Friday, September 26, 2014

24 Live at the Apollo (1963) James Brown

1. Introduction to James Brown and The Famous Flames
2. I'll Go Crazy
3. Try Me
4. Think
5. I Don’t Mind
6. Lost Someone
7. Medley: Please, Please, Please/You've Got the Power/I Found Someone/Why Do You Do Me/I Want You So Bad/I Love You, Yes I Do/Strange Things Happen/Bewildered/Please, Please, Please
8. Night Train

James Brown likes the Apollo which is just as well because they clearly like him too. It's a relationship based on mutual love and affection and saw the hardest working man in showbusiness return to the illustrious venue on numerous occasions. It was clearly his favourite venue to produce a live album.

Live at the Apollo documents a James Brown show from 1962 recorded before anyone in the USA had heard of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He returned there for Live at the Apollo 2 in 1967 when everyone was pretty much obsessed with the Beatles and the Stones and again in 1971 when the Fab Four had broken up and the Stones were about to start their downward slide away from the peak of their career. He even returned again in 1994 for another live album.

According to popular opinion the first of these is worth having and the rest are pale imitations but to be honest I think that's not an accurate reading of the situation. The gulf in quality between Apollo 1 and its sequels isn't nearly as huge as many would have you believe and the later editions have the benefit of being more complete and comprehensive. Live at the Apollo 1 presents us with an abridged version of an early 1960's James Brown concert. It edits and cuts the show down to a half hour running time so it fits comfortably on two sides of vinyl. The following volumes have the benefit of being double albums and provide a much more comprehensive overview of the great man's show, especially in their lavish CD deluxe reissues.

The later volumes also benefit from the additions of some of Brown's greatest songs and signature tunes. Everyone who knows anything about Brown knows I got you (I feel good) which is absent from Volume 1 but appears in two of the sequels along with Get up (I feel like being a) sex machine which has the most annoying parenthesis in all of modern music.

There's nothing wrong with Live at the Apollo volume one and it deserves credit for what it did for Brown's career. It made him a superstar and brought his incredibly dynamic show into the home of anyone with a record player. It has huge historical significance and musical importance. But if you put on the four volumes of Live at the Apollo and played them to a room full of people it wouldn't have nearly the impact of its follow ups.

Live at the Apollo will do everything a James Brown album should do. It will have you tapping your toes and grooving along. It will make you appreciate what a sensational voice he had and how tight is band was. But it will leave you feeling slightly unsatisfied and hungry for more, something that the future volumes won't be guilty of. My advice: get them all. You can never have too much funk and Brown Funk is the best colour Funk around.


-That's just about the strangest thing I've read on Amazon ever. Even without the exclamation marks.

So does this make you go Crazy? let me know below.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

25 Rumours (1977) Fleetwood Mac

1. Second Hand News
2. Dreams
3. Never Going Back Again
4. Don't Stop
5. Go Your Own Way
6. Songbird
7. The Chain
8. You Make Loving Fun
9. I Don't Want to Know
10. Oh Daddy
11. Gold Dust Woman

I know I'm supposed to be snobby about this album. I should be all sniffy about it and write something that looks down it from on high. Because this is pop and it could be blues.

Many people don't realise that Fleetwood Mac started life as a blues band fronted by a fantastic guitarist named Peter Green. Green was one of the UK's great guitar players and deserves to be mentioned along with Clapton, Page, Beck etc as one of the best white blues players taking the genre into brave new places. They released a collection of albums which you could describe as a bit repetitive but their live shows are just amazing. The three Disc Boston Tea Party shows are among my favourite ever albums and I listen to them constantly if only for the steaming versions of Oh Well, Rattlesnake shake and Black Magic Woman.

Green eventually succumbed to Acid and left the band. LSD related psychosis kept him out of the music business for decades and he reportedly grew his fingernails so playing the guitar was impossible and would shoot at anyone who tried to deliver his royalty checks with a BB gun.

After he left Fleetwood Mac, the two other founding members, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, turned their back on the blues and embraced the more commercially successful world of pop music. They replaced Green with Lindsey Buckingham and introduced two female vocalists and transformed themselves into a pop band who totally rejected the music that originally inspired them.

As someone who loves the blues, loves Peter Green and doesn't enjoy pop much, I'm duty bound to point out that this is a commercial sell out and total crap and turn this entire blog into a rant about how good The Mac were and how crap they became "once the women got involved".

