Friday, January 31, 2014

60 Greatest Hits (1970) Sly and the Family Stone

1. I Want To Take You Higher
2. Everybody Is A Star
3. Stand!
4. Life
5. Fun
6. You Can Make It If You Try
7. Dance To The Music
8. Everyday People
9. Hot Fun In The Summertime
10. M'Lady
11. Sing A Simple Song
12. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

You can't buy this album any more. It's been entirely superseded but back in 1970 it was the Sly and the Family Stone album to get your hands on. It was the overview of their career up to that point (all three years of it) and the only compilation around. Two sides of vinyl comprising their greatest hits.

Since then, Sly and his kin have recorded some more classic material and later Best Of's reflect the fact that this album can no longer claim to contain their greatest hits without including material from There's a Riot Goin On which came out a year later and Fresh which came out two years after that. Consequently this album just doesn't need to exist any more. It's been comprehensively outdone by later Sly and the Family Stone releases which offer the same material in better audio quality with other essential songs that this release leaves off.

The Essential series has a two disc Essential Sly and the Family Stone which is definitely the release I'd recommend to anyone wanting to encounter their music. Its first disc has all 12 tracks on this album plus an extra six  and the second disc picks up where the first leaves off to give an extremely comprehensive overview of their career. It's also remastered so it sounds better and it's chronologically sequenced which makes it a better document of their career.

A lot of bands have two disc best of's when their career barely justifies a one disc compilation. Other bands have huge bloated box sets which contain a lot of stuff only die hard fans will ever need. The Essential Sly and the Family Stone is the perfect length to capture how dynamic, exciting and downright funky Sly Stone was. He produced some great albums in the band's short career and a two disc retrospective lets you sample the best moments which makes for two discs of well written tunes presented in funky arrangements and played by some genuine funk talent. It really is essential stuff.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "They were one of the groups more kindly reminded in Woodstock Festival a true proof of fire that they surmounted with all the honors."

-You can always spot a google translate cut and paste when you come across it on Amazon.

So are these hits great for you or non-essential? Let me know below.

Friday, January 24, 2014

61 Appetite for Destruction (1987) Guns and Roses

1. Welcome to the Jungle
2. It's So Easy
3. Nightrain
4. Out ta Get Me
5. Mr. Brownstone
6. Paradise City
7. My Michelle
8. Think About You
9. Sweet Child o' Mine
10. You're Crazy
11. Anything Goes
12. Rocket Queen

Guns and Roses exploded onto the musical scene in 1987 with such force that it was hard to imagine a time when they weren't around and impossible to conceive of a future without them. Their debut single It's so Easy, didn't make much of a splash but Welcome to the Jungle was a huge smash which seemed to be everywhere back in the late eighties. Sweet Child of Mine and Paradise City followed soon after and the band dominated radios and MTV. Appetite for Destruction became one of the biggest selling albums of '87 and was a hit with hard rockers and even with those who didn't normally associate their music tastes with leather, hair and guitars.

And then it all fell apart fairly quickly. The band followed up Appetite with a strange eight track EP which clocked in at just over half an hour and was padded with covers and rerecorded versions of already released songs. Four years after Appetite their first full length albums of original material were released when the massively bloated Use Your Illusions I and II were released with strings, excessive post production, massive video clips, a new drummer and new management. A half-arsed covers album followed and then the band fell apart completely. It continues in name only with a fat and bloated Axl Rose taking 13 Million dollars and over a decade to complete albums that nobody cared about that much.

It took just ten years for Guns and Roses to go from the biggest band in the world to the biggest joke in the music business. The slid from triumph to farce so quickly it must have worn the bottoms out of their leather trousers.

Personally I think they're a classic example of how success totally ruins some bands and the fame and fortune they strive for completely kills any creativity. The songs on Appetite were written by a young and struggling bunch of musicians who were travelling from smelly club to stinking bar, huddled in the back of a crap van. The wrote songs partly because they were desperate for hits and partly because they were too broke to do much else. They partied with a bottle of Jack Daniels between them and any girls they could lure back to the dressing room.

