Thursday, 31 May 2018
Released September 1976
Recorded in Hilversum, Holland
Along with its predecessor, this is possibly Steeleye Span’s finest example of commercial folk rock. Once again produced by Mike Batt of Wombles “fame” (indeed, a little known fact is that several members of Steeleye Span were the musicians behind The Wombles, even donning Womble costumes to appear on “Top Of The Pops” as the furry litter picker-uppers), the album perfectly blended traditional British folk songs with a rousing electric guitar and pounding drum sound. Then, of course, as always, there was vocalist Maddy Prior’s excellent folk voice.
The album is perhaps the band's most rock-influenced album, with very prominent guitars and a strong rhythm section. Some found it too overpowering, though. Certainly, the folk purists among the band’s following were not too happy with the album, seeing it as a commercial sell-out. As it was, it didn’t sell well, as punk was starting to be the order of the day by its release. The previous album had sold well, however, maybe this one just came out at the wrong time.
Standout tracks, for me, however, are the afore-mentioned evocative narrative “Sir James The Rose”, and the adaptation of the hymn “To Be A Pilgrim” - the haunting “Fighting For Strangers”. “London” is a fine, vocally harmonious opener and “Orfeo” sees the band even getting a little funky at times with a bit of wah-wah guitar. “The Twelve Witches” is a nod to a more folky, vocal-dominated past and “The Brown Girl” is an understated classic, actually. It even has a semi-funky, soulful bit in the middle. The wah-wah comes out again for the upbeat, vibrant Irish-influenced instrumental, “Sligo Maid” and funky guitar blends with traditional Irish fiddle. Top drumming from Nigel Pegrum on this one too.
The final track, “The Drunkard” sees the band begin it with an impromptu version of “Camptown Races” which singer Maddy Prior admits was done at a time of high drunkenness. Eventually, she pulls a superb vocal performance out of her hat, somehow.
Put the best tracks from this and the previous album together and you would have a great album.One sensed that band were at something of a crossroads at this point.
Indeed, unhappy with having to go along with this overly commercial approach, though, members Peter Knight and Bob Johnson left the band. I have to say I feel they were overreacting a bit. It is still a decidedly folky album in parts. Knight would return several years later, however.
Released October 2013
Pretty much all of Steeleye Span's huge canon of material is derived in one way or another from historical sources - ballads, poems, early folk songs and so on. Not so here. This is an album of original work based on the late Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels. Now, I have to admit that I have no knowledge of Pratchett's work, nor interest in it. I am a long time fan of Steeleye Span, however. I love this album. The songs are all different, many of them captivating and atmospheric and some of them heartbreakingly sad.
Played to the usual high standard, the album is a joy from start to finish. Personal highlights for me are the upbeat "Dark Morris Song" which sets the atmosphere for the album and the haunting title track, "Wintersmith" which introduces us to the character of the Wintersmith. The romantic "You" is beautiful and "The Making Of A Man" is a delight. Indeed, all the tracks are enjoyable. It is like reading a book. The album ends with violinist Peter Knight's tour de force, the emotional "We Shall Wear Midnight" which sees a character from the book asking the author Pratchett how he will go on to portray her, particularly, as it seems, he wasn't long for this world (as was the case). Truly moving.
The best edition to go for is the two CD edition which contains some excellent bonus tracks not considered for the original album and a number of live cuts from the accompanying "Wintersmith Tour”.
Released October 1975
Recorded at Air Studios, London
Steeleye Span’s Mike Batt-produced shot at the big time. Trying for a more commercial, chart-friendly style of folk-rock, Batt encouraged them to up the volume on the electric guitars and drums and they certainly do that on some truly excellent tracks - the haunting tale of female unfaithfulness that is “Black Jack Davy”, the rousing and exhilarating fast fiddle plus electric guitar rock of “Hard Times Of Old England” and, of course, the only real hit single they ever had (not including the Christmas novelty “Gaudete”) in the rumbustuous singalong fun of “All Around My Hat”.
“Cadgwith Anthem” is a beautiful a Capella, with a lovely brass part at the end, that sees the band returning to their true folk roots, as indeed does the instrumental “Sum Waves”. “The Wife Of Usher’s Well” is a beautifully melodious (with all vocalists taking roles), but sad tale of a wife who loses all three of her sons, presumably in some overseas conflict. “Gamble Gold” is pleasant enough, though - harmonious vocals and a great drum sound. “Dance With Me” is another tuneful romp based, apparently, on a Scandinavian folk song, while “Bachelors’ Hall” has an air of grandiose mystery about it, plus some killer guitar and violin, particularly at the end.
