Sunday, 21 July 2019

Van Morrison - A Career In Twenty Songs




As with all of these lists, they are virtually impossible to do, this one even more so, given the huge body of work that Van Morrison has presented to the world for over fifty years. Here you go, though, some of my favourite Van tracks for you to allow the healing to begin...

1. Madame George (from "Astral Weeks")
2. Caravan (from "Moondance")
3. Into The Mystic (from "Moondance")
4. Tupelo Honey (from "Tupelo Honey")
5. Linden Arden Stole The Highlights (from "Veedon Fleece")
6. Bulbs (from "Veedon Fleece")
7. Wonderful Remark (long version from "The Philosopher's Stone")
8. Take It Where You Find It (from "Wavelength")
9. When The Healing Has Begun (from "Into The Music")
10. You Make Me Feel So Free (from "Into The Music")
11. Spirit (from "Common One")
12. She Gives Me Religion (from "Beautiful Vision")
13. In The Garden (from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher")
14. Tir Na Nog (from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher")
15. Daring Night (from "Avalon Sunset")
16. When The Saints Go Marching In (from "Avalon Sunset" bonus tracks)
17. Real Real Gone (from "Enlightenment")
18. Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (from "The Healing Game")
19. When The Leaves Come Falling Down (from "Back On Top")
20. Precious Time (from "Back On Top")

Friday, 19 July 2019

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes - To Be True (1975)


 

Released in 1975

Running time 39.04

This was actually Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' third album of harmonious, sometimes funky smooth soul. Vocals were shared between Teddy Pendergrass, Melvin himself and female singer Sharon Paige. Along with The O 'Jays, Billy Paul and The Three Degrees, they were the pride of the Philadelphia International label.

TRACK LISTING

1. Where Are All My Friends
2. To Be True
3. Pretty Flower
4. Hope That We Can Be Together Soon
5. Nobody Could Take Your Place
6. Somewhere Down The Line
7. Bad Luck
8. It's All Because Of A Woman                              

"Where Are All My Friends" is introduced by some typically seventies Philly brass and percussion before Pendergrass's deep, dominating voice arrives. This is a classic slice of seventies soul. "To Be True" is also representative of its era and genre, this time due to its smoochy, late-night "come to bed honey" soul vibe. Its soulful, slow pace is backed by a solid, deep bass and a punchy brass interjection on the refrain. It also has the archetypal spoken part near the end, Barry White style. "Pretty Flower" is also a ballad, but this time with a bassier, more percussive backing as compared to the sweet orchestration of the previous track.

"Hope That We Can Be Together Soon" has Sharon Paige on vocals on another romantic, slow number. "Nobody Could Take Your Place" is a livelier song with some infectious, crystal clear cymbal work and funky wah-wah guitar backing. The harmonies on the catchy chorus are excellent and this is a great example of Philly soul of the time. The O' Jays and Billy Paul both produced similar stuff, although Harold and his mates were the ones who specialised in the more groove-driven dance-y numbers. This track also features some impressive saxophone near the end.


"Somewhere Down The Line" is sweetly appetising, harmonious soul. Again, the percussion/brass interplay is intoxicating. Pendergrass's vocal on here is soaring. Wonderful. Then, of course, there is the magnificent, funky strains of "Bad Luck", with its addictive cymbals riding over Pendergrass's gruff but evocative vocal. Just check out that funky riff. Actually, the track is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Truly great stuff. "It's All Because Of A Woman" has a stop-start rhythm to it at the beginning that surely influenced David Bowie around the same time during his soul period, and Prince too, much later on. The bass/drum bits are superb. Vocally, Bowie modelled his soul voice on Melvin I am sure. I am reminded a lot of "It's Gonna Be Me".

Overall, this was a sumptuous piece of seventies soul, but, as I said, "Bad Luck" is by far the best cut on it. Standing out by a mile.

C+

Chris Rea - God's Great Banana Skin (1992)

  

Released on 2 November 1992

Running time 55.00

This was the album which saw Chris Rea's long-held love of the blues finally start to really poke its head above the surface. The easy listening vibe created in the late eighties/early nineties is still there, but there is also bluesy guitar prevalent and a laid-back ambience persists all around the album. It is even more low-key than its predecessor, "Auberge" had been. Rea was certainly laying down a marker as to the sort of material he wanted to be known for at this time. You don't get too much difference in a whole row of Rea albums around now until he went full-on bluesy at the end of the nineties, but there were definitely signs on here.

TRACK LISTING


1. Nothing To Fear
2. Miles Is A Cigarette
3. God's Great Banana Skin
4. 90's Blues
5. Too Much Pride
6. Boom Boom
7. I Ain't The Fool
8. There She Goes
9. I'm Ready
10. Black Dog
11. Soft Top, Hard Shoulder                                 

"Nothing To Fear" begins with two and a half minutes of atmospheric, deep, bluesy background guitar before a gently rhythmic wine bar-style beat kicks in, together with Rea's smoky, warm reassuring voice. A killer slide guitar solo features near the end. The track fades out with a real Dire Straits feel to it. "Miles Is A Cigarette", which presumably references Miles Davis, is suitably late night and jazzy, with "A Kind Of Blue" influences. Rea praises the pleasures of smoking on the song, something nobody minded in 1992, funny how a couple of decades later, smoking seems such a thing of the past. As a lifelong non-smoker, it does to me anyway, maybe not to others.

