All posts by adrian

My Record Collection 98

Elton – The Eighties

1983 saw the release of Elton’s 17th studio album, the quite excellent Too Low For Zero.   After a string of middling albums Elton and Bernie were fully re-united, and together with his original backing band worked hard on composing a new set of songs.  And the album is really good; not quite in the league of those Seventies classics but pretty good all the same.  A cracking hit single ‘I’m Still Standing’ which was almost a personal statement – and a great video too.  Other favourites ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’ and ‘Kiss The Bride’.  A welcome return to form, which continued with the follow-up Breaking Hearts (1984).    Well, almost – a handful of very good songs ‘Passengers’, ‘Burning Buildings’ and ‘Sad Songs Say So Much’; but an almost lacklustre feel to some of the other songs’ as if he was just going through the motions.  And maybe he was.  The band was breaking up again and the next run of albums were truly disappointing.  1985’s Ice on Fire; again his regular sidesmen quit and Elton resorted to session players, the album sounds weak and unexciting.  It is almost saved by the brilliant ‘Nikita’ but little else really hits the sweet spot.  Leather Jackets the following year is even worse.  This was at the height of Elton’s Coke habit and both he and producer Gus Dudgeon later declared it the worst of all his records.  No songs seem to redeem a real turkey.   ’87 saw a live album Live In Australia, which was a concert with a fill orchestra, which should have been quite something – and yet, Elton sounded a bit desperate; his voice too shouty and a bit rough.  I suppose I just preferred the studio versions.  Saying that, it was nice to hear some of the earlier songs again, especially ‘The Greatest Discovery’ and ‘Carla Etude’ and of course ‘Tiny Dancer’, which since then has become a staple of his live performances.  So, as so often re-listening again I realise that some of these albums which I thought I didn’t love are like old treasures, left in a loft, and uncovered again.  And looking on Wikipedia I discover that shortly after recording this concert Elton underwent throat surgery.  He didn’t then tour again for 18 months and his range changed too.  1988 and Elton released Reg Strikes Back (his real name being Reg Dwight – hardly a rock name).  This was supposed to be his big comeback album after a string of (relative) flops.  The cover featured many of his famous and outrageous stage costumes which he was putting up for auction – another sign of a new beginning.  So, the album.  Well, at the time I wasn’t so impressed really – I was buying his new albums out of a sense of hope rather than experience, but re-visiting it really is not so bad.    But then again it isn’t that good either.  Trying too hard, might be my final appraisal.   A few half-decent songs – ‘Japanese Hands’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Go on With You like That’ but the worst crime of all was to title a song ‘Mona Lisa’s and Mad hatter – part 2’.  What a travesty, and this rubbish has absolutely nothing to do with the classic song it is titled for.  So, what next?  Another re-appraisal of course, and this time it seems to have paid off.  Trying to write a cohesive album based on their mutual love of early 60’s Motown and Stax records Elton and Bernie wrote a classic album, Sleeping With The Past, deliberately basing lyrics and music on Soul classics.  The album went to number 1 in America and in the UK, the first for over a decade.  Number 1 single ‘Sacrifice’ was Elton’s first and well deserved.  But the whole album is warm and feels, at last, as though Elton is happy. Other great songs – well, really they all are, but if I must choose – ‘Club at the end of the street’, ‘Healing Hands’ and ‘Blue Avenue’ stand out, just, from a splendid crop of songs.  A real triumph, which makes it’s follow-up, while good on it’s own terms, seem a slight disappointment. The One (1990) is okay, but nowhere as good as its predecessor.  Of course, it must be incredibly hard to keep writing great songs, but Elton does seem to drift into excess and sublimity with almost every new album.   Best songs, the title and ‘Understanding Women’.  So, a strange decade – but then many great artists suffered in the Eighties – Dylan was a drift, McCartney patchy and Joni sliding into obscurity.  Maybe it was the changing production techniques, or the invasion of young pretenders.  Oh Well

A Walk By The Sea

What was it we said – when we walked, as so often then – one foot flat on the sand, the other skimming the surf?   Were we not tempting fate, wishing almost to be overwhelmed by doubt and dragged under as the waves crash and hurl us about?  The calm of that day was a moment away from the storm that flared in your soul. The sea.  Ah, the sea.  We were mystically linked and forever entranced by those ever-shifting waves.  We yearned for connection – maybe a folk memory drew us back, to a time long before we were people.  There was something about the solitude, the disconnect with our normal lives of rush and bustle.  Something peaceful and pure, the power of each wave and the suction of the sand as the waves receded, dragging us ever deeper into the sea

And so, when walking there, words came; from some deep part of our sub-conscious.  I wondered about the nature of Men and Women and how they see the World in different colours.  And You?      I was never sure of your thoughts at all; I had to invent them for silent you were, as silent as the sand beneath our feet.   I was the seeker, the searcher for answers to the Universe, where for you the Universe was right there in the palm of your hand.  I was concerned by what the sea meant to each of us – and mostly the essence of our being there at all; you just watched the waves.  I was thinking how fragile we were, the entire human race.  How we think we have power and permanence, and the illusion of that very permanence.  In fact, the illusion of permanence is the only permanent thing in this ever-shifting illusory world.

And so, as I walk, alone now, but thinking of you, my mind unwinds and I begin to write…..A story.  A poem.  A memory I might once have recalled.  A conversation we never really had but maybe should have, begins to unfold…. 

