melodic elements and let producer Brian Eno loose on his sounds. The results don't often get played on the radio because they're not really very radio friendly. They're noisy and a bit harsh and not especially catchy.

The one thing that has unified Bowie releases throughout his career has been his voice. That deep and beautiful voice that is unmistakable Bowie. I might not like the tunes or the instruments behind him but that voice has always had a real appeal. I love the voice of Bowie. Which is why it's such a disappointment to find it's so sparsely utilised. In the shorter tracks that make up side one, Bowie's voice is frequently cast aside in favour of instrumentation and on side two it's completely absent. The second half of Low is entirely made up of instrumentals. And not catchy, tuneful instrumentals, the sort of drawn-out soundscapes that sound like extracts from a movie soundtrack about life on a tedious alien planet.

Low might float some people's boats but I'm afraid I found side one dull and side two even duller. David Bowie- he makes Springsteen look good.

Influenced by: Brian Eno, Berlin and German music
Influenced: Eighties electro.

Highlight: What in the world
Lowlight: Art Decade

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm sure that this sound was very unique when first released but it now sounds like something you would hear at a science museum".

-That's a perfect summation.

So is this album Bowies Low point or should it be held above all else? Let me know BeLow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

250. The River. Letting the Springsteen Flow.



Album: The River
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Genre: Rock
Year: 1980

Tracks

  1. The Ties That Bind
  2. Sherry Darling
  3. Jackson Cage
  4. Two Hearts
  5. Independence Day
  6. Hungry Heart
  7. Out in the Street
  8. Crush on You
  9. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
  10. I Wanna Marry You
  11. The River
  12. Point Blank
  13. Cadillac Ranch
  14. I'm a Rocker
  15. Fade Away
  16. Stolen Car
  17. Ramrod
  18. The Price You Pay
  19. Drive All Night
  20. Wreck on the Highway

This album represents the halfway point of the countdown. The bottom half is out of the way and the top 50% is yet to come. But despite the fact that we've knocked off 250 albums we haven't yet heard half of what Springsteen has to offer the top 500. Bruce not only appears at number two hundred and Fifty he's got another 5 albums somewhere up there in the higher reaches for us to encounter at some point. If you're a fan of Bruce then there's a lot more of your favourite rocker to come. If you hate Springsteen then I'm sorry to say that a full 2% of the albums to come have been let loose by Bruce.

Personally I don't think BS is BS but he's never been someone I've especially warmed to either. The albums I've heard so far in the countdown haven't persuaded me that there's a lot to get excited about. At 250 I've got a double dose of Bruce to try and persuade me as I listen to The River, a double album that clocks in at over two hours. It's a lot of Bruce when I know there's a lot more to come. 

Like most double albums this release is tooooo damn long. As with every other album that's stretched across four sides of vinyl there's probably a great album in here trying to get out but it's obscured by a lot of padding. The songs start to get repetitive after a while and there's no doubt removing the least memorable half would make the rest shine a lot brighter. 

The song you're most likely to recognise is Hungry Heart. I'm not sure who's idea it was to take Bruce's deep and expressive voice and speed it up but whoever it was should put their hand up and admit to making a huge mistake. Why would you take the best thing about the album and ruin it? Bruce doesn't sound like Bruce he sounds like a thin and reedy Billy Joel impersonator. Where was the logic there? 

The good news is that I responded a lot more to The River than I did to previous Springsteen efforts. Hopefully future releases will impress me even more.

Highlight: Point Blank
Lowlight: Ramrod

Influenced by: Dylan
Influenced: New Jersy as a whole

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This irritating, tinny, repetitive schlock soared on the hot air pumped out by Bruce's moonie-like fans."

-Ouch. Moonie like fans? Harsh.

So do you like to dip your toes in the River or would you damn it to hell? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

251. Dictionary of Soul. Worth looking up.



Album: Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Year: 1966

Tracks


1. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
2. I'm Sick Y'all
3. Tennessee Waltz
4. Sweet Lorene
5. Try a Little Tenderness
6. Day Tripper
7. My Lover's Prayer
8. She Put the Hurt on Me
9. Ton of Joy
10. You're Still My Baby
11. Hawg for You
12. Love Have Mercy"


Otis Redding was taken from us too soon. When the plane he was in hit Lake Monana on the tenth of December 1967 we lost one of Soul's greatest voices and most talented superstars. Thankfully before he died he left us with some great albums. Dictionary of Soul was the last album he recorded before he was taken away and the fact that it's so good makes his death all the more tragic.

Dictionary features a collection of Otis originals (My Lover's Prayer), traditional standards (Try a little Tenderness) and contemporary covers (Day Tripper) all of which Otis turns into Soul classics. Aided by Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Isaac Hayes (among others) Redding lays down vocals that make you forget anyone else ever sang the same songs. At times he can make you forget anyone ever sang another song ever.

While I could talk a lot about how good this album is I don't recommend you hunt it down. Instead why not get your hands on Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding, a box set put out in the nineties. The three discs of studio releases collect Reddings finest moments from his albums and singles but the real treat is the fourth disc which collects the definitive versions of his various recorded live appearances into one "Dream concert" which is far better than much of this countdown. While it doesn't have too many songs from the Dictionary (Otis died before he could perform them live) it does have an incredible atmosphere and doesn't feature the annoying fade outs that prematurely end too many of the Dictionary's tracks.

Otis Redding- people that talented shouldn't be allowed to fly. Just in case.

Highlight: My Lover's Prayer
Lowlight: Fa Fa Fa Fa

Influenced by: Sweet Soul Music
Influenced: All Souls that followed

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Personally, I hate listening to anything is MONO even Otis, and I love the man's voice."

-I worry that there are people that my son will grow up with who won't want to watch The Godfather because it's not in 3D.

So is the dictionary worth looking up or should it be left on the shelf? Let me know below.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

252. Metallica- Metal for the Masses



Album: Metallica
Artist: Metallica
Year: 1991
Genre: Metal

Tracks


1. Enter Sandman
2. Sad but True
3. Holier Than Thou
4. The Unforgiven
5. Wherever I May Roam
6. Don't Tread on Me
7. Through the Never
8. Nothing Else Matters
9. Of Wolf and Man
10. The God That Failed
11. My Friend of Misery
12. The Struggle Within


"Going Commercial" is a strange concept. One person's idea of an attempted sell-out might not reflect another's. It really depends where you're coming from. Some people might view Metallica as too loud, fast and heavy for the mainstream. For die-hard Metallica fans it's too soft, slow and light. It's a sellout

Metallica, along with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, helped to create a genre of music known as Thrash Metal, which is basically rock and roll played very fast, very loud and with vocals that are very, very shouty indeed. Thrash bands featured guitars, bass, growling and a drummer who played more beats in a concert than most drummers manage in an entire tour. In the early eighties, Thrash bands carved out a considerable niche in the music market. They didn't top the album charts but they had an incredibly loyal fanbase that allowed them to sell out venues across the world. 

