Friday, March 29, 2013

111 Court and Spark. Joni gets Jazzy



Album: Court and Spark
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1974
Genre: Folk

Tracks
  1. Court and Spark
  2. Help Me
  3. Free Man in Paris
  4. People's Parties
  5. Same Situation
  6. Car on a Hill
  7. Down to You
  8. Just Like This Train
  9. Raised on Robbery
  10. Trouble Child
  11. Twisted
There is story that Joni Mitchell is fond of telling in which she played this album to Bob Dylan and label head David Geffen in order to see what the two great men thought of her latest effort. She was extremely annoyed to find Bob fell fast asleep, although sometimes when she tells the tale she claims Bob was only faking sleep in order to prove a point. I know I idolize Dylan to a point that might be considered hero worship but I have to confess I can kind of see his point. Whether or not he was playing games or was genuinely snoozing it's hard not to consider this album a bit of a snore.

I know I'm supposed to like Joni Mitchell. She's one of those people I'm supposed to revere as a genius but as the years progress it's easier to see her as a bit of a cranky and bitter old dear whose time has passed. Lately she seems more and more annoyed with everyone who isn't her and less pleased with a world who regards her as belonging to another era. Her vicious attacks on her contemporaries and modern artists make her look like a grump and while it doesn't make me approach her work with any preconceived desire to hate her it certainly removes the goodwill that I might find in hearing the work of a legend.

Court and Spark shows Joni's attempt to mix her folk roots with a rock and jazz feel and I just don't think it succeeds either way. I find Joni's voice really suits some songs (Both Sides Now most notably) but on every track on Court and Spark it's a bit too distracting and take me away from the songwriting. It's too laden with the Mitchell quirk for me to really enjoy. I've hunted down some of the songs as covers by other artists and found them really hard to get into as well. It's like the songs were written for her to be a bit Joni on and without her Joniness they don't hold up well. But then if Joni being Joni doesn't do it for you (or even worse, gets on your nerves) it's never going to be anything you can appreciate.

I'd really like to like this. A lot of people I really like (Crosby, Nash, Robertson etc) are all over it but I just can't enjoy anything here. I might not have Dylan's musical ability, way with words or general cool but at least I know he and I share one thing in common: we both find Court and Spark sleep inducing.

Highlight: Free Man in Paris
Lowlight: Down to You

Influenced by: Dylan
Influenced: Dylan (although it influenced him to have a nap)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "'Court and Spark' is totally relatable, a gift to humanity; Jesus died on the cross, Joni Mitchell gave us 'court and spark' (and blue)."

-Wow. I've read some pretty impressive comparisons on Amazon but comparing an album to Jesus dying on the cross is definitely the biggest.

So is this sparky or not something you can get court up in? Let me know below.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

112 Disraeli Gears. Creamy Clapton




Album: Disraeli Gears
Artist: Cream
Genre: Rock
Year: 1967

Tracks

1. Strange Brew
2. Sunshine of Your Love
3. World of Pain
4. Dance the Night Away
5. Blue Condition
6. Tales of Brave Ulysses
7. SWLABR
8. We're Going Wrong
9. Outside Woman Blues
10. Take It Back
11. Mother's Lament


Cream albums are strange entities. They never sound like albums as much as they sound like channel surfing or a compilation entitled "Bands with guitarists who sound a lot like Eric Clapton". There's no unified vision or sense of purpose. Cream were notorious for not getting on. They didn't get on when they travelled, they didn't get on when they socialised, they didn't even get on when they were playing concerts and frequently ignored each onstage and just played three solos at the same time. The other place they didn't really see eye-to-eye was in the studio where they struggled to agree on a definite style.

The three members of Cream (Eric Clapton on guitar, Ginger Baker on Drums and Jack Bruce on Bass) were brilliant on their own instruments but not really great songwriters. Consequently they relied on other people to support their composing efforts and on blues covers to fill the gaps in their albums. Disraeli Gears features 8 different songwriters on its eleven tracks. The three members all contribute along with Marty Feldman's cousin, an Australian cartoonist, the producer, and the producer's wife (who later shot her husband in the neck). This eclectic mix of songwriting talents produced an eclectic mix of odd music ranging from the fantastic through to the forgettable.

