Sunday, December 30, 2012

140. Parallel Lines. One way or another

Album: Parallel Lines
Artist: Blondie
Genre: New Wave Rock
Year: 1979


1. Hanging on the Telephone
2. One Way or Another
3. Picture This
4. Fade Away and Radiate
5. Pretty Baby
6. I Know But I Don't Know
7. 11:59
8. Will Anything Happen?
9. Sunday Girl
10. Heart of Glass
11. I'm Gonna Love You Too
12. Just Go Away

It's nice to get a pleasant surprise this late into the countdown. As we progress into the higher reaches  albums that I'm unfamiliar with are becoming increasingly rarer. The list is either dominated by bands or artists that I adore or by albums it's impossible to ignore. While obviously I'd heard of Blondie and can sing a few of their hits, I had never heard an entire album from start to finish. My exposure to Blondie was limited to radio hits, an episode of the muppets and a song a friend of mine used to sing in Karaoke bars in Japan.

Having heard Parallel Lines from start to finish four times I have learnt that:

Blondie are more than just their singles.
Debbie Harry is more than just a pretty face
My friend Lorraine did a surprisingly faithful version of One Way or Another

and finally...

Just because an album is called New Wave doesn't mean it's bad.  Much has been made of New Wave as a genre. Nobody really understands what it really is. The best definition seems to be a Punk Mentality with better musicianship but since nobody can really agree on what constitutes Punk it seems silly to define one genre we don't understand by comparing it to another we don't understand either.

Either way I've heard a lot of New Wave and most of it's pretty bad, mainly because it seems so dated and so obsessed with its own era. Blondie however manage to transcend their limitations by writing really good songs. Hanging on the Telephone, One way or another and Heart of Glass are all fantastic songs. They might have a tag that says New Wave but they're just good rock and roll. If Blondie had given them to The Glimmer Twins so that Keith could beef up the riff and Mick could sleaze over the top they'd be great Rolling Stones songs.

Not that I'm suggesting for a second that Blondie can't do justice to their own material. Harry can sing and the band can play. They can tick all the boxes a good band needs and while the filler tracks on Parallel Lines aren't as good as the singles that's hardly a massive crime, and if it is then it's one most albums on this list are guilty of.

I really enjoyed Parallel Lines. It's a great album by a band with a lot of talent and it manages to transcend its genre to become something more universally accepted and less dated than most albums calling themselves New Wave.

Highlight: Hanging on the Telephone
Lowlight: Sunday Girl

Influenced by: The Clash
Influenced: Pink

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Fun and irreverent, mildly innovative given the time it was made."

-Mildly innovative. I love that expression. It's not ground-breaking but it's definitely innovative to a degree. Mildly innovative.

So are you happy to travel in parallel lines or would you rather be perpendicular once in a while? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

141 Live at the Regal. King of the Blues

Album: Live at the Regal
Artist: BB King
Genre: Blues
Year: 1965


1.     Every Day I Have the Blues
2. Sweet Little Angel
3. It's My Own Fault
4. How Blue Can You Get?
5. Please Love Me
6. You Upset Me Baby
7. Worry, Worry
8. Woke Up This Morning (My Baby's Gone)
9. You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now
10. Help the Poor

BB King is one of those performers who is happiest standing in front of an audience. He started playing concerts in the 1940's and is still playing in front of delighted guests in 2012 at aged 87. He's almost always on the road and in his lifetime has played over 15,000 concerts to an uncountable mass of humanity. He loves moving an audience using only his voice, six strings and his well-trained and practiced band of musicians.

King's record label has been keen to exploit his ability to work a crowd with a series of live albums released regularly throughout his career (and no doubt lined up ready to posthumously release when the King leaves us) but Live at the Regal was their first attempt at making money from his ability to channel the blues in its purest form. Later live releases are longer, have more hits and are frequently augmented by guests but this first outing proves that it didn't really matter which songs were chosen, King is a fantastic live performer who rules his own stage.

BB has a great voice, a tight band and can really play the guitar. He's one of those performers who rarely has a bad night but at the Regal he was in unusually fine form. If you're someone who wants to learn more about the blues and you're interested in hearing the music that influenced the white boys who picked up guitars and perfected rock and roll.

Influenced by: T Bone Walker
Influenced: Clapton and many others

Highlight: How Blue can you get?
Lowlight: Worry Worry

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:  "I would steer clear of this selection. Or I'll send you mine for free!"

-What an excellent offer! Most people just slang off albums they don't like, this is the first time someone has offered to provide a copy.

So are you a monarchist when it comes to the blues or a staunch republican? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

142 Phil Spector a Christmas gift for you. Blech.

Album: Phil Spector a Christmas Gift for you
Artist: Phil Spector
Genre: Christmas
Year: 1963

1. White Christmas
2. Frosty the Snowman
3. The Bells of St. Mary's
4. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
5. Sleigh Ride
6. Marshmallow World
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
9. Winter Wonderland
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
12. Here Comes Santa Claus
13. Silent Night

I'm not really a fan of Christmas albums. There are a lot of them out there and record companies love it when artists quickly whip together a collection of holiday themed hits for a quick Christmas cash in. Most of these are just deplorably bad even when they're recorded by artists I like. The Barenaked Ladies and Los Lonely Boys released appalling Christmas albums which immediately made me respect them less. Bruce Cockburn and the Indigo girls also succumbed to the lure of the Christmas album and while both did a creditable job it doesn't feel like their hearts where really in it. Their performances have "contractual obligation" oozing out of every note. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Bob Dylan's much maligned Christmas in the Heart which everyone seems to hate. I really like Christmas in the heart. It's not an album I turn to when I want to hear great Dylan but I do play it several times over Christmas (and it's worth pointing out that unlike most Christmas albums, all the profits of Dylan's release were donated to charity).

I'm also not much of a fan of Phil Spector. My idea of the perfect producer is one who keeps his distance and lets the musicians play. A good one can bring out something special in their artist (Daniel Lanois working with Dylan in 1989 for example) but most of them should sit back and let the band or artist get on with it as much as possible. The idea of producer as performer is not something that sits comfortably with me at all. This is the only album in the countdown which features the producer's name in the title (although in fairness it didn't in its original form). Spector felt the artist was just another thing for the producer to play with and his albums were all about his ability to create a wall of sound in which he piled on instruments, backing vocals and everything he could get his hands on in order to make a dense musical soundscape.

The end result is massively over produced. I don't deny it's hard to do. Layering everything onto a track and not losing the melody in amongst everything else is tricky but just not worth doing. While he might not lose the musical lines, Spector loses the impact of the music he's slathering instruments over the top of. You can still recognise White Christmas and Silent Night but that doesn't mean they sound like the songs you love, they sound like treacle poured over the songs you love.

I can imagine lots of people wanting to hear this around Christmas time. It probably gets pulled out of a few collections and dusted off in late December every year but personally I'll be keeping my distance. Even once a year is too much to hear this much over production on songs that I never really liked anyway. I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus has nothing to do with the Christmas spirit to me. It's just an annoying song that nobody could turn into gold but Spector turns into goopy mush.

By the way, the fact that this review appears on this blog a few days before Christmas is entirely coincidental and just one of those happy things. It was just the next album I was due to write about.  But since I have, let me take the time to wish everyone who has read this blog over 2012 a Happy Christmas. I hope some nice person gives you some even nicer music on the 25th.

Highlight: Amazing timing.
Lowlight: Annoying production

Influenced by: Christmas and ego.
Influenced: Production standards.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Spector's a genious. I wish he'd make a few more like this." I'm sorry but Phil is a bit tied up at the moment. Unless they have a huge recording studio in his prison I don't think he's making too much Christmas music.

