Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
Released April, 1962

This week gives us the album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” by Ray Charles, released April, 1962. Old mate Charles was a prolific bugger and released a steady stream of albums from 1957 onwards. He had a tough life, raised in the south of America . It was here he grew to love both the blues of the south and country and western music, believing that the lyrical content was very similar. By the time he recorded “Modern Sounds” Charles had moved on indie label Atlantic where he played a crude mix of R& B and gospel and had signed to ABC-Paramount in a massive deal in which he could pretty much record whatever he wanted. In a move that would confuse everyone, he used his creative control to record his beloved country and western music in an R&B/soul style. It was a moved that was doubted by many of his peers and the people in his record label. The period in which he was recording it was known for its racial segregation and it was not seen as a wise move for a black man to record ‘white’ music. Not only was it the most successful move of his career, it also had a massive influence on the Civil Rights Movement. In the process he helped bring country music to a whole new audience. “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” is Ray Charles most successful album and it had massive commercial and critical success.

I had no idea what to expect with this album and naively thought it would be a black man singing country songs in a country style. How wrong I was. What it actually is, is a black man singing country songs in a black style but with a massive orchestra and choir bringing in a white style. Confused? Yeah, I was too. I just didn’t get it to begin with. I didn’t really connect with this album on my first few listens. It felt over-produced and too polished. To be honest I often felt like I was listening to the soundtrack of an old school Disney movie with all of the orchestration and choral singing. After about four listens things started to turn around a bit. By the time the fifth listen came around I had fallen in love with Mr Charles’ ragged tones. I thought Otis Redding had soul a couple of weeks ago but I reckon Ray Charles gives him a good run for his money. I’m listening again to “Modern Sounds” as I’m writing this and I’m still surprised at how much I’m enjoying considering how much I disliked on the first few listens.

Country and western music is lyrically very honest and I think it is this is where this album excel. Ray Charles’ voice is so honest and believable that when you couple that with the simple country and western lyrics here it’s hard not to feel something. By all means I should hate this album. It has all the things I’ve been discovering I don’t really like in music – country & western, a big orchestral/choral sound, unnecessary production  and it has marketing gimmick written all over it. But god damn if I didn’t fall hopelessly in love with Mr Charles. There is just something so charming that despite all of the elements I didn’t like I still fell in love with songs like ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’, ‘Careless Love’ and a favourite from my childhood ‘Hey, Good Lookin’.

Don’t get me wrong, I did struggle getting through the whole album. No matter how much I love the man’s voice there is only so many ‘Disneyfied’ arrangements one can handle. Last week I said I admired Patsy Cline for what she achieved and stood for, but I was pretty quick to delete it off the iPod. Songs from this album however will remain as all week I’ve found myself walking around singing them, unable to get them out of my head.  I’m not ready to let this one go yet. Thank you Ray Charles for helping me find beauty where I was least expecting it.

I was disappointed by this Ray Charles album, even if the title does tell you exactly what it’s going to be. It’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. It’s very pretty and all that, but when you know what Ray Charles is capable of – his up beat, energetic rhythm and blues tracks like ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘I’ve Got A Woman’, released in the 50s – “ Modern Sounds” is much too sleepy for my liking. There are two exceptions, and conveniently, they are the first and last tracks. The first so you want to keep listening, and the last so it leaves a good taste in your mouth, hopefully making you forget the lullabies in the middle. I don’t think ‘Bye Bye Love’ necessarily fits in to the country and western mould, but it’s great fun, even if the lyrics aren’t great fun for the narrator. Even if most of the songs are a bit dull for my liking, at least they all show off Ray’s amazing piano abilities. I reckon his pianoing is even more impressive, considering how he can’t see using his eyes or anything. His voice is brilliant as well, but you don’t need to be able to see to sing well. I guess it would be remiss of me to not mention the orchestral arrangement. They sure add a sense of drama to the country ballads, and fill the recording out a lot, the horns providing a dramatic sound, and the strings adding a melancholy atmosphere. (I feel like I say melancholy a lot… Is there another word for it?) I know this album was immensely successful, earning Grammy nominations and awards, I just think Ray’s more energetic offerings are better than country and western. Though most things are better than country and western.

Well, my BA (Before Afyccim) knowledge of Ray Charles was pretty much limited to one of my favourite songs ever, ‘I Gotta Woman’ (as re-modelled by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx in “Gold Digger”). So, I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn‘t prepared for the croony sounds that “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” delivered.  That’s not to say that I didn’t like this album; quite the contrary actually. As the album title suggests, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” presents a blending of country and western music with rhythm and blues and soul, and at the time served as the perfect means to develop C & W standards into a more contemporary sound. For the most part the album is a bit OTT for my liking, sounding very Big Band and way too polished. And what’s with those hideous close-vocal sections that sound like they belong on a Bing Crosby Christmas Album? They’re just too much. Despite these negatives, I had a couple of favourites, namely ‘You Don’t Know Me’  – for its believability due in part to Charles’ emotional delivery – and of course the cheeky ‘Hey Good Lookin’ for the clever use of metaphors, its funky piano solos, and its theme of throwing caution to the wind. In true country and western style, the songs are about love, longing and heartbreak, which are all themes and lyrics that lent themselves well to the rhythm and blues and soul style into which they would be re-shaped. The parts of the album that I enjoyed were the quieter moments that didn’t sound like they came straight off the soundtrack for a chick flick. Overall, an enjoyable album that would compliment any dinner party or would be nice enjoyed with Sunday morning cups of tea, and definitely one that should be found in any serious music lover’s vinyl collection, mine included.

I can see why this album would have been groundbreaking in 1962; a blind African-American performing country standards written by white people, and infusing them with gospel and swing sensibilities? This concept could have destroyed Ray’s career, but he famously said that if he played it right, he’d gain more fans that he’d lose. The problem with looking at an album like this fifty years after it was released is having no real appreciation of the impact or shock it caused. Not being alive at that time, I have to judge this on its musical merits alone, although I can appreciate the influence this would have had on other artists. So, I’m going to say right here that I didn’t enjoy this album. The arrangements are saturated with syrupy backing vocals, that makes the record sound five or ten years older that it actually is. Many of the songs are overproduced with the strings and brass becoming the dominant texture, dwarfing Ray’s vocals. The only track that seems to showcase his singing and piano-playing is the last one, a great cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Hey, Good Lookin’, which is by far the best thing on this album. I actually didn’t mind ‘Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way)’ either. Two of the most well known cuts here are ‘Born to Lose’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ which both bore me to tears. I don’t need to hear yet another version of ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and the attempt to swing up opening track ‘Bye Bye Love’ is one of the biggest misfires on the album. If I want to listen to Ray Charles, I’ll bust out ‘Mess Around’, ‘I Got a Woman’, and, of course, ‘What’d I Say?’. This isn’t the Ray for me. I prefer him lively and pounding those keys.

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.

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Released August, 1967

Album not available on spotify or grooveshark. Sorry about that!

1. Astronomy Domine – 0.00
2. Lucifer Sam – 4.12
3. Matilda Mother – 7.19
4. Flaming – 10.27
5. Pow R. Toc. H – 13.13
6. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk – 17.39
7. Interstellar Overdrive – 20.45
8. The Gnome – 30.25
9. Chapter 24 – 32.38
10. The Scarecrow – 36.20
11. Bike – 38.31

DISCLAIMER: I am a massive Pink Floyd fan. I love everything they’ve done. There’s a chance this review will get out of control gushy, and due to this bias, I probably won’t make mention of how this album is, musically anyway, an insane piece of DFN. We all know it is, let’s just try and get past it, ok?

Pink Floyd’s formation years read like a revolving door of band members, as we’ve seen so frequently through the 60s. The first incarnation was Sigma 6 in1965, a six man band that included Rick Wright and school friends Nick Mason and Roger Waters. (Just as an interesting side note, Nick Mason would go on to be the only member to stay with the band since it’s ’65 formation..) Mason and Waters moved in together, but Mason moved out and was replaced by Sigma 6 guitarist Rado ‘Bob’ Klose. After experimenting with band names, some very ridiculous, they settled on The Tea Set, because why not? In 1964, two that we don’t care about of the band left to form their own band (dumbasses) and we welcome Mr Roger Barrett to the story. Syd quickly became the band’s frontman, and they scored a residency at The Countdown Club in London. They were playing marathon sets, lasting over four hours, so to avoid song repetition they came to the “realisation that songs could be extended by lengthy solos” according to Mason. Klose quit the band (dumb) and Barrett took over on lead guitar. They became the Pink Floyd Sound in ’65 after they found another band called The Tea Set.

At a gig in ’66 the band was noticed by Peter Jenner and Andrew King, who decided to manage them, even with little knowledge of the music industry. They dropped the Sound part of the name and became a big part of the underground music scene. The famous Pink Floyd stage shows began here, experimenting with crazy coloured lighting and shapes. They developed a following at the famous, but short lived, UFO club in London, but quickly outgrew the small room. Floyd started attracting a lot of attention, and after recording two songs, they were picked up by EMI/Columbia in 1967. They did the TV circuit, gaining more momentum on shows like Top Of The Pops. By now, Barrett was heavily using LSD, and his behaviour was noticeably different. In August 1967, the band recorded their first studio album. “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” making it to number six on the British album charts.

