discovered in 2015…

All too soon another year ends and exposes my shameful attempts at maintaining this or any other blog…

Still…herewith my favourite songs discovered this year…mostly new, the odd oldie…compiled in part to subvert the message of Christmas cards with imposition/indulgence of my tastes; and in support of @LPGrp’s furtive festiveness, or festive furtiveness, or something. What follows are the listening/sleevenotes provided alongside the mix CDs – most of which I hope are now in the hands of recipients.

A mixed bag, reflecting a mixed year on many levels.  There is much love and humour reflected within, all of which is reflective itself of the warmth, kindness and company of friends and family throughout good and bad times.  There is also change.  The odd surprise.  And noise:

1. ‘Wait a minute’ – Tim Tam and the Turn Ons

This appeared magically via shuffle, hiding in a hastily ripped Northern Soul compilation. Supreme doo-wop. The first 26 seconds provide ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘9 to 5’ and The Go! Team.

2. ‘Hark to the music’ – Ezra Furman

Pure joy, mirroring the man’s live shows.  My favourite artist for the second year running…

3. ‘Rainy day record’ – Mercury Rev

The welcome return of Donohue, Grasshopper and co.  Bright and brilliant pop.  Really should have gone to see them on my birthday.

4. ‘Spirit moves’ – Langhorne Slim

Still showing all nu-mericana pretenders how it’s done.  A live return cannot come too soon.

5. ‘A house safe for tigers’ – Lee Hazlewood

Another oldie, via a feature from 6music’s Gid Coe.  The most beautiful lullaby.

6. ‘Chateau lobby #4 (in C for two virgins)’ – Father John Misty

Cornering the ‘intelligent americana filth market’.  Live performances do funny things to all of my girl friends.

7. ‘Don Juan’ – Meilyr Jones

My discovery of EOTR 2015.  A Welsh Morrissey singing Carly Simon songs. Glorious.

8. ‘Ordinary Life’ – Ezra Furman

…a second track on the list for the second year running.  Have recently obsessed over this track in the run-up to some big decisions.  Thank you Ezra.

9. ‘Every time the sun comes up’ – Sharon van Etten

Still yet to completely get SVE, but this is completely beautiful.

10. ‘I’m all wrong’ – Juan Wauters

Provided welcome sunshine and smiles at EOTR 2015.  Simple and funny and sweet.

11. ‘The Legend of Chavo Guerrero’ – The Mountain Goats

If only for being my favourite wrestling-based song of the year.

12. ‘All your favourite bands’ – Dawes

More memories of sunny afternoons in Dorset in early September.  The sentiment in the chorus nearly broke hungover me.  We need more of all of this in the world.  This one goes out to T-Bone.

13. ‘Dancing in the dark’ – Hot Chip

Like SVE, a slightly leftfield choice for me as I know little else by them bar the odd single (and I’m not too struck by them).  This is immense though – echoes of Chemical Brothers at their best in the build and the drop.
(and oh my what a video…)

14. ‘Blue bucket of gold (remix)’ – Sufjan Stevens

An album of the year contender in ‘Carrie & Lowell’ and pretty much any track could have made this list – excepting segue and ‘mood’ issues.  The most wonderful songwriter, singer and performer.  And he made Stephanie’s year.

15. ‘Fantastic explosion of time’ – Pond

Another EOTR 2015 favourite – filling the Flaming Lips-shaped hole in my life.  So much fun.  So much noise.  Glam psych.

16. ‘Dimed out’ – Titus Andronicus

‘The Most Lamentable Tragedy’ another definite AOTY contender and absolutely the most ambitious.  TA are a brilliant and underrated band.  I love the immediacy and message of this record. I hear Clash, Pogues and Springsteen.  And it’s all good.

17. ‘Send me a postcard’ – Shocking Blue

The first song I heard in 2015, in the early hours of Jan 1st, after Sleaford Mods posted a link on Twitter.  Something along the lines of Grace Slick fronting a garage band on a Russ Meyer soundtrack.  And every bit as good as that sounds.

18. ‘Sad screaming old man’ – Jeffrey Lewis

A late entry from a brilliant, brilliant album, from a brilliant, brilliant man. I so want him to work with Ezra Furman.

19. ‘Why they hide their bodies under my garage’ – Girl Band

After much consideration, for me, the best song of 2015, for its cinema, its noise, its darkness and, most of all, for what happens at around 4m 07s.  It’s bonkers and won’t be for everybody. But I love it.

(and in finding the video, I have only just learned this is a cover…Blawan’s original is very cool too…)

20. ‘Reign array’ – Liturgy

If you’ve made it this far, listen to this, if only the once.  It is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever heard.  Black metal and bagpipes soundtracking a very odd sci-fi western.

Acknowledgements:
6music for being the general soundtrack to my life. Special mentions to Gideon Coe, Marc Riley and Tom Ravenscroft.  Also to EOTR for being the perfect festival. And otherwise to friends…I love you all.  All of you introduced me to this.


50 years of tunes…2010-14…

2010

I was alerted to the work of John Grant by way of BBC6music playlisting the title track from his ‘Queen of Denmark’ record, and was further drawn in through learning of the support of members of Midlake as his backing band.

I’ve written previously on this and other blogs of the regard in which I hold John Grant, especially live, so will try and keep it brief here.  He is though, an extraordinary artist and performer – a tall, broad and striking creature, with even greater voice, all of which belies a being that is seemingly at all times shy and even insecure – which for the listener adds up to a peculiar mixture of charming, sad and awe-inspiring.

Enough of the superlatives (well, nearly)…QoD is a brilliant, heartbreaking, record – musically and lyrically.  Any of the tracks could get a special mention, my favourite however is ‘Sigourney Weaver’…and this version is pretty special…

Also from 2010: The National’s ‘High Violet’ (replete with ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – another contender for best song this century) and the self-titled debut from androgynous psych Japanese krautrockers Bo Ningen.

A very honourable mention too for The Megaphonic Thrift’s ‘1000 years of deconstruction’ ep and ‘Decay Decoy’ lp…which I discovered a little bizarrely after witnessing the Norwegian psychey noise pop group as support for a country gig at the Borderline.  I fell in love with them there and then.

2011

Fucked Up’s ‘David Comes To Life’ is an incredible piece of work.

I first became aware of the Canadian (post-?) hardcore outfit during a chance encounter at Reading Festival and picked up the album soon after.  It really is like nothing else I’ve experienced…a concept album-cum-rock opera focusing upon a love story amidst the society of Thatcherite 70s and 80s Britain.  Make of that what you will.

The record is inherently hardcore punk but as with much of the band’s work, woven throughout are wonderful melodies and musicality, with supporting vocals from Kurt Vile, Jennifer Castle and Cults’ Madeline Follin – all of which juxtapose brilliantly against Damien Abraham’s unstoppable roar.

‘Queen of Hearts’ is just immense, and this video is equally brilliant…

A very good year otherwise as well, with other magnificent releases including Cliff Martinez’ outstanding soundtrack to Nicolas Winding-Refn’s ‘Drive’, Joy Formidable’s ‘The Big Roar’, Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Gentle Spirit’ and Mogwai’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.

2012

Another Reading Festival discovery, followed a week later by an even better performance at End of the Road.

