My Record Collection 139

John Lees –  Lead Guitarist, vocalist and one of the main songwriters in my second all-time favourite band – Barclay James Harvest (see B).  In 1972 the band had huge problems both financially and with their record company.  Out of contract and unable to perform even, John recorded a few songs he had written and made a solo album A Major Fancy.  Pretty soon the band got a new record deal and got back together again.  So, the album remains a bit of a peculiarity; a dangler, a what-if….and it is really quite good, if a bit demo-ish.  One song ‘Child Of The Universe’ made it to a BJH album, but in a way I almost prefer this solo version.  A few of the songs are simply untitled and there is an Eagles (see E) cover – but I really like ‘Sweet Faced Jane’, ‘Witburg Nights’ and ‘Long Ships’.  John has never released any solo stuff since and now records very rarely and plays in John Lees Barclay James Harvest.  It seems that early on writing songs was easy – now in old age far more difficult.

Lemonjelly – a present from my daughter Laura, who tries (often with success) to keep me abreast of Modern Dance Music and Electronica, and my favourite ‘TripHop’.  As seems to be quite common nowadays Lemonjelly consists of only 2 members, Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen, who appear to be more computer geeks than musicians.  Saying that they have produced 3 superb albums before going AWOL, or on hiatus as they claim in 2008 and releasing nothing since.  They had 3 Eps (now very expensive and hard to find before releasing their debut album KY in 2000.  This soon became a favourite, and remains so – I think they started to repeat themselves after this really.  The only real vocals are often spoken not sung and are usually very funny and often have nothing to do with the music really, which is laid back and almost jazzy and quite simple but very effective.  Apparently, the album is really their first 3 Eps slightly remixed.  Best tracks are ‘The Staunton Lick’, ‘Homage To Patagonia’ and ‘Page One’.  Great stuff but superior ‘Osborne and Little’ Wallpaper music at the end of the day.  Their second album was Lost Horizons, released 2 years later.  A quieter affair really.  Again, mostly instrumental, nice tunes but nothing really brilliant.  Best – ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ and the sinister ‘Experiment’.  In 2005 they released 64 – 95, which used samples from songs originally released between those years – but for the life of me I barely recognise them.  Quite a bit more varied this album and a bit louder too.  No bad thing as they were getting boring.  Best tracks are ‘Don’t Stop now’, ‘The Slow Train’ and ‘A Man Like Me’.

Ute Lemper – A German singer singing songs by Kurt Weill – not rock and roll at all.  I first heard Weill or rather saw the Opera ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ which I loved. I particularly like her singing ‘Alabama Song’, ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’ and ‘Speak low’.  Not for everyone I suspect – but I like it.