Appetite made them huge. Suddenly they were being flown from stadium to stadium in a jet. They were staying in 5 star hotels and partying with mountains of cocaine and rooms full of willing groupies. The years of near poverty paid off and suddenly 5 guys who were young and horny had more money than they knew what to do with. What motivation did they have to write songs? They were no longer sitting bored and resentful in cheap accommodation desperate to write the hit that will get them a better life, they were sitting in a penthouse suite surrounded by naked women, cocaine and stacks of cash.

When they finally went back into the studio they took their extravagant lifestyle with them and demanded orchestras, big budget production and a double album running length. The end result is as bloated as Axl Rose would later become.

Appetite for Destruction is a great album because you can hear the desperation on the band in every song. You can smell the sweat and cheap alcohol and you can sense the cocksure arrogance undercut with a fear that they will never make it big. It's the sound of a band playing for their life and a man singing as if it's the only chance he'll get to step into a studio. The songwriting is honed by years playing each track to audiences who had to be won over. It rocks and swaggers and swings and cooks and does everything a great rock and roll album should. Every track is a winner and nobody is thinking it needs a string overdub or they need another snort of cocaine or the drummer needs to be sacked because they're all too good for him now.

Appetite is the biggest selling debut album of all time but it would have been better for everyone if it was an underground hit which sold just enough for the label to invest in follow ups but not enough to actually chart. There's no doubt Guns and Roses are at their best when they're unsuccessful.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Stay far, far away from this and get Foreigner's Fourth album insted."

-Why is it that every single negative review of this album feels the need to point out a far superior album that the listener should hear instead?

So does this sate your appetite or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

62. Achtung Baby (1991) U2

1. Zoo Station
2. Even Better Than The Real Thing
3. One
4. Until The End Of The World
5. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
6. So Cruel
7. The Fly
8. Mysterious Ways
9. Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
10. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
11. Acrobat
12. Love Is Blindness

Recording Achtung Baby nearly broke up U2 and it's interesting to wonder what would have happened if it had. You can imagine Larry Mullen being happy drumming for Zeppelin cover bands in his local pub. Adam Clayton would be content turning away from music altogether and taking up painting, fishing or life modelling. The Edge would probably become an elder statesman of rock and would wander around guesting on people's albums and showing up for jam sessions. Bono would probably have a solo career and be frustrated that his music never captured the heights of his former band.

However they did it, Bono and Band managed to survive the tribulations of the recording process and come away with not just an album but one of the finest of their entire career. It's one of the few instances of a band going back to the drawing board, reinventing themselves and coming away with something that's genuinely worth hearing.

With the exception of the criminally underrated Rattle and Hum (which is their best album and not their worst as many seem to think) Achtung Baby is the only U2 album that I listen to all the way through without reaching for the skip function. Most of their other albums produce a few good songs for compilations but this is consistently good all the way from the opening bass run of Zoo Station to the closing bars of the beautiful Love is Blindness it's just fantastic.

Achtung Baby's big strength is the fact that it really rocks. At the time people said it was "U2 gone techno" which listening to it now makes us realise how narrow our definitions were at the time. This is hardly techno but it's definitely rock and roll. When they took this album out on the road songs like Even Better than the Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, Zoo Station and The Fly proved that this was guitar, bass and drums rock and roll just like they'd been playing for their entire career. They might be wearing flashier clothes but at heart they were still the four guys from Dublin who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and understood how good rock works.

But Achtung's strength isn't just a reaffirmation of the band's rock credentials. We all knew they could play fast, the real eye opening tracks are the incredibly strong slower songs. Most notable is One, which is still a concert favourite to this day and is simply gorgeous. Bono's voice is perfect on One and as usual The Edge is the under appreciated hero of the group with his hauntingly beautiful guitar introduction. A lot of other bands would have chickened out and done One as an acoustic ballad but U2 backed themselves to record it with some fairly complex arrangement and instrumentation. They could have taken the melody and ruined it but they managed to make it a much stronger song.