"God's Great Banana Skin" is slightly more upbeat, a bluesy rocker with a catchy vocal refrain and more trademark slide guitar. "90's Blues" is a Knopfler-esque blues, both musically and in its laconic vocal delivery. "Well the fat man took my money..." is such a Knopfler-inspired line. It has a rich, deep chugging bass line too. The Rea guitar at the end is stunning. "Too Much Pride" is a solid mid-paced rocker with a sleepy vocal. Again, it is very Dire Straits-ish. "Boom Boom" is in the same vein, but bluesier and similar to some of the material on 2005's vast "Blue Guitars" project.

"I Ain't The Fool" is a muscular bluesy rock ballad as to is the slightly more laid-back and melodic "There She Goes". The latter has a lovely guitar solo piece in the middle. "Im Ready" is probably the album's most riffy, out-and-out rocker with some excellent guitar and an infectious Stonesy riff. "Black Dog" (not the Led Zeppelin song) is another lively, upbeat rocker. "Soft Top, Hard Shoulder" is similarly appealing. The album has ended with three more pumped-up rock songs, but overall this was another very gentle, reflective piece of work.

B-

Bruce Springsteen - A Career In Twenty Songs




I make no apologies for the fact that nearly all the tracks chosen here date from the first decade or so of Bruce Springsteen's remarkable career. I thought about putting some later tracks in to the list but in the end I decided against it. For me the essence of Bruce Springsteen and his wonderful E St. Band is to be found in the 1973-83 period and is from then that my memories of being simply blinded by his light date.

1. Growin' Up (From "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.")
2. Sandy (4th Of July Asbury Park) (From "The Wild, The Innocent & The E St Shuffle")
3. Incident on 57th Street (From "The Wild, The Innocent & The E St Shuffle")
4. Thunder Road (From "Born To Run")
5. Born To Run (From "Born To Run")
6. Jungleland (From "Born To Run")
7. Badlands (From "Darkness On The Edge Of Town")
8. The Promised Land (From "Darkness On The Edge Of Town")
9. Racing In The Street (From "Darkness On The Edge Of Town")
10. Factory (From "Darkness On The Edge Of Town")
11. This Hard Land (From "Tracks")
12. Stolen Car (From "Tracks")
13. The Price You Pay (From "The River")
14. Highway Patrolman (From "Nebraska")
15. Used Cars (From "Nebraska")
16. Brothers Under The Bridges '83 (From "Tracks")
17. Linda Let Me Be The One (From "Tracks")
18. Across The Border (From "The Ghost Of Tom Joad")
19. The Big Muddy (From "Lucky Town")
20. Back In Your Arms (From "Tracks")

Thursday, 18 July 2019

The Girls' Scene


  

Of the truly excellent nine album “…Scene” series from Decca/Deram, this is probably the least impressive. The songs are all mid-sixties offerings from either girl groups or solo girl singers. Many of them are imitations of The Ronettes, The Crystals or other US girl group’s in the “My Boyfriend’s Back” style. Otherwise they are typical mid-sixties girl-pop ballads about being in love. All of this is ok, but they are as I said they were - imitations - and most of them don’t quite match the admittedly impeccable standard of those other groups/artists. Not that they are bad records at all, but none of them were hits and when you are talking about pop, it is hits that determines the  kudos of the song, in many ways. The “Freakbeat” or “Psychedelic” songs on some of the other compilations in the series get away with being “hidden gems” because of the eclectic nature of their genres, whereas pop is different. Not too many failed pop records are classics. Having said that, Northern Soul came up with a fair few. It was full of them, so what am I talking about.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, there are probably not too many unearthed diamonds on offer here. Although I have to admit that there are a few intruguing ones all the same. (Make up your mind, man!)

TRACK LISTING

1. Oo Chang-A-Lang - The Orchids
2. Jenny Let Him Go - Antoinette
3. Only You Can Do It - The Vernons Girls
4. Two Lovers - Louise Cordet
5. The Boy From Chelsea - Truly Smith
6. You Just Gotta Know My Mind - Dana Gillspie
7. Hey Boy - Barry St. John
8. When Love Is True - Susan Hampshire
9. Save The Last Dance For Me - Jean Martin
10. When The love Light Starts Shining Thru His Eyes - Dusty Springfield
11. My Friend Bobby - Pamela Blue
12. Sugar Baby - Jackie Frisco
13. I'll Give It Five - Janice Nicholls
14. What A Guy - Bobby Miller
15. Give Me Rhythm And Blues - The Mysteries
16. Till You Say You'll Be Mine - Olivia Newton-John
17. Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind - Vashti
18. Is This What I Get For Loving You? - Marianne Faithfull
19. Nobody's Home To Go Home To - Billie Davis
20. Rain On My Face - Shapes And Sizes
21. You - Lorraine Child
22. And The Trouble With Me Is You - Linda Flavell
23. Shang A Do Lang - Adrienne Poster
24. Try To Understand - Lulu
25. Soldier Boy - Exceptions                                   

“Oo Chang-A-Lang”  by The Orchids is a very “Da Doo Ron Ron” influenced typical sixties girlgroup upbeat poppy rocker. “Jenny Let Him Go” by Antoinette and The Vernons Girls’ “Only You Can Do It” both have hints of some of The Beatles’ early songs. Louise Cordet’s “Two Lovers” is an early example of increasing female independence, as she revels in having two lovers dangling on her string.

Truly Smith’s “The Boy From Chelsea” is just so “swinging sixties” that it could almost be a parody, about a cute and groovy boy who works in a Chelsea coffee shop. Yeah, baby, yeah. Dana Gillispie’s riffy “You Just Gotta Know My Mind” is excellent, featuring a lovely, vibrant bass line and powerful vocal.