One listen to Maddy Prior’s voice soaring along with the band as the rock kicks in on “Hard Times Of Old England” is just such a pleasure. Along with “The Wife Of Usher’s Well”, with Peter Knight’s stunning violin work, two of the band’s finest moments. Furthermore you still can’t beat Maddy’s vocal on “All Around My Hat”.
Released January 1975
Recorded at Morgan Studios, London
The second of Steeleye Span’s fully-fledged electric folk albums and the last before new producer Mike Batt would help them achieve chart success. After “Now We Are Six”, with its occasional lapse into poor quality indulgence, this was, thankfully, a far more well-rounded and credible album.Immaculately played, a wonderful mix of heavy guitar riffs, strong drums and folky fiddle parts and, of course, Maddy Prior’s almost medieval voice, the songs on this album are strong and often tragic, as many of these traditional folk ballads were. “Little Sir Hugh” is about the murder of a young boy and the frightening tale of “Long Lankin” involves the murder (and possible rape) of a housewife on her own in her house by a mysterious visitor. It is a truly unnerving song. These songs, grisly as they are, are the album’s highlights.
There is also the customary fiddle reel, this time based upon a pice by Bach entitled “Back Goes To Limerick”, which merges Bach’s music with an Irish country reel. “Demon Lover” is a harmonious, catchy and tuneful Irish-sounding song, but to this day I have no idea what it is about and the same applies to the perplexing “Elf Call”. The latter has a great drum and guitar sound though. “Dogs And Ferrets” is an appealing slice of traditional ale-swilling English country folk. Sung a capella It lifts the mood somewhat after the morbid “Long Lankin”. As indeed does the intriguing, lilting folk air of “Galtee Farmer”, backed by an insistent, throbbing electric guitar.
“Weary Cutters” is an Irish-sourced a capella folk ballad, faultlessly sung by Prior and “New York Girls” is a rousing bar-room folk song based in New York, presumably sung there by immigrants from the UK in the late 18th/early 19th century. It suddenly finishes for some reason.
Released September 1976
Recorded in Los Angeles and New York City
Beloved of all the girls I was at school with, 1976’s double album from Stevie Wonder, was, despite accusations of bloatedness (that, to be honest, haunt every double album) his crowning achievement.Firstly, I have to say that the sound on this remaster is SUPERB - clear, sharp and bassy at the same time. Beautiful. Just what this great album deserves.
Packed with classics, of course - the funky “I Wish”; the sheer fun of “Sir Duke”; the later to be sampled “Pastime Paradise” and the monumental “As”, with its wonderful funky second half. There are also other wonderful tracks too - the funky instrumental “Contusion”; the “Talking Book” Stevie of “Love’s In Need Of Love Today” the smooth soul of “If It’s Magic” and “Summer Soft”. The funky second half of “Ordinary Pain”. Then "Joy Inside My Tears” and “Black Man”. They are all excellent. All of them. Even the harmonica solo that ends the otherwise schmaltzy “Isn’t She Lovely”.
The extra tracks included on the old bonus 45 single are good too, particularly the dreamy “Saturn” and the funk of “All Day Sucker”.
The “single album would have been better” argument always prevails with double albums. Always has. Personally I am happy to listen to the whole lot.
Although my favourite Stevie Wonder album is “Innervisions”, you simply can’t deny what an achievement this was. It never got any better than this.
Released November 1975 and May 1977
While not having the sheer quality and hard-hitting social perspective of the first two Philadelphia albums, bot these pieces of work are still eminently listenable. As alluded to earlier, disco had by now entered the mainstream of soul music and tracks like “Unity”, “Travellin’ At The Speed Of Light” and the hit disco single “I Love Music” exemplify that.
There are still quality funk workouts though, like “Family Reunion” and “Living For The Weekend” (check out the bass on this one) and addictive sweet slow soul in tracks such as “You And Me”, the Parliament-style funk vocal of “She’s Only A Woman”, “So Glad I Got You, Girl” and an impressive cover of Morris Albert’s hit “Feelings”.
Some have said that the quality tailed off in these two albums. I have to disagree on that one. They are still highly impressive releases. They didn’t sell well, however, and that signified the end of The O’Jays’ best years.