The highlight is definitely Sunshine of Your Love which is some brilliant rock and roll written mainly by Jack Bruce with a bit from Eric Clapton thrown in. It's one of the great rock songs of the late sixties and has the kind of riff that Jimmy Page would kill for (and knowing Page quite possibly has, I'm sure some goats were sacrificed for Zeppelin hits). It manages to showcase the three members talents while still sounding like they were in the same room at the time and actually paying attention to what they were doing.

Other highlights include Strange Brew (a bit of a blues rip off), Outside Woman Blues (a blues cover) and SWLABR (which stands for She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow because... because drugs. That's why, because drugs). Sadly among the great moments are lowlights like Dance the Night Away (tedium written by Jack Bruce), Blue Condition (drummers should never write songs) and Mother's Lament which is an acapella rendition of that weird old song about a mother who lets her baby wash down the plug hole after a bath, seriously. I have no idea why anyone would want to hear this done by great singers but its presence is even more baffling when you consider the fact that Cream are not great singers.

Sometimes compilation albums sound like a bit of a disjointed mess but Cream is one of the few bands who could enter a studio and come up with a disjointed mess as an actual album. They were a great band but they work best in the modern age of playlists and self-made compilations when their discography can be cherry picked to suit the listener's personal taste.

Highlight: Sunshine of your love
Lowlight: Blue Condition

Influenced by: Blues and drugs
Influenced: Power trios

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I'm a musician myself, I play guitar, and tutoring yound bands."

-does anyone else stop reading a review if it starts with an attempt to assert the reviewers credentials?

So is this your favourite album named after a former English Prime Minister or not? Let me know below.


Friday, March 22, 2013

113 The Who sell out- Beans!



Album: The Who Sell Out
Artist: The Who
Year: 1967
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. Armenia City in the Sky
2. Heinz Baked Beans
3. Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand
4. Odorono
5. Tattoo
6. Our Love Was
7. I Can See for Miles
8. Can't Reach You
9. Medac
10. Relax
11. Silas Stingy
12. Sunrise
13. Rael (1 and 2)


Pete Townshend had to do a lot of hard work for The Who. The Beatles had John and Paul contributing ideas, The Stones had Keith and Mick, but The Who just had Pete who had to write all the songs while his band waited for him to deliver the goods.

Once his compositions reached the studio the other three more than pulled their weight by being collectively the most talented quartet playing at the time, but when it came to bringing material to the studio only Pete was making much of a contribution. Consequently the Who's original albums often look a bit sparse compared to releases by their contemporaries because they tend to be padded with filler. Often the padding comes in the form of covers, lesser Townshend tracks or compositions by John Enthwistle that wouldn't even be considered as a B-side by most other bands. On The Who Sell Out however Pete relied on comedy to try and pad out the proceedings.

The concept driving Sell Out is that the band have peppered their album with radio advertisements and station jingles in order to make it sound like the listener is hearing a radio broadcast. Songs start with station idents and there are entire tracks which are just simulated adds for products like Heinz Baked Beans. As concepts go it's original, unique and genuinely appalling.

Who in their right mind has ever listened to an album and thought: "You know what? This would be much better if it had ads in it and those tedious jingles that radio stations use. That's what's missing". And have you ever put on the radio and thought: "These songs are all very well but I'm really here for the cloying jingles and attempts to sell me things I don't need". Of course you haven't. We listen to albums because they're ad free and we endure radio commercials and idents because it pays for the songs. But if you buy an album you've already paid for the songs and you don't need to hear anything promotional. The Who have basically diluted what we love about music and added a large dose of the crap that we don't. That's not a concept it's a mistake.

There are a few great Who songs scattered throughout the album. I can See for Miles, Tattoo and I Can't Reach You are among their best sixties pop songs. Sadly the crap moments (a Heinz Baked Beans ad which is just over a minute and another one for Medac cream which is just under and an awful Entwhistle track named Silas Stingy) tend to overshadow the highlights, especially when the good songs are often marred by a station jingle that comes in at the end over the top of the coda.

