Friday, December 31, 2010

345. Stop Making Sense. Talking heads sing to dancing bodies


345. Stop Making Sense. Talking heads sing to dancing bodies

Album: Stop Making Sense
Artist: Talking Head
Year: 1984
Genre: Rocky Pop stuff

Tracks

  1. Psycho Killer

  2. Swamp

  3. Slippery People

  4. Burning Down the House

  5. Girlfriend Is Better

  6. Once in a Lifetime

  7. What a Day That Was

  8. Life During Wartime

  9. Take Me to the River



I have to confess I’ve always been fairly lukewarm on the idea of the concert movie. The theory is that a band puts together a dynamic live show and then employs a director to capture the event as faithfully as possible. Then when the band is recovering at home trying to wash the cocaine residue out of their underwear an editor turns the footage into a concert movie that can then open in theatres all over the world. Fans who experienced the excitement of the tour can relive the event in a cramped seat with a bucket of popcorn, and those who weren’t there can enjoy the band in a venue ill-designed for dancing or musical enjoyment. It’s a strange way to take rock and roll to a place it wasn’t designed to go.

Stop Making Sense was the name of a concert movie that Talking Heads put together after their 1983 tour. The movie had 16 tracks recorded over 3 nights and unlike most concert movies actually has a storyline of sorts. David Byrne appears onstage on his own for the first number and is gradually joined by an extra band member for each track until the stage is full of performers. It’s a clever effect which is sadly lost in the original Soundtrack album which is basically nine songs culled from the movie and then heavily edited. Songs were doctored and almost all audience noise was removed. The final effect is a strange reinventing of the Talking Heads catalogue rather than any faithful replication of their live shows.

So is it any good? Yes, it is. Thankfully the songs themselves are great and the performances fantastic so the album manages to overcome the hurdles the concept has thrown in front of them. If you only buy one Talking Heads album in your life then it should probably be this one.

Highlight: Psycho Killer or Burning down the House
Lowlight: Take me to the River

Influenced by: That area where Cinema and Rock colide.
Influenced: Phish

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote (this is from the reviews for the movie but I had to include it because it’s priceless): I loved "Stop Making Sense" when it hit the movie theaters back in the mid 80's. I was Very Disappointed with the DVD. It Was Not the movie !! It was all this bogus and unnecessary commentary laid over a classic piece of performing arts. The ceaseless drivel totally ruined this classic live music performance. I would Very Much like to get the Original Movie & not this dubbed nonsense. I am very unsatisfied.

-As many others pointed out in the talkback this reviewer would have had a more satisfying experience if they turned the commentary track off.

So did you enjoy it when Talking Heads stopped making sense or do you wish they’d start making sense again, or did you think they never made sense so couldn’t stop anyway... or has this sentence stopped making sense? Let me know below.




Tuesday, December 28, 2010

346. 3 feet high and rising. When hip hop gets silly.

Album: Three feet high and rising
Artist: De La Soul
Genre: Hip Hop
Year: 1989

Tracks


1 Intro 1:41
2 The Magic Number
3 Change in Speak
4 Cool Breeze on the Rocks
5 Can U Keep a Secret?
6 Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)
7 Ghetto Thang
8 Transmitting Live from Mars
9 Eye Know
10 Take It Off
11 A Little Bit of Soap
12 Tread Water
13 Potholes in My Lawn
14 Say No Go
15 Do as De La Does
16 Plug Tunin' [Last Chance to Comprehend]
17 De la Orgee
18 Buddy
19 Description
20 Me, Myself and I
21 This Is a Recording 4 Livingin a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)
22 I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)
23 D.A.I.S.Y.
24 Plug Tunin'


There's no doubt hip hop is a genre that seems to take itself fairly seriously. Not many of the rappers I've listened to so far appear to have much of a sense of humour about themselves or a sense of the ridiculous. You don't find may gangsta rappers cracking jokes about their insecurities. Rap traditionally doesn't have much appreciation of absurdism as a lyrical tool. The exception to this rule is De La Soul. The three guys who make up De La Soul are clearly big fans of silly. They like silliness and they appreciate a good round of lyrical foolishness. They're less interested in guns, misogyny, egotism and drugs and quaintly obsessed with daisies and dandruff. They're also a lot less interested in swearing a lot. You might think this sounds like G-rated rap for those who like their hip-hoping to be more family orientated. And you'd be wrong. De La Orgee is 1:14 minutes of the band and some female friends replicating the sounds of an orgy in progress. At least I assume they're just pretending. It's possible someone just left the mic on after a recording session with some backing vocalists who were very open to suggestions.

