Thursday, December 26, 2013

65. Moondance (1970) Van Morrison

  1. And It Stoned Me
  2. Moondance
  3. Crazy Love
  4. Caravan
  5. Into the Mystic
  6. Come Running
  7. These Dreams of You
  8. Brand New Day
  9. Everyone
  10. Glad Tidings 

Van Morrison is a genius apparently, at least that's what people keep telling me. He's not just the greatest musician ever to come out of Northern Ireland, or the finest singer to be named after a form of transport, he's the second greatest bandleader named Morrison, he's a bone fide genius with incredible talent and someone I need to respect and admire. But he's kind of dull isn't he?

I don't just means as a person, I'm sure he's an outstanding conversationalist, I mean as a musician he just seems to take the easy road a lot. There are people like Tom Waits who are keen to throw listeners for a loop at every opportunity and contemporaries like Neil Young and Bob Dylan who seem to have an obsession with reinvention. But Morrison's music tends to do what you think it will every time you encounter it and at times he sounds like a tribute act.

Crazy Love sounds like an attempt to make Soul Music in the sound of Sam Cooke which is fine but the falsetto voice he adopts makes it appear that Morrison is trying to do an actual impression of Cooke's finest moments. It's like a weird impression and it makes me want to listen to the original. The title track is a slower jazz number which everyone seems to think they've heard before when they first encounter it. It sounds like a cover because it sounds a lot like lots of other songs you've heard before and is by the numbers enough to do everything you expect it will.

The rest of Moondance is fairly by the book and predictable stuff. Whether you respond to it will probably depend on that most ephemeral and subjective of musical opinions: your opinion of his voice.

I've never really known what makes some people respond well to someone's voice while someone else doesn't. Is it related to something buried deep in our psyche? A subconscious memory perhaps? Are there those who don't like Morrison's singing because he reminds them of their least favourite teacher? Are we predisposed to like the sound of a voice that reminds us of our mothers who soothed us to sleep when we were kids?

I've wracked my brains and tried to think of all the teachers I haven't liked but can't come up with anyone who tormented me at school and sounded like Van. I've tried to think of a teacher who was a bit whiney and who pronounced "dry" as "Draaaaaye" but can't come up with anyone. (I've also tried to find a Dylan song that reminds me of my mother but come up wanting as well). Despite my inability to pinpoint why I really don't like Van's voice I definitely don't. And if you're not a fan of Van as a singer then Moondance is a difficult listen because his voice is all over it. He's not just a vocalist he's a scat singing musicians who fills in blank moments in the song with some made up stuff that grates even more if you find his voice annoying.

If you like Van The Man's pipes then you probably love this already. If you don't then it might be far too much to appreciate.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I can't even count how many times me and the girls have gotten really drunk and belted out "Brown-eyed Girl" or "Gloria"."

-I can. The answer is none. You haven't ever sung those songs while listening to this album. Unless of course you and the girls are the type of people who like to put on an album and then sing entirely different songs over the top of it. Neither of those tracks are on this album.

So is it a marvellous night for a Moondance? Let me know below

Thursday, December 19, 2013

66. Led Zeppelin IV (1971) Led Zeppelin

1. Black Dog
2. Rock and Roll
3. The Battle of Evermore
4. Stairway to Heaven
5. Misty Mountain Hop
6. Four Sticks
7. Going to California
8. When the Levee Breaks

This list has its fair share of surprise entries. There are albums I've encountered which have been higher than I thought they were (Superfly for example) and other albums which I've been surprised to see included at all (Pretzel Logic? Seriously?). There are other releases which I've been personally disappointed to see so low (every Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa album for example) but Led Zep 4 is definitely the most surprising entry. What's it doing outside the top ten, let alone the top fifty?

This is the album with Stairway to Heaven on it. Stairway to Heaven! If you're going to list the greatest songs of all time (and goodness knows people have) then Stairway is always well up in the top ten. It's widely regarded as one of the definitive rock tracks and the solo is held up as one of the greatest collection of notes every squeezed out of six strings. The presence of Stairway alone is enough to grant it entry into this listing, god knows there are albums who are propped up by lesser tracks. The great eight minute opus that is Led Zep's most famous moments should guarantee its place here even if every other track was a tedious piece of filler designed to do nothing more than take up space.

But unlike a lot of albums with a huge hit on them, Led Zep 4 would demand a place on this listing even if its biggest track had been left on the cutting room floor (assuming studios have such floors).

Black Dog and Rock and Roll are two of the greatest songs of the classic era of Rock and Roll. They're barnstorming power houses which show off the talents of all bandmembers and have inspired generations of teenage boys to leap about their house like absolute lunatics. They're both so good we can forgive the legions of people who have tried to copy them and created an extremely crap genre that Gary Moore referred to as Led-Clones, bands who managed to do an excellent job of copying Robert Plant's hair and Jimmy Page's stance but had none of the songwriting ability.

Accompanying these three monster tracks on side one is an incredible song called The Battle of Evermore on which Sandy Denny joins Plant in proving that powerful voices can turn acoustic ballads into something truly savage. Page plays a mandolin as if it's an amplified Fender Strat, and they manage to create a headbanging metal song using an instrument that, lets be honest, is incredibly uncool. It's small and foolish and led Leo Kottke  to describe a mandolin player as "looking like a guy trying to play his tie pin" which still makes me laugh. Those four songs together make up one of the most powerful sides of vinyl ever produced.

Side two can't possibly be as good but it does its level best not to disappoint the listener. Going to California is a beautiful ballad and When The Levee Breaks is a swampy and soulful blues number with a fantastic driving bassline and is the perfect album closer.

In pure rock and roll terms there really aren't too many albums that are better than this. Drummers spend ages trying to replicate the iconic opening to Rock and Roll, vocalists drool over the talents on display on the Battle of Evermore and every guitarist who has ever wanted to rock has learnt the intro to Stairway and had a crack at the solo.

Led Zeppelin 4 appears on a huge number of "Best album" lists and this is the only one that puts it outside the top fifty, most have it well and truly in the top ten with many giving it the coveted number one spot. The fact that it's here at number 66 means it's apparently not as good as Appetite for Destruction, a view that even most of Guns and Roses would dispute.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "A .. .A.. AD.AJDADJ..F...... THEY WERE MUCH BETTER ON MASTER OF PUPPET..S........







-And that's the whole review. Doesn't Amazon have a moderator who deletes these kinds of things? How can they take themselves seriously when they let things like this up on their site?

-So do you love this album or do you agree with the above Amazon reviewer? And if you do can you tell me what the hell he meant? Let me know below.

Friday, December 13, 2013

67 The Stranger (1977) Billy Joel

  1. Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
  2. The Stranger
  3. Just the Way You Are
  4. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
  5. Vienna
  6. Only the Good Die Young
  7. She's Always a Woman
  8. Get It Right the First Time
  9. Everybody Has a Dream/The Stranger (Reprise)

Most artists can be fairly neatly categorised by their radio station genre. Led Zeppelin are a classic rock band, Simon and Garfunkle are easy listening, Madonna is a pop station aimed at girls, Radiohead usually get put on alternative radio and then artists like Frank Zappa just don't fit into anyone's radio station and have to be discovered for themselves.

Part of the reason for Billy Joel's fame is the fact that he covers more radio bases than his contemporaries. He's played on radio so much because so many stations can play his music. The Stranger has spread its tracks across more radio programming schedules than most artists manage in their career.

Only the Good Die Young appears on a lot of classic rock playlists with its fast tempo, loud groove and salacious lyrics about a young man trying to convince a good Catholic girl that she should come out from behind her stained glass curtain and give up that whole virginity thing which the singer clearly feels is over rated.

But if that's not doing it for you why not turn the dial where you'll find Just the Way You Are on an Easy Listening radio station where the heartfelt love lyrics and gentle feel make it a huge hit with those who like their music unchallenging but aurally pleasing.

A bit further down the dial, She's Always a Woman will probably be playing on a pop station aimed at the female listener who likes straight forward pop music with affirming lyrics.

Tucked away in the lesser touched regions of the dial you might even find a more adventurous station that's prepared to play all 7 minutes 37 seconds of Scenes from An Italian Restaurant with its multiple moods and running length that takes it outside the time limit normally permitted mainstream radio. It's probably being introduced by a cooler DJ who feels the need to justify his selection by admitting that "The Piano Man" might have enjoyed mainstream success but he was capable of creating some more interesting music as well.

