Thursday, May 31, 2012

204- Dirty Mind. Opening my eyes.



Album: Dirty Mind
Artist: Prince
Genre: Pop
Year: 1980

Tracks
  1. Dirty Mind
  2. When You Were Mine
  3. Do It All Night
  4. Gotta Broken Heart Again
  5. Uptown
  6. Head
  7. Sister
  8. Partyup  

This is why I'm writing this blog. For exactly this reason, because of this album right here.  I used to hate Prince and when discussing Rolling Stone magazine's august countdown with people I would rail and bitch and get extremely tedious about the fact that Neil Young's timeless masterpiece Everybody Knows This is Nowhwere was located below a Prince album on the countdown. "It's got Down by the River on it! How can anyone actually believe any Prince song is better than Down by the sodding River? It makes no sense!" I would shout to anyone who wasn't clever enough to see me coming and get out of the way. I would type pages of passionate but pointless vitriol into the internet about the injustice that had anything by Prince above anything by Canada's finest, but my bitter invective could be slapped down by anyone asking if I'd actually heard the Prince album I was complaining about.

My entire argument could be sunk by an admission that I was comparing something I knew well to something I'd never heard at all, which was blatantly hypocritical.

A sane and normal person would therefore decide to forgoe their online ranting and realise that the best course of action would be to stop trying to prove something on the internet and just accept that everyone has different tastes. That would be the rational response but oooh no. That's far too reasonable for this little music obsessive. That's not my style at all. Instead I set out to hear every single album at least four times so could give my posturing fervour an added degree of credence. Then I would be able to swat aside attempts to undermine me by pointing out my ignorance with a bold declaration that I was ignorant no more! I had listened to every note of every album at least four times and so was no longer spouting ill-informed opinions, I was frothing at the mouth with the froth of informed experience.

But the surprise was that some of the albums I was listening to out of a sense of spite (how dare you be above an album I love?) actually impressed me in ways I never knew they would. There were some releases that I didn't enjoy but could see why others would and some artists who I even found myself enjoying when I was sure four listens would be a unique kind of torture. This list has been a surprising and eye-opening experience and I'm really glad I set out to have my horizons widened.

Dirty Mind however is tedious wank of the lowest kind and has no redeeming features. The fact that it's above any album by Neil Young is an injustice not only to Neil but to recorded music in general. That's my informed opinion. It's an album whose cover features a man with a crap teenage moustache wearing underpants and a jacket. And it's all downhill from there.

Highlight: Down by the River (which is on a different album by a different artist)
Lowlight: The Music (closely followed by the lyrics)

Influenced by: A massive ego
Influenced: Eighties music.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If you are a fan of the early 80s material, a big Price fan, or maybe a music historian looking to discover where music started getting lowdown and dirty, then go for this album."

-I think a true music historian might be eager to tell you that music was lowdown and dirty long before Prince felt the need to dip his sordid little oar in.

So do you have a Dirty Mind or would you rather Prince washed his brain out with soap? Let me know below.

Friday, May 25, 2012

205 Abraxas- Santana!



Album: Abraxas
Artist: Santana
Genre: Latin rock
Year: 1970

Tracks
  1. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts 
  2. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen
  3. Oye Como Va
  4. Incident at Neshabur 
  5. Se a Cabo
  6. Mother's Daughter
  7. Samba Pa Ti
  8. Hope You're Feeling Better
  9. El Nicoya  

For a long time all I really knew about Santana was that Alexei Sayle didn't like them. I grew up on The Young Ones and Sayle's stand up rants had a big impact on me. There's one especially angry and shouty bit I can recall vividly in which he rails against modern music. Dire straits come in for a particular serve but permanently etched in my mind is the bitter and vitriolic way he says "Santana!" as if even the band's name is enough to cause him extreme physical comfort. For years whenever anyone mentioned Santana I couldn't help but shout "Santana!" in a derisory way which made me look like a strange shouty git. I had no idea what it was about a mere band that so riled Alexei but having heard Abraxas I think I can guess. It is kind of boring.