So does this fill you with the christmas spirit or would you need to filled with other spirits to sit through it? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

143 Gris Gris. What in the hell is this?

Album: Gris Gris
Artist: Dr John
Year: 1968
Genre: Funk


1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
3. Mama Roux
4. Danse Fambeaux
5. Croker Courtbullion
6. Jump Sturdy
7. I Walk On Guilded Splinters

Well this isn't what I was expecting at all.

I've heard some Dr John in the past, as part of this countdown and in other listening. I've also heard some other New Orleans music so I went into this with some preconceived expectations. I was expecting funk and something groovy. I was looking for some toe-tapping music in the vein of Aiko Aiko which would move my feet and shake my bones. I wasn't expecting weirdness. But weirdness is what I got. 

Goodness this is strange. It sounds like Dr John doesn't want to move your feet as much as claim your soul. It's eirie and spooky and full of creepy chanting backing vocals. The good Doctor himself sings in a disembodied whisper that makes him sound like the last person you'd want in attendance if you were ailing in some way. The musicians playing along are all mixed low and echoey as if they're not in the studio as much as they're on another spiritual plain being summoned by John's demonic vocals.

Much of the vocals are in English but there is French as well although it's not romantic French that would woo any lover from this dimension. Track two features the words "Danse Kalinda Ba Boom" (which Google translate thinks is Indonesian) repeated over and over again by frenetic singers and it sounds for all the world like the backing music to that scene in every cheap horror film where they're preparing the heroine for sacrifice. If you played it to me and asked who was responsible there is no way I would have ever guessed. There's none of Dr John's piano playing or distinctive voice. 

Crocker Courtbullion sounds to me like it features a harpsichord along with a flute odd percussion twangy electric guitar and general muted weirdness. If I had to guess I'd suggest it was Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart or more likely the two working together. The collection of singers all chanting the tracks title in a silly voice that sounds like an evil muppet doesn't help. God help me it's bizarre. 

I'd be writing this off as an inaccessible oddity if it weren't for the final track. I walk on Guilded Splinters is brilliant. It's funky and snaky and features John's best singing on the entire album. Someone even took the time to perform a quick exorcism on the backing vocals before it was recorded and the departing spirits took some of the musical weirdness with them. It's magnificently moody but catchy at the same time and I have no idea why it's hidden away at the end of the album. I wonder how many people missed it because they turned off  after the lunacy of tracks one to six?

If the entire of this album was like the final track I would be raving about it. If the last track was like the first six I'd still be shaking my head in bewilderment. As it is I can't recommend it but I do have a song to add to a folder of miscellaneous greatest hits I'm compiling from the top 500 so far.

Influenced by: Looking at a swamp while on drugs
Influenced: Psycadelic funk in general

Highlight: I walk on Gilded Splinters
Lowlight: Jumpy Sturdy

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Call me straight but since I never got into smack or LSD I don't get drug influenced music because it sounds synthesised and hybrid on the totality of mind-body as nature and Nature intended. Only Bird, Ray Charles and Miles Davis could do drugs and evolve as artists in their originality."

-Interesting perspective. Not sure I agree with the final claim though.

So do you walk on gilded splinters? Let me know below.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

144 Straight outta Compton

Album: Straight outta compton
Artist: NWA
Genre: Rap
Year: 1988


1.  Straight Outta Compton
2.  Fuck tha Police
3. Gangsta Gangsta
4. If It Ain't Ruff
5. Parental Discretion Iz Advised
6. 8 Ball
7. Something Like That
8. Express Yourself
9. Compton's N the House
10. I Ain't tha 1
11. Dope Man
12. Quiet on tha Set
13. Something 2 Dance 2

In 1988 NWA recorded Straight Outta Compton and a new genre was born: gangsta rap. Suddenly hip hop moved away from simple obsessions like girls and started to focus on guns, violence and the gangsta lifestyle.

The most famous track on Compton is definitely Fuck tha Police which is about the police. NWA don't like them.

"Ice Cube will swarm
On any motherfucker in a blue uniform
Just cause I'm from the CPT, punk police are afraid of me, huh
A young nigga on a war path
And when I'm finished, it's gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dyin' in LA"

Suddenly rap wasn't about fun it was about declaring war on organized law enforcement.

NWA clearly hate the police. Whether their hatred is justified or not is a subject that commentators have written about for years. Are NWA empowering themselves from a point of racial disenfranchisement by playfully directing their anger at white dominated authority? Are they expressing the collected frustrations of a culture who have been oppressed for years and through music have been given a voice they have been otherwise denied? Or are they cynically using violence and anger to sell records? Or is it possible they're just an unpleasant collection of people with a recording contract?

Whatever your answer to the above questions you have to then address the band's attitude to women, a group they hold in only slightly higher esteem than organized law enforcement. NWA laid down the standard vernacular for rap's attitude to women. They were "bitches" and "ho's" who needed to be slapped down and have their ass "clowned". I don't know what an ass-clowning entails but I'm reasonably sure it doesn't involve the application of amusing makeup and a false nose. You can make whatever excuses you like for a "Fuck the Police" attitude but good luck trying to persuade me that constantly advocating violence to women is somehow justified.

I can't connect with this album at all. Call me white and middle class if you like and suggest that somehow my upbringing is keeping me from appreciating NWA but I just can't enjoy an album who constantly throws up images that repel me and advocates a lifestyle I think people should try and rise above rather than glorify.

This album created a genre we now call gangsta rap. If you think it deserves credit and praise for that achievement then no doubt you love it. If you think it deserves more blame than praise then you'll probably do what I do which is wish you never have to hear it ever again.

Highlight: There isn't one
Lowlight: Its existence as an extremely unpleasant blueprint

Influenced by: Lifestyle and money
Influenced: A really sad attitude

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "These five fakers exploited the pathology of ghetto culture that NONE of them really lived in, and brainwashed many impressionalbe young people (many whom I've mentored at my job) who had no one else in their homes or hoods to teach them any better,into thinking that gang life, violence, and disrespecting women were cool! Thanks, NWA, for making a bad situation worse while laughing all the way to the bank!"

-A fairly typical response. There are a lot of people venting anger at the fact that NWA weren't the struggling street-dwellers their lyric suggest.

So do you share the attitude or not? Let me know below.

Monday, December 10, 2012

145. Aja. Steely Dan again

Album: Aja
Artist: Steely Dan
Year: 1977
Genre: Jazz Rock


  1. Black Cow
  2. Aja
  3. Deacon Blues
  4. Peg
  5. Home at Last
  6. I Got the News
  7. Josie

How many bands can you name that don't have a guitarist? Most have at least one, several have two but not many groups get by without a single guitar player.

Steely Dan is a duo which consists of a bass player and a pianist and a bunch of session musicians that they bring in to fill in the gaps in their line up. The obvious gaps include drums and guitars but there are also less obvious omissions in their ensemble that they felt needed filling like horns, flutes, saxophones   clavinets and backing vocals. I'd suggest there were other vacancies lacking when they went into the studio: soul for one, interest for another. 

Lord Steely Dan are dull. This is technically Jazz Rock which means it's got two great genres of music to cherry pick from so in theory should be better than either of them but in reality it's worse than the worst aspects of them both. 

Rock should have energy, sex drive, swagger and possibly a bit of anger thrown in. "Okay we're ready for another take. Someone get the groupies off the guitarist and break up the fight between the singer and bassist while I try and revive the drummer". Rock should be explosive and dangerous.

