Friday, April 27, 2012

213 New York Dolls- The Missing Link

Album: The New York Dolls
Artist: The New York Dolls
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock

  1. Personality Crisis
  2. Looking for a Kiss
  3. Vietnamese Baby
  4. Lonely Planet Boy
  5. Frankenstein (Orig.)
  6. Trash
  7. Bad Girl
  8. Subway Train
  9. Pills
  10. Private World
  11. Jet Boy 

If you're going to trace the evolution (or atrophy, depending on your perspective) of Rock and Roll it seems like there's a big leap from The Rolling Stones and bands like them to The Sex Pistols and punk in general. There's a gulf of some kind between Jagger/Richards and Rotten/Vicious. The missing link that helps connect the two bands is a concept known as protopunk as performed by artists including The New York Dolls.

The Dolls aren't a punk band but they're a step in a punk direction mainly through their vocal stylings which are best described as "enthusiastic". The Dolls realised that attitude was as important as musicianship when it came to expounding lyrics and if you couldn't hit all the right notes with something approaching an acceptable tone, it was fine to approximate them with the right level of commitment.

Consequently the vocals on The New York Dolls are genuinely and truly awful. That's not to say they're bad they're just not polished or honed in any way. Some singers enter a studio after "warming up their instrument" for a while by singing "me me me me" a lot and performing other vocal gymnastics, David Johanson just wanders up to the mic and yells a bit. They're punk vocals sitting on top of a band performing some fairly standard rock and roll. It wasn't a huge step for a band like The Sex Pistols to realise that if the New York Dolls could get away with vocals that were amateurish the rest of the band could pull off the same trick as well.

The New York Dolls broke up (all punk and protopunk bands do) which presents the question: what does the lead singer of a protopunk band do when forced to forge a solo career? Amazingly David Johansen reinvented himself completely as Buster Poindexter, a tuxedo wearing, martini sipping, lounge singer who is best remembered for bringing bringing Hot Hot Hot! to the world in 1987 (You know the song, it goes "something something something, something something something feeling hot hot hot! something something something something something something feeling hot hot hot! etc etc). Whether or not you hate that song (or The New York Dolls) there's no denying Johansen is a natural frontman.

If you can overlook the vocal stylings, The New York Dolls are a logical missing link between rock and punk (and a completely illogical link between rock and latin-tinged, eighties, dance anthems). Personally I don't think Rock needed Punk so any steps in that direction were wrong ones. I much prefer to step back into full Stones territory.

Highlight: Lonely Planet Boy
Lowlight: Pills

Influenced by: The Stones
Influenced: Punk

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "THIS IS NOT PUNK. The Dolls were a very good glam METAL band. So many people think that this is punk and that The Stooges are punk. The first punk rock band in America was The Ramones."

-Contentious statement. I think that argument is still raging unresolved.

So do you like to play with Dolls? Let me know below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

214. Bo Diddley. You don't know Diddley.

Album: Bo Diddley
Artist: Bo Diddley
Year: 1958
Genre: Blues


1. Bo Diddley
2. I'm a Man
3. Bring It to Jerome
4. Before You Accuse Me
5. Hey! Bo Diddley
6. Dearest Darling
7. Hush Your Mouth
8. Say, Boss Man
9. Diddley Daddy
10. Diddy Wah Diddy
11. Who Do You Love?
12. Pretty Thing

Bo Diddley has his own beat. How's that for cool? Some artists have a signature guitar sound, or an iconic hat but Bo has his own damn rhythm. It's impressive that a guy with a silly name and a uniquely shaped guitar can be remembered more for something his drummer does. But then the Diddley beat isn't just something the guy with the sticks gets up to. The whole band falls behind the percussion and the bass and guitar churn out the drive without changing chord patterns. A whole band pumps out a modified rhumba beat which Diddley uses as a launching point to sing his unique brand of humour-laden vocals.

