The Clash – London Calling
Released August, 1978
Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh attended art school at Kent State University, Ohio in the early 1970’s. Along with their friend Bob Lewis, they came up with a theory of de-evolution, in that mankind had actually regressed rather than evolved. They viewed American society as a repressive instrument by which its members walked through life like assembly-line clones, intolerant of doubt or incertitude. They even produced a book entitled The Beginning Was The End: Knowledge Can Be Eaten, showing the human race as having been evolved from mutant, brain-eating apes. It was all treated as bit of harmless fun until Casale witnessed the National Guard killings of student protestors on May 4th, 1970 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings). Understandably, Casale was quite shaken by this event and began to believe that there was a legitimate point to be made by their theory. To spread the message they formed a band in 1972, choosing the name of Devo, shortened from de-evolution. Casale took on bass duties and Mothersbaugh became the lead singer, enlisting his brothers Bob and Jim who played lead guitar and drums respectively. Casale’s brother Bob also joined the band as an additional guitarist, but Jim Mothersbaugh would leave to be replaced by drummer Alan Myers.
To help illustrate their theory of society being mere clones, they all wore the same outfits with the same processed hair styles when they performed live. Their music began to incorporate real and homemade synthesizers, as well as other objects such as toys and toasters. They produced and released several singles under their own Booji Boy label, but their big break wouldn’t arrive until 1976. The band filmed a music video for two songs, a cover of the Johnny Rivers hit ‘Secret Agent Man’ and their own composition ‘Jocko Homo’, in the form of a short film called The Theory of De-evolution. When the film was screened at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, not only did it win First Prize, but it also caught the attention of audience members David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Impressed by the music, they helped Devo secure a record contract with Warner Brothers. Enlisting Brian Eno to produce their debut album, the band set off for Cologne, Germany and began recording in October 1977.
“Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” is one of the most audacious debut efforts you’re likely to hear. Not since Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had such stinging satire of the American public been committed to vinyl. The album’s centrepiece ‘Jocko Homo’ features a call and response section which can be interpreted as the band talking to human society as a whole, who respond as one: “Are we not men?/We are Devo/Are we not men?/We are Devo”. A feeling of disorientation is created by the track’s unusual 7/8 time signature until it switches to common time for the call and responses.
Album opener ‘Uncontrollable Urge’ sets the scene nicely, with a frantically paced track full of jerky rhythms and a whole lot of “yeah…yeah…yeah yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah YEAH!”. The titular urge is never truly revealed, but that’s kind of the point. Whether its lambasting consumerism or religion, the song expresses that society doesn’t always know where these urges come from, but act on them regardless. ‘Mongoloid’ tells the story of a man with Down’s syndrome who goes into the workplace so no one finds out about his condition, finding anonymity in conformity, a theme Devo continually reprise throughout their career. I love their cover of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ too! That bassline is just awesome.
Devo certainly isn’t for all tastes, but I’ve become a bit of a fan since I saw them live last year. Most of these songs build up tension without ever releasing it, which can make some listeners uncomfortable. This album was a minor success on its initial release (peaked at No.12 on UK charts, No.78 in the US), but its legacy and influence has grown over the years. Regarded by many as the band’s best work, the record recently came in at 442nd place on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. This is a great example of a band’s mission statement merging seamlessly with their music. Worth the effort.
I’ve always vaguely known of Devo through songs such as ‘Whip It’ and ‘Pop Musik’ but never delved into their history. Sure, they were the guys with the weird hats and yellow overalls, but that was much as I really knew. My interest in the band was piqued however a few years ago when they toured Australia for the Big Day Out. People were really excited. I made a mental note to make sure a Devo album made the afyccim list for the 70s, which was a good move on my part. One doesn’t have to read Devo’s Wikipedia biography to know that they started the band as art students at university. Everything about them screams ‘art student’. There are those out there who actually believe that Devo were serious about the whole ‘devolution’ thing. Personally I just think they were taking the piss. I’m okay with this though because “We Are Not Men” really is a brilliant debut album. It is quite a confronting though in that it builds up a frantic energy but it doesn’t really ever resolve it, so I imagine if you didn’t like the sounds within it would really grate on your nerves. Once you give the album enough listens you can get past that and actually find the shape of the songs. The whole actually really reminded me of The Mothers of Invention’s album “We’re Only In It For The Money” in the way that they are having quite a dig at the world around them in a very quirky and original way. “Are We Not Men” is an insanely catchy album if you can stick with it through the first few listens. Hours after listening to it I would find myself singing along to the random lyrics, much to the amusement of my work colleagues. “Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid / Happier than you and me”. Yeah, that got a few weird looks. Worth it though.
So this is Devo, huh? Are We Not Men is certainly an… Experience. They’re the kind of band that if they debuted today, they’d probably be huge with the hipsters. Is it punk? Is it techno? Quirky sounds with unconventional vocals and bizarre lyrics screams desperate to be noticed, but I don’t know what else I should’ve expected from an album produced by Brian Eno. The annoying part is that I still haven’t decided if I liked it or not. We’ve had albums before that were basically just noises (I’m looking at you, ‘Piper At The Gates of Dawn’ and ‘Another Green World’) that I absolutely loved. But this is different to those. I’ll tell you what I did love though (and definitely did not expect). A cover of ‘Satisfaction’! What?! Now that was interesting, especially considering that in no way apart from the lyrics did this song bear any resemblance the the Rolling Stones’ version. Wait. No, I’ve just decided I don’t like it. It’s the vocals that ruin it for me. Which is odd because it’s not dissimilar in style to the Clash, and I quite liked that. Basically I don’t know what I like. Picking the track I liked most was tricky, but ‘Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy’ was the one that most appealed to me. I think the neat and tidy musical introduction is a welcome break from the chaos of the rest of the album, though it certainly returns at the end of the track, with wild guitar scratching, frantic shredding and feedback. Like most people, my knowledge of Devo extended to ‘Whip It’. I am glad now I’ve delved a bit deeper in to their madness, but it’s a kind of scary place to be. I don’t imagine myself coming back here again anytime soon.
