Thursday, 28 November 2019

Peter Gabriel

Ex-Genesis proggy posturing singer Peter Gabriel launched his solo career in 1977, and, albeit slowly, began to appeal to more than just his academic prog-head following (the boys at school that I loathed). Thanks to some seriously catchy, off-the-wall singles, he caught my ear. His albums were an acquired taste, however, but they were definitely innovative and worthy of repeated listens until you got into them. Always looking to push boundaries and use different styles of music, Gabriel proved himself far more than merely a pretentious prog pedaller. He was also one of the first artists to dabble more than just a little in the sounds and rhythms of "world music"....

Peter Gabriel 1 ("Car") (1977) 

This was Peter Gabriel’s first post-Genesis solo album and began his reinvention from pretentious, indulgent proggy to innovative, experimental and eventually far more commercial world music-post punk-influenced enthusiast. The album saw him delving into all sorts of styles in an effort to show just how “non-niche” he was. He does seem to be trying to be all things to all people, though, a bit, but it resulted in a most diverse offering. I find it still a bit of an acquired taste and certainly, in 1977, although I had a bit of time for Solsbury Hill, I had no time, really, for stuff like this. There was an overblown pretention to it at odds with the punk-minimalist-new wave ethic of the age. To be honest, despite my far more rounded approach these days, I still feel somewhat the same about this album. Many I am sure, will disagree.
Moribund The Burgomeister has some interesting moments in its mysterious, Eno-influenced verses but its big, synthy chorus has, like the song’s title, too many prog rock aspects for me. Gabriel was trying to break away from that Genesis thing, but old habits were dying hard. (A couple more listens, however, and it grows on me). The grandiose acoustic-orchestral strains of Solsbury Hill gave Gabriel a hit single, deservedly, and, while it again retains a bit of progginess about it, it also has some really infectious parts, both instrumentally and vocally. This brought Gabriel’s unique brand of intelligent but hooky pop to the public’s attention. It is so redolent of 1977 too, when things like War Of The Worlds and Yes’s Wondrous Stories were just as popular as any punk or new wave songs.

Modern Love has lots of catchy, chunky guitar riffs, a Who-like structure and vocal, although it is a tiny bit blighted by too many synth runs. It is a good vibrant track, however. Gabriel was almost trying to be a bit punky on this one and I quite like it. 
Excuse Me, though, is a pretty dreadful piece of Queen-Paul McCartney-style oompah-driven whimsy. It has a few hints of Leo Sayer’s early material too. Personally, it just not my thing. Humdrum is a beguiling, unusual song that needs a few listens to appreciate its many changes and moods. Slowburn also feels like a Who number, with another Daltrey-esque vocal.

I do like some of the bassy, jazzy parts of Waiting For The Big One, but the track once again suffers from a directionless feel derived from a desire to be over-creative. Its good parts, and there certainly are some, are over-run by indulgence. It has a great guitar solo near the end, mind. Surprisingly, next up is a Trampled Under Foot-style slice of thumping, clavinet-driven but heavily-orchestrated disco funk on Down The Dolce Vita. It is, apart from Solsbury Hill, the album’s best track, but the impressive funk is drowned out at times by an overbearing prog string orchestration. The track changes in tempo too many times, just stick to the funk, Peter. Here Comes The Flood, again, despite some good points, is a bit of a cacophonous mess, in my opinion. Look, all this stuff just sounds too King Crimson-Pink Floyd for my liking. It just doesn’t float my boat.

I also have a problem with the sound of the latest remaster and indeed the album in general. It is way too clashing and bombastic for my taste, too orchestral and not enough bass. (Apparently it has always been bad, even hard core Gabriel fans admit that). This is something Gabriel would address on later recordings as he became more influenced by the bassier rhythms of soul, funk and world music. This album carries too many proggy cobwebs with it, as far as I am concerned. I went to a boys’ Grammar School in the seventies and many of the boys there lapped this sort of thing up. It is a Grammar School album, listened to by those who would meet up (and still do) to sit together in a dark room listening intently to every note of Dark Side Of The Moon. Each to their own. I will admit, though, that after a few listens it is more appealing each time so maybe that is its strength, if I am looking to end on a positive.

Peter Gabriel 2 ("Scratch") (1978)

Thankfully, on this, Peter Gabriel's second solo album, the prog rock vestiges that hung around on his debut offering from the previous year had been blown away by a cold, distant post punk-ish late seventies wind. This is a beguiling, but commercially inaccessible album that demands several listens. It is Gabriel's Fear Of Music, his "Heroes"or his Unknown Pleasures. All those albums came from the same sparse, industrial period for music. It is no surprise that a contributor to "Heroes"Robert Fripp, is heavily involved on here too. The E St. Band's pianist Roy Bittan, who had worked on David Bowie's Station To Station, was another link to the monochrome music of the period. Strangely, that album and this were both completely different to the work Bittan did with Bruce Springsteen.

Personally, I much prefer its dark moods to the proggy indulgence of the previous album and I feel it is a bit of an overlooked gem of its time. It is a deceptively good album. None of its tracks will make any "best ofs", though, which is a shame. The picture on the rear cover perfectly fits the album, I have to say, however. It is also sonically by far the superior to its predecessor.

