My Record Collection 150

Don McLean – a true giant in the pantheon of modern song.  A bit of a loner, quite a shy man who was seemingly introspective in his song-writing at times.   He came to prominence in the early Seventies in the rush of singer songwriters who emerged out of the Sixties.  A brilliant guitar and banjo player he was a folkie to begin with and a bit of a protest singer too.  He had toured with Pete Seeger and was an accomplished performer.  Like most people I first heard the song and album American Pie, and then went back and bought his first album Tapestry (1971).  And what an album, what a debut – the songs so good, so perfect, and the playing, singing and production immaculate.   The lead-off song ‘Castles In The Air’ is almost as good as anything he would write later. ‘And I Love Her So’ was covered by so many artists, including Sinatra.  But really all the songs are good…I especially love ‘Magdalene Way’ and ‘Circus Song’.  A very excellent record.  Followed and surpassed by American Pie the following year – though these songs had been written a few years earlier.  Well, what can you say about the title track and huge single – it is one of the classic songs of the Twentieth century – and at 8 and a half minutes an incredible listen.  It is still enduringly popular and has been covered even by Madonna. But it isn’t even the best song on the record.  Nor was follow up single ‘Vincent’ which was also a huge hit.  My favourite songs are ‘Empty Chairs’ and ‘Winterwood’ -but like its’ predecessor, there is not a poor song on the record. So, two in a row – where could Don go after this.  Well, inwards was the answer.  That difficult third album Don McLean was quite introverted really – despite the mood lightening ‘Narcisssma’ and ‘Amazon’ the album deals with sadness and loss really.   My favourite songs are ‘Oh My, What A Shame’, ‘The More You Pay’ and ‘Bronco Bill’s Lament’.  Another excellent record, though I did wonder why album number 3 should be self-titled – but it was maybe the record company’s idea.  Anyway, Don was pretty established by now and we all looked forward to album number 4. But we all expected another album of brilliant self-written compositions, a bit of protest maybe.  But nobody was prepared for this album of very old songs played on banjo and guitar in a more or less traditional style.  It was called Playin’ Favourites – and was just that; Don playing a few old songs he had always loved.  The critics and most of his fans didn’t understand why he was almost alienating his hard-won audience.  But actually, it is a delightful, if quite different sort of album.  It is now actually a bit of a collector’s item and is hard to find on CD or indeed even on vinyl. Best tracks – ‘Mountains of Mourne’ and ‘Fools Paradise’,  Don returned somewhat to his original style with Homeless Brother (1974) his fifth album in 5 years….but really this was not my favoutite album of his.  I felt that he was drifting into a more middle of the road territory, apart from the title track and lead-off song ‘Winter Has Me In Its Grip’, I am not enamoured with the rest.  Then Don had a three years break and changed record companies.  He returned in1977 with a zinger Prime Time, one of his best.   The title track is about as close to a rock number as Don ever got, and it really rolls along.  There is a sort-of protest song ‘The Statue’ about immigrants and how they’re no longer welcome.  There is a humourous song ‘Building My Body’ and a couple of tender ballads – and my very favourite ‘The Pattern Is Broken’.  A very good album.  For some reason I stopped buying his albums around this time; my only defence being so many other artists I was following.  But lately I bought a 3 cd box set with his next 2 albums on it.  Chain Lightning came out in 1978 – and it seems only half an album; half the songs are originals and the others are standards, which Don sings mostly in a Fifties Doo-Wop style, complete with backing by The Jordanaires.  A syrupy sort of album, not that it is really bad, but veering far too close to the middle of the road.  One song is so religious too that it almost weeps with divinity.  Don’s voice is sumptuous but the edge seems missing completely.  He speak-sings one song ‘It’s A Beautiful Life’, and does a beautiful cover of Roy Orbison’s (see O) ‘Crying’ which was a number one hit.  The long title track is quite good, but hardly up there with his very best – so – a disappointment.  Even worse really was Beleivers  (1979) half the songs are standards with nothing to really warrant their inclusion.  Apart from that, only ‘Sea Man’ bears any faint resemblance to his classic stuff.  He seems to have lost it.  However he has continued to churn out albums, mostly of old hits by others; I have just one For The Memories which is pretty dire stuff I must say.  But let us finish with the wonderful Greatest Hits which concentrates rightly on his early songs.  I have seen him live where he likewise sung his early hits and he was great.  Anyway, a great talent whoi seems to have run out of ideas – or just decided to make money with recording old songs by others.  Who knows?

Don McLean American Pie – The True Story | Best Classic Bands

My Record Collection 149

Kate and Anna McGarrigle  – just the one album from these Canadian sisters; Dancer With Bruised Knees (1977).  This was their second album and their breakthrough record; it received rave reviews and I, like many others, bought it.  And I sort-of liked it – a mix of Cajun and Bluegrass and more modern folky songs – the girls singing high harmonies with banjo and piano and fiddle accompaniment.  On reflection I don’t really like it that much, interesting – but not much else.  Kate married Loudon Wainwright (see W) and begat Rufus and Martha (see W also), all singer songwriters.  She divorced him before this album however. 