Listening to “Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo!” was kind of annoying for the most part. Having said that, I’m pretty sure it’s the type of album whose genius is underrated, and takes quite a while to grow on you. You can see that the style is not for everyone and I wouldn’t say it’s easy to listen to. The bulk of the songs come across as frantic and tumultuous and tended to grate on my nerves. Take ‘Praying Hands’, for example. It is fast-paced, discordant and has a schizophrenic vibe to it, with lyrics that play out like a religious chant ‘Wash your hands 3 times a day / Always do what your mother would say / Brush your teeth in the following way’. Points for the syncopated and staccato New Wave re-working of the Rolling Stones’ hit ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’; I’m not overly convinced, but it took guts to take on such a hit and make it their own. Of all the tracks my least favourite is ‘Jocko Homo’, the song which contains the album title in its lyrics. I found it ironic to learn that the band would actually use the song at their live gigs to aggravate the audience in order to get their message across: that the human race was declining into a race of depraved savages (sounds a bit like Ziggy Stardust all over again!). Before listening to “Q: Are we not men? A: We are Devo” my knowledge of Devo, like most of people of my vintage, was limited to the catchy riffs of ‘Whip It’, red plastic hats and black sleeveless turtle neck sweaters. Legacy aside, I think I would have been happy to keep it that way.
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.
Deep Purple – Machine Head
Released March, 1972
Part of the “Unholy Trinity of British Hard Rock”, Deep Purple, along with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, were responsible for solidifying Heavy Metal as a genre in 1970’s Britain. They came about after Chris Curtis, who used to play drums for The Searchers, decided he’d put together a supergroup by the name of Roundabout, where musicians would come and go from the lineup, a sort of musical roundabout. Seeking finance for the venture, Curtis took the concept to a group of London businessmen who got on board and ponied up the cash. The group leased a Hertfordshire country house where the band would write and rehearse, and decked it out full of Marshall amplifier gear.
Curtis started the recruitment drive and snagged Hammond organ player John Lord, and a young session guitarist by the name of Ritchie Blackmore. It was late 1967 when Chris Curtis was forced out of his own project due to his erratic behaviour, but Lord and Blackmore continued on recruiting for the project. John Lord’s old mate Nick Simper was drafted to play bass, and Blackmore knew Simper from the early 60s when both their respective bands were starting to become active in the scene. Bobbie Woodman was Lord and Blackmore’s first choice for drums, but when they auditioned singer Rod Evans, Evans bought his drummer along. Woodman ducked out for some cigarettes and they held a sneaky audition for Ian Paice. Paice ousted Woodman then and there, Evans took the reigns on lead vocals, and their audition process was over. Roundabout toured Denmark and Sweden in April 1968, but on return Blackmore suggested the band change it’s name to Deep Purple, after his grandma’s favourite song. It was that or Concrete God. I think they made the right decision.
Come May 1968, Purple moved to Pye Studios in London to record their first album. “Shades of Deep Purple” went to number 24 on Billboard’s pop album charts on the back of Hush, a cover of the Joe South track. As a result, they supported Cream on their Goodbye tour. Their second album, “The Book of Taliesyn” was released in the US early, to coincide with their tour there, and it reached #38 on the Billboard chart, though it wouldn’t be released until early the next year in the UK. After their self titled third album, Deep Purple’s record label went belly up, leaving the band cashless. Fortunately, Warner Bros. took over their account and the band toured the US in 69. It was here they decided to take a heavier turn and sacked both Evans and Simper. They found (current) singer Ian Gilland and bass player Roger Glover, and they released their first studio record with this lineup, “In Rock”, their first heavy metal venture. 1971 saw the band travel to a casino in Montreux, Switzerland to record our album, “Machine Head”, however, during a Frank Zappa concert some “stupid” with a flare gun caused a fire, burning the place “to the ground”. Sound familiar? Machine Head went straight to number one. And fair enough. What an awesome album. The blues rock/heavy metal fusion is fantastic to listen to. It’s easy to see why they get put in the same category as Zeppelin. Both are supremely talented groups of musicians.
“Machine Head” features timeless classics like ‘Highway Star’, ‘Lazy’, and of course, Smoke ‘On The Water’. But how about the lesser known tracks? ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ is an exceptional display of how right Deep Purple are as a band, perfectly syncing guitars and organs. It also shows off their vocal harmonies, which are quite often overlooked in their particular genre. If you had a guitarist like Ritchie Blackmore, you’d put guitar solos in everything too. But when you’ve got a drummer with the class of Ian Paice, why not start a track with a kickass drum solo? ‘Pictures of Home’ is everything you want in a Deep Purple track. Minimal vocals, blistering solos and dark imagery. If you want a bass Masterclass, have a go at ‘Space Truckin’’. A weird song lyrically, but one that Roger Glover takes by the scruff of its neck and makes it his own. It also features a lot of Paice’s amazing drumming.
I saw Deep Purple lives few weeks ago and let me tell you, for old boys, they still rock. Hard. And they are definitely still worthy of the Guiness record of Loudest Band they held in 1975. They don’t make them like these guys anymore.
I have previously referred to the afternoons on weekends when my Mum would go out and, seizing the moment, Dad would close all the doors and windows and crank the stereo. Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” was on popular rotation during those days. Not only that, but having 2 brothers who taught themselves guitar and a plethora of muso friends, I was constantly subjected to the 4 note power chords of ‘Smoke on the Water’. I got excited when I saw that the album was 7 tracks in length, but quickly realised the songs were longer than your average length! Most of the tracks are drawn out with excessive guitar or keys solos, but they are surprisingly just bearable. For me, a clear stand out was the ironically upbeat ‘Never Before’, I liked the funky intro and the gradual build to a rockin’ pace. Of course, you can’t go past ‘Smoke on the Water’, the perfect rock anthem and a timeless classic in its own right. It also features one of the most memorable and definitely the most played, guitar riffs ever known to man (as previously alluded to above!) I also loved ‘Lazy’, with its overdriven organ instrumental intro and gradually grows to a full-bodied and fast tempoed blues-rock track with a swing beat – it just works so well! When I was growing up, I would never have guessed that one day I would choose to listen to Deep Purple for my own enjoyment, but I was pleasantly surprised when I did, because I now can see it for it’s true context, and recognise this album’s significance in developing the heavy metal and progressive rock sound that we know today.
Opening track ‘Highway Star’ showcases everything that makes Deep Purple, and this album, so special. Ian Gillan’s voice was at its peak and his powerful high notes are used to startling effect before the first lyrics are sung. The opening chug of the song’s intro slowly reaches a state of urgency as the rhythm section of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice tighten the reins. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore scrapes his pick down the strings and Jon Lord’s fabulous organ work completes the sound. Arguably the greatest car song ever, the solos performed by Lord and Blackmore add another dimension to the track, rather than serve as an excuse to show off their chops. Lord’s descending arpeggios are very baroque-influenced, exposing his classical training. The dual harmony guitar lines of Blackmore are fantastic, and you can almost hum/sing along to them. Although ‘Smoke On The Water’ is the record’s most famous track (and riff), it’s the weakest in my opinion. I think that’s only because I’ve heard it eleventy hundred bazillion times though. ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ has a great groove with a simple one line refrain in place of a chorus and the thunderous ‘Picture of Home’ gives Paice and Glover their moment to shine. Glover’s bass solo is one of the album’s most innovative moments. ‘Lazy’ is one of the best blues tracks ever constructed by a hard rock band and ‘Space Trucking’ ends the album with a bang. Although the chorus lyrically consists of just “Come on, come on/Come on, let’s go space truckin’…” that riff is irresistible. How this album wasn’t included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time is beyond me.
