Monday, April 29, 2013

101. Fresh Cream- Cream in Blue

Album: Fresh Cream
Artist: Cream
Year: 1966
Genre: Rock

  1. N.S.U.
  2. Sleepy Time Time
  3. Dreaming
  4. Sweet Wine
  5. Spoonful
  6. Cat's Squirrel
  7. Four Until Late
  8. Rollin' And Tumblin'
  9. I'm So Glad
  10. Toad

Fresh Cream is the debut album by the English supergroup and according to Rolling Stone Magazine it's their finest moment. Which is odd because it's got none of their best songs.

Unlike later Cream albums which contained some great original compositions (Strange Brew, Sunshine of your love, White Room, Badge etc), their debut focused more on their mutual love of old blues tunes. Clapton's reverence for Robert Johnson (Four Until Late) got an early hearing (he would later record entire albums of Johnson covers) and other blues greats like Skip James, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon get the cover treatment which helped to popularize the expression White Boy Blues, a derogatory term for music of the American black working class played by white English middle class boys.

The originals on Fresh Cream are all lesser efforts which range from the forgettable Dreaming to the annoying Sleepy Time Time which has one word too many in the title and two minutes too many in the running time time. Toad is an excuse for a drum solo which assumes there is such a thing as an excuse for a drum solo when in reality there is no excuse for a drum solo. At least on the album it's limited to five minutes and eleven seconds, Ginger Baker could stretch it out for close to half an hour in a live performance.

But while the songwriting might be lacking, the playing on Fresh Cream certainly isn't. Clapton might be a middle class English white boy but that doesn't mean he can't play guitar. Bruce was better on his bass than any blues bassist ever needed to be and Ginger Baker is almost as good on the drums as he is bad at personal interaction. The three of them would later fall apart onstage but early in their career they improve each other's playing rather than take away from it.

Personally I'd be happier if they'd dropped all the originals from the album and thrown in some more blues covers instead. It might not be original and they might be ripping off the greats but they played so well I wouldn't care in the least. Besides, it's worth pointing out that the original blues masters who wrote the songs the white boys played weren't complaining, they were cashing their royalty cheques and enjoying the fact that a whole new generations of young people was being turned onto their music.

Highlight: Spoonful
Lowlight: Dreaming

Influenced by: Blues
Influenced: Hendrix

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Grea"

-That's the entire review right there. What does it say about your opinion if you can't even bother to type the final letter of a one word review?

So do you enjoy your Cream Fresh or are you dieting? Let me know below.

Friday, April 26, 2013

102 Giant Steps. Silliness

Album: Giant Steps
Artist: John Coltrane
Genre: Jazz
Year: 1960

  1. Giant Steps
  2. Cousin Mary
  3. Countdown
  4. Spiral
  5. Syeeda's Song Flute
  6. Naima
  7. Mr. P.C.
If there is any album which proves exactly what a farce this entire process really is it's this one. The fact that this album is here makes me think I should probably give up on the entire thing and go and do something else instead. By what possible metric can you put Giant Steps in a list of top 500 albums? How can you plonk Coltrane and band at number 102 and claim it's slightly better than Sweet Baby James but not quite as good as Fresh Cream?

I don't like to talk about future albums but I have to point out that Please Please Me by The Beatles comes in at number 39 on the countdown. Regular readers would know I'm one of the biggest Beatles fans around. When I finally get to Please Please Me I will wax lyrical about it and gush over how much I love it and always have. But does it really deserve to be 60 places above Coltrane?

If you could measure musical playing ability on a scale and you added up all of the musical talent of The Beatles they still wouldn't reach halfway to the towering talent of Coltrane. They guy is one of the first names on anyone's lips when they talk of great sax players with only Charlie Parker capable of rivalling him for first place. When you talk about great jazz musicians with any instrument he's in everyone's top ten. He's an undisputed master in his chosen field. The Beatles could all play but none of them would top a poll of greatest guitarists, bass players and (especially) drummers. They were a great band but not great individual players. If I walked the streets today I could find four separate groups of musicians in my local area who could replicated the entire of Please Please me note for note. I'd be hard pressed to find a band in my entire nation who could pull off Giant Steps.

Of course the area where the Beatles shine the most is as songwriters but Please Please Me only contains eight original compositions and not many rate as among their best. The title track and I Saw Her Standing There are great but does anyone really think Do You Want To Know A Secret is anything other than disposable?