Released April 1975
Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia
By 1975, unfortunately, it would seem that the time for the O’Jays’ brand if social comment and sweet Philly soul was in the past. A shame, but that was just the way it was. Disco was on its way to change soul music for a while. Most soul acts subsequently felt obliged to put out disco-influenced material. The first notes of “Unity” from their next album, “Family Reunion” saw the O’Jays doing just that.
Back to “Survival”, while not reaching the heights of the previous two albums, there is still some good stuff on here - the syrupy soulful material juxtaposed with the biting, potent funk of the “message” songs. This is still a good album.
The highlight is the anti-big business and finance song in “Rich Get Richer”, which covers the same ground as “For The Love Of Money”. Other “aware” songs are “Survival” and “Give The People What They Want”.
“How Time Flies” and “Let Me Make Love To You” are both immaculately delivered slow soul numbers and we are reminded just how good the group were.
The brooding “What Am I Waiting For” is possibly the group’s last classic song. A great vocal over a rich bass and horns backing. Like Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Chi-Lites and Chairmen Of The Board, we should be grateful to the O’Jays for giving us some truly memorable soul music in the first half of the 1970s.
Released November 1973
Recorded at Sigma Studios, Philadelphia
This, along with its predecessor from the previous year, is part of the two best O’Jays albums on the Philadelphia International label.
It ploughs the same furrow as “Backstabbers” - a mix of social comment and upbeat, melodic Philly soul. “Put Your Hands Together” is an almost Northern Soul-ish pulsating danceable opener, with more than a hint of Chairmen Of The Board about it, while the extended nine minutes of “Ship Ahoy” sees a slower, more soulful pace featuring the group’s excellent harmonies over a tight, bassy backing. However, it is one of the tracks that show that it is possible to combine socially meaningful lyrics without losing the soul or funk. The “ship” in question is a slave ship and references in the lyrics to “cracking of whips” leave the listener in no doubt as to the meaning of the song. The album’s cover reiterates that sad message. This was some five years before “Roots”, remember. Dig deep into this album and its layers reveal a darkness not immediately apparent.
“The Air I Breathe” is a return to the commercial, soul pop sound that featured on some of the previous album’s material, but again, the song conveys a message about pollution and the erosion of air quality. While the previous album contained some social comment, there is more on here. Underneath the lush soul sound and the disco/funk rhythms the O’Jays and the songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff are angry and are going to use the vehicle of soul music to both preach and educate simultaneously.
“You Got Your Hooks In Me” is unquestionably a soul smoocher, though. Great vocals. It has a seductive saxophone and bass backing too. Then there is the much sampled “For The Love Of Money” with its pulsating bass line played by Anthony Jackson and earthy lead vocal from Eddie Levert. Not forgetting the brass section breaks. Peerless. “Now That We’ve Found Love” is the original of the hit single for reggae band Third World from 1978. Theirs was a truly iconic cover version, but this original version has a sweet soul groove that stimulates too. I was only familiar with the Third World version so it was good to hear this. I was unaware that it was originally a Philly/O’Jays song.
The cynical, lengthy soul blues of “Don’t Call Me Brother” drifts on just a little bit too long, however heartfelt and soulful it undoubtedly is, but the closer “People Keep Tellin’ Me” kicks off with a classic Philly intro and a Harold Melvin-style vocal to reaffirm that even on what is essentially a dark album, albeit with a honey veneer, The O’Jays were still a life-affirming soul combo of the highest order.
As a vital piece of 70s African/American social comment, it is up there with “What’s Going On”, “Curtis”, “There’s Something About America Today”, and “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. It is never mentioned in such exalted company, which is a shame.
Released August 1972
Recorded at Sigma Studios, Philadelphia
Inspired by The Temptations and Sly & The Family Stone in the late 60s and Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye in the early 70s, by 1972 it was almost de rigeur for soul groups to channel their inner social conscience. The O’Jays kick off this, their breakthrough debut album on Philadelphia Records, with a funky “what’s wrong with the world today” slab of social comment in “When The World’s At Peace”. Great start. Thereafter it is pretty much sweet soul all the way, albeit with touches of street wise comment. Beginning with the classic “Philly Soul” of the hit single “Backstabbers”. The group had produced a few late 60s albums without much success, but it was from here that things really started for them.
