52 weeks and 52 albums. The 60s we’re a blast! Here are our favourite albums and songs from that decade.
1. Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis
My only reference of Elvis was his singles and cheesy movie soundtracks. I had no idea how talented the man was. This album blew me away and has been on high rotation ever since.
2. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You
Sweet, sweet Aretha. There is something so earnest about this album. Lyrically it’s a little behind the times but that big voice makes up for it. It never ceases to amaze me how she goes from a tender croon to a wail in seconds.
3. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica
I can’t exactly tell you why I like this album so much but it definitely got under my skin. Not the kind of album you can listen to a few tracks off, but taken as a whole in the right mood it’s phenomenal.
4. The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
The Stones were right on the mark with this album and there is not a dud track within. Not only is it good musically, they also had something to say. ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ are stellar tracks.
5. Leonard Cohen – The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen, right where it all started. As a lover of poetry and fingerstyle guitar this album has to be here. Whenever I listen to Cohen I am sucked into the stories he tells. I love the simplicity and rawness on this album.
6. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
This is the album that probably surprised me the most this year. As someone who has never been a fan of jazz I was delighted to discover jazz I liked. “A Love Supreme” almost feels like a confessional. I connected to this album in a way I did with no other this year.
7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
What a bloody cracker of an album. I instantly fell in love with Neil Young as I realised that he heavily influenced a lot of the bands I love.
8. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
I’ll always have a soft spot for Dylan. Opening with the instantly loveable ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ending with the epic ‘Desolation Row’. I can’t decide what I like more, the lyrics, his voice or the music.
9. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
I’m still not exactly sure what “Astral Weeks” is about, but I don’t think it really matters. I’m instantly transported as soon as I hear the opening track. An album with a lot of light and shade.
10. The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
This is the album I was waiting for all year, only to have it appear in the last week. An album of delectable pop. The catchiness of the songs find me singing them long after I finished listening to it.
1. Wearin’ That Loved on Look – Elvis Presley (From Elvis in Memphis)
Without a doubt my favourite song of the 60s. It’s the song that made me fall in love with Elvis and understand all of the adulation thrown at him. Not only that his band were kick arse to boot. And who doesn’t love a good shoop shoop?
2. Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young with Crazy Horse (Everybody Knows this is Nowhere)
From start to end, one of the strongest tracks of the 60s. The dissident guitars and layered vocals are glorious. The little ‘wooo’ at 2:10 kills me every time. And the last 20 seconds of ‘Cinnamon Girl’? I could live in that 20 seconds forever.
3. Piece of my Heart – Big Brother and the Holding Company (Cheap Thrills)
Janis Joplin holds a special place in my heart. She put every ounce of her being out there when she sang. And boy could the woman sang. The version here is a cover and it has been covered relentlessly since, but Janis will always own this song.
4. Baby, Baby, Baby – Aretha Franklin (I’ve Never Loved a Man the way I Loved You)
Written by Aretha and sister Coralyn, this is one of my favourite ballads of the year. A tender and beautiful love song that we can all relate to. The little vocal shrills at the end really showcase what set Aretha apart from the rest.
5. Hopelessly Hoping – Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Fingerpicked guitar, three part vocal harmonies, poetry like lyrics. I couldn’t not put this song on this list. Gets me right in the feels every time.
6. 21st Century Schitzoid Man – King Crimson (In the Court of the Crimson King)
This song is so freaking great and promised so much. Unfortunately the rest of the album was crap. This song though…. his song is killer. 7 minutes and 23 seconds of pure genius. I even liked the prog rock freak out in the middle.
7. Suzanne – Leonard Cohen (Songs of Leonard Cohen)
I love the imagery this song conveys. I love how Cohen always has beautiful backing vocals by beautiful women. Lyrically this song is as close to perfection as it gets. Musically and vocally it’s phenomenal.
8. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (Astral Weeks)
Not only one of the greatest opening track of the year but also the greatest opening lyric, “If I ventured in the slipstream / Between the viaducts of your dream”. 7 minutes of pure pleasure.
9. Kick out the Jams – MC5 (Kick out the Jams)
“Kick out the jams motherfuckers”. 2 minutes and 45 seconds of raw power. They sounds like they are going to fall off the rails at any minute, the guitars are slightly out of tune and none of them can really sing. But that’s what makes it so awesome.
10. Be My Husband – Nina Simone (Pastel Blues)
Completely a Capella other than hand claps and a hi-hat. No other voice compares to Nina Simone and she is at her best here. The way she uses little weird vocal inflections to create fills in the song if brilliant.
1. The Who – Tommy
If you’re reading this, you read my review. You saw how I raved about this album. It was embarrassing. But nothing’s changed. The Who’s musicianship takes Tommy to a level above most, then add to it the fact it’s a rock opera telling a story, and I’m in rock heaven.
2. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
Speaking of rock heaven, it was excellent to hear where one of the greatest bands of all time started, and also how little Zeppelin’s style changed since their first album. But hey, if your first album sounded good as this, why would you change your style?
3. Pink Floyd –Piper At The Gates of Dawn
The undisputed kings of progressive rock also came to the attention of the world with a great debut album. Piper is definitely not to everyone’s taste, but it’s absolutely to my taste, with its nonsensical lyrics and free form no holds barred music. It is just crazy enough to work.
4. Elvis Presley – From Elvis In Memphis
Elvis was a bit of a curveball for me, and not many people would’ve guessed it would make my top ten. This whole album was pretty much sold to me on the back of “Wearing That Loved On Look”. It showed Elvis’ versatility, ranging from pop rock to slow ballads.
5. Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
A lock from the first time I heard it, this album helped me to see Neil Young for more than Heart Of Gold and Old Man. The title track and Cinnamon Girl are what I immediately remember, and what great songs they are. More people should know about this album.
6. Sly and the Family Stone – Stand!
Stand! contained copious amounts of big ol’ dirty funk, and big ol’ dirty funk is the way to my heart. Sly and The Family Stone were trying to deal with controversial issues like racism, and definitely got people’s attention with songs like Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey and Everyday People.
7. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poorboys
I grew up listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and must’ve heard Willy And The Poorboys a hundred times in my life, yet still I haven’t tired of it. It’s got a good variety of classics and lesser known tracks, making great listening whether it’s your tenth or ten thousandth time.
8. The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
As far as I’m concerned, Sgt Pepper is the Beatles’ best album. The opening guitar riff on the first track is enough to get your attention, and hold it right through to the end of A Day In The Life. And who doesn’t love Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds?
9. The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
One of the all time great albums, it was tricky choosing a Stones album from the 60s, but Let It Bleed had some absolute ripper tracks. Gimme Shelter, Let It Bleed and You Can’t Always Get What You Want are timeless classics, and luckily they make up for Country Honk…
10. King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King
Until we started this project I’d only heard of Crimson King, but now I’m glad we were forced to listen to it repeatedly. Prog rock is one of those “really love it or really hate it” things, and if you love it then In The Court is your prog nirvana.
1. Pinball Wizard – The Who (Tommy)
My all time favourite karaoke song, I love Pinball Wizard from it’s opening guitar riff right down to the last note played. Mostly I love the imagery of a deaf, dumb and blind kid, not only playing pinball, but being the best at pinball. I even love Elton John’s version.
2. Communication Breakdown – Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin)
At only two and a half minutes long, Communication Breakdown comes in hard and fast and leaves just as quick, leaving you wanting more. Led Zeppelin’s stereotypical blues based hard rock is perfectly encapsulated in this short, succinct song, that wants nothing more than to be played loud, really loud.
3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Even shorter than Communication Breakdown, the opening track to the album features a jangly introductory guitar riff coming out of audience noise, and Paul McCartney almost screaming to introduce the fictional band Sgt Pepper was based around. It then ends by leading seamlessly into the next song on my list:
4. With A Little Help From My Friends – The Beatles (Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Poor Ringo always cops a lot of crap for his singing, but there isn’t anything wrong with it at all on this track! The stand out for me here is the bass. The long clean notes McCartney plays is an almost perfect depiction of how to play a bass guitar.
5. Wearin’ That Loved On Look – Elvis Presley (From Elvis in Memphis)
This track is the standout from the album From Elvis In Memphis. The a capella introduction is beautiful, and when the band kicks in the song shifts up a gear. The arrangement is brilliant, but I’ll always remember it for the “shoop shoops” from the backing vocalists in the chorus.
6. Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and the Poorboys)
Another ripping guitar intro that sticks in your brain forever, I couldn’t let a Creedence track go by. It’s the best example of one of Creedence’s fortes, the protest song. They really stick it to the man with this one, using some great hard rock to protest the Vietnam War.
7. Sunshine Of Your Love – Cream (Disraeli Gears)
It appears I really like guitar songs, and as far as guitar songs go, this is right up there. Cream had a knack for making all their songs sound like they were being played by much more than a three piece band, though an having Eric Clapton guitar solo helps.
8. Piece Of My Heart – Big Brother and the Holding Company (Cheap Thrills)
One a bit out of left field, Big Brother And The Holding Company certainly left an impression on me. I picked this song one hundred percent based on Janis Joplin’s absolutely ball tearing vocal performance. My word that chick could wail. It showed off her versatility and range, and, apparently, her lung capacity.
9. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young with Crazy Horse (Everybody Knows this is Nowhere)
This is a song I wasn’t really familiar with until we listened to it this year. It walks the fine line between easy listening and rock perfectly, blending Neil Young’s excellent distorted guitar playing with mournful lyrics. The vocal harmonies are great, even the la la las in the chorus!
10. Down On The Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and the Poorboys)
Creedence jagged two songs in my top ten, but Willy And The Poorboys was a great album. I love John Fogerty’s vocals, even if you can’t always understand him. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not tap your feet. Besides, they tell you to in the song.
1. The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society
I said this one was a keeper, and I meant it! This album actually now has a permanent place in my iTunes library, and not only that but I recently introduced my dad, a child of the 60’s, to this album. How ironic! I still love the title track and find myself singing it constantly, the lyrics are so cute and memorable and the melody a catchy one.
2. The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed
Probably the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the 60’s, Let it Bleed ended up being one of my favourites and also maintains a permanent place in my itunes library. I don’t know what I expected the Rolling Stones to be, but what I heard was not it. From the opening riffs of Gimme Shelter, I was hooked, transfixed by the musical complexities, rocking vibes, and social commentary that Let it Bleed delivered.
3. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
My favourite solo album of the 60’s and the only one that made my top 10. It was the emotional conviction and vulnerability that Springfield portrayed in her music, that set her apart from the Aretha’s, the Otises and the Etta’s. When she sings, it’s like she’s not even trying, damn her! You really can see the legacy she left behind for modern artists like Duffy and Adele.
4. Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief
In my opinion, the greatest segway from folk to rock that the world has seen, and one of the most underrated albums of the 60’s. I loved Sandy Denny’s beautiful tone to her voice, and the mix of fiddle and electric guitar. It just worked, and more importantly, paved the way for many folk-rock bands to come.
