My Record Collection 183

Bruce Springsteen – I was never that great a Bruce fan.  Firstly, I somehow missed out on the first couple of his albums and only caught up in the Eighties.  My main gripe was that critics were calling him the New Dylan…as if.  And just as when a new band are proclaimed as the new Beatles it just raises my hackles, I am afraid.  Also, calling him The Boss was more than annoying.  Still – there is no doubting his place in the pantheon of 20th Century rock (somewhere in the mid twenties – possibly).  I first really loved him with Born In The USA, a classic rock anthem if ever there was one, and the single ‘Dancing In The Dark’.  I worked back a few (but not all the way) albums.  First of which was the double The River (1980); a double album chock full of pretty good, and what would remain, classic Springsteen songs of working-class life and struggles of love and loss – universal, and some great melodies.  The album was originally planned as a single record ‘The Ties That Bind’ – but Bruce was writing incessantly and the band returned to the studio recording almost 50 songs in total.  8 more were added as a second disc.  So, the River (part 1) starts with ‘The Ties That Bind’, and gets better as it progresses….best songs are ‘Sherry Darling’, ‘Hungry Heart’ and ‘Independence Day’ but I also love closer – ‘The River’.  In some ways this might have worked better as just this album.  Disc 2 – is almost better than the first.  The trouble with double albums is that they are sometimes just too much to take in at one time.  And in the days of vinyl it often happened that side one of disc one was played relentlessly and the second disc not so well played.  Best songs are hard to pick but I do love ‘Stolen Car’, Drove All Night’ and ‘ Wreck On The Highway’.  1982 saw Bruce present a completely different album.  He had recorded demos for the E Street band to record but decided to simply release the songs as they were; very acoustic and moody  – the resulting album Nebraska is one of his best, so a wise decision.  A gorgeous quiet heartfelt album – where the songs are given room to breathe.  Best songs are again hard to pick but ‘Atlantic City’, ‘State Trooper’ and ‘Johnny 99’ stand out as exceptional.   Then in 1984 came the real breakthrough album Born In The USA – a standout and quite commercial album which broke Bruce to a much wider audience, not least because of the great video to the single ‘Dancing In The Dark’.  The album is chock full of brilliant songs not least of which are ‘Darlington County’, ‘No Surrender’, ‘Glory Days’ and ‘My Hometown’.  As so often happened though the follow-up was considered weaker, even though Tunnel Of Love (1987) was actually a fine album.  Maybe the three year gap had softened his edge, maybe it was the over-produced over use of synthesisers or maybe it was the fame – who knows but the album seems to lack any real sense of excitement.  Despite that it does contain some fine songs – ‘Brilliant Surprise’, ‘Tougher Than the Rest’ and the title songs itself.  I sort-of lost interest a bit in Bruce for the rest of the Eighties (I did buy Human Touch and ‘Lucky Town’ at the time but haven’t been tempted to replace them on CD s yet.  In 1995 though, Bruce released another very quiet album The Ghost Of Tom Joad.   Similar in mood to Nebraska being acoustic in feel, even though five tracks again feature the band.  Tom Joad was a character in Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ and Springsteen updates those desperate times with new hard times for poor Americans.  The album has a tex-mex feel, one of the tracks; one song is Sinaloa Cowboys.  Along with Nebraska this is my favourite Springsteen album.  Maybe I am just a sucker for sad songs; best of which are – the title track, ‘Sinaloa Cowboys’ and ‘Across the Border’.  A very quiet contemplative album.  There was then a gap of 7 years….( who knows why).  In the meantime an album of outtakes was released 18 tracks (1999).  A bit of a mixed bag really.  I like some of the songs but others are just bombastic.  Best are ‘Growing Up’, ‘Pink Cadillac’ and ‘The Promise’.  Eventually The Rising came out in 2002.  An album about and inspired by the 9/11 attack in New York.  Strange that Americans bomb third world countries with impunity but get so upset when theirs is attacked.  All in all though a pretty good album and a big seller,  Best songs ‘The Rising’, ‘You’re Missing’ and ‘My City In Ruins’.  A welcome return and a nicely varied album with the E street band in tow.   It seems that once the tap (of writing, recording and touring) had been turned back on Bruce had a new lease of life.  He released Devils and Dust in 2005.  Not a bad album at all.  This again was an acoustic album.  Best tracks – ‘Black Cowboys’, ‘Reno’ and ‘Long Time Coming’.  I find however that the lyrics just pass me by, somehow the sound of the instruments and Bruce’s quite subdued voice mean I am listening to the sound rather than hearing the words. Magic followed in 2007.  A more varied album this time – recorded with the E Street band.  Best songs ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’, ‘Radio Nowhere’ and ‘Long Walk Home’.  And somehow, with the band in full flow I can hear the words better, and enjoy the whole album better.  Working On A Dream came out in 2009.  A fairly typical Springsteen effort; a few bombastic anthems and a couple of quieter songs.  Somehow, I felt he was plodding along really.  Best tracks (all overlong) were the title track and ‘Queen Of The Supermarket’ and ‘Life Itself’.  The most recent acquisition I have is 2012’s Wrecking Ball. Which may be a mistake as this is a cracking record.  Bruce seems to just be able to knock these great songs out – but you sometimes have to ask yourself -just how many albums do I need.  For some artists there is no contest – I have to have them all…but for Bruce I have enough (possibly).  Except, of course, for the compilations.  Greatest Hits  is a pretty good selection, mostly early stuff of course.  And The Essential Bruce Springsteen – well, not really so essential but there you go.

