Prince – Well…I never really liked him or his music, which I suppose
you would call funk. I only have The
Very Best Of Prince, and apart from the big singles ‘Purple Rain’ ‘1999’
etc…it still doesn’t work for me.
The Proclaimers – I saw them live at one of The Fleadhs in Finsbury Park in the early nineties I think, and they were great and I started buying their albums. Their debut was pretty good too – This Is The Story (1987), if a bit rough around the edges. A predominantly acoustic sound, lightened by their evocative Scottish accented vocals. Best song by a mile is ‘Letter From America’, but I also like ‘Misty Blue’ and ‘Make My Heart Fly’ But their follow-up really was one of their best – Sunshine On Leith (1988). With a fuller more rounded sound and better production, and most important a batch of brilliant songs this album really established the band. From the opener ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ to exuberant closer ‘Oh Jean’ – there isn’t a poor song on the record. I particularly love ‘Cap In Hand’, the title track, their take on ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ and ‘Come on Nature’. I had a couple more on vinyl back when but only have one more original on CD; 2007’s Life With You. A pretty good album, if it has lost some of the excitement and fervour of their earlier albums – best songs are ‘In Recognition’ (a jibe at rock stars getting above themselves), ‘Harness Pain’ and ‘If There’s A God’ ( a great philosophical song almost questioning religion itself). The CD came with a live album which is pretty good too. I do have 2 greatest hits CDs – The Best Of – which has all the hits, including my favourite – their version of Roger Miller’s ‘King Of The Road’. And Finest – which is a bit quieter and more reflective; with a few lesser known gems. Both are great for parties or just when you want a quick fix of these Scottish laddies.
Procul Harum – Of course they had a number one hit with ‘Whiter Shad Of Pale’ in 1967 itself. And in a way they never recovered from that; they had a couple of lesser hits – best was ‘Homburg’ – but they seemed to get lost in the late Sixties explosion of great bands. I have Greatest Hits – which is really all you need.
The Pretenders – Just a Greatest Hits. Never a fave band but they had quite a few good singles…
Dory Previn – another dead heroine I am afraid. Born in 1925, Dorothy Langdon was a lyricist for some Hollywood films in the Fifties. In 1959 she married Andre Previn, with whom she wrote a few songs for more films. She divorced him in the late 60s and decided to pursue a solo career; this was the advent of Singer-Songwriters, and although already in her Forties she had the skills to be a great writer of songs. She explored the deeper themes of rejection and depression. In the early 60’s she had released an album of her songs The Heart Is A Hunter. This is quite a jazzy piano-led album (Andre playing) and is naïve but witty at the same time, though not at all representative of her later style. As a notorious completist I bought it; I quite like some of it, notably ‘Can’t We Be Enemies’ and ‘Lonely Girl in London’. But her career proper started in 1970 with On My Way To Where. A brilliant debut, with sprightly tunes which counterpointed her often desperately sad lyrics…I discovered later that she had been hospitalised with her second nervous breakdown after her husband Andre Previn left her for Mis Farrow, about twenty years younger than her, which prompted the song ‘Beware Of Young Girls’ on this album. She had also suffered a very unhappy relationship with her father, reflected in many songs, such ‘I Ain’t His Child’ (My daddy says I ‘aint his child, ‘aint that something wild) and ‘With My Daddy In The Attic’. There are also songs about sad and insecure women, and the pressures put on men; ‘Michael Michael Superman.’ The songs are of course brilliantly written and sung, though the production is at times a bit too middle of the road. The album closes with a sound collage of mostly Dory’s voice coming from alternate speakers – ‘Mister Whisper’. Much better was her second album of that year Mythical kings and Iguanas, which is overall maybe her best record. From the opener and reprise of the title song she doesn’t put a foot wrong. Producer Nik Venet subtly arranges the backing and features a lot of Dory and her guitar. Very hard to pick a best song as they are all brilliant; maybe my favourites are ‘Yada Yada La Scala’ and ‘Lady With The Braid’ and of course the tragic tale of ‘Mary C. Brown and The Hollywood Sign’ (she hanged herself from the second or third letter O). Wow – this was hardly off my turntable in 1971. She stepped back a bit with her third, though fame and fortune seemed the last thing she would want. Reflections In A Mud Puddle came out in late ’71 and had a song-suite on side 2 ‘Taps, Tremors and Timesteps) One Last Dance For My Father), where she maybe tried to exorcise his ghost. It is a lovely sequence of songs but a bit harrowing. Side one contains more, almost political, songs; ‘Doppelganger’ and ‘The Talkative Woman and The General’, and my favourite – ‘The Enzyme Detergent Demise of Ali McGraw’ (mine was a Wednesday death). An exquisite but quieter album. Dory resurrected a song from Mythical Kings to entitle her next record, 1972s Mary C Brownand The Hollywood Sign. This was a more ‘produced’ album, with strong songs a bit more ‘rocky’ too. Despite the almost ‘overproduction’ at times I love the songs; ‘The Holy man on The Malibu Bus’, ‘When A Man Wants A Woman’, ‘Left Hand Lost’ and ‘The Perfect Man’ are all exceptional…she closes with a trio of songs where the melodies are far rockier; ‘King Kong’, ‘Jesus Was An Androgyne’ and Anima Animus’ where she sings more loudly, and higher notes, an almost new Dory – but really I prefer the quieter version. For whatever reason Dory left her record label United Artists and recorded later with Warner Brothers. Her best work was undoubtedly in these first four albums and a greatest hits In Search Of Mythical Kings is the best of quite a few belated Greatest Hits. Also an excellent live album Live At Carnegie Hall came out in 1973 with only one new song, but a very nice record, A self-titled