Sunday, 23 August 2015

Apropos of absolutely nothing...

Just to say, for anybody who still looks in on this barely-functioning blog ( and that's probably just you, John Pitt )  -  I'm still here! The next scheduled but almost infinitely delayed post here will be about The Flaming Lips' psychedelic masterpiece The Soft Bulletin. One day. Definitely.

I was just thinking about all things cosmic after listening to Sarah's copy of the new Florence + The Machine album. I remarked that the last track, Mother, reminded me of the mighty Hawkwind. She asked me what Hawkwind sound like and I said "a swirling kind of song that goes on forever and sounds like a spaceship crashing." I think I nailed it!

BTW Hawkwind will probably never appear again on this blog :-)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Guest List

While the world waits with bated breath ( whatever that means ) for the next pulsating post on this absurdly inconsistent blog
( Album number 15, The Soft Bulletin ) I thought I'd share with you a favourite albums list from the mighty John Pitt. John has been a very generous supporter of my half-baked blogging efforts, both here and over at The Glass Walking-Stick, so it's a pleasure to present his rundown of Classic Rock, complete with liner notes. Take it away, Mr P...

The Beatles - the White Album
John Lennon - Imagine
Paul & Wings - Band On The Run
The Stones - Through The Past Darkly -( now I know this isn't a studio album, but a collection, but I chose this for nostalgic reasons )
The Who - Tommy
T. Rex - The Slider
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
Slade - Old, New,Borrowed & Blue
Queen - A Night At The Opera
Rod Stewart - Never A Dull Moment
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Led Zeppelin - II
Pink Floyd - The Wall -( I did have Hendrix's Are You Experienced, but someone beat me to it!)
Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends
Paul Weller - Stanley Road.
So there you have it - nowhere near as diverse a choice as yours, but, hey, I am an old-timer, after all!

I have to confess that I only own three of those albums myself
( Bowie, Zep and Floyd ) but I could certainly see myself parting with a few quid for a handful more  -  Band On The Run, Disraeli Gears and A Night At The Opera are all albums that I've always meant to buy but not actually got round to. Must try harder :-)
Thanks again to John for his list and if anyone else would like to comment on these albums or send me a list of their own faves please feel free to do so.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Abbey Road by The Beatles