Bruce Springsteen Wallpapers Images Photos Pictures Backgrounds

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Split Enz – Now, this is more like it.  A New Zealand band who emerged in the early 70’s and were almost forerunners of the punk movement; only difference was they wrote great songs and were phenomenal musicians.  Led by Tim Finn and joined later by younger brother Neil the band were at first a bit of a cult band – but following big hit ‘I Got You’ they gained fame and fans.   I first saw them in 77 at the Roundhouse and was truly amazed by them.  Such a breath of fresh air in what was becoming a slightly predictable rock scene.  They were brightly dressed in almost clowns’ outfits with spiky coloured hair, and they tended to run around the stage while singing and playing.  Anyway, I worked back to their earlier albums.  First of which was Mental Notes (1975).  The band were then a seven piece, and most of the songs were written by Phil Judd and only 2 in collaboration with Tim. A bit of a mixed bag really, a couple of very good songs and a few less brilliant.  Still, ‘Walking Down A Road’, ‘Titus’ and ‘Time For A Change’ showed the spark of originality that was soon to flower.  Their second followed a year later Second Thoughts; and despite quite a few the of songs re-recorded from the first album it is pretty damn good.   Apparently, Tim was intent on re-recording songs which he thought were poor on the first album.   I bought this at the time on vinyl  – but haven’t got it on CD (all their original albums are very expensive now on CD).  But an early favourite was 1977’s Dizrythmia.  Phil Judd and a couple of others had left the band, replaced by Tim’s younger brother Neil and Nigel Griggs and Malcolm Green, who became long-standing members of the band.  Well, this album was a revelation….much better songs and a smoother, more rounded sound; more poppy I suppose.  Best songs are ‘Crosswords’, ‘My Mistake’ and the superb ballad ‘Charlie’.  The band was really now Tim’s band – although brother Neil started writing and taking lead vocals on the next couple of albums.  The first of which was 1979’s Frenzy. Another excellent album; mostly good melodic and clever songs.   It does seem a touch dated now though…but still pretty good.  Best songs are the almost manic ‘I See Red’, the hillbilly sounding ‘Hermit McDermitt’ and the beautiful ballad ‘Stuff and Nonsense’.  Then in 1980 came the masterpiece of the band’s career.  The album True Colours (as well as being available in various coloured covers) was one of those absolute rarities – a perfect album.  There are very few records where every song feels just right, and you simply sing along to each track, then press replay again and again.  The album opens with the frantic and lyrically amusing ‘Shark Attack’ (I was swimming in the water when I bought a shark attack). Followed by the big worldwide hit single ‘I Got You’ (a Neil Finn, sung and written, infectiously poppy tune) from there it just zings along – ballads like ‘I Hope I Never’ and ‘Poor Boy’, the superb and best song about personal failure ever written ‘Nobody takes Me Seriously’, as well as more upbeat numbers like ‘I Wouldn’t Dream Of It’ and ‘What’s the Matter With You’ – and a personal favourite – ‘Missing Person’.  By this time about half the songs were being written and/or sung by Neil.  The album topped the charts in Oz and NZ but only hit 38 in the UK. All I know is it ranks in my top 100 albums and maybe even my top 50 (but actually how can you compare – I often say to people when they ask what is my favourite album “The one I am listening to now”)  Waiata followed in 1981 (the title being a Maori word for song or singing). Another very good album, not quite as impressive as True Colours, but pretty good….best songs; ‘One Step Ahead’, ‘History Never Repeats’, Walking Through The Ruins’ and ‘Ghost Girl’.  The band were really flying with Neil and Tim swapping song-writing and singing.  They were writing and making albums pretty quickly too – Time and Tide followed in ’82.  Another excellent album….best songs were ‘Never Ceases To Amaze me’ – and the remarkable and long-time fan favourite ‘Six Months In A Leaky Boat’, followed by ‘Haul Away’ and ‘Log Cabin Fever’.  Conflicting Emotions came out the following year – and in my mind they were beginning to slide too much to the ordinary, where ‘Split Enz’ were always such a distinctive sound.  However, on re-listening I find, as so often, that the record is still pretty damn good.  Best songs  – Strait Old Line’. ‘Message To My Girl’ and ‘Bon Voyage’.  Their final album was 1985s See Ya Around (the title may have been their own goodbye to themselves).  I don’t have this poor seller on CD as it is now priced at around £120…a real rarity.  Tim had already left for a solo career (see F) and Tim only had 5 songs ready, 3 of which would be later re-worked for Crowded House.  The album is pretty poor and Neil left after recording; the remaining three members called it a day too.  Best song by far is ‘I Walk Away’ – even if Crowded House (see C) made a much better version.

But, as so often, that was not quite the end of the story.  Many bands have an afterlife, often years after they have stopped.  Split Enz still have a remarkable following (see Eddie Rayner’s classical take on Enzso -E) and there are about 5 live albums available.  I have one ‘Live In America’ and very good it is too, the band were possibly even better live than on record.  This is a 1980 recording, when True Colours was a big hit, and features practically every song from that brilliant album – the band were really flying at this point and ‘exuberance’ oozes out of every track. Even the beginning of maybe a new song ‘Take a Horse To Water’ and a ragged ‘Twist and Shout’.  Then there was in 1993, a 20year anniversary tour and the following album Anniversary.  Again, an exemplary live record – so glad I saw them live, if only the once.  I also have quite a handful of compilation albums – Beginning of The Enz – basically first 3 albums.   Best of Split Enz , History never Repeats and Enz of an Era – all excellent if slightly different and really a bit pointless – but I am a completist and make no apologies.  Also, I just got Spellbound – another double compilation – so there.  I could listen to them all day; they are the perfect antidote to all the serious news I read; perfect little pop songs, mostly absurd and very catchy.  Of course, Neil, and occasionally Tim went on to solo careers (see F) and sometimes collaborations as in Crowded House (see C) and Eddie Rayner recently re-recorded several Split Enz songs with a classical orchestra under the name ENZSO (see E).  And I always sing along to every Split Enz song; they are so infectious. 

Split Enz - Split Enz 1980-1984 (1992) 6 CD Box Set [Re-Up] / AvaxHome

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Peter Skellern – a very minor singer in my collection – just the one album – a greatest hits Sentimentally Yours.   Peter had a hit single and was a slight sensation.  I always liked his voice – very deep really and quite original.  He ended up, or maybe started out, with singing a lot of old 30s and 40s classics – to which his voice seemed to fit perfectly.  A nice trip down memory lane, but for sentimentalists only I suppose

Skye – (Edwards) was (and now is again I suppose) the lead singer with Morcheeba (see M).  I loved the music they made together and bought Skye’s first solo album.  It is okay.  No, really, it is okay.  Not that brilliant, although her voice is still good.  But somehow it just lacks that excitement of the band.  Best songs are ‘Jamaica days’ and ‘What’s Wrong With Me’.

The Slits – everyone should be allowed one mistake.

Small Faces –  Another of those fabulous Sixties bands who made great singles, were fantastic live – but rarely produced great albums.  The only real album I have is the weirdly named Ogdens Nut Gone Flake.  Now, the boys (and they really were very young men) were real Cockney wide boys and decided to make somewhat of a concept album.  They had a handful of excellent songs but decided to enlist the services of Stanley Unwin, a remarkeable comic genius from the Fifties really, whose speciality was his vocal word-mangling to the point of almost inventing a new language.  Given too much free reign really on this album, but there you go.  The original vinyl album was a replica of a tobacco tin and circular, which must have cost the record company a fortune to produce.  Best songs are ‘Lazy Sunday’ and ‘Afterglow’.  I also have a double Greatest Hits album; 32 Great Pop Classics. (32 tracks – but most are hardly classics).  Still – nice to hear some of the brilliant singles.; ‘Itchycoo Park’, ‘All or Nothing’ and ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’. Few other tracks really made the grade though.  Of course when Stevie Marriot left to join Blind Faith the boys looked for a new singer and chose Rod Stewart, who suggested that they get Ronnie Wood in to play lead guitar….the rest is History.

Snow Patrol – In another of my vain attempts to find new great music I bought this album Eyes Wide Open after seeing them on some late night tv show.  Well, they are quite good – but I found the songs too similar and somehow I never really got into them.  Best songs were ‘You’re All I Have’ and the title track.  Not that there is anything wrong with the others – they just drifted past me I am afraid.