album Dory Previn heralded her next album in 1974. Well, a bit of a disappointment really…the songs are okay but somehow the record never excites. New producer too, and a quieter more introspective style. Best songs are ‘Coldwater Canyon’ and ‘The Obscene Phone Call’. Two years later and her final album Children Of Co-incidence and Harpo Marx…another disappointment really – she just seems to have gone off the boil; the songs seem quite inconsequential, as if she was just going through the motions – and maybe she was. Only a couple of good songs; best of which is her take on The Owl And The Pussycat. She had a history of mental breakdowns – and she turned to writing an autobiography and a handful of unsuccessful musicals. She never returned to recording again, though there was one download only ‘Planet Blue’ which is quite frankly dire. Oh well, she died in 2012 aged 84; she was in her late thirties when she had her 15 minutes of fame. I know that most of you will never have heard of her – but she is well worth a listen
Prefab Sprout – this is one of those bands which emerged in the early 80s, along with Deacon Blue (see D) and Aztec Camera (see A). Lead singer, songwriter and musician was Paddy MacAloon, a superbly talented guy who revered the music of McCartney, Gershwin and Bacharach; he had a unique ‘pop’ sensibility. Their first album 1984s Swoon (which Paddy insisted stood for Songs Written Out Of Necessity) was pretty good, but a bit rambling and unfocussed, though songs such as ‘Don’t Sing’, ‘Elegance’ and especially ‘Cruel’, the last being their first really classic song. A great start which only got better with their next Steve McQueen in 1985. A much better album which contained classic songs such as ‘Faron Young’, ‘Appetite’, the hit single ‘When Love Breaks Down’ and my favourite ‘Desire As’ – with the brilliant line “Desire is a sylph-figured creature that changes her own mind.” I rebought the album on CD and it included a bonus disc of 2007 re-recordings; completely acoustic versions, sparse and almost demos – I couldn’t see the point as the original Thomas Dolby produced album was such a gem – but Paddy has always been an eccentric, he has apparently recorded whole albums and never released them as his muse, or for whatever reason he has moved on – he is a notorious perfectionist. Their third was titled From Langley Park To ,Memphis – but took 3 years to appear. It was a much more rounded and commercial album, more varied and more successful – if losing some of the charm of the first two idiosyncratic records. I really like it and the songs are excellent, especially – ‘The King Of Rock and Roll’, Cars and Girls’ and ‘Hey Manhattan’. This may be almost my favourite of the early records. In late 1985 Paddy had self-recorded and produced a batch of songs meant for release the following year. But the album Steve McQueen was such a slow burner that it was held over and only released as Protest Songs in 1989. These songs are quite stripped back and seem a bit undeveloped, as indeed they were. Still – not such a poor album really though not a favourite of mine I must admit. The only really good track is ‘A Life Of Surprises’. Much better was 1990’s Jordan – The Comeback. The only trouble with this admittedly superb collection of songs is that it is a double album and consequently far too long. Very few double albums really work; The Beatles managed it because they had 3 quite different songwriters so there was a great mixture of styles and textures; concept albums often work as they are telling a story – but Roddy’s songs all have a similarity of style and sound and even song structure – and with 19 songs it does get a bit boring towards the end. Saying that most of the songs are really good, if not some of his best. I particularly like ‘Wild Horses’, ‘Machine Gun Ibiza’, ‘All The World Loves Lovers’ and ‘The Ice Maiden’; tough there is really not a poor song on the record. Then, as so often seems to happen after 6 successful years we had a hiatus of seven years. In reality the albums, splendid as they are, which have followed have been Paddy MacAloon solo efforts; he has occasionally used session and old Prefab Sprout members, and credits the records as Prefab Sprout – but he plays almost all the instruments; piano, guitars and synths and even backing vocals. Still, saying that the records are pretty damned good. He has suffered from severe hearing problems and is a temperamental guy, having apparently recorded and then shelved several albums over his later years. But, fans like me scour the music press to hear of new releases which often slip out with a minimum of publicity; Roddy preferring to sit on his laurels and just make the music he obviously loves. 2007 saw the first of these releases with Andromeda Heights – also the name of the studio he built for himself. Well, although it got a cool reception from the critics, who love nothing more than treating an old favourite as a has-been, I loved it. A somewhat quieter record with a lot of slower tunes it still has that Prefab Sprout magic and is, as one has come to expect, immaculately produced. Best tracks are ‘Electric Guitars’ and ‘Anne Marie’. Then came a really great album – The Gunman – (2001). This was written around the time of Jimmy Nail’s Crocodile Shoes (see N), and a couple of the songs were sung by Jimmy on his albums. But these versions are simply knockout; the familiar sounds with a country twist and Paddy’s sublime vocals. Every song is superb but I particularly love opener ‘Cowboy Dream’, ‘Wild Card in The Pack’ and a surprise cover of ‘Streets Of Laredo’. 2009 saw the release of Lets change The World With Music. Not quite one of his best; still some lovely songs but somehow it sounds a bit flat and uninspired to my ears – best are ‘Ride’ and ‘Last Of The Great Romantics’. His latest (so far) is 2013 (and that is nine years ago!) Crimson Red. And another classic, so if we have to wait even ten or more years if they are this quality, well, I will wait. The album though is almost his best…just lovely, and the words so astute and clever. Best songs – ‘Adolescence’, ‘Billie’ and ‘The Old Magician’. I also of course have a Greatest Hits collection, which is sublime.