Jean Martin’s cover of “Save The Last Dance For Me” is actually a realy good cover, but a fair amount of that is down to the fact that it is a great song. Jackie Frisco’s “Sugar Baby” is a quirky, little rock’n’roll song. The fairground rock feel is continued on Janice Nicholls’ mildly amusing “I’ll Give It Five”.

There are some “names” on here, though - Dusty Springfield covers The Supremes’ “When The Love Light Starts Shining Thru His Eyes” impressively, as you would expect. Olivia Newton-John’s first single is present too in the vibrant Motown-esque pop of “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine”. Marianne Faithfull gives us “Is This What I Get For Loving You?”, which was actually recorded by The Ronettes and written by Phil Spector, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Lulu contributes the soulful “Try To Understand”.

Actress Susan Hampshire even got in on the act with the syrupy but appealing “When Love Is True”. Adrienne Posta (credited here by her real surname of Poster) was a minor celebrity in various comedy shows in the seventies, as I recall. Her song here is the girl-groupy “Shang A Doo Lang”.
The pleasant “Nobody’s Home To Go Home To” by Billie Davis has a sumptuous bassline, I must say. The sound on this album, as on all of them, is very good. Check out the crystal clear percussion on “Rain On My Face” by Shapes And Sizes. Excellent.

Overall, there are certainly points of interest on this album and it passes an hour very enjoyably, but it doesn’t justify as many revisits as others in the series.

C+

Simple Minds - Empires And Dance (1980)


  

Released on 12 September 1980

Running time 45.45

This was Simple Minds' third album and, like its predecessors, did not do particularly well. Time has looked on it favourably, however, and it is now considered far more credible than their later, more commercial, well-known work. It is a vaguely unsettling, oddball of a record, merging post-punk bleakness with a dance sensibility. It was actually quite ahead of its time and ground-breaking in many ways. There were plenty of subsequent bands putting out similar material over the following few years, as darkly serious, angst-ridden, paranoid-sounding dance music became de rigeur.

It is easy to dismiss Simple Minds as they, like U2, became somewhat pretentious and also a "stadium band", suddenly finding lots of previously-hidden fans. If you dig deeper into their early music, like this album, you find some genuinely deep, dark, challenging stuff. It was really quite genre-changing.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Travel
2. Today I Died Again
3. Celebrate
4. This Fear Of Gods
5. Capital City
6. Constantinople Line
7. Twist/Run/Repulsion
8. Thirty Frames A Second
9. Kant-Kino
10. Room                                                                     

"I Travel" is a sort of Giorgio Moroder-style disco groove in the "I Feel Love" fashion meeting Roxy Music from the "For Your Pleasure" album, all topped off with Kim Kerr's haughty, sonorous very new romantic vocal. It also finds time for a "Heroes" style guitar solo too. "Today I Died Again" has a deep, mysterious bass line rumbling through it and lots of futuristic sounds swirling all around. It is very bleak, post-punky in its sombre ambience. "Celebrate" lifts the mood back up again with a lively piece of pounding but staccato electro-pop. "This Fear Of Gods" has a big, booming but dense rhythm with hints of Talking Heads post-1980 work. Its beat is metronomic and incessant, thumping into your brain, with some cutting guitar interjections. It goes on for seven minutes, almost like one of the 12" mixes that became so prevalent at the time.


"Capital City" has an uplifting but slow pace, stately drum, bass and keyboard backing. Kerr's vocals retain that monk-like chanting sonorosity. Is that a word? If not, it should be. There is some excellent guitar and keyboard interplay half way through. It is a weird, mysterious number, totally unlike much material of its day, apart from maybe Joy Division. "Constantinople Line" is full of David Byrne-style jumpy quirkiness, with its semi-spoken vocal. It has influences of "Lodger"-era Bowie too. Once again, it is driven along by an enormous bass line and an industrial strength drum sound.

"Twist/Run/Repulsion" is a bizarre mix of female spoken French vocals, madcap "African Night Flight" from "Lodger" vocal madness and a stuttering, jerky rhythm. It is a complete nonsense of a track, yet surprisingly infectious. This is a million years away from "Belfast Child" or "Mandela Day". "Thirty Frames A Second" has an intoxicating, European-sounding dance vibe to it that chugs on sounding vaguely like Grace Jones until some searing guitars splits it apart. Again, Kerr sounds a lot like David Byrne in places.

"Kant-Kino" is a quick couple of minutes of sound effects, while "Room" finishes this experimental, adventurous album off with some grandiose Kerr vocals over another addictive, slightly Japanese-sounding rhythm. Good stuff.

B-

Yazoo



Upstairs At Eric's (1982)

Yazoo - Upstairs At Eric's (1982)

  

Released on 20 August 1982

Running time 42.31

Yazoo appeared from nowhere in the midst of the new romantic explosion. They were a sort of amalgam of new romantic keyboard pop and experimental post punk. They consisted of keyboardist Vince Clarke (who was also involved with Depeche Mode) and vocalist Alison Moyet (known then as "Alf"). Clarke deals with all the instrumentation - keyboards and drum programming. It is more than just a cold synth-dominated piece of work though, Moyet's voice carries considerable emotion, being big and soulful as opposed to typically new romantic in that detached haughty or cold and soulless style favoured by so many. It sort of exposes the pre-conception that all keyboard-driven music has to be Kraftwerk-esque in its cool detachment. This, to me, is a warm, sensitive and evocative album. There is a distinct lack of post-punk misery about it too. Just a bit near the end. It was 1982 after all.