“Who Am I” could have come straight off Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with its laid back soulful groove and lush, big production orchestration. It is, however a love song, so it would have fitted just as easily on Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. “(They Call Me) Mr. Lucky” is a typical Philly Soul ballad, while “Time To Get Down” is one of the first example of that great Philly disco sound popularised by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes as well as The O’Jays. The extended funk/disco workout of “992 Arguments” continues in that insistent pulsating vein, with an excellent instrumental last minute or two.
“Listen To The Clock On The Wall” has a stirring brass backing and “Shiftless, Shady, Jealous Kind Of People” is straight out of the Curtis Mayfield songbook. Whereas Curtis often laid things on very thick and his backing could on occasions be a bit tinny, here The O‘Jays have a rich full backing and their peerless vocal harmonies to render them a little different from either Mayfield or Gaye.
“Sunshine” is the album’s purest soul ballad, which is fine, but it breaks the upbeat, funky groove somewhat. Not to worry - the now iconic “Love Train” finishes things off in magnificent soulful call to arms style.
Released July 1981
Recorded at Media Sound Studios, New York City
A “crossroads” album for The Ramones. Hiring ex-10 cc guitarist Graham Gouldman to produce the album, hoping for more commercial success, it resulted in conflict between band members Joey and Johnny, the latter who wanted the band to concentrate on the raw punk of their first three albums, whereas the singer preferred the more poppier sound to be found here.
Tracks like “She’s A Sensation”, “7-11” and the mystifying “The KKK Took My Baby Away” are actually melodic, exciting power pop type songs as indeed is “It’s Not My Place (In The 9 to 5 World)”. Even musically punkier tracks like “You Didn’t Mean Anything To Me” and “We Want The Airwaves” have a lighter, tuneful delivery. The harder songs are closer to Black Sabbath-style hard rock than punk, to be honest. The poppy handclaps are omnipresent, however.
This album is really nothing like the first three albums at all (certainly not the first two). Although you can still tell it is The Ramones, even Joey’s voice seemed to carry a different timbre now, trying to be more like his beloved 60s pop.
Music media reaction, on the whole, was negative, feeling the band had “sold out” “gone pop” and the like. This is slightly unfair, one feels. What were The Ramones supposed to do? Produce annual replicas of their first album for the foreseeable future? Had they done so, they would attracted negative feedback for doing just that.
Personally, I have always quite enjoyed this album, although I fully accept that the previous five are the five essential Ramones albums. Here is where their output becomes non-essential.
Released February 1980
Recorded in Hollywood
In 1980, The Ramones brought in the production genius that was the legendary Phil Spector for this, their fifth studio album. They had diversified just a little on their previous album, "Road To Ruin" and this outing saw them broadening their horizons even more while still remaining true to their punk roots.
With Spector's help, they laid down a killer cover of The Ronettes' "Baby I Love You", although nothing could hope to compete with the original. Why, it even included orchestration. Strings? On a Ramones record? Wow! "Rock n Roll Radio" was a big production "wall of sound" tribute to old rock n rollers and DJs. Most of the other material was more punky - the catchy "Rock n Roll High School" (used in the film of the same name; my own personal favourite in "All The Way"; Richard Hell & the Voidoids' "Chinese Rock"; "This Ain't Havana" and "High Risk Insurance". All these are punk in nature, but still have a tunefulness to them, as indeed does the almost laid back feel (at times) of "I'm Affected".
Another favourite is the "slowie", "Danny Says" about their road manager. Lovely melody and delivery by Joey.
This is just a little different from what we had come to expect from The Ramones, within reason. They even used a few extra bits of percussion and I'm sure there is a acoustic guitar in there somewhere.
Released September 1978
Recorded at Media Sound Studios, New York City
Released in 1978, "Road To Ruin" followed three iconic "1-2-3-4" Ramones albums of punk rock heaven. By now, they felt the need to show they weren't not just three-chord wonders. The "new wave" had begun, and acts like Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Jam and The Clash were diversifying and showing considerable songwriting skills. Maybe The Ramones felt they had to compete in similar fashion, or maybe they just fancied trying something different. Either way, this album saw the first real Ramones ballad in "Questioningly" and "Don't Come Close" was a single which had a new wave style melody to it - certainly not a two minute fist pumper/pogoer. The cover of The Searchers' "Needles And Pins" ploughed a similar furrow. Even the catchy "I Wanna Be Sedated" seemed a little more singalong and a little less three chord guitar thrash, despite its repetitive structure.
Only twelve tracks on here as opposed to the fourteen on the previous three. Those songs must be getting longer! The Ramones were going all Led Zeppelin.