McGuiness Flint – a band from the early Seventies which spawned Gallagher and Lyle(see G), one of my fave artists.  The title being the surname of the other two members of the band.  A great little group who broke on the scene in 1970 with their self-titled album.   And what a brilliant debut it was, every song was fabulous – in fact, some of Gallagher and Lyle’s best compositions – the hit single ‘When I’m Dead And Gone’ of course, but also (hard to choose) ‘Heritage’ and ‘International’.  But instant fame also spelled disaster; the band were forced to tour to promote the record, and Gallagher and Lyle wanted to write the songs for their next album, which the record company were demanding.  They did record and release Happy Birthday Ruby Baby a few months later in early ’71.  And despite poor sales it is actually a better album.  I could only find the songs on CD on a much later release The Capitol Years, which was their first 2 records on one CD. By the records release however Gallagher and Lyle had decided to leave and start up as a duo….(the rest is History – see G).  The songs on Roll on are just lovely, lyrical and sometimes rocking and a great production too.  My favourites are ‘Conversation’, ‘Klondike’ and ‘Sparrow’.  A great pity as I am sure with the later Gallagher and Lyle songs the band could have been massive.  As it was the remaining three members limped on and released a handful of albums to diminishing sales and disbanded a few years later.  Oh well.  I have also just seen a 2013 release of McGuinness Flint In Sessions at the BBC.  I have downloaded it as the actual CD is unavailable….to be continued

Malcom McLaren – a strange one.   He, almost singlehandedly, kick-started the punk genre – first in his shop SEX with Vivienne Westwood, and then as manager of The Sex Pistols.  He seemed to be a bit of a visionary and saw before anyone else what was coming next.  In 1983 he released his first album Duck Rock.  He speaks over a background created from Central and south American and South African beats, orchestrated by the team who became The Art Of Noise (see A); Trevor Horn and Ann Dudley mostly, and field recordings of a New York Hip Hop Radio DJ.  The album Duck Rock is great, full of rhythm and great beats.   Best tracks are the two hit singes ‘Buffalo Gals’ and ‘Double Dutch’ – but I also like ‘Jive My Baby’ – and the whole album really.   Malcolm was always a restless soul, constantly looking for the next new thing, sometimes he hit the spot and sometimes he failed – but with his next album Fans, in my mind he made a mini masterpiece. It was a mix of Opera (mostly Madame Butterfly) and hip-hop.  At this point in time (1984) hip hop was almost unheard of, a real underground scene from America.  Of course, the album was years ahead of its time; the Opera buffs were horrified and the rock crowd bemused at best.  But I loved it.  Best track are hard to choose, but I love ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Lauretta’ and ‘Carmen’.  A great listen.  In fact, I used to be used to be obsessed by the 12” version of Butterfly, which I played at high volume.  One day my then girlfriend Louise, ripped it off the player and threw it across the room….hahaha.  My next of his was a less successful attempt at mixing Waltz and Disco; 1989’s Waltz Darling.  He chose Bootsy Collins for the disco stuff, which seems a bit disjointed when the classical comes in.   Still an enjoyable listen, best are ‘Deep in Vogue’ and ‘Something’s Jumping In my Shirt’.   My final McLaren album is the sumptuous Paris (1997).  Soaked in jazz, this album oozes the Paris of the Fifties and Sixties; you can almost smell the Gaulois cigarettes.  He namechecks Miles Davis and Satie, and remarkably he persuaded Catherine Deneuve and Francois Hardy to sing on this homage to his favourite city.  I could do without his own spoken vocals but a beautiful album nevertheless.  Best are ‘Paris Paris’ and ‘Revenge Of The Flowers’.  But the album simply rolls along beautifully, immersing one in an insane vision of a Paris that maybe only exists in our imagination.  I love it.   Malcolm died too young a few years ago of cancer.  

