Saturday, March 29, 2014

51. Bridge over Troubled water (1970) Simon and Garfunkle

1. Bridge Over Troubled Water
2. El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
3. Cecilia
4. Keep The Customer Satisfied
5. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright
6. The Boxer
7. Baby Driver
8. The Only Living Boy In New York
9. Why Don't You Write Me
10. Bye Bye Love
11. Song For The Asking
12. Feuilles-O
13. Bridge Over Troubled Water

There are a few artists on this list whose music I was extremely familiar with but I had never sat down and actually listened to one of their albums all the way through. I treated them as singles artists and had never taken the opportunity to listen to their music in the context that it was created in and in the setting that its creators wanted it to be admired.

Simon and Garfunkle and one of the bands (or two of the people) whose creative output had only come to me in radio play. I can't remember ever actively seeking their stuff out but that doesn't mean I can't sing a huge number of their tracks word for word. Their career fell in a heap (a small heap, two guys don't make a large heap) before I was born but they were played on the radio regularly before I was created and haven't stopped in the 40 years I've been on the earth. They're currently playing on a radio somewhere. 

Listening to their albums and actually hearing them all the way through has made me realise two things: the first is that their songs are actually better when you're not listening to them. And the same applies to their albums. 

I like the title track of this album. Who doesn't? Its beautiful and the Funkle has a magnificent voice. It's a wonderful melody and it's perfectly sung but it sort of wears out its welcome. When it arrives it's hard not to get excited but when it leaves it's kind of a relief. At almost five minutes, its long for a pop track and it sort of repetitive. The same goes for The Boxer and El Condor Pasa which are the other huge hits that everyone knows. They're great to sing along to but my attention wanders by about the halfway mark and I don't really have any desire to listen to it again any time soon.

It's hard to put my finger on what they problem is. I'm not sure if years of radio play have nullified their impact or Simon is great at writing thirty second ditties which don't really translate well into an entire song length. Or maybe it's the production which tends to emphasise the vocals and not much else leaving little to latch on to. Perhaps it's a combination of the three. I'm not sure but either way I never feel as excited listening to Simon and Garfunkle albums as I do reading the track list and anticipating what's coming. I see songs like The Boxer and think "I love that song" but when I actually hear it I'm reminded that I don't really. I certainly don't hate it but I definitely don't love it. 

The possible exception to this rule is Cecilia which is far and away their best track. It's a perfect Two minutes 55 seconds and the one song from their repertoire which I've got on my MP3 player. There's something incredibly addictive about Cecilia even if you've never actually met anyone named Cecilia or even if you know someone of that name that you actively despise you still can't help but love the track. In fact I'd go so far as to say that even if there was someone named Cecilia who stalked you ever day of your life and made it her personal project to make your life hell in every possible way... you'd still smile when this song came on the radio. In fact that only people that I imagine don't like this song are people named Cecilia who must have people sing it to them every time they introduce themselves. That would get draining after a while and I imagine the same thing happens to people named Michelle, Lola and Jack Flash.

Cecilia is great but the other singles just get a bit tiring after a while. And if you don't love the singles then I'm not sure what reason you'd have for putting on this album. The songs that aren't hits aren't really worth hearing. Grab yourself a compilation album and you can enjoy this album's highlights and the best of the rest of their short career besides. 

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Good CD but in poor condition, ejects itself, says "err", stops in mid song, plays same song 2XD, etc."

-That doesn't sound like a bad CD that sounds like a CD that's possessed. Can you exorcise CD's?

So does this keep the Customer satisfied? Let me know below.

52 Greatest Hits (1975) Al Green

1. Tired Of Being Alone
2. Call Me (Come Back Home)
3. I'm Still In Love With You
4. Here I Am (Come And Take Me)
5. Love And Happiness
6. Let's Stay Together
7. I Can't Get Next To You
8. You Ought To Be With me
9. Look What You Done For Me
10. Let's Get Married

Al Green wants to love you. He wants to feel your body against his naked torso. Ooooh yeah he wants to make sweet, sweet love to your sexy body. He's burning deep down inside for you and he wants you to come and take him. Take him now because as he says there's love inside him baby and it's ready for exploding. He's just a sexed up love machine who wants your body now.