Highlight: I can see for Miles
Lowlight: Anything written by the bass player

Influenced by: The Beatles and a need to pad out an album.
Influenced: A singer named Petra Hayden who recorded the entire album (including instrumental sections) acapella. Seriously.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I don't know about you but I spend a lot of time online researching beauty products. Was not seeing for miles a meta for tripping? I can see this screen and see it needs sweeping. A little nostalgia for the old folks: happily jack odor oh no as a song bed to humm her and insert a product link."

-I'm sorry... what? What on earth are you talking about?

So would you buy this sell out or put it up on ebay straight away? Let me know below

Thursday, March 21, 2013

114 Our of our heads. Stoned.



Album: Out of our Heads
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Genre: Rock
Year: 1965

Tracks (UK edition)


1. She Said "Yeah"
2. Mercy, Mercy
3. Hitch Hike
4. That's How Strong My Love Is
5. Good Times
6. Gotta Get Away
7. Talkin' Bout You
8. Cry to Me
9. Oh, Baby (We Got a Good Thing Going)
10. Heart of Stone
11. The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man
12. I'm Free

Tracks (US Edition)

1. Mercy Mercy
2. Hitch Hike
3. The Last Time
4. That's How Strong My Love Is
5. Good Times
6. I'm Alright
7. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
8. Cry to Me
9. The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man
10. Play with Fire
11. The Spider and the Fly
12. One More Try


This album presents a bit of a problem to be honest because it essentially exists twice. It was released in the UK by the Rolling Stones and was the third album they recorded. They entered the studio to make an album and this is what they came up with.

Then it was released in America but their US label played funny buggers with their catalogue and released an album called Out of Our Heads which had a different track listing. They omitted a few tracks and replaced them with others. Consequently we have two albums with the same title that share only fifty percent of their tracks in common. So which album am I reviewing? The UK edition or the US? Your guess is as good as mine.

I've got no choice but to review them both which is okay with me because they're both fantastic listens. Out of our Heads captures a moment when The Stones were becoming confident songwriters. They hadn't turned their back on blues covers but they were no longer writing forgettable blues rip-offs to augment them. Their covers were starting to feel like the filler material between the originals rather than the other way around. Scattered across the two versions are great Stones songs like Heart of Stone, I'm Free, The Last Time, Play with Fire and one of the greatest rock and roll songs every written by anyone anywhere ever.

(I can't get no) Satisfaction is flat out brilliant. I think I probably heard this song involuntarily a hundred times before I became a proactive Rolling Stones fan and I must have heard it thousands since by choice. I've heard the studio version on lots of compilations, I've heard the live version on official live albums and dozens of bootlegs and I've heard the band themselves do it live in person once at the MCG. It's quite possible I've heard Satisfaction more than any other song I own but I still love it. The riff, the vocals, the swagger, it's just perfect. It sounds brilliant on record in mono and fantastic in magnificent stereo fifty years later when the band play it live and stretch it out way beyond it's original 3:42 running length.

Which version of Out of Our Heads should you listen to? Personally I listen to the Australian version which is my own compilation of the UK and US versions.

1. She Said Yeah
2. That's how strong my love is
3. Heart of Stone
4. Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man
5. I'm Free
6. Talking bout you

1. Cry to me
2. Mercy Mercy
3. The Spider and the Fly
4. Play with Fire
5. The Last Time
6. Satisfaction

Whichever version you listen to there's no doubt Out of Our Heads showed the world that those white boys who played the blues were also a song-writing force to be reckoned with.  They could do ballads, blues, quirk and straight ahead rock and roll and do it better than almost anyone else around at the time. In a few years they'd become the best in the world.

Highlight: Satisfaction
Lowlight: One More Try

Influenced by: Lennon McCartney and The Blues
Influenced: Anyone who writes guitar riffs.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "And if you're gonna remaster it and charge this high a price, AT LEAST PUT SOME BONUS MATERIAL IN THERE."

