Thursday, 6 August 2020

50 Albums For 50 Years - 1980 to 1989

PART 2 - 1980 to 1989

The 80s?  All big shoulder pads, yuppies, and bashing Mrs Thatch.
Not necessarily for someone who entered the decade in their last year of junior school, and ended it with long hair, a leather jacket, and 2 years of a 4 year Apprenticeship behind them.
Key interests at the start was Football (West Ham winning the FA Cup in 1980, and completing my Espana 82 Panini Sticker Book being two highlights), but by 1982/83, Music was rapidly becoming an obsession - first record player, first album, first Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles, regular visits to the second hand record shop - I was building quite a collection.
So was the 80s all about shoulder pads and money to burn?  No, mostly it was about acne, dandruff, and accumulating "stuff".

Again, I may well have banged on about some of these in the past, but I'm going to do it again anyway.

1980 Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebels
Off the back of Punk and what followed, youth tribalism was once more in vogue (in truth it had never gone away).  In the midst of a Mod Revival and the Two Tone movement came another tribe with a love of 60s Soul, a gang mentality, and a soundtrack that fitted perfectly with the times.
Dexys didn't place adverts for their new album, they wrote essays explaining the importance of the music and their vision.
Kevin Rowland saw his initial vision through, and then re-invented Dexy's for every subsequent release.  All essential listening, but none more essential than the debut.

1981 Human League - Dare
The Human League started life as an avant-garde-ish Art School Project - all synths, slideshows and asymmetric haircuts.  Lack of commercial success and crumbling relationships within the band led to Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh jumping ship and leaving Phil Oakey with the bands name and debts, but no actual band.  Two female singers were recruited from a Sheffield night-club and a musician acquaintance added.  Not only did the membership change, the bands sound became more pop-orientated and commercial (no doubt helped by rising debts and Martin Rushent's production guidance).  What came next is the Human League's best album, adding seriously lush pop alongside the darker tones of original League.
It also includes an afterthought song tacked onto the end of the album to please the record company.  That song is now seen as the Human League's most well known 3 minutes, and trotted out by lazy TV producers when they want to evoke the 80s.
There are 9 other better songs on this album though.

1982 Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden were at a bit of a low point in late 81.  After their initial success, their second album didn't do the same business, their vocalist was enjoying the Rock n Roll lifestyle a little too much, and their record company were demanding hit singles.  Cue 3 non-album singles - "Women In Uniform", "Twilight Zone", and "Purgatory".  None of them provided the breakthrough hoped for, and their singer departed and/or was sacked.
With a new singer installed, the band were prolific in writing and recording (mindful of the increasing debt they were building).  The reward was a Top 10 single ("Run To The Hills") and an instant Number 1 album upon release.
This rejuvenated Iron Maiden entered 1982 at the top of their game, and with some minor hiccups along the way, stayed there.

1983 Big Country – The Crossing
It's got Guitars that sound like Bagpipes - what more do you need.
Viewed as peers of U2 in 1983, and sharing a producer (Steve Lillywhite) this debut took the songcraft Stuart Adamson learned in The Skids, and advanced it in a sort of Celtic Bruce Springsteen-ish way - all honest and workmanlike, with added bombast.  A marriage of big riffs, a solid rhythm section, melodious twin guitars ,and air-pinching anthems.  Did I mention the Bagpipe Guitars?
Another one of those accomplished debut albums that was very nearly equalled in future releases, but never felt quite as whole as the first outing.

1984 Metallica – Ride The Lightening
Can't have compilations so Status Quo's '12 Gold Bars Volume I + II' is out (sadly), Frankie Goes To Hollywood were everywhere in 1984, but the album honestly wasn't that great.  The Smiths debut?  I didn't actually properly get The Smiths until 1987, so that's out too.
So 1984s nomination goes to a bunch of longhairs from California at the forefront of the Thrash Metal scene.  Nut wait .. this, their second album, holds back on the thrash in favour of a more refined heavy rock (still played very quickly at times) with a debt to Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and (thanks to drummer Lars Ulrich's passion) various New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) bands including Diamond Head, Blitzkreig, and Sweet Savage.
The sound flying from those grooves is as heavy as anything out there, but done with a touch of musicianship so missing from many of their head rattling peers.

1985 Marillion – Misplaced Childhood
Another one of those perfect moment albums where a band deep in debt hits a seam of gold.
But the question remains: how can a bunch of Prog-Rockers from Aylsebury release a concept album into a world dominated by Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, and Tears For Fears and expect success?
Well they did, helped in no small part to 2 very strong single ("Kayleigh" and "Lavender" which do actually work outside of the concept), a supportive media (for a change), and a ravenous fan base.
Written as one long story (over 2 sides of vinyl) after an acid trip, this album took the tropes of their previous 2 releases and honed the edges.  There was to be one more Fish-era album after this one - another concept album, and a very good one too, but not quite as good as this one.