It's an impressive achievement for an artist to manage and makes you appreciate that while Joel might be known for his signature tune and for recent tours with Elton John playing to massive stadiums of rich people, when he was an angry young man he was a rock and roller prepared to push some boundaries and play some interesting stuff.

Personally I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Stranger. I'd pretty much written Joel off as just a piano balladeer with occasional rock leanings but I caught myself really enjoying a lot of what he was playing. Scenes from an Italian restaurant is actually a great song. It's three separate songs which work together as a unified whole joined together by Joel's piano playing which is actually extremely impressive. The man can really belt those keys. Back when Ben Folds Five were huge and everyone was raving about Fold's ability and how revolutionary it was to have a talented piano player in place of a guitarist in a rock outfit Joel must have been clearing his throat regularly and saying "Excuse me?" to anyone who would listen (unless he was at home rolling naked in huge wads of cash and giggling, which is just as likely).

Joel's voice is actually pretty impressive too. There are songs that have no piano theatrics but get by on the strength of his ability to belt out a rock and roll tune. He's a talented guy.

A new appreciation for The Stranger isn't enough to make me want to go out and hunt down the man's catalogue and become a huge new fan but its given me a new respect for an artist I'd previously written off as not for me.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I bought this album thinking that it was a Billy Idol album, but this sounds nothing like Billy Idol! This garbage sounds awful! That idiot on the album cover should put that mask on in order to hide his massive shame over the pile of crap that this album REALLY is!"

-I believe this is a joke. At least I hope so. If it isn't then I continue to marvel at how people can do extremely silly things and then think "I must tell the entire internet about how silly I am"

So is this album like an old friend for you or a total stranger? Let me know below

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

68 Off The Wall (1979) Michael Jackson

1. Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
2. Rock with You
3. Workin' Day and Night
4. Get on the Floor
5. Off the Wall
6. Girlfriend
7. She's Out of My Life
8. I Can't Help It
9. It's the Falling in Love
10. Burn This Disco Out

I find the cult of Jackson to be somewhat... disturbing. I've nothing against the guy personally but his fans are verging on the creepy and at times are just downright fanatics.

I discuss music on the internet in a range of places and an encounter with a Jackson fan is always memorable for their intense level of devotion, their fanatic defence of their hero's strange lifestyle and also, it has to be said, an ignorance of the man's career which is really baffling. I've spoken to Elvis fans whose knowledge of Presley's music is just incredible. I've met Neil Young fans who can pretty much recite every song the great man ever wrote in his five decades of music making, I've spoken with Velvet Underground fans who are just absurd in their level of detailed knowledge. But many Jackson fans know less about him than I do, and I don't even like him that much.

I've spoken to several people who have claimed Jackson wrote and produced all his own work and played several instruments as well. They've elevated him to the status of musical genius who single handed crafted his own albums and guided his career.

The truth is that this is just not the case. Jackson only wrote two songs on Off The Wall and co-wrote another. The album was almost entirely produced by Quincy Jones and Jackson's only musical contribution other than vocals was percussion.

I'm not for a second claiming Jackson was just a musical puppet with Jones pulling the strings but anyone claiming Michael was running the show and driving the whole thing is fooling themselves. He might be a great dancer and showman, but he's not Curtis Mayfield.

Off The Wall is a disco album with Jackson lending his voice to some disco tracks produced and arranged by Jones and played by session musicians. If you love disco, it's a great album but if you don't then there's really not much here for you. Jackson's voice isn't in stellar form on Off The Wall which finds him stranded between his youthful innocence and mid-era aggression. The strange transitional phase doesn't really do anything except lend itself to ballads which are too syrupy here to transcend this album's disco feel.

Off The Wall's position here is kind of mystifying. It's nobody's favourite Michael Jackson album and who other than his fans like his stuff?

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "They tried to destroy you Michael, because you dared to speak out against the racism you observed in the World & in the Music Industry perpetrated by both Jews & Anglos & their Black puppets, but they were unsuccessful. "

-See that's a true Jackson fan right there. Jackson vs a Jewish conspiracy. Seriously?

So is this off the wall or are you on the fence about its appeal? Let me know below.

Friday, November 29, 2013

69 Superfly (1972) Curtis Mayfield

  1. Little Child Runnin' Wild
  2. Pusherman
  3. Freddie's Dead
  4. Junkie Chase 
  5. Give Me Your Love (Love Song)
  6. Eddie You Should Know Better
  7. No Thing on Me (Cocaine Song)
  8. Think 
  9. Superfly

Superfly is a fondly remembered soundtrack to a long forgotten film. Superfly didn't perform exceptionally well at the box office but its accompanying soundtrack became one of Curtis Mayfield's biggest selling albums and cemented his reputation as a massive funk and soul talent and a spokesman for his generation.

Superfly the movie is a Blaxploitation movie about drug dealers trying to get rich by selling drugs, which is what drug dealers do. They also rip each other off and kill people and generally behave like chaps who aren't really all that nice. When it was released, Superfly was met with a lot of criticism from people who weren't entirely comfortable with the idea of drug dealers being lauded and glorified as heroes despite selling drugs to people. Unlike a lot of other movies of the genre, Superfly refused to placate audiences by killing everyone at the end. Other Blaxploitation pictures which featured drug dealers showed them living the high life and making money and enjoying the company of beautiful women but getting gunned down at the end to prove that crime didn't pay. The hero of Superfly drives off wealthy at the end of the movie which does rather send the message that dealing drugs is a good way to make some ready cash.

While the film may have been happy to glorify drug dealers, Mayfield was less enthusiastic. The soundtrack is much more cautionary and takes a different tone to the movie.

"The aim of his role
Was to move a lot of blow
Ask him his dream
What does it mean? He wouldn't know
Can't be like the rest
Is the most he'll confess
But the time's running out
And there's no happiness"

Whether intentionally or not the sombre tones were a wise move on Mayfield's part and gave the album a degree of acceptance that the film couldn't enjoy.

But there's more to enjoy on Superfly than just a public service announcement about the perils of drug dealing. Mayfield was a genuine talent and one of the justified superstars of the funk and soul genre. He wrote all everything on the album, produced it all as well and played guitars. He wasn't just a voice and face parachuted into someone else's vision. He was the guy.

The result is an album that's truly funky and extremely soulful but is also full of actual songs. Many albums of the era had a bass groove and a soulful feel but lacked the tunes to back them up. They had mood and feeling but no songwriting talent behind them. Mayfield wrote great songs that transfer to other genres and can be covered by other artists.

Possibly the one downside of Superfly are Mayfield's vocals. He's an incredibly talented singer and has a beautiful voice but his high end tones need a bass voice to give it some counterpoint and balance. Superfly is great but it would have been even better in the hands of someone like The Temptations who would have been able to give every track a degree of power and authority that Mayfield on his own lacked.

Superfly is a milestone in the Funk Soul genre and worth checking out if it's never been past your ears before. It's addictive. Like a drug. Except drugs are bad. And this isn't.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this is the music we're listening to when we're alone with our lovers and the hearts start pounding"

-"Oh darling put Freddies Dead on again to get me in the mood so we can make love to a tune called Junkies Chase".

So is this super and fly or just a massive pest ruining your picnic? Let me know below.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

70 Physical Graffiti (1975) Led Zeppelin

1. Custard Pie
2. The Rover
3. In My Time of Dying
4. Houses of the Holy
5. Trampled Under Foot
6. Kashmir
7. In the Light
8. Bron-Yr-Aur
9. Down by the Seaside
10.   Ten Years Gone
11. Night Flight
12. The Wanton Song
13. Boogie with Stu"
14. Black Country Woman
15. Sick Again"

There aren't too many big name artists I can think of that don't have a double album somewhere in their repertoire. The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who, Dylan etc all decided at one point or another that they had enough material to justify putting out two slabs of vinyl instead of just one. At times they were definitely correct and at other times they were basically padding a single album into a double just because they could. In my younger days I probably would have said Led Zep were in the former camp and every song on Physical Graffiti justified its place, but now I'm just not so sure.

The story goes that the band went into the studio to record some material and when they finished realised they had slightly more than an album's worth of tracks. They'd spilled their talent onto tape and it had spilled over an LP's worth of time which put them in a bit of a dilemma. They had two options: Cull the tracks down to an album's worth or find something to fill the another side of vinyl and release a double. I never understand why people don't take option one: release an incredibly good single album and store the rest of the tracks away for your next release. That way when you go into the studio next time you've already done half the work. Zeppelin's next release was the disappointing Presence which could have benefited from a few more killer tracks and less filler. Physical Graffiti could have been a huge single album and Presence a much bigger one. But instead we've got a kind of bloated double release and a dullish follow up.

