‘Sometimes I’ like to throw in a complete unknown artist. For a few years I spent far too many lunch-hours scouring second hand record shops, mostly for CD singles. ‘Girl of My Dreams’ by The Dear Janes was one such find. Unheard and unheard of, and very unsuccessful, they are two women (neither called Jane) one British and one American. The record is as idiosyncratic as they are; but mostly it works in a strange alt-folk and rock way. Not for everyone. But intrigued I bought the album and loved it. They both sing on most of the songs, not exactly harmonies but two lead vocals – which works for them. Best tracks – ‘Girl Of You Dreams’, ‘My Left Hand’ and ‘Dear Jane’.
A renowned session and tour singer, who was on The Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour with Joe Cocker, and who Leon Russell wrote Delta Lady for, released her first solo album in 1971. Although not really a songwriter, her choice of songs to cover was immaculate. From Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ to Neil Young’s ‘I Believe In You’ she doesn’t put a foot wrong. Her vocals are soft and intimate and she had a distinctive slow burn leaving you wanting more. My favourites on this are ‘That Man Is My Weakness’ and ‘Seven Bridges Road’. The following year she released The Lady’s Not For Sale, which was even better – though this debut is still pretty amazing. She had an incredible beauty and beguiled Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Jim Gordon and Kris Kristofferson who she married and recorded albums with. An incredible woman and an incredible voice.
Wow…what an album. Recorded when Genesis took a break from touring and recording in 1980 and released the following year, the album was written during Phil’s failed attempt to save his first marriage and is full of sad, almost desperate songs. Like Dylan’s own breakup album ‘Blood On The Tracks’ it feels a very honest, confessional record where he lays bare his heart. Phil, a renowned drummer used a drum machine at times on this record, but also perfected his ‘signature’ gated drum sound, which became very popular in the Eighties. Although Phil’s production and singing are exceptional it is the quality of the songs which make this such a great album (number 1 here and in America). Best songs are ‘In The Air Tonight’ and ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’. He also attempted to replicate The Beatles ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from ‘Revolver’ – but I still prefer the original. Phil went on to a phenomenal solo career, in tandem with his continued success with Genesis. But of late Phil has had poor health due to a spine injury and played his last tour with Genesis sitting down and singing, with his son playing drums. It looks like he may have stopped recording too.
Alun was a guitarist and singer, who became a session player and a member of the touring band for Cat Stevens during his renaissance in the Seventies. That was how I came upon this great debut, and to date, final, album by him. Very folk rock, and mostly written before his playing with Cat, the album is simply exquisite. Of course, Cat plays piano, along with rest of his ensemble – Jean Rouselle, Gerry Conway and Del Newman – and a lovely sound they make. The songs include a couple of traditional folk tunes (Abram Brown and I’m Late) and a cover of Cat’s own ‘Portobello Road’, but it is Alun’s own compositions that sparkle – ‘Market Place’, ‘Poor Street’ and best of all the incredible ‘Old Bourbon’ (one of my very favourite songs). Most of you won’t have heard of this album, but I bet Chris Tozer has.
It was 1972; I had recently become a single father, and this gave me the freedom to explore Music. Noel Edmonds, before he became a TV star was a Radio 1 DJ. He had a Sunday lunchtime show, where he would play album tracks, many from the new evolving singer-songwriter movement in California. Along with Joni, James Taylor and Neil Young he featured Harry and this just released album. Harry was already 29 when he recorded this, where most of his contemporaries were ten years younger. I loved it, bought the album – and eventually all 11 studio albums of his. Harry was a unique songwriter who wrote mostly story songs with social comment – almost a protest singer. This debut contains maybe his best song ‘Taxi’, about a cab driver who picks up a rich actress, and then realises she was an old girlfriend of his; they both had dreams, which (maybe) they had realised. It really is a classic – but every song is a winner, not a dud or a filler on it at all. Great tunes, great singing and brilliant words. I especially love ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Same Sad Singer’. He was also a great philanthropist campaigning against World Hunger, but Harry sadly had a heart attack in 1981 while driving his car and died at the wheel, aged just 39.