Musically 3 Feet High and Rising is a lot more playful than other rap. It's bouncier and more laid back and sounds like an attempt to move rap towards the mainstream. The backing is primarilly made up of samples and includes beats and riffs taken from Led Zep, Johnny Cash, Parliament, James Brown, The Monkees, The Turtles, Sly and the Family Stone, Otis Redding, Bo Diddley and a host of others. Not that you'll recognize most of them. They've cherry picked all the music that went before and made it their own.

The most recognizable track on this album for me was The Magic Number which mobile phone company 3 have taken as their promotional jingle. I naively assumed it was an original piece of music and didn't realize that they'd ripped it off De La Soul. The other singles I didn't recognise but then I'm sure they still get a lot of airplay on radio stations who play that sort of thing.

You might think having read this review that i quite liked 3 feet high. In fact I found it fairly irritating. It was refreshing to hear some hip hop that was prepared to be vaguely light hearted but that doesn't make it entertaining listening. The skits were really annoying the first time let alone on repeated listens and the tracks didn't move me much at all. I'm glad someone is playing around with the idea of rap but I'm not sure I need to listen to the end results.

Influenced by: Grandmaster Flash and Funkadelic
Influenced: Playful hip hop everywhere

Highlight: The refreshing outlook on life.
Lowlight: The skits inbetween tracks

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Here are the top 5 songs on the album. 5. Say No Go- I haven't heard this song yet, but I have heard alot about it, and seems like one of their greatest hits ever."

-For the love of Clapton- DO NOT WRITE A REVIEW OF AN ALBUM IF YOU HAVEN'T ACTUALLY HEARD IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH AT LEAST ONCE! Seriously. What did you give the album five stars for if you haven't heard the music? Was the cover really that good?

So are you three feet high and rising or plummeting back down to earth with a dull (sampled) thud? Let me know below.

Friday, December 24, 2010

347. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Where acid meets fingerpaint.

Album: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Artist: Pink Floyd
Year: 1967
Genre: Psychedelia

Tracks

  1. Astronomy Dominé
  2. Lucifer Sam
  3. Matilda Mother
  4. Flaming
  5. Pow R. Toc H.
  6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
  7. Interstellar Overdrive
  8. The Gnome
  9. Chapter 24
  10. Scarecrow
  11. Bike


Piper at the Gates of Dawn is the only Pink Floyd album to feature Syd Barrett in a leading role and it's just about as hippie as any album can be. And I'm not just talking a bit druggie I'm talking about the full-on hippie experience with lyrics that talk about riding on unicorns and a gnome named Grimble Crumble and lots of references to flowers and Kings and planets and the winter solstice and sad scarecrows and a mouse without a house named Gerald. Pink Floyd later developed a reputation for writing doom-laden bombast but on the strength of this stuff they were lucky to escape a permanent label as the Kings of Twee.

The title of this album comes from The Wind in the Willows and Barrett appears to sing the entire album as if it's the soundtrack to a children's book that nobody had bothered to write yet. It's full of magical tales with a quaint British flavour and it's the sort of thing that wanders through your mind if you enjoy reading kid's books while ripped off your head on some quality acid. Most children's writers use their power of invention and creativity when conjuring their fantasy worlds but Barrett was such a heavy drug user he just recorded what he saw in his trips. When he describes what Grimble Crumble the gnome is wearing he's hasn't imagined it up he's actually spent time in the gnome's house and probably passed out in his wardrobe.

Not long after this album was released Barrett became progressively more unreliable and started to go off the rails somewhat. He would become violent and retreated into himself so much that he became useless in a live setting. The rest of the band hired David Gilmour as second guitarist but really he was a replacement for Barrett who hung around for a while until the band stopped picking him up for gigs. Syd left to pursue a solo career which didn't really go anywhere before he stopped going anywhere himself and became a recluse. He lived for years out of the public eye amidst tales of mental instability and erratic behaviour. Pink Floyd meanwhile continued with Gilmour as guitarist and Roger Waters as band leader. They released Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and other albums and became one of the world's biggest bands. After Waters left, Gilmour took on the role of leader and released two albums before dissolving the band for good. I'll commit a massive act of musical heresy here by saying I prefer Pink Floyd when Dave Gilmour was in charge to the incarnation led by Syd Barrett. I know I'm not supposed to think that, conventional wisdom says Barrett is a musical genius and Gilmour was just in it for the money but to be honest I'll take Momentary Lapse of Reason over this album any day of the week.