But the truth is I have to admit that this is really very well done pop. I'm not pop's biggest fan but if you're going to listen to pop then this is definitely what you should put on your turntable. Nicks and McVie have fantastic voices and could both write a great song. Buckhingham isn't my favourite male vocalist but he's a mean guitar player and could definitely write a tune. To my mind this is the way Pop should be done. It's played on real instruments and sung by people who were chosen for their vocal abilities and not their looks (which is not to say that Nicks and McVie are anything other than attractive).

Possibly the album's main strength is the songwriting. Fleetwood Mac were lucky enough to have three members who could write a good song, which is two more than a lot of other great bands could manage. Nicks contributed the funky ballad Dreams which contains the line "Thunder only happens when it's raining" which is catchy but a meteorological inaccuracy. McVie submitted the rocky Don't Stop which was written about her failed marriage but somehow became Bill Clinton's theme-song. Buckingham wrote Go Your Own Way which joins the other three as staples on AOR radio stations all over the world and have people singing along whenever they come on the radio.

The three songwriter and three lead vocalist approach does create a slightly disjointed feel with some tracks (the opening one most notably) not really fitting in that well with the rest of the album but you could argue that's part of its charm and appeal. It's a mixed bag but doesn't have any resounding clunkers in its running time and there's something interesting on every track.

Rumours deprives snobs like myself of an opportunity to get sniffy which is an impressive effort. It's a great piece of pop history and while it might not have been the Mac's most comfortable and enjoyable recording experience it's definitely their finest studio album. (Although it does have the worst cover. What the hell is going on with Fleetwood's pose and those weird balls hanging between his legs? Seriously?) Greatest pop album ever? Quite possibly so.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review: "I listened to this album, and my eardrums popped. Stevie Nicks' vocals are so high, he sounds like a girl. Seriously, sing like a man, like Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. Oh, and another thing wrong with this album is that there is no 'U' in 'Rumors.'"

-Two things will never cease to amaze me about Amazon customer reviews. The first is just how many people enjoy making obvious joke reviews, and the second is how many people fall for them.

So is this a good album or is it's brilliance just a rumour? Let me know below.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

26 The Joshua Tree (1987) U2

1. Where the Streets Have No Name
2. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
3. With or Without You
4. Bullet the Blue Sky
5. Running to Stand Still
6. Red Hill Mining Town
7. In God's Country
8. Trip Through Your Wires
9. One Tree Hill
10. Exit
11. Mothers of the Disappeared

This is supposed to be my favourite U2 album. It's their highest ranked entry on this list and it's held up as their finest moment. It's the album with the most recognizable U2 sound and has most of the tracks that people think of when U2 is mentioned. Only Achtung Baby rivals it for popular appeal.

But neither is nearly as good as Rattle and Hum which I'm supposed to hate. Everyone keeps trying to tell me that Rattle and Hum is a huge disappointment and the Irish Quartet's worst hour. At best it's a phase they had to go to in order to get to Achtung from Joshua, it's a point on a map that should be marked but not stopped at.


Rattle and Hum might be a mess with it's cover versions, live tracks and odd interjections by other artists but song for song it's their best release. Desire, Hawkmoon 269, Angel of Harlem, Love Rescue Me, Heartland, God Part II, All I want is you and When Love Comes to Town are the strongest collection of songs U2 have ever included on any release. And unlike Joshua Tree and most of the rest of their albums, they're not padded out with half-hearted filler. The covers and live tracks are all fantastic as well.

Joshua Tree on the other hand suffers from the same malaise that strikes a lot of U2 albums: a few fantastic hits but a lot of fairly forgettable filler material. The filler might possibly be stronger than on previous or future albums but it suffers from a tracklisting that highlights, rather than conceals the lesser songs. The first five tracks on Joshua Tree are far away the best songs on the album: Where the streets have no name is a rousing anthem, I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For is a powerful ballad as is With or Without You. Bullet the Blue Sky is so scary it's good and so good it's scary and Running to Stand Still is the perfect low key antidote to Bullet's terrifying imagery.

But from there things kind of slip away slightly. The rest of the album isn't terrible but there's nothing much on side two that would have made someone keen to flip their vinyl copy over. I wonder how many people who bought this when it first came out just returned the needle to the start of Side One to hear the hits again rather than spent time listening to an entire side of near misses.

There's still a lot to like all through the Joshua Tree. Bono has a great voice and the band manage to create a unique sound which is unmistakeably U2. It's great stuff but to my mind nothing near as good as Rattle and Hum, which not only presents a stronger set of songs, it takes tracks like Bullet the Blue Sky from this album and transforms them into something even more fantastic.