-This is a fair complaint. The original stones albums were remastered by their label and released at full price which means fans were expected to pay a lot of money for half an hour of music. The Who and others have remastered their back catalogue and filled the CD with B-sides, live cuts, studio outtakes etc that add a lot of value but Decca decided not to bother. Pity.

So did this take you out of your head and if so did you enjoy the trip? Let me know below.


Monday, March 18, 2013

115. Layla and other assorted love songs. We need more Duanne



Album: Layla and other assorted love songs
Artist: Derek and the Dominos
Genre: Blues
Year: 1970

Tracks


1. I Looked Away
2. Bell Bottom Blues
3. Keep On Growing
4. Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
5. I Am Yours
6. Anyday
7. Key to the Highway
8. Tell the Truth
9. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
10. Have You Ever Loved a Woman
11. Little Wing
12. It's Too Late
13. Layla
14. Thorn Tree in the Garden


Even if you hate Eric Clapton and all he stands for you have to admire him for some of the decisions he made in 1970. After spending most of the sixties being revered as a god and being the biggest name in a number of bands (The Yardbirds, The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie etc) he was in a perfect position to start establishing the Cult of Clapton. He could have forged his career and released an album called "Clapton sings and plays Clapton songs for Clapton fans". He could have demanded a recording contract in which he was treated like a star and backed himself with anonymous musicians who had to refer to him as Mr God and never make eye contact with or point at it his guitar (Don't even point at it!)

But he didn't. He wanted to be part of a band. He wanted to be a guitar player in a group and have musicians around him who challenged his playing and pushed him places. Turning your back on personal adoration and wanting (relative) anonymity is a noble thing for a musician but Clapton was prepared to take things a step further. He was even prepared to invite a guitarist who some consider his equal and other consider his superior to join him in the studio. Duane Allman was a magnificent blues guitarist and if his life hadn't been tragically cut short at a young age he would have achieved the same level of fame as a lot of those we consider guitar greats. He really was that good.

Clapton heard Allman play and invited him not just to guest on the album his new band was making but to be a fully fledged part of the group. Apparently John Lennon took a long time to invite Paul to join The Quarrymen because he was worried about sharing the group with someone so talented who would steal the limelight. Clapton on the other hand had no hesitation in bringing in someone whose talent threatened to overshadow his own.

The results are not just good at times they're amazing. Duane is an astonishing musician and brilliant guitar player who understands and loves the blues. But he's not a soloing show pony. Allman understands the idea of being part of a band and he and Clapton bring out the best in each other. Their playing together is a joy to listen to and makes Layla one of the great blues rock albums of all time. The rest of the band are no slouches either and a more than capable backing group for the two superstars to launch their assault on your ear drums.

The problem, as it is with most of Clapton's output, is that he can't write songs that justify his talent. If Clapton was half as good a songwriter as he is a guitarist there would be a lot more of his albums on this countdown but he's not really a great writer of tunes or lyrics. The obvious highlight on this album is Layla which is a brilliant rock and roll number but most of the other highlights are old blues covers. Nobody Knows you when your down and out, Key to the Highway and Have you Ever Loved a Woman are all fantastic blues covers but I Looked Away, Keep on Growing, I am Yours, Any Day etc have great playing but there's a reason nobody has ever bothered to cover them since they've been recorded. They're just not very strong songs. Only Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad can hold its head up with Layla as a great song.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a fantastic album but it could have been better if they'd jettisoned a few of the originals and played some more blues instead.

It's a massive shame Duane died before he could reunite with Clapton to record more albums and play some shows. I would love to own live Clapton albums in which I hear him get to say "Ladies and Gentlemen Duane Allman!" as the great man walks out onstage to make more magic with his musical equal. Sadly it was not to be but thankfully they had a brief time together for us to enjoy.

Highlight: Why does love got to be so sad?
Lowlight: Anyday

Influenced by: The Blues
Influenced: Blues rock

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Well, w/ the Arabic origins of LAYLA we now know that if Clapton's God, he must serve Allah, right? I thought that was Cat Stevens, in whose class Clapton must be considered. "

-What? It's true that the name Layla is derived from an ancient Arabic poem but are you really trying to claim Clapton is a closet muslim?

