Friday 30 March 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - J: John's Children - The Complete John's Children

John's Children fame and notoriety is built on 2 things:

1. They were chucked off The Who's tour of Germany for being too rowdy
John's Children bagged the support slot for The Who's 1967 German Tour.
Famed for the riotous stage shows, and the smashing of their instruments (or "Autodestructive Art" as Pete Towshend prefers to term it), John's Children took it to another level - fighting on stage, smashing anything that moved (or didn't move).  This culminated in a riot in  Düsseldorf, which was enough to earn John's Children their bus fare home.

2. Briefly featuring Marc Bolan among their ranks (albeit for only 4 months)
Marc Bolan was "placed" in the band by manager Simon Napier-Bell.  He joined in March 1967, brought an air of professionalism with him, bequeathed the band a handful of songs (including a couple he would later re-record with Tyrannosaurus Rex), and by June 1967 (following dis-agreements with Napier-Bell about production and presentation), walked away to hippy-dippy Tolkein-isms, and then became the king of Glam Rock (well, you've got to start somewhere).

The sum total of John's Children's recorded output was 6 singles (one of which was banned by the BBC ("Desdemona"), and another that never actually got released ("Midsummer Nights Scene")), and an album ('Orgasm') that was not released until 1971 (3 years after they split up) 

This collection pulls together pretty much everything available (there is other stuff out there, but I'm not wholly convinced it is "essential"), plus a couple of Andy Ellison solo ventures (backed by John's Children).
And the abiding feeling after listening to it again ... the songs, and the band themselves, aint up to much.
There are moments when they do indeed sound like prime exponents of mid-to-late 60s UK Mod-Psych (with a bit of Sou Revue chucked in for good measure), at other times they sound like they're still tuning up in their garage playing half-arsed ideas for songs.
Some songs fly by with energy, others get confused where they start to believe they might be a doo-wop band instead.  And then at the next turn, you get a sub-Small Faces, part comedy spoken track.
The real shining moments are when Bolan's voice, guitar or nascent songcraft takes over.
It's a real mixed bag - but a mixed bag/historic curio worth getting your lugholes round (if only once)

On the downside, this collection includes alternate versions, or earlier recordings, of many of the tracks that made up the 'Orgasm' album - as a result, they are shorn of the fake live audience noise (lifted from A Hard Days Night), which (I think) actually adds to the tracks and lifts them that little bit further.

This collection should perhaps have a sticker on the cover stating: Caveat Emptor
It's good, but feels "chucked together" and the sleeve notes aren't all they could be.
Given the opportunity again, I would invest in 'A Strange Affair - The Sixties Recordings', which contains much of the same material plus the 'Orgasm' album in full.


Just What You Want - Just What You'll Get

Friday 23 March 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - I: Iron Maiden - Killers

Iron Maiden's second album was released 10 months after the debut, and like a lot of second albums was made up of old tracks that didn't make the cut for the debut plus a couple of new tracks.
The debut sold well on release and hit the top 10 supported by a couple of single releases that broke the Top 30 and saw Iron Maiden grace the nations TV screens on Top Of The Pops.
The debut would come to be recognised as one of the foremost documents of NWOBHM, and showcased the bands twin guitar attack, mixing Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, and vocalist Paul Di'Anno's (sometimes strained) delivery with a hint of punk-y attitude.

Buoyed by the success of the debut, and their increasing reputation as a live band, 'Killers' (almost entirely written by bassist Steve Harris) was pieced together with old tracks which had never been recorded (apart from "Wrathchild" which appeared in slightly different form on the EMI 'Metal For Muthas' compilation).  Two new tracks ("Murders In The Rue Morgue" and "Prodigal Son") were inserted, and album #2 was ready to go.

The production was more considered (professional?) than the debut, and the signature Iron Maiden sound can be heard forming in your ears.
Whilst the sound is there, unfortunately some of the songs fell short - they are all good songs, not one you could class as filler, or a gap-filling knock off, but they just don't feel as vital as those on the debut.
One thing that is apparent on the album is there is a stretch going on, a bit of ambition that was somewhat lacking in other New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM, 1979-1982 RIP) alumni.
They're pushing it and breaking (or at least hacking at the edges) of the template, they're playing with the song structures, and many of the tracks together can be read together as a bit of a concept album.

Initial reviews cited "more of the same" and sales were slow.
The usual "quick fix" to slow album sales is to pluck a single from the album.
Iron Maiden did go down the route of a single release, but decided to issue the non-album track "Twilight Zone" (probably the closest Maiden ever got to sounding like Thin Lizzy).  The single failed to crack the Top 40, and 'Killers' sales slowly limped on.

Not actually the failure it was made out to be.  It did get to Number 12 and (in the end) sold respectfully well (just not as well as other IM outings).
The supporting tour spawned the EP "Maiden Japan", which was Paul Di'Anno's last recorded output with the band.
After the Killers Tour, Paul Di'Anno was sacked / invited to leave (delete as applicable), and a replacement vocalist sought.
With the band still heavily in debt to EMI, Bruce Dickinson took the job and the rest, as they say, is history ...

'Killers' remains probably the least regarded Maiden album of the early years (I'll be honest, I think the later Blaze Bayley-fronted albums are even lower on the list), but 'Killers' was a necessary step (mis-step?) on the way to becoming the biggest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Band ... In The World.