After ten years of riding high as the Kings of Thrash Metal, Metallica decided to team up with producer Bob Rock (who helped to give Motley Crue commercial success with Dr Feelgood) and slow down their sound to produce an album of commercially acceptable Metal. 

The end result was Metallica an album of Heavy Metal tracks that even your mother would love. Well maybe not. My mum certainly wouldn't enjoy the crunching guitars, screaming solos and aggressive vocals but then it's all a matter of perspective. She might howl at me if I put it on over Christmas but if she was forced to listen to Metallica's recorded output in chronological, order Metallica would come as a blessed relief from the relentless thrashing of their previous efforts. 

For Thrash Metal fans this was an insult and a sell out. For those who preferred more conventional rock, Metallica was a mainstream success. Taken on it's own merits it's a collection of great songs played harder than most rock is performed but it's still rock. It gets a bit repetitive towards the end but the singles (Enter Sandman, Nothing else matters, The Unforgiven and Wherever I may Roam) are outstanding tracks.

Highlight: Enter Sandman
Lowlight: The final two tracks.

Influenced by: The commercial success of their producer
Influenced: Metal's move towards the mainstream.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS METALLICA SUCKS. METALLICA ARE JUNK "

-It's fair to say the reviews for this album are generally not among Amazon's finest.

So is this too loud and fast or not loud and fast enough? Let me know below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

253. Trans Europe Express. Please Read.




Album: Trans Europe Express
Artist: Kraftwerk
Genre: Electronica
Year: 1977

Tracks

  1. Europe Endless
  2. The Hall Of Mirrors
  3. Showroom Dummies
  4. Trans-Europe Express
  5. Metal On Metal
  6. Franz Schubert
  7. Endless Endless

I really hope a lot of people read this post. According to blog stats there are people out there reading this which is good because frankly I'd hate to think I listened to this album 4 times for nothing.

Four times I sat through Trans Europe Express. Four times I listened to the mind numbing beats, droning vocals and irritating repetitive melodies so I could write this review. Four seperate train trips saw me enduring this and resisting the temptation to listen to something else. Do you have any idea how hard this was? At any moment, with only a few taps of my finger, I could have made my MP3 player stop torturing me with Kraftwerk and instead reward me with some Crosby Stills and Nash. My brain kept telling me that at any minute I could stop the pain and replace it with pleasure but I resisted the urge because I knew I had a post to write. I needed to persist in order to put these words on the page.

You know what really frustrates me? You know what really gets me werked up? I could have saved myself the trouble and written the review at the end of track one and it would sounded exactly the same. By the time I'd finished the opening song I thought "Gee, Kraftwerk really are as boring, monotonous and soullless as people say they are". I'd heard enough in those opening 9 minutes to form an opinion, I tried to keep an open mind for the rest of the album but it's hard to be objective when you have a German repeating the same things endlessly in your ears.

When the final track  came to an end I went straight to my iriver's music folder and told it to play the first thing it found. You won't find Ani Di Franco on this countdown anywhere but 32 Flavors has more emotion, joy, spontaniety, talent and life than this entire album combined and multiplied by four.

Apparently modern music needed Kraftwerk. I honestly can't see why.

Influenced by: Mirrors, Europe and no actual music
Influenced: Depeche mode etc

Highlight: Franz Schubert
Lowlight: Europe Endless

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: I really wanted to like Kraftwerk. I've had this album for years, originally buying it when I began getting interested in electronic music and friends insisted it was a seminal work in the genre. I told myself I liked it, but once the novelty wore off, I rarely listened to it. Now that I'm cleaning out my CD collection, I gave it another listen to see whether it was worth keeping. The answer is a resounding "no." 


-I wonder how many people share a similar experience.


So does Kraftwerk werk for you or would you rather pull the plug on electronica all together? Let me know below.

Friday, November 25, 2011

254. Whitney Houston. The saddest feel-good pop of all



Album: Whitney Houston
Artist: Whitney Houston
Year: 1985
Genre: Pop

Tracks

  1. You Give Good Love
  2. Thinking About You
  3. Someone for Me
  4. Saving All My Love for You
  5. Nobody Loves Me Like You Do
  6. How Will I Know
  7. All at Once
  8. Take Good Care of My Heart
  9. Greatest Love of All
  10. Hold Me

Some music is designed to make you happy. Some songs have been written specifically to give you a spring in your step and a smile on your face. Most pop music is created with exactly this ethos in mind. When you're happy listen to this and when you're sad listen to this to get happy.

Whitney Houston's first album is definitely an attempt to capture the sound of hugs. 15 different writers collaborated on a set of songs designed to be a big bucket of sunshine in the lives of all who heard it. It's one of those albums where even the sad break-up songs are supposed to make you feel great.

A few decades have passed and while other girly pop of the era (Madonna, Cindi Lauper etc) can still recapture the bright colours of the eighties, a listen to Whitney Houston only makes you think about what's happened to Whitney since those days.

For a decade or two, Houston released big selling albums, sold out concert venues and had a nice-girl image that combined wholesome and genuine. But by the end of the nineties she become progressively more erratic and the drug rumours started. She had a messy divorce, some dreadful interviews and some highly publicized secret trips to rehab.

A 2009 comeback was called I Look To You which generated two singles, one of which peaked at number 70 on the billboard charts and the other only managed 100. It was supposed to return her to the top of her game but it only served to return her to rehab a few years later.

You may be able to disconnect art from artist more effectively than I can but when I listen to this album I struggle to overlook the tragedy that Whitney became. From Pop princess to walking headline. It's hard to listen to this music and feelgood when you know that the singer was so dependent on other substances to feel good herself.

Highlight: Her voice. She does have a great voice
Lowlight: The production hasn't dated at all well

Influenced by: The Supremes
Influenced: Teenage girls looking for a positive role model

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Whitney is a true diva, and I AM A TEEN!"

