Thursday, April 24, 2014

46 Legend (1984) Bob Marley

  1. Is This Love
  2. No Woman, No Cry
  3. Could You Be Loved
  4. Three Little Birds
  5. Buffalo Soldier
  6. Get Up, Stand Up
  7. Stir It Up
  8. One Love/People Get Ready
  9. I Shot the Sheriff
  10. Waiting in Vain
  11. Redemption Song
  12. Satisfy My Soul
  13. Exodus
  14. Jamming

I've written fairly extensively about Marley before in his other appearances on the countdown. I wrote about how I didn't really like him much, failed to understand the attraction but could understand what others saw in him. Reggae is like olives, coffee and nightclubs- I don't like them but I can understand how others would.

Unlike the previous efforts I've encountered however, Legend is the cream of Bob Marley without any filler of any kind. It's a collection of his singles packaged together and represents a comprehensive greatest hits package. There is nothing here that Marley himself didn't listen to and think was good enough to release as a single on its own merits.

Unlike a lot of other greatest hits packages which are released to a contentious reception, Legend received, and continues to receive, fairly universal acclaim for capturing the best songs the legend himself ever wrote and recorded. There aren't too many people bleating about glaring omissions or screaming about the inclusion of a track that was only put on the album to appease casual fans. This is definitely his greatest hits compilation.

In other words if you don't like Legend you're never really going to appreciate Bob Marley. If this isn't your cup of tea then there's nothing else that's going to make you a convert. This is pure filtered coffee from the finest plantation in the land loving prepared by coffee artisans and turned into a beverage by the greatest barista on the planet. You don't like this and you don't like coffee.

It just doesn't do anything for me.

I can appreciate the guy's got talent and I can even see how songs like Three Little Birds are timeless classics. I can enjoy the man's voice but the music just leaves me wishing it would stop. I'd really rather it was forced on someone else and I didn't have to endure it. I'm not saying Marley is torture. It's not a painful experience that causes me discomfort it's just not one I'm enjoying and the fact that I'm not is frustrating. Listening to Legend makes me appreciate that it's not Marley, it's me. There is something missing in me, some failing on my part that makes Stir it Up just a tedious song and not a joyous anthem.

To be honest I'm hugely disappointed. One of my hopes in doing this countdown was that I'd encounter new music that I was unfamiliar with but came to enjoy, which occurred several times. The other hope was that artists like Marley, Bowie and Springsteen would become people I could appreciate rather than just respect. in the case of Bob Marley this hasn't occurred. Despite repeated listens to five of his albums now my opinion is the same as it was before I started this project years ago.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Most of the songs here are pleasant enough but Mr Marley is no Chaka Demus and Pliers."

-Who? Sorry who are you comparing one of the world's most famous musicians to? Chaka who and what?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blatant Self Promotion

If you've enjoyed reading this blog then you might enjoy a book I've just published at Amazon. It's not music related but it will help you out if you want to put forward any arguments in the comment sections.

It's called How To Argue On the Internet and is a useful, but humorous, guide to getting the most out of any debate, discussion, argument or verbal stoush held online.  I hope you enjoy it.

How To Argue On the Internet at Amazon.

47 A Love Supreme (1965) John Coltrane

1. A Love Supreme Part I: Acknowledgement
2. A Love Supreme Part II - Resolution
3. A Love Supreme, Part III: Pursuance
4. A Love Supreme, Part IV-Psalm

On paper this looks like a truly terrible idea. It's one of those albums that just doesn't work when you describe it to someone.

It's basically an attempt to mix Jazz and religion which theoretically shouldn't work. With all respect to God, I'm not sure what place he has in modern Jazz. Miles Davis never gave the almighty much credit mainly because he felt God should be paying him dues and not the other way around. Other jazz artists are too entrenched in wine, women and song to be taking the time to pause in prayer. But then religion and jazz aren't so diametrically opposed to make the juxtaposition in any way interesting at first glance. Rock, Metal and Rap are all effectively anti-religious so adding elements of religion and creating Christian Rock, Christian Metal and Christian Hip Hop can actually make for an interesting experience. Some of it is terrible obviously, but subverting the genre works sometimes as well.

Jazz just feels like it should be focusing on smokey clubs with one eye in the bedroom not focused at all on church.