As a technique it helped to launch Diddley's career but more than that it helped turn the Blues into Rock and Roll. The Rolling Stones were so enamoured with Diddley they not only adopted his rhythms they covered his songs and welcomed the guy onstage. And they were only one of the many groups of white rock and rollers who saw Diddley as one of the Godfathers of what they were trying to achieve.

Bo Diddley the album (not to be confused with Bo Diddley the song, Bo Diddley the artist or Bo Diddley the other album) is a collection of Bo Diddley the man's early singles (which includes Bo Diddley the song). It's another one of those Blues compilations which contains a bunch of classic songs that became standards of the White Boy Blues scene: I'm a man, Cops and Robbers, Who Do you Love? Before you Accuse me and Hey Bo Diddley are still gracing the repetoires of bar bands all over the world.

While the Bo Diddley beat could get a bit repetitive over time, when it's used on a handful of classic tracks as it is here it makes for compelling, foot tapping listening and the lyrics are a unique band of idiosyncratic wonderful. Great stuff.

Influenced by: Muddy Waters
Influenced: The Rolling Stones and Rock and Roll

Highlight: I'm a man (although I've always loved Bring it to Jerome)
Lowlight: Diddy Wah Diddy

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: "Long-forgotten LPs like "Have Guitar Will Travel", "The Originator", "Hey Good Lookin'", "Bo Diddley's Beach Party (Live)" deserve to be heard by a new generation of potential Diddleyphiles."

-Diddleyphiles! I love that expression.

So are you a Diddleyphile? Let me know below.

Friday, April 20, 2012

215 Two steps from the Blues. A short journey from greatness.

Album: Two Steps from the Blues
Artist: Bobby Blue Bland
Year: 1961
Genre: Blues


  1. Two Steps from the Blues
  2. Cry Cry Cry
  3. I'm Not Ashamed
  4. Don't Cry No More
  5. Lead Me On
  6. I Pity The Fool
  7. I've Just Got to Forget You
  8. Little Boy Blue
  9. St. James Infirmary
  10. I'll Take Care of You
  11. I Don't Want No Woman
  12. I've Been Wrong So Long

Some blues artists have magnificent names. There are guys who played the Blues with monikers so cool you could be a fan of them even if you didn't like their music at all. Blind Lemon Jefferson is a personal favourite (if only for the fact that his name implies most lemons are capable of sight) along with Muddy Waters and Clarence Gatemouth Brown who cleverly chose a silly middle name so people would have something to distract them from the fact that his name is Clarence. Clarence is not a blues name but then neither is Bland . If anyone tried breaking into the music industry today with a name like Bland their manager would change it straight away. Nobody wants their music bland (with the with the possible exception of electro fans).

I'm pleased to report that Bobby Blue Bland is definitely not insipid, lukewarm or bland in any way. In fact he's a damn exciting guy with a magnificent voice. He's not the first person people think of when Blues singers are mentioned but he deserves his place in the pantheon of greats if only for giving us Turn on Your Lovelight, one of the great blues groovers of all times and Aint No Love in the heart of the city, which has provided samples for hip hop artists for years.

I was looking forward to checking out Bland's biggest album so imagine my disappointment when I discovered this wasn't it. Bland's best moments aren't on Two Steps from Blues. They've been replaced with strings, and backing singers and a room full of other musicians. This isn't the blues as much as it's big band soul. The blues comes from a point of poverty and it's best when it stays there. When a bunch of guys with violins and classical training stand behind a blues man it stops becoming blues and becomes something else entirely. Something diluted, something less, something....bland.

There's nothing here that is anything near as exciting as Lovelight or Stormy Monday or anything else that can be found Bland's next album, which is mysteriously out of print. This album is definitely two steps from the blues and I wish Bland had taken those two short paces and made an actual blues album.

Highlight: Don't cry no more
Lowlight: I've just got to forget you

Influenced by: Muddy Waters and a producer
Influenced: The Grateful Dead (or at least the next album did)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review: "If you liked this, you'll love Texas Johnny Brown's Nothin' but The Truth, he's the man that wrote Two Steps From The Blues. He is awesome."