Jazz should be so ingrained in the performer that they're never not jazz. They should be 100% jazz all day, every day, at the very least. Miles Davis was at least 150% jazz his entire life which meant people around him became 50% jazz just by being near him. Great jazz players just wander around pouring jazz brilliance out of their instruments. Recording great jazz should be all about getting a group of them into a room at the same time and rolling tape. 

Recording Aja was obviously a very different process. It involved a lot of writing things down and calculating outcomes. Musical annotation was used and long discussions were had about key changes. Studio musicians came in to fulfil a role and would remain until they had produced exactly what was required. At no point was anyone moved by a crazy notion, inspired by a flash of insight or transported to a place they weren't expecting. It's album creation by mathematical design and calculation and it's unutterably tedious and over produced. 

Rock is spontaneous and joyful even if the performers are going through hell. Jazz is technically brilliant but effortlessly so. Jazz rock, if Steely Dan are anything to go by, has all the technical requirements of jazz with none of the soul. It's what happens when rock is left to the bassist and keyboard player to organize.

Influenced by: The worst aspects of Jazz and Rock
Influenced: Tedious over production

Highlight: The Cover (it's a really interesting image)
Lowlight: Peg

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Steely Dan was better as a "jazz influenced" rock band than the solipsistic, navel geezers they became"

-I can't work out whether "navel geezer" is a mistake or a wonderful new derogatory term that I should start using.

So is this better than rock? Better than Jazz? Or not as good as either? Let me know below.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

146. Surrealistic Pillow. Spiritually Guided

Album: Surrealistic Pillow
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Genre: Rock
Year: 1967


  1. She Has Funny Cars
  2. Somebody to Love
  3. My Best Friend
  4. Today
  5. Comin' Back to Me
  6. 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
  7. D.C.B.A.–25
  8. How Do You Feel
  9. Embryonic Journey
  10. White Rabbit
  11. Plastic Fantastic Lover

Surrealistic Pillow is the second album by Jefferson Airplane and the first to feature the classic line up with Grace Slick and Spencer Dryden which means it features one of rock's great bassists (Jack Cassady), one of its great guitarists (Jorma Kaukonen) and on of rock's great female vocalists (Grace Slick). As if that wasn't enough this album also benefits from the presence of Jerry Garcia who is credited with occasional guitar work and as Spiritual Advisor. Every recording session ever could benefit from having Garcia present. Hell I'd go so far as to say pretty much every event in human history could have benefited from some more Jerry. In fact I'm sure there would have been less war in our history if Garcia had been allowed to show up to peace talks.

I could go on about Jerry Garcia but I should probably talk more about Grace Slick because she's awesome. Slick has a fantastic voice and is one of the greatest females to ever front a band but she's also an underrated songwriter. The two giant songs here are Somebody to Love and White Rabbit which are both brilliant pieces of writing and wonderfully trippy. White Rabbit is unlike anything else going and creates such an atmosphere it's immediately used as instant aural drug shorthand in movies and TV shows.

The other true great in Jefferson Airplane is Jorma Kaukonen who is one of the most under rated rock guitarists. He can play beautiful acoustic music but is also a great electric blues player, a talent for which he deserves more credit. While Surrealistic Pillow showcases Jorma's outstanding acoustic talent on Embryonic Journey it lacks any opportunities for him to really shine on electric. For a recording session with two great guitar players in attendance it's not a very guitary album.

Unlike Volunteers, their later album which occurs much lower on the countdown, there's not a huge amount of great song-writing on Surrealistic Pillow. If you take out Somebody to Love and Rabbit there isn't a huge amount to write home about. There's some fine playing and nice vocals but nothing especially memorable. It's one of those releases which exists here because of the hits, not the consistency of song-writing. If it was all as good as those two songs it would be in the top twenty, if they weren't included it wouldn't be here at all.

Surrealistic Pillow is a great listen and has two brilliant songs but is less than the sum of its parts even without the addition of the great man with the beard.

Highlight: Somebody to Love and White Rabbit
Lowlight: How do you Feel

Influenced by: Jerry Garcia
Influenced: Acid rock

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "There's been some controversy regarding Jerry Garcia's role in the making of the album. Garcia is credited on the album sleeve as "Musical and Spiritual Advisor", and Kantner, Balin, Slick, Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and Spencer Dryden all confirm that Garcia was prominently involved in the recording sessions. However, producer Rick Jarrard, along with longtime Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship associate Pat "Maurice" Ieraci, agree that Garcia played no guitar on the album and that he wasn't present at any of the album's recording sessions."

-I have to say that as someone who has heard hours and hours of Jerry Garcia I didn't recognise his music on the album anywhere.

So would this pillow help you rest easy or keep you up nights? Let me know below.

Monday, December 3, 2012

147. Dreams to remember. Oh yeah.

Album: Dreams to Remember
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Year: 1998


Disc 1

1. Shout Bamalama
2. These Arms of Mine
3. That's What My Heart Needs
4. Pain in My Heart
5. Come to Me
6. Security
7. Chained and Bound
8. Mr. Pitiful
9. That's How Strong My Love Is
10. I've Been Loving You Too Long
11. Respect
12. Ole Man Trouble
13. Change Is Gonna Come
14. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
15. Down in the Valley
16. Shake
17. My Girl
18. You Don't Miss Your Water
19. Cupid
20. I Can't Turn You Loose
21. Just One More Day
22. My Lover's Prayer
23. Cigarettes and Coffee
24. It's Growing
25. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
26. Try a Little Tenderness

Disc 2

1. You Left the Water Running
2. Trick or Treat
3. Tramp
4. Lovey Dovey
5. Let Me Come on Home
6. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
7. Merry Christmas, Baby
8. The Glory of Love
9. Tell the Truth
10. I've Got Dreams to Remember
11. The Happy Song (Dum-Dum)
12. Hard to Handle
13. Amen
14. Direct Me
15. Love Man
16. Look at That Girl
17. I'm a Changed Man
18. The Match Game
19. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
20. Shake [live]
21. Respect [live]
22. I've Been Loving You Too Long [live]
23. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction [live]
24. Try a Little Tenderness [Live]

How would you like your Otis Redding best-of today? How much Otis are you looking for? A quick but definitive overview of his greatest moments? A more in depth examination? Or perhaps a massive and comprehensive anthology which takes in pretty much everything he ever did? In the digital era it's possible to take your pick and get just the right amount of Otis for you.

Dreams to Remember is the middle ground. It's two discs and while it has all the hits that a one disc compilation offers it also includes several moments that are probably too much for the casual Redding fan.  But then it won't satisfy people who really want to get their Otis-loving paws on Otis! The Definitive collection which has basically everything he's ever done. It's a strange middle ground land.

You won't find this album on the updated version of this list was released in early 2012. For some reason the writers dropped this and kept the three single albums (Dock of the Bay, Dictionary of Soul and Otis Blue) that this compilation effectively supersedes.

Personally I think I'd stick with a one disc retrospective. Who wouldn't enjoy hearing Dock of the Bay, That's how Strong my Love is, Mr Pitiful and Try a little Tenderness? But by the same token do you really need to hear Merry Christmas Baby, It's Growing or The Happy Song?

Otis is a massive talent with an incredible voice. He's one of those people who laid down the definitive version of most of the tracks he touched. I've never been convinced by his (or any soul singer's) attempts to do a version of Brit Invasion material (Satisfaction, Day Tripper and A Hard Day's Night) but when he lends his soulful voice to soul music it's a perfect match.