John Lennon –  What can you say about the legend that is John Lennon.  The Beatles had effectively split in ’69, although Abbey Road was a triumph, but all the Fab Four were busy making solo albums.  John and Yoko attended Primal Therapy and the result was John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – his debut solo album (or not quite as he and Yoko had made 3 unlistenable albums with of found and nonsense noise).  But this album was brilliant, despite quite a few of the songs being about their pain.  The songs are very very good, the singing is heartfelt and honest and the production amazing.  I really love this record; hard to find favourites as almost all the songs are beautiful.  There are a couple of lovely love songs – ‘Love’ and ‘Hold On, Yoko’.  There is the classic ‘Working Class Hero’, but I really love ‘Mother’.  This is possibly his best album, as incidentally almost all of The Beatles first albums were.  Then in ’71 came Imagine, which many rate as his Masterpiece.  There is of course the great title song and ‘Jealous Guy’ – both great songs, but I am not so impressed with most of the others ; I do like the exuberant ‘Oh, Yoko’ and ‘Crippled Inside’ but I don’t like the Paul-baiting ‘How Do You Sleep’.  Then came what some consider a moment of madness, but I quite like Some Time In NYC the following year.  This is a John and Yoko Record, with them alternating on vocals.  I only like John’s stuff, which is quite different and, in my mind, enjoyable.  Best are ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, ‘The Luck of The Irish’ and ‘John Sinclair’.  A very political album – John was going through some turbulence and making revolutionary comments and gestures.  Overall the album fails but has a couple of decent tracks and the live extra CD is awful.  1973 saw a new and much better album Mind Games.  The title track was a hit single and is gorgeous; the production is very nice and John’s voice superb.  Other favourites are ‘One Day At A Time’ and ‘Bring On the Lucie (Freeda People).  Altogether a very good album.  He followed this with his most commercially successful album a year later Walls and Bridges, which despite being chaotically recorded during John’s famous Lost Weekend is still pretty good.  Excellent songs, including big hit single ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’.  The feel of the record is more dancey; John trying desperately to stay relevant and with-it I suspect.  My favourite tracks on not really my favourite album are ‘Bless You’ and ‘Old Dirt Road’ (which he also recorded with Harry Nilsson on Harry’s Lennon produced album Pussycats (see N).  Also, I quite like his vicious rocker ‘Steel and Glass’ apparently written about Allen Klein.  Then, as a result of John using some of Chuck Berry’s lyrics on Abbey Road’s Come Together he had to record some of Chuck’s songs.  The result was Rock’n’Roll (1975).  I have mixed feelings about this album, in fact for years I disliked it, feeling it was a backward step.  But later I ended up quite liking it, though I still feel it was a bit of a waste of John’s talent.  Although, as ever, re-listening after a few years – I really love the sound of is voice, which has never sounded better.   Then there was silence.  John and Yoko had got back together and a baby was on the way.  John gave up his music career and became a house-father to baby Sean.  He was also fighting heroin addiction.  But in 1980, shortly before he was shot, he released a lovely final record with Yoko –Double Fantasy.  I am discounting Yoko’s songs as they simply distract from John’s.  I really like the lead single, first track ‘Starting Over’, but also ‘I’m Losing You’ and best of all ‘Watching The Wheels’.  It is very difficult to really look objectively at this record as it is bound up in all the emotion of his tragic death – but it is probably his second or third best since he left The Beatles.   Yoko released Milk and Honey 2 years later; this was a collection of songs worked on at the time of the last album; either held over for a later record or rejected as not good enough – who knows?   When a superstar like Lennon dies, and so tragically too, it is little wonder that with only 6 albums released after the Beatles there would be a huge demand for new material.  But really, there is hardly any and what there is is poor.  I bought Lennon Accoustic but discovered it was simply early takes or demos; really quite disappointing.  Much better is one of the many (and boy, how many there are) greatest hits.  I have Legend, which I think covers all the singles and best tracks.  And so that closes the book on John.  We have no idea if he would have gone on to achieve even better stuff, or ended up playing old Beatles hits live, or simply slid into obscurity.  Our perception of him will always be coloured both by his Beatles years and his untimely death.  As to the argument over who was the greatest – John or Paul – simply on post-fab four output Paul must win, though together they were greater than apart.

John Lennon - John Lennon Wallpaper (31566020) - Fanpop

My Record Collection 138

Ladyship Black Mombaza.  Famous for their collaboration with Paul Simon on Graceland (see S) they sold quite well in the late 80s.  I picked up a greatest hits Spirits of South Africa in a charity shop.   Perfectly pleasant but not exactly my cup of tea.

Ray Lamontagne.   A strange one, this.  I first became aware of Ray because his debut album was being advertised on TV in 2004.  Now, in my experience this is usually a sign of some desperation.  However, the few snatches of song accompanying the ad were intriguing and sounded quite good.  I read a couple of reviews which were positive so I bought the album Trouble – besides I liked the cover, not the most reliable of indicators but somehow it looked good.  And good it was.  A great debut album, great songs and a good individual voice, nice production too, mostly acoustic guitars, piano and drums.  Best songs  -the title track and ‘Narrow Escape’.   2006 saw a new album – Till the Sun Turns Black; a bit bleaker really and more orchestration, not that that leavens the mood.  I am partial to a bit of misery, but I never really liked this record.  2008 saw Gossip in The Grain.   Not so bad and yet I felt he wasn’t moving on, no progression – and I sort of stopped listening to him after this.  Saying that – ‘You Are The Best Thing’ and the title song are quite good really.