On The Air, after a ten-second "fade in", is a rocking punk meets The Who opener, with Gabriel adopting a higher-pitched vocal than usual, almost Johnny Rotten-esque in its sneering tone. The drums are very Keith Moon in style. It is hard as Gabriel has rocked in his solo career thus far. There are also some heavy metal-fashion keyboard swirls in there too. A right old mix. D.I.Y. again features an operatic, grandiose Roger Daltrey delivery and the song is another upbeat, solid one. Its bass line is a nice, warm one. It almost sounds punky at the end, with the 'DIY' refrain sounding like The Sex Pistols' EMI. Mother Of Violence is a plaintive, piano-backed slow number with Roy Bittan on fine, expressive form, in a different style from that he regularly used with The E. St BandA Wonderful Day In A One-Day World flirts with a cod-reggae slow skanking style that sort of brings to mind Joe Jackson, not directly, but just something about it. It also has echoes of some of Elton John's material from the period. White Shadow is an atmospheric, beguiling slow burner that is familiar-sounding but at the same time virtually impossible to categorise. Robert Fripp adds some typically fuzzy guitar on this one.

Indigo is a bleak, mournful number, while Animal Magic is a chunky and riffy very late seventies rocker that sort of stands as a leitmotif for the whole album. 
The mysterious tones of Exposure are very Talking Heads-post punk in their broodiness. It is an excellent, most beautifully miserable track. Perfect for late 1978. It could almost be Public Image Ltd or Joy DivisionFlotsam And Jetsam is very John Lennon from the mid-seventies in its jerky feel. It is a short, but quirkily appealing number. Perspective is a New York Dolls, piano-powered rocker enhanced by some lively, wailing saxophone and some solid punky riffs. It is great, one of the album's best and liveliest tracks. Home Sweet Home is a moribund closer worthy of Lou Reed's Berlin in its subject matter. It is a dispiriting end to a solemn, often bleak album that has been accused of being cold many times. Maybe that is not a bad thing. Cold was de rigeur by 1979.

Peter Gabriel 3 ("Melt") (1980)

After the proggy indulgence of his first solo album and the slightly funky, cold but powerful follow up, this, Peter Gabriel’s third solo album, was the one that saw him really achieve widespread acclaim and credibility as an artist. Many who bought this album did so never having bought his stuff before. For many critics, it is his finest album - a fascinating mixture of pop and paranoia. As with all his albums, they need several listens to be fully appreciated. I remember my student girlfriend at the time had this album and she only ever played side two. Fair enough, but the old side one hid a few less instant secrets.
Intruder is a very bleak, Joy Division-esque post punky opener, full of those sombre, industrial drumbeats and mysterious, sonorous vocals. Its synthesiser breaks also very much sum up the often staccato, paranoid vibes of late seventies-early eighties music. The xylophone solo sounds almost Japanese, something that again fitted the zeitgeist. At times Gabriel sounds like Steve Harley in his vocal - “the intruder coming…” bit near the end. There are clear hints of Bowie too. No Self Control used a world music-inspired marimba-thumb piano type backing. There was a very West African-Brazilian Bahia feel to the instrumentation that was enhanced by some fuzzy post punk guitar and crashing contemporary drums. Gabriel’s beguiling, intriguing lyrics helped to create a highly unusual, intoxicating and interesting track. Kate Bush appears on wailing backing vocals by the way. Simple Minds did a lot of stuff like this in the same period. It is very much of the 1980 avant-garde. There are also bits of this that bring to mind Sting.

Start is a brief slice of ambient bass. Keyboards and saxophone instrumental. It leads into the once more Simple Minds-ish, upbeat thump of I Don’t Remember, a track with a fine, muscular drum beat, chunky guitar riffs and a catchy chorus refrain. Check out that great rubbery bass line too. It is one of Gabriel’s best songs of the time. There is more than a hint of Talking Heads’ David Byrne in Gabriel’s vocal. Robert Fripp supplies some typically excellent guitar, too. 

Family Snapshot has some more echoes of Sting in its initial vocals. It begins plaintively but bursts out half way through into a huge, riff and saxophone-driven beaty rocker. And Through the Wire is a slow burning, vaguely David Bowie on Lodger type of rocker. It features Paul Weller on guitar. The young Weller was recording in the same studio with The Jam at the time and was asked to contribute. Surprisingly (at the time) he agreed. Quite what he made of this quirky song is not known, but it is nothing like The Jam. It has a lot of changes of ambience, but at times it rocks pretty hard with some rousing chorus parts. It is a song that grows on you.

The completely infectious Games Without Frontiers was probably the reason for lots of people buying this album. It was a huge hit single and always seemed to be a the radio at the time. It seemed to partner the new romantic thing at the time. For me, it is just so reminiscent of the whole scene in 1980. The Japan-style rhythm, the odd, perplexing but singalong lyrics, the meaningful chorus, the  programmed percussion. Put it alongside Ultravox’s Vienna and Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and you have a pretty good 1980-81 sonic snapshot. The new romantic sound is continued on the pounding Not One Of Us, which was very typical early eighties rock. There is something of The Who about it too, as was often the case with Gabriel. It is a good track. Great drum work near the end from Jerry Marotta. Apparently Gabriel had asked for a drum sound without cymbals throughout the album, thus you get the pounding, resonant sound you hear on this track, Intruder, And Through The Wire and I Don’t Remember. Lead A Normal Life is a plaintive, Bowie-esque number with more far-Eastern style backing and fuzzy guitar merged with some “Heroes”-style synthesiser. It reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Moss Garden.