 

He ;   Did I ever tell you, we are an island race

            Swept by currents chill

            And cliffs that crumble, like the lines in your                     face

          Waves that deposit and build

 

          Standing on these Headland Heights

          Cutting knife the wind

          Voices carry – drifting in – and stark, they slip                    away

 

She ;   Standing on those Headland Heights

             Blown apart by it all

             Voices carried – drifting in – like siren gulls they               called

 

            I can’t help but wonder what

            And for who they dare to speak

            For the strong who bruise me with their words

            Or – those of us so meek 

 

            And down by the sea where the shingle talks

            You get close to the heart of it all

 

He ;     The heart of it all, she says

              As if emotions matter at all

              But hold me close, the wind gathers strength

              I will catch if you should fall     

 

             You think these cliffs have always been here

            They were formed an eye-blink away

            But they’ll disappear just like us I fear

             In a month, a year or a day     

 

            In our restless quest we change every day

           Seeking perfection and truth

           A chain we are breaking as each link slips away

           We’re never the same as our youth

 

She ;  Our youth? That seems a long time ago

            Many seasons have passed since that time

           Blazing sun, wind, rain and then snow

          Will I ever regain those lost seasons of mine

 

          Back then I thought you were strong,

        Gentle, kind and mild

        But all that I own is this heart-shaped stone

       You gave when I carried your child

 

         This strand of man that clings to my hand

          A ribbon that winds as it binds

          Is a filament waving – a fine golden thread

          For a pendant, of flame-flashing fire

          And I sometimes feel so guilty

          I know I should atone

          For crimes that must, surely, be mine

          For loving that heart made of stone

 

He ;    Is this the stone that our daughter wears

            Semi-precious – as you are yet

 

She :   Yes – give it back – please let me hold

             Unfold its innermost net

 

           I thought I knew all about you

           Could read you like a book

           But turning around, for a second, I found

           You’d changed in the time it took

 

He :   Ah, the time it took, for what is time

           But another illusion of ours

          We think we know all about time

         The minutes, days and the hours

         But all permanence is illusion

        Stones will slowly dissolve

         Cliffs do crumble in the pouring rain

         The shore is a wavering line

 

She ;  You talk about the shore itself

            But you never swim in the water

            You stand on the sand

            And command with your hand

            As you left us, me and your daughter

 

           Yet the sharpest stone in your armoury store

           The one that cut me to the core

           Was soft at the edges, rounded and smooth

           A net to hold and bathe my wounds

 

He ;    Is this the stone that you found on the beach

          That day you went out on your own

          When the gulls flew low and the boats were

          Tethered, grazing the close-cropped sea

 

She ;   Yes – I do believe it is – I keep it here on the                       shelf      

            A reminder of days when I knew my own name

            When maybe I even trusted myself

            When I thought I knew the person to blame

 

            And I know you are clever – that I should agree

            About the constant nature of change

           Of illusion – erosion – evolution –     

           You see

           But to me the stone looks the same   

Shoreline landscape view in Upper Peninsula, Michigan ...

 

 

My Record Collection 97

Elton – The circumstance

So, Elton was on top of the World – and yet, he had stumbled with Rock of The Westies, he had dismissed two of his faithful sidesmen, and he was consuming industrial quantities of Cocaine.  Bernie and he were still writing however and Elton was planning a new double album.  Trouble was, there was no-one telling him to slow down.  Blue Moves came out in 1977, the first album on Elton’s own record label Rocket records.  A strange title and a strange cover, which should have been a warning.  It is a very downbeat and sad old record.  One or two good songs ‘Tonight’ and ‘Sorry seems To Be The Hardest Word’ but many of the songs seem scrappy and frankly boring.  A few are credited to Elton and other members of the band, so were almost certainly worked up in the studio.  Lyrically not exciting either.  Maybe it would have been possible to have recued a half-decent single album out of it.  So, now we had 2 duds in a row. Not that it seemed to have affected sales or Eltonmania.

Then for almost 2 years we had nothing,   Then a new record emerged late in 1978 A Single Man.  The title said it all; this was the first album not to include any lyrics by Bernie Taupin; words were supplied by Gary Osborne instead.   Whether this was Elton saying he could make it without Bernie or a serious split we don’t know; I suspect it was about (as usual) musical differences.  But surprisingly it is really a good album.  Not among his very best but certainly a return to some sort of form.   My favourites are; Georgia’, ‘Part-Time Love’ and ‘Big Dipper’ where he seemed to move into new musical territory – and of course the wonderful final instrumental ‘Song For Guy’.  Maybe the break from Bernie had given him more room to experiment.  Quite soon he would hook up again with Taupin but for a few years he tried out other lyricists.  For a while I had hoped that he had got the whole Philly Souls stuff out of his system, but I was wrong.  He still saw himself as a soul-singer and in 1979 he released an EP of songs with Thom Bell, a hip American producer, called The Thom Bell Sessions.  These songs were recorded in 1977 without his regular band or producer, rather, Elton used a successful Philly producer who wrote the songs too.  There were originally 3 tracks released in ’79 and a decade later the whole 6 from the sessions.  They are okay but I don’t really consider them as part of the Elton collection.  Elton’s singing seems a bit flat and the songs aren’t great either.  Well, an even stranger album arrived in 1979 – Victim of Love.  This is a very short (36 minutes) disco album of songs mostly written by producer Pete Belotte.  Elton doesn’t even play piano and used all session players.  I feel that this was another experiment, trying to find a new identity perhaps.  Saying that I really quite like the album – it rolls along almost as one long track.  It was almost his poorest seller too, and he has never played any of the songs live.  Best track is the Chuck Berry opener ‘Johnny B. Goode.’