TRACK LISTING


1. Don't Go
2. Too Pieces
3. Bad Connection
4. I Before E Except After C
5. Midnight
6. In My Room
7. Only You
8. Goodbye 70s
9. Tuesday
10. Winter Kills
11. Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)            

"Don't Go" was a huge hit single and also a dance success. It begins with an absolute killer, catchy synth riff and Moyet's raspy soulful voice has strength and attack. It is a classic of its type. Clarke contributes an excellent, quirky keyboard solo bit in the middle. It has been released in many formats over the years - 12", dance, extended mixes and the like. "Too Pieces" is another solid but infectious and moving song. The voice is again superb as indeed are the keyboards. This is not just futuristic keyboard doodling and bleeping, it is used as the dominant instrument and carries all the songs. It has vague echoes of Marianne Faithfull's "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan". For me anyway.

"Bad Connection" has a quirky, poppy lively beat. Once more, it is a relief to hear an expressive, dynamic voice on this sort of material. Moyet brings a soul and a rock sensibility to the music. "I Before E Except After C" is, unfortunately, a pretty pointless, unlistenable tape loop mix of multiple spoke voices muttering on over each about "feeling the difference". After a couple of minutes, though, a bit of sombre synthesiser comes in, giving it a bit of industrial atmosphere. It is out of kilter with the rest of the album, however, and would have been better being replaced by excellent the non-album single, "Situation", for me. It goes on far too long and is a waste of time, let's be honest.

Thankfully, sanity is restored on the gospelly soul-influenced "Midnight" which is a beautifully powerful piece of electronic soul, if indeed there could be such a thing. If there was, Yazoo had produced it here. The synth riffs and Moyet's voice are both outstanding. "In My Room" is not The Beach Boys' song but another pice of Vince Clarke experimentation. It works better than the previous one, despite the layered spoken vocals appearing again. Alison Moyet sings on this one and gives it an oddball appeal.

"Only You" was massive. A huge number one. Rightly so, it is blessed with great hooks, a bucketful of soul, killer synth riffs and Moyet's voice riding high above it all. One of the great hits of the era. No question. "Goodbye 70s" was a dense, deep synthy ushering in of this new era. It is so evocative of the time. Personally, I am not a huge electronic fan, preferring my guitars, but I can dig this, man. "Tuesday" is addictively sonorous. Very dark and European-sounding, so there was a bit of Kraftwerk in there after all, hidden away. That feeling continues on the doom-laden "Winter Kills", which is like something Siouxsie And The Banshees would be doing a few years later. The upbeat energy is back, though, with the funky "Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)", compete with soul-esque bracketed title.

This was definitely one of the better albums from the early eighties period, which was one for music that certainly wasn't one of my favourites. This does the business though, with its clear differences and creative vitality.

B-

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Psychedelic Scene


  

This is another in Decca/Deram’s excellent series that saw them searching through their vaults from some classic rarities that probably never made it on to Radio One in the years 1967-1969. There is probably far more “freakbeat” and hippy pop on here than Hendrix-style psychedelia, to be honest, but there are still lots of crazy Eastern influences and LSD-dripping lyrics throughout the album. I won’t describe every single track but will mention a few to give a useful taste of where it’s coming from. I have to say that the sound quality throughout the album is simply stunning. Full, bassy and warm.

TRACK LISTING

1. Vacuum Cleaner -Tintern Abbey
2. Shades Of Orange - The End
3. Red Sky At Night - The Accent
4. Baby I Need You - Curiosity Shoppe
5. 14 Hour Technicolour Dream - The Syn
6. In Your Tower - The Poets
7. Colour Of My Mind - The Attack
8. That Man - The Small Faces
9. Guess I Was Dreaming - The Fairytale
10. Woodstock - Turquoise
11. Turn Into Earth - Al Stewart
12. Secret - Virgin Sleep
13. Meditations - Felius Andromeda
14. A Day In My Mind's Mind - Human Instinct
15. Ice Man - Ice
16. Love And Beauty - The Moody Blues
17. Michaelangelo - 23rd Turnoff
18. Bird Has Flown - The Societie
19. Like A Tear - World Of Oz
20. Sad And Lonely - Garden Odyssey Enterprise
21. Deep Inside Your Mind - Keith Shields
22. Gone Is The Sad Man - Timebox
23. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow - The Plague
24. Dream With Me - Andy Forray
25. Nite-Is-A-Comin' - Warm Sounds                          

Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner” is simply wonderful, full of brilliant bass, great drums and superb clear sound. Just great dreamy stuff, man. “Shades Of Orange” by The End is full of Beatles brass, Lennon-esque vocals and Harrison-style Eastern influence. Derivative it may be, but I still like it. It is quirky and enjoyable.

“Red Sky At Night” by The Accent is everything you would expect from psychedelic rock - huge, dense guitar riffs, swirling, madcap organ, mysterious, sonorous vocals, monster, rumbling bass. This is another diamond in the rough that not many people know about. Once more, the remastered sound is incredibly good. Curiosity Shoppe’s “Baby I Need You” has more delicious bass and a funky roling drum beat. Pefect for some wild go-go dancing. Hey man, just let yourself go.


“14 Hour Technicolour Dream” by The Syn is more poppy than some of the other numbers. The Poets’ “In Your Tower” has another mega-heavy bass line and some groovy flute lines, plus more of the seemingly ubiquitous Eastern influences. “Colour Of My Mind” by The Attack was a freakbeat-ish number that merged a bluesy feel with the psychedelic vibe. The first well-known band to appear on this compilation is The Small Faces with their druggy, intense “That Man”.