NB: I highly recommend the 25th Anniversary double disc, which includes Roger Glover’s 1997 remixes. There are no fade outs, alternate guitar solos and the drums sound way better!
Hands up those of you that like heavy metal music? One, maybe two of you raised your hand right? That’s what we’re up against this week with Deep Purple’s album “Machine Head”. Heavy metal is really one of those genres you either love or hate. And those who love it REALLY love it, those who don’t REALLY don’t. I’m kind of ambivalent myself. I wouldn’t choose to put it on, but a brother and sister who were quite fond of it and a drummer brother-in-law has meant my exposure over the years has been more than most. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go with this album to tell you the truth. My only exposure to Deep Purple was ‘Smoke On The Water’, just like everyone else you’ve ever met. First track came out hard and was full of classic riffs that would go on to shape the genre. The second track ‘Maybe I’m A Leo’ surprised me with its bluesy funk. Third track ‘Pictures of Home’ starts out with a cracking drum solo. To be honest, the rest of the songs sort of blended into each from there for me. It’s not that they were bad, it’s the whole ambivalent thing. Which is weird because Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” is one of my favourite albums so far for the 70s. I can appreciate “Machine Head” for what it is and see how integral Deep Purple were to shaping the hard rock and heavy metal genres. I don’t think I’ll be listening again in a hurry though.
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.
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Released June, 1972
David Bowie is genius, and I will more than happily argue with anyone who says otherwise. Bowie was born David Jones, but changed it in the mid 1960s, after American frontiersman Jim Bowie. If I had a name like David Jones, I’d change it too, but he did it to avoid confusion with Davy Jones from the Monkees. Bowie was introduced to jazz legends like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane at a young age, and started playing saxophone on a cheap plastic alto sax (how often have we heard that?). He moved on to playing guitar in a local band called the Konrads, where he made the decision to become a pop star. Sadly, the other members didn’t share the same aspirations, and Bowie left and joined the King Bees, where he signed his first management deal. His first single Liza Jane was realised with zero success. I know. Once, even David Bowie was a failure. He became disenchanted with the band’s repertoire of Howlin’ Wolf and other blues covers, so he left and joined the Manish Boys with hopes of becoming “their Mick Jagger”. Nope. That band’s single failed as hard as the first, so he moved on AGAIN, joining The Who inspired, blues rock band The Lower Third. They released a single and guess what? No good. This was the last straw for his management, who gave up on him. Bad move. He signed with a new manager, and a new band with another failed single.
It was at this point he changed his name and went solo, with yet another manager. He released his debut single and self titled album, both which, you guessed it, bombed. Due to all his failures, Bowie wasn’t making a living from music and was forced to find other incomes. It wasn’t until he was making a film intended to promote his work (that wouldn’t be released until the mid-80s) featured his first commercial hit. ‘Space Oddity’ was released five days before the launch of Apollo 11, and that launched ‘Space Oddity’ to a UK Top Five hit. The album of the same name was finally a success, and Bowie put together a full time band for touring and recording, featuring Mick Ronson on guitar.
The band sessions resulted in the recording of “The Man Who Sold The World” in 1970, and it sent Bowie on a promotional tour of the US, where they had no idea what to make of this androgynous pop star. It was here he developed the character of Ziggy Stardust, designed to look “like he’s landed from Mars”. “Hunky Dory” was released following the tour, though not to huge success. But it was a stepping stone to the reason we’re here. “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars”. ‘Starman’ was the single released from “Ziggy”, and both the album and single heralded Bowie’s UK breakthrough. And rightly so, what a ripper.
“Ziggy” opens with ‘Five Years’, a classic Bowie track about the world after learning of its destruction in five years. A suitably dramatic track, which I can’t believe is not more popular. I found it quite interesting that Lady Stardust was about Marc Bolan, T-Rex frontman who also played session guitar for Bowie before the Spiders. The original title was He Was Alright (A Song For Marc). It features some lovely Pianoing, played by Bowie himself. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ is one of my favourite songs of all time. The lead guitar riff sticks in my head like glue, and the bass rolls on beautifully in the background. One of my favourite things about Bowie is his lyric writing, and “Ziggy” features some classics. “Screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo, like some cat from Japan” and “making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind” are up there with my favourite Bowie lines. The track blends perfectly into the driving guitar intro of ‘Suffragette City’. It’s fast paced heavy rock is a long way from the folky sounds of ‘Space Oddity’, and it does rock beautifully. There’s a very 50s inspired piano line and the horns make a very big sound. It sounds a bit dumb, but I love the way the track just finishes, with a cold cut. 100 to zero in no seconds.
I can’t say enough about David Bowie. He’s one of my heroes, and “Ziggy Stardust” is one of my favouritest albums ever. The perfect mix of folk rand heavy rock. Everyone should own this album.
I was a David Bowie fan before I even knew I was; as a kid I was a huge fan of the cult fantasy film ‘Labyrinth’, a movie for which Bowie wrote the songs, and in which he also starred. As a general rule. Bowie’s music is complex and all of his songs tell a complex story. True to form, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” (often abbreviated to “Ziggy Stardust”) was more than an average album, for Bowie it was art, from its inception it was intended to be played out as somewhat of a rock opera, to tell the tale of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star sent to Earth to teach the people a message of hope in the 5 years leading to world’s end. Track 4, ‘Starman’, probably the most upbeat and hopeful songs on the album, is one of my favourite Bowie songs ever. ‘Star’ was enjoyable, I particularly rated the piano parts, the riffs are very catchy. ‘Hang on to yourself is also quite alright’, the tempo is super fast, giving it a feeling of forward motion and leaves you feeling like you have been left behind while Bowie charges ahead into the horizon, at the end of the song. Of course, the title track ‘Ziggy Stardust’, the ode to the main protagonist of the story, is an undying classic, instantly recognisable with its electric guitar intro, and also a favourite of mine. For me, some of the songs on “Ziggy Stardust” are a little bland and didn’t catch my interest, especially when listened to in isolation of the rest of the album. But as a whole, the album was ridiculously ambitious as Bowie’s second album, and most definitely a masterpiece that would have been truly incredible witnessed live on stage. Definitely worthy of future listens.
