Grateful Dead – American Beauty
Released November, 1970
I think there a number of people who, like me, have heard of The Grateful Dead, but couldn’t tell you any of their songs. Again, I knew who Jerry Garcia was by reputation but I don’t think I had ever heard him sing or play a note until now. The image of his face is almost iconic; a full head of hair like a lion’s mane, glasses and a thick bushy beard.
Born in San Francisco in 1942, Garcia became a talented guitarist while still in his late teens. In 1962, Garcia formed the wonderfully titled Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Band Champions with keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and guitarist Bob Weir in Palo Alto. By 1965, they had added electronic composer Phil Lesh on bass and drummer Bill Kreutzmann to the line-up, and now called themselves The Warlocks. Before LSD was criminalised in the US, the Warlocks became the house band for author Ken Kesey’s public Acid Test parties. When the year reached its end, the group changed its name to The Grateful Dead and the members all moved into a communal house in San Francisco.
After numerous free concerts garnered the band a large fan base, the Grateful Dead were signed to MGM in 1966, but the studio sessions didn’t go well and they were dropped from the label. Undeterred, the group went on to become one of the most popular live acts in the San Francisco Bay Area. They soon landed themselves another recording contract, this time with Warner Brothers, and their self-titled debut album was released in 1967. Disappointed that the record didn’t capture the vibe of their live appearances, the band recruited a second drummer, Mickey Hart and issued their 1968 follow-up “Anthem of the Sun”. With only five songs making up the forty minute running time, the album showcased The Grateful Dead’s unique blend of folk, country, and psychedelic rock with their penchant for improvisational blues workouts. They also employed the use of Garcia’s old friend Robert Hunter, who would continue to write lyrics for the band for many years without ever performing with them.
1969’s “Aoxomoxoa” and their live album from the same year “Live/Dead” further cemented their experimental free-form reputation, so when the group released an entire record of American roots themed tracks in 1970, it took their fans and critics by surprise. “Workingman’s Dead” contrasted sharply with their epic space jams, but gave The Grateful Dead their first radio hit with ‘Uncle John’s Band’. Released the same year, “American Beauty” continues this exploration with more emphasis on acoustic arrangements and vocal harmonies.
Recently ranking in the 261st spot in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, I found this record endlessly listenable. To me, it seems like the link between the country-rock of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers and the West Coast sound of the Eagles. No doubt fellow Californian contemporaries Crosby, Stills and Nash influenced their harmonies. The album opens with ‘Box Of Rain’ and it’s an excellent scene setter. Bluegrass musician David Grisman contributes some lovely mandolin work to ‘Ripple’ and ‘Friend of the Devil’, both big highlights for me. I found myself singing along to the latter during my first listen; such a catchy chorus: “Set out runnin’ but I take my time/A friend of the devil is a friend of mine”.
The bulk of the record is written by Garcia and Hunter, but Pigpen’s ‘Operator’ is an enjoyably playful track revisiting the eternal quest for a girl’s phone number and I really enjoy Weir’s ‘Sugar Magnolia’ as well. Album closer ‘Truckin” has a relaxed groove matched with a speedy lyrical delivery in the verses, as well as Hunter’s immortal line: “What a long, strange trip it has been”, summing up the band’s history. The mournful ‘Candyman’ is another great track, which deals with the darker side of gambling and social cliques. For some reason, the only song I didn’t dig was ‘Attics of My Life’. Whether it was the track’s slow plod or its meandering lyrics, I don’t know; I just found it boring. I was very surprised by this album, as it wasn’t what I expected from a band associated with LSD freakouts and psychedelia. I think the sheer musicality and accessible performances of “American Beauty” will endure it to many listeners.
Grateful Dead are one of those bands that most people know through reputation alone. Coming into this week I was one of those people. I know of Jerry Garcia, “dead heads”, the multitude of bootlegs, and the stoner/hippie culture that followed the Grateful Dead, without actually knowing any of their songs or albums. These guys formed a family and a community, which they shared graciously with their fan base. I had no idea what to expect with “American Beauty”. It’s a big old, shambolic mess, but this seems to the kind of music I’m discovering I like best. There is something quite exciting about “American Beauty” though, as whilst they are playing in the country/folk/rock type genres it feels like they aren’t following the rules. You are waiting to see where they will go next. With the folk/rock elements and three part harmonies it’s also hard not to compare them to contemporaries such as The Band, Crosby, Still and Nash, The Byrds, et al. Bill Graham, band promoter and big fan of the Dead, said “They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.” It took a few listens but I ended up quite enjoying “American Beauty”. This surprises me, as the country-ish album’s we’ve listened to thus far have not been to my liking at all. Maybe it’s my penchant for the pedal steel guitar winning me over. Considering my opinion of the album upon first listen, I’m surprised as to how much I warmed to it over the week. I’m not about to put it on high rotation but as a Sunday arvo soundtrack it’s not bad at all. I’m starting to suspect that if past lives are an actual thing I was most certainly a stoner hippie in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Well, that was 100% not even a little bit what I expected. To be fair, all preconceptions I had about the Grateful Dead are based entirely on the name, having never heard a single one of their songs in my life. Take the name “Grateful Dead” at face value and you (well, I do anyway) imagine a heavy metal or at least hard rock band. This is pretty far away from that, proving the old cover of a book adage correct. Though I can’t help but find myself wishing my assumptions were a little bit correct. “American Beauty” is a nice album. It reminded me a lot of The Band, in fact, it was only released two years after The Band’s “Music From Big Pink”. “American Beauty” spans the tiny gap between country and folk, and I’m not a huge fan of either genre. To me, there’s not a lot outstanding from the album. The country folk tracks all kind of blend in to each other, and I really struggled to set them apart. That’s not to say it didn’t have its high points. The single from “American Beauty” is the final track, ‘Truckin’’. A blues rock story of life on the road, it was a good choice to use as the single. The crisp, clean bass cuts through and there’s even some lead guitar, which isn’t really a feature of the rest of the album. The other track I enjoyed was ‘Sugar Magnolia’. It doesn’t feel very country or folky, it’s just a bit more rocky, even with the Doo doo doos in the Sunshine Daydream coda. I know the Grateful Dead were icons of the hippie movement, but I hate hippies. This really was not an album I could get behind, though not for lack of trying.
I read a few articles that referred to Grateful Dead as a psychedelic band. With only “American Beauty” to use as a reference, I would say that at this time they were more folk-ey than anything. The style of the songs, especially with their 3 part harmonies, sounded just like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, a good example of this similarity is ‘Sugar Magnolia’ with it’s lapsteel solos and ‘doot doot doot’ backing vocals. This song became my favourite song of the whole album because it was one of two songs that that didn’t make me want to stab myself in the eye. Some of the other songs had all the makings of Dylan’s works, take ‘Friend of the Devil’, for example. This one was second in line for my love. It has a great little acoustic guitar intro and features more solos throughout. And with its catchy chorus, it’s a real foot-tapper. Melodically, the songs are really quite pretty but sometimes the harmonies are a bit out, which is both refreshing and off-putting at the same time. It makes you believe that the album was not over-produced in the studio, so it gives it an authenticity, but it’s a bit hard for me to listen to. For the most part, ‘American Beauty’ was a pleasant-enough album to listen to, but seriously, it was so boring. The vocals have a whiney-ness to them that makes almost all of the songs sound really down-beat, even though they probably aren’t supposed to be. I feel as though the vocals really stand out in front of the instrumentation and the balance was not really right, considering that the vocals were not the strong point, for me. Needless to say, ‘American Beauty’ has not earned a permanent spot in my music library.
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George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
Released November, 1970
Unfortunately there are no online version of this album that I could find.
If you were into downloading you could do so at your own risk here.
George Harrison was one of The Beatles. If you don’t know that you clearly grew up under a rock. As the lead guitarist he helped shape their sound and create something that they could only create as a whole. McCartney and Lennon however, as the principle songwriters, were the guys in charge. This often left Harrison in the shadows, with only the odd song of his making the cut. Towards the end of The Beatles career Harrison came into his own. He had found peace within Eastern Mysticism and the Indian culture and music. By the time they released their final lbum “Abbey Road”, Harrison had a hit single in ‘Something” and had finally cemented his worth as a serious musician.
Upon the dissolution of The Beatles, Harrison had already released two instrumental solo albums. “All Things Must Pass” is considered his first real solo album. Imbued with Spector’s ‘wall of sound’, there are tracks here that wouldn’t be out of place on a Beatle album. But there is something else happening here. Over the course of a little under two hours, there are many musical styles brought in, from Harrison’s much loved folk, to Indian sitars and tablas, to blue guitar jams. The lyrics also delved into themes of God, love and other spiritual themes. The star studded cast of musician also lends to the quality.
If it wasn’t for George, The Beatles wouldn’t have ended up sounding like they did. Harrison is an amazing and often understated guitar player. He played with no ego, adapting his style to suit what will best suit the song. It is not surprising to me that he found interest and solace in Eastern Mysticism. It was this influence and his guitar playing ability, as well as his humility, that pushed the band the extend themselves into new areas and ways of playing music.