I love Please Please Me but it's hardly a musical revolution, contains a few flat spots and for sheer musicality is nothing to write home about.

Giant Steps on the other hand is magnificent. Coltrane and his band are all players at the top of their game, the soloing is perfect and the songwriting, even though it relies heavily on improvisation, is fantastic as well. Lots of these tracks became Jazz standards and yardsticks by which other Jazz compositions are measured. I don't understand it fully but the title track is a revolution in chord progression and is incredibly complicated. To a musical idiot like myself it just sounds good but to someone who knows what they're talking about it's proof that Trane is a genius.

Personally I'd take Please Please Me over Giant Steps if I had to make a choice because I love it but comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. Jazz albums have no place on this list because including a handful of them immediately shows everything else up. Coltrane, Davis and co are in a field of their own and throwing in a few token efforts makes everything look a bit silly. Coltrane's follow up albums are no real drop in quality from Giant Steps so why aren't they here as well? How does that make sense? It doesn't, Rolling Stone have just dumped a few token jazz albums into the list in order to try and give it a degree of added credibility.

It would make a lot more sense to me if Rolling Stone said "We haven't included Jazz albums because we haven't got a clue what we're talking about and it makes it all look a bit daft" check out a jazz magazine's list of greatest albums if you want some kind of perspective.

Giant Steps is magnificent. The playing is wonderful in every respect and it's as perfect as an album can rightfully expect to be. Don't worry about where it appears on some silly listing. Just enjoy a musical great doing what he does best and only he could do.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't like modern Jazz much but seeing how this was one of those 'ultimate' records and $1.99 I thought I would try it. The sax is boring and monotonous, the drumming simplistic and dull, this record confirms my prejudices about modern jazz, elevator music".

-1960 is modern jazz now? Surely that makes any jazz albums released in the 1980's futuristic?

So are these Giant steps or massive stumblings? Let me know below

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

103. Sweet Baby James. Odd title.

Album: Sweet Baby James
Artist: James Taylor
Year: 1970
Genre: Folk
  1. Sweet Baby James
  2. Lo and Behold
  3. Sunny Skies
  4. Steamroller
  5. Country Road
  6. Oh! Susanna
  7. Fire and Rain
  8. Blossom
  9. Anywhere Like Heaven
  10. Oh Baby, Don't You Loose Your Lip on Me
  11. Suite for 20 G

James Taylor is a folkie with one of the sweetest voices you will find on record. He's the sort of guy who record labels must have heard performing in clubs and fought each other off in order to sign up. It wouldn't have mattered if he couldn't write a tune and enjoyed killing small woodland creatures in between studio sessions, they could sell that voice to the American people.

Fortunately Taylor was an exceptional songwriter (and I assume he never killed a squirrel for laughs, but I could be wrong). Fire and Rain is a great song and not just this album's highlight but the highlight of his entire career. It's a plaintive ballad that talks of suffering and pain and unlike a lot of other songs of woe, it was written by a guy who knew something about sadness. Taylor spent 9 months of his life in a mental institution dealing with crippling depression. Apparently at the height (or more accurately: low) of his illness he was sleeping for twenty hours a day and incapable of doing much for the other four. Fire and Rain deals with his life fighting his feelings and his treatment. Being institutionalised does tend to put the suffering of others into perspective. There are people who have tried to write sad tales about their life because they've been a bit grumpy for an afternoon. They should probably give this album a spin in order to cheer up and find something else to write tunes about.

But Fire and Rain isn't the only thing worth hearing on Sweet Baby James. The title track is a pretty lullaby of sorts which he didn't write for himself (anyone who sleeps 20 hours a day doesn't need a lullaby) but for his nephew who shares his name. The rest of the songs might not be as well-written but they all feature his voice which Taylor uses like a veteran of the studio (although he probably understood studio technique better than most having recorded his debut album in the same studios the Beatles were recording The White Album)

Personally I'm not a fan of Steamroller, which he wrote to satirise white boy blues bands. I like white boy blues bands. I like the Blues and I like it when it's done by guys who try and make it rock and roll. I can appreciate a good satire of the genre (Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? by The Bonzo's is my favourite) but Steamroller just sounds like badly played blues to me and doesn't really work as a parody. Oh Susanna ("don't you cry for me, I come from Alabama with a Banjo on my knee") is a lot more successful and some campy fun.

