Cult Classic: Skeeter Davis-Let Me Get Close To You.
Nowadays, Skeeter Davis is remembered and regarded as one of country music’s pioneers. She was one of the first women in country music to enjoy commercial success as a solo artist. This proved to be a game-changer.
Skeeter Davis paved the way for several generations of female country singers to enjoy a successful career as a solo artist. However, not only was Skeeter Davis a successful singer, but a successful songwriter, but a role model for young, up-and-coming female singer-songwriters. She inspired and influenced some of the biggest names in country music, including Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton. They’ve both acknowledged the influence that Skeeter Davis had on their careers. Ironically, though, Skeeter Davis was very nearly lost to country music.
If that had been the case, then Skeeter Davis would never have enjoyed thirteen top thirty US Country hits between 1957 and 1963. This included Skeeter Davis’ 1962 million selling single The End Of The World and was certified gold. It was Skeeter’s first crossover single, and was followed by I Can’t Stay Mad At You in 1963. This rounded off a successful year.
As 1963 gave way to 1964, Skeeter Davis wondered how she would surpass what had been one of the most successful years of her career? She returned with one of the finest albums of her career, Let Me Get Close To You, which was recently rereleased by Playback Records. However, by the time Skeeter Davis released Let Me Get Close To You much had happened to the thirty-three year old star.
The Skeeter Davis story began in Dry Ridge, Kentucky on ‘30th’ December 1931, when Mary Frances Penick was born. Growing up, young Mary was an energetic child, prompting her grandfather to nickname her Skeeter. This stuck, and suddenly Mary became Skeeter. This was the name she would use when her solo career began.
Before that, Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis at the Dixie Heights High School, and the two became firm friends. The pair sang together in high school, and at the Decoursey Baptist Church. Later, the formed a duet The Davis Sister, which launched Skeeter’s career.
In 1951, The Davis Sisters were asked to travel to Detroit, to sing on WJR’s program Barnyard Frolics. This was the break that The Davis Sisters were looking for. Things got even better for The Davis Sisters when they were signed to RCA Victor later in 1951.
Although signed to RCA Victor, The Davis Sisters spent time acting as backing singers for The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. They saw the potential in The Davis Sisters, and in 1953, encouraged them to get in touch with Stephen H. Sholes a producer at RCA Victor.
When Stephen H. Sholes heard The Davis Sisters harmonies, he offered them a recording contract. This they accepted and on May ’23rd’ 1953 The Davis Sisters entered the studio and recorded five songs, including I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know. It was released as The Davis Sisters’ first single the summer of 1953, and reached the top twenty in the US Billboard 100 and spent eight weeks number one on the US Country charts. Many industry insiders thought that this was the start of the rise and rise of The Davis Sisters.
Sadly, tragedy struck on August ‘1st’ 1953, when The Davis Sisters were involved in a terrible automobile accident. Betty Jack Davis died in the accident and Skeeter Davis sustained serious injuries.
Despite still recovering from her injuries, Skeeter was had been traumatized by the accident, was told by Betty Jack Davis’ overbearing mother that The Davis Sisters should continue. This was the last thing on Skeeter’s mind. She had lost her best friend, and suffered from serious injuries. However, Mrs Davis wasn’t going to be dissuaded, and told Skeeter that her other daughter Georgia Jack was now her partner in The Davis Sisters. Skeeter felt she was being manipulated, but had nobody to turn to. Both her parents were then drinking heavily, and reluctantly, Skeeter agreed that The Davis Sisters should continue.
The Davis Sisters continued for three more years, and even spent time touring with a young Elvis Presley. However, The Davis Sisters never came close to replicating the success of I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.
By 1956, Skeeter who was then twenty-five, made two announcements. Not only was she getting married, but she had decided to retire from music. It looked like Skeeter’s career was over.
Just over a years later, Skeeter decided to make a comeback, and returned to country music in 1957. This time, it wasn’t as one half of The Davis Sisters, but as a solo artist. Skeeter started off touring with Ernest Tubb, and later in 1957, started working with guitarist and producer Chet Atkins.
In September 1957, Skeeter recorded what would become her debut solo single, Lost to a Geisha Girl. When it was released in December 1957, it reached number fifteen on the US Country charts, and launched Skeeter’s solo career. Little did anyone realise that this was the start of the rise and rise of one of the most successful female country singers.
Just two years after her comeback, Skeeter cowrote Set Him Free, which was released as a single in February 1959. It reached number five in US Country charts, and was later nominated for a Grammy Award. Five months later, in July 1959, Skeeter released Homebreaker as a single, which reached fifteen in the US Country charts. Skeeter then released her debut album I’ll Sing You A Song and Harmonize Too in November 1959. This rounded off one of the most successful years of Skeeter’s career. She enjoyed two singles, released her debut album and joined the Grand Ole Opry. Skeeter’s star was in the ascendancy.
Skeeter’s success continued in 1960, when she enjoyed a trio of hit singles. Her poignant reading of Am I That Easy To Forget reached number eleven in the US Country charts. Then when (I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too was released in July 1960, it reached number two in the US Country charts and thirty-nine on the US Billboard 100. This was Skeeter’s first crossover hit and the fourth hit single of her career. Soon, four became five when My Last Date (With You) was released in December 1960, and reached number four in the US Country charts, but twenty-six on the US Billboard 100. This was the perfect way to close the most successful year of Skeeter’s career.
As 1961 dawned, Skeeter released her sophomore album Here’s The Answer in January. It featured cover versions of hit singles by country artists, with Skeeter singing the answer songs. She breathed life, meaning and emotion into the songs, which showcased her ability to interpret a song. So did the two hit singles she released during 1961. When The Hands You’re Holding Now was released in March 1961, it reached number eleven in the US Country charts. The followup was Optimistic, which was released in September 1961, and reached number ten in the US Country charts. Skeeter’s partnership with Chet Atkins was proving fruitful.
The Chet Atkins and Skeeter Davis partnership were responsible for another trio of hits during 1962. Where I Ought To Be was released in January 1962, and reached number nine in the US Country charts. The followup The Little Music Box stalled at just twenty-two, before Skeeter returned with the biggest and most important hit of her solo career.
This was The End Of The World, which would introduce Skeeter Davis to a much wider audience. The End Of The World was a maudlin song that dealt with loss. Many people who weren’t fans of country music normally wouldn’t have listened to a heartbreaking song about loss that was delivered with honesty and emotion. However, the way Chet Atkins and Skeeter recorded the song was a game-changer. They added swathes of lush strings which defused the maudlin nature of the song, and complemented Skeeter’s soul-baring vocal. The result was a country song that would find a much wider audience. It also features on Let Me Get Close To You and is a reminder of one of Skeeter’s classic songs.
The End Of The World was an example of the new countrypolitan sound, which combined country with pop stylings. It introduced Skeeter to a much wider audience. Not only did The End Of The World reach number two in the US Country charts and US Billboard 100, it topped the Adult Contemporary charts and reached number four in the US R&B charts. Skeeter had crossed over and found a new audience within pop and R&B audiences. However, this resulted in cries of sellout from some of her loyal country fans. Despite this, this was it seemed that Skeeter Davis could do wrong.
Buoyed by the success of The End Of The World, Skeeter released her third album in March 1963, Skeeter Davis Sings The End Of The World. It was followed by I’m Saving My Love, which was released in April 1963, and is one of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You. When it was released I’m Saving My Love was released it reached number nine on the US Country charts and forty-one in the US Billboard 100. This was followed by a cover of Goffin and King’s I Can’t Stay Mad at You, which gave Skeeter a crossover hit when it was released in August 1963. It reached fourteen on the US Country charts, seven on the US Billboard 100 and two in the Adult Contemporary charts. Just two months later, Skeeter released her fourth album Cloudy, With Occasional Tears which reached eleven in the US Country charts. Skeeter Davis’ success continued apace.
In January 1964, Skeeter released a cover of Peter Udell’s wistful country ballad He Says The Same Things To Me. It reached seventeen in the US Country charts and forty-seven in the US Billboard. Tucked away on the B-Side was How Much Can A Lonely Heart Stand which is one of the Gonna Get Along Without You Now. It’s a real hidden gem, marries the countrypolitan sound with the girl group sound that was popular in 1964. This was something that Skeeter would return to.
Two months later, in March 1964, Skeeter released carefree poppy cover of Milton Kellum’s Gonna Get Along Without You Now. It reached number eight on the US Country charts, and surprisingly, given its radio friendly sound reached just forty-eight on the US Billboard 100. On the B-Side was the tender, hurt-filled cover of Now You’re Gone, which is another of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You.
After the success of Gonna Get Along Without You Now, Skeeter decided to cover Goffin and King’s Let Me Get Close To You for her next single. It was another commercial sounding single with crossover appeal. Hidden away on the B-Side was a hurt-filled version of The Face Of A Clown which is another of the bonus tracks on Let Me Get Close To You. When Let Me Get Close To You was released, many industry insiders thought that it would follow in the footsteps of Gonna Get Along Without You Now. Alas, the single stalled at forty-five on the US Country charts when it was released in July 1964. For Skeeter this was a disappointment.
Despite this disappointment, Skeeter returned with a cover of a rueful and melancholy cover of What Am I Gonna Do With You. An upbeat and breezy cover of Don’t Let Me Stand In Your Way was chosen for the B-Side. Despite the quality of both sides, (which feature on Let Me Get Close To You) What Am I Gonna Do With You reached just thirty-eight in autumn 1964. This was especially disappointing for Skeeter who was about to release her fifth album Let Me Get Close To You in December 1964.
For Let Me Get Close To You, twelve tracks that had been recorded been June 1962 and June 1964 were chosen. Some of these songs were familiar, and already had been releases as singles including Gonna Get Along Without You Now, I Can’t Stay Mad at You, Let Me Get Close to You and He Says The Same Things To Me. They were joined by eight other songs that had been recorded during sessions that took place between June 1962 and June 1964.
Of the eight ‘new’ songs, this included the beautiful, orchestrated, hurt-filled ballad Now I Lay Me Down To Weep which Skeeter wrote with Carolyn Penick. It’s followed by a cover of Dottie and Bill West’s Didn’t I, where Skeeter delivers a melancholy and rueful vocal where sadness and despair shine through. Skeeter’s cover of J O Duncan’s My Sweet Loving Man is upbeat, poppy and irresistibly catchy, and more than hints at the girl group sound that was popular when the song was recorded. Then Borney Bergantine and Better Patterson’s My Happiness sounds as if was tailor-made for Skeeter. Especially with lush strings accompanying her hurt-filled vocal. However, this is just part of the story.
The tempo drops on a cover of Johnny Tillotson and Lucille Cosenza’s Another You. It’s another tale of love lost, where flourishes of strings augment Skeeter’s vocal as elements of the countrypolitan and girl group sound combined successfully to create a beautiful ballad. Skeeter’s cover of Nancie Mantz and Keith Colley’s Ladder Of Success is another song that has been inspired by the girl group sound. Although very different to Skeeter’s early recordings, it shows a different side to a versatile and talented singer. When Skeeter covers Betty Sue Perry’s ballad Ask Me it’s understated and nuanced, with just a Spanish guitar, strings and harmonies accompanying her. Closing the album is another Goffin and King number Easy To Love, So Hard To Get, which has a slick, commercial and radio friendly sound. Skeeter it seemed had kept one of her finest moments until last on Let Me Get Close To You.
Before the release of Let Me Get Close To You, critics had their say on the album. It received plaudits and praise as Skeeter Davis switched between and combined elements of different musical genres on the twelve songs. Elements of country, countrypolitan, the girl group sound and pop can be heard on Let Me Get Close To You, where Skeeter moves seamlessly from ballads to uptempo songs. This augured well for the release of Let Me Get Close To You.
When Let Me Get Close To You was released in December 1964, the album sold reasonably well, and to some extent, introduced Skeeter Davis’ to a new audience. The success that she had been enjoying since her comeback looked as if it was going to continue. Especially after the success of the last five years, which cumulated with the release of Let Me Get Close To You.
It’s one of the finest albums Skeeter Davis released during the sixties. By 1964, the countrypolitan sound was growing in popularity, and Skeeter was one of its finest purveyors. This introduced her music to a much wider audience, and suddenly, her music had been discovered by pop and R&B fans. Right up until late 1964, Skeeter Davis was one of the most successful country singers. She had enjoyed fifteen top thirty US Country singles, fourteen of which reached the top twenty and eight reached the top ten. There was also the small matter of her million selling single The End Of The World. However, nothing lasts forever.
Even by the second half of 1964, Skeeter’s singles were no longer reaching the upper reaches of the charts. Although Skeeter was just thirty-three, her singles would never reach the same heights. However, her recording career continued until the late-eighties. However, her last album to chart was 1973s I Can’t Believe That It’s All Over. Sadly, it was all over for Skeeter Davis as far as chart success was concerned.
She continued to play live right up until her death on September ’19th’ 2004, aged just seventy-three. That day, country music lost not just a legend, but a musical pioneer, who had played her part in changing country music history. Not only did Skeeter Davis pioneering the countrypolitan sound, but paved the way for several generations of female country singers to embark on solo career. They owe a debt of gratitude to the late, great Skeeter Davis whose 1964 critically acclaimed fifth album The End Of The World is a reminder of a country music pioneer at the peak of her powers.
Cult Classic: Skeeter Davis-Let Me Get Close To You.
Sidiku Buari-Disco Soccer.
Label: BBE Africa.
Release Date: ‘18th’ October 2019.
There are very few people who manage to forge a career in both sport and music, but Ghanian born Sidiku Buari managed to do just this. He was a silver medallist in the 400 metres at the 1963 All-Africa Games held in Dakar, Senegal. Two years later, in 1965, Sidiku Buari was a member of the 4×400 relay team at the All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, when the Republic Of Congo won a bronze medal.
A year after his second appearance at the All-African Games, Sidiku Buari emigrated to America in 1966, and studied music at the New York School of Music. After that, Sidiku Buari studied interior design at the La Sale University in Chicago, Illinois. By then, Sidiku Buari’s musical career was underway, but his love of sport saw him playing baseball to a reasonable standard during his three decade stay in the United States. However, while Sidiku Buari was a talented and successful athlete, he enjoyed more success as a musician.
Sidiku Buari was a prolific artist, arranger, composer and producer who during his long and illustrious career, released in excess of twenty-five albums.
He released his debut album Buari, on RCA in 1975. It featured legendary jazz drummer Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie who plays a starring role on this über rare fusion of Afrobeat, disco, funk and soul. Buari was a genre-melting album launched the career of this truly innovative artist who successfully fused African and Western music.
This was the case four years later in 1979, when Sidiku Buari released his sophomore album Disco Soccer. It will be reissued by BBE Africa on the ‘18th’ October 2019 on CD and vinyl. Forty years after its release, Disco Soccer receives its first official reissue. This is a welcome reissue of a cult classic that features an all-star cast.
When Sidiku Buari was recording the eleven tracks that became Disco Soccer, he was joined by what was the creme de la creme of session musicians. This included two of the go-to horn players, The Brecker Brothers, saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy. They were joined by trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonist George Young, trombonist Barry Rogers while Christine Snyder and Valerie West played French horn. The string section featured violinists Danny Reed , Lucy Corwin, Paul Scales, Bob Rozek and Stan Curtis plus cellist John Reed. Completing the lineup was percussionist Errol ‘Crusher’ Bennett. Together this multitalented band combined the music heard in Accra and New York in 1979.
Disco Soccer was released on Polydor later in 1979, and just like Sidiku Buari’s debut four years earlier, combined a myriad of disparate musical genres. The Ghanian bandleader and multi-instrumentalist backed by his all-star band, fused elements of Afrobeat, late-seventies disco, boogie, funk and soul. This was combined from the opening bars of Koko Si right through to the closing notes of Games We Used To Play. For forty-three majestic minutes the music veers between slick and sharp to soulful, funky and dancefloor friendly as Disco Soccer heads in the direction of traditional Ghanian music.
This is Ghanian music with a difference. Listen carefully, and the sound of Southern Soul, and especially the Stax can be heard. There’s also a Motown influence on Disco Soccer as African and Western music combine to create irresistible genre-melting music.
It’s a captivating combination where one minute, the listener is enjoying what could be the soundtrack to an evening in Studio 54, in New York, before being transported to the Ghanian capital as they hear they other side to this cult classic, Disco Soccer. It’s an album that wasn’t a huge success upon its release, and it was only much later that it was discovered by a wider and appreciative audience. They also discovered the album’s secret.
This was what Sidiku Buari called the Disco Soccer dance. It was: “a brand new dance-also called The Spirit Of Sports Dance. The most important part of this dance is the footwork of the steps. Just Remember, the “Soccer ball” is the drum beat of every disco beat, as well as this new dance-so, follow the drum beat and you will find it easy to dance. Hand swinging, head shaking, body moving, slightly kicking, jumping and stepping is a part of this dance.”
Given the irresistible, genre-melting music on Sidiku Buari’s sophomore album Disco Soccer, even those lacking in coordination will soon be moving and grooving and enjoying The Spirit Of Sports Dance, and recreating the spirit of 1979, when this oft-overlooked cult classic was originally released.
Sidiku Buari-Disco Soccer.
Cult Classic: Sue Barker-Sue Barker.
Forty years ago, in 1977, Adelaide-based singer Sue Barker released what’s without doubt, one of the greatest soul-jazz albums in the history of Australian music. That album was Sue Barker, which was released on Marcus Herman’s label Crest International. The release of Sue Barker should’ve been the start of a long and glittering career. Sadly, that wasn’t the case, and nine years later, Sue Barker turned her back on music in 1986. However, Since then, her one and only album Sue Barker is regarded as an Australian soul-jazz classic.
The Sue Barker story began in Sydney, when she started singing along with Guy Mitchell songs when was just two. Little did her parents realise that this would be the start of a lifelong love affair with music.
By the time she was in primary school, Sue Barker was a regular in the school choir. When she was nine, Sue Barker decided to join a local church choir so she could join their choir. However, by then, Sue Barker was already taking an interest in spiritual matters.
In the local church, Sue Barker joined the choir and started taking trying to understand and explore the meaning of life. This was something that was a lifelong commitment and something that at time, would offer solace to Sue Barker in time of trouble.
When Sue Barker completed primary school, her family decided to move back to Adelaide. When she returned to Adelaide, Sue Barker was initially at a loss. That was until her uncle found her a suitable church. Soon, she was playing an active role in and a church member. It was at that church, where Sue Barker’s potential was first discovered.
A church member spotted Sue Barker’s potential, and offered to give her free singing lessons. Not long after this, Sue’s father sent his daughter to the prestigious Adelaide College Of Music for extra tuition.
Attending Adelaide College Of Music was an eye-opener for Sue Barker, and she blossomed. She was introduced to classical music by her tutors in her early teens. By then, Sue had discovered The Beatles and other Liverpool based singers and bands. This lead to Sue looking for a band needing a singer.
Each day, Sue Barker looked through the small adverts in the local papers, looking for a suitable band. One day, she found a band without a singer, and decided to audition for The Cumberlands. This lead to Sue’s first gig, where she joined The Cumberlands on-stage for one song. That song marked the start of Sue’s career. Already, she knew that she wanted to embark on a career as a singer.
Not long after her first gig with The Cumberlands, she embarked upon a short tour of south Australian towns. This was good experience for Sue Barker. So was singing in a television talent contest, where she was the runner-up. Her appearance on the talent contest lead to further television appearances. All this was good experience for her future career.
This included when Sue Barker joined her first band. By then, her parents had returned to Sydney, and seventeen year old Sue Barker had remained in Adelaide. That was where she heard a band rehearsing on a Sunday afternoon. Upon hearing the music, Sue decided to investigate. Having made her way up the stairs, Sue asked if she could sing with the band. They agreed, and before long, Sue and the guitarist began a relationship.
Two days after her eighteenth birthday, Sue Barker and the guitarist were married. Within a year, Sue’s first child was born. She stayed at home whilst her husband played with the band. By the time Sue was twenty, she had moved to Sydney and was the mother of two children. Motherhood rather than music was what kept Sue busy. However, she missed music, and decided to return to Adelaide, so did Sue.
Back in Adelaide, Sue, her husband and two children were living close to her parents. With a support network around her, Sue Barker and her husband started putting a band together. They were helped by a booking agent, who hit on the idea of making Sue the focus of the band. This didn’t go down well with her husband, who was in Sue’s shadow. However, this was just the start of Sue Barker’s comeback.
Before long, Sue Barker was being asked to sing with some of Adelaide’s established bands. That was when Sue Barker started to take on a new stage persona, that she had modelled on Janis Joplin. She had it off pat, right down to some serious on-stage drinking. By then, Sue was rubbing shoulders with top musicians, and her star was in the ascendancy. There was even talk of international record deals. Sue Barker was one of Australia’s musical rising stars.
Not long after this, Sue Barker met her future backing band, The Onions. By then, Sue Barker was constantly busy playing live, doing session work and even testing recording equipment at various local recording studios. That wasn’t all.
Sue Barker also decided to hire an old ballroom, where she would put on her own gigs. She would charge $2 to get in, and patrons would watch local musicians jamming after they had finished in the studio. While the nights became extremely popular, but it became clear they weren’t going to make Sue rich. However, it was one of these gigs where Sue Barker was discovered.
After one of the gigs, Sue Barker was approached her and asked if she had ever thought of recording an album? By then, there were a few recording of Sue and her band testing new equipment at the various local studios. However, they hadn’t recorded any singles, never mind an album. Sue gave the stranger who was from Melbourne, one of her recordings, and never expected to hear anything.
She was wrong. One of the tapes ended up in the hands of Marcus Herman who ran the label Crest International. When he heard the recording he was impressed by Sue Barker’s feel, understanding and command of jazz, which was way beyond her years. Marcus Herman realised that Sue Barker was a special talent, and contacted her and asked if she would like to travel to Melbourne to discuss business.
When Sue Barker set out on her journey to Melbourne, to discuss her future with Marcus Herman, she wasn’t alone. She took along her two children and one of her musician friends, Graham Conlon. When they arrived in Melbourne, Sue Barker went to the meeting with Marcus Herman.
He offered Sue Barker a three album deal, and after some discussion, she put the pen to paper. Later, Sue, like many singers and musicians claims she was naive when she signed the contract. For Sue it was never about money, and was always about the music. She just wanted to release an album that featured her own music. Having signed a three album deal in March 1976, Sue Barker began work on her debut album.
After signing the contact, Sue Barker discovered that the contract only covered her, and not her backing band The Onions. This must have been a disappointment for the band, but reluctantly, they agreed to play on Sue Barker’s eponymous debut album. The Onions weren’t on points, but instead, would be paid as session musicians when recording began.
Before that, Sue Barker started choosing songs for her debut album. She eventually, settled on the songs that would feature on the album. Or so she hoped. The songs were sent to Marcus Herman, who had to give his final approval. It wasn’t easy for Sue to get her choice of songs approved, but eventually, the ten songs that became Sue Barker were approved.
This included Eddie Holland, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier’s How Sweet It Is, Gus Kahn and Nacio Herb Brown’s You Stepped Out Of A Dream, Duke Ellington and Sidney Keith Russell’s Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, Curtis Mayfield’s Love To The People and Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere’s Groovin’ featured on side one. Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine joined Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper’s 6345789, Jimmy Davis, Jimmy Sherman and Roger Ramirez’s Lover Man, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye and Renaldo Benson’s What Goin’ On and Aretha Franklin and Ted White’s Think made-up side two of Sue Barker. It was recorded in Adelaide with The Onions.
Before the recording sessions began, Graham Conlon arranged the songs that Sue Barker had chosen. Some were given a makeover, to ensure that they would suit Sue Barker, who discovered she had only three days to record the album.
Marcus Herman was covering the costs of the recording sessions, and was only willing to pay for three days at Pepper Studios, in Adelaide. This was going to be cutting it tight, but Marcus Herman adamant that Sue should be able to record the album in just three days.
Sue Barker entered the studio with The Onions in a cold day in July 1976. The Onions lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer Dean Birbeck, bassist Geoff Kluke, guitarist Graham Conlon and keyboardist Phil Cunneen. They were augmented by a horn section that featured trumpeter Fred Payne and saxophonists Bob Jeffrey and Sylvan Elhay. They accompanied Sue Barker as she laid down her eponymous debut album.