Another known name is Al Stewart. Here he contributes a sombre-sounding number with monastic vocal influences called “Turn To Earth”. “Secret” by Virgin Sleep is another beautifully bassy gem. “Meditations” by the fantastically-named Felius Andromeda is a wonderful piece of freaky pop. Its use of string orchestration came long before The Electric Light Orchestra. I wonder if Jeff Lynne ever heard this?

“Ice Man” by Ice is infectious, nonsense hippy pop with, it goes without saying, a sumptuous bass line and some of those typcal sixties drum rolls. The final one from a famous group is The Moody Blues’ dreamy, harmonious “Love And Beauty”. I could go on, but there seriously isn't an unlistenable track on here. Just stick this on, light an incense stick and some candles and get far out...

B+

The Electric Light Orchestra - A New World Record (1976)


  

Released September 1976

Running time 36.20

After their decidedly weird, experimental first three albums, The Electric Light Orchestra had gradually become more poppy in their music, despite the fact that a couple more subsequent albums, although containing a few hit singles, were still a bit odd and patchy. This one, however, was the one where they went full-on pop in many ways, and they began a serious assault on the singles charts. The album was a huge success too, despite punk bursting on the scene. It sold millions. For some reason the mainstream now had a serious taste for the band, and would continue to do so for the rest of the seventies, when ELO briefly became "the biggest band in the world". ELO were now huge. A year ago they had seemed to be yesterday's men.

Musically, as well as going more catchy, Jeff Lynne's Beatles/Lennon obsession remains, though, and crops up in a fair few places on the album.

The previous five albums had all contained great singles but the rest of the material was often indulgent and directionless. Here, at last, Lynne got it dead right and produced a wonderful orchestrally-influenced pop album. The band's sound has always been a little tinny for my liking, but Lynne had such an ear for a hook and a melody that I forgave him many times.

TRACK LISTING

1. Tightrope
2. Telephone Line
3. Rockaria!
4. Mission (A World Record)
5. So Fine
6. Livin' Thing
7. Above The Clouds
8. Do Ya
9. Shangri-La                                             

"Tightrope" starts with some orchestrated strings before breaking out into a very Beatles-esque (or should I say Lennon-esque) poppy  opener, kicking off the album as it intends to continue, as ELO's most commercially-appealing offering thus far. "Telephone Line" was an irresistible single, full of doo-wops, a sixties-ish Move-inspired singalong chorus and a few futuristic sound effects. An even better single, for me, was the rocking, riffy fun of "Rockaria!" which tells the rousing tale of an opera singer deciding to rock out. She is described thus - "She's sweet on Wagner, I think she'd die for Beethoven, she loves the way Puccini lays down a tune, and Verdi's always creeping from her room...". A few minutes with Jeff Lynne, however, and she is sold on rock'n' roll. Great stuff. It was always one of my favourite ELO singles.


"Mission (A World Record)" is a stately, again Beatles-influenced spacey sort of slow number featuring some by now archetypal ELO orchestration. "So Fine" was very upbeat and jaunty for a non-single, full of hooks, funky guitar and "ooh-ooh" backing vocals. It even has a "world music" percussion/bass bit, something most unusual for ELO. "Livin' Thing" was a big hit single and had preceded the album by nine months or so. Again, it is pretty much perfection of its type, with a killer chorus.

"Above the Clouds" is a McCartney-esque, dreamy rock number that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Wings album. Its drum backing is huge, thumping and sonorous and it is far bassier than many of the band's tracks. "Do Ya" revisits that monster guitar riff that they used on "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" a few years earlier. It is the album's hardest rocker. I always loved it and still do. "Shangri-La" is a floaty, sleepy closer, full of spacey keyboards and melodic strings and guitar.

The bonus track, "Surrender" has a "You Can't Hurry Love" Motown riff and is another gratuitously infectious number. It wouldn't have harmed for it to have been on the album.

This had been a revelation of an album at the time, one that launched ELO into the stratosphere and completed their renaissance. Even though I was getting into punk in a big way at the time, I still had a weakness for this, and remember it with affection.

B-

The Proclaimers



Sunshine On Leith (1988)

The Proclaimers - Sunshine On Leith (1988)

  

Released August 1988

Running time 44.16

This was the second album from Edinburgh from geeky-looking Scottish twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid. They became famous for their distinct vocals, sung in a strong Scottish accent. At the time, it was not particularly successful, but became more so as "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" became a surprise hit a few years later. The album has gained a considerable amount of retrospective kudos and is now considered a bit of a classic.

TRACK LISTING


1. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
2. Cap In Hand
3. Then I Met You
4. My Old Friend The Blues
5. Sean
6. Sunshine On Leith
7. Come On Nature
8. I'm On My Way
9. What Do You Do
10. It's Saturday Night
11. Teardrops
12. Oh Jean                                                    

 "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" needs no introduction to anyone. It has become an iconic song, full of tub-thumping Caledonian rousing fervour with Craig Reid's rasping, deep Scottish brogue leading the singalong anthem enthusiastically. The infectious refrain overlooks what great backing it has too. "Cap In Hand" is an appealing slice of country-ish Celtic folk. "Then I Met You" is a great song, full of great vocal harmonies from Craig and Charlie and a solid rock backing with a quirky bit of funky wah-wah guitar in places.