-Glad we cleared that up

So does Houston have a problem or not? let me know below.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

255. The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation society. And you can be too.



Album: The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society
Artist: The Kinks
Genre: Rock
Year: 1968

Tracks

  1. The Village Green Preservation Society
  2. Do You Remember Walter?
  3. Picture Book
  4. Johnny Thunder
  5. Last of the Steam-powered Trains
  6. Big Sky
  7. Sitting by the Riverside
  8. Animal Farm
  9. Village Green
  10. Starstruck
  11. Phenomenal Cat
  12. All of My Friends Were There
  13. Wicked Annabella
  14. Monica
  15. People Take Pictures of Each Other

Like many sixties albums, this release was inspired by a trip. Unlike it's contemporaries however, the trip concerned wasn't a drug trip but an actual physical venture. Kinks leader Ray Davies went wandering around some quaint English towns and started to wonder what their future was. He thought about the England of his childhood and grew nostalgic for the life he used to know and the way of life he thought was under threat. His feelings generated an album that reveled in the things that made rural English life unique. At a time when everyone else was still caught up with the ideal of swinging London, Davies moved his focus to decidedly unswinging Devon.

The resulting album continues Davies' quest to try and blend the new sounds of British invasion rock with the quaint ideals of a time gone by. A set of tunes less focused on rebelling against the world today than conforming to the world of yesterday.

At the time few people cared. The album didn't sell well and the only single failed to chart at all. But in the years since it's risen in the esteem of the music loving public who seem to have developed a keen nostalgia for the days when Ray Davies felt keen nostalgia. A recent 3 disc deluxe version featured the album in its stereo form and mono mix along with a CD full of alternate mixes and versions. Ever year it rises in the public's estimations and becomes more and more popular.

Personally Villiage Green doesn't move me much. It's pleasant but I just can't marry quaint and rock in my head in any satisfactory way. Rock doesn't have to be angry, aggressive, depressing, carnal or exciting but for some reason I just can't deal with it being a bit twee. It makes me nostalgic for a time when nostalgia was the domain of the old an not the young and vibrant.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: People take pictures of each other. It's just too much twee

Influenced by: Nostalgia
Influenced: Belle and Sebastian and others like them.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: I just wish they'd make this album in closed caption, because then we'd all have world peace!

-I have no idea what that means.

So does this album have you looking back with misty eyes or choking back festy liquid? Le me know below.

Friday, November 18, 2011

256. The Velvet Rope- Lot's of People and Janet Jackson



Album: The Velvet Rope
Artist: Jane Jackson.
Year: 1997
Genre: Pop

Tracks


1. Interlude: Twisted Elegance
2. Velvet Rope
3. You
4. Got 'til It's Gone
5. Interlude: Speaker Phone
6. My Need
7. Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts
8. Go Deep
9. Free Xone
10. Interlude: Memory
11. Together Again
12. Interlude: Online
13. Empty
14. Interlude: Full
15. What About
16. Every Time
17. Tonight's the Night
18. I Get Lonely
19. Rope Burn
20. Anything
21. Interlude: Sad
22. Special


Apparently this is a Janet Jackson album. Apparently it's her masterpiece and proof that she's a musical force to be reckoned with. It's her greatest statement and most important release.

Call me cynical but it's also a bit of a sham. 

Got til it's gone is probably the best example I can put forward as evidence. It's not just a good metaphor for this album but for an entire genre. It's Hip Hop in a nutshell. The song's main refrain is a slowed down sample of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. The "Don't know what you've got till it's gone" line is repeated constantly throughout the song.  Janet sings the occasional accompanying line with a tune that is only slightly more musical than general chatting. At just over the halfway point she hands the mic over to a rapper named Q-Tip who raps for the remainder of the song's length. The end result is apparently "A Janet Jackson song" even though it's credited to Janet Jackson, James Harris III, Terry Lewis, René Elizondo, Jr., Joni Mitchell and Kamaal Ibn Fareed. It took five people to write a song that is basically just a lot of backing for the good bit of the song which Joni Mitchell wrote decades before.

But it's actually not that simple. When she heard Got til it's Gone on the radio, an English singer named Des'ree recognised some of her own music in the mix and claimed it sampled her song Feel So High. She successfully sued and was consequently added as a song writer. At the same time a group of rappers calling themselves The Ummah (which included Q-Tip) claimed they were owed a production credit for their efforts. Consequently the final track listing should include seven writers and six producers, all of whom were required to effectively screw up a lovely song that Joni Mitchell recorded years before by herself with one producer behind the desk. 

So tell me how this is Janet Jackson's finest hour? How is it even a Janet Jackson song? Her voice features less than Mitchell's and Q-Tip's and what little she performs she "co-wrote and co produced" with a dozen others. 

There is nothing on this album as good as on Rhythm Nation, her other album in the countdown and personally I'd rate Big Yellow Taxi as a hundred times better than anything here.

Highlight: Joni Mitchell
Lowlight: All the annoying interludes

Influenced by: Madonna
Influenced: Please don't ask me to list their names because I honestly don't know.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "i guess the wold loves tras"

-You know someone thinks an album is trash when they can't even be bothered finishing their review.

So is this pure velvet for you or just money for old rope? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

257. Stardust- Show us your Willie





Album: Stardust
Artist: Willie Nelson
Year: 1978
Genre: Standards

Tracks

  1. Stardust
  2. Georgia on My Mind
  3. Blue Skies
  4. All of Me
  5. Unchained Melody
  6. September Song
  7. On the Sunny Side of the Street
  8. Moonlight in Vermont
  9. Don't Get Around Much Anymore
  10. Someone to Watch Over Me

Critics of this list (and there are many) usually vent their anger at the fact that Rock and Roll is well represented while many other genres receive only a few token albums. Heavy Metal fans are upset that it doesn't contain much "Real Metal," Jazz fans feel seminal and timeless jazz offerings are ignored in favour of disposable pop and Australians complain that their country doesn't appear to exist at all. Fans of country music feel that not only is their genre largely ignored but the albums that make the cut aren't representative of the best the artform has to offer. Stardust is put forward as possible proof.

Willie Nelson is definitely country. He's as country as country comes. He's got a country accent, a country beard, he plays a country guitar (which he's named after a horse) and he's a hero to country artists everywhere. But Stardust isn't really a country album. It's Willie's album of standards- songs so popular they're a standard in a lot of people's repertoires. It's a "Do it yourself" album, you could pick it up and sing it yourself from reading the back cover. Most of the songs are still popular now and were even more popular back then.