1986 Metallica – Master Of Puppets
Whilst this could be initially viewed as "more of the same" after 1984s 'Ride The Lightening' (ie full production, focussed playing, dark lyrics, growled vocals, thrashy moments) this is the point where everything came together and over the course of the album pretty much defined Heavy Metal/Heavy Rock for the next 10 years.  The world was opening up before them, only to be snatched from them when bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a coach crash.  Metallica never sounded as musically forceful again, falling back on the more down, sombre, darker style.   But ... re-invention happens and I can report that 2016s 'Hardwired To Self Destruct' is easily the best thing they've done since the early 90s.

1987 Cult – Electric
In truth, probably a tie between this and Guns n Roses - 'Appetite For Destruction', but this one I think just edges it.  It's probably more evocative of the moment than Buns n Toasties who wheedled their way into my lughole affections later.
A relatively successful Goth band, this album marked a re-invention in their sound - of which much can be attributed to producer Rick Rubin (he of DefJam Records, various Hip Hop tunes, The Beastie Boys, and a Metal dabbler with Slayer's 'Reign In Blood').
What came was an almost perfect record to get (and keep) a party going in 1987.  It starts on a high and rarely lets go (except maybe for the perfunctory cover of "Born To Be Wild")

1988 Wonder Stuff – Eight Legged Groove Machine
I wrote many moons ago of my belief that 1987 was something of a nadir in popular music, but the rumblings were there, and by 1988 a new UK indie sound (called invitingly Grebo) was developing in the Midlands, helmed by Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and this lot.  The Wonder Stuff's debut was a real blast of energy, full of humour, directness (the 3 minute barrier is rarely broken), and an almost folky lilt behind it.  Grebo as a thing may not have lasted that long, but was the perfect antidote to Stock Aitken and Waterman.

1989 Stone Roses – Stone Roses
A retrospective choice this one - my most played record that year was probably Last Of The Teenage Idols – 'Satellite Head Gone Soft' or Wolfsbane - 'Live Fast Die Fast'.  I may even have played The Macc Lads - 'From Beer To Eternity' more often.  It's one of those that I bought, listened to, but was obviously not in the right frame of mind for it.  The release of 'Second Coming' brought me back to it - oh what I fool, this is superb.
Madchester rumbled into public conscious in the late 80s - according to legend The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays were at the front.  Both mixing dance music with indie guitars, the Happy Mondays arrived at a club happy formula, whilst the Stone Roses imbued the music with more 60s psychedelia.  Their debut album was not as hotly received as (false) memory suggests, waiting some 6 months (and the release of the "Fools Gold" single which is not on the album) to become a massive success.
In retrospect, fully deserving of that success - it still sounds remarkably fresh today, and not a bad way to round off a decade (even if it took me 5 years to get round to that opinion)

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Sparks - A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip

Sparks have been releasing albums - 24 of them to date - for nigh on 50 years.
After that amount of time, one would be forgiving and understanding if releases dipped below par, or quality control waned a bit.
Not in the case of Sparks - they don't sound in the slightest bit frustrated with advancing years or bereft of inspiration.
Here's an album every bit as vital to their catalogue as 'Kimono My House' (1974), 'Angst In My Pants' (1982), 'Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins' (1994), or 2017s 'Hippopotamus'.
They hit a seam of quality early on, and have remained consistent to this day.

Opener "All That" lays the foundations nicely - prime baroque-pop with echoes of Abba, The Beatles, and anything else that is simply pleasing to the ear
From there every track demands attention and seems to exist in it's own small world (which at the same time is part of a larger Sparks world).
"Lawnmower" is an almost a repeating mantra about obsession - the constant la-la-la-ing takes root in your brain and stays there.  And there can't be too many songs expressing love for a Lawn Mower, the greatness of a well tended lawn, and a girl from Andover (who drives a Land Rover).
"Pacific Standard Time" casts a retro type 80s dance sound (almost verging Techno?), and the orchestral baroque madness is restored with  "Stravinsky's Only Hit" which re-casts the composer as a slightly bitter washed-up celebrity.  "Onomato Pia" is almost operatic in intent based around a simple pun.
"iPhone" gets almost anthemic and universal in it's desire for the world to "put your fucking iPhone down and listen to me".
There are many moments - perhaps none more so than on "The Existential Threat" - when they sound like they're about to descend into madness, but it is all held together.  And you would expect nothing less.
"Please Don't Fuck Up My World" closes with an almost hymnal eco-anthem to the world they see around them and it's fate.

