Lesley Duncan – She was an incredibly talented Singer-Songwriter from the Sixties and early Seventies. She was however quite shy and didn’t like the spotlight. I used to have all her albums on vinyl, but they are incredibly expensive now on CD…oh well. She was a backing singer for Dusty (see D) and many others – even singing on Dark Side Of The Moon. Her best known song ‘Love Song’ has been recorded by over 150 artists including Elton John. So, we start with ‘Sing Lesley Sing’ a recent re-release of her first album (1971) plus a few demo tracks. Lovely songs and great playing from Jimmy Horowitz on organ, Elton on Piano and Chris Spedding on guitar. Best songs; ‘Love Song’ of course and ‘Mr. Rubin’ and my favourite ‘Chain of Love’. Her voice is so soft and caressing, you instantly recognize it and fall back in love with her. Her second album Earth Mother was always my very favourite of hers – after this she tended to go a bit too close to the middle of the road – but I will keep watching out for her albums. Earth Mother is decades ahead of its time, with its critique of the music business and her ecological words. I just love it. Best songs – so hard to choose….but the title track obviously, and ‘Time’, ‘Fortieth Floor’ and ‘God Is Real’ still sound as fresh as the day they were recorded. If I ever had to choose – and please don’t ever ask me, this could well be in my top – say 100, albums. I had her three other albums on vinyl and cassette, but somehow that special magic seems to have been lost slightly – not that those records are bad at all – not just so special. Anyway, she retired from the music business in the early 80s; with her husband to a Scottish farm and seems to have lived happily ever after – until her sad early death at 66. One of the best girl singers…
Duran Duran – and so we skip from the sublime to the (almost ) ridiculous. Only one record ‘Greatest Hits’ and that is all you will ever need. Okay, but really….pretty unnecessary even so.
Ian Dury – the old rascal. Not the greatest fan, but good for an occasional listen and chortle; a superb wordsmith and quite good tunes too. Just have the one – a greatest hits – Reasons To Be Cheerful. And very good it is too, all the old favourites and a few others too.
Dusty Springfield – not many artists can be recognized just by one name but Dusty was and will always remain one of them. The only album I have is Dusty in Memphis; 1969, which at the time was a bit of a flop, as was Dusty at this point in her career. She had a few hits in the 60’s but was looking decidedly old-fashioned as the Seventies approached. But over the years this record has gained a cult status as her best. Great musicians and a good choice of songs, many by Goffin, King – my favourites; ‘Son Of A Preacherman’, ‘Breakfast In Bed’ and ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’. She was one of the great white soul voices, instantly recognisable – but apparently she had quite an unhappy personal life.
Nick Drake – Another of the music business casualties, Nick was just too sensitive to survive. He made just 3 albums in his short lifetime – and they are all classics. At the time each barely sold a few thousand copies – but since he died they have become cult albums and are now in the millions. He was an influence on many later artists who loved his weary, almost not there ethereal tunes. In a way he drew the path for others to follow. He was almost always depressed and his lack of success both re-enforced his depression and became a justification that he was right. I do know just how he felt. The brick wall that you hit as an artist becomes in itself a wall to keep out all the critics. He was a great friend of John Martyn (see M) and Richard Thompson (seeT), but even they could not persuade him to continue. First up is his debut Five Leaves Left; (1969) a gentle and relatively happy sounding album. Best songs – ‘River Man’, ‘Time Has Told me’, and ‘Cello Song’. Apparently Nick wanted the album to be just his voice and guitar but his producer put a sympathetic backing on it, much to his displeasure. Two years later and he recorded Bryter Later – This is probably his best effort. Two versions of ‘Hazy Jane’ which send you off into another world, and ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Northern Sky’ are lovely and lyrical. He almost sounds happy at times, but there is that deep melancholy vein through the album. At times it just fits your mood, but I can understand how he never achieved a wider audience. I only discovered him through an Island sampler ‘El Pea’ which had a track of his on. His last album was ‘Pink Moon’. Another downbeat record, less backing too – almost stark in places. The title track is quite good, and several other tracks just slip by nicely, but you get the feeling when the record stops that you haven’t really heard it. As if it has sent you momentarily to sleep. There have been many compilations since his death in 1974 (a suicide), I only have A Treasury – and no new tracks, but simply the better tracks. One suspects that had he lived he would have struggled to be allowed to make any more albums, and that would have been that. As it is, like many others, his early death has ensured him a following he never found in his brief life.