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys
One of the easiest listens of the 60’s and certainly one of the more familiar albums I listened to in 2012. This album just goes from strength to strength with many of its hits considered classics. Willy and the Poor boys provided an insight into the social climate in 1969 while bridging the gap between country and rock styles, and thus inspiring generations of bands afterwards. Still my preferred road trip album of the 60’s.
6. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Pet Sounds totally destroyed any pre-conceived ideas I had of the Beach Boys. I thought they were all about beach babes and holidays, but I quickly learnt that they were so much more than that, in fact they were hugely influential in the psychedlic genre. Highlights of this one were the instrumental experimentation, crystal clear vocal harmonies and the bangin’ percussion (pun intended).
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash
One of my favourite albums of all time so of course it had to make my top 10. It was funny to learn that I’ve been listening to a shortened version of the album, thinking my whole life that it only had 6 tracks (thanks for the heads up, Clay)! What makes this album is the undeniable musicianship and the absolutely beautiful vocal harmonies, paired with counter melodies.
8. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
I’ve always been a bit of a heathen when it comes to the Beatles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sergeant Peppers had a great cross-section of themes and styles, the songs are simple and sweet, and easy to listen to. Although I’m pretty certain the Beatles were feeling the pressure to release something great, they ended up with a musical masterpiece that competed with some of the greatest albums of the 60’s which were being recorded at the same time as Sgt Pepper’s. The whole thing seems really effortless which is also an indication of the genius behind the band. Consider me converted.
9. Frank Sinatra – The September of my Years
I’m a sucker for crooners, in particular ol’ blue eyes. This was a beautiful reminiscent album dripping with melancholy and warmth. To me, it is a musically complex and virtually perfect album, the orchestration imbues a Hollywood feel but somehow fails to be contrived. An album that just made me stop and listen and overall had an overwhelming peacefulness to it.
10. Flying Burrito Brothers – Gilded Palace of Sin
This album served as a refreshing delight to listen to. It was the perfect blend of country and rock. Although some of the songs were annoying (eg unnecessary experimentation with psychedelic elements), overall I enjoyed the country rock fusion that the Burrito Brothers achieved, and their use of juxtaposition by laying down sarcastic and nasty lyrics with sweet-sounding musical accompaniment. I still hate the band name though.
1. The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks (The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society)
This song seems to constantly keep popping up in my brain and getting stuck there and I’m always singing it. It’s just a really cute song about preserving the greater things in life. My favourite line in the whole song is ‘God save little shops, china cups and virginity’. Amen to that!
2. Come All Ye – Fairport Convention (Liege & Lief)
To me, ‘Come all Ye’ is a call to arms, and makes for a great opening track on “Liege and Lief”. It just captured my attention straight away and remained my steadfast favourite of the album, with Sandy Denny’s intoxicating and beautiful voice, the build of the song, the toe-tapping base line, and the addition of the fiddle. I don’t know why I love it so much, but it gives me goosebumps and makes my heart swell, so there’s something that strikes a chord within me!
3. Fortunate Son – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Willy and the Poor Boys)
This song rocks on so many levels, I freaking love it! A song that sticks the finger to the man, speaking out about inequalities during the Vietnam War, and really struck a chord within me. It builds so well from the opening riffs and simple drum beat. Fogarty completely rocks out with his high-pitched delivery, the band is tight and the production non-fussy. What more could you want in a classic rock song!?
4. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed)
I hadn’t actually heard this song before we covered “Let it bleed”. Gimme Shelter is -a song that epitomises the political and social climate at the time, speaking of anarchy, war and more. And it features a groovy rhythm guitar melody to boot. It was the perfect choice as an album opener, as it really kicks the album off and gives it momentum from the get go.
5. Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield (Dusty in Memphis)
There’s something about this song that is just so chilled-out and cool. Dusty seems blasé and sings the words with ease, she doesn’t oversing it like other artists did. It’s a really simple clean mix and has a really gradual and organic build to the chorus. I prefer this version to any other that I might have heard in the past.
6. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed)
A song that speaks to the spoilt brat in all of us! The reason I like this song is because of all the different elements that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did, especially the use of the London Bach Choir, and also the message the song portrays through the lyrics. I think the rhythm piano in this one sounds very similar to that of the 1968 song ‘Feelin’ Allright’ by Traffic, released 1 year earlier. Anyone with me?
7. Helplessly Hoping – Crosby, Stills & Nash (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Helplessly Hoping will always be one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s the honest and vulnerable vocal harmonies that really make this song for me. The lyrics, flowery, poetic and full of clever alliteration, are equally as beautiful as the vocal. If you like this song, I still recommend you check out Taxiride’s cover from 1999. Truly magic.
8. I Know There’s an Answer – The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
It’s the syncopated drum beat and the bold and brash percussion in this song that sucked me in. The vocal hook is also really catchy. The dissonance at the start is a bit off-putting but if you persevere it eventually makes sense. It also is a great example of the Beach Boys’s instrumental experimentation, featuring both a bass harmonica and a banjo among others. Love everything about it.
9. Sweet Thing – Van Morrison (Astral Weeks)
I wasn’t a big fan of Astral Weeks, but I absolutely love the song Sweet Thing. It’s a pretty song, with the lyrics centred around Morrison looking forward to reuniting with his lover in the near future, after a long period of separation. The song imbues emotions that we all feel when we first discover a new love and look forward to a bright future with that person. It’s got a naivity and vulnerability to it that I can relate to.
10. Embryonic Journey – Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow)
Surrealistic Pillow was another 60’s surprise, with its quiet tender moments and acoustic instrumental bits. Embryonic Journey is the latter. I liked it because it was a nice interlude, a pleasant change of scenery from all of the chaos of the music we listened to in the 60’s. Although it is a simple guitar instrumental, it has a nice mellow warmth to it and I now listen to it quite frequently.
1. The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin
This album was the biggest surprise for me. I didn’t expect to like it at all, but I dug every track. Four songs in and I was hooked. Nothing else throughout the year came close for sheer enjoyment. For me, this record was all killer, no filler.
2. King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King
As bloated and pretentious as this record might be to some, I found it endlessly listenable. My expectations were for a fairly heavy album, and I didn’t think there would be so many musical textures. Eclectic and bold.
3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
I’ve owned this album for years but never really delved into it. After a few spins, it really left its mark on my brain. I dug the genre-hopping from soul to blues to rock to pop and back again.
4. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
I was first introduced to this album when I was about 16, and I’ve been fond of it ever since. It was wonderful to be able listen to it again and fall further in love with it this year. Oh, and ‘White Rabbit’, people!
5. The Kinks – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
I went through a bit of a Kinks phase a few years back, but this album took a little while to grab me. Once it did, it never let go. There are so many great songs showcasing Ray Davies’ superb observational songwriting skills.
6. The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!
Again, I am quite thankful that I heard this album a few times before starting my afyccim adventures. In the months between my first ever listen and writing the main review I had developed a much higher appreciation for this amazing debut. Yay, Zappa!
7. Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Not my favourite album of his, but I’m sentimental about it because of Danny Whitten. The lengthy guitar work-outs on ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ are classic slices of Neil Young too. Yay, Neil!
8. The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
This was a fabulous album to end the 60’s on. From the opening track ‘Care of Cell 44’ I was bopping and humming along. Great to hear ‘Time of the Season’ again too; it’s got a fab keyboard solo.
9. Jerry Lee Lewis – Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
Another album that surprised me. I was expecting to hear Lewis roll out the hits, but not in such a frenzied manner. I was quite taken by his charismatic, if slightly egocentric, performance and marvelled at the Nashville Teens trying so hard to keep up with him.
10. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica
Still not sure whether I liked this album or not, but I can’t shake the feelings those first few listens gave me. I don’t think there’s anything else you can compare it with, and I admire the tenacity it takes to create such a record.
1. Do Right Woman – The Flying Burrito Brothers (The Gilded Palace of Sin)
This song was a revelation for me. As much as I enjoyed Aretha Franklin’s version of it (‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’), this arrangement knocked me out. Such a mournful, late-night feel with a twist of waltz for good measure.
2. A Day In The Life – The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
I prefer other Beatles albums over “Sgt. Pepper’s…”, but this is one of my favourite Beatles songs. I love Paul’s middle section and how the orchestra members make their way up the scale. John’s verses are also fabulously rich with imagery.
3. Desolation Row – Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited)
Again, there are other Dylan albums I prefer to “Highway…”, but his eleven minute epic closes it wonderfully. It’s sparsely arranged and full of Dylan’s trademark lyrics that manage to be both beautiful and baffling. I love it.
4. I Want To Take You Higher – Sly & the Family Stone (Stand!)
One of the contenders for best dance party anthem of all time. You can’t help but move to it. Although this whole album wasn’t brilliant, I spun it more than any other this year, possibly because of this song.
5. Bike – Pink Floyd (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)
The Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd is a little harder to enjoy if you’ve been brought up on “Dark Side…” and “Wish You Were Here”. However, this quirky pop gem has been a favourite of mine for years, and continues to be.
6. I Shall Be Released – The Band (Music From Big Pink)
Richard Manuel’s vocal on this track slays me. It’s amazingly high and so full of emotion. His voice has been described as having a tear in it, and this performance of Dylan’s classic song certainly shows that; it’s goosebump material.
7. The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson (In The Court of the Crimson King)
I’ve been intrigued by this song since I saw Children of Men in 2007. It fit the sequence it was used in perfectly, and hearing the full nine minute plus version just made me love it even more. Grandiose in structure and production.
8. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen – Sam Cooke (Night Beat)
I enjoyed this album a lot, but it was the opening song that I now remember most fondly. Setting the tone for the rest of the album, this song presents Cooke to us in all of his majestic, sweet-voiced glory.
9. In The Ghetto – Elvis Presley (From Elvis in Memphis)
Here’s another song that never fails to give me goosebumps. The plight of the central character and the circle of violence that threatens to repeat itself just makes this one of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded.
10. Crazy – Patsy Cline (Showcase)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this album too, and this song in particular. Cline’s sweet vocals are awash with despair, but it’s still so pretty. Although it was written by Willie Nelson, the song belongs to her.
The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
Released April, 1968
Mention The Zombies and most people will cite their first hit single ‘She’s Not There’; the song that kicked off their career in classic fairy tale fashion. After they won a band competition in London enabling them to record a demo of it, ‘She’s Not There’ landed them a contract with Decca. The song became their debut release in 1964, making the top 20 in their native UK and No.2 on the US singles charts.
Formed in 1961, the Zombies were led by singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent. The majority of their material would be written by Argent or bassist Chris White. They were able to build on the international success of ‘She’s Not There’ with 1965’s smash hit ‘Tell Her No’. Unfortunately, the band would release a slew of singles throughout 1965 and 1966 but fail to break the Top 40 on either side of the pond. Their first album (“Begin Here” in UK and “The Zombies” in the US) was a hastily put together compilation to cash in on the popularity of their two big hits. After three years of non-stop touring, the group decided to break up in late 1966, having had no major chart success for nearly two years. However, White convinced his fellow band members to make a final album, signing with CBS after their Decca contract expired. The Zombies began recording what would become “Odessey and Oracle” in mid-1967 having the mindset that it would be their last.