"My Old Friend The Blues" is a country ballad and is a cover of a Steve Earle song. It is full of country twangy guitar and the brothers turn it into a Scottish lament as opposed to a Nashville tear-jerker. "Sean" is another incredibly appealing, addictive bit of Celtic folky fun. "Sunshine On Leith" is a slow, reflective but moving ballad that has been adopted by Hibernian FC. For a football anthem, however, it is surprisingly low-key. "Come On Nature" is an accordion-backed jaunty, folky upbeat number.

"I'm On My Way" is another energetic, bubbly song packed full of youthful, studenty optimism and hope. "What Do You Do" slows down the tempo on a gentle, acoustic country ballad, featuring a very Nashville-esque steel guitar backing. There is often a bit of cynicism in many of the brothers' songs and the effervesecnt beat of "It's Saturday Night" is full of reflective sadness about playing lottery scratchcards amongst other things. "Teardrops" is a bit of a grating mess, though, I have to say. Sorry lads. Unfortunately, "Oh Jean" becomes more cacophonous as it progresses as well. After a very promising bulk, the last two tracks let the album down a tiny bit. It is unique, however, and you simply can't help but enjoy "I'm Gonna Be" or "Then I Met You". They are both irresistible. Oh, and the bonus cover of Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" is similarly lovable.

B-

The Who - Who Are You (1978)

  

Released on 18 August 1978

Running time 42.13

This was the Who's last album with Keith Moon, before his unfortunate death three weeks after the album's release. By mid-1978, The Who were struggling to remain contemporaneously relevant in the midst of punk, new wave and disco. This album does nothing to change that, being an amalgam of synth riffs and prog rock stylings in places with Roger Daltrey's dramatic, operatic but from the streets voice starting to sound out of time among the snarl of punk and cynical sneer of new wave. Their previous three albums, "Who's Next", "Quadrophenia" and (lesserly) "The Who By Numbers" had been excellent, hard-hitting rock albums. Unfortunately, despite the individuals within the band's obvious musical proficiency, this is neither a great nor relevant album. It is still The Who, however, and there are good points to it, which I will highlight, but put in a cultural context, it was sadly a little irrelevant.

TRACK LISTING

1. New Song
2. Had Enough
3. 905
4. Sister Disco
5. Music Must Change
6. Trick Of The Light
7. Guitar And Pen
8. Love Is Coming Down
9. Who Are You                                                

"New Song" bursts into action with a synth riff like the sort of thing Elton John and many others would use so much in the eighties, so maybe The Who were ahead of their time, at least. Pete Townshend's guitar injections are as mighty as you would expect and Moon's drumming is Moon, of course. Having said that, Entwistle has said that Moon was completely "out of condition" and disorientated during the sessions and struggled to get through them. There certainly isn't the vitality of his work on previous albums, you have to say.

It actually doesn't sound too bad, but in 1978, I certainly didn't want to listen to stuff like this. Those guitar parts are still superb, though, in any era. John Entwistle's "Had Enough" takes two thirds of the title of one of "Quadrophenia"'s songs and indeed, its narrative, stage-y style sounds like something from that album, apart from those accursed synthesisers, that make it sound like it should be on ABBA's "Voulez Vous" album. "905" is another Entwistle song that is somewhat dull, albeit pleasant enough, sounding like The Strawbs in places, for me.


"Sister Disco" has remained one of the more popular tracks from the album, supposedly saying goodbye to the disco era - replacing it with ELO-style strings and proggy synths. Hmmm. Maybe I'd prefer "Disco Inferno". Daltrey's voice is particularly hammy and, dare I say it, irritating on this. The next track informs us that "Music Must Change" on an overblown Townshend song that has an air of a stage musical song about it. This sort of thing is so far removed from music in 1978 that maybe it was The Who that needed to change. There are some good bits in though - the bluesy, jazzy guitar bits are quite infectious.

"Trick Of The Light" is John Entwistle's other song on the album and it is pretty good one, actually - a solid, muscular rocker. His bass line is heavy and thumping. This is one of my favourites on here. "Guitar And Pen" has that "Quadrophenia" style to it, and features some excellent typical Townshend guitar. Again, though, Daltrey's vocal sounds melodramatic. "Love Is Coming Down" is a bit in the same vein, although more laid-back, with a sumptuous, melodious bass line. The strings over-romanticise it, however. The final track, "Who Are You", was actually a hit single and has remained on of the band's better-known songs. It features the best use of synthesiser on the album, with a superb intro that contains hints of "Won't Get Fooled Again". Apparently it was written after Townshend had been out drinking with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols and ended up the worse for wear. "Who the fuck are you..." growls Daltrey near the end. Yes, Daltrey and the band still had that tough guy appeal that could ask such a question and make this popular at the time but this was still very much an album that cried out loudly that The Who's best days were behind them.

PS - the bonus track "Empty Glass" is a piece of more recognisable Who rock, leaving out the synths and Moon's drumming to the fore. It turned up in 1980 on Townshend's solo album of the same name.

C+

Curtis Harding



Soul Power (2014)

Curtis Harding - Soul Power (2014)


 

Released on 6 May 2014

Running time 40.42

This was Curtis Harding's debut album, which found him pigeonholed as a "retro soul" artist, like Leon Bridges, The London Souls and Vintage Trouble. I guess that couldn't be helped, as there are huge sixties and seventies southern soul influences, from Booker T. & The MGs to Al Green and Otis Redding, with touches of Sam Cooke in places. Dig deeper into the album, though, and there is far more to it than that. There are also rock influences too, The Rolling Stones come to mind every now and again on various instrumental breaks during the album. It is actually quite a varied album, stylistically. Sixties psychedelia, funk, riffy rock, jazz. There are bits of all of them on here. It makes for a most interesting listen. In fact, I would say it is far more of a rock album than a soul one, ironically.