As if combining religion and jazz wasn't bad enough, Coltrane insists on adding a repetitive mantra to his music. Jazz should be allowed to free form off wherever it wants to go. It should soar away on wings into unchartered territories and meander off to happy places that nobody thought it would go. It shouldn't be tied down. I have favourite jazz albums that I listen to often but I can't actually hum you any of because there's no repetitive melody that gets stuck in my head. Coltrane deliberated wanted to anchor his music in a single repetitive mantra. It appears early on as a baseline but later he has the temerity to sing it. I say sing but I really mean chant. Coltrane repeats the phrase "A love supreme" over and over without much melodic variation. 

Religious jazz music with chanting sounds bad enough but Coltrane takes things a step further and plays a poem on his sax. Coltrane sat down one afternoon and wrote what is basically a love poem to god complete with King James English. The poem appeared in the liner notes and there's a reason it doesn't make it into anthologies of great poetry, or even anthologies of great religious poetry or even anthologies of great poetry written by black guys and it probably wouldn't even make it into anthologies of great poetry written by sax players. It's a bit formless and clunky and sounds like a stream of conciseness written by a guy who is really a big fan of God but not averse to partaking in the sort of substances normally frowned upon by organised religion: "Thought waves--heat waves--all vibrations--all paths lead to God."  I've never heard heatwaves in any religious poetry I've ever encountered. It also wanders between addressing an audience and directly addressing God which makes it a bit confusing at times. "With all we share God.It is all with God.It is all with Thee." 

Someone should have stopped Coltrane at some point. When he went into a studio and said "I want to make a religous jazz album with a repetitive mantra and a formless poem without a recognised meter that I'm going to play on my sax... someone should have said "John, no. Stick to what you're good at"

But the thing is that it works. It really does. The mantra on its own would be kind of annoying but used in moderation in the midst of some magnificent jazz music it actually works as an excellent counterpoint to everything else that's going on. Whenever I hear the title of this album I can't help but start chanting "A love supreme" over and over again in my head and it's not actually an unwelcome presence. You wouldn't know that Coltrane's soling is his attempt to replicate a poem with his instrument but even if you do it doesn't take away from the fact that the guy can really play. 

The thing is that creating a religious jazz album with a mantra is definitely a bad idea in the same way that climbing to the top of Mount Everest is a bad idea. It all depends on who has come up with the notion in the first place. For the vast majority of people a jaunt up the tallest mountain in the world is a terrible idea but for Edmund Hilary it was a triumph. Mantra-laden jazz albums would be a bad idea for pretty everyone except someone as insanely talented as John Coltrane. It helps that he's backed himself with some other incredible talents on other instruments. Jimmy Garrison on double bass, Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on Piano were huge talents in their own right and had been playing with Coltrane for long enough to bond well as a tight quartet and not just a collection of players. 

If you haven't heard A Love Supreme then I strongly suggest you do. It's a crazy notion but a near perfect jazz album and worth your time getting to know. Who knows, it might just be a religious experience.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "But now there are many sax players that can play better than Coltrane, they are much polished and straight. I think about Kenny G., for instance. His rythmic session is much more regular, whereas Coltrane's session seems sometimes to loose the beat. "

-You've just said Kenny G is better than Coltrane. There are people who would feel that was a sin punishable by death.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blatant self promotion

If you've enjoyed reading this blog then you might enjoy a book I've just published at Amazon. It's not music related but it will help you out if you want to put forward any arguments in the comment sections.

It's called How To Argue On the Internet and is a useful, but humorous, guide to getting the most out of any debate, discussion, argument or verbal stoush held online.  I hope you enjoy it.

How To Argue On the Internet at Amazon.

48 It takes a nation of millions to hold us back (1988) Public Enemy

  1. Countdown to Armageddon
  2. Bring the Noise
  3. Don't Believe the Hype
  4. Cold Lampin' with Flavor
  5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
  6. Mind Terrorist
  7. Louder Than a Bomb
  8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness?
  9. Show 'Em Whatcha Got
  10. She Watch Channel Zero?!
  11. Night of the Living Baseheads
  12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
  13. Security of the First World
  14. Rebel Without a Pause
  15. Prophets of Rage
  16. Party for Your Right to Fight

I'm delighted to announce that I no longer need to listen to any rap albums. I'm done. I'm retiring my rap-listening hat and moving on. From this day forward I will no longer put aside music I love in order to dedicate time to listen to hip-hop, rap, old school, new school or any kind of school. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back is the final rap album I will hear from start to finish (four times) and it's a huge relief.