Sweet Baby James is Taylor's finest moment and captures him still in touch with his folk roots before he became a darling of the middle of the road. It's worth hearing if you think Fire and Rain is all he has to offer. There's a lot more.

Highlight: Fire and Rain
Lowlight: Steamroller

Influenced by: Dylan and Depression
Influenced: Impresarios.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Sweet baby James was the second album by James Taylor released in 1970. It was a very popular album for folk enthusiasts of the time. Unfortunately the cut Steam Roller blues is not original to the album. It is a live version with profanity and bad quality. "

-Steamroller is definitely a live sounding version on the album I heard but this was the first I'd heard of it replacing a studio cut on the original album. Can anyone confirm or deny?

So does this fire up your belly or rain on your parade? Let me know below.

Friday, April 19, 2013

104 Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music- If only

Album: Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
Artist: Ray Charles
Year: 1962
Genre: Country and Western (but modern sounding)


  1. Bye Bye Love
  2. You Don't Know Me
  3. Half As Much
  4. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  5. Just A Little Lovin'
  6. Born To Lose
  7. Worried Mind
  8. It Makes No Difference
  9. You Win Again
  10. Careless Love
  11. I Can't Stop Loving You
  12. Hey, Good Looking

There's a big market in music today for music of one style done as another. Every few months another tribute album is released in which people you have never heard of give an artist's repertoire a musical makeover. You might think a Bluegrass tribute to Metallica, a reggae tribute to Bob Dylan, a Latin American tribute to the Beatles or a jazz tribute to Michael Jackson were inventions of a blogger with a warped imagination but the truth is I didn't make them up, they're all available to purchase right now. I have no idea who wants to hear B-grade reggae players perform Dylan hits but they must be out there because these things do sell.

A similar but much earlier concept is Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, in which folk and Country tunes are given a jazz and pop makeover. It might as well have been called A Big Band tribute to Country Music. But unlike most tribute albums with a definite theme, MS in C and W was recorded by a big name. By the time he had come to turn his hand to Country, Ray Charles was already a star on the R&B charts. What I'd Say had already been a big hit and he was a musical force to be reckoned with.

But Charles was a restless guy. While a lot of his contemporaries were prepared to find a niche and stick to it, Ray was releasing albums that were Jazz, Pop, Blues and R&B. He was mastering new genres and so the next logical step was Country and Western. Actually it wasn't. It definitely was not. At no point was it logical for a black guy who played the piano and had never seen a horse (or anything else now I come to think of it) to cover songs written by a sharecropper's son named Floyd Tillman.

Charles takes songs written for prairies and makes them work in nightclubs. He takes tunes that were written for a lone guitarist and adds horns, backing vocals and a big band arrangement. It's no less stupid than doing reggae covers of Heavy Metal hits but it actually works. Charles realised that a good song is a good song and he was a guy with an ear for a good song. He managed to take great tunes and make them greater by taking away what rooted them in country and liberating the melody from the constraints of a genre. Granted there might have been those at the time who were appalled at the idea of White music being played by a black guy but most of America and beyond enjoyed hearing good songs played well.

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is too big for me and hasn't dated well but I can definitely see the attraction. If I had to listen to these songs I'd listen to them done this way with the dulcet tones of Ray replacing the high pitched whining of the originals. It's how Country and Western was supposed to be played.

Highlight: Born to Lose
Lowlight: Careless Love

Influenced by: Country and production
Influenced: People who make biopics

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If you take Ray off the recording, it sounds like generic early 60's pop-teen fluff. And that's NOT good."

-Well as long as you don't take Ray off the recording it won't be a problem.

So is this old album a modern sound to you or not? Let me know below.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

105 Rocket to Russia. Possibly Punk

Album: Rocket to Russia
Artist: The Ramones
Year: 1977
Genre: Punk


1. Cretin Hop
2. Rockaway Beach
3. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
4. Locket Love
5. I Don't Care
6. Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
7. We're a Happy Family
8. Teenage Lobotomy
9. Do You Wanna Dance?
10. I Wanna Be Well
11. I Can't Give You Anything
12. Ramona
13. Surfin' Bird
14. Why Is It Always This Way?

Rocket to Russia is the first Ramones album I've ever heard all the way through. While listening I wracked my brains and tried to find an example of a Ramones song that I'd actually knew. Surprisingly I realised I had a good impression of how the Ramones sounded and what their music was like but couldn't actually sing a song. Odd.