The album ends with its magnificent tour de force - Gabriel’s first overtly political song, his moving, evocative tribute to murdered (in police custody) South African freedom fighter Steve Biko. However inventive and interesting the rest of the album had been, this simply blew it away. Up in my girlfriend’s student room, I played this one track endlessly back in 1980. “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire…once the flame begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher..”. A true anti-Apartheid anthem. “The eyes of the world are watching now….”. Thankfully they really were. The unique Biko sits on its own, away from the rest of the album, which was a fine, quirkily ground-breaking one overall. Don’t do as I did in 1980 and only listen to Biko, give the whole lot a listen.

Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) (1982)

This album, from 1982, was the one on which Peter Gabriel utilised more "world music" sounds and influences than he had thus far. It makes for an interesting, innovative and imaginative album that always challenges the listener. In many ways, it was way ahead of its time. Its eight tracks are all lengthy and varied, offering many experiences, often within the same song. In many ways this is a bit of a genius of an album - serious and exacting.

The Rhythm Of The Heat is a beguiling, slowly rhythmic number involving African drum sounds and lyrics derived from the philosophy of the same culture. San Jacinto is a mysterious, haunting and hugely atmospheric number that lyrically explores Native America philosophy. I Have The Touch ups the tempo with a drum-powered number enhanced by some buzzy guitar interjections and a staccato vocal. The "shake my hands" vocal chant is very Talking Heads. Speaking of which, The Family And The Fishing Net has a bassy, sombre introduction that reminds me of The Overload from Remain In Light. Overall, the track is an eerie, evocative one, full of creativity and atmosphere. Now, a lot of the time I listen to soul, blues rock or reggae, genres whose style is more straightforward, so it is a nice change to experience some inventive quirkiness. The bass-vocal interplay around the four minute mark is captivating.

Shock The Monkey is an upbeat, catchy number that revisits the energy of I Have The Touch. Check out those stabbing guitar-keyboard breaks and the intoxicating South American rhythms. The final three tracks are all quirky and relatively obscure i.e. not catchy in a vaguely commercial way like a couple of the previous ones (Shock The Monkey and I Have The Touch). 
Lay Your Hands On Me is a perplexing semi-spoken and once again very Talking Heads-ish ambient number. It ends with some seriously pounding drums. Wallflower is a gloriously enigmatic number with mystifying lyrics about doctors. Kiss Of Life is an energetic track full of great drums and percussion and synthesiser breaks that even a non-synth man like myself can appreciate. This was a really impressive, unusual piece of work that deserves several listens.

So (1986)

In 1986, four years after his last album, Peter Gabriel released this, his most successful and commercially-appealing offering. His videos were all over MTV and mainstream consumers now bought his singles and this album. For many long-term fans, this was where he "sold out" but that is a bit unfair on Gabriel, because, as far as I am concerned, this still bore a lot of the quirky, adventurous sounds of his previous work, it just had a couple of huge hits on there too. For me, it had nowhere near the "world music" influences that many critics have claimed it had, they were all on the previous album. Here, I feel, the influences came from Talking Heads, Berlin-era David Bowie, Sting and contemporary dance music.

Red Rain is a rhythmic, chunky, vaguely funky and very Sting-like number that carries a lot of power and appeal to it. Many of Gabriel's songs sounded as if they were ecologically-based, although his lyrics were often cryptic. That is the case here. Red rain - it must mean something about nuclear weapons, or power disasters and Gabriel was a sensitive, concerned guy, you get the idea. Either way, it is a good track even if its meaning is not immediately obvious. A bit like with The Clash - it must mean something worthy, right?

Sledgehammer was his big hit single, a funked-up, catchy singalong number complete with bizarre video featuring dancing headless chickens amongst other things. In the age of MTV this was exactly what people wanted. Personally, I didn't give a tinker's cuss about videos. It was always the music for me. Musically, it was a great track too, full of Motown and soul influences, so it duly became a big hit. It also reminds me of Phil Collins and there were some world music guitar breaks in there and some Talking Heads-style backing vocals, so it was a veritable cornucopia. 

Next up was another track that made it big - the moving, Sting-like duet with Kate Bush, Don't Give Up, whose chorus is exceptionally moving in its plaintive way. It was curiously "hands in the air", crowd-pleasingly anthemic for Gabriel, though but it has a great bass line at the end too. Everyone knew Peter Gabriel after these two songs came out. He was briefly mainstream, with his old Genesis mate Phil Collins.

The easy vibe of That Voice Again is once again hugely reminiscent of Sting. Mercy Street has a sumptuous deep, warm bass underpinning another slow, atmospheric song that sounds just like Sting. sorry for referencing him so much, the similarities are so strong for me. 
The dance-ish upbeat groove of Big Time was also a hit single, and provided another bright, lively interlude and attracted accusations of commercialism. A solemn ambience returned on the mysterious We Told What We're Told (Milgram's 37), which was based around some experiments about blind obedience to authority conducted by American University professor Stanley Milgram in 1961. It is made up of synthesiser sounds and a few vocals repeating the title and is all quite like David Bowie Low instrumentals, in some ways. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) is very influenced by Talking Heads' David Byrne, musically, lyrically and in the vocal delivery. There are also a few quiet hints of Bowie in the vocals too. In Your Eyes is a gently rhythmic but sad, distant slow burner featuring some West African backing vocals that also has a few eighties traits in its slightly programmed-style backing. This was still an album that challenged its listeners in true Gabriel style, hit singles or not.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Chaka Khan

Some quality funky soul here....