Robert Plant and Alison Kraus – Just one album Raising Sand (2007). Of course, Robert was the singer in Led
Zeppelin (who I have bever bought) and this album is quite different, almost
Americana; Alison was known as a bluegrass singer. I quite like the record, but I feel it is
missing a bit of edge, it is really quite laid back and sadly most of the songs
aren’t really strong enough. So, a
pleasant listen but not in my top albums.
Portishead – this Bristol band almost single-handled created the trip hop genre; they formed in 1991 – Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow created the music which was enhanced and completed by the remarkable vocals of Beth Gibbons. Their album Dummy, released in 1994 was an instant hit and featured hugely in the BBC series This Life, a British sort of Friends only more serious. Anyway, the album is brilliant – very moody and the beats are amazing, but as always it is Beth’s haunting vocals that make it exceptional. Hard to pick a favourite track but ‘Wandering Star’, ‘Sour Times’ and ‘Glory Box’ stay in my brain longer than most. Their second album simply entitled Portishead came out in 1997; a bit harder in feel, with the vocals more pronounced really, but another stunning album. They really defined their sound with this record, especially on tracks – ‘All Mine’, Half Day Closing’ and ‘Western Skies’ – though the album should really be listened to as a whole piece. They toured, especially festivals for the remainder of the decade. But then they fell almost silent, releasing the occasional song on their website and had practically disbanded, with always the hint in the air of new material, for over ten years. They did release one live album…PNYC from a show they did in New York in I think 1998, which is pretty good; slightly expanded versions of songs from their two albums – nothing new. We then had to wait for almost a decade until 2008 for anything new. Third was a bit of a departure -a couple of tracks much louder and drums featured on most songs; especially ‘Machine Gun’ which was very loud. But somehow the album didn’t have the appeal of their first two. No other songs really stood out for me. And so far nothing since…constant rumours of a new album….but nothing materialises.
Pink Floyd – well, what can you say about this band? I first saw them in 1967 at Stowmarket…I got
blind drunk and was blown away by them.
Then again when they did The Wall live at Earls Court. I used to have almost all the early albums,
but somehow I have never bothered to get them on CD…may still get them someday…who
We start with a film score Obscured By Clouds (1972) – this was the album they made a year before their first Masterpiece…and pretty good it is too; their signature (post Syd) sound was settling in; rather than the histrionics and experimentation of earlier albums they had with and just after Syd left the band – or rather the band left Syd. A lovely lyrical album with that instrumentation which lulls you beautifully and before you know it the album is finished and you want to hear it again. Best tracks are the title track, ‘What’s the Uh Deal’ and ‘Stay’. They took a break from recording their next album to write and record Obscured…and in some ways the albums are similar. Then came their first and possibly greatest masterpiece – The Dark Side of The Moon (1973) – it soon went to number 1 and has sold over 45 million copies since then. It is usually acclaimed as their finest album. There is a cohesion to the album, although not exactly a concept album, it tends to deal with the pressures of touring and the resulting madness (in part) of Syd Barrett, who had left the band five years earlier. Not a poor song on the record really, but if I must choose – ‘Breathe’, ‘Us and Them’ and ‘Eclipse’. It was truly and probably their last real group song-writing album too, with keyboardist Rick Wright at least co-writing about half the songs. Roger Waters provided many of the lyrics, and he would go on to be the main songwriter, whether through overwhelming force of his character or talent is debateable. They followed this with two years later with Wish You Were Here – an album devoted to the memory of Syd; all 5 tracks written at least in part by Roger. The opening track ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ continues as the closing track, both around 12 to 13 minutes long, it may well be their best single piece of music and is a collaboration between Rick, Dave and Roger, which has rarely been repeated. The songs also reflect the band (or Roger’s) dissatisfaction with the demands of the music business itself (biting the hand that feeds them maybe). The band were by now absolute superstars and could do exactly as they liked, which thousands of other artists must have envied. The earlier hints of paranoia in Roger’s writing became more obvious with ‘Welcome To The Machine’ and ‘Have A Cigar’. But maybe the overriding brilliance of the record is down to the piercing and poignant dripping guitar notes of Dave Gilmour, especially on the opener, when it is 10 minutes before Roger starts to sing the song. In some ways this is my favourite Floyd record. Animals followed and I never really liked it, it seemed harsh and musically not as interesting, and the lyrics (all by Roger) just bored me – so I have never bought it on CD. So, no review this time. 1979 however saw the release of their third Masterpiece The Wall. Almost a solo effort, at least in the conception and song-writing – this is a monster of a concept double album and is best listened to at one sitting. Almost impossible to pick out best tracks because it is really all of one piece – but of course, ‘Comfortably Numb’ stands out, but I also like ‘Mother’ and ‘The Thin ice’ and later ‘The Trial’ and ‘Waiting For The Worms’ are incredible. Much later they released (for