Sue Barker opens with a soulful, horn led rendition of How Sweet It Is that sounds as if it was recorded in Memphis, not Adelaide. Then Sue Barker unleashes an impassioned vocal powerhouse, before delivering a beautiful jazz-tinged version You Stepped Out Of A Dream. This gives way to a late-night, smokey sounding take on the jazz classic Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. Love To The People featured Sue at her most soulful, as she breaths life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Then Groovin’ is given a jazzy makeover, with subtle horns accompanying Sue’s dreamy, heartfelt vocal as she reinvents a pop classic which closed side one of the original album.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine opened side two, and features a powerful, sassy and soulful vocal from Sue Barker. Equally sassy and sensual is 6354789, where Sue combines elements of soul and jazz as she reinvents the song and takes it in a new direction. The tempo drops on the piano led, soul-baring ballad Lover Man, as Sue delivers a beautiful, emotive reading of this of-covered song. Some songs are perfectly suited to a singer, and that is the case with What’s Goin’ On. Sue brings to life the powerful lyrics during this impassioned and poignant soul-jazz cover of a classic. Closing the album is Think, whiz is one of the album’s highlights. It features what can only be described as a vocal masterclass from Sue Barker, that closes this soul-jazz classic.
Somehow, Sue Barker and The Onions managed to complete the album in the three days that Marcus Herman had paid for. This left just the album to mixed and mastered. However, before that, Sue was in for a surprise.
Not longer after recording Sue Barker, Sue discovered that she was pregnant and expecting her third child. While Sue continued to play live, she knew that motherhood beckoned. Meanwhile, Sue was experiencing a spiritual awakening.
This was partly inspired by the birth of her third child. Soon, after the birth, Sue Barker’s thoughts turned to spirituality. Meanwhile, Crest Records were preparing for the release of Sue Barker.
The marketing manager, Donald Fraser, sent out press releases to the press, magazines, radio and television. He was determined that Sue Barker had every chance of being a success. It didn’t matter that the album would be Crest’s final release. He saw the potential in Sue Barker.
So did Channel 9, who booked Sue Barker to appear on the Tonight Show. This was a huge break for Sue Barker, who unfortunately, she had to cancel the appearance. Despite that, Sue Barker’s concert at the Dallas Brook Hall in Melbourne was a sell-out. When the reviews were published, Sue Barker received praise and plaudits from critics and cultural commentators. The album Sue Barker, had also sold well at the concert at the Dallas Brook Hall. Things were looking good for Sue Barker.
After the success of the Dallas Brook Hall concert, Crest began planning a promotional tour to coincide with the release of Sue Barker. However, Sue’s priority was her new daughter, which frustrated Marcus Herman at Crest Records. Their relationship became difficult, and Sue Barker prioritized motherhood over the release of her eponymous debut album on Crest International. While this was admirable, it would prove costly.
When Sue Barker was released by Crest International, the album received praise, plaudits and critical acclaim. However, Sue Barker received little promotion, which was frustrating for everyone at Crest International who had worked hard on the release. They realised that Sue Barker was on the verge of a breakthrough, and have and if she had promoted the album it’s very likely that it would’ve sold well and introduced her to a much wider, and possibly, international audience. However, Sue Barker’s decision not to promote the album resulted in poor album sales.
Very few copies of Sue Barker sold, and Sue Barker’s relationship with Marcus Herman at Crest Records broke down completely. As a result, Sue Barker never made any money from her future Australian soul-jazz classic. After the release of Sue Barker, eventually, the Adelaide-based singer returned to the local circuit.
This time, Sue Barker wasn’t going to spend all her time playing live. While she continued to sing in local venues Sue didn’t mind if weeks or months passed without a gig. Sue who was a free spirit at heart, did things her way. Sometimes, when gigs dried up, promoted concerts. Sue Barker wasn’t the type of person to wait for opportunities to arise. Instead, she would go out and make things happen. As long as these promotions covered their costs, Sue was happy. It had never been about the music for Sue Barker.
Not long after this, came the news that Crest International had folded. Sue Barker had still owed the label two albums when it folded. When Crest International folded, Sue Barker realised that gone was her chance of releasing any more albums. However, given how fraught relationship with Marcus Herman was latterly, the likelihood of Sue Barker releasing two more albums seemed unlikely. Now the dream of releasing any more albums was over.
Following the demise of Crest International, Sue Barker spent a year teaching music at the Centre For Aboriginal Studies In Music. Her time spent teaching the Centre For Aboriginal Studies In Music resulted in Sue becoming interested in reggae. Her interest in reggae inspired a further spiritual awakening. However, as her spirituality began to blossom, Sue’s newfound faith was severely tested.
Tragedy struck when Sue Barker was out walking down the street with her fifth child. A car mounted the pavement, and struck her daughter, who was so seriously injured that she spent three months in hospital. During that time, Sue started to ask herself some of life’s big questions. Her search for the meaning of life, would prove to an ongoing spiritual quest.
Once her daughter had recovered, Sue Barker continued to pursue her interest in reggae music. She even decided to form a reggae band, which disappointed some of those who had followed Sue’s career as a jazz singer. Some of the musicians in Sue’s band were disappointed with this volte-face and left her employ.
As a result, Sue Barker had to put together a new group of musicians. They would accompany Sue who had been booked to play at the Adelaide Jazz Club. When the patrons at the Adelaide Jazz Club heard about Sue’s Damascene conversion to reggae, they were unsure about this. However, Sue decided to continue down this new road.
Sue Barker’s career continued until 1986, when sadly, tragedy struck again. Eight months after the birth of her fifth child, her eldest child died on a Thursday. Despite this tragedy, Sue decided to sing at a gig she had been booked to play two nights later on the Saturday evening. That night, Sue says that when she sang: “she felt closer to God than I had ever before.” As Sue watched the patrons party that night, she realised that this was the end of road for her.
After a lifetime spent in and around the music industry, after the gig Sue Barker called time on her career. She suddenly felt that the entire music business was a “sham,” and didn’t want to be part of it anymore.
When she had recorded her soul-jazz classic Sue Barker, she never received any payment. Ironically, The Onions who had originally been disappointed not to be included in the recording contract with Marcus Herman’s label Crest International, were paid as session musicians and made more out of Sue Barker than the star of the show did. It was no wonder that Sue Barker regarded the music industry as a sham.
Nowadays, her one and only album Sue Barker, is regarded as a soul-jazz classic, and copies of the album are now extremely rare. When they do change hands, it’s for hundreds of Dollars. That comes as no surprise, given the quality of music on Sue Barker. It features one of music’s best kept secrets, Sue Barker, who if things had been different, would’ve gone to enjoy a long and successful career. Sadly, Lady Luck didn’t smile on Sue Barker and it was a case of what might have been.
Sue Barker only released one album during a career that spanned three decades. Her career began in the late-sixties, and it wasn’t until 1977 that Sue Barker was released on Crest International. By then, Sue Barker looked destined for greatness. However, when Sue Barker was released, her third child had just been born. Sue was reluctant to leave the child to embark upon a promotion tour. Her failure to tour Sue Barker was a costly one, and the album was commercial failure.
Whether Sue Barker ever regrets this decision is unknown? Marcus Herman who owned Crest International certainly regretted Sue’s failure to tour her album. It resulted in the breakdown in their business relationship, and not long after this, Crest International folded. That marked the end of Sue Barker’s recording career.
She may have only recorded one album, but Sue Barker is a soul-jazz classic that definitely deserves to find a much wider audience. This long-lost soul-jazz classic should’ve transformed the career of Australian songstress Sue Barker, who sadly remained one of music’s best kept secrets.
Cult Classic: Sue Barker-Sue Barker.
Cult Classic: Klaus Schulze-Irrlicht.
In 1969, Berlin’s vibrant musical scene was thriving. At the heart of Berlin’s music scene was the Zodiak Free Arts Lab. It was the cultural centre of the city. This was where some of Germany’s top bands took their tentative steps towards greatness. However, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab was also a meeting place for musicians and artists.
Members of Can and Agitation Free rubbed shoulders with future members of Ash Ra Tempel and Neu! It was also at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab where Klaus Schulze, who was still the drummer of Psy Free, first met Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream. Soon, Edgar Froese invited Klaus Schulze to join an early lineup of Tangerine Dream.
Tangerine Dream quickly became the nearest thing that the Zodiak Free Arts Lab had to a house band. They were a familiar face, playing night after night. This was good practice for when Tangerine Dream recorded their debut album Electronic Meditation.
Rather than hiring one of Berlin’s recording studios, Tangerine Dream decamped to a factory that the band had rented. This allowed Tangerine Dream to set up their array of traditional instruments and custom made instruments.
Klaus Schulze’s setup was fairly traditional, including drums, percussion and metal stick. Edgar Froese mixed traditional and custom made instruments, bring various guitars, piano, organ, piano, tape recorder and a variety of effects along. Conrad Schnitzer did likewise, bringing a cello, violin and an adapter. They were joined by various found instruments; including broken glass and dried peas which were shaken in a sieve were just two found sounds. The sound of burnt parchment was also used. So were backwards vocals. It was a truly innovative and inventive approach to music, which was produced by Tangerine Dream.
Once Electronic Meditation was complete, eight months passed before the Ohr label released the album in June 1970. When Electronic Meditation was released, it divided the opinion of critics. While some critics didn’t seem to ‘get’ Electronic Meditation, others realised that it was a groundbreaking, genre-melting album. Everything from ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, free jazz, Krautrock, musique concrète and psychedelia can be heard on Electronic Meditation. Each of these influences shine through on what was a truly innovative album. Despite this, the album sold in relatively small quantities. It certainly wasn’t a huge commercial success. Just like a lot of albums released during the Krautrock era, it was only much later that critics recognised how important albums like Electronic Meditation were.
Despite the commercial failure of Electronic Meditation, Tangerine Dream continued. However, it would be without Klaus Schulze. He left Tangerine Dream to join a new group Ash Ra Tempel.
Ash Ra Tempel.
Just like Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel had frequented and played at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab. They were founded in 1970 by guitarist Manuel Göttsching, drummer bassist Hartmut Enke and Klaus Schulze. Their music was a fusion of space rock, psychedelia, Krautrock and ambient music. This sound they refined playing live, especially at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab where they were a familiar face. Over the next few months, Ash Ra Tempel’s sound evolved, and by March 1971 they were ready to record their eponymous debut album.
Recording of Ash Ra Tempel took place on 11th March 1971. By then, Ash Ra Tempel were incorporating electronics into their sound. Especially when Manuel Göttsching delivered his improvised guitar solos. He used effects in the same way as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel. Meanwhile, Klaus Schulze played with a ferocity on Amboss, a twenty minute epic. Then on Traummaschine which features on side two, it’s a much more laid-back, sedate track, where drones and electronics play their part. Klaus Schulze gives a shaman-like performance as he switches bongos and adds shimmering, glistening cymbals. This was very different to Amboss. Ash Ra Tempel was definitely an album of two sides, that was the perfect showcase for Klaus’ versatility.
Just three months later, Ash Ra Tempel was released on the Ohr label in June 1971. It was only the label’s thirteenth release, Ash Ra Tempel was well received by critics, who noted that the two lengthy tracks were quite different. The first side which featured Amboss,
had a much heavier sound, while Traummaschine had a much more sedate sound. Again, the album was a fusion of disparate genres. Elements of ambient, free jazz, Krautrock, psychedelia and space rock can be heard on Ash Ra Tempel. It should’ve been an album that appealed to all types of record buyers.
That however, wasn’t to be. Instead, Ash Ra Tempel wasn’t a huge seller. It sold in relatively small quantities. This was the case with many of the Krautrock albums that were released between 1969 and 1977. By then, Klaus Schulze would be a solo artist. He decided to leave Ash Ra Tempel after their eponymous debut album and embark upon a solo career.
Being in a band didn’t seem suit Klaus Schulze. He found that the endless discussions got in the way of the important thing, making music. He wanted to make music, not talk about it. Klaus’ approach was to let the music flow through him. Other musicians seemed to want to discuss every aspect of the music. Meanwhile, Klaus wanted to improvise. It was frustrating, and stifling Klaus’ creativity. As a solo artist, he wouldn’t have to put up with the endless pointless discussions. That’s how in April 1972, Klaus found himself preparing to record to his debut album Irrlicht.
Having left Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze wanted to make music that was unique. He couldn’t point at an artist, and say: “that’s the type of music I want to make.” While Klaus was aware of minimalist composers Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but this wasn’t the type of music he was considering making. They did share some things in common, the concepts of repetition, phrasing and sequencing. Apart from that, Klaus was heading in a different direction.
This was perfect, as Klaus was never going to be accused of following in someone’s footsteps. Musically, he had a blank canvas to work with. His palette of sounds were unlike other musicians. He had an amplifier that wasn’t working, an organ, a cheap microphone and a cassette recorder. The cassette recorder and microphone he used to tape the famous Freie Universitat Berlin orchestra. This recording Klaus would alter with filters. Then he would modify some of his equipment.
Klaus set about modifying the broken amplifier. He modified it, so that when he turned the volume up it caused feedback, tremolo and chirping sounds. The organ was modified by Klaus so that it no longer sounded like an organ. Along with his microphone and cassette recorder, Klaus set about recording his debut album, Irrlicht.
Recording of Irelicht took place in Berlin, during April 1972. To the studio, Klaus took his guitar, percussion and zither. They joined Klaus’ array of modified instruments. Another of Klaus’ secret weapons were recordings of the Colloquium Musica Orchestra.
Before the recording of Irrlicht, Klaus had gone along to watch the Colloquium Musica Orchestra rehearse. As he stood and watched, he told the conductor “I like what you are doing, but could you do something different for me for half an hour?” With that, the bemused conductor asked “what would you like to have?” Klaus responded, with: “I don’t care, just play anything. I just want the sound. I’m going to play the tape backwards.” When Klaus returned half an hour later, his tape was ready and an integral part of Irrlicht was complete. Now, it was a case of bringing everything together.
With his bruised, battered and modified equipment, Klaus got to work, and the recording studio became a place where he could experiment. Using his modified organ and amplifier, plus percussion, zither and guitar, Klaus got to work. The backdrop for what was one of the most ambitious and experimental albums of 1972, was the tape played backwards.
Incredibly, Klaus didn’t even a synth. While other artists owned banks of expensive synths, Klaus created an album that sounds as if it’s made entirely by an array of synths. Instead, Irrlicht, with its cosmic sound and ambient drones was a synth free zone. Instead, Irrlicht was more like an album of musique concrète. Klaus manipulated tapes, adding filters, delay, echo and an array of effects. The result was a trio of cinematic tracks that sounded like the soundtrack to an early seventies sci-fi film.
The three tracks on Irrlicht were very different. Satz: Ebene the album opener, deserves to be described as an epic. Understated, stark and desolate, with a moody, broody and dramatic sound, it would’ve been the perfect backdrop for a sci-fi film. It’s the musical equivalent of shifting sands, with ambient drones rumbling almost menacingly. Meanwhile, what sounds like elegiac strings play. Less is more, as the stripped down arrangement reveals its secrets. Later, a heavily modified gothic sounding organ adds what could easily be the backdrop to a scene in a remake of Dracula. By then, Klaus is a musical shape-shifter, as he combines disparate musical genres. This includes ambient, avant-garde, drone and musique concrète. They’re combined to create what sounds like a timeless space symphony. It may have been recorded in 1972, but has aged like a fine wine. So has the rest of Irrlicht.
At just over five minutes, Satz: Gewitte is easily the shortest track. Again the arrangement is understated, but chilling. The arrangement sweeps, crawls and meanders along exuding an air of menace. Especially as various found sound emerge from the arrangement. It becomes like a fire breathing dragon. Meanwhile, drones begin to make their presence felt, sweeping in and adding to the chilling cinematic sound.
Satz Exil Sils Maria closes Irrlicht, and was recorded backwards. The track has a dark, ruminative sound. Slowly and gradually, the arrangement begins to reveal its deepest secrets. Just like the two preceding tracks, the arrangement is understated, but captivating. Klaus’ less is more approach means the listener hangs on every note, just in case they miss a nuance or subtly. Later, the arrangement is like a vortex, discharging otherworldly sounds. They whirr, whoosh and grind, as the drone is like a siren, sending out a warning. Other times, there’s a much more melodic sound. Mostly, though, dark and ruminative describes this compelling soundscape. Just like the rest of Irrlicht, it’s part of a timeless album that launched Klaus Schulze’s solo career.
While Irrlicht was well received by some critics, many critics failed to realise how important an influence Klaus Schulze would have on German music. He would become one of the most important and influential artists in the Berlin School. That was still to come.
Irrlicht was a synth free zone, and owed more to musique concrète than the Berlin School. Klaus Schulze would release several classic Berlin School albums, including 1973s Cyborg, 1975s Timewind and 1976s Moondawn. However, just like many German artists of the late sixties and seventies, Klaus Schulze neither received the critical acclaim nor commercial success they deserved.
When Ohr released Irrlicht in August 1972, it followed in the footsteps of Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation and Ash Ra Tempel, and didn’t sell in vast quantities, Instead, it was more of an underground album, that was more popular in France and Britain than in Germany. It would only be much later that Germany began to realise that they had produced some of the most talented musicians of the late sixties and seventies, including Klaus Schulze.
He’s nowadays regarded as one of the pioneers of German music. His solo career began in 1972 with Irrlicht which was without doubt, one the most innovative albums of 1972. The music on Irrlicht was understated, broody, moody, dark, dramatic and gothic. It was also chilling, eerie, meditative and ruminative. Constantly, Irrlicht has a cinematic sound. It’s like a 21st Century space symphony from a true musical pioneer, Klaus Schulze. He was making tentative steps in what would be a long and illustrious solo career. It’s a career has lasted six decades and sixty albums, including Irrlicht, Klaus Schulze’s groundbreaking debut album.
Cult Classic: Klaus Schulze-Irrlicht.
Classic Album: Emerson, Lake and Palmer-Brain Salad Surgery.
When the time came for Emerson, Lake and Palmer to record their fourth album, Brain Salad Surgery, the trio were determined to record an album that they could replicate live. That hadn’t been the case with their their three previous albums. Something had to change and Brain Salad Surgery marked the start of a new era for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Their career career began in 1970.
The Emerson, Lake and Palmer story begins in 1970. That was the year Emerson, Lake and Palmer was founded and they released their eponymous debut album.
Keith Emerson and Greg Lake first met at the Filimore West, in San Francisco. Both of them were at a musical crossroads. Keith was a member of The Nice, while Greg was a member of King Crimson. Nether of them felt fulfilled musically and decided to form a new band.
This new band would feature Keith on keyboards, Greg on bass and a drummer. Their first choice for a drummer was Mitch Mitchell, who was without a band, after The Jimi Hendrix Experience split-up. They agreed to jam together and then the music press heard about this jam session.
Rumours started doing the rounds that Jimi Hendrix was going to join this new supergroup. That put an end to the jam session which never took place. Jimi Hendrix had never been asked to join the supergroup. Mitch Mitchell meanwhile, lost interest in the project. This presented a problem. Keith and Greg still didn’t have a drummer. Then Robert Stigwood, who was then the manager of Cream, suggested Carl Palmer’s name.
Carl Palmer was another experienced musician. He had previously been a member of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and at that time, was a member of Atomic Rooster. When Carl was approached he was at first, reluctant to leave Atomic Rooster, which he had cofounded. However, when he spoke to Keith and Greg he realised that he could be part of something special.
Having left Atomic Rooster, he became the third member of the newly formed supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They made their debut at The Guildhall, Plymouth, on 23rd August 1970. Then on 26th August 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer stole the show at the Isle Of Wight Festival. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer being offered a recording contract by Atlantic Records.
Ahmet Ertegün the President of Atlantic Records realised the potential in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Here was a band who wouldn’t just sell a huge amount of records, but could fill huge venues. So, not long after signing Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Ahmet Ertegün sent them into Advision Studios, London.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
At Advision Studios, Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded ten tracks. They became Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Although this was meant to be the birth of a supergroup, the ten tracks on Emerson, Lake and Palmer came across as a series of solo pieces. However, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were a new band, who had just recorded an eclectic and innovative album.
Although many people refer to Emerson, Lake and Palmer as progressive rock band, they’re much more than that. Their music is eclectic. They draw inspiration from a variety of sources. This includes classical, folk rock, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Some of the music is futuristic. That’s in part to Keith Emerson’s use of the Moog synth. The result was a pioneering, innovative album that would launch Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career.
When critics heard Emerson, Lake and Palmer, they hailed the album as innovative and influential. On its release in the UK in October 1970, i Emerson, Lake and Palmer reached number four. Three months later, on New Year’s Day 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer was released in the US. It reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Ahmet Ertegün, the President of Atlantic Records had been vindicated. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were on their way to becoming rock royalty.
It was a case of striking when the iron was hot for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They returned to Advision Studios, in London to record what became their sophomore album Tarkus. It was much more of a “band” album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were now a tight, musical unit. This was very different from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was more like an album of solo pieces. Tarkus saw the birth of Emerson, Lake and Palmer as one of the giants of s progressive rock.
Tarkus was released in June 1971. That wasn’t originally the plan. Instead, Pictures At An Exhibition was meant to be Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s sophomore album. This was a live album which was recorded in March 1971. It saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer interpret Modest Mussorgsky’s opus Pictures At An Exhibition. it was a groundbreaking album. There was a problem though. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s management didn’t agree. They weren’t sure that what essentially a interpretation of a classical suite was the direction Emerson, Lake and Palmer should be heading. So, Tarkus became the followup to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
On its release in June 1971, critics realised that Tarkus marked a much more united Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were well on the way to finding their trademark sound. Gone were ballads and jazz-tinged tracks. Instead, it was prog rock all the way. Record buyers loved Tarkus. It reached number one in the UK. Over the Atlantic, Tarkus reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and was certified gold. Following the commercial success of Tarkus, Pictures At An Exhibition was released later in 1971.
Pictures At An Exhibition.
Three months before the release of Tarkus, Emerson, Lake and Palmer arrived at Newcastle City Hall, in Newcastle, England on the 26th March 1971. They were about to record their first live album, Pictures At An Exhibition. This was no ordinary live album.
Instead, Emerson, Lake and Palmer had decided to adapt Russian classical composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. This was one of the first times classical music had been adapted by a rock band. That night in Newcastle, just four of the original ten pieces in Mussorgsky’s suite, along with the linking Promenade were recorded, They were performed live as one continuous piece, with new parts written by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. These new parts linked Mussorgsky’s original themes, which Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s played with enthusiasm and energy. Despite this, Pictures At An Exhibition was nearly never released.
It seemed that Pictures At An Exhibition was fated. Problems with their management meant that Pictures At An Exhibition’s release was delayed. It wouldn’t be until November 1971 the album was released. However, at one point it looked as if Pictures At An Exhibition wouldn’t be released. Atlantic Records were reluctant to release what was essentially a classical suite as an album. This they feared, wouldn’t sell well. So the project was put on the back burner, Suddenly, it looked unlikely that Pictures At An Exhibition would be released. That was until Tarkus was certified gold in America. All of a sudden, Atlantic had a change of heart,
Rather than release Pictures At An Exhibition on the main Atlantic label, a decision was made to release the album as a budget priced album. Atlantic Records it seemed were hedging their bets. That seemed a wise move when the reviews were mixed. Rolling Stone magazine was far from impressed with Pictures At An Exhibition. Neither was the self styled Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, Despite this, Pictures At An Exhibition sold well.
When Pictures At An Exhibition was released in November 1971, it reached number three in the UK. In America, Pictures At An Exhibition reached number ten in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third consecutive gold album. A year later, three became four.
Pictures At An Exhibition was released as a budget priced album in November 1971. It reached number three in the UK. In America, Pictures At An Exhibition reached number ten in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s third consecutive gold album. A year later, three became four.
Just like previous albums, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were determined to push musical boundaries on Trilogy, their third studio album. Just like their two previous albums, Trilogy was recorded at Advision Studios, London. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at their innovative best, recording progressive rock, but with a twist.
An example of this was the inclusion of Abaddon’s Bolero on Trilogy. Rather than the usual 3/4 rhythm a Bolero would have, it was turned into a march by using a 4/4 rhythm. Emerson, Lake and Palmer also pioneered the beating heart sound on Trilogy. Pink Floyd would use it to such good effect on Dark Side Of The Moon. So would Jethro Tull on A Passion Play and Queen on Queen II. This sound was first heard on Endless Enigma Part One. It came courtesy of Carl Palmer’s Ludwig Speed King bass drum pedal. Once again, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were demonstrating that they were one of the most innovative progressive rock bands. Their efforts were rewarded.
On its release in January 1972, Trilogy reached number two in the US. As usual, Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoyed more success in the US. Trilogy reached number five in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another gold disc for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Things were about to get better for Emerson, Lake and Palmer though.
Of the three previous studio albums Emerson, Lake and Palmer had recorded, they complex, innovative, genre-melting affairs. Emerson, Lake and Palmer embraced the latest technology in what seemed like their quest for musical perfection. They also made use of overdubbing. This made their music difficult to replicate live. The band always felt they came up short live. So Emerson, Lake and Palmer set about recording an album they could replicate accurately live. This was Brain Surgery Salad
Brian Surgery Salad.
