Thursday, May 29, 2014

41 Nevermind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) The Sex Pistols

1. Holidays in the Sun
2. Bodies
3. No Feelings
4. Liar
5. Problems
6. God Save the Queen
7. Seventeen
8. Anarchy in the U.K.
9. Submission
10. Pretty Vacant
11. New York
12. E.M.I.

In 1977 The Sex Pistols shook up music like it had rarely been shaken up before. They exploded on the music scene with three chords and a sneer and proceeded to offend pretty much everyone they met. They deliberately behaved like the bad boys of rock and roll and made it clear that the rules had changed totally and life would never be the same again.... and then it was.

Viewed at the time, it's fair to say The Bollocks was a musical revolution. It railed against huge prog rock bands,  middle-aged artists from the sixties, over-production, glitz and everything that was wrong with music in the mid seventies. It proved that you didn't need big productions, you didn't need orchestras or synthesizers, you didn't need electronic effects and you didn't even need to know how to play that well. All you really needed was the right attitude, the rest was just padding. And the required attitude was that everything before you came along was bollocks. The Sex Pistols were happy to claim that everyone who wasn't them was wrong and every band who had ever gone before them was worthless. You shouldn't trust anyone who was old and rich and anyone who was selling out.

Cut to a few decades later and the Sex Pistols are old and rich and have sold out.

Lead Singer Johnny Rotten was the most hated man in Britain for his anti-establishment attitude, permanent sneer and tendency to badmouth anyone he came in contact with. He was the ultimate face of disaffected youth and cemented his bad boy image with a series of television appearances in which he was deliberately surly, impolite and aggressive. In recent years Rotten has appeared in a successful advertising campaign for Country Life Butter. He has also agreed to be a contestant in a reality show called  "I'm a celebrity get me out of here." A few years ago he was a judge on a talent show but was sued by a producer after he punched her in the face when she put him up in a hotel that wasn't classy enough. He still attempts to be shocking and controversial in interviews but in an era when an interviewer is likely to casually drop the F-bomb in casual conversation poor sad old Johnny has rather lost his ability to shock.

All of which makes it hard to review The Bollocks as it was actually intended. It's supposed to be seen as the antidote to established rock and a protest against the wealthy and complacent. It was designed to be the ultimate expression of dissatisfaction with an industry focused on wealth above all else. And at the time it probably looked like it was. But today it's the first band by that cranky fat guy who does butter advertisements, which means all of its sneer and attitude looks processed and downright fake.

It doesn't help knowing that The Sex Pistols were essentially a boy band every bit as concerned about image as One Direction. Lydon himself got the job because he had a look. He couldn't sing but he had the image they wanted. The same went for bass player Sid Vicious who wasn't a musician and couldn't play his instrument but was accepted because he looked like he fit into the band. They were given an image and a look by their manager and were as manufactured as any group of smiling teenagers performing dance moves.

So when we know the sneer is affected, the image is created and the attitude is entirely false all that's left is the music itself. The album stands alone as a collection of songs rather than a revolution which we know changed nothing. Viewed as just another album released in 1977, Nevermind the Bollocks is frankly left wanting. It's not as interesting as the Clash's debut or anything produced by The Stooges or the Ramones. It sounds like the losing act in a battle of the bands competition and it's about as much fun as Rotten himself.

They might be the first people anyone thinks of when you mention punk but that punk has been done much better by people who actually maintained their ideals when people started flinging them wads of cash. There are albums which have just as much attitude but without the subsequent sell out and accompanying air of disappointment.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "My good gracious, this album is simply appalling! The Sex Pistol's other album, "London Calling" was pretty bad too, but this was simply awful!"

-I think any review that starts with "My Good Gracious" and then claims the Sex Pistols recorded London Calling is definitely a joke.

So is this good or just...bollocks? Let me know below.

Friday, May 23, 2014

42 The Doors (1967) The Doors

1. Break on Through (To the Other Side)
2. Soul Kitchen
3. The Crystal Ship
4. Twentieth Century Fox
5. Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)
6. Light My Fire
7. Back Door Man
8. I Looked at You
9. End of the Night
10. Take It as It Comes
11. The End

You could probably put forward a decent claim that The Doors self-titled album is one of the greatest debuts of all time. A lot of the bands we consider great had fairly mediocre opening salvos and took a while to get going but The Doors just bolted out of the gate with their first effort and produced one of the best releases of 1967 (which is saying something because it was a great year). Even if don't enjoy the music you have to admire the ambition. It's the album of a band who were arrogant enough to feel they had something new to say and weren't interested in playing things safe.