Having heard an actual album all the way through I've concluded Joey and the other Ramones are more varied than I'd given them credit for. I assumed all their songs were a basic two minute sonic assault in which they shouted a bit about things and then stopped for a few seconds before doing it all again. I always saw them as a bridging point between rock and punk but it turns out they're quite a bit more.

For a start I never realised they were heavily influenced by surf music. The long hair, glasses and thin jeans don't look very surfey so to find them covering Surfin Bird and a Beach Boys influenced track Rockaway Beach forced me to reassess what I thought of them. Surfin Bird is a terrible song no matter who does it (that "Bird, Bird Bird is the Word" refrain is insanely annoying) but Rockaway Beach is great. It's surf music with a punk mentality and it really works. Less successful are the attempts at slower ballad type songs. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is pretty bad and Ramona is worse. Do You Wanna Dance is a much more successful cover than Surfin Bird and while it's very different (and twice as fast) as the Mama's and The Papas version it's still recognizably a great song. The best tunes work at any tempo.

But the highlight of Rocket to Russia are the songs that sound like they could only be done by the Ramones. Sheena is a Punk Rocker is loud and punky but catchy at the same time. It's a simple song done simply with some basic chords and vocals that anyone could do but it not only works you could imagine it working if Mama Cass and friends did a slowed down version. At almost three minutes it's practically an epic by Ramones standards but it never wears out its welcome. The Ramones were never worried about solos embellishments or adornments, they sang a catchy tune and then buggered off before things got too repetitive. Teenage Lobotomy isn't quite as successful musically but it's lyrics were easier for teenagers to connect with and has a chorus of "Lo-Bot-o-mi" to shout along with along with the line "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em, That I got no cerebellum" which you have to admit is fantastic.

There are some bands I've listened to on this countdown that have made me realise I have large gaps in my musical education. The Ramones are one of a handful of artists that have made me want more. After hearing Rocket to Russia a few times I decided to go and hunt out further Ramones albums to enjoy. I hope some of you have a similar experience.

Influenced by: The Rolling Stones
Influenced: Punk

Highlight: Sheena is a punk rocker
Lowlight: Surfin Bird

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "You could put this record on at a FUNERAL and people would start bopping their heads, and maybe even dance. "

-That might be a bit extreme.

So would you catch this rocket to Russia or stay at home? Let me know below.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

106 Portrait of a Legend. Undercooked.

Album: Portrait of a Legend
Artist: Sam Cooke
Year: 2003
Genre: Soul

  1. Touch the Hem of His Garment
  2. Lovable
  3. You Send Me
  4. Only Sixteen
  5. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons
  6. Just for You
  7. Win Your Love for Me
  8. Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha
  9. I'll Come Running Back to You
  10. You Were Made for Me
  11. Sad Mood
  12. Cupid
  13. (What a) Wonderful World
  14. Chain Gang
  15. Summertime
  16. Little Red Rooster
  17. Bring It on Home to Me
  18. Nothing Can Change This Love
  19. Sugar Dumpling
  20. (Ain't That) Good News
  21. Meet Me at Mary's Place
  22. Twistin' the Night Away
  23. Shake
  24. Tennessee Waltz
  25. Another Saturday Night
  26. Good Times
  27. Having a Party
  28. That's Where It's At
  29. A Change Is Gonna Come
  30. Jesus Gave Me Water
Sam Cooke is definitely a legend. It's not often a boast made in an album title is justified by it's content but you can't argue with Cooke's legendary status, the man really is a giant figure in soul music. He's also one of the many music legends who died far too early. His recording career lasted less than a decade but he left behind some outstanding music.

Like most artists of his generation, Cooke has been the subject of multiple best-ofs and compilations but Portrait of a Legend is unique in that it actually features some cooperation between his two record labels. Cooke changed labels late in his career and most of his greatest hits CD's cover his work from one label and not the other. Portrait of a legend however is genuinely career-spanning and covers the years from the start of his career and includes songs released after his tragic death in 1964.

Consequently this is one of the few times I can actually recommend a compilation as the definitive disc to buy. Other artists who have a new best of out every few months have compilations that are basically interchangeable but if you want to hear Cooke's entire career this is definitely the one to get. It shows how Cooke mastered Soul ballads (You send me), gospel (Jesus Gave me Water), popular hits (Summertime), protest (A change is gonna come) and even blues (Little Red Rooster). The production is all fairly standard late fifties/ early sixties backing but what sets it apart are Cooke's vocals. The man had a golden voice and an incredible talent which towered above others doing the same thing at the time.

