Monday, February 25, 2013

121 Moby Grape- The Mobiest of all the Grapes



Album: Moby Grape
Artist: Moby Grape
Year: 1967
Genre: Rock

Tracks



  1. Hey Grandma
  2. Mr. Blues
  3. Fall on You
  4. 8:05
  5. Come in the Morning
  6. Omaha
  7. Naked, If I Want To
  8. Someday
  9. Ain't No Use
  10. Sitting by the Window
  11. Changes
  12. Lazy Me
  13. Indifference



Be honest: have you ever met a Moby Grape fan? Has anyone out there ever encountered someone who responds "The Grape!" when you ask them for their favourite band? Has anyone ever actually met someone who can hum a Moby Grape tune if you put in a request? Can anyone recall a time when they heard a Moby G song on the radio?

No? Thought so.

It's a pity because The Grape are actually pretty darn good if you can handle music that's psychedelic  If you don't mind a bit of trip in your listening they're a hell of a lot of fun. So why aren't they more popular?

Sadly Moby Grape were one of those bands who just couldn't keep things together enough to forge a career with any longevity. They released this album which did well and then began shedding members and breaking up a bit and then not breaking up so much before breaking up a lot and getting together a bit... the sort of thing that lots of bands who just can't get it together enough end up doing.

Also holding them back was the lack of a coherent sound. Their debut album is fun but a bit all over the place thanks mainly to the fact that unlike most bands, the Grape had a bunch of songwriters. All the members contributed tunes which means there are five different credits in the tracklisting and with no clear vocal talent leading the band the album sounds more like a compilation than a group effort. The different song-writing styles combined with the fact that all five members contribute vocals creates an overall effect which lacks the coherency of an album recorded by a band with a song-writing duo and a lead singer.

All the songs on Moby Grape are great. There isn't a weak track in the bunch. But also missing is an obvious barnstorming single or two. There are no songs which are standout tracks that immediately tower over the others. It's incredibly consistent without any moments that make you reach for the remote because a song was so good you just have to hear it again.

Moby Grape is a psychedelic gem that I highly recommend but it sounds more like a Sounds of Psychedelic San Francisco compilation than a coherent band effort.

Influenced by: Drugs and blues
Influenced: Druggy bands who play blues

Highlight: Aint no Use
Lowlight: Naked if I want to

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I discovered this band (and album) from Rolling Stones' 500 greatest albums list. I can't believe I had never heard of them. The songwriting, harmonizing, and instrumentation are incredible; it's such a shame they went sideways."

-That's very cool. I'm glad the list is helping people out.

So do you drink of the grape or do you prefer to abstain? Let me know below.

Friday, February 22, 2013

122 Pearl. A real gem



Album: Pearl
Artist: Janis Joplin
Year: 1971
Genre: Rock

Tracks



  1. Move Over
  2. Cry Baby
  3. A Woman Left Lonely
  4. Half Moon
  5. Buried Alive in the Blues
  6. My Baby
  7. Me and Bobby McGee
  8. Mercedes Benz
  9. Trust Me
  10. Get It While You Can  



Janis Joplin is one of Rock's greatest voices, not just great female voices but great voices from any gender you care to name (I only know two genders but if there are others she's still the greatest). Her death is one of the great tragedies of rock and roll, she could have given us so much more wonderful music throughout the seventies and possibly even beyond.

Sadly she died while in the process of making her finest album so we can never know what lay in her future. Thankfully we have Pearl to stand as a testament to her considerable talent.

Joplin was great before 1970 but during the recording of Pearl she finally found a backing band who brought out her best. The Full Tilt Boogie Band were a bunch of Canadian musicians who were individually talented and collectively inspirational. The only thing they lacked was a dynamic lead singer to take them places and Janis was exactly what they required.

Once she had a band and a producer who understood what she wanted to do all Joplin needed was a great set of songs which suited her voice and showed off her range. Every one she chose for Pearl is a winner.

The most famous track is Me and Bobby McGee, which was a Kris Kristofferson track that had been done a few times before Joplin put down the definitive version. It's not country music but it's firmly entrenched in America's deep south. I'm not sure if it's a ballad or what classification it needs but I do know that it's absolutely perfect. From the gentle opening to the rocking conclusion there isn't a single misstep and Joplin's vocals are among her best.