Malcolm McLaren | Discography & Songs | Discogs

My Record Collection 148

Paul McCartney 1990 onwards.   Paul then went on the first of many huge world tours since Wings, featuring a mix of solo, Wings and Beatles songs.  He now had a tight backing band and decided to record his next album with the band in very few takes ‘live in the studio’ – just as The Beatles had done on their first few albums.  The songs were rehearsed and then into the studio and recorded, several as a single take. The resulting album Off The Ground (1993) has a rawer, more natural and cohesive sound.    But I think the songs themselves are just a bit weak really, or maybe the whole set is just a tad boring being the same band all the way through.  Saying that ‘Hope Of Deliverance’ and ‘Mistress and Maid’ are not too bad.  Much better was Paul’s 1997 offering Flaming Pie.  A much more considered album; Paul now taking a few years between releases meant the songs were much better too.  My favourites off this very good album are ‘The Song We Were Singing’, ‘Young Boy’, ‘Calico Skies’ and ‘Beautiful Night’ – but it could have been several others.  Paul now seems far more relaxed and not chasing hits anymore.  In fact, he was releasing other stuff too; some experimental stuff under the Fireman pseudonym, and some classical stuff (with the help of a few others), the only one I have is 1999’s Working Classical – which is mostly shortish pieces, many of them arrangements of well-known McCartney songs.   Not really mon tasse du the, but pleasant enough; I still found myself humming along to a couple of songs Paul had recorded and now arranged as instrumentals.  In 1999 Paul released his second covers album; again, a group of friends and quick takes of old Fifties numbers and three self-penned songs.  The title Run Devil Run was from a sign in a Southern drugstore advertising some medication – but works well with these songs.   Quite a good album really; it sounds as if Paul is really having a great time.  I like the new song ‘Run Devil Run’ which sounds like something the Beatles might have knocked up in rehearsals.    I also like ‘Movie Magg’ and ‘Cocotte’.  A nice album but hardly essential.  Which cannot be said for Driving Rain (2001), Which Is Paul Back on (almost) his best form again.  And yet it sold poorly and is still one of his poorest albums in terms of sales.  Recorded quickly it feels as if some of the songs needed a bit more work, and some are really quite rocky and one struggles to find the melodies for which Paul was renowned.  Saying that it is still a strong album – best are ‘From A Lover To A Friend’, ‘Riding Into Jaipur’ and ‘Rinse The Raindrops’ (a long track but quite experimental).  Paul seemed to be endlessly touring in this new century and I saw him twice – he still found time to write and record new stuff however, in 2005 he released Chaos and Creation in The Backyard’    A quite different album than Driving Rain – much gentler and more lyrical – almost like something he might have presented 40 years earlier for the Beatles to have considered recording.  Most of the instruments are Paul with very little full band arrangements, which has allowed his voice to dominate the songs; no bad thing at all.  So, an excellent album, if somewhat older in style – I like the single ‘Jenny Wren’ and ‘Fine Line’, but, if anything, there are too many songs at 13 to really appreciate them (mind you the early Beatles albums had 14 songs) some are just too long really – a fault of technology as CDs could now be 70 or more minutes long.  I also like ‘Riding To Vanity Fair’ and ‘A Certain Softness’.  Next came a slight departure Memory Almost Full (2007) – what a great title.  Paul released this on Starbucks and it was sold mainly in their stores.  It actually sold pretty well and is quite a good album.  Similar in style to Chaos and a bit whimsical at times, as Paul looks back on a full life.  Best songs are ‘Mr. Bellamy’, ‘Vintage Clothes’ and ‘The End of the End’.  5 years later (and the time seemed to be slipping between releases) was a covers album of soft late-night Jazz numbers.  Kisses On The Bottom, was  Paul’s third covers album and probably the best.  His voice really suits the laid-back jazzy arrangements and is a delight to listen to, though nothing really stands out as brilliant.  In 2013 (0nly a year later) Paul released NEW, another attempt to be relevant I suspect.  I wasn’t that fond of it at first, but it has begun to grow on me.  4 new producers were involved and a couple of the tracks improvised in the studio.  Basically, McCartney cannot produce rubbish, but his past standards, even solo, are so high that it must get harder with each new record to keep excelling.  Not a bd record, but still nothing really jumps out at me and makes me go Wow.  Best are ‘On My Way To Work’, ‘Looking At Her’ and the hidden track –   Much better in my humble opinion was Egypt Station (2018); the whole album just seems to flow.   Mr. McCartney seems to be improving with age; maybe he isn’t so desperately trying to be relevant and popular, and simply enjoying making good music.  One or two tracks are a bit experimental and one or two a tad sentimental (as always) but overall an excellent listen.  Best are ‘People Want Peace’. ‘Hand In Hand’ and ‘Fuh You’.  Then, to everyone’s surprise, during lcokdown itself Paul has pulled another amazing bunny from his hat with McCartney 3.  Self-written, sung and played and produced, it is simply brilliant – up there with the best he has ever achieved.  Every song seems relevant and works as part of the whole.  A very rhythmic record really but the playing is great, as is the voice and production.  An immaculate conception – best tracks being – ‘Pretty Boys’, ‘Deep Deep feeling’ and ‘When Winter Comes’. 

And so far that is it, though we know barring some unforeseen disaster there will surely be more.

My Record Collection 147

Paul McCartney – 70’s and 80’s – Well, they don’t come much bigger than this ex-Beatle.  People talk about John Lennon, but really after the fab four split, we saw that John, apart from his first two brilliant albums, struggled to make a solo career.  True, he was murdered just as he was making a long-awaited comeback – and George was flagging a bit too.  But it was Paul who kept going and writing and making albums – some better than others.   In fact his first solo record, like George and John too, was made while still a Beatle.  Simply entitled McCartney (1970) it was a completely home-made affair; and has a simplistic charm and naivety that has only improved with age.   Some of the tracks seem little more than demos, some had already been suggested as Beatles tracks and some were written in the studio by Paul.   A bit of a curates egg really; some poor bits and bobs, a couple of mediocre ones and a handful of great songs not so brilliantly produced.  Best are ‘That Would Be Something’, ‘Every Night’ and the truly great ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ – the last of which; the only track capable of being on a Beatles album (with a little help from his friends) – this song was improved vastly by Rod and The Faces, but that’s another story.  The album sold fairly well, but I think a lot of fans were disappointed by the half-finished feel of the thing.  Much better was the following year’s effort Ram.  This time Paul enlisted a few good musicians and though self-produced, it was done very professionally.  It seems that Paul’s Beatles breakup induced depression had lifted and the album is generally very upbeat.  Though Paul and John were still sniping at each other in their lyrics, mostly the record’s words are nonsense – though incredibly infectious nonsense at that.  A huge hit all over the world, this was Paul’s biggest selling album – and for good reason.  It remains the best Beatles album not recorded by The Beatles at all.  From opener ‘Too Many People’ to closer ‘Back Seat Of My Car’ it barely puts a foot wrong; my only criticism is that it is credited to Paul and Linda where his wifes input (apart from zany lyrics) was minimal – but he was obviously responding to John and Yoko making albums together (where the same criticism applies).  Favourite songs are the medley ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ – a sort of Yellow Submarine follow-up, Rocker ‘Monkmerry Moon Delight’ and ‘Heart Of The Country’.  This is almost my fave Paul album.