Duffy – broke through in 2008 with the number one album Rockferry. She sounded so like the fatal Amy Whitehouse (see W) that her voice seems almost affected, a yearning voice similar to Adele too (see A). this obviously hit the spot with a younger audience and she had incredible success for a couple of years. The album is okay, and yet somehow it fails to satisfy me. I am always on the lookout for new girl singers – but Duffy was not to be one. No bad songs on the records; just nothing that sticks in my mind. Ah…maybe I am just getting old. Duffy has practically retired after her two albums brought her fame (which she apparently hated) and fortune (which I suspect she liked),
Donovan – well, what can we say? A peculiarly English ‘pop-star’; the English Bob Dylan….hahaha. But actually in the 60’s we all loved him. He wrote some great songs, and on the strength of that I picked up a compilation called Greatest Hits, a misnomer if ever there was one; only ‘Sunshine Superman’ and ‘Season of the Witch’ are in any way ‘Hits’. But I always liked him, and had a vinyl copy of ‘Cosmic Wheels’ which is brilliant – but is now a rarity on CD – still I might just buy it anyway. (I just have….hahaha)
Doobie Brothers – well, less said the better. Destined for the charity shop I am afraid.
Thomas Dolby – Now, here is a very interesting one. Part mad professor, part brilliant musician, part serious producer. A genius at the then (late 80’s) new technology of Synths and Sampling he released a few innovative ‘Hits’ -‘She Blinded Me With Science’ and ‘Hyperactive’. In many ways he kick-started a new wave of techno and dance music. But he has always been a reclusive artist; in fact after a handful of successful albums he concentrated on developing technology and became a University bound consultant. He returned late in the 2000’s to music. He also wrote a couple of film scores – so, quite a polymath. Incidentally he helped produce Dog Eat Dog by Joni (the tracks he was involved with I really like). Anyway I only had 2 CDs (just ordered a boxset of his) – The Flat Earth, which was I think his third album. It is simply brilliant, of course -almost every track worth re-listening to. Lots going on in the background but the melodies are lovely. He sings very well too. Hard to pick a favourite song but ‘Dissidents’ and ‘I Scare myself’ do stand out. The only other of his I have is the incredible Astronauts and Heretics album. Such a lovely record; full of life and great enthusiasm – best songs ‘Silk Pyjamas’ and ‘Close But No Cigar’ both of which I first got as CD singles. For a while this album was never off my turntable…but I had almost forgotten Thomas; he went off and worked on sound technology for a while and became a hit producer for other artists. And made no records for many years. Have no fear though, I just ordered a box-set of first five albums for £10….