Listening to “All Things Must Pass” in the way we are for this project, as a complete whole’ actually does it a bit of a disservice. The album was actually released as a triple-vinyl. That means it has 6 sides. The first two albums, and the first 4 sides, were the album proper if you like, with the third album consisting of improvised jams and was titled “Apple Jams”. This album when taken track by track is really quite brilliant. As a whole however it does feel somewhat bloated. Actually, it feels a lot that way. It’s easy to understand how after years of being in Lennon and McCartney’s shadow that he would just throw it all to the wind and do exactly as he pleased on “All Things Must Pass”. Unfortunately for the listener it does make it pretty heavy going. It is important to acknowledge however, that Harrison was only 27 years old when he recorded this album. To have that much talent and scope to tackle so many different styles of music in one piece really is something else. We shouldn’t let the sheer magnitude of what he was trying to achieve with “All Things Must Pass” to take away from the fact that the man is a brilliant musician.
I’ll be honest, it took me quite a few listens to get into this album. And even then my mind would often wander about two thirds of the way in. There’s something about it though that kept drawing me back. Favourite songs include ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’, ‘What Is Life’, ‘Apple Scruffs’, ‘All Things Must Pass’ and the brilliant jam ‘Out of the Blue’.
George was always my favourite Beatle. I was concerned with my first few listen to “All Things Must Pass” that this may change. I’m glad I took the time out the delve a little deeper and come back full circle. My advice is to give the album a few listens and find out which of the songs speak to you most. Cull the rest and make yourself a “Best of All Things Must Pass”. It would be a shame that this album was overlooked because of its breadth. It’s worth putting in the effort to find the masterpieces contained within.
Right, George Harrison. You owe me. You owe me big time. For a start you make “All Things Must Pass” completely inaccessible short of going to a shop and buying your cd. So I trekked to Clay’s place to borrow his copy and trekked home again. Good. Album acquired. I start the album and listen to ‘I’d Have You Anytime’. It’s a bit dull, but we’ll push on. ‘My Sweet Lord’ comes on. Hang on, I know this one. I know it, but it’s not much more entertaining. Then I get a great guitar intro. I expected this from a guitarist of Harrison’s calibre. Shame it took three tracks to there. ‘Wah Wah’ is easily my favourite track on this behemoth. It got my hopes up. Those hopes were instantly dashed with the next track, ‘Isn’t It A Pity’. Yes, it is a pity. Wait. How long is this album? 105 minutes? The best part of two hours. You’re having a laugh Harrison. 24 tracks? I’ll be really honest here. It’s not in the spirit of AFYCCIM, but I couldn’t finish it. I tried. On the Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, “All Things Must Pass” placed a measly 433. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this album was massively over produced, and clearly this is due to one Phil Spector and his Wall Of Sound. The reverb tracks are sometimes unbearable, and upbeat tracks are so busy, so noisy it’s almost like white noise. To be honest I expected a lot more from this album. One of the best guitarists the world’s seen and we get a showcase of boring folky tracks and some slide guitar. Considering this was supposed to be Harrison’s breakout from the Beatles, I’d have preferred he left it with them.
It’s strange to think that George Harrison went so long without receiving recognition for his work, with Lennon and McCartney turning down his songs. I guess in the end it worked out, when he became the first solo Beatle to have a number 1 hit, with ‘My Sweet Lord’. As far as debut albums go, “All Things Must Pass” is top notch, providing a cross-section of Harrison’s emotions following the break up of the Beatles, establishing him as more than the lead guitarist of the biggest band in the world, moreover cementing him as an accomplished singer and songwriter in his own right. I enjoyed listening to some of Harrisons lesser-known songs, such as the Dylan-esque ‘Apple scruffs’ and ‘Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)’, and the gloriously uplifting ‘Awaiting on Yyou All’. This one is particularly clever, because it sounds like a rock-hymn, but it’s actually a criticism of the confines of the church’s values. I really dig the tempo and the rhythm of this one, it’s my favourite song off the whole album, closely followed by the title track, ‘All Things Must Pass’. It has a restrained prog rock feel to it, and could easily have been adapted and recorded by Pink Floyd, in fact I kind of wish they’d thought of it. You can also see the heavy influence that The Band’s “Music from Big Pink” had on the development of this song. There is no denying the world-class musicianship displayed on “All Things Must Pass” as a whole, and with a star-studded session musician lineup that included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Badfinger and more, how could it be any other way!? Overall, I thought that this was a banging debut album and definitely proved to the world that George didn’t need to stand in the shadow of McCartney and Lennon any longer.
It seems that more is more when it comes to George Harrison’s triple album solo debut. A lot of Harrison’s songs had been rejected by the Beatles and when they dissolved, he found himself with a wealth of excellent work. While the first two records make up these songs, the third record consists entirely of jam sessions with the musicians Harrison was working with, among them Eric Clapton. Although they’re not terrible, the jams aren’t hugely interesting, and I think the album would have benefited greatly from their exclusion. I think one version of ‘Isn’t It A Pity’ is enough too; they take up nearly twelve minutes running time! There are some wonderful songs here though: the smash hit ‘My Sweet Lord’, a great version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If Not For You’, the eerie ‘Beware of Darkness’, and the stirring title track are all big highlights. However, Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ production techniques reach overkill levels throughout the album. ‘What Is Life’ starts off well with a great guitar riff, coupled with a bass and another guitar part before the rest of the band crashes in. The drums sound terrible and the brass is nearly overpowering. As the song finishes, a string section is also thrown into the mix and it’s a big mess. Thankfully the tune is quite catchy, but the same thing happens to ‘Awaiting On You All’ which sounds like it was recorded in someone’s bathroom. The sonic landscape is almost suffocating on tracks like ‘Art of Dying’ and ‘Let It Down’, while the venom underneath ‘Wah-Wah’ is severely diluted by the cacophony of instruments and voices. Spector does get it right sometimes, particularly on the lovely opener ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ and ‘Behind That Locked Door’, which are quite sparsely produced. Harrison’s distinctive slide guitar and great songwriting are the stars of an album that probably should have been shorter.
Every week we’d like to hear your thoughts on the album. Just click on one of the links below, or leave a comment here to have your say.
Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
Released October, 1973
1973 was a good year for progressive rock, fruiting two highly significant albums of that era, including Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, and of course, Genesis’ “Selling England by the Pound”. The band was formed by two school friends, Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks in 1967. They soon recruited Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford and Chris Stewart. Performing at a school function, the band’s prowess was witnessed by record producer and song writer, Jonathon King, who promptly signed them, and named them Genesis, a name that was supposed to symbolise that they would introduce a ‘new sound’. Originally he wanted to call them “Gabriel’s Angels”. I’m glad he changed his mind.
From 1969-1972 Genesis released 4 studio albums, during which time the band’s lineup would change slightly. When their fifth album, “Selling England by the Pound” was released in 1973, the line up consisted of Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett. “Selling England by the Pound” is a collection of intensely drawn out songs (its longest clocks in at 11.44) and a scattering of lighter, more humorous numbers. The majority of the tracks on the album allude to social issues and politics.
The opener, ‘Dancing with the Moonlight Knight’ features the title ‘Selling England by the Pound’. The title was borrowed from the British Labour Party; it was their political slogan at that time, and chosen by the band as homage to their heritage. The track starts with a haunting a capella vocal by Peter Gabriel, morphing into a medieval madrigal, before charging ahead into a fast tempo rock song. It’s the definition of prog rock and essentially forms a prologue to the rest of the album. ‘I know what I like (in your wardrobe)’ completely imbues the psychedelic sound of the Beatles. It’s got that typical spiraling, dreamy feeling, thanks to the electric sitar riff. Extra points for the synthesized ‘Lawn mower’, created using a Mellotron (Sampler). I also quite enjoyed the piano solo that opened ’Firth on Fifth’ but after that I got a bit lost amongst the waffle. Despite its progressive origins, there are small nuances within some of the songs which to me seem quite poppy. Take ‘More Fool Me’, for example. Sometimes it could pass as a Bee Gees song, with its sweet harmonies and ballad-like qualities. “After the Ordeal”, which seems like the epilogue to the previous track (‘The Battle of Epping Forrest’), is in essence a classical guitar piece. It’s a nice interlude. ‘The Cinema Show’ is a modern interpretation of the tale of Romeo and Juliet, drawing inspiration from a T.S Eliot poem. One thing this song made apparent was Gabriel’s knack for putting together beautiful and poetic lyrics, a skill that I have admired throughout his career. The album concludes with ‘Aisle of Plenty’, a reprise of the theme contained in ‘Dancing with the Moonlight Knight’. The title, and the lyrics are interspersed with puns that refer to supermarket names. I’m not entirely sure why but it’s a clever idea nonetheless.
After “Selling England by the Pound”, in 1974 Genesis released ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, a concept album, and set off on a world tour to promote the album. During the tour, Peter Gabriel announced that he would soon be leaving the band. Following Gabriel’s departure, Phil Collins stepped up to the plate as vocalist. Collins had a similar tone to that of Gabriel’s and fit the bill perfectly, but had to relinquish his drum sticks (except for some songs on tour) to take on the new role. The band continued on for a few more years, losing Hackett along the way to his solo career, and releasing their most successful album ‘Invisible Touch’ in 1986, when Collins was at the peak of his own solo career. Phil Collins left Genesis in 1996.
Besides inspiring a multitude of musicians of the modern era, Genesis left legacies other than that of their music. Their performances, particularly those earlieer shows featuring Peter Gabriel, brought a new energy with crazy costumes and rambling spoken interludes; they pioneered the use of laser lights and would inspire generations of musicians and performers alike to add more theatre, interaction and colour to their own shows.