But that's quibbling. There's enough on Physical Graffiti to justify its place here. In fact there would be more than enough even if it was four sides of vinyl with Kashmir on every one. By heaven Kashmir is a magnificent song. Like most Led Zeppelin tracks it's got a great guitar riff but Kashmir's crunching chords aren't played by Page, they're played by a string section. Page replicated them well onstage with only his six strings but in the studio they brought in some sessions musos to really give the song some extra oomph. And it has to be said that Kashmir is pretty damn oomphed up and manages to strongly images of exotic lands you've never even been to.

Kashmir had impact in the studio, slightly less impact when played by four men onstage but amazingly it had even more impact when performed live with a string section, percussion group and backing band as Page and Plant discovered for their 1994 reunion No Quarter and subsequent tour. If you haven't heard the Unledded album then I highly recommend you do and then try and get your hands on one of the many bootlegs of the tour they performed after the event which was just fantastic. In the hand's of their touring band, Kashmir became an outstanding concert experience which was genuinely chilling to be a part of. I was lucky enough to see P and P when they came to Melbourne and was blown away by the experience. But Kashmir doesn't need strings to make it work. I've heard a version by two guys with acoustic guitars which were still compelling and hugely entertaining.

Kashmir is one of those huge songs that is enough to prop up an album all on its own but it gets plenty of support from some other highlights. House of the Holy, Trampled Underfoot, In my Time of Dying and In The Light are all outstanding songs that are recognisably Led Zeppelin but definitely a progression from where they started their careers. They're not just retreading old ground but not completely reinventing themselves either. The trademark guitars are still there and so is Page's distinctive voice but there's enough variation in rhythm, structure and melody to make it all interesting.

If the filler tracks were as good as the hits this would be the best album ever but nobody really needs to hear the aimless acoustic wandering of Bron-Yr-Aur, the overblown tedium of Down by the Seaside or throwaways like Night Flight and Sick again.

Physical Graffiti is a great double album that could have been one of their greatest single discs. It's still worth your time and proof that Zeppelin were much more than just a bunch of guys who knew how to rip off the blues.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "but i still give it only 1 star because the song 'house of the holy' is on this cd rather than on the cd called 'house of the holy' which just proves that led zeplin is stoners ..."

-I don't think it does. I really don't think that constitutes definite evidence.

So is this twice as good as any other Zeppelin album or twice as bad? Let me know below.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

71 After the Goldrush (1970) Neil Young

  1. Tell Me Why
  2. After the Gold Rush
  3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  4. Southern Man
  5. Till the Morning Comes
  6. Oh Lonesome Me
  7. Don't Let It Bring You Down
  8. Birds
  9. When You Dance I Can Really Love
  10. I Believe in You
  11. Cripple Creek Ferry

I don't pretend to understand how this list works. I certainly don't understand how this could be so low in a list compared to some of the albums that are above it in the countdown but I'm also baffled as to why it's above Neil's other work.

Don't get me wrong, I love After the Goldrush, it's a great album full of fantastic music, but I'd never rank it higher than Everybody Knows This is Nowhere which languishes over a hundred places lower on the list. Goldrush has Only Love Can Break Your Heart and Southern Man but Nowhere has Cinnamon Girl, Down by the River and Cowgirl, all of which are among the best songs he ever recorded.

I'm guessing the appeal of this album lies in the fact that Neil turned his back on extended jamming and guitar work outs and focused on writing more concise and accessible pop tracks. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere has two tracks which push the ten minute mark and make them too long for radio and too loud for some listeners. Neil could write beautiful little tunes and extended rock and roll workouts. Part of his brilliance was also in his ability to transform one into the other. His massive jams could also work when stripped down and played on an acoustic guitar and his low-key numbers could survive a Crazy-Horse style ten minute freak out. Goldrush features none of his extended blowouts but is full of his prettiest melodies.

After the Goldrush is a great album but slightly frustrating. For some reason Neil decided to release throwaway tracks like the 80 second Till the Morning Comes and the 90 second Cripple Creek Ferry which are just there to take up space. They sound like things thrown together in a few minutes at the end of the session when everyone is drunk or stoned and suddenly nothing seems like a bad idea. I'd much rather Neil took the time to extend Southern Man into the jamming monster it wants to be. It might have deprived it of radio play but it would let it generate some of the excitement of Down by the River.

Tell Me Why, After the Goldrush, Only Love Can Break your Heart, Don't Let it Bring you Down and Birds are all brilliant examples of Neil's ability to write perfect folk/pop tunes. They're catchy and beautiful and have served him well for years as songs to play with an acoustic guitar or at a piano. Several of them might have slipped under your Neil radar and if you haven't heard one of them you deserve to check them out.

After the Goldrush is one of four albums released by the individual members of Crosby Stills Nash and Young after the huge success of Deja Vu. It's the only one of the four here which I have to say is an opportunity missed. David Crosby's If I could only remember my name, Graham Nash's Songs for Beginners and Stephen Stills self titled debut are all outstanding albums that deserve a lot more attention. What's truly tantalizing is the idea that these four solo albums could have been combined to make another CSNY release. They could have called it Deja Vu Two with the following track listing...

1. Southern Man
2. Love the one you're with.
3. What are their names.
4. Chicago
5. Tell Me Why
6. After the Goldrush
7. Music is love
8. Black Queen
9. Chicago
10. After the Goldrush
11. Don't let it bring you down

If they'd done that then I'd be writing about it in a year or so when I get to the top ten.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "As the author of the Jefferson Airplane book "Take Me To A Circus Tent" and a former radio disc-jockey, I am often asked to write and or discuss various music supplies and recordings from the 60's and 70's."

-Right everyone listen to me! Listen to me! I've written a book so my views are important! Listen to me because I used to be a disc jockey!

So is this Neil's best work or not? Let me know below.

Friday, November 8, 2013

72. Purple Rain (1984) Prince

1. Let's Go Crazy
2. Take Me with U
3. The Beautiful Ones
4. Computer Blue
5. Darling Nikki
6. When Doves Cry
7. I Would Die 4 U
8. Baby I'm a Star
9. Purple Rain"

Regular readers will know by now that I'm not Prince's greatest fan. I've approached his work with an open mind every time but I've never been able to find any access point into his music which I've always found tedious and annoying. I've tried to shed my distaste for the man himself and appreciate his talent in some way but I'm always left thinking he's just a self-aggrandising dickhead.

Purple Rain is Prince's last entry in the count down and his last attempt at winning me over and converting me to his large group of fans. It's widely regarded as the pinnacle of his achievements and the best thing he ever recorded. If it doesn't win you over then nothing will.

It didn't, so nothing will. I'm glad I sorted that out so now I can move on and never hear any Prince every again.

I'll refrain from saying unpleasant things about the guy because I've said enough already (both here and on other places on the internet) and try and limit myself to this release.

The happy news is that I've got something good to say about Prince. It's the first nice thing I've ever typed about the guy so we're sailing into completely uncharted territory here: When Doves Cry is a great song. It's well written and catchy and is enjoyable enough to overcome its terrible lyrics. "Animals strike curious poses" is an appalling line that actually sounds like it should be paired up with the rest of the lyrics and used by secret agents trying to identify each other in an episode of Get Smart.
Spy one: (looking over his shoulder cautiously) Animals strike curious poses.
Spy Two: (in a low voice) Dream if you can of a courtyard.
Spy One: An Ocean of Violets in Blue
Spy Two: Even Doves Have Pride
Spy One: Apples.
Spy Two: Macintosh. Is that you 99?

I miss that show.

While it's true that When Doves Cry is a great song, it's much better when other people do it. Prince is an annoying vocalist and his habit of throwing everything at a track to prove he's a multi instrumentalist turns the song from a nice ballad into something inherently annoying. I've got versions by Moxy Fruvous, Phish and Govt Mule which are both a lot more arresting than the original and highlight the tune but sadly emphasise how bad the words are.

The rest of Purple Rain is more of a pretentious and tedious stew of disco affectation that I endured the rest of the time with as open a mind as I could muster.

Prince was lucky enough to hit his peak during the eighties when the world dropped it's musical standards. If he'd started life in another era his entire career would be totally overlooked. Thankfully I've done my duty now. I've heard the best he's got to offer which means I can actually back myself when I talk about how much I hate him. When people say "But have you heard..." I can say "yes, yes I have, four times"

Lets never speak of him again.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album was overrated back in 1984 when it was released, and it is painfully dated today. Prince's middle school obsession with sex was tiresome then, and is laughable now. Forget this junk."