Piper at the Gates of Dawn doesn't sound like music written for adults. It doesn't even sound like music written for children it sounds like music written for stoned children. As a non-stoned adult I find it to be an impenetrable fog of annoying melodies and mid-sixties lyrical foolishness.

Influenced by: Children's fiction and adult drugs.
Influenced: Every english Hippie.

Highlight: Astronime Domine
Lowlight: Bike

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Syd Barret is NOT a genius. A genius would figure out how to survive mental illness."

-Ouch. Commenting on an album is one thing but making sweeping statements about mental health is another entirely.

So was it all downhill for the Floyd from here or was this lowpoint they climbed up from? Let me know below.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

348. At Newport. The Blues.


Album: At Newport
Artist: Muddy Waters
Year: 1960
Genre: The Blues

Tracks

  1. I Got My Brand On You
  2. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man
  3. Baby, Please Don't Go
  4. Soon Forgotten
  5. Tiger In Your Tank
  6. I Feel So Good
  7. Got My Mojo Working
  8. Got My Mojo Working, Pt. 2
  9. Goodbye Newport Blues


When Muddy Waters and his band took to the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival he was essentially trespassing on established territory. The festival was designed to highlight jazz performances and the audience was more accustomed to sitting and appreciating virtuoso Jazz than getting up and dancing to blues music. This is definitely not a rock crowd and if you're in any doubt you only need to listen to the introduction Muddy gets at the start of the album. A lone voice announces his name with all the excitement of a teacher calling out a class roll. It sounds like someone introducing panelists on a political discussion program more rather than an announcer revealing the name of a blues legend to an eager crowd. The smattering of applause makes it clear that the crowd aren't unhappy to see him but he's not the reason they came.

Throughout this album's all-too-brief running time Waters and his band (who I've always thought should be called The Puddles) win the crowd over. He starts off slow with I got my Brand on You but quickly moves into Hoochie Coochie Man and performs the version that inspires all the countless people who have covered the song ever since. Baby Please don't go is another definitive classic which he follows up with Soon Forgotten, Tiger in your Tank and I feel so good. During this last track you can clearly hear the audience getting involved. He's turned the jazz fans into dancing fiends who are loving every minute. He finishes his set with I've got my Mojo Working and totally sets the crowd alight. There's clapping and cheering and it concludes with some rapturous applause. The audience refuses to let him leave and he comes back for a further reprise of Mojo with the band and the audience joining in on the chorus. When Muddy isn't at the mike you can hear the crowd going wild and screaming at whatever is going on. Clearly there were antics involved. It would have been a great gig to attend.

The album concludes on a really interesting note which I only learned about recently. The 1960 Newport festival attracted record crowds and there were disturbances that caused someone to call the national guard. There was a rumour circulating that the festival had no future. A poet who was in the audience (because what's a jazz fest without a poet?) wrote a lament about the possible close of the festival. He gave it to Muddy's band and the pianist Otis Spann sang it while the band improvised around him. The final result is called Goodbye Newport and is such a great slow blues track you'd be amazed to learn the singer was sight-reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper. The words "Goodbye Newport" spoken at the end of the album aren't a band saying goodbye to a crowd but musicians saying farewell to an era. Thankfully it wasn't the case and Newport lived on.

Live at Newport is a great album by a great man fronting a great band. It's highly recommended listening for those who want to get their mojo working.

Influenced by: Robert Johnson.
Influenced: The Rolling Stones

Highlight: Got my Mojo working
Lowlight: Goodbye Newport.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm a lot older now, have gone though several copies of this record. I've had it on four track, eight track, cassette and CD and now on iTunes."

-I alway love people who own up to owning multiple formats of an album. Especially when one of those is from Amazon's main rival.