TRACK LISTING


1. Next Time
2. Castaway
3. Keep On Shining
4. Freedom
5. Surf
6. I Don't Wanna Go Home
7. Beautiful People
8. The Drive
9. Heaven's On The Other Side
10. Drive My Car
11. I Need A Friend
12. Cruel World                                                                                     

"Next Time" has an absolutely delicious bass line, and a sort of Chris Rea soulful backbeat. A crisp acoustic guitar drives it along and Harding's vocal is clear and dominant. The subtle, understated brass and organ are excellent too. It is a sumptuous piece of laid-back modern soul. Great track. "Castaway" has an Al Green-style backing plus some superb guitar. Harding's vocal is gruffer on this one, however, more sombre. "Keep On Shining" is very Detroit Spinners-influenced for me, in both its upbeat brassy backing and the vocal. "Freedom" is almost late night jazz funky at times, with some lovely guitar.

"Surf" is where we see the rock influences for the first clear time, with a Stonesy, powerful rocker, full of great Richards-esque riffs. Lovely rumbling bass line too. It is tracks like this that make this not simply a "retro soul" album. It morphs straight into the sixties-ish jaunty "I Don't Wanna Go Home", a track that has a sort of new wave meets The Kinks and the Pretty Things vibe to it. This is another one that certainly doesn't fit the southern soul preconception. "Beautiful People" also has a bluesy but strangely psychedelic seventies feel to it as well. Once again, this is an album full of a myriad of styles. The pysch, futuristic thing is even more prominent on "The Drive", with its dense funk and strange keyboard interjections.


"Heaven's On The Other Side" has a classic funk guitar riff and some big, brassy breaks. Harding's voice returns here to a more classic jazz/funk style. That riff reminds a lot of Chic. Completely so, in fact. "Drive My Car" changes the sound again with an excellent, grinding bluesy rocker. "I Need A Friend" has Harding delivering a higher-pitched, Prince-style vocal, over a contemporary r'n' backbeat.

  "Cruel World" reminds me of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" a lot. Another example of the album's diversity. As I said earlier, this is a very eclectic offering. It is an extremely impressive first outing. Harding produced the album, wrote (or co-wrote) the songs and played guitar, so it is very much his creation.

B

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Four Tops - Four Tops (1965)


  

Released on 21 January 1965

Running time 26.39

The great thing about this impressive debut from The Four Tops is that, unlike many of their subsequent albums, it didn't contain a superb first side before descending into a second side of covers of songs from the musicals or The Beatles. As the saying goes, it is "all killer, no filler". It is full of good material from beginning to end. The sound quality is really good as well, full and warm and in stereo.

TRACK LISTING

1. Baby I Need Your Loving
2. Without The One You Love (Life's Not Worthwhile)
3. Where Did You Go
4. Ask The Lonely
5. Your Love Is Amazing
6. Sad Souvenirs
7. Don't Turn Away
8. Tea House In China Town
9. Left With A Broken Heart
10. Love Has Gone
11. Call On Me                                                       

"Baby I Need Your Loving" was a superb introduction to this magnificent vocal group, backed wonderfully by The Funk Brothers. Levi Stubb's magnificent lead vocal makes this track simply soar, as indeed does the rumbling bass and trademark Motown drum sound. "Without The One You Love (Life's Not Worthwhile)" is a very Northern Soul-ish floor-filler, with that killer beat and impossibly catchy refrain. The sumptuous mid-pace ballad "Where Did You Go" features Stubbs' iconic voice beautifully. "Ask The Lonely" was, along with "Baby I Need Your Loving", a single, and, although it was a sower number, it was a damn good one, with Stubbs' voice again dominating proceedings. It is slightly dated now, however, more so than the other single.

"Your Love Is Amazing" is a very typical mid-sixties Motown track, with that Northern Soul appeal there as well. "Sad Souvenirs" has echoes of The Drifters' "On Broadway" in its big, dramatic soul ballad feel. "Don't Turn Away" returns to that big Motown upbeat, brassy thump. This is good stuff, no throwaway "filler" here. "Tea House In China Town" is an atmospheric number that tells a good story over a bit of a mysterious bluesy but soulful backing.

Marv Johnson's "Left With A Broken Heart" is a Smokey Robinsn-esque number that is very much of its time, a bit more redolent of the early sixties as opposed to the mid-sixties, actually. "Love Has Gone" is a slow tear-jerker featuring some sublime cymbal work. "Call On Me" is a "You Send Me" ballad with more crystal clear percussion and it now goes without saying that the vocals are top notch. At just over twenty-five minutes, it is a very short album, but that was the way it was then.

B-

Little Steven - Born Again Savage (1999)


  

Released on 10 September 1999

Running time 1.01.01

Over ten years since his previous album, "Revolution", this was Steven Van Zandt's heaviest, densest album to date, leaving any of his Asbury Park-isms way behind to give us a grungy, raw, garage rock album similar, to an extent, to his 1984 "Voice Of America" offering. It is much more powerful, however, and is a bit of an acquired taste. John Bonham's son Jason is on drums and U2's Adam Clayton plays bass throughout. The album's theme are political, as was now usual for Van Zandt - corruption, crime, wealth imbalances, governmental incompetence and dodgy financiers. The stuff that always seems to need confronting. Van Zandt certainly approaches the album, as the title suggests, with a certain savagery. The are no Asbury Park horns and saxophones anywhere within earshot, no romantic "little girl so fine" lyrics either. This is a full-on, abrasive guitar and angry vocals album.