After this Paul decided to recruit his own band – Wings ( see W ) and had a string of albums of again mixed quality.

But by the end of the 70s that race had been run – and he seemed to run out of both band members and ideas,  So Paul decided to go solo again (though in truth almost all of Wings output was Paul, writing, singing and playing).  McCartney 2 came out in 1980.   It bears a resemblance to his first album in that all the instruments and production were by Paul – but a decade on and with much use of synthesisers and studio wizardry and experimental ideas it is a very different record.  I must admit I didn’t like it much at first – but it has begun to grow on me over the years.  But like it’s namesake it is a mixed bag; a couple of the tracks seem pointless fillers and there are a couple of gems – ‘Coming Up’ and ‘One Of These Days’.  And although I think I was quite disappointed by this album back in the early Eighties, Paul is one of the very dew artists I have bought almost everything of as soon as it was released.  Paul disbanded the practically redundant Wings in 1981 and has since pursued a solo career, though he has a regular live band.  The Eighties were a strange decade; new digital recording techniques and synthesisers meant that music was changing again (though not for the better) and most established artists from the Sixties and Seventies struggled; attempting to sound ‘Modern’ and ‘Relevant’.  Paul however soon established himself as a hitmaker on his own and had a string of successful singles and pretty good albums.  Next up was 1982’s Tug Of War.   Produced by long term Beatles team mate George Martin, this was a return to the form he had achieved with both The Beatles and Wings.  Three hit singles including the insipid but catchy ‘Ebony and Ivory’ with Stevie Wonder and the whole album is very accomplished.  Fave tracks of mine are ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Ballroom Dancing’ and best of all the tribute to John who had been shot the year before, the lovely ‘Here Today’.   Apparently a few songs recorded at these sessions were held over for next year’s Pipes Of Peace.   And somehow it wasn’t quite as good.  The title track was a huge hit and is very good, but not that much else hits the mark for me.  Again it sounds as if Paul was trying too hard to be modern.  Now, a confession – I have never really liked Michael Jackson despite his great voice and dancing – and Paul collaborated on two tracks with Michael.  The big hit was ‘Say Say Say’, and yes it’s okay.  The only other tracks I really like are closer ‘Through Our Love’ and ‘The Other Me’.  

Paul spent mst of the next year 1983 writing and filming Give My Regards To Broad Street.   As usual, and especially since John’s death, the film was panned by the critics, as everything Paul did was – as if he was somehow the lucky one and John, the real Beatle, had been denied the success that Paul was enjoying.  But I loved both the film and the soundtrack album which contained many of Paul’s recent songs and was a fictionalised look at the current life of McCartney, with a daft but almost believable script.  Great acting too from Paul and Ringo and Tracy Ulmann.  Anyway – the songs; live versions of earlier Beatles songs which add little, except an extended orchestral version of Eleanor Rigby which is brilliant.  The few new songs are pretty good, especially ‘Not Such A Bad Boy’ (written with Eric Stewart of 10CC {see T}) and the incredible ‘No More Lonely Nights’ which in a way the whole film is built around – this song one of Paul’s very best is infectious and one of my favourites too.   A year later and Paul got a few players together and recorded about 20 old Rock and Roll standards, 10 of which he released on an album called Choba B CCCP which is Russian for back in the USSR.  The sleeve was in Russian too, and Paul made arrangements for the record to be released in Russia too under the Melodiya label.   Well, it is quite good in its own sweet way; in fact I prefer it to John’s earlier Rock and Roll album (see L), there is a joyfulness in it, a sense of abandonment.  But no tracks really stand out for me.  Much better was his 1989 release Flowers In The Dirt.  In fact, this may be just about his best album to date, certainly a contender anyway.  Paul used three different producers including himself but not George Martin and co-wrote a few songs with Elvis Costello, who also sings on one song with Paul.  However Paul is notoriously hard to work with, on anything like an equal basis anyway, and has discarded partners along the way.  Costello would go the same way too – but he did add a much needed edge to Pauls, at times, syrupy sound, and predilection for pop over rock.  Anyway, the album is really good; a touch too long if anything (CD technology meant the old format of maximum 20 minutes a side was swept away and length and number of songs grew) but hardly a poor song in there at all.  Best for me were lead off single ‘My Brave Face’, ‘Distractions’, ‘Put It There’ and ‘Motor Of Love’. 

English songwriter and pop star Paul McCartney on his farm near Rye, Sussex.