Cooke's death in 1964 is obviously a huge tragedy but not just because it robbed us of a great talent. It also denied us the chance to see what Cooke would have done once the British invasion hit his shores. Cooke released his final album just as The Beatles were starting to break into America and so we never got a chance to hear an album he recorded while influenced by the boys from Liverpool or the white boy blues of the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. We've also been robbed of the chance to hear how Cooke would have responded to funk and later musical trends which he could have lent his perfect voice to.

If you only buy one Cooke album in your life then I would definitely recommend Live at the Harlem Square Club which captures him in front of a smokingly hot band and an incredibly appreciative crowd. But if you want a career best of then this is the one to get your hands on. It will make you tap your toes but shake your head at what an incredible waste his death was.

Influenced by: Soul
Influenced: Anyone with a soul

Highlight: Bring it on home to me
Lowlight: Sugar Dumpling

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Fabulous!!! I may be a little partial to this particular song...Redd Stewart, co-writer of "Tennessee Waltz" was my dad!"

-Hardly an unbiased review but pretty cool none the less.

So do you enjoy this portrait of a legend or would you leave it in the attic? Let me know below.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

107 Hunky Dory. Life on Mars

Album: Hunky Dory
Artist: David Bowie
Year: 1971
Genre: Pop


  1. Changes
  2. Oh! You Pretty Things
  3. Eight Line Poem
  4. Life on Mars?
  5. Kooks
  6. Quicksand
  7. Fill Your Heart
  8. Andy Warhol
  9. Song for Bob Dylan
  10. Queen Bitch
  11. The Bewlay Brothers

For me there is really only one David Bowie song. I'm hard pressed to pick a favourite song by most artists but with Bowie there is a hands down winner with absolutely no competition. Life on Mars is Bowie's finest moment, it's not just the greatest song on this album it's the greatest song in his entire cannon. He never hit this height before and in all probability he never will again but we should be thankful that he did because Life on Mars is an absolute belter of a tune.

Mars starts with a low key piano intro and Bowie singing in his quiet and contemplative voice. It doesn't take long before the magic of studio technology allows Dave to come in and accompany himself on backing vocals. Extra tension is added by a string section which sounds like it's been scored by someone who is more comfortable writing for cinema than pop music. These aren't violins used for simple backing, they're the sort of strings which are designed to put you on the edge of your seat when the heroine fails to notice the villain creeping up behind her. It builds tension and needs an eventual release which finally arrives when Bowie amps his vocals up to eleven and belts out the line "Sailors fighting on the dance floor!" Which is a magnificent musical climax but a bit of a lyrical anti-climax if truth be told.

The lyrics do tend to give Life on Mars a slightly inaccessible edge to be honest. It's more a string of odd images than a coherent structure. "It's on America's tortured brow, that Micky Mouse has grown up a cow," "Rule Britannia is out of bounds, to my mother my dog and clowns" etc etc. Surreal images work when there's a level of emotional distance but Bowie sings like he's too invested in the words he's emoting which makes listening to lines like "Cause Lemon's on sale again" jar on the ear a bit. It sounds like the lyrics that Paul McCartney puts down as marker words when he's writing a tune in the knowledge that he'll come back again at some stage and actually give the song meaning. It's testament to Bowie's performance and the song itself that it can rise above the lyrics and become something so great.

Shame the rest of the album isn't nearly as good. Ch-Ch-Changes is the other major hit but it does nothing for me and the other songs are fairly dull with nothing that can approach Life on Mars.

Hunky Dory is Bowie's best album mainly because it contains his best song which I was more than happy to revisit and explore in detail. Sadly the rest of the album made me wonder what the attraction is in the cult of Bowie.

Highlight: Life on Mars
Lowlight: Everything that isn't Life on Mars

Influenced by: Whatever Bowie was into at the time
Influenced: Burgeoning glam rock

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I mean, I never heard this album, but, well, it's gotta be good, I mean, Bowie. Gotta geddit. Someday..."

-I think Amazon prefers it if you actually hear the music before putting up a review. Just a thought.