So does this have you on your knees begging mercy please? Let me know below.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

116 At Last. Finally



Album: At Last
Artist: Etta James
Genre: Soul
Year: 1961

Tracks


  1. Anything to Say You're Mine
  2. My Dearest Darling
  3. Trust in Me
  4. A Sunday Kind of Love
  5. Tough Mary
  6. I Just Want to Make Love to You
  7. At Last
  8. All I Could Do Was Cry
  9. Stormy Weather
  10. Girl of My Dreams



Etta James is one of the great stars of American music. Not just one of the great female stars or one of the great stars of R&B, she's one of the greats no matter how you choose to define her. At Last is her finest hour and it's a great listen for anyone who wonders why we should care about anything Etta did.

Etta had a great voice and unlike a lot of her contemporaries she could bend it to suit a range of genres. At Last features her lending her vocal talents to jazz standards, R&B songs and most notably a Willie Dixon track which is pure blues all the way. She could do it all and do it well. There's a reason that James is considered a huge influence on generations of vocalists recording since she made her debut. She could take a song and make it her own, even when she had producers who appeared eager to try and make it theirs.

At Last was an attempt by studio heads Phil and Leonard Chess to turn Etta into a pop sensation. They did this by backing her voice with strings which appears to be the standard method by which people try and make things more commercial. Throw some strings over the top of some Death Metal and it's got every chance of being a pop hit, or at least that appears to be the over-riding philosophy. Personally I'd prefer it if they stripped back the frills and just let Etta carry the song. I have enough faith in the record buying public of the day who I'm sure were capable of spotting a big talent without needing violins to point it out to them.

To my money At Last is great but the real jewel in James' catalogue is Etta James Rocks the House, a live album recorded a few years later which features James fronting a basic band of drums, bass, guitar and a lone sax. She performs some blues standards and does exactly what the title suggests. It's a much better showcase for her incredible abilities than At Last which is tepid in comparison.

Sadly the sixties weren't too good to James and future decades were progressively worse. She developed a heroin addiction and was in an out of rehab and institutions for years. She returned to performing several times but was never close to her best again and even though she lived until 2012 her death prompted a lot of people to express surprise that she'd still been alive and hadn't died years before.

Etta is great. At Last is great but Rocks the House is betta Etta.

Highlight: I just want to make love to you
Lowlight: Trust in Me

Influenced by: Muddy Waters and her producers.
Influenced: Janis

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Turns out I purchased this cd for one song. I was very disappointed with the rest of the cd. The song At Last is wonderful but one song is not worth the price of the entire cd."

-That's seems to be a fairly common complaint. Lots of people were expecting an entire album like the title song and were a bit miffed to find it wasn't.

So are you glad this arrived at last or would you have preferred it was postponed indefinitely? Let me know below?


Monday, March 11, 2013

117. Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Bad little Byrdie



Album: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1968
Genre: Country

Tracks



  1. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
  2. I Am a Pilgrim
  3. The Christian Life
  4. You Don't Miss Your Water
  5. You're Still on My Mind
  6. Pretty Boy Floyd
  7. Hickory Wind
  8. One Hundred Years from Now
  9. Blue Canadian Rockies
  10. Life in Prison
  11. Nothing Was Delivered



There is too much of The Byrds on this countdown, there really is. They obviously need to be here in some format or another but the four albums that they have on the revised chart is too much. Their best compilation should probably linger around the lower reaches so their great songs could be represented but we don't need four original albums and we certainly don't need Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Nobody does.

This album was recorded based on a deceit. It was essentially a lie from start to finish and isn't really a Byrds album anyway. I'll try and explain without getting angry.

After they recorded the commercially successful, but not very interesting, Notorious Byrd Brothers the band effectively broke up. David Crosby (the talented one) and Michael Clarke (the drummer) left to pursue other endeavours (Crosby became part of supergroup CSN and helped record two magnificent albums, both of which should be much higher than this is and Clarke became the captain of the Australian Cricket team 40 years later, at least I assume it's the same one, I should probably check).

