Saturday, July 27, 2013

88. Live at Folsom Prison (1968) Johnny Cash



1 Folsom Prison Blues 2:42
2 Dark as Dungeon 3:05
3 I Still Miss Someone 1:37
4 Cocaine Blues 3:02
5 25 Minutes to Go 3:31
6 Orange Blossom Special 3:03
7 The Long Black Veil 3:59
8 Send a Picture of Mother 2:10
9 The Wall 1:53
10 Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog 1:17
11 Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart 2:39
12 Jackson 2:56
13 Give My Love to Rose 2:40
14 I Got Stripes 1:42
15 Green Green Grass of Home 2:57
16 Greystone Chapel 5:34

I think I'm fairly confident in saying that this is the only live album on the countdown that was recorded at 9:40 in the morning. Most of the artists on this list don't get out of bed before midday and if they're awake at 9:40 they're staggering around searching for pants, cocaine and someone to remove the groupie from their bed. They're certainly not playing in front of a live crowd.

But the audience cheering at Folsom weren't paying customers, they were incarcerated inmates serving time for crimes against the people of California. 9:40 was a regular hour for this particular crowd who could usually be found walking around an exercise yard or making number plates or planning an elaborate escape involving a tattoo of the prison which they'd had inked on their back before hand.

In 1968 Cash chose the inmates at Folsom prison as a captive audience for a concert that he hoped would revive his career and turn him into a country star once again. Cash wanted a prison gig and Folsom seemed like a logical choice considering he'd earlier recorded Folsom Prison Blues on his debut album.

Folsom Prison Blues opens the album and is its undisputed highlight. It's a great song not matter where you are but you can only imagine the impact it must have had on a room full of people who were actually living the lyrics. It's got a chugging train rhythm, some stinging guitar and Cash's deep and sonorous voice laying over the top. It's country but even if you hate country it will make you tap your city-slicking toes and nod your hatless head.

The rest of the album doesn't share the musical intensity but enjoys the same lyrical theme. Song after song tells tale of incarceration, sadness, death and sorrow. It's not a cheery album by any stretch of the imagination and even the light hearted songs have a darker tone. Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog might sound like a novelty track but it's all about a guy who's about to violently murder his pet. Flushed from the Bathroom of your heart is a brief moment of respite and while it might be a sad blues it's the funniest sad blues you've heard in a long time.

Despite the dark tones of the subject matter Cash keeps the tone light throughout, often interrupting songs with laughter and jovial asides which is actually a damn shame. Long Black Veil is one of the most beautiful tragic ballads ever written. In Cash's hands should be brilliant but he tosses off the song in an offhand manner and his laughter in the middle takes the listener away from the story completely. It's a song that deserves Cash's full attention but on Folsom Prison his mind is clearly elsewhere.

Probably the biggest distraction when listening to Folsom Prison are the audience. In a clearly remastered and high fidelity reissue it's possible to clearly determine how artificial the presence of the crowd really is. It's obvious that a producer is fading the applause up and down at points he considers appropriate. The effect is so artificial it sounds like a crowd of cheering and clapping men is running towards the microphone and then running away again. It's especially jarring after the famous "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" line which gets a thundering round of artificially applied applause inserted by the producer. It sounds fake and more than a bit strange. Why are you clapping the senseless slaughter of a man in Reno? You can't all hate people from Reno that much surely?

Live at Folsom Prison is an amazing document of an fascinating morning in history but it's a long way from Cash's finest hour. It's reputation is bigger than the experience of actually hearing the great man casually toss off a few recordings in front of a receptive crowd.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't think anyone should be rewarding a convict by buying an album they made while incarcerated."

-Um... Cash was just visiting to us a Monopoly term.


So do you break out this album often or leave it locked up? Let me know below.



Friday, July 19, 2013

89. Dusty in Memphis (1969) Dusty Springfield



Tracks


  1. Just a Little Lovin'
  2. So Much Love
  3. Son of a Preacher Man
  4. I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore
  5. Don't Forget About Me
  6. Breakfast in Bed
  7. Just One Smile
  8. The Windmills of Your Mind
  9. In the Land of Make Believe
  10. No Easy Way Down
  11. I Can't Make It Alone


I don't think there's ever been as much pressure on an individual artist to deliver the goods as Dusty Springfield must have felt recording Dusty in Memphis. For most of the previous decade she'd been a big pop star having enjoyed a huge amount of success with "I only want to be with you" her debut single as a solo artist. It was a hit for her home in Britain and even did well in the US before the Beatles made UK artists charting in America less of a novelty. Springfield was the pop queen of the UK and had a series of hits written by the great pop writers of the day.