Concept albums are a strange beast. Some work better than others, and some require a little research or lyric studying to fully understand the story. This one falls somewhere in between the two extremes. Opening with my album highlight ‘Five Years’, we are presented with an Earth that has only five years left to exist. The loose story line tells of an alien landing here to save us all with rock and roll. Only in the seventies, huh? While artists like Lou Reed and Roxy Music were dipping into the pool of glam rock, Bowie went for the cannonball and almost solely defined the genre. Resonating among the youth of the day who were struggling with their own sexual identity, and um, fashion sense, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust was embraced the world over. Catchy tracks like ‘Starman’ and ‘Hang On To Yourself’ help buoy this album above the glam rock label and are just as vibrant today as they must have sounded over forty years ago. I love the mournful tone of ‘Lady Stardust’ and anthemic closer ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. The Zappa-esque horns in the instrumental section of ‘Moonage Daydream’ coupled with Mick Ronson’s soaring lead guitar make the song a true classic. The iconic title track is one of the best chorus-less songs you’ll ever hear as the plight of Ziggy is revealed. The deliberately slower pace of the track gives it a gravitas, confidently making it the focal point of the record. I feel that this album does stumble in a few spots, namely ‘Suffragette City’ and the cover of Ron Davies’ ‘It Ain’t Easy’. If the best tracks from this record and 1973’s follow-up ‘Aladdin Sane’ were put together, you’d have an absolute cracker. The influence this record, concept and alter-ego have had on popular music cannot be underestimated. “Ziggy played…guitarrrrrr!”
Other than the singles that are embedded in pop culture, I was not all that familiar with David Bowie coming into this week. Well other than that codpiece in the film Labyrinth, but that’s a whole other blog post in itself. A little bit of research before my first listen to “Ziggy Stardust” had me worried. An alien rockstar from Mars that comes to Earth only to discover there are only five years before the end of Earth, peppered throughout with drugs and sex? Okay then. Like previous afyccim concept album “Tommy” by The Who, this album is actually quite sparse when it comes to the instruments used, but by god are they gloriously put to good effect. There is something very warming and genuine about “Ziggy Stardust”, despite the ludicrous storyline and theatrics. This I believe is purely down to the genius of Bowie. Whereas “Tommy” felt lyrically like Townsend was trying to create an epic and clever story, with “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie isn’t so much trying to be a weird character, he just is a weird character. It would be very easy to label the whole thing pretentious, from the story to the theatrical way Bowie brought the character to life, but at no time does it ever feel that way. In creating “Ziggy Stardust” Bowie not only cemented himself as a certified superstar, he also redefined the grounds for what music could be. This album is a classic because despite of all the fanfare, at the crux of it this is a collection of really well written rock/pop songs. In creating the character of Ziggy, Bowie appealed to a generation that felt like they didn’t fit into the norm. These two things combined, despite the ridiculous lyrics, are what make this album worthy of all of the acclaim heaped upon it. I became quite the David Bowie fan this week. I can’t fault anything about this album.
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.
Curtis Mayfield – Super Fly
Released July, 1972
1. Little Child Running Wild – 0.00
2. Pusherman – 5:24
3. Freddie’s dead – 10.31
4. Junkie Chase – 16.00
5. Give Me Your Love – 17.41
6. Eddie You Should Know Better – 22.02
7. No Thing On Me – 24.21
8. Think – 29.20
9. SuperFly – 33.08
“Super Fly” was Curtis Mayfield’s third album as a solo artist. Before this, he spent 12 years as a member of The Impressions, where as the main singer he wrote timeless songs such as ‘People Get Ready’, ‘Keep on Pushing’ and ‘Move On Up’. In order to understand “Super Fly”however, we first need to address the fact that is the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation film. What’s a Blaxploitation film? I’m glad you asked. According to Urban Dictionary (of all places) we can define Blaxploitation is the morphing of the words “black” and “exploitation”. It is a film genre from the 1970s that targeted the urban african-american audience. The actors used were mainly black and was the first style to use funk and soul music. Although initially popular it quickly disingrated as a film genre critizised for the use of stereotypes. As important as the films in the Blaxploitation genre were the soulful soundtracks. In cases like “Super Fly”, the soundtrack actually outsold the movie. It was ranked #72 by Rolling Stone Magazine on their ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list.
The album stands apart from the movie in its own right as a sort of concept album. Whilst there are similar themes throughout both, Mayfield actually explores the role of drugs and the eventual despair in much more detail than the film. The album tells it exactly as Mayfield was seeing it, and at times it’s bleak and downright depressing. The film on the other hand is much lighter and almost glorifies the protagonist. Here Mayfield doesn’t so much as judge as just tell the story that his contemporaries were facing at the time. He makes no excuses or no apologies. Mayfield has been quoted as saying “I don’t take credit for everything I write, I only look upon my writings as interpretations of how the majority of people around me feel.” What he did with this album was to take a snapshot of the world around him and document it in a way that wasn’t overly judgey or preachy, it just is what it is. The album really is a fascinating insight into the socio-political problems faced by African-Americans of a lower socio-economic realm.
On my first couple of listens I didn’t pay so much attention to the lyrics, and was quite caught up in the funk and sheer coolness within. Just listening to the album makes you feel a certain amount of swagger. It wasn’t until a few listens in that I started listening to the lyrics, where the true story was revealed. Mayfield tells the story of these young, flashy men pushing dope for the man. On first appearances it’s all very flashy and one almost feels a bit envious of the exciting and extravagant lives these men are living. It’s not until we look until closer that we see the cracks, and see how thin that façade actually is. These songs come from a place that is very real and this adds a layer of depth to the lyrics. It’s hard not to be impressed by the ‘Pusher Man’ with his “Secret stash, heavy bread / Baddest bitches, in the bed”. However, juxtaposed with this is the real underlying issues “Been told I can’t be nothin’ else / Just a hustler in spite of myself”.
Musically “Super Fly”really is quite brilliant. It’s pretty much as soulful and as funky as music can get. Being a soundtrack afforded Mayfield the liberty of taking it to the next level, embellishing the story with strings, horns and the classic soul sounds of the wah-wah guitar and rumbling bass. It’s very easy to see how Mayfield and “Super Fly” have influenced artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Lauren Hill and The Roots . Whether you want to simply enjoy the album for the music, or to explore a little further with the lyrics, “Super Fly” is a very easy and enjoyable album to listen to. Stand out tracks for me where ‘Little Child Runnin’ Wild’, ‘Pusherman’ and ‘Superfly’, but really the whole album is wonderful.