So after a string of less successful albums where did this leave Elton?  It was the beginning of the Eighties and he still had a huge fan base just dying for him to release something like his old records again.   His next record was 21 at 33 (technically if you include compilations and doubles and live albums his 21st release at age 33).  He seemed to have a scattergun approach, different lyricists, different styles, new producers – there is no cohesion to the album.  Saying that there are quite a few half-decent songs on it; the single ‘Little Jeannie’ and ‘Never Going To Fall In Love Again’ (words by Tom Robinson) and ‘Two Rooms’.  But this was Elton John, and we wanted more than a few half-decent songs, we wanted to be blown away like we were in the Seventies.  But this was the Eighties and we were just going to have to get used to it.  Next up was The Fox (1981) which I actually loved.  It seemed, and still does, different.  It had a warmer more coherent feel to it.  It had a handful of classical instrumentals too; ‘Carla Etude/Fanfare’ and the lovely ballad ‘Chloe’.  Some of the songs are a bit weak but overall it seems a better album.  It is really saved from obscurity by the final and title track – ‘The Fox’, which is one of my very favourite Elton compositions.  Jump Up (1982) was another strange one.  Elton in a very sharp suit looked as if he was desperately trying to catch up.  Not such a bad record however – some good songs – ‘Empty Garden’ (about John Lennon), and ‘Blue Eyes’ but again it seems to lack any real conviction.   Elton seemed a bit adrift, directionless, out of touch and although no-one doubted his ability he was having difficulty reclaiming the relevance he once had.  Maybe all that touring and all those drugs were taking their toll.

 

 

 

My Record Collection 96

Elton – The Pomp.

January 1973 saw the release of Don’t Shoot me, I’m Only the Piano Player, Elton’s 6th real studio album….and what a cracker.  For the next few years Elton would release 2 albums a year, several singles and World tours.  He broke not only in America but became a Worldwide phenomenon.  And over the next four years he was truly unstoppable.  So, the album – well, it leads off with another brilliant single ‘Daniel’, which was almost homo-erotic but turns out Daniel is his brother.  This album also I reluctantly admit contains my most unloved song of his – ‘Crocodile Rock’ – which is frankly crap – but still millions loved it, so what do I know. Other favourite tracks ‘High Flying Bird’, ‘Have mercy On the Criminal and ‘Blues For baby and Me’.  A triumph of an album – what could possibly top it….

Well we didn’t have to wait long because later that same year he released a double album “Goodbye Yellow Brock Road” – which for most fans remains their favourite..  but like most double albums it should have been two separate single records.  Saying that – side 1- Funeral for a friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ followed by ‘Candle In the Wind’ and the fabulous ‘Bennie and the Jets’ is probably the best single side of an old-fashioned album ever.  Simply brilliant.  Other great tracks are the title track and Grey Seal’. ’Sweet Painted Lady’ ‘Danny Bailey’ and ‘Harmony’ are all wonderful.  Never liked Jamaica jerk-Off or Saturday Night.  Still an incredible record, inspired by their mutual love of Hollywood– his best seller too.  Almost too much to take in in one go.

Much better for my money was the slightly under-rated follow up ‘Caribou’ (74).  Elton’s producer Gus Dudgeon later slated the record, saying it was rushed, recorded in 9 days and in his opinion a mess. But I love it; from the wicked opener ‘The Bitch Is Back’ to closer ‘Ticking’ it is fabulous. Every song is quality and so different in feel – there are the ballads ‘Pinky’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, a couple of rockers ‘Static’ and ‘Stinker’ , a lovely bluesy rolling ‘Dixie Lily’ and even a self-penned lyric ‘Solar Prestige Gammon’ (nonsense but a lovely melody).  This is probably my very favourite Elton album.  I can remember when I first heard it too; I had just been for an interview for a new job (which I got) and treated myself to lunch at a new burger restaurant on Oxford Street, and this was playing on the stereo system.

!975 saw another classic album – Captain Fantastic and the Dirt-Brown Cowboy.  This was actually a concept album of the struggles of Elton and Bernie in the late Sixties – though it hardly matters as the lyric’s remain pretty obscure.  The record was less commercial too, only one single – the beautiful ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ which, although you don’t need to know, Elton’s breaking off a disastrous engagement – the someone was Long John Baldry, who persuaded Elton to not give up on his music.  However; the album.  Well, it is good (of course) and yet it seemed to lack some of the pzazz, the glitter of his former 3 or 4 records.  Maybe he was getting tired – who knows.  Anyway, saying that there are still some great songs ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ and ‘Curtains’ stand out for me.  There was also dissension in the band and before his next album Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray were sacked, though they would later rejoin for various tours and albums.  And that next album for me was a low point.

Rock of the Westies (also 1975) was basically a ‘Philly Soul Sounding album).  Elton, like the Beatles before him. and a year after Bowie, was a musical magpie, and was entranced by the softer smooth soul sounds coming out of Philadelphia in the mid-Seventies. He released a single (not on the album Philadelphia Freedom) which was pure soul and also an EP (The Thom Bell Sessions 1979) both of which are okay but not really my style.  But back to the record – well, it just doesn’t really work for me – and was not his biggest seller either. There are a couple of good songs ‘island Girl’ which was a hit single and ‘I Feel like A Bullet (in the gun of Robert Ford)’ (Robert Ford was the bounty hunter who killed Jesse James).