Willie doesn't countryfy the tunes in anyway. It's not an album of country versions of standard songs. He sings the songs like he's a fan trying to do them justice. And there's no doubt he does. Under the watchfull eye of Booker T (who had a Rap name before Rap was invented), Willie lends his low-key vocal stylings to a selection of great tunes. He doesn't belt them out because Willie don't belt. His has a limited range but he knows it and stays within the boundaries.

Have a read through the track listing. It's a fair chance you know the songs and you know what Willie's voice sounds like. If you want to hear that voice sing that song then Stardust is worth checking out. If you want a country album, this isn't it.

Influenced by: Broadway
Influenced: The expansion of a country artists repertoire.

Highlight: All of me
Lowlight: On the Sunny Side of the Streth

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Every song is presently well, the fidelity is just great."

-Every song is presently well... does that mean that there might be a time when it won't be well?

So is this an album by a true star or just old and dusty? Let me know below

Saturday, November 12, 2011

258 American Beauty. Damn near perfect.



Album: American Beauty
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Box of Rain
  2. Friend of the Devil
  3. Sugar Magnolia
  4. Operator
  5. Candyman
  6. Ripple
  7. Brokedown Palace
  8. Till the Morning Comes
  9. Attics of My Life
  10. Truckin'
American Beauty is part two of the dual package you can bust out if anyone ever tells you The Grateful Dead couldn't write songs. Paired up with Workingman's Dead, it's proof that Garcia and Co deserve to be held up as one of the great bands in American music history.

Beauty may not have pushed the Dead in any new directions from their last album. They didn't reinvent themselves or take any bold risks, instead they took the blueprint they'd already set and improved on it further. It's another set of great songs.

Ripple, Box of Rain, Attics of my Life, Brokendown Palace and Friend of the Devil are all gorgeous songs and the equal of anyone writing folk-rock at the time. The last four became regular staples of the Dead's live set with Friend of the Devil becoming one of their most played songs. Ripple however was given a few outings before being dropped because the band could never quite do it justice onstage. It needed an acoustic arrangment which is why it was broken out when the Dead did a run of unplugged shows in 1980 (years before MTV ever had the idea). The live album Reckoning has an acoustic version of Ripple that will make you smile on a cloudy day. It's definitely worth hunting down.

But American Beauty isn't all lightness and hippie folk. Sugar Magnolia is one of Weir's best rock songs but is easily eclipsed by Truckin which closes the album out. Truckin is one of the great roadtrip songs. If you need to get behind the wheel and travel make sure Truckin is on your musical playlist. The groove is enough to warrant a few good spins but the line "What a Looooooong strange trip it's been!" is one of Rock's great singalong moments.

I literally don't have a bad word to say about American Beauty. It's blissful and wondrous and just looking at the cover makes me happy.

Once again I highly reccomend you not only get this album but pick up the remastered reissue with added live versions. If it starts your journey towards appreciating live Grateful Dead then it's a first step well worth taking.

Influenced by: CSN and LSD
Influenced: A lot of people who previously wrote The Dead off completely.

Highlight: Truckin
Lowlight: Operator

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "like man I put this disc on for my siameses cat Reggie and I swear to god he tried to gnaw through the radio plug, luckily I unplugged it. So I was all like " What gives lil Reggie you don't feel the Dead?" and he was all like licking his tail then he took a nap."

-Right. Deadheads are often accused of enjoying illicit substances but I think their detractors are capable of knocking back a tab of acid or two as well.

So am I right to rave so much about the Beauty or am I just getting carried away? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

259. Crosby Stills and Nash- Even better than the sum of the parts.



Album: Crosby Stills and Nash
Artist: Crosby Stills and Nash
Year: 1969
Genre: Folk

Tracks

  1. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
  2. Marrakesh Express
  3. Guinnevere
  4. You Don't Have to Cry
  5. Pre-Road Downs
  6. Wooden Ships
  7. Lady of the Island
  8. Helplessly Hoping
  9. Long Time Gone
  10. 49 Bye-Byes

The term Supergroup was created to describe a rock group made up of people who already had some fame behind them. A bunch of musicians who were already big stars when they bumped into each other at their drug dealers house and decided to combine their musical talents. Supergroups occur when a mutual group of talented admirers pool their abilities and attempt to make audio magic. Usually they suck.

On paper the Travelling Wilbury's should have been brilliant. Bob Dylan working with George Harrison helped by Tom Petty should have been enough to create an eargasm. Despite having a wonderful time in the studio they could only manage one half-decent song (Handle With Care) and a two fairly forgettable albums which aren't as good as the unreleased demos. Most supergroups don't do nearly as well.

The most notable exception is the most super of all supergroups: Crosby Stills and Nash. Ex-Byrd David Crosby and former Buffalo Sprinfield Co-leader Stephen Stills started writing and performing together and singing some songs around California. They lusted after the dulcet tones of Englishman Graham Nash, who was singing with the Hollies and decided his voice would perfectly round out the new sound they both heard in their heads. Thankfully Nash ditched his former band and joined up.

The result is a Supergroup that is even better than the sum of its parts. I enjoy Buffalo Sprinfield, don't mind The Byrds and can put up with the Hollies in small doses, but I love this album. In fact I'd even go so far as to say I had a mild obsession with it at one point. I managed to find a second hand copy of the CSN biography, which is one of the best pieces of rock and roll writing I've ever enjoyed. Listening to it gave me a new appreciation of this album and I got a bit hung up on in. Four times a day, 7 days a week hung up in fact. In true David Crosby style I became hopelessly addicted and couldn't put it down. It was a wonderful drug whose only side effects were tunes endlessly playing in my head and keeping me company throughout my day.

Crosby, Stills and Nash not only overcame the standard supergroup pitfalls (rampant egos for example) they dodged individual obstacles throughout the album. They recorded a long suite without making it sound pretentious (Suite: Judy Blue Eyes), they descended into total hippiedom without anchoring their song in an era that it couldn't escape (Gunivere), they recorded a post-apocalyptic tune without becoming hoplessly mawkish (Wooden Ships) and even put together a tune heavilly relying on alliteration without sounding like a whimsical wordy wankfest (Helplessly Hoping). And all throughout there are those harmonies. Three voices that sound like they were made to sing together. Close your eyes and put on earphones... aaah. Bliss. Just bliss.

There were rocky years ahead for Crosby, Stills and Nash. They got old and their band got Young but decades later the force of their musical connection is so strong that they're still playing together in 2011. The world's best supergroup and one of the sixties best albums.