Prodigal Son

Twilight Zone

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - H: Hanoi Rocks - Oriental Beat

After Nokia, Finlandia Vodka and a plethora of Heavy Metal/Black Metal/Death MetalDoom Metal, the next biggest export from Finalnd is probably the precursors of US Glam Metal, Hanoi Rocks (maybe more by reputation than actual sales).

Formed in 1980, and touring any Finnish club they could find, the band struck lucky when one of the punters turned out to be the one of the foremost Finnish promoters who had brought some big names to tour and play Festivals in Finland.
With Management support, the band re-located to Sweden (probably having exhuasted every bar and hall in Finland), and in another stroke of luck got themselves a record deal with a Swedish label.  This soon led to the release of their first single, swiftly followed by a lengthy tour of Sweden and Finland.
Their first album soon followed, doing well in Finalnd and Sweden, but making very little impression outside Scandanavia.
With the tour complete, the band re-located again.  This time to London, and according to some contemporary reports "took The Marquee by storm" *
* possibly journalistic hyperbole, as they were still pretty much unknown outside Scandanavia, and would probably have trouble getting arrested
Whilst in London they set about recording their second album 'Oriental Beat', which would again go to the top of the Finnish chart, but more importantly provided a taste of international recognition.

The Pop landscape of 1982 was a mix of the manufactured, Eurovision, burgeoning synth music and middle of the road pop.
The Rock landscape was emerging from the end of NWOBHM and began looking to America (or America began looking into the UK) for the next assault on the pages of Kerrang.
Quite where Hanoi Rocks sat in the UK wasn't clear, but they'd obviously found some niche, and no little support from the Music papers who followed them on tour and briefly touted them as "the next big thing".
Further albums, a relocation to the US, a big deal with CBS, virtually ensured success in Japan and Asia, amounted to little and they never did achieve the success that was suggested for them.
Success may not have come for them first time round, but reputation ensured that they sold (at least) twice as many records after their demise than in their pomp.

'Oriental Beat' is hailed by "those who know" (or do they?) as Hanoi Rocks best album.
Well, it's pretty good (in a raggedy-arse way), and is a step up from their debut.
(the only other Hanoi Rocks product I have to compare to is 'Up Around the Bend: The Definitive Collection', and I'll be honest that is probably the best)

Don't go looking for meaning or depth, this is 11 songs of bar-room rock n roll about having a good time and living life to it's hedonistic limit.
The music is competent, if simplistic, and delivered with confidence and swagger.  Vocally, it doe sound very much like Billy Idol fronting The New York Dolls (right down to the phrasing of the word "baby" (a direct echo of David Johansson) on "MC Baby")).
There is a nice sax break on "Don't Follow Me" which sits well with the song, and is almost (but not really) up there with Clarence Clemons break on "Born To Run".  But the sax break trick never really works when they try again on other songs, and can get a bit wearing like it's levered in there.
They even extend their musical chops a bit with the track "No Law Or Order" being built over a regaae skank riff.

There are no really "turn that sh*t off!" tracks on here, but by the same token they are no "classics in waiting" either.
And hopefully I'm not doing the album a dis-service (because it is actually eminently listenable), but I think the best of the 11 is a cover version of US Folk Singer Hoyt Axton's "Lightning Bar Blues"

And OK, it's not on the album (it came a couple of years later) but everyone likes a cover version don't they.
Here's ver Roxx doing Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Up Around The Bend"

Monday 5 March 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - G: David Gray - White Ladder

OK, this album may be viewed by some (many?) as all that was bland or homogenous about music at the start of the 21st Century.
Vying for attention alongside Coldplay and Dido for the right to sit on every coffee table, be played at every dinner party, and be uploaded to every new fangled iPod thingy to be played at the gym.

But ...
In early 2000, I was in the middle of a divorce and found myself back in my old bedroom at my parents with not much more than a Playstation, a radio alarm clock and 4 CDs.
These were:
  • Richard Ashcroft - Alone with Everybody
  • Oasis - Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants
  • Toploader - Onka's Big Moka
  • the High Fidelity soundtrack
  • and David Gray - White Ladder
Most evenings were spent playing Gran Tourismo 2, drinking (probably) too much, and listening to these albums.
'White Ladder' struck just the right tone (wrong tone?) of melancholy to suit my surroundings at the time.

It came from seemingly nowhere.
David Gray had released a couple of albums previously to critical acclaim (ie the sold next to nothing), and self-financed this release as a last roll of the dice.
Still no airplay and no big sales, but a US Tour saw the album re-released on various labels, finally securing a release/distribution through EastWest records.

10* tracks of inoffensive folky-rock, mixed with a pop tinge.
5 singles ("This Year's Love", "Babylon", "Please Forgive Me", "Sail Away", "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye") were drawn from it over a 2 year period, and sales remained high for those couple of years.
And of the other 5 tracks, any of these would probably have done a job as a single too.
It remains the biggest ever selling album in Ireland, and sales in excess of 3 million place it in the Top 30 Best Selling albums for the UK.
* 11 on the original release where a hidden track was in the CD pre-gap (effectively Track 0)

If I'm honest, there's nothing big or clever going on here.  But by the same token, there is nothing disagreeable either.
It may be "bland" or "safe", but when it contains a track as epic (or dramatically epic) as the closing cover of Soft Cell's "Say Hello Wave Goodbye"(which weaves in lyrical reference to Van Morrison's "Madame George" and "Into The Mystic") then I reckon it might be forgivable.