The album is lushly, thickly produced but never to the detriment of the tunes.  The histrionics of the vocals (which may if that's not your thing, but it is something of a Sparks trademark) are balanced by the sheer warmth, humour and enjoyment of the album.
It is both a product of Sparks and a unique stand-alone artefact.  If you only want to own one Sparks album, you could do a lot worse than this one
(although I'd still make an argument for a score-draw with 'Kimono My House' meaning you'd have to listen to 2 Sparks albums).

"All That"



Sunday, 26 July 2020

50 Albums For 50 Years - 1970 to 1979

Now, somehow I've managed to achieve 50 years on this planet.
So what better way to mark the occasion than to drone on about some musical things.

The first installment is the 70s - a decade I don't really remember (surprisingly).  There are bits of clarity - eating Beans on Toast by candle light, getting my finger stuck in a glass bottle at school, being convinced that my hair in shadow looked like Rod Stewart's, the last 3 minutes of the 1979 FA Cup Final (the other 87 were pretty uninspiring), watching Top Of The Pops, getting my first tape player and recording things from the Radio 1 chart countdown. 
As I never actually bought an album until 1982. these choices are "learned" choices either by self-discovery, or by a friend saying "listen to this!"

Many of the selections I have waxed lyrical about before - so hopefully I'm just repeating myself, rather than contradicting myself.

PART 1 - 1970 to 1979

1970 Derek and The Dominoes – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs
After Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton craved anonymity and just being part of a group.  This he achieved with the formation of Derek and The Dominoes.  This band consisted of 3 members nicked from George Harrison's band, and a personal invitation to Duane Allman.
Not content with nicking George's band, many of the sings here are about nicking Georges's wife.
On first hearing some of the blues workouts sound laboured and overlong - a bit like a jam session rather than a song recording.  But repeated listening drills the songs in and you wouldn't want it any other way.
Personally, I don't think Delboy has ever topped this one.
And yes, it includes that song - overplayed perhaps, but the riff is enough to send you into air guitar frenzy.  And he full version with the extended coda pushes the track into damned near perfect territory.  But it's not the best track here.  That prize goes to:

1971 Who – Who's Next
1969s 'Tommy' moved the band from a 60s singles band to an album band proper.  1970s 'Live At Leeds' showcased their incendiary on stage prowess, honed by incessant touring of 'Tommy'.
'Whos Next' started out as Pete's next concept album - Lifehouse - but he couldn't make the story stick. 
The album is bookened by two absolute belters ("Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again") and the bits in the middle are none too shabby either.
As the concept was dropped, the remaining songs were honed into some of the finest rock tracks to lay in the grooves of a 12" vinyl platter.

1972 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie had been trying to be famous since the mid-sixties - he briefly was in 1969 with "Space Oddity" but was seemingly unable to follow it up, and he watched as his mate Marc Bolan became the biggest pop-star in Britain.  His 1971 album 'Hunky Dory' signalled a change in approach, confidence and consistency (and with the track "Queen Bitch" seemed to lay the ground work for what came next).
'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust' is cited as a Rock Opera with a continuing narrative - this is both true and un-true as the narrative came together after many of the songs were already complete.
Released into a Glam world of 1972, it was perfectly placed and the legend was born - each subsequent album seemed to mark a development, or a change of outlook and style.  For me, it's only the first two of the Berlin-trilogy ('Low' and 'Heroes') which better this album in the DB canon.

1973 Who – Quadrophenia
They've scored with one concept album, they've proved the live chops, and they've failed to make a second concept a reality.  So what next?  I know another concept album (actually a second one, after the aborted planned autobiographical film/next attempt to make Lifehouse stick) - Long Live Rock).
Pete Towshend returned to a more real grounding spinning the tale of Jimmy The Mod and his double schizophrenia.
History and biographies suggest the band (and most certainly Pete) were burning out with exhaustion at this point.  One listen to the album will poo-poo that suggestion.

1974 Slade – In Flame
Slade were very probably the most successful singles act in the UK in the early 70s
 - 6 Number Ones (3 straight in at Number One) and 7 other Top 10 singles between 1971 and 1975.  They also manged 5 Top 10 albums (3 hitting Number One).
By 1974 they wanted to broaden their appeal, and crack the US.  A film seemed the obvious choice - after all it worked for The Beatles.  Initial scripts centred on the band's image and had a slapstick appeal.  The project chosen was an altogether grittier affair - the rise (and fall) of a band from Wedding Parties and two-bit gigs to chart success, including the unsavoury managers and record companies along the way.
In truth, the film (and subsequent attempts at the US) ended up doing more harm than good as by 1976 Slade were in decline.
This album - the soundtrack to that film - contains some of their best songs.  It's unmistakably Slade, but you can just hear them pushing a bit further than the rabble-rousing 7" singles.  It also contains their very best song (if not one of the best songs ever committed to tape).  This one ...