As I said when I reviewed him before, I can't recommend Otis Redding enough and it's definitely worth having some of his music in your collection somewhere. This is probably a bit much Redding for one person but get your hands on a single disc compilation (there are lots of them) and enjoy.

Highlight: Dock of the Bay
Lowlight: Merry Christmas Baby

Influenced by: Love and Soul
Influenced: Those who love soul

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "They say that whenever you bought an Otis single, you are buying a little bit of Otis himself."

-Really? What did he do, mix his blood into the cover art?

So is this just enough Otis, not enough or far too much? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

148. Deja Vu. Add one and multiply by two

Album: Deja Vu
Artist: Crosby Stills Nash and Young
Genre: Folk
Year: 1970


  1. Carry On
  2. Teach Your Children
  3. Almost Cut My Hair
  4. Helpless
  5. Woodstock
  6. Déjà Vu
  7. Our House
  8. 4 + 20
  9. Country Girl
  10. Everybody I Love You

Crosby Stills and Nash's debut self-titled album was better than the sum of its parts. The three band members had all enjoyed good careers in The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies but when they combined as a trio, their song-writing abilities somehow doubled with every member contributing songs that were far better than anything they'd written before (For What it's Worth is the only song any of the three had written before which would have been worth putting on their first album).

Rather than continue with the delicate three way balance they had maintained, CSN decided to add a fourth element into the mix. After Steve Winwood knocked him back, Stills reluctantly went to his old bandmate Neil Young, with whom he had (and still has) a love/hate kind of relationship.

The introduction of a fourth member could have totally destroyed the band's chemistry, and in fact it probably did. But before they went their separate ways (briefly) the foursome managed to record an album that was even better than the first.

If you read my review of Crosby Stills and Nash you might wonder how I could possibly think any album was superior. I did go on a bit about how brilliant that release is and it's true that I got obsessed with it for a while back when I started listening. I stand by everything I said but this... this is better.

Neil Young is one of the all time great songwriters and in 1970 there were few better. Helpless and Country Girl are two great songs but easily matched by Our House (Nash), Carry on (Stills), Almost Cut my Hair (Crosby) and Woodstock which was written by Joni Mitchell but given a definitive reading here (by people who were actually at Woodstock as opposed to watching news reports in a hotel room which is what Joni was doing).

Neil also added his guitar might to the band's sound and his voice managed to slot perfectly in amongst the vocal harmonies that CSN were famous for. His presence should have tipped the balance from perfection into overindulgence but somehow it made a brilliant band even better.

You might think this is a perfect album and be surprised when I tell you that it can be even better. If you have a CD burner then create a completely flawless masterpiece by doing the following.

Firstly add Ohio to the track listing at the end. After the Kent State shooting, Neil dragged the other three into the studio to record a song he'd just written about the events. It was released as a single and it's presence can improve any album.

Secondly replace the version of Almost Cut My Hair with the version released on the CSN boxed set which is twice as long and four times as good.

Thirdly replace the version of Teach Your Children with a live version available on numerous bootlegs. Teach is a magnificent song totally ruined by some pedal steel guitar. I can't stand the dreadful, cliched pedal steel on this track which causes me a huge amount of anguish because it's being played by Jerry Garcia. My favourite musician of all, time is responsible for ruining a track on one of my favourite albums.

Make these subtle changes and then burn to disc or whack on your MP3 player and you will have an album that I would put up against any release on here for song-writing, musicianship, harmonizing and outright perfection. Burn it onto a CD with the first album and take it with you to a desert Island. It's all you'll need.

Highlight: The whole damn thing (almost)
Lowlight: The pedal steel guitar (sob)

Influenced by: Woodstock
Influenced: Harmonies

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are the answer to the riddle: WHO is the only group that wondered, "by whom could we do something really... 'heavy?,' and answered... Joni Mitchell?" Have a nice day!"

-I have no idea what you're talking about. It's just as well nobody has ever actually asked me that riddle.

So do you think this is magnificent or have I just got carried away and need a lie down? Let me know below.

Monday, November 26, 2012

149 Houses of the Holy. An old Friend

Album: Houses of the Holy
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock


  1. The Song Remains the Same
  2. The Rain Song
  3. Over the Hills and Far Away
  4. The Crunge
  5. Dancing Days
  6. D'yer Mak'er
  7. No Quarter
  8. The Ocean

They say you never forget your first love. My first girlfriend used to say that often and old what's-her-name had a point.

When I was growing up I didn't have a huge amount of access to new music so I tended to rely on other people and that old standby, copying tapes that other people leant me (remember back when piracy happened in real time?). The first time I really struck out on my own was when I decided it might be worth giving this Led Zeppelin band I'd heard of a try. I remember getting my hands on their music and giving them a listen in the hope that I would find them mildly diverting. 

Massively diverting- that's how I found them. They totally detoured me into a realm I'd never heard before. All of a sudden music wasn't background noise it was something to be treasured, adored and shouted at a silly volume while leaping about air guitaring in a foolish manner. 

I quickly got my hands on all the Led Zep I could find and made the mistake of listening to their entire catalogue in order from start to finish which was a huge mistake because their career does peak fairly early and fall away a bit. After the massive high that was their untitled fourth album, Zeppelin decided to try and go in a different direction rather than simply top what was immediately declared their masterpiece.

House of the Holy isn't just a new direction for Led Zeppelin it's an album of new directions. D'Yer Maker sees them toying with reggae, The Crunge has them playing with Funk, The Rain Song is their first ballad, No Quarter is from a land all of itself and Dancing Days was an experiment with music that sounds truly awful. If you pick it up expecting Rock and Roll you're in a for a disappointment but that's not to say it isn't fantastic. Anything Jimmy Page touched at this stage in his career was fascinating and Robert Plant was (and is) one of the greatest vocalists ever to howl into a microphone. Bonham's drumming is outstanding and the ventures into unexplored territory are generally successful.

Houses of the Holy is definitely a step down from their early highpoints and their last great album but listening to it all the way through for the first time in years I can see why I used to devour it as a late teenager and I understand why it moved me the way it did.

Influenced by: The Blues and folk
Influenced: Metal

Highlight: The Rain Song
Lowlight: Dancing Days

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Hi everyone, just to add to Zeps long list of rip offs, the riff to The Ocean is taken from an old medieval tune, Dum Pater Familias."

-It's everyone's new favourite hobby: spot Page's plagarism.

So is this a house you'd like to live in or not? Let me know below.

Friday, November 23, 2012

150 Santana. Santana?

Album: Santana
Artist: Santana
Genre: Latin Rock
Year: 1969


  1. Waiting
  2. Evil Ways
  3. Shades of Time
  4. Savor
  5. Jingo
  6. Persuasion
  7. Treat
  8. You Just Don't Care
  9. Soul Sacrifice

Personally I don't think Rock really needs anything added to make it great. Rock is good. Rock is pure. Rock is all rock needs to rock. Adding things to the mix is usually unnecessary dilution in my view. Jazz Rock is always worse than rock and worse than Jazz. Rap Rock is just a lot more rhyming than any good rock needs and pop rock is just indecision with synthesizers.

But latin rock is interesting. Latin rock definitely adds something to mix. Latin rhythms backing a solid guitar based band creates a whole new thing which is really fun. Of course it helps if you have some real talent in the band somewhere and Carlos Santana is a real talent. He can definitely play that thing and his guitar work is the highlight of his first album. He's flinging out riffs and magnificent solos in all directions and lending some soulful blues and some fiery rock to every single track. 