This freedom from expectation allowed the group to record whatever they desired. Arriving at Abbey Road Studios after the Beatles wrapped up “Sgt. Pepper…”, the Zombies had a tight budget and needed to work as effectively as they could. Nothing recorded could go unused, and they even relocated temporarily to Olympic Studios when Abbey Road was unavailable. Their final session was completed in November and the album’s artwork was done by White’s flatmate Terry Quirk, who failed to spell the word ‘odyssey’ correctly.The band decided to keep the title anyway, and split shortly before the record was released in April 1968.
A masterpiece of baroque pop, “Odessey and Oracle” is full of catchy melodies and lush harmonies, with perhaps The Beach Boys being the only comparable contemporaries to achieve the same level of vocal brilliance. Opening track ‘Care of Cell 44’ is rich with harmony blocks and the upbeat feel created by Argent and drummer Hugh Grundy belies the sombre subject. The mournful ballad ‘A Rose for Emily’ is stripped down to just piano and vocals, with the latter building to act like a sweeping string section. Other highlights for me include ‘Beechwood Park’, ‘Hung Up on a Dream’ and ‘Brief Candles’. Although it’s all very listenable, some songs aren’t as engaging as others, particularly ‘Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)’, which was bizarrely chosen to be the record’s first single.
It wasn’t until CBS producer Al Kooper persuaded the label to issue the album’s last track ‘Time of the Season’ as a single in 1969 that “Odessey and Oracle” received any discernible acclaim. Released nearly two years after it was recorded, ‘Time of the Season’ would become the highest selling hit of the band’s career; it’s a shame they had already disbanded. The song has been a favourite of mine for many years, and I still name it as my favourite one here, despite it being the only track I had heard before spinning this record. ‘Care of Cell 44’ is a very close second though.
Rod Argent formed his own band, simply called Argent, and would enjoy hits such as ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You’ in the 1970’s. White was credited as writing or co-writing several songs for Argent without being an official member and Blunstone went to work in the insurance game. The popularity of “Odessey and Oracle” would slowly achieve cult status over the years and the band reformed in 2008 for a special 40th anniversary performance of the album in its entirety at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London. “Odessey and Oracle” was recently ranked at 100th place in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time, showing that nearly a half a century later, its legacy is still growing.
What a great album to end the year for the 60s! I put “Odessey and Oracle” having absolutely no idea what to expect. I vaguely recognised the cover art but that was about it. What came out of the speakers was pure baroque pop at its very best. I was instantly hooked from the first song and continued to be enthralled for the next 35 minutes. The Zombies present the album that I’ve been waiting for in afyccim. I had such high expectations for so many over the course of the 60s – I’m looking at you The Band, The Byrds, The Kinks and Love. “Odessey and Oracle” delivered all the expectations that those bands didn’t live up to. It’s concise pop that isn’t contrived or over thought. And my god I love a good keyboard solo and three part harmonies. I believe that The Zombies were only able to make this album because they knew they were about to split up and had nothing left to lose. They didn’t have to please a record label or an audience. They made an album to please themselves and that joy in what they are doing is evident in every song. Favourite tracks for me include ‘Care of Cell 44’, ‘A Rose For Emily’, ‘This Will Be Our Year’ and the strongest track and only successful single from the album ‘Time of the Season’. It’s evident that The Zombies wear their influences on their sleeve. The Beatles and The Beach Boys similarities in reference to The Zombies are justified. But to me it’s not so much an imitation as it is a homage to some brilliant music being made at the time. The album was a slow burner when released but it won my heart immediately, scraping into my top ten of the year.
I don’t know why I’ve never paid much attention to The Zombies. This is the first time I’ve really listened to them, and I quite dig it! Curiously, Wikipedia has The Zombies’ genre (well, one of them anyway…) as “Sunshine Pop”, and I guess that’s pretty appropriate. It’s so happy! The easiest of listening. The Zombies came out of 60s England, and they adhere quite closely to the sound of the time. I think they sound very similar to The Kinks, which, after listening to “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” earlier in the year, is definitely not a bad thing! ‘Care of Cell 44’ is definitely my favourite song from the album. A toe tapper right from the get go, it’s a ripper way to start the album. It certainly is a happy song, considering it’s about someone writing to their partner in prison… The vocal harmonies are so great they almost sound a little Beach Boysy. I’m not sure that ‘Butchers Tale’ is a great fit for “Odessey and Oracle”. It doesn’t really flow with the happy, upbeat feel of the rest of the album. It was released as a single, but it didn’t exactly sell well. Its B-Side was “This Will Be Our Year”, which would definitely have been a better single choice! The lead piano is very appealing to me, simple as it is, it drives the track along. When he says “You don’t have to worry, all your worry days are gone” even I believe him, 44 years later! With one day left of the year “Odessey and Oracle” has managed to slip in to my favourite albums of the year, by the skin of it’s teeth. Oh, and by the way, Zombies? Sure, you TOTALLY spelt Odyssey wrong on purpose. Uh huh.
The first thing that I noticed about “Odessey and Oracle” was the striking psychelic cover art, which instantly betrayed the musical genre that would be contained within. Or did it? I was a little confused as I started listening, because “Oddessey and Oracle” is not entirely what I understand to be the full-blown psychedelic sound, especially when compared to other psych-pop albums of the 60’s (see the 60’s list). Despite the stark contrast between the cover and contents, “Odessey and Oracle” is a wonderfully-crafted collection of ditties. Ditties is an apt term in this case because unlike many other psychedelic albums, the songs on “Odessey and Oracle” are indeed remarkably short, all of them less than 4 minutes long (YES!). The songs feature lovely 2 and 3 part harmonies, and endearing synthesized string sections that were created using a curious device invented in the 60’s, the Mellotron (of which I had never heard until now). At times the vocals and the progressions reminded me of other bands we’ve covered throughout the 60’s that came before and after “Odessey and Oracle”, namely the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and the Beatles. I particularly rate the closing track of the album, ‘Time of the Season’, which features a catchy bassline which sounds similar in rhythm to that of ‘Stand By Me’ and a sweet- but- not- overly-DFN organ solo, the obligatory nod to psychedelia. “Odessey and Oracle” is a pleasant and interesting listen; although the songs are sweet and catchy, they have some intense themes under the surface. I wouldn’t say they were exactly memorable, which is probably why the album didn’t really sell that well originally, but they were catchy and easy on the ear. I just wish the stoner who did the cover art could spell properly!
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.
The Who – Tommy
Released May, 1969
“Tommy” was The Who’s fourth release and is stated to be the first ‘rock opera’. An overly ambitious project, the double album was recorded over six months and tells an elaborate story of the likes not seen at that point in rock music. The album was a critical success and went on to be made into a successful movie and broadway show. What we have on “Tommy” is an arsenal of characters who tell the story of the ‘deaf, dumb and blind kid’. Most of this review will be explaining the story of Tommy, because it’s just as epic as the music and is so out there that it needs to be told.
Tommy was a young lad who, through quite a bit of bad luck, saw his dad kill his step-father. Now bear in mind that Tommy didn’t know his real dad at this point as he was believed to have died in the war and then randomly showed up one day. This traumatic event shocked the kid so much he became ‘deaf, dumb and blind’. At some point he envisions a figure with a golden beard and a silvery robe who becomes a guide of sorts and helps music notes feel like a sensations to Tommy. Enter a pimp called ‘The Hawker’ who believes that Tommy can be cured by the prowess of one of his prostitutes. We then skip to Cousin Kevin who mercilessly bullies and tortures our dear protagonist. Following this Tommy finally puts the prostitute theory to the test with a likely lass called The Acid Queen. “Acid” as in drugs people.
Still with us? Good. Hang in there! Maybe make yourself a cup of tea before you delve into the part two of the story?
Naturally, the prostitute/drug thing doesn’t work, so Tommy is handed over to his Uncle Ernie, an alcoholic child molester. I think we can see where this is headed. The next act has Tommy as a Pinball hero, because why the heck not! Tommy’s father then finds a doctor who they think can ‘cure the boy’. Turns out Tommy isn’t actually deaf, dumb and blind and it’s psychosomatic. Tommy’s mother, god bless her, keeps trying to get through to her son. She gets mad because he is obviously looking at himself in a mirror, despite apparently being blind. So she smashes the mirror. Low and behold that is the thing to break Tommy out of his slump and he is cured. Hallelujah! The story of Tommy being cured gets out and he becomes some sort of Messiah. Next in the story we are introduced to a character called Sally Simpson. A devotee of Tommy she went to see him preach and in the chaos and madness got pushed around in the crowd, cutting her cheek. I’m not sure why that’s in the story either. Tommy then opens his house and invites all of his followers in. Once the house is full they move over to a ‘holiday camp’ where he enlists Uncle Ernie to help, who believe it or not tries to take advantage of poor Tommy’s predicament and profit off it. Who didn’t see that coming, with his previous glowing character reference. At this point it’s starting to feel a little Jonestown, 10 years too early. In the final track Tommy encourages his disciples to cover their eyes, block their ears, close their mouths and play pinball, you know, in order to find enlightenment. They forsake him and awkwardly threaten to rape him. And Tommy ends up being once again blind, deaf and dumb.
The point I’m trying to get to with all of that is that the story of Tommy, well… it’s a bit shit. It’s pompous, self-indulgent and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Critics have hailed this album as being either lyrically genius or absolute crap. I’m firmly in the bit crap camp. Pete Townshend is a troubled man. The beauty of “Tommy” is that the story actually doesn’t matter all that much because musically the album is amazing. I reckon I listened to it 4 or 5 times before I even paid attention to the lyrics, and by that point I was already hooked. My recommendation is to listen to it loud and sing along with gusto as you air guitar your heart out, but don’t invest in the lyrics all that much. You’re a weird man Townshend, but your guitaring is tops.
How great are The Who? This a rhetorical question. I care not for your opinions, unless the coincide with mine.The Who are amazing. Fair dinkum rock legends. They played hard and lived hard. Which was a shame, because that hard living robbed us of one of the greatest rhythm sections the world has ever seen. “Tommy” is a masterpiece. It tells a crazy complicated story, that no one in a million years could come up with. But it’s not just the story, the musical arrangements are genius. This album has everything, from slow ballads and all out rock and roll to introspective instrumentals. I listen to Tommy and I get quite overstimulated. It is a lot of awesome to take in. I don’t think there’s a weak spot in the whole album. Even a song like ‘Fiddle About’, which has a fairly disturbing theme, is arranged to be dark and negative, and the music 100% fits the story. I almost couldn’t pick a favourite song from “Tommy”, but I think I finally settled on ‘Pinball Wizard’. Right from the opening guitar riff I immediately perk up. It’s the perfect song to use as an alarm tone, if the ultimate consequence wasn’t that you’d end up hating it. I also love the absurd imagery of a kid who can’t see or hear being a boss at pinball. ‘Smash The Mirror’ is not far behind it though. Only lasting 1:35, it’s concentrated real rock. Everyone is firing all cylinders. It also leads to the [SPOILER ALERT] regaining of Tommy’s senses, and the start of his life as a religious leader. I could go on about “Tommy” and how great The Who are all day, but it’d get old. “Tommy” is perfect, and there is not many albums I’ll say that about.