April 1976 saw the release of a double live album “Here and There”, featuring two 1974 concerts – Here was in London and There was in New York.  Both are excellent, while here is almost acoustic and piano-led, there is a full-on band concert.  Great versions of both early and current songs up to Yellow BrIck Road.  The CD version also has 3 tracks where John Lennon came on stage.  Elton had famously visited John while he was recording Walls and Bridges and had played on a couple of tracks.  Anyway a pretty good live album.  So, Elton was king of the world, he could do no wrong, every album went to number 1.  He was in his Pomp…..

 

My Record Collection 95

Elton John (early days) – well they don’t come much bigger than good old Reg.  And only a handful of Artists are known by one word ELTON.   Elton was in a band Bluesology which I have no music from.  He was teamed up with a lyricist Bernie Taupin by Dick James in the late 60’s – the rest is History.

Elton is a veritable melody machine but has always relied on others for words to his songs.  Usually with great success.  First up is a real oddity – Elton was given the task of making cover versions of current hits as a jobbing singer and pianist.  I picked up these tracks Legendary Covers on 2 free CDs given away by I think the Express.  They are rubbish – but they are Elton.

His first solo album (with Bernie) was Empty Sky (69).  I only bought this after his second self-titled one.  It is quite good actually and I have learned to love it.  Production is a bit clunky but good singing and best songs are ‘Val Halla’, ‘Lady, What’s Tomorrow’ and ‘Skyline Pigeon’ – plus a bonus track of early version of ‘Grey Seal’.  Not a bad start.  Elton John followed the next year and the improvement is incredible.  The production is sweet with great orchestration and some heavier rocking numbers. The first song ‘Your Song’ is possibly the best thing he and Bernie ever wrote and is actually unlike the rest of the record, which is mostly bluesy rock. Some great songs in here though especially ‘take Me To The Pilot’ and ‘No Shoestrings On Louise’ – but I also love ‘First Episode at Hienton’. Your song was a hit and Elton was on his way. Album number three was Tumbleweed Connection and is a country blues album released later in 1970, almost a concept and stands alone in his albums really.  It is of course brilliant too.  In fact I really fell in love with this album and it’s unique blend of Americana and rock.  And for almost the only time in his career Elton did a cover  – ‘Love Song’ by Lesley Duncan (see D), who for a while sung backup vocals in his band.  Dee Murray, Nigel Olssen and Davey Johnstone were now regular players on his records and live.  Best songs; ‘Country Comfort’ (covered brilliantly by Rod), Where To Now, St. Peter’ and ‘Burn Down The Mission’.  The album was a hit despite not really having a single.  Elton was now established as a rising star among the slew of singer-songwriters breaking as the Seventies swung into view.  1971 saw a Soundtrack album ‘Friends’, which I (much later bought, but was quite unmoved by) – only a handful of weaker Elton songs.  But also a live album 17-11-70.  Not at all bad, and a pretty good record of Elton’s early live shows. I didn’t see him around this time, but have been to about three live shows as he became more famous.  There are some cracking versions of ‘Burn Down the Mission’ and ’60 Years On’ and even a cover of the Stones ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ (On album it is singular, not plural.   Actually the original album was much shorter but it was expanded on CD to include much longer versions.

1971 saw almost my favourite Elton album, the superb Madman Across The Water. Wow, what an album, great cover and all.  I bought it on the day it came out and it has remained one of my very favourite albums.  I fell in love with the song ‘Levon’, which may or not have been inspired by Leon Russell, who decades later Elton made an album with.  The title, at the time was thought to refer to newly elected Nixon, though this was denied by Bernie who wrote the song.  The first song ‘Tiny Dancer’ has become a live staple though it was ignored for a few years by Elton.  But I like all the songs; the words seem more worldly, and Elton’s singing has never been better.  The band were also gelling together, almost instinctively, to form the ‘Elton John Sound’.  Other classic songs on the record are the title song, which was recorded for Tumbleweed’ but then re-recorded for this album and ‘All the Nasties’.  But as with most of these early records there isn’t a poor song among them.  I have written before about early Seventies attempts to marry classical and rock, but Elton did it brilliantly; Paul Buckmeister arranged orchestra brilliantly on all of Elton’s early records, so brilliantly that you barely notice it – which is the skill of the thing.

A year later and Elton and crew decamped to France to record ‘Honky Chateau’.  Well, despite having two of his best songs on it, this record didn’t seem to quite work.  A bit too jazzy, too noisy – but then, on reflection – and as so often – on revisiting this record I realise what a great album it really is.   Elton was on the cusp of absolute stardom – he was simply getting better and better and would soon have a rush of hit singles.  So – the album, a tongue in cheek opener ‘Honky Cat’ the incredible ‘Rocket Man’ (maybe my favourite single) and the lovely ‘Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters’ – not to forget ‘Salvation’ and well, take your pick – there ‘ain’t a poor song on the record. World domination was soon to follow……

Why Labour Lost

I had been full of trepidation for days; the truth was that I knew Labour was going to fail.  By how much was the shock of course.  I had expected a Tory majority between 20 and 30.  The scale of the defeat was far worse than I had imagined, but now it all seems so obvious really.  It was just that we (those who desperately wanted Labour to win) didn’t want to hear the obvious.

So why Labour Lost?

