Monday, February 27, 2012

230. A night at the Opera



Album: A night at the opera
Artist: Queen
Year: 1975
Genre: Pomp

Tracks

  1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)
  2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
  3. I'm in Love with My Car
  4. You're My Best Friend
  5. 39
  6. Sweet Lady
  7. Seaside Rendezvous
  8. The Prophet's Song
  9. Love of My Life
  10. Good Company
  11. Bohemian Rhapsody
  12. God Save the Queen

The only thing I like less than Queen is the fact that Queen are everywhere. They're all over the place because Bohemian Bloody Rapsody and We are the Sodding Champions and Flash Frigging Gordon are radio staples and Wedding receptions staples and for some people just life staples. People are incredulous when you say you don't like Queen. I don't like Death Metal much either but people who do can at least accept that their music is not for everyone. They can appreciate that they've latched onto an acquired taste and we're not all going to enjoy it together. Queen fans seem to think that anyone who doesn't like their favourite band can somehow be turned by singing bits of Bohemian Rapidity at the top of their voice. If I don't like Freddy Mercury howling "Scaramouche Scaramouche!" why the hell am I going to suddenly turn just because someone with a fraction of his (undeniable) vocal talent has a crack at it?

Part of me was dreading encountering this release on the countdown (because, as I may have mentioned I hate Queen) but another part of me was looking forward to it because I wanted to know what their albums were like. Were there hidden Queen songs that I was destined to really enjoy? Did Mercury and co write some gems that were right down my alley and tuck them away on their albums, hidden from radio and greatest hits packages? Could I hold my hand to my heart and say I'd been converted to Queen-love?

No.

The album tracks on A Night at the Opera are just as annoying as the hits I've grown to loathe over the years. They're just as overproduced, overblown, mawkish and irritating as Bohemian rhapsody. Mercury has a good voice and May can play the guitar but their music is more fitting to music hall than rock and roll. There's a reason their songs lent themselves so well to a West End musical, the songs are just a few steps removed from something Andrew Lloyd Webber would produce.

Highlight: Bits of the guitar
Lowlight: Other people's renditions.

Influenced by: Opera
Influenced: Wedding receptions.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Queen don't rock! And A Night At the Opera is a perfect example of why not. Far too pretentious to be considered rock. Avoid!"

-Fair point.

So is this an opera you'd like to spend a night at or just Death on two legs? Let me know below.

Friday, February 24, 2012

231 The Kink Kronicles. A kick in the Kronickles.





Album: The Kink Kronicles
Artist: The Kinks
Year: 1972
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Victoria
  2. The Village Green Preservation Society
  3. Berkeley Mews
  4. Holiday In Waikiki
  5. Willesden Green
  6. This Is Where I Belong
  7. Waterloo Sunset
  8. David Watts
  9. Dead End Street
  10. Shangri-La
  11. Autumn Almanac
  12. Sunny Afternoon
  13. Get Back In Line
  14. Did You See His Name?
  15. Fancy
  16. Wonderboy
  17. Apeman
  18. King Kong
  19. Mr. Pleasant
  20. God's Children
  21. Death of a Clown
  22. Lola
  23. Mindless Child Of Motherhood
  24. Polly
  25. Big Black Smoke
  26. Susannah's Still Alive
  27. She's Got Everything
  28. Days

This is kind of annoying. The Kinks Kronicles is a best of album. It's a collection of songs by The Kinks, most of which can be found in the various Kinks albums which you will find scattered throughout this release. For some reason The Davies brothers get to double dip into this countdown. The Beatles released two greatest hits albums (The Red and The Blue albums) which were overlooked, the Rolling Stones had their compilations ignored but The Kinks, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkle, David Bowie and others get best-ofs on the countdown which replicate albums they have here as well. It's a bit silly.

The simple solution would be for Rolling Stone writers to say only studio albums are allowed on their list but that causes problems for John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry Patsy Cline and others who were singles artists  and musical giants before albums were big. John Lee Hooker deserves to be here somewhere but he never released a defining collection of original studio material. His big albums are compilations and they deserve to be held up among the greatest albums of all time.

There's no easy answer but it does leave us with some curious anomolies. Surely The Beatles Blue Album deserves to be on this list somewhere? How could you not include a compilation that has Strawberry Fields, Hey Jude, Let it Be, Penny Lane, Something, A day in the Life and While my Guitar Gently Weeps?

The one thing this list needs is more diversity. There are great artists completely overlooked (The Stone Roses spring to mind) and having places clogged up with compilations whose tracks are represented elsewhere robs the list of credit it otherwise deserves.