Chaka (1978)

Full of respect from many due to her sterling work with funkers RufusChaka Khan took the soul world by storm with this excellent debut solo album of chunky, muscular soul-funk led off by the now iconic, vibrant disco soul of I’m Every Woman. Other highlights are the brassy funk of Life Is A Dance and Sleep On It. The backing is superb throughout - check out some of those bass runs and it goes without saying that Chaka’s soaring voice dominates throughout. Her performance in the towering Andrew Lloyd Webber song Love Has Fallen On Me is stunning. There are also some well-known musicians on here - drummer Steve Ferrone, guitarist Phil Upchurch and brass exponents the Brecker Brothers, Michael and RandyRoll Me Through The Rushes is warm, moving and beautifully soulful. It is the album's tenderest moment. We Got The Love is a perfect slice of late seventies late night disco-ish funky soul. Once more, just let that bass boom into your consciousness. Listen to the intro on Some Love, together with that intoxicating funky wah-wah guitar and what sounds like a squawking saxophone (looking on the credits, it is a flugelhorn) - great stuff. It has to be said that on all the tracks, brass, drums, bass, keyboards and Chaka’s voice are in faultless sync.

A Woman In A Man’s World is catchy and poppy, very enjoyable but obviously carries a serious message with it too. This sister was keen to let us know she was doing it for herself. It may sound trite now, but in 1978 it was pertinent and culturally relevant. The strangely-titled The Message In The Middle Of The Bottom is a nice, deep piece of atmospheric, rumbling, shuffling funk with Chaka’s voice deeper and more sensual. 
I Was Made To Love Him is Chaka’s gender-appropriate, funked-up interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s sixties hit. There are not huge paragraphs one can write about albums like this, as I might with a David Bowie album, for example, other than it is packed full of jazzy, funky soul of the highest quality. It serves as nice evening music, either as background or cranked up.

Naughty (1980)
This was Chaka Khan's second solo album and it continues with the same large group of quality musicians that had made her debut solo work so successful. It is another helping of sublime soul, some of it disco-oriented, some of it jazzy, some of it funky and some sweet. The one constant, of course, is Chaka's soaring voice. It doesn't pull up any trees but it is what it is - quality soul from a consummate artist.
Clouds is a steady, upbeat pop-funk opener with a disco-ish groove and solid backing and Chaka's voice doing the now expected vocal gymnastics. Less harshly brassy and more laid-back and bassy is the late night soul of Get Ready Get Set. From its title you might imagine it to be a fast number but it is a slow smoocher. Move Me No Mountain has a nice, warm soft funk backing and a sensual, jazzy vocal.

Nothing's Gonna Take You Away is mid-pace soul with a slight funky feel and a nice slap-bass bit near the end plus some saxophone which fades out too soon, merging into the jazz funk of So Naughty. Songs like this wrote the blueprint for 1980s laid-back, sensual funky soul. So many groups and artists followed suit for a good ten years. The song also features some impressive saxophone. 
Too Much Love is pretty standard upbeat jazz-funk fare while All Night's All Right features some killer funky bass lines. There is some excellent drum-bass interplay half way through. For me this is definitely the album's best track.

As with the first album, albums like this do not give a huge bunch of opportunities for writing about them, a bit like dub reggae albums. You know what you are going to get and for its forty minutes it does its job. There are not obvious differences between the tracks to inspire comments on each one. The album functions more as one complete whole of pleasant relaxing soul, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a soul album in the style of, say, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, or an earthy funker like The Eliminators' Loving Explosion, it is an exercise in soulful funk rhythms, both fast and slow, but mainly upbeat. It reminds me a bit of when Curtis Mayfield "went disco", what he put out then was certainly no Roots or There's No Place Like America Today. The album also lacks the vibrant female consciousness of I'm Every Woman and for me it is slightly the lesser album of the first two. The title of "Naughty" is something of a misnomer, too, as there is no Millie Jackson-style raunch to be found. As I said, though, take it for what is and have an enjoyable, but unchallenging forty minutes.

Wat'cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

This was the third of the impressive first three Arif Mardin produced solo albums of brassy and funky disco soul from Yvette Stevens (otherwise known as Chaka Khan). In my opinion, it is probably the best of the three. The album has a mainly slowish-pace, subtly funky, smooth and slick groove dominating most of it. It is dim the lights music and very redolent of its period. It is her last album of typical seventies jazzy funk before the electronic "r'n'b" sounds of the mid-eighties took over. In that respect, it is a very good example of its genre.
After a slow, soulful beginning, The BeatlesWe Can Work It Out breaks out into a big, brassy version that is similar to Stevie Wonder's cover of the same song, but with Chaka giving it the full funky range on her vocals. If anything it betters Wonder's version. The rubbery bass line is great too. What'cha Gonna Do For Me is credited to Chaka Khan and Rufus and is a perfect slice of jazzy soul-funk with a pounding beat to it as well.