Spandau Ballet – I suppose the last ‘movement’ I really liked was ‘The New Romantics’ – and Spandau were in the forefront of that.  Somehow combining the best of ‘Glam’ with a rock sensibility, infused with a touch of jazz – but best of all, some rollicking tunes, Spandau manged to top the charts for maybe a couple of years.  I have Greatest Hits, which does just what it says.  A nostalgic and enjoyable listen – especially to the last 3 live tracks.  Best are the big hits ‘Gold’, ‘Instinction’ and Only When You Leave. 

Spin 1ne 2wo.  This was a late 90s band who made the one album and featured Rupert Hine (see H), Paul Carrack, Tony Levin, Steve Ferrone and Phil Palmer.  They sing all pretty well-known songs by older bands.  No surprises but good versions.  And ultimately all a bit of a waste of time and a non-event. 

Spiritualised – Well, despite the name, they are quite a noisy band.  Again, another attempt of mine to discover more modern music, at least of the current century.   I should not have bothered. 

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Paul Simon – was the leading partner in the hugely successful Simon and Garfunkel (see previous post), so we were all surprised when they split up in 1970.  I can remember quite clearly when I first heard Paul’s solo album – simply titled Paul Simon in 1972….it was in a restaurant on constant play along with the original Evita (see E).  But Paul had actually released an album in 1965, titled The Paul Simon Songbook.  He was in England for over a year after Simon and Garfunkel’s first album had poor sales.  He was touring the folk clubs and slowly building a reputation – I am not sure if the album was an attempt at a real career, or as a showcase for his brilliant song-writing.  Anyway, the album itself sounds like a demo really, but a familiar one, as almost all the songs would be re-recorded by the duo over the next two or three years.  Quite pleasant acoustic versions – and in some ways I prefer Paul’s voice.  His solo career really took off with his self-titled album Paul Simon (1972).  And what an album it was; not only the two hit singles, the reggae infused ‘Me And Julio’ and ‘Mother and Child Reunion’ but every song is brilliant.  A couple of blues; the great rhythm track ‘Paranoia Blues’ and some lovely slow songs ‘Everything Put Together Falls Apart’ and ‘Peace Like A River’ – but almost my favourite (but how can you choose) is ‘Duncan’ – not forgetting the instrumental duet with Stefan Grapelli ‘Hobo’s Blues’.  What an album this was.  And yet Paul would simply go on and on getting better and better.  There Goes Rhymin Simon (1973) was named because of a couple of critics who had dismissed him as Rhymin Simon (but in actuality almost all songs rhymed – that’s how we remember them).  Despite the somewhat daft title this was yet another superb record.  Kicking off with the excellent ‘Kodachrome’ – a highly infectious rhythm song, the record just rolls along.  There are two gospel infused songs ‘One man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor’ and the closer ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’.  There are wonderful slow songs like ‘Tenderness’ and ‘American Tune’ (where he returns to the state of his country). There is the wonderful hit ‘Take me To The Mardi-Gras’ which seems like it has just stepped out of New Orleans.  And even a reggae song – ‘Was A Sunny Day’.  Not a poor song on the album at all.   He toured the album and released a live record Live Rhymin – which featured much of these two albums and a string of Simon and Garfunkel Songs too.  Whether this was an attempt to show us that he never needed Artie at all, or just reclaiming and re-enforcing that he was the genius all along, they are superb renditions.   However, if you already had the original albums this could be considered a tad unnecessary.  Paul was really on fire these years and in 1975 he released Still Crazy After All These Years.  Wow.  Another absolutely immaculate album.  Paul had been taking singing lessons – though I found nothing wrong with his voice, this album sounds more rounded with more ‘accomplished’ or slick even, vocals.  Superbly produce with red-hot session players and even a duet with Art Garfunkel ‘My Little Town’ – this was a million miles from 10 or even 5 years ago.  A gospel, soul sound pervades the album, with The Jesse Dixon Singers on one song ‘Gone At Last’ (duet with Pheobe Snow) and the gentlest of, almost crooned, love song – ‘I Do It For Your Love’, not to forget the huge worldwide hit ’50 Ways To leave Your Lover’.  Hard to pick an absolute favourite, but the gentle and sad ‘Night Game’ takes some beating.  So where to go from here?  Well, Paul was always exploring and seeking out some new sound or genre.  Never content to just put out another similar record, so he turned to film.  Paul got bogged down with screenplays and casting and filming and eventually spent 5 years on One Trick Pony, released in 1980. Well, the film of the same name did poorly at the box-office (it is the story of Jonah, played by Paul, struggling to succeed playing really great jazz) – I haven’t seen it; apparently the film versions of many of the songs differ from the album.  But the album is pretty strong, though it failed to sell as well as many of his earlier records.  Maybe he had been out of the public eye for too long, or the mood just wasn’t right.  There was one hit single ‘Late In The Evening’ and a couple of other great songs; The title track, and ‘Ace In The Hole’ ‘Stranded In A limousine’ and ‘Jonah’ – but the record doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground.  Still by any other artist it would have been one of their best.  Things didn’t really improve much with his next release Hearts and Bones (1983).   Paul had been working again with Artie, laying down tracks for this new album.  There was a dispute, possibly as Art assumed that this would be a new Simon and Garfunkel album and Paul had other thoughts.  Anyway, whatever happened, Paul decided to re-record all the vocals himself.  Whether those original tapes will ever surface we don’t know.  But the album was very much a mixed bag; a handful of brilliant songs and several of a quite lower quality.  The title track is rather lovely and ‘Train in The Distance’ is pretty good, but the best song by far on the album is ‘Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog after The War’ where, inspired by a photo with that caption, Paul imagines the couple arriving in New York and dancing to the DooWop music of the time.  In fact the whole feel of the record is a reflection of those times and Paul’s love of this music.   