The radio-friendly pop giants of the eighties are quite a distance from the Genesis that recorded this album. Fronted by lead singer Peter Gabriel, the group’s fifth effort is an excellent slice of English progressive rock. Of the eight song tracklisting, four surpass an eight minute running time. There is a strong presence of literature throughout the album, particularly in the epics. We are presented with queens, knights, warring gangs, gardeners and even Romeo and Juliet. The first lyrics of the album, from opening track ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ set the tone brilliantly: “Can you tell me where my country lies?/Said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes”. Sung by Gabriel without musical accompaniment, this haunting couplet is indicative of the poetic imagery within the album. By the way, a unifaun is a fictional animal, crossed between a unicorn and a faun. As the song progresses, each band member gradually joins in, and it becomes quite engaging. Inspired by the painting that graces the record cover, ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ is a fairly whimsical, but catchy tune about a lawnmower man surrounded by busybodies who think he can’t be happy in his job. Mike Rutherford’s bassline in the chorus is just fabulous and the track became the band’s first successful single. ‘Firth of Fifth’ features some fantastic piano and keyboard work from Tony Banks, arguably the heart of Genesis, plus some melodic Santana-esque lead guitar from Steve Hackett. Phil Collins’ first recorded lead vocal is on ‘More Fool Me’, which is a pleasant enough love song. I love his drumming on this album, my highlights being ‘The Cinema Show’ and ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’. Although ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’ goes on too long, I enjoy Gabriel’s theatrical vocal delivery. This is a great album, which I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this week.
Things I learnt listening to “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis this week – 1) Peter Gabriel has a dreamy voice. 2) Phil Collins was the drummer for Genesis way before he was the singer, although they do let him have a crack at one song. 3) Prog rock doesn’t have to sound like Drug Fuelled Nonsense and when done right can actually sound quite good. In fact it can actually sound quite pretty. 4) Prog rock is somewhat obsessed with medieval times. Anyway, a couple of years ago I started listening to a lot of podcasts as I drove. There are a couple in particular which are short stories read aloud which I adore. I think I was so interested in this album despite it being prog rock as it felt like I was being told a story. An epic story at that. And the music was the perfect soundtrack to that story. At times it felt very “A Clockwork Orange” which suited me fine as I do love that soundtrack. I think if you want to listen to a Gensis album such as “Selling England by the Pound” you have to be pretty committed to it. It’s not the kind of thing you can put on as background music. In fact whenever I listened to it in that way this week it really annoyed me. When I listened to it as a whole though and followed along I thoroughly enjoyed it. I feel like I need more time with album and plan of giving it a few more spins in the future. Genesis you have done the impossible and have me liking a prog rock album! It’s a miracle!
I’ve figured out what it is I enjoy about prog rock. It’s the unexpected. It’s that at any time the tempo could change, the time signature could change, the key could change. Which also explains why I despise modern music in all its predictability. But this is a review, not a therapist session. “Selling England By The Pound” is wonderful. It’s an exceptionally pretty album, incorporating delicate flute and piano sounds, but gets quite a bit heavier during the 10:42 long epic ‘The Cinema Show’. I could use my full three hundred word allowance on the beast of a track that is ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’. And why not? The band use nearly 800 words on the 11 minute behemoth. Based on a news report of an inner London turf war, this song always keeps you guessing. At some points it gets a little messy, becoming almost to verbose, with Peter Gabriel smashing words in where they don’t fit with the music. I do enjoy Gabriel’s use of voices to differentiate characters in the story. If no one told you could you tell which songs on this album Peter Gabriel sung and which Phil Collins sung, would you know? The two have uncannily similar voices. The standout track for me from this album? ‘Firth of Fifth’. Nine minutes of solid prog rock glory. It starts with a beautiful, and extraordinarily complicated classical piano intro, using 13/16, 15/16 and bars of 2/4 time signatures. The meat of the track is a guitar driven instrumental lasting nearly five minutes in the middle. It is perfect “zone out and get lost in the music” music. It took a few listens, but I really came to love “Selling England By The Pound”. It’s everything you could want from a 70s prog rock album.
Every week we’d like to hear your thoughts on the album. Just click on one of the links below, or leave a comment here to have your say.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Released February, 1977
This week’s guest review is brought to you by our friend Ash from Dure and Kaufmann. Ash is an honourary afyccimer these days and we always love hearing what she has to say about the albums in her reviews.
For me “Rumours” is Fleetwood Mac. This band was a huge influence in my life growing up. My Mum used to put this album on every weekend along we a few others and it would just play on heavy rotation. You don’t have to stretch your imagination far to see why this album has sold over 45 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time and peaked at the top of both the United States billboard chart and the United Kingdom Album Charts. It is absolutely an essential and if you deny that fact you are kidding yourself. The album received critical acclaim particularity focusing on the production quality and hamonies. This influence is still strong today with bands like Haim without a doubt giving a tip of their ever so cool hats to Fleetwood Mac.
As the writing and recording process took place for this album so did a huge breakdown in relationships between the band. According to Buckingham, the tensions between band members informed the recording process and led to “the whole being more than the sum of the parts” I completely agree with this, and everything that I have ever heard or felt about Rumours really amounts to that statement. I have always had a vague idea of a turbulent recording process, and have found since doing this review that more of the album was recorded when the band was extremely strung out on cocaine and other drugs. Fleetwood Mac made the best music in the worst shape. I note this in both an emotional and physical capacity. Ask any creative and they will always have a thing or two to say about whether the tortured soul in life does in fact draw out the best in their art. I believe each to their own but in the case of Rumours I am glad it was produced under pressure, heat and strain; much as a diamond. All these factors produced a truly stunning album.
This is absolutely a start to finish album for me and by that I mean there is no skipping, there is no hoping the next track will be over sooner rather than later, and any music lover will know these albums are few and far between. The instrumental collaboration in Fleetwood Mac has always been something I’ve connected with. Each member crying out through their talent but somehow they all come together and though they are playing their hearts out, not one shines above the other. Maybe this is a true sign of harmony; these four artists have found a true match in each other. Lindsey Buckingham has always been one of those guitarists that I believe a lot of listeners forget about but once you pay attention you generally never forget what he can do with that instrument. Nicks is an absolute eccentric powerhouse who I have so much musical respect for. Lyrically and vocally she is a strength and unpredictability that makes Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac.
Speaking on the songs the standouts for me, personally they would have to be ‘Dreams’ and ‘The Chain’. These songs are both testament to Fleetwood Mac’s aim to create a real pop release with this album. ‘Dreams’ is a real reflection of a somewhat subdued Nicks and I absolutely idolise the lyric “Thunder only happens when it’s raining, players only love you when they are playing”. This song is a signature for Nicks and the band. When I think of Fleetwood Mac ‘The Chain’ is where my thoughts go and it’s the song that rings in my ears. Without prior knowledge of the Fleetwood splits it was evident this group had a commonality when it came to its breakdowns and on closer inspection you completely understand the inception.
I wouldn’t be writing a review about “Rumours” if I didn’t mention ‘Go Your Own Way’. It has been covered and played and replayed a lot but this song will stand the test of time. The arrangements’ and raw guitar highlight the pain Buckingham penned and in turn is ripping out with his voice. I vaguely remember the first time I heard this song, and it was unlike anything I had ever heard, and not because Fleetwood Mac was overly groundbreaking, and not because they we’re a Michael Jackson phenomenon but because they did what they did and they did it so god damn well.
Fleetwood Mac’s style was absolutely groundbreaking, and I believe they were and are a huge influence in the music world to this day. This album in particular is a culmination of heartache, heartbreak, hard work, and a one of a kind blend of individual artists, a supergroup before they were famous, legends before they were great. I clearly have nothing but praise for this album, but it truly deserves it. I am now rendered speechless, long live the Mac.
I am constantly amazed that this album was recorded with such turmoil within the group. Not only were Christine and John McVie in the middle of a divorce, but Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were also breaking up. Many of the songs on this album deal with relationship breakdowns on a fairly personal level; for instance, Buckingham’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ all but names him and Nicks in the lyrics. Despite the awkwardness that must come with singing on a break-up song written by your ex-boyfriend, Nicks’ backing vocals are fantastic. In fact, the whole band’s performance is excellent; the song hits several highs and lows before ending with Buckingham’s sublime guitar solo outro. It’s one of their biggest hits, and is my favourite track on the album. Coming a close second is the slow-burning ‘The Chain’, which features a wonderful bass moment from John McVie as the song nears its conclusion. It’s the only track on the album credited to all five band members as composers; possibly born out of a jam session, perhaps? Considering “Rumours” is only the second effort from this line-up of Fleetwood Mac, it’s a very strong collection of tunes. I feel that the last two or three tracks are a little average, but the rest of the album makes up for it. The production hasn’t dated the record, yet it still sounds like a product of the seventies, possibly due to the fabulous West Coast sound-esque harmonies of the three lead singers. Christine McVie’s ‘Songbird’ is a gorgeous ballad, Nicks’ ‘Dreams’ is sublime and the shuffle of Buckingham’s ‘Second Hand News’ opens the album on a high note. Although I don’t need to hear ‘Don’t Stop’ ever again, this week I only just noticed that Buckingham and McVie share the lead vocal work on that track. Hailed by many as Fleetwood Mac’s best work, it’s easy to see why.
