Saturday, January 28, 2012

239. Let it be (someone else)



Album: Let it Be
Artist: The Replacements
Year: 1984
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. I Will Dare
  2. Favorite Thing
  3. We're Comin' Out
  4. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
  5. Androgynous
  6. Black Diamond
  7. Unsatisfied
  8. Seen Your Video
  9. Gary's Got a Boner
  10. Sixteen Blue
  11. Answering Machine

No. This isn't Let it Be by The Beatles. It's a compeletely difference Let it Be. Presumably the Replacements weren't aware the title had been used before and somehow managed to sail through their early lives completely oblivious to the work of the Fab Four. Imagine the shock they got when someone told them: "Really? The Beatles? Were they a thing? I had no idea. That big? Gosh. Well don't we feel silly. I wish someone had let us know before we got the cover printed."

Of course I'm joking and I'm assuming the Replacements knew full well that they were naming their album after a household name. It's something only a punk band could possibly get away with. It's a punk thing to do. Let it Be is technically a punk album but while it technically fits into the genre it's clearly been released by a bunch of people who have become frustrated with the limitations of their style.

The Replacements earlier releases were low on variation, fast on speed, light on musicianship and heavy on aggression. They were punk in every sense of the word but bored with singing about how bored they were with things. Let it Be saw them mature their sound and outlook and release an album that managed to incorporate melodies, tones and variations without ever feeling like a sell out.

Let it be really does work well as a rock and roll album with punk overtones (or vice versa) the slow songs might not hit home as well as the faster stuff but the rewards are definitely there for anyone prepared to come at it without thinking it's a Punk Album (or something written by Paul McCartney).

Influenced by: The Beatles and the Clash.
Influenced: The Indigo Girls

Highlight: Favourite Thing
Lowlight: Androgynous.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "For some of us older types, punk rock died, in a very real sense, in 1984. "

-Really? That's a very specific date. Anyone out there know what it was that killed punk in 1984?

So would you let this be as is or would you replace it with something else? Let me know below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

240. Run DMC. A lot like Lord of the Rings... sort of.



Album: Run DMC
Aritst: Run DMC
Year: 1984
Genre: Hip Hop.

Tracks
  1. Hard Times
  2. Rock Box
  3. Jam-Master Jay
  4. Scratchin'
  5. Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2)
  6. Sucker M.C.'s (Krush-Groove 1)
  7. Live at the Disco Fever
  8. It's like That
  9. Wake Up
  10. 30 Days
  11. Jay's Game

Ever read Lord of the Rings? Chances are a lot of you out there have. I read (most of) it when I was in my late teens and I have to say I was kind of underwhelmed. For a start there's a lot of singing. There are more songs in the trilogy than most albums in the top 500. There are also lots of cliches. Lord of the Rings is just dripping with fantasy cliches: surly dwarves, wise old trees, mysterious elves, unwilling heroes made to discover inner strengths, faithful sidekicks and Oh No! He's dead! That guy died and we're all sad- oh wait he's not really dead and we're all happy! Hooray!

The point is that although it's full of fantasy tropes that we're all tired of, they weren't weary and well worn back when Tolkien wrote them. They became cliches later but The Lord of The Rings is where they started (except that whole "coming back from the dead thing" which wasn't even original when Jesus did it). Lesser imitators took Tolkien's original ideas and turned them into cliches.

Run DMC suffer in the same way. Their style of rap was a breath of fresh air when it arrived and helped create the blueprint for everything that came afterwards. The problem is the blueprint wasn't especially difficult to replicate. Lesser artists from the world of rap latched onto the prototype and then community service announcements, advertisers and teachers jumped on the band wagon too and suddenly rap became the preferred medium for getting a message across to anyone under the age of thirty.

While listening to Run DMC it's hard to look past the tired cliches and appreciate the fact that they helped originate the art form. They might be serious artists but their music has been destroyed by the rapping animated figures I had to endure in my childhood who wore a cap backwards and told me not to play with matches.

Run DMC and Tolkien are similar in two important respects- they've both been sullied by poor imitations (and I really don't like their songs).