But by the late sixties the musical landscape had changed and Dusty hadn't changed with it. Psychedelia, Hard Rock, The Beatles and Motown's wider acceptance among white record buyers had permanently altered the industry Springfield made her name in.  Her popularity was waning, the hits and dried up and she stopped doing the big rooms and started doing the small clubs to smaller audiences.

Personally Dusty was descending into drug use, alcoholism and self harm which later reached levels that required hospitalization. Her substance abuse and depressed episodes were caused in part by her crippling stage fright and lack of self confidence and also a fear that she would be outed and ostracised for her sexuality. Springfield was gay in an era when being gay killed careers as badly as being openly homophobic does today. The press were asking difficult questions wanting to know why she had close female friends and had never had a romantic relationship with a male.

Dusty decided to deal with this pressure by giving herself her greatest career challenge. Rather than buy some pop hits from established songwriters, or record an album of Beatles covers, she decided to sign with Atlantic records and go to Memphis to record Soul music with the most established producers of the day. At a time when she might be expected to retreat inwards she stepped out of her comfort zone and challenged herself to match the Soul greats, all the while knowing that the public were ignoring her and the press saw her career as nothing more than preparation for her life as a sensationalist headline.

Dusty didn't just rise to the challenge she recorded Son of a Preacher Man. I have to come clean and admit that as the male offspring of an ordained clergyman I have a special affinity with this particular track. I warm to it in the way that the the chronically flatulent must enjoy Blowin in the Wind or exhibitionist high jumpers named Jack must enjoy Jumpin Jack Flash. But even if you didn't have a Dad who worked Sunday mornings you still have to admit it's a fantastic song. That slinky baseline that head swaying rhythm and those punchy horns and the answering guitar. It's just gold in every possible way. Best of all are Dusty's vocals which start low and seductive but build to a dramatic climax showing off the full range of her talents.

Preacherman is all Dusty in Memphis needs to make it a classic album but there's a lot more to enjoy. There's literally not a weak track on the album and Dusty gives every song her all. She sings as if her life and not just her career depended on it. She sings like a white English lesbian trying to prove herself in a world dominated by black heterosexuals Americans.  The production behind her is perfect and the song choices suit her style at times but stretch her at others which makes it even more interesting. Is definitely an achievement to say you've recorded the definitive version of something. Dusty's version of Windmills of Your Mind is definitely definitive and despite the fact that it had been recorded several times before and countless times since her version is the best one. The rest of the tracklisting isn't as well known but I can't imagine anyone topping her renditions. It's an album of definitive versions.

If you haven't heard Dust in Memphis then I recommend you check it out. A fragile woman went into a studio with a point to prove and left having established her legacy.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "IF IT WAS MORE LIVELY THEN MORE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE A INTEREST IN THIS SON"

-That's the full review. Big on capitals, light on ideas.

So do you listen to this often or is it growing dusty on your shelves. Let me know below.


Friday, July 12, 2013

90. Talking Book (1972) Stevie Wonder



Tracks

1. You Are the Sunshine of My Life
2. Maybe Your Baby
3. You and I (We Can Conquer the World)
4. Tuesday Heartbreak
5. You've Got It Bad Girl
6. Superstition
7. Big Brother
8. Blame It on the Sun
9. Lookin' for Another Pure Love
10. I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)

You are the Sunshine of my life is just wet isn't it? I don't mind a love song and I'm not a bitter individual who doesn't appreciate romance but Sunshine is really, really soppy. It's a syrupy bowl of sloosh which has become a bit of a cliche of the overblown love song that would cause most people to cringe if someone got down on one knee and sang it with a handful of flowers and an earnest face. It's not really a good start to an album and doesn't inspire you with much confidence if you approach Wonder as a talented and exciting performer.

The rest of Talking Book's first side sort of plods along without doing much that's dynamic and concludes with a song that will make you yearn nostalgically for the opening track. While Sunshine might be syrup at least it's sweet smelling syrup. You've got it Bad Girl has the same viscosity but a very unpleasant taste. You've got it bad girl seems to go on for several years with an incredibly repetitive and annoying line which gets stuck in your head and makes you beg for the end.

The first five tracks are not a good introduction to Wonder and don't give you much reason to turn over and experience side two. Which is a shame because any listener who threw Talking Book away in disgust without flipping over would miss Superstition.

Side Two opens with a funk explosion which is far and away Wonder's best ever track. Superstition shakes your booty and moves your soul even if you don't have a soul or any recognizable buttocks to shake. The opening organ riff will make you sit up and boogie and has such a sense of urgency and kick it's not possible to ignore. It's thankfully enough to wipe the memory of You've got it bad girl from your mind and will definitely be the track you find yourself humming hours later. It's a great song when Wonder does it on his own but my favourite version is the barnstorming live rendition Stevie Ray Vaughan used to give it which is like this and then some.