I’m not sure what it is but I have a thing for sad songs that are put to happy music. There is something about that juxtaposition that is so sweet to me. The way a song sucks you in and has you enjoying every beat and then you realise what the lyrics you are singing along to are actually saying and it absolutely slays you. This was definitely my experience with “Rumours”. At first I fell in love with the impeccable musicianship within, but once I start started paying attention to the lyrics and started to learn what was happening between the band during the recording of the album, it just resonated with me on a whole other level. As a human I am no stranger to lost love. The most bittersweet type of love lost is one in which there is still a lot of love between the people involved, you just know that it’s no longer right and it’s time to move on. Fleetwood Mac were incredibly brave to lay out there emotions in such a confessional way on “Rumours”. There is also a good chance that the excessive drug use helped on that front, but it was brave nevertheless. The thing I love most about it however is that whilst being totally eclectic and apparent that there are many different people writing the songs and pulling the strings, it never once feels fragmented or unstructured. Every note and lyric comes together to create something bigger than its parts. Maybe that’s why the members of Fleetwood Mac were so compelled to work together at such a trying time… by cutting open the wounds and letting everything spill out they were together able to create something bigger than all of them. I for one will be forever indebted that they did. A true masterpiece in every sense of the word.
I once, many years ago, was friends with a girl who liked indie music. She made me a mix cd as was the style at the time. The first track was a song is never heard before called ‘Second Hand News’. I really liked it, which surprised me, because I rarely enjoy new music. Only recently did I find out that song was not new, let alone 36 years old. Needless to say I was shocked. An old song that sounds as fresh as if it was released yesterday. Since starting my listening to “Rumours”, ‘Second Hand News’ has been stuck in my head like super glue, and I didn’t even hate it. I couldn’t help but sing and dance around every time I listed to it. The same goes for the majority of this album. Fleetwood Mac nailed it with “Rumours”. Songs like ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Dreams’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ are still on high circulation on decent radio stations. I have but one bone to pick with you though, Fleetwood Mac. ‘Never Going Back Again’ has (probably) inspired every hipster/indie/modern folk song ever. It goes against every fibre of my being, but I really love this song. The delicate guitar, the vocal harmonies, everything. But I’d hate it if it was done now. Weird huh? Time for an unpopular opinion. “Rumours” would lose nothing if it lost Stevie Nicks. I just don’t get her appeal. Her gravelly, nasal voice does nothing for me. Why not leave the singing duties to Christine McVie? She’s got a beautiful voice (see ‘Songbird’). “Rumours” is a masterpiece. Fleetwood Mac as a band are almost perfect, and very understated. I’m really glad we listened to this album, for the tracks I know and love, and for the ones I don’t know and love.
It’s always hard to comment on albums that are so highly regarded and revered, for example, explaining what makes ‘Dreams’ so great just seems ridiculous, since it is pretty much embedded in music history as a timeless classic. Why is it so good? Well it just is! Seriously though, “Rumours” has so much going for it and has all the essential ingredients of a legendary album. The strongest point of the album for me is the crystal clear 3 part harmonies to rival Crosby, Stills and Nash. The band were lucky enough to have 3 singers capable of singing the lead part, so there’s plenty of tonal variety. Most of the songs are rife with personal insight into the emotional turmoil going on behind the scenes (divorce, love triangles and more) so they are both believable and relatable. Besides that, pretty much every track on the album has a catchy vocal hook. As much as I love the more famous tracks ‘Dreams’, ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’, this time around I found greater enjoyment in the lesser-known numbers, in particular ‘Never Going Back Again’ for it’s pretty guitar melodies, and the up-tempo ‘I Don’t Want to Know’. Listening to “Rumours” was, as always, an absolute pleasure, and I easily got about 8 listens in during the week leading to this review. I listened to it so many times without really critiquing it, I just enjoyed it so much and before I knew it, the album was over!
Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
Released March, 1978
Elvis Costello released his first album “My Aim Is True” in 1977 at the age of 23. It had great success in its native United Kingdom and according to the website Pitchfork is “held by many as the most impressive debut in pop music history”. Between his debut and his second release “This Year’s Model”, Costello earned himself the reputation as “an angry young man” when during a performance of his single ‘Less than Zero’ on the American television program Saturday Night Live, he stopped mid-intro and instead played his song ‘Radio Radio’. Around this time he also protested the fact that he wasn’t signed to an American label by setting up out the front of a London convention of CBS records executives and busked until someone listened. He was arrested but it worked and within a few months he was signed to CBS’s Columbia Records. An angry young man maybe, but a smart one at that. For “This Year’s Model” Costello brought together a group of backing musicians under the name “The Attractions” who would continue to back him from 1978 to 1986.
1978 saw Costello release his second album “This Year’s Model”. He was noticed with “My Aim is True” so the expectations were high. He was 24 when this album was released, which is a pretty interesting age. It’s a time where you still have plenty of angst to throw at the world but there is still a certain level of naivety. At 24 you still believe you can change the world and it’s that brazen belief that you can which means you are actually able to. Costello was in good company with a lot of classic albums being made by young men that age. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with “Nevermind”, Black Francis of The Pixies with “Doolittle”, Mick Jones of The Clash with “London Calling”, Bob Dylan with “Highway 61 Revisited”, Bruce Springsteen with “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, Michael Jackson with “Thriller”.
“This Year’s Model” could have been a disaster for Costello. There aren’t many artists that can put forth such vitriol within their lyrics and yet have you there backing them the whole way. To do that with a whole album is almost unheard of. Costello’s first album “My Aim Is True” is a much more accessible album, but for me “This Year’s Model” is a much stronger album. Yes the subject matter is a little tough but it’s rare to find an artist willing to risk album sales in order to release an album that they believe in and that actually means something to them. Costello was a smart kid who had a lot to say. He was smart enough to do so in a way that related to what was happening around him within the music scene, embracing the New Wave and Punk culture. With his lyrics he takes stabs with his poison pen whilst his impeccable band keep up every step of the way. Musically on “This Year’s Model” the focus is predominately on bass, drums as keyboard, rather than guitar up front as was the case on “My Aim is True”.
This album is such a classic because it takes risks. It’s when an artist truly connects with what they are singing about and pays no attention to what the critics or record company may think that we see brilliance emerge. Here Costello shines a light onto the darker and not so nice aspects of relationships. We’ve all been scorned at one time or another and we’ve all felt the satisfaction of getting one over an ex-lover we feel has done us wrong. On ‘This Year’s Model” Costello does so delectably over 12 tracks, never once flinching or apologising for what he has to say. It is the perfect balance of raw energy and sophisticated pop writing. Costello’s voice has such depth that it’s hard not to be drawn into every little thing he has to say. There is a good reason that at the age of 58 he is still releasing brilliant albums and touring sell out shows. There are not many artists that pass the test of time, but Costello does so brightly.
I can safely say I’d never deliberately listened to Elvis Costello before. I know literally nothing about him, which is quite unusual for me. In a way I kind of prefer approaching an album with no preconceptions on what I’m going to get. Wikipedia tells me “This Year’s Model” is punk rock, I’m not convinced. It’s much too musically adept to be punk. The only thing punkish about it is Costello’s voice that sometimes gets a little raw. This is the perfect length album for me, not even testing my attention span with about three minutes a song. The whole thing is over in 35 minutes. It came in at number 98 on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’, and while I think it’s a good album, I can’t help but feel that’s a little high. My favourite track was ‘(I Don’t Want To) Go To Chelsea’, which was dumped from the US release for being “too English”… I like the kind of reggae feel that’s going on there, and for some weird reason I even could stand the organ noise! ‘Lipstick Vogue’ is another song I really enjoyed, right from the first beat of the intro drum solo. The frantic pace of the song contrasts with the cut in the middle of the track, building to a solid crescendo. I reckon everyone involved in playing this song would have had a great workout! Usually with most albums I can find a track that didn’t do anything for me. I tried and tried with this one and got debuted every time. There wasn’t one that took away from the album in any way, or was away from the themes throughout. “This Year’s Model” has lead me to check out Elvis Costello’s work some more. Reckon I’ll dig it.
Apparently “This Year’s Model” is supposed to be one of the greatest albums of all time (number 98 on the Rolling Stone list, thank you very much!), but I truly couldn’t get into it, despite about 4 listens. I can understand why it was so popular and the legacy it left behind, but Elvis Costello’s nasal tones and constant whingeing really got on my nerves. He sounds like he’s swallowed a tennis ball and it subconsciously made me want to clear my throat! The album presents as a blend of softish punk rock and new wave with a hint of reggae added in and it’s easy to see the influence that it has had on later bands and albums. Throughout the album, Costello seems to either mock, complain about or criticise social issues and inflictions, commercialism of the music industry (‘Radio Radio’), and in some cases airs out his own laundry. Costello draws on his own personal experiences and somehow manages to channel them into ballads and punk rock jams. The only song that really caught my interest was track 4, ‘Pump It Up’. It is actually quite a good song with a rocking rhythm section and recognisable riff but was somewhat ruined for me, owing to the fact that the terrible Australian band Rogue Traders sampled the same riff from this song in their tragic pop hit ‘Voodoo Child’. Overall I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed this album, nor would I revisit it. Having said that, I get what Costello was hoping to achieve and he certainly gave a great insight into human emotion. It’s just not for me.