Ronnie Lane – Ah…so much affection for this guy, who to me always seemed the heart of The Faces (see F) and the Small Faces (see S).  I loved his gentler songs back then, but when the Faces finally called it a day, as Rod (see S) sailed off to America and world domination, poor old Ronnie was left a bit homeless and helpless.  He did make a couple of albums – one with Pete Townshend (see T) and I have a sort of best of called How Come, released in 2001.  Sadly, he had MS and died at age 51 in 1997.  He was much loved by fans and musicians alike.  The album is a bit patchy.  I do like some of it – the ‘hit’ – ‘How Come’, of course and a few of the tracks, mostly bucolic celebrating a mythologised gypsy lifestyle as in ‘Kushty Rye’ – but apart from ‘Stone’ – it is mostly light stuff.

k. d. lang…(all lower case) was originally a country style singer but who has veered more in classic torch song territory over the years.  My first album of hers is Angel With A Lariat (1987) with her then band The Reclines.  Many of the songs were so-written with Ben Mink, her guitarist.  Best songs – the cover of ‘Rose Garden’ and ‘Watch Your Step Polka’ – but best of all is the closer torch song ‘Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray’.  Not a bad album, but a bit too country for me.  She followed this two years later with Absolute Torch And Twang.  Much the same template as her previous album and mostly written with Mink again.  Best songs are ‘Big-Bones Gal’, ‘Holding Back The Reins’ and closer ballad ‘Nowhere To Stand’.  I feel that k d was almost torn between these torch ballads and the faster country stuff.  Anyway, she sort of lost her band The Reclines and recorded her second solo album Ingenue (1992) next.   At the time this seemed a huge change of direction but the signs were there all along.   This was a real tear-jerker album, full of broken hearts and loss.  This became her biggest album by far, a feat she has failed to follow up on really.  She had a huge hit with ‘Constant Craving’ but I also like ‘Miss Chatelaine’ and ‘Season Of Hollow Soul’ – but overall the album was just too samey for me, I grew tired of it quickly.  One last album before I gave up on her was actually a soundtrack from ’93 – Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – This was a sort-of return to her more country sound, but really it was all second rate stuff. 

Daniel Lanois – had produced 2 great Dylan albums so I knew the name.   A musician in his own write though I have 2 albums.   For The Beauty Of Wynona came out in 1993 and is great.  Very atmospheric with his signature production of foggy sounds but very good and distinctive vocals.  Very much in the modern ‘rock’ medium with excellent guitar work.  I really enjoyed this album, especially ‘Still Learning How To Crawl’, the Cajun influenced ‘The Collection Of Marie Claire’ and ‘The Unbreakable Chain’ – but really there isn’t a poor track on a varied and accomplished record.  My other album of his is 2003’s Shine.  This appears to me a much quieter, more reflective album; brilliantly produced as usual, every instrument – and sometimes it is basically guitar – clear and yet with that trademark muddy sound of Daniel’s.  Less varied I think than Wynona, but hauntingly beautiful too.  Best songs – the instrumental ‘Transmitter’, ‘I Love You’ and ‘Power of One’.  Not sure why I have only 2 of his albums….but, the choices we make are often arbitrary and well….there we are.

Cyndi Lauper – ‘Twelve Deadly Cyns’ is a greatest hits, and hits it is and great it is.  Very Eighties, very Poppy, very synthy, very excitable vocals…a bit boring too, but you can’t help singing along – especially to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’.