But he also wants you to find Jesus, he wants that too.

The close relation to Gospel has always been one of the strange aspects of early soul music. Many of the early soul musicians got their start singing in churches and belting out gospel tunes in choirs. Their early music was religious praise and certainly wasn't about enticing people into bed. Then they saw the riches of the recording studio and performing circuit and turned to sweet, sexy, seductive soul music which had no place in a religious building. Some of them stayed singing soul music, some like Little Richard has tried to keep a foot in both camps but Al Green is one of those who has wandered between the two genres. At times in his career he's posing half naked on an album cover and at others he's wearing a nice suit and fronting albums with titles like The Lord Will Make a Way.

Personally I think Al Green should stick to Gospel music because he definitely has that kind of voice. He's not nearly as sexy sounding as Marvin Gaye or other soul singers and has a sound that lends itself to great Gospel music. His dulcet tones are somehow naturally soothing. If he sings that Jesus loves you and everything is okay in the arms of God you tend to believe him. But if he sings that he wants your sexy body it's a lot less convincing.

Greatest hits definitely contains the finest moments of his earlier career. His best hits are here and they're all classics without any of the filler. If you've ever rushed to turn of the radio when  UB40's terrible version of Here I am comes on then you should put that prejudice out of your mind while you give the original version a listen. While UB40 took all the soul out of it and turned it into a terrible pop cliche, Green fills it with soulful excess and makes it a beautiful listen. It's a perfect song and this should be the version that everyone hears.

The same can't be said about Can't Get Next To You which was originally a hit for the Temptations as a fast tempo Psychedelic Soul number. Green slows it down and to my mind lessens the impact considerably. He turns it from a fantastic number into a shadow of its former self. Changing the tempo of a well known track and forcing it at gunpoint to cross the bridge from rocker to ballad (or vice versa) is always an interesting trick. At times it produces a really interesting result but at other times it just makes you long for the original version. I'm a huge Temptations fan and I have to say that this just makes me want to hit stop and find my copy of their version instead.

Al Green's soul music isn't as memorable as Marvin's or Sam Cooke's but it's still a great listen. This compilation is a little high in the list for my liking (is it really better than Electric Ladyland?) but it's certainly the best introduction to an artist that you really should give some time to if you want to learn about the history of Soul Music.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "since you changed your format, no more business until I hear from you.Icant even download any songs. Until I hear from you no see.It is not the product, you should not have changed any programs"

-Why have you chosen Al Green's Greatest hits to get sniffy about an Amazon policy decision?

So how do you feel about Al, Jesus and Al and Jesus? Let me know below.

53 The Birth of Soul (1991) Ray Charles

Disc 1

  1. The Sun's Gonna Shine Again
  2. Roll With My Baby
  3. The Midnight Hour 
  4. Jumpin' in the Mornin'
  5. It Should Have Been Me
  6. Losing Hand
  7. Heartbreaker
  8. Sinner's Prayer
  9. Mess Around
  10. Funny (But I Still Love You)
  11. Feelin' Sad
  12. I Wonder Who
  13. Don't You Know
  14. Nobody Cares
  15. Ray's Blues
  16. Mr. Charles' Blues
  17. Blackjack

Disc 2

  1. I Got a Woman
  2. Greenbacks
  3. Come Back Baby
  4. A Fool for You
  5. This Little Girl of Mine
  6. Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)
  7. A Bit of Soul
  8. Mary Ann
  9. Drown in My Own Tears
  10. Hallelujah, I Love Her So
  11. What Would I Do Without You?
  12. Lonely Avenue
  13. I Want to Know
  14. Leave My Woman Alone
  15. It's Alright
  16. Ain't That Love
  17. Get on the Right Track Baby
  18. Rock House (Parts 1 & 2)