Remaining members Roger McGuinn (the other talented one) and Chris Hillman (the bass player) needed some replacements and while finding a drummer was easy enough (they're not hard to find) it was trickier to find someone to fill Crosby's shoes (not that he wore them much- Hippie). McGuinn wanted a guy who could play jazz piano and auditioned Gram Parsons who played a mean set of ivories and eventually became the replacement.

But here's the thing: Parsons had no intention of playing jazz piano! He lied his way into the band in order to become an established member even though he had insidious plans for the group that he never let on.

Once the new line up was established McGuinn wanted to record a double album which would act as a history of American music. It would start with old folk tunes and take in every kind of genre before ending with electronica which would no doubt sound futuristic in 1968 but dated by late 1969. It was an interesting plan and he presented it to his bandmates including his jazzy piano player and they all liked it except Parsons who said "We could do that I suppose... or we could record an album of country music." No doubt he said this as if they idea had just struck him that minute when in fact it was always his intention. He conned the others into letting him join their band with the intention of converting them into a country-rock outfit at the first available opportunity. How evil is that?

So instead of an interesting historical overview, the Byrds went to Nashville and recorded this nonsense: faux country churned out by a few ex-hippies. It sounds like a bad idea and it really is. It's bad country music and even worse sixties music. There's nothing that made the sixties great but lots that makes bad country bad. Not even the obligatory Dylan covers could redeem the album which is dull and irritating in equal doses.

I'd really like to enjoy this. I like the idea of Gram Parsons and I respect him as a person but Lord help me is music is tedious. This list needs a bit of an overhaul. The first album by CSN and CSNY need to be boosted up the countdown by more than a 100 places and we should cull some Byrds in order to make room. This Tyrkey should be the first Byrd on the chopping block.

Highlight: You Aint going Nowhere (but the original is better)
Lowlight: Hickory Wind

Influenced by: Country and Dylan
Influenced: Alt country

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Wish I could see what the others see in this. For a groups that got it right, I'd choose New Riders of the Purple Sage and Souther-Hillman-Furay [and some Grateful Dead]--which treated us to original compositions branded with distinctive sound and conviction."

-Once again someone has summed up my review in a sentence or two.

So is this a Byrd you've heard? If so what's the word? Let me know below.

Friday, March 8, 2013

118. Stand! ...and then dance.



Album: Stand!
Artist: Sly and the family Stone
Genre: Funk
Year: 1969

Tracks



  1. Stand!
  2. Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey
  3. I Want to Take You Higher
  4. Somebody's Watching You
  5. Sing a Simple Song
  6. Everyday People
  7. Sex Machine
  8. You Can Make It If You Try



A lot of people have recorded funk music. It's got a definite blueprint that on paper appears easy to replicate. All you have to do is put down a funk rhythm and then make everything you lay on top of that try and sound as groovy and sexy as possible.

If you can accomplish that then a lot of other stuff is basically just icing on the dance-cake. All you need to succeed is the beat but a great funk album throws in the following ingredients as well:

Melody

If you have rhythm then you don't need melody but if you can provide it then you can turn you funk into a hit. Sly Stone could write songs and Stand is full of catchy tunes, none more so than I want to Take you Higher which forces the listener to sing as well as dance.

Licks

Some funk establish a great bass groove and then just sort of sits there with it for a while, it's great for the first minute or so but then starts to get a bit repetitive and you can imagine the players looking at each other with their earlier grins fading from their faces as they realise their groove is fast becoming a rut. Fiery solos can lift a song as good players realise the funk they've laid down is a good launching place for them to take things into space. Sex Machine features some monster soloing and is enough to satisfy those who love a good instrumental break.

Lyrics

Funk is good, as I think we've established. One problem however is the fact that a lot of funky people never really write lyrics about any other subject that how good funk is. A lot of funk lyrics are just "Yeah we're funky, goodness we're funky. We can funk, you should funk, lets all funk". Stand addresses issues and unlike a lot of attempts to address things like racism, actually has something worth saying and an intelligent way to say it. "Don't call me nigger whitey" is actually a pretty cool slogan for a funk generation.

