My Record Collection 155

Joni – Miscellaneous   Joni released a greatest hits album simply called HITS in 1996.  A great collection – mostly early years – with only one new song ‘Urge For Going’ which she had recorded but left off Blue back in 1971.  Better, in my opinion was the companion album Misses, released the same day, which was a collection of her personal favourite songs from her whole career.  This is a wonderful record, mostly later songs which may have been missed or undervalued.  It has a consistency which ‘Hits’ lacks, a mood maintained throughout.  I love it, a very nice listen on a rainy day.  The Seeding Of Summer Lawns is a bootleg of demos which Joni made for several middle period albums.  This was before the jazz affectations and arrangements were added.  There is a simplicity and honesty about the songs in this ‘raw’ and yet very accomplished state, and a cohesion to the feel of them.  I especially like ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Shades Of Scarlet Conquering’.  Joni Mitchell Remixed – is another bootleg, this time faster beats and rhythms are added to a few of her songs – too many versions of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ but overall a nice addition to the collection.  I also have a triple album of live concerts under the Transmission Impossible label.  These must have been originally broadcast on radio and have now gone past copyright.  Pretty cool really – disc 1 is from ’66 to ’70. (not really my favourite period) a few unrecorded songs but none of which grabbed me as up to her later standard.  Better was disc 2, an early 80s concert to promote Wild Things, I think.   Anyway a very nice concert; Joni had by now adopted a more ‘commercial’ sound, more traditional guitar and piano led songs rather than the jazzy 2 official live records – and better for it too.  I especially like ‘Coyote’ and ‘Don’t interrupt The Sorrow’ – but actually it is all good.  Disc 3 is I think from the early 90’s and was promoting ‘Turbulent Indigo’.  Joni was particularly talkative on this concert giving some back ground to songs like ‘Cherokee Louise’.  I also like ‘Night Ride Home’ and ‘Yvette in English’; somehow, she manages to sound jazz-inflected with just her guitar.  She had certainly come a long way from her early high-pitched folky songs.  Last but not least is actually a Herbie Hancock jazz album – River, The Joni Letters (2007).  Ten songs, eight of which were written by Joni.  She sings on ‘The Tea Leaf Prophecy’ and several guest singers including Leonard Cohen on ‘The Jungle Line’ and Tina Turner on ‘Edith and The Kingpin’.  Herbie is a renowned jazz artist and has played on several of Joni’s later albums.  This is a very jazz oriented record, interpretations of some of Joni’s songs.  But really quite enjoyable and a different take on one of my very favourite artists.  Joni has retired form making music several years ago, and suffered a brain aneurism a few years ago, but seems to be recovering quite well and still paints.  In fact, she has often said that really she was a painter first and foremost; indeed in later years she treated her songs like painting in sound.  An incredible artist in all senses of the word who changed the musical landscape by allowing women to be taken seriously and opening up her music to include feelings in a sometimes quite brutal way.  I am sad to be saying goodbye to her (just for a while).

James Taylor hints that Joni Mitchell is "coming back ...

