Monday, 18 November 2019

The Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The Blue (1977)

Concerto for a rainy day....

  

Released on 3rd October 1977

Running time 70.16

After successfully giving his Electric Light Orchestra a poppy, more chart-friendly makeover on the previous year’s extremely successful A New World Record, Jeff Lynne went the whole hog with this (possibly) bloated but undoubtedly impressive meisterwerk. Seemingly oblivious to contemporary musical trends like punk and only paying a few brief nods to disco, Lynne continued his musical fixation with The Beatles’ 67-70 output and put out this incredibly successful double album that became as much the sound of 1977 as any punk or disco sounds. Lynne’s highly orchestrated rock was popular with all sorts of fans - rock, pop, disco, why even the punks didn’t seem to mind it. It duly sold over 10 million copies. ELO were now huge, being described as “the biggest band in the world”, briefly.

Personally, despite having bought some of their music since 1972, I was never convinced by the hype and found a double album of ELO a bit difficult to stomach. I still do, to be honest. Around ten tracks would have been fine, as it was on the previous album. Then again, I have always liked my ELO in small doses. It seemed the public wanted more, however, as they lapped this up. You can’t really argue with the album’s potency, though, and it stands as Lynne’s finest achievement with the group, none of the songs are duffers. Dare I say it was his White Album? No, it was more like his Abbey Road.

The whole thing is full of grandiosity seemingly at odds with the contemporary punk desire to strip things back. There was still an appetite for prog rock-style indulgence and camp pomposity, unbelievably. Queen were also hugely popular at the time for similar reasons. Mike Oldfield too. That should not be overlooked when assessing the success of material like this. For every clenched fist pogoing punk there were three or four Yes, Queen, Mike Oldfield or Emerson, Lake And Palmer fans.

TRACK LISTING

1. Turn To Stone
2. It’s Over
3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman
4. Across The Border
5. Night In The City
6. Starlight
7. Jungle
8. Believe Me Now
9. Steppin’ Out
10. Standin’ In The Rain
11. Big Wheels
12. Summer And Lightning
13. Mr. Blue Sky
14. Sweet Is The Night
15. The Whale
16. Birmingham Blues
17. Wild West Hero                                          


Anyway, on to the music. Turn To Stone was a huge hit and it is admittedly catchy, but it has always irritated me slightly, something about those high-pitched backing vocals and its somewhat synthetic disco-rock beat. Having said, it is always very nostalgic to hear it. It’s Over is a sumptuously orchestrated, appealing number that harks a year back to the commercial sound of A New World Record. Sweet Talkin’ Woman does so even more with a classic ELO rock hit. It was always my favourite from this period. It is incredibly hook-laden and simply a great single. Lynne borrows heavily from The Beach BoysHeroes And Villains on the lively and infectious Across The Border, which is a strange amalgam of the afore-mentioned song and some Mexican horn backing, merged together with lush, big production ELO pop.

Night In The City is a slice of very typical ELO fare that could come from the 1974-75 era. It has hints of Evil Woman and Strange Magic about it, plus some Beatles orchestration, of course. Starlight is an attractive, slow-paced number full of harmonies and hooks, once again. Jungle is a strange mix of tribal drum rhythms and big, chunky riffs that actually is quite refreshing in its slightly chunkier, different sound to the string-driven sound of earlier tracks. It is the most unusual of the songs on the album. An instrumental break leads into the plaintive, but dramatic strains of Steppin’ Out. I have to admit this is good stuff, when taken out of cultural context. These are all just great songs. If the album had ended here it would still have been a very good one, wouldn’t it?



The old “side three” was supposedly a “concept” suite called “Concerto For A Rainy Day” as Jeff can’t resist but go all proggy for a while. Standin’ In The Rain is a vibrant piano-driven number that only develops into a vocal song half way through. Despite its Rick Wakeman-style keyboard pretensions, it still has an attraction. Big Wheels is a sumptuously mournful McCartney-esque big production number. Summer And Lightning has a melodic, sixties-influenced grandeur to it that is almost unique. There really was nothing else around at the time that sounded like this. Some string hints of You Only Live Twice merge with the riff from The McCoysHang On Sloopy in a wonderful cornucopia. Great stuff. Unfortunately it segues into one of my least favourite ELO songs ever, Mr. Blue Sky. Now, I know so many love it, so we will leave it at that. You can’t deny its great production and innovativeness, though. It is completely obvious why it was such a massive hit.