There are loads of influences on the album - Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, U2, Green Day, Nirvana, sixties pysch rock and freakbeat, post-"Revolver" Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy. Van Zandt wears his influences shamelessly on his sleeve and tells the world exactly what he thinks in his hard-hitting, no compromise lyrics. Good for him. He never betrayed his principles. This album is a bit of an undiscovered gem, actually. Even I, as a Van Zandt fan over many years had somehow allowed it to slip under my radar until recently.

Check out the freaky cover too, man.

TRACK LISTING

1. Born Again Savage
2. Camouflage Of Righteousness
3. Guns, Drugs And Gasoline
4. Face Of God
5. Saint Francis
6. Salvation
7. Organize
8. Flesheater
9. Lust For Enlightenment
10. Tongues Of Angels                                      

"Born Again Savage" blasts the album into action with a huge, chunky riff backed by Bonham's sledgehammer drums. "Camouflage Of Righteousness" begins acoustically, before crashing into action with a visceral, punky energy. Van Zandt hammers out the power chords and the lyrics with equal venom. A huge drum intro kicks us into "Guns, Drugs And Gasoline", together with some Springsteen-esque "Light Of Day" guitar riffage. Steven's vocal is punky and abrasive, like Green Day have walked into the studio. A bit of Hendrix guitar "wah-wah-ing" comes in around 3:20. The track is a huge slab of industrial, grimy, thumping rock. The pace calms down slightly for the menacing "Face of God". Only slightly, however, as the song still has a mightily powerful backbeat to it as Van Zandt sort of merges Dylan with U2, Willy De Ville, Lou Reed and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"Saint Francis" begins slowly, with some mysterious acoustic guitar mixed with a swirling, scratchy U2-esque guitar. It is a brooding, sombre eight minutes long and eventually kicks into a slow, heavy beat as Bonham pounds away like his Dad. The lyrics are questioning and optimistic in their "don't have to be this way..." outlook. This was as serious and introspective a song as Van Zandt had ever laid down. You have to say its guitar is very U2-influenced. "Salvation" has a Brian May "Hammer To Fall"-style gigantic, kick-ass riff that is matched by Van Zandt's great vocal. His voice has got a lot better as he has aged - deeper, raspier and less whiny. He can play a killer lead guitar solo too, and duly does on this track. Bonham's drums are mighty once again.


"Organize" carries on with the frantic, heavy punch of the previous songs. It hits you right between the ears and takes no prisoners. The bass, drum and guitar attack is unrelenting. "Flesheater" is another superb, crashing, energetic rocker. It certainly continues blowing away the cobwebs, that's for sure. I cannot reiterate enough that Van Zandt is as in your face and committed as I have ever heard him. He contributes a searing guitar solo to this one too, together with some sixties vibes. A bit of "Green Tambourine" in the riff at one point. Plus bits of Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll". If I'm not way off the mark either, it also reminds me of The Beastie Boys' "You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party".

"Lust For Enlightenment" is a remarkable track, full of sixties psychedelia vibes, dripping with them in fact. Hey man, light up some more incense.... . Van Zandt had never done anything like this before, or since, for that matter. The track fills its last few minutes with some seriously deranged guitar. There also something very Lennon-esque about it. The album's closer, "Tongues Of Angels" begins with some drill-like guitar before embarking on a mid-pace, solid rock beat, packed full of riffy Zeppelin-style power. It has a great guitar solo from Van Zandt half way through. The track duly ends with some guitar feedback fade-out. Phew! That was some ride.

Van Zandt had this to say about the album. From the horse's mouth, it pretty much sums up everything I have wanted to say about it, actually -

"This is the record I would have made in 1969 had I been capable. It took twenty more years to write it and another ten to get it out but chronological time is overrated anyway ain`t it? It is a tribute to the hard rock pioneers that kept me alive growing up. The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds and the three groups the Yardbirds spawned -- Cream, The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin. It is additionally a statement of profound gratitude to George Harrison, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airlane who first turned me on to Eastern melody and philosophy and forever expanded my cross-cultural consciousness. I must also thank Bob Dylan from whom all lyrics flow, and Allen Ginsberg for being a Buddhist among other things. This is the fifth and last of the political albums I outlined when I decided to make my own records. I wanted to learn about what was going on and write about it, talk about it, and hopefully learn something about myself in the process. After 5 albums and 7 years of traveling and studying and looking around I wrote the following liner notes intended for the original release of this record. We live in an insane asylum. A barbaric, merciless cesspool. And in this purgatory filled with disease and ugliness and violence and hatred and injustice and greed and lies and pain and frustration and confusion there are brief, fleeting moments of peace and love and truth and beauty. They are rare. They are years and miles apart. But they are so meaningful that they make life worth living. Those moments give you strength to face the insanity with your balance intact and your eyes focused and you endure and tolerate and survive. And if you`re lucky, real lucky, you can tap that strength and hold on to it long enough to, in your own small way, try to make it all a little bit better. Just a little bit more civil and just. To serve. And you don`t do it for anybody else because no one is going to thank you or reward you or even notice. Don`t kid yourself. You do it for you. For your own soul. Because in this world that`s all the salvation you`re ever gonna get....".


B-