-That pretty much sums up every word I've written about Prince so far in this blog. Well done.

So are you happy to serve under Prince's Purple Reign or do you want a revolution? Let me know below.

Friday, November 1, 2013

73 Back in Black (1980) ACDC

  1. Hells Bells
  2. Shoot to Thrill
  3. What Do You Do for Money Honey
  4. Given the Dog a Bone
  5. Let Me Put My Love Into You
  6. Back in Black
  7. You Shook Me All Night Long
  8. Have a Drink on Me
  9. Shake a Leg
  10. Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

The list of best selling albums of all time contains a lot of hard work. Dedicated effort went into some of the really big names. Thriller took six months and a huge roster of musicians to record, Dark Side of the Moon was a monster work that occupied the band for the better part of a year and Rumours had eight producers who worked over five separate recording studios.

Back in Black is just five guys who took a few weeks to record 10 songs. The went into the studio, playing their regular stage instruments and walked out having produced an album that would go on to sell 50 million copies, more than double the current population of their native Australia. They did it by basically sticking to the formula that served them so well throughout their career up to that point: loud, rocking songs with rude lyrics based around a guitar riff. True the person singing the rude words might have been different to the one they had in the past (who died a few months before they went into the studio) but other than a new guy behind the microphone it was business as usual.

The difference between Back in Black and their other albums is that the ratio of hit to filler is better than anything else they'd done. Traditionally ACDC put two or three great songs on their LP's and padded it out with some lesser stuff which merely added to the album's running length. It was a format that endeared them to their fans and served them well for years but had never granted them world wide success. Back in Black was the first ACDC album to give the listener as much hit as pad. The filler material is still there: What do you do for money honey, Given the Dog a Bone, Let me Put My Love Into You, Have a Drink on Me and Shake a Leg are all fairly forgettable tunes that sound like they could have been written in a few minutes while the drums were getting set up. Two of them have gained a degree of notoriety thanks to the naughty lyrics. For thirty years now schoolboys have tittered when they've worked out that Given the Dog a Bone isn't about feeding a family pet and  from Let Me Put My Love Into You Girl isn't just a metaphor (although "Let me cut your cake with my knife" is a metaphor. Not a good one but a metaphor none the less. Probably more of a euphemism to be honest. Or to be more honest it's just a really crap way of saying "put my penis in your vagina").

On their own these five songs wouldn't have sold 50 copies of an album let alone fifty million. But they're just filler material for the hits.

Hells Bells begins with a bell tolling which is about the only thing on the entire album that the band can't replicate exactly onstage without their usual instruments. It quickly gives away to Angus and Malcolm's riffing which immediately calmed any long term ACDC fans who were worried that a change in lead singer might signal a change in direction. When Brian Johnson steps up to the mike to begin his take over of the band's singing duties he immediately sounds like he's always been the ACDC frontman and always will be. He's a perfect fit. The guitar solo comes exactly when you'd expect it and is a typically Angus solo- not too long, not to flashy and takes just enough time to impress before the song comes back.

Shoot to Thrill is exactly the same only without the bell.  Not that I'm complaining for a second because both tracks have a good enough riff and anthemic chorus to make them hopelessly enjoyable and entertaining. They're both great songs but neither is anywhere as good as the album's two monsters.

Back in Black has a rapid fire, scattershot, rap like lyrical structure which should fail dismally but doesn't. It works perfectly as it builds to the chorus that I defy you not to sing along with. It would easily the album's best song if it wasn't followed by "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean... etc etc" I know a lot of people who don't like rock music much and can't stand heavy metal but they love You Shook Me All Night Long. It's the perfect funky, groovy rock song that even those who hate head banging can head head bang to. It's got a big, dumb shouty chorus line and everyone loves it.

The album closes with Rock and Roll Aint Noise Pollution which is a song so moronic if it was a human being it wouldn't be capable of using its own opposable thumbs. It's dumber than the stupidest person in any room and less intelligent than even the guy class dunces look down on. It's great though. And it makes exactly the sort of statement that an eighties rock fan needed to hear. Rock and Roll aint gonna die.

33 years after it was released, Back in Black has sold 50 million units and is still going strong. ACDC are still performing and selling out massive concerts all over the world. They've never topped this album but they've never needed to, and nobody else has either. It's the high point of dumb heavy rock and it's still fantastic.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Why do people like Brian Johnson so much? His voice is awful, mustardy, lousy, absurd, stupid, pathetic, lame, horrible and he only screams, dosent sing at all and this is one of the worst hard rock albums ever."

-Wait... mustardy? Did you really describe a guy's voice as mustardy? That's fantastic.

So is this Acceptably Cretinous or Decidedly Crap? Let me know below.

Friday, October 25, 2013

74 Otis Blue (1965) Otis Redding

1. Ole Man Trouble
2. Respect
3. Change Gonna Come
4. Down in the Valley
5. I've Been Loving You Too Long
6. Shake
7. My Girl
8. Wonderful World
9. Rock Me Baby
10. Satisfaction
11. You Don't Miss Your Water

There are three minutes of music on this album that haven't appeared on this list already. Of all the 11 tracks on Otis Soul there is one solitary song that doesn't appear on Dreams to Remember, a compilation that appeared at number 147 on this countdown. The song in question is Wonderful World (not the Louis Armstrong one, the "Don't know much about History" one) which is the only song that Dreams to Remember forgot. Ridiculous isn't it? Apparently that one song is enough to elevate this collection 73 places higher than an album which has all the other ten tracks and an extra forty songs besides.

For the record, Wonderful World is a nice song but I prefer the Sam Cooke original, not that there's much in it either way.

So instead of retreading what I've said already here is a short selection of people who could be included on this list if we dropped this album and lost one song. Here's my missing top ten:

Midnight Oil- sure I'm biased because I'm Australian but they were fantastic and Diesel and Dust deserves more respect (as does their entire career)

Joe Satriani- Surfing with the Alien gave birth to an entire breed of guitar shredding instrumental albums. Even if you believe this is a bad thing you still should give the original and best a listen. There's some great guitar playing on Surfing but also some great songwriting as well.

Tori Amos- Piano ballads played by a prodigy who grew up loving Led Zeppelin but so much more besides. Amazing stuff and more than just chick-rock.

Frank Zappa- There's some Mothers of Invention here but not enough Frank. Have you heard Hot Rats? It's amazing and just the tip of the Zappa ice berg.

Ben Folds Five- Okay he got pretty boring later in his career and the reunion was dull as well but back when he was an angry young man, the Ben Folds Five were a great listen and unlike anything else around at the time. 

Bruce Cockburn- Canada's second finest (after Neil Young) has been releasing great music for decades and demands more credit.

The Indigo Girls- Great songwriters, under rated guitarists and beautiful voices. Their live albums are things of amazing joy.

Little Feat- Waiting for Columbus is a sensational live album. 

The Stone Roses- Number one in so many English lists but not even a mention on this one

Fleetwood Mac- Not the girl-led pop outfit but the Peter Green led blues band. The Boston Tea Party set should be here somewhere. It's an absolute monster.

So take the chance and tell me who you think is missing from this list. Let me know below.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

75 Led Zeppelin II (1969) Led Zeppelin

1. Whole Lotta Love
2. What Is and What Should Never Be
3. The Lemon Song
4. Thank You
5. Heartbreaker
6. Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)
7. Ramble On
8. Moby Dick
9. Bring It On Home

It's currently considered cool to point out Led Zeppelin's music is... how shall I put this...  heavily influenced by old records. Their fans claim they're inspired by old blues tracks but their detractors are happy to call them thieves and plagiarists. Where you stand probably depends on your viewpoint.

Certainly the courts have sided with several old blues writers who heard Led Zeppelin II and thought "hang on a minute" and felt the need to consult a lawyer. The original album featured 9 songs credited to the bandmembers but later pressings have amended the credits of Bring it on home, The Lemon Song and Whole Lotta Love to include Willie Dixon and Chester Burnett whose music and lyrics the band borrowed heavily from. The band claim they're leaning on an old tradition of blues singers who take each others tunes and modify them and steal them from each other and steal them back and generally turn the genre into a kind of cooperative soup which anyone can dip into from time to time. They claim it's an old tradition that they were simply entering into. The blues musicians in question say that's all very well but they never tried to claim full credit for their adaptations and then put them on an album which sold 12 million copies.

