Friday, August 29, 2014

28 Who's next (1971) The Who

1. Baba O'Riley
2. Bargain
3. Love Ain't for Keeping
4. My Wife
5. The Song Is Over
6. Getting in Tune
7. Going Mobile
8. Behind Blue Eyes
9. Won't Get Fooled Again

It's not easy for a band to reinvent themselves. Many have tried to shed their original image and develop a new one and fallen out of favour with the fans and everyone else. There are some that can pull it off but most have had a bash and then returned to their original genre with their tail between their legs.

Who's Next isn't a total reinvention, it's not a Metal Band playing bluegrass but it's definitely a risky new direction for The Who. They'd started life as a Mod Band playing pop songs that weren't too far removed from early Beatles records. Then they started to become obsessed with Rock Operas and started delivering overblown and overproduced thematic nonsense. Then suddenly they started listening to Led Zeppelin.

The Who used to boast about being the loudest band in the world but hearing Zeppelin would have made them realise that they had well and truly lost the title. Townshend dropped the idea he was working on (which was apparently another lamentable rock opera) and instead decided to take the songs he was going to try and weave into a convoluted narrative and just put out an album that rocked.

And boy does Who's Next rock.

Member for member there was more talent in The Who than in any other quartet going around at the time. Daltrey's voice is an incredibly powerful instruments, Townshend is an under rated guitar player, Entwhistle was one of the great bass players and Moon is just a monster on the drums. When they were all at their peak they were untouchable and the four of them were definitely at their peak on Who's Next. On songs like Bargain, The Who are just a massive and scary four-headed power beast that blows away all the competition. Moon's drumming is enough to generate not just complaints from the neighbours but from the neighbouring nation. There must have been people in France shouting "tourner que vers le bas!" (thanks Google Translate) and worried that their houses were shaking. Its ferocious stuff and light years away from La La La Lies which graced their first album.

There's gold all over Who's Next. Baba O'Rieley and Behind Blue Eyes are powerhouse tracks which will blow you out of your seat and plaster you satisfied to the opposite wall. Both tracks benefit from deceptively low key introductions, Baba with it's repetitive synth chords and Blue Eyes with its acoustic strumming, before they both quickly kick up a notch. I'm hard pressed to pick my favourite out of the two of them but if you twisted my arm and demanded I made a decision I'd pick Behind Blue Eyes if only for the line "And if I swallow anything evil, put your finger down my throat" which is one of the best things anyone has written ever and delivered perfectly by Daltry who sounds like he's swallowed a lot of evil things in his time and is gagging at the memory.

The album ends on his highest note with the wondorously magnificent Won't Get Fooled Again which is 8 and a half minutes of rock perfection which must have had every other band in the world wondering who they had to sell their soul to in order to sound like that. I highly recommend hearing Won't Get Fooled Again in it's full album length (not the edited single version) and on the best stereo you can get your hands on. Moon is just incredible on drums and the whole song is full of pounding beats and fills which are worth hearing on their own and not just as a means of keeping time. Entwhistle's bass is thunderous and Townshend's guitar manages to claim its fair share of attention in amongst everything else that's going on. It's brilliant stuff and the sound of a band of happy mods who have reinvented themselves into the soundtrack for the apocalypse.

Who's next isn't a perfect album. For some reason Townshend decided to handle some of the vocal duties himself which it has to be said was a bit of a mistake. It's fine in a song like Bargain but on The Song is Over it's impossible not to wish Daltrey was singing the entire thing. Tonshend has an okay but limited voice but Rog has a sensational set of lungs and can lay claim to being one of the best lead singers a band has ever had. He should be the first choice for any Who vocal.

If I was in charge I'd also ditch John Entwhistle's My Wife for one of the superior outtakes which dropped from the running time to accommodate it. Don't you Do it or Pure and Easy would have been a much better addition.

