My Record Collection 203

The Undertones – Apparently one of John Peel’s very favourite bands.  They formed in Derry in ’74 and were distinct from punk bands because they were actually very very good, even if they shared their excitement and back to basics sound.  I just have a greatest hits album Teenage Kicks, which is probably their best song, but I also like ‘My Cousin’ and ‘Positive Touch’.  Thier most famous member was the singer Feargal Sharkey, whose distinctive vocals dominate.  He went on to a short solo career and is now an environmental campaigner. 

Vanilla Fudge – One of the seminal 60’s rock bands, who were famous for slowed down re-interpretations of classic songs of their era.  Two of their members Bogart and Appice went on to form Beck, Bogart and Appice in the early 70’s and later became session players for many famous artists. I only have a live album Best Of Vanilla Fudge – Live.  A great set including ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Ticket To Ride’ by the Beatles and ‘You Keep me Hanging On’ and ‘People Get Ready’ – both great soul classics. 

Vanity Fair (music from) – composed by Murray Gold for a nineties BBC adaptation of one of my favourite Victorian Novels, the music is varied and incredible with great swoops of brass intermingled with quiet strings.  Not everyone’s tasse du the I am sure, but I really like it.

Van Morrison – Though an undoubted Legend, I’ve never been that bowled over by him.  He was of course, the voice of Them – a sixties band.  In the late 60’s he decamped to America and had a string of solo albums.  He is famously difficult to work with.  I only have two albums – Astral Weeks(1968) – Many fans think this one of his best albums, but it leaves me flat.  I like Madame George, mainly because of Marianne Faithfull’s version (see F), and Cypress Avenue is okay…but the rest, not really impressed.  I do have a (sort of) greatest hits, courtesy of a giveaway from The Sun  – Brown-Eyed Girl.   And you have to admit that that song is rather catchy; it is actually one of the most played songs on the radio.  The other tracks are just jazzy live stuff….not worth listening to.

Townes van Zant  – I don’t know much about him, except that he was a brilliant songwriter, who never achieved much recognition.  I first heard his songs sung by Steve Earl (see E).  Just one album My Mother The Mountain.  He reminds me somewhat of Hank Williams, singing very sad but timeless songs.  Best of which are  ‘Lefty and Pancho’, ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Tecunseh Valley’.  Like Hank he died pretty young too.

Suzanne Vega – Always on the lookout for female singer songwriters, how could I miss Suzanne, who burst on the scene with her acoustic guitar and haunting voice, and very poignant songs.  Her self-titles debut in 1985 was incredibly well received.  Every song seems just right, from ‘Cracking’ to ‘Neighbourhood Girls’ it seems perfectly formed.   A very stripped back sound which allows her voice to rise above the music – especially on the best track – ‘Marlena On The Wall’.  She followed this with maybe her best album Solitude Standing (1987).  This was her breakthrough album and contained possibly her two best known songs; ‘Tom’s Diner’ and ‘Luka’ – but all the songs are good; especially ‘Night Vison’.   Her third was Days Of Open Hand (1990).  Taking a little bit of time between albums she seemed to hone the songs down.   Best are ‘Tired Of Sleeping’ and ‘Men In A War’.    1992 saw a new album 99.9F.   Again,hard to fault her; in fact this may be her most consistent record; best tracks are ‘Blood Makes Noise’, ‘In Liverpool’ and ‘When Heroes Go Down’.   A change of style, as she was now having a more ‘produced’ sound and more instrumentation.  My last, but not hers was 9 Objects of Desire (1996).  Well, this is far more like most other people’s albums, production-wise.  In fact, it sound overproduced to me.  I can’t say this is a favourite of mine, and compared to the previous four, I think she lost direction.  Still, ’No Cheap Thrill’ and ‘World Before Columbus’ aren’t bad at all.

My Record Collection 202

U2 – I had heard of them; a former partner had 1 album – but I really woke up at Live Aid when they played a scintillating set.   First up is their debut album BOY (1980) – a very guitar driven album, where it takes a few listens to distinguish individual songs. Best are ‘I Will Follow’, ‘Into The Heart’ and ‘Out Of Control’.  A great start.  I then picked up again with The Joshua Tree (1987).  What an album – possibly their best, certainly their most popular.  Chock full of great songs – the band were in fire.  My favourites are probably ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ – but ask me on another day and it might be different.  So, the perennial problem – how to follow that.  They managed it, and in style.  They released a double album, half live, half new songs called Rattle and Hum (1988).  In some ways it is even better than Joshua Tree, though like all double albums, maybe too long.  Featuring duets with Dylan and B.B. King and some cracking live performances of ‘Helter Skelter’ (Beatles) and ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (Hendrix version) the live songs are simply brilliant ‘Silver and Gold’ and ‘Pride In The Name Of Love’ especially.  But the studio songs are excellent too – ‘Desire’, ‘When Love Comes To Town’ and ‘Angel of Harlem’ in particular sparkle.  A three-year break before their next re-invention Achtung Baby (1991).  The boys started to combine industrial rock and electronic beats into their already pretty dense sound.  The result is, in my opinion, a bit mixed.  Sometimes listening to it, it is just a noise, but then there are some very good melodies and singing in it too.  Best are ‘One’, ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ and ‘Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World’.   As the Nineties progressed the band struggled to define their identity, between their signature sound and the new heavier electronic music of Achtung Baby.  I missed out on Zooropa but bought Pop (1997).  The band were now using a combination of new young producers, trying to define their new direction.  The album was apparently rushed out just before a tour and the band were unhappy with it.  Personally, I’ve never liked the album, it seems a mess and the sound is far too crowded.  The only song that I like even half decently is ‘Discotheque’ though I have no idea what Bono is singing about.  All that You Can’t leave Behind came out in 2000 – and it was as if the old band was suddenly back after a missing decade.  Reuniting with producers Daniel Lanois (see L) and Eno the band came up with some great songs – and most importantly they sounded like U2.  Why they wanted to completely change this unique sound is beyond me.  Anyway, best songs are ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ and ‘Walk On’ – though there is not a weak song here.  A brilliant return to form.   2004 saw How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.   Well, I sort of liked this one, but felt they were treading water somewhat.  The songs were okay but not essential.  Best were ‘’Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ and ‘City Of Blinding Lights’.  My last by this extraordinary band is 2014’s Songs Of Innocence.  Ever looking for something new, they released the album on i-tunes for free for a few weeks before a physical CD emerged (making this, at 500 million possible customers, the biggest record release of all time).  A nice record, but not at all their best.  Still, I quite like ‘The Miracle’ and ‘Sleep Like A Baby Tonight’ and I cannot really recall the others in much detail.  The CD came with analogue versions of all the songs, much like demo’s – which added nothing to the CD except cost to the buyer.  Of course, I bought the excellent 2 major compilations – Greatest Hits 1980-1990 – which was their best period.  Brilliant songs such as ‘Pride In The Name Of love’, ‘New Year’s Day’, ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ plus lots from Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum make this a true best ever of.  It came as a double with best of ‘B’ sides, not that they did much for me except just sound like all the other U2 songs without the rousing choruses. The companion piece Greatest Hits 1990 – 2000 is still excellent though.  Best songs ‘Mysterious Ways’, ‘Stuck In a Moment’ and ’Numb’.   Only one other, a freebie given away with Sunday Times – though why a band like U2 need to do this I have no idea.   Still, there is no denying they are one of the great British bands of all time.