I've tried to appreciate rap. I've made a huge effort to change my ways from rap atheist to at least become a rap agnostic. Please believe me when I say one of my hopes when starting this list was that I would actually develop an appreciation for hip hop. I would have been delighted if I'd finished this project able to say that I'd become a rap fan. Sadly it just wasn't the case.

Including this album, I've listened to 26 Hip Hop albums and I've heard each of them four times. Assuming that the average album length is 45 minutes, this means I've listened to exactly 78 hours of rap music in the course of the last few years. I think that permits me to safely say I've given the genre a chance. When you've dedicated 3.25 full days listening to something it qualifies as a decent exploration I would have said. I had an open mind for that entire time but I've come to the conclusion that Rap just isn't for me.

I don't like the self posturing nature. I don't like the fact that rappers are telling me how great they are all the time. I don't like the music which places all the emphasis on the vocals with nothing recognizable behind to latch onto. I don't like the mysogyny and nasty aspect which some (but definitely not all) rap feels the need to propagate. I don't like the aggression, the over production or the stance most of the artists take. It doesn't move me, speak to me or excite me. I can appreciate that others have a different reaction and good for them.

I'm capable of respecting a band like Public Enemy. Their message and ideals aren't something I find repulsive but I don't feel the need to listen to them any further. If you love them then good for you, but I gave them a chance and they couldn't win me over.

For the record if it takes a nation of millions to hold Public Enemy back then their progress can impeded by nations as small as Macedonia, Botswana and Lesotho. I'm not saying I think there's a huge chance that the good people of Lesotho are likely to organise themselves into a force that will detain Public Enemy in some way, I'm just saying that when you could have renamed your album "Not as tough as Botswana" you might like to rethink your title choice. Either way I don't care because rap is not my concern any longer.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this is the best country music album of all time but if they had gotten rid of flava flav it would be even better wazzup wit dem clocks!?!?"

Wait- Country Music? Country music?

So do you think a nation of millions should be mobilized to hold Public Enemy back? If so which one? Let me know below.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

49. At Fillmore East (1971) The Allman Brothers Band

1. Statesboro Blues
2. Done Somebody Wrong
3. Stormy Monday
4. You Don't Love Me / Soul Serenade
5. Hot 'Lanta
6. In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
7. Whipping Post

Whether you've got your hands on the original At Fillmore East, or the completely revamped Fillmore Concerts or the further revamped Fillmore East Deluxe edition you've got some combination of songs that the original line up of the Allman Brothers Band played at the Fillmore Auditorium in March 1971. I'm not sure which one I'm writing about exactly but whichever one it is I can tell you that it's fantastic.

I love the Allman Brothers, they're just a magnificent group of musicians and the closest thing you can get to The Grateful Dead without spotting some Tie Dye. While the Dead were influenced by the Blues, Folk music, free jazz and lots of other things besides, Duanne and Gregg Allman, and their bandmates were pretty much entrenched in the Blues. They were steeped in the the delta blues tradition and could not only cover a blues standard and do it justice they could write a great blues track that didn't just sound like some new words slapped onto an old Muddy Waters tune.

They might be a bit more one-trick that The Dead who had many strings to their bow but the one trick they had they did incredibly well thanks to the combined talents of the group. Duane Allman is one of the greatest guitarists to ever wield an instrument and without a shadow of a doubt the most talented person named Duane to ever live. For many he deserves to be held in the same pantheon as Clapton, Page and Beck and there are some that even rank him with Hendrix, he's that good. He can certainly play the blues and throws out some amazing solos. His slide work also deserves a mention. Slide guitar is an under rated skill and is harder than it looks. It's not just guitar playing for those who can't be bothered learning chords.

