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.