This album certainly takes the listener on a musical odyssey. The musical style varies from track to track and overall, the influence of other prominent Brit rock bands of the 60’s abounds. Each song of “Tommy”, although wordy and therefore hard to follow at times, tells a small part of the journey taken by troubled child Tommy. Musically, the album is practically faultless, complex, deep and rich in orchestration. The songs are built on the foundation of Townshend’s signature bar chords, accentuated with enchanting guitar finger picking, overdubbed instrumentation, charming 3-part harmonies and vocal doubling. I particularly enjoyed the instrumental opening track ‘Overture’, which as the name suggests, forms the synopsis of the album, thus featuring themes taken from all over the album. 10 tracks in, you will find the ‘Underture’, which is a re-working of the themes in the ‘Overture’ and is equally as enjoyable. The re-introduction of musical themes occurs throughout the album which adds to its consolidation. I was struck by the Beatle-esque ‘Do You Think it’s Alright’, which quickly segways into ‘Fiddle About’, which is themed around child abuse. The upbeat and cheery style of the song makes for a brash juxtaposition with the sobering lyrics. I found it interesting to listen to “Tommy” and to follow the story of the protagonist (Tommy) who goes from despair to triumph in the space of 24 tracks. Speaking of 24 tracks, an album so long was a bit too much for me to take in, but I persevered in order to see Tommy’s journey through. Definitely worth a listen but I probably wouldn’t revisit it.
Inspired after watching Almost Famous, I lit a candle the first time I listened to “Tommy”, which would have been a little over twelve years ago now. I didn’t see my future, but I was very impressed by the album’s scope and grandeur. The only song I was familiar with was the classic ‘Pinball Wizard’, and I was surprised at how easy the rest of it was to listen to. The opening ‘Overture’, instrumentally collates the record’s main musical themes, which are all very catchy. As it’s such an engaging piece, you remember the lines and riffs when they return as the plight of the titular Tommy (that deaf, dumb and blind kid) is told through the songs that follow. The sketchy plot isn’t made wholly clear, although watching the 1975 film adaptation will help fill in some of the gaps. A few tracks stand up quite well away from the context of the album; my favourites being ‘1921’, ‘Go To The Mirror’ and ‘Christmas’. I don’t enjoy ‘Cousin Kevin’ and ‘Fiddle About’, but they serve to move the story forward. The brilliantly named ‘Underture’ is a ten minute extension of melodies we heard in the more concise ‘Sparks’, consequentially making one of them feel unnecessary. I’m surprised they included a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Eyesight to the Blind’, but it feels like it belongs on the album. Amazingly, all of the music is played by the four members of The Who, aside from some backing vocals by Pete Towshend’s brothers. All the French horn arrangements come courtesy of bassist John Entwistle and Townshend’s chops as a multi-instrumentalist play a crucial role in filling out the sound. There are no strings or guest musicians. While it’s not entirely cohesive, this is one of the earliest examples of a concept album that works. Patchy, but enjoyable.
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.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Released March, 1967
The Velvet Underground was formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in the mid-sixties. Reed saw himself as a bit of a beat poet and Cale was exploring the world of experimental sounds. After forming several bands they finally settled on The Velvet Underground a couple of years later, with Sterling Morrison also on guitar and Maureen ‘Mo’ Tucker on Drums. Enter stage left Andy Warhol, who became their manager in 1965. Warhol helped the band get exposure and secured them a record deal that afforded them creative control. It was also Warhol that introduced the band to German songstress Nico, and had her record on their debut album “The Velvet Underground & Nico”, recorded in April, 1966 in a four day period for the minimal cost of $1500-$3000.
“The Velvet Underground & Nico” was released in 1967, the year that was “the summer of love”. The year John Lennon sang to us of ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’, Jefferson’s Airplane told us the tale of the ‘White Rabbit’, Jim Morrison wanted us to light his fire and Syd Barret introduced us to a mouse named Gerald. Drugs and sex where clearly a hot topic, but no other album of the time told the other side of the story, as The Velvet Underground do so unabashedly on tracks like ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’, ‘Heroin’ and ‘Venus in Furs’. Their nihilistic approach to both the music and lyrics not only pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, but completely obliterated them. And they did so unapologetically. It resulted in an album that was pretty much glossed over critically and had non-existent sales. It was only in later years that people started cottoning on to the special something that was happening here. In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine listed it at #13 in their ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ declaring “much of what we take for granted in rock would not exist without this New York band or its seminal debut; the androgynous sexuality of glitter; punk’s raw noir; the blackened-riff howl of grunge and noise rock; goth’s imperious gloom” and calling it “the most prophetic rock album ever made”.
There is something about the sounds here that are otherworldly. With Cale’s droning viola, Tucker’s mallets on the drums, Morrison’s dissident guitar and Reed’s raw tales and speak/sing vocals, it’s hard to compare it to anything else being made at the time.. And whether you love her or hate her, Nico and her deadpan vocals just helps tie all of this together for me. It’s an album that doesn’t shoehorn itself into one genre, snapping from saccharine sweet pop in ‘Sunday Morning’ to the droning “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and the squaller that is “European Son”. There is very much a yin and yang thing happening. This isn’t meant to be an album that is easy to listen to. They were tapping into something that I don’t think even they could explain at the time. What it ends up being is raw truth, and despair, and confusion, and hope. Just as each song seems to be of a different genre, it is these conflicting themes and threads that hold the songs together as a whole.
The Velvet Underground made it possible for so many bands that followed them to just be themselves. It didn’t matter if there was a big audience for it. What was important was that if they were true to themselves there would be an audience. As Brian Eno is famously quoted as saying that while the first Velvet Underground album may have sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”
This album is all about light and shade. When it is light it is unbelievably sweet and in its dark moments we are drawn into the depths of despair with every grating strike of the viola and every droning strum of the guitar. I’ve been a fan of The Velvet Underground for many years now, so this is an album I am very familiar with. It took me a long time to become completely comfortable with it, but despite the challenging sounds within there was always something drawing me back in for one more listen, until the songs finally revealed their magic. There is beauty and redemption there in the chaos, you just have to work for it a little.
Even after a week, I’m not sure if I love or hate this album. Almost every song has something that makes me think, “Oh yeah, this is pretty rad”, then almost immediately something else happens in the same song that makes me want to just throw my iPod against a wall. One thing I can say for sure is that Andy Warhol is a stupid asshole, because anyone that insists someone as awful as Nico play on your album definitely doesn’t want the best for you. It’s a shame, really, because ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ would be an excellent song, if only Lou Reed had have sung it. Nico’s monotone is truly awful. The good news for the Underground is that Nico makes songs that Nico wasn’t involved in sound amazing. ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ is a fun song, even if the content is a little bleak. The jangly guitar is a bit annoying. It sounds a bit Rickenbacker-ish, but I was disappointed to find that Reed played a Gretsch for this album, normally a beautiful sounding guitar. My favourite track (because I know you care) is ‘Heroin’. It’s the change of pace that gets me moving, reflecting how the junkie feels when taking a hit. He’s lost, stuck in a dead end, then he takes the shot, and everything perks up, almost like an ad for drugs… The awful feedback laden guitar solo, while truly terrible to listen to, I reckon is used as a device to portray the messiness and erratic nature of being a drug user. These themes are Lou Reed’s bread and butter, and he tells them so well. I think I’ve ended up leaning on the hate side for this album, but I think it would be a whole different story if Nico wasn’t involved.
Listening to this album was quite a mind-numbing experience. Its sound is shambolic, de-constructed and ragged; there are moments of surprising beauty, closely followed by songs that grate against your nerves (take ‘European Son’, for example) with their dissonance and superfluity. But let’s face it, you couldn’t expect any less from a band that was managed by Andy Warhol. Once described as “The most prophetic album ever made”, the album is prophetic in the sense that it really did lay the foundations for what was to come. It may not have sold well, but is thought to have been responsible for the formation of many other bands, some of which went on to do great things. When you listen to “The Velvet Underground & Nico” you can clearly pick out elements that eventually would inspire the sound of other musical greats. As a whole, The Velvet Underground definitely pushed the boundaries of rock music with this album and created their own alternative, garage sound. The songs are experimental and question social idioms, while the sound is revolutionary. I like to find a positive in everything, so when I listened to this album, I remembered that music is an art form. Art doesn’t always make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It inspires thought, emotion, revolution, reform. Ok it wasn’t the prettiest of albums, it didn’t really float my boat. But it was an artistic statement that inspired other people to create other cool stuff. So for that, it gets my tick of approval.
I think I’m just beginning to understand why this album has been so influential, as it’s unlike any other music that was around in the mid-sixties. The band unabashedly presents the dark side of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Moving from sweet songs of whimsy to sonic soundscapes that assault the senses, this record is impossible to pigeon-hole. It’s a frustrating record for me, because classic tracks like ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ are some of my favourites from that era. Alongside noisy rubbish like ‘European Son’ and ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ their appeal is somewhat diminished. Lou Reed’s lead guitar work is erratic at best, and adds nothing to the fairly straightforward garage rock of ‘Run Run Run’. Nico’s unusual vocal delivery is also hard to connect with, hindering what could have been a pleasant ballad in ‘Femme Fatale’. While ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ is engaging, thanks in no small part to John Cale’s piano work, Nico’s unsuccessful attempt to double track her lead vocal is too distracting. Having said all that, I don’t mind her voice on ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and the harmonies at the end are pretty. Cale’s electric viola is arguably the album’s master stroke and its biggest liability. It adds a dreamy, trance-like atmosphere to the S&M drenched ‘Venus In Furs’, but then is almost unlistenable in the crescendo of ‘Heroin’. Maureen Tucker’s drum work is minimalistic, but it seems to work on most tracks, evoking a primitive kind of percussion. Reed’s speak-sing style has inspired many an artist who can’t sing that well to give it a go. Thankfully his lyrics are quite interesting, and like many, he owes a debt to Bob Dylan. The Velvets knocked down a door that many would later walk through, but I wish this album was easier to listen to.
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.
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
Released November, 1968
This week’s guest reviewer is Ash, a young entrepreneur, coffee addict, freelance designer, musician and Tegan & Sara devotee from Brisbane. She recently launched her new boutique t-shirt label Dure & Kaufmann, which we think is pretty awesome. Just like Ash.