Now, I’ve got word limits to play by, so I can’t cover all the songs I’d like, so enjoy my favourites.
Without a doubt my favourite track is ‘Bike’. It’s SO absurd. Lyrics about gingerbread men, mice and bikes. And the absurdity fits perfectly with the circus like keys that are playing, unlike the chorus, which apparently doesn’t fit with anything. Kind of unusually, the outro seems like it could run on straight into Time, that wouldn’t be released for another six years.

The opening track, ‘Astronomy Domine’ is, I think, the epitome of Barrett era Pink Floyd. It’s mental lyrics – Blinding signs flap flicker flicker flicker, Blam pow pow, stairway scare Dan Dare, who’s there? The unusual sound effects at the end, the man’s voice over a radio – morse code beeps and just plain bizarre noises at the end, and the unrefined and elongated guitar solo notes. It’s the only track from this album the band played live on the live concert recording “Pulse”.’ Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk’ should go down in history as one of the best song titles, even if it lacks literally everywhere else. How they make such a terrible song fun is beyond me. The instrumental is fair dinkum crazy. Guitar played frantically and without precision, a huge juxtaposition against the silky smooth skills of later Dave Gilmour work, and too much organ, and we know how much I love organ. I’m looking at you, The Doors.

“The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” is a mess. An ugly, beautiful mess. I can’t help but smile at the absurdity every time I hear it. And I always will.

Man, did this album do anyone else’s head in or was it just me? You definitely don’t need to be an acid junkie to experience a trip, just listen to “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and see where that takes you. Pink Floyd’s debut album wavers somewhere between psychedelia and folk rock, and  you can really hear the other artists of that time who were having an effect on Barrett’s writing style – The Beatles, The Kinks, The Byrds, Love – all the psychedelic stuff! A lot of the songs on “The Piper  at the Gates of Dawn” are themed around mundane items like cats, bicycles and scarecrows, but the songs themselves are far from simple.  Organs, harpsichords, musical interludes and unicorns abound, and the lyrics are nonsensical (at least they are to me). This is DFN at its best (or worst, more to the point) and I found it difficult to relate to the strange themes, erratic musical patterns and crazy structure of the songs. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is a far cry from “Dark Side of the Moon”, let me tell you. But it’s great to compare the two just to see the development of Pink Floyd’s style over the years, and after the departure of a pickled Syd Barrett. I’m probably going to get called a blasphemer for this, but “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” did nothing for me and listening to it was just hard work. Too noisy, way too experimental, and just messy. Sorry Dad!

If you’re not familiar with the Syd Barrett era of Pink Floyd, you’re in for a shock. No pretty David Gilmour guitar solos here; he wasn’t even in the band yet! No songs about putting up a wall to protect your psyche from Roger Waters either. In fact, the only song on this album solely written by Waters, ‘Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk’, is easily the weakest. This is where it all started, and indeed, the DFN is strong with this one. Almost entirely penned by Barrett, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is divided into almost-childlike songs of whimsy (‘The Gnome’, ‘Scarecrow’), atmospheric psychedelia (‘Astronomy Domine’) and challenging instrumental pieces, namely ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ and ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. The latter starts with a fairly catchy riff played repeatedly for about a minute before descending into a genre-defining melange of noisy improvisations, revealing Waters’ penchant for playing octave notes on his bass in the process. If you want a real spin out, listen to this with headphones on. The final minute’s rapid panning between the left and right speaker will threaten your equilibrium. Nudging the ten minute mark, this track is probably the album’s acid test, pardon the pun. Other highlights for me include ‘Flaming’ and ‘Lucifer Sam’, which features an intro reminiscent of a 1960’s spy film chase. For the goofy grin it gives me, I can’t go past ‘Bike’ as my favourite, with its lyrics coming off like a warped nursery rhyme. Barrett’s mental breakdown, triggered by excessive LSD use, saw him replaced by Gilmour in 1968. His downfall and retreat from the music industry is one of its saddest tales. While not for all tastes, this album is where Barrett’s star shone brightest before it burnt out.

The significance of “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” in the Pink Floyd catalogue is that it features Mr Syd Barret, who is responsible for writing the majority of the songs and providing the vocals. The thing with Barret is he was a tad crazy and by the time this album was released he had trouble keeping it together to perform. By the release of their next album just one year later, “A Saucer Full of Secrets”, Barret was no longer able to perform live and only appears briefly on the album. It would be the last album he would work on with Pink Floyd. Despite his mental issues Barret was a much loved member of Pink Floyd and very influential on the course of Psychedelic Rock. Coming into this week I knew that “Pipers” had quite a legacy attached to it. It’s not the worst album I’ve heard over the course of this year (hello Frank Sinatra and “September of my Years”) but it is a far stretch from the brilliance of Pink Floyd post Syd Barret. Musically it’s actually quite good, other than a few weird freak outs. But the lyrics… ack the lyrics! The whole thing reminded me a lot of prog rock luminaries King Crimson. Like “In the Court of the Crimson King”, the first song is brilliant and then it all fall apart for me. I can understand why early Pink Floyd stuff is seen as influential. They were doing weird shit… which often is the catalyst for brilliance to emerge. I get why people go crazy for this sort of music, it’s just not my cup of tea. I just can’t imagine this album being released now and actually been seen as a masterpiece. If that means I am a philistine then so be it.

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.

Patsy Cline – Showcase

Patsy Cline – Showcase
Released November, 1961

Patsy Cline was born Virginia Patterson Hensley , and was later nicknamed ‘Patsy’ by her second manager. She grew up in Winchester, Virginia, to working class parents and was one of 3 children. Cline was always musical, and taught herself to play the piano as a child (just like me!). Like another 60’s contemporary, Nina Simone, Patsy Cline was known for her contralto voice, a voice that to this day is highly recognisable and cited as one of the greatest and most influential of the 20th century.

In her early career, and while under the strict guidance of Four Star Records, Cline  experimented with the Rockabilly and Honky Tonk styles, but found little success or notoriety from her recordings and performances. It was only after she auditioned for a CBS-TV show ‘Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts’,  that she was given her first foray into popular rotation and from there her career only went from strength to strength.  Performing  ‘Walkin’ after midnight’, Cline was met with astounding reviews, and promptly released the track as her first single. Shortly thereafter, ‘Walkin’ after Midnight’ reached number 2 on the Country Music Charts and allowed Cline to enjoy popularity not only in Country music circles, but in the mainstream pop charts also, and she rode off  its success for 2 years.

Cline eventually went on to develop “the Nashville Sound’, a sub-genre of American Country Music  popularised by producers at Nashville’s RCA and Columbia Records. The Nashville Sound was characterised by the replacement of traditional ‘honky-tonk’ style instruments such as fiddles and steel guitar, with more subtle instruments such as string sections, and a more ‘croony’ vocal style.  Cline is known as one of the first women to not only break into the country music scene, but also to be inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame. On top of all this she was also the first female country artist to have their own dedicated Las Vegas Show. She was a woman who was known for her generosity of spirit who loved freely, a woman of strong character who wasn’t afraid to stand up to a man, and for the way in which she was introduced to the stage like a true artist should be – regardless of their gender (‘Ladies and gentleman, the one and only Patsy Cline’). At the peak of her career, she was actually being paid more than her male equivalents.

“Showcase” was Patsy Cline’s sophomore release, and included some of her most successful songs from the previous year, recorded with Elvis Presley’s band, the Jordanaires. The first track of side one, “I fall to pieces”, was her first number 1 on the Billboard chart. In my opinion, the song should have been called ‘I fall to sleep’. I mean really, snore. Track 2, ‘Foolin’ around’, originally written by Buck Owens, is a different story. A quirky and catchy pop song with a South- American rhythm section,  this is the most upbeat song of the album, which is an oxymoron, since it’s about a cheating husband. But I always enjoy a juxtaposition of themes.  The only other track worth noting is her famous recording of Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’.  I can see why Cline inspired so many people, she was a pro when it came to imparting emotional conviction into her work, and Crazy is a beautiful example of this. It’s hard to believe she recorded this in just one take, after stewing over it for about a week. Overall – and as with much of Cline’s body of work –  most of the songs on ‘Showcase’ are tender and earnest with a hint of female vulnerability. The songs mostly theme around loneliness, longing and heart ache.  And again, snore.

Like too many great and influential artists of the 20th Century, Patsy Cline tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 30, just 2 years after “Showcase” was released. An interesting fact is that Cline eventually helped to launch the career of a 13 year old Lee Ann Rimes. Rimes’ debut single, Blue, was in fact a song written by Bill Mack for Patsy Cline but did not get recorded due to her premature death. If that’s not a living, breathing legacy, I don’t know what is.