There are still four more tracks to come, and one feels like it’s six o’clock on Christmas Day afternoon by now - pretty much stuffed. It is a shame, because Sweet Is The Night is a really good track, with a sort of Telephone Line appeal. Lynne sings in his vaguely Dylanesque voice on this fine number, which, for me, is much the superior of Mr. Blue Sky. The Whale is an interesting instrumental with a warm, deep bass line on it, along with some whale noises. Yes, it is a bit indulgent and proggy, but I like it. It is a bit of a hidden gem in the album, a track which has a depth of sound to it that was maybe lacking in some of the album’s more trebly, string-dominated moments.

Slightly incongruous yet very enjoyable is the chunky rock of Birmingham Blues. Lynne achieves a fine mix on the production here of bass and strings. This is something that is a characteristic of the whole album. The album ends with the haunting strains of Wild West Hero, which was a strange choice for a single. For me, it has always been a bit of a confused number, with an odd, folky chorus. Funny thing, three of the album’s four singles, snd the most popular songs are my least favourite ones from the album. Overall, there is some really good stuff on here.

So there you are, I have to admit that it was a great achievement and deserving of its success and longevity. The cover,  despite its corniness, was iconic also, oddly. Finally, this has by far the best quality sound of any ELO album, being the bassiest by far.

B-

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Jimi Hendrix - Band Of Gypsys (1970)

Machine gun....

  

Recorded live on 31/12/69 and 1/1/70

Running time 45.16

After The Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded in July 1969, Jimi Hendrix got together with bassist Billy Cox and funky, larger than life drummer Buddy Miles to initially fulfil contract obligations for a further album but also to showcase some new material and a new, more concentrated, serious playing style. They recorded the material live on 31st December 1969 and January 1st 1970. Hendrix played in a far less flamboyant fashion in that he stood pretty still for the performances, concentrating in his work as opposed to playing on instinct. He also used the guitar fuzz box together with other pedals and the like for the first time and the results are pretty impressive, putting down markers for so many subsequent guitarists to follow.

Although the tracks can be a bit rambling at times, they are full of innovation from all three players involved, it is pure, live music of the sort that characterised the late sixties and through the seventies but is now seemingly something to look back on nostalgically and think “was live music really that good?”.  It has gone down as one of the greatest live albums of all time.

TRACK LISTING

1. Who Knows
2. Machine Gun

3. Changes
4. Power To Love
5. Message To Love
6. We Gotta Live Together                                          


Who Knows has some seriously good guitar, clear sound snd a wonderful, deep, rumbling bass. I have read some criticisms of the sound quality, but it sounds great to me - warm, deep, raw and “live” - exactly as it should be. Hendrix’s intense guitar power is mind-blowing, he is in total control here. Yes, lengthy tracks like this have that improvised “jam” feel about them, but they are all the better for it, as far as I’m concerned. Buddy Miles indulges in some madcap “scat” singing at one point, which is momentarily irritating, but don’t let that distract from the quality of the musicianship. He also contributes some funky drumming that gives Hendrix’s music a different dimension to that of previous drummer, the more jazzy Mitch Mitchell. Billy Cox is an excellent bass player too, whereas Noel Redding had been a converted lead guitarist.

Machine Gun is a twelve minute number that is possibly a bit to long but it is incredibly atmospheric, particularly when Hendrix replicates the sounds of war such as bombs, guns and grenades using his guitar. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, remember, and serves as a scathing, potent protest song. Miles matches Hendrix at points with some rat-a-tat, gunfire drums. Brian May of Queen was surely influenced by this when he did his guitar stuff on Brighton Rock and Now I’m Here a few tears later. Listening to the track again it actually flew by (comparatively) so maybe it wasn’t too long.