-Sometimes it's good to have a recommendation along with a review, but instead of a review seems a bit wrong.

So are you happy to remain two steps from the blues or would you rather put more distance between the two of you? Let me know below.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

216. The Queen is Dead.

Album: The Queen is Dead
Artist: The Smiths
Year: 1986
Genre: Rock


1. The Queen Is Dead
2. Frankly, Mr. Shankly
3. I Know It's Over
4. Never Had No One Ever
5. Cemetry Gates
6. Bigmouth Strikes Again
7. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
8. Vicar in a Tutu
9. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
10. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others

 There is a certain type of person who thinks the world can be divided into three types of people: those who love The Smiths, those who haven't heard them yet and drooling cretins whose brain-freezing stupidity makes them too thick to appreciate any quality music at all.

The religious fervour of the average Smiths fan can be attributed to a tendency to worship Morrissey to the point where he's held up as a messiah figure who doesn't just write lyrics he writes the truth and then sings it directly into your soul. Moz (as he's affectionately known) is what divides Smiths fans from the rest of us. He's vegemite spread liberally over bread and butter of The Smiths rock and roll- if you love him it's great and if you don't he's enough to turn you off the whole thing. The Queen is Dead is generally held up as Morrissey's Sermon the Mount, Feeding of the five thousand and stroll across the water. It's his claim to godlike status and the holy grail to be handed to those who need converting to the church of The Smiths.

Having heard The Queen Is Dead several times through I can't say it's converted me to become one of the faithful. Morrissey's lyrics are definitely a cut above most eighties music but they're not life changing and, while I'm no English expert, if this is the height of poetry then literature contains much shallower peaks than I'd been previously led to imagine. At least on The Queen is Dead Morrissey sounds like the lead singer of a band rather than an ego deposited onto the backing tracks of some other musicians. It's a set of songs that make for more enjoyable listening than the other Smiths on this countdown which to be honest were painful at best, but it's not enough to make this sceptic a true believer.

Highlight: Frankly, Mr Shankly
Lowlight: Vicar in a Tutu (great name though)

Influenced by: Republicanism
Influenced: English boys of a certain age.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Morrissey's writing is basically everything wrong with "smart" rock lyrics, obtuse to a point that their own narrative cryptology overshadows the sensations and emotions at the heart of the events. "

-There's no doubt The Smiths reviews are a cut above "This is a must-have" or "If you like this you must be gay" reviews that often popular Amazon.

So is the Queen dead or alive and kicking? Let me know below.

Friday, April 13, 2012

217 Licenced to Ill

Album: Licensed to ill
Artist: The Beastie Boys
Year: 1986
Genre: Hip Hop


  1. Rhymin & Stealin
  2. The New Style
  3. She's Crafty
  4. Posse in Effect
  5. Slow Ride
  6. Girls
  7. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)
  8. No Sleep Till Brooklyn
  9. Paul Revere
  10. Hold It, Now Hit It
  11. Brass Monkey
  12. Slow and Low
  13. Time to Get Ill

The Beastie Boys career path is a long and strange one. They began as a bog-standard punk band that shouted their rebellion to an apathetic audience who couldn't care less. A career left-turn saw them become hip hop heroes playing rap but with guitar solos and Led Zep samples. Then they somehow managed to mature their sound and their image and take hip-hop into places nobody had seen it go before while they embraced a huge variety of musical genres and lyrics that supported activism and Freedom for Tibet. Career wise it's impossible to know where they're going to go next and what they'll do when they get there.

Licence to ill captures the Beastie Boys before they became the Beastie Men and sees them in full, hip hop party mode. Apparently it was originally supposed to be entitled Don't be a Faggot which sort of sums up their mind view at the time. It's rap with a catchy chorus. When I was growing up You gotta fight for your right to Party was something of an anthem amongst my friends who learnt every word and used to sing it often thinking they were cool (they weren't, they were lame, unlike my own ability to sing Monty Python songs which I'm sure was a James Dean level of coolness). A lot of my classmate's idea of fun was to start a chant in the playground (or in class if they were more daring). One would yell "You gotta fight!" and the rest would join in with "For your right!" and then everyone would scream "To paaaaarrtaaaaa!" at the top of voice. This would sate them for a few minutes until someone would inevitably do it again.