Toy’s self-titled debut is a brilliantly assured piece of psychey shoegaze from an unnervingly young and talented band – elevated above the recent spate of (still mostly great) ‘nu-gaze’ guitar-driven bands with the addition of a swirling wash of keys and synths from Alejandra Diaz.  It is, to coin an oft over-used phrase of mine, a fucking lovely noise – evidenced by the magnificent ‘Kopter’…

A diverse and brilliant mixture for 2012’s other notable releases: more 70s desert prog with Howlin Rain’s ‘The Russian Wilds’,  a full album of wonderful noise with The Megaphonic Thrift’s ‘The Megaphonic Thrift’, Paisley Underground via Mexican desert storytelling from Dan Stuart’s ‘The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings’ and Eat Lights, Become Lights’ ‘Heavy Electrics’ – which very much does what it says on the tin.  Relentlessly.

2013

2013’s best album, discovered by me on the Thursday night of EOTR 2014…Ezra Furman’s ‘Day of the Dog’…

We walked out of the Tipi tent following Ezra’s ‘secret set’ with broad smiles…my immediate (100% positive) assessment of what I had seen “a young man imbued with the soul of a 50yo Lisa Simpson, backed by the E-Street Band, singing Velvet Underground songs”.  And I stand by that.

The album is full of stories and sadness and tenderness and humour and charm and love.  Furman is a great talent, deserving of what I am convinced will be a great career.

Herewith my favourite song of 2015: ‘And maybe God is a train’…

More from 2013: Fidlar’s self-titled debut, Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Fanfare’ and Kiran Leonard’s extraordinary ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ (keep an eye on this one…alongside Ezra…so talented it is not funny).

2014

Gruff Rhys’ ‘American Interior’ is one of the greatest pieces of art this century…which ever medium you choose…book, film, album or live telling.  It confirms as well Rhys’ position as an absolute genius of this music generation, if further proof were indeed needed.

The work follows Gruff’s retracing of farm boy John Evans’ American adventures in the 1700s…who sought to prove the hypothesis that North America had been discovered by a Welsh tribe hundreds of years before Columbus.  Such is the scale of the work, to say much more would constitute spoilers to what I recommend is an experience everyone reading this should seek out…especially if you get the opportunity live…although ‘100 unread messages’ does précis the whole thing quite well, and I defy you not to dance to it…

Some other very definite favourites from 2014: Mogwai’s ‘Rave Tapes’, Teleman’s ‘Breakfast’ and Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s ‘Days of Abandon’.

——————————————————————————————

So there we go.  The end.  For anyone who has made it this far thank you for  indulging me – I hope at least some of it has been of interest and that you may have discovered something new that you love too.

It has been a challenging and thoroughly interesting exercise and I think after a number of reviews I pretty much stand by the choices.  By its nature, the least objective piece of music writing I’ll probably ever manage (at least for another ten years or so when maybe I’ll make it up to sixty) which I hope along with the excessive hyperbole can be tolerated if not excused.  It is affirmation all the same though of so much that I love about music.

I am also well aware the whole fifty years’ worth needs a bloody good edit.

To sign off…a very appropriate line I read from Lauren Laverne just this evening…

“Music is a banquet…THE WHOLE THING IS A GLORIOUS FANTASY”

…and long may that continue.


50 years of tunes…2000-09…

2000

And so…the third member of a somewhat unholy cosmic trinity…I think by a whisker, with a fair following wind, my favourite of the three…Grandaddy’s ‘The Sophtware Slump’.

The album is an epic work, conceptually and musically harmonious…addressing an uneasy world in which technology rules and is apparently necessary.  Indeed innovative instrumentation adds greatly to the songs, while lyrically and melodically they retain a warm emotional and nostalgic feel – Jason Lytle’s personal outlook very much at the fore of the songwriting.  Look no further than opener ‘He’s simple, he’s dumb, he’s the pilot’ for evidence of such.

As with ‘Deserter’s Songs’ and ‘The Soft Bulletin’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ is perfectly of its time, yet timeless and will endure.  The sophomore pun in the title is entirely erroneous and it must stand as one of the greatest ever second albums.

And ‘The Crystal Lake’ is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard…

Also of note in 2000…At the Drive-in’s commercially (successful) suicidal ‘Relationship of Command’,  Tom McRae’s brilliant and stark eponymous debut and Idlewild’s wonderful ‘100 Broken Windows’.

2001

System of a Down exist uniquely somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram that somehow overlaps metal, emo, punk, protest, jazz, dance and folk.  ‘Toxicity’ was to a degree the band’s breakthrough album commercially and remains their most successful in sales terms.

The record for me is far ahead of many of its contemporaries in the emo and metal stakes, in terms of both musicality and songwriting.  It is overall a political beast – addressing many of the ills in today’s society, but retains a sense of fun and self-deprecation at times too.  Musically it is complex and varied – with elements of all of the genres noted above blended brilliantly beneath the strength of Serj Tankian’s expansive vocal.

The humour is highlighted nowhere better than in ‘Bounce’, a song which I don’t think will ever be beaten in terms of the effect I witnessed it have upon the entire stalls standing area of Brixton Academy some years ago…

Another strong year as well with The White Stripes’ ‘White Blood Cells’, The Strokes’ ‘Is This It?’, Ryan Adams’ ‘Gold’ and the perfectly brilliant, bonkers, Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players ‘Vintage Slide Collections from Seattle, Vol.1’.

2002

Guided by Voices stand side-by-side with The Fall in terms of prolific releases over the last thirty or so years.  The parallels continue by way of the presence of a very singular frontman – Robert Pollard – and a regularly revolving roster of musicians around him.  I discovered the band via a good friend in his record shop maybe ten years ago via the brilliant best-of ‘Human Amusement at Hourly Rates’ – which is an excellent introduction for anyone tempted to delve into a vast back catalogue which varies enormously (and necessarily?) in terms of style and quality.  I fell in love with the band almost immediately and in a fairly short time had secured pretty much everything they’d released, and I think I am still up-to-date – a few Pollard solo pieces aside.

‘Universal Truths and Cycles’, released relatively late on in the band’s lifetime, is my favourite GBV album.  As with so much of the band’s output, it is supreme lo-fi indie-pop…full of jangly guitars, discordant noise, nonsensical lyrics and wonderful tunes.  I love it.

I’ve never seen Guided by Voices, and am unlikely ever to get the chance – the maudlin story of which is elsewhere in this blog.  Let’s not dwell on that though, and instead rejoice in the glorious rise and fall of the keys on ‘Back to the lake’…

It says a great deal for UT&C that it beat the Flaming Lips’ utterly wonderful ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ to the 2002 choice and also Queens of the Stone Age’ ‘Songs for the Deaf’ – which secures a solid third place as the height of their recorded work.

2003

I can’t remember how I stumbled across The Distillers.  For certain my attraction (aurally and otherwise) to girls and guitars persisted in 2003 and remains to this day.  So somehow or other I fell, hard, for Brody Dalle upon the release of ‘Coral Fang’.  Dalle’s voice, along with contemporary Cinder Block from Tilt, exists within an exclusive club dating back to the likes of Grace Slick and Shocking Blue’s Mariska Veres – with richness and depth that is often pushed to breaking point – that bewitches me.

The album’s title track is a great example of how the album, certainly musically, pushed the band a level above the world of West Coast punk (maybe in part symbolic of Dalle’s break-up with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and subsequent relationship with QOTSA’s Josh Homme)…with lovely touches, rises and falls of baselines and melodies throughout – albeit retaining a drive, strength and aggression.  In many respects it moved away from the band’s earlier, much harder, harsher, records and would ultimately pre-empt the break-up of the group in spite of reaching a commercial peak.