What is there left to say about The Beatles at this great remove, fifty years since their glory days? Probably not much of any consequence, truth be told. Luckily, I only deal in the inconsequential...
As ever, this isn't some scholarly investigation into the Fab Four's art  -  just me rambling on about a favourite album and what it means to me. And it does mean quite a lot...
For most of my life I've only owned one Beatles album: a vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper that my parents gave to me for Christmas when I was a teenager. That album is, of course, a thing of beauty and I always meant to buy more Beatles records but for one reason or another ( mostly the constantly high prices of Fab Four product ) I never got round to it. Until a few years back I discovered a box set of four Beatles CDs  -  Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road  -  going for the strangely sensible price of a tenner. Of course, I snapped it up, devoured the contents, and soon Abbey Road became one of these 'ere 15 Albums. All four would be worthy of inclusion but Abbey Road just edges out Revolver as my absolute fave and was the first that sprung to mind when I compiled the list, so it had to make it into the blog. Them's the rules. Anyway, with this one, I think I'll just dive in and play it song by song...
Come Together
What a way to start an album! Lennon's mid-paced, oblique R'n'B groover with a contrastingly clear message for the radicalised, post-hippie times: "One thing I can tell you is you've got to be free". Everything literally comes together ( see what I did there? ) on this track  -  great vocal interplay from John and Paul, soulful electric piano from Billy Preston and some wonderful drum patterns from the sadly much-maligned Ringo.
George Harrison's crying guitar sound heralds his most beautiful, heartfelt ballad. "All I have to do is think of her..." Smooth, easy listening maybe... but none the worse for that.
Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Paul McCartney's tasteless but guiltily funny tale of an unrepentant serial killer, presented as a children's song. Only The Beatles could get away with such whimsical nonsense. Just. Love the "do-do-doo" backing vocals!
Oh! Darling
Paul again, but this time with a far superior song: a pastiche '50s / doo-wop rocker, harking back to the band's early days. McCartney's voice is raw and ragged, tearing the final "do you no harm" from his battered larynx.
Octopus's Garden
Another kiddies' song. Ringo's charming but inconsequential sub-aqua ditty is a close relation of Yellow Submarine and passes the time amiably enough.
I Want You ( She's So Heavy )
A slow, strangely menacing and bluesy examination of lust, John patently singing about his obsession with Yoko. The final guitar riff repeats and repeats, clanging into itself again and again, the band's new toy  -  the Moog synthesiser  -  churns out white noise... and then...
Here Comes The Sun
...the sun comes out. Clearly one of the greatest songs in all of pop history. Optimism, love and good vibes  -  the epitome of The Beatles' philosophy. "And I say, it's alright..."
And the sun keeps on shining! Because is a beautifully summery example of the boys taking a fairly simple song and transforming it with soaring, ethereal harmonies.
The "Long Medley" ( 8 songs edited and sequenced together )
Pretty much the dictionary definition of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The medley, constructed by McCartney, takes up most of Side Two of the original vinyl album and consists of various scraps of songs which the band had kicking around, sequenced into one fantastic collage. Perhaps realising that Abbey Road would be their final creative flourish ( Let It Be was their last album to be released but had been recorded previously ) The Beatles went out on a sky-scraping high.
It starts with the mournful piano notes of Paul's You Never Give Me Your Money, a sad reflection on the band's long and painful dissolution which turns into a hymn to freedom: "but oh, that magic feeling  -  nowhere to go", with some scorching lead guitar, before drifting into the Albatross-like Sun King, all lazy Mediterranean siestas and nonsense lyrics. A quick drum-beat and we're into two upbeat, rockin' Lennon songs about two eccentric characters, Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam, complete with some very self-aware "yeah, yeah, yeahs" and nostalgia for the band's early years. With an "Oh, look out!" the medley shifts back towards Paul with his strange tale of a persistent Beatles fan  -  She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, a jangly, quintessential Fabs song with some perfect harmonies. Then it's the high point of the medley: Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight, a staggeringly moving meditation on the band, the past, the future, with Olympian melodies and a red-blooded "boy, you're gonna carry that weight" from the full Fabs vocal ensemble. You Never Give me Your Money is reprised, this time with an orchestra in tow, before things get surprisingly funky and raucous as the guitarists duel it out for the last time. Finally, The End does exactly what it says on the tin and says goodbye to the band and the era with the sublime last line, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make..."

Her Majesty
Well, it's not exactly over as Paul's daft acoustic ditty surfaces 20 seconds after the end of The End to ensure we leave with smiles on our faces...

So, Abbey Road...It's all very wonderful and encapsulates everything the Beatles ( and all great pop music ) stood for: love, sex, fun, longing, freedom, mischief, melancholy  -  it's all here. And, of course, it all means different things to different people. On a very personal note, this album helped me immeasurably four years ago when my Mum was very ill. Things were as bad as they could get and then they got worse. The Beatles' wonderful music was there for support. The beautiful melodies, harmonies and awesome instrumental sounds were very resonant at this tough time and I took things from some of the lyrics that the writers surely never intended, but which gave me strength and spoke of love and history and peace. At the end of the day, music can be just music, a pleasant distraction, aural wallpaper, but sometimes... sometimes it's something more...

"Golden slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise..."

