Thursday, 10 January 2019

Al Stewart - Bedsitter Images (1967)


Released October 1967


1. Bedsitter Images
2. Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres
3. The Carmichaels
4. Scandinavian Girl
5. Pretty Golden Hair
6. Denise at 16
7. Samuel, Oh How You've Changed
8. Cleave to Me
9. A Long Way Down From Stephanie
10. Ivich
11. Beleeka Doodle Day                                            

"Bedsitter Images" is a lively, very sixties-ish folk/rock song, telling us of life in sixties London. It also uses sweeping string orchestration. I also have to say that the sound on the 2007 remaster is truly outstanding for a recording from 1967. "Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres" is an image-packed, acoustic "story" song which tells of Stewart's relationship with a girl in Swiss Cottage. It is a sad, moving tale.  "The Carmichaels" has several echoes of David Bowie's material from this period, in both its lyrics and vocal delivery. It is a bizarre song about the singer's affair with the unsatisfied Mrs. Carmichael. It is very sixties, but quite ground-breaking in many ways. The same can be said of the jaunty "Scandinavian Girl". These songs are all about various love afars and full of honesty and sincerity. There are a lot of observational tales of romance, either autobiographical or looking at the lives of ordinary people.

"Pretty Golden Hair" is once more very David Bowie-ish, about a boy with long hair. Perhaps the Bowie thing is apt as Bowie was memorably on TV talking about his long hair at the time. It gets quite jazzy at one point, musically and lyrically it gets rather Brechtian in its denouement. It is also hard-hitting as the boy turns to male prostitution. Quite a brave song for 1967 indeed. "Denise At 16" is an acoustic guitar instrumental that is quite beautiful. "Samuel, Oh How You've Changed" has a melody very similar to Ralph McTell's "Streets Of London" in its guitar backing and tune. It seems many people have noticed this, as it is pretty obvious. This song was two years before "Streets". Either way the song has the same intrinsic folky sadness.

"Cleave To Me" has an extended, orchestrated, classically-influenced introduction before we get a short, folky and pleasant Cat Stevens-esque song. There are quite a few Stevens influences floating around on this album. "A Long Way Down From Stephanie" goes full on baroque in its harpsichord backing. The Rolling Stones were using this type of backing a lot in the same period. It was de rigeur. 
Again, the vocal is very David Bowie, and surely Elton John had given this a listen before his "Elton John" album from 1970. Paul Buckmaster's string production on parts of that album are very similar to those used here. "Ivich" is a Russian-influenced finger-picking instrumental. "Beleeka Doodle Day", despite its odd title, is the most fulfilled song on the album, clocking in at seven minutes, it is another Bowie-style number, both in its folky melody and certainly in its beguiling lyrics. It a pretty adventurous composition for 1967, almost Dylanesque in parts too.

There is a lot of full orchestration on the album, sort of folk-baroque, which dates it somewhat and makes the whole thing sound somewhat jaunty, detracting from the often sad, meaningful lyrics. The songs would maybe have been better served with an acoustic, soft folk/rock backing, as indeed Stewart later admitted.


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