Hon. 2003 mentions go to British Sea Power’s wonderful debut ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’, Mark Lanegan’s ‘Here Comes That Weird Chill’ and The Mars Volta’s ‘Deloused in the Comatorium’

Also released in 2003, and I think, along with a related BBC effort (see 1968), one of the greatest ever live releases – Jeff Buckley’s ‘Live at Sin-e’.  I think as well the greatest example of Buckley Jr’s undoubted genius – a double album comprising his own work, covers and fabulous between-song dialogue – recorded with just him and guitar in the coffee shop at which he worked in Greenwich Village in the early nineties.  The album was preceded by a four track ep released while Buckley was still with us, which I stumbled across while travelling in Australia as a teenager.  I can honestly say that this Van Morrison cover changed my appreciation of music forever…

2004

The Go! Team are very definitely the most underrated band of the noughties, and if you don’t believe me then go and ask Stuart Maconie – he’ll tell you…

‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’ is an explosion of playground soul, samples, rap, electronica and pop from start to finish, all delivered with an infectious level of enthusiasm all too lacking from many of today’s staid and apparently uptight artists.

Check out the album’s Wikipedia entry for a list of the samples used throughout…and then go and find all of the originals and buy them too, for it’s a sterling selection.

There’s not much more than that to say really…other than that I defy anyone to listen to it and not end up with a smile on their face which, let’s face it, is surely what life is all about.  If the likes of Pharrell and Andre 3000 have released some of the best pop songs this century, then The Go! Team have definitely released the best pop album.  It was with no small amount of delight I learned earlier this year of the band’s return.  Herewith my favourite song…replete with some Holland-Dozier-Holland magic…the joyous ‘Ladyflash’…

Finishing in the places for 2004: Comets on Fire’s ‘Blue Cathedral’, Morrissey’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Want One/Two’ double and Nick Cave’s ‘Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus’ – home to one of the best songs ever…

2005

A tie for 2005.  I cannot separate Bright Eyes’ ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ and Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise’.  Both records are supreme examples of modern Americana – with very definite nods to the past but bursting with relevance, originality and poignancy…

Conor Oberst is an artist I have slowly grown to adore over the last ten years.  Both artist and output are challenging to access at times and certainly to love but I discovered him properly with this album and I am now smitten.  ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ is a beautiful record – brilliantly written, perfectly sequenced, balancing humour, love and sadness, and even a sprinkling of HRH Emmylou Harris.  I don’t think there is a more perfect pair of opening and closing tracks on an album in ‘At the bottom of everything’ and the barnstorming ‘Road to joy’.  Indeed Conor…let’s fuck it up and make some noise…

Whereas with Sufjan it has been a more immediate infatuation.  I’d been aware of him for a while but was persuaded to investigate properly upon seeing ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the soundtrack for which makes use of ‘Chicago’.  There are few words really to describe what he is, or what he does, but the product is beautiful ethereal thing in all senses.  Evidence of this presented very well by the song named after said state capital.  I cannot wait to experience it live at EOTR 2015…

More Americana from both sides of the Atlantic in 2005’s special mentions with Langhorne Slim’s ‘When The Sun’s Gone Down’ and Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ (a would-be winner in many other years…).

2006

Another very definite tie…

Howlin Rain should be massive, but they’re not, which selfishly is often preferable as I get to experience the force of nature that is their live show in rather more intimate surroundings than I might.

The band is in essence a side project for Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire (sort of) fame…an outlet for his love of the best of 70s US rock and roll and lighter in tone and content than the deeper, darker psychedelia of his work with Ben Chasny in CoF.

The band’s wonderful self-titled debut is best, and also lazily, conveniently, described as a ‘more psychedelic Creedence’ – which is exactly what it is.  A thundering groove-ridden, soulful rock and roll trip around the west coast of America.  For the desert leg of said adventure, see ‘Roll on the rusted days’…

Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ pays very great respects to the 70s as well…albeit in somewhat more gentle fashion with echoes of Laurel Canyon, Fleetwood Mac and English prog/folk.  The harmonies alone stand the album over and above the competition, before one considers the beautiful arrangements and perfect songwriting presenting rustic, pastoral stories of life amongst forests and mountains.

I have said for some time that ‘Roscoe’ is the best song so far this century and nothing has appeared yet to change my mind in that respect…

Shout outs too for The Grates’ ‘Gravity Won’t Get You High’, Manchester Orchestra’s ‘I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child’ and The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys and Girls in America’.

2007

For a long time I mistakenly (and now not unashamedly) pigeon-holed Maximo Park with the likes of Hard-fi and other dreary laddish indie of the time.

How wrong I was, and how immediately I was corrected upon the release of ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’, which from start to finish is the definition of wonderful indie-pop.  The record is as full of energy and enthusiasm as the band’s live shows.  There is a strong emotive and evocative feel to the songs as well – reflecting the charm and challenges of everyday relationships in today’s world.

I really could have gone with any track from the record, but have settled for ‘By the monument’…

Taking nothing away from Maximo Park, not an enormous amount else stood out (for me) in album terms in 2007…although little-known beat groups Radiohead, Bon Iver and The National all released some reasonable fare.

2008

Howlin’ Rain.  Again.

‘Magnificent Fiend’, the band’s second album, sees a progression from the raw, dusty brilliance of their debut to a more polished, sort of soulful sound but remaining (I think) firmly rooted in the very best of 70s rock.  Picking up from where the debut left off in guitar terms, the record introduces itself with dramatic piano pieces, more Hammond organ and the occasional dash of mariachi trumpet – all of which blends together wonderfully.  Ethan Miller remains very much front and centre as well, as the greatest rock and roll frontman I have ever seen…with an increasingly wide vocal range from bluesy soul to roaring R & B.

The first album immediately planted the band in my top five favourites ever, the second cemented them for good.  And I honestly can’t describe how good this band is live.

Showcasing the above elements perfectly, all in the space of a glorious six and half or so minutes is ‘Lord have mercy’…which builds and builds to a break and choral crescendo (c.4m 38s) that fills my entire being with joy.

Elsewhere in 2008, ‘Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut was up there with Midlake in beautiful Americana terms, The Last Shadow Puppets’ ‘The Age of the Understatement’ would better anything Alex Turner has done before or since and ‘Mono in VCF I’ contained the sublime ‘Spider Rotation’ – presented here for your enjoyment because I don’t think enough folks have ever heard it…

Lastly, a third song for 2008, for the brilliant sake of it.  The Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’ is a supreme example of storytelling within song, very much descended from Dylan’s ‘Lily…’ (see 1975).  This live BBC version is wonderful as well…

2009

Closing the noughties, Brakes’ ‘Touchdown’…

I was four years late to Brakes, picking up a promo copy of this record on the understanding the band had something or other to do with British Sea Power (hello Eamon) and Electric Soft Parade (hello boys).

I discovered soon after that albums one (Give Blood) and two (Beatific Visions) are equally as good and well worth checking out.  Brakes deliver brilliant, raw indie pop that focuses first and foremost upon fun but is cunningly threaded throughout with very clever songwriting and complex musicality with lovely nuggets of country and post-punk sprinkled around…to be expected I suppose when one considers the links the members have to other projects.

My favourite track is the first Brakes song I heard (the promo skips track one)…’Don’t take me to space man’…

Do also check out Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘It’s Blitz’, ‘Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’ eponymous release, Manchester Orchestra’s muscular sophomore ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ and Yellow Moon Band’s ‘Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World’.