My Record Collection 154

Joni Mitchell – The Later Years

Joni changed direction, quite suddenly in my opinion, in the Eighties.  She also changed record company and boyfriend – Larry Klein (another bass player) also became her producer.  And all to the detriment of her great talent.  Not that the records were poor – by anyone else’s standards they were fine – but this was Joni of Blue and Court and Spark.  Anyway, I continued buying her records, hoping for a return to her earlier style – but the curse of the Eighties affected her, like it did so many other.  Her first ‘new’ album was Wild Things Run Free (1982) and it was a great disappointment.   Joni seemed to be trying too hard to be relevant and modern and ‘rock and roll’, even including a (not too bad) version of the old standard ‘You’re So Square’  Best are opener ‘Chinese Café’ and ‘Underneath the Streetlamp’ – but really even these would be the poorest on er earlier records.  Better was Dog Eat Dog (1985) – where she enlisted Thomas Dolby (see D) to add new sounds and dubbing to her voice.  The results are a bit mixed to be hones, but this is also by far Joni’s most political album, and I like it for that as much as the sound which almost grates at times.  Best songs are ‘Fiction’, ‘Impossible Dreamer’ and ‘best of all ‘The Three Great Stimulants’ (one of the few that would deserve to be on a Greatest Hits album).  Chalk Marks In A Rainstorm (1988) was another disappointment; a mediocre attempt spoiled by her attempts at duets with Peter Gabriel and Willy Nelson among others.  It just didn’t work for me.   The album is only redeemed by a couple of tracks where her voice predominates and something like her signature sound emerges – ‘Cool Water’ and ‘The Beat Of Black Wings’.  Overall, the sound is too smooth, too laidback, almost too middle of the road for me. Oh Well.  I was beginning to lose faith in my Joni but gave her one last try.  Night Ride Home came out in 1991, a darker sounding record – after almost a decade of attempting to sound cool Joni made a fairly simple album led mostly by her guitar and voice – the jazzy arrangements subtle and down in the mix allowing Joni herself to return.  But of course, it was the songs which were better too; you could hear and remember the words and you felt they meant something.   At last, a return to normality.  Best are ‘Cherokee Louise’, ‘Come In From The Cold’ and the title track.   3 years later and the quality was there again in Turbulent Indigo – an album with a cover painting of Joni with a bandaged ear based on a self-portrait by Van Gogh.  Almost every song is great and approaching her mid 70’s brilliance.  The voice is darker and deeper and her guitar playing dominates as she angrily condemns the current obsession with Sex in Capitalism in ‘Sex Kills’.  She sings of the terrible injustices of the Catholic Church in possibly the best song on the album ‘The Magdalene Laundries’ and ‘Borderline’ evinces both her and Van Gogh’s borderline mental issues, especially around their creativity.  I also like ‘Yvette in English’ – a song she wrote with her old lover from the 60’s, David Crosby (see C).  The final song ‘The Sire Of Sorrow’ is subtitled Jobs Sad Song and is hauntingly beautiful and sad.  In fact, sadness permeates the record’ a world weariness, a mature looking at the world which I find I share too.  1998 saw the release of Taming The Tiger, which for a while seemed to be her last album of original songs (wrong, as it turned out) not quite as good as its two predecessors but quite a good record all the same.  The songs though seem a bit rambling and without much focus.  Best are ‘Love Puts On A new Face’ and ‘The Crazy Cries Of Love’. Not that Joni was finished – but she decided to record an album of love songs, most by older writers (except her own ‘A Case Of You’ and the title track).  Sung with a jazz-inflected orchestra, Both Sides Now (2000) is a sumptuous journey through the stages of a love affair from first sight, infatuation to disillusionment.  I really like it and Joni does the older songs really well.   Best are ’Come Love’ and ‘Stormy Weather.  She followed this with a double retrospective Travelogue– re-recording many of her songs with the same jazzy orchestral arrangements.  Although a pleasant album I tend to prefer the original recordings, which may simply be familiarity – though ‘Man Is The Sire Of Constant Sorrow’ is spectacularly good.  The last album by Joni was ‘Shine’ (2007).  And so far, I haven’t really taken to it.  It is sparse and piano-led,  but it is the songs I cannot really relate to – don’t know why, but her old albums are like old friends and this just doesn’t seem to fit.  Her voice sounds tired and there is a lack of enthusiasm there.  But there you go…..  

