My Record Collection 186

John Stewart -The early years.  Well, where to begin.  He was in a hit folk band of the late fifties and early sixties ‘The Kingston Trio’.  He also wrote a huge hit for the Monkees – ‘Daydream Beleiver’, which is still played on oldies radio stations.  In the late Sixties he embarked on a solo career that lasted almost 50 years and nearly as many albums – until his untimely death in 2008.  His first solo release was Signals Through The Glass (1968) credited to John and his long-time partner Buffy Ford.   I would not recommend that any newcomers should start here, but all the same it is a nice album.  I feel that John was still trying to find his style, which very soon became a forerunner to what is now known as Americana, a mix of folkey singer songwriter and country music – in many ways John became the leading exponent of this real American music of the late 20th Century.  Of course, he is barely known, although he did have a couple of minor hits along the way.  He was a remarkable and extremely prolific song-writer, a very competent guitarist and had a voice that could melt ice with it’s warmth.  Best songs on this album are ‘Holly On My Mind’, ’Cody’ and ‘July, You’re a Woman’ (which was re-recorded on his next album and was a big live favourite.  California Bloodlines came out in 1969 and was possibly his first real hit album (though compared to many singer-songwriters he sold only moderately.  In some ways it is his best – the first album was fairly folky, but Bloodlines was real Americana – and the songs were all brilliant.   This is one of those albums you just cannot choose a favourite, but I must mention – ‘The Pirates Of Stone County Road’, Omaha Rainbow’ and best of all the closing track ‘Never Going Back To Nashville’ (where John namechecks the players – the same crew that played on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding, and a few others including ‘Bobby Bluebird Dylan’ of course) – this last is a great almost rock track.  1970 saw the slightly gentler Willard album.  In places this is a return to his folk roots but still a few classic Americana songs – ‘Hero From The War’, ‘Oldest Living Son’ and ‘Big Joe’.   Not my most favourite album really, but the following year he released his second masterpiece The Lonesome Picker Rides Again.   Again, he seemed inspired and every song was wonderful.  The sort of record you just have to put back on repeat.  I especially like ‘Swift Lizard’ and ‘Wolves In The Kitchen’ – two rocking tracks, and ‘Crazy’ and ‘All The Wild Horses’ are gentle heartbreaking ballads.  He even reprieves the number one song he wrote for The Monkees, the brilliant ‘Daydream Believer’.  What an album, WOW.  As so often though the follow-up was a bit of a mixed bag really.  Sunstorm , which came out in the holy year of 1972 had a few great songs – ‘Kansas Rain’, ‘Arkansas’ and ‘Cheyenne’ but for some reason the record was never my favourite.  Much better was 1973’s Cannons In The Rain (a reference to as a child referring to Thunder).  In fact, as so often, upon a re-listen I love it all over again.  In fact, this of course ranks alongside California Bloodlines as another classic album.  Best songs are again hard to choose, but ‘Durango’, ‘Hung On YourHeart (Of A Man Back Home] and the rocking ‘Lady And The Outlaw’ stand out as long time favourite songs.   1974 saw a live album The Pheonix Concerts.  Immaculate live versions of these early classic songs – a great concert album.  Just 2 unrecorded songs – ‘Cops’ and ‘Roll Away The Stone’.  Wingless Angels came out in 1975.   A slight move to a more conventional sound, a few more strings and girl backing singers.  Still a very good album; John was now assuming the mantle of the great American chronicler and his songs ‘Survivors’ namechecks a whole load of states.  But my favourite songs are ‘Summer Child’, Ride Stone Blind’ and ‘Let The Big Horse Run’.    For whatever reason John and his record company, RCA, parted ways.  He eventually joined the Robert Stigwood Organisation – known as RSO, which was having huge success with Clapton and the BeeGees among others.  His next few albums were more commercial and were recorded with record sales in mind.  The mid-Seventies, as well as being famous for Punk were also a move to a more disco and dance-oriented sound.  His first album on this new label was 1977’s Fire In The Wind.   Not a bad album, but the rough edges have been knocked off a bit – John’s voice seems smoother, the songs not quite so open and honest.  Still, not at all bad – best songs are ‘Boston Lady’, ’18 Wheels’ and ‘The Last Hurrah’.   2 years later and the best-selling album of his career Bombs Away Dream Babies was released.  I am not sure just why this was such a big seller, possibly the hit single ‘Gold’, but also the addition of Lynsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac to his backing and singing band no doubt helped.   But also, undoubtedly it was the choice of 10 of his best songs which made the record so good.  I am not sure that Stevie and Lyndsey really improved his sound; they certainly made it more commercial and at that time everything they touched seemed to go gold.   John later dismissed the hit single ‘Gold’ as simply made for the money, and he rarely enjoyed singing it in concerts.  My favourites are ‘Midnight Wind’, ‘Runaway Fool In Love’ and ‘Lost Her In The Sun’ – but there isn’t a poor song on the album at all.   1980 saw John’s last RSO ‘commercial album’ Dream Babies Go Hollywood came out, or rather limped out.  Despite it’s similar cover and title the album sold poorly and John was dropped by RSO.  To my knowledge this album has never been released on CD, so I have a recorded version from Youtube, though I did once own the vinyl album.   Relistening after so many years I have to agree that this really is a poor album; either John’s heart wasn’t in it, or the production just swamped the songs.  Anyway, after this enormous flop John went back to his signature rawer, more basic and acoustic sound.  He seemed to have difficulty finding record companies to release his music, however he did release an enormous number of albums….