I didn't know any of this back when I was 15 and played my Zeppelin tapes over and over again but I do know it now and I have to say it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. They might be musical thieves and blatant plagiarists, hell they might even have waited outside Willie Dixon's house and personally tortured him until he wrote down chord structures but I really don't care. This album rocks. It rocked me when I was younger and loved leaping around my bedroom air guitaring and head-banging like a loon and it rocks me as an adult too (quietly looking around and seeing if anyone would notice a discrete air guitar and head bang).

The individual members of Led Zeppelin are sufficiently talented that their music would be great even if all they did was blatantly rip off old radio jingles, let alone great blues tunes. John Bonham is an absolute beast behind the drums who belts the hell out of those things. He's one of the guys who took drumming away from the guys in suits making a delicate tapping motion with their wrists and put in the hands of huge sweaty guys who flailed madly around a drum kit. John Paul Jones was a great bass player and multi-instrumentalist and the perfect partner for Bonham's volume. Howling over the top was Robert Plant who has one of Rock's best and most powerful voices. The man was barely out of his teens when Zeppelin started but he had a furious talent and sang like a seasoned pro with the energy or a teenager.

Driving everything Zeppelin did forwards was the guitar of Jimmy Page. Led Zep was Page's band and he produced all their albums and was responsible for their direction and style. His monster guitar work is just ferocious all through this album and in the years since it's been released it's inspired countless teenagers to think "that's how I want to sound". Page's riffing invented Heavy Metal and hard rock and wrote the blueprint for how rock bands behaved.

There's not a dud song on Led Zep 2. Whole Lotta Love is the obvious stand out but Heartbreaker and Ramble On (which at the time of writing are still considered original compositions) are outstanding proto-metal hits and even the lesser tracks (Lemon song, living loving maid etc) are strong enough that other bands would have made them into hit singles. It's a monster 40 minutes of power riffing, epic soloing and howling vocals.

My first ever CD purchase was Led Zeppelin and my first ever action when I got my hands on a computer that burnt CD's was to make my own Led Zep compilation. This album and its predecessor could fit onto one CD (if you dropped Moby Dick and Black Mountainside) which turned it into one massive rocking freak-out of a trip which demanded to be listened to at full volume and left the listener exhausted at the end of it.

Their later albums are often more acclaimed but to my mind they never hit these heights again. This is one of the all time greats and even if by purchasing this I'm technically guilty of receiving stolen goods I don't care. Led Zeppelin are one of the few things my 16 year old self and I agree on and I'm sure I'll still love this nonsense when I'm old and gray and air guitairing my arthritic fingers with joy.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Whole Lotta Love' is the only one of Led Zeppelin's very top tracks to appear on this album. "

-Wait... Hearbreaker? Ramble on? These are not great Zeppelin tracks?

So is this greatness for you or would you rather just ramble on? Let me know below

Thursday, October 10, 2013

76 Imagine (1971) John Lennon

  1. Imagine
  2. Crippled Inside
  3. Jealous Guy
  4. It's So Hard
  5. I Don't Want to Be a Soldier
  6. Gimme Some Truth
  7. Oh My Love
  8. How Do You Sleep?
  9. How?
  10. Oh Yoko!

I know this is going to come as a bit of a surprise to people who follow this blog regularly, but I don't really like John Lennon's music much. I love the Beatles, I adore the Beatles and if I had to pick only one of the fab four's contributions to listen to I'd probably choose John. I prefer Strawberry Fields to Penny Lane which I think is the best way of determining whether you're more John than Paul or vice versa.

I won't hear a word said against John The Beatle.

But John the solo artist is... kind of boring. I know I'm supposed to love the guy and adore his music and appreciate what a genius he was but the truth is I never voluntarily listen to his solo work which just doesn't interest me at all. It seems to me that when he stopped being a Beatle he became a lot less interesting. His spark went out. When he was a Beatle he was influenced by Paul McCartney and assisted by George Martin. As a solo artist he was dominated by Yoko Ono and Phil Spector which is a definite downgrade in talent on both fronts.

Musically he no longer had as much talent around him but that wasn't the only thing missing from the Solo Beatle's career. His influences were suddenly less pleasant. He was no longer interested in showing the world what the Beatles could do, he wanted to show the world what he could do and what a bastard his former friend Paul was. Musically the themes on Imagine centre around how much he hates Paul and loves Yoko, which are two sentiments I struggle to get behind.

How do you Sleep is a vicious attack on Paul McCartney and I can't stand it. I don't like listening to rappers feud but I like it even less when two of my favourite musicians air their grievances in public. How do you Sleep is especially unpleasant because it's not just a condemnation of the current state of their relationship but a horrible piece of bitter vitriol that tries to rewrite their friendship. John claims Paul's only achievement is Yesterday, and is arrogant enough to imply that Paul should have learnt something from spending time in the presence of John's talent. It's nasty and spiteful and while George Harrison consented to play on it Ringo apparently had the good sense to remove himself from the studio and refuse the offer to play drums which would have turned it into a statement by the rest of the Beatles. Good move Ringo.

How Do You Sleep is made even less palatable by John's pathetic later attempts to try and claim he wrote the song about himself which is less convincing than Yoko's musical career. It's clearly about Paul and I would have respected John more if he'd said "Yeah it was nasty and a step too far" instead of trying to weasel out of it by denying the obvious.

All of which brings me to Imagine, the title track and the most famous song John ever wrote on his own. It's an anthem for peace, a secular prayer for the human race and one of the most loved songs in the world. Who doesn't adore Imagine? Me, that's who. I've never liked it. It's just too sentimentally forced for my liking. The melody doesn't move me much and it doesn't inspire me at all. I know I'm supposed to love it because it's such a great statement for human kind but it's just too preachy and to be brutally honest, hypocritical.

John sings "imagine no possessions" which is all very well but lets not forget what was sitting in John's garage at the time. The Lennon's owned several cars one of which was six metre long Rolls Royce limo which had been given a custom paint job and had an interior converted into a double bed with TV, phone and portable fridge. Imagine there are no possessions John? Did you imagine that cruising through the streets reclining in the sheets in your chauffeur driven Limo? "Yoko what would it be like to have no possessions?" "It would be awful John, just awful. Pass the champagne so I can lubricate my throat for one of my signature tuneless shrieks".

Imagine would grate on me if it was on any other album but when it's followed by something as bitter and childish as How Do You Sleep it totally destroys the idea of John as a peace-loving dreamer who just wants the world to get along.

Not everything on Imagine is bad, Gimme Some Truth is a great song and one of his finest Post-Beatles moments. It's a genuine protest song that he sings with a degree of passion and boasts some of the best lyrics he ever wrote. Truth was tried out at the Get Back sessions with the rest of the Beatles which means this could have appeared on Let It Be and is yet another tantalizing glimpse of how good could that ill-fated album could have been.

The Beatles solo careers prove that the band itself was much greater than the sum of its parts. When they went their separate ways the magic just wasn't there. The group who churned out hit after hit in seven years of recording could barely manage anything approaching their greatness when they recorded on their own. The John Lennon on Imagine is a poor shadow of Beatle John and doesn't deserve the deification he sometimes receives as a figure alongside Ghandi, Jesus and Nelson Mandella. He's just a guy with a Rolls Royce who wrote songs.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I've just received the latest Imagine remaster.The 2000 remaster is far superior,I should have taken note of others who made exactly this point."

-That seems to be a fairly common theme. By the sound of it the 2010 attempt to remaster this album has buggered it up and annoyed a lot of fans. Keep away.

So can you imagine anything better than this? Let me know below.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

77. The Clash (1977) The Clash

  1. Janie Jones
  2. Remote Control
  3. I'm So Bored with the USA
  4. White Riot
  5. Hate & War
  6. What's My Name?
  7. Deny
  8. London's Burning
  9. Career Opportunities
  10. Cheat
  11. Protex Blue
  12. Police & Thieves
  13. 48 Hours
  14. Garageland 

Here's a question: Do I really like The Clash or do I just really like the idea of The Clash? I'm sure I'm not the only person on the planet who has declared "I don't really like Punk but I love The Clash". It's easy to love later era Clash, which is more straight ahead rock and roll, but the question is do I actually like their original punk album? It's a loud, shouty punk record which was recorded in a few weekends by a bunch of brash and arrogant youngsters who felt attitude was more important than musical virtuosity. I first heard this album when I was 16 and I bought it second-hand on cassette. I played it a lot and loved it. It was loud and angry and it said nasty things about America (it was cool not to like the USA at the time) and it was punk and I had it in my head that Punks were cool. I never wanted to put a safety pin through my nose or dye my hair in a mohawk but I liked the idea of liking punk music. It felt cool and underground.