Simon’s relationship with his former musical partner Artie had deteriorated, his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had collapsed, and his previous record, Hearts and Bones had been a commercial failure. In 1984, after a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of ‘mabanqa’, South African street music.  He decided to fly there and track down some of the musicians he heard on the tape.  He immersed himself in the exciting rhythms and voices he heard.  After some initial recordings he invited several musicians to New York to record with him and Roy Hallee.  The results were amazing and with Paul’s often sardonic New York lyrics together they created a masterpiece.  The 1986 album Graceland was acclaimed and a huge and enduring hit, the centrepiece of Paul’s career.  Almost every track is brilliant and this is one of those rare albums you can listen to time and time again and not tire of it.  Hard to pick favourites – the singles ‘Boy In The Bubble’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – obviously – but ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Their Shoes’, ‘Graceland’ and ‘Homeless’ are classics too.   Well, what to do after that.  Paul has never liked to repeat himself and he had always loved the music of South America.  He went there and made several field recordings of the subtle jazzy rhythms he discovered.  The resulting album Rhythm Of The Saints (1990) was another commercial success, though not quite so popular as Graceland.  Personally I was a bit disappointed; I struggled to love the album, despite the infectious leadoff single ‘The Obvious Child’.  I have learnt to like it after repeated playing and can appreciate it more as I age – however I don’t really love jazz, and find I am struggling to find melodies.  Best other songs are ‘Proof’ and ‘Born At The Right Time’.  Paul collected the best of the musicians and singers from these two albums and toured extensively, culminating in (yet) another concert in Central Park (and the obligatory live album).  Paul’s Concert In The Park (1992) was the result.  Well – how many live concerts do you need – although this one, supplemented by African musicians was pretty brilliant.  No new songs but very good versions of some old ones, including a few from the really old days of S. & G.  I also have another double, billed as Unplugged, though not an official MTV album.  It was a 1991 concert where he did perform mostly acoustically.  Recorded for a radio broadcast, it came out a couple of years ago.   I really like these acoustic versions – not that the big band renditions are not fabulous, but I suppose I just prefer the intimate singing and the room these performances allow for the delicate guitarwork I have always loved from Paul.  No surprises in either of these live records – but in the unplugged one, the Rhythm of the Saints songs are much better; I sort of wish he had released these as a special disc – however.  Paul then resurrected a longstanding idea he had to write a musical.  He had already tried a film, One Trick Pony, which failed both as a film, and to a certain extent as an album – though I liked it.  But Paul failed to realise how long this venture would take – not only getting the finances together but the cast and crew, not to mention writing the songs.  But the biggest problem was that Paul was fixated on a terrible subject – a Puerto Rican kid who, along with an accomplice, had committed a couple of murders in New York in the 50’s.  He enlisted Derek Walcott to assist in writing the lyrics.  All in all it was a nightmare and when the Capeman eventually opened it was a flop and lost 11 million dollars, a lot of it was Paul’s money.  He released an album Songs From The Capeman in 1997 (his first for 7 years) – and it became the lowest selling album of his career.  Paul sings on a few songs accompanied by members of the cast. The songs reflect the doo-wop of the period – and despite everything I quite like the album, especially Paul’s songs – of which the final song ‘Trailways Bus’ is amongst his finest.    Paul continued recording, but much more sporadically, he somehow seemed to have lost direction, or was less concerned in making successful and commercial albums and pursued whatever musical whim he was following.  You’re The One (2000) was frankly below par…bordering on boring, and really a poor album. A couple of strange tracks – ‘Pigs, Sheep and Wolves’ and allegory on mankind maybe, ‘Hurricane Eye’ – and best of all, and the only really good track was ‘Darling Lorraine’ – a very cynical take on romance.  Six years later and Surprise came along – a bit better I suppose, but still quite underwhelming.  Again, he seemed to have lost his ear for catchy melodies – or maybe he just wasn’t into pleasing his fans anymore.  A couple of songs were okay – ‘Wartime Prayers’ and ‘Fathers and Daughters’ certainly – but most songs just drifted away.  So Beautiful, So What – came out in 2011 – Well, the music was better, more upbeat on a few of the songs, but the lyrics mostly seemed pointless, or just passed me by.  Many of the songs seemed semi-religious and a bit fixated on death and beyond – not mon tasse de the.  Best was opener ‘Getting Ready For Christmas Day’ which made you think this might be exciting – only to disappoint again.  In 2016 Paul released what appears to be (but I hope not) his last album of original material – Stranger to Stranger.  And, suddenly a much better record – not his best, as nothing could match Graceland really, but certainly a much better album.  Different and varied rhythms and a few nice melodies, I quite like the album; best songs – ‘Wristband’, ‘The Werewolf’ and ‘The Riverbank.  What a pity that Paul has decided to not record any new songs.  He has released In The Blue Light – a 2018 re-interpretation of some of his lesser known songs.  I am not sure about this enterprise, it is interesting – but I prefer the original versions really.  I can’t see the point, and as Paul has not repeated (so far) the exercise, maybe he doesn’t either.  Maybe he just felt like doing it – who knows.  With 4 songs from the underperforming and disappointing You’re The One album maybe Paul thought the songs weren’t appreciated in their original format – but overall I don’t think these versions improve things.  I do like ‘Darling Lorraine’ and the Magritte song though.  Of course, I have one of the many Greatest Hits – The Essential Paul Simon….and excellent it is.  What a body of work this man has produced; almost incomparable really. 

Paul Simon Returns to Old Favorites With 'In the Blue Light'