Carlos might be the only member of the band that anyone can name but keyboard player but Gregg Rolie  more than emerges from his bandleader's shadow. Rolie plays some great stuff here and plays some great solos and also lays down some fantastic interaction with Santana especially on the blinding Soul Sacrifice which also features some brilliant percussion interplay between a regular drumkit and some congas and timbales (which I've always wrongly assumed were a kind of food). 

There's a lot of nifty instrumental stuff going on here and while the vocals are mostly unnecessary there's a cover of Evil Ways which is a catchy gem. 

You may have worked out I really like this album and I do, but not as much as I like the numerous live releases that have come out since it appeared. We've now got access to Santana's full Woodstock performance and you can see why it made their reputation. They're definitely a live band who enjoy the ability to stretch out in front of an appreciative audience rather than have to confine themselves to the studio. Everything they do here they do better onstage and while this album was a huge hit at the time if the Woodstock performance was released days after the event it would be here instead of this, and probably considerably higher. 

It would be great to say that Santana went from strength to strength but sadly there were only two more albums from this line up before everyone parted ways. Santana continued as Carlos's backing band with different musicians but never approached these heights again. 

Latin rock is definitely worth your time and this is great stuff but if you can get your hands on the Woodstock show then give that a listen instead.

Highlight: Soul Sacrifice
Lowlight: You just don't care

Influenced by: Rock and crazy latin rhythms
Influenced: Los Lobos

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Doesn't seem to compare with the 33 rpm vinyl record version! "Soul Sacrifice" doesn't sound as exciting!"

-That's an interesting criticism. Has the album transfered badly or has age changed the perception?

So is this something you'd sacrifice your soul for or not? Let me know below

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

151 Darknes of the Edge of Town. Oh him again

Album: Darkness of the Edge of Town
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Genre: Rock
Year: 1978

  1. Badlands
  2. Adam Raised a Cain
  3. Something in the Night
  4. Candy's Room
  5. Racing in the Street
  6. The Promised Land
  7. Factory
  8. Streets of Fire
  9. Prove It All Night
  10. Darkness on the Edge of Town

There's no mistaking Springsteen's voice. I put this on knowing it was my next lesson without really paying attention to who it was but as soon as I heard the first vocal I knew it was Bruce. But while I could identify the who immediately I couldn't put my finger on the when. I have trouble dating Springsteen and would have guessed this was recorded anywhere from 1975 to 1990. It's got the same production standards and values as all of his material which seems to give it a timeless quality. Springsteen is easier to place in a location than on a chronology.

It's also not very interesting. I've tried to get into Bruce but struggled in the past. I respect his voice and I love his band (especially Silvio Dante) but as a songwriter I find he doesn't connect with me at all.

It probably doesn't help that Darkness at the Edge of Town is an album that lacked any strong singles. It's an attempt to put together a cohesive album rather than a bunch of songs which prop up a few hits. Apparently Darkness rewards the listener who sits down with the lyrics and ingests the album as a whole entity with ongoing themes. It certainly kicks up the regular Springsteen obsessions with working class America and driving and he went into it with a plan beyond just clearing out the songs he had lying around. If you approach this album looking for a statement about New Jersey and late seventies American life you will probably be rewarded but do you need to be? Call me cynical and callow if you like but I just don't care. I'm sure there were lots of trials and tribulations faced by people in 1970's NJ, many of them involving vehicles, but it's not something I'm interested in. I admire a thematic approach to album construction but that doesn't mean I need to hear it.

Darkness at the Edge of Town is another album which hasn't managed to make me a Springsteen convert. It's not on the "Please Lord never make me listen to that again" but it's definitely not something I'm going to actively seek out in the future. I'm happy to leave Springsteen and his tight band to someone else.

Influenced by: New Jersey and cars
Influenced: Future Bruce

Highlight: The Promised Land
Lowlight: Prove it all night

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I listen to this album when I'm depressed, and I feel MUCH worse."

-There is a lot of complaint about this album being too dark. People need to listen to more music if they think this album is dark.

So do you keep this album nearby or would you rather leave it at the edge of town? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

152 The B-52's The bomb.

Album: The B52's
Artist: The B 52's
Genre: Pop
Year: 1979


1. Planet Claire
2. 52 Girls
3. Dance This Mess Around
4. Rock Lobster
1. Lava
2. There's a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)
3. Hero Worship
4. 6060-842
5. Downtown

This, loyal readers is the reason I've been writing this blog for so long. It was the presence at this album, at this point in the countdown that made me sit down and take on this project. If you've enjoyed reading my ramblings then you have the B-52's to thank. If you've hated it then it's all their fault.

When this list was published I scoured it with a critical eye wondering how such glaring errors could be made by such an august publication. I was annoyed that the Grateful Dead weren't higher, I was incensed that there wasn't more Frank Zappa and one or two albums in the higher reaches got me all cross and shouty. But what really irked me and kept me in permanent teeth- gnashing mode for a month was the fact that the B-52's, THE B-52's! were higher than OK Computer by Radiohead. I was late to the Radiohead party but when I finally turned up I decided to make up for lost time by being really ardent in my love for some of their albums. It's no exaggeration to say that Radiohead saved me from being one of those insufferably tedious" all the good music was recorded back in the sixties" people that you meet at parties (or at least would if anyone invited them). Thom Yorke and his bandmates proved to me that musical greatness was possible after the eighties had killed it off so the fact that their greatest moment was rated as less important than an album by the people who recorded Love Shack made me apoplectic with rage.

And then someone pointed out I'd never actually heard the B52's debut album. I was comparing something I loved to something I was totally ignorant of which is, lets be honest, an extremely foolish way to behave. My ranting had no justification and was just so much hot air.

And so I decided to listen to every single album on this list. I convinced myself that it was to widen my musical horizons and develop an appreciation of music I wasn't familiar with but if truth be told it was probably more about being able to say I had than anything else. It was simply so I could continue to rail against the B52's without anyone undermining me with my own ignorance.

And now, four years after I started this project I've come to the album that started it all for me and I've actually listened to the album that got me so snotty way back when.

I have to be honest it still rankles a bit. The B52's are fine as far as they go, it's silly party music sung by people who can really sing. It was a laugh back in 1979 and it's a laugh now. A B52's concert would be lots of fun and I'm sure they can really set a party atmosphere.

But is there anything on here that comes close to Paranoid Android? Is there a single track that at its highest point can match even one of the lesser moments on OK Computer? No there isn't, there really isn't. It's like comparing a compilation of youtube fails to a season of the Sopranos. It's pitting Gilligan's island against Arrested Development. It's a Tower Defence game for your Android against Civilization V. I'm not saying it's not fun but it's not a game changer and didn't really alter anyone's life. And does Rock Lobster need to go for nearly seven minutes? It gets really irritating at about the 3 minute mark but it's not even half way through.

The B52's are fine as far as they go but even when they go to their furthest point they can't see Radiohead off in the distance. Trust me I know because I've heard them both.

Highlight: Planet Claire
Lowlight: Downtown

Influenced by: The 1950's and hairspray inhalation
Influenced: The Scissor Sisters

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "the whole point of the B-52's is fun with a grove"

-There is nothing more frustrating that fun without a grove.

So are the B52's the bomb or not? Let me know below

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

153. Moanin in the Moonlight

Album: Moanin in the Moonlight
Artist: Howlin Wolf
Genre: Blues
Year: 1959


  1. Moanin' at Midnight
  2. How Many More Years
  3. Smokestack Lightnin'
  4. Baby How Long
  5. No Place to Go
  6. All Night Boogie
  7. Evil
  8. I'm Leavin' You
  9. Moanin' for My Baby
  10. I Asked for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)
  11. Forty-Four
  12. Somebody in My Home
Moanin at Midnight is one of those strange artefacts that comes to us from a point in time that has long been superseded. In the 1950's, blues artists just weren't focused on releasing albums, the LP was a format that they basically ignored. Single's were the domain of the bluesman. They'd step into a studio and lay down a song they'd mastered over countless live performances, have a quick smoke and then put down another track to make up the B side. Then they'd go back on the road where they felt they belonged. The idea of recording another ten tracks to make up an entire album never crossed anyone's mind. 