Side one, Track one is Break on Through to the other side which is a great introduction to The Doors and what they could do. It's one of Morrison's finest moments on record and the perfect rollicking vehicle for his perfect rollicking voice. I'm one of those who thinks that Jim was a bit of a prat as a person and an over rated lyricist who wrote abject nonsense most of the time... but damn he could sing. He really did have one of the greatest voices in popular music and it only takes two and half minutes of Break on Through to convince you that he's a major talent.

Soul Kitchen, The Crystal Ship and Twentieth Century Fox are worthy follow ups that aren't as good as Break on Through but deserve to be appreciated and not ignored simply because there's no room for them on the single disc best of that seems to be most people's introduction to the Doors. They also give Morrison a chance to calm down a bit and relax his approach which gives the listener time to appreciate how good Ray Manzarek is on keyboards and Robbie Kriegler is on guitar.

The album's fifth track makes you appreciate that while their contemporaries might have been exclusively ripping off the blues and recycling it for white audiences, The Doors where operating on a slightly different plain. Alabama Song is the first cover the band released on an unsuspecting public and it was a bold choice to select a song from a satirical opera written in the 1920s. Who else was doing that at the time? Everybody else was cranking out version of Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters and Morrison is leading his band through a Berthold Brecht number. Kudos to them I say, well done for marching to a different tune. Shame it's a crap track but still my hats off to them for trying it.

Of course the band weren't adverse to trying a blues cover as well but at least they chose Back Door Man, a Willie Dixon song that nobody else was doing much of at the time. Listening to it you can kind of see why. It's fine for establishing their credentials as blues purists who liked the obscure stuff but it's far from Dixon's finest moment.

I looked at you, End of the Night and Take it as it comes might be filler tracks but they're a cut above what most band padded out their album's with and since all come in under 3 minutes it's not like they wear out their welcome.

The two biggest numbers on The Doors are undoubtedly Light My Fire and The End which are further opportunities to appreciate how ambitious the band really was. Light My Fire was later edited for a tidy single but in its original, and superior form, there is an extended organ and guitar interlude which pushes the length over seven minutes. The whole thing is just perfect as far as I'm concerned with a chance to showcase the talents of every member of the band. When they took to the stage, Morrison's ego prevented him from giving the rest of the band a chance but on record he's 25% of the band and not the 125% which he aimed for when there was an audience present.

If anyone doubted that The Doors had ambition then they were silenced by The End, the final track on the album and one of the most audacious songs recorded in the 1960's. It would have been considered bold if it was recorded in 1967 by The Beatles who were four year veterans of the studio and could do no wrong. But recorded by a band making their debut album it's an incredibly arrogant move.

Whether or not you like it probably depends on where you stand with regards to The Doors themselves. Those who love them hold it up as their finest achievement but those who can't stand them cite it as evidence of their overblown pretentiousness. Certainly you could argue that any song that goes for nearly 12 minutes and contains the line "Lost in a Roman Wilderness of pain" could possibly be viewed as self indulgent. The fact that the song starts out as a meaningless ramble through Jim's head and then finishes with a narrative about someone who murders their family probably alienates a couple of people as well.

But it really does work. The band somehow manage to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere using only drums, keyboard and guitar and Morrison is positively eerie over the top of them. He might have a great rock and roll bar-room voice but he's also got a trained actor's ability to use his voice as an emotive tool. It's amazing stuff and not something you will easily forget.

The Doors is an arrogant declaration from a young band. They managed to follow it up with some great moments later in their career but never quite lived up to the incredibly bold statement of their debut.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: ""The End" is a mindless rant that wouldn't make the cut on "The Wiggles", and "The Crystal Ship" is Cha-chi on pot!!!"

-Why would anyone compare The End to the Wiggles? I don't understand.

So are you glad these Doors were opened or do you wish they'd stayed firmly closed? Let me know below

Thursday, May 15, 2014

43 Dark Side of the Moon (1973) Pink Floyd

  1. Speak to Me
  2. Breathe
  3. On the Run
  4. Time
  5. The Great Gig in the Sky
  6. Money
  7. Us and Them
  8. Any Colour You Like
  9. Brain Damage
  10. Eclipse  

What is this nonsense? Why is Dark Side of the Moon languishing down here in the low forties? Who is responsible for this foolishness? I've got not doubt there are some fantastic albums coming up in the next forty releases but seriously how many of them are better than the greatest concept album ever released?

Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of concept albums. I regard most of them as just a way of concealing a sub-standard set of songs with a lot of added pretentiousness designed to disguise a paucity of ideas. "We've only really got four actual songs and two of them aren't that good" "No problem, just throw in lots of sound effects and we'll call it a concept album, sorted"

Dark side of the Moon is capable of surviving its own concept partly because the songs themselves are so damn strong. Breath, Time, Money and Great Gig in the sky are good enough songs to rise above any laborious and over-encumbered concept the band tries to lather onto an album. No matter what sound effects, over production and artifices are applied to Money it will still be a brilliant slice of well written rock and roll with a sensational bassline.