Influenced by: Grandmaster Flash
Influenced: Rap

Highlight: Rock Box
Lowlight: Scratchin

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: SUP I LOVE POPSECRET BUTTERED MOVIE POPCORN. HEY TOBY,TRENT,MIKE,OR ANY OF MY FRIENDS WHO SEE THIS. ME AND BECHTEL WILL RAP AT SCHOOL ON DEC. 17,1999. go run-dmc. I LOVE MxPx.

-well in this persons's defence, facebook wasn't around in 1999 so amazon customer reviews had to do.

So do you enjoy a brisk run or would you rather take public (enemy) transport? Let me know below.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

241. Black sabbath. Doomy Doom Doom Doom



Album: Black Sabbath
Artist: Black Sabbath
Genre: Heavy Metal
Year: 1970

Tracks


1. Black Sabbath
2. The Wizard
3. Behind the Wall of Sleep
4. N.I.B.
5. Evil Woman
6. Sleeping Village
7. The Warning


Black Sabbath's first album was recorded in a day. I love albums like that. There's something to be said for the Sgt Peppers "lets spend the next two weeks really nailing down this songs outro" style of production but there's also something joyous about the idea of walking into a studio in the morning and leaving that night with an entire album in the can. I love Please Please Me and Bob Dylan, both of which take about as long to listen to as they did to make. And I like Black Sabbath a lot more than I like their more slickly crafted latter efforts.

The main problem with Black Sabbath is that the music might have taken a day to record but it sounds like the lyrics were all knocked off during the lunch break. Sabbath put together words like four year olds put together lego. I could cite lots of examples but my favourite is from Wicked World:

"They can put a man on the moon quite easy
while people here on earth are dying of old diseases"

If the mood your going for is doom-laden it's best not to make the lyrics unintentionally hilarious. And there's something about Ozzy's voice that makes bad lyrics that much funnier. Back in the sixties he was a musical force to be reckoned with and a compelling frontman but thanks to his more recent media efforts he's just funny old Ozzy who says silly things and has a silly family and is about as threatening as The Wiggles. It's hard to hear Black Sabbath and not think of new Ozzy stumbling around singing daft things.

Highlight: Black Sabbath.
Lowlight: The Warning

Influenced by: The Blues and minor keys
Influenced: Pretty much all Heavy Metal.


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Cheesy, farty and, most of all, inept guitar solos, harmony and unison between guitar and bass, silly lyrics about Lucifer, portentous snare rolling from a man named Geezer, feedback for Britain - it's right here, literally with bells on."

-Farty? I love the idea of describing music as farty.

So is Black Sabbath your idea of greatness or not? Let me know below

Thursday, January 12, 2012

242. The Jerry Lee Lewis Anthology. All Killer No Filler



Album: All Killer no Filler
Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
Genre: Rock and Roll
Year: 1993

Tracks

  1. Crazy Arms
  2. End of the Road
  3. It'll Be Me
  4. All Night Long
  5. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On
  6. You Win Again
  7. Great Balls of Fire
  8. Down the Line
  9. Breathless
  10. High School Confidential
  11. Break Up
  12. In the Mood
  13. I'm on Fire
  14. Money (That's What I Want)
  15. Another Place, Another Time
  16. What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)
  17. She Still Comes Around
  18. To Make Love Sweeter for You
  19. Don't Let Me Cross Over
  20. One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)
  21. Invitation to Your Party
  22. She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye
  23. One Minute Past Eternity
  24. I Can't Seem to Say Goodbye
  25. Once More With Feeling
  26. There Must Be More to Love than This
  27. Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone
  28. Touching Home
  29. Would You Take Another Chance on Me
  30. Chantilly Lace
  31. No Headstone on My Grave
  32. Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee
  33. Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough
  34. Meat Man
  35. He Can't Fill My Shoes
  36. Let's Put It Back Together Again
  37. Middle Age Crazy
  38. Come on In
  39. I'll Find It Where I Can
  40. Over the Rainbow
  41. Thirty-Nine and Holding
  42. Rockin' My Life Away

Look it may seem obvious to say this but don't marry your cousin. Seriously. If you're in the marrying mood and looking around for someone to tie the knot with, try and avoid anyone who shares a grandparent. But if you're the sort who doesn't get out much and believes in preserving family ties, and you absolutely can't resist hauling a close relative up the aisle, for God's sake make sure she's not 13 years old. There is absolutely no positive spin you can put on a marriage to the daughter of one of your uncles if she's only just entered her teenage years, it's a union to be avoided at all costs.