It was only much later that record labels released blues albums. By collecting a few singles and B sides together in the once place they created an album that they could release for those who missed out on collecting the singles or those who wanted them all together in the one place. There are songs on Moanin that are eight years old sitting next to tracks that were recorded the year before. They don't sound noticeably different because Wolf didn't really develop his sound much. Some artists change completely in eight years but great bluesmen don't mutate they just get bluer. 

For a short period of time the only way you could get your hands on these songs was by purchasing this slab of vinyl but when CD's came in everything changed. Wolf become the subject of dozens of compilations which collected not just his greatest hits but his entire recorded output in the one place. This release has been well and truly superseded but there is no one album which can take it's place. It's no exaggeration to say there are four new Howlin Wolf compilations released every year on average. There were 7 released in 2002 alone. It's now impossible to get exactly this album without having Howlin Wolf one of his other albums tacked on as well.

But none of that does anything to dilute the significance of this collection of blues songs. This is the album that Jimmy Page got How Many More Years, Clapton got Smokestack Lightning, and Canned Heat got Evil from. It may have even been one of the albums that Jagger was holding on a train station which made Keith Richards seek him out. It deserves its place in rock history.

As for the music: Howlin Wolf is an amazing vocalist and you can't argue with a band that includes appearances by Willie Dixon, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Span, Ike Turner and Willie Johnson. The big singles are fantastic and while some of the Bsides mightn't be as good they certainly won't have you reaching for the skip button. It's great stuff but totally unnecessary today. If you want to hear it just go into any CD store and ask for a Howlin Wolf compilation. If they don't have any then just wait a few minutes for the next one to be released.

Highlight: Smokestack Lightning
Lowlight: Forty Four

Influenced by: Robert Johnson
Influenced: Rock and Roll

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "You get to hear that and a whole bunch more, including the Howlin's music on the Viagra Ad you may have heard lately."

-I had no idea spam emails had soundracks. 

So do you love hearing some moanin in the moonlight or not? Let me know below

Saturday, November 10, 2012

154 The Low End Theory.

Album: The Low End Theory
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Genre: Hip Hop
Year: 1991


1. Excursions
2. Buggin' Out
3. Rap Promoter
4. Butter
5. Verses from the Abstract
6. Show Business
7. Vibes and Stuff
8. The Infamous Date Rape
9. Check the Rhime
10. Everything Is Fair
11. Jazz (We've Got)
12. Skypager
13. What?
14. Scenario

There's such a thing as Jazz rap! Who knew? I had no idea there were people who were listening to hip hop and thinking "this is all very well but it needs more of a jazz feel". I've heard Rock Rap and while most of it just doesn't work there are moments that actually achieve the heights they're aiming for but I've never heard anyone try to fuse hip hop with rapping before I listened to A Tribe Called Quest.

The Low End Theory is held up as pinnacle of jazz rap and the pioneer album that effectively created a genre. It's a trick the creators managed by aiming for high end Jazz. No Kenny G or other jazz-lite posers for these guys. They're sampling Miles Davis. Jack DeJohnette, Cannonball Adderly, Weather Report and Grover Washington Jr along with traditional sample staples like James Brown, Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone. They even got Jazz bass legend Ron Carter to come in and play on a track to give it an extra air of jazz-cred. 

So is Jazz Rap any good? Do the two genres play well together or is it up there with Disco Metal, Baroque Punk and Electro Folk as doomed experiments? It definitely appeals to me more than straight hip hop. If I'm going to listen to rap then I'd rather it came with a twist of jazz but if I'm going to listen to jazz I don't really need an infusion to rap to make me like it. Like all Hip Hop I found it got repetitive fairly quickly and became dull a few tracks in. The thing that saved Low End Theory for me was the odd decision to include the three singles in the later half of the album instead of the first. Most artists throw the best tracks in early and ladle in some filler towards the end. Low End Theory is like an album in reverse that starts off with the duller tracks and throws in the best stuff after half an hour of listening. The final track, Scenario with its anthemic chorus is a welcome relief from the steady laid back theme that props up the rest of the album and could have shaken things up a bit if it cropped up earlier in the album rather than appearing at the end. 

I certainly didn't hate The Low End Theory the way I've hated a lot of rap albums I've been forced to endure while doing this countdown. If I was forced to listen to a rap album for a while this would be the one I'd be pulling off the shelf. But I personally don't see the need to listen to jazz rap when there's pure jazz to be listening to. I like my Miles Davis in album sized doses rather than in microscopic, repetitive samples behind a rapper.

Influenced by: Grand Master Flash and Miles Davis
Influenced: All of Jazz Rap

Highlight: Scenario
Lowlight: Date Rape

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I love hip hop and I love jazz, but a tribe called quest has roots in neither. Just because you have some vibes and flutes in the music doesn't make it "jazz influenced".

-Ouch. Harsh

So is this the low end of the hip hop spectrum or not? Let me know below.

Monday, November 5, 2012

155. Pretenders. The Real Thing

Album: Pretenders
Artist: Pretenders
Genre: Rock
Year: 1979


  1. Precious
  2. The Phone Call
  3. Up the Neck
  4. Tattooed Love Boys
  5. Space Invader
  6. The Wait
  7. Stop Your Sobbing
  8. Kid
  9. Private Life
  10. Brass in Pocket
  11. Lovers of Today
  12. Mystery Achievement

There aren't a huge number of women on this countdown. So few in fact that I've tagged them Women so  I could keep track. Of the 31 albums that I've tagged Women most are pop or country which are areas in which there is a comfortable place for the female. We know what roles women play in these genres, in pop they're sexy chanteuse figures and in country they're hard done by girls whose men have done them wrong. But rock is much harder. When the guitar is seen as a phallic symbol and rock singing is all about volume, gusto and male bravado, where does a woman fit in? And how does she find her lyrical niche in a society with different gender values? A male can sing about the number of sexual conquests and he's a hero but if a woman tries the same things she's a slut (I can think of a number of words for a woman with vast sexual experience and all of them are derogatory. I can also think of a few words for sexually experienced men and all of them are complimentary- stud, stallion etc). If you type "female frontwomen" into google you will find the inevitable series of lists but the focus isn't all on "best" or "most talented" the top result lists the 40 sexiest frontwomen.

So in a male dominated world how does a woman go about breaking a mold and fronting her own rock and roll band? If you're Chrissie Hynde the answer is by striking out in a new direction. Hynde doesn't try and be Jagger or Plant and isn't interested in trying to compete with males on their terms. She takes her eclectic musical interests and blends them into a style which became a blueprint all of its own. She's not screaming or shrieking, she's not trying to move outside her range and she's content to introduce a bit of feminine subtlety into the musical mix. She's a bit punk but a lot rock and a bit pop as well.

Pretenders are a great band and Pretenders is a great album. Brass in Pocket is the song everyone knows even if they don't know what the title is (its the song that goes "Gonna use my arms, gonna use my legs... gonna use my my my imagination" etc. Trust me you'd know if you heard it) and it's by no means the only treat. Private Life and Precious are great songs although I don't understand why you would choose Stop Your Sobbing as the only cover. I'm a fan of the Kinks but Sobbing is nowhere near their greatest songs and for some reason it just doesn't work that well when Hynde sings it, she's much better doing her own material.