The other "Household name" among the track listing is Mercedes Benz which is a doubly tragic acapella number. It's tragic because it's the last song that Joplin ever recorded, she left the studio after she finished and then died before she could return (Buried Alive in the Blues is an instrumental track left on the album without the vocals Joplin never had a chance to record). It's second tragedy is the fact that despite being a perfect anthem railing against consumerism it was used in an advertising campaign for Mercedes Benz which is more than slightly sickening.

There are other great moments on Pearl that cover blues, soul and good old rock and roll. My Baby, Move Over and Cry Baby are all standouts but there's not a dud track among the tracklisting.

If you haven't heard Pearl then you're missing out on the finest hour from one of Rock's finest voices. It's a tragedy that the tiny Texan isn't still fronting the Full Tilt Boogie Band somewhere right now but make sure you honour her legacy by enjoying Pearl in all its glory.

Highlight: Me and Bobby McGee
Lowlight: Buried Alive in the Blues

Influenced by: Etta James
Influenced: Girls who sing rock

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this in my mind is joplins best effort and last effort.

-Well it might be the best in your mind but I think it's her last in everyone's mind. Because it was.

So is this a pearl or just a small piece of grit coated with the secretions of a clam in an effort to relieve the feeling of irritation? Let me know below.

Monday, February 18, 2013

123 Catch a Fire. Wailing.



Album: Catch a Fire
Artist: The Wailers
Genre: Reggae
Year: 1973

Tracks



  1. Concrete Jungle
  2. Slave Driver
  3. 400 Years
  4. Stop That Train
  5. Baby We've Got a Date (Rock It Baby)
  6. Stir It Up
  7. Kinky Reggae
  8. No More Trouble
  9. Midnight Ravers



Catch a Fire was recorded when Bob Marley was still a member of the Wailers and not a solo artist in his own right. It's a group effort but Marley wrote all but two of the tracks. It's widely regarded as the greatest reggae recording ever made- the finest two sides of vinyl ever put together by an authentic bunch of Jamaicans. In other words if you don't like this you don't like reggae.

I don't like this. I don't like reggae.

I wish I did, I really do. It would be easier if I did. I don't like the fact that there's an entire genre I can't appreciate at all. It annoys me that there's an entire shelf in a record store without a single entry I can enjoy. But there it is. Reggae is just too laid back, too casual, too relaxed and too damn dull. I can appreciate the vocal talents and there is something enchanting about hearing music which is so attached to a certain culture. When you can listen to music and immediately place it geographically and culturally it has an extra level of appeal. I like the idea of reggae I just don't need to hear it.

I've now listened to almost all the great reggae albums that this list has thrown up at me. The classics of the genre have passed through my earphones 4 times each and every time they've left me cold, unaffected and bored. I've got one more to go: Legend, Marley's greatest hits compilation is on its way and I'll listen to that 4 times but since I've heard most of the songs before I'm not too hopeful.

I really hope something will click. I'd love it if somehow Legend flicked a switch in my mind and turned me from sceptic into believer but I'm not holding out much hope. I'm just not a reggae guy.

Highlight: Stir it up
Lowlight: Baby we've got a date

Influenced by: Substances (one in particular)
Influenced: An entire musical culture

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "It is the cornic buzz for the boys in Kalihi in Hot Hawaii."

-Nope, I've read that six times and I still don't understand what it means. Sorry

So do you wail about this album or rail against it? Let me know below.

Friday, February 15, 2013

124. Younger than yesterday. The highest flying byrds



Album: Younger than Yesterday
Artist: The Byrds
Genre: Folk
Year: 1967

Tracks

  1. So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star
  2. Have You Seen Her Face
  3. C.T.A.-102
  4. Renaissance Fair
  5. Time Between
  6. Everybody's Been Burned
  7. Thoughts and Words
  8. Mind Gardens
  9. My Back Pages
  10. The Girl with No Name
  11. Why
Younger than Yesterday is the Byrds best release by a considerably margin. It's a maturing of their sound, a development of their songwriting and their last hurrah before they went country and went a bit naff. Founding member Gene Clark had flown the Byrd coop and left Roger McGuinn and David Crosby in charge of writing the songs that weren't Dylan covers. Together the two of them did a more than admirable job. McGuinn provided the pop gem So you Want to be a Rock and Roll Star and the extremely daft CTA 102 with it's alien sound effects and guest vocals by simulated extraterrestrials (it's as bad as it sounds). He also co-wrote Why and the lovely Renaissance Fair with Crosby. Crosby wrote Everybody's Been Burned and the Nick Drake-like Mind Gardens on his own and while he started to show the composing talent that would make up a third of the genius of CSN there's no doubt he's better writing with McGuinn than without him.

