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.