But these are fairly minor quibbles. Who's Next is the best thing the Who ever released and one of the best albums of 1971. It's full-strength rock and roll played at an incredible volume by incredibly talented people. If you love Zeppelin and think the Who are all Magic Bus and The Kids are Alright you should check out Who's Next. It will make you a convert.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "On revisting this album after some 15 years I was surprised to find that it had not grown on me at all. I have a wisteria on my wall that has shown more promise in that department. "

-This is the only mention of a wisteria in a review of a Who album. I can't pretend I've read every single one of course but I'm still fairly confident that it's true.

So did you buy this album? Was it a Bargain or did it leave you swearing you won't get fooled again by the Who? Let me know below

Thursday, August 21, 2014

29 Led Zeppelin (1969) Led Zeppelin

1. Good Times Bad Times
2. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You
3. You Shook Me
4. Dazed and Confused
5. Your Time Is Gonna Come
6. Black Mountain Side [Instrumental]
7. Communication Breakdown
8. I Can't Quit You Baby
9. How Many More Times

It's worth taking a minute or two to admire the guts of Jimmy Page. People revere him as a guitarist, and it's right that they should, but he's much more than just one of a bunch of great players of a Fender stratocaster or Les Paul. Jimmy Page created Led Zeppelin and their legacy in a way that few people have created a band before. He's more than just a guitar-slinger, he's a band leader, producer and visionary with no shortage of chutzpah (a word I'm happy to type but don't have enough chutzpah to actually try and say).

Page created Led Zeppelin out of the ruins of The Yardbirds, a band he was in until the rest of the line up decided they weren't in it with him. The Yardbirds fell apart completely leaving Page with rights to the name but nobody to play with. He immediately set about assembling a band and called on John Paul Jones, a bass player he'd done a lot of session work with. He chose Robert Plant after checking him out in a tiny club gig and being amazed at his abilities. Apparently Page's initial reluctance to sign him up was because he felt anyone that talented who wasn't famous must have been incredibly hard to work with. Plant recommended Bonham on drums and the band had a try out and apparently gelled immediately and went on a tour of Scandinavia as The New Yardbirds to fulfil an outstanding contract.

When they returned Page decided to get a recording contract but rather than audition for record executives he paid for studio time out of his own pocket. The first Led Zeppelin album was funded and produced entirely by Page without any record executives looking over his shoulder telling him what he should or shouldn't do. He mixed the tapes and then strode boldly into Atlantic and said "Listen to this". They fell over themselves and decided to sign up the band for a huge advance and were prepared to give Page unprecedented levels of control over future Led Zeppelin albums.

When Page's first band collapsed he had the guts to back his own abilities and assemble other players who could accomplish his vision and then direct them as their leader. Then he had the temerity to back himself and tell a record company what terms he would let them sign him up with. That's some fairly gutsy play in my book.

While he had a lot of skills, it could be argued that one of them wasn't really songwriting. As others are quick to point out, the majority of Led Zeppelin is made up of blues covers, several of which aren't fully attributed to the original artists who deserve a song-writing credit. Even Dazed and Confused, which for many is Zep's signature tune, owe's a huge debt to a song by Jake Holmes. He's also overstated his credit for Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, You Shook Me, I can't Quite you Baby and How Many More Times and been called out for it several times. He's been called a plagiarist although Page probably prefers to be called an interpreter if he bothers responding to the charge at all.

Regardless of who wrote the songs in their original form, Page can take credit for turning them into hard edged rock and roll. He's the one who took Dazed and Confused and gave it the grunt and the power. He's the guy who decided to play a guitar solo with a violin bow and to make the whole thing into a proto-Heavy metal odyssey. He's the one who told the others how to play and sat behind the control deck and then the mixing desk. He called the shots and made sure they were big booming shots that the whole world heard.

Led Zeppelin 1 (as this is often called) is fantastic and we owe credit to Page for making his vision real. The rest of the band are brilliant at what they do but we should thank Jimmy P for having an idea and turning into a barnstorming reality.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "In fact, Led Zepplin is ALREADY forgoten -- NOBODY in my hi school has ever hear of them, or any song they've ever done."