I need to confess that before Ange set me the task of reviewing “Astral Weeks” I had not sat down and listened to this album in its entirety. Explained by some as fine art, with words like surrealist and stream-of-conciseness used it is one of a kind. This album is an anomaly in a sense that nothing like it came before and from what I feel nothing really like it after in Morrison’s career. There are remnants of this album in almost everything Morrison did after the fact but nothing in its proportion ever again. Maybe this album was born from absolute relief, being his first album recorded after the revenge songs from the Bert Burns record dispute. Morrison had said around the time of recording this album that he was starving, literally, and I believe this is what he needed creatively and financially “to be born again”.
I am overwhelmed with the ideas and creative way of this album, sometimes pressure can break your creative mould and not in a positive way, there was a chance that Morrison could have released a terrible rendition of what he had hoped and dreamed to achieve, but he stood strong, truly gifted and freed from “the man’s” strong hold through “Astral Weeks”. Something that struck me early on about this album was Morrison’s age, he would have been around the age I am now, 24, when this album was recorded and knowing this makes it hard to not note the sophistication of the album both lyrically and instrumentally. There is so much true Van Morrison concentrated in this album but it is also fleeting being so early on in his career, as any good artist knows, it takes time to first know what is truly great, know if it is truly yours and then refine it.
When I first sat down with this album it did take a lot of concentration for me to really listen to the songs which by Morrison standards are quite lengthy. I am a real lover of lyrics and I found it hard to follow Morrison with some of the diction. Several rotations later and I have realised it is not all about lyrics and not all about the musical composition either, it is about how you move through the album and maybe how the album moves with you, and it grows on you. In comparison to the Van Morrison I grew up with it is, quite frankly, a world away but so integral to his later albums. “Astral Weeks” is like a wooden link in a metal chain, listen to “Moodance” and any track from “Astral Weeks” and the variation becomes painfully clear, but by doing this it became apparent to me how important the creative purge was to his growing and progression as an artist. The title track would have to be my most loved, with the opening line my favourite of the whole album. Any true Morrison fan should really hear this one out, if only to know where he came from.
I remember listening to my “Best Of Van Morrison” CD as a teenager. It’s got some great stuff on it: ‘Moondance’, ‘Domino’, ‘And It Stoned Me’, ‘Bright Side of the Road’ and the list goes on. I also remember constantly skipping ‘Sweet Thing’ because I found it tedious. Lucky me, now I have a whole album of ‘Sweet Thing’s to listen to. My first listen of this album flummoxed me. It sounded like Van was playing/singing whatever he felt like at the time, and the other musicians just followed along as best they could. I have since discovered this isn’t far from the truth. Cut in only two days, most of the lyrics were improvised on the spot. To quote Iago from Aladdin: “I think I’m going to have a heart attack and die from not surprise!” From ‘Astral Weeks’: “I see you know he’s got clean clothes/A-puttin’ on his little red shoes/A-pointin’ a finger at me” – hmmm. From ‘Madame George’: “That’s when you fall/Whoa, that’s when you fall/Yeah, that’s when you fall/When you fall into a trance” – okay. All of these songs seem to be searching for themselves fruitlessly. When some of them fade out it feels like a mercy killing; it just doesn’t come soon enough for ‘Madame George’ though! The arrangements come across as clunky and crowded too. The one near exception is ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ which benefits from a snappy pace and some wonderful brass work. Oh, and it almost has a chorus! The bassist appears to be playing a different song though. This is a shame, because most of the time, the bass playing is best thing about this album. It’s not an unpleasant listen, it’s just boring. However, it does make for nice background music. This isn’t the Van I enjoy. I like songs.
“Astral Weeks” is a hard album hard to catagorize as it doesn’t really fit into any genre. It is often referred to as a ‘song cycle’. It has been said that “the album embraces a form of symbolism that would eventually become a staple of Morrison’s songs, equating earthly love and heaven, or as close as a living being can approach it.” When I listen to it I’m taken to another place where I can sit in the music and just be. It’s a rare thing to find this in an album that was released to a large audience and critically well received. To me it feels like it is the stream of consciousness of a boy on the cusp of becoming a man, trying to make sense of everything around him. He’s realising the enormity of that and the duality of the beauty and fragility of life. In the music you can hear the pain that comes with this awareness, but there is also a beautiful hope that swells around the pain in the way the instruments swell around the vocals. I don’t necessarily understand what he’s singing about on some of the songs but it doesn’t matter because I feel it. Morrison himself describes it best – “I’m not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs, but I don’t wanna give the impression that I know what everything means ’cause I don’t. . . . There are times when I’m mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y’know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can’t say for sure what it means.” Listening to “Astral Weeks” is akin to a meditative experience for me. Best listened to at night where the dark and stillness give the songs space to reveal themselves.
Someone says to me Van Morrison and I think of ‘Moondance’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Bright Side of the Road’. They’re all easy listening, radio friendly songs. So when I was preparing to listen to “Astral Weeks”, I expected things along a similar line. I was not expecting a shambled mismatch of noises and painful sounding wailing. It doesn’t take long for things to start getting offensive. The title track starts off pretty enough. Flute tends to make everything seem pretty. But soon after, all the musicians seem to be playing with no respect of rhythm, and Van sorta sounds like he’s having a stroke… And is there an out of tune guitar in there? Sadly, the vast majority of this album carries on in this vain, and remarkably, it was well received be critics everywhere… Rolling Stone even named it at number nineteen on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. NINETEEN! To be honest, I struggled to find one song on “Astral Weeks” that I actually enjoyed listening to. At all. The closest thing I got to enjoyment was the track I had to wait the longest for, ‘Slim Slow Slider’. It’s slow, so there’s not the frantic, everyone trying to play at once kinda thing going on. It also features a lot of flute and soprano saxophone, which I’m always ok with. Also, ‘Slim Slow Slider’ is only three minutes long, which given the context of this album, is automatically endearing. I’m fairly sure a lot of people absolutely adore “Astral Weeks”, but it’s not for me. Morrison’s voice drives me crazy. It’s kind of Dylan-esque, if Bob Dylan had a retarded cousin that found some random musicians that had never played with anyone else before, and they recorded an album, the result would be “Astral Weeks”.
I’ve always listened to Van Morrison’s songs in isolation, and never having listened to a full album I was surprised to see the majority of his music has a free-form, stream of consciousness kind of vibe to it. At times his throaty vocal is completely out of time with the musical accompaniment and Morrison sings as if in a trance, and as a result, this hypnotic album imbues a certain air of meditation. On the other hand, the album also has a surprisingly jazzy edge to it, with Morrison hiring jazz musicians to be his session band. It makes for a strange but good concoction of themes and genres; Folk lyrics centred around love, loss, nostalgia and death, Celtic elements such as the addition of a fiddle, coupled with a killer double-bass bass line (by critically acclaimed jazz musician Richard Davis). ‘Sweet thing’ is a song that was introduced to me by Ang a few years ago, and still remains my favourite Van Morrison song to this day. It’s a pretty song that paints a picture of a blissful love. The one song that really epitomises the “Astral Weeks” sound is ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’. It’s an all-over-the-place big band show tune –sounding song. Even with that crazy frantic bass, Morrison’s high-pitched cry, scat singing, it still maintains a folk-rock edge. I can see why “Astral Weeks” took a while to be appreciated, it probably would require quite a few listens before you really would start to get what Morrison was hoping to achieve.
Sly and the Family Stone – Stand!
Released May, 1969
I love some dirty funk. It’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the 70s so much. But a few good listens to Sly And The Family Stone has sated my appetite until we get to someone like Parliament. Our story starts with young Sylvester Stewart, one of five children brought up in a musical home in Dallas, Texas. Sylvester and the other three youngest children formed a band and had released a single by the time he was eight years old. It started a pattern for him, and in his formative years he played in several high school bands. Sylvester created himself an alter ego, Sly Stone, in 1964, for his job as a DJ working for a San Franciscan R&B radio station. And because he wasn’t doing enough things, he decided he’d be a producer as well, working for Autumn Records, dealing with local bands.
We see the first incarnation of Sly and the Family Stone come about in 66, under the name Sly & the Stoners. At the same time, his brother Freddie had a band called Freddie and the Stone Souls. It was suggested that Freddie and Sly combine their bands, creating Sly and the Family Stone. Though both were guitarists, Sly relinquished the coveted role to his brother and taught himself to play the organ. As you do. They also did the best thing you could ever do – invite, and land, the amazing Larry Graham (the bloke who invented bass slapping) to play bass in your band. The brother’s sister Vaetta also wanted in and brought along two school friends to form the Family’s backing vocals. The band signed with CBS’ Epic Records label and released their debut album, “A Whole New Thing” in 1967, and it was well received. 68 saw the band tour England, but not for long, after Graham was arrested for marijuana possession.
Late ’68 came, and The Family released the single ‘Everyday People’, which gave them a lead into the reason we’re here: “Stand!” Released in May of ’69, with the title track peaking at number 22 on the US charts. And it’s surprising it didn’t go higher. Especially when it talks about midgets! It’s an inspirational song that basically says “You can make it if you try”, so it’s a good thing they reinforce that theme with a song called ‘You Can Make It If You Try’. I love the breakdown at the end of ‘Stand!’ with the high sax flailing. Though vocally simple, ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’ is one of the funkiest songs ever, featuring heavy use of a (what I assume…) is a talk box effect, and a heavy dirty fuzz on the bass. I can only assume this song was met with some hesitation, but you know it’d never get released today. And it goes on for ages in a sort of free jazz meets funk style.
Speaking of going on for ages, ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’ is followed by ‘Sex Machine’ that runs for over 14 minutes. Not to be confused with the James Brown song, this song is much more self indulgent, with it not really going anywhere. It’s heavily effects laden, with much distortion, delay, wah wah and the talk box again. It’s essentially a jam session, where everyone gets a crack at being a star. I really dig Freddie’s guitar solo; while it’s not the standard shredding that I usually love, it’s loaded with feeling and groove. The real fun starts at about 8:15, where Graham busts out of his grooves and starts his fingers really moving. We also get a rad sax solo, and as we all know, sax is the second coolest instrument that exists. ‘Everyday People’ is, for whatever reason, a song that lost people recognise. It features some questionable (so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby?) lyrics, but it was The Family’s first song to go to #1 on the Hot 100 Chart. It’s much less funky and psychedelic, but it caters mainly for the mainstream, with a real pop kinda sound.
Stand! is one of my favourites on the 60s list, and Sly and The Family Stone can come back anytime.