Pretenders proved that girls could do rock and roll as well as the boys and more to the point could do it in their own way without having to try and emulate the men who normally front rock bands.

Highlight: Brass in Pocket
Lowlight: Stop Your Sobbing

Influenced by: Iggy Pop
Influenced: Girls in rock

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm 45 and have played guitar since '68."

-Thanks for letting us know

So is this the real thing or just pretend? Let me know below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

156. Paul's Boutique

Album: Paul's Boutique
Artist: The Beastie Boys
Genre: Hip Hop
Year: 1989


  1. To All the Girls
  2. Shake Your Rump
  3. Johnny Ryall
  4. Egg Man
  5. High Plains Drifter
  6. The Sounds of Science
  7. 3-Minute Rule
  8. Hey Ladies
  9. 5-Piece Chicken Dinner
  10. Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun
  11. Car Thief
  12. What Comes Around
  13. Shadrach
  14. Ask for Janice
  15. B-Boy Bouillabaisse

Would the Beastie Boys have been as popular if they were black? I've always wondered if they were the Elvis Presley of their genre in the sense that they took a musical form that had been associated with black people and performed it successfully while being stubbornly Caucasian. White people in America and throughout the world who were intrigued by Hip Hop but alienated by its entrenchment in African American culture could enjoy rap without having to venture outside their comfort zone. Young white kids who looked down on black kids had someone they could admire without getting confused.

Which is not to take anything away from the Beastie Boys themselves. Afterall there were other white rappers trying the same thing at the time and they weren't as successful. The Beasties obviously had talent and Paul's Boutique was their second chance to prove it to the world.

What separates Paul's Boutique from a lot of other rap albums is just how much is actually on it. Apparently the backing tracks that the Boys rap over were originally prepared by The Dust Brothers as instrumentals to be played in clubs. They never intended for there to be any vocals layered over the top and offered to strip them down to just the beats when the Beasties came into the studio only to have them demand they leave them as is.

The end result is a backing track that sounds a lot fuller than other rap backing from the time. There is a hell of a lot going on. Every track is made up of a dozen or so samples lifted from everything from contemporary rap to sampling standards like James Brown and classic rock like Zeppelin and the Beatles. Not that you'd recognise them, for the most part the samples are tiny little weeny fragments which get smooshed together so that you could never identify their origins without some assistance.

It's albums like this that make you appreciate how much of an artform sampling is. It might seem more soul-less than actually playing an instrument but there's a real science and art involved in taking so many disparate pieces and combining them into a cohesive whole.

Listening to Paul's Boutique was a fascinating experience as I sat there listening to sounds I knew well being forced into forms I'd never experienced before. It's just a shame I had to listen to it with a bunch of white people shouting silly things over the top.

Highlight: Shake your Rump
Lowlight: Hey Ladies

Influenced by: Dance tracks
Influenced: White boy hip hop

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The words are nonsense and if rap is going to mean anything there has to be a consistency of imagery."

-I've often thought consistency of imagery was the biggest problem with rap.

So would you benefit from a visit to Paul's boutique? Let me know below.

Monday, October 29, 2012

157 Closer. Lets dance to Joy Division

Album: Closer
Artist: Joy Division
Genre: Rock
Year: 1980

  1. Atrocity Exhibition
  2. Isolation
  3. Passover
  4. Colony
  5. A Means to an End
  6. Heart and Soul
  7. Twenty Four Hours
  8. The Eternal
  9. Decades

Death is an outstanding career move (at least for musicians and artists. Kicking the bucket isn't really going to do much for your professional life if you work in a bank). Whitney Houston had the biggest sales of her career not long after her death; John Lennon's place as the best Beatle was secured when he died in 1980 and countless other musicians have been given an extra air of mystique thanks to their untimely demise. Freddy Mercury has achieved a cult like level of popularity but imagine how his career would have gone if he was still around today with a wider waistband but smaller vocal range and less hair. Can you imagine how much adoration people would feel for Kurt Cobain if he was judging American Idol?

There's no doubt Ian Curtis did Joy Division a big favour by becoming not just an ex-member of the band but an ex-member of the human race due to his suicide a few weeks before the release of Closer. Posthumous might be hard to spell and frequently mispronounced but that doesn't mean it doesn't do outstanding things for your career. The publicity generated by the lead singer's suicide pushed the album into the spotlight in a way it could never have been if Curtis was around to give interviews. 

It didn't hurt that Closer sounds like music recorded by people who are seriously considering topping themselves as soon as the session finishes. If Closer had been full of upbeat sounds and songs about just how great flowers and butterflies are it would have made for an awkward listen in light of the lead singer's demise at his own hand. But Joy Division's final album is a dark and doom-laden affair with Curtis singing as if the recording process was something he had to endure before he was free to end it all. 

Joy Division are widely lauded and praised in the music press and Closer is held up as their ultimate masterpiece. It's their high water mark and I find it impossible to appreciate in any way. Doom-laden and tedious with a dollop of self-importance is how I'd classify it. Not at all what Les Paul had in mind when he electrified the guitar and revolutionised our lives. Dull, plodding and monotonous. 

There are thousands who would disagree with me but how many of those have got caught up in the romantic notion of the death of Ian Curtis rather than looking at the album on it's own merits? I'm not trying to claim the only reason to appreciate Closer is self delusion but I can't help but wonder how many people have elevated it above the status it deserves because of the associated story? 

I'm not sure what reaction the members of Joy Division were trying to inspire in their listeners when they released this album but I know I'm not feeling it at all.

Influenced by: Unhappiness
Influenced: Further Unhappiness

Highlight: Heart and Soul
Lowlight: Passover

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Wot are ye talkin all this crap for 'moan tae, mind?, ouer Joy Division Closer is on the same vein o' Hibernian McClintock legacy of warrior poets inish as James Joyce Ulysses ya Fenian skunks!"

- I have no idea what any of that actually means but I love reading it out loud.

So is does this album make you closer to Joy Division or not? Let me know below.

Friday, October 26, 2012

158 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Thanks Sir Elton

Album: Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Artist: Elton John
Genre: Pop
Year: 1975


  1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
  2. Tower of Babel
  3. Bitter Fingers
  4. Tell Me When the Whistle Blows
  5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  6. (Gotta Get a) Meal Ticket
  7. Better Off Dead
  8. Writing
  9. We All Fall in Love Sometimes
  10. Curtains

Before I started this project I had never heard an Elton John Album from start to finish. I knew him for a few songs, a lot of flamboyance and for receiving knighthoods and wearing silly clothes. I didn't associate him with album-length artistic expression.

My earlier encounters with his albums weren't entire successful. His debut left me feeling decidedly queasy thanks to it's over reliance on sentimentality. In my earlier review I had some incredibly unpleasant things to say about The Greatest Discovery, a sugary saccharine song on his debut album that at the time made me gag. I wrote that review back in 2009 when I was a very different person. Since then I've become a parent twice which means I recently had the exact experience outlined in The Greatest Discovery. I introduced my first-born child to his new baby brother. It was an emotional moment as my two beautiful boys met for the first time. Watching them play, learn and grow together in the years to come will give me years of pleasure and joy and their first meeting was a special experience. So I recently re-listened to The Greatest Discovery in order to see whether parenthood would change my views on something I'd previously discarded as over sentimental.

Having heard it again I can honestly say it's actually slightly worse than I thought it was. Living the song doesn't make the ghastliness any less horrible. 