-This is clearly nonsense. There are kids rocking to Led Zeppelin at every high school in the English speaking world.

So does this go down like a Led Zeppelin for you? Let me know below.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

30 Blue (1971) Joni Mitchell

1. All I Want
2. My Old Man
3. Little Green
4. Carey
5. Blue
6. California
7. This Flight Tonight
8. River
9. A Case of You
10. The Last Time I Saw Richard

A lot of people tell me that they really like Bob Dylan as a songwriter but can't stand him as a performer. They'll list their favourite Dylan songs but point out that the versions they like are all covers. They like Hendrix's Watchtower or Adele's To Make you Feel My Love but they can't stand the originals.

I've never understood this view myself because I love Dylan's voice but it's exactly the way I feel about Joni Mitchell. There are songs on this album that I really love and adore but not in their original incarnation. I've got a version of the Indigo Girls doing River which is just fantastic. One of my favourite things ever is a version of A Case of You as performed by Tori Amos. Irish balladeer Luka Bloom does a rendition of Urge For Going (recorded for this album but dropped at the last minute) which is just sensational. But the original versions are things that I'd really rather not hear again.

I just have a huge problem with Joni's voice. She's talented but she has a vocal style which I can only describe as "irritating". Most Mitchell songs follow a fairly predictable pattern. She uses her fairly deep and almost conversational tone for a bit and the suddenly swoops off into the higher registers for a while as she leaps about from note to note hitting them all but making you wish she'd drop about half of them. Then suddenly she's back to chatty deep voice but you know she's only readying herself for another opportunity to fling her voice skywards once again.

It's an approach that really takes its toll on my patience pretty quickly and I have to say an entire album of Joni being Joni gets pretty grating after a while. In fact it quickly becomes extremely painful to listen to as Mitchell seems to take each track and use it as a platform to prove what an impressive register she's got. As each song progressed I wanted her to calm down, take a deep breath and just sing the tune she'd written. I know when Emily Saliers and Tori Amos do it there's real beauty there but Joni seems to have a total disregard for the songs she's written. It's almost as if she wrote them at home and performed them to herself a few times and now she's bored with them and feels the need to play with them to entertain herself in the studio.

It's not hard to respect Mitchell, or at least it wasn't before she recently affected a transformation into a bitter and cranky old lady. She writes a really nice song, her lyrics are brilliant and she's an under rated guitarist and piano player. She also surrounds herself with a collection of talented friends. She might have broken up with Graham Nash when she recorded Blue but she was still capable of hanging around with his good friend Stephen Stills. And anything Stills plays on is immediately better for his presence.

Listening to Blue made me want to appreciate it as a piece of songwriting without  Joni's voice to put me off. So I jumped on youtube and started listening to cover versions of the pretty much the entire tracklisting. There are some very talented people out there doing some great covers of Mitchell's songs and listening to them makes you realise that she could write a great tune.

I'm not saying Mitchell is a bad singer, far from it, she's definitely a talent, but she has a style that just sets my teeth on edge and prevents me from enjoying her work, at least in its original form. I'll keep enjoying the Indigo Girls playing River and Tori Amos singing A Case of You but I won't feel the need to return to Joni herself anytime soon. I'm glad she exists but I'm glad she's avoidable.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album is so overrated. This album is actually 2.75 out of 5 not 3. "

-I love people who feel the need to qualify their rating with fractions. A five star rating system isn't enough for this guy, in fact a 10 star system isn't enough either (he'd need to tell us it was 5.5. He needs a twenty star system so he can give it the 11 stars it deserves.