the money I expect) a live recording of the album – maybe the one I saw; they only did a few performances – called Is There Anybody Out There. I bought it, partly for the lavish packaging and as a souvenir. The live version is pretty much the same as the studio one, except for a new intro and outro. So, I play it now and again, for the memories. Their next studio album was really the straw which broke the camel’s back, as Roger’s hatred of almost everything reaching boiling point. The Final Cut (1983) was really the final cut that this incredible band recorded; Rick Wright was side-lined to be a paid session player; Dave Gilmour reconciled himself to be a non-contributing guitar player and the drummer drummed on regardless. After this album Roger left the band for good. The album itself has a few good moments but really is poor, filled as it is with Roger’s almost snivelling laments; to be honest they should have called it a day after The Wall. The band did limp on, and made 2 more albums, which I bought, but which didn’t really excite me at all. I haven’t been tempted to buy them on CD. I did however buy their (to date) latest offering Endless River. This is a collection of what can best be called ‘leftovers’, various noodlings from their long career which never made it into real pieces or on to albums. A pretty pointless exercise, except for the revenue it must have made. My last offering in one of the many greatest hits Echoes…which does cover their early albums quite well; fave tracks – ‘Astromine Domine’, ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and ‘See Emily Play’. A great band, who, had they been able to settle their internal differences could have gone on and on, instead of barely making it through the early eighties. Oh Well….of course Roger has gone on to make a handful of excellent albums in the complete Pink Floyd style (see W) but even he makes a fortune by touring his (admittedly superb) version of their classic albums.
Alan Parsons Project – I had heard the occasional track, especially
by Colin Blunstone (see B) and knew that Alan was initially a record producer
and engineer. He made a series of albums
with guest session players and singers; these were concept albums – true
prog-rock in a way. I think I may have
bought a couple on vinyl years ago. I
have a double album – The Definitive
Collection – a compilation. Not bad
but ultimately a bit boring, maybe as this collection lacks cohesion. Anyway, a pleasant listen but hard to
pinpoint any tracks as distinctive.
Gram Parsons – another dead hero I am afraid. Gram’s real name was Ingram Connor 3rd,
and he was from a wealthy family, but in the Sixties played in a number of
bands, including one album (Sweetheart Of The Rodeo) with The Byrds (see B). He
was a notorious drug addict and hung out with Keith Richards, who wanted him to
join The Stones. However, he drifted
around and released 2 solo albums before his early death in 1973 at age
26. He had a soulful voice and wrote
beautiful songs in an Americana style.
He has influenced many later artists, but was fairly unknown during his
life. I have his 2 albums on one CD GP/Greivous
Angel. From ‘73 and the latter posthumously released in 1974. Almost timeless melodies and playing, and a
sweet voice. But somehow it seems very
ephemeral and just glides past my consciousness. Still – favourite songs are ‘We’ll Sweep Out
The Ashes In The Morning’, ‘The New Soft Shoe’ and ‘Love Hurts’. Many years later, in fact in 1999, his one-time
lover and co-singer Emmylou Harris (see H) managed to persuade a few players to
record a tribute album to Gram – Return Of The Grevious Angel. Featuring amongst others Elvis Costelloe,
Lucinda Williams, The Pretenders, David Crosby and Steve Earle and produced by
Emmylou who sings on a couple of tracks, the album recreates songs Gram wrote
or sung on. A very nice compilation and
the varied singers give it enough to keep you interested. Fave tracks are – ‘She’ (Emmylou), ‘High
Fashion Queen’ (Steve Earle and Chris Hillman) and ‘Hickory Wind’ (Gillian
Tom Petty – One of the first MusiCassettes I bought was in 1976 – FM; it was a compilation of American FM Radio tracks, mostly from American albums not readily available in England at that time. The one that I liked best was ‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I then saw an advert for Tom playing live at Hammersmith Odeon in a couple of days’ time. I went and saw him and was blown away; knowing only the one song and Tom having just the one album out, I was singing along to every song’s chorus and it was really one of the best concerts ever. That first album was self-titled Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers released also in 1976 and I still love it; it sounds fresh and to the point even now – basically it is pretty straightforward rock and roll, but with Tom’s sneering, almost Dylanesque vocals adding the required amount of attitude the album really rocks. Best songs ‘Breakdown’, ‘Luna’ and of course ‘American Girl’. A great start, which he followed up with You’re Gonna Get It in 1978. Not such an immediate album but not bad at all. Best songs – ‘When The Time Comes’, ‘Listen To Her Heart’ and ‘Baby’s A Rock’n’Roller’. Much better was his third Damn The Torpedoes (1979); much better songs somehow, or is it something else which makes you love one album and not another? Who knows? The first three songs are brilliant ‘Refugee’, ‘Here Comes My Girl’ and ‘Even the Losers’ but there isn’t a poor song on the record. This was the big breakthrough album for Tom and the Heartbreakers, where they finally became superstars. Next was Hard Promises (1981). Another good record, though for me it was a slight disappointment after Torpedoes…still I quite like ‘The Waiting’ and ‘Nightwatchman’. I used to have all his records (almost) on vinyl but am still