So is this Hunky Dory or Gunk and Boring? Let me know below.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

108 Aftermath- further US silliness

Album: Aftermath
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Genre: Rock
Year: 1966


1. Paint It, Black
2. Stupid Girl
3. Lady Jane
4. Under My Thumb
5. Doncha Bother Me
6. Think
7. Flight 505
8. High and Dry
9. It's Not Easy
10. I Am Waiting
11. Goin' Home

Sorry to do this to you again so soon after the last time we had to have this discussion, but once again I'm not sure what I'm reviewing. A few shorts weeks ago at number 114 I reviewed a Stones album which was released in both the US and the UK but with different tracklistings: the same title but different songs. Once again I've come across a release by Jagger and Co which is two separate albums sharing the same name.

Aftermath was released in England by the Rolling Stones who went into the studio with the intention of recording their fourth album. They launched it on the English public who lapped it up. Then their US label removed four songs, added a current single and released it in America with the same name. So there are two versions of Aftermath kicking around, the original and the doctored US version which should really have been called AfterAftermath but wasn't.

To be honest the English version of the album doesn't deserve to be this high up the charts. Aftermath was the Stones attempt to replicate A Hard Days Night by the Beatles and to write an entire album of original compositions without any covers. It was a bold move but at that stage of their career they didn't have the songwriting ability to make it worthwhile  When they eventually found their groove they could produce double albums of originals without a weak moment but in 1966 they were still learning how songwriting works and the results are decidedly mixed. Pretty much the entire of side two (with the exception of Out of Time) is made up of songs that are instantly forgettable. The good songs on side one are recognisably Stones songs but none of them would make most fans top twenty Stones tracks. Mother's little helper, Lady Jane, Under my thumb and Out of Time are all good but no Jumping Jack Flash.

Taken on it's own, the English version would never make this list but the modification made to the US version is why it's here. The American label dropped four tracks but added Paint It Black, their current single. Paint it Black (or Paint it, Black if you want to include the typo) is a magnificent Stones song that is unlike any other rock track dong the round at the time. It's dark. Rock didn't really do dark before Paint it Black. Rock was light and breezy and fun it wasn't menacing. The Stones were the first band to realise that foreboding could be good. When people are discussing who deserves the credit (or blame) for inventing metal the Stones should be mentioned for their part in showing rock could have a darker side.

The other song that has to be mentioned is the 11 minute blues odyssey that is Goin Home. The tune itself is fairly forgettable and nothing worth writing home about but what makes it interesting is the band's decision to keep the tape rolling after they finished playing the song and record their jamming and Mick's scat singing for a full 11 minutes. As an experiment at the time it's every bit as daring as The Beatles experiments with soundscapes. Trusting that their audience was prepared to listen to something that was free forming and structure-less was a bold move. It might have been daring, courageous and paved the way for opening up the album track from its confined limits but as a piece of music it's about as successful as Revolution 9. An interesting idea but not worth actually listening to more than once.

Aftermath has two different versions but you don't really need any of them. Any of the multiple Stones compilations has the best moments without the filler tracks and less successful songwriting efforts.

Highlight: Paint it Black
Lowlight: Goin Home

Influenced by: A Hard Day's Night
Influenced: Future Stonage.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This was the release of Satisfaction, however sit back and let this entire CD staisfy you."

-No it wasn't. Satisfaction wasn't on Aftermath.

So do you like the American Aftermath, or the English Version (which should probably be called Aftermaths) or neither? Let me know below.

Friday, April 5, 2013

109 Loaded. Certainly is

Album: Loaded
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock

  1. Who Loves the Sun
  2. Sweet Jane
  3. Rock & Roll
  4. Cool It Down
  5. New Age
  6. Head Held High
  7. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
  8. I Found a Reason
  9. Train Round the Bend
  10. Oh! Sweet Nuthin'
Loaded is the fourth album released by the Velvet Underground. Or it's the first solo album released by Lou Reed, it depends on your perspective. By the time the band came to record Loaded the original line up who produced the first album had fallen apart completely. Co-founder and songwriter John Cale had left along with chanteuse Nico and inspiration Andy Warhol. Drummer Maureen Tucker was away being pregnant which left only Reed and guitarist Sterling Morrison from the original band. Reed took over exclusive songwriting duties and oversaw the entire album production. He's effectively in charge and running the entire show.

Despite the fact that all three of them are in the top 500 somewhere, the record label weren't impressed with the sales of the earlier Velvet Underground albums and ordered Reed to produce an album "loaded" with hits. The result is consequently too commercial for a lot of die-hard VU fans who feel it's a sell out and not worth of the name. For others however it's a huge success.