Turbulent Indigo - Joni Mitchell mp3 buy, full tracklist

My Record Collection 153

Joni Mitchell -the middle years.  – Joni took her time over her sixth album, maybe feeling slightly rushed in the recent past; it was absolutely normal to write, record and tour a new album every year – but by the mid-Seventies artists were beginning to demand more time to work on their albums.  She recruited Henry Lewy as her engineer, and in reality, co-producer and a host of session musicians including Tom Scott – a jazz instrumentalist.  And the whole album is the epitome of smooth L.A. jazzy rock.  Leaving behind much of her guitar and piano led arrangements for a subtler softer sound the album has a feeling of just rolling from superb song to wonderful song, each complimenting each other – and almost the same rhythm and pace almost to the end.  Hard to pick a favourite but the singles ‘Raised On Robbery’ and ‘Help Me’ are simply sublime – so too is ‘Free man In Paris’, the title track and ‘Just like This Train’.  No more, as far we can tell honest heartbroken songs or pining for lovers – but the songs, though sometimes slightly mysterious lyrics have sumptuous melodies that carry them through.  This was three almost masterpieces in a row.   Joni took the album out on tour but this time rather than performing solo she took Tom Scott’s band L.A. Express with her.  The resulting album was mostly earlier songs rearranged in a more jazzy and far too fast style – Miles of Aisles   1974 was another success, possibly introducing many of her earlier songs to a new post Court and Spark audience.  Not my favourite album really, as I almost prefer the original versions – for me the songs are all speeded up and lose their subtlety and charm.  Two new songs ‘Jericho’, which she would later record again in the studio and ‘Love Or Money’ – neither of which at the time really grabbed me.  However, the album sold well – but I couldn’t wait for the next studio album which came out in late 1975, almost 22 months after Court and Spark. The Hissing of Summer Lawns – refers to the sprinklers in suburban gardens in L.A.   I remember when this album first came out – and I loved it.  It is more experimental; ‘The Jungle Line’ combines Burundi drumming and mixes images of Rousseau and Joni’s haunting voice – and it works.  There is an almost acapella ending ‘Shadows and Light’ which also works well.  There is a quite radio-friendly single ‘In France They Kiss On Main Street’; and some of my favourite songs – ‘Shades of Scarlett Conquering’ (a study of Scarlett O’Hara and romance’, and ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow’.  In my mind she barely put a foot wrong – but the critics were sharpening their knives – well, punk was just rearing its ugly head and all these ‘oldies’ were fair game.  I suppose everyone just wanted another Bule or Court and Spark, but that was never Joni’s way; just like Dylan and Neil Young and Bowie she was always searching and following her muse wherever it would lead her.   She spent much of late ’75 and ’76 travelling across America and wrote songs reflecting this for her next album Hejira 1976.   Joni has always been influenced by her lovers and bass players, who were often the same.  She started an affair with jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius and he influenced Hejira to a great extent, taking her to some dark shades and sumptuous rippling bass lines.  The songs are often rambling with no real choruses and yet they cast a spell over the whole proceedings.  Best are ‘Coyote’ and ‘Amelia’, but I also love ‘Refuge Of The Roads’ and ‘Song For Sharon’.  Joni was now in the fortunate place where only few artists exist; being completely free to record whatever she wanted regardless of the demands of the record company.  And she pushed this envelope to almost breaking point in the late Seventies, leaving behind quite a few fans on the way – but she always regarded herself as a painter and followed her muse wherever it took her.  The following year she indulged herself with a double album which many critics thought could have been condensed into a single record losing in particular ‘The Tenth World’, a sort of drum-based chant.  Maybe….maybe not.  For a long time Joni refused to let this be available on CD so maybe she shared some of their views.  However, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is possibly my favourite of her mid-term albums.  Anyway  – impossible to choose a best track…from the opening base runs on the intro to ‘Cotton Avenue’ to the Jazzy reflections and drawn out vocals on ‘The Silky Veils Of Ardour’ Joni doesn’t put a foot wrong (except for Tenth World – undoubtedly a misunderstood track).  I especially like the mostly instrumental ‘Paprika Plains’ and the wonderful title track, not forgetting ‘Dreamland’ (Black babies covered in baking flour, the cooks got a Carnival song)….Ah, I could listen to this album all day long and never tire of it.  Her last album down the jazz-infused road is Mingus (1979) – Most fans even find this a hard album to love, she has gone right off the Richter scale with her homage to and playing with Charlie Mingus.  A strange mixture of rapping (that is talking) and very weird lyrics, none of which make much sense.  But repeated playing has made me like some of it – ‘God Must Be A Boogie Man’ recorded after his death has a naïve charm, and ‘The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines’ is passable – otherwise it is an experimental and deeply divisive album.  Joni never repeated the experiment as fans and critics alike mauled it.  We finish this middle section with another live album Shadows and Light (1980).    Again, a very jazzy effort but more listenable than her previous one. No new songs but quite a pleasant though hardly essential addition to the collection.  She does do a short version of the old rock’n’roll standard ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ which gave some clue to her next direction.  Having gone as far as she could with Jazz she moved back to the centre. 