My Record Collection 146

Massive Attack are a Bristol band who pioneered the trip-hop style of music; deep bass and drums and mostly gentle lyrics.  My daughter Laura bought me Protection, their second album and I bought a few others later.  Their first was 1991’s Blue Lines; an instant hit for them with big singles too.   They seem to have captured the zeitgeist of the Dance generation of the 90’s.  A pretty cool album with guest vocalists as became the norm for them.  Best tracks – ‘Safe From Harm’ and ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.  I have never really loved the record though; hard to say why as it is pretty good really.  The follow-up was, for me, THE record by this group – Protection. (1994).    But how much this is down to the superb vocals on 2 tracks by Tracey Thorne (see T) of Everything But The Girl (see E) I am not sure.  In my mind her two tracks are the highlights of the album, especially opener and title track ‘Protection’, but also ‘Better Things’; incidentally Tracey’s involvement coincided with EBTGs superb trip hop album Walking Wounded.  Other highlights include the dub heavy ‘Karmacoma’ and final track – a live ‘Light My Fire’ – the Doors (see D) classic from almost thirty years earlier.  Four years later (slow workers, these guys – the Beatles made 10 albums in 8 years, 2 for Massive) came their third and most successful and soulful record Mezzanine,  a much gentler sound especially on the vocals but great drum and base sounds throughout.  Some excellent tracks again – ‘Angel’, ‘Risingson’ and ‘Inertia Creeps’ and a very accomplished album – but which, for me at least, never really had the impact of Protection.  They have made 2 more albums in the 2010s – and then nothing, except, as seems the fashion remix albums by various DJs. Oh well.  I recently bought a soundtrack album they made to an underground film ‘Danny The Dog’ (2004).  Not sure what to make of this record; at times it seems little more than un-syncopated noise.  Maybe I just haven’t listened enough times but I find I don’t really like this record much at all.  I recently saw the band live at a very rare concert at the O2.  I barely recognised anything and the sound was very very loud, so not sure which direction they are veering off into – if at all.  Another fave 90s band of the same genre Portishead (see P) have been just as elusive and unproductive, barely making any records at all.  Maybe this is the new new; make a couple of huge albums then retire and luxuriate in your millions….hahaha.  I also have a greatest hits Collected (2006) which is great, but the few tracks not on the albums I already have are not that fantastic; in fact they seem quite mundane.  But…..my daughter also bought me a sort-of remix album of Protection – No ProtectionMad professor vs Massive Attack, where the originals are deconstructed and re-recorded.  This seems to be the done thing nowadays – endless re-mixes by this DJ or that DJ.  And the fans still buy them – oh well.  But the album itself is really okay….familiar but not quite, a bit zany in places, but I quite like it. 

Collected - The Best Of Massive Attack : Greatest Hits

My Record Collection 145

George Martin – was, of course, the producer of The Beatles – and a huge part of their success.   Unashamedly trading on that he released an album of Beatles covers which he produced by various artists called In My life.  Actually it is not at all bad, though one or two choices are poor – best are Phil Collins playing and singing the segue from Abbey Road ‘Golden Slumbers’ and the last track – ‘In My Life’ spoken brilliantly by Sean Connery in that wonderful Scottish burr of a voice.

Alice Martineau – A French singer, singing in English.  Not sure where this came from.  It is okay in a way, quite pleasant really – but hardly a star piece in my collection. 

John Martyn – guitarist extraordinaire who took mostly acoustic playing to places nobody had approached before or since.  Not a bad voice either.  He came out of folk and took the genre towards rock and even inspired a much later generation of trip-hoppers with his sublime melodies.  Like many great artists he started in the sixties leaving his native Scotland for London – and his first album was called London Conversation (1967) – not a very inspiring start really, a run-of-the-mill sort of a record; the songs are okay but not brilliant; voice and guitar are pleasant but nothing more and the attempt at Sitar is quite embarrassing.  Best songs – ‘Cocaine’ and Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’.  Next up is a collaboration with his then wife Beverley Martyn – Stormbringer (1970).  Beverley has a clear high voice, typical of folk-singers from the 60’s.  The album is quite pleasant, the songs are better and John’s voice and guitar exemplary.  Best are the title track, ‘Tomorrow Time’ and ‘Would you believe Me’.   The couple apparently divorced soon after this and John continued on his own.   Which brings me to John’s breakthrough album Bless The Weather (1971).  This was my first purchase and I worked back from there.  This is a classic album of the early Seventies and has long been a real favourite of mine.  The whole thing has such a relaxed feel, the songs drifting into each other with John’s lazy, almost slurred vocals, and great guitar playing just carrying each song.  Hard to pick favourites, but of course the title track is simply wonderful, there is also the instrumental ‘Glistening Glyndbourne’ which is scintillating and shimmering.  There is also ‘Go Easy’ and the rocking ‘Sugar Lump’ but best for me is the quite sad but gorgeous ‘Just Now’.   And like so many other artists, John struggled to make as good a record again, though some came pretty close.  In fact, the follow-up Solid Air the following year was a bigger seller mainly because of the fabulous title track, is almost as good as Bless The Weather.  The song has become an icon for a new generation of blissed out trip hop fans and was years ahead of its time.  It seems to drift in and out and somehow never quite comes to a climax, simply weaving a magic spell around John’s ethereal guitar and gentle voice; a superb track.  The actual album is more varied, with a few faster tracks.  I also love ‘Go Down Easy’ and ‘May You Never’.  Another excellent album.  John was a complicated man, who hovered on the edge of real fame, but never quite achieved it.  He struggled with relationships and his addictions to drugs and alcohol. In fact, his hard drinking resulted in illness, a leg amputation and, eventually, a quite early death.  He continued making excellent albums though.  I don’t have many – I suppose I was too busy with other great artists.  The Seventies were an incredible time with so many wonderful artists that John simply slipped through my net.  My next album is Grace and Danger (1980).  This was actually a break-up album, similar in a way to Dylan’s Blood On The tracks (see D) and Phil Collins’ Face Values (see C) and in fact Phil played drums on this record.  Exposing your heart is a dangerous thing, especially on record, but it can also be therapeutic and part of the healing process.   But somehow, I am not that fond of this record, nice songs mostly but seems a bit meandering really.  Best are ‘Some People Are Crazy’, ‘Johnny Too Bad’ and ‘Hurt In Your Heart’.   My only other studio album is 1986’s Sapphire, which again I can’t really get into.   I really like ‘Fisherman’s Dream’ but not much else…oh well.  I have a live double Live At Leeds (1975) which has some much longer versions of songs – best are ‘Inside Out’, ‘Solid Air’ and ‘Bless The Weather’ – songs I already know so well.  Then a compilation of sorts Solid Air, Classics Revisited – a lot of demos and alternate or live performances -best are ‘Angeline’ and ‘Rock Salt and Nails’.  Then I have Late Night John –  best of…nothing really new.  I suppose I will always revere Bless The Weather and Solid Air.  John died a few years ago, I saw an interview with him, and despite the amputation he seemed happy enough.