There are still some copper-bottomed punkers in "Go Mental" and "Bad Brain", which sees the band revisit their mental health obsession. "I Don't Want You", "I'm Against It" and "She's The One" are a bit Ramones-by-numbers, to be honest. Nothing really memorable about them, however.
Despite that, I still have a nostalgic affection for this album. I remember buying it on the day of release back in 1978 and being a bit underwhelmed, though, in comparison to "Rocket To Russia". The yellow vinyl was mightily impressive though, so much so that I still always remember it as The Ramones' "yellow album" and the cover art certainly adds to that effect. Still, The Ramones are The Ramones - there is always something to enjoy.
2018 40th ANNIVERSARY REMASTERED EDITION
This 40th Anniversary remaster is not as easily available as the previous three in the series, although a digital download is on amazon, as well as a vinyl/CD set.
As with the others, the question of whether anything by The Ramones needs remastering is a valid one. However, listening to this, the remaster of the original sounds pretty impressive. Listen to those cutting, slashing guitars right at the end of “I Just Want To Have Something To Do” (the first sign of The Ramones playing anything more than the riff chords). The bass on “I Wanted Everything” comes over full, muscular and resonant. “Don’t Come Close” just explodes right out your speakers with a big bassy boom. “Needles And Pins” also has some excellent bass too. It is on the “ballads” that the bassy remastering is most apparent, and “Questioningly” provides another example.
The alternative mixes are, rather like the ones on the previous three 40th Anniversary re-releases, even more bassy and warm-sounding. The slight tinniness that the original album always had is not present and the album sounds more like it maybe should have done. Sort of purer. I really enjoyed listening to these. Many people may not notice a difference, but I am sure most Ramones-oholics will. “Don’t Come Close” has none of those high-pitched additional guitar twangs. It is played in pure, typical, chugging Ramones style and is very appealing for it. Tracks like “I’m Against It”, “I Don’t Want You” and the excellent “I Wanna Be Sedated” all sound great. The latter is beautifully punchy and bassy. “Go Mental” just sounds raw, edgy and somehow better than the original. In a way the whole “alternative” album does. The same was certainly true of the “Leave Home” and “Rocket To Russia” alternative mixes. Something pure and essential about them. I am not sure how the “Rough Mixes” and “2018 mixes” differ, however. Both sound fresh and vibrant. The ‘Rough Mixes” contain a frantic, breakneck “I Wanna Be Sedated” which is the very essence of The Ramones. The same goes for “Don’t Come Close”.
The live tracks from 31 December 1979 are raw and lively as you would imagine. The sound quality is ok, not outstanding, but perfectly acceptable.
Released November 1977
Recorded at Media Sound Studio, Manhattan
The studio work of The Ramones is probably the least in need of remastering of any band. That said, there is a full, bassy warmth to this latest remastering that has not been there before and serves as a counter to the full-on guitar of most of the tracks.
Released in late 1977, this was the album where breakneck punk fully met surf pop and goofball lyrics complete the "chewin' out a rhythm on my bubblegum" pleasure. Surf pop. Power pop. Call it what you will, it is there in the wonderful "Rockaway Beach", the cover of "Surfin' Bird", in "Ramona", "Locket Love" and the cover of "Do You Wanna Dance". The obsessions with health, particularly mental health abound in "Cretin Hop", "I Wanna Be Well" and "Teenage Lobotomy". Then there is the goofy humour of "We're A Happy Family" and the quirky "Why Is It Always This Way?". Punky nihilism is there too in "I Don't Care", while "I Can't Give You Anything" is a cynical "anti-love" song.
Then there is one of the first "punk ballads" in the lovely "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" and, of course, there is the "hit" - the iconic "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker". All great 1-2-3-4 stuff. The other versions of the album you get here - the "tracking mixes" and the "rough mixes" are both appealing in their own way. I am not quite sure how they differ from each other. In relation to the original album, I find the "Tracking Mixes" just a bit "rougher", more bassy, more defined somehow. Again, not sure what the differences really are, but they are there. The alternative versions are worth listening to.
The extras - instrumental versions, demos versions, alternate lyric versions are of only initial interest to me and no more, I'm afraid.
All in all, though, if you a fan, you will still want to get it. If you just want the original album, download the individual tracks.