Guitarist Carlos Santana tried to meld blues with latin influences, producing a revolutionary sounding, up-beat rock concert experience with funky percussion and scorching guitar solos. It was a totally unique sound which could light up a stage and generate extended jams which delighted audiences throughout America. But in the confines of a studio it all falls a bit flat. Like a lot of the great bands of the late sixties, Santana lost a lot of their live sparkle in the studio where they were forced to surrender their sense of experimentation in favour of abbreviation and accessibility.

Abraxas is more a taste of what could be that any form of greatness in itself, it's clear that Carlos Santana can play and the band can really cook but you can sense them holding things in reserve in order to make sure tracks come in at an acceptable length. It certainly doesn't deserve Aleixi's derision but now that their full Woodstock set, and other live albums, are available I wonder who listens to this anymore for any reason than nostalgia for a time when this was the only chance to hear someone inserting latin grooves into rock and roll.

Highlight: Black Magic Woman (but the original is better)
Lowlight: Singing Winds, Crying Beasts

Influenced by: The blues and latin music
Influenced: Los Lobos

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This dosn't have Rob Thomas on it and in fact it dosn't even sound like Santara to me."

-Poor Santana. He slaved away for years playing music but to a generation he will be known only as the sideman for the former singer of Matchbox 20.

So do you love Santana or are you at a Carlos to know why anyone does? Let me know below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

206 Tea for the Tillerman- The Cat's miaow



Album: Tea for the Tillerman
Artist: Cat Stevens
Genre: Foik
Year: 1970

Tracks

  1. Where Do the Children Play?
  2. Hard Headed Woman
  3. Wild World
  4. Sad Lisa
  5. Miles from Nowhere
  6. But I Might Die Tonight
  7. Longer Boats
  8. Into White
  9. On the Road to Find Out
  10. Father and Son
  11. Tea for the Tillerman

Some people can write pretty songs but can't sing them for nuts. It doesn't matter which variety of nut you offer them they just don't have the voice to do their composition justice. Other artists have voices given to them by the angels but can't write tunes for toffee. You can spend hours perfecting the most delicious toffee imaginable but there's no way it's going to suddenly turn Art Garfunkle into a songwriter. People who can munch happily on toffee-coated peanuts secure in the knowledge that they can write a great song and then do it justice are few and far between.

Cat Stevens (or Steven Georgiou to give him his birth name, or Yusuf Islam to give him his most recent name) has a really good voice. The guy can sing and sounds really good when he does. And he could not only put together some notes in tune he could write a catchy song as well. There are a handful of Cat's songs which are staples on Easy Listening radio and provide the soundtrack to the visible aging process of octogenarians all over the planet. Many a new wrinkle has appeared while Moon Shadow plays on a wireless in the background.

Tea for the Tillerman's most popular song is actually better known by someone other than Cat. The first person to release Wild World as a single was Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff, whose reggae infused version became the standard arrangement. It's become known more in its reggae incarnation now and many are surprised to learn it originated from the same voice that gave us the definitive version of Moon Shadow.

Cat Stevens' career suffered when he converted to Islam and Al Qaida converted Islam into the most hated religion in the US. But it's worth revisiting his finest album. His music might not be as inspirational as his contemporaries or as courageous but there's no doubt he has an incredible voice that deserves to be liberated from the clutches of easy listening radio.

Highlight: Wild World
Lowlight: Into White

Influenced by: Bob Dylan
Influenced: Belle and Sebastian

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman: This is a brilliant album and one I treasured. Now that Yusuf Islam has killed off Cat Stevens, I encourage you to buy a used version of this CD and deny Yusuf any profits from the sale."

-That's a very sad attitude to take.

So are you a cat person or not? Let me know below.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

207- Ten. This goes to eleven.







Album: Ten
Artist: Pearl Jam
Year: 1991
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Once
  2. Even Flow
  3. Alive
  4. Why Go
  5. Black
  6. Jeremy
  7. Oceans
  8. Porch
  9. Garden
  10. Deep
  11. Release

Pearl Jam's debut album has sold well over 13 million copies. Along with receipts from the tour it spawned, and sales of the singles (which were all chart successes) Ten made Pearl Jam enough money to set them up for life. They entered the studio as eager, unknown musicians and it turned them into millionaire superstars. How on earth do you follow that up? How do you reclaim the hunger and drive that helped you to write album one when you have to leave your new mansion in one of your recently purchased sports cars in order to get to the studio and record album two?