My Record Collection 145

George Martin – was, of course, the producer of The Beatles – and a huge part of their success.   Unashamedly trading on that he released an album of Beatles covers which he produced by various artists called In My life.  Actually it is not at all bad, though one or two choices are poor – best are Phil Collins playing and singing the segue from Abbey Road ‘Golden Slumbers’ and the last track – ‘In My Life’ spoken brilliantly by Sean Connery in that wonderful Scottish burr of a voice.

Alice Martineau – A French singer, singing in English.  Not sure where this came from.  It is okay in a way, quite pleasant really – but hardly a star piece in my collection. 

John Martyn – guitarist extraordinaire who took mostly acoustic playing to places nobody had approached before or since.  Not a bad voice either.  He came out of folk and took the genre towards rock and even inspired a much later generation of trip-hoppers with his sublime melodies.  Like many great artists he started in the sixties leaving his native Scotland for London – and his first album was called London Conversation (1967) – not a very inspiring start really, a run-of-the-mill sort of a record; the songs are okay but not brilliant; voice and guitar are pleasant but nothing more and the attempt at Sitar is quite embarrassing.  Best songs – ‘Cocaine’ and Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’.  Next up is a collaboration with his then wife Beverley Martyn – Stormbringer (1970).  Beverley has a clear high voice, typical of folk-singers from the 60’s.  The album is quite pleasant, the songs are better and John’s voice and guitar exemplary.  Best are the title track, ‘Tomorrow Time’ and ‘Would you believe Me’.   The couple apparently divorced soon after this and John continued on his own.   Which brings me to John’s breakthrough album Bless The Weather (1971).  This was my first purchase and I worked back from there.  This is a classic album of the early Seventies and has long been a real favourite of mine.  The whole thing has such a relaxed feel, the songs drifting into each other with John’s lazy, almost slurred vocals, and great guitar playing just carrying each song.  Hard to pick favourites, but of course the title track is simply wonderful, there is also the instrumental ‘Glistening Glyndbourne’ which is scintillating and shimmering.  There is also ‘Go Easy’ and the rocking ‘Sugar Lump’ but best for me is the quite sad but gorgeous ‘Just Now’.   And like so many other artists, John struggled to make as good a record again, though some came pretty close.  In fact, the follow-up Solid Air the following year was a bigger seller mainly because of the fabulous title track, is almost as good as Bless The Weather.  The song has become an icon for a new generation of blissed out trip hop fans and was years ahead of its time.  It seems to drift in and out and somehow never quite comes to a climax, simply weaving a magic spell around John’s ethereal guitar and gentle voice; a superb track.  The actual album is more varied, with a few faster tracks.  I also love ‘Go Down Easy’ and ‘May You Never’.  Another excellent album.  John was a complicated man, who hovered on the edge of real fame, but never quite achieved it.  He struggled with relationships and his addictions to drugs and alcohol. In fact, his hard drinking resulted in illness, a leg amputation and, eventually, a quite early death.  He continued making excellent albums though.  I don’t have many – I suppose I was too busy with other great artists.  The Seventies were an incredible time with so many wonderful artists that John simply slipped through my net.  My next album is Grace and Danger (1980).  This was actually a break-up album, similar in a way to Dylan’s Blood On The tracks (see D) and Phil Collins’ Face Values (see C) and in fact Phil played drums on this record.  Exposing your heart is a dangerous thing, especially on record, but it can also be therapeutic and part of the healing process.   But somehow, I am not that fond of this record, nice songs mostly but seems a bit meandering really.  Best are ‘Some People Are Crazy’, ‘Johnny Too Bad’ and ‘Hurt In Your Heart’.   My only other studio album is 1986’s Sapphire, which again I can’t really get into.   I really like ‘Fisherman’s Dream’ but not much else…oh well.  I have a live double Live At Leeds (1975) which has some much longer versions of songs – best are ‘Inside Out’, ‘Solid Air’ and ‘Bless The Weather’ – songs I already know so well.  Then a compilation of sorts Solid Air, Classics Revisited – a lot of demos and alternate or live performances -best are ‘Angeline’ and ‘Rock Salt and Nails’.  Then I have Late Night John –  best of…nothing really new.  I suppose I will always revere Bless The Weather and Solid Air.  John died a few years ago, I saw an interview with him, and despite the amputation he seemed happy enough.

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Bob Marley – was part of the soundtrack to the Seventies, a permanent presence.  I have the one album – Legend, a Greatest Hits and all the best songs are here. My personal favourites are ‘I shot the Sheriff’ ‘No Woman No Cry’ and ‘Redemption Song’.  A sad loss that he died so young.