One is the best, but far from the only good, ballad on Achtung. Love is Blindness, So Cruel, Acrobat and Whose Gonna Ride your Wild Horses are all great slower songs which prove just how fantastic Bono's voice is. I know it's currently cool to hate Bono and criticise U2 but that doesn't change the fact that his vocal chords are an amazing instrument and when he sings a song like So Cruel there's really nobody else that can touch him.

Looking back on Achtung Baby two decades after its release, it's hard to understand why people saw it as such a massive shift from their earlier work. It doesn't sound like a massive departure from the Joshua Tree and all the elements that made that album great are still there. The Edge's guitar still rocks, Bono's voice is still in fine form and the rhythm section propel the song along like their 60's rock heroes used to. It's U2 as people knew and loved them. They would never release an album half this good ever again but we should be glad that they released this one. It's fantastic.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I leave you with an excellent commentary by the ever wise, George Harrison: "You know what irritates me about modern music, it's all based on ego. Look at a group like U2. BONO and his band are so egocentric... The more you jump around, the bigger your hat is, the more people listen to your music... The only important thing is to sell, and make money. It's nothing to do with talent. Today there are groups who sell a lot of records and then disappear immediately. Will we remember U2 in 30 years? I doubt it.""

-I had to look that up and check that it's true and apparently it is. George really did say that about U2 who he apparently didn't care for much at all. Quite why he thinks the size of a band's hat has anything to do with anything I've got no idea.

So do you approve of U2's new direction or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

63 Sticky Fingers (1971) The Rolling Stones

1. Brown Sugar
2. Sway
3. Wild Horses
4. Can't You Hear Me Knocking
5. You Gotta Move
6. Bitch
7. I Got the Blues
8. Sister Morphine
9. Dead Flowers
10. Moonlight Mile

Every single song on this album is brilliant. Every single damn song. There aren't many albums that can make that claim and those that can are frequently stuck in one genre. Sticky Fingers is an album of magnificent blues, rock, country, freak out and balladry with not a single foot put wrong in the entire running length. It's the sound of the greatest rock and roll band in the land at the time stamping their authority on the start of the decade. That stamp would start to fade by the end of the seventies but here at the beginning it was proudly decisive.

Brown Sugar is the track that everybody knows and the biggest song on Sticky Fingers.  I recently listened to the Stones 2013 performance at Hyde Park which they released on their website, Jagger, Richards and Watts have been playing Brown Sugar for forty years now but the Hyde Park version sounds like they're cranking out a tune they only wrote a few weeks ago. It's got a vibrancy about it which stems from the fact that these guys love doing this. They like nothing more than playing dirty rock and roll for screaming fans and Brown Sugar is one of their grittiest, sleaziest and rockiest tracks. Playing Brown Sugar is what these guys want to do and it's where they want to be (well it's definitely where two of them want to be and it's where Charlie is prepared to be for the sake of the others and the money).

Brown Sugar might be the best known of the rock tracks on Sticky Fingers but if you haven't heard the other then you need to check it out. Most bands in the early seventies would have killed to have written Bitch. It's a magnificent track that rocks hard and is signature trademark Stones. The fact that most people haven't heard of it is testament to the incredible song writing run that Jagger and Richards were enjoying at the time. They produced so many great songs in such a short space of time, which meant Bitch was relegated to a lowly B-side status, but if any other band had written it (and I literally mean any other band) it would have been rushed out as a hit single.

Sticky also boasts some fantastic ballads (or "songs that are a little bit romantic" as Jagger often introduces them onstage), an area that wasn't necessarily the Stones strongpoint. Wild Horses is the most famous thanks to several cover versions, starting in 1970 with the Flying Burrito Brothers version that was released before the Stones version was and most recently by Susan Boyle on her massive selling debut album. Once again however the big track is supported by several stellar lesser songs which are brilliant and tragically overlooked. Moonlight Mile is gorgeous, Sister Morphine is one of the best songs about drug dependency every recorded. I got the Blues is pure soul and Dead Flowers is a country inspired ballad that only the Stones can pull off. There's something about Jagger's genuine affection for country music, but total unsuitability for the medium, that actually works. He doesn't have a country voice which makes his attempts at country music affecting rather than a cheap copy.