Recording of Brian Surgery Salad took place between June and September 1973. Brain Salad Surgery was a fusion of progressive rock and classical music. This is obvious straight away.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer adapted William Blake and Hubert Parry’s hymn Jerusalem and then Alberto Ginastera’s Toccata. Greg Lake wrote Still…You Turn Me On and then cowrote Benny The Bouncer and Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression with Keith Emerson and Peter Sinfield, one of the founding members of King Crimson. Keith Emerson penned Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression and cowrote Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1 with Greg Lake also penned Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1. These tracks were brought to life by Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their inventive best.
On Brain Salad Surgery, Keith Emerson played Hammond organ, piano, accordion and a myriad of synths. Greg Lake took charge of vocals, acoustic, electric, and twelve-string guitars. He also played bass guitar. Carl Palmer played drums, percussion, percussion synthesizers, gongs and timpani. Greg Lake produced Brian Surgery Salad, which was released in November 1973.
When Brain Salad Surgery, was released in November 1973, it became Emerson, Lake and Palmer most successful album. It reached number two in the UK and number eleven in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in two more gold discs to add to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s collection. They were well deserved though.
There’s no doubt that Brain Salad Surgery was the finest hour of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s four album career. Brian Surgery Salad featured Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their tightest and loudest. Here was a tight, visionary band fusing progressive rock, jazz and classical music. It was an ambitious, powerhouse of an album. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the peak of their creative powers.
This was obvious from the get-go. Brian Surgery Salad begins with the reinvention of Jerusalem and Toccata. Jerusalem becomes a dramatic marriage of electronics and rock, before heading back to its religious roots. However, Emerson, Lake and Palmer can’t resist the theatre and the track becomes almost wonderfully overblown. This continues on Toccata, another dramatic fusion of rock and electronics. It’s grandiose, futuristic, dramatic and features progressive rock royalty at their visionary best. How many groups would have had the vision and bravery to open an album with a take on a hymn and then a classical piece? After that, Emerson, Lake and Palmer change tack.
Still You Turn Me On is a beautiful, heartfelt, soul-baring ballad. It’s reminiscent of Pink Floyd and shows another side to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This was absent on Trilogy and makes a welcome return on Brain Salad Surgery.
Very different is Benny The Bouncer. It shows that Emerson, Lake and Palmer have a sense of humour. A fusion of vaudeville, pomp rock and pub rock, it teaches you to expect the unexpected as far as Emerson, Lake and Palmer are concerned.
The centrepiece of Brain Salad Surgery is Karn Evil. It’s four separate pieces that make up an prog rock epic. Originally, Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 1 and 2 were meant to be one song. The time limits of vinyl put paid to that. So, the song became two parts.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer kick loose from the get-go. They produce a virtuoso permanence, combining drama with flamboyance to create a progressive rock powerhouse. Crucial to the song’s success are the bleak lyrics and Greg’s vocal. It’s that’s an outpouring of despair and disbelief. Then there’s a series of musical masterclasses. Keith pounds at his Hammond organ as if in frustration, while Greg Lake seems to have tapped into the spirit of Hendrix. His performance is otherworldly. So is the music. It’s sometimes futuristic, with a dramatic 21st Century sound. As for Carl Palmer, he won’t be outdone and adds a thunderous heartbeat. The result is a thirteen minute epic, that showcases Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their inventive, innovative best.
There’s another change in style on Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression. It sees Emerson, Lake and Palmer turn their back on the progressive, sci-fi rocky sound. It’s replaced by a seven minute jazz instrumental. Emerson, Lake and Palmer manage to make this work. They’re versatile and talented musicians who are just as happy playing jazz as rock. Later, they take a detour via Latin and rock music, as they showcase their versatility and undeniable talent.
Gone is the jazz of the previous track on Karn Evil 9: 2nd Impression, which loses Brain Salad Surgery. It sees a return to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s usual prog rock sound. It’s as if everything was building up to this track. Banks of synths and the distorted bass play important parts. Their raison d’être us providing a backdrop for Greg’s powerhouse of a vocal. Again, the lyrics are bleak. He’s like a seer, whose seen the future and doesn’t like it. Dread and despair fills his vocal, at what the future holds. Effects are added to the vocal, as if someone is trying to silence Greg during a track that’s a potent mixture of drama, emotion, music and theatre.
Brain Salad Surgery is a window into the inventive and innovative world of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Throughout Brain Salad Surgery. Emerson, Lake and Palmer take the tracks in a variety of directions. Sometimes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer bowl a series of curveballs as the track heads in a totally unexpected direction. Mind you, that’s what you expect from one of the most groundbreaking groups of the seventies, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. That’s apparent throughout Brain Salad Surgery, which sadly, marked the end of an era.
Although Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s career continued after Brain Salad Surgery. they never released as successful an album. They released five further albums. 1977s Works Volume 1 were certified gold in the UK, Canada and US. Later in 1977, Works Volume 2, was certified gold in the US. Then 1978s Love Beach was certified gold in the US and silver in the UK. Neither 1992s Black Moon nor In The Hot Seat. However, Brain Salad Surgery. remains Emerson, Lake and Palmer enjoy biggest selling album. No wonder.
Brain Salad Surgery demonstrates Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their innovative and groundbreaking best. Here were Emerson, Lake and Palmer at their tightest and loudest. It was as if everything had been building up to Brain Salad Surgery. So when Emerson, Lake and Palmer released Brain Salad Surgery they were a tight, visionary band. Their fusion of progressive rock, jazz and classical music resulted in an ambitious, powerhouse of an album, Brain Salad Surgery which features Emerson, Lake and Palmer were at the peak of their creative powers.
Classic Album: Emerson, Lake and Palmer-Brain Salad Surgery.
Classic Album: Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans
After a three month break, Yes’ 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour was due to resume on the 8th of March 1973. This was the fifth leg in what had been a gruelling world tour. The new lineup of Yes had criss-crossed the world, playing North America and then Europe. Then after a three day break between 12th and 15th of September 1972, Yes returned to North America. They played thirty-nine dates between the 15th of September and the 20th November 1972. After that, Yes had twenty-five days of rest and recuperation. Then the tour resumed again.
The fourth leg of Yes’ 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour fourth leg featured three dates in Europe. They took place in Manchester and London between the 15th and 17th of December 1972. After that, Yes had nearly three months off.
After a well deserved rest, Yes headed out on the Japanese leg of the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour. It consisted of just six dates. The first three concerts were due to take place in Tokyo between the 8th and 10th of March 1973, with Yes taking to the stage at three different venues. So between the 8th and 10th of March 1973, Tokyo became a home away from home for Yes.
It was during that time in Tokyo, that Jon Anderson’s thoughts turned to the band’s next album. He was looking for a theme that would run through their sixth album. One of the ideas that he was contemplating was a large scale composition. Especially after he came across a footnote in the book he was reading, Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi.
It was when Jon Anderson came to page eighty-three of the tome, that he came across the a lengthy footnote. This described four bodies of Hindu texts, which collectively, were known as shastras. Soon, Jon Anderson was fascinated by what discovered were compressive treatises. They dealt with all aspect of religious and social life, plus subjects like law, medicine, architecture and art. Jon Anderson read how each shastra conveyed: “profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism.” Having read about the four shastras, Jon Anderson began to contemplate a four part album based on the four shastras.
As the Japanese leg of the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour continued, Jon Anderson continued to contemplate his idea for Yes’ sixth album. However, he wasn’t quite ready to discuss the idea with other band members. He needed time to think and work on the idea.
By the 14th of March 1973, the Japanese leg of the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour was over. Next stop was Oceanic leg of the tour. Yes would play five concerts in Australia between the 17th and 26th of March 1973. After that, Yes returned to North America for the third time, on what was the seventh leg of the tour.
Yes were booked to play eighteen dates in North America between the 4th and 22nd April 1973. It was during that leg of the tour that Jon Anderson approached songwriter and arranger Steve Howe about a four part album based on the four shastras. Straight away, he was interested in the idea.
Soon, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were spending their spare time working on the idea. After shows, they had candlelight songwriting sessions, where the two friends worked on ideas and motifs that fitted in with the album’s theme. Sometimes, it was trial and error, with someone playing a riff and the other rejecting it. Occasionally, an idea that had been rejected would later, be reused. That was the case with a guitar riff that later became part of The Ancient. Slowly, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were making progress.
Things changed when Yes arrived in Savannah, Georgia on 20th April 1973. Yes played what was the sixteenth of eighteen concerts in the North American leg of the tour. It was the seventh and final leg of what had been an epic and successful tour. After the show in Savannah, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe retired to a hotel room for another songwriting session at 1am. This time, everything fell into place.
Over six hours, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe wrote the lyrics and outlined the vocals and instrumentation that would by used on the album. By 7am, Yes’ sixth album had taken shape. It was another concept album. However, this was no ordinary concept album. It was an ambitious double album, Tales From Topographic Oceans. However, not everyone was enthusiastic about the album Jon Anderson and Steve Howe had written,
The next morning, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were still elated and feeling exhilarated from the success of their marathon songwriting session. They had completed writing and planning what would be their sixth album in just six hours. This they couldn’t wait to share with the rest of Yes. However, when Jon Anderson and Steve Howe told the other members of Yes about their plan for a double concept album that featured just four lengthy tracks, not everyone share their enthusiasm.
The other members of Yes were going to take some convincing about the merits of the double concept album. Still though, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe were elated by what had been a truly magical night. Neither man had enjoyed such a fruitful songwriting session, and for the next few days felt ten feet tall. By then, Yes had completed their 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour.
Nearly nine months after the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour began, it ended on 22nd April 1973. This wasn’t meant to be the final tour date, Instead, the tour was meant to end in Acapulco, Mexico on the 1st of May 1973. Alas, the concert was cancelled and Yes arrived home early.
Given the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour had been a gruelling tour, the members of Yes were desperately needing some time off. Not for long though. Yes had an album to rehearse and record.
Refreshed after their break, the members of Yes reconvened at Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Manticore Studios in Fulham, London. For one member of Yes, they were about to make their debut on a Yes album. This was Alan White, who had replaced Bill Bruford, who had resigned just before the 1972-1973 Close To The Edge Tour began. Having played on the tour, Alan White was now preparing to make his recording debut with Yes.
As the rehearsals began, Yes practised and honed the material. There were some dissenting voices about the material Jon Anderson and Steve Howe had written. Bassist Chris Squire was worried. He realised that there was: “a lot of substance” to the four tracks, but worried that sometimes, album was too eclectic. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was worried by the move towards avant-garde and fusion. He was wondering if he anything to contribute to the album? It seemed not all the members of Yes shared Steve Howe and Jon Anderson’s enthusiasm for the album.
After a month of rehearsing, Jon Anderson decided to head to Marrakesh with his wife for short holiday. During his stay, he honed the lyrics for the forthcoming album. Meanwhile, back in London, Chris Squire spent sixteen or seventeen hours in the studio each day on pre-production. When Jon Anderson returned home, the lyrics had taken shape. Things were looking up form Yes.
Behind the scenes, things were very different. There had been arguments about where to record the album. Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson wanted to record in the countryside. Jon Anderson took this further. He envisaged recording the album in a forest during the night. This was quickly vetoed. Steve Howe and Chris Squire wanted to record the album in London. New recruit Alan White decided discretion was the better part of valour, never voiced a preference. It was stalemate.
Meanwhile, engineer and co-producer was Eddy Offord was trying to convince Yes’ manager Brian Lane to record the album in the countryside. This he hoped, might reduce the tension and bad feeling the album had caused within the band. Alas, it was to no avail.
Eventually, Steve Howe and Chris Squire won the day. Brian Lane decided the album should be recorded in a London. The city had many top studios. One of the best, was Morgan Studios, London. It was equipped with some of the most advanced recording equipment, This included a twenty-four track Ampex reel-to-reel recorder. For a band about to record an ambitious and complex album, this was perfect. Morgan Studios was the perfect studio for Yes.
Yes arrived at Morgan Studios, in late summer of 1973. This time round, their rhythm section featured drummer and percussionist Alan White, bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman joined lead guitarist and vocalist Jon Anderson. He was augmented by backing vocals from the rest of Yes. They were about to co-produced one of the most ambitious albums of their career with Eddy Offord. Before that, Jon Anderson and Yes’ manager Brian Lane decided to decorate the studio.
Once Yes had settled into Morgan Studios, Jon Anderson and Brian Lane decided to decorate the studio like a farmyard. Jon Anderson stuck pictures of farmyard animals to the wall and put plant and flowers around the studio. A picket fence was even added, and at one point, keyboards and amplifiers rested on a bales of hay. This seemed to unite the once divided band.
Now Yes could begin work on what was a complex and ambitious double concept album. The four tracks, The Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn), The Remembering (High The Memory), The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun) and Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil) ranged between eighteen and twenty-two minutes. Given the length and complexity of the four tracks, recording took five months. During that period, keyboardist became disenchanted with the way Yes’ music was heading.
Granted Yes continued further down the road marked progressive rock, but added elements of avant-garde, folk-rock, jazz and psychedelia. During the four lengthy suites, Yes take the listener on a captivating adventure across complex, multilayered, genre-melting musical landscapes which feature a myriad of Eastern themes and sounds. The music is cerebral, ruminative and sometimes, atmospheric, beautiful and dramatic as the arrangements ebb and flow. Seamlessly, there’s changes in time signature as the one part of the suite gives way to the next. Constantly, nuances, subtitles and surprises unfold as the rich musical landscape changes. Alas, for Rick Wakeman, these changes were too much to take.
His fears came to fruition. Before the recording began, Rick Wakeman felt he had nothing to contribute. Despite this, he arrived each day and recorded his keyboard parts. For the rest of the time, Rick Wakeman headed to Morgan Studios’ bar, where passed the time drinking and playing darts. Gradually, his disenchantment grew.
Fortunately, Black Sabbath were recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the other studio. Rick Wakeman began to spend time with Black Sabbath. Later, they were looking for someone to play a Minimoog part on the track Sabbra Cadabra. Rick Wakeman was happy to help out and headed to studio. Soon, he had recorded his part. Given he was helping friends, Rick Wakeman wouldn’t accept payment for playing on Sabbra Cadabra. So Black Sabbath decided to pay him in beer. It was one of the lighter moments of the recording session.
Midway through the recording Yes’ new album, all the plants had died and the picket fence and pictures had been covered in graffiti. The studio started to resemble a barn. This didn’t bother Yes. They embrace the organic nature of the surroundings. Everything was going to plan.
Apart from Jon Anderson’s request to create a bathroom sound effect on his vocals. Yes’ lightning engineer tried to build a wooden box which was then tilled. Soon, the tiles started to fall off the box. It failed to recreate the requested bathroom sound. That was a minor blip, as the album took shape. Eventually, after five months, the unnamed album was complete. However, very nearly, Yes’ five months of hard was almost lost.
With the album complete, Eddie Offord began mixing the album. He was within a couple of days of completing the album. However, after spending much of the night mixing the album, Eddie Offord and Jon Anderson headed home. As Eddie Offord left the studio with the master tapes, he was frantically searching his pockets for his car keys. When Eddie Offord reached his car, he sat the tapes on the car roof. Having found his keys, Eddie Offord drove off forgetting the tapes were still on the roof. Meanwhile, a horrified Jon Anderson looked on.
By the time he caught up with Eddie Offord, the tapes had fallen off the roof. When Jon Anderson saw them lying on the road, he managed to stop a bus just before it ran over the tapes. Disaster was diverted.
When mixing of the album was complete, Yes took the album to their record label Atlantic Records. By then, Jon Anderson was contemplating calling the album Tales From Tobographic Oceans. Tobographic was a word than Jon Anderson claimed to have invented. However, Jon Anderson’s plans changed after he had dinner Atlantic Records’ Nesuhi Ertegun.
He pointed out Tales From Tobographic Oceans sounded similar to Tales From Topographic Oceans. When this was pointed out to Jon Anderson, he decided that was a much better title for Yes’ sixth album.
Meanwhile, work began on the album cover. Roger Dean who had designed and illustrated previous Yes album covers was brought onboard. He surpassed his previous efforts with a classic and iconic album cover. The inspiration for the cover came from a conversation Jon Anderson and Roger Dean during a flight from London to Tokyo via Anchorage in 1973. Jon Anderson had told Roger Dean about a book he had reading which featured pictures of landscapes. With this conversation in mind, Roger Dean designed one of the greatest album covers of his career. Tales From Topographic Oceans was almost ready for release.
Before that, critics had their say on Yes’ much-anticipated sixth album, Tales From Topographic Oceans. Yes who were one of the most successful progressive rock bands, had established a reputation for producing ambitious, complex albums of multi-layered, genre-melting music. Tales From Topographic Oceans was no different. However, what was different was that it was a double concept album that was inspired by the footnotes on page eighty-three of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography Of A Yogi.
It detailed the four bodies of Hindu texts, which collectively, were known as shastras. They were compressive treatises that dealt with all aspect of religious and social life, plus subjects like law, medicine, architecture and art. Each of the four shastras inspired one of the lengthy suites on Tales From Topographic Oceans. This was very different album from the majority of the music that critics had heard during 1973.
When the critics heard Tales From Topographic Oceans, the reviews were mixed. Some critics didn’t seem to “get” Tales From Topographic Oceans. Words like beautiful, brilliant and sublime were used. Alas, so were disappointing, repetitive and self-indulgent. A few critics thought that album was way ahead of its time, and its importance would only be recognised later. They would be proved correct, and over the next forty-two years, history would be rewritten. Meanwhile, the jury was out on Tales From Topographic Oceans. Record buyers had the final say.
Tales From Topographic Oceans was due to be released on 7th December 1973. As the released day drew nearer, record burrs pre-ordered copies of Tales From Topographic Oceans on both sides of the Atlantic. So many copies were pre-ordered in the UK, that Tales From Topographic Oceans was certified gold before its release. When Tales From Topographic Oceans was released, it reached number one in the UK for two weeks. In America, the Tales From Topographic Oceans reached number six and was certified gold. Elsewhere, the album reached number four in Canada; nine in Japan and eight in Holland, Sweden and Norway. Against the odds, Tales From Topographic Oceans had been a commercial success. Alas, it came at a cost.
After the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans, Yes embarked upon another lengthy tour. When they returned home, a disenchanted Rick Wakeman left Yes. However, his swan-song was what’s now regarded as one of the greatest albums of the progressive rock era, Tales From Topographic Oceans. It’s a classic album, that as a few critics forecast would only be appreciated later. That proved to be case.
Tales From Topographic Oceans was a groundbreaking album that was way of ahead of its time. It was only later that people began to understand and cherish what was a ambitious, complex and innovative album. Yes took as their starting point progressive rock, but added elements of avant-garde, folk-rock, jazz and psychedelia. This was the start of what was a captivating musical adventure.
It comprises four lengthy suites that are complex and multilayered. Genres melt into one during these musical soundscapes. They feature a myriad of Eastern themes and sounds. The music is cerebral, ruminative and sometimes, atmospheric, beautiful and dramatic as the arrangements ebb and flow. Seamlessly, there’s changes in time signature as the one part of the suite gives way to the next. Constantly, nuances, subtitles and surprises unfold as the rich musical landscape changes, and a classic album unfolds.
That classic album is Yes’ sixth album Tales From Topographic Oceans, which was released on December 7th 1973. Nearly forty-six years later, Tales From Topographic Oceans is a timeless classic that’s testament to the vision and imagination of Jon Anderson and also Steve Howe.
Originally, it was Jon Anderson that came up with the concept of Tales From Topographic Oceans. However , Steve Howe came onboard at the planning stage and the with help of the other members of Yes, recorded what was a groundbreaking, timeless classic Tales From Topographic Oceans.
Classic Album: Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans
Lumingu Puati (Zorro)-Mosese.
Label: BBE Africa.
Release Date: ‘11th’ October 2019.
Over the next two years, BBE Africa, an imprint of BBE Music, will release around sixty albums from the Tabansi Records vaults. This is part of their Tabansi Gold reissue series, which got underway recently, and is a reminder of what’s the most important, influential and innovative Nigerian record label of the past six decades. Proof of that is Lumingu Puati (Zorro)’s album Mosese which will be released by BBE Africa, on the ‘11th’ October 2019. It was released forty years ago in 1979, and nowadays, is one of West Africa’s best-kept rumba-soukous secrets, and is much-prized album on Colombia’s burgeoning Champeta sound system scene. It’s a reminder of the music that Tabansi Records was releasing in its heyday.
Tabansi Records was founded in Nigeria in 1952, and filled a void when major labels like Decca and later, Philips closed the doors on their Nigerian operations. Chief Tabansi, who lent his name to what would become Nigeria’s most important label, recorded artists and then pressed the records at The United African Company’s pressing plant. After that, record vans promoted the latest releases in Nigerian villages. This was just the start for Tabansi Records.
In the sixties, The United African Company decided to concentrate on importing American and European music. With very little competition, Tabansi Records was able to concentrate on local music, which The United African Company had turned its back on. This was a big mistake.
During the seventies, Tabansi Records was the most successful Nigerian label, and its founder Chief Tabansi was one of the leading light’s of country’s thriving and vibrant music scene. He had invested in the company he had founded in, in Onitsha, Lagos, all these years ago, which had its own studios and pressing plant. The company was going from strength-to-strength.
One of the artists Tabansi Records signed in 1979 was the late Congolese musician Lumingu Puati (Zorro). He was a protégé of Kinshasa’s legendary sixties band leader Dr Nico and recorded just one album for his new label, Mosese.
When Mosese was released in 1979, it wasn’t a hugely successful album despite the quality of music which is consistent and dancefloor friendly from the opening bars of Dadavi Pitie to the closing notes of the irresistible sounding Meaculpa Mawewe. The vocals veer between impassioned, heartfelt, urgent and joyous and combine with chiming, jingling, jangling guitars, brassy horns and a myriad of percussion. It’s a captivating, hidden gem of an album that oozes quality and ought to have found a much wider audience forty years ago. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
It was only much later when Mosese became popular within West Africa’s rumba-soukous scene. Meanwhile, the album becoming so popular on the Colombian Champeta sound system scene that DJs were covering up the label or even removing it so other spinners couldn’t see what they were playing. This was similar to what used to happened on the Northern Soul scene or what DJs running Jamaican sound system scenes do.
Despite the best efforts of DJs, their secret was out and other DJs and record collectors wanted a copy of Mosese. The only problem was that it’s a rarity, and very few copies of the album are offered fir sale. When they do, it’s for prices beyond many collectors or DJs. Thankfully, BBE Africa is about to release Mosese, which is a hugely popular, in-demand dancefloor filler that will be reissued for the first time since its release on the ‘11th’ October 2019. This is reminder of the truly talented Lumingu Puati (Zorro) and his Mosese, which sadly, was the only album he released for Tabansi Records.
Lumingu Puati (Zorro)-Mosese.
American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon.
Label: Ace Records.
Ace Record’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful Songwriter Series is one of their longest-running compilation series. It’s featured songs by such luminaries as Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilsson, Dan Penn, Serge Gainsbourg and Tony Hatch. There’s also been compilations featuring the music of some of the greatest songwriting teams in popular music. This includes Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry plus Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. They’re about to be joined by Paul Simon, who is the latest inductee into Ace Record’s Songwriter Series.
American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon iwas recently released by Ace Records, and features twenty-three tracks released between 1966 and 2016. There’s everything from classic soul and country to pop, psychedelia, rock and even reggae. It’s a truly eclectic compilation that features some of the biggest names in music who are joined by a mixture of familiar faces and new names.
Opening American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon is The Hollies’ cover of I Am A Rock. It was released on their 1966 Parlophone album Would You Believe. This was just a year after Paul Simon recorded the original. The two tracks are very different, with The Hollies transforming it into something that Paul Simon never envisaged.
Homeward Bound was written by Paul Simon whilst living in the UK and feeling homesick. He wrote the song on the platform of Widnes railway station in the North West of England. It was later recorded by Simon and Garfunkel, and covered by Cher in 1966. This is one of over 100 covers of Homeward Bound, and is delivered with emotion and will resonate with anyone whose ever experienced a bout of homesickness.
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) was covered by Harpers Bizarre in 1967. They were a talented sunshine pop band who never reached the heights that they should’ve. One of their finest and most memorable moments was their cover The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). It’s an anthemic track that reached thirteen on the US Billboard 100 and thirty-four in the UK, and is a welcome addition to the compilation.
The lead single from Simon and Garfunkel’s classic album Bridge Over Troubled Water was The Boxer. By 1980, when The Boxer was covered by Emmylou Harris and released as a single on Warner Bros, it was regarded as a classic track. Emmylou Harris’ beautiful reading which is full of intensity and emotion reached seven on the US Billboard 100 and six in the UK. It’s one of the highlights of American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon and shows another side to a classic song.