  • Brexit – of course. Firstly Labour’s position weas untenable.  It was an attempt to square a circle that simply refused to be boxed in.  I was, and still am a remainer.  But what we all should have realised was that that battle was lost.  We should have been concentrating on getting the best trade deal possible – not trying to stop Brexit.  Labour were simply seen as muddled too; Jeremy’s nuanced position was impossible to defend when people simply wanted black or white.
  • The Brexit party – as soon as their cooked up decision to only stand in labour seats (imagine Cummings, Johnson and Farage dreaming this wheeze up) was announced we should have realised that the writing was on the wall. And it had it’s effect.  On average Labour lost about 6 points to the Tories but in leave areas it was far more, and in many results the extra drop in labour votes was almost all down to the votes for the Brexit candidate.  Many lifetime Labour supporters could not bring themselves to vote Tory but voted Brexit instead.  In fact the Tory vote barely increased; it was Labour voters staying at home or voting Brexit that lost so many seats.
  • Corbyn – the damage was done over the two years since the election of 2017. The slow drip-feed of hatred form the right-wing press worked.  But Corbyn himself didn’t help; he had far too much baggage.  We must not forget however that the decision (by Ed Milliband) to let the membership decide the leader was always going to elect a more left-wing than electable candidate – just as in the Tory party it was always going to be someone more to the Right. That said, we must thank Jeremy for energising so many new members.
  • The Manifesto – was simply too huge, too unbelievable – a wish list that appeared even to Labour supporters like myself to be both unachievable and unaffordable. And it seemed almost daily they were adding more and more goodies, handing out sweets to the children who in the end simply rejected them.  It would have been far better to have simply concentrated on the NHS and low wages.
  • The Anti-Semitism Row – was never put to bed. There had been some awful tweets in the past which had not been adequately dealt with.  Though there is no doubt too that much of this was orchestrated by those on the Right of the Labour Party.  An apology might have helped but this row had been rumbling for months and Labour should have dealt with it.  That is not to say that anti-Muslim words were just as prevalent in the Tory party – but simply saying “you are as bad” is no response.
  • Weariness of the Electorate. 3 General Elections and a Referendum (2 for the Scots) and an unnecessary Euro election in 5 or 6 years meant people had simply had too much Politics to contend with.  The simple message of “Get Brexit Done” was simple to understand and people believed that then Brexit would go away when the truth is…
  • But people never really want the truth, especially if it is complicated or nuanced. Saying all of that I leave you with the thought that it could have been far worse, and it still might be – unless Labour really learn that the public want something far easier to understand.  The tragedy was that many former Labour voters knew that voting Tory was no answer, it was just that voting labour wasn’t either.  We are, like it or not, in a Presidential system, and in this election many people voted for the person they disliked or distrusted least.
  • The other parties didn’t help either. It seemed that Jo Swinson hated Labour more than Brexit, and the SNP only want Independence and Labour have an almighty task to win back votes there.

 

But I do believe that labour will come back from this disaster – it may take 2 or even 3 elections, but Brexit will either be over or a disaster and not an issue then, and hopefully a less radical and more likeable Leader may emerge, though the Tory press will try to destroy anyone, that person will have to be strong and resolute and slowly pick the party up and one day the Tories will be shown up for the nasty party they are.

 

 

 

 

My Record Collection 94

E L O (part 2)  well, after the incredible success of Out of the Blue and a huge World Tour Jeff and the band, who bore very little resemblance to the first incarnation took almost 2 years to release a new album Discovery.  In some ways this was at least a good as the last one and was an even bigger seller.  But Jeff was being influenced more and more by Disco, which was the big thing in the late Seventies (maybe it was an in joke Disco Very?).  Still a wonderful record with songs such as ‘Shine a Little love’, ‘Last train To London’, ‘Midnight Blue’ and of course the fabulous ‘Diary of Horace Wimp’.  It seemed that they could do no wrong at all.  And yet the next album was a bit of a flop, simply titled ‘Time’, it was a real disappointment.  Maybe Jeff was chasing the latest sounds, synths and all, and neglecting the actual key to all good music – the songs.  Only one standout track ‘Hold on Tight’ and the rest of the record just sounds bland and frankly a bit boring.  Oh Well.  I sort of gave up on them around this time – though having bought the box set I have since listened to the final two albums.  Secret Messages came out in 1983, and in many ways it is a return to form.  The songs are much better, even if the production is a bit soft and moving to middle of the road.  But the songs themselves ae quite good – the rocker ‘Four Little Diamonds’, ‘Letter From Spain’ and ‘Rock and Roll is King’ are especially good – but the record feels a touch tired, a bit less exciting.  Or maybe it is just us, the audience – after 10 albums we begin to flag, to be ELO’ed out.  And it is almost impossible for any artist or band to keep going for more than 10 years at the top of their game.  Almost all the greats have either had poor periods or simply taken far longer between albums.  Anyway – one more album came out; A Question of Balance (1985).  And by now the pretence that this was a band effort was completely abandoned.  In fact no orchestra at all, but not such a bad record really.   And that was it…the band broke up – or not quite – they left Jeff and continued, mostly as a live band ELO II.   Jeff went off to become a top producer in America.

Inadvertently I bought a greatest hits album called Gold Collection, not realizing it was actually not by the original band but by Bev Bevan and a few others – and it is really excellent, in fact almost identical to the original studio versions, even though this was a live album.  Some of the tracks were new from ELO 11 too, but a strong reliance on the early ELO records. – best for me was ‘Four Little Diamonds’.  Of course, the voice is not the same, but all in all not a bad effort at all.  I did actually see the original ELO live once at Wembley Arena, and though excellent they played exactly the same as the records, in fact they could have been miming and you would never have known – not the most exciting live show.