I have nothing but respect for Pearl Jam who managed to help define grunge but never got defined by grunge in return. Even when the movement died they lived on because they had a commitment to the music. As I'm writing this they're putting the finished touches on another album having ridden high on the success of 2009's Backspacer which hit No1 in the US. They're into their third decade as a band and showing no signs of slowing down or selling out.

Ten is one of the album's which helped to save music from the eighties. It helped to return the focus of rock away from the image and back onto the music. Grunge was about good songs played well and not pretty people dressed expensively. The songs on Ten are still relevant twenty years later because they're good tunes, passionately played by talented people. Vedder can really sing and the band can really play.

In the years since this hit the shops,  Pearl Jam have released music this good again and have never sold out. They've continued to play two-hour plus live show with varied setlists that showcase their own ability and not the talents of their lighting designers or video editors. They were relevant in 1991 because they loved to play together and had something to say. Two decades later they might have enough money to buy the stadiums they perform in but they still love to play and feel they've got a voice that needs to be heard.

I enjoy Ten but never listen to it. Instead I'm more interested in hearing any one of a number of Pearl Jam live releases they've put out over the years which take the songs and give them a further push. Ten is great if you want to appreciate the sorely needed kick in the teeth rock required after the eighties but if you want to enjoy the best Pearl Jam has to offer seek out a live album.


Highlight: Even Flow
Lowlight: Deep

Influenced by: Neil Young
Influenced: Grunge

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The guitar solos are too virtuous, and the fact that the album cover is pink always bothered me."

-I can't understand how anyone's complaint can be that a guitar solo is too good. As for worrying about the colour of the album cover... what's your point exactly?

So do you give this album a ten or a lot less? Let me know below.

Friday, May 18, 2012

208 Everybody knows this is nowhere- Give me fever



Album: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Artist: Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Year: 1969
Genre: Rock

Tracks
  1. Cinnamon Girl
  2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
  3. Round & Round (It Won't Be Long)
  4. Down by the River
  5. The Losing End (When You're On)
  6. Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)
  7. Cowgirl in the Sand
I often get creative when I have a fever. I remember once having a nasty virus and writing a brilliant episode of The Simpsons in my head. I didn't set out to write for Springfield's finest, I was just trying to stop the pain but somehow I created the funniest half hour of television ever created. Of course when the fever broke I couldn't remember any of it except that it revolved around Homer and had a zeppelin.

I strongly suspect that a high temperature doesn't make me more creative it just makes me believe I am and if the Simpsons episode ever really existed in my head it was incomprehensible garbage. Thankfully the same can't be said of Neil Young who reportedly went down with a flu of some kind and wrote Cinnamon Girl, Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand as a result. Thank God for that illness is all I can say. Praise be for the flu that not only gives people a temperature it also makes them create three pieces of classic rock and roll. Forget trying to genetically engineer viruses as biological weapons, someone in a lab somewhere should synthesize that germ and infect Neil Young with it once a year.

Can someone please explain to me what on earth this album is doing outside the top 100? Why is a record which features Cowgirl, River and Cinnamon Girl languishing down here in the 200's? Can anyone point me to a song introduction more perfect than Down by The River? That jangly-chord guitar introduction which is licked perfectly by those electric notes before being kicked along by a drumbeat and bassline and then Neil's "Be on my side I'll be on your side baby." It's just perfect and continues being perfect for 9 glorious minutes. Down by the River on its own is better than a lot of albums higher up in the countdown, hell I'd rather have its opening minute than a lot of albums in the top 100.

But Everybody Knows this is Nowhere would still be a brilliant album even if those nine minutes were deleted from the end of Side One. Cinammon Girl is just beautiful, Cowgirl in the sand is magnificent, the title track is outstanding and the three overlooked album tracks are all great songs as well.