So does this make you blue or see red? Let me know below.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

31 Bringing it all back home (1965) Bob Dylan

1. Subterranean Homesick Blues
2. She Belongs to Me
3. Maggie's Farm
4. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
5. Outlaw Blues
6. On the Road Again
7. Bob Dylan's 115th Dream
8. Mr. Tambourine Man
9. Gates of Eden
10. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)
11. It's All over Now, Baby Blue

Now we're all grown up and Dylan is in his seventies and rock music has matured we can look back at Bob's career and judge every album on its merits. We're no longer trying to put him in a box, label him with a stamp or make him the sole possession of a certain musical faction. We don't need to worry about whether he's lost to us or coming back to us or turned his back on this or embraced that. We don't need to worry about what their new direction is for their creator because they're markers on a journey we've seen plotted out, not signposts to an uncertain future. We can sit down and just enjoy each Dylan album for what it is.

Using this knowledge we know that Self Portrait is still pretty bad but was a minor aberration, the Born Again albums aren't as bad as everyone thought they were and the eighties albums are actually worse. And it frees us up to listen to Bringing it All back home as an album not a bold and terrifying new direction.

The biggest songs on Bringing it all back home are probably Maggies Farm, Tambourine Man and Subterranean Homesick blues, or at least they're the songs that people who don't consider themselves Dylan fans would probably know. Of course like a lot of Dylan songs they probably don't know the originals as much as they know the popular covers. Tambourine Man was a huge hit for The Byrds and Maggies Farm was an obligatory hit for any self respecting Punk Band playing in Thatcher's Britain during the eighties.

Those who consider themselves casual Dylan fans would probably know Love Minus Zero/No Limit, It's allright ma I'm only bleeding and It's all over now Baby Blue all of which don't get the radio airplay or the publicity that the others do but are by no means lesser songs. It's Allright Ma is often cited as one of his best songs and I'm inclined to agree. It's not a pretty listen like Blowin in the Wind and it doesn't get covered by popular artists but it's incredibly powerful. It still amazes me to this day that anyone could hear Bringing it All Back Home and be disappointed, as many die hard folkies were back in 1965. They might have heard electric instruments on side one and lamented a lack of obvious protest songs but how could they not love this? It's alright Ma is incredibly dark and spooky but it's lyrics are just unbelievable and incredibly dense. You can spend years listening to it and still hear new things as its incredible series of words and images takes you by surprise every time.

To me the best example of the genius of Dylan however are among the overlooked and lesser known tracks. She Belongs to Me flies under the radar of a lot of people. It doesn't get played on the radio and it rarely makes anyone's list of top Dylan tracks but it's fantastic. It might sound like a love song but it's so much more. It's got some great Dylan lines which you can ponder for ages and still get a lot out of. I personally love: "She never stumbles, She’s got no place to fall" which for me is a fantastic piece of lyric writing. She Belongs to Me is also a track that I suggest people listen to if they claim Dylan can't sing. If they're caught up in their own warbly Dylan impressions and believe his vocals are all nasal expeditions up and down the register in the course of one song I suggest they give this a listen. It's proof that Dylan can not only hold a tune he can cradle it lovingly which makes the lyrics all the better.

Bringing it All Back Home is not a perfect album but with the power of CD burning and the accessibility of out takes it's easy to make it one. I drop Bob Dylan's 115th Dream from the running order (which is too long and loses its novelty value too quickly) and instead include three outtakes which were considered but not recorded. Farewell Angelina, If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got to Stay All Night) and I'll Keep It With Mine all deserve to be rescued from obscurity. They're brilliant songs and their presence here would lift this album from outside the top thirty to inside the top ten.

Bringing it all Back Home is the sound of Bob Dylan tearing down his own legend but creating an even greater one in the process. It's the greatest and most influential recording artist of the past fifty years proving he didn't need popular causes and a sub-culture's adoration to prop him up but he wasn't going to let them hold him back either. If it was recorded by any other solo artist it would be their highest ranked appearance on this countdown. Bob has three others higher than this which just goes to show how amazing he is.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Never say that one Dylan album is your favorite over another. You always have to change your mind."

-Possibly the truest thing ever said on Amazon. Amen brother.

So are you glad Bob brought it all home or do you wish he left it wherever the hell it was? I mean where are we even going to put it it? Seriously Bob, hire a shed or something, sheesh... sorry I got sidetracked. Just let me know below.