Anyways…nearly there now, five more years to go, thanks for staying with me this far, if indeed you have…


50 years of tunes…1990-99…

Wow…the 1990s are tricky…I think because they encapsulate my teenage years, together with numerous musical awakenings and epiphanies (both at the time and retrospectively).  Every year has a number of albums that could be ‘the’ one.  Anyways…here is my selection with some increasingly rambling musings…

1990

More Sonic Youth.  Acknowledging the fair distribution of credit to all members on most of the band’s output, 1988’s ‘Daydream Nation’ is for me very much a ‘Thurston album’.  1990’s ‘Goo’, however, is my ‘Kim album’ – her songs and fronting duties very much the standouts on an equally good record.  Both albums are at the more accessible end of the Sonic Youth canon and supreme examples of indie/noise rock at its finest – reminiscent of Husker Du in weaving lush and infectious pop songs with discordant challenging noise and beat poetry lyrics.  ‘Kool Thing’, presented here, is just as the name suggests, there are few kooler…

Highly commended releases from 1990 also well worthy of investigation include Ride’s ‘Nowhere’, Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual’ and Fugazi’s ‘Repeater’.

1991

1991 saw the advent of grunge.  Which is odd, in a way, because I am increasingly convinced in at least musical terms that there was never really any such thing.  Maybe it really was more of a reflection of fashion, or broader alternative culture, into which various bands fell easily within – only very few of them bore any resemblance to the next.  As such, the ‘which grunge band were better’ arguments – at least amongst the highest profile protagonists – are somewhat futile.  Nirvana, steeped in the legacy of 80s US alternative rock…Husker Du, Pixies, Black Flag…were ultimately a world away from the heavier 70s metal muscle of Soundgarden…who in turn differed wildly from Pearl Jam’s payment of more orthodox rock and roll dues to Neil Young and The Who.  Conveniently for me, in the avoidance of such argument, in my early teens I grew to love all three bands and still do.

In this exercise though, it is Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ that wins out for me over the brilliance of both ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Badmotorfinger’.  The immediate and aggressive ‘Porch’, sat amidst an album whose spirit soars and dives through light and dark, presented here for your consideration.

Also of note this year R.E.M. (again) with ‘Out of Time’ and in relatively more obscure but equally brilliant terms – My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ and Slint’s ‘Spiderland’.

It’s fascinating again in this exercise as well to consider within the space of a year the overlap, ends and beginnings of eras seemingly miles apart in musical terms and history.  The mainstream explosion of American alternative rock through at least some of the records noted above was synchronous with the end of a previous dynasty.  While admirable in terms of scope and effort, and containing a number of great songs, Guns n’ Roses ‘Use Your Illusion’ double-double album was ultimately an overblown and overweight beast – signalling the effective end of both the band and the excesses of 80s hard rock.  It would have been better, no doubt, edited down to a single album, although would still I fear have succumbed to the scuzzy, raw attack of its younger noisy contemporaries.

1992

R.E.M.’s ‘Automatic for the People’ is sometimes regarded as the beginning of the end for the band.  It is the case that overall the Warner Bros output does not stand up to the 80s’ IRS years, certainly in terms of consistently brilliant albums, but for me there are diamonds to be found in an increasingly rough field right until the band’s retirement.

It is true that the big money deal saw a general shift to more radio friendly fare but that generalisation is not necessarily fair when laid at ‘Automatic…’, which is a magnificent thing.  Many associate the album almost entirely with smash-hits ‘Everybody Hurts’ and ‘Man on the Moon’ – both very good songs but nowhere near the best the record has to offer.  The production is notably better than in the past and the lyrics certainly more recognisable (maybe a good thing, probably not) but the songs retain  wonderful and complementary streams of warmth, darkness and light.  A great example of this, chosen as well for @Allofwhich, is ‘Find the river’…

The Americans further dominate my list of other favourites from the year, albeit largely less commercially successful efforts: Sugar’s ‘Copper Blue’; Soul Asylum’s ‘Grave Dancers Union’; Blind Melon’s and Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous efforts and the Black Crowes’ outstanding ‘Southern Harmony & Musical Companion’.

1993

I would not discover Belly until two years later at Glastonbury, however (and I have given this some considerable thought) they would become my favourite 90s band.  Indie-pop at its finest…I love every song on each of the band’s two albums and much Tanya Donelly-related output besides.

Debut album ‘Star’ was a somewhat unexpected success with ‘Feed the tree’ dominating MTV and other alternative media output, along with fellow singles ‘Gepetto’ and ‘Slow Dog’.  The songs bear a complexity over and above straightforward pop, with hints of Americana and folk throughout – highlighted particularly in the latter track…

Again a ridiculously good year, with all of the following deserving of top spot in their own way: Suede’s ‘Suede’; Bjork’s ‘Debut’; Slowdive’s ‘Souvlaki’; Cracker’s ‘Kerosene Hat’ and The Lemonheads’ ‘Come On Feel The Lemonheads’.

1994

If Belly weren’t my favourite 90s band, then Weezer probably would be, and ‘The Blue Album’ is my favourite Weezer record.

The album gained widespread notoriety for ‘Buddy Holly’, a wonderfully catchy pop song with a brilliant and inventive Spike Jonze video placing the band in the ‘Happy Days’ world, yet there is much more to the record.  Appropriately following Belly’s ‘Star’ in this list of sorts, it is another astounding debut release – mixing fiendish pop with slacker cool, surfy garage with epic rock, all underpinned by seemingly personal lyrics that remain generally cryptic but equally accessible to the audience.  The melancholy ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ a great example of this.  The band’s energy and wonderful relationship with their fans also stands them up as one of the best live acts I have ever seen.

Embarrassingly good runners-up here too: Jeff Buckley’s magnificent ‘Grace’ (although see the Sin-e live ep/album for his best releases); Portishead’s ‘Dummy’; Green Day’s ‘Dookie’; the Manic’s ‘The Holy Bible’; and Therapy?’s ‘Troublegum’ (which opens with maybe the best three lines of any album ever).

1995

As mentioned earlier, my first (and it would transpire, only) visit to Glastonbury would see me fall in love with Belly, and with Tanya Donelly. The band’s second (and sadly final) record, ‘King’, saw progression to a more expansive sound and broader deeper themes than its relatively simple older sibling – maybe with echoes of Donelly’s (step-) sister project ‘Throwing Muses’.  It again is a terrific record, albeit one which maybe didn’t fit with the commercial tastes of grunge and Britpop at the time (more fool everyone) and I really could pick any one of the tracks for presentation here.  ‘Seal my fate’ wins, for the searing, soaring, vocal alone…

Also for consideration from 1995…The Longpigs’ ‘The Sun Is Often Out’; Everclear’s ‘Sparkle & Fade’; Elastica’s ‘Elastica’; Pulp’s ‘Different Class’ and Supergrass debut ‘I Should Coco’.

A mention here as well for what I believe is probably the best track, certainly in British terms, of the 1990s.  Amidst much of the Britpop nonsense that would come and go stands ‘Yes’ by McAlmont & Butler – a seemingly timeless track – almost orchestral, with echoes of Phil Spector’s work, and David McAlmont’s soaring, nigh-on impossible vocal.  There is none more feel good.

1996

Another debut…Belle & Sebastian’s ‘Tigermilk’.  Sat well outside of the mainstream indie production line (literally, in terms of a very limited initial pressing), the album would set the band on the way to now almost legendary status in the continuously brilliant alternative Scottish canon – and deservedly so.