Not being a country music enthusiast, I was pleasantly surprised by this album. What is it about Patsy Cline’s voice that’s so endearing? There’s a sweetness lying underneath the sadness that tinges some of these songs. She’s singing about heartache and it somehow seems uplifting instead of gloomy. The arrangements are light and breezy, making the music very accessible. Although they are almost buried in the mix, the background vocals of the Jordanaires are wonderfully representative of the era; bordering on cheesy, but never overstepping the line. It doesn’t hurt that this record also contains three of her biggest hits in ‘I Fall to Pieces’, ‘Walking After Midnight’ and ‘Crazy’. These three tracks have been ingrained into popular culture over the last few decades, transcending the country music scene that they’re synonymous with. Cline also turns her talents to some unusual covers, particularly Cole Porter’s ‘True Love’ from the musical “High Society”. Rather than standing out, the song blends with the flow of the album remarkably well. I believe that if Cline hadn’t died in 1963, she would have become a musical chameleon, a la Bobby Darin, jumping from genre to genre with each new album. She does a lovely rendition of country standard ‘The Wayward Wind’ and ‘South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)’ has never sounded so inviting. There are one or two tracks that are fairly ordinary, but they are easily forgiven. After all, this record was put together at a time before albums were being crafted as whole pieces, rather than just a collection of songs. For sheer aural pleasure, I can’t go past ‘Crazy’. Penned by Willie Nelson, this often-covered, but never-bettered track is the highlight of the record. Seeing as Cline successfully crossed over into the pop scene, I believe this album will have something for most music fans.

Patsy Cline was one of the original bad asses. The early 60s were a time where women were told what to sing, how to dress and how to act. Cline was having none of that. She played as hard as the boys but did so in a cocktail dress and heels. She carved her own path, demanding respect from her peers as went. There is definitely something about Cline’s voice and presence that is very assured. “Showcase” is notable for Cline’s biggest hit ‘Crazy’. It’s one of those rare songs that no matter how many times it is covered will always be a Patsy Cline song, which is kind of ironic as it’s actually a Willie Nelson song. Other favourite songs were ‘I Love You So Much it Hurts’ and ‘Seven Lonely Days’.  Whilst never having consciously listened to Patsy Cline her sound was very familiar as I listened to “Showcase”. I made a phone call to dad who told me he played her music a lot as I was growing up… he also said to tell you all that if you like Patsy Cline you should also check out Skeeter Davis. I’m kind of torn with this album. I love everything Cline stood for and her voice reminds me a lot of being a kid, so there’s an emotional connection there. However much I tried though it pretty much comes down to this – I just don’t like country music and I just don’t like that big orchestral sound. I do have a soft spot for Patsy though… how could you not? This album however is probably not one I’ll be revisiting in a hurry.

For me, “Showcase” is an interesting dichotomy. Half the album I like, and half I really struggled through. There’s no denying Patsy Cline’s voice is pretty great. It’s sweet and refined, and does both slow ballads and the faster, poppy songs. The band is good. There’s nothing that really stands out, but I guess when you’re… ahem… Showcasing the singer’s voice, you don’t want anything drawing attention away from it. There is quite the roster of musicians that played on this album though, from your regular old guitars and drums, to cellos, violas and steel drums. “Showcase” starts with ‘I Fall To Pieces’, which falls on the list of songs I didn’t care for. It’s lovely if you like that kind of thing, but it’s a bit, well, boring for my liking.Which is quite the juxtaposition to track two, ‘Foolin’ Around’, which sits proudly atop the list of tracks I did like. Now, I’m not sure why I liked it. I don’t know what instrument it is in the background, but I dig it. It kinda sounds flute-y, but there’s no credits for a flute in the liner notes… The faster beat helps it move along, which I like. ‘The Wayward Wind’. Zzzzz. This is where the strings come in to effect, but not in a good way, for mine. It’s a perfect lullaby though! The standout track for me is ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’. It’s lyrically a bit confusing, but it’s a pretty good fusion of country and blues, with a kind of surfy, Beach Boys style guitar. The album finishes pretty strongly, even if the last two tracks sound quite similar… It is safe to say Patsy Cline “Showcase” wasn’t my favourite album so far. Much to hit and miss for my liking, but it definitely wasn’t awful!

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.

Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul

Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
Released September, 1965


This week’s guest reviewer is friend of afyccim Todd, all round good guy and mate to young Megan. Say hi to him on twitter here.

The first time I heard Otis Redding was not actually on one of his tracks.  It was on the track ‘Otis’ by Kanye West and Jay Z, where I later learnt that they had sampled the Otis Redding song ‘Try a Little Tenderness’.  If you are a Kanye fan, I strongly recommend you lookup ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  My curiosity as to who could make what is essentially a grunt sound so damn cool that it gets sampled in a rap song got the better of me and therefore sparked my exploration of the legend that is Otis Redding. Coincidently, a short time later my good friend Megan asked if I’d like to do a guest review.  After seeing Otis on the list I was honoured to jump at the chance.

Otis Redding was destined to work in music, his father was a gospel singer and through this, he was therefore involved in music at a young age.  He was then denied to continue to compete in talent shows after winning 15 times straight.  After leaving school early he did some work with Little Richard as well as learning multiple instruments and even became a professional Disc Jockey for some time.  Sadly, Otis died in a plane crash at the very young age of 26, but had accomplished so much in his short lifetime. Along with having a family with four children, which he lived with on a 300 acre property which was affectionately called “The Big O Ranch”, he also recorded 6 studio albums and earning the title “King of Soul,” and started his own record label “Jotis Records”. Since his death he has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has had 4 posthumous albums released.

“Otis Blue” is Otis Redding’s third studio album and is essentially a cover album.  Upon first listen, there are several songs that are quite familiar.  Don’t let that take anything away from this record though, Otis truly does make each song his own.  For example, he covered the Rolling Stone’s ‘Satisfaction’ without hearing it first.  Otis swapped out quite a few lyrics and substituted horns for the guitar riff, making this one of the first British songs covered by a black artist rather than the norm at the time, which was the other way around.

Funnily enough, probably the most recognised songs on the album is one of only two songs that is not a cover.  “‘Respect’ took only a day to write, 20 minutes to arrange and a day to record,” Otis had been previously quoted.  While this original version sounds very similar to the very successful Aretha Franklin cover, the messages differ greatly between the two.  Aretha’s version not only helped me learn how to spell the word, but became iconic to the 70’s feminist movement, where Redding’s original intention couldn’t have been further from this.  The original portrays a man begging his lady for some attention.

For me, this album sparked an interest in soul music and as such, since this album, I have listened to each of Redding’s studio albums.  Each have their own flavour and style, however one thing remains constant throughout – Redding’s pure coolness in his voice that resinates emotion through each track.  You can really feel the intent of each song.  In many ways, Otis was a catalyst of swag and paved the way for many modern artists to emphasise their raw emotion in their music.  Something that is perfectly emulated in the sampled ‘Otis’ by Kanye many years later.  Otis Redding has definitely been included on my playlists and I truly hope his legacy lives on.

It has been said that with Redding began the birth of ‘Southern Soul’, which to me is a little more closer to the gospel and blues of the south than the polished sounds of Motown. Out of its eleven tracks “Otis Blue” has eight cover songs. One thing that really struck me with Redding’s covers is that whilst he doesn’t mess too much with sound of the original they definitely embody his spirit. The backing band here is none other than Booker T & the MGs. Thrown into the mix is Isaac Hayes. Hearing a fine band behind a fine voice is always an aural delight and this album is no exception. Musically it’s right on the money and vocally Redding just takes it to another level. I loved the way that as a whole it sounds really tight but there is still room for the looseness that a voice like Redding’s demands.  Together they recorded the whole album, with the exception of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, in a 24 hour period. For such a polished and defining album that almost defies logic. I ended up listening to this album about 7 or 8 times. It was only after 3 listens that I actually put headphones on and had a proper listen to what was going on. “Otis Blue” is very much a headphones album for me. Every time I listened to it that way I would hear so many little things I missed previously. Favourite track was definitely ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’.  I recently saw the following quote by George Washington Carver used in relation to Otis Redding: “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” I reckon that’s pretty bang on.

I really love listening to Otis Redding. His voice is like a smooth bourbon; easy to drink, but still with a wee kick to it. “Otis Blue” is one of my favourite chill out albums. ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is a rarity for me. It’s a song I hear daily on the work iPod, but I never get tired of listening to it, and I’ll always tap my feet. It still spins me out that all through the 60s, artists were covering other’s songs that were relatively recent. This album was released in 65, but Sam Cooke’s version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ only came out a year earlier! Otis Blue has a version of ‘Satisfaction’ that was released only three months after The Rolling Stones! It’s still a great version though, with Redding using horns for the main riff, which apparently was how Keith Richards originally intended it. Now we come to the unusual situation of hearing the same song twice in one decade… And for me it’s a toss up as to whose I like better, Aretha’s or Otis’, though I find it weird Otis says he won’t care if she does him wrong, and he’s gonna give her all his money. All for respect? Unless by respect he means… Ohhhhhhh. This is another one of those star studded albums, with Otis on vocals, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass (his name has popped up a bit this year!), Steve Cropper on guitar and Al “The Human Timekeeper” Jackson Jnr on drums. It also features the keyboard stylings of Chef from South Park, or Isaac Hayes as his parents called him. “Otis Blue” was an ace album that I could happily listen to over and over. Which is good, because I did. Four trumpets out of five.