Laura Marling – is an English singer songwriter of very recent times.  Remarkably mature from her very first album, she echoes hints of Joni to my ears; her words seem simple but are subtle and wise and her guitar playing is simple and effective, sounding so much like the seventies artists I first fell in love with.  Her albums keep getting better and better and she may end up as one of very favourite female singers.  There are also, dare I say it, echoes of Leonard Cohen in there somewhere too.  Her debut album – Alas I Cannot Swim (2008) – is pretty good, especially for a debut by a pretty young woman.  Her guitar playing is gentle and warm and never intrudes on her voice; in fact what I love about her is that the melody seems to follow the words, not the other way round, and she has the occasional lines that don’t fit and yet somehow it all flows along.  She sings of love affairs – mostly gone or going wrong, of how it feels to be a woman in the modern world; unsure and hesitant and yet willing to love and be loved.  Best songs are ‘You’re No God’, ‘Crawled Out Of the Sea’ and closer ‘Your Only Doll (Dora)’.  One possibly silly feature was that her first few album’s titles consisted of 6 syllables.  Her second was titled I Speak Because I Can (2010).   This seems a much more mature, at times despairing and angry, set of songs.  It seems autobiographical, but who knows where songs come from – mostly, they are about the unbalanced relationship between men and women, of course from the viewpoint of a woman – but somehow not really blaming men.  Anyway, in some ways a better record, though in some ways there seem not such distinctive songs, although the production is more varied.  Best are – ‘Goodbye England (covered in snow)’,the title track and ‘Darkness Descends’.   Her third album A Creature I Don’t Know (2010) has a quite nasty drawing of a naked couple, either dancing or in sexual congress, one in outline and one in black – which gives some indication of the songs.  One aspect of her records is their apparent timelessness; they could easily have fitted into any of the previous 4 or 5 decades – and yet they sound modern at the same time.  She seems to have absorbed Joni and Cohen into her writing and yet her own voice comes through clear and strong.  Another great album, a bit more aggressive at times as if confronting a past love affair – the words are sometimes personal sometimes almost abstract, so hard to pin her down.  Best songs are ‘All My Rage’, ‘Beast’ and the very Cohen-ish ‘Night After Night’.  Her fourth was Once I Was An Eagle’ – an obscure title until she sings that ‘when we made love I was an eagle and you were a dove’.   A much longer album, sixteen songs instead of the usual ten and maybe a touch too long – but mostly strong compositions with some quite ferocious strumming and insistent tom-tom drumming, the first two tracks especially are moving and angry – ‘Take The Night Off’ and ‘I Was An Eagle’ – I also like ‘Devil’s Resting Place’ and ‘When Were You Happy’.   She is one of those artists you just find yourself hooked upon; she is truly unique.  Her fifth suddenly ditched the six syllable titles and was simply titled Short Movie – not that here was any real change in direction, though she did record this in L.A. I believe, home of the movies.  If anything Laura just keeps getting better; this album very much an attacking strummed acoustic guitar and drums tap taping in rhythm.  Some of the songs seem to drift into each other – and she uses the F word a few times, seems quite angry at times.  Best songs are ‘Strange’, ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’ and ‘Short Movie’.   Her next album I somehow missed but have ordered it now…but her latest album is Song For Our Daughter (2020) and it I think her best yet; every song is a winner.  There is more variety both in the songs and the arrangements, quite a bit gentler orchestration which does not impede on her gorgeous voice.  Very hard to pick favourites but stand-out songs are ‘Alexandra Leaving’, the title track and closer ‘For You’, and my favourite ‘Blow By Blow’.  What a brilliant artist, I am beginning to think she might just be approaching the league that contains Dylan and Joni and Leonard – but only time will tell.

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Aimee Mann  An American singer-songwriter of this Century.  Ever since Joan Armatrading and Joni I have been on the lookout for the next great female singer.  I had hoped that Aimee might be that one, as it is she is pretty good but sadly not in their league.  Nevertheless, for a while I really liked her and watched out for her albums.  My first was her second, and breakthrough album I’m With Stupid (1995).   A very interesting and recognisable voice with an edge of suspicion in there somewhere, great and cynical knowing lyrics and very good production – in short, a surprisingly good record.  Best tracks ‘No Choice In The Matter’, ‘You Could Make A Killing’ and ‘Par For The Course’.   This was followed in 2000 by Bachelor No. 2.   Another good record, but which never really excited me at the time, don’t know why as now on re-listening I find it pretty strong.  I suppose I was hoping that she might have moved on in the 5 year hiatus, but the sound and production are almost exactly the same.  Best songs ‘Ghost World’, ‘Calling It Quits’ and ‘Save Me’….but really for whatever reason the album still fails to excite me.  Next was Lost In Space (2002) – and really I sort of lost faith in her by this one.  Again, nothing wrong, but somehow going nowhere.  Maybe it was just me…I don’t know.  Best songs ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the title track.  I also have a hits – Ultimate Collection which is pretty good, and some of her later stuff does sound good – so why am I so disillusioned with her?  I just suppose there are so many good artists it is impossible to keep with everyone.  Choices we all have to make.Manfred Mann – well, there was a band in the Sixties that had lots of hits, we all loved them and discovered that Manfred was the keyboard player; the singer was either John Paul Jones or Mike D’Abo.  They especially had a hit with a song Dylan home-taped with the band (later to appear on The Basement Tapes) The Mighty Quinn.  Anyway, I have a Greatest Hits of theirs and great it is, full of good old sixties nonsense, but no Quinn – oh well, still some great tracks – ‘5-4-3-2-1’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Oh No, Not My Baby’.   So, Manfred created a new band in the Seventies Manfred Mann’s Earth Band –  I have three albums, and really I should have got more – but you know how it is…..first up is Angel Station (1979) and brilliant it is too, every track a winner and a great rock-pop feel to it, excellent guitar and organs and singing.  Interesting songs, which I have no idea exactly what they mean – but sometimes you don’t need to.  Best tracks – ‘Don’t kill it, Carol’, the Dylan classic ‘You Angel You’, ‘Belle Of The Earth’ and the Title track.  A brilliant album which has a common musical theme dispute the variety of the songs.  My next of theirs is Somewhere in Afrika (1983).  Wow, what a great album, and a great anti-apartheid statement too.  Written before the release of Nelson Mandela and the great sweeping away of white supremacy the record is poignant and powerful and full of both hope and despair.  Of course, no-one then was to anticipate the failures of The ANC and that the lives of many many blacks would still be full of poverty and discrimination – though, this was more often along tribal lines from fellow blacks than whites, who quietly got on with making themselves richer and richer.  But the album is simply fantastic.  Starting with ‘Tribal Statistics’, where the blacks were counted and defined by race and tribe rather than as humans.  This is followed by an old al Stewart song updated ‘Eyes of Nostradamus’ and the unifying ‘Brothers and Sisters of Africa’; some great African singing and rhythms and the best of all is a version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ – co-incidentally Bob is next on my list.  This album always leaves me with a lump in my throat – somehow it reaches the parts that most others fail to.    Last is a mostly instrumental album – Plains Music  (1991).  A very infectious record, full of nice rhythms and moods.  Best track is Medicine Song.  The whole album is really one piece of music I feel and a delight to listen to occasionally.  I do have another un-listened to (as yet) album and ask myself why I haven’t got more of them. 

