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.