If you want to know what happens when you fail to take my advice, check out the career of Jerry Lee Lewis who started 1958 as a Rock and Roll hero but ended it in disgrace when it was discovered his third wife was his Dad's sister's little girl, and I do mean little. The rock world wasn't ready for their hero's unique blend of pedophilia and incest and record labels dropped him quicker than he dropped his previous two wives and his career was killed of quicker than wives four (drowned) and five (OD).

Okay reading that back it's clear I've stopped going reviews and started writing gossip columns but I point it out because it's fascinating how a rock star can be rehabilitated. Lewis went from being untouchable in the fifties to a national hero in the eighties. In between his career was so bad he was reduced to recording country albums but it only took 26 years or so for the public to forget they hated him and embrace him as a hero. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and revered as an elder statesmen.

You don't get to enjoy that kind of rehabilitation if there was no reason for you to be adored in the first place. If your reputation was built on sand then trying to rebuild your career after a scandal is always going to fail. All Killer No Filler is the best argument for appreciating Jerry Lee Lewis as the legend he is. The man could turn a sedate piano into a fiery instrument of joy, he could belt out a tune and rock a house unlike anyone else. Great Balls of Fire is a brilliant tune and one of many great rockers on two discs that really are full of killer tracks without any filler.

There's some advice for you ladies and gentlemen. If you are going to marry a 13 year old member of your immediate family, make sure you record a timeless body of work first- you'll be back in the public's good books before your wife is middle aged.

Highlight: Great Balls of Fire
Lowlight: One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)

Influenced by: Rock and Roll, Alcohol and the gospel
Influenced: Anyone rocking out on a piano

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Even if you ain't no Jerry Lee fan, I think you would be after listening to this collection. Bet you can't keep your feet still! This makes my pants want to get up and dance!!!"

-I wonder if that works a defence in an indecent exposure charge: "I'm sorry office but my pants got up to dance and left me behind"

So is this more killer than filler? Let me know below

Saturday, January 7, 2012

243. Freak Out! Being Frank about the world.



Album: Freak Out
Artist: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Year: 1966
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
  2. I Ain't Got No Heart
  3. Who Are the Brain Police?
  4. Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder
  5. Motherly Love
  6. How Could I Be Such a Fool?
  7. Wowie Zowie
  8. You Didn't Try to Call Me
  9. Any Way the Wind Blows
  10. I'm Not Satisfied
  11. You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here
  12. Trouble Every Day
  13. Help, I'm a Rock
  14. It Can't Happen Here
  15. The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet

Any album that followed a live Grateful Dead release in the countdown was always going to suffer in comparison. Consider yourself lucky then that rather than crashing to the depths of another hip hop album or something by KISS, I get to land securely in the safety net that is Frank Zappa.

I love Frank. I don't love all his music (nobody does) but when he's good he's very good and when he's fantastic he's just flat out brilliant (insert rant about omission of Hot Rats in this list here). Freak Out is his debut album and so the first exposure the record buying public had to a man who would baffle and delight them constantly through the next three decades.

Much of the music on Freak Out looks backwards to do-wop, a musical form that Frank was inexplicably a huge fan of. Tracks like Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder, Motherly Love and You didn't try to call Me are all do-woppy and would appeal to people who love the genre (as long as they were prepared to put up with lyrics about "rocking" groupies till they "sweat and cry"). When he's doing wop, Frank is a bit left-field but accessible. The thing is he doesn't necessarily like to be accessed. He steps out way into left-field and then looks further to the left and says "That looks cool, lets go over there".

Help I'm a Rock, Who are the Brain Police and It Can't Happen Here are unlike anything anyone was doing up to that point. Outlandish, esoteric and frankly strange, they're all songs inspired by Frank's love of avante garde composers and radio wouldn't touch them with the sonic equivalent of a ten foot pole. Odd though they are, none of them could hold a weird flickery candle to Return of the Son of Monster Magnet, which features $12,000 of rented percussion equipment being played by "Freaks" who Frank brought into the studio more for their unique worldview than their musical talent. Monster Magnet lasts 12 minutes and has no structure that anyone would call an actual song.