Aretha Franklin released a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water as a single on Atlantic in 1971. It’s one of the finest of the 450 covers of Bridge Over Troubled Water and features Aretha Franklin at the peak of her powers.
Peaches and Herb reinvented The Sound Of Silence, which was released as a single on Columbia in 1971. Sadly, this hidden gem failed to find an audience and not long after this, Peaches and Herb split-up. Later in the seventies they made a comeback and enjoyed several hit singles including Reunited.
In 1973, Mother and Child Reunion was covered by The Intruders on their Save The Children album. It was released on the Gamble label. Taking charge of production were Gamble and Huff, and features the legendary studio band MFSB. They provide the perfect backdrop for The Intruders as this Paul Simon classic which is given a Philly Soul makeover.
Cecilia was released as the sophomore single from the album Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was covered by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles on their 1971 Motown album One Dozen Roses. They stay true to the original but give add a soulful twist. This shows another side to a familiar song.
When Annie Lennox recorded her album Medusa, which was released in 1995, it included Something So Right which featured Paul Simon. He stays true to the original, and sings tenderly when joining Annie Lennox for the chorus. Together they deliver a quite beautiful and poignant cover of Something So Right
Take Me To The Mardi Gras was recorded by soul legend Johnnie and Floyd Taylor his son, and released in 2003. They were accompanied by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section when the song was recorded in the late-nineties. It’s another hidden gem and a welcome addition to the compilation.
Originally, Rumer recorded Long, Long Day for her album Boys Don’t Cry, but it didn’t make iy onto the album.When the album. When Rumer released her B-Sides and Rarities album in 2011, Long, Long Day made its belated debut. It makes a welcome return on American Tunes Songs By Paul Simon and is a reminder of one Britain’s most talented female vocalists.
Closing American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon is American Tune by Shawn Colvin. Her understated and wistful cover showcases a talented singer who breathes life and meaning into American Tune. It featured on her 2015 album Uncovered, and is the perfect way to close this lovingly curated compilation.
Paul Simon is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and a worthy inductee into Ace Records’ Songwriter Series. The recently released compilation American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon, features twenty-three he wrote and either recorded with Art Garfunkel or during his solo career. Among these songs are a number of classics which have been covered by a mixture of musical legends, familiar faces and what may be new names to some people. There’s everything from classic soul and country to Philly Soul, pop and psychedelia to rock and even reggae on American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon who is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music and this computation is a reminder why.
American Tunes-Songs By Paul Simon.
Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults.
During the sixties and into the early seventies, Chicago-born Shel Talmy was one of the most successful and innovative producers working in the British music industry. He had arrived in Britain from Los Angeles in 1962, as a twenty-five year old. By then, his dreams of becoming a film director had been dashed.
This had happened nine years previously, when Shel Talmy attended a routine check-up at his ophthalmologist. That day, the sixteen year old discovered that he had retinitis pigmentosa. This inherited degenerative eye disease meant that Shel Shalmy would eventually lose his sight. For Shel this was a crushing blow.
Realising his dream of becoming a film direction was in tatters, Shel Talmy was forced to rethink his plans for the future. He decided to settle on the next best thing and become a record producer. Shel was determined that when the time came, he would make his dream a reality.
By 1961, twenty-four year old Shel Talmy was ready to embark upon a career as a record producer. Rather than knocking on the doors of LA’s recording studios, he headed to one of Los Angeles’ many music business hang outs to network with music industry insiders.
At Martoni’s, Chicago-born Shel Talmy met Phil Yeend, a British expat who owned Conway’s Recorders. The two men talked and soon, Phil Yeend, offered twenty-four year old Shel Talmy a job as an engineer. By then, Phil Yeend had assured his newest employee that he would train him as an engineer.
Shel Talmy began work at Conway’s Recorders in early 1961. During his first three days at Conway’s Recorders, Shel was shown the basics, including how to work the board. After that, he was thrown in at the deep end.
Over the next few months, Shel Talmy spent much of his time working with members of the legendary studio band the Wrecking Crew. They were by then, seasoned veterans who had a wealth of experience, and he was able to tap into their experience. Shel Talmy also found himself working with the Beach Boys and Lou Rawls during his first year as an engineer and producer. For Shel his first year at Conway’s Recorders was a whirlwind.
Shel Talmy also found himself working with Gary Paxton, who having started out as one half of Skip and Flip, was well on his way to becoming a successful producer. Meanwhile, his friend Nic Venet was the A&R man at Capitol Records. He allowed Shel to sit in on recording sessions with Bobby Darin. Through watching these sessions Shel learnt how to run a session. This was all part of his musical apprenticeship.
Back at Conway Recorders, when Phil Yeend and Shel Talmy weren’t working with clients, they spent time experimenting with new recording techniques. Especially working out the best way to record guitars and drums. The pair were interested in the advantages of isolating instruments during the recording sessions. This was unheard of, but eventually, would become the norm. Shel was already innovating, and would continue do so throughout his career.
When there was some downtime at Conway Recorders, Phil Yeend allowed Shel Talmy to try out new recording techniques. This was all part of a steep learning curve. However, this crash course in engineering and production would stand Shel Talmy in good stead for the future.
Especially when Shel Talmy decided to spend a few months working in Britain. This visit wasn’t planned. Instead, it was a case of curiosity getting the better of Shel. During his time working with Phil Yeend, the Englishman had told him about life in Britain and how great a country it was. Eventually, Shel decided he would like to spend some time working in Britain.
Fortunately, a friend of Shel Talmy’s who worked at Liberty Records setup a meeting with Dick Rowe at Decca Records. When Shel Talmy went into the meeting, he wasn’t lacking in confidence and went as far as playing Dick Rowe acetates of some of the records that he had worked on. British record company executives in the early sixties weren’t used to such confident interviewees. However, Dick Rowe, who was a huge fan of all things American, liked Shel Talmy and hired him on the spot.
Just over a year later, Shel Talmy and Dick James founded a new label, Planet Records. This joint venture was the start of a new chapter in Shel Talmy’s career.
By then, he was well on his way to enjoying the most successful chapter in his musical career. This lasted seventeen years and saw Shel Talmy become one of the most successful producers working in Britain. During this period, Shel Talmy had the Midas touch.
He discovered The Kinks, when their manager Robert Wace took a demo into one of music publishers on Denmark Street. When Robert Wace asked if anyone wanted to hear the demo, Shel Talmy answered in the affirmative. Having heard the demo and heard what he liked, Shel Talmy took The Kinks to Pye.
Having signed to Pye, Shel Talmy produced The Kinks’ first five albums. During this period, The Kinks along with The Who another of Shel’s signing were two of the most successful British bands. However, it wasn’t just guitar-driven rock, mod and beat that the Shel produced. His eclectic taste saw him produce a variety of other artists, including “beat chick” recordings by the girl group Goldie and The Gingerbreads and genre classics like Colette and The Bandits’ A Ladies Man. It features on a new compilation Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults, which was recently released by Ace Records.
There’s twenty-four tracks on Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults including No More Love by Liz Shelley which opens the compilation. It was released on Brunswick in 1966 a year after she released her debut single Make Me Your Baby, which featured the emotive and dramatic sounding You Made Me Hurt. On its release in 1965, it failed to make any impression on the charts, and just like the unreleased track Tar and Cement showcases a singer with the potential to follow in the footsteps of Petula Clark and crossover into the mainstream. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and Liz Shelley never enjoyed the commercial success her talented deserved.
Belfast-born Perpetual Langley only recorded two singles for Planet Records, and they both feature on the compilation. Her debut was We Wanna Stay Home which features a confident vocal. On the B-Side was So Sad, an emotive sounding Samba-tinged track. For her sophomore singleAshford and Simpson’s composition Surrender was released later in 1966, and features a powerhouse of a vocal. Tucked away on the B-Side was the dance-floor friendly Two By Two. Sadly, after just two singles Perpetual Langley’s time at Planet Records was over.
In 1966, Planet Records released Bond girl Dani Sheridan’s single Guess I’m Dumb. It was cowritten by Russ Titleman and Brian Wilson, and it’s taken in a new direction by Dani Sheridan and is highly regarded by connoisseurs of the “beat chick” genre. On the flip-side was the Jon Marks penned Songs Of Love, an underrated track that showcases a talented singer who also enjoyed a career as an actress.
Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults includes an alternate version of Colette and The Bandits’ genre classic A Ladies Man. Other unreleased tracks worth mentioning include Plain and Fancy’s cover of Ashford and Simpson’s Surrender. This allows the listener to compared it with Perpetual Langley’s version. Then there’s Margo and The Marvelletes’ defiant version of This Heart’s Not For Sale and Grave Digger which was recorded by Unknown Beat Girls.
One of the biggest “beat chick” groups were The Orchids.They contribute their 1963 single Gonna Make Him Mine on London Records. It featured Stay At Home on the B-Side. These two cuts are regarded as their best recordings. However, a year later, in 1964, the Coventry-based trio released Oo-Chang-A-Lang, which was penned by Shel Talmy and sounds as if its production values have been influenced by Phil Spector. Just a year later, it was all over for The Orchids who were now called The Exceptions. The group spilt-up in 1965 after two years working with Shel Talmy.
He’s best known for his work with The Kinks, The Who and The Easybeats as well as many other rock, mod and beat groups. However, Shel Talmy also worked with many of the “beat chick” artists and groups doing the sixties. Some of them feature on a new compilation by Ace Records Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults.
It’s the latest compilation that Ace Records has released that showcases an innovative producer. Back then, producers had to be able to think outside the box. They were hamstrung by what is now regarded as basic equipment. By being able to innovate, some producers were able to make groundbreaking recordings with this basic equipment. This included George Martin, Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Jimmy Miller and Jack Nitzsche. To that list the name Shel Talmy can be added as he belongs in such illustrious company.
After all, Shel Talmy wasn’t just a producer. He was a songwriter and talent spotter. However, first and foremost Shel Talmy is remembered as a pioneering producer who with an eclectic selection of artists and bands. This includes the “beat chicks” that feature on Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults.The twenty-four tracks that feature on Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vault are a reminder of a pioneering producer at the peak of his powers during what proved to be the most successful period of his career.
Shel’s Girls-From The Planet Records Vaults.
Classic Album: Country Joe and The Fish Electric Music For The Mind and Body.
Classic is one of the most overused words in the English language. However, classic is the perfect way to describe Country Joe and The Fish’s 1967 debut album, Electric Music For The Mind and Body. Quite simply, Electric Music For The Mind and Body is a psychedelic classic. Country Joe McDonald, not known for exaggeration, says as much. He says” “if you want to understand psychedelic music, and you haven’t heard Electric Music For The Mind and Body, then you probably don’t know what you’re talking about.” There’s a lot of truth in what he’s saying.
After all, Electric Music For The Mind and Body was one of the first psychedelic rock albums released, and nowadays, Country Joe and The Fish, are regarded as pioneers of psychedelic rock. They formed in 1965, and six months later, released their debut E.P. Talking Issue No. 1 on the Rag Baby label. This was a groundbreaking statement of intent that saw Country Joe and The Fish start as they meant to go on, releasing pioneering music.
Not only that, but here was a band whose music was full of social comment and highly political. Given their name was a reference to Joseph Stalin and a quotation from Chairman Mao, that’s no surprise. Known for their genre-melting, lysergic music, Country Joe and The Fish were at the vanguard of the anti-Vietnam war movement. Their highly politicized music played a huge part in the emerging counter-culture. Country Joe and The Fish played at the anti-Vietnam teach-ins in 1965 and four years later, in 1969, played at the legendary Woodstock Festival. By then, Country Joe and The Fish had released a trio of albums that today, are recognized as psychedelic classics. This includes their debut album, Electric Music For The Mind and Body, which I’ll tell you about.
For their debut album Electric Music For The Mind and Body, Country Joe McDonald wrote ten of the eleven tracks. The exception was Love which was written by the five members of the band, Country Joe McDonald, Gary “Chicken” Hirsh, Bruce Barthol, Barry Melton and David Cohen. They recorded the eleven songs that became Electric Music For The Mind and Body at Sierra Sound Laboratories, in Berkeley, California.
Producer Samuel Charters took charge of the recording of Electric Music For The Mind and Body began at Sierra Sound Laboratories. Founder member Country Joe McDonald sang lead vocals, played guitar, bells and tambourine. The rhythm section included drummer Gary “Chicken” Hirsh, bassist Bruce Barthol who also played harmonica and guitarists Barry Melton and David Cohen. Some of Electric Music For The Mind was recorded in 1966. Electric Music For The Mind which was released in January 1967, introduced the world to psychedelic rock.
Critical acclaim greeted the release of Electric Music For The Body and Mind in January 1967. Country Joe and The Fish watched as the album reached number thirty-nine in the US Billboard 200. Their fusion of psychedelic rock and lyrics with a social conscience was a successful combination that struck a chord with music lovers. That was no surprise given the quality of music on Electric Music For The Body and Mind.
Flying High, which opens Electric Music For The Body and Mind, is a fusion of rock, psychedelia, blues and jazz. Searing, chiming, guitars, broody bass and dramatic drums provide a backdrop to Country Joe’s vocal. His vocal is full of despair at the situation he finds himself. You can picture the bedraggled picture he paints. The the lyrics take on a lysergic, surreal quality. Add to this, the banks of keyboards and Country Joe and The Fish come into their own, with their unique brand of pioneering psychedelic rock. Genre-melting, with a strong, surreal and witty narrative, this is groundbreaking music.
Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine is reminiscent of Pink Floyd and The Beatles. That’s no surprise, as these bands must have been influenced by Country Joe and The Fish. With waves of wistful organ, jangling guitars and a mid-tempo rhythm section, Country Joe’s vocal has a lysergic, dreamy sound. Sounding nicely mellow, his psychedelic lyrics tell the story of “Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine.” His description hardly endears you to her. Despite that, you can’t help but be enthralled by Country Joe and The Fish at their psychedelic best as they tell the story of the mythical, mystical Martha Lorraine.
Death Sound Blues sees Country Joe and The Fish look to the blues for inspiration. Seamlessly, they become a barnstorming electric blues band, unleashing some twelve-bar blues. Against a slow, shuffling arrangement, where scorching, crystalline guitars join the rhythm section and shakers, Country Joe delivers a languid, heartbroken vocal. With his relationship over, he doesn’t no which way to turn? Reverb and echo is added, adding to the drama, emotion and heartbreak of this slice of psychedelic blues, which is one of the highlights of Electric Music For The Body and Mind.
Psychedelic, surreal and grandiose, that’s the perfect description of Porpoise Mouth. It’s a track that sounds as if it would provide inspirational to prog rock. Against a spacious arrangement, stabs of organ and bursts of drums accompany Country Joe’s vocal. It sounds as if it belongs in another era. You’re taken on a journey back through time, where Country Joe sounds as if he’s a medieval jester. His job is entertaining the court. The addition of the harpsichord adds to this, before the track takes on a dark, moody psychedelic sound. Before that though, it was like a journey through the ages, courtesy of Country Joe and The Fish.
Section 43 is a seven-minute epic. Here a banks of keyboards, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section take the track in the direction of psychedelia. Wistful, thoughtful and pensive, it’s a track you loose yourself in. It has a mesmeric quality that draws you in. Gradually, the arrangement unfolds, revealing its secrets. Bursts of a bluesy harmonica and drums lock into a groove, which sounds not unlike The Doors. From there, the band embark on a glorious jam, before heading in the direction of experimental music and free jazz. It’s a case of being determined to push musical boundaries further than ever before. To do this, rock, psychedelia, experimental and jazz, are fused creating a pioneering pot pourri of musical influences.
Super Bird literally bursts into life. Soon, musical genres melt into one and Country Joe’s political lyrics soar above the arrangement. West Coast rock, psychedelia and pop unite. Chiming, jangling guitars, a bubbling bass, drum rolls and keyboards accompany Country Joe. He struts his way through the song, his delivery impassioned and confident. He and the rest of the band become an unstoppable musical force, giving what’s one of their best performances on Electric Music For The Mind And Body.
Sad And Lonely Times has a bluesy, sixties sound. A harmonica, percussion and bass lead rhythm section join forces. They provide the backdrop for Country Joe’s tender, wistful vocal. As he deliver a heartfelt vocals, West Coast guitars jangle and chime. Later, harmonies are added, proving the perfect finishing touch to this quite beautiful, joyous song.
After a false start, Love gets underway. Country Joe’s powerful, throaty vocal is sung in a bluesy style. Behind him, keyboards, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section unite. They showcase their considerable skills Country Joe’s vocal drops out. When he returns, this spurs them on, and they reach greater heights, fusing blues, rock and psychedelia, proving how versatile a group they were.
Bass Strings has a moody, melancholy sound. Keyboards, rhythm section and Country Joe’s emotive, soul-baring vocal create a dark, pensive backdrop. Full of despair and desperation, Country Joe’s sings, hopes and promises, “one more trip now.” His lysergic vocal is full of pain and misery, maybe for fear of what he’ll see or find?
Keyboards dominate the introduction to The Masked Marauder. When they drop out, he rest of the band take centre-stage. Guitars chime, before Country Joe scats against a theatrical backdrop. Featuring a carnival organ, crystalline and searing guitars and then bluesy harmonica, it’s another experimental, genre-melting, track that veers between thoughtful to dramatic.
Closing Electric Music For The Mind And Body is Grace, where Country Joe and The Fish pay homage to Grace Slick, of Jefferson Airplane during a seven-minute track. Slow, spacious, understated and thoughtful describes the track. Country Joe’s serenades Grace Slick against a minimalist arrangement. Instruments flit in and out of the arrangement, with space left within it. They’re akin to a series of dramatic pauses that punctuate this alternative paean to Grace Slick.
Electric Music For The Mind And Body is best described an ambitious, adventurous and innovative album. It features thoughtful, poignant lyrics, some of which are full of social comment. The music on Music For The Mind And Body is cerebral and intelligent. Sadly music is no longer like this. That’s a great shame and huge loss. This was music for the mind, which sought answers to “big” questions. Unfortunately, nowadays, music like this isn’t released by m major labels On the odd occasion it’s released, it’s not by major labels, but by brave independent labels who believe in the music. This means that no longer do we hear the modern equivalent of musical pioneers like Country Joe and The Fish.
On Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish fused musical influences and genres. Everything from acid rock, country, folk, jazz, psychedelia and rock became one on Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish’s critically acclaimed, eloquent and erudite debut album. It was no ordinary album and Country Joe and The Fish were ordinary bands. They were innovators, pioneers, agitators and some said rabble rousers. They weren’t. All they wanted was justice and an end to an unjust war. That didn’t make them rabble rousers or rebels. No. Instead, they were music’s conscience. Country Joe and The Fish were also pioneers.
They were pioneers who were at the vanguard of psychedelic rock. Country Joe and The Fish were one of the inventors of psychedelic rock. Their first two albums Electric Music For The Mind And Body and I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die are two of the finest albums of the psychedelic rock era.
Electric Music For The Mind And Body which was recently rereleased by Vanguard Masters is a cerebral, psychedelic classic. Groundbreaking and genre-melting, Country Joe and The Fish rewrote the musical rule book with Electric Music For The Mind And Body which is a psychedelic Magnus Opus that was one of the best albums released in 1967, which was a vintage year for music.
Classic Album: Country Joe and The Fish Electric Music For The Mind and Body.
Classic Album: New York Dolls-New York Dolls.
No other group epitomises the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle like the New York Dolls. Drink, drugs and death touched the New York Dolls. Despite this, the Dolls continued to court controversy, with a disaster always just a heartbeat away. Just like a game of daring do, they egged each other to fly close to the sun. This was all part of the myth that surrounds the New York Dolls. Here was another case of flawed genius, a firecracker combination of talents and personalities, who together, could’ve and should’ve, been one of the biggest bands in musical history. Fuelled by a diet of alcohol, pills and powders, the New York Dolls first two albums were the best they ever recorded.
Their 1973 eponymous debut album New York Dolls was a swaggering, strutting introduction to the New York Dolls. A year later, came their sophomore album, Too Much Too Soon. A fuelled up Dolls, courted controversy and chaos, continued to strut and swagger their way through life. On both of these albums, the New York Dolls out-rocked the opposition. Other bands, including the Rolling Stones, enviously looked on. Here was a band who were the real thing. They were living the rock ‘n’ lifestyle and living it hard. With what seemed like an appetite for destruction, somehow the New York Dolls recorded two classic albums within the space of a year. The first of these was their debut album New York Dolls, which nowadays, is regarded as a classic.
Although the New York Dolls were formed in 1971, the bands origins can be traced to 1967. That’s when Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia, two school friends, started playing in a band called The Pox. Then when the lead singer left, the band split up. To make ends meet, Sylvain and Billy worked various dead end jobs.
First of all, the pair started a clothes shop called Truth and Soul. After that, Billy worked in another clothes shop, A Different Drummer. Situated across from the New York Dolls’ hospital, rumour has it, that this is how their future band got its name. Then in 1970, after a couple of years working dead end jobs, Sylvain and Billy decided it was time they formed a new band. They’d eventually, become members of the New York Dolls.
Formed in 1971, the New York Dolls arose, like a Phoenix from the ashes out of Actress. Four members of Actress, guitarist Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, drummer Billy Murcia and bassist Arthur Kane would form the backbone of the New York Dolls. Johnny Thunders was originally the lead singer, but soon decided he wasn’t cut out to be a frontman. David Johansen was. So, he joined the band and Johnny originally a bassist, was converted into a guitarist. Then when Rick Rivets quit the band, Sylvain Sylvain replaced him. Before the Dolls had made their debut they’d been through several lineups. While this isn’t unusual in a band’s early days, the Dolls lineup was constantly changing. This was essentially Mk. 1 of the New York Dolls.
Having settled with vocalist David Johansen, guitarists Johnny Thunders, bassist Arthur Kane, drummer Billy Murcia and Sylvain Sylvain on guitar, bass and piano, the Dolls were ready to make their debut. They made their live debut on Christmas Eve 1971, at one of the most unlikely music venues. This was the Endicott Hotel, a homeless centre in New York. After that, the New York Dolls got themselves a manager, Soon, word was spreading of their unique swaggering sound and style.
Word got as far as Rod Stewart, who decided the Dolls were the perfect group to open for him in London. This looked like the perfect start to the New York Dolls’ career. Opening for Rod Stewart increased the New York Dolls profile. They were making inroads into the American and British markets. Then disaster struck.
Not long after the Dolls opened for Rod Stewart, drummer Billy Murcia tragically drowned during their UK tour. High on drink and drugs, he passed out and accidentally drowned. This was devastating news for the Dolls. They had lost the man who gave the group its heartbeat. Despite the loss of a key member, the show had to go on. Drummers were auditioned and eventually, Jerry Nolan was selected as Billy’s replacement. Not long after that, Mercury Records signed the New York Dolls and work began on their eponymous debut album.
For what became New York Dolls, the Dolls’ debut album, David Johansen wrote Vietnamese Baby and formed a successful partnership with Johnny Thunders. They cowrote Personality Crisis, Looking For A Kiss, Lonely Planet Boy, Bad Girl, Subway Train and Jet Boy. David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain penned Frankenstein and Trash, while David and Arthur Kane contributed Private World. The other track was a cover of Bo Diddley’s Pills. These eleven tracks became New York Dolls.
When recording of New York Dolls began at the Record Plant in April 1973, New York, Todd Rungren was chosen as producer. For many people, this was a strange choice of producer. Here, was a brash, innovative group. They were the future, with their intensity, energy and showmanship. Todd Rungren was the ghost of rock’s past. Formerly a member of Nazz, even the band didn’t seem impressed. He was used to a slicker, more sophisticated sound. The rawness and energy of the Dolls was the antithesis of everything Todd Rungren believed in. It seemed this was the case of the wrong producer for the wrong album? David Johansen disparagingly referred to Todd Rundgren as: “an expert in second rate rock ‘n’ roll.” As for Todd Rundgren’s approach to production, he mixed the album in half a day. In doing so, some felt that the edge was taken of Jerry Nolan’s drums. Did this mean that rather than trying to capture the band’s energy and intensity, part of the New York Dolls trademark sound was lost?
Personality Crisis explodes into being, opening New York Dolls in style. Fiery, machine gun guitars, flourishes of boogie woogie piano and a driving rhythm section set the scene for David’s proto punk vocal. Raw and edgy, describes his vocal, while behind him, the Dolls manage to be both tight and sloppy simultaneously. The Dolls are better musicians than many people give them credit for. They provided the template for the Rolling Stones and Primal Scream, amongst a thousand other impersonators. An intense explosion of energy, this is timeless good time rock ‘n’ roll, what a way to introduce the Dolls.