I’m a big Elvis Costello fan, and I’ve seen him live a few times, but I’ve never really warmed to this album. After about five listens this week I think I’ve put my finger on what my issue with “This Year’s Model” is. Almost every song deals with matters of the heart, but there are no neat little tales of love here. All the emotions in relationships, fractured and/or fleeting, are on display, including lust, betrayal, cruelty and promiscuity. Because of this harsh spotlight on the shades of grey, EC’s songwriting creates an unsettling mood. Right from the album’s opener ‘No Action’, we are presented with unresolved (sexual) tension: “Ev’ry time I phone you/I just wanna put you down”. ‘The Beat’ has the song’s protagonist struggling with guilty feelings after a one night stand at a nightclub and the reggae-infused ‘Living In Paradise’ documents the habits of a jealous stalker. As these tracks are quite a shift in tone from his excellent debut, which was released the previous year, EC recruited a different group of musicians. He’d recorded “My Aim Is True” with a band called Clover, whose core members would go on to form Huey Lewis and The News. For “This Year’s Model”, EC assembled The Attractions, who would record with him for most of the 1980’s. Their frantic energy on this album comes together with a kind of organised chaos. The flashy, but excellent drum work of Pete Thomas perfectly fits with the thumping basslines of Bruce Thomas (no relation). Floating above the throbbing rhythm section is keyboardist Steve Nieve, whose distinctive sounding organ would help define EC’s new wave sound. The best songs on this album for me are ‘Radio, Radio’, ‘Pump It Up’ and EC’s wonderfully scathing ode to the poser ‘(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’.
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Released October, 1973
I’ve got such great albums to review this year. I think I love all of them. And why would “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” be any different? I’m a huge Elton John fan and I finally got to see him live last year, where he played a fair chunk from this behemoth of an album. 76 minutes, 17 tracks, 94.2% brilliant. Yep. I did the maths. But more on that later. Reginald Dwight was born in Middlesex in 1946 in a fairly large class family. He began showing musical aptitude very early, learning piano by ear from three years old, he only started formal lessons at seven. When he was 11 he scored a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, but though naturally gifted, was a terrible student, getting by on ability but putting in no further effort. Fair enough.
At 15 Reggie was playing in a local pub for not much cash, and by 18 he’d formed Bluesology with some mates. Bluesology ended up supporting some quite big names on UK tours, like the Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle. After failing in an attempt to become the lead singer of King Crimson(!), he answered an ad in a music paper. He was given a bunch of lyrics and told to write music for them. As it turns out, those lyrics were written by one Bernie Taupin. The arrangement was Taupin wrote music, mailed it to Dwight to write the music. It was at this point Reginald Dwight adopted the name Elton John after Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry. The two became staff songwriters for DJM Records, turning songs out in under two hours. John supplemented his income at this time as a session musician, most notably playing on ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’. It was recommend to the pair that they write songs for John to record and they did with little initial success.
It wasn’t until his self titled second album that he was noticed, when ‘Your Song’ cracked the Top 10 singles chart. 1970 came and John held his first US concert, and his incredible band was assembled, featuring Nigel Olssen on drums and Dee Murray on bass. The next three years were highly prolific for John and Taupin, releasing “Tumbleweed Connection”, “Friends”, “Madman Across The Water” (containing my favourite Elton John song, ‘Levon’), “Honky Chateau”, “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player”, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was an insta-hit”, going straight to number one in the UK and US, and spawning four major singles, ‘Candle In The Wind’, ‘Bennie and the Jets’, ‘Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting’ and the title track, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. I mentioned earlier that this album was 94.2% brilliant. Are you a maths guy? If you are, then you figured out that there’s only one track on this album that didn’t classify as brilliant. Look, I don’t love ‘Candle In The Wind’. I don’t love this version, I don’t love the Princess Diana version. I don’t know why I don’t like it either. Musically it’s very pretty, and I normally life Elton’s ballads. Maybe it was the over playing when Diana died.
But what it loses the, this album more than makes up for everywhere else. Even the tracks that weren’t huge single successes are brilliant. ‘Jamaica Jerk-Off’ was probably my favorite of these, displaying a prefect example of reggae from a bunch of white English dudes.
The highlight of the album for new though is the band. This band is so heart-achingly good it nearly brings tears to your eyes. Lead from the front by Elton’s virtuoso pianoing, right behind it is Dee Murray’s bass, some of the cleanest, must exquisite bass you’ve ever heard. Nigel Olssen is still playing for Elton to this day, nearly 40 years on, as is Davey Johnstone who’s also played with blokes like Alice Cooper, Meat Loaf and Bob Seger. With names like that, you’re guaranteed a good album.
Elton John had been a big part of my music library since as long as I’ve had one. There’s never a time it’s not appropriate to listen to him. A larger than life entertainer.
That haunting opening organ solo makes every hair on my body stand on end! What an epic opening to what is a legendary and genius album. The opener ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ was the song I listened to most, and one that I remember really vividly from my childhood, it’s my Dad’s favourite Elton track. It forms a fitting overture for the whole of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Princess Diana’s death and the resulting overplay notwithstanding, ‘Candle in the Wind’ – originally written to honour the passing of Marilyn Munroe, is a beautiful and moving ballad and I found a new respect for it this time around. And then, the amazing ‘Benny and the Jets’ with it’s simple yet pronounced staccato piano riff that made it so recognisable. Such a classic song just speaks for itself. Which brings us to the title track ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. It’s always been a bit of a ‘meh’ song for me, but clearly it’s also a classic and one of the more well-known Elton songs. After that I tuned out for a bit, until I got to the ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’, which as the names suggests, is the perfect warm up song for a night out! One of the more rockier Elton songs, he leaves nothing in the tank with this cranked up rock and roll hit. The rest of the tracks are still highly enjoyable, but none are as memorable as the ones I have mentioned above. Elton has always been one of those artists that I’ve taken for granted but never really taken the time to fully appreciate. His knack for melody and story- telling style ensures that he remains one of the immortal artists of the 70’s whose work will never out-date.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is one of those special albums where everything comes together. You have an artist at the top of his game, a stunning band, fantastic songs and excellent production. The first four tracks are absolute killers, with the epic ‘Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ opening the record with eleven minutes of operatic wonderment. I’m reminded of the score from A Clockwork Orange when those synthesizer chords start playing at the one minute mark. After the wind and bell chimes, it creates a very unsettling, eerie atmosphere, but then those lovely high keyboard arpeggios appear, and the tension is broken as the next movement begins. The second half of the song, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ could almost be one track in its own right, but the way the two pieces blend into one is magical. We knocked are then out by stellar harmonies and the tragic plight of Marilyn Monroe, as seen through the eyes of Elton’s lyricist Bernie Taupin with ‘Candle In The Wind’. A true classic, this track has become one of the cornerstones of the 1970’s rock ballad. The idea to use crowd noise and claps on ‘Bennie and The Jets’ was a brilliant one, as it lifts the song up from a mere rock/pop ballad of a star and fuses it with a sense of audience adulation. Rounding out the first four songs is the wonderful title track, which boasts a vocal delivery from Elton that he can no longer perform. It’s an amazingly high melody line, and he pulls it off effortlessly. The rest of the album is also very consistent, with other highlights for me being ‘Sweet Painted Lady’, ‘I’ve Seen That Movie Too’ and ‘Grey Seal’. The rowdy ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ is Elton’s best balls-out rocker and the closing track ‘Harmony’ is one of the prettiest ballads he’s ever recorded. Fantastic stuff!
Elton John is a prolific maker of music. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is his seventh album, coming a mere five years after his debut. John is a larger than life entertainer and is know as much for his life off the stage as on it. It’s important not to allow this to overshadow his music though, as the man on the stage is brilliant. Being familiar mainly with John’s more well songs, I wasn’t sure what the expect coming into this week. The opening track “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” didn’t sit well with me at all. I couldn’t tell if it was a prog rock song or a Meat Loaf song. It’s a weird way to open an album. Luckily the next few tracks ticked along nicely, with my album highlights ‘Benny and the Jets’ and title track ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ sitting up front. It’s undeniable that “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a brilliant album. The fact that it’s a double album though lets it down for me. The highs on this album are bloody glorious, but the sheer weight of the lesser tracks drag it down. I think the thing that redeems it is the innate perfection in John’s band and the production. At the risk of losing all respect from you Elton John fanatics out there, whilst I liked this album I didn’t love it. There are tracks I will keep on my ipod to listen to again but out of the 17 tracks there would only be around 10 I’d keep at a push. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me that whilst I can appreciate piano based music, it’s guitars that light a fire in my belly.
The Eagles – Hotel California
Released December, 1976
1. Hotel California – 0.06
2. New kid in town – 6.37
3. Life in the fast Lane – 11.40
4. Wasted Time – 16.26
5. Wasted time (Reprise) – 21.24
6. Victim of Love – 22.47
7. Pretty Maids All in a Row -26.59
8. Try and Love Again – 30.54
9. The Last Resort – 36.06
The Eagles formed in Los Angeles, California in 1971. They formed the band when two of the founding members, Don Henley and Glenn Frey were hired as session musicians to work on Linda Ronstadt’s album. The two had met previously in 1970, when Henley was playing in his band Shiloh and Frey was playing in Longbranch Pennywhistle. Henley and Frey met Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon (of Flying Burrito Brothers fame) when they joined the touring band with Ronstadt and shortly after, the Eagles were formed and signed to Asylum Records. The Eagles have earned themselves much appraise throughout their long career, including seven number one singles, six number one albums, six Grammy awards, and five American music awards, claiming their right to the title of one of the world’s greatest bands of all time, and undeniably one of the most successful acts of the 1970’s.
The band released one album every year from 1972 up until 1975: respectively “Eagles”, “Desperado”, “On the Border”, and “One of These Nights”. Collectively, these albums brought the Eagles seven top 40 singles and multiple Grammy nominations, among many other accolades. Some of their most popular and famous tracks off these albums included ‘Take it to the Limit’, ‘Take it Easy’, “Best of my Love”, “Desperado”, “Tequila Sunrise”, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”.