When the Stones celebrated 50 years together, those of us who consider ourselves fans were delighted that Mick Taylor was invited to the party. Taylor was a Rolling Stone for several years and played guitar during their best run of albums. He's widely regarded as the most talented guitar player to ever call themselves a Stone and Sticky Fingers gave him several opportunities to really shine. The final three minute guitar jam that concludes Can't you hear me knocking is often held up as one of the great guitar solos of all time even though Taylor had no idea that tape was still rolling and was just fooling around in the studio. The music was just pouring out of him and was captured for posterity and wisely released on the album. Giving Taylor the chance to replicate his greatest moment as a Stone for their fiftieth anniversary run of shows was a genius move and a fantastic thing for the fans to see.

Sticky Fingers is often overshadowed by the massive follow up that was Exile on Mainstreet and by Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed that came before it, but it deserves to be celebrated for being a perfect album in every way and proof that The Rolling Stones managed to hit a commercial peak that nobody else has managed to come close to since.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Look at the art cover of this CD. What are they? GAYS?? I think so. At least put the picture of a girl wearing jeans."

-Homophobia lives and runs rampant on Amazon. Who would have thought.

So where does Sticky Fingers stand on your list of great Stones albums? Let me know below.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

64 Back to Mono (1991) Phil Spector

Disc: 1
1. To Know His Is To Love Him - The Teddy Bears
2. Corrine, Corrina - Ray Peterson
3. Spanish Harlem - Ben E. King
4. Pretty Little Angel Eyes - Curtis Lee
5. Every Breath I Take - Gene Pitney
6. I Love How You Love Me - The Paris Sisters
7. Under The Moon Of Love - Curtis Lee
8. There's No Other Like My Baby - The Crystals
9. Uptown - The Crystals
10. He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) - The Crystals
11. He's A Rebel - The Crystals
12. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah - Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
13. Puddin' N' Tain - The Alley Cats
14. He's Sure The Boy I Love - The Crystals
15. Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts - Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
16. (Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry - Darlene Love
17. Da Doo Ron Ron - The Crystals
18. Heartbreaker - The Crystals
19. Why Don't They Let Us Fall In Love - Veronica
20. Chapel Of Love - Darlene Love
21. Not Too Young To Get Married - Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
22. Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home - Darlene Love
23. All Grown Up - The Crystals
Disc: 2
1. Be My Baby - The Ronettes
2. Then He Kissed Me - The Crystals
3. A Fine, Fine Boy - Darlene Love
4. Baby, I Love You - The Ronettes
5. I Wonder - The Ronettes
6. Girls Can Tell - The Crystals
7. Little Boy - The Crystals
8. Hold Me Tight - The Treasures
9. (The Best Part Of) Breakin' Up - The Ronettes
10. Soldier Baby Of Mine - The Ronettes
11. Strange Love - Darlene Love
12. Stumble And Fall - Darlene Love
13. When I Saw You - The Ronettes
14. So Young - Veronica
15. Do I Love You? - The Ronettes
16. Keep On Dancing - The Ronettes
17. You, Baby - The Ronettes
18. Woman In Love (With You) - The Ronettes
19. Walking In The Rain - The Ronettes
Disc: 3
1. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' - The Righteous Brothers
2. Born To Be Together - The Ronettes
3. Just Once In My Life - The Righteous Brothers
4. Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
5. Is This What I Get For Loving You? - The Ronettes
6. Long Way To Be Happy - Darlene Love
7. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons - The Righteous Brothers
8. Ebb Tide - The Righteous Brothers
9. This Could Be The Night - The Modern Folk Quartet
10. Paradise - The Ronettes
11. River Deep-Mountain High - Ike & Tina Turner
12. I'll Never Need More Than This - Ike & Tina Turner
13. A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knockin' Everyday) - Ike & Tina Turner
14. Save The Last Dance For Me - Ike & Tina Turner
15. I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine - The Ronettes
16. You Came, You Saw, You Conquered - The Ronettes
17. Black Pearl - Sonny Charles And The Checkmates
18. Love Is All I have To Give - The Checkmates
Disc: 4
1. White Christmas - Darlene Love
2. Frosty The Snowman - The Ronettes
3. The Bells of St. Mary - Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
4. Santa Claus is Coming to Town - The Crystals
5. Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes
6. Marshmallow World - Darlene Love
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - The Ronettes
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - The Crystals
9. Winter Wonderland - Darlene Love
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Darlene Love
12. Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
13. Silent Night - Phil Spector and Artists