The Kinks Kronicles is a great album by the way, and why wouldn't it be? It's a greatest hits release that includes some album tracks and some B-sides but it's clogging up space that could otherwise be occupied by another artist.

Influenced by: The Beatles
Influenced: Mods

Highlight: Lola
Lowlight: Did you see his name?

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Probably no other rock artist has been so ill-served by badly concieved compiliations than the Kinks. (Except Elvis, but he is really directing his record company from a hideout in New Zealand's South Island)."

-You heard it here first folks (well second if you've already read this review on Amazon)

So is this album konsistantly klassic or antiklimactic? Let me know below.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

232 Mr Tambourine Man.



Album: Mr Tambourine Man
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1965
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Mr. Tambourine Man
  2. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better
  3. Spanish Harlem Incident
  4. You Won't Have to Cry
  5. Here Without You
  6. The Bells of Rhymney
  7. All I Really Want to Do
  8. I Knew I'd Want You
  9. It's No Use
  10. Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe
  11. Chimes of Freedom
  12. We'll Meet Again

Bob Dylan is all over this countdown. He stands over this list like the musical God he was, casting his influence over recorded music for five decades now. He not only has his own albums scattered throughout the list (with many residing close to the top) there are a series of releases that directly show his influence and inspiration. From albums by The Beatles and The Stones (who changed their approach to songwriting after they heard Dylan) to Bruce Springsteen's first album (which was an attempt to try Bob's approach to wordy songwriting) there are releases which have Bob stamped indelibly on the vinyl. Another album which we could safely describe as Bobish is Mr Tambourine Man, The Byrds' debut release.

Columbia asked The Byrds to record an album based on the success of their debut single, a cover of Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man which to this day is still the version that most people know. It took Bob's initial arrangement and added the famous "jangly guitar" that became their signature sound along with some rich vocal harmonizing. The studio liked it so much they asked The Byrds to record more songs, preferably Dylan ones. Consequently four of the 12 tracks on Mr Tambourine Man are Bob covers and it's no leap to say they're the album's highlights. He could really write song that Dylan chap and the Byrds could really sing (and could even play their instruments, despite what the label said).

On the face of it The Byrds might look like a fairly unoriginal outfit. They steal their best songs from Dylan (or others) and they were so keen to become The American Beatles they even chose a name which was a deliberate attempt to mimic their heroes (choose a creature, misspell its name and then add "The" in front- voila! Band name chosen). But it would be wrong to write them off as one of the countless "bandwagon" bands leaping on passing trends in an attempt to cash in on a big thing. It's a mistake to dismiss The Byrds Sound and their influence in the creation of Country Rock. They helped to create a timeless genre and a unique sound that can still be heard today.

This isn't their best album but it's by no means a bad listen and it does contain some of the best Dylan covers of the sixties. You could do much worse.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: It's no use

Influenced by: Bob Dylan and the Beatles
Influenced: Primal Scream and The Stone Roses

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The surviving members' belief that the young Australian tourist jailed in Indonesia on drug-smuggling charges was unjustly convicted makes this CD an essential purchase for both your ears AND your conscience."

-Wait, what? I assume this is a reference to Shapelle Corby but I couldn't find any information about any member of the Byrds lending their support to Corby. Anyone out there know anything?

So do the Byrds fly for you or just just chirp annoyingly outside your window when you're trying to sleep in? Let me know below.

Friday, February 17, 2012

233. Bookends. (something else the kindle and ipad are killing off)



Album: Bookends
Artist: Simon and Garfunkle
Year: 1968
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Bookends Theme  
  2. Save the Life of My Child
  3. America 
  4. Overs
  5. Voices of Old People
  6. Old Friends
  7. Bookends 
  8. Fakin' It
  9. Punky's Dilemma
  10. Mrs. Robinson
  11. A Hazy Shade of Winter
  12. At the Zoo 

 Bookends has three tracks which show just how good a songwriter Paul Simon was. America, Mrs Robinson and A Hazy Shade of Winter are all standouts which have earned their status as classic songs in the American musical lexicon. At the Zoo is another well known hit which isn't as good as the other three but in everyone's psyche because it's used as a theme tune whenever anyone makes any television program about the zoo. In fact it's sung whenever anyone anywhere sets out of a building with the intention of visiting a menagerie of any kind.