Highlight: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Lowlight: Lady of the Island

Influenced by: The groups they left
Influenced: The "Folk revival"

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "There's nothing here. "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" is one of the longest, most boring songs ever."

-Quality aside, if you think a song that's under 7 and a half minutes is one of the longest ever you clearly need to be exposed to more music.

So is CSN bigger than the sum of their parts or less? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

260 Buena Vista Social Club- World Music's greatest triumph



Album: Beuna Vista Social Club
Artist: Buena Vista Social Club
Year: 1997
Genre: World Music

Tracks
  1. Chan Chan
  2. De camino a la vereda
  3. El cuarto de Tula
  4. Pueblo nuevo
  5. Dos gardenias
  6. ¿Y tú qué has hecho?
  7. Veinte años
  8. El carretero
  9. Candela
  10. Amor de loca juventud
  11. Orgullecida
  12. Murmullo
  13. Buena Vista Social Club
  14. La bayamesa

There is a genre of music called "World Music" which apparently is best defined as "Anything not recorded in English". Kind of arrogant isn't it? We've decided that anything not sung by white people in a language the Queen can understand isn't just music it's "World Music". I wonder if people in other cultures who record albums think of themselves as World Musicians?

Most World Music albums sell a handful of copies to a niche market made up of people who have a taste for the exotic or like to look like they do. But the genre's greatest triumph by far is The Buena Vista Social Club which I'm happy to say come about completely by accident.

The original intention was to fly renowned guitarist Ry Cooder (a man with a penchant for jamming with interesting people) to Cuba where he would play with some local musicians and two performers from Mali who would form a strange new musical genre. Sadly (or maybe happily) the African musicians couldn't get their visa's sorted out so Cooder decided to spend a few days recording some traditional Cuban music with some traditional Cubans. They spent six days playing together and then released an album for the heck of it.

Somehow the public's imagination was captured. The album sold steadily despite not receiving much promotion. Word of mouth drove sales throughout the year that followed and eventually a film was made about the music's creation and a subsequent reunion concert. The movie bolstered album sales still further and the most unlikely hit was created.

Buena Vista Social Club is a fun listen. It's light and breezy and jazz that people who say they hate jazz would love. Most of the copies sold are probably used to background music but that doesn't stop it from being a great album that's hard not to enjoy. It's popular all over the world (where it's called World Music) and in Cuba (where it's just called music) and presumably even in Mali (where two frustrated musicians must be gnashing their teeth thinking about what they missed out on)

Highlight: Candela
Lowlight: Murmullo

Influenced by: Cuba's history
Influenced: Record labels to pump out any Cuban music they could find.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote  "If this is the best of Cuba, then maybe the US trade embargo was a good thing after all."

-That's a bit harsh.

So will this music live as long as Fidel? Let me know below.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

261 Tracy Chapman- Nice Girl Does Well



Album: Tracy Chapman
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Year: 1988
Genre: Folk

Tracks

  1. Talkin' Bout a Revolution
  2. Fast Car
  3. Across the Lines
  4. Behind the Wall
  5. Baby Can I Hold You
  6. Mountains o' Things
  7. She's Got Her Ticket
  8. Why?
  9. For My Lover
  10. If Not Now...
  11. For You

I love the idea of Tracy Chapman, I like her story and I really like her.

Chapman grew up in a poor family but had a mother who recognised her musical talent and encouraged it from an early age. She dedicated herself to singing and playing guitar and had a hit album that made her name and earnt her a fortune. And then she neatly and perfectly sidestepped the pitfalls the music industry puts in front of someone they've painted as an overnight success. She didn't fall into a haze of drug abuse, she avoided becoming a "trapped by their success" nostalgia act, she doesn't give interviews abusing those who went after her and she never sold out and let her music become an advertising jingle. She's made herself a happy career writing and playing music for people who want to hear what she plays while making guest appearances paying tribute to her heroes and performing charity concerts to raise awareness for causes she supports.

Chapman is someone who has a massive talent which she has taken full control of to forge her own career and to help others. In every respect she's the perfect role model for young girls (and boys) everywhere. Wouldn't the world be a much better place if she replaced the bleached-blonde talentless nobodies on the covers of magazines all over the world? Instead of obsessing over the drug habits, failed relationships or attention-seeking shenanigans of the attractive but vacuous we could have Tracy Chapman on our newstands. I'd smile inside if I passed a display of glossy magazines with "Chapman plays charity concert for new chairty" on the cover instead of "Kim shows off her new man!" headlines which make me die a little more inside every time I see them.

Tracy Chapman's debut album is a great listen but possibly eclipsed by Collection, a Greatest hits release which has the best moments from this album and other great tracks besides.

Chapman had a wonderful voice, a lot of songwriting talent, a beautiful soul and lives a wonderful and genuine life- the world is a better place for her existence and would be even better if more people knew it.

Highlight: Fast Car.
Lowlight: If not now

Influenced by: Joni Mitchell
Influenced: I'm not sure but I'm pleased that she's out there influencing someone.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Some liberals feel that music is just another place to be a drag. (And these remarks are coming from a massive liberal!) I don't subscribe to that hogwash. 10,000 maniacs, Midnight Oil and Tracy Chapman are the bottom of the barrell; a very humorless barrell."

-Ouch. There's a lot of vitriol directed at Chapman's politics over on Amazon.

So if you had a fast car would you play Tracy Chapman in it or drive away as quick as you can? Let me know below.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

262. Workingman's Dead- Noodle Free Rock and Roll



Album: Workingman's Dead
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Uncle John's Band
  2. High Time
  3. Dire Wolf
  4. New Speedway Boogie
  5. Cumberland Blues
  6. Black Peter
  7. Easy Wind
  8. Casey Jones

No band in the world suffers from their reputation as much as the Grateful Dead. When I mention their name most people think they're a death metal band (the skull motifs don't help) or write them off as drug-addled, psychedelic noodlers. I would never try and claim illicit substances didn't play a huge part in their story, and I can play you concerts where they're clearly just aimlessly searching for inspiration onstage, but I maintain The Dead deserve to be liberated from their reputation and held up as great American songwriters. Over their thirty year career they wrote some fantastic original songs. Eight of them are on Workingman's Dead.