1975 Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
When your last album has shifted many many unite, you'd better make sure your next outing is a corker.  And it was - it just took a little longer to recognise the fact.  How much more Prog can you get - 5 tracks bookended by a 25 minute suite in 9 parts.  1 track is a tribute to Syd Barrett ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond"), 1 can be interpreted as a message to Syd )"Wish You Were Here") and the other two are having a pop at the record business.

1976 AC/DC – High Voltage
Accadacca guitarist Angus Young once got upset with a journalist who said "AC/DC have released 10 albums that all sound the same".  "Not true", replied Angus, "we've released 11 that all sound the same".  And this was the first (or third depending on how you read the discography),  This was the first international release plundering the pick of the 2 previous Australia only releases.
Every track is a thundering slice of Aussie Barroom boogie.
They've now released 15 albums that all sound the same - and with few exceptions in the same league as this one.

1977 Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
Regular readers of this tosh will now doubt be aware of the affection I hold for this album.  Not just the ultimate Punk Rock album, but surely one of the greatest Rock albums ever.
The sheer force, energy, tightness of the band, and most importantly power of the songs themselves.
Re-issued, re-packaged and re-configured several dozen times, and always a thrill to hear it.

1978 Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material
John Peel's affection for The Undertones "Teenage Kicks" is well recorded.  He was also a massive supporter of another Northern Irish band, whose debut single ("Suspect Device") sits 5 places higher in the 1978 Festive Fifty.
This was their debut - recorded in under a fortnight on a 50/50 profit share deal with Rough Trade.  It sold enough on release to become the first independent album to enter the Top 20 of the UK album, and (despite Geoff Travis rarely mentioning it) kept Rough Trade going and allowed them to build into the empire it became.
Terri Hooley (Good Vibrations Records mainman) said: “New York has the bands, London has the clothes but Belfast has the reason".
And SLF had the album that explained the reasons

1979 The Specials – The Specials
Independent record labels, politicsing youth, and a focus on race relations are 3 things bequeathed by Punk. And 3 things Jerry Dammers used when co-creating The Specials.  Harking back to 60s Reggae and Ska, looking sharp, multi-racial band members, and being in charge of their own destiny were all in The Specials agenda, and they were joined by other like-minded bands from their Midlands home and throughout the country.
Punks, Skins, Mods, Rastas - there's something in these grooves that appeals to most listeners.  And while the messages may be deeper, there is also something properly joyous happening

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

One Moment In Time ... What Didn't Happen Next

It takes just one moment of decision (or in-decision?) to change the future.  If that little butterfly in The Philippines chose not to flap it's wings at a given moment, the landscape could've been a very different place.

6 July 1957
The weather in Liverpool is overcast with intermittent rain storms.  There's a Church Fete taking place in nearby Woolton featuring a band that a school mate has said is worth a look. Paul McCartney looks a the weather, decides he doesn't fancy cycling the 3 miles in a belting rain storm.
What Didn't Happen Next?
- Paul McCartney follows hid Dad into the Big Band playing piano, clarinet and saxophone at weekends whilst holding down a Middle Management position at Royal Liver Assurance.  He marries old school friend Helena Rigby, and when not working at the office or playing in the band, is also a published author of short stories and novella.
- John Lennon finishes his studies at Art College and takes up the post of Visiting Lecturer at Southampton University.  On a clear day from Southampton Dock he can see the Isle Of Wight.  With the day free, he decides to buy a ticket to Ryde.
- George Harrison completes his apprenticeship and becomes a fully qualified electrician - he expands his business and a fleet of Sparky George vans can be found across the City.  The Company Headquarters is a small lock up behind the barbers on Penny Lane.
- Ringo Starr, after a largely uneventful time as a drummer for hire at Butlins Holiday Camps and around Liverpool, hangs up hi sticks and throws his energy into crisps and snacks eventually inventing a circular potato and maize snack that bares his name.  Bags of Stars fly off the shelves, but he fails to correctly declare his income to the Inland Revenue and now the Taxman is after him.

20 or so years later, Noel Gallagher joins his brothers band, and informs them they should try and sound more like Gerry and The Pacemakers

December 1974
Mick Taylor, exhausted from touring, strung out with his new habit, and miffed he didn't get (promised) writing credits announces that he is to leave The Stones.
Mick Jagger asks Ronnie Wood to fill the gap, purely because he's standing next to him at the party.
Ronnie mulls it over, but keeps loyal the Rod and the other Faces.  Yes, it's true that relationships have not been great since Rod's increasing solo success, but it's still a bloody good laugh with his mates.  Plus, he also knows that discussions are taking place with Steve Marriott to re-join if Rod ever does leave.  "Cheers Mick, but no thanks".
The Stones give the job to Jeff Beck (who stays for one tour) to be followed by Peter Frampton.  Frampton is not a foil or soulmate to Keith, and The Stones fall apart in 1978 after they tour the world for the last time.  Time is no longer on their side, and continuous touring is not giving them any satisfaction.