catching up on CD. My next is Southern Accents (1985) which contains 3 songs co-written by Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) who also co-produced these tracks. Stewart’s style is evident and is pretty good really; it seems to add a certain change of style, which was maybe coming anyway. Best songs are ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’, ‘Spike’ and ‘The Best Of Everything’. By now the band were moving into a more conventional rock sound, maybe losing that radical edge along the way. Tom also dropped the band for a handful of solo albums. I tended to stop buying his albums, but did occasionally. Next is 1991s ‘Into the Great Wide Open’. This seems much better, more focused, better songs – the sound is now much less ‘rock’n’roll’ and more commercial too; Tom’s voice is crystal clear and the production superb; Jeff Lynne again, who seems to get the best sound from almost everyone he produces. Fave tracks are the hit single ‘Learning To Fly’, ‘Two Gunslingers’ and ‘All Or Nothing’. I don’t know why but I stopped buying Tom’s records around this time – maybe just too many others to listen to. But my last by him was a solo effort – though impossible to tell, as it sounds very similar to his other albums – Wildflowers (1994). I may get round to the others someday. But Wildflowers is an okay album too, though it doesn’t exactly excite me – best songs are ‘Time to Move On’, ‘It’s Good To be King’ and ‘Crawling Back To You’. And that is almost it. Tom and the Heartbreakers shared almost a year of tours with Bob Dylan, and I have a handful of bootleg concerts from that tour. Of Course, Tom made two records with the Travelling Wilbury’s (see T). I also have a double album of hits Anthology…..which is brilliant, though, like so many artists, I really love the early songs before they became Superstars. Tom died far too early at just 66…that was an incredible 5 years away…how time flies.
Andrew Loog Oldham – a complete amateur he somehow became record
producer and part manager of The Rolling Stones (see R). He created The Andrew Oldham Orchestra
– which was a changing rota of session players as a sideline for various
recordings. The most famous of which was
The Rolling Stones Songbook (1966) which I bought – and was quite
disappointed by. Orchestral versons of
Stones numbers – quite boring really.
Roy Orbison – No idea why I have only 2 albums by Roy; I remember him from the 60’s and loved him then and right up to his album with The Travelling Wilburys (see T). Still, there it is – first up is King Of Hearts (1992) – which is a posthumous album produced from demos by Jeff Lynne, and very good it is too. Roy, who had a string of hits in the 60’s and a quieter 70s and 80s had a late career comeback with the Wilburys. This album is pretty good – Roy’s voice still sailing over superb melodies and with Jeff’s sympathetic arrangements it is a record to treasure. This record features a duet with k.d. lang (see L) on Crying, which they both had a hit with, but also ‘I Drove All night’, ‘Careless Heart’ and ‘Heartbreak Radio’. I also have a live recording of A Black And White Night (1989) a TV special including many famous friends, from Elvis Costello to Bruce Springsteen in the backing band, released shortly after he died. All the hits are here from ‘Only The Lonely’ to ‘Pretty Woman’ along with later songs like ‘The Comedians’. A superb record. Roy was very famous in the Sixties, but over the next three decades he faded from favour, only to be ‘rediscovered’ in the late 80s. Sadly, he died in 1988 – and I am beginning to realise that my collection is featuring more and more dead artists.
William Orbit – I must admit I know little of him except that he was a one
time producer of Madonna. He released
this unusual album; Pieces in A Modern Style in 1995; it was his first
foray into classical music, having previously been focused on dance and
electronica. The music is mostly
classical but played on electronic instruments.
It reminds me of early Tangerine Dream (see D) where the droning sound
slowly changes from note to note, although most of these pieces are a bit
faster and one or two veer into trip hop.
A very pleasant record.
Beth Orton – and English singer songwriter who sung much more like an American, not that that is a criticism at all. She came into prominence in the late 90s. First up is Trailer Park (1996) which was her second album. And pretty damned good it is, lovely mellow voice and the arrangement is clear and uncluttered but with nice beats to fit into the nineties sound. Best tracks are ‘She Calls Your Name’, ‘Sugar Boy’ and ‘Galaxy Of Emptiness’. Next was Central Reservation (1999) which for whatever reason I was slightly disappointed with; it just seemed that the songs weren’t as good – oh well. Just one of those reords that seem to pass you by un-noticed. Better was my third of hers 2002s Daybreaker. The sound seems better, a bit more varied – but hard to really distinguish the lyrics or the different songs – maybe it’s just me – getting old. I have not bothered to buy any more of her music – there just seem to be too many…
Joan Osborne – another American, slightly country singer-songwriter. I actually bought this album on the strength of a song sung on a Martyn Joseph (see M) album – ‘If God was One Of Us’, which I loved. The album that song was on by Joan was Relish, her first amd my only album of hers in 1995. I really like it and am asking myself why only the one album….who knows. A very accomplished and relaxed slightly raspy voice and a great collection of songs, best of which are the above mentioned and opener ‘St. Theresa’, but I also like her cover of Dylan’s ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’ (rare for a cover to be nearly as good as his original) and ‘Let’s Just get Naked’. A really good album.