Of course good songs can be ruined utterly by bad performances but there is no doubt Simon and Garfunkle could both sing and their voices worked incredibly well together in the studio. Paul Simon was a great arranger and producer and Grafunkle had very amusing hair. So why don't I listen to them more often? Possibly because of the gulf between their great tracks and their lesser recordings. The three hits on Bookends are all magnificent but the rest of the album does leave a lot to be desired. There are quite a few tracks that are formlessly forgettable and others that leave no real impression at all. Bookends itself just wanders out of S and G's mouths, meanders it's way onto the CD, dawdles out of the speakers, casually passes into your ears and then saunters off without ever leaving an impact. Most of the other tracks are the same.

The reason I don't hunt out Simon and Garfunkle is because I rarely need to. There are three essential songs on this album and their played so often on radio, TV and in other places that I don't need to go looking for them they come looking for me.

Highlight: The three hits
Lowlight: The disappointing nature of the rest.

Influenced by: The Beatles
Influenced: Flight of the Conchords (seriously)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I thought this would be pleasant to listen to in my office, but a few places blast out suddenly. Another problem is that the tracks are sooooo short -- I guess that's how they did them in the old days."

-"The food here is terrible." "I know, and such small portions"

So would you listen to bookends or would you rather turn your copy into some? Let me know below

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

234 The Ultimate Collection. InClined towards country.



Album: The Ultimate Collection etc
Artist: Patsy Cline
Year: Some time after her death
Genre: Country and Western

Tracks:

Lots of songs by Patsy Cline.

I have to confess I haven't actually heard this album. I know I've said I'd listen to every album on this countdown at least four times but sadly I couldn't get my hands on The Ultimate Collection. The good news is that I could find The Definitive Collection, The Patsy Cline Collection and several other greatest hits compilations. I could also get my hands on the two studio albums that she released in her life but this particular compilation has been lost in the flood  greatest hits collections that actually outnumber songs she recorded.

It doesn't matter really because the album placed at number 234 isn't really The Ultimate collection it's just a location to put Patsy herself. Patsy clearly deserves some placement and if it's not this CD then it would be another group of her music which all pretty much contain the same collection of songs. Patsy is the Queen of country music and her untimely death in a plane crash at the age of thirty took away one  of the genre's great voices. Any woman who sings country owes a huge debt to Cline who towers over the genre like a collossus and whose musical influence can't possible be denied.

God I hate her music though. Country and Western- blah! I never want to hear this again. I feel about as connected to this warbling as I do to any anecdote about baseballers from the 1920's. Country has it's fans- I'm not one of them. Western has it's adherents- their ranks do not include me. Lets move on.

Highlight: That track where she sings about country
Lowlight: The other track where she sings about western.

Influenced by: The prairie, the wild frontier, horses, cows etc
Influenced: Go into any bar in the deep south, throw a stone at the stage and you'll hit someone influenced by Patsy Cline. Then please repeat until they're all wiped out.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "WITH ALL THE LAME ELECTRONIC HIP HOP AND ALTERNATIVE OF TODAY, ITS SO REFRESHING TO HEAR 'REAL MUSIC" LIKE PATSY CLINE"

-It's not enough to diss current music you have to shout about it too.

So could you find this album or would you rather it stayed hidden? Let me know below.

Friday, February 10, 2012

235 Mr Excitement.



Album: Mr Excitement
Artist: Jackie Wilson
Genre: Soul
Year: 1992

Tracks

  1. St. Louis Blues 
  2. Sister Therese of the Roses
  3. Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want to Meet)
  4. By the Light of the Silvery Moon
  5. Danny Boy
  6. Right Now!
  7. I'm Wanderin'
  8. We Have Love
  9. Singing a Song
  10. To Be Loved
  11. Lonely Teardrops
  12. I'll Be Satisfied
  13. You Better Know It
  14. Talk That Talk
  15. Only You, Only Me
  16. Hush-A-Bye
  17. That's Why (I Love You So)
  18. I Know I'll Always Be in Love With You
  19. Wishing Well
  20. So Much
  21. It's All a Part of Love
  22. Night
  23. Doggin' Around
  24. She Done Me Wrong
  25. Sazzle Dazzle
  26. You Were Made for) All My Love
  27. A Woman, a Lover, a Friend
  28. Am I the Man
  29. Alone at Last
  30. My Empty Arms
  31. The Tear of the Year
  32. Your One and Only Love
  33. Please Tell Me Why
  34. I'm Comin' on Back to You
  35. Years from Now
  36. You Don't Know What It Means
  37. Stormy Weather
  38. Lonely Life
  39. My Heart Belongs to Only You
  40. The Greatest Hurt
  41. I Found Love
  42. I Just Can't Help It
  43. Baby Workout
  44. Shake a Hand
  45. Squeeze Her - Tease Her (But Love Her)
  46. I've Got to Get Back (Country Boy)
  47. Silent One
  48. She's All Right
  49. Shake! Shake! Shake!
  50. Danny Boy
  51. No Pity (In the Naked City)
  52. Think Twice
  53. I Believe
  54. Whispers (Gettin' Louder)
  55. I've Lost You
  56. Who Am I?
  57. Just Be Sincere
  58. I Don't Want to Lose You
  59. Stop Lying
  60. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
  61. Since You Showed Me How to Be Happy
  62. Open the Door to Your Heart
  63. Chain Gang
  64. Even When You Cry
  65. I Get the Sweetest Feeling
  66. For Once in My Life
  67. (I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real
  68. This Love Is Mine
  69. You Got Me Walking
  70. No More Goodbyes
  71. Just Call My Name
  72. Don't Burn No Bridges