Released in 1976, “Hotel California” was the band’s fifth studio album, and is now ranked among the top 20 best-selling albums of all time (in the US). In essence, “Hotel California” is country rock, erring on the side of rock. The album was the first to be released after Bernie Leadon left the band, and featuring his replacement Joe Walsh. Walsh’s addition to the band has been attributed to the band’s most convincing movement away from their previously strong country-rock sound and tendency towards a harder rock sound, as exhibited in ‘Life in the Fast Lane’.
The album took 1.5 years to record and was recorded whilst in the midst of a taxing touring schedule, which apparently made the process much more tedious and lengthy. It is perhaps fitting that the album was produced in these conditions; it’s a concept album, alluding to disenchantment with the Californian culture and way of life, and shedding light on the somewhat underbelly of the American West Coast lifestyle. The album tells the story of so many who made the journey to California to seek fame and fortune, but ended up getting swallowed up and spat out by the questionable lifestyle. This metaphor is no better summarised than in the title track ‘Hotel California’, with the ‘hotel’ symbolising the world in which so many young hopefuls got trapped, and could not cut loose (‘we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’).
I am of the opinion that the Eagles are one of the greatest and most talented bands that the world has ever seen, and potentially will ever see. You would be hard pressed to find a band with greater musicianship and vocal talents. No other Eagles album displays this talent better than “Hotel California”.
The title track ‘Hotel California’, with its famous guitar duet and memorable lyrics, has come to be the one song that is synonymous with the band, and is apparently one of the most common tracks you will find on a ‘favourite songs’ playlist, world-wide. I personally favour track 2 of the album, ‘New kid in town’, due to its pleasant soft rock vibe and the beautiful close harmonies that only the Eagles can do so well. ‘Life in the fast lane’ is another. With its funk-ish introduction and hard-rock sound, you can see how the band’s sound slowly developed from one of country, into the more popular rock sound of the late 70’s. Along with the 60’s legends Creedence Clearwater Recycled, the Eagles remain one of the more classic country/rock bands of all time, with an earthy sound that makes them relatable and popular even today. “Hotel California” is another classic road trip album that is pleasant to the ear, and just has something for everyone.
The Eagles had enjoyed a very successful career throughout the early 1970’s, but it was their fifth effort that launched them into super-stardom. The album’s biggest strengths are its great songs that boast fabulous harmonies, and in some instances, triple guitar interplay. It had been eighteen months between the release of this record and their 1975 album “One Of These Nights”. In that time, founding member Bernie Leadon quit the group to be replaced by Joe Walsh, who was starting to enjoy a purple patch as a solo artist after leaving The James Gang in 1970. His influence brought a rockier edge to the band’s West Coast country rock sound, particularly on the terrific ‘Life In The Fast Lane’. Walsh’s other contribution, the nostalgic ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’ also features him on lead vocals. ‘Victim of Love’ was actually recorded live, without overdubs, which shows a bit of insight into their performance ethos. Although its one of the weaker tracks, there’s no denying the talent that went into writing and recording it. ‘New Kid in Town’ is the only song to have Glenn Frey on lead vocals, and its one of my favourites. ‘Wasted Time’ is lovely, but I’m not convinced the reprise was necessary. Bassist Randy Meisner’s ‘Try And Love Again’ is pleasant enough too. Meisner left The Eagles in September 1977, and that’s when Timothy B. Schmidt joined the band. The album’s absolute highlight for me is closing song ‘The Last Resort’, which laments the human race’s uncanny knack of destroying beautiful places. Don Henley’s voice just soars in all the right places. The last lyrics give me goosebumps: “They called it paradise/I don’t know why/You call some place paradise/Kiss it goodbye”. The less said about the title track the better. It’s a classic, you know it, I know it, let’s move on. I quite enjoyed this album nonetheless.
I don’t like mangoes. In fact I kind of hate them. I’ve tried to like mangoes. I even spent a month on a farm picking mangoes. The mango farmer was sure there would be one of the many varieties on the farm that I would like. “They all taste a bit different Ang. There has to be one you like”. The problem was they all kind of tasted like mangoes… and I don’t like mangoes. The point I’m trying to get at here is The Eagles are my musical mangoes. They weren’t on the original 70s list because it’s my blog and I do what I want. I was otherwise persuaded by the like of Dann DeWolff, so I added it to the preliminary list. You guys voted it in. To be fair, “Hotel California” really does deserve its place on this list. It has sold 32 million albums worldwide. That’s A LOT of albums. Show me someone who doesn’t know the lyrics to ‘Hotel California’ and I’ll show you a liar. The thing with The Eagles is I find them to be kind of bland. Full of sugary syrupiness. Kind of like mangoes. For someone singing about the wild west they sure sound pretty boring. Throw in a bit of guitar masturbation and you’ve lost me. And Henley’s voice reminds me of Brian Adams, which pretty much says it all really. I did my pre-requisite three listens this week. ‘Wasted Time (Reprise)’ kind of made me gag a little, a bit like the texture of mangoes. If you love mangoes then power to you. I fully support your mango eating ways. I however prefer both my fruit and music to have a bit more tartness to it.
The Eagles are one of those timeless rock bands that seem to never age. Their music is as fresh and relevant as it was in 70s, and God knows it’s better than anything that’s about now. “Hotel California” brought us the track the band is most famous for. The title track that scored the Eagles a Grammy for ‘Song of the Year’ among a slew of other accolades. It features at number 49 on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’, and the outro guitar solo is ranked 8 on Guitar Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Guitar Solos’. I could easily use my word allowance on this track alone, but then I couldn’t talk about my favourite Eagles song! ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ tells the story of a couple living life to the maximum, but paying the price for it. Sure, the music is exceptional, just like all Eagles songs, but it’s the clear imagery that sells it for me. “He was a hard headed man, he was brutally handsome, she was terminally pretty.” And look! We have our first drummer/lead vocalist! Don Henley is one of an elite group of musicians who can work out aerobically and sing at his maximum capabilities. It’s not a thing that happens often, but it’s a thing to behold. The Eagles are more than capable of spine chilling piano, ‘Desperado’ is the obvious example, but the final track from Hotel California, ‘The Last Resort’ is none to shabby either. They love a good ballad (as do I) and this is one of the highest order.
I’ve always listened to the Eagles, and I don’t suppose there’ll be a time I don’t. But a big thanks to the band for making this review easy to write, with zero tracks available on spotify or YouTube.
The Clash – London Calling
Released August, 1978
Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh attended art school at Kent State University, Ohio in the early 1970’s. Along with their friend Bob Lewis, they came up with a theory of de-evolution, in that mankind had actually regressed rather than evolved. They viewed American society as a repressive instrument by which its members walked through life like assembly-line clones, intolerant of doubt or incertitude. They even produced a book entitled The Beginning Was The End: Knowledge Can Be Eaten, showing the human race as having been evolved from mutant, brain-eating apes. It was all treated as bit of harmless fun until Casale witnessed the National Guard killings of student protestors on May 4th, 1970 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings). Understandably, Casale was quite shaken by this event and began to believe that there was a legitimate point to be made by their theory. To spread the message they formed a band in 1972, choosing the name of Devo, shortened from de-evolution. Casale took on bass duties and Mothersbaugh became the lead singer, enlisting his brothers Bob and Jim who played lead guitar and drums respectively. Casale’s brother Bob also joined the band as an additional guitarist, but Jim Mothersbaugh would leave to be replaced by drummer Alan Myers.
To help illustrate their theory of society being mere clones, they all wore the same outfits with the same processed hair styles when they performed live. Their music began to incorporate real and homemade synthesizers, as well as other objects such as toys and toasters. They produced and released several singles under their own Booji Boy label, but their big break wouldn’t arrive until 1976. The band filmed a music video for two songs, a cover of the Johnny Rivers hit ‘Secret Agent Man’ and their own composition ‘Jocko Homo’, in the form of a short film called The Theory of De-evolution. When the film was screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, not only did it win First Prize, but it also caught the attention of audience members David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Impressed by the music, they helped Devo secure a record contract with Warner Brothers. Enlisting Brian Eno to produce their debut album, the band set off for Cologne, Germany and began recording in October 1977.
“Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” is one of the most audacious debut efforts you’re likely to hear. Not since Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had such stinging satire of the American public been committed to vinyl. The album’s centrepiece ‘Jocko Homo’ features a call and response section which can be interpreted as the band talking to human society as a whole, who respond as one: “Are we not men?/We are Devo/Are we not men?/We are Devo”. A feeling of disorientation is created by the track’s unusual 7/8 time signature until it switches to common time for the call and responses.
Album opener ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ sets the scene nicely, with a frantically paced track full of jerky rhythms and a whole lot of “yeah…yeah…yeah yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah YEAH!”. The titular urge is never truly revealed, but that’s kind of the point. Whether its lambasting consumerism or religion, the song expresses that society doesn’t always know where these urges come from, but act on them regardless. ‘Mongoloid’ tells the story of a man with Down’s syndrome who goes into the workplace so no one finds out about his condition, finding anonymity in conformity, a theme Devo continually reprise throughout their career. I love their cover of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ too! That bassline is just awesome.
Devo certainly isn’t for all tastes, but I’ve become a bit of a fan since I saw them live last year. Most of these songs build up tension without ever releasing it, which can make some listeners uncomfortable. This album was a minor success on its initial release (peaked at No.12 on UK charts, No.78 in the US), but its legacy and influence has grown over the years. Regarded by many as the band’s best work, the record recently came in at 442nd place on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. This is a great example of a band’s mission statement merging seamlessly with their music. Worth the effort.