1 December 1976
Freddie Mercury takes a couple of aspirin to dull the pain of a toothache.  He's feeling fine, and Queen can attend the scheduled TV interview (EMI were preparing to give the gig to their new signings, but were hoping Freddie's choppers would be OK).
Queen get to the Thames TV studios, but the pain in Freddie's mouth re-occurs.  He downs a bottle of brandy to numb the pain.
In the studio he remains silent whilst Bill Grundy goes through the motions of reading out the press sheet word for word.  He then turns to the band and says: "Bohemian Rhapsody - what was that all bout.  Faux classical music in a pop context.  Are you serious, or are you just taking the mickey".
An incensed Freddie stirs from his slumber: "Oh, you drunken old bitchy queen".  Brian May smiles inanely, John Deacon says nothing (as usual), and Roger Taylor just looks confused.  Freddie launches himself towards Bill Grundy and starts screaming, shouting and slapping the host while tears roll down his face.  Security are called, and the band led away.  The front pages of the following days papers all lead with the continuing strikes and and damage to the UK economy.  On page 9 of The Daily Mirror is a short piece about the events last night, with Freddie Mercury saying "I'm sorry, but I was very very drunk at the time".
As an apology, Freddie agrees to become co-presenter and news reader for the next 3 months.  When the stint is over, the press asked him if he enjoyed it.  His reply was: "I've read the News time after time, I've done my penance, and now it's all fine".  He then goes out for dinner with Bill Grundy to a French restaurant.  Bill Grundy pays the bill - he bought the champignons. 

30 October 1982
Paul Weller announces to the press that the current Jam Tour will be the last ... for a year or so.
He's taking a year off to build his studio and develop his record label.  After 5 years constant writing, recording, and touring with the band, he needs a rest.  Bruce and Rick could do with some time off too - just to get more into the groove of where Paul is trying to take the band.
When they do reform 12 months later, the band has fattened out with a horn section, a troop of female backing singers, and Mick "You Need Wheels" Talbot on keyboards.  They also have a new name - The Elegance Committee.
And it was in that Studio that the band began to fall apart - as did the Studio.
Whilst recording their second album 'The Boutique We Quite Like' (the follow-up to 'The Green Takeaway') that the structurally unsound Studio began to crumble - they sat and watched as the walls came tumbling down.

11 January 1984
Despite it falling down the charts, Mike Read becomes almost evangelical about the debut single from Frankie Goes To Hollywood.  He declares it as a "dancefloor banger" and particularly enjoys the near the knuckle lyrics, which he says has a touch of Punk about it, and may well get up the nose of parents and squares.  He plays it incessantly for a week, nut the British public are un-convinced, and it disappears from the chart a couple of weeks later.  Frankie Says ... nothing.

23 October 1984
After an eventful gig with the Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof arrives home nursing a hangover.  Arriving home he shows the family a new pet chimpanzee that he won in a drinking competition while on tour.  He retires to his bed to sleep off the last of the excess and misses the early evening News.
Paula Yates tells him about the News Report in the morning, but he stand in the kitchen looking disheveled, and says: "What the f*ck can I do about it?  Maybe I should give 'em the f*ckin' monkey"

which leads to another "it never happened"
13 July 1985
Just another sunny July day.  Nothing much going on in the world.

1 February 1995
Despite not being in fighting shape, Richey Edwards boards a plane to the US with the other Manic Street Preachers.  Their albums to date have been solid, if un-spectacular and not really living up to the hype and bluster they once pedalled.  Maybe now it's time to push their case in the US?
During a day-off, the band visit DisneyWorld, and Richey is entranced by the new world before him.  Back at the Hotel he announces that he will not be returning to the UK, preferring to seek the simple life of a ride attendant at the Theme Park.
And he's there to this day spinning the tea cups on the ride shouting "Faster!"

June 25 2009
Reports state that Michael Jackson, who has not been seen in public for at least 3 months is missing.  Reports speak of his re-location to a dessert island, his attempts to go under cover and live a simple hobo life, or even his demise.  There is much to support the latter story with Doctor's confirmations, and even a body seen lying in state.
However, just before Christmas Jackson emerges from a hidden alcove in the dining room of his Neverland mansion.
"Yes, I know I've been bad but I do love a good game of Hide and Seek.  You can't beat it" 

Of course, none of this happened (merely the dumpings of a fevered mind).  But it could have been a reality but for one random flutter of a winged insect.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Bought In Error - But a Good Error