Gilbert O’Sullivan – another very strange one. Gilbert (obviously not his real name) burst on the scene dressed like some orphaned waif from the thirties, flat cap and all. I didn’t think much of his image – but, boy could he sing and he wrote some incredible songs. An almost instant hit. And then after one brilliant album he changed. He went completely middle of the road and wrote and sung soppy ballads for the mum’s market. Oh Well. I still treasure that first album Himself (1971). It has a uniqueness, a lasting quality and despite a corniness at times some great melodies and lyrics. Favourites of course are ‘Nothing Rhymed’, ‘Matrimony’ and ‘If I Don’t Have You back Again’. But really, not a bad track on this brilliant debut album. After this Gilbert abandoned his thirties waif look and went so far into the middle of the road that you cold see the white line right down his middle.
Oasis – First off, I never liked
them – them; meaning the obnoxious brothers Gallagher. However, they made a great career by copying
the Beatles template and I gave in and bought their greatest hits Stop The
Clocks. Of course, the big ones are
here, but despite that I find the songs repetitive and a bit boring. Still, I do like ‘Some Might Say’, ‘Half the
World Away’ and ‘Don’t look Back in Anger’.
Sinead O’Connor – Well, what do
you say about this woman; a hauntingly beautiful voice, a quite deranged at
times public persona and a consistently intriguing songwriter and singer. In short – you never know what to expect next
with her. We start with her second
record; I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. (1990). A
mostly gentle album, the vocals plaintive and heartfelt, includes her biggest
hit; the prince song ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’.
But my favourites are ‘Three babies’ and ‘The Emperor’s New
Clothes’. This was the album which
really establish Sinead as a major star – this was before her occasional rants
and meltdowns. Next up is a covers album
from 1992 Am I Not Your Girl – this is a very ‘big band’ jazzy sound of
covers of songs she says she grew up with.
And very good it is too – I am not so sure the jazzy arrangement works
so well with her voice but it is a very listenable record. Sinead does a very good version of ‘Don’t Cry
For Me Argentina’ and I also like ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ and ‘Secret Love’. It was during the promotion of this album
that Sinead had a tirade against the Pope and the Catholic Church which almost
ruined her career, especially in America.
Her fourth, my third album was Universal
Mother (1994) which is probably my favourite of hers; her voice seems
better suited to these songs, varied as they are. There is politics in there with ‘Red
Football’ and a possibly, newly found interest in Rastafarian beliefs with
‘Fire On Babylon’. A song about Ireland
‘Famine’ – and her gentlest most beautiful song – ‘Thankyou For Hearing
Me.’ I sort-of stopped buying her
records for a while – but I did buy a double album (though it is the same songs
sung differently) – Theology – (2007).
The two versions – Dublin Acoustic and London Full Band is interesting,
but ultimately doesn’t justify a double CD; I think I prefer the full band
sessions. Best songs are hard to find as
this is a particularly monotonous album – nothing really stands out I am
Mike Oldfield – I can remember quite clearly buying his debut album in 1973 after reading a review in (I think) City Limits. It was Tubular Bells, by anunknown artist on a brand new label, Virgin – and it was totally instrumental -I loved it, as obviously did thousands of others as it was an immediate success. It became part of the soundtrack of the early Seventies, it was part progressive, part classical in approach – and famously it had the inimical vocal introduction of Viv Stanshall (see S) which added a touch of humour to the proceedings. Unlike anything before it or since (though Mike has released several other similar albums) it remains a monument to one person’s vision and instantly takes one back to those heady days in Music when anything was possible, and usually happened. I used to own on vinyl his 2 follow-up albums; Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn but have not bothered to get them on CD. His fourth album was Incantations (1978); I only acquired this much later and frankly it is fairly boring, it does nothing for me. I also bought a much later album Tubular Bells 3; the only reason to include this as a ‘Tubular Bells’ album was to increase sales, and actually to dupe people. I read the review in Uncut and realised that this was actually quite a varied album, lots of shorter tracks with only a passing resemblance on one or two songs to his earlier classic. It is more influenced by the dance music of the 90s than his earlier work. I find I quite a pleasant listen really – best tracks are – ‘Outcast’, ‘The Inner Child’ and ‘Moonwatch’. I also have a greatest hits Moonlight Shadow – which is a pretty good collection of mostly early tracks or excerpts.
Nobody’s Child (1990)– This is a charity album; George Harrison’s wife Olivia was from Romania and in the late 80’s there was a discovery of orphanages in terrible conditions. George phoned a few friends who donated some rarities for this album, and very good it is too. The Wilburys recorded the title track – a Hank Snow song, and George put on a duet with Paul Simon of ‘Homeward Bound’ live. Other notable tracks are ‘Wonderful Remark’ by Van Morrison, ‘This Week’ by Dave Stewart and ‘Goodnight Little One’ by Rick Ocasek of the Cars. A very nice selection of music.