Emerging as a songwriting force was bass player Chris Hillman who provides three songs he wrote on his own. Have you seen her face is passable pop but Time Between and The Girl with No Name are fairly tedious proto-country (with psychedelic overtones) of the sort the Byrds would eventually make their own as they slid into irrelevance.

But the best songwriter of the bunch is Dylan who is covered only once on Younger than Yesterday. When they began, The Byrds were in danger of becoming a Dylan cover band but as the releases progressed they toned down their Bob-covers and by album three they only included one but it's a ripper.

My Back Pages is not one of the Dylan covers that everyone was having a turn with at the time so it's got a degree of freshness that an old chestnut like Blowin in the wind lacked. The Byrds don't claim it as their own in the way they did Tambourine Man but it's certainly the best song on the album.

Younger than Yesterday has a lot of what made the Byrds a great band: well written pop, perfect harmony vocals, tight guitar work but it also suffers from some experimentation which might have sounded great at the time but drags the album down. The backwards guitar on Thoughts and Words and Mind Garden and the alien effects on CTA 102 might have been nifty at the time but they're terribly dated now.

Younger than Yesterday is The Byrds finest hour but you can't help shake the fact that it could be even finer.

Highlight: So do you want to be a rock and roll star
Lowlight: CTA 102

Influenced by: Dylan
Influenced: Primal Scream

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This album is twenty-nine minutes and eleven seconds long and was released on February 6, 1967. Younger Than Yesterday reached #24 on the US Billboard 200 Album Chart. It charted three songs from the album. They are: So You Want to Be a Rock `n' Start #29, Have You Seen Her Face #74, My Back Pages #30."

-I love a reviewer who has done their homework.

So is this album younger than it was yesterday for you or has it aged terribly? Let me know below.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

125 Raw Power. Undercooked



Album: Raw Power
Artist: The Stooges
Genre: Punk
Year: 1973

Tracks


1. Search and Destroy
2. Gimme Danger
3. Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell
4. Penetration
5. Raw Power
6. I Need Somebody
7. Shake Appeal
8. Death Trip


Raw Power is so chaotic you can imagine it's the sound of a band breaking up which is ironic because it's actually the sound of a band reuniting. By the time they came to record it The Stooges had already broken up but somehow a solo album by lead singer Iggy Pop became a reunion of sorts and the third Stooges release.

It's far from a perfect album. The problem isn't with the songs which are great or the performances which are enthusiastic and hell-for-leather it's the terrible production which hold raw power back for some but is part of its charm for others.

Raw Power was recorded and produced by Iggy himself who was hopelessly addicted to heroin at the time. You could examine rock history in its entirely and put forward a good argument to suggest heroin doesn't affect someone's ability to sing and it's even possible to play the guitar well when strung out on H but there's no doubt record production is best done by the most sober person in the room. Drugs and dials just don't mix.

Apparently the original mix of Raw Power is almost unlistenable with everything except Iggy's voice smooshed into one channel. The final effect sounds something like Iggy Pop singing thirty metres away from a small box containing the rest of the band. The record label decided the album needed a saviour and they turned to David Bowie, who has been known to dabble in substances a bit himself but in this instance was capable of remaining straight enough to take the tapes and at least put together something that salvaged the performances. He only had a day to do it and didn't have any state of the art equipment but used what he had to resurrect Raw Power in the form that we heard it today.

The result of Bowie's efforts is still pretty abysmal when it comes to sonic quality. It's a low-fidelity swamp from which the music struggles to emerge so its testament to the songwriting that it does. Search and Destroy is a great song. If you haven't heard it your missing out on one of Rock's most frantic but brilliant three and a half minutes. Iggy is in fine howling form and the guitars scream with some real power. The rest of the album never reaches the heights of the opening track but it's all good and slower, bluesy tracks like I Need Somebody prove The Stooges aren't stuck on one speed.