The band’s unmistakable soulful melodies and harmonies, right from the off, are laced with humour, sadness and social observation – creating stories, soundscapes and kitchen sink cinema.  ‘The State I Am In’ demonstrates this very well…

Other favourites from 1996: Barry Adamson’s (extraordinary) ‘Oedipus Schmoedipus’ (a relatively recent discovery of fucked up soundtrackery); Placebo’s ‘Placebo’; and the wondrous ‘Fuzzy Logic’ of the incomparable Super Furry Animals.

1997

And yet another brilliant, brilliant, debut release…Grandaddy’s ‘Under The Western Freeway’…

Part Americana, part psych, part noise-pop and an indication of the glories that would follow in the band’s future releases (more on that to come…) – favourable comparisons with lo-fi contemporaries such as Pavement are left behind with occasional steps beyond the real world.  Musically the album is complex and at times very clever – wrapping the acoustic and electronic, the orthodox and the experimental, up in neat little packages.

‘A.M. 180’ is one of my all-time favourite songs.  A sober Bear very nearly lost himself completely when experiencing it live for the first time at End of the Road in 2012.

Special mentions also to Radiohead’s landmark piece ‘OK Computer’ and the majesty of Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’.

1998

I regard the next three years’ albums of choice as an other worldly collective, created and existing in some distant space and time, and before sitting down to this exercise experienced a mild panic that I would have to choose between two or even three of them.  It is with an almost divine, or maybe that should be cosmic, sense of justice that in actual fact they were released in consecutive years.

The success of Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserters Songs’ surprised everyone upon its release, including to some extent I imagine the band themselves.  The album began as an entirely personal project for both frontman Jonathan Donohue and guitarist Grasshopper – cathartic, even, and with little commercial focus – following a difficult few years both individually and as a band.  Creative impetus, however, had been provided for Donohue following collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and the subsequent involvement of producer Dave Fridmann (and, by proxy, Donohue’s old band The Flaming Lips) would support the band’s development of something very special indeed.  The album’s themes are often bleak – focusing upon escape and abandonment – but retain a sense of hope and redemption throughout, all of which sits in a vivid cinematic landscape.  Now rightly highly regarded in both critical and audience terms, it will remain a timeless work of art.

‘Goddess on a hiway’, actually written years previously during Donohue’s time with the Lips, is my favourite song on the record…

Other notable 1998 releases include the criminally little-well-known ‘Good Morning Spider’ by Sparklehorse and the raw, often flawed and occasionally brilliant promise of what could have been in the posthumous release of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Sketches for my sweetheart the drunk’.

I’ll single out as well a track I discovered while in Australia on my travels…The Living End’s ‘Prisoner of Society’ – one of my all-time favourite pop(ish)-punk tracks, complemented by an awesome lo-fi video…

1999

The Flaming Lips had already been going for ten years when in 1993 the track ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ brought them into the consciousness of college rock, MTV and the wider world.

It would be ‘The Soft Bulletin’ though that would take the band to (at times maybe unwelcome) levels of renown and success.  The record as a whole is far more accessible than the acid punk and experimentalism of much of the band’s earlier work, yet still retains complex psychedelic themes and arrangements which will always signal the Lips at their very best.  In some respects, the album in both form and content would provide some degree of structure to a band that up until that point and never really known what it wanted to be, and set them on a broad path to the adoration and cult status that they receive today – still creating unique and inventive art.  Ironically…the levels of associated success would at times come close to destroying both the band and individuals within it but very thankfully all have come through it.

It is an extraordinary record by an extraordinary band, and I will always love both.  The Lips, both in concert and on record, live in other worlds of light and dark, yet at the bottom of it all is always a sense of the goodness and hope that exists across humanity – it is a privilege on any level to be part of that.

It is no coincidence that the record was produced by Dave Fridmann in tandem with his work on Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ (see 1998) – there is very much a symbiotic relationship between the two records in musical, thematic and philosophical terms – evidenced by the bands touring in partnership as well.

My favourite track from the album, the opening number, has so often opened the band’s performances I’ve been fortunate enough to witness.  It is always thrilling, and wonderful, and heartbreaking, and joyous, and, well…

Just one last album from the nineties and a world away from my staple fare…’Surrender’ by The Chemical Brothers…which I believe is their best.  A very definite move away from the big beat of the first two albums…with a psychedelic feel that is at times tempestuous and at others utterly dream-like.  The epic build and then break of ‘The Sunshine Underground’ is like nothing else before or since.  Magic.


50 years of tunes…1980-89…

I confess to being very much ignorant with respect to the great music of the 1980s up until my early-/mid-twenties.  As a naive teen I dismissed the decade at best as full of throwaway pop and new romantic rubbish (which on the mainstream face of it I still maintain it was, for better or worse).  I received a swift education though on the eighties’ dark and noisy underbelly, upon meeting my now very good friends and (as I may have mentioned before) musical mentors Bruce and Dave, whose influence and instruction is very much apparent in the list below…

1980

‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen.  My favourite album by The Boss, just pipping ‘Born to Run’ and, for me, sitting perfectly balanced in form and content between the genius storytelling of his earlier mid-late 70s output and the giant stadium-conquering rock that was to come soon after.  Interestingly, the album would itself set off two divergent songwriting paths…to the stark beauty of ‘Nebraska’ and the smoother, radio-friendly ‘Tunnel of Love’.

And the title track my favourite Springsteen song…a beautiful, haunting, story-in-a-song.  The video below, I believe, a live debuting of the song a year earlier at a ‘Musicians for Safe Energy’ concert.  It is a wonderful performance and reflective of just one element that has made Springsteen great throughout his entire career.  When Springsteen today sings songs such as this, or Thunder Road (itself now nearly forty years old), nothing seems out of place – they are mature in both a musical and lyrical sense and bely the twentysomething age of their author – yet the (twenty-looking) thirty year old here delivers it just beautifully and his young voice is as perfectly suited as it is today.

A special mention this year as well for ‘My World’ by Secret Affair…of my absolutely favourite 1980s tracks, which never ever fails to put a smile on my face, to the point this self-confessed really bad dancer often thinks about it soundtracking a flashmob dance piece when it shuffles in on my walk to work…and the video is awesome too.

1981

I was introduced to the work of The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce a few years back by way of a very excellent tribute in the form of the ‘Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions’ tribute records, featuring the likes of Mark Lanegan and Nick Cave.  It was then explained to me that Pierce himself was a lyricist and musician so dark and filthy and intense as to make Cave look positively angelic.

Where the Paisley Underground movement would remain relatively faithful to its Byrdsy, Laurel Canyon heritage, The Gun Club would grab those roots, with a handful of punk and psychobilly, and head in a far darker, seedier direction, passing Green on Red on the way and ultimately prove a huge influence on the rebirth of garage punk rock.  You can definitely hear Sonic Youth in there.

Pierce was a sadly troubled soul and suffered from long-term alcohol and drug abuse, which is reflected very much in (and who knows was perversely behind the strength of) the band’s material, and sadly died aged only 37 in 1996.

‘Fire of Love’ by The Gun Club is a brilliant, brilliant album.   I give you ‘She’s Like Heroin To Me’, but do yourself a favour and find the whole album.  Straight up rock and roll.