Disc 3

  1. Swanee River Rock (Talkin' 'Bout That River)
  2. That's Enough
  3. Talkin' 'Bout You
  4. What Kind of Man Are You
  5. I Want a Little Girl
  6. Yes, Indeed!
  7. I Had a Dream
  8. You Be My Baby
  9. Tell All the World About You
  10. My Bonnie
  11. Early in the Morning
  12. Night Time Is the Right Time
  13. Carryin' the Load
  14. Tell Me How Do You Feel
  15. What'd I Say (Parts 1 & 2)
  16. Tell the Truth
  17. I'm Movin' On
  18. I Believe to My Soul

At some point in your time on this planet you're going to have to sit down and work out how much Ray Charles you need in your life. You might be happy bumping into his music accidentally on the radio from time to time, you might want a tight, one-disc greatest hits, or you might decide you need almost everything he recorded in the 1950's. If the latter is the case then Atlantic have you covered with this three disc box set retrospective which collects all his work from his first decade as a musician in natty box with some liner notes and photos.

Obviously you need some of this. You can't go through life entirely Charles-less, that would be ridiculous. You have to have a copy of I Got a Woman because it's an outstanding song. You need Hallelujah I love her so because it's one of the best songs he ever wrote. You have to have Night Time is the Right Time because it's catchy as hell and perfect and you can't possibly think of having a music collection without the joyous romp that's What'd I say which is probably the best song to play to anyone who thinks no good music was recorded in the 1950's. These are all songs you need in life. The Question is do you need some of the lesser hits here? If you're going to hear My Bonnie sung by someone then why not hear it sung by someone with a voice as perfect as Ray Charles but do you need to hear it at all? And does anyone need to hear lesser tracks like Blackjack and Yes Indeed more than once?

The problem with this box is that while it's a lot of Ray, it's missing a lot of the Ray you want. Georgia on my mind isn't here and neither is Hit the Road Jack which is not only his best song, it's the best song anyone released in 1961. Ray changed music labels several times throughout his career which means sets like this one might look comprehensive but they're really only a comprehensive coverage of his time with Atlantic records. His later hits with ABC Paramount are nowhere to be found.

To be honest this three disc compilation is a bit of a hard slog for the casual Charles fan. His amazing career definitely warrants a trio of discs in a lavish boxed set but only if it covers the entire of his recorded output and has all the hits. Focusing entirely on eight years from one era of his life and including everything he did at the time is kind of overkill.

I'd recommend you track down one of the label-spanning compilations which has all the highlights from this package along with the essential tracks from later in his career.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "All that keeps this collection from being perfect is the omission of Ray's Beatles covers, especially his haunting "Elenor Rigby.""

-I respectfully disagree. I got the impression that Ray didn't really like the Beatles that much, he was only recording their material because it was pretty much obligatory if you wanted to crack a certain market.

So is this just enough Ray, not enough Ray or far too much Ray? Let me know below

Saturday, March 15, 2014

54. Electric Ladyland (1968) Jimi Hendrix Experience

1. ... And The Gods Made Love
2. Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
3. Crosstown Traffic
4. Voodoo Chile
5. Little Miss Strange
6. Long Hot Summer Night
7. Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)
8. Gypsy Eyes
9. Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
10. Rainy Day, Dream Away
11. 1983 ... (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
12. Moon, Turn The Tides ... Gently Gently Away
13. Still Raining, Still Dreaming
14. House Burning Down
15. All Along The Watchtower
16. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All three of Jimi Hendrix's studio albums are on the countdown somewhere. We've yet to encounter the blistering debut, we've already encountered the lesser follow up and here at number 54 is the final album they produced together and my personal favourite.

The debut is a great album but it's Hendrix playing it safe. He assembled a band made up of two guys who can back his guitar and vocals and then performed a collection of fairly standard pop songs. Granted they're Hendrixed up and have a lot more grunt that if they'd been recorded by the Monkees (to chose an appropriate example) but they're still standard rock tunes just with much better soloing.

The second album was an attempt to replicate the first only without the quality of songwriting and with some more filler.