Joshua Thomas to play Joni Mitchell Tribute 8/1 | PhillyVoice

My Record Collection 152

Joni Mitchell (The beginnings)– one of the very greats.  I remember seeing her on a Sight and Sound concert on BBC2 singing mostly songs from Blue; her first Masterpiece.  I bought it and slowly worked my way back to her first 3 albums.  Her debut was Song To A Seagull (1968) – and really I cannot see much evidence of the greatness that was to come.  The songs seem almost twee – very much in the folk mode, and her voice is so high it is almost shrill at times.  I quite like the title song and ‘Night in The City’ – but I almost cannot listen to the rest.  Apparently, it was produced by David Crosby and has lately been remastered and sounds much better.  However – I have no wish to buy it again and be inevitably disappointed all over again.  Coincidentally Dylan’s debut I also disliked – so what do I know?  The following year and a much better effort – Clouds – came out.  The voice is a bit more varied, less shrill and I have always loved her deeper notes.  The songs seem more interesting too – better melodies and sumptuous guitar strumming.  This record sold much better, partly on the back of the single ‘Both Sides Now’ with its unforgettable words.  I also like ‘Chelsea Morning’, ‘Gallery’ and ‘Songs to Ageing Children Come’.  But almost all the songs are interesting and varied.  She was beginning by now to get into her stride, stepping out of her folk style and into one of her very own.  Several artists had begun to record her songs too and she was unashamed of her quite personal and emotional lyrics.  She was beginning to write pure poetry, just like Dylan had before her and Leonard Cohen was just arriving on the scene.   Ladies Of The Canyon followed in 1970 and was pretty damn good, in fact I really like this album.  In fact, quite a few ‘slowburn’ artists’ albums preceding the ‘Big One’ are usually pretty excellent.  And this is no exception.  Joni was almost famous, starting to fill larger venues and just on the cusp of Worldwide Acclaim.  The template of simple acoustic guitar and piano was expanding to include jazzier elements and the songs were stretching out into Joni’s signature sound.  One of the defining elements of greatness is that the listener instantly recognises the voice; and not just the tone, but the emphasising, the phrasing, the breathing almost.  Joni, in a later interview, called it your ‘Auk’ – that distinctive thing about voices that means we just ‘know’ it is Joni or Dylan or whoever as soon as a new song is heard.  Almost every song on ladies is very good.  If I have to choose, it would be ‘Woodstock’, ‘For Free’ and of course ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (her first big hit) – not forgetting a much earlier written song now committed to record – ‘The Circle Game’.  But of course, in many ways Joni was only just beginning.  She was still something of an ingenue, a beginner, unsure of just how far she would travel in her search for perfection. We were soon to discover exactly how incredible an artist, a poet, a musician and a singer she would become. But before we get to Blue, her first and maybe most enduring masterpiece we have a rare little album of a live performance from 1970 called Amchitka.  She had agreed to play a concert on behalf of early Greenpeace in Northern Canada.  I am not sure if Blue had been released yet but she sung a few songs from that and some earlier ones too.  Best was a duet with James Taylor (see T) where she segued ‘Carey’ and ‘Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.  In later years she would criticise Bob, but she sung his song and joined him on The Rolling Thunder Review in ’75.   Then we come to her Masterpiece – Blue. From the superb dark blue photo on the cover the mood is set for a great batch of some of her best songs.  In the latest Rolling Stone top 100 albums of all time, Blue is at number 3.  The album keeps growing in popularity and fame, and even now – though I know every note and word off by heart – the album still sounds fresh and bright and NEW.  Every song is just right, they follow each other, one after the other as if Joni is writing a daily diary, one day happy ‘My Old Man’ ‘Carey’ and then sad and devastated ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ and ‘Blue’; songs of love ‘A Case Of You’ and ‘River’ and songs of personal loss ‘Little Green’ (about the child she gave up for adoption, and ‘This Flight Tonight’.  Her playing, guitar, piano and Appalachian Zither, and oh, that voice – now maturing and slightly deeper are magnificent.  But the whole feel of the album is of an open and wounded and sometimes elated heart….and honesty.  There is absolutely no artifice here at all.  Similar in it’s way to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which would follow a couple of years later – and is likewise (possibly) my favourite album of all time.  I could happily listen to Joni and Bob and Leonard all day without tiring at all.  And Blue is just 10 songs – less than 40 minutes of perfection.   She followed this a year later with another brilliant album For The Roses.  And though brilliant it didn’t sound quite as wonderful as Blue, which was such a hard act to follow.  For my ears the songs don’t quite flow so well, and just a touch too much heavy piano songs.  However, having said that it is very hard to find any fault with the album.  Not a poor song, and some are slightly angrier or seem do to me.  I particularly like the hit single ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’, which she apparently wrote because the record company said they wanted a hit. But I also love ‘lesson in Survival’ and ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’ – which was apparently written about her then lover James Taylor’s heroin addiction.  Another great record really – but Joni had not reached her peak at all.   