Captain Fantastic however is a different issue. Taupin and John wrote the album from their own experiences. Elton John is Captain Fantastic and Bernie Taupin is the Brown Dirt Cowboy. They're not trying to pluck at the heart strings with artificial sentimentality or create a false sense of atmosphere. They're sharing their lives with the listener.

I won't say I love Captain Fantastic but it's definitely a much more enjoyable listen than any other Elton John album I've heard up to this point. It's mature and world-weary and sounds like people genuinely connecting with themselves and each other instead of just trying to write songs which please people. It's still a bit over produced for my liking with too much orchestration but it still works as a showcase for John's voice and talent. 

If you think Elton is all about image and playing pleasing ballads to middle aged housewives then this is the album that might persuade you he was once a serious artist with something to say.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Writing

Influenced by: Life and a lyricist
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "He is, without a doubt, a genius ... I would go so far as to call him the Mozart of our times."

-oooh don't compare anyone to Mozart, there are some people who are just beyond comparison.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

159. Alive! Sort of livish

Album: Alive!
Artist: KISS
Genre: Metal
Year: 1975


1. Deuce
2. Strutter
3. Got to Choose
4. Hotter Than Hell
5. Firehouse
6. Nothin' to Lose
7. C'mon and Love Me
8. Parasite
9. She
10. Watchin' You
11. 100,000 Years
12. Black Diamond
13. Rock Bottom
14. Cold Gin
15. Rock and Roll All Nite
16. Let Me Go, Rock 'n' Roll

A few years ago when I was in the early stages of this blog I wrote about Destroyer by KISS. I had memories of not being very complimentary and having read it again I've relived the experience. I claimed in that review that I had to stop walking because I was laughing so hard and to this day I can still pinpoint the exact location of that giggling fit on a map. I couldn't take it seriously at all.

Alive! was the band's earlier attempt to turn them from an underground band into a mainstream success by replicating their dynamic and explosive live show on four sides of vinyl. You might have thought this was a big ask considering Kiss Koncerts were known as much for pyrotechnics, make up and general onstage shenanigans than for the actual music. The only way a fan could hope to truly replicate a concert experience was to play the album loud while surrounded by burning clowns.

Nevertheless the record company decided a double album might bring in the cash so they set up microphones and tried to capture the sound of a live show. They captured the band in their full sweaty glory and then took the tapes back to the studio to mix them.

And it's here that they encountered a slight snag. Apparently when you separated the musical performance from the stage antics and atmosphere it revealed a few errors: some musical misteps, tuning issues, rhythmic anomalies and a general inability to reproduce the songs in a live setting. The audience didn't notice because they were too busy making noise and enjoying fireworks but when the only focus was the sound it was clear that the music needed some help.

And so the band came into the studio and re-recorded their parts and fixed everything up. They basically recorded a studio album that they then overdubbed audience noise onto which was then tweaked and mixed. It's not a document of their concert as much as it's a studio reproduction of their setlist and it's painfully obvious when you listen with earphones.

Alive! is an album of big shouty rock and roll for fans of a big shouty rock and roll band. It's a slick and polished "live" album by a band who put on a slick and polished live show. If you went to their shows and shouted your approval then it was a good souvenir document. If you want a good live album that captures the true energy of a live concert then this isn't it. Alive! is as real as the cover photo which  looks like the band onstage but is clearly posed and staged just for the camera. It's as bad as Destroyer but not redeemingly hilarious which is a pity because it's impossible to take seriously.

Highlight: I just wanna rock and roll all nite! (big and dumb but the best big and dumb song on the album)
Lowlight: Parasite

Influenced by: Alice Cooper
Influenced: XJapan

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a complete mystery to me, but just in case this happens to anyone else; I unwrapped the cd case and opened it up to only find one disc (disc 1). I've taken it completely apart and spent an hour looking all around where I was sitting as I opened it."

-An hour? Unless you were sitting on a stack of loose CD's that seems like a long time to search.

So is this live brilliance or studio drudgery? Let me know below

Saturday, October 20, 2012

160 Electric Warrior. Lets Get It On

Album: Electric Warrior
Artist: T Rex
Genre: Rock
Year: 1971


1. Mambo Sun
2. Cosmic Dancer
3. Jeepster
4. Monolith
5. Lean Woman Blues
6. Get It On
7. Planet Queen
8. Girl
9. The Motivator
10. Life's a Gas
11. Rip Off

Well don't I feel like a bit of a dill. Silly, silly me.

For some reason I've been writing T Rex off for years. I've always believed they were a hugely over rated group that English people of a certain generation had latched onto because there wasn't much else being released when they were performing. The Beatles had broken up, The Stones and Zeppelin had passed their peak so children of the mid seventies had to make do with what they had and try and pretend it was worth making a lot of noise about.

Imagine my surprise then when I put Electric Warrior on and heard track one. Mambo Sun starts with a funky bassline that grooves along underneath Marc Bolan's uniquely whispered vocal stylings. Bolan's low-key singing is unlike anyone else I can think of and is instantly arresting. Hurl in a tasty guitar riff and all the ingredients are there for a great track. I have to confess it took my quite a few listens to get to the rest of the album because I was having such a nice time with track one.

I did eventually hear the rest of the album which means I heard Jeepster and Get it On, the two T Rex tracks that everyone who has ever listened to rock radio is familiar with. They're both great songs and actually sitting and listening to them made me realise how good they are. T Rex had a unique sound and nobody else was doing what they did at the time.

Sadly most of the rest of the album isn't quite as good. When T Rex try and sound like The Stones or Bowie they just don't manage to pull it off as well. Their attempts at Blues (Lean Woman Blues) comes years after white boy blues had run it's course and been done to death and their ballads (Cosmic Dancer) just don't work.

T Rex are one of those bands that struck out in their own unique direction and when they did they were great but when they try and follow ground people have trod often before they're not so hot. Still they're much better than I'd given them credit for and if you've never heard Mambo Sun (which is inexplicably left of their greatest hits compilations) give it a try. It's got my vote for one of the overlooked hits of the seventies.

Influenced by: The Stones and Bowie
Influenced: English alt-rock

Highlight: Mambo Sam
Lowlight: Lean Woman Blues

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Im not an angry person bashing any old music. Im a musician bashing this bullfunk."

-Bullfunk? That sounds like a genre more than an insult.

So is this bullfunk or not? Let me know below.

161. Dock of the Bay. More time wasted.

Album: The Dock of the Bay
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Year: 1968


1. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
2. I Love You More Than Words Can Say
3. Let Me Come on Home
4. Open the Door
5. Don't Mess with Cupid
6. The Glory of Love
7. I'm Coming Home to See About You
8. Tramp
9. The Hucklebuck
10. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
11. Ole Man Trouble

I wasted my time but there's not reason to waste yours so I'll make this brief and put another post up straight away. In about a dozen album's time we'll listen to Dreams to Remember an anthology of Otis Redding which contains the entire of Dock of the Bay except for four songs which didn't make the grade. The only reason to listen to this album over the far superior Dreams is to hear those four songs. The only thing I have to say about them is that they're not worth putting on an Otis Redding hits anthology.

I could write lots about how pointless this list can be when it replicates itself rather than make room for other music but I've said it lots of times before and no doubt I'll be saying it again before I finish the list.

Highlight: The tracks on Dreams to Remember
Lowlight: The other four tracks

Influenced by: Soul
Influenced: Rod Stewart

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: This album had a mongrel begining. It has a thoroughbred history.

-Oooh good quote. Well done

So did you waste your time on this or not? Let me know below.