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Simon and Garfunkel – Well, the big ones are coming thick and fast now.  Paul Simon (see next post) and Artie Garfunkel had been making music together since school days when they had a minor hit under the name Tom and Jerry.  Paul was (and still is) the writer of songs and the guitarist, Artie had a voice from heaven – together they harmonised till dawn.  Their first album Wednesday Morning 3 a.m. (1965) crept out and sold a mere 2,000 copies.  Paul went to England and released an album of original songs, which would mostly appear on later S. & G. albums.   But a DJ recognised what a great song ‘The Sound Of Silence’ was, and impressed by the Byrds (see B) makeover of Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ put slight drums and base onto the duo’s vocals and it was released as a single and became a huge hit.  Paul rushed back and together a quite quickly recorded second album was released.  But back to the debut album – it is in some ways, an unremarkable folk album of the early 60’s (1964).  But the seeds of genius were already poking their heads up, ‘The Sounds of Silence’ was obviously a classic, but also a couple of other songs are pretty cool ‘Sparrow’ and ‘Bleeker Street’ and the title song is not bad either.   But no real sign of the great songs that would follow.  The follow-up, aptly named Sounds Of Silence was a huge step up; Paul had spent a year in England, writing, recording one album and singing in folk clubs. He had a clutch of new and outstanding songs.  Many of these songs had been earlier released as solo versions by Paul on a very poorly selling The Paul Simon Songbook (see S), the new versions were far better recorded and with Garfunkel’s delicate vocals work much better.  Best, are ‘Kathy’s Song’, ‘April Comes She Will’ and the big hit single ‘I Am A Rock’.  This was still mostly a folk album, with the acoustic sound they later became famous for, supplemented mostly by an almost not there backing of drum and base.  They did have a couple of more upbeat number ‘Blessed’,  and ‘We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Going On’.  A year on and they released Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  This was another excellent album, a slight touch of politics creping in with ‘A Simple Desultory Phillipic’ and the brilliant combination of ‘Silent Night/9 O Clock News’, The simple title classic folk song and some lovely gentle songs; ‘Cloudy’ and ‘The Dangling Conversation’ and a couple of more upbeat numbers ‘The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine’ and ‘The 59th Street Bridge songs (Feeling Groovy).  This was 1967 – but no hint of flower power at all.  Overall, the album has aged much better than most from the summer of love, including, dare I say it, Sgt. Pepper itself.  The biggest and best film of ’68 was The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and the Music of Simon and Garfunkel featured throughout….the Soundtrack album is very good with the instrumental tracks supplemented by the duo’s songs.  The one new song and a huge hit and favourite over the years was ‘Mrs Robinson’, really one of Paul’s best songs and written just for the film itself.  I recently bought a box set of Simon and Garfunkel albums, which I thought I had most of, forgetting the 2 live albums released years later – but I was pleasantly surprised by 2 other live CDs (never officially released).  1967 features just the duo singing songs from the first 3 albums.  A nice album with some nice dialogue too but no new songs.  1968 saw the release of their most sonically diverse album so far – Bookends.   Some stunning new songs from the pen of Paul; ‘Save The Life Of My Child’, ‘A Hazy Shade Of Winter’ and best of all – the classic ‘America’.  But, somehow the album doesn’t hang together so well.  It seems incoherent and some of the songs are a bit weak – ‘Old Friends; and ‘Punky’s Dilemma’ seem half-hearted to me.  Still by most artist’s this would have been an excellent record.  Which, of course, their next – and what would turn out to be their final original album -was.  There is no way to fault Bridge Over Troubled Waters (1970).  The album has achieved both huge sales and critical acclaim and iconic status.  It is one of those albums you never get tired of (see Ram and Tapestry), all from the same time and all hugely successful.  I know the record inside out and still feel excited when listening to it, and can’t help singing along.  But….as well as being their best album, problems were lurking in their relationship.  Long term I think Paul was tired of being the writer, guitarist and often lead soloist, while Artie sung beautifully but contributed little else.  During the long recording of Bridge, Garfunkel was absent for months at a time pursuing a nascent film career.  Paul even wrote two songs ‘So Long Frank Lloyd Wright’ and ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ about his frustration and sadness at the time.  The pair agreed to part company before the album was completed but toured in late 69 anyway.  My favourite songs are ‘Cecilia’, ‘Keep The Customers Satisfied’ and ‘The Boxer’ – though you cannot forget the title song itself.  In the box set is a CD of the 1969 tour which featured a few unreleased songs from Bridge. 1969 is another interesting record; despite the fact that they were halfway through a fraught recording and had maybe even then realised that their future was non-existent, they sung really sweetly.  No real surprises except a rendition of ‘That Old Sweet Daddy Of Mine’ (an old fifties or maybe earlier mawkish song).  They split up in 1970 – Paul going on to a brilliant solo career (see next post).  There was a period when recriminations were felt and spoken, particularly by Artie, who felt they should have carried on as a duo.  However, it didn’t stop them from having several re-union tours and one-off concerts; well, I expect the money was very welcome.  In 1981 they held a concert in Central Park, New York.  It was a free concert, attended by maybe 50,000 people.  Of course, they always intended to record it and recoup all their cost and more.  The album The Concert In The Park is pretty groovy, especially as Paul had his red hot band backing them, giving a greater depth to many of their previous acoustic songs. As this was in many ways Paul’s gig, he included a few of his hits too; ‘Me and Julia’, ‘Still Crazy’ and ‘Kodachrome’ among others.  The album was credited to them both, and I think Art sung on almost everything, adding a gentleness to the jazzy arrangements on many of the songs.  A memorable concert and a great album.   They repeated the exercise in 2003 and released (yet) another live album, a double – and this time, almost all Simon and Garfunkel songs.  Truly beautiful singing I must say; possibly the best they had ever sung together.  I also have a triple album Old Friends, which features most of their best songs and a handful of rarities and rejected songs.  Not essential but good listening.

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL Sing The Sound of Cylon | Forces of Geek

My Record Collection 178

Carly Simon – (no relation to Paul Simon) was a singer songwriter who came to prominence in the early Seventies, as so many great artists did.   I first got into her with the hit song…’You’re So Vain’ in 1972 which came from the No Secrets album, which I loved so much I immediately got her first two albums.  Her debut was the self-titled Carly Simon (1970).  Not such a great album really, a couple of good songs and only one really good one, the lead single ‘That’s The Way I Always Thought It Should Be’.  No indication of what a great songwriter and singer she would become.  And yet just a year later came, what may be, her best album of all – Anticipation (1971).  And I am still full of anticipation just to hear it again. She wrote the title song while waiting for a first date with Cat Stevens (see S) who she was opening for in a few US dates – and of course it is brilliant, and sets the tone for the whole album.  The songs seem to be fairly autobiographical and quite shameless in a good way, exploring and sharing her emotions; not the typical love songs but more introspective and sounding heartfelt and genuine.  Great tunes and oh, that voice that commands and whispers by turns.  This was the ‘coming of age’ album for Carly, the one that set her up in the stratosphere.  She was also incredibly beautiful and was dated by Mick Jagger, James Taylor and Warren Beatty among others.  But this album still remains my very favourite of hers.  Every song is perfect – no fillers at all.  Hard to pick a favourite, but I do love ‘Julie Through The Glass’, ‘The Girl you think You See’ and ‘Share the End’.  But the true Master-song on the album is the powerful closer ‘I’ve Got To Have You’ – rarely has absolute naked passion been expressed so brilliantly and the music follows her splendid voice uncompromisingly.  This is my favourite song of hers – and if she had never recorded anything else it would still be a monument to aspire to.    But still, real fame eluded her until the release of her biggest selling single from her follow-up album – No Secrets (1972); ;You’re So Vain’, the song itself was and continues to be extremely popular; the guessing game continues as to who exactly is so vain, but to me it doesn’t matter – it is a great song.  As are most of the other songs on the album.  Not quite so fabulous as Anticipation, but still a pretty good album.  Best songs are again hard to pinpoint, but I do like ‘We Have No Secrets’ and ‘The Carter Family’ and ‘It Was So Easy’.  The whole album is probably more melodic and gentler than before.   Hotcakes followed in 1974 and to my mind this was a slightly backward step, a more middle of the road sound, possibly compounded by her recent success, and the album looking for more single successes.  The album is autobiographical and reflects a more settled personal life, marriage and pregnancy; somehow, I prefer the angst and uncertainty of earlier albums. Still, not a bad album at all really; she duets with James Taylor on a couple of tracks, including the hit single ‘Mockingbird’ (an old classic rock and roll number).  So, not my favourite of hers but on re-listening (as so often happens) there are quite a few good songs here; the best of which are ‘My Older Sister’ and ‘Haven’t Got Time For The Pain’.  Her fifth album came out in 1975 – Playin Possum – was a bit more adventurous, and the cover was very sexy.  But somehow, I was beginning to feel that she was still drifting too close to the centre of the road for me; I have always preferred things a bit edgy really.  The single and relatively big hit was ‘Attitude Dancing’ – a pure piece of disco rubbish.  Oh well – only other decent song was ‘Slave’ and that wouldn’t have got a look in 2 years ago.  Oh well – I stopped buying her after this….and by all accounts though she has continued to record and release albums she is now firmly entrenched in MOR mawkishness.  I did buy Never Been Gone (2009)– a freebie album given away with Daily Mail, for 50p….it is a re-recording of some of her hits…pointless, as the  originals were so much better – there is no passion in her singing now, and the voice is pretty reedy too.   When an artist resorts to giving away music just to remind people they are still alive, and for a small payment usually it is a bad sign.  I also have her Greatest Hits (charity shop again).  This must have been a fairly early collection and is a pretty good resume of the best of her first five albums.  Also picked up for £1 was Greatest Hits Live \(1988).  It is better in that the singing is pretty good and it includes ‘Nobody Does it Better’ – her bond theme.  Not a bad listen really.  Such a pity that the early promise was ditched in the pursuit of hits and stardom.  Oh well.