141: Joni Mitchell, ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ | Jeff ...

ngs)– one of the very greats.  I remember seeing her on a Sight and Sound concert on BBC2 singing mostly songs from Blue; her first Masterpiece.  I bought it and slowly worked my way back to her first 3 albums.  Her debut was Song To A Seagull (1968) – and really I cannot see much evidence of the greatness that was to come.  The songs seem almost twee – very much in the folk mode, and her voice is so high it is almost shrill at times.  I quite like the title song and ‘Night in The City’ – but I almost cannot listen to the rest.  Apparently, it was produced by David Crosby and has lately been remastered and sounds much better.  However – I have no wish to buy it again and be inevitably disappointed all over again.  Coincidentally Dylan’s debut I also disliked – so what do I know?  The following year and a much better effort – Clouds – came out.  The voice is a bit more varied, less shrill and I have always loved her deeper notes.  The songs seem more interesting too – better melodies and sumptuous guitar strumming.  This record sold much better, partly on the back of the single ‘Both Sides Now’ with its unforgettable words.  I also like ‘Chelsea Morning’, ‘Gallery’ and ‘Songs to Ageing Children Come’.  But almost all the songs are interesting and varied.  She was beginning by now to get into her stride, stepping out of her folk style and into one of her very own.  Several artists had begun to record her songs too and she was unashamed of her quite personal and emotional lyrics.  She was beginning to write pure poetry, just like Dylan had before her and Leonard Cohen was just arriving on the scene.   Ladies Of The Canyon followed in 1970 and was pretty damn good, in fact I really like this album.  In fact, quite a few ‘slowburn’ artists’ albums preceding the ‘Big One’ are usually pretty excellent.  And this is no exception.  Joni was almost famous, starting to fill larger venues and just on the cusp of Worldwide Acclaim.  The template of simple acoustic guitar and piano was expanding to include jazzier elements and the songs were stretching out into Joni’s signature sound.  One of the defining elements of greatness is that the listener instantly recognises the voice; and not just the tone, but the emphasising, the phrasing, the breathing almost.  Joni, in a later interview, called it your ‘Auk’ – that distinctive thing about voices that means we just ‘know’ it is Joni or Dylan or whoever as soon as a new song is heard.  Almost every song on ladies is very good.  If I have to choose, it would be ‘Woodstock’, ‘For Free’ and of course ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (her first big hit) – not forgetting a much earlier written song now committed to record – ‘The Circle Game’.  But of course, in many ways Joni was only just beginning.  She was still something of an ingenue, a beginner, unsure of just how far she would travel in her search for perfection. We were soon to discover exactly how incredible an artist, a poet, a musician and a singer she would become. But before we get to Blue, her first and maybe most enduring masterpiece we have a rare little album of a live performance from 1970 called Amchitka.  She had agreed to play a concert on behalf of early Greenpeace in Northern Canada.  I am not sure if Blue had been released yet but she sung a few songs from that and some earlier ones too.  Best was a duet with James Taylor (see T) where she segued ‘Carey’ and ‘Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.  In later years she would criticise Bob, but she sung his song and joined him on The Rolling Thunder Review in ’75.   Then we come to her Masterpiece – Blue. From the superb dark blue photo on the cover the mood is set for a great batch of some of her best songs.  In the latest Rolling Stone top 100 albums of all time, Blue is at number 3.  The album keeps growing in popularity and fame, and even now – though I know every note and word off by heart – the album still sounds fresh and bright and NEW.  Every song is just right, they follow each other, one after the other as if Joni is writing a daily diary, one day happy ‘My Old Man’ ‘Carey’ and then sad and devastated ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ and ‘Blue’; songs of love ‘A Case Of You’ and ‘River’ and songs of personal loss ‘Little Green’ (about the child she gave up for adoption, and ‘This Flight Tonight’.  Her playing, guitar, piano and Appalachian Zither, and oh, that voice – now maturing and slightly deeper are magnificent.  But the whole feel of the album is of an open and wounded and sometimes elated heart….and honesty.  There is absolutely no artifice here at all.  Similar in it’s way to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which would follow a couple of years later – and is likewise (possibly) my favourite album of all time.  I could happily listen to Joni and Bob and Leonard all day without tiring at all.  And Blue is just 10 songs – less than 40 minutes of perfection.   She followed this a year later with another brilliant album For The Roses.  And though brilliant it didn’t sound quite as wonderful as Blue, which was such a hard act to follow.  For my ears the songs don’t quite flow so well, and just a touch too much heavy piano songs.  However, having said that it is very hard to find any fault with the album.  Not a poor song, and some are slightly angrier or seem do to me.  I particularly like the hit single ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’, which she apparently wrote because the record company said they wanted a hit. But I also love ‘lesson in Survival’ and ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’ – which was apparently written about her then lover James Taylor’s heroin addiction.  Another great record really – but Joni had not reached her peak at all.   