So is your mojo working or is it currently in an inoperable state? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

349 Roger the Engineer. Sort of a Yardbirds album a bit.

Artist: The Yardbirds
Album: Roger the Engineer
Year: 1966
Genre: Rock


  1. Lost Woman
  2. Over, Under, Sideways, Down
  3. I Can't Make Your Way
  4. Farewell
  5. Hot House of Omagarashid
  6. Jeff's Boogie
  7. He's Always There
  8. Turn into Earth
  9. What Do You Want
  10. Ever Since the World Began

Okay I'll do this slowly and we'll all try and keep up... This album was originally released in England only it wasn't called Roger the Engineer it was called The Yardbirds. It was re-released in America with a different track listing and different mix... Only it wasn't called The Yardbirds. It wasn't called Roger the Engineer either it was called Over Under Sideways Down. It was re-released in Germany and Japan only it wasn't called Roger there either. Or The Yardbirds. Or Over Under. It was called Yardbirds without the definite article. It was also another mix. The more observant (and persistent) among you might have realised that we have three different albums with three different titles, none of which is Roger the Engineer, the album that all this fuss is supposed to be about. Silly isn't it? But that's what they did in the sixties. Different countries were entirely different markets and there was no need for anything to be consistent. Who knows, maybe they saw ahead a few decades and realised that one day there would be people who would call themselves collectors and want to buy every version of an album they could find.

Anyway the point is that Rolling Stone magazine have decided to include an album that technically doesn't exist in it's countdown. The first appearance of Roger the Engineer as a title came in the eighties when the album had a rerelease with further track additions and alterations. For the purposes of reviewing I'll stick to the tracks which are common to every incarnation of this enigmatic album. Which is a pity because most of them are pretty bad.

The Yardbirds started as a blues band full of blues purists who wouldn't touch a song unless it was written by an impoverished black American. They were led by Eric Clapton who was the sort of guy who would never write a pop ballad for a movie soundtrack or release a watered down, acoustic version of a big hit in order to cash in (at least he wasn't back then). Sadly the only people who were interested in buying white-boy interpretations of blues classics were members of the Rolling Stones so The Yardbirds were pressured to "Write songs like them Beatles fellas." The end result is this album (or these albums) which the Yardbirds recorded with their new guitarist Jeff Beck who was no slouch with an electric guitar. In fact if the band could write songs as well as Beck could play this would be a belter of a release. Instead it's a pretty tepid affair. Most of the songs are the sort of things that John and Paul wouldn't even have considered selling to other people. He's always there, Lost Woman, I can't Make Your Way etc and the rest of the album are just lame psychedelic songs that sound pretty feeble when removed from their home decade. Two songs stand out from the rest of the mediocrity. The first is Hot House of Omargarashid which is staggeringly awful. It's two minutes and forty seconds that sounds like a theme song to a justifiably forgotten children's cartoon. It's annoyingly bouncy and the only lyrics are "Ya ya ya", which is sung over and over again until even the singers sound bored. It's so bad it even features a wobble board. Thankfully the other exception is a magnificent song called Over Under Sideways Down which is one of the forgotten gems of the sixties. It's got a beat, a riff, a chorus, a bassline and some great lyrics. OUSD could happily take a place in the track listing of any album released that year by any band.

The Yardbirds released some great singles in their time and had some fine moments on their albums but I wouldn't reccomend this release in any of it's multiple formats. Instead I'd suggest you get your hands on any one of a million compilations which will include Over Under Sideways down and therefore the only thing here worth hearing.

Influenced by: The Blues and a desire to make more money than the people who usually played it.
Influenced: Aerosmith, The Black Crowes and lads like them.

Highlight: Over Under Sideways Down
Lowlight: Hot House of Omagarashid and the cover art.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Unfortunately, almost all of the songs have extremely weak melodies, and the trippy sentiments, poorly thought out to begin with, have aged very badly, reminding me of something that Neil from "The Young Ones" might sing."

-Brilliant. The Neil comparison is perfect.

So are you Over this album or Under it's influence? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

350. Rust Never Sleeps. Providing suicide note inspiration since 1994

Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Artist: Neil Young
Year: 1979
Genre: Rock

Tracks


  1. My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
  2. Thrasher
  3. Ride My Llama
  4. Pocahontas
  5. Sail Away
  6. Powderfinger
  7. Welfare Mothers
  8. Sedan Delivery
  9. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)



You have to love Neil Young. Back in the sixties he made a conscious decision to follow nobody's rules and regulations and to be a star in his own terms. He would continue to write lyrics about the subjects that meant something to him and put them to music that paid no attention to popular convention at the time. He would refuse to sell his music to advertisers and make no effort to conform. It's now 2010 and he's still doing exactly that. Granted he's had some misfires on the way but he's also produced some outstanding music, both on stage and in the studio.

