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