But on the third, Hendrix started to be much truer to his original vision. Songs were platforms to leap from and a band was just backing outfit to add extra elements to. Hendrix wasn't just a great player he was a great musician who really listened to what was going on around him. He had a great respect for the talents of others and loved to throw other musicians into the mix to prompt him, push him and take him to new directions.

Consequently Electric Ladyland wanders far away from traditional rock and roll. There's some stuff that wouldn't sound out of place on the debut album: Crosstown Traffic, Gypsy Eyes etc sound like hit singles, but there's some stepping way outside of anything pop radio was playing at the time.

Voodoo Chile for example is 15 minutes of studio jamming. Regular band member Mitch Mitchell on drums is joined by Jefferson Airplane's Jack Cassady on bass guitar and Traffic's Steve Winwood on Organ to create a tight jam band which pushes Hendrix's amazing lead guitar licks ever onwards. There is some amazing playing. Mitchell is all over the place on drums throwing down some fiery fills and generally getting a chance to showcase his talent in a way that the previous records hadn't afforded him. Cassady holds down a steady groove that he learnt playing with Jorma Kaukonen and other jammy people throughout his career. Winwood's organ provides a solid backing at times and at others trading lead licks with Jimi. Hendrix meanwhile shows that while people might associate him with psychadelia he was a blues player at heart who was more influenced by Muddy Waters than LSD.

Voodoo Chile is recorded live. It's 15 minute running length is the sound of four talented guys in a studio playing together, listening to each other and creating some amazing music for the ages without overdubs (except for the occasional addition of some annoying crowd effects supposed to simulate genuine audience merriment but failing dismally). It's fantastic stuff that's too long for radio and doesn't make the Hendrix compilations. If you want to hear it you have to get the album, and I recommend you do.

The following day Hendrix, Mitchell and Redding returned to the studio and created Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) which is a truncated version but thanks to it's incredible opening is three times as powerful. Voodoo Chile is great for putting on enjoying with headphones and appreciating in all it's Jammy glory. Slight return is for cranking loud and shouting along too while air guitaring like a deranged fool.

The two Voodoo Children are enough to have me raving about this album but there's a lot more to recommend it. Crosstown Traffic, Long Hot Summer Night, Come on, Gypsy Eyes, and Burning of the Midnight Lamp are all great pieces of songwriting which would work even if they weren't smothered with massive doses of tasty Hendrix guitar work. You can see why people who wield fender strats still drool over Jimi's work. Long Hot Summer Night is a great song but you could remove the vocals altogether and it would still be worth hearing just for the notes that the great man is flinging around all over the studio. This stuff just poured out of him and we're lucky that tape was not only rolling at the time but was rolling so often when he played live where he'd produce different but equally amazing stuff to enjoy.

Whenever anyone lists the greatest cover songs of all time Hendrix's version of All along the Watchtower is inevitably high up the list. It's a transforming production which takes a great song and makes it an unbelievable one. Dylan himself has said that when he performs the song now he regards it as a Hendrix cover and not one of his originals. It's truly an outstanding moment.

Like all double albums there's some filler on Electric Ladyland. The Noel Redding penned Little Miss Strange isn't worth enduring more than once and there is some other filler material taking up room, most of it the product of Jimi's obsession with studiocraft and experimentation. But it's nowhere near enough to take away from the fact that this is some of the finest guitarwork anyone was put down anywhere.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Jimi Hendrix is the king of rock, but this cd just doesn't cut it. It's to soft and mellow."

-Wait. Are we listening to the same album? Soft and mellow? Seriously?

So have you ever been to Electric Ladyland? And did you enjoy the trip? Let me know below.

Friday, March 7, 2014

55. Elvis Presley (1956) Elvis Presley

1. Blue Suede Shoes
2. I'm Counting On You
3. I Got A Woman
4. One-Sided Love Affair
5. I Love You Because
6. Just Because
7. Tutti Frutti
8. Trying To Get To You
9. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)
10. I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin')
11. Blue Moon
12. Money Honey

Before he ballooned to twice his original size, before he made a string of crap movies, before he became a lounge singer, before he went away and then came back, before deep fried sandwiches, tv shootings and before military service; before all the things that tarnished his reputation, there was this LP. The first ever Elvis Presley album and the first rock and roll album to top the Billboard charts.