I already had a Greatest Hits collection on CD called All over The World.  Excellent of course, and sometimes that is all you really need. Jeff has revived the ELO name recently, but so far I haven’t bought the three new albums…

 

 

E L O (part 2)  well, after the incredible success of Out of the Blue and a huge World Tour Jeff and the band, who bore very little resemblance to the first incarnation took almost 2 years to release a new album Discovery.  In some ways this was at least a good as the last one and was an even bigger seller.  But Jeff was being influenced more and more by Disco, which was the big thing in the late Seventies (maybe it was an in joke Disco Very?).  Still a wonderful record with songs such as ‘Shine a Little love’, ‘Last train To London’, ‘Midnight Blue’ and of course the fabulous ‘Diary of Horace Wimp’.  It seemed that they could do no wrong at all.  And yet the next album was a bit of a flop, simply titled ‘Time’, it was a real disappointment.  Maybe Jeff was chasing the latest sounds, synths and all, and neglecting the actual key to all good music – the songs.  Only one standout track ‘Hold on Tight’ and the rest of the record just sounds bland and frankly a bit boring.  Oh Well.  I sort of gave up on them around this time – though having bought the box set I have since listened to the final two albums.  Secret Messages came out in 1983, and in many ways it is a return to form.  The songs are much better, even if the production is a bit soft and moving to middle of the road.  But the songs themselves ae quite good – the rocker ‘Four Little Diamonds’, ‘Letter From Spain’ and ‘Rock and Roll is King’ are especially good – but the record feels a touch tired, a bit less exciting.  Or maybe it is just us, the audience – after 10 albums we begin to flag, to be ELO’ed out.  And it is almost impossible for any artist or band to keep going for more than 10 years at the top of their game.  Almost all the greats have either had poor periods or simply taken far longer between albums.  Anyway – one more album came out; A Question of Balance (1985).  And by now the pretence that this was a band effort was completely abandoned.  In fact no orchestra at all, but not such a bad record really.   And that was it…the band broke up – or not quite – they left Jeff and continued, mostly as a live band ELO II.   Jeff went off to become a top producer in America.

Inadvertently I bought a greatest hits album called Gold Collection, not realizing it was actually not by the original band but by Bev Bevan and a few others – and it is really excellent, in fact almost identical to the original studio versions, even though this was a live album.  Some of the tracks were new from ELO 11 too, but a strong reliance on the early ELO records. – best for me was ‘Four Little Diamonds’.  Of course, the voice is not the same, but all in all not a bad effort at all.  I did actually see the original ELO live once at Wembley Arena, and though excellent they played exactly the same as the records, in fact they could have been miming and you would never have known – not the most exciting live show.

I already had a Greatest Hits collection on CD called All over The World.  Excellent of course, and sometimes that is all you really need. Jeff has revived the ELO name recently, but so far I haven’t bought the three new albums…

 

 

 

My Record Collection 93

E L O (Electric Light Orchestra)– well…anther biggie, in fact at the height of their popularity they were Massive – and still are.  Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan had all been in Roy Woods band The Move who had been quite successful in the British charts in the Sixties.  But the band was falling apart and this trio decided to create a new group which would attemot to amalgamate Classical and Rock music,  This was being done by several bands and most successfully by Barclay James Harvest, almost my favourite band ever.  Their first album, released in 1971 was self-titled but due to a mix-up it became known in America as No Answer. To say that the album was more experimental than accomplished is pretty accurate.  There are a few tracks (mostly by Jeff Lynne) which are better, especially Mr. Radio.  However the preponderence of cello heavy tracks by Roy often seem unfinished and just too chaotic to really enjoy, although opener 10538 Overture is passable.

Now, I got into E L O a couple of years later as the great singles started to hit the charts.  I bought about five of their L.P.s in the Seventies.  But a couple of years ago I bought a box set of all their studio albums (it was really cheap, honestly) and have worked through them.  Their second offering was entitled ELO II (not to be confused by a few members of the band who broke away in the Eighties and called themselves by this moniker.)  So, the difficult second album – and it was complicated by the departure as they were recording of founder Roy Wood, who went off to from Wizzard.  Jeff Lynne recruited Richard Tandy to play piano and a couple of others for violin and cello and soldiered on.  To be honest the album is a bit poor.  Except for the brilliant version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ the tracks are overlong and a bit boring.  Still it was becoming clear that Jeff Lynne was now the leader of the band, writing most of the material and helping with production.  It was only on their third album ‘On The Third Day’ (1973) that they started to get into their stride.   The songs were shorter, more punchy, and the production seemed better, less chunky and a new violinist and cello player added quality.  But as ever, it was the songs themselves that made the album;  ‘Ocean Breakup’, ‘Showdown’ and the out and out rocker ‘Ma Ma Belle’ all topped off with a cracking version of the classic favourite ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’.  In contrast Roy Wood’s Wizzard were plodding along with only a couple of hits – oh well.

’74 saw their 4th album – the superb Eldorado.  This was the first of their really great period; at last they were a really professional band.  They still had the orchestral bits were moving much more into a straight rock style.  Unbelievably the songs just got better and better and with Jeff Lynne now producing everything, writing all the songs and singing and playing guitars it was becoming almost a solo project. The album ha no poor songs at sll, and just rolls along at a pace, it feels like a concept album.  Best songs – ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’, ‘Laredo Tornado’ and ‘Mister Kingdom’ – not to forget the superb title track.  The album was actually recorded with a full orchestra and is almost symphonic, especially in the three Eldorado sections.  A great step forward.