It is my firm belief that no one, but no one sings the blues like Otis Redding. “Otis Blue: Otis Sings the Blues” certainly takes the cake for the level of soul and feeling that goes into the tracks. This was my favourite blues album of the crash course to date, and listening to it was virtually effortless. There’s something for everyone on this record, from tender ballads to toe-tapping party starters. There’s so much goodness going on that I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll summarise. Firstly, the highlights: his cover of the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ just blew me away. It’s a bold, fun, cover of the classic and almost passes as a Redding original, due to his ad lib lyricism and the brass sections that completely Otis-ify the song. His cover of ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ is a beautiful soul-meets-country blues song drenched in angst – his emotive delivery makes the story so believable. I didn’t really enjoy his take on The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ as much as the original, he didn’t seem to ‘own’ it so it seemed meaningless. I actually prefer Aretha Franklin’s cover of ‘Respect’, purely because she seemed to sing it with more conviction, probably because she was coming from the feminist angle. Negatives aside, they are really a drop in the ocean on the scale of afyccim. Overall, the album goes from strength to strength and musically, I don’t have anything bad to say. Otis left a timeless legacy and pioneered a throaty singing style that would continue to influence artists for many decades after his tragic death. It’s crazy to think that if Otis Redding was still alive he’d be 71.  Makes you wonder if he’d be in the studio working on collaborations with Kanye and Jay-Z for real!

I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but I was a bit disappointed with this album. Although there are some fine moments, I found at least half of the tracks here underwhelming. The death of Redding’s mentor, Sam Cooke, in late 1964 was a massive blow to the music industry and he pays tribute by cutting three Cooke tracks. He does a great job of ‘Shake’, but his takes on ‘Wonderful World’ and ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (simply titled ‘Change Gonna Come’ here) are average, at best. Redding’s vocal phrasing on ‘Wonderful World’ is awful and his overuse of the words ‘good’ and ‘now’ irritate me. The way he messes with the lyrics and the chorus melody of ‘Change Gonna Come’ is a crime against music. I love that song, and the more I listened to Redding’s version the more I longed for Sam Cooke. ‘My Girl’ sounds rushed and tacked on, which is quite possible seeing as this album was recorded in such a short time. He goes off key and flubs the words (the line is “I’ve got so much HONEY, the bees envy me”), which is a real shame, because a rendition without the Temptation’s trademark harmonies was a nice idea. His cover of ‘Satisfaction’ is questionable as well, but when Redding gets it right, he knocks it out of the park. ‘Ole Man Trouble’, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and ‘Down in the Valley’ are classic performances. Aretha Franklin’s revamp may be miles better, but it’s nice to hear where ‘Respect’ came from too. The real stars of this album are the Stax Records house band who shine on every track, with an absolutely kick-ass brass section. Guitarist Steve Cropper and keyboardist Isaac Hayes also serve as the album’s producers. Why is the bass playing so good? Because it’s Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, that’s why.

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.

Nina Simone – Pastel Blues

Nina Simone – Pastel Blues
Released October, 1965

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina Simone was a singer songwriter from North Carolina, USA who became famous not only for her music but also for her involvement in the American civil rights movement. She grew up as one of eight children, with a preacher for a father. Simone developed her intuitive, virtuoso piano style through experienced gained playing the piano at her father’s church from the young age of 6. She did undertake formal classical music studies, but ‘fell into’ her pop music career while working gigs in a local bar to earn a living while studying at the notorious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Her music would continue to include aspects of classical influences, especially her piano work.

From a young age, Simone showed all the signs of a promising classical musical career, and as a result members of her community, including her mother’s employer, pitched in to help support her music lessons. It was with this scholarship that she was able to attend high school and eventually study to audition for the very prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The audition proved unsuccessful despite an extremely positive performance. Simone always maintained that she was denied entry into the school due to her skin colour. Ironically, Simone was awarded an honorary degree by that same institute, posthumously. Throughout her lengthy and successful career, Simone recorded more than 40 albums – both studio and live. She is perhaps most famous internationally for her 1958 recording of ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’, a song that would go on to feature on a Chanel No.5 commercial in 1987. In fact her music has been featured in many big name films, television shows.

“Pastel Blues” was Simone’s 8th studio album and was released in 1965. The album kicks off with ‘Be My Husband’. Written by Simone’s then husband and manager Andrew Stroud, the song is performed pretty much a capella except for the accompaniment of the kick drum and hi hat, and later is peppered with hand claps and grunts. I’m actually familiar with, and a fan of this song, as it was covered by the late great Jeff Buckley and aptly re-named ‘Be your husband’, on his “Live at Sin-e” recordings. It bears a resemblance to a traditional American folk song and makes a brilliant feature of Simone’s contralto voice. Contralto is actually the deepest pitched female voice.  In fact her voice is so deep on this track – and others on the album – that anyone unfamiliar with Simone’s style would be forgiven for mistaking her as a male singer.

I especially loved track 3, ‘End of the Line’, it’s a romantic, tender and sweet ballad, featuring a long introduction with swoony piano flourishes that have a classical edge, reminiscent of the romantic piano style of Chopin. Even after the song finishes, it seems to linger in the air. Similarly, her take on Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, a haunting and lamentful song that tells the story of the lynching of black men in the southern US states, and also really stayed with me. The song exudes emotion and you can feel Simone’s own experiences and opinions are embedded in the performance. Track 4, ‘Trouble in Mind’ is a boogie woogie-ish jazzy number based around the 8-bar blues, which was somewhat of a blues standard at the time. It’s a really catchy little song that just drips with joy and sunshine, and I really liked its simplicity and cute, optimistic lyrics “Trouble in mind, I’m blue, But I won’t be blue always, ‘Cause I know the sun’s gonna shine in my back door someday”.

“Pastel Blues” was a slow grower for me. At first it was more like background music but there came a point where I really started honing in on the emotions and key themes of the album. I found it really nice to listen to late at night and in the afternoons as it has a retrospective and emotive feel to it and doesn’t really work well in the morning. I’d actually like to try to learn some of the songs off the album on piano (such as ‘Trouble in Mind’ and ‘End of the Line’). Highly recommended.

I’ve loved Nina Simone’s rendition of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ for years. I only learnt that she was a pianist as well when I caught one of her live performances on TV one day. I didn’t find anything on this album to be as catchy and memorable as that song, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. The opening track, ‘Be My Husband’ (written by her then husband and manager Andy Stroud) is a catchy tune that features only Simone’s voice, hand-claps and a drum hi-hat. It sounds great for the first minute or two, but you’re left waiting for the band to kick in and they never do. The song does serve as a nice introduction to the album though, and showcases that fab voice for hers. The production is excellent for its time, and the musicians do a fine job of backing her, never forgetting that Simone is the star. Even when one of the guitarists solos on the wonderfully breezy track ‘Chilly Winds Don’t Blow’ it’s quite low and unobtrusive. She does a fabulous version of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ and the haunting ‘Strange Fruit’ is filled with anger and sadness. Written by a schoolteacher, the latter vividly describes the lynchings of African American men in the deep south. It was made famous by Billie Holiday, but Simone’s world-weary tone makes this my favourite track here. The album closes with ‘Sinnerman’, one of her most famous songs. Starting with a piano riff that’s guaranteed to get your foot tapping, it gets a bit tedious by the six minute mark. This may seem hypocritical from a guy who happily listens to ten or twelve minute Neil Young songs, but hey, you like what you like. This isn’t really my thing, but it’s easy to listen to.

Nina Simone is a musician’s musician. Her music is loved and adored by many successful and influential artists. She was known as the “High Priestess of Soul” for a good reason. There is something about Nina Simone’s voice that just transcends to a whole other level. There is a certain conviction to her vocals that is very relatable. You don’t just listen, you feel it. There are a few tracks on “Pastel Blues” that are a bit, well, average. But the opening track and last two tracks up makes up for any sub par songs. ‘Be My Husband’ is a great opener, and quite different for its time. If I could sing a song that powerful with just hand claps and a hi-hat for accompaniment I’d be a happy woman. The version ‘Strange Fruit’ here with its lilting piano and that voice gets me every time. Sorry Bill Holiday, this is the best version I’ve ever heard of this song. I’ll admit it, there may have been a tear or two. ‘Sinnerman’ actually reminded me a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, especially their live shows, with the whole call and response thing. Until I had listened to this album I had no idea that Nina Simone was a big influence for Nick Cave, but it was very evident in the sound. And who doesn’t love a good hand clap solo? I ended up listening to this album around seven or eight times and I’m glad I had those extra listens because it gave me a little bit more time to appreciate the genius that is Nina Simone. I remember when she passed away in 2003 and how it seemed to be a bit of a big deal. Now I understand why.

The first thing I noticed about Nina Simone is her voice. Err… Obviously. I’m probably going to get in trouble for this, but I’m not a fan of it. I’ve spent the week trying to figure out what it is I don’t like about her voice, but I couldn’t. I realise I’ll probably get in trouble for not justifying such an unpopular opinion, but her voice just grates against me. I can’t explain it. Sorry. The thing about “Pastel Blues” that stands out to me is the excellent musical arrangements. I didn’t know that Nina was the pianist for this album, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s a much better pianist than singer! The jazzy chops she lays down during ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out’ are exceptional. I don’t know what they’re called on piano, but where I come from they’re fills, and the piano fills through ‘End Of The Line’ are excellent. I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who can play like that and sing at the same time. As much as I don’t enjoy her voice, I absolutely loved ‘Be My Husband’. To me it was reminiscent of some African American slave work songs. They would sing songs like Jumpin’ just and Old Alabama while working in the fields, a capella, with the sound of their axes and tools keeping the beat, in the same manner as the hi hat in this recording. ‘Sinnerman’ is probably Nina Simone’s most famous song. And rightly so. Her frantic pianoing combined with splashy cymbals and high tempo hi hats add a sense of urgency, which this song was all about. Safe to say I wasn’t the hugest fan of this album. It had its good points, but not enough to make me listen again. Sorry.