Teetering precariously between the two musical styles is a song called Trouble Every Day in which Frank basically invents rap. Over a backing track made up of some blistering guitar heroics, Zappa flows words and rhymes at a breakneck pace. If it's not one of the earliest Hip Hop tracks then I'd like to know what genre it falls into. Zappa's choice of subject matter was the Watts Riots which tore apart California and were watched in horror on TV by millions of Americans. Frank's rapping takes in the terror caused by the riots, the underlying social causes and the hypocrisy of TV networks who condemned the riots while using it to boost their ratings.

If you need any evidence that Frank Zappa is a genuis and a unique talent then Trouble Every Day is your proof. Back in 1966 he had something to say, a unique way of saying it and a huge musical talent to back up his words. Freak Out is a great album and it's creator was a truly great man. We need him more than ever today and this list needs a lot more Zappa to give it more credibility. And you need to hear Freak Out if you haven't yet.

Highlight: Trouble every day
Lowlight: How could I be such a fool

Influenced by: Varese and Do Wop
Influenced: Paul McCartney (he credits this with inspiring Sgt Peppers)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Freak Out! is about a trillion, yes a trillion!, times better and original than anything produced by the biggest frauds in music history aka The Beatles. If we lived in a just world this would be on top of Rolling Stones Greatest Ever Album list."

-A trillion times? Really? That's a fairly big call.

So do you like to Freak Out or do you prefer to straight in? Let me know below

Thursday, January 5, 2012

244. Live/Dead. I promise I'll try and contain myself.



Album: Live/Dead
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1969
Genre: Psychadelic Rock and Roll

Tracks.

1. Dark Star
2. St Stephen
3. The Eleven
4. Turn on your Lovelight
5. Death Don't have no Mercy
6. Feedback
7. And we bid you goodnight.

It's a hypothetical situation that's commonly asked but terrifies me every time: Imagine you are going to be consigned to a desert island somewhere and you're only allowed to take one CD. For the rest of your life you will have only one 80 minute collection of music to while away the solitary hours as you go progressively madder and start talking to volleyballs and building friends out of coconuts. You're asked to forgo all the other moments of greatness in recorded music and cast them aside in favour of one release which will become your music collection for the rest of your days. The very question gives me the shivers but I know which CD I would choose. I have a Desert Island Disc, a favourite album of all time and one the expert panel at Rolling Stone magazine decided could only be bettered by 243 other releases.

In 1969 the Grateful Dead were experiencing the first highpoint of their long career. Their line up had solidified with the addition of Mickey Hart as a second drummer and they were performing live as if they had a spooky telekinetic ability that drove them together as a coherent unit with uncanny powers of improvisation. Nobody else on earth was capable of doing what they were doing and nobody has done it since. I have to go track by track now and I promise I'll try and restrain myself but I may lapse into the sort of deranged wittering madness that only a truly great album (or 20 years alone on a desert island) can produce.

The album starts with some very quiet interplay between the musicians. The very loosest jam it's possible to indulge in without becoming totally formless. Then out of the depths of the meandering the main theme of Dark Star starts to emerge. While casual radio listeners might know the Dead more for their hits like Truckin and Uncle John's Band, any committed Deadhead will always list Dark Star as their finest moment, or more accurately collection of moments. While the single version (which failed to chart at all, anywhere, ever) went for 2 minutes and forty seconds, live versions of Dark Star would often clock in at around the 30 minute mark. Frequently they would start playing and then get distracted and play some other songs in the middle before finding their way back to the song at the end. The Live/Dead version is a relatively brusque 23 minutes long and it's over six minutes before Jerry Garcia actually starts singing the words.

Wikipedia claims 13 minutes of this version of Dark Star is taken up with a guitar solo which is a bit like saying most of The Godfather is taken up with Al Pacino acting. Jerry isn't playing on his own while the rest of the band repeats a groove behind him and tries to stay awake. At every moment, every member of the band is doing something interesting. They're all playing riffs, fills, improvising tunes but never ignoring what's going on around them. They're pushing each other to places they've never been before. The Grateful Dead felt that playing the same thing twice was a waste of good stage-space and music was only worth playing if they had no idea where it was going. Listening to them launch out into space without a net and only each other to fall back on is a transcendent experience and proof that music is so much more than practice.