Released January 1977
Recorded at Sundragon Studios, New York City
Do the words "Ramones" and "Remastering" have any real relationship? The studio work of The Ramones is probably the least in need of remastering of any band. That said, there is a full, bassy warmth to this latest remastering that has not been there before and serves as a counter to the full-on guitar of most of the tracks.
Released in early 1977, this was the album where the formula from the iconic, breakthrough debut album was improved upon a bit, in terms of studio and production levels. It doesn't lose any of the first album's rough and ready power though. Just a bit more polished and some of the songs a bit more tuneful. Why there's even a couple of semi-ballads in there in "I Remember You" and "What's Your Game". Surf pop is there in "California Sun", "Oh Oh I Love Her So" and "Swallow My Pride". There is the goofy "Suzy Is A Headbanger", "Pinhead" and the full on 1-2-3-4 thrash of "Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy", "Glad To See You Go" and "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment". I remember first hearing the line "I Met Her At The Burger King" in "Oh Oh I Love Her So". I didn't know what a "Burger King" was!
The other versions of the album you get here - the "40th Anniversary mix" and the "Sundragon rough mixes" are both appealing in their own way. I am not quite sure how they differ from each other, particularly the "40th Anniversary mix". I really cannot detect much difference, if I am truly honest! In relation to the original album, I find the "Sundragon Tracking Mixes" just a bit "rougher", more bassy, more "drummy" - more defined somehow. Maybe a tiny bit more melodic. Again, not sure what the differences really are, but they are there. The alternative versions are worth listening to. Very similar to those on "Rocket To Russia".
The extras - instrumental versions, demos versions, alternate lyric versions are of only initial interest to me and no more, I'm afraid. The live stuff is as you would expect - rough and ready, but that what a Ramones gig was like. Not an "audiophile" in sight. Thank God.
All in all, though, if you a fan, you will still want to get it. If you just want the original album, download the individual tracks.
Released April 1977
Recorded at Plaza Sound, New York City
Let’s be honest, The Ramones were an extremely odd bunch, like the four geekiest/sociopathic kids at school gathered up in one group. But what a revolutionary sound they produced.
On to their now iconic debut album from 1976. This remastering of the iconic 1976 debut album from The Ramones is a so-so affair. There is not much you can do to “remaster” the all out thrash of that buzzsaw guitar, rumbling bass and pounding drums, not forgetting Joey Ramone’s strange bleat of a vocal. The 2016 remaster is therefore as ok as it can be. I am not a mono fan, so, unfortunately the mono mix does nothing for me. Neither can I see the need for it. I can understand the Beatles, Dylan, Beach Boys mono vs stereo thing, because much of that music was originally recorded in mono. In 1976, not even punks expected recordings to be in mono.
Great punk cuts abound though - “Blitzkreig Bop”, “Beat On The Brat”, “Judy Is A Punk”, “Loudmouth”, “Havana Affair”. US punk Heaven. Bizarre lyrics, buzzsaw riffs, thumping drums, frantic songs that rarely exceed three minutes (if not two). Music had never really seen or heard anything like it. It really was a ground-breaking album in its totally goofy simplicity. It was the very antidote to all that "prog rock" indulgence.
The jewel in the crown in this collection, however, is the two live sets from The Roxy. Surprisingly good sound quality for the time and the superior of the “ It’s Alive” live release, sound-wise.PS, was that a harmonica at the end of “Let’s Dance”? Always wondered.
Live recordings from 1982 at New York's Shea Stadium
There is a paucity of live Clash material, apart from "From Here To Eternity", which is a compilation of live cuts from 1977-1982, there is not much else. This, at least, is a full concert, from the end of The Clash's sadly all-too-short career, supporting The Who in the USA in 1982. They weren’t headlining though. The crowd were there to see The Who.
It is a shame that by now, The Clash had become a "stadium band" supporting a big, bloated rock act in the US. I prefer to remember them as I saw them, in 1000-capacity venues like Friars, Aylesbury or London's Lyceum. That was the true essence of The Clash live, a thousand pogoing, sweaty punks in a cramped indoor venue, not huddling from the rain outdoors, as they are here. Some of that feeling is caught on "From Here To Eternity" where there are some earlier tracks, but actually, about a third of that album comes from the 1982 US tour. There are also six tracks from 1978 at the London Lyceum included in the "Sound System" box set. These are probably the best live cuts out there.