I Know You, I Live You is a delicious slow-cooking gently funky number featuring some impressive bass from Anthony Jackson and drums from the experienced Steve Ferrone. It is a nice, easy piece of classy, polished disco. Chaka deals with this sort of material effortlessly, it is her trademark. It just has that feeling of something that comes on the car radio late at night in the early eighties. It just sums up that era for me. The lights on the dashboard, the street lights, the glistening wet road and Chaka's vocals. Any Old Sunday continues the laid-back, slow tempo groove on another most enjoyable track. Some rhythmic, funky drums and guitar introduces the melodic, catchy disco funk vibe of We Got Each Other while And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia) is a jazzy prototype of The Jones GirlsNights Over Egypt. I am not quite sure which track came first, as both were released in 1981. Either way it taps into that whole Midnight At The Oasis thing and harks back to the 1940s and Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker. The track features some nice jazzy keyboards and some seriously wailing Chaka vocals. It is the classiest track on the album and the most innovative as well. An apt title for the album would have been Night Moods, and the track of that name is an alluring, archetypally after dark number. 
Heed The Warning ups the beat a little on an appealing smooth shuffler while Father He Said continues in the same vein, and Fate is an infectious serving of tuneful but also kick-ass funk. A brief funky, brass-driven reprise of I Know You, I Live You ends this quality album. It is very 1981 and makes me want to roll back the years to my early twenties.

Chaka Khan (1982)

This album started to be influenced by the synthesiser-drenched eighties and there are keyboards all over the place - taking away quite a lot of the natural funk of the Chaka album, for example, which remains as her most authentic, earthy offering, by far. She is descending into the realms of disco pop  by now, although some of of her natural jazzy funk instinct still shines through. Commercial soul music was changing, though, from the lush strings or brassy sounds of the seventies to the colder electro-funk of the urban-dominated eighties. As regards my own personal taste, this was not so good. Chaka Khan, however, managed to ride the waves and remain credible.

Tearin’ It Up is a six minute plus opener, with some lively funk-brass backing and a soaring saxophone solo. It has a slick disco-soul vibe to it. Slow Dancin’, featuring disco artist Rick James, is a good one, with a slow burning backbeat, some sensual funk and unsurprisingly impressive vocals. It is a shame that many if the funky sounds of the late seventies have been replaced by synthesisers, however. This song would have sounded far funkier in 1978. There is still a nice, chunky riffy edge to it in places, though.

Best In The West is an appealing little funker with some attractive guitar and piano together with a killer harmonica solo and some gunshot sound affects to go with the “West” of the title. 
Chaka’s cover of Michael Jackson’s Got To Be There has its good points, but it doesn’t quite work for me, particularly on the over-shrieked “world” and “home” bits. Some people love these examples of vocal gymnastics, but I find them unnecessarily indulgent. The song was going fine without them. The Be Bop Medley has Chaka re-exploring her her love for jazz and, while I am not the biggest fan of “scat” vocalising, this medley has its appeal. Chaka moves effortlessly between the several snippets of songs covered and the backing’s merging of funk with jazz is truly excellent. Twisted has a deep, mysterious mood to it, with some almost Ultravox-style keyboards driving it along and those accursed eighties synth drums. It is one of the album’s most atmospheric tracks, all the same.

So Not To Worry is a nice piece of late evening funky soul while Pass It On (A Sure Thing) (Paso Lo Esta Seguro) goes overboard on the brackets in the title. Musically, though, it is a solid, infectiously upbeat serving of early eighties funk with a bit more of a feel of the late seventies material about it. In conclusion, this is a good album, but one very much of its time. I still feel the Chaka album has more of a gritty, funkier sound to it. A final point worth making is that none of Chaka Khan’s albums have ever been remastered, so they all suffer somewhat from an indistinct, slightly muffled sound that is nowhere near as bright or warm as it might be. This one actually sounds better on headphones than through the main speakers. An album like this sounds very much like an eighties CDs, which is, of course, what it is - unchanged since then. Listen to The Average White Band's remasters mid seventies output as an example of how much better old albums can now sound. Sonically, they put this and the other Chaka Khan albums to shame.

I Feel For You (1984)
As I said in the previous review, soul music was changing, and by 1984, nobody wanted the sumptuous strings of Philadelphia or Detroit’s tambourines. Even gritty Blaxploitation-style funk was no longer de rigeur. It was all urban electro-funk and hip-hop. Soul artists were faced when the choice of moving with the times or getting left behind. It was a real shame, but Chaka Khan managed it and this offering is very much in that 1984 vein. It is very different from the earthy funk of her seventies Rufus days or indeed from her 1978 Chaka album. A lot of the grittiness has been sacrificed at the altar of slick polished eighties professionalism, making it feel slightly detached.

The tone is set from the dramatic keyboard surges and pounding synth drums of the opener, This Is My Night, which is just so very mid-eighties. One thing that does strike me at this point is that the sound quality is infinitely superior to that of any of the previous albums. In that way, the album claws back some of the warmth it may have lost due to its smoothness. Stronger Than Before is an archetypal eighties r’n’b ballad of the sort that inspired endless tracks for the next thirty years and more. Sonically impressive it may be but it doesn’t linger too long in the memory. My Love Is Alive is a frantic piece of electro pop. I actually find it quirkily appealing, despite its clumsy “dance” repeated synthetic drum beats. This was Chaka attempting to keep her finger on the pulse and going contemporary. Her voice ensures she succeeds, of course. In many ways, though, I wish she had kept with old style funk. 