Fast forward a few years (and a few decades) and I no longer think punk is cool but there's a part of me that appreciates having an entry point into a certain genre. I don't have to pretend there's an entire musical style that I can't access. I don't have to say "I don't like all punk" because clearly I like the Clash. But do I really or is my inner 16 year old still hanging around thinking he's with it?

That green cassette has long gone the way of all my cassettes (and millions of others) but listening to The Clash lets me make up my mind once and for all.

You know, I still like them. The Clash are great. London's Burning, White Riot, Janie Jones, I'm so Bored with the USA, Career Opportunities and Police and Thieves are all fantastic songs. They're simple, basic, unpretentious and can be played by anyone with only a few lessons on their instrument but they're fun and infectious and hold up to repeated listens. Every time each one started I was hit by a pleasing sense of nostalgia. But that's not to say I only enjoyed this album because it reconnected me with my 16 year old self. I've re-listened to a few of my teenage musical tastes lately and shaken my head in wonder trying to work out what the attraction was. But listening to The Clash made me wonder why I stopped listening to that tape in my twenties.

Looking back on it the appeal of The Clash seems to be that they took themselves seriously as musicians from the outset. They were a band and they felt like it. Other groups, The Sex Pistols most notably, felt like they were part of a movement, or more accurately a passing fad. They weren't punk musicians they were punks who happened to play music to get their attention. Consequently their album feels trapped in time and hasn't lasted as well as the music of the sixties that it claimed to rebel against. But The Clash were a band in their own right who happened to have a punk sensibility. They may have gradually moved away from their roots into more eclectic territory but initially this was the music they loved and wanted to create and it shows. It's not a means to an end, it's the end in itself and so it was the beginning of a fantastic career.

It's worth pointing out that the album I enjoyed all those years ago was the original English version which the band recorded and released back in 1977. The version that appears on this list is the American re-release that came out two years later. The US version dropped some tracks in favour of a few singles the band had recorded more recently. The result is a weird collection that sounds like a coherent album with other bits tacked on, which is exactly what it is. The later singles sound more produced and generally slicker than the original tracks.  The Clash's version of I fought The Law is fantastic but the multi-tracked vocals and overdubbed guitars meant this song probably took longer to record than the entire British version of the album. There is also a clear attempt to try and temper the vocals into a more conventional style that would be acceptable to American audiences.

Enjoy The Clash, not because it gives you some form of punk credentials, but because it's a great collection of songs and it's a lot of fun to listen to. And make sure you enjoy it in its original format. They spent three whole weekends recording and mixing it so the least you can do is dedicate 35 minutes to enjoying it.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Rock and Roll in every way, angry, but written with such panache, "

-Goodness knows punk needs more panache. I'm sick of panache-free punk. Well said that man.

So does this have panache for you or clash with the rest of your music collection? Let me know below.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

78. Harvest (1972) Neil Young

  1. Out on the Weekend
  2. Harvest
  3. A Man Needs a Maid
  4. Heart of Gold
  5. Are You Ready for the Country?
  6. Old Man
  7. There's a World
  8. Alabama
  9. The Needle and the Damage Done
  10. Words (Between the Lines of Age)

Harvest is not only a Neil Young album it's an album that only Neil could do. It's uniquely Young and a clear statement about just how amazingly good everyone's favourite Canadian was back in '72 and how removed from his contemporaries the great man was. Nobody else was in his tree, to quote John Lennon and Harvest is the best way to clearly appreciate just how unique Neil's Tree was.

Neil could write tunes. He could create a memorable song and there are some truly beautiful melodies on Harvest. A man needs a maid, Heart of Gold, Old Man and the title track are all classic songs and the rest of the tracks aren't really filler either. They're all products of Neil's performing schedule which saw him debut new songs before an audience and change them as he went. They weren't being birthed in the studio they were being captured in an already honed state.

Neil could write words too. Old Man has one of my favourite lyrics of all time and the line "Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you" is my pick for greatest line from a song ever. It's not just a well-said and pithy phrase it's a perfect summation of Neil's life. He doesn't really need to be loved and adored, he's just doing what he does and if you like it that's fine but if you don't he's not bothered. For me it's what sets Young and Dylan apart from people like Jagger and Bono who seem desperate to be adored. Neil will thank you for your support, Bono needs it.

Neil can play music. People might argue endlessly about whether Dylan or Young writes the better songs. There are many who claim Neil is greater and doesn't get the respect he deserves. Others will claim nobody touches Dylan. Personally I believe both are true. But nobody is debating who the more competent musician is. Neil is a more than capable Piano player. We picture him with guitar in hand but the truth is he's quite at home tinkling ivories and can accompany himself well on a keyboard. He's also a great harmonica player. Out on the Weekend features some beautiful playing. Dylan might be the first person everyone thinks of when they talk about folk harpists but I prefer Neil's playing any day of the week. It's soulful and restrained and a joy to hear. Of course the musical area in which he truly excels is playing a guitar. Neil is not just a competent guitarist he's one of the world's best which he shows more than capably strumming an acoustic on The Needle and the Damage Done and hauling an electric through almost seven minutes of Words (Between the Lines).

Neil can sing. I love Neil's voice. It's a perfect instrument unto itself. That wavering thing he does when singing "Every Junkie's like a setting suuuuun", the soul he puts into Old Man. It's perfect stuff and justifies the claim that Neil is one of the greatest voices in contemporary music.

Neil is not only uniquely talented he has a unique talent and a unique ability to boldly create an album that nobody else would dare go near. Other people release albums that have some sort of thematic consistency. This is my country album. Here's my rock album. I recorded this with an orchestra. This is live. This is my attempt to do Beatles covers in a bluegrass style with a tuba player and choir made up entirely of birds. Neil however is prepared to do all of them at once (except the bird choir thing). Harvest has country flavoured tunes with steel guitars (Out on the weekend and the title track), straight ahead rock (Alabama), loose jammy rock (Words Between the Lines of Age), live acoustic ballads (The Needle and the Damage Done) and two tracks (A Man Needs a Maid and There's a World) that feature a full orchestra. It's a thematic mess but the whole thing works incredibly well as a coherent whole. It's a great album whose disparate elements seem to compliment each other well. Neil's songwriting, voice and lyrics keep the various styles together and make it feel like a great work and not a weird compilation.

Is Harvest Neil's best album? It's a debate that rages long and hard whenever Mr Young is discussed by his legions of devoted fans. Personally I struggle to pick a favourite but this is definitely my pick for one of the greatest albums of 1972. If you haven't heard it you deserve to check it out. You'll know the hits but even the lesser tracks are worth your time.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Mr Anti-Capitalism does not give anything away for FREE. YOU GOTTA PAY FOR THIS CRAP!"

-When the hell did Neil Young declare himself Mr Anti- Captalism?

So is this a Harvest you're happy to reap or would you rather leave it alone? Let me know below.

Friday, September 20, 2013

79. Star Time (1991) James Brown

Disc 1 "Mr. Dynamite"

  1. Please Please Please
  2. Why Do You Do Me
  3. Try Me
  4. Tell Me What I Did Wrong
  5. Bewildered
  6. Good Good Lovin'
  7. I'll Go Crazy
  8. I Know It's True
  9. (Do the) Mashed Potatoes, Pt. 1
  10. Think
  11. Baby, You're Right
  12. Lost Someone
  13. Night Train
  14. I've Got Money
  15. I Don't Mind
  16. Prisoner of Love
  17. Devil's Den
  18. Out of the Blue
  19. Out of Sight
  20. Grits
  21. Maybe the Last Time
  22. It's a Man's World
  23. I Got You
  24. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Pts. 1, 2 & 3

Disc 2 "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business"

  1. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Pt. 1
  2. I Got You (I Feel Good)
  3. Ain't That a Groove
  4. It's a Man's Man's Man's World
  5. Money Won't Change You
  6. Don't Be a Dropout
  7. Bring It Up (Hipster's Avenue)
  8. Let Yourself Go
  9. Cold Sweat
  10. Get It Together
  11. Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me), Pt. 1
  12. I Got the Feelin'
  13. Licking Stick-Licking Stick
  14. Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud, Pt. 1
  15. There Was a Time
  16. Give It Up or Turnit a Loose
  17. I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open up the Door I'll Get It Myself)

Disc 3 "Soul Brother No. 1"