As you may have gathered I'm a bit of a fan. I love Neil's voice, I love the shambles that his extended jamming becomes and I love the groove that Crazy Horse (the band he adopted) gave him to play with. But most of all I love these songs. Down by the River exists here as an extended electric jam with shrieking solos and big backing vocals but when stripped down so it's just Neil and his acoustic guitar it's still a brilliant piece of music.

Neil Young is a name you know but if this album isn't one you're familiar with then get your hands on it, and if anyone out there thinks they've got that flu can they please sneeze on Neil as soon as possible.

Highlight: Down by the River
Lowlight: Running Dry (and its very high for a lowlight)

Influenced by: Dylan
Influenced: Grunge

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Having said all of that, well, I'm a bit tired, really and could use a short nap."

-I love the fact that someone's enthusiasm for a Neil Young album (and they were enthusiastic) could actually wear them out to the point where they required a lie down.

So is this nowhere or somewhere special and does everyone know it or not? Let me know below.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

209 Wish you were here- Crazy, crazy diamonds.




Album: Wish you were here
Artist: Pink Floyd
Genre: Rock
Year: 1975

Tracks

  1. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1-5)
  2. Welcome to the Machine
  3. Have a Cigar
  4. Wish You Were Here
  5. Shine On You Crazy Diamond (6–9)

A really huge album is often enough to kill off an artist's career. There are bands on this countdown who released a brilliant collection of songs that set the world on fire but collapsed completely under the strain of their fan's anticipation of a follow up that was just as good. The Stone Roses exploded into the musical stratosphere with their self titled debut and took years to produce a lacklustre second album before they fractured completely.

In 1973 Pink Floyd produced Dark Side of the Moon which is widely regarded as one of Rock and Roll's finest moments and quite possibly the only true concept album that is actually improved by having an overall theme rather than dragged down by it. Dark Side is a magnificent piece of work and its acclaim would be enough for most bands to herald a total musical change in direction so they could work without the pressure of an attempt to replicate its success.

But Pink Floyd were riding such a wave of creativity that within two years of coming off  the tour for Dark Side they had another set of songs worthy to call a follow up.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond starts and ends the album and immediately sated those who loved their rock virtuoso and bombastic. It's the sort of huge-scale music that made Dark Side such a hit and listening to it on record its easy to close your eyes and picture the huge light show it inspired onstage. There's something about Pink Floyd's ability to craft visual rock that sets them apart. Their music conjures something grand in your mind. I don't believe for a second that Dark Side was written as a soundtrack for The Wizard of Oz but I can see how people made the connection because their albums inspire people to visual flights of fancy in a way that nobody else can.

Have a cigar and Welcome to The Machine are Big Floyd in keeping with the rest of the album and uniquely Floyd but the title track is a step apart. Wish You Were Here is just gorgeous. It's one of the most beautiful songs on the entire countdown and it's so good it's even great when played by a low-talent busker on a slightly out of tune guitar outside the supermarket. There are some songs that are so inspired they can make even the talentless look good and Wish You Were Here is one of them.

There aren't many bands that can write huge stadium rock-sized, light-show filled, audio spectaculars and there aren't many who can pull of inspired acoustic ballads. Only Pink Floyd could do both and the fact that they could do it under the shadow of Dark Side of the Moon makes their achievement even greater.

Highlight: Wish you were here
Lowlight: Have a Cigar

Influenced by: The Blues, LSD and madness
Influenced: Anyone calling themselves "prog rock"

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "the whole of this disc of oldie poopmusic STINKS BIGTIME! i WOULD EVEN GO FURTHER AND SAY I DISLIKE IT FOR ITS PATHETIC AND OVERINDULGED NONSENSE. listen, this is UTTERLY NEGLECTABLE music, like 10CC or max eastley. Barf!"

-That would be an odd review even if the person concerned didn't give the album five stars.

So do you wish this album was here or wish it wasn't? Let me know below


Thursday, May 10, 2012

210 Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain- Pedestrian access.