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.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Released May, 1969

Neil Young started taking an interest in popular music around the age of ten, with a wide variety of influences, including Little Richard, The Fleetwoods and Johnny Cash, but idolised the King, Elvis Presley. Much to Ang’s approval, Neil started his musical journey on a cheap, plastic ukulele, and steadily upgraded to a good ukulele, but oddly, not a guitar. Young dropped out of school and formed bands left right and centre. He moved to Ontario and recorded a bit with his band The Squires. It was during this period he met Stephen Stills, a relationship that some might call fairly important to his future (No spoilers here).

Young left The Squires and moved to Winnipeg where he met Joni Mitchell. He wrote Sugar Mountain while there, and had his first big hit, albeit by fellow Canadian band The Guess Who charting with Young’s song, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong. 1966 came and Young joined the Mynah Birds, delving in to the Motown scene, but he was soon picked up by the Navy for being AWOL. After the Mynah Birds broke up, Young and bassist Bruce Palmer moved to LA. Once there, they met up with Stephen Stills and formed Buffalo Springfield. They enjoyed a lot of success with this band, until management dramas forced a disbandment.

Young took this opportunity to go solo, and signed a record deal with Reprise Records, joining Joni Mitchell and her manager. They immediately started work on, and released his first self titled solo album, which Young himself did not enjoy. For his next effort, he drafted in a young band by the name of The Rockets, renamed them Crazy Horse, and released the reason we’re all here: “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”.

This is such a great album. I really enjoyed listening to the whole thing, even the ten minute tracks, ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’. I think it was an excellent plan to start the album with arguably the two best tracks. I’m confident in saying that ‘Cinnamon Gir’l is far and away the best track on this album. The driving distorted sound of Young’s famous “Old Black” Les Paul really moves the song along and is accompanied by a steady rolling bass riff. In fact, the bass is excellent through the whole album, and really cuts through. Also, the vocal harmonies are a standout, as Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse sings a high harmony from beginning to end. Turns out old mate Neil wrote ‘Cinnamon Girl’ while crook with a high fever, because that’s the normal thing to do. ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ and ‘Down By The River’ were also by products of this delirium. You think ‘Down By The River’ is long at nine minutes? Young once played it with Booker T, Duck Dunn and Frank Sampedro in Germany for TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES. Yep. That be hard to stomach. ‘River’ is probably my least favourite track on the album, but that’s not to say it’s bad. It’s a classic bluesy murder ballad, quite sparsely interwoven with lyrics. Everything about it musically is spot on, I just felt like it went for about five minutes too long.

The title track to the album is a ripper too, though here’s one I feel could have gone longer! It’s only two and a half minutes long, and thirty seconds of that was lalalalalas! The rolling lyrics are impossible to not tap your feet to. Musically, it’s a simple song, but sometimes simple is best. The melancholy ‘Round And Round’ is the epitome of folk music. It features nothing but an acoustic guitar and Young’s vocals, with someone called Robin Lane that no one’s ever heard of providing backing vocals. It’s a shame she only sang on one track, she really added a new dimension to it. They wanted to go out with a bang, and ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ is that bang. Ten minutes of musical genius. The surging guitar, driving drums and rising bass make it a joy to listen to. Which is perfectly applicable, because this whole album was a joy. More Neil please!

Listening to Neil Young always takes me to another place. Sometimes it takes me to imaginary childhood summers that I never even had or to an old willow tree down by the river bank. Sometimes I feel like I could be laying in a field of cotton, the warm breeze rustling through the long reeds as I gaze upwards at a cloudless blue sky. That’s the best kind of music, the kind that transports you to somewhere new. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, Young’s first studio album with his backing band Crazy Horse is no exception to the rule. Much to this listener’s delight, Young presents a wonderful 40 minute assortment of sorrowful and tender tracks, in his sun-drenched musical style that has become so synonymous with the late 60’s. I have always loved his signature high-pitched vocal style. On this album he takes on a particularly melancholic and emotive style of singing and his retrospective tone imparts regret and sadness. For me, the standout tracks are standards ‘Cinnamon Girl’ (killer riffs) and ‘Down by the River’ (great harmonies).  I also really dug the mournful lament ‘Running Dry’ which featured some lovely and haunting violin solos. My only criticism of the album is that the improvisations were a little too drawn out. In some cases they ended up tarnishing the songs rather than embellishing them because they just lead nowhere.  I was not au fait with this album until now but I completely fell in love with “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. I’m now looking for an original copy of the vinyl record so I can add it to my growing collection.

My dad is a massive Neil Young fan and my childhood was heavily peppered with his music. When I left home and realised that I didn’t have any of his albums, I asked my dad to make me a Neil Young mixtape (remember them?). From there I slowly started to delve into all his albums. Dad had included three songs from this album on that cassette: ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘Down by the River’ and ‘Cowgirl in the Sand’ – arguably the best tracks here. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is a timeless rock gem that doesn’t sound dated at all. It was supposedly written about Pamela Courson, Jim Morrison’s girlfiend, the title referring to the colour of her hair. Neil plays the song in D modal tuning, where the E notes on the first and sixth string of the guitar are lowered to D. Unusual at the time, it became widely utilised by bands in the 1990s; possibly another reason Neil earned the title of the Godfather of Grunge. His soloing on this record had many dubbing him ‘One Note Neil’, but if the opening notes on his ‘Down by the River’ solo aren’t perfect then I don’t know what is. The album stalls during the slower songs ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Running Dry’, with the latter’s violin contribution from Bobby Notkoff grating the ear of this listener, at least. The title track, used wonderfully in Almost Famous, is another highlight of mine, and the shuffle of ‘The Losing End’ makes for a fun singalong. I think this album would have been stronger if one of the slower tracks had been dropped in favour of ‘Winterlong’, a live favourite which wouldn’t surface until Neil’s “Decade” compilation in 1977. Sadly, Crazy Horse’s original guitarist and vocalist Danny Whitten died of a drug overdose in 1972 making this the only Neil Young & Crazy Horse album he appeared on.

Over his long career Neil Young has straddled many different genres and with good reason has been dubbed ‘the godfather of grunge’. There’s something special happening on “Everybody Know This is Nowhere”. Released in November, 1969 it was released at a time where the sound of music was changing. The borders between the genres were getting evermore blurred, allowing creative artists like Young to push the boundaries. It’s the rough edges on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” that make it album so great. Is Young the greatest guitarist in the world? No. Are his vocals pitch perfect? Not at all. But that’s what makes this album so exciting. It allows the listener to connect to the music in a very personal way. For me it’s the looseness and long drawn out guitar jams that take this album to another level of greatness. From the jangly lead in tracks like ‘Cinnamon Girl’ to the lamentful fiddle on ‘Running Dry’… it’s all just so so good. It’s clear that it was recorded over a short period of time and really allows Young and the band to capture that moment. I’m hard pressed to pick a favourite song because the whole album is so solid. Know that ‘Cinnamon Girl’ did just make my Essential 20 songs list though. It’s evident to me that a lot of the bands I love wear their Neil Young influences proudly on their sleeves. Maybe I loved it so much because of that. Or maybe I’m excited that Spring is upon us and this is the perfect sunny afternoon soundtrack. Or maybe Neil Young is just awesome at what he does. Regardless, this may very well be my favourite afyccim album thus far.

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.

Muddy Waters – Folk Singer

Muddy Waters – Folk Singer
Released April, 1964

The Chicago Blues movement began in Chicago, Illinois, taking the acoustic blues and harmonica sound of the south and amplifying it. Muddy Waters is one of the main Chicago blues guys and is up there with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon. Blues music is what it is partly because of guys like Muddy Waters and others in the Chicago Blues scene. Waters starting releasing singles in 1948, though it wasn’t until 1958 that he actually released an album, a greatest hits album at that. He started out releasing singles on the ‘Aristocrat Records’ label which would later become the infamous ‘Chess Records’.

“Folk Singer” was released in April, 1964. In fact, this recording features Willie Dixon on stand up bass, as well as a young Buddy Guy for all of you blues fans playing at home. Whilst the album is title “Folk Singer” it’s not so much a folk album. It’s really just an old school acoustic blues record. Apparently Chess Records wanted to cash in on the folk boom that was happening so they got him to record an album all acoustic like. This worked for Muddy because this is the style he grew up playing. Muddy Waters was the original cool man, so it’s fitting that he should be the one to pioneer the ‘unplugged’ album. Whilst having great critical success, “Folk Singer” was never a commercial success.

I was already pretty familiar with the work of Muddy Waters coming into this week but I had not heard this album. Just quietly, I was pleasantly surprised at how freaking good it is. I was more familiar with Muddy’s electric stuff so it was really nice listening to it stripped back. You can tell he’s totally not thinking when he is playing these songs, he’s breathing life into them. This album reminded me a bit of Elvis Presley’s “From Elvis in Memphis” in the way it was recorded. Just a group of amazing musicians in a room making awesome music. It just flows so sweetly. The guitar playing is second to none and Muddy’s resonate voice just fills the spaces nicely.

