Tuesday, 28 September 2010
I'm being followed! ( But it's not too scary..... )
Hi to new ( indeed, only ) Followers, Duckers and Gailsman ( both from Robin Hood country, strangely - What's the record shop situation in Nottingham? )
Good to see you here, guys! Feel free to comment, leave suggestions, opinions etc. etc.
I'm always happy to hear from fellow travellers in this 'ere blogsphere.
Update: Mark's here too! Yay!!
Saturday, 25 September 2010
"The album became a monster. It wanted everything. It just ate up everyone's life."
That's Bruce Springsteen talking about Born To Run, the album that made his name, that saved his career, that became a classic. It also drove him to the brink of despair and broke up his band. Phew! Rock 'n' roll, eh?
After the relative failure of his first two albums and the impossible pressure of living up to Jon Landau's "future of rock 'n' roll" tag, Springsteen knew his third album was make or break time. He knew that he had to simplify his overly-wordy songwriting and his jazzy/funky/folky music; he had to reduce it all down and find the essence of rock 'n' roll, the total of all his early influences - Elvis/Roy Orbison/Gary "U.S." Bonds, British Invasion bands, Phil Spector - while mostly ditching the folk/Dylan influence of the early 70's.
Over a tortuous year of recording Springsteen marshalled his band and hammered away at his songs, rewriting, refining, recording take after take, all in his quest for perfection. Original E Street Band members David Sancious and "Boom" Carter bailed, the record company got jittery, the studio's piano would frequently go out of tune, one master tape was recorded so badly that Bruce threw it out of his hotel room into a river. And so it went on.
Eventually, something emerged.....
Mean Streets with guitars, West Side Story with a pulsating rock 'n' roll soundtrack, Born To Run is a wild, midnight ride into the dark side of the American Dream, where street punks and beautiful girls drink warm beer in the soft summer rain, lie in the darkness and plan their escape. They don't know what they're escaping to, but anything's gotta be better than this "rat trap", right?
Springsteen has remarked that his first two albums had a real sense of place, whereas Born To Run "is about being nowhere at all." Images of escaping and finding yourself abound:
Well the night's busting open / These two lanes will take us anywhere
It's a town full of losers / I'm pulling out of here to win
and, of course:
We've gotta get out while we're young
'Cos tramps like us, baby we were born to run
It's all romantic as hell, as well as terminally naive. This was the last chance for such hoary old rock 'n' roll notions; Springsteen had grown up on rock 'n' roll and was able to reinvigorate its familiar themes, but after him the road led to the overblown pastiche of Meatloaf, which was fun but empty. But here, on the mean streets of Anytown, USA, we're plunged into Springsteen's rock opera mix of R 'n' B , Duane Eddy guitar, deep canyons of reverb, plaintive sax and rippling piano, all giving the music an authority and an atmosphere that's built to last, chrome wheeled and fuel injected.
It's hard to single out individual songs for praise: the album is so well-structured that you don't want to pick it apart for fear the whole edifice might crumble. From the beautiful piano 'n' harmonica intro of Thunder Road, through the good-time sway of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the tension/release of Backstreets, the low-key trumpet-and-tenement-tale of Meeting Across The River, and on to Bruce's final, wordless cries on the awesome Jungleland, the album is a masterclass in classic rock moves or, in Greil Marcus' words "a '57 Chevy running on melted-down Crystals records."
On a personal note, when I first bought Born To Run, on second-hand vinyl for a couple of quid, I was going through quite a tough time. I'd been off work for months with the double-whammy of a back injury and redundancy, and was feeling pretty low. As those who really love music will understand, there's little more therapeutic than some good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, and Born To Run was good medicine. Cheers, Bruce!
Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
Greatest Rock Sax Solo Of All Time: Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, Jungleland
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
London Calling? London bloody Calling? Isn't that the most obvious, put-no-thought-into-it, predictable Clash album of all? The one that everybody lists as their favourite, usually when it's the only one they've heard? Well, yes and no.....
( Don't you just hate it when people say that? )
When I was compiling my 15 albums in 15 minutes list, I have to admit that London Calling was the first Clash album to pop into my head, so, by my hard and fast rules ( not very Punk! ), it had to go in.
I could have chosen debut album The Clash, for its kick-down-the-doors, sulphate-fuelled rush of energy, attitude and anthems. Or I could have chosen Combat Rock for the more sophisticated but still essential and angry Clash it presented - as well as for being home to the haunting Straight To Hell. But London Calling it had to be - mainly because it's the Clash album I play the most. But that wasn't always the case.....
When I first bought the album and got past the iconic sleeve art and the apocalyptic title track my first impression was bemusement. If these guys are punks why are they singing some old rock 'n' roll song about Cadillacs? And where's that 1-2-3-4 no-nonsense all-purpose *Punk* sound? These songs are funky and even ( whisper it... ) jazzy! About the only songs to replicate the "old" Clash sound were London Calling itself and Clampdown. It made me scratch my head for a long time, but then the penny dropped: the Clash have graduated. They've left the old Punk Rock ghetto behind and stepped out onto a bigger stage, a world stage. And they're daring you to go with them.
