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.
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.