I’ve always vaguely known of Devo through songs such as ‘Whip It’ and ‘Pop Musik’ but never delved into their history. Sure, they were the guys with the weird hats and yellow overalls, but that was much as I really knew. My interest in the band was piqued however a few years ago when they toured Australia for the Big Day Out. People were really excited. I made a mental note to make sure a Devo album made the afyccim list for the 70s, which was a good move on my part. One doesn’t have to read Devo’s Wikipedia biography to know that they started the band as art students at university. Everything about them screams ‘art student’. There are those out there who actually believe that Devo were serious about the whole ‘devolution’ thing. Personally I just think they were taking the piss. I’m okay with this though because “We Are Not Men” really is a brilliant debut album. It is quite a confronting though in that it builds up a frantic energy but it doesn’t really ever resolve it, so I imagine if you didn’t like the sounds within it would really grate on your nerves. Once you give the album enough listens you can get past that and actually find the shape of the songs. The whole actually really reminded me of The Mothers of Invention’s album “We’re Only In It For The Money” in the way that they are having quite a dig at the world around them in a very quirky and original way. “Are We Not Men” is an insanely catchy album if you can stick with it through the first few listens. Hours after listening to it I would find myself singing along to the random lyrics, much to the amusement of my work colleagues. “Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid / Happier than you and me”. Yeah, that got a few weird looks. Worth it though.
So this is Devo, huh? Are We Not Men is certainly an… Experience. They’re the kind of band that if they debuted today, they’d probably be huge with the hipsters. Is it punk? Is it techno? Quirky sounds with unconventional vocals and bizarre lyrics screams desperate to be noticed, but I don’t know what else I should’ve expected from an album produced by Brian Eno. The annoying part is that I still haven’t decided if I liked it or not. We’ve had albums before that were basically just noises (I’m looking at you, ‘Piper At The Gates of Dawn’ and ‘Another Green World’) that I absolutely loved. But this is different to those. I’ll tell you what I did love though (and definitely did not expect). A cover of ‘Satisfaction’! What?! Now that was interesting, especially considering that in no way apart from the lyrics did this song bear any resemblance the the Rolling Stones’ version. Wait. No, I’ve just decided I don’t like it. It’s the vocals that ruin it for me. Which is odd because it’s not dissimilar in style to the Clash, and I quite liked that. Basically I don’t know what I like. Picking the track I liked most was tricky, but ‘Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy’ was the one that most appealed to me. I think the neat and tidy musical introduction is a welcome break from the chaos of the rest of the album, though it certainly returns at the end of the track, with wild guitar scratching, frantic shredding and feedback. Like most people, my knowledge of Devo extended to ‘Whip It’. I am glad now I’ve delved a bit deeper in to their madness, but it’s a kind of scary place to be. I don’t imagine myself coming back here again anytime soon.
Listening to “Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo!” was kind of annoying for the most part. Having said that, I’m pretty sure it’s the type of album whose genius is underrated, and takes quite a while to grow on you. You can see that the style is not for everyone and I wouldn’t say it’s easy to listen to. The bulk of the songs come across as frantic and tumultuous and tended to grate on my nerves. Take ‘Praying Hands’, for example. It is fast-paced, discordant and has a schizophrenic vibe to it, with lyrics that play out like a religious chant ‘Wash your hands 3 times a day / Always do what your mother would say / Brush your teeth in the following way’. Points for the syncopated and staccato New Wave re-working of the Rolling Stones’ hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’; I’m not overly convinced, but it took guts to take on such a hit and make it their own. Of all the tracks my least favourite is ‘Jocko Homo’, the song which contains the album title in its lyrics. I found it ironic to learn that the band would actually use the song at their live gigs to aggravate the audience in order to get their message across: that the human race was declining into a race of depraved savages (sounds a bit like Ziggy Stardust all over again!). Before listening to “Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo” my knowledge of Devo, like most of people of my vintage, was limited to the catchy riffs of ‘Whip It’, red plastic hats and black sleeveless turtle neck sweaters. Legacy aside, I think I would have been happy to keep it that way.
Deep Purple – Machine Head
Released March, 1972
Part of the “Unholy Trinity of British Hard Rock”, Deep Purple, along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, were responsible for solidifying Heavy Metal as a genre in 1970’s Britain. They came about after Chris Curtis, who used to play drums for The Searchers, decided he’d put together a supergroup by the name of Roundabout, where musicians would come and go from the lineup, a sort of musical roundabout. Seeking finance for the venture, Curtis took the concept to a group of London businessmen who got on board and ponied up the cash. The group leased a Hertfordshire country house where the band would write and rehearse, and decked it out full of Marshall amplifier gear.
Curtis started the recruitment drive and snagged Hammond organ player John Lord, and a young session guitarist by the name of Ritchie Blackmore. It was late 1967 when Chris Curtis was forced out of his own project due to his erratic behaviour, but Lord and Blackmore continued on recruiting for the project. John Lord’s old mate Nick Simper was drafted to play bass, and Blackmore knew Simper from the early 60s when both their respective bands were starting to become active in the scene. Bobbie Woodman was Lord and Blackmore’s first choice for drums, but when they auditioned singer Rod Evans, Evans bought his drummer along. Woodman ducked out for some cigarettes and they held a sneaky audition for Ian Paice. Paice ousted Woodman then and there, Evans took the reigns on lead vocals, and their audition process was over. Roundabout toured Denmark and Sweden in April 1968, but on return Blackmore suggested the band change it’s name to Deep Purple, after his grandma’s favourite song. It was that or Concrete God. I think they made the right decision.
Come May 1968, Purple moved to Pye Studios in London to record their first album. “Shades of Deep Purple” went to number 24 on Billboard’s pop album charts on the back of Hush, a cover of the Joe South track. As a result, they supported Cream on their Goodbye tour. Their second album, “The Book of Taliesyn” was released in the US early, to coincide with their tour there, and it reached #38 on the Billboard chart, though it wouldn’t be released until early the next year in the UK. After their self titled third album, Deep Purple’s record label went belly up, leaving the band cashless. Fortunately, Warner Bros. took over their account and the band toured the US in 69. It was here they decided to take a heavier turn and sacked both Evans and Simper. They found (current) singer Ian Gilland and bass player Roger Glover, and they released their first studio record with this lineup, “In Rock”, their first heavy metal venture. 1971 saw the band travel to a casino in Montreux, Switzerland to record our album, “Machine Head”, however, during a Frank Zappa concert some “stupid” with a flare gun caused a fire, burning the place “to the ground”. Sound familiar? Machine Head went straight to number one. And fair enough. What an awesome album. The blues rock/heavy metal fusion is fantastic to listen to. It’s easy to see why they get put in the same category as Zeppelin. Both are supremely talented groups of musicians.
“Machine Head” features timeless classics like ‘Highway Star’, ‘Lazy’, and of course, Smoke ‘On The Water’. But how about the lesser known tracks? ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ is an exceptional display of how right Deep Purple are as a band, perfectly syncing guitars and organs. It also shows off their vocal harmonies, which are quite often overlooked in their particular genre. If you had a guitarist like Ritchie Blackmore, you’d put guitar solos in everything too. But when you’ve got a drummer with the class of Ian Paice, why not start a track with a kickass drum solo? ‘Pictures of Home’ is everything you want in a Deep Purple track. Minimal vocals, blistering solos and dark imagery. If you want a bass Masterclass, have a go at ‘Space Truckin’’. A weird song lyrically, but one that Roger Glover takes by the scruff of its neck and makes it his own. It also features a lot of Paice’s amazing drumming.
I saw Deep Purple lives few weeks ago and let me tell you, for old boys, they still rock. Hard. And they are definitely still worthy of the Guiness record of Loudest Band they held in 1975. They don’t make them like these guys anymore.
I have previously referred to the afternoons on weekends when my Mum would go out and, seizing the moment, Dad would close all the doors and windows and crank the stereo. Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” was on popular rotation during those days. Not only that, but having 2 brothers who taught themselves guitar and a plethora of muso friends, I was constantly subjected to the 4 note power chords of ‘Smoke on the Water’. I got excited when I saw that the album was 7 tracks in length, but quickly realised the songs were longer than your average length! Most of the tracks are drawn out with excessive guitar or keys solos, but they are surprisingly just bearable. For me, a clear stand out was the ironically upbeat ‘Never Before’, I liked the funky intro and the gradual build to a rockin’ pace. Of course, you can’t go past ‘Smoke on the Water’, the perfect rock anthem and a timeless classic in its own right. It also features one of the most memorable and definitely the most played, guitar riffs ever known to man (as previously alluded to above!) I also loved ‘Lazy’, with its overdriven organ instrumental intro and gradually grows to a full-bodied and fast tempoed blues-rock track with a swing beat – it just works so well! When I was growing up, I would never have guessed that one day I would choose to listen to Deep Purple for my own enjoyment, but I was pleasantly surprised when I did, because I now can see it for it’s true context, and recognise this album’s significance in developing the heavy metal and progressive rock sound that we know today.
Opening track ‘Highway Star’ showcases everything that makes Deep Purple, and this album, so special. Ian Gillan’s voice was at its peak and his powerful high notes are used to startling effect before the first lyrics are sung. The opening chug of the song’s intro slowly reaches a state of urgency as the rhythm section of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice tighten the reins. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore scrapes his pick down the strings and Jon Lord’s fabulous organ work completes the sound. Arguably the greatest car song ever, the solos performed by Lord and Blackmore add another dimension to the track, rather than serve as an excuse to show off their chops. Lord’s descending arpeggios are very baroque-influenced, exposing his classical training. The dual harmony guitar lines of Blackmore are fantastic, and you can almost hum/sing along to them. Although ‘Smoke On The Water’ is the record’s most famous track (and riff), it’s the weakest in my opinion. I think that’s only because I’ve heard it eleventy hundred bazillion times though. ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ has a great groove with a simple one line refrain in place of a chorus and the thunderous ‘Picture of Home’ gives Paice and Glover their moment to shine. Glover’s bass solo is one of the album’s most innovative moments. ‘Lazy’ is one of the best blues tracks ever constructed by a hard rock band and ‘Space Trucking’ ends the album with a bang. Although the chorus lyrically consists of just “Come on, come on/Come on, let’s go space truckin’…” that riff is irresistible. How this album wasn’t included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time is beyond me.