Rust Never Sleeps is proves Neil's talent and appropriately enough it comes to us from both the stage and the studio. It's sort of a live album but then sort of not one as well. Neil set out on tour with Crazy Horse, a band he enjoyed playing with who exist without him but not successfully (anyone ever been to a Youngless Crazy Horse gig? No I didn't think so). Some of the shows were recorded and then Neil took the new songs the band had played and "tinkered" with the recordings. "Tinkered" in the sense that the US military has "tinkered" with Iraq and Afghanistan. He removed most of the audience noise and then proceeded to add overdubs wherever he thought they'd work. The final effect is essentially a studio album in which the basic tracks happened to be recorded onstage. It's a strange way to make an album but it's actually a huge success (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan).

Like the concerts themselves the album is divided into two halves. The first side is entirely acoustic and showcases the gentler side of Neil. Play this to most of your mothers and they'd quite enjoy it. Some find Young's voice a bit hard to deal with but the does write a lovely tune. Hey Hey My My is probably the best known song from this set and it opens the album as an acoustic ballad. The line "It's better to burn out than to fade away" was fairly haunting when it was recorded but since it was made famous in Kurt Cobain's suicide note it's taken on an extra resonance. The remaining four songs on side one aren't quite as good but they're still great examples of Neil's ability to craft lyrics and melody together into a beautiful song.

The second side features the electric stylings of Crazy Horse and is the sort of music that your mother warned you about. Neil is often called The Godfather of Grunge and the four tracks that close this album will tell you why. The elements of punk and metal with guitar soloing that Pearl Jam and others popularized are all here in Powderfinger, Welfare Mothers and Sedan Delivery. Surprisingly for some the album closes with the same song it opened with. Young bookends the album with an acoustic and an electric rendition of Hey Hey My My and proves that it works as a gentle ballad and a grungier rock number.

For the next ten years Neil's experimental side got the better of him and his music suffered. If you started listening to music in the 80's you'd wonder what all the fuss about this Neil Young character was. You certainly wouldn't pick him as a great songwriter, lyricist, singer and guitarist. But return to 1979 and this album proved that he was all four. And thankfully he would be again.

Highlight: Hey hey My My (into the black)
Lowlight: Welfare Mothers

Influenced by: Live audience feedback.
Influenced: Grunge.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: I can tolerate stoner Neil Young sometimes drifting off at the microphone, as he does on many of the sleepy songs on this half-baked record. What I can't tolerate, however, is him ripping off the line that Def Leppard made famous: "It's better to burn out than fade away." That's just not cool, and it shows this hippie really isn't all that original, when one gets right down to it.

Nonetheless, his acoustic song dedicated to the Ramone's deceased Johnny Rotten at the start of the album is rather poignant, and the song does deserve its "classic-rock" status, despite the fact that Leppard did the lines better on the song "Photograph" from 1992.


-This person clearly knows that Neil predates Def Leppard and this is what we on the internet call "trolling"


So is Neil's music young and fresh or old and rusty? Let me know below.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

351. Brothers in Arms. The ugliest band to ever conquer MTV

Artist: Dire Straits
Album: Brothers in Arms
Year: 1985
Genre: Rock


1. So Far Away
2. Money for Nothing
3. Walk of Life
4. Your Latest Trick
5. Why Worry
6. Ride Across the River
7. The Man's Too Strong
8. One World
9. Brothers in Arms


There are lots of people who really, genuinely hate Dire Straits. Their existence during the 80's was enough to make certain people rail with frustration and rage. This is mainly because after the invention of punk, bands like Dire Straits were not supposed to exist. The Sex Pistols and the Clash were supposed to signal the death of traditional stadium rock and roll. The musical revolution in the late seventies should have made extended guitar solos redundant and any song with more than three chords obsolete. Every number in a band's repertoire should have lasted no more than three minutes when played live to audiences who should never number more than 80. Punk had musical integrity and stadium rock didn't. By 1985 Dire Straits were a massive global sensation who sold millions of albums and concert tickets and created videos which seemed to run all the time on MTV. Somehow the musical revolution which was supposed to kill them off created the ideal environment for Dire Straits to flourish.