Eye To Eye is more of a return to the sort of thing we had come to expect and is a solid serving of slow, rhythmic soul. It is embellished by some good electric guitar, unusually for this album and some infectious “chicka chicka” funky backing guitar strums. La Flamme has a muscular, staccato beat that makes it a lively, attractive number, as far as eighties electro-funkers go. Look, it is ok, but far too blighted by synthesisers to be anywhere near perfect for me. It features the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary trend of "scratching"The huge hit on this album was I Feel For You, a cover of a Prince song from his second album from 1979. Beginning with some rap from Melle Mel it launches into an irresistible groove enhanced by Stevie Wonder’s instantly recognisable chromatic harmonica. It is also packed full of intoxicating, cleverly-programmed keyboard runs. It is the best track on the album, by far. Hold Her is standard disco-ish soul from the period and Through The Fire is the same for sweet, lush soul romance. While both tracks are fine, they are nothing memorable. Caught In The Act has a bit of a jazzy, mysterious undercurrent to it hat makes it slightly different, a bit Parisian in style. Chinatown is a powerful and enjoyable electric funk stomp to end an album that was very much one of its time. Overall, it is a good album, viewed within its chronological context.

Check out Chaka's work with Rufus here :-

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Terry Reid

The great thing about music is that I find I am constantly discovering new stuff every day, even material like this, some of which is over fifty years old. Despite having a reasonable musical knowledge dating back to my first conscious listening aged around seven or eight in 1967 I freely admit that until yesterday I had never even hear Terry Reid's name, ever. Having found out about him I now find that incredibly surprising because it transpires that he was the vocalist a that young Jimmy Page had earmarked for the lead singer's role in none other the soon-to-be behemoth rock gods Led Zeppelin. Reid turned the gig down, as we was contracted to touring work, supporting The Rolling Stones at one point. Apparently he pointed Page in the direction of Robert Plant and John Bonham and, of course, we all know what happened next.

Many cognoscenti were aware of Reid's work as a phenomenal bluesy, throaty, range-filled singer and also a songwriter and guitarist but unfortunately and shamefully, many others such myself were not. I owe my discovery of his work to that veritable goldmine of long-lost obscurities, the estimable Mark Barry's Sounds Good, Looks Good blog. I have spent the last day immersed in the five of the six studio albums that Reid released (an odd timescale of 1968, 1969, 1973, 1979 and 1991. One from 1976 is omitted) and have found them to be such a pleasurable revelation - all sorts of varied music, great vocals, echoes of The Small Faces, Paul Rodgers and Free, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, of course, early blues artists, rock and roll, T. Rex, early Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Michael Chapman..... the list can go on and on. In many ways Reid's vocal style set a blueprint for so many white, blues rock, rock and prog rock-ish vocalists in the late sixties-early seventies. Lots of artists must have listened to his work, absorbed it and then gone on to have more success, which was a such a shame for poor old Terry.

I spent my teenage years throughout the seventies in record stores, flicking through album sleeves of hundreds of albums I could never afford to buy, day after day. Even after school I would often go "up town" to catch the last half hour at a record shop and leaf through some more albums. How I have no memory of Terry Reid is a mystery. Anyway, thanks to my fellow blogger's incredible knowledge and the wonders of modern technology I am now able to listen to this five album box set at the touch of my ipad control screen. The enjoyment I have got from discovering Terry Reid's work all these years later has been positively therapeutic on a grim, dark, cold November day.

All the albums are different and unique in their own right. Indeed they are all full of varied material within their own list of tracks. None of the albums stick to one formulaic sound. There is rock, blues, blues rock, r 'n'b, folk, acoustic rock. heavy stuff, chilled out bucolic fare too. A cornucopia of innovative and expressive sounds. Terry also loved a cover version, it would seem, and while some of them do not quite hit the mark, others are stunningly good, reinventing the song that he is covering. How this guy never properly made it beyond his peers' respect is criminal....

Bang Bang You're Terry Reid (1968)
This was Reid's somewhat clumsily-titled debut and some have found it to be somewhat patchy. Personally I love it. For 1968 it is a unique creation. It features Reid with Eric Leese on organ and Keith Webb on drums. Yes, it is influenced by both the psychedelia and the folk and blues rock of the day but there is a uniqueness to it that makes it very special. It has a raw, edgy tone to the sound but the remastering is excellent, having a stunning, warm bass sound, which I love. 

Reid's opening cover of Sonny Bono's Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) is an invigorating mix of bluesy verses and madcap, psychedelic rock frenetic breaks. Tinker Taylor has some swirling, very late sixties organ breaks, an almost funky, rumbling bass and a soaring vocal from Reid. That recurring guitar-bass-organ drum riff is infectiously sublime. Reid now does what he does a lot on all his albums and changes ambience and pace on the sumptuous jazzy and acoustic EricaMy own personal favourite is up next in Without Expression. It is full of rhythmic melody and a moving, different vocal from Reid. Check out that bass rumbling beautifully away as Terry lifts his voice heaven-bound. There is a vague hint of Neil Diamond's late sixties upbeat output on this, for me. The voice is completely different, of course, but it something about the hook-laden, rousing tune. This song just lifts the spirits. It is way, way ahead of its time, sort of timeless in its appeal (if that doesn't sound ridiculously clumsy).