Album: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Artist: Pavement
Genre: Alternative Rock
Year: 1994

Tracks

  1. Silence Kid
  2. Elevate Me Later
  3. Stop Breathin'
  4. Cut Your Hair
  5. Newark Wilder
  6. Unfair
  7. Gold Soundz
  8. 5-4=Unity
  9. Range Life
  10. Heaven Is a Truck
  11. Hit the Plane Down
  12. Fillmore Jive

I've been wondering for a while if Rolling Stone Magazine are going to revise their top 500 list at any point in the future. The list I'm working through was compiled in 2003 which would make next year a logical year to do the whole thing again. There would be a new decade to include releases from- 10 more years of Radiohead albums to gush over which would force a few people out of the charts. No doubt we could still predict which band would win and the top 100 would look fairly similar but there could be some huge changes down at the bottom end.

One artist whose future I wonder about are American alternative rockers Pavement. When the original compilers of this list were handing in their submissions the term "alternative" meant something. We knew what it was an alternative to. Today the word is just a marketing term and when Wallmart can list Nickleback as Alternative Rock you know it's time to put the phrase out of its misery.

In 2003 Pavement looked like they were part of a genre but viewed today they feel like they were at the death of something that was kind of meaningless anyway. They're not really alternative anymore they're just rock and it's hard to know what they bring to the table. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain doesn't feel especially revolutionary and life changing. It's fairly meat-and-potatoes, guitar-bass-drums rock and roll without the virtuoso flair that would put any of the musicians on any top 100 listing of their instrument's practitioners. The lyrics contain the sort of obtuse imagery you'd expect from an album that not only uses the meaningless phrase "Crooked rain" in its title it uses it twice. Vocals are the sort of inaccessible grating that any self-respecting alternate rocker has to use and the over-all effect is enough to scare your grandmother and make your father sniff and declare them not as good as The Stones.

There are those who love it but will they still adore it as much as 2013 and will they love it more than anything else released in the last 10 years? Personally I'd have to put together about 20 top 500 albums lists before I'd include this in even the bottom reaches.

Influenced by: The Band
Influenced: Other Bands

Highlight: Cut Your Hair
Lowlight: Ranger Life

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "You are in the presence of greatness"

-Are they talking about the album or their own review?

So are you happy to take the pavement or are they a bit too pedestrian? Let me know below.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

211 Tattoo You. Tramp Stamps



Album: Tattoo You
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Year: 1981
Genre: Rock

Tracks

1. Start Me Up
2. Hang Fire
3. Slave
4. Little T&A
5. Black Limousine
6. Neighbours
7. Worried About You
8. Tops
9. Heaven
10. No Use in Crying
11. Waiting on a Friend


The Rolling Stones set the blueprint for how we think artists should behave today. They released albums with a lot of publicity fanfare and a single to get airplay and then they set off on a huge world tour that took them all over the planet. Then when they'd finished they disappear for a few years and spend their cash in depraved ways before doing it all again. But back in 1981 they decided to mix things up a bit.

It's possible that illicit substances confused the general flow of things but the Stones basically decided to go out on the road in the early eighties without a new album to tour on the strength of. They had venues ready and a stage design worked out and Keith had his drug bag all packed but there was no new product out. The Stones needed to record something in a hurry and with no time to write songs they dug into the archives and pulled out anything that was lying around and could be dusted off.

Other bands have tried this (most recently Van Halen who had 14 years to write songs for their 2012 release but still had to scramble through their desk drawers for material) and failed, but the Stones could write a song and even their offcuts were worth hearing. Recently Exile on Main Street and Some Girls have been re-released with out-takes polished by Mick in the studio which prove they left some great songs on the shelf.

Personally I've never understood the adoration for Tattoo You. It feels like a collection of tracks that didn't make the grade the first time around and most of them probably shouldn't have this time. The high points (Start me Up, Black Limousine and Neighbours) are all infinitely better live and come across as slow and plodding in the studio. Keith's moment (Little T &A) is among his worst ever and the album finishes with Waiting on a Friend, one of my least favourite Stones tracks and a piece of slithering shmaltz that only ever elicits a creepy ewww noise from me whenever I hear it (which thanks to the skip function is almost never).