In an attempt to broaden my musical horizons, I happened upon a documentary about Outlaw Country.
Now Country & Western has always left me cold - all that "my woman gone and left me", "my granny has fallen over a cliff", "my doggie is dead", "too much booze isn't a bad thing", "my sister and my wife are the same person".
But Outlaw Country piqued an interest - it seemed to take C&W and imbue it with Blues, Folk, and Rock signatures.  Less Yee-hah, more introspective and reality based.
So I watched it, read about it, thought about it some more, and arrived at the conclusion that the one single album that would provide me an entrance to this genre would be:
'Wanted! The Outlaws' featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I'm wandering around a Record Shop (yes, I know, a very unlikely thing for me to be doing) looking for both something, and nothing in particular.
(Basically, having a good old brows - something Mrs D has never understood the concept of).
And then I remember - Outlaw Country - let's see if I can find any of that (that should get me another half hour in this shop).
Found: The Highwaymen - Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson - that was one I remember reading about.
What was the other one?  The Outlaws.  A quick move to the O section, and there it is - a double Best Of compilation.  That must be it ...
Well, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but there was not a single ounce of upset as the CD player started to play.

Now what flew out of my speakers was not Willie Nelson's (sometimes whiny) voice or Waylon Jennings paying tribute to Cowboy Heroes - oh no, the air was filled with a slab of Southern Boogie Rock from a similar stable as Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers.
The fact there was a slight Country twang going in too meant I wasn't too far from the original intention, at least.
I listened, and then listened some more, and went on listening - if this purchase was a mistake, I'm pretty glad I made this mistake.
And their snuck away at track 5 is the key song (for me) - the one that pips Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" to the title of Best Southern Rock Song with A Long Guitar Solo - "Green Grass And High Tides"

There is only so much information the human brain can hold.  There's bound to be a bit of leakage at times (and not just from the brain ...), but this was one moment of befuddlement that I'm glad I befuddled.

Post Script: I did eventually get 'Wanted! The Outlaws' a couple of months later, and I wasn't disappointed.  It's a fine album, but is it as fine as this erroneous purchase?

Green Grass And High Tides

Wednesday, 17 June 2020


Definition of Alchemy: The ability to turn base metal into Gold

Or in the case of a Dire Straits Live album, the ability to turn 12" of plastic (and 5" of chrome) into Platinum.
It's one of those live albums that never seems to make the list of "Greatest Live Albums".
It should - because it is chock full of fine tunes, fine playing, and there is enough difference in the delivery of the tracks to warrant it's existence - rather than just a facsimile of the studio tracks in a live setting.
Maybe it's just too clean (and a bit downbeat in places) to fire the sort of enthusiasm of 'Live At Leeds', 'No Sleep Til Hammersmith' or 'Live An Dangerous'.
Hmm ... the sub-title for this album could be 'Live And Seriously Competent'.
The version I have on CD could benefit from a re-master to create some more separation between the performance and the crowd noise.  Although, the crowd noise is also somewhat subdued and relatively polite.
Do you know what?  I think I've found another reason why 'Alchemy' is often missing from those lists - it's all a bit "nice".
"Nice" it may be, but this is the band at the top of their game - and I don't think they reached those same heights of performance, commitment, or even musicianship again.

'Alchemy' was Dire Straits fifth album, and first live album, and came out in 1984.
1984 marked a turn in Dire Straits existence.  Their first 4 albums had fused a musically astute form of Pub-Rock to a less self-indulgent form of Prog Rock.  They'd had a taste of singles chart success ("Private Investigations" surprisingly getting to number 2) which was pushed further by "Twisting By The Pool" - a track that sounded like Dire Straits, but was one step removed from what the band were about.
Also by this stage, Mark Knopfler had had solos success with the film soundtrack for Local Hero.  The theme tune ("Going Home") is tacked on the end of the album suggesting equal dibs for the band and his solo career.
But it's also clear (looking at what came after) that Dire Straits were rapidly becoming a vehicle or flag of convenience for Mark Knopfler's musical aspirations.

Showcasing their musical chops and competence, many tracks are lengthened - "Once Upon A Time In The West" is nearly 3 times longer than the version on their debut album.  But they also manage to shorten two tracks - "Telegraph Road" loses nearly a minute, whilst "Love Over Gold" is halved in length.
Of all the tracks though, the near 11 minute version of "Sultans Of Swing" that closes CD one is perhaps the definitive statement of the song and the band.
The next album - 'Brothers In Arms' - re-wrote the Dire Straits story.  It's a product of the studio, and it's all a bit clean and clinical.  Just right for the burgeoning CD market in it's in-offensive glory.  It's a good album, but for me never reaches the same heights of their previous offerings.
Mainstream Dire Straits are now represented by "Money For Nothing" or "Walk Of Life" as the default choice of radio programmers, with "Sultans Of Swing" and "Romeo and Juliet" supplementing those more "adventurous" jocks. 
'Brothers In Arms' may have sold 200million (or whatever), but Dire Straits truly peaked a couple of years before.
'Alchemy' is the showcase package, and proof, of that peaking.