Attempts have been made to improve the sound on Raw Power as much as possible but sadly the deficiency of the original tapes makes a full resurrection impossible. We will never get to hear these songs as they could have been and have to endure them as we have them which is a huge pity.

When it came out hardly anyone actually heard Raw Power but today there's no reason for you to make the same mistake. It's worth hearing in whatever form it comes to us.

Highlight: Search and Destroy
Lowlight: Shake Appeal

Influenced by: The Rolling Stones
Influenced: Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "why get mutt lange to digitally enhance gregorian monk chants? when he first started wailing in a dearborn trailer park i'll bet osterburg thought there would never come a day when he would tour with a man called ben laden in a town called belfast. you cannot fix what's not broken."

-I have no idea what any of that means. I understand they're words but I can't follow their meaning.

So is this Raw Power or overcooked? Let me know below.

Friday, February 8, 2013

126 Remain in the Light. Got this covered



Album: Remain in the Light
Artist: Talking Heads
Genre: Rock
Year: 1980

Tracks


1. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
2. Crosseyed and Painless
3. The Great Curve
4. Once in a Lifetime
5. Houses in Motion
6. Seen and Not Seen
7. Listening Wind
8. The Overload


There's a jam band named Phish who you may or may not be aware of. They're four guys from Vermont who play long shows to a die hard fans who expect a different setlist every night and look forward to extended songs that wander away from their initial structure and end up somewhere in the jammed stratosphere after 20 minutes of improvisation.

I mention them because for a few years they performed an entire album as a Halloween "costume". On their halloween night performance they pretended to be another band and played someone else's album from start to finish. One night in 1995 they decided to play Talking Heads Remain in the Light and it's fantastic. 

I might be committing musical sacrilige here but I'd suggest Phish's live version of Talking Head's classic album is better than the original. Not that I'm saying Talking Heads are no good it's just that the songs that make up Remain in the Light really benefit from some breathing space. While the original was recorded amidst the restraint of a studio environment and the limits of an album's length, Phish are set free to take the songs to wherever they want them to go. Along with horns and an extra percussionist they command the stage and they're allowed to do whatever they want. They clearly remain in the structure of the original compositions and have rehearsed the vocal harmonies and complicated bits but they've left themselves room to stretch, move and create. The tunes are recognizeable and unmistakeable but serve as a launching point for the groove and mood they've developed to go beyond their original confines.

Phish make you appreciate how good the songs are. Talking Heads are great, don't get me wrong, but the limitations they had to work on didn't do the songs they'd written the justice they deserved.

If you're a fan of Talking Heads then give Phish's full length rendition a try (it's commercially available as Live Phish volume 13). If you have never heard Remain in the light then give both the original and the cover a go, they're both worth hearing.

Highlight: Crosseyed and Painless
Lowlight: Listening Wind

Influenced by: The Beatles
Influenced: Phish

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The only problem with this cd is that I've heard Phish's hyperenergetic version of it and now all of the songs on the first side seem like they're playing on a record player set on 16."

-Yeah. I can see your point.

So are you happy to remain in the light or are you going to step away from it? Let me know below.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

127 If you can believe your eyes and ears



Album: If you can believe your eyes and ears
Artist: The Mamas and the Papas
Genre: Pop
Year: 1966


  1. Monday, Monday
  2. Straight Shooter
  3. Got a Feelin'
  4. I Call Your Name
  5. Do You Wanna Dance?
  6. Go Where You Wanna Go
  7. California Dreamin'
  8. Spanish Harlem
  9. Somebody Groovy
  10. Hey Girl
  11. You Baby
  12. The 'In' Crowd

This is the best single album of music the Mamas and The Papas released in their career. Without a shadow of a doubt it's their finest disc of new material. But in the digital age it wouldn't even make the top twenty greatest Mamas and Papas CD's.

The career of Cass Elliot and her friends was short lived. They released five albums with 12 tracks on each so their entire output was limited to sixty songs, many of which were covers. Most of the dozens of greatest hits compilations released since they broke up feature 20 or more hand picked tracks which means they can choose the best 33% of their songs and leave the less inspiring ones (the entire final album for example).  There have been more than twenty compilations spanning their career released since CD's were invented and all of them have the best songs from this release along with a few highlights from the albums that followed.