Personally I'd choose 1989's Steel Wheels ahead of this album every time. It's a great set of songs and when future generations come to assess the Stones career people will realise they ended the 80's stronger than they started.

Highlight: Heaven
Lowlight: Waiting on a friend

Influenced by: Their own back catalogue
Influenced: The Black Crowes

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The Stones as a rule don't release strong overall albums; even in the early 70's, their best period, you had to dig the gems out of a lot of dross."

-Ahem... Sticky Fingers? Exile? Beggars Banquet? Let it Bleed? 100% gem packed and dross free.

So did Tattoo You get under your skin or did it wash off the next day? Let me know below.




Tuesday, May 1, 2012

212 Proud Mary. Do we like Ike?




Album: Proud Mary
Artist: Ike and Tina Turner
Year: 1991
Genre: Soul

Tracks
  1. A Fool In Love
  2. I Idolize You
  3. I'm Jealous
  4. It's Gonna Work Out Fine
  5. Poor Fool
  6. Tra La La La La
  7. You Should'a Treated Me Right
  8. Come Together
  9. Honky Tonk Women
  10. I Want To Take You Higher
  11. Workin' Together
  12. Proud Mary
  13. Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter
  14. Ooo Poo Pah Doo
  15. I'm Yours (Use Me Anyway You Wanna)
  16. Up In Heah
  17. River Deep - Mountain High (1973 Nutbush City Limits LP version)
  18. Nutbush City Limits
  19. Sweet Rhode Island Red
  20. Sexy Ida (Part 1)
  21. Sexy Ida (Part 2)
  22. Baby Get It On
  23. Acid Queen" (Tina Turner solo)
  24. 1970 Liberty Turner (radio spot)
  25. Come Together (radio spot)

Here's an idea: Don't hit your wife. In fact don't hit any women. Actually lets extend this advice to say that unless you're in a boxing ring or it's a self defence situation (or you get within striking distance of a boy band), don't hit people. Keep those fists to yourself. But certainly don't go solving your domestic problems with violence. It's a bad idea for anyone but a terrible idea for a rock star.

Ike Turner was a musical pioneer and formidable talent who managed to throw away all the respect and admiration he'd earned by being an extremely nasty piece of work. He took a young backing singer from his band, married her, turned her into a musical superstar and then treated her so badly she had to flee for her life. Ike and Tina released a string of huge hits which made us of her amazing voice and his ability to play and arrange blues, soul and rock and roll. They churned out hit after hit until Ike turned to cocaine to ease his pain and became paranoid and violent. Tina left him and took all the talent with her.

Ike ended up in jail for drug and weapons offences and Tina became one of the biggest selling solo artists of all time. Tina told her story in a rock biography which was made into a hit movie and Ike told his story to his cell mate.

But before she was Tina and he was "the guy who used to beat up Tina," they were churning out some very groovy pop/rock together. Nutbush City Limits might have been ruined by its overuse at wedding receptions ("Squeel! Nutbush! They're playing nutbush! Quick Glenda find your other shoe and pull Cindy out of the vomit puddle we have to Nuuuuuuutbuuuush!") but there are some other great funky tracks along with some contemporary rock covers (The Stones, Creedence, Beatles) which don't actually suck, unlike most soul attempts to cash in on the latest musical trends.

Ike Turner was a bad guy (but not quite as bad as the movie made him out to be apparently, they threw in a rape that never happened because artistic licence was more important than narrative integrity) and it's a huge shame that his place in rock and roll history is tarred with such an ugly brush.

Proud Mary is a great overview of a dynamic musical combination that deserves to come out from under the shadow of her later mega-stardom and his reputation as a complete bastard.

Highlight: Proud Mary
Lowlight: Nutbush

Influenced by: The Blues and white boys who were influenced by it
Influenced: The Stones

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: I think some preachers in the church would be turned on by the power and fire of Ike and Tina Turner especially the material the couple put out around 73.

-What a strange way to open a review.

So do you like Ike or do you wish hadn't been meaner to Tina? Let me know below.