In their previous visit to the studio, The Dead had seen a recording space as their own experimental wonderland and the record company's budget was there to fund their personal experience. They started Workingman's with a desire to be taken seriously, a need to do the songs the justice they deserved and an urge to try out the vocal harmonizing techniques taught to them by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

When Workingman's Dead dropped onto the turntables of the record buying public they were amazed to find The Dead could sing. They could write beautiful melodies like Uncle John's Band, High Time and Black Peter and then bring their voices together in a studio the way they could unite their instruments onstage. The end result doesn't sound like drug-dazed experimenters it sounded like a group of practiced folk-singers chanelling the spirit of americana. Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said one of the greatest compliments he was ever paid was overhearing a group of miners who heard Cumberland Blues on a jukebox. One apparently wondered out loud what the original writer of the song would have done if he knew a band like the Grateful Dead were going to cover it. On Workingman's Dead they weren't just mimicing authentic American music they were making it so real it could even fool authentic Americans.

If you're going to get Workingman's Dead (and why wouldn't you?) get your hands on the recent reissue which remasters the original album and also includes some live vesions which show how they could do their newfound love of songwriting justice on stage. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Highlight: Uncle John's Band
Lowlight: Casey Jones (My least favourite Dead original)

Influenced by: America, Bob Dylan, folk music and CSN
Influenced: Every Jam band currently working.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If it was'nt for this album the Grateful Dead would've been long forgotten and would've been forever looked down on as just another San Fransisco sounds group."

-You have said a silly thing. Workingman's is great but the Dead are so much more than just this set of songs.

So would you employ the Workingman's Dead or fire them immediately? Let me know below.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

263. The Genius of Ray Charles. The music not the fans.



Album: The Genius of Ray Charles
Artist: Ray Charles
Genre: Rhythm and Blues
Year: 1959

Tracks

  1. Let The Good Times Roll
  2. It Had To Be You
  3. Alexander's Ragtime Band
  4. Two Years Of Torture
  5. When Your Lover Has Gone
  6. Deed I Do
  7. Just For A Thrill
  8. You Won't Let Me Go
  9. Tell Me You'll Wait For Me
  10. Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'
  11. Am I Blue
  12. Come Rain Or Come Shine

The worst thing about some albums are the fans. There are bands and entire genres who are let down by their loyal fan base. I know people who won't listen to the Grateful Dead because they conjure images of manic, stoned hippies in unwashed tie dye. Cure fans from my past made me treat Robert Smith's albums as punchlines instead of works of art. It's hard not to think of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans as rednecks who own more guns than books. Hip Hop, Country and metal are all genres which conjure images of stereotyped fans which are impossible to dispell when listening to the music.

Fans of Ray Charles however are... well not so clearly defined.

Ray doesn't have a typical fanbase. I'm sure there's a Ray Charles fanclub somewhere but I have no idea what the president looks like: a middle-aged white woman from New York? A young black economics lecturer from Belgium? A nice old couple from Adelaide who own matching knitwear and a dog named Genius? I honestly couldn't tell you.

Ray's music has been liberated from images, impressions and preconceptions. It's just music captured for future generations to enjoy. Which means picturing someone who doesn't like it is just as hard and picturing someone who adores it. Who wouldn't like Ray Charles? He's got soul, he's got a great voice, he can play the piano and he's chosen a perfect set of songs to showcase his talents. Anyone putting on The Genius of Ray Charles can enjoy a set of great songs that I honestly believe would appeal to hippie, bogan, redneck, academic, metalhead, richman, poorman, beggarman and thief.

It's music so universal you'd have to search for a reason not to like it. And if you find one for goodness sake keep it to yourself because the rest of us are happy to remain oblivious.

Highlight: It had to be you
Lowlight: Just for a Thrill

Influenced by: R and furthermore B
Influenced: Anyone doing these songs since.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "From his secularized gospel crossed with R&B that invented Soul he enjoyed playing and excelling in every from except for maybe Opera."

-The following is a small list of genres that I don't think Ray tried: Death Metal, Polka, Punk, Avante Garde Electro, scottish Highland ballads. I'm sure there are more.

So is Ray a Genius or not? Let me know below.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

265. Cosmo's factory- Creedence where Creedence is due



Album: Cosmo's Factory
Artist: CCR
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

Tracks: 

  1. Ramble Tamble
  2. Before You Accuse Me
  3. Travelin' Band
  4. Ooby Dooby
  5. Lookin' Out My Back Door
  6. Run Through the Jungle
  7. Up Around the Bend
  8. My Baby Left Me
  9. Who'll Stop the Rain
  10. I Heard It Through the Grapevine
  11. Long as I Can See the Light

I work with a guy who doesn't like Creedence Clearwater Revival. In all other respects he's a normal guy, he's definitely human, he's in possession of working ears, he's not deliberately obtuse or rebellious and he shows no other outward signs of mental instability. He likes rock and roll but for some reason he holds no truck with Fogerty and friends. I could understand someone who hates guitars and can only tolerate classical music not being a big fan but if you've got any albums in your collection that feature drums, bass and guitar you must have some love for Creedence surely?

I struggle to understand what's not to like. Is it the catchy rhythms? The well-crafted songs? The heartfelt vocals? The well chosen covers? What's the problem?

The one complaint that I could see anyone having with CCR is their tendency to stretch out longer than some would consider strictly necessary. I heard it through the Grapevine clocks in at a healthy 11 minutes. If you're the sort of person who thinks anything over five minutes is self indulgent then I can understand your issues. But then you've still got the perfectly crafted pop of Run through the Jungle, Lookin out my back door and Who'll stop the Rain, which on their own would be enough to make Cosmo's factory a great album.

Personally I'm a big fan. There's not a dud song and as far as I'm concerned there's not an ounce of excess flab anywhere in the 11 minutes it takes the band to sing about communications received on fruit-bearing plantlife.

Highlight: I heard it through the Grapevine
Lowlight: Ooby Dooby

Influenced by: The Blues
Influenced: The Yardbirds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It sounds as clear and crisp as it did when I was 13!"

-Of course it's entirely possible that the reviewer was 14 at the time of writing.

So would you happily work in Cosmo's Factory or would you hand in your notice after track one? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

266 Quadrophenia. Rock operas- just say no.



Album: Quadrophenia
Artist: The Who
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. I Am the Sea
  2. The Real Me
  3. Quadrophenia
  4. Cut My Hair
  5. The Punk and the Godfather
  6. I'm One
  7. The Dirty Jobs
  8. Helpless Dancer (Roger's theme)
  9. Is It in My Head
  10. I've Had Enough
  11. 5:15
  12. Sea and Sand
  13. Drowned
  14. Bell Boy (Keith's theme)
  15. Doctor Jimmy (John's theme)
  16. The Rock
  17. Love, Reign O'er Me (Pete's theme)

Pete Townshend loves Rock Operas. The Who's guitarist, leader and principal songwriter is a huge fan of turning simple music into something grander, something more ambitious, something with a narrative and message, something... overblown.