“Super Fly”is as quintessentially seventies as you can get. Scratchy, wah wah equipped guitars, funky bass runs, big horn sections and brilliant soul vocals. It is 40 minutes of fun. Now, I haven’t seen the film of the same name, but listening to the sound track has definitely piqued my interest. “Super Fly”was never expected to sell well, but due it’s surprise success, Curtis Mayfield went on to compose the soundtrack for more films, but none that I’ve ever heard of. I’m not going to talk about the themes of the album at all, because I’m sure Ang has gone right into it in her main review, but pay attention, because it’s very interesting. There wasn’t much of this album I didn’t like. In fact, what I liked most about it wasn’t even the music, it was the imagery the music evoked. Big American cars flying around the streets, African American guys with big Afros and bell bottom jeans, awesome sideburns and aviator glasses. Isn’t that a great picture? That image is encapsulated perfectly in the instrumental piece ‘Junkie Chase’. Rhythmic bass pumping, scratchy guitars and horns building to huge crescendos make this the perfect companion piece to a chase scene. I think the title, and final, track of the album is the best. It brings together all the elements of soul and funk, and uses them as a climax of sorts for both the album and its accompanying film. It was the second single released from the album and made it to number eight on the Billboard charts. The album that made Curtis Mayfield the widely known influential funk artist is a solid outing. A non stop ride that takes the listener to all kinds of places from start to finish, “Super Fly”is a must listen for, well, everyone.
This was definitely one of the superior concept albums, and indeed film soundtracks, that I have had the pleasure of listening to. I’ve listened to a bit of contemporary nineties and noughties R & B in recent years and from the moment I started listening to “Super Fly”, I could straight away see the influence that Curtis Mayfield’s work had on future R & B musicians. As a whole, the album was pleasurable to listen to, with funky percussion beats, wah wah guitars, and lyrics loaded with meaning and feeling. For me, the highlight of the album was title track ‘Superfly’, with its infectious and highly distinct (and instantly-recognisable) rototom intro, which just has me dancing in my seat every time I hear it. For those of you not in the know, the rototom is a tuneable drum, and was used throughout the album “Super Fly”, to great effect. It’s a corker of a song with an undeniable groove, and has been sampled in pop hit ‘Tilt ya head back’ by Nelly featuring Christina Aguilera, and The Beastie Boys’ ‘Egg Man’ (Legacy, tick!) I also rated ‘Give Me Your Love’, with its lengthy instrumental intro. Overall, I would say this was a really solid album that obviously took 70’s R & B and Funk to the fore and created a dialogue around social and racial issues of its era. I will definitely be keeping this one in my ipod playlist for future enjoyment.
We’ve listened to live albums, double albums, debut albums, but “Super Fly” is the first soundtrack album we’ve had to review for afyccim. What a cracker it is, too. All the hallmarks of classic blaxplotation film scores are here: the wah-wah guitar, the thumping piano, the bass grooves, the flute, the sweeping strings and the punchy horns. You might have already heard the title track and ‘Pusherman’ without knowing it, as they have both been sampled in songs by the Beastie Boys, Eminem, the Notorious B.I.G. and Ice-T. Whereas the previous year’s “Shaft” soundtrack by Isaac Hayes was mostly instrumental, there are only two tracks on this album without vocals. Be they instrumental or not, all the songs on this record are killer. Though we can deduce plot points from these songs, particularly ‘Freddie’s Dead’ and the romantic ‘Give Me Your Love (Love Song)’, I don’t think you need to have seen the film to enjoy its music. Having said that, I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the film and checking it out, and yes, it’s exactly what you expect it will be. Mayfield even has a short cameo performing (miming) ‘Pusherman’ with the Curtis Mayfield Experience in a nightclub scene! His soulful vocals act as the inner monologue of Priest (the film’s protagonist), as he tries to make one last score before getting out of the business for good. Although the film was seen to be ambiguous in its depiction of drug dealers, Mayfield’s commentary is much harsher, decrying the ‘Pusherman’ who preys on the weak and downtrodden. The seemingly uplifting ‘No Thing On Me (Cocaine Song)’ outlines this sentiment as well: “It’s a terrible thing inside/When your natural high has died/The weaker turn to dope/And put all aside their hope”. I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and I’ve just started to explore Mayfield’s back catalog.
The Clash – London Calling
Released December, 1979
This is a mighty behemoth of a double album that sprawls across many genres. Despite moving from punk to ska to pop to rockabilly to hard rock to reggae and back again, the record has an unusual cohesiveness. The different styles seem to link the songs together, rather than isolating them as separate pieces. “London Calling” recently came in eighth place in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, and only just scrapes into our seventies list with its 14th December 1979 UK release date.
The Clash performed their first gigs in London, when they supported The Sex Pistols on their 1976 Anarchy Tour. This notoriety landed them a record contract with British CBS in February 1977. Singer/guitarist/songwriters Joe Strummer and Mick Jones along with bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Torry Chimes recorded their debut album over three weekends. Chimes left the group shortly before “The Clash” was released, and was replaced by Topper Headon. On the strength of their first single ‘White Riot’, the record became a modest hit in the UK, while the US division of their record label refused to issue it.
Throughout 1977, all of the band members had brushes with the law for minor crimes of vandalism, stealing or shooting pigeons(?) which only added to their outlaw image. Intent on breaking into the American market, their second album, “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” was produced by Sandy Pearlman from New York based band Blue Öyster Cult. Released in November 1978 the record debuted at No.2 on the UK albums chart, but peaked at just No.128 in the US.
Unperturbed, The Clash toured the US twice in 1979, with a diverse range of support acts including R&B greats Sam & Dave, legendary bluesman Bo Diddley and country rocker Joe Ely. The group’s
fascination with other musical styles filtered into their own songs when the time came to record “London Calling”. They enlisted Guy Stevens to produce the record which worried CBS, as his dependence on alcohol made him difficult to work with. Thankfully he got along well with the band and drew fantastic performances out of them with some songs only requiring one or two takes.