There's a real strength to the songs on Dark Side and when you strip away the layers at the core it's just a rock band playing them extremely well. When Pink Floyd toured on the strength of the album they didn't just play selected songs they played the whole thing in its entirety. These shows, which were heavily bootlegged and readily available, prove that the songs survive in their most basic form. The embellishments don't make the track and when four guys try to replicate them without studio trickery behind them it still holds up.

Dark Side's strength is definitely its songs but the concept itself actually improves the writing and playing. There's a bit of argument about who we have to thank with both guitarist Dave Gilmour and Bass player Roger Waters trying to claim the lions share of the credit for crafting Dark Side into a concept more than just an album. Waters is often seen as having the dark vision behind the release, and certainly his solo work is more in keeping with the Dark Side tradition than Gilmour's, but you could put forward a reasonable argument that says they were both visionaries, supported by the other two, and it couldn't have occurred without either of them. One thing's for sure, Dark Side manages to be more than just a few great songs supported by some nifty effects. There is a real atmosphere to the album and a sequencing that feels cinematic in its scope. Listening to Dark Side of the Moon and giving it your full attention feels like watching a movie and being fully immersed in the experience.

The dialogue segments, which are scattered throughout, are a unique part of the appeal and I can't imagine the album without them. Apparently colleagues of the band were sat in a studio and shown questions on flashcards which they then answered. Their responses provided the raw material from which the band was able to gather a series of commentaries on madness which they wanted to emphasise aspects of their work (Paul and Linda McCartney were apparently interviewed as well but tried too hard to be hilarious and their contributions were subsequently dropped).

Unlike a lot of concept albums, Dark Side of the Moon actually has something to say about its concept. I've read justifications of other similar projects which claim the album is about something when in fact the theory that holds it together sounds more like an excuse than an actual theme. Dark Side of the Moon is about madness and lunacy. It was written by a band who genuinely lost a member to madness and watched as their former friend and leader lost his grip on sanity. They knew about madness because they'd seen it first hand, so when they came to craft an audio experience in which the listener experienced something of what it was like to lose your mind they had some genuine insight.

The end result is just captivating. It's a compelling listen and you can see why it stayed in the billboard top 100 album list for ten years. People were literally wearing out their vinyl copies and replacing them as soon as they could. Its incredible sales figures are also testament to the fact that people want to appreciate it in the best quality possible. People who bought it on vinyl wanted a copy on CD as soon as they could and were happy to upgrade when it was remastered. It's not an album that you want to have in the second best format around.

I love Dark Side. I've loved it since I first heard it and will always love it. I further predict that fifty years from now when a few of the albums above it on this list are reduced to mere curiosities, Dark Side will still be winning over new fans. If you haven't heard it before, or haven't listened for a while, then turn out the lights, make yourself comfy and put it on at a decent volume. It's worth it.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Wow....I am a fan of Wizard of Oz and he CLEARLY copied this as "his" soundtrack to the film...You can believe what you want but I really dis-like this cd!"

-I've heard people claim Dark Side is an alternative soundtrack to The Wizard of OZ before but I've never heard that put forward as a reason not to like it.

So is this worth your money and time or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

44 Horses (1975) Patti Smith

1. Gloria: In Excelsis Deo;In Excelsis Deo/Gloria
2. Redondo Beach
3. Birdland
4. Free Money
5. Kimberly
6. Break It Up
7. Land: Horses\Land Of A Thousand Dances\La Mer(de)
8. Elegie

Punk is a strange thing isn't it? On one level Punk is amateur musicians playing three chord songs and shouting a lot. It's a lack of pretension and artifice and can be reduced to guys shouting simple lyrics at people who are spitting on them. Punk is a movement obsessed with its own inner workings that views anything other than punk with a sense of deep seated suspicion. But while it's screaming tunelessly into the void punk is also recognising godparents like Patti Smith who stands at that strange junction where poetry meets music.  Smith's attitude might be punk in nature but her music can be anything but. The final track on Horses finds her singing over the top of a mournful piano; and pianos, mournful or otherwise, have no place in Punk music.

Smith is apparently influenced by Punk music and did her part to influence it in return. She's hugely respected in punk circles but her influence also extends far beyond people who happily adopt Punk as a label. She's the idol of almost every woman who has gone into rock and roll since Horses was released and a hero to every girl who ever had the guts to try and front a band. Guys like her too, Bono and Michael Stipe cite her as a huge source of inspiration as does Morissey and many that followed in his footsteps. 