His first attempt gave us Tommy, an album about a deaf dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. His second try was the ill-fated Lifehouse project about a nihilistic future vision which Pete was forced to abandon. Attempt three produced Quadrophenia a double album of tracks with a narrative which followed the existential life-musings of a Mod from London. Struggling with big philosophical issues is hard enough at the best of times but when you've got a split personality and all four elements of your psyche represent a member of The Who it's pretty much impossible. It would be hard living as one member of The Who, let alone all four of them.

When Townshend pulled the plug on the Lifehouse project he didn't abandon it entirely. He ditched the narrative, took the best songs and recorded an album called Who's Next which is far and away the best thing The Who ever did. Listening to Quadrophenia I can't help but wish he'd done the same thing here: dump the Rock Opera concept and cull the double album down into one disc of great songs. If he had I think we might have another Who's Next and not an album which has some great moments but is a bit of a struggle to hear all the way through. People had to listen to the two minutes of ocean sound effects that open the album in the age of vinyl before the skip function was invented, but now we can brush it aside with the press of a button does anyone bother?

Not to say Quadrophenia is bad by any stretch of the imagination, measured purely on musical ability The Who were one of the greatest foursomes to ever take a stage and Townshend can write great songs. But this is just too over-blown, especially when you consider what could have been if it was less blown.

Highlight: The Real Me
Lowlight: I am the Sea

Influenced by: Rock music and pomposity
Influenced: Many concept albums since.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Buyers beware!!! This CD is a hoax. I spent the entire sum of it to get a copy to try for my new quadrophonic sound system. But I was hated to say that this bad CD is not quadrophonic AT ALL!!~! "

-Clearly a joke but it got a wry smile from me.

So is this Rock Opera Greatness or overblown and pointless? Let me know below

Friday, October 14, 2011

267. There goes rhymin Simon.



Album: There goes Rhymin Simon
Artist: Paul Simon
Genre: Pop
Year: 1973

Tracks

  1. Kodachrome
  2. Tenderness
  3. Take Me to the Mardi Gras
  4. Something So Right
  5. One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor
  6. American Tune
  7. Was a Sunny Day
  8. Learn How to Fall
  9. St. Judy's Comet
  10. Loves Me Like a Rock



Once upon a time a singer named Paul,
decided his friend was really no friend at all,
and so, after thinking, the singer resolved,
that his musical partnership should be dissolved.
Simon decided he'd sever Garfunkle,
like one would a wart or a painful carbuncle.
He released a new album with his name as the title,
and the critics described it as essential and vital.
Another year followed and a new album too:
"There goes Rhyming Simon" and here comes a review...

Kodachrome is the opening song
some say it's a drug song, others say this is wrong
Personally it's fairly easy to see,
how the song is a statement about LSD.
If it's just about film, as some people say,
why does Simon ask people not to take it away?
Who confiscated film? Who'd deny him his slides?
It's kodachrome, innocent and nothing besides.
So if Simon laments that it may be removed,
a case for a metaphor could well be proved.
It's not kodachrome so benign and so placid,
that makes Simon see colours, it's actually acid.
Either way I'm happy to cut Paul some slack,
cos the song itself is an excellent track.

American Tune is a wonderful ballad,
who's claim to be classic is perfectly valid.
It's not hard to be angry, or sad or erotic
but it's a much harder task to write patriotic.
Jingoistic is easy, but a fine moving song,
that praises a nation doesn't oft come along.
It makes me proud to be from the U S of A
Even though I was actually born far far away

Loves me like a rock is disc's final track,
it ends as it starts- great songs front to back.
But there is a small issue, which I may have got wrong
and concerns the affection of the girl in the song.
Does she "love like a rock" because rocks are great lovers
and there's few things more sexy than a stone under covers?
Or does she "love like a rock" because she's a rock fan,
and her affection for granite matches her love for her man?

It's a quibble at best and it doesn't much matter,
the point is this album is a bloody good platter.
It's a group of great songs that comes highly commended,
that's all that I've got, this review has now ended.

Highlight: American Tune
Lowlight: The Cover, if the music had dated as badly it would be a terrible listen.

Influenced by: Simon and Garfunkle
Influenced: Dave Matthews.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The only reason I didn't give 5 stars was the extra cuts. Why not leave a near perfect piece of work alone? It's such blatant greed to stick things that ended up on the cutting room floor on the end."

-So they fill the blank space on the end of your CD with some bonus material and you're complaining?

So is Paul you're be all and end all who holds you in his thrall or does he appall? Let me know below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

268. PsychoCandy. Currently orbiting a moon near you.


Album: PsychoCandy
Artist: The Jesus and Mary Chain
Genre: Pop
Year: 1985

Tracks


1. Just Like Honey
2. The Living End
3. Taste the Floor
4. The Hardest Walk
5. Cut Dead
6. In a Hole
7. Taste of Cindy
8. Some Candy Talking
9. Never Understand
10. Inside Me
11. Sowing Seeds
12. My Little Underground
13. You Trip Me Up
14. Something's Wrong
15. It's So Hard


Imagine a space station. One of those huge sleek things that orbits a moon in science fiction films and is all shiny white corridors and doors that open automatically. This particular space station has lots of machinery on board designed to crush moonrock or maybe reassemble crushed moonrock or do other complex spacy things. Of course it's run by a computer. A talking computer who has an artificial intelligence and programmed phrases that it can recite in a polite tone but with a diffident air. Now imagine all the crew have gone somewhere- there was a viral outbreak or an asteroid threat or a party on Saturn with free ice cream, it doesn't matter the point is that the space station is currently devoid of human life.

All that's left is the computer, and the machinery and the endless void of space.

After a few hundred years the computer starts to hum a bit to itself. Just to check it's vocal modules and audio receptors still work. A bit of a hum. Then after a few decades of humming, with the occasional "doo de do de doo" thrown in, it realizes that the machinery's thumping has a bit of a rhythm. There's a definite beat to the moonrock crushers. And the life support systems have a drone that really grooves if you have the right attitude. Tentatively at first, but with growing confidence the computer begins to sing. It's voice echoes down the abandoned halls, bouncing it's monotone lyrics off the bare walls while the machinery screeches and thumps. On occasion one of the rock crushers develops a fault and a definite howl. The computer likes these moments. It adds character.