The Doors – I actually came to this band quite late. I first really became aware of them in 1972. The Weeley ‘pop festival – and ‘Riders On The Storm’ was played a lot during changeovers of acts. I think I had heard it before but loved it and bought the album L.A. Woman of the previous year when I got back to London. Mind you I got into so many bands after Weeley – Edgar Broughton Band, Barclay James Harvest, Lindisfarne and Genesis to name just a few. But for whatever reason I didn’t go further back into their 60’s music (or forward for that matter either) until the early Eighties. I had a girlfriend then who loved the Doors and we would listen to their earlier stuff together. Eventually I bought most of it too, And though never on my real favourites list, I still do quite like them. Starting with their debut The Doors (1967). And immediately you are into that distinctive Doors sound, a lot of bass and driving keyboards. Of course the band became famous because of lead singer Jim Morrison and his stage antics including being constantly arrested for exposing himself – but it is really the sound of the band that is the key, especially Ray Manzarak on keyboards that created the pioneering sound; in fact they are constantly being sampled by rap artists of today. So – the album – it is really good, and so different from everything else in that momentous year. Best songs ‘Soul Kitchen’, ‘The Crystal Ship’ and ‘Light My Fire’. It is almost spoiled by the excesses of the final track ‘The End’ – but it was 1967, the year of psychedelia. And there is even a Kurt Weill song in there too…
It was busy days back then for bands…Strange Days came out later that same year. If anything it is even better and spawned two big hits ‘People Are Strange’ and ‘Love Me Two Times’ – but the whole album is pretty good; the usual excesses on ‘Horse Latitudes’ which I doubt anyone understood (or even the title), but ‘You’re Lost Little Girl’ and ‘Moonlight Drive’ are excellent. A year later and after month’s of touring the band attempted that difficult third album. Lead singer Jim Morrison had used up most of his lyrics and the band struggled to write songs in the studio, the resulting record ‘Waiting For The Sun’ was a bit disappointing; however it did get to number 1 in the US album charts. In my mind the only really decent song is ‘Hello, I Love You’ – The rest leave me flat and a bit bored. A year later and The Soft Parade came out. And, in my mind – no real improvement. To tell the truth I recently bought the box set of 5 Doors albums; I had the Greatest Hits and once owned a couple of vinyl albums. But I was quite disappointed bu these two middle albums. The title track is the usual excessive nonsense from Morrisson and only one other track really stands out – ‘Tell All The People’. The Doors were a strange mix; they had ‘Hit’ singles which were quite poppy, they had excessive ‘Weird scenes in the gold-mine’ long songs and a lot of bluesy stuff. Anyway – the next record ‘Morrisson Hotel’ seemed much better to my ears. Quite bluesy really – but the songs sound more focused as does Morrissson himself. Best songs ‘Waiting for the Sun’, ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Ship Of Fools’. But they really made a classic in 1971 with the majestic ‘L. A. Woman”. And it was quite tragic really – just as they had found a remarkable streak of form, Jim Morrison died of an overdose in Paris. I have visited his grave in Pere Lachaisse. The band were never the same; they did release 2 more albums but without the strange chemistry of Jim Morrisson it never seemed to work, anyway the album is simply sublme. I love nearly every track – ‘Hyacinth House’, ‘L.A. Woman’ and of course ‘Riders On The Storm’ are standouts. Riders still sends shivers down my neck, And just to prove there is life after death a couple of years later they released what is almost my favourite Doors album American Prayer. This is Jim reciting his poetry, some of which is familiar from earlier songs and the Doors in the background. Simply sublime – there is something about Jim’s voice that is gentle, evocative and raging but that is compelling too – a great loss. Well the album is exactly what the Doors should have become – intelligent and moody and brilliant. Anyway, as a coda it is exactly appropriate.
Don’t you just hate boastful people. I am not sure if it is a particularly modern disease, but I seem to come across them more and more often the older I get – and the more intolerant I become of them too. You know the sort; they cook a meal and immediately declare that no-one else make a paella like them; isn’t that the best paella you ever tasted? They declare. Being well brought up and not rude enough to declare “Well, actually no, it is okay, but I have tasted many better” you simply say “Yes, it is very good”. Which of course simply re-enforces their self-worth. And then there are those who tell you in great detail how they have rebuilt a motorbike form scratch, or done their own plumbing or re-wired their own house – all brilliantly of course. I do sometimes wonder if they have omitted the inevitable floods and burnt junction boxes that must have ensued.
And these serial boasters never seem to have any conscience or consciousness that we, ordinary incompetents, are both unbelieving and bored, while simply amazed that anyone can have such a high opinion of themselves. Then we have the name-droppers; not only did they go to school with famous people but worked with them too – and probably taught them all they know too. There are also the boasters by proxy – who relate the achievements of their children, the gods of the new age, dripping in University degrees with huge salaries and mansions – as if their achievements somehow reflect on their equally brilliant parents.
No…Please no more. Let us raise a very small flag for diffidence. Let us praise the discreet ones, who may occasionally quietly reflect on their own very small achievements, rue their personal failings, but would never dream of broadcasting to the world how wonderful they are. Because, we are the real achievers; we who simply carry on against the odds, who make very small waves, are not full of ourselves but try by small acts of kindness to leave the world a slightly better place.