Jackie Wilson is definitely not a household name. His life and career seems to have sailed past most people and the average record buyer couldn't identify his gender let alone one of his songs. But to people who saw him live he was apparently unforgettable. When people talk about dynamic performers, artists who turn a stage into their own personal temple and make the audience worship at their feet, they often bring up names like James Brown, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Apparently all three regarded Wilson as the most dynamic performer on  earth. Wilson was the guy who inspired the guys who inspired everyone else.

Listening to this disc it's possible to get an idea of what they were talking about. Wilson has an amazing voice and some genuine energy comes through his singing. He can nail pretty much any style around and has a fantastic vocal range. Listening to hits like Higher and Higher you can't help but think: this guy is clearly good but can he still command a stage while dressed in a shiny red jumsuit and pirate boots? It's an obvious question and thankfully answered by this clip right here. Wilson dances around the stage showing some real moves and shows off an impressive range of vocal tricks and affectations all while wearing a one-piece crimson outfit and footwear he clearly stole from Jack Sparrow. So impressive is he that the backing vocalists confine themselves to a yellow metal cage so they don't get blown over by his charisma.

Mr Excitement comes in two versions. A one disc version (released in 1992) and a more recent three disc boxed set. The single CD issue is a great overview and contains everything you need. The three disc version makes it clear that Wilson sung his fair share of duds as well as hits.

Highlight: The faster stuff.
Lowlight: The Ballads (Especially Sister Therese of the Roses. Does anyone else think a nun is an odd choice for a song dedication?)

Influenced by: Blues and big bands
Influenced: Frontmen everywhere.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Young people who think that stars of today such as Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Janet Jackson, ect. can sing should listen to this boxed set. "

-The obligatory Britney reference. It seems that it's impossible to review music recorded before 1963 without including a dig at Ms Spears. Leave Britney Alone!

So is Wilson Mr Excitement or about as interesting as a song about a nun. Let me know below.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

236. The Who sing My Generation. Yes. Yes they do.



Album: The Who Sings My Generation
Artist: The Who
Year: 1965
Genre: Rock

Tracks
  1. Out in the Street
  2. I Don't Mind
  3. The Good's Gone
  4. La-La-La-Lies
  5. Much Too Much
  6. My Generation
  7. The Kids Are Alright
  8. Please, Please, Please
  9. It's Not True
  10. I'm a Man
  11. A Legal Matter
  12. The Ox

I love the fact that the title of this album is such a great statement of the bleeding obvious. Yes, you're correct, The Who do sing My Generation, well spotted Mr Title Creator, they do indeed sing that song. It could also have been called The Who Look Moody in Photographs, The Who Like a Good Party or The Who Vary Greatly in Appearance From Classically Good Looking to Ugly With a Massive Hooter.

The title however is an indication of the type of album this is. It's one of those quick, knock-off albums that record companies churned out in the sixties in order to capatalize on the success of a big hit. The band had released My Generation as a single and it was a huge success. The label knew there was every chance that people who bought the single would fork out for an LP so they threw the band into the studio and demanded they come up with enough material to fill an album. They didn't really care about the quality of the tracks and they didn't need to be original, just as long as there were two sides of vinyl in the can and the words My Generation somewhere on the cover. The same thing happened to the Beatles who recorded their first album in a day after Please Please Me became their first chart success.

Consequently there's much on this album that rates as basic filler. The Kids are Alright is a fantastic piece of sixties pop/rock but the two great tracks are padded out with some quick covers (I'm a man, I don't Mind, Please Please Please) a few throwaway compositions (Out in the street, The Goods Gone, Much to much, It's not true, a Legal Matter) and even that old filler standby- an instrumental (The Ox).