The jaunty Donovan-esque Sweater has attracted a bit of criticism from some of the feedback I have read but I really like it. Again, that lively bass rhythm is very Neil Diamond (think Cherry Cherry in that slightly Latin groove). Terry's cover of Gene Pitney's Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart is a good one, with lots of sixties organ and a Robert Plant-ish vocal (maybe Plant developed a Red-ish vocal). The album's big number is the brooding, atmospheric ten-minute cover of Donovan's Season Of The Witch which has Reid sounding like The Small Faces' Steve Marriott on the "chorus" parts. The Robert Plant comparisons are there too. By the end he is sounding like Jeff Beck Band-era Rod Stewart. The guitar chops that interject throughout the song are wonderful. It is simple a phenomenal track. That beautiful bass - oh Lordy.

Writing On The Wall-Summertime Blues begins like Deep Purple's Jon Lord in an old medieval crypt before it breaks out into a haunting Beatles meets psychedelia slow chugger that eventually morphs into a superbly riffy and brassy cover of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues. Reid sounds so like Free's Paul Rodgers on this too. When the organ, drums and brass kick in it is magnificently enjoyable. The track is another that lasts over ten minutes. They are two separate tracks pretty much, to be honest. When I Get Home gets lively again, with an organ and brass-driven slice of Small Faces meets Neil Diamond with The McCoys and The Chambers Brothers in attendance too. Some solid chunky riffing and that sixties proggy organ introduce the vaguely funky rock beat of Loving Time to end the album. I think this is a great debut, even more so when you consider Reid was only nineteen at the time. Astonishing. Interestingly, the album was only released in the USA.

Terry Reid (1969)
The follow-up album, with Terry looking like Jeff Beck on the cover, is probably slightly less raw and a bit more polished. 

It begins with another Donovan cover in the oddly-titled Superlungs My Supergirl. It has a sort of Hang On Sloopy backing riff and Reid's vocal is airily late sixties. The whole organ-based sound is so very 1968-69. It ends with some frantic tambourine-led percussion. Then we get Reid's own buzzy, freakbeat-ish Silver White Light. Once more, there are strong Small Faces hints in the scratchy, fuzzy sound to the track. As on the debut, after a lively beginning we get a blissed-out, acoustic number in the beautiful, tender strains of July. Again, as on the debut, the tempo rises for the next one - the fast-paced organ-riven crazy groove of Marking Time. This stuff is far out, man. The freakbeat feel is present once more. Check out that percussion and drum solo at the end. Reid's cover of Lorraine Ellison's Stay With Me Baby is dramatic, bassy, soulful and boiling over with rumbling passion. The bass is beautifully big and heavy and the organ is turned up to the power-outage max. Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is given a rocking, bluesy covering that suits the song perfectly. It segues into a soulful Reid track called Friends that has a feel of PP Arnold about it before returning to the Dylan cover. The guitar solo on Friends behind Reid's vocal is superb. This is really impressive stuff. I am blown away - it's so joyous when this happens, unexpectedly. I'm banging on my desktop as a makeshift drum while playing my "air bass".

A gentle acoustic turn is taken on the lovely May FlyPaul Weller does this sort of thing these days. I'm sure he has listened to this. 
The opening riff and pounding drum beat to Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace could be Oasis with bits of The Small Faces thrown in. Rich Kid Blues is a very late sixties piece of slow burning, organ-powered blues with Reid going all Paul Rodgers again. Unfortunately, after these two really impressive albums Reid wouldn't release anything again for four years. No matter, though, the next album would be a corker, with a real change of style. Goodbye to psychedelia, freakbeat and the blues. The seventies were coming.

River (1973)
On this album, possibly the best of the five, Reid discovers his inner funk rocker and the first four tracks a very much in the contemporary funk rock sound that was beginning to catch on. Reid’s vocals are very much Paul Rodgers-influenced though You can really hear it on both Dean and Avenue, which were excellent, lively openers to the seven track album. 

Dean is full of irresistible funky wah-wah guitar. All very West Coast, Doobie Brothers and Little Feat. It comes as no surprise to learn that a lot of this album was recorded in California, where Reid was now living. The backbeat to the track is great, slow cooking and funkily seductive. White guitar-driven funk at its very best. There’s a great guitar solo in it too. Avenue has a slightly more rocky drumbeat but there is still a funky feel to the song and its lazily attractive vocal. Reid gets into an effortlessly addictive groove on this material and it has a completely different feel to the two previous late sixties albums. The vocal on Avenue is very Paul Rodgers at times that it almost could be him, though. Things To Try starts with a finger-picking country rock-style guitar passage. Once more, it sounds very Little Feat-ish to me.   It is far more country rock-ish than funky, this one, although there is swinging looseness to the drum rhythm. Some commenters have not been happy with the sound on this album, but personally, I have found it to be surprisingly good - nice and warm and defined, typical early seventies. Live Life sees a return to the funk with a groovy guitar and congas sound and a soulful, grainily seductive vocal. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red would love this (he probably already does). The vocal is also very Robert Plant-ish at points.

