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
– (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.
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
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.
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.