  1. Mother Popcorn
  2. Funky Drummer
  3. Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine
  4. Super Bad, Pts. 1 & 2
  5. Talkin' Loud & Sayin' Nothing
  6. Get Up, Get into It and Get Involved
  7. Soul Power, Pts. 1 & 2
  8. Brother Rapp/Ain't It Funky Now
  9. Hot Pants, Pt. 1
  10. I'm a Greedy Man, Pt. 1
  11. Make It Funky, Pt. 1
  12. It's a New Day
  13. I Got Ants in My Pants, Pt. 1
  14. King Heroin

Disc 4 "The Godfather Of Soul"

  1. There It Is, Pt. 1
  2. Public Enemy #1, Pt. 1
  3. Get on the Good Foot
  4. I Got a Bag of My Own
  5. Doing It to Death
  6. The Payback
  7. Papa Don't Take No Mess, Pt. 1
  8. Stoned to the Bone, Pt. 1
  9. My Thang
  10. Funky President (People It's Bad)
  11. Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved, Loved)
  12. Get Up Offa That Thing (Release the Pressure)
  13. Body Heat, Pt. 1
  14. It's Too Funky in Here
  15. Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses)
  16. Unity, Pt. 1

Some artists deserve a single disc best-of compilation, some are worthy of double album greatest hits packages. A select few are deserving of three disc monsters. Some are even worthy of great big whopping box sets with four discs spanning their career and containing all their hits along with obscure cuts and less accessible stuff.

James Brown is in the latter camp. He's a guy who deserves a full box with extensive liner notes and comprehensive remastering. He has a career that is worth someone dedicating years of their life in a dark room with an expensive piece of machinery and the master tapes doing whatever it is a sound engineer does to make sure an old record sounds as good as possible.

The question is: do most of you need to hear it? Does your interest in James Brown warrant spending five hours listening to seventy-one tracks of Brown? For most of you I'm guessing the answer is no.

James Brown had some great hits and is justifiably held up as a hero of Funk and Soul and the godfather of modern music. He's the legend who gave us I Feel Good which is one of the most universally loved tracks in the last fifty years of music. Pretty much everyone loves I Feel Good and it's one of those songs that never wears out its welcome no matter how many times you hear it. But that's not say that Brown is a one trick pony. He's a many trick war horse whose career deserves more attention. If you can only name a handful of Brown hits then you need to hear more of his work. But I'm not sure you need to hear quite this much.

71 songs on four discs is a lot of Brown which makes this compilation only for the dedicated listener. There are numerous best-of compilations out there which do a good job of documenting his career in as much detail as most listeners need,  this one for example and will probably do everyone but the die-hard James Brown fan.

Star Time is here partly because James Brown is great but also partly because it's one of the great original boxed sets. Before every single artist on the planet was deemed worthy of a box of some kind it was a special honour reserved for only the truly great and legendary. Star Time was not just a box of songs it was a lovingly crafted compilation remastered with care and accompanied by extensive notes and photographs. It was a celebration of a career and for James Brown fans it was something to be treasured and returned to.

I never owned Star Time but I can appreciate the joy of a box. It's a rare and wonderful thing. The Led Zeppelin boxed set was one of my early CD purchases and I played it constantly and re-read the accompany book over and over again. I've since bought boxes by the Grateful Dead, TISM, Neil Young, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground and others and always treasured them as a special kind of purchase. Star Time helped make record labels realise that there was a market for lovingly produced boxed tributes for fans to treasure.

None of which is enough reason to purchase this if you're not a James Brown fan. If you want to hear more of the great man then grab a smaller best of. If it moves you in ways that other music doesn't them maybe you need 71 tracks in which case Star Time will definitely make you feel good.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "James Brown has always been my favorite, but I was never able to find much of his music in the CD era before the internet exploded."

-Wait the Internet exploded? Why did nobody tell me? You'd think I would have read about that on the net.

So is this 4 discs too much or not enough Brown for your buck? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

80. Odessey and Oracle (1968) The Zombies

  1. Care of Cell 44
  2. A Rose for Emily
  3. Maybe After He's Gone
  4. Beechwood Park
  5. Brief Candles
  6. Hung Up on a Dream
  7. Changes
  8. I Want Her, She Wants Me
  9. This Will Be Our Year
  10. Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)
  11. Friends of Mine
  12. Time of the Season

Perhaps the Beatles were magic after all. Maybe their extraordinary success was contagious in some way and actually rubbed off on things they came into contact with (it's certainly the only way to explain Yoko Ono's baffling musical career).

If this is true then it's logical The Zombies were the lucky recipients of some Beatles magic. The Odessey and Oracle was not only recorded in Abbey Road but engineered by Geoff Emerick who engineered the later Beatles albums assisted by fellow Beatles recording veteran Peter Vince.

Beatle magic was in the air and resulted in a recording that is revered and loved as a musical classic. Shame nobody liked it at the time.

When it originally came out in 1968 nobody was interested in an album of psychedelic tunes with a strange name by a band with an even stranger title. Zombies weren't cool back in 1968 and the band weren't either. The record didn't do much and the recording process was enough to break up the band who didn't tour in support. It didn't sell enough copies on its initial release to make the UK charts and it peaked at number 95 in the US. In every respect it was a bit of a flop.

The album was re-released when The Time Of The Season became a hit single the following year and sold more respectably but it's always hard to promote an album when the band itself has gone their separate ways. In the decades since it first appeared, Odessey and Oracle has enjoyed a heightened reputation and frequently appears in lists like this. It's viewed as not just one of the great albums of the era but as one of the great releases of all time. All of which makes a lot of sense.

Back in 1968 the album still wasn't the artform that we think of it today. Sgt Peppers and other Beatles releases were raising its reputation but singles were still king and the album was still a way of packaging hit singles with filler. Today we understand an album as the pinnacle of an artist's expression. It's the greatest and most noble form a musician can adopt with groups like Radiohead ignoring the single format altogether and focusing all their attention on the album form.

Odessey and Oracle was literally ahead of its time. It's an album of coherent thought and message at a time when LP's needed to be full of hits to be big sellers. They needed big stand-alone songs to sell units and had to have a few stand out tracks for anyone to care. O and O has a lone big hit which at the time just wasn't enough. It didn't matter that the rest of the album was a collection of strong songs which got better with repeated listens, it wasn't relevant that it worked as a unified whole and nobody cared that it seemed to have a coherent and interesting vision. All anyone cared about was the fact that they picked it up and saw a tracklisting made up of songs they'd never heard on the radio.

O and O's reputation increased at the same rate that the album as an artform increased in esteem. People started to appreciate it and revere it as rock grew up and grew into the concept of a long player and eventually a CD. It will be interesting to see how it's viewed now that we seem to be moving away from the album and into a bold new digital territory where songs are king again.

If you want to know what the music on Odessey and Oracle sounds like without having to actually hear it then take a good look at the cover because it's the perfect visual depiction of the sounds inside. It's densely filled with colour and movement and the words are a bit hard to make out but it leaves you with an overwhelming sense of flowers and naked people and hippieness and drug-taking excess.

O and O's current tragedy is the blatant over saturation of its hit single as a tired sixties cliche. For years whenever film makers have wanted to aurally depict the summer of love and the hippie era they've turned to Time of the Season to do it. All the bigger hits were too expensive to use but Time is cheap and so it's become a weary and tedious cliche which is a pity because it's a great song that deserves more than to have its chorus lifted as a thirty second soundtrack to pictures of hippies dancing at Woodstock.

If you've never heard the Odessey and the Oracle then give it a try. It's psychadelic and trippy but perfectly accessible. It doesn't have songs that leap out at you on a first listen but appreciate the whole thing as the self-contained work of art that it is and enjoy it.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "With so many people calling this the most underrated album of the 60s it is actually becoming the most overrated album of the 60s."

-That's a very astute observation.

So is this the best kept secret of the sixties or does it obscurity richly deserved? Let me know below.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

81 Graceland (1986) Paul Simon

1. The Boy in the Bubble
2. Graceland
3. I Know What I Know
4. Gumboots
5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
6. You Can Call Me Al
7. Under African Skies
8. Homeless
9. Crazy Love, Vol. II
10. That Was Your Mother
11.   All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints

I'm quite capable of separating the idea of the the musician from the music. The actions and lifestyle of the person creating the artform doesn't affect my appreciation of it. I know that Miles Davis was a deeply troubled guy who from all reports was hard to like, but it doesn't stop me from loving Kind of Blue. I'm aware that Dylan can be a bit prickly and aloof but I love the guy. Prince is a complete failure as a person but that's not the reason I don't like his music.  But Graceland presents a bit of a problem.