River provides a bridging point in the album - a beautifully laid-back, chilled-out number with an almost Samba-style sensual beat. The guitar and gentle percussion rhythms are very Brazilian, as indeed is the vocal. The final two tracks are even more understated. 
Dream is a slice of slow, acoustic jazzy Samba that you expect to hear Reid singing in Portuguese to. Milestones is even more quiet. This is very much a album of two parts. To be honest, as nice as the last two acoustic numbers undoubtedly are, it is the funkier, more upbeat ones that have caught my ear.

Rogue Waves (1979)
Seemingly oblivious to punk-new wave in 1979, Terry Reid released this rocking, riffy album that was completely culturally incongruous. 

Ain’t No Shadow starts with some excellent rock riffage and sounds very West Coast in its easy rock feel, like something off Frampton Comes Alive. The female backing vocal and slightly funky backbeat give the track a tiny bit of a disco groove to it. It is a good enough track listened to now, but would I have wanted to hear this in 1979? Hell, no. As for the cover - dear oh dear. Not de rigeur in 1979, was it? It is almost Spinal Tap-esque.

Now, I have always loved The Ronettes
 Baby I Love You and to be fair, I like Reid’s bombastic but dignified cover of it. A good song is a good song. The Ramones would cover it the following year. It would have sounded better in 1970, however. Stop And Think It Over is an appealing bit of funky, easy pop of the type Rod Stewart was putting out at the time. It is inoffensively pleasing. However, ten years earlier, Reid was recording ground-breaking, influential material as opposed to merely pleasant stuff. 
Rogue Wave is a low-key but muscular rock ballad of the sort Nazareth would do occasionally with, appropriately, Reid sounding like Dan McCafferty and also Frankie Miller in places. 

The Left Banke-Four Tops Walk Away Renee is given a chunky, reggae riff-ish makeover. As a long time lover of the song I like it. You can’t argue with either Reid’s voice or his willingness to change a song to make it his as opposed to simply covering it straight. It has a nice guitar solo in it too. Believe In The Magic sees a look back to the melodic funk rock of 1973’s River album with an attractive slice of gentle funk-pop-soul. This is a nice track. The guitar almost sounds like The Police on Walking On The Moon at times, to me anyway. You’re right, it’s probably just me. The crashing cover of The Beach Boys Then I Kissed Her is initially a bit of a shock, but, if you imagine not knowing the original song, it would serve as a big, rock ballad in the Stay With Me Baby style. I like its big, chunky power, I have to say. Bowang! is another solid rocker and the cover of The Everly Brothers’ All I Have To Do Is Dream is done in a soulful Bob Marley on Redemption Song fashion. It is a nice interpretation with Terry sounding like Dan McCafferty againThis wasn’t a bad album but, as I said, it was culturally irrelevant at the time of release. Now, it has a sort of quirky appeal.

The Driver (1991)
Twelve years after his previous album, the final studio album is The Driver, released in 1991. Terry is back with polished nineties sounds. Lots of keyboard riffs and that synthetic nineties drum sound, produced by Trevor Horn, who always liked that sort of thing. 

Fifth Of July is sumptuous piece of Don Henley meets Chris Rea early nineties melodic pop. Interestingly, it was written by Louise Goffin, daughter of legendary songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It is pleasant enough, but a bit unthreatening. It was perfect for the times, musically, I guess. There’s Nothing Wrong is overflowing with slick, computerised nineties rhythms. Again, Terry is moving with the times. Beneath the polish lurks some nice wah-wah guitar, however, but I still find this much less uplifting than the sixties-early seventies albums. This is simply typical early nineties wine bar pop rock, unfortunately, like a Rod Stewart album from the time, or a Mick Jagger solo offering. The same applies to the lush ballad Right To The End. It is a sort of hands in the air REO Speedwagon style rock tearjerker. Terry handles it well, but having spent the last twenty-four hours listening to that stunning early material, this is all a bit underwhelming.

Terry’s cover of The Waterboys’ The Whole Of The Moon is good, because firstly it is a good song, but it is not a patch on the original. It suits Reid’s voice, though. There is something moving about hearing this lost voice from the late sixties still hammering it out here, I have to say. Makes me all tearful. You tell ‘em Terry. 
Hand Of Dimes is a lovely, peaceful acoustic number of the kind he always had in his locker. The Driver (Pt. 1) is an inconsequential instrumental interlude. The very Stonesy If You Let Her thankfully revisits the old guitar-driven riff sound although it still has a nineties sheen to it. Those big nineties drums are all over Turn Around which is a sleepy late night radio ballad.

Spencer Davis’s Gimme Some Lovin’ gets things going again with some nostalgic sixties organ sounds. The haunting Laugh At Life sounds like some other song that I can’t place, but it is a Reid original, surprisingly. It has that Phil Collins nineties pop ambience about it. The Driver (Pt. 2) is a nice, slow sensual number with more of those dramatic nineties vibes. This album has been nothing like the others. In summing up, I can’t get past loving the very first one the most. The first three are great, the last two are inessential. Terry Reid’s albums have spanned musical generations- freakbeat, psychedelia, blues rock, funk rock, metal and synth pop-rock. Listening to his work is like a trip in a musical time machine. He is an artist who deserved far more commercial success that he had. I am grateful that I am now familiar with him and his material.

Check out the band Terry Reid almost joined here :-