“Stand!” is a colourful and broadly-themed album which blurs the lines between Funk, Psychedelic music and Soul music. The band used everything from wah-wah pedals, to church organs, to distorted vocals, to fuzzy bass lines to achieve this combination of styles and the result is a collection of epic funk jams, pscychedelic improv sections and gospel-esque vocal parts. For me, there were a few (but not many) highlights. There are a couple of catchy and notable tracks; ‘I Want to Take You Higher’ gets a mention for the use of vocals to create a rhythm section, a technique that continues to be used in more-contemporary pieces (’Boom lacka lacka lacka’). Also enjoyable was ‘Everyday People’, a feel-good protest song that I have always quite liked. I continuously skipped ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’, because the lyrics rubbed me up the wrong way due to their controversial nature, but obviously that’s the whole point of the song. The lyrics are really simple, with only 4 lines of verses and the main chorus featuring the song name, and the song always gets stuck in your head. Hence why I avoided it! As a whole, the album is tight and is un-offensive on the ear, but it didn’t really do a lot for me. Despite quite a few listens, I failed to connect emotionally with this album, not because it was really bad, but because I just didn’t relate to the songs or their meanings. I actually fell asleep during the long-winded (13 minute) throes of ‘Sex Machine’ because it was so bloody boring! Points for innovation, but not a lot else.
This record has a wonderful vibe, even though some tracks deal with racial tension. It’s impossible not to groove to, positively brimming with funk and rhythm. When I spun “Stand!” in the car stereo, it definitely lost some of its potency. This is an album to dance to, people! It simply must be played loudly in an area with room to move. Jiggling in the driver’s seat just doesn’t cut it. The album’s absolute highlight, “I Want To Take You Higher” dares you not to dance to it. A true party anthem, the lyrics are incendiary: “Feeling that should make you move/Sounds that should help you groove”. The way the lead vocals are shared between guitarist Freddie Stone, bassist Larry Graham, keyboardist Rose Stone and Sly himself adds to the track’s fun singalong atmosphere. This is true of most of the album, particularly the title track, ‘Sing a Simple Song’ and ‘Everyday People’ (although the verses in the latter sound like ‘It’s Raining, It’s Pouring’). The song ‘Stand!’ also has a great sense of optimism and almost comes off like an ‘All You Need Is Love’ for the individual, rather than the masses. This notion is echoed in album closer ‘You Can Make It If You Try’. The confronting ‘Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey’ looks at both sides of racism and hints at the rage Sly would deliver with the band’s 1971 album “There’s a Riot Goin’ On”. His use of vocoder is a little annoying, particularly on the overlong jam session ‘Sex Machine’ which manages to bore and excite as it nudges the fourteen minute mark. If this track was cut in favour of actual songs, I think the album would be stronger for it; although it was nice to hear the chops of the band members. All in all, I found this record to be endlessly listenable despite its few flaws.
With their fourth album “Stand!”, Sly and his cohorts had reached a point in their career where they knew how they wanted their music to sound. A mishmash of genders, race and musical styles, Sly and the Family Stone didn’t just push boundaries, they pretty much ignored them all together. This willingness to forgo what was considered the norm results in an album that is instantly likeable. Mashing together soul and rock they created a new thing, in the process laying the foundation for funk and soul. Granted, there are a couple of low-points here, particularly in the unnecessarily long ‘Sex Machine’, but the high-points well make up for that. The fact that “Stand!” has become one of the most sampled albums, particularly with the advent of hip hop, pays tribute to this. The beats here are universal, just like Sly’s message. At a time where there was a lot of hatred and fighting with the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, Stone created an album full of positivity, but not in a contrived way. His message is clear but he puts it across in songs that have you dancing around your lounge room and make you feel good. Stone doesn’t want to tell you what to think, but he does want to make you think. I adored this album. It’s one of those rare afyccim albums I wanted to listen to again as soon as it was finished. It’s a joyous celebration that reminds us that life is what you make it. Sure, sometimes life is hard, but we get to choose whether to sing out loud with joy whilst pondering the hard questions. I’m everyday people indeed Mr Stone.
Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Released October, 1966
Simon and Garfunkel were school friends who grew up together in Queens, New York. They formed a duo called ‘Tom and Jerry’ in their youth but found fame as Simon and Garfunkel in 1965 with their single ‘The Sound of Silence’. Their career really took a turn for the better, after their music was featured in a highly successful film ‘The Graduate’. In the early days, Simon and Garfunkel were influenced largely by the work of the Everly Brothers, and sought to recreate the sound that the brothers had. Their beautiful close harmonies reflect this influence.
“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” is the third of four studio albums released by Simon and Garfunkel. It was released in 1966 and takes its name from the second line of the very popular song, – and coincidentally track one of this album – ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’. When most people hear the name Simon and Garfunkel I’ll bet that the first thing that pops into their head is the chorus from ‘Scarborough Fair’, I know that’s how it works for me! It’s a song that has pretty much become synonymous with the name of Simon and Garfunkel. ‘Scarborough Fair’ is actually a 16th century English folk song and was not actually written by Simon and Garfunkel, which I’ll also wager most people wouldn’t realise. It’s a whimsical and dreamlike song, with beautiful harmonies and counter melodies weaved throughout.
I didn’t really like track two, ‘Patterns’. It was a bit too ‘spoken word’ for me and I kept skipping it because quite frankly it annoyed me. And moving right along. The next is ‘Cloudy’, a song that was interestingly co-written with Bruce Woodley from Australian folk band The Seekers. The following track, ‘Homeward Bound’ is so damn catchy! It has this country sound to it and I can’t help but think of some yokel driving a pickup truck down a dirt road, listening to it on their radio. The song was actually written about catching the train home on a cold winter’s day in England so it’s hard to believe that Paul Simon was able to achieve such a ‘sunny’ sound.
‘The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine’ was a song name that had me intrigued. Turns out it’s a social commentary on advertising in New York City and also takes the obligatory stab at hippies and the Vietnam War. One of my all-time favourite Simon and Garfunkel songs comes next, ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy’). For all it’s sugar-coated grossness and suitability for chick flick movie montages, it’s still such a catchy and light hearted song that I can’t help but like it.
Musically, the most notable point of interest in Simon and Garfunkel’s music is their harmonies. The album only plays for just under 30 minutes, which was a nice change. You can see that Simon and Garfunkel were not so much songsmiths as wordsmiths. Their lyrics are quite poetic to the point that sometimes you can’t figure out the cryptic meaning behind the songs. ‘The 7 O’Clock News’, the closing track of the album, is haunting and confronting. It’s a song made of two layers, achieved by an overdubbing of the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ and audio recordings from simulated readings from the 7 O’Clock news that pretty much summarise the state of affairs in the US in 1966. At the time it was highly relevant and would have held a special place with loads of listeners.
As a whole, the album is enjoyable and refreshing. This tid bit from the liner notes, written by Rolling Stone Magazine’s co-founder Ralph Gleason, pretty much sum up how I felt about “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”: “The pristine beauty of the voices, the delicate inevitability of the structure of the songs (both the lyrics and the music), the range from deepening seriousness to joyous exuberance… is overwhelmingly impressive”, and to top it all off, the album artwork is quite beautiful.
Just as Dylan borrowed elements of the traditional ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’ for his song ‘Girl From the North Country’ (after hearing English folksinger Martin Carthy’s rendition of it), so too did Simon and Garfunkel. By weaving in elements of an old song of Simon’s called ‘The Side of the Hill’ and renaming it ‘Canticle’, the opening track was born. The lyrics of ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ also gives this album its title and was one of the earliest instances of baroque pop, largely due to its vocal arrangement and use of harpsichord. As pretty as it is, I find it a little bit naff. I’ve got a love/hate thing with Simon and Garfunkel. I swing between loving and loathing their songs, and everywhere in between. I do think that their voices complement each other better than most duos this side of the Everly Brothers though, and that’s proved by the jaunty ‘Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall’. I shouldn’t like it, but I can’t help smiling when ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song’ kicks in and ‘A Simple Desultory Phillippic’ walks a fine line between stupid and clever with its Dylan bashing/honouring. I’ve never been a fan of ‘Cloudy’ and ‘The Bright Green Pleasure Machine’ is another low point. Although I like the idea, the splicing of the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ and a news bulletin comes off as a clumsy attempt at a protest song, and ends the album badly. However, we are also treated to such gems as ‘Homeward Bound’ and the haunting ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’, one of Garfunkel’s best vocal performances. Apparently Simon wrote it about a belief, not an imaginary girl called Emily. The highlight of the record for me is ‘The Dangling Conversation’; a chilling song about the growing rift between two lovers who no longer know how to communicate.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had quite a tumultuous relationship with many artistic differences throughout their career. It is believed that Simon did most of the writing and was the more talented of the two, however Garfunkel was noted for being a better singer. Conundrum. They would only go on to release another two albums after “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, before finally breaking up for good in 1970. They both went on to have successful solo careers, particularly Simon. They have often reformed for the odd gig here and there and recently successfully toured. Guess the retirement fund was getting a little scant. “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” is considered to be one of Simon and Garfunkel’s first solid albums. By this I mean it was actually somewhat decent. It was considered by some to be a little straight and sterile considering the psychedelic era in which it was released. On the flip side this meant they had broad appeal and as a result the album had good success both commercially and critically. It was released at a time when folk rock was popular and “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” certainly fit the bill. But is it any good? Well yes and no. It’s no secret I like my folk music, but this album, well, I actually found it a little boring after five listens. It’s just a little too blah for my liking. Pretty, but blah. The songs I liked I really quite enjoyed, but the others left me wanting more. Favourite songs were ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’, ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’. It’s no doubt that Simon & Garfunkel had quite an impact on the musical landscape, and individually have continued to do so. I however am pretty happy to be moving onto a new album.
I thought I was going to dislike Simon and Garfunkel’s album much more than I did. Ok, it’s a bit slow going in parts, but it’s got some… I hesitate to use the word “rocking”… upbeat songs that can sure get your toe tapping. There’s one word to sum up this entire album: pretty. Everything about “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” is pretty. The vocals are always crisp, clear and the harmonies are spot on, and the folky, finger picking style of guitar sets the mood perfectly. My favourite song was ‘A Simple Desultory Phillipic’, which I’m still trying to figure out if it is a parody or a tribute to Bob Dylan. Either way it’s good fan, and they almost convinced me I WAS listening to Bob Dylan (until the end where he tells everyone he dropped his harmonica. Decidedly un-Dylan). For me the other song of mention is the ‘59th Street Bridge Song’, parenthetically inserted, Feelin’ Groovy’. I reckon you’d be hard pressed to be in a bad mood and not be instantly perked up after hearing this song. Uptempo, the major key and the fact it just repeats the phrase “feelin’ groovy” a bunch pretty well guarantees the happiness of the listener. Unfortunately, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, and the opposite of ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ comes in the form of the depressing and melancholy ‘Silent Night/7 O’Clock News’. It first comes across as annoying, with the news broadcast playing over the vocals, but when you realise that they’re trying to make a point about the state of the world using a Christmas Carol, it just becomes downright depressing. Folk still is definitely not my thing, but Simon and Garfunkel made it a bit easier to handle. But give me solo Paul Simon any day.