My Record Collection 177

Sigur Ros – an Icelandic band (Pink Sugar in English) who play a weird unique mixture of electronic slow music with a very high voice singing mostly in Icelandic.  But they achieved some fame in the music press around the turn of the Century.  They most remind me of Tangerine Dream, but then again, they are like nothing else. Sometimes – mostly actually – the songs themselves are indistinguishable from each other and they just roll into each other with no real beginning, middle or end.  But for some crazy reason I liked them.  Hard to distinguish even one album from another really.  I have 4 – Takk – was the first from 2005.  A beautiful cover and a nice sound but really, I cannot pretend to tell you anything else about the record.   Hvarf/Heim (Hearth/Home)– 2007 is a sort of compilation…Hvarf is old songs newly recorded and Heim is acoustic versions of older released material.  Not that anyone would notice… Again, hauntingly beautiful vocals over a slow electronic backdrop.  Great as background music and instantly forgettable – but I liked it at the time.  The second disc ‘Heim’ is more relaxing and melodic than the first I think.  Next up is Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalust -which means I think we play endlessly, or something like that.   Again all songs sung in Icelandic, but of such a beautiful quality that it really doesn’t matter at all.  Hard to pick any songs out, except the closer ‘All Alright’ – even though not sung in English.  The final is a compilation of their recent stuff, , but it was her vocalsand maybe designed for an international audience – We Play Endlessly (2009).

Judee Sill – wow, what to tell you about this woman.  Her reputation, known only to a very few, rests on 2 albums only.  Judee had a tough life and was addicted to heroin quite early on.  But she played guitar and keyboards and sung in a few bars in L.A.   She was also jailed for a series of robberies, car thefts and prostitution and was still a heavy usage junkie.  Somehow, one of her songs; ‘Lady O, was picked up and given to The Turtles who were riding high in the charts in the late 60s.  She drew the attention of a record company (in fact Geffen records which used her as their first ever release) and was signed up….long story but somehow Graham Nash got involved and produced her first single ‘Jesus was A Crossmaker’.  Her brilliant debut self-titled album Judee Sill (1971) sold poorly though the critics loved it.  It is a mix of folk and rock with a distinct country edge, but it was her superb drifty, often stacked in harmonious fugues, vocals that hooked me really.  I absolutely loved the record to bits.  Hard to say which are my favourite tracks – but ‘Crayon Angels’ and ‘Ridge Rider’ and of course ‘Lady O’ stay longest in my consciousness.  There were signs early on of her obsession with both Bach and Religious iconography which only deepened on the next set of songs for Heart Food (1973).  It was here that her musical vision was most complete; the songs are complex and incredibly beautiful, with her own harmonies used in multiple layers to deepen and enrich the sound.  Another fine collection of heart-felt songs where Judee seeks redemption in Christ….sometimes it seems these are almost sexual in her yearning.  The final track ‘The Donor’, though I cannot see the reference, is her true masterpiece; an almost classical rendition with a repeated chorus where her stacked voice soars above the melody.  There isn’t a poor song either – best are maybe ‘The Kiss’, ‘Soldier Of The Heart’ and ‘There’s A Rugged Road’.  And that really is practically it.  She fell out with her record company, she despised touring and playing live, she lost her recording concert and sunk into depression and more drug abuse.  She recorded some sessions for BBC and some demos exist of a possible third album. Live in London are her BBC recordings.  Playing solo with piano or guitar these are quite enchanting sessions – no orchestral embellishments or harmonies – but still very nice, and she engages well with this small intimate audience.  Nothing new, but nice versions of her two albums songs.  Much later in 2005 a new double CD of demos and incomplete songs was released under the title Dreams Come True. As these were often first takes the quality is poor; both of the song-writing and the execution really.  The songs lack her fervent religiosity and passion and are too piano-led really.  Hard to pick any favourites because I don’t have any.  Judee drifted through the mid and late seventies, trying occasionally to resurrect her failing career.  She was slowly being reappraised by her peers who acknowledged how good her two albums had been but she was already lost and heavily into drugs again. She died in 1979 aged just 35, a real waste of an extraordinary talent.  Too many of my generation have been taken by drugs – Janice, Jimmy and Jim Morrison to name but a few.   

Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart – Rolling Stone
Judee Sill - Judee Sill | Vinyl, Album, Lp vinyl

My Record Collection 176

Michelle Shocked – I can remember precisely the moment I first heard Michelle.  It was in my Dad’s car in 1988 and the song ‘When I Grow Up’ came on the radio.  I knew straightaway that this girl was new, different and singing a great song in a style that defied description….and still does.  Alternative Folk – she is listed under, and it’s as good a name as any.  I bought the album ‘Short Sharp Shocked’ and never looked back – except to buy her first release, a live album recorded at a folk festival a couple of years earlier.  The Texas Campfire Tapes (1986) is a pretty straightforward acoustic set of not too brilliant songs.  Not bad songs but the recording is poor and her voice thin and reedy.  Saying that I do like ‘5 a.m. in Amsterdam’ and a couple of others, but even Michelle denigrated the album later.  Her first record proper was Short Sharp Shocked – and what a debut.  Perfectly formed and produced songs, almost every song a winner, and I fell in love with the album.  Opener ‘When I Grow Up’ is of course a gorgeous song with a tropical, almost reggae feel – and the letter sung ‘Anchorage’ is a classic by any standard (You know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage).  But my favourite is ‘Memories Of East Texas’ which rolls along describing Michelle’s learning to drive on East Texas red clay back roads.  For whatever reason I simply adore this song and usually repeat it again and again. I bought the expanded 2-disc version of this album with quite a few unreleased songs on it and some live versions, again brilliant but not essential to the collection.  Apparently, Michelle had her first three albums mapped out completely with songs and arrangements before she even had a record contract.  Her second was a slight change of direction; Captain Swing, which was a homage to the sounds of ‘swing’ and ‘big band’ music of before her birth.  Not that the songs are old-fashioned and are quite topical, especially ‘On The Greener Side’ and ‘The Cement Lament’ but as usual she mixed it up with a couple of love songs ‘Too Little Too late’ and ‘Must be Luff’ – but somehow this album disappointed me, and still to some extent still does, though I have learned to like it more as time goes by.   Her third effort was a country, almost bluegrass folk, album – Arkansas Traveller (1992).  I really loved this album for a while but listening now it seems a bit corny in a way.  Still, a handful of very good songs – ‘Come A Long Way’, ‘Over The Waterfall’ and ‘Secret To A long Life’.  She then left her Mercury label (incidentally retaining the rights to all her previous albums).  Two years later she released on her own independent label an album which is not now available at all – strange, as it really is possibly her best record ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ is a desperately sad album sung often in a keening wail of a voice.  It deals with hardships of life ‘Stillborn’ and ‘A Child Like Grace’ deal with infant deaths; ‘Winter Wheat’ and ‘Cold Comfort’ are about the hardships of small farmers.  But best of all is closer ‘No Sign Of Rain’.  A brilliant album – but maybe not for everyone.  She created her own record company for her later releases – Mighty Sound.  First was Deep Natural (2002) which came with a bonus disc ‘Dub Natural (mostly instrumental versions).   A brilliant album, and another change of style…this time an almost doowop swooping brass section – not jazz at all but an exciting sound.  Some brilliant tunes too; this girl can really write great songs.  Personal favourite is ‘Forgive to Forget’ (with the great line – holding on to the past is my deepest regret) – a gentle song to herself (let it go, let it go, let it go).  But I also love most of the other songs on this exciting record; ‘((Joy)), ‘Why Do I get The Feeling’, ‘If Not Here’ and best of all ‘That’s So Amazing’.  It really feels as if Michelle was inspired both in the writing and the execution of these songs; they absolutely knock me out.  Just listened again to the instrumental disc Dub Natural and it just rocks me too.  Then came a retrospective limited edition disc Shockolates – a pretty good resume, all my favourites up to Deep Natural.  Then three years later came not one but 3 albums.  Released simultaneously and as a threesome, the first of which was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  A bit of a mixed album, some very good songs but quite a few leave me cold.  Oh well; I really love ‘Evacuation Route’, ‘Elaborate Sabotage’ and ‘Goodbye’…but not much else (these just happen to be the quieter songs too).  Much better was the second in the trilogy Mexican Standoff, which has a definite TexMex flavour.   I really like this one; some great tunes and a lovely cohesive feel to it.  Best songs – ‘Lonely Planet’, ‘La Cantine el Gato Negro’ and ‘Match burns Twice’.  The third in the trilogy is Got No Strings and is a bunch of children’s or musicals songs, pleasant but a bit self indulgent.   Then came (for me) the disaster – a live gospel album recorded at a church; full of evengelical bullshit.  To Heaven U Ride….I hate it.  She did manage to redeem herself with Soul of My Soul (2009).  A simply lovely record – a return to form.  Best songs of hers for a long time; ‘Love’s Song’, ‘Other People’ and ‘True Story’  and ‘Pompeii’  are the best of a very good bunch.  And then nothing…Michelle is embarked on a battle with everyone in the music business, trying to stop anyone selling her music in any form that she doesn’t control whatsoever, a hopeless task.  Consequently, no new releases till she gets sole control…A pity as she is truly talented, if sadly silent of late