And yet, Lynne then started to move the band into a more commercial direction with their fifth album FaceThe Music.  The songs were more memorable and the record was their first to go Platinum.  There had been a couple more personnel changes and as usual this was in all but name a Jeff Lynne solo album.  The orchestra were still there but a bit muted on some songs, there were also girl singers complementing Jeff’s singing.  Best songs ‘Strange Magic’, ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘One Summer Dream’.  A gorgeous record, a huge hit and already ELO were being compared to The Beatles (which obviously Jeff loved and would later end up working with George and on two lost Lennon songs on Anthology).   They followed this with A New World Record (1976).  This was another superb album full of great songs and sumptuous melodies, released incidentally at the height of punk, which threatened to blow away all these old pop-rock dinosaurs; well, extinction came a bit quicker to punk.  Well, what can we say – another very good album, although strangely not a real favourite.  Best songs – ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Rockaria’ and ‘Livin’Thing’.  It seemed that ELO could now do nothing wrong – and still the best was yet to come.

Jeff Lynne followed this up with a huge double album which topped the charts worldwide and remains his masterpiece – ‘Out Of The Blue’.    Wow, what an album – a double and almost too long really, it is ELO’s Sargeant Pepper, without the psychedelia.   There isn’t a poor song on it.  Hard to pick best songs as they all just roll on and on, each better than the last.  Possibly ‘Turn to Stone’, ‘Wild West Hero’ and of course ‘Mr. Blue Sky’.   Superlatives fail me in this perfect mix of ‘Pop’ and ‘Rock’.  A great achievement.  And this really was the pinnacle, though Jeff did continue making great ELO and solo records – and, has recently returned to making albums as ELO, after many years a a top producer (George and Travelling Wilbury’s among others).  I haven’t really caught up with his output of late – but you never know.

 Out Of The Blue

 

 

 

 

THE BLUE DOOR

Sometimes I hesitate, unsure of myself, scared to let go at all.  But at others I am driven, swept like flimsy flotsam, deluged by the storm, dragged down and bundled unceremoniously through the blue door.

Often, thankfully, it is the briefest, the fleeting-est of visits; I am barely through the door when I find myself back out again.  Sometimes I stay there a while too long, wondering indeed just how many hours, days indeed, I might stay this time. There have even been times when I believed that behind the blue door is where I belong; where I should stay forever.

I realised as a child where the blue door led to.  My mother said I was sulking, that I just wanted my own way.  No.  it wasn’t that, it wasn’t that at all.  It wasn’t that I wanted my own way – I had no idea where my way was; if I only knew my way, what it was that I wanted.

I was fifteen when it became clearer, when I slowly understood that I wasn’t completely alone – that many of us go behind the blue door.  It was when I heard Paul singing “Eleanor Rigby puts on the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.  Who is it for?”  Well, in my case it wasn’t just for all the lonely people, it was for everyone.  In fact, I felt that I was one of the lonely people myself.  It became clear to me that I too had a mask; I was constantly wearing a mask, a mask of normality, of happy cheeky chappie, when inside I was raging against the darkness, I was crying and no-one could hear my howls of despair.

Another song that affected me was Smokey Robinson “Tears Of A Clown”.  I knew exactly what that song meant.  In fact, I learnt quite early that comedy is simply the other side, the twin mask of tragedy, and that you had very little control of which one to wear.  You joked to hide the desperation you felt inside.

Because what you must know, what you must realise is that there is really nothing behind the blue door.  Just a chill darkness and a terrible feeling of being alone, that nobody understands.  I mean, how could they? How could they ever know how cold and dead, how bleak and desolate the nothingness is.  Unless they too had been there – and as I had never met anyone there; as nobody had ever told me they too were a visitor – I thought I must be the only person going there.

Mostly, these days, I avoid the blue door, and yet even on the sunniest days, the happiest of occasions, the blue door beckons.  It is always there, just in the corner of the room – and sometimes at the height of everyone else’s gaiety I slip quietly away and through that deepest of blue doors.  And no-one ever notices.   I hover above the crowd and look down in amazement at all these fools believing that this is a fun occasion, that life is great; if only they knew.

Over the years I have learnt to resist the blue door – though I must admit I do slip through the portal some days.  And it doesn’t even have to be anything really which tips me over the edge, which brings the blue door into my field of possibilities.  Oh, there were times – dreadful times – wives leaving, children leaving me too – you know those moments of ultimate betrayal, the worst of rejections when you feel that the company of others is the last thing you want, when you hate the whole human race.  When all you want is solitude.  And sometimes all you really want is O-bloody-blivion, the sweet sweet oblivion that lies beyond the blue door.

I have found distraction and comfort in books and music mostly, especially those sad songs of Leonard Cohen, the ‘Blood On The Tracks’ of Dylan, the soaring poetry of Joni.  At those times I slowly come back through the blue door to something approaching normality.  And occasionally you read a book, an author like Jean Rhys with her sad stories of lost women, that makes you realise that actually normality is both sides of the blue door; that indeed you are not alone; that this is just part of the Human Condition.

Maybe we all slip sometimes through the blue door.  Most of us hide it well.  Because there is still shame in admitting one’s vulnerability; ‘Man-up’ they say, ‘Look on the bright side’.  But what if the light on the bright side is so blinding that all you want is to seek the strange comfort of darkness again.

It is almost impossible to understand another person, let alone yourself; we are such complex creatures.  Though at times I suspect we are all made of much the same stuff, mostly wired in a similar way.  Some say that going through the blue door is simply a chemical imbalance, a hormonal disturbance in the brain.  I find that hard to believe. I have struggled to understand why I go there; and it is like peeling onions, there are layers and layers of hurt, you keep scrabbling layers away and all the time you can’t stop blubbing, crying like a child.