1982

I only discovered Flying Nun Records maybe four or five years ago by way of a Christmas present…a book collecting various, random, music-related lists – each put forward by a selection of musicians, writers and artists.  One of the lists therein is a top ten of Flying Nun tracks…

It was a very well written list too, describing a collection of apparently perfect pop music all stemming from a small town of Scottish heritage at the bottom of the world.  And perfect pop music it most certainly is in all of its forms – from the charming light of Chris Knox’ love songs, to Straitjacket Fits’ road movie grooves, to the dark foreboding of The Chills’ unnervingly beautiful murder ballad ‘Pink Frost’.

I suppose the relative isolation of not only New Zealand but especially the small university town of Dunedin was a necessary catalyst for a local pop scene, being so far removed from the US and Europe yet still needing to satisfy an artful and hungry young audience.  I don’t think anything can quite explain though the resultant consistent brilliance of everything that would come out of the town’s Flying Nun records from the early 80s onwards – which has garnered adoring fans from across the indie world.  It is an astonishing and most rewarding investigation which I am pleased to say I am still working through.

The 1982 ‘Dunedin Double’ ep, re-released for RSD2014…is a wonderful introduction to the wonders of Flying Nun: two 12 inch 45s at nearly 50 minutes, presenting The Chills, Sneaky Feelings, The Stones and The Verlaines.  Opening the ‘album’…The Chills’ ‘Kaleidoscope World’:

If you like what you hear.  Make your next stop on the Flying Nun journey their greatest hits double album of three or four years ago – ‘Tally Ho’.  Careful though…once you fall in, it’s a struggle getting out again…

1983

I love R.E.M. and always will.  They are and forever will be a top five favourite band.

Many these days choose to dismiss the band based upon (oft ill-judged) judgements of their 1990s major label releases and subsequent rise to stadium rock giants.  Later releases would become increasingly varied in quality, it’s true, but the pre-Warner IRS output is as consistently a brilliant collection of albums as you will find and a good number are close to dominating this decade’s list for me.  Indeed, really ‘discovering’ 80s R.E.M. would lead me to most of the other bands mentioned in this post.  And it all started with ‘Murmur’.

The band began, musically if not geographically, on the periphery of the 80s Paisley Underground scene, with collective harmonies and Peter Buck’s jangly guitar echoing the influence of the The Byrds upon the growth of southern and western Americana.  At the heart of R.E.M. though was a darker introspective feel to both rhythm and indeterminate lyrics that would move them slowly away to the New York of the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith; and then to Europe, in terms of both sound and style.

Opening the album then, the brilliant ‘Radio Free Europe’.

1984

Another relatively recent discovery of but six or seven years ago, again via Bruce…’Native Sons’ by The Long Ryders.

Where R.E.M. would skirt and then move away from The Paisley Underground, the Long Ryders for their relatively brief but brilliant existence would stay very much at the heart of it and as such were a major factor in the birth of alt-country and the ultimate proliferation of Americana (good and bad) we experience today.  If that sort of thing appeals and you don’t yet own this album, seek out the Deluxe version which is well worth a couple of extra pounds – not least for a brilliant cover of Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’.

The whole album is great…taking Laurel Canyon and subtly adding a harder rock and roll edge…an example, featuring backing vocals from the great lost Byrd – Gene Clark (…see 1974) – Ivory Tower:

Check out as well the later media stylings of lead Long Ryder Sid Griffin…who indeed introduced me to the work of Gene Clark and has written extensively (and very well now) on Bob Dylan.  His bluegrass outfit The Coal Porters are outstanding too.  And he’s a top man with very handy recommendations for eating in the south eastern states of the USA.

Coming a close second in 1984, a revolutionary outfit taking British folk ancestry and sensibilities into the rock, politics and society this side of the Atlantic…The Smiths, with ‘The Smiths’, a brilliant record.  More on them in a bit…

1985

After R.E.M., discovering Husker Du was the completion of my younger self’s eighties epiphany and realisation of the genius that presided below the surface.  So this, and then Sonic Youth, and then Dinosaur Jr, amongst many others, was where grunge and college rock in general had grown from (for more on the whole shebang…see Michael Azerrad’s amazing book ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life’).

And ‘New Day Rising’ is by far and away my favourite Husker Du album – covering all pop and (post-) punk bases.  The title track, below, is driving, thrilling, relentless, screaming tuneful noise, while ‘Books about UFOs’ is a perfect, jaunty pop song.  The record even, in the freakiest of terms, addresses in somewhat commercially savvy terms the age old question of how one skins a cat.

The musical differences in songs across the album are polarised to a degree by the respective authors – Bob Mould and Grant Hart – differences (amongst other factors) which would ultimately lead to a less-than-amicable break-up of the band.  I am lucky to have seen both Mould and Hart perform separately but would give anything for the most unlikely of reformations.  Saying that, even remastered versions of the Husker Du albums would be something…

I’ve already mentioned my love of R.E.M. and somehow Husker Du won out over what I think is my favourite ever R.E.M. album…’Fables of the Reconstruction’ (so it must be good).

Also this year…the savage and brilliant noise that is the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Psychocandy’, which I was privileged to see in its entirety last year.

1986

A quite extraordinary album, albeit, amongst friends, one I don’t feel all that able to discuss in any great depth.  The Smiths’ ‘The Queen is Dead’ pretty much has it all and dare I say is near-perfect – influences are drawn from across popular music dating back to at least the 40s and 50s, right up to 70s proto-punk, while sounding like nothing else at the same time.  As mentioned previously I am fascinated by how the lyrics, vocals, structures and music of these songs bear so many parallels with traditional folk.  The band and the album would influence greatly the work of both peers of the time and may others from thenceforth…

My favourite track from the album, I think (it’s tricky)…’The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’:

More R.E.M. for an honourable mention, and fitting given these two bands’ mutual respect for each other – the exceptional ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’ – with the likes of ‘Cuyahoga’ and ‘I Believe’ some of the band’s very best work.

1987

Guns n’ Roses were an early favourite for the young music fan in me, not least because my father hated them…

…Appetite for Destruction is one of the great rock and roll albums…an aggressive, visceral thrill ride unmatched by anything at the time and probably since.  Sneering guitars and crunching vocals, full of sex and drugs, and in it’s own place well and truly in the gutter away from the bubblegum pretence of the band’s motley crew of peers.

The occasionally brilliant but ambitiously flawed ‘Use Your Illusion’ double album would follow in the early 90s, unwittingly setting the band up for dismissal from rock music’s evolution with the arrival of a new teen spirit.  14 year old me was lucky enough to see the band just before that sad but timely departure in 1993 and they were wonderful.  I passed on the band, in name but little else, at Reading Festival a few years ago but saw Slash and Duff with Velvet Revolver around that time and it brought it all gloriously back…leather trousers, top hat and all…covering this:

1987, with a slight change of mood, also continued R.E.M.’s magnificent IRS output with both ‘Document’ and ‘Dead Letter Office’ making their way into the world.

1988

Opening with probably the best song ever written, by the man with maybe the best guitar sound ever, and again there’s not much more to say than that really…

Ladies and gentlemen…Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’…I love this band and I love this album.

1988 a frighteningly good year for albums it transpires, particularly from our cousins across the pond.  Running Sonic Youth very close indeed: R.E.M.’s ‘Green’, Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Bug’, Mudhoney’s ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’ and Public Enemy’s ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’.  Every single one of them magnificent.