Mexican Standoff - Michelle Shocked | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic

My Record Collection 175

Mike Scott – was the singer in The Waterboys (see W), and I have just one solo album of his; which is strange, as it really is great.  I will make a note to myself to keep an eye out for him.  Bring ‘Em All In – 1995 is a pleasure to listen to – a classic singer-songwriter, mostly acoustic and fabulous songs – and oh, that voice, full of emotion and a lilting Scottish (almost Irish) accent.  Best songs – the title song, ‘Edinburgh Castle’ and ‘A Long Way To the Light’ – but really not a bad song on this record.

Scritti Politti – I have Louise to thank for this record, which she played almost constantly – and what a record; Songs To Remember 1982 was such a different and remarkably clever album; almost too clever for the music critics who struggled to pigeon-hole them.  They came out of the late punk scene but leaned more towards pop and what would become indie.  Lead singer and songwriter Green Gartside was truly an intellectual and littered his songs with references too obscure for more to fathom – but somehow they worked.  This was their debut album, delayed for a year because he had collapsed on stage and needed to recuperate. Well, all the songs on this record are great, I cannot help singing along to them.  Fave songs – ‘Assylums In Jerusalem’, ‘Lions After Slumber’ and ‘Rock-A-Boy Blue’.  They made a couple of later albums but I have never really been tempted.

Scouting For Girls – despite the ambiguity of their name, I quite like this recent Indie group.  A nice positive vibe, slightly reminiscent of early Squeeze (see S).  They had a minor hit with ‘She’s So Lovely’ and I like opener ‘Keep On Walking’ and closer ‘James Bond’ with it’s hidden ode to Micheala Strachan.   But sometimes just one album is enough….

Seasick Steve – was a strange phenomenon who popped up a few years ago and was a minor sensation….a completely unreformed old bluesman, hillbilly who played on homemade guitars – or maybe not, but who cares – he was quite a character.  He interspersed his songs with a narrative about surviving on handouts and riding trains etc;.  First up is the cleverly titled I Started Out With Nothing And I Still Got Most Of It Left (2008)  – This was his breakthrough album I think, and the first one I got.  It was very novel at the time, and I like the roughly mixed raw sound of the blues and mostly underproduced single guitar sound, his voice as rough as gravel on sandpaper he seemed very different.  Best songs – the title track, ‘Happy Man’ and the long mostly spoken ‘My Youth’ – however, these long monologues pall a bit the more you hear them.  I then went back and bought his debut Cheap (2004).   Well – not so different really – a bit grungier maybe.  And having listened twice, I can’t really pick out any favourite tracks.  Much the same must be said about his next album Dog House Music (2006).  Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t grab me.  I haven’t kept up with him since.

The Senators – (not to be confused with an American band of the same name) were a duo from Scotland who emerged in early 80’s.  I discovered them via a couple of CD singles. I have 3 albumsand they are excellent…actually that was all they ever recorded.  I don’t know much about them, they aren’t on Wikipedia.  As far as I can make out they were two vocalists who sang on most of the self-written songs – they may have been Scottish.  They have an uncluttered sound where the voices are clear and you can hear every word.   Anyway, I really liked them, though they only made 3 albums before calling it a day.  Welcome to our World (1988) was their first.  A great collection of songs; best are ‘One More Chance’, ‘Little Italy’ and ‘Love and Small Talk’.  Their second was Hopes and Bodies (1990); the same template – delicate and catchy songs beautifully sung – best are ‘Good Morning World’, ‘Crying Wolf’ and an excellent cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’.  Their final album Lovely was released in 1992 – again the songs are great, if anything a touch sadder – best are ‘Forty Nights’, ‘Hosing Down The Strand’ and ‘Another Love Song’.  Hard to know why some bands are successful and others are not.  A pity, as I believe these boys had real talent, but then – when was talent the main determinant.

September Songs – The Music Of Kurt Weill.  A secret passion of mine, these are songs from the Thirties and Forties which many musicians have loved ad much as I have.  This collection was produced by Hal Wilner in 1997 and featured Nick Cave, Sting and many more and Elvis Costello among others.  Some brilliant interpretations and a thoroughly enjoyable listen – if only for some.

Ron Sexsmith – unusual name, unusual singer – but maybe not so unusual.  A distinctive voice and style, but at times the yearning sounds like whining.  Only one album – Boy Blue – sometime in the naughties…I quite like it, but then again nothing special really.