The Beastie Boys have since claimed their mega-hit was actually a cunning satire of party songs. They've tried to convince the world that Fight for the Right was originally written as a clever pastiche of hedonistic anthems and that they were making a statement about mindless juvinile celebration rather than trying to contribute to its soundtrack. It's a cute part of their attempt to reinvent themselves as serious musicians but if you look back on the song (and it's subsequent video clip) it's a hard claim to back up. If Fight for your Right is satire then ACDC can claim every subsequent album is a send-up of their first one. It's replication and their claim that they were secretly laughing at everyone who shouted it at frat parties looks a bit thin.

Like a lot of hip hop from the era, Licensced to ill is a product of it's time that has dated badly. It comes from an age before Hip Hop learnt to take itself seriously and would be a bit of a joke if it's creators hadn't been among the fore runners of rap's reinvention.

Highlight: The first time you hear You gotta fight for your right
Lowlight: Every other time you hear it (especially shouted by other people)

Influenced by: Grandmaster Flash
Influenced: Teenage boys on another continent.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: Ladies, if you see this in your boyfriend's CD collection or you see it in his car on your first date, run. Fast!

-Interesting dating advice.

So do you feel it's necessary to engage in combat of some kind to preserve your entitlement to merriment? Or is that just crap? Let me know below.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

218. Look ka py py- Probably the silliest name yet.

Album: Look-ka py py
Artist: The Meters
Year: 1969
Genre: Funk


1. Look-Ka Py Py
2. Rigor Mortis
3. Pungee
4. Thinking
5. This Is My Last Affair
6. Funky Miracle
7. Yeah, You're Right
8. Little Old Money Maker
9. Oh, Calcutta!
10. The Mob
11. 9 'Til 5
12. Dry Spell

It feels odd to say this about a funk album but Look Ka Py Py feels a bit aimless. Funk should drive. It should motor. It should put its foot to the floor and take you places in a hurry. It shouldn't get stuck in traffic or require a tyre change and need more oil. And it should never have fluffy dice hanging from the mirror or those stickers you see on the back window showing how many people are in its family.

Okay, I let that car analogy get away from me a bit and I apologise but the point still stands. Funk should drive. It should feel like there is someone like James Brown at the helm making the band really cook and forcing the listener to sit up and take notice. When you picture musicians playing funk you should see sweat on their forehead, feet moving with the rhythm and massive smiles on their happy faces. When I picture the Meters playing I imagine them laid back, untroubled by perspiration or unnecessary exertion. I can even imagine someone cleaning the studio when this album was recorded. If the studio needed a bit of a scrub the janitor could safely wander in while the Meters were playing. He'd tap his toes a bit and maybe feel the need to swoosh his broom with some sense of rhythm but at least he'd get some cleaning done. If someone tried to tidy up while James Brown was in the studio they would have flung down their cleaning gear, totally incapable of resisting the urge to leap about in a frenzy of funk induced power. Good funk does that to you.

The Meters are well regarded as funk pioneers who helped create the genre. Their music grooves along but it's too laid back to be really interesting and after a while becomes backing music. And who wants their funk to be aural wallpaper?

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: The Mob

Influenced by: James Brown
Influenced: The Temptations

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:  "It's very funky, a little cheesy (in a good way), and everyone seems to dig it."

-Cheesy funk. Good name for a band.

So would you make your funk the Meters funk or would you make it something else? Let me know below.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

219 Loveless A happy alternative

Album: Loveless
Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Year: 1991
Genre: Rock


  1. Only Shallow
  2. Loomer
  3. Touched
  4. To Here Knows When
  5. When You Sleep
  6. I Only Said
  7. Come in Alone
  8. Sometimes
  9. Blown a Wish
  10. What You Want
  11. Soon

I have to say Loveless comes as something of a relief. Before this album came along it had been 32 albums since we'd had a rock and roll release from the 1990's or beyond. The countdown was starting to feel a bit dated. Personally I'm a big fan of music recorded by dead people (when they were alive obviously, Zombie rock is a genre I've yet to encounter) but from time to time it's nice to get something a bit modern as a relief.