It's cool not to like U2 any more but you can't deny the strong songs on Joshua Tree are fantastic rock and roll and unlike so much that was recorded in 1987, it's dated extremely well. But if you haven't heard it in it's entirety I'm not sure you need to rush out and grab it. Just put on the radio and the good songs will be along before lunchtime.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I once wrote a song called "Dave Evans Must Die" because the music here is so boring."

-I'm not sure we care what songs you wrote do we? I don't think we do.

So is this their best or not? Let me know below.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

27 King of the Delta Blues singers (1961) Robert Johnson

1. Cross Road Blues
2. Terraplane Blues
3. Come on in My Kitchen
4. Walking Blues
5. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
6. 32-20 Blues
7. Kindhearted Woman Blues
8. If I Had Possession over Judgement Day
9. Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)
10. When You Got a Good Friend
11. Rambling on My Mind
12. Stones in My Passway
13. Traveling Riverside Blues
14. Milkcow's Calf Blues
15. Me and the Devil Blues
16. Hellhound on My Trail

King of the Delta Blues Singers is one of those albums that we can point to and credit with forming Rock and Roll as we know it. It's one of those few LP's that we can justifiably hold up and say "music changed because of this. It was different before and never the same again afterwards".

King of the Delta Blues Singers was released in 1961 and eventually found its way into the hands of the generation that helped to shape Rock and Roll. Dylan heard it and was amazed at Johnson's ability to make a melody so compelling. Eric Clapton listened and suddenly knew what he wanted to do with his life. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were both huge fans as were Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix. Pretty much all the greats on this list had their world turned upside down when they heard this album and realised how powerful music could be.

Before these songs were collected together into an LP, many of them had life as old 78's and it's these recordings which were owned by the likes of Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and informed their songwriting and attitude. You might not be able to say Lennon and McCartney were directly influenced by Johnson but those who influenced them were.

Good luck finding King of the Delta Blues Singers however. As an album it's been entirely and utterly superseded by The Complete Recordings which takes this release, its follow up and everything else Johnson has done and compiles them on two CD's. It is literally the complete recorded works of Johnson and includes every song he wrote, including alternate versions.

It's a pity that King of the Delta Blues Singers isn't around any more because it does serve as a great introduction to the great man's greatest work. The Complete Recordings, with its multiple duplications, is a bit much for many and K of the DBS serves as a good introduction to those who want to know what the fuss is about without having to hear two versions of the same song with slight variation.

Speaking of the fuss. There is a reason people make a fuss over Robert Johnson. He's definitely fussworthy. He sings as if he means every word. When he sings Hellhound on my Tail you really believe there's a demonic hound chasing the guy. He puts feeling into every note he sings and makes you feel the music in a way that at times can be downright unsettling.

The guitar that Johnson holds in one of the few photographs we have of him is battered and beaten up and when you hear him play you can see why. Johnson isn't just an idle chord strummer, he picks that thing and punishes it and makes it suffer in the way he's suffered himself. Johnson has the blues and he's sure as hell going to give them to his guitar as well.

The songs on King might not be familiar to you in their original form but if you're a fan of classic rock from the sixties and seventies you'll know a lot of them when you hear them. Crossroad Blues became Crossroads as played by Cream and shredded by Eric Clapton in his most famously ferocious guitar work out. Clapton would later give a much more sedate reading of Walkin Blues on his famous Unplugged album and would also cover Ramblin on my mind as his first ever lead vocal performance when he was a Bluesbreaker. Come on in my Kitchen was covered most notably by George Harrison in The Concert For Bangladesh, Travelling Riverside Blues was given a reading by Led Zeppelin and 32-30 Blues was covered by Bob Dylan.

Every song on this album has had countless run throughs in blues clubs all over the world and people will still be peeling off versions long after we've all forgotten who most of today's big name acts are. Johnson has become more than artist, he's part of our musical framework and something that we will always return to. You may never have heard the guy sing but if you're listening to music recorded after 1950 then his spirit is in there somewhere speaking to every note you're hearing. He was, and always will be, the King of the Delta Blues Singers.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I was looking for some good easy listening tunes. This collection my well have historical significance for music students, but doesn't give me any kind of pleasure. I tried each selection and found voice and style grading not entertaining."

-Well who the hell told you that Robert Johnson was what you were looking for? Nobody who has ever heard Johnson sing has described him as easy listening.