Ed Sheeran – and right up to date – well, almost.  Just the one album (so far) – X – (2014).   Now, I like his voice and his style and his apparent ability to mix genres old and new….but….somehow I don’t quite buy the hype; that he is the new genius on the block for a start.  When you even dare compare his musical progress to anyone from the Sixties or Seventies or even Eighties, come to that…well, of course there is no comparison….and probably never could be.  And that is for one simple reason.  Music meant something then, it was an identifier, it was our inspiration, it was the dominant cultural driver.  Now it is simply a background noise for adverts or computer games.  Not that there is not incredible talent – it is just that the whole industry, the scene, the genre has become tired.  And maybe after all – all the best songs have already been written.  Anyway, back to Ed; a very pleasant record, but it doesn’t make me go wow, as The Beatles or Dylan or Leonard or Joni or Neil or bowie or Elton…..or a hundred others did.  Maybe I am just old and cynical, but I will continue dipping my toe in today’s music – only to return hotfoot to the music I love the best. 

My Record Collection 174

Buffy Sainte-Marie – I first heard Buffy in Sixth form, probably 66 or 67.  She was part of the folk movement and I liked her voice, part Indian – she seemed, and of course was, totally authentic.  Becoming a huge fan of her work in the seventies I had all her early albums on vinyl, and really should get them again in CD, naïve though they were in some respects.  My real enthusiasm for her started with 1971’s ‘Ballerina’ and I worked my way back to 1968’s I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again, which as the title suggests is a full-on country album – and I love it.  Raunchy arrangements and great melodies and, oh – that voice.  She obviously loves the genre and gives it all she has got – I particularly love a couple of quieter songs ‘Tall trees In Georgia’ and ‘Take My Hand For A While’ with sumptuous melodies and a melt your heart voice.  But the up-tempo songs are pretty good too; the title song and ‘Soulful Shade Of Blue’.  She still does a couple of numbers with mouthbow, a unique trick of hers – but especial thanks for one of her early Indian political songs, an updated arrangement of ‘Now That The Buffalo’s Gone’ her lament for on-going Indian deceit by the U.S. Government. The following years album was a complete change of sound.  All the sounds on the album have been synthesised form Buffy’s voice and guitar.  In fact, as far as I can find, one of the first uses of synthesised sound, and incidentally one of the most exciting.  Sad that in the 80s synthesisers simply tried to replicate acoustic instruments.  Anyway, the album Illuminations will always be in my top 100 albums and I play it regularly.  Not everyone’s cup of tea maybe and on first listen it can sound harsh, but somehow the songs and her voice worm their way into your consciousness and you end up worshipping the record.   It starts with Buffy singing an unrecorded poem of Leonard Cohens’.  It is actually an excerpt from his book Beautiful Losers, which incidentally features sex scenes with an American Indian (co-incidence or a likely story – but Buffy maybe had an affair with Leonard; almost everyone else did) A couple of up-tempo, almost hard rocking numbers; ‘Better To Find Out For Yourself’ and ‘Keeper Of The Fire’.  There are semi-religious songs; ‘Mary’ and ‘Adam’ and a couple of gentle ballads; best of which is the hauntingly beautiful ‘Guess Who I Saw In Paris’.  The album ends with another chilling but exquisite vocal ‘Poppies’.  As soon as the album ends, I just want to put it back on again.   She followed this with maybe her best-selling album She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina (1971).  It had quite a big hit, which she sung on Top Of The Pops – ‘Soldier Blue’ – which was the title track of a film about atrocities against Native Americans and was a minor sensation.  But the album was a quite full-on rock album; with great production and a good choice of songs, with a handful of covers – ‘Bells’ by Leonard Cohen’ and ‘Helpless’ by Neil Young, where I think she sings the song better than the original.  But there are a handful of great songs from her own pen – ‘Moratorium’ (an anti-war song), ‘The Surfer’ and best of all a really sad and heartfelt song ‘Now You’ve Been Gone For A Long Time’ (best line – I wonder why you padlocked up my heart if you never meant to return).  A brilliant album….and yet…like so many others, she failed to follow this up with anything as good for a very long time.   1971 saw a half decent album Moonshot.  I quite liked it but felt she was moving just a bit too close to the middle of the road, her voice was splendid as usual, but the songs mostly lacked that brilliance of her three former albums.  Best are 2 songs reflecting her Indian heritage ‘He’s An Indian Cowboy In The Rodeo’ and ‘Native North American Child’ – but most of the other songs don’t really reach great heights.  Then followed 3 albums which I felt were pretty mediocre; I only bought them much later as a set of 3 albums on 2 discs. Quiet Places, Buffy and Changing Woman – did little to enhance her reputation, a couple of half-decent covers – Joni’s ‘For Free’ and ‘Eventually’ – a couple of half decent songs ‘Hong Kong Star Boy’ and ‘Eagle Man, Changing Woman’ are okay – but most of the rest just passes me by.  But….she had one last album in the Seventies – 1976’s Sweet America, which more than made up for the previous trio.  Almost every song sounds great, her voice never better and the songs just sparkle.  From opener ‘Sweet America’ to closer ‘Ain’t No Time For The Worrying Blues’ she sounds positively happy…but best of all are a couple of songs where she uses traditional Indian chants in her songs; ‘QueAppelle Valley’ and ‘Honey Can You Hang Around’ are simply superb.  A welcome return to form….but then Buffy retired from the music business and took up a residency as a presenter in Sesame Street.  I never watched the programme, but apparently, she was a great success.  However, after her own children were grown she returned to recording – and how.  Co-incidence and Likely Stories suddenly appeared in 1992, sixteen years after her last record.   And Buffy was now fully committed to her Indian heritage and her political views still as bright as they ever were.  She re-works a couple of her old songs but the new ones are pretty fierce too….especially ‘The Big Ones Get Away’ and ‘Disinformation’…but best are two quieter songs ‘Fallen Angels’ and ‘Goodnight’.  A pretty confident return to form.  1996 saw a re-recording of many of her earlier songs – a sort of greatest hits.  She included a song she never released but which she had written for a film ‘Up Where We Belong’, and Buffy’s version is much quieter and reflective than the Jennifer Warnes and Joe Cocker extravaganza (which had been a big hit).  I am not sure that these versions bring anything new to the songs and the whole album smacks of a hint of desperation.  Another new album came out in 2000 – Running For The Drum.  Not bad but the few new songs were supplemented by yet more re-recordings of older songs; still the new ones are pretty cool – best are ‘Too much is Never Enough’ and ‘Still this Love Goes On’.  One last original album came out a few years later Power In The Blood – and here the producer has tried to really update her sound for the 21st century – I am not sure it works.  The title track is very modern sounding but the words are lost.  Some good songs though – ‘orion’ and ‘Love Charms’.  So far that is it – but I do have 2 greatest hits; Soldier Blue – The Vanguard Years – is a lot of her earlier albums, which are the best, even the pure folk early ones.  Fave songs – Co’dine and a couple of covers ‘Helpless’ and ‘For Free’.  Hardly essential but a nice selection.  I also found The Best of Buffy – Vol 2 a while back.  No surprises, but nice to hear songs like ’97 men In This Here Town’ and ‘Reynardine’. 

Buffy Sainte-Marie | Sydney, Australia - Official Travel ...