Drawing on inspiration from Eddie Cochran, David every inch the charismatic frontman, struts his way through Looking For A Kiss. Low slung guitars trade licks, while the rhythm section provide the pulsating heartbeat. As for David, feisty, sassy and oozing an air of danger, describes his performance as proto punk, glam rock and rock ‘n’ rock unite majestically.
A gong chimes, before the New York Dolls throw launch into the rocky Vietnamese Baby, an ant-Vietnam War song. Driven along by scorching, searing guitars, drums pound and David’s vocal seems to have matured. This is much more like how he sounds on their sophomore album Too Much Too Soon. It’s as if he’s enjoying the role of frontman. There’s a swagger in his vocal. He spurs the band on. They trade glistening guitar licks, playing with a freedom and swagger, as if realising that this it what they were born to do.
Lonely Planet Boy has much more understated sound. Just guitars and thoughtful rhythm section accompany David’s whispery, theatrical vocal. Bursts of jazzy horns drift above the arrangement, as the Dolls look to the past for inspiration. Drawing inspiration from sixties R&B, jazz, pop and doo wop harmonies, we hear another side to the New York Dolls, one which I’d like to have heard more of.
Three years after New York Dolls released their debut album, and punk was born, tracks like Frankenstein provided the template for this new musical genre. You can hear where Johnny Rotten comes from. Having said that, the Dolls were ten times the musicians than the Sex Pistols ever were. They were hype, the Dolls were the real thing. Here, a snarling, angry vocal is accompanied by a raw, raucous arrangement. Key to that are the driving rhythm section and machine gun guitars. Combined this explosion of energy, intensity and raw power, resulted in a thousand impersonators, none of which came close.
Trash is a combination of garage, grunge, proto-punk and rock. It’s as if the Dolls are hyperactive and Trash is an outpouring of energy. Like a five Duracell bunnies, the Dolls become an explosive unit. They play as if their lives depended on it. Playing with power and passion, they never miss a beat. Neither does David. His vocal is an outpouring of frustration, while cooing harmonies provide a contrast.
Bad Girl sees a no frills approach from the Dolls. It’s as if the producer just called a wrap, warts and all. This gives a taste of what the New York Dolls live were like. Jackhammer guitars join drums which aren’t so much played, but punished. Then there’s David’s vocal. He roars, as if this is cathartic. Surely, he must have been hoarse by the time he’d laid down this vocal? As for the guitars, they’re mesmeric. Chiming, soaring, searing, their crystalline sound, feedback and all, plays a huge part in the Dolls at their best.
Subway Train sees the New York Dolls play within themselves. They’re much more restrained. Rather than an explosion of energy and intensity, they produce a much more laid-back performance. David’s vocal is more restrained, but just as effective. He’s not roaring, his delivery drawling and languid. Guitars riff, scream and screech, trading licks. Like a musical shoot out between guitar gunslingers. At the end, everyone’s left standing. The Dolls swagger into the sunset, catching a Subway Train everyone needs to catch a ride on, once in their life.
Bluesy harmonica and an explosion of searing guitars open Pills, an old Bo Diddley song. It had never been played liked this before. Given the Dolls background, this should’ve been their theme tune. They seem to realize this, seamlessly mixing blues, glam rock and rock ‘n’ roll. In between blowing his blues harp, David struts his way through the lyrics. Accompanied by a wall of guitars, thunderous rhythm section and harmonies, rock ‘n’ roll’s hardest living band deliver a paean to hedonism.
A probing bass opens Private World, before the rest of the New York Dolls kick loose. Veering between gloriously sloppy and tight, the were the envy of rock ‘n’ roll rivals and pretenders. They’re in the tightest of grooves, a stomping beat, percussion and dueling guitars providing a raucous, good time backdrop. Stabs and flourishes of piano add to the good time sound. David vamps his way through the track. He revels in being the frontman for a group as good as the Dolls, who in 1973, were rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
Jet Boy closes New York Dolls. Does it close the album on a high? From the opening bars, the Dolls unleash their machine gun guitars, cooing harmonies and pounding rhythm section. Soon, rock, proto-punk and glam rock have been combined. The Dolls are at their hard rocking best. David’s struts and swaggers, while harmonies and handclaps accompany him. Then there’s the guitars, which include some of the best playing on the album. That’s saying something. Riffing, dueling and feeding off each other, the New York Dolls guitar heroes ensure that New York Dolls ends on an explosive high.
Released in 1973 on Mercury, New York Dolls divided opinion. Some critics hailed New York Dolls as a stonewall classic, others deemed it a parody of a rock album. It certainly took the world by storm, spawning a million imitators. Strangely, on its release, sales of New York Dolls were disappointing. It only reached number 167 in the US Billboard 200. Mercury had hoped that the album would be one of their big sellers of 1973. It certainly captured the attention of critics and music lovers, it was voted both the best and worst album of 1973. It seems that New York Dolls was an enigmatic album and one that divided opinion. Forty years later, history has been rewritten.
Ironically, during the forty years since its release, critics who called New York Dolls “mock rock” have changed their mind. These lisping rock critics have now changed their mind about the New York Dolls. Nowadays, New York Dolls is now perceived as a classic album. The New York Dolls fusion of glam rock, proto-punk and hard rock is perceived as innovative and ahead of the musical curve. The New York Dolls are credited as one of the founding fathers of punk rock. Since then, many groups have imitated the New York Dolls swaggering brand of good time music. Nobody comes close. No ifs, no buts. Having released a career defining album, the New York Dolls never bettered. If ever there’s a case of a band peaking to soon, this was it.
Raw, intense and full or energy describes New York Dolls. It’s as close you’ll get to hearing what the New York Dolls sounded like live. This was a no frills album. Sleazy, sassy and raunchy, New York Dolls is lo-fi, good time music. It’s no wonder Todd Rundgren only spent half a day mixing New York Dolls. Although he was a strange choice for the Dolls, he harnesses their energy and enthusiasm. Maybe the Dolls should’ve called the album Raw Power? Apart from a few occasions where Todd Rundgren’s overdubbing goes too far, he strikes the right balance for a debut album. He doesn’t overproduce New York Dolls. Having said that, he was the wrong man for Too Much Too Soon.
That’s where Shadow Morton came in. He produced Too Much Too Soon, a much more polished album. Too Much Too Soon, the New York Dolls’ sophomore album, is an iconic, innovative album. Ironically, Too Much Too Soon almost passed unnoticed. It hardly troubled the American charts. After its release, Mercury sent the New York Dolls on an American tour. It proved chaotic and almost broke the band. On their return from the ill-fated tour, Mercury dropped the Dolls. Later in 1975, they split up, against a backdrop of rancour, drug abuse and hedonism. The hardest living party band were no more.
Despite reforming, the New York Dolls never reached the same heights. New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon are the best albums the New York Dolls ever released. Nothing else comes close to these two iconic albums, which provided the template for punk and spawned a thousand impersonators. However, not one comes close to the New York Dolls which is a classic album.
Classic Album: New York Dolls-New York Dolls.
Classic Album: George Harrison-All Things Must Pass
On the ‘10th’ of April 1970, Paul McCartney announced his departure from The Beatles. This signalled the end of The Beatles, and start of his solo career, which began a week later, when Paul McCartney he released his debut album McCartney. Meanwhile, The Beatles were in the process of releasing their swan-song, Let It Be.
Just a month later, the Phil Spector produced Let It Be, and the single The Long and Winding Road were released on the ‘8th’ May 1970. Let It Be was a disappointing swan-song from The Beatles, and was their only album not to be accompanied by glowing, critically acclaimed reviews. It was a disappointing end to The Beatles’ career.
Worse was to come, later in May 1970, when the documentary that accompanied Let It Be was released. Critics were far from impressed by a documentary that had been eagerly awaited. Despite this, the Let It Be documentary still managed to win the 1970 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. By then, the four former Beatles were concentrating on their solo careers.
After the breakup of The Beatles in 1970, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr embarked upon solo careers. Most of the attention was centred around John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This suited George Harrison fine.
George Harrison had already released two albums by the time the four Beatles went their separate ways. By then, George Harrison had already released two solo albums, including the soundtrack to Wonderwall Music, which when it was released in November 1968. Wonderwall Music was one of the most of the most innovative, yet underrated music released by a former Beatle, and was the album that launched George Harrison’s solo career.
The album that became George Harrison’s debut album was unlike the other three Beatles’ solo albums. Wonderwall Music was the soundtrack to Joe Massot’s film, and was a fusion of two disparate musical cultures. George Harrison and some of his musical friends recorded an album where Indian classical music and rock sat side-by-side on Wonderwall Music. This wasn’t surprising as George Harrison had been interested in Indian music since 1966. Recording Wonderwall Music allowed George Harrison to experiment with his new musical love.
Recording of Wonderwall Music took place between November 1967 and February 1968 at EMI Studios, London, HMV Studios, Bombay and De Lane Lea Studios, London. These studios were where George Harrison collaboration with renowned classical pianist and orchestral arranger John Barham took shape He played an important part in Wonderwall Music, as did a number of Indian musicians, including Mahapurush Misra, Shivkumar Sharma and Aashish Khan. However, it wasn’t just classical musicians that featured on Wonderwall Music.
Some of George Harrison’s friends from the rock world joined him in the studio. This included former Cream guitarist Eric Clapton, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr and Peter Tork. They were joined on Wonderwall Music by Tony Ashton and his band The Remo Four. This all-star band, that included the best Indian music and rock music had to offer, spent the best part of three months recording of Wonderwall Music. Once the album was complete, it was released on The Beatles’ new record label Apple.
Before Wonderwall Music was released, critics had their say on George Harrison’s debut album. Sadly, Wonderwall Music failed to catch the attention of critics, and many didn’t even bother to review the album. They perceived Wonderwall Music as “just a soundtrack,” and not worthy of a review.
Ironically, since then, the same critics have reevaluated Wonderwall Music and it’s now perceived as a compelling and innovative album. Indeed, Wonderwall Music is now one of the most underrated solo albums by a former Beatle. Not many people would’ve realised this in back 1968.
When Wonderwall Music was released in Britain on the ‘ 1st’ of November 1968 it failed to chart. A day later, Wonderwall Music was released on the ‘2nd’ of November 1968 and peaked at number forty-nine in the US Billboard 200. This vindicated George Harrison’s decision to release such a groundbreaking album. The followup to Wonderwall Music saw George’s music head in a much more avant-garde direction.
Just over a year after the release of Wonderwall Music, George Harrison returned with his sophomore album, Electronic Sound. Critics and record buyers wondered what direction the Quiet One’s music would head in on his sophomore album? None of them would have guessed that George Harrison was about to release an album of avant-garde music, Electronic Sound.
Electronic Sound was recorded during November 1968 and February 1969 at Sound Recorders Studio, Los Angeles and at Kinfauns, George Harrison’s home in Surrey.The album featured just two lengthy pieces played on Robert Moog’s latest groundbreaking invention, the Moog synth. With a Moog synth, George Harrison recorded Under The Mersey Wall, which lasted nearly nineteen minutes and No Time Or Space, which was a twenty-five minute epic. These two songs became Electronic Sound, which was released on the ‘9th’ of May 1969.
Just like Wonderwall Music, critics weren’t interested in Electronic Sound. Reviews of George Harrison’s sophomore were few and far between, and to some extent, that wasn’t surprising. The problem was that Electronic Sound was an album that was so far ahead of its time, that critics who were used to reviewing albums of pop and rock failed to understand that album, never mind understand what George Harrison was trying to achieve.
It was only later when critics revisited Electronic Sound that they regarded the importance of the album. Electronic Sound was pioneering and innovative album of avant-garde electronic music that later, would be a reference point and inspiration for future generations of musicians. However, the critics that reviewed Electronic Sound in 1969 regarded it as an an album for completists only, or those interested in avant-garde or electronic music. Despite the importance of Electronic Sound, it hasn’t stood the test of time. Neither was it a commercial success.
Electronic Sound was scheduled for released in Britain on the ‘9th’ of May 1969 on The Beatles’ Zapple label. It was an imprint of Apple, with a raison d’être was to release albums of avant-garde music. However, Zapple was a short-lived venture for The Beatles, and was closed down by their new manager Allen Klein as part of his cost cutting measures. One of the few albums Zapple released was Electronic Sound.
Electronic Sound was released in Britain on the ‘9th’ of May 1969, and failed to chart. For George Harrison this was another disappointment. Just over two weeks later, Electronic Sound was released in America on 25th May 1969, and history repeated itself and Electronic Sound failed to chart. However, George’s luck was about to change when he released his third album All Things Must Pass, which was the album that transformed George Harrison’s solo career.
All Things Must Pass.
While his first two album had been adventurous and groundbreaking, George Harrison’s third album, All Things Must Pass was a much more traditional album. It was also an album that showcased George Harrison’s talent as a singer,songwriter, and musician.
For All Things Must Pass, George Harrison headed into the studio with eighteen tracks to record. Many of the songs on All Things Must Pass were new songs, while others were written while George Harrison was still a member of The Beatles. They had turned down tracks like All Things Must Pass and Isn’t It A Pity, preferring to record Lennon-McCartney compositions. While this was frustrating for George Harrison. the Quiet One shrewdly kept them for his solo career. Now was the time to showcase these songs on All Things Must Pass.
Sixteen of the tracks on All Things Must Pass were written by George Harrison. He also cowrote I’d Have You Anytime with Bob Dylan. The only cover version on All Things Must Pass was the Bob Dylan composition If Not For You . These eighteen songs were part of what became a triple album, which was recorded in three top studios and featured an all-star cast.
Recording of All Things Must Pass began on 26th May 1970 and finished in late October 1970, with recording sessions taking place in the familiar surroundings of Abbey Road Studios, Trident Studios and Apple Studios. During that five month period, the great and good of music played a walk on part on All Things Must Pass.
This included George Harrison’s friend and ex-Beatle Ringo Starr played drums on some of the tracks. He was joined by two men who had been members of The Beatles’ inner circle. Billy Preston who played with both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones played piano and organ. Klaus Voormann another Beatles’ confidante arrived at the sessions and played guitar and bass.
They were joined by three members of Derek and The Dominoes, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and Eric Clapton who played acoustic and electric guitars. Among the other top names that made their way to the sessions were Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker, Yes’ drummer Alan White, Traffic’s Dave Mason who played electric and acoustic guitars and Phil Collins of Genesis added percussion. These big names were joined by some top session players.
This included Bobby Whitlock, who was formerly a member of Delaney and Bonnie, and in 1970, session musician to the stars. Bobby Whitlock played piano, organ, tubular bells and harmonium. Pete Drake played pedal steel, while Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Joey Molland played acoustic guitar, and Tony Ashton and Gary Brooker played piano. Horns came courtesy of saxophonist Bobby Keys and trumpeter and trombonist Jim Price. Joining this crack band of session players was The Beatles’ former roadie Mal Evans, who played percussion. He played a small part in what would become the most successful album of George Harrison’s career, All Things Must Pass.
With All Things Must Pass completed, George Harrison’s third solo album was scheduled to be released on the ‘27th’ of October 1970. Before then, the music critics passed judgment on All Things Must Pass. They hadn’t been won over by George Harrison’s two previous albums Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, and there was a degree of trepidation as the Quiet One awaited the reviews of All Things Must Pass.
When the reviews were published, there was not one dissenting voice. Critics hailed All Things Must Pass as a classic, and critical acclaim accompanied George Harrison’s third solo album. It was, without doubt, the greatest album of George’s three album solo career, and marked the coming of age for George Harrison.
It was as if George Harrison had been freed from the shackles that were The Beatles. No longer was he being held back by the Lennon-McCartney axis who dictated what songs featured on The Beatles’ albums. Most of the time, George Harrison’s songs had been rejected out of hand, and often, inferior songs from Lennon-McCartney partnership were given preference. However, George Harrison was about to have the last laugh.
The cover of All Things Must Pass saw George Harrison surrounded by four comedic looking gnomes, which many veteran Beatles watchers believed were meant to represent The Beatles. The same Beatles watchers saw this as George Harrison commenting on his removal from The Beatles. That was George Harrison’s past, and he was no longer defined by his membership of The Beatles. Since the breakup of The Beatles, George Harrison had his own identity back and could forge a career as a solo artist. What better way to start the next chapter in his career that by releasing a classic album, All Things Must Pass.
The ‘27th’ of October 1970 was D-Day for George Harrison. That was the day All Things Must Pass was released as a triple album. The first four sides featured the main part of All Things Must Pass which was produced by George Harrison and Phil Spector. On sides five and six, was Apple Jam which It featured five jams. The lavish triple album that was All Things Must Pass, was about to become one of the most successful solo albums by a former Beatle.
The lead single released from All Things Must Pass during 1970 was a double A-Side. This was My Sweet Lord and Isn’t It A Pity. It reached number one in America, Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Having sold one million copies in America, My Sweet Lord was certified gold, and later, was nominated for a Grammy Award. There was a problem though.
Anyone familiar with Ronnie Mack’s He’s So Fine immediately spotted the similarities between the two songs. So did Bright Tunes Music who filed a writ against George’s Harrisongs Music on the ‘10th’ of February 1971. Nearly five years later, on the ‘23rd’ of February 1976, the case was settled. It was held that George Harrison had “subconsciously copied” He’s So Fine and Bright Tunes Music was awarded damages that totalled $1,599,987, which was deemed 75% of the North American royalties. For George Harrison, the case brought by Bright Tunes Music caused him huge problems, and he became so paranoid about subconsciously copying some else’s work, that he could hardly write. However, back in 1970, that wasn’t the case.
On the release of All Things Must Pass on the ‘27th’ of October 1970, it reached number one in America, Australia, Britain, Canada, Holland, Norway and Sweden. All Things Must Pass also reached number four in Japan and number ten in Germany. Given how successful All Things Must Pass was, it’s no surprise it was certified gold in Britain and Canada. In America, All Things Must Pass was certified platinum six times over. That equates to sales of six million copies of All Things Must Pass. Never again, would George Harrison reach these heights. This was no surprise, as All Things Must Pass was a stonewall classic.
After the release of All Things Must Pass, no longer was George Harrison perceived as a junior partner in The Beatles. That was far from the case as he was a talented and prolific songwriter. The sixteen songs that featured on All Things Must Pass was just the tip of a musical iceberg. For a number of years, George Harrison had been quietly writing songs. By 1970, he had accumulated a vast body of work. Now was the time to let the record buying public hear what he was capable of on All Things Must Pass.
All Things Must Pass was George’s Magnus Opus. It’s an epic album. Lavish, epic arrangements are the perfect foil for George’s vocal. The music is both melodic and mystical. Especially when George draws inspiration from Indian music. This is part of All Things Must Pass’ spiritual sound.
During All Things Must Pass spirituality and religion play an important part. This is apparent on My Sweet Lord. Just like other tracks on All Things Must Pass, My Sweet Lord is a mixture of rock ’n’ religion. It’s an anthemic modern-day hymnal. However, there’s other influences on All Things Must Pass.
This includes The Band, Bob Dylan and of course Phil Spector. His arrangements are part of the albums lavish, grandiose sound. Phil Spector co-produced All Things Must Pass, and was yin to George’s yang. Now that George Harrison was freed from the constraints of Lennon and McCartney he had blossomed as singer, songwriter, musicians and producer. Phil Spector had helped the genie escape from the bottle.
In doing so, Phil Spector helped George Harrison record an album that he would never better, All Things Must Pass. Cerebral, thoughtful and spiritual, the music is often beautiful and sometimes wistful and melancholy on what is a compelling classic album that is spread across side sides of vinyl. It features many musical highlights.
Some of the many highlights include My Sweet Lord is a stonewall classic. It’s one of the best songs ever written and recorded by a former Beatle. It’s a timeless, spiritual song, written in praise of the Hindu god Krishna, where George Harrison calls for the abandonment of religious sectarianism. Sadly, forty-seven years later, this beautiful song is just as relevant.
The thoughtful Isn’t It a Pity was written after the demise of The Beatles, George Harrison is in a reflective mood. There’s a sadness in his voice that no longer are The Beatles such close friends. On All Things Must Pass, it’s as if George has come to terms that The Beatles are no more. Considering they were a part of his life for so long, this couldn’t have been easy.
George Harrison is in an equally reflective mood on What Is Life? Written in 1969, it’s one of George Harrison’s love songs. This is something that he does so well. In this song, the lyrics aren’t just about a woman, but a deity too.
Beware Of The Darkness is another spiritual song, where t he lyrics reflect the supposed philosophy of Radha Krishna Temple. It’s a song full of powerful imagery which gives the track a cinematic sound and feel. Art Of Dying is another spiritual track where George Harrison deals with reincarnation and the need to avoid rebirth. Closing All Things Might Pass is Hear Me Lord, a song that originally, George Harrison put the song forward for Let It Be. It was rejected and makes its debut on All Things Might Pass. A personal prayer in a rock gospel style, George Harrison asks for help and forgiveness from his deity on Hear Me Lord.
Apple Jam, which fills sides five and six, allows George Harrison’s multitalented all-star band to cut loose. On the longer tracks Out of the Blue, I Remember Jeep and Thanks for the Pepperoni they showcase their versatility and considerable talents. This is a fitting way to end All Things Must Pass.
Although George Harrison went on to release nine further solo albums, none of them match All Things Must Pass in terms of success and quality. Most of his albums were commercially successful, but neither replicated the success nor critical acclaim that All Things Must Pass enjoyed. It was George Harrison’s career defining album, and sadly, he would never again reach the same heights.
Try as he may, George Harrison always came up short when he released future albums. All Things Must Pass was George Harrison’s Magnus Opus. Freed from the shackles of The Beatles, George Harrison had blossomed, and was no longer the “junior partner” or “quiet Beatle.” George Harrison was only quiet because he never had was given opportunity to speak musically. When he did, it was a case of tokenism, which The Beatles would come to regret.
Just six months after Paul McCartney announced he was leaving The Beatles in April 1970, George Harrison released All Things Must Pass, which sold over seven million copies and reached number one in Australia, Britain, Europe and North America. There was the small matter of two Grammy Award nominations.
When the Grammy Award nominations came out, George Harrison was nominated twice. All Things Must Pass was nominated for the Album of The Year Award and My Sweet Lord was also nominated for Record of the Year. This was a huge honour, and a recognition of how far he had come since leaving The Beatles. All Things Must Pass also marked the coming age musically of George Harrison.
When George Harrison recorded All Things Must Pass he neither resorted to controversy nor gimmicks Instead, he let his music do the talking, and didn’t need to resort to bed ins, bagism, third-rate protest songs or adaptations of nursery rhymes. Instead, George Harrison who was already one of the most respected figures in music, was joined by some of the biggest names in music
The musicians who joined George Harrison on All Things Must Pass reads like a who’s who of music. They recorded the twenty-three tracks that became All Things Must Pass. This all-star band played their part on became the most successful solo album released by a former Beatle.
After the success of All Things Must Pass, none of the rest of The Beatles’ came close to replicating its success. That is no surprise, as All Things Must Pass is a classic album. Even the contrarian Rolling Stone magazine agree, and include All Things Must Pass in their list of 500 albums of all time. It’s the album that launched George Harrison’s solo career, after the release of two very different albums.
1968s Wonderwall and 1969s Electronic Music were much more groundbreaking, avant-garde albums, while All Things Must Pass saw George Harrison return to a much more familiar sound. The only difference was All Things Must pass marked the debut of George Harrison’s trademark slide guitar sound. Washes of slide guitar play an important part in All Things Must Pass’ sound. This sound would feature on further George Harrison albums.
Over the next thirty-two years, another nine George Harrison albums were released. His final album was Brainwashed, which was released posthumously in 2002, a year after George Harrison’s death. However, George Harrison left behind a rich musical legacy, including the albums he recorded with The Beatles and the twelve solo albums he released between 1968 and 2002. The includes George Harrison’s career-defining Magnus Opus All Things Must Pass, which is a stonewall classic, and the most successful album released by a former Beatle.
Clasic Album: George Harrison-All Things Must Pass
Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9
Label: Iron Mountain Analogue Research.
Nowadays, not many compilations series’ are still going strong after nine volumes, which is a remarkable achievement and testament to the label and compiler. After all, most compilation series seem to last no more than a few volumes. Part of the problem is constantly finding new or suitable material. Especially with compilations that focus on a specific genre of music or have a theme. That isn’t the case with the Iron Mountain Analogue Research label’s Hillbillies In Hell compilation series.
Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9 was recently released, and is the second instalment in the series to be released during 2019. The previous instalment was released on Record Store Day 2019, as a limited edition of 666 and was much in demand. Just five months later, and the followup Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9 can be found on the shelves of record stores. Is this latest compilation of the usual standard, or one volume too many?