Let me start by saying that I am not a great Coldplay fan. I mean, they are okay – I don’t dislike them, but they don’t wow me. I did however buy the first 2 or 3 albums, starting with Parachutes (2000), which I really liked. I felt that the album was very organic and mostly acoustic; as if it was almost an early run through of ideas rather than a finished product. It received good reviews, and the single ‘Yellow’ went to number 4 in the charts. But success brings many problems and the band seemed to both grow in stature and the music in complexity; they also appeared to start believing the hype that they were the best band in Britain for a while. Anyway, I stopped buying them after a while – though I still really like this debut; a simpler, more honest Coldplay I feel.
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman It was 1988, four years since Live Aid and another huge charity concert was aired on the BBC. Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert had the usual rosta of famous names, when during a band changeover, a slightly built lack girl stepped towards a solitary mike carrying a guitar. Practically unknown, especially here in Britain, Tracy captivated the world with her two songs ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Talking About A Revolution’. The eponymous album had already been released to mediocre sales, but now sold 2 million in a few weeks. And rightly so. It is a protest album, unfashionable since the Sixties, but the songs are so powerful and sung with a quiet intensity which captivates. A true original, she went on to great success, but last released n album in 2008. The mere mention of her name now brings a smile to those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed that moment. Almost every song is powerful and brilliantly performed, and still there is nobody with quite that integrity and honesty around today
Tony was, of course, the keyboard player in Genesis. 1979, and Genesis were having a break from touring and recording; Peter Gabriel, and then Steve Hackett had both left and the band were considering their future, before settling on their drummer Phil Collins taking over vocal duties after all. Tony used the break to expand on some compositions he was working on for future band recordings. Along with Chester Thompson on drums and Kim Beacon on vocals he came up with this great album. In many ways it feels and sounds like a Genesis album – only a bit darker and smoother, none of the weird time signature changes and complex songs but a smoother and more complete song cycle emerges. I loved the album, though it was never a hit; the Genesis fans probably unsure – and it was post-punk, where ‘Prog’ music was on the wane. Of course, Genesis picked themselves up and began phase 2 soon after. I haven’t really bought much else from Banks, and generally prefer the earlier incarnation of Genesis. I feel that this album is a link between the two styles and I really enjoyed re-listening.
1973 and Glam Rock was the next big thing; Bowie and Bolan were huge. A very precocious young Steve Harley had big ideas. He had written a handful of songs and busked them in folk clubs. Along with Jean-Paul Crocker on violin he auditioned a keyboardist and drummer; and so Cockney Rebel were born. EMI quickly gave them a record contract, and producer Neil Harrison suggested using a full orchestra for a couple of longer tracks. That, and Crocker’s violin – and the lack of a guitar player laid the template for a highly unique and original album. But, like all great albums it is actually the quality of the songs which make it. At times it seems that Harley had swallowed a compendium of literature, his words, both bizarre and hauntingly beautiful dominate. His delivery is unique too, no-one sounded like him at all. The album sparkles and is one of my all-time favourites; I have always loved that combination of rock and classical – and this album achieved that marriage brilliantly. Best tracks – ‘Sebastien’ ‘Chameleon’ and the bombastic but wondrous ‘Death Trip’. Steve is still playing live (I’ve seen him countless times) and dropping the occasional album – though nothing quite matches this ambitious opener.
p.s. I owned exactly the same chair as on the cover, bought at John Lewis (before I bought the album too)
1965 – and in America as in Britain and most of Europe The Beatles were untouchable; Beatlemania ruled. But another musical revolution was occurring in America. Folk music was changing from its traditional roots into a new protest music. Led in part by the incredible songwriting of Bob Dylan whose songs were slowly being recorded by more established artists; but this was still a fairly minority genre. But a new Californian band, led by Jim McGuinn, vocals by Gene Clark and also featuring David Crosby and Chris Hillman picked up on Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and “invented” folk rock. (in ’68 they practically invented American too. The band had a new and different sound; a jangly 12 string guitar and great harmonies. They managed to create (or rather, like the Beatles themselves, popularise) a new, soon to be called ‘West Coast’ rock style. Their debut featured 4 Dylan songs, most of the others were self-penned or were more traditional folk tunes. But it was the unique sound they had which took America by storm, they were never so popular in Britain. This album still sounds fresh some sixty years later, and as different again as both the Beatles and Dylan. Best tracks – ‘Tambourine Man’, ‘The Bells Of Rhymney’ and ‘I’ll feel A Whole Lot Better’. I saw them in 1970; McGuinn and Hillman still there but a different line-up. They were incredible and played all their great songs.