Despite that, the material here is good. The band deliver some excellent versions that cover their all too brief career. A great mix of "The Magnificent Seven" and "Armagideon Time"; a powerful opener in "London Calling" followed by a rousing “Police On My Back” and then the bemused audience trying to make sense of the punky reggae of "Guns Of Brixton". Unfortunately, a punk classic like "Career Opportunities" gets a bit "stadium-ised" and loses a lot of its original energy. However, overall, the album is a good one. The sound quality is surprisingly good for an outdoor gig from 1982. A powerful memory of just how good The Clash were and what a shame it was that they split soon after this. Any bad feeling is certainly not apparent here, they go for it.
I must admit to a certain amount of pride listening to this oh-so-British band hitting the American audience between the eyes with “London Calling” at the beginning of the show. Then Joe Strummer tells the audience to “stop yakking” during “Police On My Back”. You tell ‘em.
Live recordings from 1977 to 1982
The collection contains six full Jam concerts from 1977 to 1982:-
1977 - From London's 100 Club -Featuring mainly tracks from "In The City" plus a few from "This Is The Modern World".
1978 - From London's Music Machine - concentrating on material from This Is The Modern World".
1979 - From Reading University - "This Is The Modern World" and "All Mod Cons".
1980 - From Newcastle City Hall - largely material from "Sound Affects".
1981 - From London's Hammersmith Palais - showcasing material from the forthcoming "The Gift".
1982 - From London's Wembley Arena - from the last tour - tracks from "The Gift" and all the albums.
There is no gig from the excellent tour showcasing material from "Setting Sons" in late 1979 early 1980, although tracks from that album are played at the Newcastle City Hall gig. Live gigs from that tour can be found on various versions of "Setting Sons Deluxe". Best to download them - Brighton and The Rainbow in London.
The sound quality is variable. Obviously the earlier ones in smaller venues are more "rough and ready". However the sound is never bad. Indeed the rougher ones have a certain atmosphere. A Jam gig was never for audiophiles anyway. Thank God. I was lucky enough to see them ten times live between 1977 and 1982 - four times at Friars, Aylesbury. Great memories.
Released December 1982
Live recordings from 1977 to 1982
The importance of this live album from The Jam has lessened over the years. In 1982 when it was released it was received like the Holy Grail because there was simply no other Jam live material available and we craved it. Now, there is the fantastic “Fire And Skill” six gig box set; the “Jam At The BBC” live sessions; various live gig extras as part of the “deluxe” remaster series and the “Live Jam” release which plays like a full live set, even though it might not be one.
“Dig The New Breed”, however, is a 14 song collection derived from live gigs between 1977 and 1982. The quality is variable but we were grateful at the time for anything that captured that feeling of being at a Jam gig. I was lucky enough to be at ten of them. It would have made more sense at the time to have released a full gig, but this was how the band chose to reward their legions of loyal fans. At the time, nobody complained. They really didn’t. Everything was lapped up.
I remember at the time, though, being slightly underwhelmed by the album, feeling that indeed it did not reflect the true thrill of being at a Jam gig and that the tracks chosen were not the best either. I would have liked to have seen “Tube Station”, “Strange Town” or “Wardour Street” on there, along with maybe “Life From A Window” or “Here Comes The Weekend” from the earlier days.
As it is, is it good to hear “In The City”, “To Be Someone” and “It’s Too Bad”. “Big Bird” is an interesting inclusion but sonically it is a mess and not a patch on the original. The take of “Going Underground” on here is somewhat clumsy too.
Released November 1977
Recorded at Basing Street Studios, London
Often maligned as “the difficult second album” when Paul Weller supposedly suffered from “writer’s block”. You what? You having a Laugh? - “The Modern World”; the Who-influenced “Standards”; the poetic “Life From A Window”; the rocking “Here Comes The Weekend”; the thoughtful “The Combine”; more Who vibes on “I Need You” and another dreamy one in “Tonight At Noon”. This was a far, far better album than it was ever given credit for. The sound on it is good too - full, punchy and solid, lots of impressive bass and drums. Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler were equally important to The Jam as Paul Weller at this point.
Indeed, "The Combine", with its excellent guitar/vocal fade out, is the equal of anything on the much-lauded next album, "All Mod Cons". It was the best thing The Jam had done so far, and is much underrated.
Back to Weller. Some writer's block. I believe those to be some of his best songs. Despite those that were to follow. “Tonight At Noon” is a great song, as is "London Girl". End of. "In The Street Today" bristles with punky energy. Even the closing cover of Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" is more than acceptable, full of youthful attack and energy. Bruce Foxton's frenetically punky "London Traffic" is enjoyable, but his "Don't Tell The You're Sane" leaves something to be desired, however.