The themes of the tracks on “London Calling” are as diverse as their styles. Setting the scene with the classic title track we are lead through a bleak world of racial tension, unemployment, nuclear
disaster and drug abuse. The notion of rebelling against the establishment which dominated their early albums reoccurs in rocker ‘Clampdown’ and Simonon’s first recorded composition ‘The Guns of
Brixton’, which features one of the best bass grooves you’ll ever hear. They also offer up tales of isolation (the disco-themed ‘Lost In The Supermarket’), civil war (‘Spanish Bombs’), Hollywood legend
Montgomery Clift (‘The Right Profile’) and adults refusing to grow up (the excellent reggae-infused ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’). Covers of Vince Taylor’s ‘Brand New Cadillac’ and The Ruler’s ‘Wrong ‘Em Boyo’ are great fun, with the latter’s false start of ‘Stagger Lee’ giving way to an excellent burst of ska. Closing track ‘Train In Vain’ finally gave The Clash their first US hit after hitting No.23 on the Billboard
Hot 100 in early 1980. Added at the last minute, initial pressings of the album’s artwork omitted the song from the running order.
I am always flawed by the scope of this album. All of these songs are full of energy, and if you can get past Strummer’s abrasive vocal style, endlessly enjoyable. I love how the production of ‘The Card
Cheat’ was made to sound big by recording every instrument part twice, creating an almost Phil Spector-esque sound. The poppy ‘Hateful’ has a chorus that sticks in your head for days and the horns on ‘Revolution Rock’ matched with Strummer’s hilarious ad libs make for yet another album highlight. I believe this is one of best albums ever recorded, made all the more astonishing by the band’s previous work. To this day, I skip the first half of The Clash’s “The Singles” collection; I don’t dig their early stuff at all. “London Calling” is one of those rare records where every track is a winner and stands up well on its own, without the whole record’s context. It has arguably the most iconic album cover ever as well. Love it!
For “London Calling”, The Clash’s third album, members of the band were all around their mid-20s. There is something about being that age that has a certain energy about it. You are no longer an adolescent but you are only just figuring out who you are and how you fit in the world. These sorts of questions are directly explored within “London Calling”. Not only are the band playing around with these ideas and concepts in their lyrics, but also do so in their music, with a variety of genres being tackled head on. It’s obvious that the time of writing this album was a tough one, not only for the band but for society as a whole. Strummer delves deep into this psyche within his lyrics, focusing on subjects such as drug use, unemployment, politics and racial conflict. Despite the varying genres explored within, “London Calling” is at its heart a rock n roll album, and it wears that heart on its sleeve. There is a palpable energy between the band, particularly Strummer and Jones. At times it feels like the whole thing is going to fall apart at any moment, which I imagine is quite close to the feelings the guys where having in general. I understand why this album has affected so many people in many different ways. It’s not often we get an album like this that comes along at just the right time that sums up exactly how we are all feeling and what we are all thinking. Bruce Springsteen did it in the 80s with “Born in the USA”, Nirvana did it in the 90s with “Nevermind” and Radiohead did it in the 00s with “Kid A”. Whether or not you like the music within, every decade needs an album like this. An album that tells our stories.
I get excited when we listen to a Top 10 album from Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Though I must admit, with my limited knowledge of The Clash, extending to ‘London Calling’ (song), ‘Rock’ The Casbah’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, I couldn’t believe that an average punk band could come in at number eight on this list full of names like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. How wrong I was. “London Calling” opened my eyes to The Clash, and how they are much, much more than a crash and thrash punk band. It shows huge versatility that spans punk, rock, reggae, ska, blues and funk. Which is great, but also sucks when I’ve gotta write a mini review! I’ve had a soft spot for ska music for a long while, so discovering at a track like ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ in what I assumed was all punk was excellent. I loved the horn section. ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ is much more of a typical late 70s/early 80s pop rock track and it’s quite refreshing, hiding out in the middle of the album. There’s some interesting percussive sounds going on in there. There are two things that stay constant over the whole album. One good, one less good. The good: Paul Simonon’s bass is brilliant. It always stands out no matter what noise is going on around it. It’s crisp and clean and he covers a lot of the neck. The less good: Mick Jones’s voice. It’s perfect if all you’re going to sing is punk. The unrefined edge doesn’t sit well when you’re playing something a little less frantic and messy. “London Calling” was a real eye opener for me. I’m definitely going to give it some more airtime. The Clash were more than one dimensional punk.
There’s no denying that “London Calling” has left its mark in the annals of Punk Rock history, but boy, was I surprised to find that this album also contained jazz and soul, amongst the other genres of rockabilly and ska too! I must admit that this was a bit of a relief, as I’m not really into punk rock at the best of times. Despite the variety of styles that were showcased, The Clash worked within the thematic confines of Punk, and therefore political and social themes abound throughout the album, including references to civil war, unemployment, drug abuse and crime. Snore. Due to the album having such a cross-section of sounds and themes, I found it really hard to listen to, as I felt there was no continuity, it just felt like it was disjointed. Not only that, but the album is way too lengthy for this listener, clocking in at just over 65 minutes. I’m not going to comment on the musicianship other than to say it’s satisfactory but didn’t really grab me. I can understand that at the time it was highly regarded and won much acclaim over its lifetime. The themes covered in the album were current at the time it was released and therefore it was relatable for most listeners. I guess it’s pretty obvious that this album wasn’t up my alley, and I feel all sorts of frustration and confusion because of my dislike; I feel like there was something maybe I missed, but seriously, it just didn’t float my boat.
Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
Released November, 1970
An English singer-songwriter, Cat Stevens, rode the folk wave of the early 70s and released a string of platinum albums and hits, many of which have since been covered by much loved artists. Without even realising it you’ve listened to a lot of Cat Stevens songs. He came to the attention of the public at the age of 19 with his song ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’. A couple of years later he contracted tuberculosis which landed him in hospital. It was here that he started to question the spiritual aspects of life and turned to mediation, yoga and metaphysics. It was also around this time that he became disenchanted with his record company, so in an attempt to get out of his contract he became a ‘difficult star’ making outlandish requests in a hope they would drop him. It worked. With a new canon of songs written from his new viewpoint on life he signed to Island Records in 1970, who gave him complete creative control. He released his third album “Mona Bone Jakon” which had moderate success and was the first of his albums to have any real success in America.
Which brings us to this week’s album, “Tea for the Tillerman”, released just four months after “Mona Bone Jackson”. Here Stevens would start to further explore different spiritual themes in his lyrics to a folk-rock soundtrack. The combination worked and not only is it Steven’s most successful release, but has gone on to sell in excess of 3 million copies. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it at #206 in their “500 Greatest Albums of all Time” list. It’s fair to say that “Tea for the Tillerman” has gone on to inspire many a young lad with a guitar in his bedroom.