By 1985 Mark Knopfler and his band had become one of the biggest bands on the planet. Their brand of unassuming Rock and Roll revolving around Knopfler's fluid guitar lines and limited range vocals was moving units and making them rich. Their staple trademark involved long songs with extended instrumentals that became more extended when played live. They'd mastered the huge selling album but hadn't quite perfected the hit single or the major video clip. Money For Nothing proved they could master both formats and Walk of Life proved it wasn't a fluke. Both songs were pretty much everywhere during 1985 and were tracks the whole world heard. There was no escaping them and legions of fans had no desire to.

Personally I think Brothers in Arms is actually Dire Straits weakest moment. Their earlier albums seem to have more fire and I really like some of the songs on their last release but this just seems a bit too stuck in it's time. The simple keyboard vamp of Walk of Life really gets on your nerves quickly and Money for Nothing has a good riff but other than that just seems to be a bit out of place. Personally I prefer them live and while I'm no devotee I quite enjoy Alchemy which showcases all their best earlier work in a live setting.

Recently Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols (who was scathing in his criticism of Dire Straits) reformed his former band in what he admitted was a cynical grab for cash. He's also appeared on celebrity reality shows and features in an advertising campaign for Butter. Knopfler rejected million pound offers to reform Dire Straits because he prefers playing low-key gigs where he can focus on playing what he loves. You tell me who is more about the music?

Highlight: Brothers in Arms
Lowlight: Na na. Na-na Na-na Na-na Na-na.

Influenced by: Jazz and Sting
Influenced: Angy Punks.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "I can't tell how overrated this CD is. It is very overrated and boring. If you like sexy, overrated, sad, boring noise music buy this."

-Okay you've find it over-rated, yes it's over-rated and boring you said. It's boring, over-rated and sexy. Wait- sexy? Who describes music they don't like as sexy?

So are you pleased to have these Brothers in Arms or would you rather disown the family? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

352. 52nd Street. Billy Joel gives an address to the nation.

Album: 52nd Street
Artist: Billy Joel
Year: 1978
Genre: Rock


Tracks

  1. Big Shot
  2. Honesty
  3. My Life
  4. Zanzibar
  5. Stiletto
  6. Rosalinda's Eyes
  7. Half A Mile Away
  8. Until The Night
  9. 52nd Street



Billy Joel isn't just a person he's become a kind of musical template. He's a syndrome all his own. People catch Billy Joel. Sufferers start out as angry young men but quickly become middle-of-the-road darlings. Their audience ages and they start performing in venues which have Gold Class tickets so the people in the front rows are their richest fans rather than those dedicated enough to camp out overnight in a ticket line. Today he's given up writing new music for the pop charts and instead writes classical pieces but still tours on the strength of his back catalogue.

Back in 1978 Joel was still interested in Rock and Roll. He was still a songwriter and churned out albums and hit singles. 52nd Street is his sixth album which means he's passed the nervous debut, made his way through the difficult second release, got through albums 3,4 and 5 (the "comfortable albums") and is up to the "Are you still here?" album which is where a lot of people tend to lose their way.

There are three strings to Joel's bow. He's a writer, a singer and a pianist.

As a singer he's fairly well suited to this sort of music. It's fairly gentle rock that doesn't challenge the vocal chords much but needs a stamp of authority to make it work. He's forceful in his vocals and can bring it down a notch to a sweeter level when he has to. He's not going to be anyone's favourite vocalist but he's not embarrassing himself either.

As a pianist he's surprisingly low-key on this album. The prowess he enjoys showing off (like the key-pounding at the start of Angry Young Man) is toned down on this release. If you didn't know much about Joel before you put this on you might not be able to identify which instrument he plays (probably not helped by the fact that guitars are mentioned often in the lyrics and he's holding a trumpet on the cover). The one exception to this song is Stilletto which allows him to cut lose on a grand piano and display his keyboard talents.

As a songwriter this isn't really Joel's finest hour. Stilletto is a good song and while there are those who love My Life it leaves me a bit cold. Most of the other tracks seem like fairly forgettable album-filler material.

Trivia buffs may be interested to know that this was the first ever album released on CD (in 1982). I wonder how many people bought it purely so they had something to play on their new toy?

52nd Street didn't make me sit up and want to hear more Joel but it did remind me that before he was an old guy playing songs to wealthy people he was a young rock and roller, sadly he caught the world's first case of Billy Joel.

Highlight: Stilletto
Lowlight: Rosalinda's eyes.