My Record Collection 151

Tom McRae – a Suffolk born singer-songwriter of this Century no less; Who says I only like artists from the Sixties and Seventies?   He came to prominence at the turn of the Millenium, when he was feted to become the new Dylan etc:, like so many others before.  But Dylan he ‘ain’t; not that he isn’t very good – he just isn’t changing the world as Bob did.  His debut album Tom McRae came out in 2000 – and was very good, but somehow not even there.  His voice is subtle and quiet and occasionally soaring and the tunes are okay and yet somehow you don’t even hear them at all.  The record starts and then it is over and you don’t remember a damn thing.  I liked ‘The Boy With the Bubble Gun’ and ‘You Cut Her Hair’ but I cannot tell you what they were about.  His third All Maps Welcome is similar if a bit livelier in places.  Okay, a bit like Elbow and Coldplay at times and an influence of Ed Sheeran too.  But honestly nothing really stays in the brain after it ends.  Best are ‘The Girl Who Falls Downstairs’ and ‘Packing For The Crash’.  But I gave up on him after this.

Meatloaf – in spite of the ridiculous name, he was an exceptional, almost operatic singer. He came to fame with the superb album Bat out Of Hell – which I remember being first heard on The Old grey Whistle Test in 1977.  Along with half the world I loved it and bought the album and played it to death.  Still the best driving record ever.  Every song a winner – written by Jim Steinman and produced by Todd Rundgren – it could hardly fail.  It was a phenomenon which Meatloaf failed to eclipse or even approach again, despite linking up again with Steinman.  I only have the original on CD, and there have been several Greatest Hits and version of this – the original stands supreme and unimprovable.  Hard to pick a favourite, but maybe ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’ just edges it.  Only the one album – and really that is all you need.

Katie Mehlua – Another smooth, almost cabaret, singer from America – though Katie does come originally from Georgia.  A silky yet strong voice and a good choice of songs, some self-written, some old favourites.  First up is Call Off The Search (2004), and a pretty good debut album really.  I particularly like her version of ‘Lilac Wine’ and the big hit ‘Closest Thing To Crazy’.  The whole album is a pleasure to listen to, but nothing at all new, either in style or arrangement – in fact sometimes hard to notice when one song ends and the next begins.  Also good is Randy Newman’s ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’.  Her second album Piece by Piece is exactly the same template; and almost as good.    I like ‘Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing’ and ‘Halfway up The Hindu Kush’ – if only for the strange lyrics.  Is it me, or is it just my familiarity with the older songs – but this stuff just doesn’t excite me.  It is good – no doubt, but is good good enough?  Not really, I am afraid.

Mercury Rev – another album that was hailed as genius and turned out to be just so-so.  Well maybe a bit better than so-so, but not in the genius league by any means. An okay listen I suppose – best songs being ‘Holes’ and ‘Endlessly’.  I don’t think they have really been heard of since….

Mike and the Mechanics – Mike Rutherford, originally base player and later lead guitarist with Genesis, possibly bored with the semi-retirement of Genesis, started this band, solely I think for recording a few of his songs.  A sort of supergroup of session musicians and featuring Paul carrack on vocals.  The line-up tended to change with each album.  I’m not sure if they ever toured.  Mike had had a couple of solo albums out earlier (see R) but the songs for this band were very commercial and sold well as singles and albums.  I only have two albums, the first is The Living Years (1988).  A very pleasant, almost soft rock album; very easy listening as most of the songs sound as if you have heard them years ago.  Best tracks are the title track, ‘Nobody’s perfect’ and ‘Why Me’.  I also have Beggar on a Beach of Gold (1995).  Possibly even better than Living years.  Fave songs are hard to choose as it is all good – possibly ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ and ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’.  A very enjoyable album – but ultimately, I was always searching for something new, something bright, something different – so that was enough of Mike and his mechanics.

Steve Miller Band – a Seventies and Eighties American rock band, pretty good – I have Greatest Hits – but apart from the excellent ‘Joker’ and ‘ Abracadabra’ not that exciting.  Still nice to have in the collection.

Portrait of singer Meat Loaf, 1987. News Photo - Getty Images

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