Personally I can't get into her at all. Listening to her nearly forty years after Horses was released it's hard to enjoy her in the same way others did. Her music is a bit too tuneless and non-melodic to grab me. But I can see why lots of vocalists regard her as a hero. Smith's voice is kind of haggard and worn now but back in 1977 it was an incredible instrument. It was capable of beautiful innocence one minute and world weary pain the next. It could be so light it barely impacts the vinyl or so deep and powerful it cuts right through it to bleed onto the other side. Smith uses her voice as a tool to emphasise, and at times counterpoint, her lyrics. She's not just singing a song she's evoking a mood, stating her case and generating a reaction in everyone who hears her. People like Bono, Stipe and Morrissey who were used to hearing polished singers on the radio must have sat up and taken notice. Smith's music opens up a whole world of new musical possibilities for vocalists who use their voice to give their music an extra depth of colour and not just a single predictable tone.

I'm sure Smith's lyrics are great but they didn't move me enough to appreciate or enjoy them which means Horses doesn't really impact me in any of the ways it's intended to. In 1977 it was a bold new statement by a rare talent who had something new to say and a new way of saying it. Forty years later I'm not hearing its message and the method of delivery isn't as unique as it was in the late seventies. I'm glad Horses existed because it had a huge positive impact on music at the time. This list is better for its existence but I don't really need to hear it again thanks all the same.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This release preens personality over songwriting content, making it sound more feminist victory than triumphant recording, with pretentious ramblings over slightly edgy songwriting simplicities creating the embraced illusion of something far less authentically gritty than posited."

-That's all one sentence which is actually kind of impressive

So would you ride these wild horses or turn them into glue? Let me know below

Thursday, May 1, 2014

45. The Band (1969) The Band

  1. Across the Great Divide
  2. Rag Mama Rag
  3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  4. When You Awake
  5. Up on Cripple Creek
  6. Whispering Pines
  7. Jemima Surrender
  8. Rockin' Chair
  9. Look Out Cleveland
  10. Jawbone
  11. The Unfaithful Servant
  12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

I'm not really sure what Americana actually is. It seems to me to be country music for people who are too cool to consider themselves country. Or possibly too liberal to associate with its ideals. Country music is fairly rooted in conservative values and viewpoints. It's patriotism, beer, bourbon, homophobia, veiled racism and a general fear of anyone who isn't from the south. Or at least that's the popular conception.

Americana seems like a way of embracing the land and the working class values of country music without having to lament the death of your dog or hate communists. It's a musical connection with prairies without the need to vote republican. It's a way of combining a love of horse riding with marijuana usage.

There are lots of bands who currently seem to embrace Americana and its musical traditions. In the middle of 2013 Bob Dylan toured with Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Ryan Bingham as The Americana Tour, proudly boasting their Americana credentials. Meanwhile other bands were happily using the word to describe their music and outlook.

Back in 1969 nobody was using the term much but that doesn't mean The Band aren't rightfully considered one of the founding fathers of whatever the heck Americana actually is. Their blend of rural appreciation with traditional rock and roll helped create a genre, along with The Grateful Dead's two greatest albums (Workingmans' Dead and American Beauty) and Dylan's "Country period." The Band  seemed to be the embodiment of Americana, which is an especially neat trick when you consider the fact that they're mostly Canadian.

There's no doubt however that you don't need to live in the south, or even in America itself, to appreciate how good The Band is. Even if you can't ride a horse and your knowledge of the American civil war is superficial at best, you can appreciate the fact that Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down are two fantastic songs. They're both written by Robbie Robertson but they sound so authentic that most people think they're covers. People talk about The Band's version as if they were just one of many people doing covers rather than the first people to come up with the tune itself. It's not just the songwriting, it's the performance which sounds like a bunch of guys trying to replicate a song they heard in a bar being sung by tired old musicians playing a song they learned from their grandpappy who learned it from his grandpappy before him. They've both got such an American sound and are both beautiful tunes.

There are other great moments of authentic Americana on The Band. Rag Mama Rag is great as is King Harvest has surely come both of which will take you back to a place that it's possible you've never even been.

The Band were a curious outfit who shared responsibilities more than most other outfits. Robertson might be the most lauded member for his songwriting skills and tasteful guitar playing but the others are all talents in their own right. They all contributed to the song writing process, they could all sing and Robertson was the only one who wasn't a multi-instrumentalist. The bass player played fiddle and trombone, the drummer played mandolin,  one keyboard player could handle himself on a sax and harmonic and the other played accordion, melodica, sax and trumpet. More than other group from their era they come across as a group of musicians, not a bunch of guys who wanted superstardom. It's little wonder Dylan loved playing with them so much.

If you have no idea what Americana actually is then give this a try. I'm not sure what it is either but if this is it then it's an extremely pleasant way to spend some time.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The previous two reviews of this album really made me scratch my head -- then they just made me laugh. "

-Yeah here's a tip. The order of reviews on Amazon moves around so the reviews your talking about are impossible for us to identify. Glad they made you giggle though.

So is The Band The Band or just a band? Let me know below