When most people think of Cat Stevens however, they are usually drawn to his life after music. In 1977 Stevens converted to the Muslim faith, changed his name to Yusaf Islam and promptly retreated from the limelight as it did not sit in accordance with his newly found religious beliefs. It wasn’t until 1985 that he would start to play the odd benefit gig. In 1995 he returned to music in earnest and started releasing new material under the name Yusaf Islam. He has since gone on to say that his departure from the limelight and music was a little rushed and said upon his return “I can reconnect with the people I felt I abandoned, which I regret more than anything”. He has credited his son Muhammad Islam for his return to secular music after he brought a guitar back into his house and he rediscovered his love for songwriting. The whole conversion to Islam thing has brought about a lot of controversy in Stevens/Islam’s life, but we are not here to talk about these things, you have Wikipedia for that.
This week I learnt three things: 1. Cat Stevens is English. 2. He wrote A LOT of songs that I know purely through their covers. 3. The man can hold a tune. Upon my first couple of listen to “Tea for the Tillerman” I was surprised at just how many of the songs I recognised. The other thing that surprised me, not having consciously listened to his work before, was just how unique and strong his voice is. It definitely holds the album together. Whilst described as a folk-rock album I must say I was quite disappointed in it musically. Most of the songs prominently featured a rhythm guitar with a simple strum pattern and the odd arpeggio here or there. Nothing outstanding and at times quite pedestrian. The production was a little lacking also. The sound of the plectrum clicking against the strings in ‘Wild World’ is almost unbearable. Despite this it’s a hard album not to like. It’s simple and non-offensive, reflecting on many things that we’ve all pondered from time to time. Favourite songs for me were ‘Where Do the Children Play?’, ‘Sad Lisa’, and the wonderful but albeit short closing track ‘Tea for the Tillerman’. I enjoyed my time with Cat Stevens this week but I don’t see myself revisiting it any time soon.
I once lived with a guy who started every day by playing ‘Peace Train’ and ‘Father And Son’ at about 6am very loudly in the lounge room. Unsurprisingly, this led to quite a dislike for Cat Stevens that I’ve never really got over. After listening to “Tea For The Tillerman” a couple of times, I discovered that dislike is not something I’ve got over with time. This album was really hard for me to listen to. The majority of tracks almost sent me to sleep. You all know my feelings about folk music by now. Wikipedia classifies “Tea For The Tillerman” as “folk-rock”. I could only identify two tracks that could count as anything close to rock: ‘Miles From Nowhere’ and ‘But I Might Die Tonight’. If it wasn’t for these two tracks, I don’t know if I’d have the strength to listen all the way through. “Tea For The Tillerman” has two songs that are recognisable, ‘Father and Son’ and ‘Wild World’, though I’m sure I know ‘Wild World’ from a cover version… Maybe Maxi Priest? ‘Father and Son’ is an interesting one. A conversation between a father and son about the son leaving home to find his own way, with Steven’s telling the story from both sides. The interesting part for me is that Stevens was 22 when this album was released. “Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy”? I don’t think you’re fit to be giving advice. I’m not even sure why the title track exists. A song that’s one minute long and really gives nothing. Maybe Stevens didn’t know he could name an album without having a track by the same name? And he’s onto children playing again… Thanks, Cat Stevens, but no thanks. It’s not personal, but it’s time to make a change.
Whenever I think of Cat Stevens, I remember hearing my dad playing ‘Peace Train’ on record when I was a kid, and how happy the song made me feel, it’s so uplifting. Although ‘Peace Train’ was on another Cat Stevens album, I think that the ‘uplifting’ descriptor is poignant in general when describing the work of Cat Stevens, in particular his 1970 release, “Tea for the Tillerman”. Serving up a tasteful blend of piano ballads and acoustic guitar folk songs, the album focuses around themes of social issues, spirituality and love. The songs are accentuated with gospel-sounding backing vocals, and the occasional string section or violin. Most of the tracks have a happy theme, with ‘Sad Lisa’, my favourite of the album, standing out as one of the slower and more heart-felt ballads. It also features a hauntingly-beautiful violin solo and string section that gives me goose bumps every time and piano playing that reminds me of Tori Amos. Of course we can’t forget the two most-popular tracks of the album, and the ones that made it a best seller, ‘Father and Son’, and ‘Wild World’. It goes without saying that these ones are fantastic, but they weren’t really highlights of the album for me, I’ve heard them too many times over the years. I really loved ‘Longer Boats’, it has the sound of an African folk song and reminds me of Paul Simon. You can’t help but think it’s about death and the afterlife, but over the years there has been contention around the meaning of the song, with most arguing that Stevens said in an interview that the song related to an alien encounter that he had.Cool! Overall I enjoyed listening to “Tea for the Tillerman” and I hope to one day own it on vinyl. It’s definitely an album worthy of its place in the annals of classic music and cemented Stevens as one of the definitive song writers of his era.
I first heard ‘Father and Son’ when I was in my mid-teens, not quite the age of the second titular character. I liked it instantly, and loved Stevens’ vocal shift into the higher octave to signal the change of narrator. At the time of the song’s release, the youth of that era were beginning to realise that they had a voice, and a right to use it. While the generational difference between the two characters is expressed, it is done without animosity; each is merely stating their point of view. This theme of a divide between the old and the young recurs throughout “Tea For The Tillerman”. Opening song ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ mourns the cost of progress at the expense of childhood, while the closing title track ends with optimistic hope that the children will get to play. Stevens’ recent break-up with Patti D’Arbanville is further lamented in ‘Wild World’ and ‘Hard Headed Woman’, the former being a big favourite of mine. Another strong undercurrent is his quest for spiritual enlightenment with the songs ‘But I Might Die Tonight’ and ‘On The Road To Find Out’. Bizarrely, Cat Stevens became a Muslim seven years after this album came out and changed his name to Yusef Islam. He wouldn’t return to the music industry until the 21st century. With “Tea For The Tillerman” Cat Stevens’ transformation from late sixties pop dandy to bearded folk troubadour was complete. His singing style and knack for writing good melodies make him very easy to listen to. He can go from intense passion to quiet reflection within a single song without it feeling forced. The acoustic guitar is the centre of the album’s wonderful production, but the occasional splashes of piano and strings blend brilliantly. This is essential listening for fans of earthy folk ballads.
Carole King – Tapestry
Released February, 1971
Carole King was born in Manhatten, New York, in 1942. She was born into a middle-class Jewish family and from the early age of 4 took up the piano. While still in school, she sang in a girl group called the Co-Sines, and also befriended Gerry Goffin. Goffin and King married in 1959. Their partnership was not only nuptial, for 9 years before they married they also worked as song-writing partners under label Aldon Music and together, penned some of the most successful pop hits the music world has seen.