I have to confess I'm one of those who feels Loaded is the best album the band produced. It might not be as daring as White Light White Heat, as quirky as the self titled album or as lyrically shocking as the debut but if you like rock and roll it's definitely their finest moment. Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll are among the finest songs Lou Reed ever wrote. They're both outstanding tracks and even if the rest of the album was just plodding filler it would be still be a great release.

The truth is the album isn't loaded with hits and nothing on either side comes close to Sweet Jane or Rock and Roll but there isn't a dud among them either. Oh Sweet Nuthin is great and Who Loves the Sun has some of the best lyrics Reed wrote and everything else is strong as well. There's nothing that will have you jumping for the skip button and there's something to enjoy on every track. John Cale fans might look down their noses at you for singing along to Lonesome Cowboy Bill but you'll be having too much fun to care.

Loaded is great and the Velvet Underground album I would recommend for anyone who has heard of them but is wary of their reputation. It might be more Lou Reed than VU but that doesn't  stop it being a great listen. Enjoy

Highlight: Rock and Roll
Lowlight: I Found a Reason

Influenced by: Commercial interests.
Influenced: Phish

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this is just great... it makes me want to eat pie every day of my life"

-Is that really the test of a good album?

So is this Loaded with hits or Loaded with something else? Let me know below.

Monday, April 1, 2013

110 The Bends. Radiofriendly head

Album: The Bends
Artist: Radiohead
Genre: Rock
Year: 1995

  1. Planet Telex
  2. The Bends
  3. High and Dry
  4. Fake Plastic Trees
  5. Bones
  6. (Nice Dream)
  7. Just
  8. My Iron Lung
  9. Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was
  10. Black Star
  11. Sulk
  12. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
According to Rolling Stone magazine this is the best Radiohead album of all time. Or at least it was back in 2003. By the time the list came to revised in 2012 they decided Kid A was actually a lot better (no album was reassessed as drastically as Kid A which went from the 428 back when the list was first produced to crack the top 100 at 67 when it was revised. It climbed over 350 places in ten years. At that rate a 2020 revision will see it sitting at number one). According to lots of other writers, the best album they released is OK Computer, or Kid A or even In Rainbows. It seems the only thing Radiohead fans can agree on is that their best album is not Pablo Honey, their debut.

Personally I struggle to decide which is better, this or OK Computer, but I can tell you that both strike me as a lot better than a lot of other stuff above both on the countdown. The Bends is magnificent from its opening moments on Planet Telex to its dying breath in Street Spirit (Fade Out). I know there are few things more tedious than a rabid Radiohead fan but they really do deserve all the praise they have lavished upon them.

Part of what makes them so great is their ability to sit entirely outside the era they record in. They don't sound like anyone else recording at the time and they don't even sound like they were listening to anything that went around them or had occurred before in popular music or their own career (no other band has developed so remarkably from their first album to their second) . It sounds like it descended from another planet by a group that hadn't heard earth music before.

The Bends rocks frenetically (on Bones, Just and the title track especially) but can be beautiful in a perfect state of calm on High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees. It shows off Yorke's remarkably naked voice along with the guitar abilities of the Band's three guitarists. Late Radiohead albums would mask Yorke's tones in effects and remove guitar's from the mix entirely but back in 1995 they still looked like a conventional rock and roll band instead of the studio iconoclasts they became.

It's worth picking up the deluxe edition of this album which comes with an extra disk containing B-sides and EP tracks that the band was releasing around the same time that shows what an incredibly fruitful period they were in. The bonus disc of material is still better than a lot of other albums released in the mid nineties.

Personally I wouldn't rank this above OK Computer which is song-for-song a stronger album but it's one of the reasons I cite Radiohead whenever anyone tells me that modern music is worthless and won't endure like the music of the sixties. People will still be listening to The Bends 50 years from now and probably still arguing about whether it's better or worse than Kid A, King of Limbs or future Radiohead releases.

Highlight: The opening of Planet Telex
Lowlight: (Nice Dream)

Influenced by: I have no idea.
Influenced: Coldplay

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I think it would be a good idea if you added a link to your web page that would allow people to hear the cd before they review it. Just a thought."

-That's it. That's the entire review. The only thing this person felt the need to share about their experience with Radiohead was a suggestion for Amazon. Well done.

So is this the best Radiohead album of all time or not? Let me know below.