1989

Something of a leftfield choice for me, but one of the best pure, unadulterated pop albums ever…Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’…

Another opening (the title) track…and one finishing the 80s where Secret Affair starts them for me…a wonderful pop song which regularly instils in me the desire for a flashmob dance routine around the streets of Reading or London…

Running a close second for 1989, The Wedding Present’s ‘Bizarro’ – jangly indie pop at its absolute very best.  See ‘Take Me’, in all of its nine and a bit minutes of guitary glory:

Oh yes.  And The Stone Roses’ ‘The Stone Roses’ is alright too.


50 years of tunes…1970-79…

1970

A favourite of my mother and one of a number of musical memories from my early childhood, my love of Simon & Garfunkel has recently been renewed/rekindled/reaffirmed by way of enforced cassette purchase for a Land Rover with somewhat limited audio capability.

‘Sounds of Silence’ lost out to Dylan here for 1966, however ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ makes it as my 1970 pick.  I think for me, overall the best Simon & Garfunkel album is probably the ‘Definitive…’ best of, which is an extraordinary collection, however both this and ‘SoS’ run it close.  The title track here and ‘The Boxer’, opening sides A and B respectively, are magnificent things – somehow generating at their crescendo the acoustic/harmonious equivalent of Phil Spector’s orchestral Wall of Sound.  Of the two, The Boxer wins it on points:

Their output is timeless and rarely have male harmonies reached these heights…although Messrs Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry may have something to say on that…more on which to come in time…

A world away from Paul and Art, my other serious consideration for 1970 was Black Sabbath’s immense ‘Paranoid’, along with, for the soul fans, the little known wonder that is ‘Right On Be Free’ by the youth choir Voices of East Harlem.  So wonderful that it gets a spot here (incredible, joyous, fabulous video from two years later, of a performance in Sing Sing prison):

1971

By some distance my favourite Elton John album – ‘Madman Across The Water’ (admittedly time does not necessarily serve him very well looking ahead from this point…).

I’d known ‘Tiny Dancer’ (also favourite), from the Almost Famous s/t, for some time before discovering this album, when the title track was included on a @whenyouawake mixtape curated by Howlin’ Rain’s Ethan Miller and persuaded me to explore further.  I have zero idea what this song is about (or much of the album for that matter – was this a cocaine period?) but find it enormously evocative in terms of both lyrical and musical imagery.

An otherwise interesting year as well…next on my list would be David Crosby’s ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ (definitely a cocaine period I think).  Also Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Going On’ (erm…ditto).  Led Zeppelin and The Who may have released some records that did reasonably well too.

1972

Another soundtrack album, albeit both movie and record some distance from Leone and Morricone.  No less stunning in all manner of respects though, with the combination of Shear and Womack – ‘Across 110th Street’.

The title track, rightly reissued to the world with Tarantino’s ‘Jackie Brown’, is near-perfect both in its own right and in relation to both films.  It is one of those songs that has a subliminal physical effect – try listening to it when out and about and see if it doesn’t change your gait and posture – indeed it started a twitter debate at one point regarding ‘songs to strut to’ being a potential ‘People’s Playlist’ theme on Lauren Laverne’s 6music show.  ‘If you don’t want my love’ is absolutely beautiful too…and ‘Quicksand’ a brilliant, jaunty, jazzy, gem.

In addition to the music, evoking 70s Harlem like nothing else, the album benefits from brilliant, sharp, excerpts of dialogue from the film – from the likes of Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto.

1973

Following the MC5 in 1969, another example of thrilling, visceral punk…before punk…The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’.  I think, apparently, Kurt Cobain’s all-time favourite album too.

Iggy remains more rock and roll than nearly any other act going today.

1974

‘No Other’ by Gene Clark.  My most recent discovery in this list…firstly through an introduction to Gene Clark by friends and then the appearance of the Gene Clark No Other Band (a tribute collective of, amongst others, a Walkman, a Grizzly Bear, a conventional Fairport and a Fox) playing the album in its entirety at EOTR 2014 (itself a magic set, but that’s a story for another time).

I sought the album out before the festival and immediately fell in love – a beautiful collection of songs with echoes of Laurel Canyon and Clark’s past life as a (some say the greatest) Byrd but with a soulful sensibility running through it – echoing a variety of other influences.  Very sadly, for various reasons, its initial release was a commercial disaster and it was deleted in just a couple of years – only to be rightly reissued, reappraised and highly regarded first in 1991 and then again in the early twenty first century.

Herewith, for your delectation, the whole album, a beautiful collection of songs…

1975

Definitely, maybe, I think, my favourite Bob Dylan album.  ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is an extraordinary piece of work.  Vast amounts have been written…about its place in the Dylan canon…it being the best ever ‘break-up’ album…is it autobiographical?…isn’t it?…what about Chekhov?…and I am not sufficiently qualified to comment on or answer any of that.  I can say though that the production is spot-on, musically I don’t think he’s been better, and every song on it is pretty much perfect, especially…

…’Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’.  Probably my favourite Dylan track and at the very height of storytelling within songwriting…listening to it is just like watching a scene from a Western.  Incredibly evocative, while maintaining a degree of mystery which surrounds both characters and plot.  In those terms, for me, nothing would come close until the Raconteurs’ ‘Carolina Drama’…surely a deliberate relation.  Just wonderful.

On a related Dylan note…Vol.5 of the bootleg series (see ‘1966’ in previous post for Vol.4) is from around this time – covering the elemental Rolling Thunder Revue tour – absolutely worth checking out, as is the book on the same subject by my good friend and esteemed Dylanologist/musicologist Sid Griffin.  I don’t think there is a live event in history I would have liked to experience more.

If this process had been ‘song first, then album’, the above would have been pushed mighty close by the mighty ‘Freebird’.  This will be anaethema to some readers (who know who they are…) but I really do love this song and it is a jukebox staple round these parts (also being very good value in minutes per pound terms🙂.  Overblown, probably, but an epic song all the same and the guitar is just ridiculously good…

1976

This one actually very much a case of track before album.  Various friends had enthused for years about the genius of Tom Waits, yet the odd half-hearted attempts by me to understand and appreciate such were sadly in vain for some time.  It took a Rough Trade compilation (and an excellent one at that…highly recommended) – Counter Culture 1976 – to make a difference.  Along with the likes of Blondie, Bootsy Collins, The 101’ers and Nick Lowe was Tom Waits, with ‘Step Right Up’…five minutes of drawled, jazzy, stream of consciousness seemingly allying much of the human condition with a world increasingly focused upon consumption and commerce.  And alcohol.  The song was the spur for me to investigate Waits’ work further and I stumbled across a box set of five albums including ‘Small Change’, conveniently home to ‘Step Right Up’, which has grown to be a favourite Tom Waits record amongst what I now recognise to be formidable competition from over the years.  He is a quite unique talent.

‘Small Change’ is all about the booze.  A dark, bleak piece reflecting I understand the travails of Waits’ touring lifestyle and mindset at the time…it presents a cast of sad, lonely, characters drawn against a desolate and depraved backdrop in the gutter.  There is though a warmth and a charm that is woven throughout with humour to be found most of the way along the way – held in there by the gravelly bass of Waits’ voice and a bluesy feel that draws one into the sanctuary of the very same strip club or speakeasy.  If you’ve not heard it, then please seek it out…step right up indeed…

1977

Another relatively recent discovery, by virtue of some very good friends and musical mentors…’Pacific Ocean Blue’ by Dennis Wilson.