"In every dingy basement on every dingy street
Every dragging handclap over every dragging beat
They're just the beat of time, the beat that must go on
If you've been trying for years - we've already heard your song"
The Clash set their sights higher than just providing the soundtrack for another night's glue-sniffing down the 100 Club. London Calling is a huge ( 4 sides of vinyl back in the day ), sprawling, technicolor explosion of styles, influences and new directions. After tentative stabs at reggae on previous tracks the band now step up their game and hit us with ska, soul, lover's rock, dub, Phil Spector-esque epics, splashes of jazz and funk and even disco, that enemy of all narrow-minded rockers. But all these styles are filtered through the band's unique sensibilty - you know it's still The Clash, but a fearless, forward-thinking Clash. The songs are populated by punks, lovers, dealers, hustlers, movie stars, suits and gangsters. And what songs! They burst at the seams with tunes, hooks, melodies and lyrics of both the thought-provoking and grin-inducing kind. Every band member is at the top of their game, with a special mention for Topper Headon, freed from Punk restrictions to show us what a supremely talented and funky drummer he is. It all ends with the classic hit single The Clash never had, Mick Jones' wonderful Train In Vain. ( Just don't mention the godawful Annie Lennox cover version! )
So, yeah..... London Calling, the predictable choice. The right choice.
Soundtrack to the dawn of the 80's: Revolution Rock
Saturday, 18 September 2010
"I had no reason to be here at all / but now I got a reason / it's no real reason"
The reason I'm here is to write about 15 albums. After reading a meme on Facebook I thought I'd give it a go: list 15 of your fave albums in 15 minutes ( I did it in about 4 ) - but I'm going to go further and blog about them. They may not all be the most famous or popular records ever, but they're obviously special to me seeing as they barged their way into my head before any others. This blog won't be just a list of great songs but a personal look at music and what effect it's had on me. And who the Hell are you, I hear you ask?
On this 'ere internet I'm known as cerebus660 and I have another blog called The Glass Walking-Stick, where I witter on about this and that and the other. You might like to check it out sometime, if you haven't already.....
But right here, right now, we're looking at one of the most controversial, incendiary, nasty and downright fantastic records of all time. And one that has the lovely word "bollocks" in the title. Which was obviously a major selling-point for snotty young urchins who wanted to smash the system. Like me.
Well, actually, that's not true. When this record came out I was 10 years old and my musical tastes ran about as far as Abba and the Barron Knights. ( Hideously Embarrassing Musical Confession No.1 - collect 'em all! ) Music hadn't really impacted on me so far; I was more into comics, Doctor Who, dinosaurs, that kind of thing. I'd liked the Glam Rock bands ( Sweet, Slade etc. ) and some songs by Bowie, Queen, Thin Lizzy etc. when they had appeared on Top Of The Pops. But that was about it. I don't think we even owned a record-player at this point. Punk Rock, as far as I was concerned, wasn't music at all, just some strange racket played by very scary- looking weirdos who I'd cross the road to avoid.
I first really noticed the Sex Pistols in 1980 when I was properly getting into music for the first time, at the age of 13. Radio 1 were broadcasting a documentary series called 25 Years Of Rock which interspersed pop/rock music and news headlines from each year from 1955 to 1980. This was a great education in rock music: I first heard bands like the Kinks, Hendrix and the Stooges here, in bite-sized chunks. In one installment I heard this song which I thought was called Anarchy For The UK drowning out a speech by future Prime-Monster Maggie Thatcher - it was bloody brilliant! Atop a raw, grinding guitar sound there was that voice: the snarling, sneering, sarcastic tones of Johnny Rotten, once heard never forgotten. Perhaps there was something to this Punk Rock after all.....
After dipping my toes in the Pistols' back catalogue with the Stepping Stone single, I dived right into the Punk Bible, Never Mind The Bollocks. ( Talk about mixed metaphors - how do you dive into a bible? ) It was all there: the attitude, the nihilistic lyrics, the bone-crunching sound, Jamie Reid's artwork, Lydon's spleen-venting voice. ( It took me quite some time to figure out that Johnny Rotten of the Pistols and John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. were the same person. ) To my young ears the album was a whirlwind of excitement, rebellion, creative swearing and huge tunes. I was hooked.
Quicker than you can say "Filthy Lucre!" Never Mind The Bollocks became my favourite album and the Pistols my favourite band. I became obsessed with the whole Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, buying whatever Pistols records, books and old magazine clippings I could get my hands on. Typically for me I fixated on a band that were already dead ( literally, in Sid's case ) and gone, but I didn't care. The Sex Pistols were mine now and always would be.
Song to play whilst smashing the system: God Save The Queen