NB: I highly recommend the 25th Anniversary double disc, which includes Roger Glover’s 1997 remixes. There are no fade outs, alternate guitar solos and the drums sound way better!
Hands up those of you that like heavy metal music? One, maybe two of you raised your hand right? That’s what we’re up against this week with Deep Purple’s album “Machine Head”. Heavy metal is really one of those genres you either love or hate. And those who love it REALLY love it, those who don’t REALLY don’t. I’m kind of ambivalent myself. I wouldn’t choose to put it on, but a brother and sister who were quite fond of it and a drummer brother-in-law has meant my exposure over the years has been more than most. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go with this album to tell you the truth. My only exposure to Deep Purple was ‘Smoke On The Water’, just like everyone else you’ve ever met. First track came out hard and was full of classic riffs that would go on to shape the genre. The second track ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ surprised me with its bluesy funk. Third track ‘Pictures of Home’ starts out with a cracking drum solo. To be honest, the rest of the songs sort of blended into each from there for me. It’s not that they were bad, it’s the whole ambivalent thing. Which is weird because Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” is one of my favourite albums so far for the 70s. I can appreciate “Machine Head” for what it is and see how integral Deep Purple were to shaping the hard rock and heavy metal genres. I don’t think I’ll be listening again in a hurry though.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released June, 1972
David Bowie is genius, and I will more than happily argue with anyone who says otherwise. Bowie was born David Jones, but changed it in the mid 1960s, after American frontiersman Jim Bowie. If I had a name like David Jones, I’d change it too, but he did it to avoid confusion with Davy Jones from the Monkees. Bowie was introduced to jazz legends like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane at a young age, and started playing saxophone on a cheap plastic alto sax (how often have we heard that?). He moved on to playing guitar in a local band called the Konrads, where he made the decision to become a pop star. Sadly, the other members didn’t share the same aspirations, and Bowie left and joined the King Bees, where he signed his first management deal. His first single Liza Jane was realised with zero success. I know. Once, even David Bowie was a failure. He became disenchanted with the band’s repertoire of Howlin’ Wolf and other blues covers, so he left and joined the Manish Boys with hopes of becoming “their Mick Jagger”. Nope. That band’s single failed as hard as the first, so he moved on AGAIN, joining The Who inspired, blues rock band The Lower Third. They released a single and guess what? No good. This was the last straw for his management, who gave up on him. Bad move. He signed with a new manager, and a new band with another failed single.
It was at this point he changed his name and went solo, with yet another manager. He released his debut single and self titled album, both which, you guessed it, bombed. Due to all his failures, Bowie wasn’t making a living from music and was forced to find other incomes. It wasn’t until he was making a film intended to promote his work (that wouldn’t be released until the mid-80s) featured his first commercial hit. ‘Space Oddity’ was released five days before the launch of Apollo 11, and that launched ‘Space Oddity’ to a UK Top Five hit. The album of the same name was finally a success, and Bowie put together a full time band for touring and recording, featuring Mick Ronson on guitar.
The band sessions resulted in the recording of “The Man Who Sold The World” in 1970, and it sent Bowie on a promotional tour of the US, where they had no idea what to make of this androgynous pop star. It was here he developed the character of Ziggy Stardust, designed to look “like he’s landed from Mars”. “Hunky Dory” was released following the tour, though not to huge success. But it was a stepping stone to the reason we’re here. “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”. ‘Starman’ was the single released from “Ziggy”, and both the album and single heralded Bowie’s UK breakthrough. And rightly so, what a ripper.
“Ziggy” opens with ‘Five Years’, a classic Bowie track about the world after learning of its destruction in five years. A suitably dramatic track, which I can’t believe is not more popular. I found it quite interesting that Lady Stardust was about Marc Bolan, T-Rex frontman who also played session guitar for Bowie before the Spiders. The original title was He Was Alright (A Song For Marc). It features some lovely Pianoing, played by Bowie himself. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is one of my favourite songs of all time. The lead guitar riff sticks in my head like glue, and the bass rolls on beautifully in the background. One of my favourite things about Bowie is his lyric writing, and “Ziggy” features some classics. “Screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan” and “making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind” are up there with my favourite Bowie lines. The track blends perfectly into the driving guitar intro of ‘Suffragette City’. It’s fast paced heavy rock is a long way from the folky sounds of ‘Space Oddity’, and it does rock beautifully. There’s a very 50s inspired piano line and the horns make a very big sound. It sounds a bit dumb, but I love the way the track just finishes, with a cold cut. 100 to zero in no seconds.
I can’t say enough about David Bowie. He’s one of my heroes, and “Ziggy Stardust” is one of my favouritest albums ever. The perfect mix of folk rand heavy rock. Everyone should own this album.
I was a David Bowie fan before I even knew I was; as a kid I was a huge fan of the cult fantasy film ‘Labyrinth’, a movie for which Bowie wrote the songs, and in which he also starred. As a general rule. Bowie’s music is complex and all of his songs tell a complex story. True to form, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (often abbreviated to “Ziggy Stardust”) was more than an average album, for Bowie it was art, from its inception it was intended to be played out as somewhat of a rock opera, to tell the tale of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star sent to Earth to teach the people a message of hope in the 5 years leading to world’s end. Track 4, ‘Starman’, probably the most upbeat and hopeful songs on the album, is one of my favourite Bowie songs ever. ‘Star’ was enjoyable, I particularly rated the piano parts, the riffs are very catchy. ‘Hang on to yourself is also quite alright’, the tempo is super fast, giving it a feeling of forward motion and leaves you feeling like you have been left behind while Bowie charges ahead into the horizon, at the end of the song. Of course, the title track ‘Ziggy Stardust’, the ode to the main protagonist of the story, is an undying classic, instantly recognisable with its electric guitar intro, and also a favourite of mine. For me, some of the songs on “Ziggy Stardust” are a little bland and didn’t catch my interest, especially when listened to in isolation of the rest of the album. But as a whole, the album was ridiculously ambitious as Bowie’s second album, and most definitely a masterpiece that would have been truly incredible witnessed live on stage. Definitely worthy of future listens.
Concept albums are a strange beast. Some work better than others, and some require a little research or lyric studying to fully understand the story. This one falls somewhere in between the two extremes. Opening with my album highlight ‘Five Years’, we are presented with an Earth that has only five years left to exist. The loose story line tells of an alien landing here to save us all with rock and roll. Only in the seventies, huh? While artists like Lou Reed and Roxy Music were dipping into the pool of glam rock, Bowie went for the cannonball and almost solely defined the genre. Resonating among the youth of the day who were struggling with their own sexual identity, and um, fashion sense, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust was embraced the world over. Catchy tracks like ‘Starman’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’ help buoy this album above the glam rock label and are just as vibrant today as they must have sounded over forty years ago. I love the mournful tone of ‘Lady Stardust’ and anthemic closer ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. The Zappa-esque horns in the instrumental section of ‘Moonage Daydream’ coupled with Mick Ronson’s soaring lead guitar make the song a true classic. The iconic title track is one of the best chorus-less songs you’ll ever hear as the plight of Ziggy is revealed. The deliberately slower pace of the track gives it a gravitas, confidently making it the focal point of the record. I feel that this album does stumble in a few spots, namely ‘Suffragette City’ and the cover of Ron Davies’ ‘It Ain’t Easy’. If the best tracks from this record and 1973’s follow-up ‘Aladdin Sane’ were put together, you’d have an absolute cracker. The influence this record, concept and alter-ego have had on popular music cannot be underestimated. “Ziggy played…guitarrrrrr!”
Other than the singles that are embedded in pop culture, I was not all that familiar with David Bowie coming into this week. Well other than that codpiece in the film Labyrinth, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself. A little bit of research before my first listen to “Ziggy Stardust” had me worried. An alien rockstar from Mars that comes to Earth only to discover there are only five years before the end of Earth, peppered throughout with drugs and sex? Okay then. Like previous afyccim concept album “Tommy” by The Who, this album is actually quite sparse when it comes to the instruments used, but by god are they gloriously put to good effect. There is something very warming and genuine about “Ziggy Stardust”, despite the ludicrous storyline and theatrics. This I believe is purely down to the genius of Bowie. Whereas “Tommy” felt lyrically like Townsend was trying to create an epic and clever story, with “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie isn’t so much trying to be a weird character, he just is a weird character. It would be very easy to label the whole thing pretentious, from the story to the theatrical way Bowie brought the character to life, but at no time does it ever feel that way. In creating “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie not only cemented himself as a certified superstar, he also redefined the grounds for what music could be. This album is a classic because despite of all the fanfare, at the crux of it this is a collection of really well written rock/pop songs. In creating the character of Ziggy, Bowie appealed to a generation that felt like they didn’t fit into the norm. These two things combined, despite the ridiculous lyrics, are what make this album worthy of all of the acclaim heaped upon it. I became quite the David Bowie fan this week. I can’t fault anything about this album.