Stand is the funk. It's got grooves, rhythm and soul in equal doses and is superb in every way it's possible to be superb. It might be a solo more than band effort (Sly was something of a control freak) but it's a great album and it will make you dance, sing and air-guitar at the same time, a rare thing for a funk release.

Highlight: I want to take you higher
Lowlight: Sing a Simple Song

Influenced by: James Brown and Social Justice
Influenced: The Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Inspiring rock-funk rarely deteriorates into extended-jamland, instead winding tight layers of gospel-thrust into their own special brand of righteous rock and roll."

-I like it when the go to jamland but I have to say this is a very good one sentence review.

So can you take this sitting down? Let me know below

Monday, March 4, 2013

119 The Harder they come- like a Reggae best of




Album: The Harder they Come
Artist: Jimmy Cliff
Genre: Reggae
Year: 1972

Year


  1. You Can Get It If You Really Want
  2. Draw Your Brakes
  3. Rivers of Babylon
  4. Many Rivers to Cross
  5. Sweet and Dandy
  6. The Harder They Come
  7. Johnny Too Bad
  8. 007 (Shanty Town)
  9. Pressure Drop
  10. Sitting in Limbo
  11. You Can Get It If You Really Want
  12. The Harder They Come



Reggae fans don't like this list. To be honest there are lots of people who don't appreciate it much but Reggae fans are definitely up there in the list of "Top 500 groups dissatisfied with the Top 500 list." There's no doubt reggae is a genre that's not well represented. I've got a reggae label and I've only had cause to use it five times in the countdown so far (four of them for Bob Marley albums),  and there's not a huge amount more to come. Personally I'm not that upset because what reggae I've heard hasn't moved me at all but if the purpose of listening to these albums is to expand my musical horizons the lack of Jamaican music isn't helping much. There's more Beatles on this list than reggae and I'm not having my horizons expanded by listening to music that I've heard regularly since I was a teenager. The good news is that The Harder They Come serves as a reggae compilation of sorts and an introduction to the genre.


In 1972 a Jamaican TV commercial director decided to make his debut feature film, a crime drama called The Harder They Come which featured a reggae singer who becomes a Marijuana dealer and finally a bloody corpse full of bullet holes on a beach. The role of lead was given to Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff who had a lot of experience as a singer, quite a bit of experience with marijuana usage and not much of a history of death on a beach but could fake it well enough to make the movie. In order to provide a musical moment for the film, Cliff entered the studio and recorded a new song to make up the title track.  The rest of the soundtrack album was filled by previous Cliff hits (including the gorgeous Many Rivers to Cross) and a collection of the film-maker's favourite reggae songs by greats like Desmond Decker and The Maytals.

When the album was released it served as a primer for reggae and the album was a much bigger success than the movie that created it. The Harder They Come was a lot of people's introduction to a genre and if it wasn't their first reggae album it was the first one that didn't have a Bob Marley track on it somewhere.

Personally I enjoyed hearing more varied reggae than Marley reggae which I've heard a lot so far. It didn't really convert me to the genre and wasn't something I'd choose to listen to often. It's still a musical style that doesn't affect me at all and leaves me cold.

The exception of course is Many Rivers To Cross which is magnificent. It's a soaring ballad which is great when Cliff does and has been covered by a huge range of artists, most of whom have buggered it up completely. But even done badly it's still a great song, more soul than reggae, but great none the less.

If your someone who laments the lack of rasta on this list this is probably not going to sate your irritation but for those of you who wanted to hear a wider variety of reggae it's a good introduction. And even if you decide you don't like the genre there's a soul classic on there for you to appreciate as well.

Highlight: Many Rivers to Cross
Lowlight: Pressure Drop

Influenced by: Ganga and Rasta
Influenced: Reggae

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "this CD reissue of the classic Bob Marley soundtrack is a must-have for Reggae fans and the place to start for any music-lovers who have yet to become acquainted with Jamaican music"

-See how entrenched Marley is with Reggae? He's not on this album once but someone is giving him credit for the whole thing.