Looking at the track listing to Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9, there’s many familiar faces on the compilation . This includes the Texas Troubadour Ernest Tubb who opens side one with Saturday Satan, Sunday Saint. It’s a memorable and catchy track that gives way to Gentleman Jim Reeves and It’s Nothing To Me. This is a reminder if any were needed of one of the true legends of country music. The quality continues on The First Mrs Jones a heart-wrenching tale of betrayal from Porter Wagoner. Eddie Noack’s The Memories Are Restless Tonight is another track that tugs at the heartstrings. Quite different is The Carter Family and Cathy’s Singing Shouting Praying which is an uptempo track from one of country music’s greatest abd most influential groups.
Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most successful female vocalists, and Down From Dover opens side two. Her emotive vocal is accompanied by a weeping guitar and harmonies, which are the perfect accompaniment. Bonnie Guitar’s hurt-filled vocal on Dark Moon is best described as soul-baring. Then on Dark Day In Dallas Tommy Durden tells the story of that tragic day in November 1963 when the 35th president of the United States was assassinated during a visit to the Lone Star state. Very different is Swanee River Boys’ Not Necessarily which is a reminder of a different musical age. So is the Sunshine Boys Quartet’s Goodbye World Goodbye, which for many people was a golden age for country music. It’s the perfect way to close Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9, which is welcome addition to this long-running and critically acclaimed compilation series.
Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9 is a welcome addition to this lovingly curated compilation series that began four years ago in 2015. Since then, each volume has been of the highest quality. That is testament to the compiler and everyone at the Iron Mountain Analogue Research label who consistently release compilations that are a cut above the competition.
That is the case with Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9, which feature familiar faces, new names and country music legends.They all play their party in the success of Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9 which is captivating collection of songs that is of the highest quality and are proof that this is compilation series that is going to run and run.
Hillbillies In Hell: County Music’s Tormented Testament 1952-1974 Volume 9.
Simbad Presents Collections Volume One 2003-2017.
Label: BBE Music.
Release Date: ‘4th’ October 2019.
Back in the late-nineties, saxophonist Simbad travelled to London for what he thought would be just one summer, before returning home. Little did he realise as he arrived in London, that three decades later that he would still call the city his home. London is also where Simbad (aka SMBD) established his reputation as a top DJ, producer and remixer, who is respected worldwide.
Despite living in London, Simbad is a globetrotting DJ and prolific producer and remixer who has worked with everyone from Ron Trent and Robert Owens to Tony Allen and Talvin Singh to Bugz In The Attic and Gonzalez. There’s also a critically acclaimed album, compilations and DJ mixes plus over 200 productions and remixes for some of the most prestigious labels.
This includes BBE Music, who on the ‘4th’ October 2019 will release Simbad Presents Collections Volume One 2003-2017 on CD , vinyl and as a digital album. It’s the first album that Simbad has released for BBE Music, and features tracks recorded during a fourteen year period. These are just a few of the tracks that Simbad has recorded, but never released and are a tantalising taste of a truly talented and versatile producer.
While some producers are content to produce one genre of music, Simbad has released an eclectic selection of electronic music under a myriad of disparate monikers. This includes everything from house and hip hop to broken beat, jazz, soul and techno. Many of his productions, including classics like Soul Fever or Peaktime have become favourites of dancers and DJs.
Many people first heard of Simbad when he released his critically acclaimed album Supersonic Revelation, was released by Raw Fusion in 2008. This was the album that launched his career in earnest.
Since then, Simbad has curated compilations and released DJ mixes, plus over 200 productions. These are the just the tracks that he’s released. Most of the music that Simbad has recorded over the past two decades is unreleased. This includes the tracks on Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017.
The vinyl EP features five tracks and includes four guest vocalists. This includes the soulful and jazz-tinged opener Elevate which stars LaAerial, while Steve Spacek features on Let Go. Closing side one is Rainin’ Luv (Dub), which is one of the finest cuts on the Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017 EP. Flip over to the second side and Get Your Sh Together, features Byron The Aquarius vocal with is delivered atop a spacious arrangement where a squelchy bass synth plays a leading role. However, it’s a case of saving the best until last with the mesmeric sounding Thankful which features Miryam Solomon.
On the CD version of Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017 there’s a total of thirteen tracks. They include an array of guest vocals who have worked with Simbad at his London studio, which is akin to a sanctuary for this talented producer and remixer. Between 2003 and 2017, Claudia Smith, Entek, Byron, Lulu James, LaAerial, Miryam Solomon, Rae Rae and The Aquarius have all lent their vocal prowess to Simbad’s carefully crafted arrangements. They showcase a versatile producer and range from jazz-tinged and soulful to deep house, electronic and elements of acid house. These tracks range from laid-back, dreamy and ruminative to soulful and jazzy.
Paradigm Message opens the CD album, and is a captivating and dramatic track that whets the appetite for the rest of Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017.
Apart from the tracks that also feature on the EP, there’s much to discover on the CD version of Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017. One of the standout tracks is Day By Day starring Lull James, whose vocal is deeply soulful. So is Rae Rae ’s vocal on Good To You. It’s followed by the hypnotic sounding If U and then the memorable Circles and Motion which features Claudia Smith. Then it’s all change on Innit Dub which closes Simbad’s debut album for BBE Music.
The tracks that feature on the EP and CD version of Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017 have never been released before. They make their debut on what’s Simbad’s debut artist album for BBE Music. It showcases Simbad, a talented and prolific producer who has been a familiar face on the London music scene for over twenty years. During that time, he’s worked with some of the biggest names in music, and also influenced and inspired a new generation of producers. So will the tracks on Simbad Presents Collections Volume 1 2003-2017, which is a tantalising taste of the of the music that this truly talented producer has been making during a fourteen year period.
Simbad Presents Collections Volume One 2003-2017.
60 Years Ago In 1959 Ornette Coleman Released The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
On June 11th 2015, that Ornette Coleman passed away, aged eighty-five, and that day, music had lost a true legend, whose album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation lent its name to a musical genre, free jazz. It’s the genre that Ornette Coleman became synonymous with. However, two years earlier, this nascent genre had no name.
Ornette Coleman released his Atlantic Records’ debut in 1959. The Shape of Jazz to Come hinted that jazz was changing. However, it wasn’t until the release of Ornette Coleman’s fourth album for Atlantic Records, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation that the genre was christened. Suddenly, free jazz was born. It was being hailed the most exciting development in jazz, and Ornette Coleman was one of its most innovating practitioners. His story began in 1930.
It was on March 9th, 1930, that Ornette Coleman was born Randolph Dernard Ornette. He was born and brought up in Forth Worth, Texas, where his musical skills were apparent from an early age. A true multi-instrumentalist, Ornette played saxophone, violin and trumpet and composed music. His trademark sound is blues-based, with a crying, keening timbre. Growing up, Ornette played in his high school band, but was thrown-out, for jamming during a rendition of Washington Post.
As a teenager, Ornette formed a band, with fellow students Prince Lasha and Charles Moffett. Then in 1949, he started playing with Silas Green, in his R&B show. It was during a show in Baton Rouge, that Ornette was assaulted and his saxophone destroyed. This resulted in Ornette changing to alto-saxophone. After the Baton Rouge assault, Ornette decided to leave Silas Green’s band.
After leaving Silas Green’s band, Ornette joined Pee Wee Crayton’s band. When he wasn’t making music, Ornette worked a variety of jobs, including lift operator. Still, he was determined to make a living playing music. Other musicians, however, didn’t understand Ornette’s style of music.
From his high school days, Ornette had a unique musical style. Schooled in R&B and bebop, Ornette’s approach to chord progression and harmony was very different. It was much more fluid. He played what heard in his head, which coupled with his blues’ influence, may have resulted in the rawness in Ornette’s playing. For some musicians, they thought Ornette was out-of-tune. That wasn’t the case. Unlike them, Ornette was a visionary, an innovator, a musician who’d become one of the giants of free jazz.
Even though many musicians didn’t understand Ornette Coleman, he was gradually building up a group of influential supporters. This included pianist Paul Bley, who later collaborated with Ornette. Paul however, didn’t feature on Ornette’s 1958 debut album Something Else. Released on Contemporary Records, Something Else featured Don Cherry on trumpet and Walter Norris on piano, as be bop combined with free jazz. Ornette released his sophomore album in 1959s. Tomorrow Is The Question was also released on Contemporary Records. All of sudden, people were taking notice of Ornette Coleman. They were “getting” Ornette’s unique sound and approach to jazz.
So it was no surprise that in 1959, Ornette Coleman signed to what was then, one of the biggest record labels, Atlantic Records. They had a huge roster, and released an eclectic selection of music. This included everything from blues, R&B, soul and of course, jazz. Ornette Coleman was their latest signing.
Atlantic Records was home to Ornette Coleman between 1959 and 1962. During that time, he entered the studio ten times, and these sessions produced nine albums which include some of the best and most innovative music of Ornette Coleman’s career. He was one of the founding fathers of free jazz, who came of age at Atlantic Records.
The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
Having served his musical apprenticeship, Ornette Coleman was more than ready to sign to a major label. On his first two albums, Ornette Coleman pioneered this new musical genre. Some likened it do avant garde. Others thought that what Ornette Coleman and his band were playing had an experimental sound. However, after his first session with ‘producer’ Nesuhi Ertegun, he had the answer to this conundrum.
On 22nd May 1959, Ornette Coleman made his way to Radio Recorders in Hollywood, California. Joining him, were the other three members of his quartet, drummer Billy Higgins, bassist Charlie Haden and Don Cherry on cornet. They recorded eight tracks with Ornette Coleman recorded eight tracks. These tracks followed a different format to what most musicians were used to.
Each of the eight compositions Ornette Coleman’s quartet record a brief thematic statement. After that, there were several of minutes of free improvisation. Then they revisit the main theme. While this may sound similar to bebop, there’s a big difference. Advocates of free jazz abandoned the use of chord structures. Having listened to Ornette Coleman’s quartet pioneer this nascent genre, Nesuhi Ertegun had an idea for the album title.
After thinking about the session he had just ‘produced,’ Nesuhi Ertegun realised that it was important that the album title gave record buyers: ”an idea about the uniqueness of the LP.” It Nesuhi Ertegun realised, was a game-changer. This new sound was about to change jazz
Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic Records’ debut was The Shape Of Jazz To Come. It was released in October 1959, and initially, divided the opinion of critics.
Some critics and cultural commentators hailed the music on The Shape Of Jazz To Come as innovative and inventive. Lonely Woman, the album’s opener was seen as a future classic. That proved prescient. Nowadays, Lonely Woman is a jazz standard. These critics that forecast this, and realised the importance of The Shape Of Jazz To Come knew that something important was happening.
So did some of Ornette Coleman’s peers and contemporaries. They realised that potentially, this new musical movement could be the biggest innovation since bebop. Especially when Ornette Coleman began a two week residency at the Five Spirit on November 17th 1959. It became the hottest ticket in town. Ornette Coleman’s residency was extended, and eventually, last two-and-a-half months. It seemed Ornette Coleman was well on his way to becoming one of the major players in jazz. Not everyone agreed.
The lack of chordal structure proved controversial. Up until then, a pianist and guitarist gave compositions chordal structure. Not on The Shape Of Jazz To Come. That was jazz’s past. Another criticism was the harsh timber of Ornette Coleman’s saxophone. However, this wasn’t surprising. He eschewed the finest saxophone, instead, preferring a plastic Grafton saxophone. This he believed gave his music, a “harmolodic” sound, which was a fusion of harmony, movement, and melody. There was a reason for this.
Harmonic accompaniment, Ornette Coleman believed, wasn’t important. Instead, he focused merely on improvising melodies and variations on themes and motifs. Proof of this could be found on The Shape Of Jazz To Come, which in 1959, was recognised as an important, innovative and inventive album. It was also an album that changed jazz. At the forefront of this new musical movement was Ornette Coleman.
It was ironic that Ornette Coleman’s contract with Atlantic Records was over when Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation was released in September 1961. It was a game-changer where the soloists were allowed the freedom and opportunity to improvise No longer were musicians constrained, they were allowed the opportunity to take the music wherever they wanted. This was revolutionary music. So it was fitting that the album cover featured Jackson Pollock’s painting The White Light.
Just like so many landmark albums, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation divided opinion. Critics either loved or loathed the album. There was no middle ground. Most reviews were filled with praise and plaudits. Some critics saw no merit in Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. To them, it was forty minutes of their life they would never see again. However, since then, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential free jazz albums. For Ornette Coleman, who had left Atlantic Records, it must have been a bittersweet moment.
His latest album would lend its name to a genre, free jazz. Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation was also being hailed one of the most innovative and influential albums in the nascent free jazz genre.
Despite over fifty albums bearing Ornette Coleman’s name being released, the albums he released at Atlantic Records included some of the best music. Ornette Coleman released a total of nine albums for Atlantic Records between 1959 and 1975. These albums find one of the founding fathers of free jazz at his most inventive and innovative.
Freed from the constraints of bebop, Ornette Coleman and his band embark upon what was akin to a series of musical adventures. During these adventures, they push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes way beyond. They challenge what was conventional thinking, and create music that’s ambitious, groundbreaking and innovative. This new genre of music free jazz, was the future of music. It was far removed from the blandness of the Cool School, and the constraints of bebop. Ornette Coleman was at the vanguard of this new musical movement.
That’s not surprising. Ornette Coleman was one of jazz’s most innovative and inventive musicians and composers in the history of jazz. Bold, and unafraid to produce cutting-edge music, Ornette Coleman produced music that was challenging music, music that challenged musical norms. Realising musical rules were there to be broken, Ornette Coleman set about breaking these rules. However, Ornette Coleman knew when to break the rules.
By breaking these rules, Ornette Coleman created some of the most inventive, influential and innovative music in the history of jazz. This was music that fused various musical genres and influences. Bebop, free-jazz, blues, avant-garde and experimental music all influenced Ornette Coleman’s music. These genres and influences were thrown into the melting pot of one of the most creative and inventive musicians of the twentieth century. Sadly, Ornette Coleman died on June 11th 2015, that Ornette Coleman passed away, aged eighty-five. Music had lost a true legend, whose album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation lent its name to a musical genre, free jazz.
Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation was Ornette Coleman’s Magnus Opus, and was recorded during what was the most productive and fertile period of his career. However, The Shape Of Jazz To Come which is also a free jazz classic, and is a tantalising taste of what was to come from a true musical pioneer during his time at Atlantic Records, where Ornette Coleman recorded some of the best and most innovative music of his long and illustrious career.
60 Years Ago In 1959 Ornette Coleman Released The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
50 Years Ago in 1969 David Axelrod Released Songs Of Experience.
By 1968, composer, musicians and producer David Axelrod was just about to embark upon a solo career after nine years working in the music industry. Buoyed by the experimental climate of popular music, David Axelrod wrote and recorded what was akin to a suite-like tone poem that was based on Songs Of Innocence an illustrated collection of poems written in 1789 by William Blake. The poet had inspired many composers and musicians during the twentieth century.
Many composers had set his poems to music, and William Blake’s music had been used in theatre and inspired everyone from folk musicians to David Axelrod who was a self-confessed “Blake freak.”
In 1968, David Axelrod released his William Blake inspired debut album Songs Of Innocence, which sold just 75,000 copies. This was disappointing given that Songs Of Innocence was groundbreaking album.
Despite the disappointing sales of Songs Of Innocence, David Axelrod began to write the material for his sophomore album Songs of Experience. It was also inspired by William Blake’s poetry, but explored the darker side of humanity drew inspiration from composer Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream concept. David Axelrod’s sophomore album Songs of Experience was an ambitious and innovative album. He had come a long way from his days as a boxer.
Before embarking upon a career in music, David Axelrod had enjoyed what can only be described as a chequered career. He had started off as a boxer, before changing direction and finding work in film and television. However, in 1959 David Axelrod embarked upon a musical career when he produced Harold Land’s album The Fox. This launched David Axelrod’s nascent musical career.
Four years later, David Axelrod was hired by Capitol Records as a producer and A&R man. Initially, he worked with R&B artists, including Lou Rawls who was signed to Capitol Records. David Axelrod produced a string of hit singles for Lou Rawls, his Live album and several albums that were certified gold. David Axelrod was the man with the Midas Touch.
Soon, David Axelrod was working with jazz saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and produced his 1966 Grammy Award winning album Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at “The Club.” The album also featured the hot single Mercy, Mercy, Mercy which reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100. By then, David Axelrod’s star was in the ascendancy at Capitol Records.
It was around this time, David Axelrod began working with some top session musicians including drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Howard Roberts. This band would play an important part in David Axelrod’s future.
David Axelrod wrote and arranged Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath for the psychedelic rock band The Electric Prunes. The only problem was that both songs were complex pieces of music. Mass in F Minor consists of a mass sung in Latin and Greek and performed in a psychedelic style. However, there was a problem, it was too complex a piece for The Electric Prunes to record and it was recorded by David Axelrod’s band. This lead to The Electric Prunes disbanding and David Axelrod’s band completed the albums. Executives at Capitol Records were grateful that David Axelrod had rescued what was a particularly tricky situation, and wanted to reward him for his recent success. This resulted in David Axelrod being allowed to record his debut solo album Songs Of Innocence.
By them David Axelrod was watching trends in popular music and realised that there was a new breed of record buyer with much more sophisticated taste than the three chord pop of the early Beatles’ record. They were willing to embrace and buy much more experimental sounding albums, including two of the best known, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both of these experimental had been hugely successful, and was proof to David Axelrod that there was a demand for this type of music.
Buoyed by the experimental climate of popular music David Axelrod decided to write and record his what was akin to a suite-like tone poem, which was based on Songs Of Innocence which was an illustrated collection of poems written in 1789 by William Blake. The poet had inspired many composers and musicians during the twentieth century. Many composers had set his poems to music, and William Blake’s music had been used in theatre and inspired everyone from folk musicians to David Axelrod who was a self-confessed “Blake freak.”
Over the space of a week, David Axelrod wrote seven compositions and borrowed titles from William Blake’s poems. The compositions death with a variety of themes, ranging from visions, religious iniquity, rite of passage and life experience after a person’s birth and innocence. After just a week, David Axelrod had completed Songs Of Innocence, which was his homage to William Blake. David Axelrod had been captivated by William Blake’s poetry since he was a teenager and seemed to relate to the poet. Neither William Blake nor David Axelrod were regarded as sociable men, and this could’ve hindered the producer’s career. However, he had a successful track record as he began recording Songs Of Innocence in 1968.
Songs Of Innocence.
Having written Songs Of Innocence in just one week, David Axelrod arranged the seven tracks which he intended to produce and add the vocals to. Now he was ready to record his debut album, and work was scheduled to start in mid-1968 at Capitol Studios, in Los Angeles.
David Axelrod decided to use many of the musicians that he worked with on a regular basis. This included drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Al Casey. They were joined by percussionist Gene Estes and organist and pianist Don Randi who would conduct the string and horn section that David Axelrod planned to use on Songs Of Innocence. They would allow David Axelrod to create his musical vision.
Songs Of Innocence was essentially an instrumental album of jazz-fusion, but incorporated elements of baroque pop, blues, classical music, funk, jazz, liturgical music, pop, psychedelia, R&B, rock and theatre music. During Songs Of Innocence, David Axelrod used contrast extensively during the orchestral compositions which was peppered with euphoric psychedelic soul and dramatic, sometimes, distressing arrangements to reflect the supernatural themes that are found within William Blake’s poems. So does the music’s almost reverential psychedelic undercurrent which brings to mind the themes of innocence and spirituality that is a feature William Blake’s poems which inspired David Axelrod to write such an ambitious album as Songs Of Innocence.
His arrangements on Songs Of Innocence accentuated the pounding drums played in 4/4 time, complex baselines, searing and gritty guitars, sweeping melodramatic and progressive strings, organ parts designed to disorientate and blazing, dramatic horns. David Axelrod who had written Songs Of Innocence in the rock idiom, but used a mixture of jazz, rock and classical musicians to record his debut album.
They were all comfortable when David Axelrod asked them to improvise during this psycheliturgical opus. David Axelrod had been influenced by György Ligeti’s 1961 piece Atmosphères, and Lukas Foss’ concept of starting a piece with a sustained chord and improvising for over 100 bars, and ending on a different chord. However, it wasn’t joust improvisation that David Axelrod embraced.
David Axelrod encouraged musicians to use various sound effects, including reverb and echo during the recording sessions. This included adding echo to breakbeats to reflect the spiritual nature of William Blake’s poetry. For much of the album, David Axelrod’s rock orchestra painted pictures with music which veered between spartan, dramatic and harrowing to liturgical, ruminative and celebratory. As the music changed, so did the rock orchestra.
Seamlessly David Axelrod’s rock orchestra changed direction and were transformed into a vampish big band. Other times, they played bluesy bop or locked into a jazzy groove and on occasions started to swing.
Meanwhile, producer David Axelrod was constantly encouraging his band to experiment, and not be afraid to improvise. Towards the end of recording sessions, David Axelrod’s rock orchestra had fully
embraced psychedelia deploying organ licks that seemed to be designed to disorientate and gritty guitars. Then as The Mental Traveler was recorded, David Axelrod was keen to embrace and experiment with atonality. However, he felt that music that lacks a tonal centre of key was a step too far even on such an ambitions and innovative album as Songs Of Innocence.
When David Axelrod completed recording his suite-like tone poem, everyone who had worked on the concept album realised that it was an impressive, innovative and immersive album, that was ambitious, cerebral. However, the big question was what would the critics who make of Songs Of Innocence?
Not only was Songs Of Innocence David Axelrod’s debut album, but it was ambitious concept album inspired by William Blake’s poetry. This was too much for many critics, and the album regarded as something of a curio when it was released in October 1968 by Capitol Records. Many critics failed to understand what was essentially a mixture of genre-melting music, mysticism and philosophy that was cerebral, creative and showed just how much music had changed over the last few years. David Axelrod’s suite-like tone poem Songs Of Innocence, was a long way from Love Me Do in 1962. Music was changing, and record buyers were embracing much more experimental and sophisticated music. This augured well for the release of Songs Of Innocence.
Sadly, when Songs Of Innocence was released in October 1968, the album wasn’t the commercial success that David Axelrod or executives at Capitol Records had hoped. By October 1969, Songs Of Innocence had only sold 75,000 copies in America.
Despite the disappointing sales of Songs Of Innocence, David Axelrod began working on his sophomore album Songs of Experience.
Songs Of Experience.
For his sophomore album David Axelrod returned to the work of poet William Blake for inspiration, and especially his collection Songs Of Experience which was published in 1794. David Axelrod the self-confessed “Blake freak” chose eight poems from Songs of Experience which lent it name to his sophomore album.
William Blake was David Axelrod’s major influence, as explored the darker side of humanity on Songs Of Experience. The composer had been captivated by William Blake’s concept of birth and innocence, as he explored the theme of life experience, rite of passage and the changes of perspective in life during the writing and recording Songs Of Innocence. However, when David Axelrod wrote Songs Of Experience, he focused on William Blake’s concept: “of awareness after birth.” This wasn’t David Axelrod’s only source of inspiration for Songs Of Experience.
Another source of inspiration for David Axelrod during the writing ad recording of Songs Of Experience was composer Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream concept. This was part of what was another ambitious album that David Axelrod planned to record.
To record Songs Of Experience, David Axelrod brought onboard many of the musicians that recorded Songs Of Innocence. However, it took over thirty musicians to record what David Axelrod knew was a groundbreaking, genre-melting album.
David Axelrod’s sophomore album Songs Of Experience, was essentially a fusion album, but incorporated elements of European classical music, British and Irish folk music, percussive sounds and baroque arrangements. Meanwhile, the melodies and rhythms on Songs Of Experience ranged from pop, R&B and rock. However, this time, this time, the suite on Songs Of Experience which relied less on rock influences, and was much more symphonic. While this was a stylistic departure, for David Axelrod, Songs Of Experience was another major work that had the potential to enhance his reputation.
That was no surprise given Songs Of Experience’s the compositions to the eight genre-melting track were so different, and featured lush arrangements that were dramatic and rich in imagery. David Axelrod was bringing William Blake’s music to life by using his entire musical palette to paint pictures and allow him to explore much darker and ruminative sounds on Songs Of Experience. It was an album that should’ve captured the imagination of critics.
Sadly, when Songs Of Experience was released by Capitol in 1969, very few critics realised the importance of what was a truly groundbreaking and innovative album. To rub salt into the wound, Songs Of Experience sold less that the 75,000 copies that Songs Of Innocence sold. David Axelrod decision to create ambitious and innovative music wasn’t rewarded.