( By the way... a special thanks goes out to new Follower John Pitt, whose recent comments inspired me to revive this 'ere blog. Cheers! )

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I'm still alive

I can't believe I've managed to pick up a new Follower ( hi Harry! ) when I've done nothing here for 8 (!) months. This lack of blogging is indefensible, really. I'm determined to at least finish Volume 1
( the first set of 15 albums ) soon. The picture above should give you some clue as to what the next album is. After that, I don't know. Should I continue this ridiculously infrequent blog or move it across to The Glass Walking-Stick? I'll have to give it some thought...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Deserter's Songs by Mercury Rev

"Bands, those funny little plans
That never were quite right"

Those sentiments can also apply equally to this perpetually-late blog. My apologies to all my legions of Followers ( seven makes up a legion, right? ) but the dreaded "real" world has got in the way of this blog yet again - not to mention my spending ( slightly ) more time over at the mothership.....

So, anyway, when Deserter's Songs came out in 1998 I'd only been vaguely aware of Mercury Rev. They had been around since the late '80s and I'd heard one or two of their songs, like Carwash Hair and Very Sleepy Rivers, but had just put them in a box labelled Self-Consciously Whacky American College Radio Bands and left it at that. But then I heard the fantastic Goddess On A Hiway single with its soaring, sky-scraping chorus, Neil Young-esque vocals and general awesomeness, and realised there was more to this bunch of Catskills misfits than was first apparent.....

Next thing I knew, that arbiter of good taste Noel Gallagher (!) was going around saying that the Rev's Holes was his favourite song of that year, which was unusual for the mono-browed Mancunian as the song wasn't his usual brand of warmed-over Beatles/Faces dad rock, but something entirely more subtle and magical.

Holes is where Mercury Rev set out their stall for Deserter's Songs. From a quiet, low-key intro they pile on keyboards, horns, strings and the eerie sound of the bowed-saw, to build up a warm but atmospheric sound collage, which doesn't once sound overdone. Jonathan Donahue's fragile, high-register voice leads us into the strange, uncertain world of the Rev, recalling ( for me at least ) the surrealism of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol.....

"Holes, dug by little moles
Angry, jealous spies
Got telephones for eyes
Come to you as friends"

More lush soundscapes follow in the form of such wonderful, dreamlike songs as Tonite It Shows and Endlessly, with its snatches of Silent Night weaving in and out of the melody. Backwoods neighbours Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band show up to help cement Mercury Rev's membership in the lineage of what Greil Marcus called the "old, weird Americana". And for every ( almost ) traditional rock song, there is a fractured instrumental like I Collect Coins, which could almost be the soundtrack from some lost, experimental film from the 1920s.

And beneath the surface textures, the elusive, allusive lyrics hint at the hard times and virtual psychosis Mercury Rev suffered through on the road to this extraordinary album:

"Catskill mansions, buried screams
I'm alive she cried but I don't know what it means"

"You had to choose a side to lose and divide yourself in two
The way you were, long before, you were a walking civil war"

Finally we reach the catharsis of Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp, in which the Rev may be "waving goodbye ( I'm not ) sayin' hello" but they're doing it in the most exuberant, rollickin', bluesy way, in a track which almost lurches into a sun-kissed Balearic Beat vibe. With harpsichords.

Deserter's Songs ( named for some forgotten music critic's sniffy dismissal of The Band's 2nd album ) is a waking dream of Cosmic American Music from which you might not want to awaken.

Song to play air-saxophone to: The Hudson Line

( If you're interested - and why wouldn't you be if you got this far? - I mentioned the one time I saw the Rev, with the Flaming Lips, here as one of my irregular series of Favourite Gig Fridays. )

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Odds and ends

"Odds and ends, odds and ends
Lost time will not come again"

So said the mighty Bob Dylan and he could have been talking about this permanently-late blog. I've got no real excuse for the lack of posts here, other than laziness and lack of imagination, but I hope to be back very soon with some thoughts on Mercury Rev's modern Psychedelia and some older stuff by a little-known band called The Beatles.....

While you're waiting you could check out a recent post over at The Glass Walking-Stick where I ramble on about seeing the reformed Big Audio Dynamite last Saturday.

Also, a very late "Hi!" to new Followers csmith2884 and Joanne Casey. Thanks for your support, guys!