NottingHillBillies This was a group
put together by Mark Knopfler and Brendan Croker and a few others for a one-off
album Missing, Presumed Having A Good Time. A really great little record – makes you
wonder why they only made the one album; it is a delightful marriage of soft
rock and folk. Best are ‘Railroad
Worksong’, ‘Your Own Sweet Way’ and best of all ‘Will You Miss Me’. Pity they
only made the one record.
Heather Nova – another you
may not have heard of….she is a singer songwriter of the 90’s and beyond. I am not sure why I bought her; I think I saw
2 or 3 of her albums in charity shops and was intrigued. I am always on the lookout for new singers
and her voice has a hypnotic quality, although I lose myself in her voice and
don’t notice the words. Anyway I have
four of her albums. Her debut was Glow
Stars (1990); a quite mature sound for a new artist, as if she had been
making records for ages. Her voice
floats over a gentle backing and before you know it the record is over. Best songs are the title track, ‘Spirit In
You’ and ‘Second Skin’. The following
years follow-up Oyster seems a bit more conventional, at least in the
instrumentation; still a very nice album with her superb vocals. Best songs ‘Walk This World’, ‘Maybe an
Angel’ and ‘Truth and Bone’. Her next
was Siren (1998) – possibly my favourite of hers; best are ‘London
Rain’, ‘I’m The Girl’ and ‘Winterblue’.
My last of hers is a live album Wonderlust (2000) – where the
songs are expanded and developed better.
I particularly like ‘Heart and Shoulder’ and ‘Doubled Up’.
Laura Nyro – was a singer both ahead of her time and out of time altogether. A New Yorker of Russian and Jewish parents she had a troubled childhood and and an even more complicated adult life. She was ahead of her time in being a singer songwriter of extraordinary ability in the Sixties, whereas Joni and Carol King and Carly Simon rode the wave in the early Seventies. Her music is quite undefinable, influenced by soul and jazz and with mostly sad lyrics she was briefly popular in the late sixties but did not capitalise on it. She almost shunned fame but her records influenced many later artists including Elton John. We start with her first album proper (actually her second but who is counting) Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (1968). Not a bad record, but you have to get used to Laura’s swooping vocals and jazzy arrangements – best songs are ‘Eli’s Comin’ and ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’. Next she released New York Tendaberry (1969) which was a bit more of a conventional sound and sold better. Best are the title track and ‘Time and Love’ but not my fave of hers. Christmas and The Beads Of Sweat followed in 1970 (yes, everyone was releasing an album at least every year back then). This was a bit more commercial with a couple of minor hits – ‘When I Was A Freeport And You Were A Main Drag’, and ‘Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp’. Best of her albums released was a surprising departure; almost all the tracks were already famous and by others, mostly Motown or Carole King. She also shared credits on the album with a vocal group Labelle. The result – Gonna Take A Miracle – was a tour de force and easily her best record. She sings Motown like a black woman, with real soul. Favourite songs are ‘Met Him On A Sunday’, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ and ‘Nowhere To Run’…a great album. The last studio album I have of hers is Smile, which was a bit of an attempt to relaunch her; without much success. The record seems to lack focus and is not really typical of her. She influenced many artists but real fame eluded her. She died in the 90s, far too early. I also have a greatest hits Time and Love which is a good place to start and to end, best songs are ‘Wedding Day Blues’, ‘Goodbye Joe’ and by fart her best song ‘Stoney End’ – which was a hit for Barbara Streisand.
Nickleback – A good piece
of advice – never buy an album on the basis of hearing one single. Silverside
Up contained one excellent single ‘How You Remind Me’…and 9 pretty poor
shouty songs….oh well.