Sultans Of Swing

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Films - The Facebook Challenge I Haven't Been Invited To Do

There have been quite a few Facebook thread challenges "Post 10 ... 1 per day no explanations"

I've done Albums, Albums Of Influence, Football Teams, Footballers, Cars (Owned and Desired), and TV Sitcoms.
But not Films (yet ...)

So, before I'm challenged to do just that, I'm going to post them here (complete with explanations / gushing hyperbole as to why I have ranked them as such).
This started as a Long List of about 35, I've edited, cogitated, beaten myself up, and arrived at a list of 10 (and am still apologising to myself the ones I had to leave out)

The story of Teenage angst, confusion, belonging, and wanting to "fit in".  Universal themes that seem to apply to most (all?) teenagers between leaving school and "settling down" (old-fashioned view and phraseology,  but it's the best I can think of).
The storyline lifted from Pete Townsend's story in the original album - part scripted, part ad-libbed by a group of rookie actors (many of them in their first professional job), and the Gang mentality shines through.
The end is the beginning, and 40 years on still conjures interest.  Just glad they never felt the need to make Quadrophenia II - that would've killed it.
Superb soundtrack too.

Blues Brothers
This one has a blinding soundtrack too (hmm ... is there a theme developing?).
Elwood picks up his brother Jake from Prison - and there'e the first joke.  One's thin and tall, the other is short and squat.  And he's in a Police Car - another joke.  Jake lights his cigarette and throws the cars cigarette lighter out of the window - and another gag.  Keep 'em coming.
This bombed at the cinema when first released, but is now seen as probably the best thing Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi ever did.
Unfortunately, this legacy was besmirched by Blues Brothers 200 (but let's just ignore that)

This Is Spinal Tap
Like the two above, this is another one I have seen so often I know the script word-for-word.  One of the most quotable films ever produced.  Just about every band refers to their "Spinal Tap Moments" whether it's getting lost on the way to the stage, bad album reviews, playing in smaller venues being passed off as "developing a selective appeal", or drummers exploding on stage (OK, the last one is fairly unlikely).
The soundtrack?  This is no after thought of songs written to order employing all know Heavy |Rock cliches.  As songs go, there are some bands who'd be happy with them in their cannon.
And the blurring of reality and fiction is added again whenNigel Tufnell and David St Hubbins appeared on Ronnie James Dio's Heavy Metal Band Aid project Hear n Aid.

The Long Good Friday
Gangster Harold Shand has a vision - regeneration of Docklands and the influx of Foreign money will transform London and they will host the 2008 Olympics.  Well, he was right just 24 years too early.
The only problem is he's somehow got on the wrong side of the IRA, and has upset the American Mafia.  The silent ending is proof (if it were needed) that Bob Hoskin's was a great actor.  He does very little, but the emotion, confusion, and a bit of fear can be clerly picked up from his little round face.

Life Of Brain
Fighting it out with Spinal Tap for the title of "Most Quotable Film" is undoubtedly this.  A film that started life as a throwaway joke (Eric Idle's response when asked about the next Python film: Jesus Christ - Lust For Glory), and would never have been made if The Beatles hadn't split up.
From "What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?" to "The Peoples Front of Judea" to "Biggus Dickus", "Fwee Woderwick" - this has some of the best Python comedy moments.  And it closes with that song, which resonates still now.
Blasphemous?  Not a bit of it, and more foll those that just didn't "get it" - chiefly Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the Bishop of Southwark).

Love, Honour & Obey
It might've been relatively low budget with little distribution, but it can still boast a cast list including: Ray Winstone, Rhys Ifans, Sadie Frost, Jonny Lee Miller, Jude Law, Kathy Burke, Sean Pertwee, and Denise Van Outen.
A courier looking for a way out of couriering calls up an old school friend (who just happens to be the nephew of a local gangster) to seek a career change.  Once "in", he becomes obsessed with starting a turf war with a rival gang.
The majority of the cast retain their own names.  This gives a combination of script reading and improvisation - no one gets lost because they (or versions of themselves) are the characters.
Gangstering takes second place to karaoke for this Firm - the soundtrack on this one is provided by the cast delivering karaoke versions old TV Themes.