Paul Simon is widely regarded as a difficult guy to get along with. He's always had a reputation for being a bit testy and comes across as fairly arrogant in interviews, all of which is fine. He's got the talent to back up his arrogance and I think it must be an exceptional person who goes through decades of rock stardom without turning into something approaching a bastard. I've known people who became insufferable just because they got retweeted by a celebrity so I can only imagine what it must be like to have a hit single, let alone a successful career.

Simon may be a genuinely unpleasant individual in real life but that doesn't stop me admiring his work with The Funkle or his earlier solo projects.

But Graceland isn't just the product of a potentially unpleasant guy, it came about as a direct result of his unpleasantness, at least if the people lining up to criticise it are to be believed.

The story Simon tells is that Graceland was inspired by a recording of Gumboots by a South African band called The Boyoyo Boys. He heard the song and realised it was similar to the 50's rock and roll he grew up with and the connection inspired him to go to South Africa and record with the Boyoyo Boys and other South African artists. The recordings that came out of these collaborations were turned into the Graceland album.

Others tell a different story.

American musician Heidi Berg claims she lent Simon the Boyoyo Boys tape and was interested in recording some of the material in a similar style herself. Simon never returned the tape or her subsequent phone calls. When they met up again he actually threatened her when she mentioned the incident and claimed he purchased the copyright for his own usage.

Berg and others have claimed that many of the songs on Graceland are essentially Paul Simon cover versions of South African songs which he has taken undeserved writing credit for. They believe the entire venture to South Africa was less about musical collaboration and more about an artist starved for ideas plundering a newly discovered market. She even goes so far to claim that You Can Call me Al, which is exclusively credited to Paul Simon on the album was stolen directly from The Boyoyo Boys without any credit at all.

It's a damning criticism and not the only one levelled at Simon by collaborators. The final track on the album features a guest appearance by Los Lobos whose sax player Steve Berlin is far from Simon's biggest fan. Berlin's story is that Los Lobos went into the studio to play with Simon but Paul had nothing for them to actually record. He hadn't written anything and didn't have any ideas for them to work on. The band were jamming and played a song they had written and planned to put on their next album. Simon liked what he heard and put some lyrics to their music. The Band then recorded the track and believed they'd just co-written a song with Paul Simon. They were therefore surprised to learn that when the record came out, the song they'd written was credited as a Paul Simon song without any input from them at all (except as musicians).

Misunderstandings can arise in any musical setting but in this instance someone is clearly telling an outright lie. Simon claims the first he heard of Berlin and the band's complaint was months later when the album came out and a letter from their lawyer was sent to his. Los Lobos however claim they contacted him much earlier and he personally dared them to sue him. Clearly someone is not telling the truth.

There's no doubt however that All Around the World Or The Myth of Fingerprints (as the song was called on the album) sounds a lot like a Los Lobos song and not much like a Paul Simon song. It's hard not to feel that the band deserve some songwriting credit because the alternative is to believe that Simon wrote a perfect facsimile of a Los Lobos song and then got the band in to record it.

It's especially difficult to take Simon's side when you read more about the album. He was criticised at the time for not approaching the African National Congress and asking for their blessing to defy the UN cultural boycott on South Africa. He claimed he did and didn't get a response but later changed backpeddled and admitted he didn't but didn't believe it would matter.

All of this shouldn't affect my appreciation of the music but I'm afraid it does. It's catchy stuff but I can't help but get set against it by what I know. It doesn't help that it sounds to me like a compilation of African music with a Los Lobos track attached at the end. It doesn't sound like Paul Simon's work before or since. It doesn't have his stamp on it in the way that his other stuff does. I can't see anything of Paul Simon in it.

I'd like not to believe the stories but it's hard to hear Graceland and not think it's the opportunistic dealings of a guy who hadn't had a hit in years and who is fiercely competitive. It's all to easy to think of it as a guy mining a musical heritage that he could take a degree of credit for to revive his flagging career.

Harsh? Possibly but I genuinely can't shake it and I can't appreciate the music because of it. And I'm sorry if telling you all this has had the same effect on you.  I really am.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "dink dink dink dink dink dink dink dink"

-That's the full review. One dink too many or just the right number? You decide.

So can you look past Paul or not? Let me know below.

Friday, August 30, 2013

82. Axis Bold as Love (1968) Jimi Hendrix Experience

1. EXP
2. Up from the Skies
3. Spanish Castle Magic
4. Wait Until Tomorrow
5. Ain't No Telling
6. Little Wing
7. If 6 Was 9
8. You Got Me Floating
9. Castles Made of Sand
10. She's So Fine
11. One Rainy Wish
12. Little Miss Lover
13. Bold as Love

Jimi Hendrix is often the first name on anyone's lips when asked to name great guitarists. Even my own parents (who are my yardstick for popular culture ignorance) could tell you what instrument the great man played. He's idolised as an innovator, technical master and soulful lover of rock's most potent musical creation device. But while we're admiring his licks, chords and solos we should make sure his voice and songwriting abilities aren't overlooked and ignored. Jimi could write a tune and he could hold one as well.

Two of his three skills are clearly in evidence on Axis: Bold as love. His guitar work is perfect as he throws out riffs and breaks and generally lays down the blueprint for future guitarists to follow. His voice is also in fine form and rocks mightily. He gives a soulful rendering of every tune and can even add passion and meaning to his own lyrics (which are never the highpoint of a Hendrix album). The one area in which Axis is let down slightly is in the songwriting department. 

Hendrix had only just finished his first album when his record label were clamouring for the second that he owed them in order to fulfil the terms of his contract. They were demanding a new disc of material while Hendrix was busy playing shows and promoting the previous one. While he could write a great song they didn't come as naturally as they did to other artists. Hendrix needed some time to write material but the label (and life itself, tragically) didn't give him a lot of time. 

Consequently there's much on Axis that sounds rushed and half-hearted compared to the previous album which is almost wall to wall hits. EXP, Up from the Skies, Aint no Telling, You Got me Floating, One Rainy Wish and the Noel Redding penned She's So Fine wouldn't have been considered worthy of appearing on Are You Experienced and If 6 was 9 hangs around for twice as long as it needs to in a fairly obvious attempt at padding. Almost half the album's running time feels like filler material.

Thankfully the other half of the album is good enough to prop up the lesser tracks. Little Wing is a beautiful little track which is often covered and to my mind ruined. I prefer it as a small and perfect little gem of track that lasts 150 seconds instead of the massive, bloated guitar behemoth that most cover versions turn it into when they quadruple the running length but exponentially decrease the interest level. Castles Made of Sand is another great ballad slightly marred by Hendrix's insistence on experimenting in the studio (recording a guitar solo and playing it backwards creates an interesting effect. Interesting but not actually as pleasing as hearing the original solo itself). 

Spanish Castle Magic is the album's rockiest number and shows off Hendrix at his axe-wielding best. It also highlights the talents of Redding and Mitchell who deserve a lot more credit than they usually get. This isn't a Jimi Hendrix album, it's an album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the rest of the Experience deserve credit for being a rock solid rhythm section who could add colour and texture to any song they touched. Mitchell was a magnificent drummer and Redding was a great bass player even if neither of them could write much of a tune and they weren't the greatest backing vocalists walking the planet at the time. 

There's a lot to love on Axis but you can't help but wonder how much better if would have been if Hendrix had enjoyed more time to write some stronger songs. Or even if he'd ditched the filler and included some covers instead. His version of All Along The Watchtower is still the definitive rendition, how cool would it be if he'd gone into the studio and worked up a good cover of some other Dylan songs. Or some Beatles? Or Stones? I'd much rather hear his version of Paint it Black, Day Tripper or Highway 61 Revisited than She's So Fine. I know that I've had Axis in my music collection for years but don't pull it out nearly as often as Hendrix: Blues an album of his collected blues covers that was released after his death and moves me more than Axis does.  But then even on a bad song Hendrix still brings his voice and his guitar which means there's something to love on every track.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Received the CD within just a few days of ordering it. Have not had a chance to listen to it yet as my player quit the day the CD arrived. As I'm a Hendrix fan, I'm looking forward to listening to it soon."

-It's five star reviews like this that make amazon's star rating meaningless. This "Hendrix fan" (who hasn't heard a third of the man's studio albums) felt the need to give this five stars despite only having the cover art for inspiration.

So... can anyone tell me what the hell the title actually means? Let me know below.