Sam Cooke – Night Beat
Released August, 1963
So far this year we’ve listened to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul; Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and Otis Redding who sang soul on his blue album. More than any of this, Sam Cooke WAS soul. Possessing a voice many would kill to have, including your humble reviewer, Cooke’s exquisite control and effortless delivery influenced singers all over the world. He was born without the ‘e’ on the end of his surname in Clarksdale, state of Mississippi, in 1931. One of eight children to a Baptist minister and his wife, Cook(e) formed a band with three of his siblings called The Singing Children shortly after the family moved to Chicago. Although they were bound to exclusively sing gospel music, Cooke’s appreciation of popular vocal groups of this era would become evident in his early solo singles. In 1950 Cooke joined The Soul Stirrers, one of the USA’s top gospel groups. The first 78 of theirs to feature Cooke, ‘Jesus Gave Me Water’, became a big hit and such was his appeal that the gospel circuit found their first sex symbol in him.
Cooke longed to record popular music, which was not the done thing if you sang gospel. Singing to God was seen as a divine responsibility and crossing over to rock n’ roll, pop or R&B would alienate you from the gospel audience. Cooke recorded the pop single ‘Loveable’ in 1956 under the name of Dale Cooke, in an attempt to deflect any connection to The Soul Stirrers. It didn’t work and he was dropped from the group, but able to record using his own name. His first single ‘You Send Me’ sold over two million copies topping the US pop and R&B charts at the same time. Cooke’s popularity would span across black and white audiences of all ages in the years to come.
A string of songs infused with gospel, soul, pop and R&B sensibilities followed including such classics ‘Cupid’, ‘Chain Gang’ and ‘Twistin’ the Night Away’. “Night Beat” was where Cooke found his groove as an LP artist, and it was his attempt at one of the first ever concept albums. The resounding theme here is loneliness and longing; as if the parties and good times he sang about previously were over and he was now stuck with the downhearted aftermath. The real treasure here is Cooke’s voice, which is front and centre, turning these blues classics into pure soul. There’s not even any vocal harmonies until the album’s closer ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ attempts to lift the mood and, astonishingly, it was all recorded in three sessions over one weekend.
When the opening track ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’ started my heart sank. That long bass drawl and those low drums had me thinking we were in for a long and slow rendition of this traditional tune. Thankfully, the guitar brings a bit of rhythm and Cooke’s voice soared in to show me the best version of this song I’ve ever heard. It’s just Cooke, a bass and a drum cymbal on ‘Lost and Lookin”, but it works brilliantly. A lesser artist would struggle to be so engaging. That playful organ work on the wonderful performance of ‘Little Red Rooster’ comes courtesy of the late, great Billy Preston, who had reached the ripe old age of 16 when this was made. There’s not a bad song here, and I’m hard pressed to name a favourite, but I think the moments when Cooke shifts into his falsetto on ‘Mean Old World’ win it for me. I also really dig ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’.
Despite his success, Cooke’s personal life was in turmoil, as he struggled with depression, sex addiction, a rocky marriage and the death of his infant son. Tragically, Cooke was shot to death following an altercation with a woman and an L.A. motel night manager in December 1964. He was 33. Despite the mysterious circumstances, no formal investigation was ever entered into. His stirring ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ was released the following year becoming a worldwide hit and is now held to be one of the most important songs ever to come out of the civil rights movement. We are lucky that he left us such a wonderful legacy.
Sam Cooke is known as one of the original Soul guys. He was massively popular with twenty nine Top 40 hits over an eight year span. Not only was he a singer but also wrote songs and founded a record label and publishing company. The dude had talent. Cooke not only had success in the R&B charts but also had cross-over success in Pop charts. The album “Night Beat” had more of a blues feel to it and is not only considered to be his finest recordings but also one of the best soul albums of that period. As a fan of blues I had moments with this album where it felt a little too polished. Blues is meant to be raw and a little dirty. Its saving grace though is the believability in Cooke’s vocals. It’s evident that he had a troubled life and can relate to the lyrics. He imbues them with a certain vulnerability that seems so effortless. The album is quite minimalist in its approach, which allows this to shine even more. There were moments where it did start to feel a little samey but it’s hard not to fall in love with Cooke’s simple and honest approach. Favourite songs for me were ‘Lost and Lookin’’, ‘Trouble Blues’ and ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’. There is an old-timey feel about “Night Beat”. I imagine it as the kind of album my mum would have listened to as a young lass. It’s an album that perfectly encapsulates that time around your early 20s… where you are old enough to have a bit of an idea about the world but still young and naive enough to not yet be cynical and worn down by it. This really is a solid album that is perfect as a late night wind down album.
I wonder if anybody could dislike this album. “Night Beat” is nothing like what I usually listen to, and not once out of my several listens did I not find myself tapping my toes. It’s such a quiet album, all the instruments are really understated, allowing Sam Cooke’s voice to be the star of the show. I don’t know many musicians who would be willing to do that! The only thing that stands out at all is the piano, and what mighty fine pianoing it is. (Though I must admit that I was disappointed when I found out it wasn’t Cooke himself playing… I guess this project has set my standards high…) My favourite part of “Night Beat” is the opening two tracks, ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’, and ‘Lost And Lookin’’. ‘Nobody Knows’ is another one of those traditional slave songs that I love so much, and this arrangement is excellent. Just bass with piano fills. This same arrangement was carried over to ‘Lost And Lookin’’, just minus the piano. I’ve always thought that bass sounded ridiculous as the only instrument (a shocking statement from a bass player), but this track proves that theory wrong. No fancy runs, not trying to overcomplicate anything, just on the beat, single notes. And it is spot on. We get another version of ‘Little Red Rooster’, and now I’m torn, because I love the Howlin’ Wolf version, but Cooke’s arrangement (minus the organ. Yuck.) is so smooth. The album finishes with a version of ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’, made famous by Bill Haley and the Comets, but forget about that, the “Night Beat” version destroys Bill Haley’s, for the same reason this whole album is so great: it is smoooooooth. Simple, refined, and not trying too hard. “Night Beat” was all class.
Holy smoke, what a delightful listen this album was! The first thing I really noted was Sam Cooke’s voice. It’s certainly velvety-smooth and chocolate coated and I totally dug it. Largely made up of heartfelt 8, 12 and 16 bar blues cuts peppered with rhythm guitar riffs, organ solos and honky tonkin’ pianos, Cooke’s 1963 release “Night Beat” serves up a thematic double-helping of trouble, misery and sorrow with a side of heart break and a garnish of remorse. Just take a look at the track names – from ‘I Lost Everything’ to ‘Trouble Blues’, to ‘Find Yourself Another Fool’ – and let me assure you, Cooke was not being ironic! As if Cooke was aware of the blues overkill, the album concludes with the perfectly-placed ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ which ends the album on a lighter, more positive note. The album flows seamlessly from one track to the other- not that it is without dynamic- and is very easy going, in fact it just sort of washed over me, in a good way. Listening to this album after having recently listened to Otis Redding’s “Otis Redding Sings Soul”, you can see that Cooke laid some of the foundations for the development of the rhythm and blues style that was then continued and popularised by Redding, and I actually prefer the tones of Cooke to Redding’s. There is a certain vulnerability to his lyrics and his tone which take the album to another level of believability. Overall I enjoyed listening to what I feel is a completely timeless creation that would not be out of place in the charts even today.
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
Released December, 1969
Our story starts back in the olden times, 1950s England, where to young’uns by the names of Michael Phillip Jagger and Keith Allegedly-No-Middle-Name Richards became chums. Their families moved apart, but a chance reunion at a train station years later saw them renew pleasantries, and discover a mutual love of the same music. Naturally they formed a band, as everyone in the 60s did, taking bassist Dick Taylor with them. They found a young Brian Jones playing slide guitar in an R&B band, alongside Ian Stewart and Charlie Watts, who would later become members of the Stones. They started rehearsing as a band with a few peripheral members, but by 1962, the lineup had been set: Jagger, Jones, Richards, Stewart, Taylor, and Tony Chapman hitting the drums. Evidently the band wasn’t named after the Bob Dylan song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, but after a Muddy Waters’ track, ‘Rollin’ Stone’. When Brian Jones was asked the name of the band during a phone interview, he saw the Muddy Waters’ album on the floor and went with it.
The Rollin’ Stones played their first gig at the Marquee Club in 62, and by January 63, the Stones’ stalwart rhythm section, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts had joined. The band was signed to Decca records (the label that passed on The Beatles. Yeah. Sucks to be them), and released their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Come On’ in July of 63. Later that year, the Stones did their first tour of the UK, supporting Bo Diddly, The Everly Brothers and Little Richard. Encouraged to write their own songs, but not exactly succeeding, the band’s first album, The Rolling Stones, was mostly covers, with only three originals.
Unfortunately, due to word constraints, I have to skip a lot of events in the Stone’s timeline, including an unsuccessful tour of the US, a VERY successful tour of Australia and New Zealand, and eight more studio albums, to make sure I’ve got enough words left to rabbit on about this cracker of an album. And you don’t need to take my word for it when I say “Let It Bleed” was good. It made it to number one in the UK. Ok, that’s good, so what? The album it knocked off? “Abbey Road”. Yeah. And moreover, it contains two of my favourite Stones songs: ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. In ‘Gimme Shelter’, I really dig how Merry Clayton’s voice cracks after really pushing hard. She’s giving it everything, and there’s even a celebratory “Woo!” in the background. I can’t imagine this song without her vocals in it. The only song Stones I like more than ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ is ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and at this point it doesn’t exist. The choral intro has made it an iconic song, instantly recognisable. It even has organ that I don’t hate! The lead guitar is spot on (though when isn’t it?) and Jagger’s vocal is raw as always, but it’s not pushed too hard. These two are outstanding, but it’s not to say there isn’t weak points to “Let It Bleed”.
I bring your attention to ‘Country Honk’. You listen to it, and you know it, but not like this. The band transformed this bizarre, redneck, fiddles-and-all drawl into the guitar driven rock classic we know as ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ just after “Let It Bleed” was recorded, though ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ was released as a single, with ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ as the B-Side. It’s like they knew we would be listening to this album straight after listening to Robert Johnson, so they threw in a cover of one of his songs. I think we got a good idea of all of Johnson’s songs, and this is far preferable, though it’s not Jagger’s finest vocal moment. Long clear notes are not his friend.
“Let It Bleed” was a refreshing change after a bit of a patch with some testing albums. Even its weak spots weren’t all that weak! And even now, fifty years after it was first recorded, it doesn’t sound at all dated. “Let It Bleed” is an everlasting classic that’ll always be around.