It wasn’t until much later that critics realised the significance of Songs Of Experience, which was hailed as an important, innovative and inspirational album. By then, Songs Of Experience was a favourite source of samples for hip hop producers. However, it was just a coterie of appreciative record buyers who had embraced and flew the flag for what was David Axelrod’s William Blake inspired cult classic Songs Of Experience which broke new ground and somewhat belatedly, became part of musical history.
50 Years Ago in 1969 David Axelrod Released Songs Of Experience.
50 Years Ago In 1969 The Incredible String Band Released Changing Horses
Fifty years ago in 1969, the Incredible String Band hit the road, and embarked upon what was a gruelling touring schedule. During this period, the recently expanded lineup of the Incredible String Band continued to live communally in a farmhouse in Newport, Pembrokeshire. It was also during this time, that The Incredible String Band became interested in mixed media, which was something that would later influence their music. However, in 1969, touring was what kept them busy, and in August became part of musical history when they belatedly took to the stage at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
The Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
The Incredible String Band’s most high-profile performance took place at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair which took place between the ‘15th’ and ‘17th’ of August 1969. By then, The Incredible String Band were one of the biggest and most successful folk bands in the world. That’s why they were booked to play at Woodstock in 1969.
Rain delayed the Incredible String Band’s performance at Woodstock. They were due to play at 10.50pm on Friday ‘15th’ August 1969. This was when all the other folk acts were due to play. The Incredible String Band were due to follow Ravi Shankar, However, as Ravi Shankar played, the heavens opened. This presented a problem for The Incredible String Band, who refused to take to the stage. Realising that The Incredible String Band were one of the biggest folk bands of the day, their performance was rescheduled. Melanie was called in as a last-minute replacement for The Incredible String Band and they took to the stage the following day.
Between 6.00-6.30pm on Saturday the ‘15th’ August 1969, the Incredible String Band took to the stage, following Keef Hartley. From the moment that The Incredible String Band took to the stage, they played a starring role in the Woodstock Festival. They had the audience in the palm of their hands. Following their appearance at the Woodstock Festival, The Incredible String Band kept on touring.
Two weeks after playing a starring role at the Woodstock Festival, The Incredible String Band found themselves in Texas for the Labor Day Weekend. That was when the Texas International Pop Festival was held at the Dallas International Motor Speedway. The Incredible String Band played on Sunday the ‘30th’ August 1969. However, their performance didn’t match their appearance at the Woodstock Festival which disappointed the members of The Incredible String Band. However, they had to put this behind them, as they an album to release in three months time, Changing Horses.
In November 1969, The Incredible String Band were preparing to release their fifth album Changing Horses. By then, much had changed over the last few months for The Incredible String Band and especially Robin Williamson and Mike Heron.
Robin Williamson and Mike Heron had split from their respective girlfriends and moved from Newport to Innerleithen, in Peeblesshire, Scotland. This became the new headquarters for The Incredible String Band.
While The Incredible String Band had performed as a quartet on Wee Tam and The Big Huge, the only two full-time members of the band were Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. However, despite the breakup of their relationships, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron confirmed that Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were now full-time members of The Incredible String Band. This wasn’t the only change that occurred.
Recently, The Incredible String Band had fully embraced the controversial cult-like Church Of Scientology. They had been “believers” since the autumn of 1968, when they dined with producer Joe Boyd after a sellout show in New York. That night, Joe Boyd happened to mention that the manager of the restaurant they were dining in had turned his life around since he last seen him. This transformation the manager claimed was down to his recent conversion to the Church Of Scientology. Having told the story, Joe Boyd finished his meal and then left the restaurant to head off on a business trip to California. Little did Joe Boyd realise the consequences of his story.
In Joe Boyd’s absence, The Incredible String Band approached the band’s US agent wanting the payments that they were owed for the mini tour of the East Coast. When the US agent phoned Joe Boyd before paying the money to The Incredible String Band, he decided to find out what the band wanted the money for?
Joe Boyd struggled to contact any of the members of The Incredible String Band, who had checked out of the Chelsea Hotel. By then, Joe Boyd was wondering why The Incredible String Band needed any money as he had given the band an allowance before leaving for California. Eventually, though, Joe Boyd got through to Licorice McKechnie, who explained they needed the money to pay for some “courses” with the Church Of Scientology. This was just a day after Joe Boyd had mentioned the Church Of Scientology. Had they working quickly on their latest potential converts, who just so happened to be high-profile and relatively wealthy musicians?
When Joe Boyd returned the next day, he was met by the four members of The Incredible String Band who were determined that he should write them a cheque for the “courses.” After questioning the group, it turned out that after Joe Boyd left the restaurant, the manager began his pitch on how the Church Of Scientology had transformed his life. The next day, the same restaurant manager invited the four members of The Incredible String Band to its New York “celebrity centre.” By the end of the evening, Robin Williamson and Licorice McKechnie had been converted.
Joe Boyd was reluctant to write the cheques there and then, and managed to convince Mike Heron and Rose Simpson to think things over. They agreed and headed home to Britain, but before long they too had been caught in the Church Of Scientology’s thrall.
Mike Heron’s account differs slightly, and claims that his conversion to the Church Of Scientology came after reading a book on self-improvement. After reading the book, he decided to embrace the Church Of Scientology “philosophies.”
After embracing the controversial and secretive Church Of Scientology, The Incredible String Band’s concerts began to change. It’s claimed that the concerts took on a much more communal and friendlier than before their “conversion.” That wasn’t the only change.
The other thing that changed was The Incredible String Band’s attitude to money. After joining the Church Of Scientology the band began to have weekly meetings to discuss their finances. Despite their newfound spirituality, money began to play an increasingly important role in The Incredible String Band’s lives. Already the members of The Incredible String Band were changing due to their dalliance with the Church Of Scientology, and this would affect their music and lifestyle.
After Robin Williamson and Mike Heron’s conversion to the Church Of Scientology the pair gave up drugs, which previously had been part of their lives. Mike Heron alludes to their decision in White Bird, which was one of two tracks he contributed to Changing Horses. The other was Sleepers Awake!, while Mike Heron and Robin Williamson wrote Dust Be Diamonds. Robin Williamson’s contributions to Changing Horses were Big Ted, Mr. and Mrs and Creation. These six tracks would become Changing Horses, The Incredible String Band’s fifth album.
Recording of Changing Horses had to fit round The Incredible String Band’s touring schedule, but much of recording took place over the summer of 1969, at Sound Techniques studio in London, and at Elektra Records studio in New York. By then, the members of The Incredible String Band were different people from. They now spent time studying spirituality and philosophy, and self-analysing as part of their conversion to conversion to the Church Of Scientology. Their newfound religious belief meant that drugs were a thing of the past for The Incredible String Band during the recording of Changing Horses which marked a series of changes.
The first was that The Incredible String Band started to move from psychedelic folk to a new British folk rock sound and even a hint of the progressive rock influences. Joe Boyd started to be more flexible when it came to the band’s creative process, and very rarely chose to intervene. This allowed The Incredible String Band to develop new ideas. By then Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were playing a more active roles in the band. Licorice McKechnie played the guitar and organ on some tracks, while Rose Simpson’s Simpson’s bass featured on each track on Changing Horses. Just like on previous albums, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron played their usual mixture of traditional and exotic instruments and shared lead vocals. They were no longer as close as they once were, and there was a friction between them. However, by the end of the summer of 1969, the recording of Changing Horses was completed. However, two songs dominated the album, with White Bird and Creation taking up thirty of the fifty minutes on Changing Horses. This was a first for The Incredible String Band.
In October 1969, The Incredible String Band released an edited version of Big Ted as a single. However, it failed to chart, which was disappointment for The Incredible String Band. They had never been a singles band, and were known for the four albums they had released. Soon, four would become five. Before that, the critics had their say on Changing Horses.
Critics on hearing Changing Horses were surprised that The Incredible String Band had moved away from their trademark psychedelic folk sound. It was another eclectic album that marked the start of a new chapter in The Incredible String Band’s career.
On the release of Changing Horses in November 1969, it reached number thirty in the UK. However, after a week, Changing Horses disappeared from the charts. Over the Atlantic, Changing Horses stalled at just 166 in the US Billboard 200. Three weeks later, it disappeared from the charts. This was a disappointment for The Incredible String Band who had starred at the Woodstock Festival just three months earlier.
Having triumphed at Woodstock, The Incredible String Band must have been hoping that Changing Horses would see the band build on their two critically acclaimed albums. However, record buyers didn’t seem to “get” Changing Horses which was an album that saw The Incredible String Band in a reflective mood as they mused on their newfound spirituality, retell the story of Creation and deal with subjects like family life on Mr. and Mrs. Other times, the music was quirky and comedic as The Incredible String Band experimented and changed direction on what was a genre-melting album full of different musical textures.
They came courtesy of The Incredible String Band’s fusion of traditional, Moroccan and Eastern instruments, which were augmented by electric guitars and a Hammond organ on Changing Horses. It found The Incredible String Band move from their former psychedelic folk sound to their new British folk rock sound that hints at progressive rock. There’s also elements of country, doo wop, ragtime and vaudeville on Big Ted, while Creation is full of Eastern sounds. They’re part of what was an eclectic album from The Incredible String Band, which marked the end of their golden period.
It was also the end of The Incredible String Band as a duo, as Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson were now full-time members of the band. They would continue to record and play live as band rather than a duo. No longer was it just two friends playing the music that they loved. Instead, The Incredible String Band would spend the rest of their career trying to reach recreate the music they released between their 1966 eponymous debut album and Changing Horses in 1969.
Sadly, never again would The Incredible String Band reach the same heights of creativity again. Never again, would their star shine as brightly as it had between The Incredible String Band and Changing Horses, which marked the end of a three-year period where The Incredible String Band released five albums and were one of the biggest and most successful folk bands in the world and were on their way to becoming musical royalty.
50 Years Ago In 1969 The Incredible String Band Released Changing Horses
45 Years Ago In 1974 Eric Clapton Released 461 Ocean Boulevard.
By 1974, Eric Clapton had established a reputation as a survivor. He had managed to overcome heroin and alcohol addiction. His life had spiralled out of control after releasing his debut solo album, Eric Clapton in August 1970. It reached number seventeen in Britain and number thirteen in the US Billboard 200. To onlookers, it looked as if Eric Clapton was going to enjoy the commercial success he enjoyed with Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and The Dominoes. Surely, a glittering career was about to unfold? Things however, didn’t work out like that.
Nearly four years would pass before Eric Clapton released another album. Very little was heard of Eric Clapton during that period. He made brief appearances at the Concert For Bangladesh in August 1971. By then, Eric Clapton was deep in the throes of heroin and alcohol addiction. He was also infatuated with Pattie Boyd, who was then married to his friend George Harrison. However, despite Eric all but turning his back on music, George Harrison managed to convince Eric to play at the Concert For Bangladesh.
Eric’s appearance at the Concert For Bangladesh didn’t quite go to plan, when he passed out on-stage. After being revived, he managed to continue his performance. That was the last time Eric Clapton played live for nearly two years.
It wasn’t until January 1973 that Eric Clapton made a comeback. During that period, Eric struggled with his drug addiction. Things got so bad, that Eric even sold some of his treasured guitars. Then came the comeback, organised by Pete Townsend, The Who’s guitarist, organised the Rainbow Concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The Rainbow Concert was meant to help Eric beat his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
A year later, and Eric Clapton was no longer addicted to heroin. He had a new partner, Pattie Boyd, formerly the wife of George Harrison. The only downside was Eric started drinking heavily. However, for the first time for four years, Eric Clapton released an album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Having overcome his addiction to heroin, Eric was given a demo tape by his old friend, Carl Radde, who had been the bassist in Derek and The Dominoes. On the tape, were a set of songs played by Carl Radle, keyboardist Dick Sims and drummer Jamie Oldaker. They would form be the genesis for 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Now that Eric had decided to make a comeback, his manager Robert Stigwood decided to bring in producer Tom Dowd. Studio time was then booked at Criteria Sound Studios, Miami. At last, the man many music lovers called God,was ready tp return to the studios.
For 461 Ocean Boulevard, Eric recorded ten tracks at Criteria Sound Studios, Miami. Of the ten tracks that became 461 Ocean Boulevard, seven were cover versions. This included Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff, and unsurprisingly, given Eric’s love of blues music, covers of Robert Johnson’s Steady Rollin’ Man and Elmore James’ I Can’t Hold Out. Other covers included Johnny Otis’ Willie and The Hand Jive, Charles Scott Boyer’s Please Be With Me and George Terry’s Mainline Florida. Eric wrote Give Me Strength, Let It Grow and cowrote Get Ready with Yvonne Elliman. The other track on 461 Ocean Boulevard was Motherless Child. It was rearranged by Eric and Carl Radle. These ten tracks would become 461 Ocean Boulevard.
At Criteria Sound Studios, recording of 461 Ocean Boulevard began in April 1974. The rhythm section included bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jamie Oldaker and George Terrry and Eric on guitar. They were joined by keyboardist Dick Sims and vocalist Yvonne Elliman. Augmenting this tight, talented, band were Al Jackson, Jr. who played drums on Give Me Strength, Albhy Galuten who played synths, piano and clavichord. Marc Levy played harmonica, and with Tom Bernfield, added backing vocals. After two months, the Tom Dowd produced 461 Ocean Boulevard was completed. Two months later, Eric Clapton’s comeback was complete.
On the release of 461 Ocean Boulevard, in July 1974, mostly the reviews were positive. Some reviewers remarked upon 461 Ocean Boulevard’s honesty. Others called the music groundbreaking. However, Eric couldn’t please all the people, all the time. A few reviewers accused Eric of hiding behind his band. They believed Eric’s playing had lost its sparkle. If that was the case, that wasn’t surprising. After all, Eric had been to hell and back during the last four years. However, mostly, 461 Ocean Boulevard won over the hearts and minds of critics and record buyers.
When 461 Ocean Boulevard was released in July 1974, it reached number fifteen in Britain and number twenty-one on the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in 461 Ocean Boulevard being certified gold in Britain and America. This however, wasn’t the end of the commercial success.
I Shot The Sheriff was released as the lead single from 461 Ocean Boulevard. It reached number nine in Britain and number one in the US Billboard 100 charts. Then when Willie and The Hand Jive was released as a single, it reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 100 charts. Eric Clapton’s comeback was complete. 461 Ocean Boulevard marked the return of the comeback King, Eric Clapton.
Opening 461 Ocean Boulevard is Motherless Child, a blues standard, first recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1927. The song is autobiographical, as Blind Lemon Jefferson’s mother died when he was young. Here, Eric and Carl Radle arranged Motherless Child. Blistering guitars are unleashed, as music lovers get a taste of what they’ve been missing for four years. Soon, the rhythm section of Jamie Oldaker’s drums and Carl’s bass power the arrangement along. They’re joined by washes of Hammond organ and scorching guitars that accompany Eric’s vocal. It’s tender and thoughtful. Eric eschews power, and in doing so, brings meaning to the lyrics. Then when Eric’s drops out, he and the rest of his band join forces. Before long, they’re in full flight. It’s a joy to behold. When Eric’s vocal returns, it’s as if he’s been reenergised. He seems to be feeding off the rest of the band, in an attempt to reach the heights he’s previously scaled. In doing so, it’s obvious Eric’s comeback is well underway.
Give Me Strength is one of two tracks Eric wrote himself. A slide guitar, slow hypnotic drums and a Hammond organ set the scene for Eric’s vocal on what’s a very personal track. Recovering from heroin addiction, Eric is in a fragile state. The slightest thing could set him back. Almost pleading, he sings “Give Me Strength to carry on.” As he delivers these lyrics, the track takes on an almost spiritual quality and you empathise with Eric’s plight.
The Johnny Otis’ penned Willie And The Hand Jive, might seem a strange choice for Eric to cover. However, Eric was always a fan of blues and R&B. Johnny Otis’ name was synonymous with blues and R&B. Here, Willie And The Hand Jive is transformed, and becomes a slow, laid-back track. Guitars chime, before the bass rhythm section and washes of guitar combine with Eric’s vocal. Soon, he’s ensuring the song swings. Carl Radle’s bass and Dick Sim’s Hammond organ play important parts, as this oft covered track is given a makeover.
Get Ready was written by Eric with Yvonne Elliman, who also shares the lead vocal. Shakers set the scene for the rhythm section, a chugging Hammond organ and searing guitars. They provide a dramatic backdrop for Eric’s vocal. He’s had his heartbroken, and has his mind set on revenge. However, he’s not the only one. When Yvonne’s vocal enters, it’s far from a case of mea culpa. No. She’s also looking for revenge. Anger and frustration fill her vocal. later, when Eric and Yvonne deliver the lyrics, against a stripped down groove, this proves effective. Their hurt, anger and frustration shines through, on tale of love gone wrong. It seems hell hath no fury like a man or woman scorned.
I Shot The Sheriff is very different from previous tracks. It’s a cover of a Bob Marley track. It stays true to the original, with the arrangement taking on a reggae vibe. Eric, accompanied by Yvonne Elliman’s backing vocals delivers what’s akin to a confession. Behind him, a chugging, shuffling, rhythm section, washes of Hammond organ and a piano combine with rocky guitars. They provide the perfect backdrop for Eric’s vocal, where elements of reggae and rock combine. Stylistically, it’s as if he’s determined to stay true to the original. Especially with the addition of backing vocals and Hammond organ. They add the finishing touch to what was, the most successful version of I Shot The Sheriff, which some believe, surpasses the original.
Hesitantly, and slowly, Eric begins his cover of Elmore James’ I Can’t Hold Out. Just guitar licks and hissing hi-hats combine, before the bass and washes of Hammond organ accompany Eric’s needy, hopeful vocal. Despite his vocal being stronger than on previous tracks, there’s an intimacy to Eric’s vocal. I Can’t Hold Out seems made to measure for Eric Clapton. It brings out the best in him, and apart from I Shot The Sheriff, is the best cover on 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Against an understated backdrop, crystalline guitars and backing vocals accompany Eric on Please Be With Me. Again, his vocal is needy, but sometimes, becomes wistful. It’s both effective and beautiful. So, are the singalong backing vocals and the slide guitar Eric plays. They result in a beautiful needy, paean.
Eric delivers a tender vocal and gently, strums his guitar as Let It Grow unfolds. He plays dobro and sing sabout his new partner Pattie Boyd, and their love blossoming. Gradually, the drama and emotion builds. Singalong harmonies, the rhythm section, chiming guitars and washes of Hammond organ accompany Eric as he delivers what can only be described as a soul baring vocal.
For a blues lover like Eric Clapton, covering a track by Robert Johnson was a must. The problem was, which one? For 461 Ocean Boulevard, Eric chose Steady Rollin’ Man. Straight away, Eric is reborn. It’s as if he’s determined to pay a fitting homage to a blues great. He leads from the front, delivering some glorious bluesy licks. Even his vocal has a swagger. His band pickup on this. They lift their game, seamlessly combining blues and rock, to create one of 461 Ocean Boulevard’s highlights.
Mainline Florida closes 461 Ocean Boulevard. It’s as if Eric and his all-star band are determined to close 461 Ocean Boulevard on a high. Blistering, rocky guitars and a pounding, driving rhythm section join washes of Hammond organ. As the band roar out of the blocks, Eric sings call and response with his backing vocalists. His vocal isn’t as powerful, until later, when he vamps as his band kick out the jams. With gospel tinged harmonies and his band in full stride, this is a joy to behold and proves that Eric Clapton’s comeback was complete.
After four years away, where Eric Clapton had been to hell and back, he made his long awaited comeback with his sophomore album 461 Ocean Boulevard. Expectantly, critics and music lovers awaited the release of 461 Ocean Boulevard in July 1974. The big question was, had four years of constant hard living affected Eric Clapton?
Mostly, critics thought that musically, Eric Clapton was none the worse for what had been a tumultuous four year period of full on hard living. He was still a far better guitar player than most of the pretenders to his crown. Time and practice would see Eric return to where he had once been, before he became addicted to heroin. However, he was still able to unleash some blistering, spellbinding licks on 461 Ocean Boulevard. Apart from few critics, who accused Eric of hiding behind his fellow guitarists, it seemed Eric was still one of the top guitarists. Nor had his vocal prowess been affected.
Eric was still able to breath life and meaning into songs. Other times he could make them swing. Occasionally, he delivered a swaggering vocal. Sometimes, though, Eric’s vocal seemed weak. This however, worked in his favour. It meant you were captivated by his delivery. So, it seemed Eric Clapton had survived four years of addiction to tell the tale.
That proved to be the case. These years of turmoil also inspired Eric to write Give Me Strength, where he lays bare his soul for all to see. Then there was his paean Let It Grow, which seems directed at Eric’s new partner Pattie Boyd. These two tracks were part of what’s now considered a classic album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.
While 461 Ocean Boulevard was the first classic album from Eric Clapton as a solo artist, it wasn’t his last. After 461 Ocean Boulevard, commercial success and critical acclaim would accompany Eric Clapton for the next thirty years. Just about everything Eric Clapton released, turned to silver, gold or platinum. Eric Clapton became one of the most successful solo artists. Musically, it seemed he could do no wrong. However, things might have been very different if Eric Clapton hadn’t managed to get himself clean.
If Eric Clapton remained in the throes of heroin and alcohol addiction, the commercial success and critical acclaim he enjoyed might never have happened. Thankfully, it did. However, the album that relaunched Eric Clapton’s career, was his 1974 sophomore album, 461 Ocean Boulevard, where the man they once called God becomes the comeback King.
45 Years Ago In 1974 Eric Clapton Released 461 Ocean Boulevard.
40 Years Ago In 1979 The Damned Release Machine Gun Etiquette.
Not many bands get to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. Especially punk bands. They were mostly short-lived affairs, who released one or two singles, before calling it a day. However, one band are still going strong after forty-three years, The Damned. One of their finest releases was third album Machine Gun Etiquette which was released forty years ago in 1979, three years after the story of The Damned began.
The Damned were formed in London in 1976, when members of two existing groups decided to form a new band. This included Dave Lett, Raymond Burns and Chris Millar, who previously, had been members of Masters Of The Backside. They were joined by final Brian Robertson, who had been a member of the London SS. They became The Dammed.
In The Damned, the four musicians sported new musical identities. Vocalist David Lett was known as Dave Vanian; drummer Chris Millar became Rat Scabies; bassist and future guitarist Raymond Burns sported the moniker Captain Sensible. Guitarist Brian Robertson became known as Brian James. Together as The Damned, they soon began making their presence felt in London’s nascent punk scene.
On the 6th of July 1976, The Damned made their live debut, when they supported the Sex Pistols at 100 Club. This was the start of a rivalry between the two groups, which saw one writing their name into musical history.
Having made their live debut, The Damned’s thoughts eventually turned to releasing a debut single. None of the punk groups had released a single yet. Somebody had to be first, so why not The Damned?
They headed to Pathway Studios, London, with producer Nick Lowe. That was where The Damned recorded their new single, the Brian James’ composition New Rose. On the B-Side, was a cover The Beatles’ Help, which was given a punk makeover. Once the single was recorded, it was released on October 22nd 1976, and made history.
New Rose was released by Stiff Records, and reached eighty-one in the UK single charts. It became the first single to be released by a British punk rock group. The Damned had beaten the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK to the title by five weeks. This wouldn’t the only time The Damned made musical history.
Damned, Damned, Damned.
After the success of New Rose, The Damned headed out on tour with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Heartbreakers. The plan was to tour Britain, taking punk to the provinces. However, by then, the Sex Pistols had released Anarchy In The UK as a single. This resulted in many venues cancelling the concerts, in case anarchy in the provinces broke out. After a shorter tour than The Damned had expected, they returned to London, and completed the recording of their debut album.
Recording of Damned, Damned, Damned took place during three sessions at Pathway Studios, London. The first was in September 1976, with the album being completed in December 1976 and January 1977. In total, it had taken just ten days to record Damned, Damned, Damned. This left just the album to be mixed. It was completed on 15th January 1977, and just a month later, Damned, Damned, Damned was released.
Before that, critics had their say on The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned. The reviews were mostly positive, and praised the energy and humour of the songs. Most were penned by Brian James, with Tony James cowriting Fish, and Rat Scabies contributing Stab Yor Back. Closing the album was a cover of The Stooges’ I Feel Alright. It was one of the tracks where critics remarked upon drive and energy of the rhythm section. Rat Scabies’ drums and Brian James’ bass were crucial to the album’s sound and indeed, success.
When Stiff Records released The Damned’s debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, on 18th February 1977, it reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Making the success even sweeter, was the thought that The Damned had become the first punk band to release an album. Again, The Damned had beaten their old nemesis’ the Sex Pistols again, and in doing so, had written their way into musical history. This was becoming a habit.