The sound on both these albums, as released on the "1977" box set, is excellent, as said earlier, as indeed it is on the more interesting than usual demo tracks and the live gig from London’s 100 club which is good as one could hope for from a sweaty, cramped room in 1977.
Released May 1977
Recorded at Stratford Place Studio, London
Formed in Woking in 1975-76. The Jam were Paul Weller, with his harsh British working class vocals, and Who-like guitar, underpinned by Bruce Foxton’s rumbling bass and Rick Buckler’s metronomic drumming.
While they shared the "angry young men" outlook and fast tempos of their punk rock contemporaries, The Jam wore smartly tailored suits rather than ripped clothes, and, rather than rejecting the influences of recent rock history in common with other punk bands, they incorporated a number of mainstream 1960s rock and R&B influences, particularly from The Who, The Kinks and from Motown music. This set the Jam apart from most of their contemporaries, and placed them at the forefront of a nascent mod revival movement.
So, on to The Jam’s breakneck debut album. Was it punk or simply a throwback to thirteen years earlier and The Who? Probably a bit of both if we are brutally honest. 1-2-3-4 and we are straight into “Art School” (exactly what were art schools?, even in the 70s I had no idea!). We had heard nothing like this. To me, it felt somehow more genuine than The Sex Pistols somewhat contrived posturings. The Jam really were just three lads from Woking who wanted to form a band.
Three more high speed thrashes in "I've Changed My Address", "Slow Down" and "I Got By In Time" and we are into the mini-epic “Away From The Numbers”, which is very Who-ish as, of course, is “The Batman Theme”. Up next is the towering “In The City”, a candidate for the best punk single, ever. Guitar, then bass, then drums then Paul Weller spits out his hymn to youth. Jam Heaven.
“Sounds From The Street” sees Weller bemoaning coming from Woking because “his heart is in the city, where it belongs..” then some more amphetamine-driven three minute rides in "Non-Stop Dancing", "Takin' My Love", the cod-politics of "Time For Truth", and finally the bitter, cynicism of "Bricks And Mortar" (which contains the line - "a man whose house has cost forty grand..") and its all over.
Released March 1982
Recorded at Air Studios, London
Released in March 1982, this album signalled the beginning of the end for The Jam as Paul Weller was no doubt hatching his Style Council project in his mind. Weller used horn players on this album as his Motown/Stax influences grew stronger. The traditional Bruce Foxton (bass) and Rick Buckler (drums) rhythm section seemed less integral to The Jam's sound on this one, despite some high points - Foxton's "Town Called Malice" intro for one.
The afore-mentioned Motown-influenced "Town Called Malice" was, of course, a huge chart topping single. Its B side, "Precious", a worthy first stab at funk that left some early punky fans of the band a bit in two minds. "Carnation" and "Ghosts" were beautiful Weller "slowies" and "Happy Together" a reasonable, upbeat opener. "Trans Global Express" continued the funk experimentation, its hook directly lifted from the Northern Soul obscurity "So Is The Sun" by "World Column".
The suitably breathless "Running On The Spot" is upbeat enough, but to be perfectly honest, it is nothing special. "Just Who Is The 5 O' Clock Hero" is a quirky number with cynical lyrics about the working life and "The Gift" is a sort of energetic rock meets Northern Soul groove.
"The Planner's Dream Gone Wrong" was a bit of a calypso-inflenced mess, while Foxton's instrumental "Circus" somewhat inessential considering the excellent "A Solid Bond In Your Heart" (later to be recorded by The Style Council) was not included (it appears in the bonus tracks). The bonuses include the great non-album singles of "The Bitterest Pill" and the band's final single, "Beat Surrender" and some ill-considered soul covers in "War" and "Stoned Out Of My Mind".
The remastering on this is, a bit like that used for "Sound Affects" a bit to tinny for my liking. The best remasters of this material can be found on the "Direction Creation Reaction" box set. As with "Sound Affects" though, the extras are remastered in a much more bassy, appealing fashion which is equally perplexing.
One could see which direction Paul Weller was going here. What was amazing was that he called the whole thing to a halt virtually overnight. Five great years. Maybe, like The Beatles, The Clash, "Fawlty Towers" and "The Office", he was right. The Jam left a great musical legacy.