One of the great Americana records, it is unrecognisable from the near-perfect surf-pop Wilson and his Beach Boy brothers produced in the 60s – instead offering a mature, emotional, at times ragged, and soulful sound.  Indeed it is with some sadness and pathos even that the background to the album’s genesis was of Wilson’s drug abuse and related failing health – and that those factors likely contributed to what is regarded as the genius of the record – which would persist until his untimely and tragic death at the age of 39 in 1983.

I give you the majestic ‘River Song’…

In a very strong year – other close contenders for 1977 included Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (a coked-up Cohen and Phil Spector – what a combination…) and Meatloaf’s gloriously and shamelessly bombastic ‘Bat out of Hell’ (another childhood favourite).

1978

Taking a bit of liberty with 1978, contrary to my approach with other live albums here.  The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’, together with Scorsese’s film of the same name, documents the group’s final concert which took place in 1976.  But the album and film were both released in 1978.  And I was born in 1978.  So I, ahem, am allowed to select it here (it should be said however I do so at the expense of Springsteen, Kraftwerk and Blondie – for which I will be lambasted from certain quarters).

It is also a magnificent collection from a group of musicians, together with the vast and stellar supporting cast on the night, who played a major part in the development of American and Canadian music over the 1960s and 70s – whether independently or with Bob Dylan.  They, along with the likes of the Byrds and CSN&Y, are undoubtedly behind the evolution of ‘Americana’ – first of all through the Paisley Underground and later into the welcome revival of the folk and alt-country scene today.

It’s not worth trying to say much more here.  Just watch the film.  And buy the album.  They are more than worth it.

On an entirely different musical note, 1978 also offers The Rezillos’ ‘Can’t stand the Rezillos’ which, eschewing the political and social manoeuvring of most of its punk peers, offers up about as much fun as you can possibly have on a glam/pop/punk record.  Just wonderful.  Check it out.

1979

1979 for me is dominated by bands and albums that had matured both musically and lyrically from the initial onset of the punk scene some three years earlier…including the likes of  The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Inflammable Material’, The Damned’s ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ and Gang of Four’s ‘Entertainment’.

My choice though, over even the four excellent records offered above, is Public Image Ltd’s ‘Metal Box’, which is a brilliant, dark and at times disturbing album in all senses.  Surely at the time no sane mind could have known that the combination of John Lydon, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene – making a deliberate and definite move to the avant-garde – would produce what remains one of the finest post-punk albums – everything should clash but nothing does.  Well it does.  But it doesn’t.  That’s probably the point though…I’m not sure there were many sane minds involved. Probably the greatest ever record packaging too.

What remains as well, is that John Lydon, when surrounded by great musicians (he still is, albeit not Wobble and Levene), is a really wonderful frontman with an incredible voice.  It is apparent from recent gigs I’ve seen that he genuinely loves P.I.L. and it comes through in every thrilling, visceral, performance.

That said…the guitar is the star in this OGWT performance of ‘Poptones’  – mind-blowingly good…

An extraordinary decade then…looking at where it starts and finishes here, which on reflection is what is so interesting about this exercise – how music moves, or doesn’t, over very short periods of time – reflecting changes in society, culture and technology.

The nineteen eighties next…


50 years of tunes…1965-69…

So here goes…

…but first I’m going to subvert the rules a bit further with a few necessary statements of the (maybe) obvious.

The #50yearsoftunes game starts, quite sensibly, at 1965.  My collection, with a couple of dozen exceptions, starts maybe five years earlier and I feel the need to point out a couple of outliers which predate the parameters of this activity:

– ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ – either my first or second favourite Dylan album depending upon which way the wind is blowing (the other is coming up).  An incredible, simple, collection of folky, acerbic brilliance.

– Motown – certainly in its early days never known for the albums per se – rather the brilliance of single after single after single, a good deal of which were released in the early sixties.  Collectively, the best pop music ever produced.

Furthermore, the period 1965-69 gave birth to an extraordinary amount of wonderful music which will never really be regarded in album terms if for no other reason than a lot of the bands never lasted long enough to make one.  The 1960s garage/psych scene produced some incredible stuff which sadly at the time rarely made it out of its home postcode, let alone town, county, city or state. My introduction to this goldmine was through a gift of the Nuggets and Pebbles box sets – which are absolute treasures.  If you don’t know them, yet enjoy the likes of Ezra Furman, Jeffrey Lewis, Hooded Fang and Sonic Youth I highly recommend you check them out.

Anyway, to business…

1965

My 1965 choice is Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Sergio Leone’s ‘Per qualche dollaro in più’ (which would be released in as ‘For a few dollars more’ in 1967).  Morricone’s soundtrack output over the late 20th century is awesome in all senses, yet I don’t think ever improved on that which he produced for Sergio Leone’s films.  This is one of my favourite pieces – stirring, thrilling, evocative, magical…

It says something of my love for the above that it won out over Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ – both of which are stellar…

1966

…again though, have played a little with the rules here to cater for that issue, with an album released in 1998, albeit a live album of a concert that took place in 1966:  Vol. 4 of Dylan’s Bootleg series – ‘The Royal Albert Hall Concert’.  Which actually took place at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester – the infamous gig at which Dylan introduced the UK to his ‘electric’ tendencies.  The performance of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ that evening, preceded by the shout of “Judas”, is I think the greatest piece of popular music ever committed to tape.  Duly heckled, Dylan turns to the band with the instruction “play it fucking loud” – the power and raw intensity with which such an important song is delivered is just spine-tingling.  Truly a seismic shift in modern popular music:

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ and The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ get a very honourable mention for 1966 too.

1967

Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ received very little commercial success upon release but is now justly recognised as one of the great psychedelic pop albums.  It is beautiful from beginning to end.  In addition, ‘Alone Again Or’ is up there as one of the great opening album tracks:

As mentioned previously, when I started this review, I was attempting to select a favourite single song from each year and this was 1967’s choice – so special it gets a place here too…White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane – an elemental transposition of Alice in Wonderland to the dark truth of the late 60s and Grace Slick with maybe my favourite ever female vocal:

1968

In keeping with my Dylan case – Tim Buckley’s ‘Dream Letter: Live in London 1968’ – a BBC recording not physically released until 1990.  For the spotters out there an interesting session in itself, where financial and contractual difficulties prevented Buckley’s regular musicians from travelling to the UK with him – instead he is supported by guests including Danny Thompson from Pentangle.  The album presents a stripped back set of some of Buckley’s greatest songs and the recording is near-perfect.

Again similar to Like A Rolling Stone, above, in that I believe the version of Pleasant Street is one of the single greatest things I have ever heard and ever will.  It certainly contains the greatest segue into a cover ever attempted:

Another instance of a very close second for 1968 – Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks – which, coincidentally, contains the song ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’, a live cover version of which would confirm my love of Jeff Buckley, which in turn would introduce me to the music of Buckley Snr.

1969

Almost as if on cue, The MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’ appeared in February 1969 to maybe foretell and then certainly stride on by the death of the Summer of Love. Woodstock would come and go in August and then in December events at Altamont would signal the end of the hippy age for good.  The MC5 though burst forth from blues-driven 60s garage and psychedelia with a righteous anger and energy, underpinned by strong political messages, which would pre-date the official ‘birth of punk’ by some seven years.  The album – full of raw aggression, hope and promise – has proven influential right up to the present day across both social and musical movements.

On a related note, the other contender for 1969 was indeed the Woodstock film soundtrack, but I figured that bending the rules a little too far, being essentially a (n amazing) compilation.  And it would have been too hard to pick a track.  Although Richie Havens singing Freedom, which can be found elsewhere on this blog, would probably have won out…