I'd love to say Superstition sets up side two to be better than the first but sadly the standard quickly drops away until the nadir of Looking for Another Pure Love which is as repetitive and tedious as You've got it Bad Girl at it's worst.

Talking Book has one incredibly high point which struggles to balance out the raft of lows surrounding it. Wonder has a great voice and can play an organ but for me to enjoy it he needed to take Superstition as his blueprint and build an album around it rather than throw it in as a funky anomaly in amongst a collection of tedious gloop.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I just don't see how someone can write and perform a tune as perfect as I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever), and on the same album include such dreck as You And I, and You've Got It Bad Girl."

-I don't use the word dreck very often but maybe I should.

So is the a talking book you couldn't put down or did you struggle to get to the ending? Let me know below.

Friday, July 5, 2013

91. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) Elton John



Tracks

1. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
2. Candle in the Wind
3. Bennie and the Jets
4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
5. This Song Has No Title
6. Grey Seal
7. Jamaica Jerk-Off
8. I've Seen That Movie Too
9. Sweet Painted Lady
10. The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909–34)
11. Dirty Little Girl
12. All the Girls Love Alice
13. Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll)
14. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
15. Roy Rogers
16. Social Disease
17. Harmony

Double albums appear to be all the rage as we enter into the top 100. So far I'm 10% of the way through the final hundred albums and four of them have been doubles. I've always been a less-is-more kind of guy when it comes to album production but it appears I'm in the minority.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is Elton John's biggest album and contains some of his monster hits. Being four sides of vinyl it also contains a fair amount of filler as well. This Song Has No Title, for example sounds like a bridge from another song extended to song length for no compelling reason other than to take up space. Your Sister Can't Twist is an awful attempt to write an upbeat rock number that sounds like a by-the-numbers rocker only using all the wrong numbers. The opening track has long and pretentious lead-in that pads it to over 11 minutes in length and Jamaica Jerk Off is the kind of mock- reggae written by people who don't understand or even like real reggae but know other people enjoy it.

But the filler tracks aren't what elevated Brick Road to number 92 on this countdown. It's the singles that have raised John in the esteem of the music buying public and the are four monster hits on Brick Road that he still performs live to this day.

The biggest is the original version of Candle in the Wind, John's tribute to Marilyn Monroe, written a decade after her death and reflecting on John's feelings for the fallen idol. Or more accurately it reflects on lyricist Bernie Taupin's feelings. Either way it's hard to deny that rarely has someone been eulogised so effectively in song. It's a shame Candle has been diluted by its return appearance in 1997 as a tribute to Princess Diana. It's turned into John's tune that he pulls out for pretty dead women and detracts from his views on the original. Candle has some clumsy lyrics: ("Even when you died, Oh the press still hounded you, All the papers had to say, Was that Marilyn was found in the nude") but the central image of a candle in the wind does seem oddly perfect for Munroe.

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting comes late in the album but does a lot to repair the impression some of the preceding tracks created. Listening to some of the duds that lead up to it you might believe Elton can't rock at all and doesn't really understand anything other than ballads. But Saturday Night is a great rock and roll song that could easily have been handed to the Stones and fit in well on their next album.

The title track is one of the big production slower numbers which are John's bread and butter. It's a standard ballad with a huge backing and swelling strings. If you like this stuff then nobody does it as well as Elton and it's why he's at his most popular when touring with an orchestra behind him instead of a rock and roll combo.

Apparently John was reluctant to release Bennie and Jets as a single and it's hard to blame him. He didn't rate it as a song and neither do I. Bennie has nothing going for it and the overdubbed applause and attempts to turn it into a live track just make it more jarring. But nothing grates as much as John's constant cries of "Benny!" each one of which is like an obnoxious smack around the head. Who likes this song? It's not appealing to the ballad-lovers who make up most of John's fanclub and it's too annoying for fans of rock and roll. Does anyone rate this as their favourite Elton John song? Really?

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a typical double album- too much that has to be waded through to get to the highlights. It's also strangely mixed with a hit-intensive side one and then a long drought before Saturday Night finally breaks the monotony on side four. It was huge at the time but there are no hidden gems and the singles are all available on compilations which means there's no point bothering with it if you own any Elton John Best of.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West is singing!!! Hey Elton, where's Dorothy??? You need to go see the Wizard so he can give you some talent, because this album sucks!!!"

-Harsh. Too much punctuation and too harsh.

So is this a great album or just so much candle wind? Let me know below.