Alas, The Damned’s run of breaking records came to an abrupt end on 18th February 1977. The same day as Damned, Damned, Damned was released, Neat, Neat, Neat was released as a single. It failed to even trouble the charts. There was small crumb of comfort. Neat, Neat, Neat featured a truly memorable bass line from Captain Sensible. So much so, that in 2006 Stylus magazine called Captain Sensible’s one of the thirty-third best bass line of all time. However, back in 1977, The Damned hardly had time to worry about the commercial failure of Neat, Neat, Neat.
Straight after the release of Damned, Damned, Damned, The Damned headed out on tour, to promote their debut album. Then in March 1977, The Damned got the opportunity to open for T-Rex in March 1977. Things were happening quickly for The Damned, and as
Spring turned to summer, they then embarked upon an American tour. The Damned became the first British punk band to tour America. Again, they had beaten the Sex Pistols to the punch. However, by August 1977, changes were afoot.
In August 1977, The Damned brought onboard Lu Edmonds as a second guitarist. Around this time, there was also an ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to bring Syd Barrett onboard to produce their sophomore album. Sadly, by then the founder of Pink Floyd was living a reclusive lifestyle and had serious health problems. However, his onetime colleague Nick Mason agreed to produce what became Music For Pleasure.
Music For Pleasure.
Now a five piece, The Damned began work on their sophomore album, Music For Pleasure. Again, Brian James wrote much of the album. He penned six songs of the ten songs; cowrote Problem Child and Stretcher Case with Rat Scabie and joined with Dave Varian to write Your Eyes. The remaining song, Idiot Box, came from the pen of Dave Varian and Rat Scabies. However, to onlookers, Brian James was playing a major part when it came to writing The Damned’s first two albums. Without him, where would they be?
When it came to recording Music For Pleasure, The Damned had come up in the world. They headed to Britannia Row Studios, which Pink Floyd had built after recording Wish You Were Here in 1975. It was a cutting edge facility, and very different to most studios that punk bands frequented. WithNick Mason taking care of production, The Damned recorded the ten tracks that became Music For Pleasure. Once it was recorded, Stiff Records scheduled the release for late 1977.
Eventually, Music For Pleasure was scheduled for released on the 18th November 1977. Before that, critics had their say on the album. Critics were far from impressed. Part of the problem was the quality of songs. They failed to match the quality on Damned, Damned, Damned. This isn’t unusual, as often, a band have spent months, even years writing their debut album. So when asked to write an album in a short space of time, this is often a step too far. Among the few highlights were Politics, Alone, Your Eyes and Creep (You Can’t Fool Me). They just about stood up to scrutiny, in an album that some critics felt, lacked focus and musical direction. Even new addition Lu Edmonds came in for criticism, with critics doubting that he brought anything to the table. Did The Damned really need two guitarists? That some critics felt was debatable. However, Lu Edmonds almost got away lightly. Other critics went further, calling the album a disaster and a musical misjudgement. This didn’t augur well for the released of Music For Pleasure.
Especially when Stretcher Case Baby had been released as the lead single, on 3rd July 1977, but never came close to troubling the charts. This must have worried members of The Damned and everyone at Stiff Records. Things got worse when Problem Child was released on the 28th September 1977, and failed to chart. Surely things couldn’t get any worse for The Damned?
By then, they must have been fearing the worst, and preparing for what was to come. However, even The Damned couldn’t have foreseen what would happen. When Music For Pleasure was released on the 18th November 1977, the album failed to chart. Neither did final single released from Music For Pleasure.
When Don’t Cry Wolf which was released in December 1977, it failed to chart. It became The Damned’s fourth consecutive single that failed to chart. Only their debut single New Rose charted, and even then, reached a lowly eighty-one in the UK single charts. These were worrying times for The Damned.
Little did The Damned know that two members of the band were planning to quit. Don’t Cry Wolf would prove to be two members of The Damned’s swan-song. That was in the future. Before that, The Damned were hit by two huge blows.
The first was when Stiff Records dropped The Damned. Suddenly, the band who were at the vanguard of the punk movement were without a label. To make matters worse, one of their most talented musicians walked away from the band.
Rat Scabies was so disappointed with Music For Pleasure, that he quit The Damned. Given the importance of Rat Scabies’ drums in The Damned’s sound, it was a blow the band wouldn’t recover from.
That is despite bringing future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss onboard. He couldn’t replicate the sound of Rat Scabies, and in February 1978, The Damned split-up for the first time.
For the next year, the members of The Damned worked on a variety of projects. However, in late 1978, Rat Scabies had formed a new band, Les Punks for a one off gig. Its lineup featured vocalist Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible and a rhythm section of drummer Rat Scabies and Motorhead’s Lemmy on bass. So successful was the Les Punks’ gig, that they reunited in early 1979.
When Les Punks reunited, they decided to change their name to The Doomed. This as close as they dare to using The Damned name. If they had performed as The Damned, there was the likelihood that they would encounter problems with the use of the band’s trademark. By then, Captain Sensible had switched to guitar and keyboards. This left the band without a bassist. While Lemmy filled in when recording demos and playing a few live dates, he had other commitments.
This left The Doomed searching for a replacement bassist. They thought they had found it in Henry Badowski. He spent part of 1978 playing with The Doomed. Then Henry Badowsk was eventually replaced by The Saints’ former bassist Algy Ward. The Doomed’s problematic bass position had been solved. At last, The Doomed had a settled lineup. The only blip came in December 1978, during The Doomed Scottish tour. Gary Holton had to briefly fill in for Dave Vanian. Apart from that, things were looking up for The Doomed.
By April 1979, The Doomed were now The Damned. The group was now, officially able to play and record as The Damned. It was a big relief to the band, whose career had been on hold. Now The Damned could begin to play live and sign a new record deal.
The Damned made their ‘second’ debut in April 1979. By then, Dave Vanian’s vocal style had changed, and he was no longer just singing in his former high baritone style, but crooning. It came as a shock to those who remembered The Damned’s early days as punk pioneers. Another difference was The Damned had adopted a much more melodic style. It was a mixture of speed and volume, and driven along by Captain Sensible’s keyboards. The times they were a changing.
Later in 1979, The Damned’s good luck continued, when they signed a record deal with Chiswick Records. Not long after signing their new recording contract, The Damned headed to Wessex Studios to record what became Machine Gun Etiquette.
Machine Gun Etiquette.
Before heading to Wessex Studios, The Damned had written ten new tracks and cowrote I Just Can’t Be Happy Today with Giovanni Dadomo. Gone were the days when The Damned were reliant upon one songwriter to write most of an album. Belatedly, The Damned were a democracy as far songwriting went. Machine Gun Etiquette was a much more collaborative album. It was also album where they paid homage to one of their musical heroes, MC5.
On their debut album Damned, Damned, Damned, The Damned covered The Stooges I Feel Alright. This time around, The Damned covered MC5s Looking at You. This was fitting given the new direction The Damned’s music was about to head in on Machine Gun Etiquette.
The Damned would combine elements of sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. There was also a more experimental sound Machine Gun Etiquette. It seemed as if The Damned were in the process of finding themselves musically. Helping them to do so, was producer Roger Armstrong.
When The Damned arrived at Wessex Studios, London, they immediately encountered another of the punk pioneers, The Clash. They were in the process of recording their classic album, London Calling. The new lineup of The Damned must have been hoping that their comeback album would enjoy some of the success that previous Clash albums had enjoyed. They were now one of the biggest British bands, while the third lineup of The Damned were starting over.
This new lineup of The Damned featured vocalist Dave Vanian; drummer Rat Scabies; bassist Algy Ward and Captain Sensible who was switching between guitar and keyboards. It took two lots of sessions to record Machine Gun Etiquette. The first began in March, and finished in May 1979. After a month which The Damned spent playing live, they returned to the studio in July. They spent the next two months completing their third album Machine Gun Etiquette. By August 1979, The Damned were ready to begin their comeback.
For The Damned’s comeback single, the album opener Love Song was chosen. No wonder; it was undoubtably one of the highlights of Machine Gun Etiquette. It’s memorable and catchy, as The Damned fuse elements of punk with swaggering garage rock and a memorable hook. Playing leading roles, were Rat Scabies’ drums and Captain Sensible’s blistering, searing guitar licks. Atop the arrangement, sits Dave Vernon’s punk infused vocal. This was a potent combination, which when in it was released in April 1979, caught the imagination of the record buying public. Love Song reached number twenty in the UK, and was then released in France, Germany and Holland. The Damned had just enjoyed the biggest hit of their career so far. Soon, The Damned were on a role.
Having enjoyed a hit single with Love Song, The Damned were keen to repeat the experience. The song that was chosen for their second single, was Smash It Up. It’s a song of two parts, where the melodic first half giving way to riotous fusion of pop and punk. It was critique of hippie culture, and a call for political revolution. This the BBC took offence at, fearing it would lead to anarchy in the UK. However, this was the best thing that could happen to the song.
Smash It Up was released on the 28th September 1979, with ironically Burglar on the B-Side. Burglar saw Rat Scabies take charge of the lead vocal. Suddenly, curiosity got the best of record buyers, who bought the single to see what the fuss was about. When this was combined with The Damned fans who bought Smash It Up, it reached thirty-six in the UK. The Damned’s call for political revolution, had been a successful and profitable exercise.
Having released two hit singles from Machine Gun Etiquette, things were looking good for The Damned as November 1979 release date approached. There was only one hurdle left to overcome, the critics. All The Damned had to do, was avoid the slings and arrows of over critical critics.
Unlike their sophomore album Music For Pleasure, Machine Gun Etiquette was hailed a resounding success by critics. Some went as far as to use the c-word, and called Machine Gun Etiquette a classic. This some critics said, was The Damned’s second classic. However, whether Damned, Damned, Damned was a classic is debatable. Machine Gun Etiquette certainly was
Critics enjoyed, embarked and welcome The Damned’s exploration through sixties garage rock, pop, punk and psychedelic rock. They hadn’t turned their back on their punk roots, but The Damned knew that their music had to evolve. What hadn’t changed was The Damned’s ability to create music that is witty and sometimes, full of social comment. That humour was evident in the album opener Love Song, where The Damned combine their trademark pun sound with wit and cliches. It’s a similarly story on Noise, Noise, Noise and Liar. This is what people had come to expect from The Damned.
Elsewhere, The Damned swagger their way through Machine Gun Etiquette, as they created riotous, rocky and memorable music. It’s akin to an adrenaline rush as The Damned rock, and rock hard. They kick out the jams, on Machine Gun Etiquette and on Anti Pope, which is a song of two parts. Then on the MC5s Looking At You, The Damned pay homage to Detroit’s finest with a blistering, driving fusion of garage rock and punk. However, one of the highlights is
I Just Can’t Be Happy Today which stylistically and sonically, is reminiscent of the Electric Prunes. Hooks aren’t in short supply on this fusion of pop and rock. However, on other songs, another side to The Damned shines through.
These Hands features one of Dave Vanian’s best vocals, on a tale of supposed merry mayhem. This gives way to Plan 9 Channel 7, a five minute epic, about the life and times of James Dean. However, after Liar, this leaves just Smash It Up Part 1 and 2. The Damned many critics felt, had kept the best until last. Critics hailed Machine Gun Etiquette a stonewall classic.
When Machine Gun Etiquette was released in November 1979, it was to critical acclaim. Ever since their comeback, The Damned’s luck had changed. This continued when Machine Gun Etiquette reached number thirty-one in the UK album charts. Eventually, it was certified silver. The Damned had released the most successful and finest album of their career, Machine Gun Etiquette. It’s just been reissued on vinyl by Ace Records. The sound quality is stunning, and is the perfect way to rediscover this classic album.
Thirty-seven years after the release of Machine Gun Etiquette, The Damned’s third album is nowadays recognised as a classic album. The Damned come of age on Machine Gun Etiquette. No longer were they the punk band that made their debut on Damned, Damned, Damned. While The Damned hadn’t turned their back on their punk roots, they had moved towards a much more rocky sound.
The Damned incorporate elements of sixties garage rock, pop and psychedelia to their punk roots on Machine Gun Etiquette. This resulted in a much more accessible album than their first two albums. Machine Gun Etiquette had a much wider appeal than Damned, Damned, Damned and Music For Pleasure. Partly, this was to do with the new lineup.
With Captain Sensible switching to keyboards and guitar, this left a void. A new bassist was needed, and Algy Ward fitted the bill. He slotted into the rhythm section alongside drummer Rat Scabies, and they formed a formidable partnership. Meanwhile, Captain Sensible proved a talented keyboardist and guitarist. This game of musical chairs had worked. So had the other change since The Damned had reformed.
This final change was that no longer were The Damned reliant upon one songwriter. Suddenly, the band was a democracy as far as songwriting was concerned. Their lyrics were clever, controversial, witty and sometimes, full of social comment. These songs came to life in the Wessex Studios, and gave The Damned the most successful album of their career.
While Machine Gun Etiquette failed to match the success of the other album being recorded at Wessex Studios, The Clash’s London Calling, forty years later, it’s regarded as The Damned’s classic album and one of their finest releases.
40 Years Ago In 1979 The Damned Release Machine Gun Etiquette.
In 1984 The Blue Nile Released A Walk Across The Rooftops.
Some albums are like old friends, and that is the case with The Blue Nile’s debut album A Walk Across The Rooftops. It’s an album I’ve treasured and loved for over three decades, and has I been a faithful companion in an ever-changing musical world. A Walk Across The Rooftops is also a timeless classic and one of the best Scottish albums of all time. It was recorded by a remarkable group, whose likes we’ll never see again in Scotland.
Enigmatic, reluctant and contrarian are words that best of describe The Blue Nile’s 1984 debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops. The Blue Nile are the complete opposite of most bands. Describing the Blue Nile as publicity shy, is an understatement. Indeed, since Paul Buchanan, Robert Bell and Paul Joseph Moore formed the Blue Nile, they’ve been one of the most low-profile bands in musical history. It seems that when they formed thirty-five years ago, The Blue Nile ticked the “no publicity” box. This has proved a double-edged sword, and resulted in The Blue Nile becoming one of the most enigmatic groups ever.
Having released their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops in 1984, only three further albums were released during the next twenty years. Five years after A Walk Across the Rooftops came 1989s Hats. This marked the end of the original Blue Nile sound, where influences so diverse as Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Frank Sinatra united. The next time Blue Nile released an album, they turned to America for inspiration.
Seven long years passed, where Blue Nile fans wondered what had become of Glasgow’s most enigmatic trio. Then the unthinkable happened. The Blue Nile signed a million Dollar deal with Warner Bros. and along came Peace At Last, released in 1996. Gone was the sound of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, with the American-influenced Peace At Last showing a different side to the Blue Nile and their music. Paul, Robert and P.J. were back, but it was a different sound. One constant was Paul’s worldweary vocal. He was still the tortured soul, who wore his heart on his sleeve. Opinions were divided among fans and critics. Little did we know that Peace At Last was their penultimate album.
High released in 2004, proved to be the Blue Nile’s swan-song. It was very different from their first two albums, Although soulful, High lacked the European influence of A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. Some critics unkindly called High soul for the wine bar generation. Obviously, they didn’t quite get High, or more likely, didn’t want to. Maybe they didn’t want to understand its subtleties and nuances. What they neither understood nor realized was that the Blue Nile were never a band to stand still. Instead, they’d always tried to innovate and ensure their music evolved and was reborn. Sadly, there would be no rebirth for the Blue Nile’s music. After just four albums, the Blue Nile were no more. Even when they spilt-up, the Blue Nile never told anyone. Instead, like the lover that waits for the letter that never arrives, Blue Nile fans waited for an album that was never released.
Just like that lover, all we’re left is our memories. This includes the four albums The Blue Nile released between 1984 and 2004. The first of these was A Walk Across The Rooftops, which was released in 1984. That was thirty years ago. Sadly, there’s no fanfare for what was a true classic, and the album that launched the career of the enigmatic Blue Nile. They always did things their way.
Even the story of how A Walk Across the Rooftops came about, is typical Blue Nile. Not for the Blue Nile signing to a traditional record company. First they formed their own label, then released A Walk Across the Rooftops on a label founded by a prestigious hi-fi maker to showcase their products.
The Blue Nile were formed in 1981, when two friends Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell, met Paul Joseph Moore, all of whom met at Glasgow University. Before forming the Blue Nile, Buchanan and Bell were previously members of a band called Night By Night. Try as they may, a recording contract eluded them. Night By Night’s music wasn’t deemed commercial enough. So Paul, Robert and P.J. decided to form a new band, Blue Nile.
Once the Blue Nile were formed, they set up their own record label Peppermint Records. It was on Peppermint Records that The Blue Nile released their debut single, I Love This Life. This single was then picked up and rereleased on the RSO label. Unfortunately for the Blue Nile, RSO became part of the Polygram label and I Love This Life disappeared without trace. Despite this setback, Blue Nile persisted.
Blue Nile kept writing and recording material after the merger of RSO with Polygram. Some of that material would later be found on A Walk Across the Rooftops. When recording engineer Calum Malcolm heard The Blue Nile’s music, he alerted Linn Electronics. At last, their luck had changed.
Linn gave The Blue Nile money to record a song that they could use to demonstrate the quality of Linn’s top-class hi-fi products. When Linn heard the track they were so pleased, they decided to set up their own record label, which would release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops 1984.
Although this allowed the band to finally release their debut album A Walk Across the Rooftops, Paul Buchanan later wondered whether Linn was the right label for the Blue Nile to sign to. He felt that Linn didn’t operate like a record label. Mind you, he conceded that, during this period, The Blue Nile weren’t like a band.
When A Walk Across the Rooftops was released in 1984, although it wasn’t quite to critical acclaim, but the reviews were at least positive. A Walk Across the Rooftops was quite different from other albums released in 1984. Since its release, A Walk Across the Rooftops has gained almost a cult status. It’s widely recognised as one of the finest British albums of the last forty years.
A Walk Across the Rooftops opens with the title-track, A Walk Across the Rooftops. Like much of the album, the tempo is slow, the sound moody and hauntingly beautiful. It’s a song about love, and being in love. Washes of Brian Eno influenced synths meander in, joined by percussion. They add drama and tension, while the slow tempo adds to the impact of the lyrics. Beautiful lush strings, the slow steady beat of a drum machine and Paul Buchanan’s worldweary vocal, become one. Soon, Paul’s vocal and the arrangement grow in power, emotion and drama. Although it’s a love song, it’s a love song with a difference. Paul sings of his love for Glasgow, name-checking the things he loves about the city. For five minutes, drama and emotion unite to create what’s quite simply a beautiful track, featuring a vocal tour de force from Glasgow’s Frank Sinatra and troubled troubadour Paul Buchanan.
Tinseltown In the Rain is the most upbeat song on A Walk Across the Rooftops. The funkiest of bass line, stabs of keyboards and guitars unite. When Paul’s vocal enters, he delivers some really beautiful, poetic and Glasgow-centric lyrics. They reminds me of Glasgow. Even the title puts me in mind of a rainy, winter’s night in Glasgow. People going about their business, walking hand in hand on a cold, wet winter’s night. Lovers walking hand in hand, neon lights casting their shadows over them, the buildings and the city. Strings that sweep and swirl furiously, take this track to another level. Meanwhile the slap bass drives the track along, with flourishes of keyboards for company. Together, they create a track that’s a funky, orchestral, symphonic Magnus Opus, and one that’s wonderfully Glasgow-centric.
Rags To Riches like all the tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops is written and produced by Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell. Sounds and textures shine through. So do the atmospheric sounds that open the track. Along with the mid-tempo beat, meandering waves of synths give the arrangement a somewhat industrial, Kraftwerk sound. What makes the song are the lyrics, plus Paul’s heartfelt, worldweary vocal. He’s like a modern-day minstrel or troubadour, delivering a vocal bathed in sadness, passion and pathos. As the industrial sound continues, building and growing, it becomes dramatic and even, challenging. Still, beauty and emotion shines through. Paul referencing and influenced by troubadours and crooners, lays bare his soul against a post-modernist backdrop, that’s drama personified.
Stay sees the tempo and the emotion and heartache grow. Synths, drums that crack like whips and percussion set the backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He pleads, his vocal tinged with emotion, sorrow and sadness, as sings about his crumbling relationship. Robert Bell’s thunderous, dramatic, slapped bass crackles. It’s as if it’s reflecting the electricity in Paul’s vocal. Welling up with emotion, he pleads, asks, begs, his partner to stay. He’ll change: “learn to understand you.” It’s hugely moving, emotional and soulful. You can’t help but feel and sympathize for Paul and his plight, on what’s quite simply, a Blue Nile classic. Not only is one of the highlights of A Walk Across the Rooftops, but their career.
Just a wistful, melancholy piano opens Easter Parade and accompanies Paul’s weary vocal. The tempo is slow, the sound haunting and beautiful. It’s apparently about a young man being stuck on a street whilst an Easter parade takes place around him. This evokes old and painful memories, when he attended church and learned about religion and the death of Christ. This is a sad, spiritual and incredibly moving and hauntingly beautiful song.
Heatwave sees the Blue Nile tease and toy with you. After meandering slowly into life, stabs of synths, percussion and then thunderous drums signal the arrival of Paul’s vocal. His vocal is filled with sadness, despair and even bitterness. Soon the arrangement loses its moody, pensive sound. Although other bands kick loose, the Blue Nile don’t. That’s not quite their thing. They nearly do though, just don’t tell anyone. Guitars and bass unite. Together with washes of synths and crunchy drums, they provide a sound where hope shines through. They also provide a backdrop for a peerless vocal from Paul. Although his vocal might be worldweary and tired, hope shines through. Textures and layers of music unfold, washing over you, drawing you in. The band play under and around Paul’s vocal, with Paul, Robert and P.J. becoming one. They unite, to create a track that’s a timeless, emotive roller-coaster that you don’t want to ever climb of.
Closing A Walk Across the Rooftops is Automobile Noise. It sees a return to the industrial sound that is heard on Rags To Riches. Again, the tempo is slow, with Brian Eno and Kraftwerk influencing the track. There’s a combination of avante-garde and more traditional sounds as the track reveals its secrets. This works, and works well. Thunderous crashes of cymbals, crispy drums and melancholy keyboards create a compelling backdrop for Paul’s vocal. He delivers some insightful lyrics about one person’s struggle to cope with life in the city. They find urban life tiring, almost soul destroying. Soon, they tire of the daily grind, they’re fed up just keeping their head above water. Gradually, they long to walk away from chasing the wealth the city promises. Sadly and tragically, it’s always just out of their reach. Of all the songs the Blue Nile wrote, the lyrics to Automobile Noise are among their most insightful and honest. Twenty-eight years after A Walk Across the Rooftops, these lyrics are just as relevant, poignant and insightful.
So what makes A Walk Across the Rooftops such a special album? After all, it contains just seven songs and lasts just over thirty-eight minutes. Within these thirty-eight minutes, the lush, atmospheric sound draws the listener in, holding their attention. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to seven peerless vocal performances courtesy of Glasgow’s very own Frank Sinatra, Paul Buchanan. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. Paul’s vocal adds soulfulness to an album that references Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Tim Buckley, classic soul and seventies funk. The result is a compelling, innovative album.
A Walk Across the Rooftops, was so innovative that it was way ahead of its time. Released in 1984, Blue Nile were miles ahead of other groups. They were innovators, leaders of a new wave of Scottish bands, who trailed in their wake. In many ways, A Walk Across the Rooftops is a very Scottish album, but not in a traditional way. On several of the seven songs on A Walk Across the Rooftops, the lyrics bring to mind Glasgow, its streets, its people and its secrets. For Glasgow, you could replace it with Philly, Berlin, New York or Oslo.
For anyone yet to discover The Blue Nile, you’ve yet to discover one of the greatest and underrated bands of the last thirty years. Although they have only made four albums in thirty years, they were four great albums. A Walk Across the Rooftops is one of the best debut albums released by a Scottish, or indeed British band. A Walk Across the Rooftops belongs in every self-respected record collection. It’s the perfect introduction to The Blue Nile, and their music. After just one listen to the seven tracks on A Walk Across the Rooftops, you’ll fall in love with the music of The Blue Nile. After that, I’d recommend Hats, which was the follow up to A Walk Across the Rooftops. It’s as good, if not better than A Walk Across the Rooftops. While Peace At Last and High had considerably more commercial success than the first two albums, I prefer A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats. They’re the perfect introduction to one of Scotland’s best ever bands, the Blue Nile, whose music deserved to savorued and treasured. One listen to A Walk Across the Rooftops, and you’ll be smitten by The Blue Nile, and treasure their majestic music forevermore.
In 1984 The Blue Nile Released A Walk Across The Rooftops.