Still Crazy
Old boys from the 70s get the band back together (in some cases begrudgingly, in other cases gladly).
After initial struggles (and a fair amount of argument), it all starts to come together culminating in a festival stopping performance.
And how will they contrive to f**k it up this time?
Written by Clement and La Frenais, and starring Bill Nighy, Tom Spall, Jimmy Nail, and Billy Connolly.
And yes, the soundtrack is a fine piece of work featuring contributions from Clive Langer, Chris Difford, and Mick Jones (the Foreigner variant, not the Clash bloke (or the Leeds centre-forward from the 1970s))

Italian Job
Charlie Croker is released from Prison, gets wind of a big job to relieve the Italians of £4million of Gold, and then breaks back into Prison to ask for Noel Coward's help in bankrolling the job.
OK, the storyline and set-up may seem secondary as the bulk of this Film centres around the car chase exit from Turin - specifically the antics of 3 Red, White and Blue Minis.
They eventually escape Turn, get the cars onto the coach and unload.
The film ends with a literal cliff-hanger, and Michael Caine's immortal line "Ang on lads, I've got a great idea"
Also home to the second most popular line fro budding Caine impersonators:
"You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off"

Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
"Ang on lads, I've got a great idea" may also have been the line used by Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn when casting this film.
"Let's get Vinnie Jones to do some acting".
Sounds like a laughable idea, but Vinnie puts in a top performance in the film that started it all for both Ritchie and Vaughn.
The film startd on a relatively simple story - gang of mates get some money together for a genius card player to take part in a big money game.  He loses, and they find themselves in debt to a Gangland villain.  And then it all gets a bit confusing with several storylines weaving together.  It seems everybody is trying to steal from everyone else.  It all goes a bit mad - like Vinnie Jones slamming someone's head in a car door - but (sort of) makes sense in the end.
Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaugn have come close, but I don't think they've ever bettered this outing.

The Rutles - All You Need Is Cash
The story of the Prefab Four - Dirk, Nasty, Barry & Stig - from the early days in The Cavern Rutland, and their first single ("Twist and Rut", they went on to be legends in thier own lunchtimes until it fell apart.  Final album 'Let It Rot' was released as a film, record and a lawsuit.
Starting life as a single song sketch on Rutlan Weekend Television, Eric Idle developed the idea into a script charting the rise of The Rutles, in a parrallel universe where The Beatles never existed.  Neil Innes produced a clutch of near perfect Beatles-parody songs to soundtrack the story (one of which was excluded from the album after John Lennon described it as "a bit to close for comfort and law suits".

Bubbling Under:

Rise Of The Footsoldier
There are a number of films (of varying quality and substance) relating to the Rettendon Murders where 3 Southend Drug Dealers were executed.
This is the best of the bunch - and as it's drawn from the stories of someone who was actually there, it has that added element of belief.
It has also spawned a number of sequels, each of which has become progressively fanciful and further from the truth.

Treads similar ground to Quadrophenia as a "rites of passage" / gang nentality / discovery of self teenage thing (in my head at least).  Well written, well acted, and not a bad little soundtrack as well.  The sequel - 20 years later - may (on the face of it) be a cynical attempt to cash in on the name, but is not as bad as the accusations suggest.

High Fidelity
Loses points for being set in America, rather than North London (as it was in the original book), but very well done, and doesn't veer massively (as you often expect from Americana-fications) from the base story.
Gains points for the soundtrack (most notably "Dry The Rain" by The Beta Band)

Holy Grail
Monty Python's first foray into the big screen.  Beset by budget problems. and arguments between the directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam (each did a one day on, one day off shift pattern) the resulting film is probably the best filmic production, but just doesn't have the ease or quotability of Life Of Brian.

Toy Story (all 4 of them)
Kids film(s)?  Probably.  Entertaining?  Most definitely.

Team America
F**k yeah!

Pulp Fiction
Just edges it over Jackie Brown as the best Tarantino - although Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is rapidly assuming that title.
Three seemingly unrealted stories intertwine - who said a film should have a linear narrative?
Special note to Samual L Jackson whose character has just the right amount of likability and bad motherfucker (it even says so on his wallet)

Shameless enjoyment (whether anyone likes them or not):
Smokey & The Bandit
Particularly 1 and 2 - by 3 the joke was wearing thin, but still enjoyable escapism.
Basically a lorry driver and his mate (in a Pontiac Trans-Am) accept a bet to transport something (Beer in 1, and an elephant in 2) across state lines.  All the way they are chased down by an inept Sherrif and his dopey son.

Cannonball Run 1 & 2
The sequel squeezes the pips out of a relatively lame set-up, but both 90 minutes of prime no-thinking entertainment.
Basically, lots of cars with famous drivers (in character) race each other across America and amusing things happen.

Carry On
The name is a stamp of (low budget and low values) quality.  The set-ups are predictable, the storylines often threadbare, you can see the jokes coming a mile-off, but they still have you laughing (or at least tittering).  Comedy played by straight actors (as many of them were originally) - a recipe for success in most cases.
Artistically threadbare, and a Seaside postcard on celluloid.  But if it's on, I'll watch it (again and again and again)

Of all the soundtracks, incidental tracks, and selected dialogue from the above selection, there can only be one winner of the title "Best Theme Toon"

Jerry Reed - East Bound And Down