Although it had to be said the relief did wear off a bit after a while. A few tracks in fact. The music on Loveless is usually described as "shoegazing" which is a fairly adequate description. It's droney and distorted and frequently in the same tempo with the same sense of over arching enui that makes it hard for the listener to lift their heads. It gets repetive fairly quickly and eventually I found myself gazing at my shoes because they're what I see just before my head droops and I nod off.

As far as I'm concerned rock and roll should take me away from my shoes and not draw me to them.  I know what my shoes look like (they're leathery and black) and once I've put them on in the morning they don't require any more attention from me until I take them off at the end of the day. Music shouldn't have me gazing shoeward. Music should make me tap my toes so much my shoes are a blur, or it should have me dancing so much they make quick passes through my peripheral vision several times a second. Music should move my focus to the sky with my hands raised in rapture or shake my head with elation. If music has me staring down at my feet in search of interest it's not doing what I want it to.

Loveless is great if shoegazing is what you're into. But if your boots are made for walking and not for watching you might want to search elsewhere for your musical thrills.

Highlight: Touched
Lowlight: Blown a wish

Influenced by: Shoes.
Influenced: Footwear choices

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This music is so stupid and weird not in a good unique way but just an uncomfortable way like when you are at someone's house and you don't like them and want to go home but you can't and you probably have to spend the night in their living room"

-What a strangely charming point of comparison.

So is this a night in the living room of someone you despise or not? Let me know below.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

220 New Orleans Piano. Hirsute academics strike again

Album: New Orleans Piano
Artist: Professor Longhair
Year: 1972
Genre: Jazz


  1. In the Night
  2. Tipitina
  3. Tipitina
  4. Ball the Wall
  5. Who's Been Fooling You
  6. Hey Now Baby
  7. Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  8. She Walks Right In
  9. Hey Little Girl
  10. Willie Mae
  11. Walk Your Blues Away
  12. Professor Longhair Blues
  13. Boogie Woogie
  14. Longhair's Blues-Rhumba
  15. Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  16. She Walks Right In

I was really looking forward to listening to this. After close to 300 albums the lack of variety in the 500 list is starting to wear a bit thin. A new genre on the horizon is always something to look forward to and with the exception of Dr John we haven't really had much New Orleans Piano to break the monotony. Shame then that I found Proffessor Longhair kind of underwhelming.

New Orleans paino can be exciting and toe tapping but for some reason Longhair doesn't really push the right buttons for me. It's hard to put my finger on why but I suspect it's related to the fact that while he's a talented player the songs themselves don't seem to have the same timeless feel that tracks from other genre's do. A few albums ago I heard Howlin Wolf which is also decades old but has songs that have become standards. Little Red Rooster, Spoonful and Wang Dang Doodle have all been covered countless times but most of the hirsute academic's catalogue has been ignored by modern music.

New Orleans piano seems like a fairly specific genre that doesn't extend it's boogie or woogie much past it's own practitioneers. While the Blues influenced rock and roll, folk spurned a variety of sub genres and jazz influenced everyone even if they don't realise it, New Orleans Piano has only really influenced New Orleans pianists.

Proffessor Longhair is an okay listen but for an album this far up the charts I have to say I expected a lot more.

Highlight: Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Lowlight: She walks right in

Influenced by: Other new Orleans piano players
Influenced: See above (and add Hugh Laurie).

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I recommend Crawfish Feista and Rock and Roll Gumbo as far better examples of Fess's work."

-Other reviewers agree. I think I'll check them out.

So do you feel like you've enjoyed a masterclass with the professor or would you rather sleep up the back of the lecture theatre? Let me know below.