I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Carole King, my knowledge of her was previously very limited, but I have always related to her music in the same way that I relate to Joni Mitchell’s; I feel the meaning and the emotion behind the lyrics and I relate to those emotions. Along with many other musicians and music fans alike, I have an enormous respect of her prolific talents as a songwriter. I do know enough about King to tell you that she (sometimes with Goffin) has penned over 100 hits that have made the Billboard 100, and that she and fellow musician James Taylor – also one of my all-time musical heroes – have enjoyed a long and fruitful working relationship. In fact King co-wrote much of the material on one of my favourite albums of all time, James Taylor’s ‘Sweet Baby James’.
Released in 1971, “Tapestry” was Carole King’s second solo album, and was an overnight success, selling 25 million copies internationally, earning 4 Grammy’s, and holding the record for sales until Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released in 1982. To me, “Tapestry” is a strangely apt title for the album, because it is the perfect description for what the album represents – a beautiful collection of stories and concepts woven into one lovely artwork. It’s one of the most solid albums we have covered throughout ‘afyccim’. As far as I am concerned, the song writing is succinct and the album goes from strength to strength. There is plenty of dynamic; from soft vulnerable Carole, to strong and independent Carole. People who are allergic to cheesy songs will struggle, but those who know me will already be aware that I enjoy a bit of corny from time to time. As Kate Winslet says in “The Holiday”, “I’m looking for corny in my life”. Take ‘You’ve Got a Friend’, for example (YouTube James Taylor’s version, too), or ‘Where You Lead’, which later became the title track for one of my favourite corn fests, ‘Gilmore Girls’. These are great examples of lovely, honest, heart-on-your-sleeve song writing that verges on corn but is oh-so-heart-warming and just a pleasant change to listen to from time to time.
Listen to ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ and you will see that King’s voice is far from perfect, it’s a far cry from the sultry tones of some of the ladies who would cover it in future years. But in my opinion, Carole King is much more a songwriter and story teller than she is a performer. She’s more of a muso’s muso. Of course, her musical abilities are far from average, but I feel like some of her best work has been the creations she has contributed to for other artists, such as Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, James Taylor and The Monkees (YouTube the ‘Porpoise Song’, this one is amazing and could easily be in the charts today!).
Now aged 71, Carole King has enjoyed a long and prosperous career, working on many collaborations with all kinds of artists, releasing solo albums, making cameo appearances in film and TV, and touring with the likes of Mary J Blige, James Taylor, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and more. As I alluded to earlier, I feel that Carole King’s work is timeless and this, in a way explains how she has been able to not only collaborate with, but also tour with, such a wide range of artists. Although her music has a folk edge, her writing style is classic and her songs will remain ageless, forever.
Carole King was eighteen years old when she co-wrote The Shirelles’ hit song ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ with her then husband Gerry Goffin. Over a decade later King recorded her own version, beautifully stripped back and slowed down to enhance the track’s sense of melancholy. This is just one of the reasons that makes “Tapestry” such a classic album. King wrote, or co-wrote, all these songs and there’s not a bad cut here. I’m sure many people of my generation grew up listening to their parents’ copy, but I got into it late; I was in my early twenties. I dug ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Beautiful’ immediately, but songs like ‘So Far Away’ and ‘Tapestry’ have taken a few years to reveal their brilliance to me. King’s voice is unlike that of her contemporaries at the time, and while she may not be technically perfect, her passion more than makes up for it. Her performance of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ benefits from the simple piano and vocal arrangement, allowing the song to stand on its own without relying on schmaltzy production to draw out the emotion. King’s songwriting talent is the heart and soul of the album with such classics as ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and ‘I Feel Earth Move’ making their first appearance. James Taylor would go on to enjoy a hit with ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ shortly after the release of “Tapestry”, and his vocal contributions on the album are wonderful. This is one of my favourite records to chill out to. I tap my foot to ‘Smackwater Jack’, I sigh with heartache during ‘So Far Away’ and I believe that your attitude influences the people around you in ‘Beautiful’. This album is a timeless work from one of the masters of her craft.
Carole King and the album “Tapestry” has been loved by many a person over the last four decades. King is worthy of her place on this list not just for this album alone though. She started out her career as a very successful songwriter in the 60s, which was no mean feat for a woman of that time. By the early 70s King had started to pen her own lyrics and sing her own melodies, thanks to some encouragement by friend James Taylor. Enter stage left “Tapestry”. Here King leaves behind the 60s and its manufactured pop hits and delivers a solid album of introspective songs. The strength in the album lies in its cohesiveness. King knows her limits and abilities and if okay with it. At the time of release she was a 29 year old, divorced woman with two children. She had something to say of substance and she does so eloquently. At a time when men dominated the singer-songwriter scene the world was ready for someone like King, and contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell. Fellow singer-songwriter Cynthia Weil has said of King – “Carole spoke from her heart, and she happened to be in tune with the mass psyche. People were looking for a message, and she came to them with a message that was exactly what they were looking for, were aching for.” It took me awhile to sink my teeth into this album and to understand it. On the first few listens it felt to me to be a little hollow. It was after a night of insomnia where I put it on headphones that it clicked. There is a fragility in King’s voice that is very relatable. It’s easy to connect to these songs because they are emotions we all experience. A beautiful and soulful album worthy of its place here.
The kids love Carole King, don’t they? “Tapestry” is always mentioned with the best albums of all time. And after a good few listens, I can kind of see why. It’s much softer than the kind of music I normally listen to, but now I dig it. Tapestry opens with the well known track ‘I Feel The Earth Move’. I didn’t realise how dynamic the song is, with a cool guitar solo and driving piano. The upbeat style of the first track is juxtaposed immediately with the second track, ‘So Far Away’, which seeks to showcase King’s voice and piano skills. (I’ve been over my love for those who can play piano and sing well at the same time before, no need to do it again!) But the part I like most about this track is the intermittent bass runs, and the cool flute outro. ‘Smackwater Jack’ is a song that had my attention from the title, and it worked out. It’s a musically fun song, despite the incongruent lyrics about murdering a bunch of people. I love the line “It was a very good year for the Undertaker”. The live version is also very good. ‘Where You Lead’ seemed very familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why… After a quick google, it turns out the track was rerecorded by King with her daughter Louise Goffin to use as a TV theme. A theme I rather embarrassingly recognised. The Gilmore Girls. I didn’t know that King co-wrote ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’. I think King and Aretha do the song differently, but both very impressively. Now I know why “Tapestry” is so celebrated. Carole King was truly an artist of exceptional skill and talent. Backing vocals by Joni Mitchell is a handy little cameo too!