This is where it began kids. You can trace a line from this release through the Beatles, The Stones, Cream, David Bowie, The Clash, Queen, Motley Crue, Guns and Roses, U2, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead and beyond. Anyone who has released an album of Rock and Roll owes a debt to these 12 songs in this format. Rock and Roll stepped out of the clubs and bars and into the recording studio and onto a format that had been reserved for big band sounds. Someone finally made music for young people and had the tenacity to package it in a format that adults regarded as their own.

You can see why this made such an impact. The opening track is Blue Suede Shoes which Carl Perkins had written and recorded earlier but will always be associated with the King. Elvis sings it as if he's just discovered his life calling. His rendition is definitive and as passionate as anything he's ever done. I'm not sure if Elvis has ever actually wore any blue suede shoes but they way he belts this out you could easily believe that he wore nothing else and protected his footwear with his life. Nobody has ever been this committed to what they're wearing on their feet in music history before or since.

Much has been made of the fact that Elvis owes his success to his ability to make black music accessible to white people. There's definitely something in the accusation, there are no originals on Elvis Presley and there are lots of tracks which were hits for black artists but ignored by white america until Presley recorded them. Little Richards Tutti Frutti and Ray Charles' I got a Woman were big songs for their original artists but nobody who got sunburnt was listening. Elvis turned a generation onto music that racism prevented them from appreciating.

But it's not fair to suggest that anyone could have done what Elvis did. Writing him off as just the first white guy to tap into a different market does him a huge injustice. Presley is a dynamic interpreter of other people's material and he makes every song he sings his own. Anyone could have sung the songs on Elvis Presley but only The King could have made them great.

There's some great rock on Elvis Presley but it's not all the Devil's music. Elvis covers old standards like Blue Moon and Just Because which was first recorded way back in 1929. I'll never let you go is a song by Singing cowboy Jimmy Wakely which showed off Presley's love of country and western music.

Listening to Elvis Presley close to 60 years after it was recorded, it's easy to see why it lit such a fire under the music world. Adults were indignant at the idea of "Race Music" getting a respectable face, even if that face was contorted in wild abandon on the cover. It's been pointed out that while the famous cover features Elvis singing and strumming his guitar, the face he's pulling could easily be the result of sexual release. I've never seen Elvis orgasm before but it's not hard to imagine that the face he pulls looks a lot like the one he's producing on the famous cover. Sinatra never looked like that on the front of an album, no wonder people were scared.

For the teenagers however this was exactly that they'd been waiting for, even if they didn't know it. Paul, John, George and Ringo heard these tracks and knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Suddenly music wasn't just something their parents enjoyed, it was their life calling. I got a woman and I'm Gonna Sit right down and cry over you became part of their repertoire thanks to this album and it helped set them on the path they were destined to take.

Sadly it wasn't long before Elvis went from being young and exciting to being middle aged and a bit crap. His fall was quick and ugly and a massive waste of real talent. There's a reason why the only people who listen to Presley movie soundtracks are die hard obsessives. But his early output has something for everyone and this album is definitely one that you should hear if you haven't. It's one of the great voices in rock and roll backed by Scotty Moore and some gun players. It's golden stuff and we have to offer our thanks for the legacy it left us.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "if you were a seeing eye dog, wouldn't you want your name to be elvis? and wouldn't you want your owner to carry around a huge box of milkbones? and wouldn't you want to go out drinkin' and watch the final four? and wouldn't you want your tail to get stepped on forcing you to yelp in pain? if you answered yes to the last question than you are weird."

-I have a feeling I'm not the only one.

So what are you thoughts on Mr Presley? Let me know below.