MANFRED MANN - Pictorial Press - Music, Film TV ...

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Meastoso –  was the name that Woolly Wolstenholme used when he returned to making music after many years away.  He was a founder member of Barclay James Harvest (see B), probably my second favourite group of all time, but he left around 1980 citing musical differences.  And in some ways he was right; the band had started with orchestral and electric instruments, the orchestra was soon replaced by Mellotron which Woolly played along with keyboards.  However, slowly the group was moving into more synthesiser-based music (to a diminishing audience I must admit) and so Woolly left.  He released 2 solo albums which sold poorly (see W) and then retired to his farm.  Much later when BJH finally split he was encouraged to play again with John Lees (see L).  He then started writing again, or maybe he had lots of pieces already and he released them under the name Maestoso (the name of his first album).  Much more like the first few BJH albums these are quite joyful and varied albums, tinged with a touch of humour.  The first was 2004’s One Drop In A Dry World.  Some lovely lyrical tracks here – best are ‘Blood and Bones’ and ‘it’s U’.  But not a bad record.   Amazingly, the same year he released Fiddling Meanly, a live album of early BJH songs and a few from his first 3 records.  Okay, but nit brilliant.        Better was Grim (2005) – the title being a dig at Southerners who think the North of England is a poor place to live.  I think on this record he excelled himself; much more like an early BJH album.  Some great orchestral arrangements (no doubt synthesised) and some lovely singing. Fave songs ‘Love Is’ and ‘Hebden Bridge’.  It may just be possible that these were originally old songs which were rejected for BJH albums, who knows.   Lastly, he released in 2007 Caterwauling, sadly he took his own life in 2010. A slightly disappointing album, maybe running out of ideas, who knows. Best song ‘Shoes’ and ‘Matilda Yarrow.        He was a complex character and suffered terrible bouts of depression all his life, which probably contributed to his leaving the band in the 80’s.  He had often re-joined John Lees (see L) for concert appearances during this late flourishing period.  In many ways he was the heart of BJH, always bringing them down from their excesses, but in a similar way to George in The Beatles, he was early on excluded in the choice of songs by the two stronger writers and possibly personalities in John Lees and Les Holroyd, often relegated to just one or maybe two songs per album.  A great loss.

The Magic Numbers   – This was another of those highly recommended new bands where I bought the album and was not really impressed.   This was their 2005 self-titled debut, and the songs are okay, the vocals and harmonies are very good; in fact, there is nothing to not like, but equally nothing to rave about either.   The album starts and you think…okay, not bad – but then the record ends and you cannot recall a single song.   Oh well.

Magnetic Fields  This is the name of a band, founded by and basically only an American called Stephen Merritt.   Only the one album i (this is a 2004 album, but they had made records since the early 90s and beyond).  Actually this is a delightful record – the novelty being that every track begins with the letter i; all are sung by Stephen and are quite varied in style and production.   No songs really stand out though.

The Mamas and The Papas – While in Britain The Beatles were wowing us all with their ever changing style, over in California a whole other revolution was happening, led by The Byrds (see B) and Papa John Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot.  A gentle harmonious sound melding old-fashioned melodies with modern beats and original songs; a delightful blend.  Here, we only heard the singles ‘California Dreaming’ and ‘Monday Monday’.  I have The Best Of…and sometimes that is all you need.   All their hit singles are here and a few other tracks which showcase Mama Cass’s lovely voice.  Fave track is ‘Creque Alley’.

Mandalaband – This was a strange one.  I have always been a big fan of Barclay James Harvest (see B), and the band apparently played on a few tracks of this strange little album, a real prog-rock medieval tale set to music.  Actually a pretty unremarkable record.

Stars Who Died This Year