You can pretty much split “Folk Singer” into three parts. There are songs with the full band. There are songs with just Muddy and Buddy Guy. And then we have the last song with Muddy going solo. I really love the contrast between Muddy’s loose playing style and Buddy’s tight lyrical style. Highlights for me include ‘My Home is in the Delta’, ‘Cold Weather Blues’ and ‘Feels Like Going Home’. The blues guitar work on this album really is something else. The majority of lyrics here were written by Willie Dixon, which was common for the time. Lyrically the album is somewhat lacking but the soulful tones and sweet blues guitar make up for it. I listened to this album a lot late at night and it was a perfect way to wind down from the busy day.

At Newport in 1965, Bob Dylan was crucified for going electric. Waters did exactly the same thing at Newport in 1960, taking his acoustic blues and amplifying to great success, garnering him a new white audience who were unfamiliar with his sound in the process. It was this sound that made its way into the suburban households and sparked something new. From this we ended up with ‘The British Blues Explosion’ with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton doing what they did so well. It has been said that Rock music “can be boiled down to a partnership between Hank Williams’ honky tonk and Muddy Waters’ blues”. Even if you don’t like this album or style of music we owe Muddy Waters a great deal of gratitude for influencing some of the greatest bands the 60s and 70s did see. I for one am glad that Chess Records had Waters release this album. Whilst it was his electric sound that caught the attention of many, the songs here show where he started. It’s the raw essence of what blues music is. I’m glad we have it preserved on a classic album such as this.

The first couple of listens I kind of dug Muddy Waters… The simple arrangements, the cool, Southern acoustic guitar, his deep delta blues voice. “Yeah”, I thought to myself, “I can get behind this”.
My word, every single songs sound exactly the same! Seriously. They even have the same guitar run to intro the songs… The only single solitary song that that stands out is the slightly creepy ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’. I mean seriously? “Good Morning Little School Girl, can I go home with you? Tell your mother and your father I once was a school boy too”. Are you serious, we creepy son of a bitch? You were FIFTY when you released this song. FIFTY. Urgh. I know it’s a blues standard, but it’s just weird. It’s a shame about the lyrical content, because musically it’s the only song I enjoyed, and I think a lot of that is to do with the fact it’s different. That’s not to say the other songs are bad. They guitar is excellent in all of them. I guess that’s to be expected when you’ve got someone like Buddy Guy playing for you. (I know there were three guitarist in this recording, but I’m putting it down to Mr Guy. I know what he’s capable of). The album’s title is very appropriate. Muddy Waters sure is a Folk Singer. Though not in a modern “folk” Mumford and Sons, The Bon Ivers kind of way. His voice is deep, unrefined and soulful. I reckon it could have stretched far beyond the dullness this album displayed. Unsurprisingly, “Folk Singer” never charted in any country. Probably because it was made up of just the two tracks. It’s a huge shame, but the blues is much more than we got to hear.

This week I made the discovery that the bluesy tones of Muddy Waters album are the perfect accompaniment to a miserable rainy afternoon road trip through the Tasmanian countryside. The cruisy sounds of Muddy Waters’ laid-back Chicago blues are inoffensive on the ear, making it the perfect ‘chillout’ album. I think it’s no-fuss sound is largely due to the fact that the entire album is acoustic – in fact it was Muddy Waters’ only all-acoustic album. It has a lovely raw, pared-back feel to it and for the most part, only features 4 instruments, allowing the listener to enjoy the silences as much as the bigger moments. Musically, “Folk Singer” is far from perfect – the guitars have a twangy, off kilter (out of tune) sound to them, but Water’s vocal is deep and chocolatey, and the lyrics are angsty and reek of regret and bitterness – making for the attainment of a fantastic blues sound. It may not be technically brilliant, but it still is musically brilliant! I can see why it received critical acclaim even though it gained no chart success to speak of. Once again I have been surprised to find that an album a) I’d never heard of, and b) a genre I’ve never really been excited about – could be so great, and that I would look forward to each time I got to listen to it. I plan to keep “Folk Singer” in my music collection for future reference – it made for easy listening and it’s the type if album I’d listen to while cooking dinner or taking a bath.

I don’t disguise the fact that I’m no fan of the blues. It’s one genre I’ve never had any time for and I can’t get into it. I don’t mind the odd song here and there, but when I have to listen to a whole album it just does my freaking head in. I quite liked the opening track, ‘My Home Is In The Delta,’ and it features everything you’d expect from Muddy Waters; those controlled and powerful vocals along with some tasty slide guitar riffs. However, the next track sounded like it was the same song played slightly slower! My gloomy disposition at the thought of what the rest of the album would bring was lifted when ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ started playing; it didn’t last long. Although it has a faster pace than the previous tracks it bored me after it hit the one minute mark. As the album continued I found myself constantly turning the volume up to see if it was still playing. This album was praised for its production, as recording blues with acoustic instrumentation must have been fairly innovative at the time. I think the use of reverb was a little overboard though, particularly on ‘Cold Weather Blues’. When Muddy hits a loud note, it’s quite startling and the vocals are so drenched with echo that it’s hard to make out the lyrics. I’m not down on Muddy, I think he’s good at what he does, but this isn’t for me. I cheer along with the best of them when he almost steals the show on “The Last Waltz” singing ‘Mannish Boy’. There’s just nothing on this album that’s as exciting as that performance. I have never been so relieved as I was when my third listen concluded. For blues enthusiasts only.

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 Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!
Released June, 1966

Released in the same year as The Beatles’ “Revolver” and The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”, “Freak Out!” is one of the most audacious debuts ever released. It manages to be a product of its time; ahead of its time and a flashback to the 1950’s all at once. If not for Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde”, this would have been rock’s first double album of original material. This record marked the arrival of the legendary Frank Zappa, who wouldn’t release his first solo album until late 1967. The eldest of four siblings, Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland in December of 1940. As a young boy, Zappa suffered from asthma and sinus trouble, so his family moved to the warmer climate of California, settling in San Diego in 1952. He joined his first band while attending Mission Bay High School, drumming for Latino R&B combo The Ramblers. The family soon relocated to Lancaster, and Zappa graduated from Antelope Valley High School before leaving home to live in Los Angeles in 1959 (while at AVHS, Zappa met and befriended Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart).

Zappa spent the early sixties writing and producing songs for local artists before being asked to join R&B band The Soul Giants in 1965, after their guitarist moved to Las Vegas. A self taught musician,
Zappa had no problem performing standards with singer Ray Collins, bassist Roy Estrada and Jimmy Carl Black on drums. Bored with continually playing covers, Zappa began introducing his own compositions to the group, which were garnering positive responses from their audiences. The band renamed themselves The Mothers, recruited guitarist Elliot Ingber, and moved to Hollywood, catching the eye of record producer Tom Wilson. He was so impressed by them, that after signing them to MGM’s Verve label in March of 1966, the group were given a recording budget of $21,000, instead of the customary $5,000 for a debut album. The label took issue with the connotations behind the band’s name, so Zappa suggested The Mothers of Invention.

This record starts off with ‘Hungry Freaks Daddy’, a warning against those who trust the establishment and the rise of people who are trying to fight it. Built around a riff that owes a debt to the Stones’ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, this psych-rock song’s unsettling feeling is created by the use of Zappa and Collins’ shared vocals, as they go in and out of harmony and unison. It’s a great opening track that showcases the band’s innovative use of the kazoo and the marimba; the latter becoming a staple of the Zappa sound in future releases. From here we are lead through ballads (‘How Could I Be Such a Fool?’), paranoid doom (‘Who Are The Brain Police?’), bubblegum pop (‘Wowie Zowie’), sexual band mission statements (‘Motherly Love’) and some wonderful doo-wop tracks. Zappa was a massive fan of vocal groups, but ‘Go Cry On Somebody Else’s Shoulder’ and ‘You Didn’t Try To Call Me’ walk a fine line between parody and homage. ‘Any Way the Wind Blows’ is another terrific highlight, inspired by the breakdown of Zappa’s first marriage.

The relatively accessible first record of this double album does not prepare you for the second, which opens with ‘Trouble Every Day’, a protest song in blues format about the Watts Riots of L.A. Arguably the most straightforward piece here, Zappa’s rapid fire double-tracked vocals are almost a precursor to the rap movement. The next track is broken into two movements: ‘Help, I’m a Rock’ and the mostly acapella ‘It Can’t Happen Here’. The latter comes across as a barbershop quartet piece from Hell, until several listens reveal a deliberate structure. Both of these show Zappa’s love of Stravinsky and avant garde French composer Edgard Varèse. These tracks are just a warm up for the twelve minute ‘The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet’, the product of a midnight recording session with randoms off Sunset Strip letting loose on $500 worth of percussion. Pre-dating The Beatles’ ‘Revolution 9’ by two years, this piece of musique concrete is the biggest hurdle to enjoying the album.

While this album may not be for all tastes, I believe that it has something for everyone. Composed, arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Frank Zappa, this is a remarkable piece of work.