Frequently overlooked and unjustly ignored, is second lead guitarist Dicky Betts who is not only a great guitarist he's the most talented person to ever willingly call themselves Dicky. Betts hardly ever gets mentioned as a guitar great but Rolling Stone Magazine felt the need to rank him at number 58 on their list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Betts was a more straight ahead leader player than Allman who could produce some stellar bluesy solos that sadly many attribute to Duane when they hear the two of them together.

There aren't too many bands who can boast two great guitarists playing together at the same time. But the strength of the Allman's isn't just the individual talents, it's the way the Dicky and Duane played together. They didn't just play rhythm and lead they played joint lead guitar which pushed and challenged each other in new directions. Their combined guitar work is unlike anyone else playing at the time and while there may be those who prefer Hendrix as a player, there's no doubt Jimi never had someone who he could partner like Duane could.

The rest of the band are no slouches either. The double drum attack of Jai Johnny Johanson and Butch Trucks created an explosive rhythm section which was complimented nicely by Berry Oakely on bass. It goes without saying that there have never been more talented people named Jai, Butch and Berry.

Gregg Allman's keyboard work isn't as dynamic as other great piano players, his chords lay down a rhythm background for Duane and Dicky to play over the top of but his voice is Gregg's true gift to the Allman Brothers. Lots of other bands had great musicians but many of them were let down in the vocal department. Fleetwood Mac had a great blues guitarist and a talented line up but nobody who could sing a song with anything approaching the passion of Gregg. His voice made sure the Allman Brothers weren't just a blues jamming outfit, they could play great songs.

While we're crediting individual players for being so good we should never lose sight of the fact that the band worked so well as an outfit. Cream couldn't combine three great talents without losing focus and becoming a mess, Led Zeppelin only managed it by stopping everything to give each individual their chance to shine. The Allman Brothers Band were one of the few outfits who sere so much greater than the sum of their parts. They brought out the best in each other and whether they were charging through a fairly straight forward 5 minute blues track (Statesboro Blues, Done Somebody wrong, one way out) or stretching out on an extended jam, they never played a song the same way twice which is what makes their extensive bootleg catalogue so compelling.

Fillmore East doesn't have a single dull moment. While a half hour jam loosely based on an obscure Donovan track might sound like the ultimate in self indulgence it's actually a fantastic listen that never collapses in on itself and becomes aimless. Although I must admit I think the extended and jammed version of Whipping Post isn't nearly as good as the studio version. Whipping Post is one of my favourite songs of all time. I know I've raved about lots of tracks on this countdown but if I was forced to list a top ten there is no doubt Whipping Post would be there somewhere. It's a magnificently powerful entity with a crunching baseline and words that are just perfect to shout along to. I love Whipping Post but just like Dixie Chicken by Little Feat, I think I prefer it as a perfectly contained five minute track rather than an opportunity to extend into a huge jam. The 22 minute live version of Whipping Post lets it wander too far from it's origins into jam territory that's fun to listen to but leaves you wistful for the main refrain which feels so far removed.

Fillmore East works because it's a band of incredibly talented musicians who bring out the best in each other. It helps that their choice of Blues covers move beyond the standard tracks that everyone else seemed to do into some of the more obscure performer's catalogues which means the listener isn't making any comparisons. The few originals all hold up to the blues tracks including In Memory of Elizabeth Reed which is one of rock's most perfect instrumentals and shows how the band weren't just great improvisers they could learn a complicated piece of music and replicate it onstage.

Not long after the Fillmore shows were recorded, Duane died in a motorcycling accident. A year later Berry Oakley met the same fate. The band continued on throughout the seventies but were never the same again and disbanded.

Like a lot of groups who had success in the sixties the Allman Brothers have reformed as best they could. Dicky Betts has fallen out with the rest of the group but Gregg, Jai and Butch have kept the name alive in the 2000's and beyond. But unlike other groups who are basically nostalgia acts, The Allman Brothers have reinvented themselves to be much more than just a shadow of what went before. Berry Oakely was always a fine bass player but his replacement in the new outfit is Oteil Burbridge who is just insanely good and one of those bass players who pushes the boundaries of his instrument to new and fascinating places.