Wow, I floved the hell out of this album! There’s too much to even talk about so I’ll summarise by focusing on my two favourite tracks which I feel epitomise the album. Fittingly, they are the opening and closing tracks of the album, respectively. Firstly, ‘Gimme Shelter’. From the opening bar of Keith Richards’ rhythm guitar riff, this song just grabs me. I could have just listened to this song over and over. This is a song that really encapsulates the overall vibe in 1969. To me, it inspired the same kind of thoughts that CCR’s ‘Fortunate Son’ did; images of the Vietnam War, of an impending sense of doom and disillusionment with the government(s) involved. It’s a social commentary on how screwed up the world seemed at the time (‘Rape, murder..it’s just a shot away’). Also, I love the addition of the female vocals (by Merry Clayton), it totally takes the song to another level by having that dramatic wail above Jagger’s lead vocal. The anthemic ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Qant’ is another corker on the album. It has a bit of everything, soaring vocals of the London Bach Choir, the congas and maracas, the French horn, piano solos. In theory it should have been a disaster, but all of the elements work so well, and it’s far from contrived. I think it’s the lyrics that balance it out, with their blatantly honest message about themes relevant to the late 60’s, such as drug use, politics and of course, love. The rest of the album has a distinct blues-rock flavour to it and provides the perfect balance to the more intense numbers. Overall, I would say this was one of my favourite albums of the 60’s and will definitely remain on popular rotation in my collection.
This Stones album was the last to feature the late Brian Jones, although his contributions were minimal. It’s also the last studio recorded long player that the Stones released on the Decca label before forming their own in 1971. Lastly, it’s the final Stones album of the 1960’s, so it seems fitting that it opens with the apocalyptic rocker ‘Gimme Shelter’. This classic track has gone on to represent the end of the decade, thanks in no small part to the tragic events at the Stones’ free concert at the Altamont Speedway, and its namesake documentary. Despite this legacy, it is one of my absolute favourite songs. Merry Clayton’s wonderful guest vocals lift this above almost any other Stones track. The worst thing about this album is that it follows such a glorious opener with the most boring song here, a cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Love In Vain’ (what amazing afyccim timing, huh?). It gets worse as we are then subjected to a pointless country version of the overplayed ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, dubbed ‘Country Honk’ here. Thankfully they kick it up several notches with the sexually-charged ‘Live With Me’, another big highlight for me. The title track is pleasant enough and I like ‘Midnight Rambler’ more than I probably should. ‘You Got the Silver’ is a lovely moment for Keith to share his special blend of vocal stylings and the rockin’ ‘Monkey Man’ is an overlooked classic. I love that guitar riff and the fabulous piano work in the instrumental bridge, courtesy of Nicky Hopkins. Bill Wyman’s use of vibraphone in the intro gives it a cool, spooky feel. I think we’ve all heard final track ‘You Can’t Always Get What Your Want’ enough times. I much prefer the single version which omits that wanky choir start. This is a pretty great album with the highlights more than making up for the average moments.
“Let It Bleed” announces itself with one of the strongest opening tracks of the 60s with ‘Gimme Shelter’. For quite some time now I’ve been of the opinion that there just isn’t enough guiro in music these days. God bless The Rolling Stones I say. Released in December of ’69 “Let It Bleed” only just gets the nod for the 60s list, for which I am thankful as it really is the perfect summation to the 60s. With a stack of albums under their belt, The Rolling Stones knew exactly what they were doing here. “Let It Bleed” is a melange of a decade worth of influences, both musical and life experiences, from a group of self-assured musicians who, after many missteps on the way, knew who they were and the music they played. From the cooing opening in ‘Gimme Shelter’ with its whip crack refrain declaring “war children, it’s just a shot away” and piercing vocal from Merry Clayton to epic closing track ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ with its reflection on everything the 60s stood for – love, politics and drugs. There is very little not to like about “Let It Bleed”. Even the quieter, almost twee moments on songs ‘Love In Vain’ and ‘Country Honk’, you can’t help but tap your foot to the beat as they are so bloody endearing. What holds this album together for me though is the brilliant musicianship of each band member and how cohesive it sounds. I listened to “Let It Bleed” a dozen or so times over the course of the week and never once tired of it. We’ve had a few tough albums to get through recently with afyccim and whilst I really enjoyed some of them, “Let It Bleed” is one that I will be revisiting on a regular basis.
Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers
When it came to putting together the 60 list for afyccim I was torn as to whether “King of the Delta Blues Singers” by Robert Johnson should be included. Technically these songs are of the 30s where they were original released as 78-rpm singles. They were put together on this compilation and release in early 1961. This album deserves its place here because it was this release that sparked a whole new generation of blues players, as well as having a massive influence on the direction that blues would take as became this thing called rock.
Robert Johnson was an interesting character about which there is folklore abound. It is said that as a young lad he would go to see blues legends Son House and Charlie Patton play. He was a competent jaw harp player at the time but what he really wanted was to be a guitar player, despite appear to have little talent for it. Johnson went travelling for two years and came back a brilliant guitarist. Legend has it that he met the devil at an out of the way crossroads, and traded his soul to become the greatest blues guitarist of all time. Johnny Shines, who often accompanied Johnson at gigs is quoted as saying “some of the things that Robert did with the guitar affected the way everybody played. He’d do rundowns and turnbacks. He’d do repeats. None of this was being done. In the early 30’s, boogie on the guitar was rare, something to be heard. Because of Robert, people learned to complement themselves, carrying their own bass as their own lead with this one instrument.” Whilst his guitar playing is astonishing he is also revered for his voice. He was known to use microtonality to slightly change the pitch of his voice as he sang. When Johnson played it sounded so much bigger than just one man with an acoustic guitar.
It was not until the release of “King of the Delta Blues Singers” that Johnson actually started to be really noticed. The thing I love most about this album is that it is obvious that Johnson was so far ahead of his time. There was no one else making music like this when he was. The release of the album in 1961 went on to have a big influence on the rock guys coming up at that time. When you listen to some of the tracks here you can hear how he went on to influence them. His influence on blues guys Muddy Waters to Howlin’Wolf and Elmore James is undeniable. And in turn they, alongside Johnson, went on to influence a whole new generation of artists, particularly the new rock scene that was developing. Without this Eric Clapton, Keith Richard and the Stones, Led Zeppelin…. They all would have sounded very different. Clapton called Johnson “The most important blues singer that ever lived”. But for me it’s Robert Plant of Led Zeppeling that put it best, “Robert Johnson, to whom we all owed our existence, in some way.”
As a fan of blues music I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s offering. This to me is the birthplace of blues. All of the blues artists I love wouldn’t exist without Robert Johnson. The songs are simple stripped down song but often sounds as if there are two guitars playing. The whole time Johnson sings in such an emotive way. It is at times hard to understand exactly what he is singing but I don’t think that really matters. He uses his voice as an instrument so you can tune out from the lyrics and just enjoy the music. The way he bangs on the body of his guitar and whoops and hollers is just something else. Favourite tracks for me included ‘Walkin’ Blues’, ’32-20 Blues’, ‘Kind Hearted Woman Blues’, ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ and ‘Hellhound on my Trail’. It appears there are many way in which one can have the blues. The thing I love most about this album though is that without it music as we know it today would be very different. I completely fell in love with this album this week. I’m so glad I had the sense to put it on the list.
So this album made feel very sleepy, even under normal circumstances. Now, as I’m writing this, I’m recovering from a very late night out with Ang and Clay. I’m listening to “King Of The Delta Blues Singers” as I wrote this, and it is not conducive to me writing the words out good. But we push on.
First thing’s first. I listened to this album on noise cancelling headphones, and the constant static noise going on during each track drove me nuts. I found the break between tracks a much needed respite. Maybe y’all brought up on vinyl can deal with it, but I’m a high definition kid, and struggle big style. Though, to be fair, this album was recorded in the freaking 1930s. They weren’t exactly recording in digital quadrophonic sound. And given the age of the recording, you’ve gotta give it to Robert Johnson. He was a fair dinkum pioneer of the southern blues style. You just can’t argue. He was before them all. All the other big blues albums – guys like Muddy Waters and Willy Dixon were all from the 60s (and fair enough, that’s what we’re focused on), but they weren’t the first. Robert Johnson is not my cup of tea, but you gotta give credit where credit’s due. I wish I could break the songs down, but they all sound so similar to me, I struggle to differentiate. I know I’ll be crucified by blues fans, and that’s cool, I’m happy to be enlightened. I will say that Johnson’s guitaring is timeless. It wouldn’t be out of place in modern blues at all, nearly eighty years later. I respect the hell out of you Robert Johnson. Without you we wouldn’t have the likes of Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. And that world would suck.
Well, another member of the 27 club that I had never even heard of! But as with many significant musicians, it turns out that Robert Johnson’s work has found its way into many modern artists’ catalogues; imagine my surprise when after about 4 listens I realised that Crossroad blues has been re-worked on one of my recent purchases, John Mayer’s Battle Studies (coincidentally released on the same label as Johnson, Columbia), presented as simply ‘Crossroads’. It’s almost unrecognisable with its funk bass line and upbeat tempo, but I picked it out when I heard the name of Willie Brown mentioned in the song. This opening track, believed to be the story of Johnson selling his soul to the devil in return for his guitar playing skills, became my favourite of “King of the Delta Blues Singers” because it pretty much epitomised everything contained on the album. Despite the fact that I didn’t overly like listening to this album it’s hard to ignore the obvious; Johnson’s distinctive blues-style wail, granted I couldn’t really understand what he was saying most of the time, but still, you can see his influence on other singers to follow him. The other thing notable of mention is of course his ‘devilishly-good’ guitar playing skills. It’s hard to tell, but there is only one guitar playing on this record, even though it sounds like more because of Johnson’s technique of playing a bass line on the bottom strings, while playing the lead guitar melody on the top strings. This boogie-woogie style was a technique that would revolutionise guitar technique from then on. As you can probably gather, this album was not really my cup of tea, but it’s worthy of a listen due to its historical significance to the development of blues and ultimately rock music.
“‘If you have a good friend have him stay right by your side.’ Robert Johnson said that. ‘How many hairs on Rin Tin Tin?’ I said that.”
That’s how Paul Kelly introduces ‘Careless’ on his “Live, May 1992” album. Almost sixty years after ‘When You Got a Good Friend’ was recorded, it still resonated enough with Kelly to share the influence Robert Johnson had on him. An influence that can be heard across the decades and countries in many artists. This compilation contains many lyrics and innuendos that have gone on to become blues clichés and it can be seen as ground zero for the genre. Lines that I’d first heard in songs by Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Muddy Waters all came from these recordings. Mr Johnson was a master of the blues euphemism, or if you will, ‘bluephemism’. It’s pretty hard to top “You can squeeze my lemon till/Juice run down my leg” from ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ and I wonder how it was received in 1937. Despite being recorded back then, this album wasn’t put together and released until 1961, famously leaving its mark on Eric Clapton. When Cream performed a radical reworking of the record’s opening track ‘Cross Road Blues’ (and re-titled it ‘Crossroads’) they introduced Robert Johnson to a wider audience; although many musicians were already clued in. Johnson’s guitar work is pretty phenomenal and his ability to play bass notes along with little blues riffs and sing at the same time shows immense talent, particularly for that era. I’ve made no secret of my hatred of the blues, but I didn’t mind this too much. It gets a little monotonous for me after the eighth or ninth song, but I enjoyed this album more than the other afyccim blues albums put together.