Frank Zappa was so prolific as an artist that it’s hard to know where to dive it to his back catalogue. “Freak Out!”, the debut for The Mothers of Invention is a pretty good starting point. If artists like The Flying Burrito Brothers took a couple of genres and fused them together, Zappa took as many genres as he could, mixed them together and threw them at a wall to see what would stick. Crazily enough it kind of works. There is something really infectious about the sound of The Mothers of Invention. Upon first listen, “Freak Out!” just seems really weird, almost confronting, but over time it starts to make sense and you start to see the brilliance of Zappa unfolding. In Australia we have the slang ‘taking the piss’, which means to mock or make fun of. It’s obvious from the get go that Zappa is the master at it. The thing though that stops this being a parody/joke album is that he does it in such a bloody endearing way. Yes he is poking fun at the culture of the 60s, which is quite easy to do I might add, but you can tell he also loves it. He’s like the big brother who relentlessly teases you but would be the first to stand up for you when neccesary. Over his career Zappa released 62 albums, spanning as many genres as he does on the tracks of this album. He’s crazy in that genius, eccentric kind of way. Even if you don’t like the man or his sound you do have to give him props for the mark he left on the musical landscape.

My word, The Mothers of Invention were truly awful! [Pause] Now that Clay has recovered from his heart attack, I can say that I absolutely loved “Freak Out!” The thing I loved the most about it is that Frank Zappa doesn’t take himself too seriously. Or, at all seriously. “Freak Out!” was written from Frank Zappa’s perspective on American modern culture in the 60s – not that that is a subject I specialise in.’ Go Cry On Someone Else’s Shoulder’ is a parody of a shoo wop song. You know the “you left me baby, but I love you and I want you back”? Well, not Mr Zappa. In true Zappa fashion, he’s written exactly the opposite. And his spoken word part at the end is brilliant. I think spoken word is definitely one of Frank Zappa’s strengths. He’s a funny, funny guy. And, something that took me quite by surprise, quite an adept guitarist! The whole band is quite excellent, from the lead guitar to the kazoo! Ray Collins is also credited as playing the finger cymbals, which is hilarious. We’re looking at an MC5-esque situation here, ending the album with a long conceptual piece. The difference between ‘Starship’ and this track, ‘The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet’, is actually good – check that – it’s great. It is kinda spacey, the way ‘Starship’ was, but this is much tidier and utilises beautifully what I can only assume is a theremin. The drumming is also brilliant, and I was both disappointed and surprised to find it was not Vinnie Colaiuto behind the kit. This album, and Clay’s constant Zappa evangelism has made me keen to investigate The Mothers Of Invention more. But what is clear from this debut album is that Frank Zappa is a musical genius.

This album is so far from my kind of thing. I read a quote on Wikipedia which said Frank Zappa’s ‘diverse musical influences led him to create music that was often difficult to categorize’. Damn straight it was! There was just too much going on for me to hone in on what I dug and every time I listened to it I just got irritated! It was this crazy recapitulation of the whole evolution of rock music in the 60’s. There’s everything from folk rock to Brit-pop, to blues- rock, to an east coast sound reminiscent of the Beach Boys and at times the rock ‘n’ roll sounds even eluded to work of the works of “Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons”.  There’s no denying that for a debut album, “Freak Out!” was pretty amazing, especially since Frank Zappa was self-taught as a musician and composer. Zappa’s vocal, with an exaggerated sarcastic droll and deadpan sound, stand out for their political and social commentary, and because of this I sometimes felt like I was listening to poetry with a musical accompaniment rather than the contrary. I’d also be interested to know if anyone else who listened to this was instantly reminded of the band “Cake” – Zappa’s lead vocal immediately conjured up thoughts of the 90’s alternative rockers. There were parts of the album that I particularly enjoyed, for example the anthemic ballad ‘How Could I Be Such a Fool’ was easier on the ear, although it was a bit too over the top for my liking. I also liked the political undertones of the psychedelic-ish ‘Trouble Every Day’ and it had a catchy guitar hook. Overall though, it just seemed to drag on for me – why do the albums I don’t really like insist on having so many tracks!  Not one of my favourites, I’m afraid.

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.

Miles Davis – In A Silent Way

Miles Davis – In A Silent Way
Released July, 1969

Miles Dewey Davis III is noted as one of the key players in the development of modern jazz, and is believed by music experts alike to have been at the forefront of the development of jazz fusion, bee bop, cool jazz and modal jazz.  Miles Davis was born in Illinois and grew up on a large ranch. As his father was a dentist, he enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. Davis’ musical education started quite late; he did not begin trumpet lessons until the age of 13. His music lessons in trumpet were strictly classical, and techniques instilled by his music teacher would remain with him for the rest of his career, particularly his aversion to the vibrato technique.  Davis continued playing trumpet in various local groups until he graduated from high school, at which time he enrolled in Juilliard School of Music in New York. Although important in teaching Davis the fundamentals of music theory, his time at Juilliard was limited and he soon quit to pursue development of his career as a professional musician and promptly found work as a session player for his idol Charlie Parker.  He went on to enjoy a colourful career as a trumpeter, flugelhorn player, composer and band leader, with his career bearing fruit of no less than 48 studio albums, 36 live albums, 38 compilations and 57 singles. Davis was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

“In A Silent Way” was released in 1969 and is widely believed to have been the sign of things to come – it was the catalyst for the experimentation and development of jazz that would follow in the future decade of Davis’ career. When it was first released, the album was met with opposing opinions and caused controversy amongst the critics. Lovers of traditional Jazz were put off by Davis’ experimentation with electronic jazz, but newer, younger fans embraced the new style. Consisting of just 2 tracks, each almost 20 minutes in length, “In A Silent Way” was composed in a classical sonata-like form. This means that each of the tracks can be broken down into 3 sections – the introduction of a theme, the development of that theme, and the re-introduction of the theme (recapitulation). For example, the last 6 minutes of the first track are actually the first 6 minutes of the very same track, repeated. By composing the tracks in this cyclical format, Davis was able to build upon the themes; the density of sound gradually grows throughout the tracks, progressively building the theme until you feel it all come together (the development phase) and then, wow, the theme is suddenly woven back in and the cycle starts all over again.

When I first realised that the album only had 2 tracks, I was quite worried because I had a feeling it would be a crazy jumbly mess akin to Charles Mingus and it would be a hard album to listen to. But hey, luckily I was wrong. There’s something ethereal and dream like about “In a Silent Way”. It’s achieved by the use of modes (repetitive chord patterns), that are layered with enchanting keyboards, entrancing electric guitar solos and of course the shining soprano sax. Because of the blending of electronic instrumentation with the acoustic, the sound achieved is quite classic, it sounds as though it could be released today and fit in completely. It’s also the use of dynamics to their full capacity, that make this album so effective, and so beautiful. As the name “In A Silent Way” suggests, Davis has explored the use of the quieter moments as equally as the loud ones, a technique that I respect him for completely. In fact this album is the real proof for my constant argument I make in my afyccim reviews – quality, well-written music utilises dynamics (the light and shade, the loud and soft) and does not just have one consistent register and one volume level but in fact recognises the fact that sometimes it’s the things that are left unsaid, that truly deliver the message we wish to portray.

You don’t need be a lover of Jazz to enjoy “In A Silent Way”, as long as you keep an open mind. I implore you to sit in a comfy chair with a glass of wine and just let it wash over you.  I guarantee you’ll find something special.

From the opening keyboard and soft guitar chords, this album had me intrigued. By the time drummer Tony Williams started working the hi-hat, I was hooked. John McLaughlin’s wonderfully clean and melodic guitar then starts to come in and Dave Holland’s double bass keeps everything anchored. I’m swept away by the music and it’s as refreshing as a glass of iced water on a hot day. This is only about a minute and a half into the album and Miles hasn’t even started playing yet! When his trumpet does cut into the musical soundscape, it’s glorious. A few trumpet lines recur throughout the piece, named ‘Shhh/Perfect’, but it’s essentially an improvisation. This song takes up all of the first side of the album, and so does the song on the second, ‘In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time’. Organist Joe Zawinul is credited as having written the ‘In a Silent Way’ sections of that piece, but it’s nothing like his original composition. Miles’ solos aren’t the only impressive element here; did I mention that Chick Corea AND Herbie Hancock both play electric piano as well? That’s reason enough for you to check this out. Sounding way ahead of its time, this album surely helped give birth to the funk movement which would hit the peak of its popularity during the seventies. I think film scores in that decade where also influenced by this record, particularly the work of Isaac Hayes and Lalo Schifrin’s wonderful Dirty Harry soundtrack. I love an album that isn’t afraid to take its time and spread out. The band aren’t afraid of slow or silent moments and they also know how to make it groovy when needed. I found this a very pleasurable listening experience and I highly recommend this record to any fan of music.