56 Songs in the Key of Life (1976) Stevie Wonder

  1. Love's In Need Of Love Today
  2. Have A Talk With God
  3. Village Ghetto Land
  4. Contusion
  5. Sir Duke
  6. I Wish
  7. Knocks Me Off My Feet
  8. Pastime Paradise
  9. Summer Soft
  10. Ordinary Pain
  11. Isn't She Lovely
  12. Joy Inside My Tears
  13. Black Man
  14. Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing
  15. If It's Magic
  16. As
  17. Another Star

No other artist has the effect on me that Stevie Wonder does. He's unique amongst musicians as far as I'm concerned because there's nobody else who can provide such extreme reactions in during the course of one album.

There are moments on Songs in the Key of Life that I genuinely can't stand. The album opens with Love's in Need of Love Today which is Wonder at his most syrupy and tedious. It's a seven minute plod down the middle of the road and easy listens its way through a run time which is both boring and irritating in equal measures. I've often wondered how someone like Hendrix could choke on his own vomit but listening to Loves' in Need of Love today I think I finally understand. It's a track that is capable of sending you to sleep while forcing you to propel your lunch at the same time. Hendrix probably got to about the five minute mark before his brain shut down and his stomach went into eject mode. It's possible this song killed Jimi.

A few songs later, Wonder manages to create a similar effect with Village Ghetto Land which is just a tuneless list of complaints about ghetto life (apparently people are eating dog food) sung over a string section who sound like they're trying to work out what happened to the rest of the band (they were probably sitting around saying "Dog food? Really? Dog Food?") It's terrible stuff as is If It's Magic which features nothing but Wonder's vocals accompanied by a harpist playing every cliche her instrument has to offer.

If the entire album was like the opening few tracks I'd be howling with complaint and shedding tears of sorrow at its extended running time. Thankfully this is not the case.

I Wish is four minutes of perfect funk of the sort that only Wonder can do. It's got a rock solid rhythm which propels it along driven by horn blasts and Wonder's soulful voice. It's fantastic and the sort of track that you have to turn up loud and rock along to. It even makes you want to get up and dance. I Wish knocks me off my feet and I wish the whole album was as good. Sadly it stops and Knocks Me Off My Feet starts which is immediately a return to the bland and awful Wonder that started the album off. I can't think of another artist who can lift me up so high and then drop me so low in the course of a single album.

I had the same reaction listening to Talking Book (which has the highs of Superstition and the lows of Looking for Another Pure Love) and Music of My Mind (which starts off on a huge high with Love Having You Around but falls away when songs like Seems So Long comes along). If there is a compilation of just Wonder's upbeat funk out there then I'd buy it and treasure it as a great album. A collection of his love ballads however would have me running for a mile.

Unlike his two other inclusions in the list however there is more variation on Songs in the Key of Life. It's a double album which gives him room to explore other feelings and moods rather than ballad and funk. Contusion for example is an instrumental jazz fusion experiment which sounds like most other Jazz Fusion experiments. If that's your thing then it's probably a great addition to the album, if it's not then you're probably a lot less keen.

One of Songs in the Key of Life's most famous tracks is Past time Paradise which Coolio subsequently turned into Gangsta's paradise and Weird Al Yankovic turned into Amish Paradise. I wonder how many people who loved and enjoyed Coolio's smash hit realised just how much it owed to Stevie Wonder's original? The famous chorus of Gangsta's Paradise is lifted wholesale from Wonder's original track and he deserves much more than just a co-writing credit giving him equal billing with three other guys.

There's some great stuff on Songs in the Key of Life. I Wish, Black Man and As are all worth multiple listens and Past Time Paradise deserves to be appreciated in its original form (because the lyrics are much better if nothing else). But there's also a lot of horribleness that I never need to hear again. Wonder is the only person I can think of whose highlights are so great but whose lowlights are so truly terribly low.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Stevie, I love you. You are my favorite Presbyterian."

-Just out of interest: who rounds out the rest of your great Presbyterian top ten?

So is this key of life opening your door or are you slamming it in Stevies Face? Let me know below.