So does this make you want to hear more reggae or a lot less? Let me know below.

Friday, March 1, 2013

120 Raising Hell- Hip Hop that Rocks



Album: Raising Hell
Artist: Run DMC
Year: 1986
Genre: Hip Hop

Tracks



  1. Peter Piper
  2. It's Tricky
  3. My Adidas
  4. Walk This Way
  5. Is It Live
  6. Perfection
  7. Hit It Run
  8. Raising Hell
  9. You Be Illin'
  10. Dumb Girl
  11. Son of Byford
  12. Proud to Be Black



Good news everyone, seriously good news. Apparently this is the second highest placed Hip Hop album on the countdown which means after this I only have to listen to one more rap album in my immediate future (and possibly for the rest of my life). It's great news for me and also good news for you dear reader because you won't have to endure my continued efforts to find new ways of saying "I don't understand rap and I don't like it." It's a huge load of all our minds.

The other piece of good news is that this is definitely one of the best rap albums I've ever heard.

Raising Hell has none of the things I really hate about rap music. Run DMC don't appear to be carrying on a pointless feud with someone I don't care about, they're not telling me just how tough they are and how they'd like to shoot law enforcement officers, they're not detailing all the unpleasant things they'd like to do to the bottoms of women they know and they're not glorifying a lifestyle that I just can't understand. Granted they've written a song that's entirely about how wonderful Adidas footwear is which I couldn't fully get behind (It's a shoe. It's just a shoe). But at least it's stuff that I can listen to without making the same face I make when changing nappies.

But Raising Hell isn't just good because of the things it omits, there is also a lot of good added as well. The missing ingredient that Run DMC threw into the hip hop mix was rock. Rock improves most things. I cook better food with rock, walks are more pleasant with rock, discussions are much better with a backing of rock. Rock is good. Run DMC realised this and decided to add some rock to their music and  started producing Hip Hop that had guitar riffs and even solos. It had provided them with a degree of success on King of Rock, their previous album, which was the first Hip Hop album to go gold but they amped up the rock on Raising Hell and were rewarded with Rap's first ever platinum album.

The most famous track on Hell is definitely Walk This Way which is one of music's most unusual cover success stories. Run DMC decided to do a version of Aerosmith's big hit but rather than simply rap it up they invited the original artists to come into the studio and join them. The famed video clip makes the collaboration look like a battle of some kind but the truth is that the final effort is collaborative and complimentary. Joe Perry's riff and soloing works extremely well with Run DMC's rapping which bounces nicely off Tyler's trademark scream. The end result sounds like a perfect match and it helped revive Aerosmith's career as it further bolstered Run DMC's.

There's a lot to enjoy on Raising Hell. Calling it my favourite Hip Hop album might be damning it with faint praise but it's praise none-the-less.

Highlight: Walk this Way
Lowlight: My Adidas (it's just a shoe!)

Influenced by: Grandmaster Flash and Aerosmith
Influenced: Any hip hop that rocks


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This CD is flawless all the way through and inspired me to start the hottest new rap group in Millard at the time. Run B.R.A.(Burns, Rich, Abs) was just off the hook and hit home with the under 15 set. We had hit after hit with songs like, "I can't wait until I'm 16", "Hooking up at the roller rink" and "Grab my butt you crazy woman!!". These standards were requested time after time at birthday parties. We would play retirement homes, Copier repair shops and the Sapp Brothers Ballroom. It was always standing room only and many fights broke out over which one of us was the hottest. We were all extremely smooth, but when I laid the smooth as yogurt voice out there, the ladies were throwing undergarments at me. By saying that, I'm not implying that Burns and Jabs were not smooth as well, they hooked up after every show too and are still smoother than you, the reader, could ever dream of being. To sum this up, your chances of being like us are minimal, but you can buy this CD to make yourself feel a little like us."

-I'm assuming none of this is actually true but it's very entertaining. Copier Repair Shops! Genius.

So did this raise hell, raise a smile or raise your shackles? Let me know below.