Jazz is a BIG genre. I’ve actually stopped trying to keep up with all of the different fancy names given to the sub genres of jazz. There are so many different facets and nooks and crannies. To be honest, I find it all quite overwhelming and it is one of the reasons I’ve always steered away from the genre. One thing I’ve learnt with afyccim is that the three listen rule can take what one may initially consider to be a subpar album and turn it into a phenomenal album. “In A Silent Way” was no exception to the rule. Over repeated listens there is something about the groove of the album that works almost in a subliminal way…  drawing you in, making you want more. The beauty of this album is that it is the sum of its parts, the parts being a group fantastic musicians. Davis knows he is good, but he knows he is better with other artists pushing him and bringing out his best. It’s rare to find a musician who understands light and shade so well and knows when to step back and let the silence fill the space. Originally the two tracks on the album would’ve appeared with one on each side of the vinyl. I imagine people would have their favourite ‘side’ and mainly listen to that. My favourite side was definitely ‘side b’. I’d be happy to live in the first four minutes of that track forever. It actually reminds me a lot of instrumental band Explosions in the Sky. Davis was way ahead of the pack and before his time with “In A Silent Way”, and there are a multitude of artists who have him to thank for their careers. I for one thank you very much Miles Davis.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like this, but this review was a super hard one to right. Normally, we can break the album down to individual tracks and assess it on the merits of each song. But when the album is two tracks, both about twenty minutes long, it’s a bit of a mission to sort out.
One thing I can safely say about “In A Silent Way” is that it makes excellent background music. If you’re not intently listening to it (or you’ve just got a super short attention span [like me]), you can forget it’s even playing. Good headphones are definitely required, as is a room void of any distractions. A jail cell would do fine. For me, even when I focused closely on listening, I still found it quite difficult to listen to. It just goes on and on. I know avant garde jazz has a tendency to do that, but it’s the exact reason I can’t be done with it. It’s pretty. I get that. And musically, I’m sure it’s genius. All I’m saying, and I say it about every long winded jazz album, is short tracks! Or at least shortER. It’s just pure self indulgence. Horn masturbation. I will give Miles this though: he’s got some pretty impressive mates. “In A Silent Way” has blokes like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock playing piano, and Wayne Shorter, who played with Weather Report legendary bassist John Patitucci. It’s a star stacked album, that rather disappointingly, does nothing for me. I feel it wouldn’t be out of place in an elevator, or a 70’s dinner party. I don’t like feeling this way about jazz. It’s not their fault I’m like a six year old with ADD on red cordial. Just get to the point!

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.

MC5 – Kick Out The Jams

Sorry, no time to finish the MS Paint cover. Kind of underestimated the detail in this one!
I’ll change it out to the MS Paint version 
in the next day or two. -Ang

MC5 – Kick Out The Jams
Released February, 1969

MC5 were, as their full name, Motor City Five, suggests, a five piece band from Detroit. They were the result of separate ventures, led by school friends Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith (probably not his real name). They started life as The Bounty Hunters, the name inherited from Kramer’s band. The Bounty Hunters were successful enough for the band to live the muso dream and kick the day jobs in favour of full time music playing. In their search for a manager, they found Rob Tyner, who originally wanted to be a bass player, but they quickly realised he’d be much more useful as a front man, despite being fat and ugly. He could definitely sing though, and I guess that’s the most important quality in a frontman… It was also Tyner who decided to rename the band after their home town.

In the summer of ’68, MC5 toured down the east coast of the States, often garnering more of a positive response than the bands they opened for, including afyccim artists Big Brother and the Holding Company and Cream. I’ve never heard of crowds wanting encores from support bands, but apparently it happened. Around this time MC5 became heavily involved in the left wing political scene, protesting against the Vietnam War. “Kick Out The Jams” was recorded live over two nights in ’68 in Detroit’s Grande Ballroom music venue. It’s often referred to as one of the best live albums of all time and music critic Mark Deming wrote that it’s “an album that refuses to be played quietly”. Best live album? I’m not sure about that. Refuses to be played quietly? Absolutely, 100%.

Ang said last week that if I don’t like this album, she’ll eat a hat. My initial feeling was that she was spot on. I really did like it. Until a few more listens, and it kind of got a bit annoying. I love the raw loudness of it, but I feel like the sixties recording technology didn’t do it any favours. When everyone fires up, there’s very little recording clarity, but I guess that’s to be expected in a nearly fifty year old album. One thing that never let me down was Tyner’s vocals. It’s spot on rock and roll the whole way, and I’ll know I’ll get crucified for this, but he reminded me a lot of Dave Grohl, particularly in ‘Come Together’. In fact, the only weak vocal performance was by Kramer in ‘Ramblin’ Rose’. That falsetto was awful. It would’ve suited the song, if someone with a better voice had done it.

I have to say that I did not hear one guitar solo that I liked in the whole album. I reckon the guitar work was sloppy as a whole. To me, it almost sounded like there was something wrong with the guitar. Was it out of tune? I wouldn’t be surprised, these bros jumped around and went crazy on stage – it was part of their appeal – and guitars are pretty fragile with their tuning. I think we’ve got to put a lot of the messiness down to good old fashioned DFN. The end of ‘Rocket Reducer No 62’ is a prime example, and we know the band were mad for a bit of the LSD and weed… But while we’re on the subject of DFN, let’s address the elephant in the room: ‘Starship’. What the hell was going on there? ‘Starship’ was credited to Sun Ra, the jazz musician who was prolific in avant garde and free jazz. Because he was mental, he thought he was of the “Angel Race” and wrote a lot of “cosmic” pieces, pioneering the afrofuturism genre. Yeah, it’s a thing. Look it up. Anyway, MC5 loved his work and put together this nearly nine minute pile of bollocks. A pile of bollocks that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Pink Floyd album. But is way out of place on a live hard rock album.

With the exception of ‘Starship’, “Kick Out The Jams” is a solid live album that propelled MC5 to stardom. It’s ok in small doses, but anymore it becomes very noisy, very messy, and not much fun. Though I’m sure they had fun recording it.

All I can say is that it’s lucky for MC5 (and various other 60’s artists) that I’m a serial procrastinator. Because the first 4-5 listens of this album had me writing a completely different review. I will say that the first 5 tracks, especially the title track, ‘Kick Out The Jams’, really don’t do much for me. But somewhere around track 6, ‘Motor City Is Burning’, the band seem to really warm up and take a turn for the better, heading down a totally rocking and bad ass punk-rock-meets-blues line, that had me cranking the stereo right up and tapping my foot to the point that my desk was shaking slightly. At this point I began to think that I might like this band after all! ‘I Want You Right Now’, another bluesy number, was my other highlight. But unfortunately, just like MC5’s career, my enjoyment of this album was short lived.  Track 8 ‘Starship’, a combination of punk rock and psychedelic rock that seemed to go on for about 8 minutes too long (total time 8.25) was just weird, self-indulgent and musically, horrible. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Once again, MC5 are lucky I’m a pretty diplomatic listener, and I won’t ignore the obvious: Their music, to me, was a catalyst for what was to follow in coming decades, especially in the late 80’s to mid 90’s with the explosion of garage and punk rock. You just need to look at the list of artists who have covered MC5 – Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley, and the Presidents of the United States of America, to name a few. It’s fast paced, it’s noisy, and it’s obnoxiously in-your-face. Yes it’s punk rock, but for me it was the kind of punk rock that I wouldn’t revisit.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this album. I do admire the passion and energy that the band have though, and I even enjoyed their banter in between songs. The fact that they were so gracious in thanking their audience is quite endearing. I just wish that the passion they exuded spilled over into musical and/or songwriting talent. It all starts off pretty well. An incendiary stage introduction gives way to the band launching into ‘Ramblin’ Rose’, and they almost sound a little Zeppelinesque. I don’t why Rob Tyner felt the need to sing it in his falsetto range, but it kinda works; gives it a sense of novelty. The most famous track on this album follows, the titular song about jams and the kicking out of the aforementioned. Aside from the infamous stage cry before it starts and a half-decent riff, I don’t get what makes this song so appealing. It’s some sort of call to arms, I guess. Over the years, the meaning behind kicking out the jams has since been over-analysed by fans and critics alike, no doubt to the band’s delight. It all goes downhill from there for me, as the remaining tracks descend into a melange of screaming, pounding and feedback. There’s an admiral attempt at some sort of double guitar solo at the end of ‘Rocket Reducer No. 62’, but it doesn’t come off. Oh, and the less said about the final track ‘Starship’ the better. I’m glad that bands like The Ramones and The Clash came along and showed how you could achieve what MC5 did in a five or six minute song in less than two. I’m sure this album laid the ground work for the punk movement, and perhaps even grunge, but it doesn’t move me. Maybe you had to be there.

To quote music writer Chris Smith in regards to MC5, “There was punk before punk, but nobody knew what to call it”. When Rob Tyner yells out “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” what he is saying is fuck you to the man. “Kick Out The Jams” is meant to sound messy and shambolic. MC5 weren’t going for neat, tidy and well recorded. They were spitting in the face of everything that the 60s stood for. And if it wasn’t for them saying fuck you to the man way back in 1969 some of the music that followed would have been very different. Way ahead of their time these guys were the original punks, closely followed by Iggy and The Stooges. I love MC5 and “Kick Out The Jams”, in all of its messy glory. Yes, the falsetto in ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ is terrible. Yes, ‘Starship’ is absolutely diabolical. Yes, the musicality of each member is quite questionable in, well, all of the songs… but that’s kind of the point. MC5 are the younger brother to Led Zeppelin, The Who and Jimi Hendrix who end up being way cooler because they don’t give a crap as to what anyone thinks of them. What we hear on this album is a new kind of music, with a nod to the blues, R&B and rock that it was born from. If the mid to late 60s were about free love and hippies, “Kick Out The Jams” is the absolute antithesis to that. It’s raw sex, clearly a whole heap of drugs and punch you in the face rock n roll. It’s the heralding of the 70s that was to come. Whether or not you like “Kick out the Jams”, you can’t deny MC5 that. Fucking brilliant I say.
(Please forgive me for the swearing in this review, but if there is any time to drop a few F-bombs it’s during a review of MC5.)

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.