Changes would seem to be a version of Buddy Miles’s upbeat, funkily captivating Them Changes. It is shorter than the previous two tracks and more instantly appealing. Hendrix’s guitar is outstanding, it goes without saying. Listen to the three of them interact at 2:50. Wonderful stuff. Power To Love manages to merge rock with a loose but muscular funkiness that obviously comes from Miles. Once again the chemistry between the three musicians is breathtaking. Up there with Cream and Blind Faith from the same period. The same applies to the rhythmic Message To Love. These last two tracks have shown an appealing catchiness to Hendrix’s approach as rock and soulful funk are brought together into a most attractive melting pot. The sound is great on these tracks too, by the way, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Jimi don’t need no audiophiles, man, you dig?

Buddy Miles’s We Gotta Live Together has a riffy, easy vibe that has the audience clapping along - to Hendrix, wow. There is real sense if everyone enjoying themselves here, such a shame it would all come to an end tragically soon after this. This is a truly great album and has suffered unfairly over the years but it would seem that these days its greatness is generally acknowledged.

B+

Buddy Miles



The Best Of Buddy Miles

Buddy Miles - The Best Of Buddy Miles

Them changes....

  

Buddy Miles was a legendary funk/rock drummer best known for his Band Of Gypsys collaboration with Jimi Hendrix and further work with Carlos Santana, among many others. He sang as well as played drums and was recognisable by his huge seventies Afro, at times.

This excellent compilation gets better as it progresses, starting with some rough and ready late sixties numbers before moving into the full on funk of the seventies.

TRACK LISTING

1. Train
2. Miss Lady
3. 69 Freedom Special
4. Texas
5. Them Changes
6. Dreams
7. Memphis Train
8. Runaway Child (Little Miss Nothin')
9. We've Got To Live Together
10. Joe Tex
11. Don't Keep Me Wondering
12. Midnight Rider
13. Wholesale Love
14. Down By The River                                         

Train is a punchy, brassy piece of funk/rock, full of killer horns, funky guitar and thumping drums. Check out that big rumbling bass. It has psychedelic echoes no doubt carried over from Miles’ work with Jimi Hendrix. Miss Lady is another pounder, with that brass to the fore once more and a bluesy beat. It has a late sixties groove to it, particularly on the swirling rock guitar. 69 Freedom Special dates, as you would expect from 1969 and features some superb drums from Miles and similarly impressive guitar from I am not sure who. Listen to that wonderful bass bit near the end too. These first three tracks suffer ever so slightly from a worse sound than the rest of the album, but it is not too much of a problem.

The guitar is just as impressive on the marvellous slow burning, bassy blues of Texas. This is where the quality really starts to kick in, big time and you really sit up and take notice. Them Changes is a lively, infectious number that surely influenced Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. Just as good is the vibrant brass soul/rock of Dreams. Listen to that drum/organ interplay around 2:30, it is almost as if they have let a prog-rock keyboardist into the studio. The guitar is outstanding too. Solid stuff. There is something easy seventies Traffic-esque about this. Memphis Train is a copper-bottomed piece of soulful blues the rocks from beginning to end. Runaway Child (Little Miss Nothin’) has Miles going all Otis Redding on an upbeat, punchy number. We've Got to Live Together is eleven minutes of supremely funky magnificence. Can you dig it, y'all. Miles had also done this number in shorter form as part of the Band Of Gypsys project.



Joe Tex (presumably named after the singer) is a cookin’ funky instrumental. Don’t Keep Me Wondering is a fine slice of brassy soul while Miles’ solid, funky take on The Allman BrothersMidnight Rider is outstanding. This is funk rock of the highest quality. The catchy Wholesale Love adds a bit of poppiness to the funk, this should have been a hit if you ask me. Miles’ cover of Neil Young’s Down By The River is also convincing, enhanced by some searing guitar breaks.

Overall, this is a great compilation and a much underrated one. If you like brass-dominated seventies fun with rock edges to it, you will enjoy this.

B-