Perhaps you're the sort of person who is listening to this description and thinking "that sounds like the coolest idea for a musical experience ever". If you are then The Jesus and Mary Chain are for you. If it sounds like your own personal hell then I recommend you leave Psychocandy well alone.

Influenced by: The Velvet Underground and the possibilities electro provide.
Influenced: Animal Collective

Highlight: Cut Dead
Lowlight: It's so hard.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I listened to 6-7 tracks from this band and i gotta say i would not get this CD, i think "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club" is way better than these guys despite having more or less cd's."

-Call me crazy but I don't think you can review an album after hearing a few tracks by the band. Even if the spread of your experience ranges from six songs all the way to seven.

So are the Jesus and Mary chain your savior and mother or just a guy from mexico and his wife? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

269. Some Girls. Jagger's answer to his punk critics



Album: Some Girls
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1978
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. Miss You
2. When The Whip Comes Down
3. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
4. Some Girls
5. Lies
6. Far Away Eyes
7. Respectable
8. Before They Make Me Run
9. Beast Of Burden
10. Shattered


Since the end of the eighties, every album The Stones have released has been hailed as The Best Since Some Girls. Their 1978 effort is held up as their last great record and the album that every subsequent one will get compared to. It's kind of sobering to think that Some Girls was released a mere 15 years since their debut. In other words: this came out a third of the way into their career so far and the last two thirds have their career hasn't been as good.

When Some Girls hit the shops, The Stones were trying to emerge from a bit of a career slump. After their unbelievable four album run (Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street) they had a three album dip in quality with Goats Head Soup, It's only Rock and Roll and Black and Blue, all of which had their highlights but had their share of flat spots as well. The glory days of rock and roll seemed to have passed and the twin towers of punk and disco had risen in it's place. Bands like the Stones were seen as out-of-touch dinosaurs who had no relevance for the modern music fan.

If this one thing Mick Jagger hates it's being looked on as passe. For years he led the most dangerous rock band on earth so to be cast aside as meaningless definitely stung. He wanted to do something to restore the image of the Stones as rock's most important bad boys but was hampered by  Keith Richards who was fighting a Canadian drug bust that could have seen him doing an lengthy jail term. So with a reputation to uphold, a dispirited drug-addicted partner and a new second guitarist who had only just joined the band, Jagger had to put out ten songs that would reclaim his much loved reputation.

Some Girls is definitely a triumph. Two sides of vinyl which sound uniquely like the Stones but don't resemble their future attempts to reclaim past glories. Ten songs, some of which were definite classics (Beast of Burden, Respectable, Miss You) and even the minor songs were still a great listen. It rocks, it swings and it even works being light-hearted (The Girl with the Faraway Eyes) and desperate (Before They Make Me Run is Keith pouring his heroin-filled heart out into the microphone).

No matter what you think of the Stones you could never be more tough on them than  Jagger who is his own harshest critic. The true test of what Rock's Greatest Ever Frontman thinks of his past work is to see if the songs make it into modern Stones setlists. Unlike many of their albums since, who have only had one or two songs given live outings, every track off Some Girls has been played live, with many songs making welcome appearances in setlists thirty years after they were recorded.

Some Girls was Mick's challenge to the Punk and Disco artists who thought he was irrelevant in the seventies. Today it holds up much better than many of his critics who time has justifiably forgotten.

Influenced by: Disco and Punk and a desire to reclaim a throne.
Influenced: Sadly not enough people at the time.

Highlight: Miss You
Lowlight: Some Girls (and not just for the dodgy lyrics)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "GET THIS WITH BEGGARS BANQUET,LET IT BLEED,A BIGGER BANG AND EXILE ON MAIN STREET."

-one of those albums is not like the others.

So is this a respectable release or a beast of burden you'd rather do without? Let me know below.

Monday, October 3, 2011

270. Today! Direct to you from over 40 years ago.



Album: Today!
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1965
Genre: Pop

Tracks

  1. Do You Wanna Dance?
  2. Good To My Baby
  3. Don't Hurt My Little Sister
  4. When I Grow Up
  5. Help Me, Ronda
  6. Dance, Dance, Dance
  7. Please Let Me Wonder
  8. I'm So Young
  9. Kiss Me, Baby
  10. She Knows Me Too Well
  11. In The Back Of My Mind
  12. Bull Session With The "Big Daddy"

I think I've worked out why I love the Beatles and why I don't really care for the Beach Boys. I've always wondered why I've been obsessed with one group for almost 20 years now but remain entirely unmoved by the other. My theory is it's because the lads from Liverpool seem timeless and locationless whereas the cats from California seem firmly stuck in LA in the early sixties.

The Beatles grew up in Liverpool but listened to music from Chicago, Detroit and Nashville. They honed their craft in Hamburg and recorded their music in London. The Beach Boys grew up in California listening to Californian musicians and playing in California where they would eventually record. When you listen to the music of John and Paul it feels like they recorded music for everyone everywhere. Brian Wilson sounds like he was recording exclusively for sixties kids sitting on a beach on the West Coast of the USA. Their music is firmly entrenched in one location and trapped in one time. If you yearn for sun-drenched California in the years just before Ronald Reagan became governor then they're the perfect band for you. If not, they're just harder to get your head around.

Harmonies and production date the Beach Boys and their lyrics don't help either. Using words like "dig" and "square" tend to place your music firmly in a certain point in time. The emphasis on teenage issues make it hard to appreciate as an adult. It feels so localised and specific.

The other reason I find it hard to get into the Beach Boys is actually a reason to admire them. In just over three years they released an incredible ten albums of original material. The Beatles put out albums at an impressive rate but the most they managed was two a year. The Beach Boys had three years in which they put out three albums. And whereas the Beatles had two great songwriters the Beach Boys just had one. I can't help but wonder what their career might have been like if Wilson had been limited to one album every 12 months. If he was allowed to focus on producing 14 great songs a year instead of nearly fifty I'm sure they'd have a lot more albums in this countdown than they do now.

Influenced by: California
Influenced: A generation of surf bands who have since faded into total obscurity.

Highlight: Help me Rhonda
Lowlight: Do you wanna Dance

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Classics like California Girls, When I Grow Up To Be A Man, and Help Me Rhonda will always get any party in a good mood."

-I love blanket statements like this. I can envisage several party environments that wouldn't be put in a good mood by the Beach Boys: Royal dinner parties, bikie gang revelry and end-of-year Satanic Christmas functions are three that spring to mind.

So do you want to listen to the Beach Boys today or never again? Let me know below.