Obviously the highlight of any album that features the writing of John Phillips is California Dreamin which is the best track on not just a Mamas and Papas compilation but almost any album it features on. Many a crap "Hits of the 60's" or "Woodstock generation" or "Songs We Could Afford The Rights To and Could Thematically Link In Some Tenuous Way" compilation has been vastly improved by the addition of this perfect little nugget of pure pop gold somewhere in the middle. It's just blissful and you love it. Monday Monday and Go Where you Wanna Go are both a long way behind it in terms of quality but they're still both fantastic songs. They would have been great if Phillips had written them for a standard pop band but recorded by The Mamas and The Papas, who had the perfect bland blend of male and female vocals that no other band could approach, they're just sunshine. 

The other originals aren't up to the standard of the big three but the covers are well chosen and all work well enough to hold the listener's attention and not have them nostalgic for California Dreamin again. I Call Your Name is an obscure Beatles cover which The Parents (I'm bored with typing their full name) improve and Do You Wanna Dance was a minor hit for the Beach Boys but works better given the Ma's and Pa's treatment. 

Everyone needs a copy of California Dreamin in their music collection somewhere but why get it in its original form when you can buy a compilation that will also feature the highlights from this release along with Crequee Alley (what? You've never heard Crequee Alley? Go and listen now) and other gems hidden on the M's and P's lesser albums. Grab one of their compilations, any one will do they're basically all the same except for the cover photo, and enjoy the essential tracks from a short lived but great band.

Influenced by: The Beatles
Influenced: Bands who could harmonize

Highlight: California Dreamin
Lowlight: The In Crowd

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I got this from a local library. And I must confess that it was the well documented incestuous relationship that notorious drug addict Papa John Philips had with one of his daughters what determined my decision to listen to their music in spite of two nice but almost indifferent songs lingering somewhere in the Cosmos: "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'."

-What? I knew nothing of said relationship and I've looked it up. The jury is still out apparently but is this reviewer saying they listened to this album because of the allegation and not despite it?

So can you believe your eyes and ears or not? Let me know below.




Saturday, February 2, 2013

128. Marquee Moon. Turn on the TV





Album: Marquee Moon
Artist: Television
Genre: Rock
Year: 1977

Tracks


1. See No Evil
2. Venus
3. Friction
4. Marquee Moon
5. Elevation
6. Guiding Light
7. Prove It
8. Torn Curtain


In 1977 it must have felt that everything rock could do had already been done. The blues had already been mined for inspiration, genres had already been effectively mashed up and every riff anyone could have created had been attempted. All the exotic instruments anyone could find had been thrown into the mix after the Beatles started hurling around sitars and every tempo a drummer could physically perform in had been trotted out in order to prove that rock could survive outside a 4/4 time signature  It must have been tempting to think rock had done its dash and its time had passed.

The late seventies must have been a daunting time to get involved in music but Television strode onto the music scene with a silly name and an album's worth of music. They decided that rather than work in a genre they would try and create a new one. People have called their music post-punk, art-punk and a host of other names besides. Personally I can't come up with any particular title but I'd say the defining characteristics of their sound is punk+practice.

True punk doesn't rehearse. Real genuine, Sex-Pistols punk is all about attitude over talent. It only needs three chords and one rhythm and it makes up for any shortfalls by adding a massive dose of anarchic attitude. Who needs soloing ability when you have disdain and you can show it on your face? Who needs to practice when you haven't learn anything new since the first gig you played?

Television took the anarchic attitude of Punk and its permanent sneer but added musical ability and practice. They clearly rehearsed their music and actually dedicated time to improving their technique. You can imagine the guitarist playing repetitive scales in his free time to make his fingering technique more fluid.   It's easy to picture them learning a new chord and adding it to the large number that was already in their repertoire. It's possible they can actually identify what key they're in.

Marquee Moon is an album that actually rocks and jams at the same time. It's talent without the affectation and attitude without the brazen disregard for musical form that punk normally needs to survive. Consequently it sits between two camps. It's not quite virtuoso rock for those who love Zeppelin and it's not nearly punk enough for anyone who thinks the Sex Pistols are the best band in the land. It's a new genre which nobody could name and nobody has done as well since.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Venus

Influenced by: Punk and a guitar teacher
Influenced: Post Punk (whatever that is)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The addition of the bonus tracks takes away from the impact of this album. "

-So hit the stop button. Seriously I will never understand people who complain about bonus tracks.

So are you a fan of television or would you rather turn it off? Let me know below