Replacing Dicky and Duane was always going to be difficult but Gregg Allman managed to find two of the most talented guitar players of their generation. Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are incredible players who are fantastic individually in their respective bands (Govt Mule and The Tedeschi Trucks band) and are lifetime friends who know how to bring out the best in each other. Haynes also has a fantastic blues voice which compliments Gregg's nicely. Is it sacrilege to say the current line up of the Allman Brothers Band is as good as the classic line up? Probably, but their recent live releases could make a believer out of even the most hardened sceptic.

I can't recommend the Fillmore concerts enough and I urge you check out as much Allman Brothers as you can get your hands on. It's well worth the effort.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I am primarily a lover of classical music. My roommate in College forced me to listen to this in the seventies. I was flabbergasted. Not only is there jazz and blues in the music, but the structure, the crescendos, the "evocativeness" of the music and the tightness of the band remind me of Beethoven with electric guitars."

-That's it, I'm playing this to my dad tomorrow. I'm sure he'll thank me.

So does this move you or would you rather be tied to a Whipping Post? Let me know below.

50. Here's Little Richard (1957) Little Richard

  1. Tutti Frutti
  2. True Fine Mama
  3. Can't Believe You Wanna Leave
  4. Ready Teddy
  5. Baby
  6. Slippin' and Slidin' (Peepin' and Hidin')
  7. Long Tall Sally
  8. Miss Ann
  9. Oh Why?
  10. Rip It Up
  11. Jenny, Jenny
  12. She's Got It

Little Richard is one of the early pioneers of Rock and Roll who deserves to be held up with the likes of Chuck Berry as one of the great innovators of the genre. If we didn't have Richard the musical landscape would be a very different place today. But that's not reason to go and listen to him.

Chuck Berry's music holds up really well in the modern age. Granted it's fairly samey after a while but Johnny B Goode is still a great listen in 2013 and you can see why it set the world on fire. The same can't really be said for Little Richard whose music is frankly repetitive. His biggest hit is Tutti Frutti which starts this album off and even though it lasts for just under two and half minutes it doesn't have much in the way of musical ideas. It's a repetitive refrain repeated until it wears out its welcome and stops. Much the same can be said for Ready Teddy and his other hits which all come across as the same mine of ideas plundered for all it's worth.

It's almost as if Little Richard entered the studio with an attitude more than a set of songs. He knew he wanted to be a high energy piano player with a commanding ability to shout his vocals while his band swung behind him. This attitude and his considerable talent and charisma were enough to support his career but there's no doubt as a songwriter he was a bit lacking in ideas. He also wasn't a great soloist on the piano. While Jerry Lee Lewis could play perfect lead breaks on his piano and make the instrument sing, Richard was more limited in his abilities and tended to rely on thumping chords quickly to create a sound that was exciting but got tired fairly quickly.

Lead breaks and musical variation on Little Richards music are supplied by the Tenor Sax of Lee Allen who played with Richard on this and his other early albums. Allen is the master of the eight bar sax solo and his work provides a lot of welcome relief in the middle of almost every Little Richard song. He's one of those unsung heroes who deserves a lot of respect and recognition for his part in starting rock and roll.

Little Richard was an exciting and dynamic performer who could set a stage alight. We should definitely give the guy his due for helping to make Rock and Roll so thrilling in its early days. Richard was one of the artists who made the next generation of rockers sit up and take notice when his hits appeared on the radio. His vocals including his signature "Wooo" were a huge influence on artists like Paul McCartney and others who heard him sing and found a musical connection that brought out there own personal musical style.

But Here's Little Richard hasn't dated as well as its contemporaries. It's hard to listen to it without remembering that you enjoy Berry's version of Rip it Up more. the Beatles made Long Tall Sally more joyous and Elvis delivered the definitive version of Tutti Frutti. The King changed the final "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bom-bom!" to "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!" which might seem like a minor change but does give the line a lot more impact and means when Richard sings the original it sounds like an inferior copy.

We should offer thanks to Richard for his contribution to music (and acknowledge Allen's as well) but Here's Little Richard isn't the best listen on this countdown. It's here because of it's influence not because people are regularly pulling it off their shelves and giving it a listen.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I gotta say being the fact I always wondered who sung that song in the helicopter scene in Predator, google, and boom Im on Amazon."

-I have no idea what he's talking about but I like the idea of a guy who became a fan of Little Richard because of an Arnold Movie.

So this started rock and roll but is it worth hearing or not? Let me know below.