Influenced by:
The Beatles
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I admit that I was a fan back in my own misspent youth, given as I was to soggy sentimentality, but unlike Billy, I grew up. You will too. Till then, you will probably love this album. "

-Ouch

So are you happy to pay a visit to 52nd street or would you rather give it a wide berth? Let me know below

Sunday, December 5, 2010

353. Having a Rave Up.

Album: Having a Rave Up
Artist: The Yardbirds
Year: 1965
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. You're A Better Man Than I
  2. Evil Hearted You
  3. I'm A Man
  4. Still I'm Sad
  5. Heart Full Of Soul
  6. The Train Kept A-Rollin'
  7. Smokestack Lightning
  8. Respectable
  9. I'm A Man
  10. Here 'Tis

Some bands have a truly great guitarist playing with them: Led Zep had Jimmy Page, Cream had Eric Clapton, The Jeff Beck group had Jeff Beck which was convenient because their name would have been really baffling otherwise. When people gather together to argue about the greatest English guitarist of all time (and believe me they do) Clapton, Beck and Page are always the three names they will throw around. While you can argue until you're blue in the face the one thing nobody can deny is that one band and one band only featured all three of these great musicians throughout the course of it's time on earth. A band that featured three of the most famous men to play guitar in the sixties and yet a group unknown to most listeners of mainstream music. I'm referring to The Yardbirds, who managed to replace a great guitarist with another one and then pull off the same trick again but somehow managed to fade into relative musical obscurity.

The Yardbirds started life as blues band who would set rooms alight with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry covers. They were partly led in this endeavor by Eric Clapton who at the time was such a blues purist he once beat someone to death for humming the jingle from a cigarette ad. Okay I made that last bit up but he was notorious for avidly refusing to play anything that wasn't originally written by an impoverished black guy. That's not to say the band were slavish plagiarists, they took blues songs and made them their own. Mainly they sped them up and emphasised the beat which turned rooms full of punters into a seething mass of raving dance fiends. Which is why Yardbirds shows started to be called Rave ups. Side Two of Having a Rave Up contains edited highlights of one of these events. Clapton and the rest of the band tear through four blues standards with the sort of energy and ferocity and nobody else could match at the time. It's punk-rock played by a virtuoso and it's flat out fantastic.

While they may have been dynamite in a small club, blues covers didn't make the charts and gain you access to mainstream radio. If the Yardbirds wanted the sort of money the rest of the British invasion bands were enjoying they needed to start producing original pop material. At the time pop was a dirty word for Clapton and he left the band so he wouldn't have to offend his blues purism. You can't help but wonder what his former bandmates must have thought when he later produced songs like Change the World. Their replacement was Jeff Beck, a talented guitarist with less puritanical standards. He was happy to play pop songs and the band released a string of singles which sold respectably enough to give them international exposure. Some of these songs (although not the best of them) are featured on side one of Having a Rave Up. There is less emphasis on guitar and speed and a clearer attempt to jump on the psychadelic bandwagon kicking around at the time.

The best of these singles is Train Kept a Rollin, an old blues track which the band reinvent as a complete and utter shambles. Their rendition is a sloppy screw- up in which it's clear nobody has the faintest idea which way the track is going. Nobody knows who is soloing when and to make matters worse Keith Relf double tracked his vocals with completely different words and arrangements. It sounds like his twin brother turned up to the studio and attempted to put him off by singing a different song. It shouldn't work but it does, it really does.

Having a Rave Up is a weird document of two distinct periods in a band's career- commercial success vs blues purism. If you want to contrast these two aspects then the band had conveniently included two versions of the same song. Side one has a studio version of I'm a man recorded with Jeff Beck on guitar while side two has a live version with Eric Clapton. Personally I reccomend you don't bother getting your hands on this album. It's been totally superceded by other releases and is nothing more than an annoying taster of two different bands. Instead I sugest you get your hands on Five Live Yardbirds which contains the full set of Clapton's live show and pick up any of the million other Yardbirds best of's which will give you all their best singles.

Highlight: Train kept a rollin.
Lowlight: Still I'm sad

Influenced by: The Blues and commercialism.
Influenced: Aerosmith and The Black Crowes.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I bought this album (no CDs then!) when it came out."

-I think that exact phrase is one of Amazon's most repeated sentences.

So do you prefer the Yardbirds with Clapton or Beck? Or Page? or Beck and Page? Or Page and the guys he chose to replace them? Let me know below.