Harry Nilsson – A superb singer and a flawed personality who hardly ever appeared live but recorded some brilliant songs and albums. We start with for me a rarity, a download (because it is almost unavailable on CD) Spotlight on Nilsson (1966). Quite a poor debut actually, which I have sought out with little luck. Still, it is part of his legacy. It is a compilation of his first 4 singles on Tower records – which all sold poorly, and 2 new tracks. Nothing of any real note. He then got picked up by RCA, the label he stayed with for most of his career…they must have had a lot of patience, I think. His first album proper was 1967’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. Not at all bad, some good songs, a couple of Beatles covers and a great version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. My favourites are ‘1941’, ‘Sleep Late My Lady Friend’ and best of all ‘Without Her’. A nice if now dated sounding record. A little better was his follow up 1968’s Aerial Ballet. The songs are better and the record seems to flow smoother, best are ‘My Good Old Desk’, ‘Little Cowboy’ and of course his breakthrough song ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (written by Fred Neil but featured in the film Midnight Cowboy). He later, on the back of more success released these first two albums on a single record…Pandemonium Aerial Ballet; nothing new but a couple were remixed. 1968 was a busy year – Harry was asked to write and perform some songs for a Hollywood film Skidoo (he actually had a bit part in it too). Nilsson sings about half the album, filled out by music from the film. A bit of a strange record really. I love ‘The Cast and Crew’ where he sings all the credits of the actors and crew. The film itself is unseen but sounds a bit daft. Anyway, a couple of other songs of note are ‘The Cast and Crew’ where Nilsson sings the film credits, and ‘I Will Take You There’. This album is strictly for completists like me. His next album proper was Harry (1969). A better album than the first two, the songs are cleverer and quite catchy and again he remains unclassifiable – it definitely isn’t Rock or Pop or even Middle of The Road – it is simply individual. Best songs; ‘Marching Down Broadway’, ‘The Puppy Song’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles. A delightful record. Then came a rare diversion – a whole album of someone else’s songs – Nilsson Sings Newman (1970) where Harry devotes a whole album to the superb songs of Randy Newman (see N). Now I hadn’t heard of Randy when I bought this record and Harry turned me on to him. Another brilliant songwriter brought to a new dimension by the perfect singing of Harry, or rather lots of Harrys. Nilsson overdubbed his own voice to create multi-harmonies, a technique he would employ on later records too. The result is something quite exquisite. Of course, the album bombed. But I loved it, all the songs are great, if I have to pick three, they would be – ‘Love Story’, ‘I’ll Be Home’ and ‘Living Without You’. The Point – Now, here is a strange one, and actually a real gem. Nilsson wrote and narrated a rather silly child’s story and interspersed with some sumptuously gorgeous songs. This has long been a favourite, I used to play it for my son. The LP came with a booklet with cartoons of the story. Best songs are probably – ‘Poli High’, ‘Think About Your Troubles’ and ‘Life Line’. But the best was yet to come – the same year; 1971 – he released his first Masterpiece, called stupidly Nilsson Schmilsson. Almost every song is a winner, it includes the number 1 hit ‘Without You’, written by 2 members of Badfinger. It was Harry’s first real ‘rock’ album and a great commercial success. Again, hard to choose favourite tracks but ‘Early In The Morning’, ‘Jump Into the Fire’ and ‘I’ll Never Leave You’ are simply sublime. Harry’s voice was stacked into a choir on some songs; he also had a joke song ‘Coconut’ on the record which almosty spoiled it – but not quite. But then, as so often with Harry he went too far with his follow-up – 1972s Son Of Schmilsson; possibly his worst album – weird and almost treated as a throwaway it feels. Okay, the production and singing and backing are good – but the songs are either stupid or worse – crass. Oh well….but Harry has always surprised us and the following year he produced Masterpiece number two – A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night. This was a gorgeously arranged and recorded full orchestra re-reading of many timeless classics form the forties and fifties. Not a poor choice amongst them – I knew many but now love them all. Harry’s voice seems perfectly attuned to these old and often slower songs, though some also swing. My favourites are ‘For Me and My Gal’, ‘Makin Whoopee’ and ‘As Time Goes By’. This was later reissued along with a few tracks that didn’t make the initial release as ‘As Time Goes By’. In 1974 busy boy Harry released a soundtrack to a film starring himself and Ringo (who also produced the film) and a few other rock players. Apparently, it was a huge mess and a flop; very amateurish. It did feature a handful of Nilsson songs along with incidental music. A pity as the cast of musicians on the soundtrack reads like a who’s who of the gliterratti rock world at the time. The film is called Son OF Dracula – and the soundtrack is pretty unavailable…and I don’t have it. But, also that year he did release a solo album Pussy Cats which was produced by John Lennon. But really the recordings should have been postponed as Harry’s voice was pretty shot – too much drinking and partying. Still the album is sort of okay, half covers and half Nilsson originals and a stellar cast of musicians. Best are ‘Old Forgotten Soldier’ and ‘Don’t Forget Me’. Much better was his next, the self-produced Duit et Mon Dei – also 1974. In fact, it is almost a return to form, but one or two songs are poor. The album is rescued by the beautiful ‘Salmon Falls’ and ‘Down By The Sea’ – ‘What’s Your Sign’ and ‘Home’ are not bad either. Then came Sandman (1976) which was a so-so record. ‘Could do better’ would be on his report card. Only opener ‘I’ll Take A Tango’ really stands out for me. Later the same year though came a better record – That’s The Way ItIs. Especially the track ‘That Is All’ an underrated effort by George Harrison which Harry sings beautifully, one of his best interpretations. Also good are ‘Moon shine Bandit’ and Randy Newman’s ‘Sail Away’ – a lot of covers again but not a bad album. Harry made one last album for RCA – Knilsson in ’77 – and maybe he saved the best for last. It is a wonderful record and my favourite of his, but Harry’s luck ran out and the album was poorly promoted and sold weakly, which is such a pity as it was so good. From the first song ‘All I Think About Is You’ to closer ‘Perfect Day’ Harry doesn’t put a foot wrong. Hard to choose but if I have to – ‘Old Bones’ and ‘Laughin Man’ are especially good. The album also has maybe the worst cover picture ever too. Anyway, that was really the end of his career. He released an album in 1980 called Flash harry which sunk without a trace and is very hard to find now. And a posthumous one Losst and Found released recently. I also have one of many compilations Everybody’s Talkin which is lovely. A brilliant voice, an inventive songwriter, a drunk and a difficult man….ultimately a wasted talent, he died in 1994 aged just 53.