The track ends with the band harmonising on the final lyrics (and actually singing really well, not something they were often noted for) before bringing the music down to a very quiet place that lets Jerry Garcia play the introduction to St Stephen in a docile and understated way while the band sits back ready to pounce together to kickstart the song. The next ten minutes are tight rock and roll as the band move seamlessly into The Eleven, deftly taking the music through a range of tempo and mood changes with some of the best singing of their silliest lyrics every captured on vinyl. When St Stephen finally gives way to The Eleven (named for it's 11/8 time signature) the band start to really boogie. While most people picture an audience of Deadheads as tie-dyed, low-lifes swaying to an inner rhythm generated more by the drugs in their system than the music from the stage, the truth is the average audience member at a Dead show was dancing themselves silly. While Jerry and Co could launch their songs into space they could also ground them in your hips and spent more time playing dance-able rock and roll than space-infused audio lightshows. The Eleven is just one of many Dead tunes that demand the listener get up and groove.

More strident and direct demands were made by keyboard player and bluesman Ron "Pigpen" Mckernan who stays quiet for the first half of Live/Dead but is unleashed in no uncertain terms during Turn on your Lovelight, his signature tune. Pigpen strides to the mike and when the band notice him ready they effortlessly turn the high speed jamming of The Eleven into the introduction of Lovelight. If I could go back in time I'd love to see Pigpen front the Dead. He could apparently hold an audience in the palm of his hand and was one of rock's greatest ever frontmen. His singing on Lovelight is amazing and he drives the band through 15 minutes of blues-based rock and roll that has the audience leaping about like the happiest deranged loons in San Fransisco.

Lovelight actually reaches a conclusion which (if you're listening on CD) is the first interruption to the continuous music they began at the start of Dark Star. The next song finds the band in slow blues mode as they play a version of Death Don't Have No Mercy. Garcia sings like someone who has lost people and listening to him feel the emotion it's hard not to feel it along with him and mourn those music lost, such as Pigpen and Jerry himself. After pouring his heart out into the mic he pours even more into his amp through a beautiful solo which is tear-wrenching, beautiful, entirely improvised and unlike any other solo he played on this song before. Jerry didn't memorize solos or try and replicate what he played on the album- the music moved him and he moved it back.

Death don't have no mercy evolves into a track called Feedback which isn't an attempt by the band to gauge the opinions of the audience. It's not them handing out forms and collating responses, it's the band trying to create music using the sonic limitations of their equipment. A moment when they attempt to surrender their carefully practiced musicianship to the whims of their amplifiers. Does it work? It depends how you define work. For some it's a track that only exists to be skipped. For others it's a moment of spontaneity and organic musical inspiration that can't be replicated.

The Feedback eventually falls away to be replaced by the band singing We bid you Goodnight, an accapella ballad that finished several shows (although frequently better than it does here).

In under eighty minutes the greatest live band in the world has played rock and roll, blues, boogie, jazz and a combination that only they could ever do. And they did it in a way that they had never done before and would never do again thanks to inspiration and an incredible ability to improvise. If I only had one disc to take to a desert island it would be this one. If I could take more than one disc I'd take the boxed set that contains the full shows Live/Dead was culled from.

There were four Grateful Dead albums in the top 500. If I had my way there'd be many more. This is the highest ranking Dead release. If it was up to me it would be the highest ranked album on the countdown.

Highlight: The opening moments until the first moment of silence.
Lowlight: And we bid you goodnight. Done better elsewhere

Influenced by: Coltrane and the Blues.
Influenced: An entire movement we call The Jam Band scene.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "And though "Black Star" reaches a point of being interesting at the "chorus," the point quickly passes into 15 minutes of pointless, weak, guitar noodling played as though no one was listening, which for a long time was true. "

-People were listening. People always listened. Some of them listened so well they get the name of the track right.

So is this the best live album of all time or is there a wrong tree somewhere with me barking up it? Let me know below