But I almost feel that the blue door is an essential part of me; without it I would be half a person, incomplete somehow.  There is maybe an empathy I find there too, an understanding of this condition which helps reconcile my feelings of unworthiness and failure.  Maybe those who never have ventured through the blue door are missing something in their lives.  Another song, by Steve Earle, comes to mind ‘My Old Friend The Blues’.  I know what he means; sometimes there is comfort to be found behind the blue door; even the isolation, the dislocation from reality (though what indeed is reality) can be reassuring.

And mostly I can control my visits to the blue door; I have strategies for coping; there are ways back.  Though sometimes I fear that one day if things go badly, which a part of me always suspects, I may end up taking refuge there.  For in a way the blue door is an escape from life, and secretly I suspect we are all seeking some form of refuge, our own shelter from the storm.

And there are whole days sometimes, when, like a junkie between fixes, I can manage to seem normal.  I walk and talk and even laugh and joke with people – to all outward appearances a normal person – when I know that really there is a great big fat blue door looming between us.

But please do not make the mistake of pitying me.  Your turn will come; one day you too may find yourself alone and cold and seeking warmth and shelter.  And believe me my friends it only takes the slightest of nudges to pass through; indeed, sometimes it feels that the door is perpetually open, yawning wide and grinning, and dragging you inexorably through to the other side.  And whether you hear an almighty slam or just the slightest of clicks – the door is still closed.  The walls are black and seamless, the lighting is dimmed and – twist and turn as you will – you will struggle to find the handle on the other side.  You just have to sit it out and wait for that little crack of light that enables you to slip back to this world again.

Actually, it might well be that the blue door is what makes us human.  Animals do not seem to be affected in the same way, though they can comfort us when we have wandered there – sometimes they drag us back with their unjudgmental love.  For without the darkness, the blank emptiness how can we ever know we are truly happy, how can we appreciate the colour and the light.  And I see that what I have been trying to find all my life, through reading and listening to songs, is that connecting spark, the link to other people, the shared emotions, the knowledge that despite slipping occasionally there is always a way back.  And I now realise that of course I am not alone, we all sometimes go through that door; maybe we should celebrate the fact rather than hiding it in our shame.

Well, I must also apologise for lifting the veil, for letting you see even a small glimpse of the truth.  For one of the abiding sins of this venal world is honesty.  Like the ‘Satanic Verses’ themselves, even acknowledging the blue door’s existence may bring a fatwah down on your head.  We must all remain complicit in the illusion that we are happy all the time in this best of all possible worlds.

blue door images | Door, blue, wood, vintage Texture - JPG ...

My Record Collection 92

Easy All Stars – The Dub Side Of the Moon – Ha. Well this was bought for me by my oldest daughter in an attempt to convert me to ‘Dance Music’. She does this quite regularly and mostly I like the stuff she chooses for me; I in my turn try to interest her in earlier singer-songwriter stuff to much less success.  Anyway, this is quite a fun record, a re-recording of reggae versions of the famous Pink Floyd album.  Pleasant enough.  She also bought me Sergeant Peppers Dub Band – also by Easy All Stars,  Not so successful this time, or maybe one album was enough.

 

Eels – A band built around singer Mark Everett, known as E.  Almost every song is about hardship, misery, depression and real or imagined wrongs in the world of E.  I must say I quite sympathise, and miserable bugger that I am I love this depressed stuff.  The singing and music is absolutely first class too, the sings are all excellent and his sad sad voice almost deadpan and barely sung hits the button every time.  I first got into the band (or the man) when I bought a CD single (as I have with so many others).  It was from an album Beautiful Freak (1996). This was officially the debut of the Eels and really has never been bettered.  It is strange how certain songs have such relevance; one of my favourites is ‘Susan’s House’ – and at the time I was dating a woman called Susan and used to love playing on repeat this song on the long bus journey to her house.  Other great songs are ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ and ‘My Beloved Monster’.  But this is one of those lovely records that when you revisit it feels like an old cardigan you love and slip on to keep warm on a wintry day.  I have only bought Eels records sporadically since then (there have been quite a lot of them).  Next up is Daisies Of The Galaxy (2000).   Again, some great songs but without quite the shock value of his debut but good even so.. Favourites – ‘Birds’ and ‘Jeanies Diary’.   Not a bad listen at all. Souljacker followed in 2002.  This seems a more hard-rock album, moving away from the slightly pop feel of his earlier records.  The vocals seem as though they are sung through a grungy layer of smog.  This may well be my least favourite Eels album, no tracks really stand out except maybe the opener ‘Dog Faced Boy’.  But the Cd did come with a four-track live extra CD which is pretty damn good.  I was sort of thinking of giving up on the band but the reviews for a new album were so good that I bought ‘Blinking Lights and Other Revelations – a double album released in 2005.  And it is much better, more like his first two records – more poppy, more quirky, but being a double it suffers – as they almost all do from getting a bit boring.  Best songs ‘Trouble with Dreams’, ‘Railroad Man’ and ‘Hey man, Now You’re Really Living’.  And strangely for an album of 30 plus songs not much else sticks in the brain.  There are a lot more quiet piano tinkling songs, much less anger and more reflections on life – this almost would befit an old man’s record and yet Everett could not have been much past 40 when he recorded these songs. So, more or less a miss of an album.  So I more or less gave up on the Eels.   Maybe I will but them again sometime – but not for a while I expect.   I did pick up a live album Eels With Strings At The Town Hall  which is excellent, almost acoustic versions and includes a great version of Dylan’s ‘Girl From the North Country’.  And so far that is it from a great little band.

Beautiful Freak