According to the official documentation this is a Phil Spector album. It's an album by Phil Spector in the same way that The Stranger is an album by Billy Joel and Off The Wall is an album by Michael Jackson. Except Jackson and Joel both perform on their albums, specifically they sing. Joel even plays piano. Spector however just produces and writes a bit, He's a producer and this is a collection of singles that he produced (and one he supplied backing vocals for). The question I have is: does being a producer justify putting your name to the music? Should this be considered a Phil Spector release?

What about the artists? Ben E King, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner don't they deserve a degree of credit as well? Especially considering the likes of Ike Turner are not passive artists who stand in the studio and sing when they're told to sing. Ike don't stay behind no mike. He likes to get involved in the production side of things and wasn't leaving anything to Spector alone.

What about the musicians? Hal Blaine for example, never gets enough credit for his incredible body of work. Blaine was a session drummer who played with pretty much everyone. In his recording career he has played on over 50 number one hits which is an amazing achievement. He played on six consecutive Grammy record of the year winners (from 1966-1971) and has played drums for everyone from Presley to Sinatra, from The Beach Birds to the Supremes, from Simon and Garfunkle to Sonny and Cher, from John Lennon to John Denver. If Blaine didn't play on a hit record then there's every chance Jim Gordon did. He played on records by Alice Cooper, Tom Petty, The Beach Boys, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, The Monkees and The Everly Brothers among a huge list of others. He was the guy to call in and sit behind your drums if Blaine was somewhere else and he'd probably still be drumming if he hadn't murdered his mother. Tommy Tedesco is listed by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history (although Warren Haynes has probably beaten him by now). Tedesco played on records by Elvis, Sam Cooke, Striesand, Cher, Sinatra and pleasingly Frank Zappa. It's guys like Blaine, Gordon and Tedesco that make "six degrees of musical separation" such an easy game to play if you know your stuff. They deserve a lot more credit than they get and should receive some on this album.

And what about the songwriters? Leiber and Stoller should be household names as should Goffin and King who produced an incredible string of hits and helped create rock and pop as we know it. Boyce and Lee are another much overlooked partnership as are Weil and Mann, a husband and wife duo who are still writing songs together as husband and wife, fifty years after they were married. How many people do you know who could admire gold records on their golden wedding anniversary? 

There are a lot of people who deserve credit for the music on Back to Mono but Spector's name is on the spine and his face is on the box. Is that really fair?

If you can overlook the fact that sole credit for this collection has been given to a psycopathic narcissist who has so far murdered one wife and a Beatles album, there's a lot to love on this disc for a fan of sixties pop. Dozens of the songs will be immediately familiar (To Know him is to love him, Spanish Harlem, Da Doo Ron Ron, Chapel of Love, Then he Kissed me, Be My Baby, You've lost that lovin feelin, Unchained melody, River Deep Mountain High etc etc) and it's definitely not short of hits. The question is do you need some of the lesser known songs which pad out the running length. Does anyone need to hear Black Pearl by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates? 

If you love this stuff then there's a lot of this stuff to love. If you find it hard to deal with then even a single disc compilation will be too much but four whole CD's worth is almost unbearable. But while you're listening, take the time to appreciate the people who didn't get their name on the front of the box. 

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I have no idea whether Mr. Spector is guilty of the serious charges against him, but he stands convicted of allowing his retrospective box to be released with some of the muddiest, dullest mastering in memory."

-Turns out he was guilty of those charges, and the mix on this box is only his third biggest crime behind Let It Be and that murder thing.

So is this enough Phil or Phar Phar too much? Let me know below.