It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination but The Who Sings My Generation makes you appreciate just how good the Beatles were. It's an impressive trick when even your filler tracks are great.

Highlight: Apparently the Who sings My Generation on this album
Lowlight: A legal Matter

Influenced by: The Beatles and the Stones
Influenced: Mods (Bless them)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Harbors the first bass solo in rock, and sounds incredibly heavy."

-Really? The first bass solo in rock? Can anyone verify that?

So are the Kids alright or would you throw them out in the street. Let me know below.

Friday, February 3, 2012

237. Like a Prayer. New Time Religion



Album: Like a Prayer
Artist: Madonna
Year: 1989
Genre: Pop

Tracks

1. Like a Prayer
2. Express Yourself
3. Love Song
4. Till Death Do Us Part
5. Promise to Try
6. Cherish
7. Dear Jessie
8. Oh Father
9. Keep It Together
10. Spanish Eyes
11. Act of Contrition


The cover of this album probably sums up Madonna even better than the music inside. The Rolling Stones featured a crotch-shot on Sticky Fingers but even they had the decency to keep the belt done up. Madonna's top button is undone with fingers hooked inside the belt-line implying further efforts to undress are not far away. If the exposed midriff wasn't eye candy enough there's a huge amount of bling to keep the eye occupied. There are rings and other jewels which are hanging from something somewhere (seriously are they the world's longest earrings or hanging off a huge necklace or suspended by something else?) As an image it's flashy, sexy, suggestive and then overlaid with some old time religion when the title of the album and the artist are superimposed over the top.

Like a Prayer saw Madonna move from being a pop diva to something approaching a serious artist. She pulled off this unlikely trick with a mixture of cunning, calculation and lets be honest- daring. It took guts to try and add a dose of religion to a sexy pop mix. It caused her the sort of headlines and media attention that might have buried someone with less determination and business savvy but solidified her place as one of the superstars of pop and not just a relic of the 80's.

The music on Like a Prayer is pop music but it's pop that takes itself seriously enough to want to break out of its decade and still be listened to years later. Most people's idea of reinventing themselves is to change hats, Madonna reinvented her music without ever reinventing herself as something other than a strong woman in charge of her own career. She's definitely someone to be admired. I've got no desire to listen to her music but I can understand why this album was such an inspiration.

Highlight: Express yourself
Lowlight: Cherish

Influenced by: Dolly Parton
Influenced: Britney etc

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is Madonna's best CD! I always have sex on it! "

-Are you sure that's what you mean?

So is this the answer to your prayers or would you give thanks if you never had to hear it again? Let me know below.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

238. Can't by a Thrill. Can't even rent one.



Album: Can't buy a thrill
Artist: Steely Dan
Year: 1972
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Do It Again
  2. Dirty Work
  3. Kings
  4. Midnite Cruiser
  5. Only a Fool Would Say That
  6. Reelin' in the Years
  7. Fire in the Hole
  8. Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me)
  9. Change of the Guard
  10. Turn That Heartbeat Over Again

Steely Dan are really polished. My are they a polished entity. They're the sort of lads who have clearly put the hard yards into the rehearsal process. They're not just showing up and winging things, they don't wander into the studio with four chords under their belt, they're the kind of guy who play scales for three hours before recording a note. When they finally come to record they make sure everything is in it's right place and nobody is doing anything crazy like being influenced by a sudden urge to improvise.

Consequently Can't Buy A Thrill sounds like a very talented collection of people gathering together to make music that is just a bit dull and lifeless. It's all very slick and all but you can see why punks especially regard Steely Dan as the punchline to a lot of jokes. I'm not saying it's bad by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike some of their other releases it's quite a strong set of songs and doesn't grate on the nerves.

Apprently live Steely Dan is much better than their studio output. True fans of the Dan tell me that they come into their own in a live setting. Normally when I discover this about a band I scurry to find some live albums to enjoy. With Steely Dan I thought "Nah, this isn't something I can be bothered actively seeking out"

Steely Dan- Polished and rehearsed but not really very thrilling.

Influenced by: Jazz
Influenced: Tedious rock and roll.

Highlight: Dirty Work
Lowlight: Only a fool will say that

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Some of the other lyrics to the non-mainstream songs have typical 70's lyrics and sound (the bad 70's!!!)"

-I love the idea that there is a bad seventies and a good seventies.

So are you a Dan fan? Let me know below